Our latest installment of the Daring Women Q&A series features Gretchen Peri, Practice Director at Slalom, a Seattle-based consulting company.
Read about the challenges she’s faced in her industry, her proudest moments and her advice to women starting out in their careers.
1. Tell us about the high point of your career. What do you love about your work? Describe your proudest moment.
I have three roles at Slalom. I serve as our practice director for our public-sector industry working with state and local governments as well as K-12 and higher education clients. I also help coordinate and lead Slalom’s innovation program to bring a more disruptive mindset to our consultants and our clients. Finally, I sponsor the Seattle office’s Women’s Leadership Network, which focuses on engaging and empowering women at Slalom to achieve their full and unique potential. l’m passionate about all these areas, including helping to recruit, advance and retain women at Slalom.
It’s impossible to choose a single proudest moment. I've had many small moments of helping to build the culture at Slalom and I'm really proud of how they've culminated. One proud moment in my public sector work has been helping the Washington State Patrol purchase a statewide sexual assault kit tracking system, one of the first of its kind in the United States. After several months of tireless work, the system went live state-wide at the end of October and provides the ability for survivors to check the status of their kit online.
I was also fortunate enough to help contribute to Slalom’s purpose statement. Whenever I walk through Sea-Tac Airport and see our purpose statement on Slalom’s ads there, I’m reminded of why I do the work I do and I feel a wonderful sense of pride and belonging.
2. What challenges have you faced as a woman in your industry? How have you addressed them?
I believe it’s important that we talk about unconscious bias when we look to improve gender and racial equality. We must pay attention to how our brains render judgment about other human beings. Our brains are sending us all sorts of signals about a person’s intelligence, intent, trustworthiness and credibility, even when we’ve only briefly met. As a human being, I have unconscious biases that I’m consistently working on identifying and processing. As a woman, naturally, I have encountered individuals who formed conclusions about me, which their unconscious biases helped develop.
While I can’t change how other people perceive me based on my gender, one way I’ve addressed this challenge is to bring my whole self to any space. At Slalom, we are encouraged to bring our authentic selves to work. By showing up in every situation as a practice director for Slalom, a mom, a wife and a woman, I feel confident despite anyone else’s perceptions.
3. Tell us about a person who has inspired or mentored you. What key lesson did you learn from them?
Since the beginning of my career, I have been blessed to have some amazing managers who have believed in my ability and given me stretch roles before I thought I was ready. They gave me confidence from the outset by saying, “you have a safe place to take risks. If you are successful, that’s wonderful. If you fall, we’ll be here to help pick you back up.” This has given me the opportunity to go for it and not worry too much about what happens if it doesn't go the way I desire or anticipate. Some of those mentors include Clare Pedersen, Robert Kaelin, Jila Javdani, and Stephanie Van Eyk, just to name a few.
I've been able to pass this on to the people I lead today. Every day, we talk about celebrating success alongside failure. If we're not failing, we're not taking risks. We must fall down sometimes so we can pick ourselves back up and learn from the process. Those are defining moments too.
4. What advice would you give to a woman getting started in her career?
Don't take your foot off the gas until you decide it’s time to do so. I’ve received the two biggest promotions of my career after returning from maternity leave both times. While it's an interesting time to take on a stretch role -- and isn’t for everyone -- it energized me back into my work. I don't think there's anything in your future that requires you to take your foot off the gas. Finding a rhythm between your personal and professional life is important, but you shouldn’t slow down until you’ve seen what you’re capable of. You don't know what you can do until you try.
5. What can women do to improve gender equity in the workplace? What can men do?
Women in leadership can help early-career women tremendously by making a conscientious decision to support other women. Actively encouraging other women by providing opportunities they might not be naturally exposed to, such as attending key events and giving them access to your networks, will help accelerate their professional growth and brand externally.
For men, it's leaning into the issues. Men have unconscious biases just like women do. We live in challenging times and we're seeing a difficult conversation take place across the country and in politics. I'm grateful that we are having this discussion. To create more gender parity, both men and women need to lean into the uncomfortable conversations, be open and raw and willing to listen to one another.
Lastly, everyone needs to believe that the business case for gender and racial equity make sense. Gender and racial diversity bring elevated thinking to discussions and solving client problems. The impact is tangibly positive.
6. Tell us about a favorite book/show/podcast and why/how it inspires you.
Brené Brown's book Daring Greatly has given me a vernacular to talk about courage and vulnerability, love and passion, and kindness and empathy. It has given me confidence that those attributes are just as leadership-worthy as some of our more traditional leadership values. Brown taught me that unless you're in the arena with me taking risks and being vulnerable and courageous, I don't care about your feedback. I care deeply about feedback from people who are also taking risks, but for folks who sit on the sidelines, I'm not interested.
7. Where do you find support and inspiration? How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts?
I take every possible opportunity to expand my network and meet more interesting people. I'll go to a meet-up for blockchain or a chamber event to connect with a wide range of people from across various industries. I love making connections between the various people in my life and getting to know the other movers and shakers in the Northwest.
Thankfully, my family is a tremendous support system for me. They sacrifice a lot so that I can have a career that I love but demands a great deal of my time and attention. My husband and two kids are my inspiration for everything.
8. What are the most important characteristics of a good leader? What leadership traits are overrated?
I’m convinced we’re witnessing a transition in the way we talk about good leadership. We're seeing more emphasis on characteristics such as kindness, compassion and empathy. I think this is a positive pivot and would love to see more leaders make this transition. I love Steve Jobs’ quote, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Leaders who surround themselves with the best possible teams and ask for their advice will make better decisions, which leads to better business outcomes than those who spend their time telling other people what to do.
9. What would you do differently in your career if you had a do-over.
If I had a do-over, I would have set better boundaries for myself earlier in my career. It took me a long time to figure out my work/life rhythm and I wish I could have set a better example for people looking to pursue a similar career path.
10. What would be the title of your autobiography?
Change Your Perception and Change the World
We’d love to hear from more women across all industries who are challenging the status quo. Does it sound like you? If it does, click here and fill out our questionnaire. Feel inspired? Join us for our second Daring Women event in May 2019, date TBD.
Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.