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The Benefits of Community: An Interview with Libby Sartain

It has been widely taught that you should never climb a ladder alone. Otherwise, you could find yourself with no support if you get stuck or need help. We all need someone to support the ladder. The same analogy can be applied to the corporate career ladder. The first couple of steps might be easy to complete on our own, but the journey to the top is so much easier with people supporting and encouraging us along the way. If we can find a community to support us on the climb… even better.

Advice from the CXR Women in Talent Meeting

Communities have helped pave the way for many successful industry icons. One of whom is Libby Sartain, former CHRO for Southwest Airlines and Yahoo. Libby Sartain joined us at our Women in Talent meeting and spent an hour talking about her career development and how we can empower women to take on more leadership roles. Libby credits communities for her steady rise to the top of two male-dominated industries. “Professional organizations, community organizations, and volunteer organizations of which I have been a part have shaped my career development – more, in some cases, than mentorship programs and relationships within companies,” Libby said.

Career growth and development were always a priority for Libby. Her first career hurdle came around the time when Libby was three months pregnant. Libby was working for a company that only expected her to write two job descriptions and give two job evaluations a day. That was it. “I was furious. I could start work at 8:30 and be finished by 10:30,” Libby stated. She was not prepared to leave her job, so she started looking for growth outside of her organization and within a professional community. “That is when I got very involved with SHRM,” Libby said. “It led to a great network of people and a wonderful life as a SHRM volunteer and SHRM leader,” she added. Libby was able to take advantage of the extra time in her schedule to fully embrace a professional community.

The more Libby embraced these communities, the more she began to develop leadership qualities. “There is always someone smarter than you, that you know in those groups, and they are always willing to help and I just love that,” Libby explained. “I think that is who made me who I am. I didn’t have aspirations to be on the board of public companies when I was 21 years old, but people said I could do it and they helped push me along.”

The importance of culture and belonging

Finding herself and finding her tribe within a community gave Libby the motivation to take risks and break rules. “I think that what is important to me is that I need to be myself wherever I am,” explained Libby. “Part of being myself is breaking rules. I don’t like a lot of rules. I’ve tried to find a place where I could be myself because when you are the most uncomfortable, is when you are trying to fit into a culture where you don’t belong.”

Most professionals can relate to a situation in which they felt detached from an organization. This is where a community is so impactful. Listening and sharing your experiences with others in a community can help point you in the right direction to find your company. Communities are filled with individuals who share a similar passion and mission. Members of a community lean on each other for growth, guidance, support, and even laughter. “One time I got called into my boss’s office, where I was told that I laugh too loud and no one is going to take me seriously,” said Libby. This was a pivotal moment for Libby, realizing that she was uncomfortable and did not fit into this company.

After being passed over for a promotion by a male colleague with less experience, Libby found her belonging at Southwest Airlines. “One day I was with another woman in the hall laughing loudly when Herb [Kelleher, the former legendary CEO of Southwest Airlines] walked by and said you are my two favorite people in the company because you two are the only ones who laugh louder than I do.”

“Find the place you belong and it makes the difference,” Libby added. “It’s less about breaking the rules and more about finding the place that appreciates you for who you are and lets you take things as far as you can take them.”

Communities help establish belonging and help establish our sense of purpose. Communities not only let you laugh as loud as you want, they encourage it. Each member of a community brings value and with that value comes wisdom. Libby was able to transform an industry and launch what we now call “employer brand” through development and growth within a community. Find your community and they’ll encourage you to climb that career ladder as high as you possibly can.

[Also read: Why belonging is such a big business issue]

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