Today we are meeting with Ewelina Mazurkiewicz (Global Procurement Operations Director), Monika Mirowska-Kopec (Senior Delivery Manager / Krakow Lead Defined Benefits) and Agnieszka Jarecka (HR Shared Services Director) to talk about leadership from women’s perspective.
Katarzyna Mietniowska: Before we go to the leadership part can you tell us your career story? What happened that you are where you are today?
Ewelina Mazurkiewicz: I joined Aon 12 years ago, just after finishing the studies and you will find it interesting why I decided to join this company. I was a young graduate and wasn’t searching for any particular job position.
I was reading about Aon (actually Hewitt, back then) and I found out that the company was strongly supporting local communities by doing a lot for charities. Corporate Social Responsibility was (and still is) very important to me, so I decided “this is the company that I would like to join.”
I started in HR BPO and I was around 50th employee of the company – now there are over 1100 of us. I’ve worked for the workforce administration for few years and then the opportunity came to start building a procurement function. I didn’t have experience in this area but I knew it was something different, something interesting, and something I want to try. I thought I had no chance to get this position but I’m kind of…I don’t want to say “brave” but I like trying new things, so I said “OK, I would go for the interview and then let’s see what happens” And… I got the job! Everything actually started from that moment. At first the team consisted of two – me and one more person. Over the years we were growing, we have changed the scope of work and now as a team of more than 40 we are playing an important role in P2P organization performing multiple services out from Krakow. And this is where I am now.
Monika Mirowska – Kopec: I joined Aon because I decided to change my career path. Before I was working in Finance and Accounting for more than 10 years – GL, P2P, R2R, transition, transformation and management. Management was a big interest for me and I was and I am good at it. I knew I wanted to develop my career in this area. I joined Aon without knowing anything about business processes that my department was delivering, I was focused solely on management and it proved that you don’t need to be a detailed expert to be a good manager and be able to deliver great results for the department. And here I am, successfully leading a team of over 200 colleagues and having wider responsibility as Location Lead for Benefits Administration – over 350 colleagues. And last November I celebrated my 5th anniversary with Aon.
Agnieszka Jarecka: I joined Aon in May 2016, so it’s almost 2 years now but I already know this is my place to be J. I have a degree in finance and in banking, and I have always thought I’m kind of a logical thinking, number-driven person, so my first job was an auditor in General Audit Department at KPMG in Warsaw. After few years of a very demanding work I changed my priorities and I had my first child, so I’ve moved from General Audit into Accounting Department to avoid frequent travel. I soon realized it’s not for me because I’m not so detail-oriented, it just took too much effort and that was my lesson learned. Then, together with my family we moved from Warsaw to Krakow (to be closer to the mountains which we love) and I started with Capgemini in Finance and Accounting in BPO where after 8 months I was given an opportunity to join a new team – Global Sales Support. It was a great experience – I became a manager of the team and shaped the way we worked on my own, the team was growing and developing, and we were very successful.
But one day, and that was the turning point of my career, after 5 years in this role, I had an annual review with my manager who praised me for my performance and suggested that it was high time to get out of my comfort zone and find another role within the company so I could further grow. It was extremely hard for me to leave my beloved team but I took the challenge and discussed available options with HR Director. Eventually, I decided to apply for L&D Manager position – I knew I could built my new role on my managerial experience, ability to manage budgets and projects, while the missing learning and development knowledge could be anchored on the team.
I believe, just like Monika said, that you can be a successful manager not being a subject matter expert. Frankly, the move to Human Resources space was the best career shift for me – I discovered that this is my place, a perfect fit for my personality and values.
After a couple of years within L&D there were additional opportunities opened for me – building and then managing HR Shared Services within Capgemini across all HR domains for Poland scope, and then additional European countries. Today, at Aon, I’m responsible for Global HR Shared Services team providing Workforce Administration, Background Check and Data Governance services to all Aon countries in the world, with just one exception – India.
K.M.: There is one thing in common in your answers – at some point you have all decided to change your career path and take a challenge of diving into uncharted waters. What helped you to make such a difficult decision?
E.M.: First of all, I think that you will not know unless you try. Another thing is that when I read books about successful business leaders and about how different approaches man and woman have, there is one common thing for men that we – women – should learn. Men believe that even though they don’t know something they can learn it. And this lack of knowledge or experience doesn’t stop them from doing something, from trying and taking challenges. So, whenever I have some doubts, I always recall this example.
