Women in the workplace: Fireside chat with Sara Orr

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At Anaplan, we’re committed to supporting a diverse workforce that empowers all people. As part of this goal, Anaplan’s Women’s Interest Network (WIN) hosts regular presentations where women share their experiences in the workplace and offer advice on how to succeed in the business world.

This Fall WIN hosted Sara Orr, previously CFO & SVP of Verizon’s Business Group, for a fireside chat to share her story and journey to becoming a female executive at a Fortune 500 organization. Her words inspired hundreds of Anaplan employees around the globe as she illustrated her dedication to empowering women in the workplace, creative approach to problem-solving both at home and in her career, and commitment to continuous learning. She also made everyone laugh with her hilarious tales of juggling being a wife, a mom of four, and deciding to go back to school to earn her CPA while working full-time.

Sara’s chat with Anaplan CEO, Frank Calderoni, was too inspiring to keep to ourselves. Here are the highlights from their discussion:

1. When life gives you lemons, lean in!

Sara shared a story about an early career setback that took place after her company was acquired: “When you have an ego crushing moment or setback, you first have to accept it,” she emphasized. Instead of letting the setback define her, she accepted it and embraced a new role, managing a critical fraud project and working closely with the FBI.

Throughout the fireside chat, Sara underlined that women (and men) shouldn’t let setbacks erode their confidence, and similar to one of Anaplan’s core values, should strive to be bold. She closed the chat with a Beyonce Knowles quote, “The reality is: Sometimes you lose. And you’re never too good to lose. You’re never too big to lose. You’re never too smart to lose. It happens.”

2. Focus on continuous education

Throughout her career, Sara didn’t lose sight of the importance of continuous education. After moving to the Bay area, Sara attended UC Berkeley in pursuit of a unique wireless engineering certification designed for non-engineers. This training provided a foundation for the rest of Sara’s career, enabling her to gain credibility in her field and work successfully alongside both engineering and networking teams.

3. Balance your personal and professional life

Everyone can relate to how much of a struggle it can be to strike the perfect work-life balance.  Staying true to her authentic self, Sara noted, “There’s no ideal advice here…I would never claim to have solved this problem.” She shared several tips and tricks with the parents in the audience that helped her thrive (and survive) as a working mom. She explained how she built a strong support team within her community–a network of incredible folks including teachers, her partner, and babysitters. She also spoke about the importance of planning ahead to ensure there’s time in your schedule to meet with teachers, doctors, etc.  The events that one might list as non-negotiable “must attend” events, realizing even though never perfect, it’s an important and effective way to prioritize. Finally, she highlighted that being on the same page as your partner is critical, especially when facing tough career choices.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Peppered throughout the conversation were the themes of not being afraid to ask for help and ways to build your support network. We can all agree that support networks are critical for anyone building a career, and Sara noted that they are particularly important for women. “Women who network with other women are more likely to excel in their careers,” she said. “This is based on a study of women executives.” She continued by saying that she learned early on that finding mentors is essential for developing refined skills, such as how to approach a meeting, build confidence, and get to the next level of your career. Beyond that, she turns to podcasts like Great Women of Business for inspiration and career advice.

As we all move forward in our careers, it helps to be guided by someone with both experience and the willingness to share it. To that end, I thank Sara Orr for sharing her thoughts with the Anaplan community!

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