The She-Suite Magazine Highlight
Emily Dickens, SHRM’s Corporate Secretary, Chief of Staff, and Head of Government Affairs, embodies professionalism and drive in the workforce and beyond. When she isn’t creating valuable connections for herself and her company, Dickens is an advocate for higher education and education equity.
Today, she’s focused on supporting better workplaces for all, through egalitarian and ethical practices. When asked about the standard for women in the workplace, Dickens said, “Let’s stop having separate standards for everyone. Each individual has their own standards. I think we all should strive for a standard of excellence that allows one to do their best work, hold their colleagues and leaders accountable and continually invest in themselves so that when a workplace no longer works for their purpose, they can easily take their talents elsewhere.”
As a leader and influential member of her industry, Dickens recognizes the power of strong connections and support systems. “When you meet someone new and something about them, their career, their life, or even their conversation resonates with you, keep the connection open. … We weren’t meant to travel this road alone.” She also recognizes her own support system as a tool that helped shape her success and ability to blend work and life seamlessly. “I have lots of help. I have a very supportive spouse who will put the brakes on when I’m doing too much. I have a boss who is laser-focused on work/life integration and sets an example of how you do it well. … The most important thing to understand is you can’t do it all by yourself. You have to delegate and you have to ask for help.”
Emily Dickens’s upbringing, purpose pathing, and career path have taught her that determination trumps all. “You should never count yourself out because you don’t have the resources or connections. When you’re determined, there is always a way.”
- What does work and having a career mean to you? Is this where you derive your sense of purpose or is it something else to you?
My work does provide a sense of purpose. I’ve been fortunate to be a public servant the majority of my career. In addition, I’ve been an advocate for higher education, education equity, and a fundraiser. Today, I get to advocate and support better workplaces.
- How would you describe the standard for women in the workplace and what are you doing to redefine that standard for the better/in a unique way?
Let’s stop having separate standards for everyone. Each individual has their own standards. I think we all should strive for a standard of excellence that allows one to do their best work, hold their colleagues and leaders accountable and continually invest in themselves so that when a workplace no longer works for their purpose they can easily take their talents elsewhere.
- What are the principles that you live by and how do they help you to attain your goals gracefully?
At work, as an individual contributor I focused on letting my work speak for me. As a people manager, my goal is to bring others along with me. As a member of the C-Suite, my goal is to lead in a manner that inspires, promotes the value of helping others, and still keep highlight the importance of getting the job done.
- What is your opinion on ‘the Great Resignation?’ Do you think it has more to do with feeling unfulfilled at work or not having a support system to help you blend your life responsibilities (children, community, calling) effectively?
I think we are overlooking the fact that a lot of people got caught unprepared. They did not invest in the support systems that would have helped them navigate the sea of change we saw over the last two years. We all know the workplace can do more and let’s give some credit to the employers who are continuously looking about how to better support their workers. But in the end, we are responsible for our journey. We make the choices along the way and with each choice we know there are risks and rewards. Managing the risks requires intent. So, we’ve got to be intentional about not just the networks that support our careers, but the networks that support our personal life.
- Gallup finds that around the world, women have bigger social networks than men do, i.e. more people they say they can turn to in times of need. But the count is lower for younger women, so the people whose talents and energy will push companies forward, the ones that will fill the leadership pipeline, have the least social resources. What advice do you have for these women professionals when building a strong community and network to support them?
Reinvigorate old relationships that have commonalities with your interests. We weren’t meant to travel this road alone.
- How do you blend your work and personal life to not become overwhelmed as a woman professional?
I have lots of help. I have a very supportive spouse who will put the breaks on when I’m doing too much. I have a boss who is laser-focused on work/life integration and sets an example of how you do it well. I have two work assistants who are thoughtful about my schedule. I have a personal assistant who does things like help me plan my hubby’s birthday party, plan my annual personal retreat, and she’s the one who helped us find the perfect retirement community for my mom. The most important thing to understand is you can’t do it all by yourself. You have to delegate and you have to ask for help.
- When defining your purpose path, what are the things that mattered most to you and how did you incorporate them into your career choices smoothly?
For most of my life what mattered most was making my parents, John and Alice Dickens, proud. My dad passed away four years ago and I knew he was proud of my accomplishments and my mom tells me every time I see her. So now what matters most is being an example for first generation college students and HBCU graduates. We often hear about the limitations for these two groups, but I’d like to show another side.
- Tell us about a time when you had to overcome a major obstacle – or make a difficult professional decision? How did you navigate them, what did you learn about yourself?
The decision to leave NC and head to DC for a role as VP of Public Policy at AGB was a big one. Even though I’m a New Yorker, I’d spent most of my adult working life in NC. And, I had worked for the state most of my career. Plus, I had to consider my husband’s career. He was an Assistant Principal at an elementary school that he loved. I learned so much about my ability to pivot, be agile, flexible and be considerate to the needs of another. It is exactly the experience I needed.
- How has your leadership style helped to define your impact?
I’m direct. A straight shooter. If you are someone who likes to communicate that way then my impact has been greater. For others, I have learned to identify how they prefer to communicate and to adapt as necessary.
- What are some of your personal principles that drive your professional success?
#1 is loyalty. I’m loyal and I expect the same. #2 Do good to do good. If you focus on doing as much good as possible in a situation then things will work out financially, and otherwise.
- Share with us a defining moment in your life and how it has shaped your purpose?
I was a debutante and as you know you have to raise money. The person that raises the most money is crowned Queen. So, the church hosting the cotillion was not mine and honestly my parents didn’t have a lot of money. But one day we heard people talking about the girl who would likely win because she was a member of that church and her parents were so connected. I tell you, my mother and godmother got to work on a plan that included us walking up and down a business district, asking owners to buy ads, and my Mom and godmother coupling small individual donations from their coworkers at the hospital and post office into gold and silver pages. Guess who was crowned Queen? The moral of the story for me is that you should never count yourself out because you don’t have the resources or connections. When you’re determined, there is always a way.
- What’s next for you that you might want to share with our She-Suite Community?
I’ve committed this year to writing more, and to thinking about next steps.