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October Blog: Breaking the Glass Ceiling
Featuring: Adrian Bracy, MBA, CPA with The Bracy Group
Every September, a new National Football League (NFL) season launches – a fact that fans of professional football and NFL corporate alumna Adrian Bracy know well. As the first Black female CFO in the NFL for many years, she became – and continues to be with her many other roles – a shining example of leadership and accomplishment, lighting the way for others to follow.
Climbing the rungs on the corporate ladder wasn’t always easy, though. Like many of us, Adrian has been challenged by "glass ceilings" along the way. Here she shares her strategies for breaking them.
Strategy #1: If You Don’t Want to Stay, Be Professional and Plan Your Exit.
“My first major career challenge as woman, and as Black woman – a double challenge – was at an aviation company. I served as Controller, the highest finance position there. I was happy; I thought this was a career job! Years into it, however, the company hired a new president who made it clear that he wanted a male in financial leadership. He created a new position, a Chief of Staff role, and filled it. The president wanted me to train the new man for the job I was doing. Basically, I could keep my title but report to my new boss without as much responsibility and no room for advancement."
Adrian knew her options: Stay and ‘fake it’ with the new boss or leave. Adrian’s decision was a combination of the two. While she did not want to succumb to wishes of the new president, she knew the importance of timing. “I handled it in a professional way and worked with the new bosses for six more months. This gave them time to ramp up and me time to find a better job.”
Strategy #2: If You Want to Stay in the Role, Look at the Long Term and Prove Yourself.
“After I was promoted from Controller to the Treasurer’s position with Joe Robbie Stadium Home of the Miami Dolphins, I learned that my predecessor (a male) earned $50,000 more than I earned for doing the same job.” Adrian approached HR to match the salary and was told (by a female) that Adrian “would have to earn it.” She said, “You don’t know how many people want your job.” Although surprised and upset by her response, Adrian agreed that she was holding a highly-coveted position. She was up against a male-dominated industry where the president or owner made the decisions.
Faced with the choice of staying at her current rate or leaving, she considered that there was opportunity to prove herself and make more because she knew the salary range. She decided to stay, with an invigorated purpose. “Action speaks louder than words,” said Adrian. “I thought: ‘I am as good as the next man, and I want to be compensated and valued like that. I will show you that I know my stuff, that I am competent. Not just tell you, but quietly and assuredly show my value.’ I call this my ‘Rosa Parks Moment.’”
She knew it would be harder for the president or owner to say, “You don’t deserve a raise” if he saw she was doing a great job. Her diligent style brought more self-assurance and her contributions were noted on evaluations. “If they didn’t recognize or witness my work first-hand, it was all written down, which supported future compensation discussions,” she added. Adrian continued to show her value with positive salary growth for 18 years with three NFL teams.
Strategy #3: To Change the Situation, Speak Up But Be Prepared.
“Always prepare for meetings or interactions, with good questions and good answers ready. You have to demonstrate you know what you’re talking about. As I gained experience, I began to speak up when I saw ‘roadblocks’ – maybe quietly or tentatively at first. When I got my point across, I gained confidence and would do it again! This taught me to trust myself, instead of being afraid of being wrong or disapproved. And if you don’t know the answer, be confident and state so, but be prepared to resolve to get the answer,” Adrian said.
“I wish I could have had the confidence earlier in my career, but it came with experience – true lived experience, not what you can ‘google.’ Most of the time, you can’t talk the talk without walking the walk.”
Strategy #4: To Make Lasting Change, Ask for Help and Bring Your Team.
“Over the years, I have made it a priority to build trust from peers and find champions – like one of my sponsors, a White male, who went to the team owner to advocate for my promotion. It’s important to find people that you trust to ask for ideas, support, and feedback. Women don’t always ask for help; more often, we try to figure it out ourselves if we don’t know something. Have a personal Board of Directors who will give you the good, bad, and ugly. Join a professional network for support outside of your organization.”
Overall: Identify Ways to Overcome Unexpected Obstacles.
In Adrian’s book, she shared these sentiments: “Do not expect that things will automatically work out the way you planned. Develop characteristics or traits that breed a winner’s mindset, such as having self-awareness, resilience, and self-discipline. Make sure you have the skills to accomplish your purpose in life. Be flexible and pivot if the situation changes or other opportunities arise. Be proactive and go for it.”
While roadblocks or other glass ceilings still challenge women in the workplace, Adrian’s advice will help us in our approach to dealing with them.
Bio: Adrian E. Bracy, MBA, CPA is a leadership strategist, personal coach, consultant and inspirational speaker. Adrian’s career includes nearly two decades in senior financial management with the National Football League (NFL). She transitioned to the non-profit sector in 2009 as Chief Executive Officer of YWCA Metro St. Louis. Her 35 years of experience in the corporate and non-profit worlds positioned her to write HALFTIME: Learn to Pivot as a Leader and Identify Your Next Step and launch The Bracy Group. In this consulting business, her mission is to “Help women leaders embrace the greatness within as they inspire others to do the same.” To learn more or buy her book, visit her website: https://adrianbracy.com.