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Paint your own vision: A conversation with Jila Javdani, General Manager, Slalom Seattle

Jila Javdani founded the Slalom Women's Leadership Network and helps guide our diversity and inclusion initiative.

We spoke with Jila about building a successful career in a male-dominated field and common mistakes that women make in the workplace.

You’re a general manager leading our Seattle market. What lessons have you learned as your career has progressed?

You pick up new lessons at each stage of your career. I would say that the top three lessons I’ve learned and tried to impart are 1) Surround yourself with people smarter than you; 2) tailor how you lead to how people like to be led. Everybody is different and bringing out the best in each person is different. Each person has unique strengths, and it’s important to leverage those. It’s not a one-size-fits-all; and 3) when looking forward to their careers, people tend to look at a person in a desired role and believe they need to do and behave exactly like that person. Instead of looking at a person and saying, “I need to be that person in that role,” look at that role and say, “How would I shape that role? What would I bring to it?”

You’ve built a successful career in a male-dominated field. What advice do you have for aspiring female leaders?

Be really aware about your elevator pitch: Here’s what I do; here’s what I’m best at; here are my successes.

Also, understand the mechanics of the business, stand for what you want, and paint your own vision—don’t paint a vision that somebody else has for you. And don’t just wait for somebody to call on you or ask you a question. Women tend to wait until there’s a pause—don’t. Get in there and state your opinion.

Stand for what you want, and paint your own vision—don’t paint a vision that somebody else has for you.

What are the most common mistakes that you see women making in the workplace?

There are things I’ve seen that women tend to do more than men that are self-limiting. My advice:

  • If there’s a big room, sit at the table, not in the back row.
  • When you walk into a room, you’re there for a reason. That’s your room. You’ve been invited for a reason. Don’t wait to be credentialized. You already have the credential. Just build on it.
  • Women tend to have this desire to be liked and it can override what needs to be done. Much has been made of the double bind—and I think there is truth in it. But, you don’t have to be liked to be respected. Sometimes the need to be liked precludes women from challenging an idea or stating something that they truly believe in.
  • Women say “sorry” quite a bit. Or they’ll start with, “I was just,” or “I’m just…” It impacts how people view you. It undercuts what you’re doing.

Cheryl Strayed has this great quote where she says “don’t shrink at the moment that you should rise.” Has there been a time in your career when you took an uncomfortable route rather than the safe one?

I’d say starting the Women’s Leadership Network before we had a formal diversity and inclusion initiative. The dialogue around inclusion and diversity wasn’t there yet, and I didn’t feel it was a safe topic. But I saw the need for a conversation and for a vehicle to enhance women’s leadership.

When I first went to [Slalom Seattle's General Manager at the time] Brian Jacobsen with a very ambiguous idea about the group, he responded, “Yeah, no brainer.” But for me, it wasn’t the safe route. Though it wasn’t comfortable for me to start it, I saw a ton of potential, so I did it.

Why did you feel it wasn’t the safe thing to do?

I want to be known for my accomplishments, not my gender. I didn’t want this to be a special springboard for me, or highlight my gender, and I don’t think that a lot of women do. But I also saw the need in the organization, so that’s why I created this group.

I want to be known for my accomplishments, not my gender. But I also saw a need in the organization, so that’s why I created this group.

The Women’s Leadership Network, formerly Slalom’s Women Connect, has evolved quite a bit since its inception. How and why has it changed?

I started it in Seattle in 2012, and it was focused on growing and developing leadership skills. And leader isn’t title-based; it’s mindset-based. So everybody can be a leader. My four-year-old can be a leader.

I really wanted to focus less on creating a club, and more about learning and growing and developing. I talked to each market to understand what was working well and what wasn’t. I learned that the focus wasn’t always consistent. And a lot of women didn’t participate because they, too, didn’t want to be singled out for their gender.

So we re-branded and re-focused Slalom Women Connect into the Women’s Leadership Network (WLN). It’s focused on five pillars: internal community, professional development, organizational evolution, external networking, and community.

We also wanted to engage the leadership of each market to make this something that people want to be a part of and make it a core differentiator for the market.

Can you sum up WLN’s mission?

To engage, inspire, and encourage every Slalom woman to achieve her full and unique potential.

As the group continues to grow and evolve, what are your goals for the Women’s Leadership Network?

Honestly, I’d like to obsolete it.

I’d like to get to a place where it’s not something that we feel that the organization needs. Where it’s not something that’s a strategic priority because as an organization we’re very blended and there’s no difference in achieving aspirations between males and females.