A.J.: What’s more, I think that the more you expose yourself to smaller challenges, the easier it is to take the bigger one later. And, the support of your manager, who believes you can succeed, is very important too.
M.M-K: I believe it’s also the matter of the decision making process: understanding what this change will mean for you, what is expected from you, what are the consequences of this decision, what are the risks, advantages, disadvantages, etc. This kind of deep analysis is definitely helpful when making big decisions.
K.M.: So, what those big decisions have taught you? What are the valuable lessons or advice you may now share with others?
M.M-K: You may not feel that you are ready for the next step and actually you will never be as ready as you would like to be, but it doesn’t mean that you should stop.
A.J.: You should be frank with yourself and be proud of what you have achieved. It is your role to say it loud and to share your achievements, because, maybe, for various reasons, others don’t notice them. To me, one of the most important things is an honest self-evaluation. Everyone has to drive their own career, do not expect that someone else is going to do that for you.
E.M.: I think that if you want to progress with your career you should take new opportunities, new challenges, be proactive, expand your network. The more you explore, the easier it is to find your place. But obviously, there has to be the right balance with how much you take on your shoulders because it is easy to get overburden. So don’t jump into every opportunity you see.
A.J.: When it comes to this balance, I think the WHY is important. Asking yourself why you want to take this new task? How much energy you’d have to give? And – if that’s in line with your internal values system and it drives you – you should do it.
K.M.: “Nice girls don’t get rich”, “Nice girls don’t get the corner office”, “Nice girls just don’t get it” – these are some of the titles of books available on the market. Does it really mean that you need to be unkind or even rude to succeed as a woman?
M.M-K: You don’t need to be rude to be a fighter and I think to be on a leader position you have to be a fighter in terms of going above and beyond with the struggles, with some barriers. And it doesn’t happen because I’m a woman but because that’s the business reality – there are some ups and downs, difficult situations, hard decisions to make or to communicate to your team. So, you need to have the courage to face those challenges.
A.J.: The role of a manager and leader is to represent the team, to protect the team, to develop the team members and to deliver results. And yes, sometimes you have to be a fighter to protect your team and it is not an easy task. But I will give you one example – I used to be very shy, I’m an introvert, but I had so many “sales” related roles that I just got used to being in the spotlight. So, you can train these skills. And in order to be an effective manager you should have these skills to present your point of view, to convince others, to negotiate.
E.M.: I think you just need to get to the point, be strong and know what you want. Leadership is not the matter of gender but certain skills that, as Agnieszka said, you can train.
M.M-K: I think it also depends on the company culture. At Aon we have a lot of great examples of successful woman – just to mention Christa Davies who is our Chief Financial Officer. But also locally, in Aon Krakow, look how many great women we have on the managerial and leadership positions. We are lucky to work for a company which embraces diversity and values people for theirs skills, not the gender.
K.M.: Speaking about women, few weeks ago we celebrated International Woman’s Day, so I’d like to ask you about some very special women in your lives – the ones who motivate you or are a source of great inspiration.
E.M.: I believe I was privileged to work and to meet so many amazing women through my life. I’m also lucky to have had fantastic women managers who influenced me and were great inspiration. Of course I have to mention my mum – she is the one that structured me.
A.J.: For me it’s also my mum – she is a perfect mum, she has the knowledge of everything and she is a great example of a powerful woman. She is a French teacher. She was born in a little village and she was actually the first person to go to studies within her family. She was working as a lecturer at the university and had 4 kids at the same time, so for me she is a great example that you can combine a successful career with a family life. And optimisms – that’s one of the great things I got from her. The glass is always half full.
M.M-K: Maybe it won’t be very fancy, but I’m getting inspiration from all the women who are able to deliver those small things on a day to day basis. Those fantastic everyday superwomen, who are able to take care of their households, prepare a meal at home each and every day for their family, etc. They inspire me because if they can do it, I can do it as well.
K.M.: With all the knowledge and experience you have gained, if you had a chance to go back in time and talk to yourself at a younger age what would you tell yourself?
M.M-K: Take a lesson from every fail you experience and build on it. And don’t rush; don’t run for something you are not sure about. Take your time to feel the place that you are in. And then try something else, try something new.
A.J.: “You don’t have to be perfect” that would be my advice. Because others may not even notice that something that you’ve done is not that perfect.
M.M-K: Right! Sometimes only you know that it should be a little bit different.
E.M.: And I would say “don’t worry” – I believe I’ve spent too much time on worrying that something was not as I expected it to be. And as Monika said – we all can fail but it is important to learn from this and not to worry too much!