Sandra Hughes is a small business owner and former industry employee that has focused on Data Privacy, Risk Management, and Executive Coaching.
CEO and President of Sandra Hughes LTD.
Host: Welcome to Listen For Insight. I’m your host David Ternik. We have for you Sandra Hughes, the CEO and President of Sandra Hughes Strategies LTD, and former executive for Proctor and Gamble. She gives her insights on being a strong female in a STEM field while maintaining her femininity. I send you now to our interviewer Alexa Miller.
Alexa Miller: Alright Sandra, so you’ve had several roles professionally including Strategy Consultant, Corporate Executive, Executive Coach, and philanthropist. How have you adapted your creativity and innovation for each role?
Sandra: Well I think, first I just need to start with how I got into where I am now and that started at my alma mater, which is Miami. As a systems analysis major I’ve developed and honed my skills of curiosity, so, questioning the why and how things are, and then connecting the dots to figure things out. And I think that I probably always had that inherent curiosity when I was a kid, the lincoln logs and the record sets and all those things, but I noticed when I first had it when I worked in a spark plug factory. So it’s a blue collar town, I’m paying my way through college, so you have a lot of time to ponder things while keeping up with the conveyer belt, so why was this, if we did this wouldn’t it make the thing go faster, and what are those people thinking? So, now, when you have that creativity and asking those questions and innovation, you also need leadership to get things done. I had a cousin, who also liked to put things together and figure out how they worked, but he would keep making the same mistakes like putting the screwdriver into an outlet and electrocuting himself and he’d do it again, you have to be able to learn from those things. So I think taking those skill sets of the curiosity and the leadership to learn and do things with that I’m worked into a career of business transformation. So in the 36 years I was with, I had 22 different assignments where by asking questions and why are things the way they are would help to them solve problems, take things to the next level and maybe into some area that people hadn’t thought of. So for example I was part of a manufacturing startup in Alabama. I was in Germany to fix some issues they had with losing mid-level technical limits. In Brussels I helped to speed up the package development cycle, what was holding them back. Globally I got into public policy by helping to solve, well, how could we have had some people who are walking past the grey line when it came to collecting competitive information for our business units. We have a history of doing the right thing, how could this have happened? m and then also with my global privacy and ethics and compliance roles. How could we build in information that leads to new initiatives that the brands were thinking of. So by asking questions I would always get into new roles, new ways of doing things, and even in the nonprofit spaces. So now as the chairperson for social venture partners, we’re part of an international network and we collectively invest our money and more strategic in innovative ways to strengthen nonprofits so each it’s the inherent curiosity which leads to creativity and innovation and that combined with leadership you can apply to any type of role wherever it is and so those skills stay the same they continue to learn and develop but it’s continually morphing depending on what the job and the role is.
Alexa Miller: Yeah I really like what you said about curiosity and leadership and how that ties directly into creativity and innovation and I completely agree with that so uh with that being said do you have any specific roles that you’ve had that have exceptionally helped you hone that curiosity and leadership and then translate that into creativity and innovation and if so could you maybe elaborate on that?
Sandra: Yeah I think it would probably be one of my first assignments a couple years into the company when yeah that manufacturing was a start up so this was a new category and new brand that the company had never been in and so everyone who was there in Alabama had the goal to produce this new product make it a winner and in a brand new manufacturing facility complete with cobalt radiation etc., which we had never done before so everybody was just really energized for that and we needed creativity and curiosity about how are we gonna make this work and also the ability to git er done and muster the resources and the sweat equity to bring those ideas to life and then we saw it so within two years the plant was running, there’s product coming off the conveyor belt and you feel that pride that you were part of doing that so that was something that I continued to pursue throughout my whole career until my retirement from P&G.
Alexa Miller: Very well, so I know you kind of touched on working in Germany with the issue of the company losing mid level technical women so obviously receiving a systems analysis degree and becoming a corporate privacy executive you’ve had a lot of experience in overcoming gender roles in industry and tackling those issues so how would you say that doing so how has that impacted your creativity and innovation personally and hows that impacted that curiosity and leadership that you touched on before.
Sandra: Well I would probably say that that the I constantly had to use my creativity and innovation on how to break some of those barriers and navigate that the gender issues to be able to have the success I did and to maybe try to do a little bit about how I did that. I can give you a little bit of background context, while I was growing up I got some mixed messages from my home environment. so I got exceptionally good grades, I was good in math and science but I was also quite shy. So my mother who had immigrated from Canada to Minneapolis when she was 16 and was a lingerie model for a couple of years to make money, my dad he told me when I was in the 7th grade specifically I shouldn’t tell the others in my grade because the boys wouldn’t like me. She made me walk across the room in high heels and a book on my head so that I would have poise and confidence and good posture so that I would present myself well and by the way I have quite a reputation for shoes even today so and some of those things really did make me more popular back then. But we’re talking a way long time ago and but the mixed message was that when my parents were determined that I go to college and even if they had to wash floors, even though my father did have his own business he didn’t have to do that thank goodness because I got scholarships did work study worked in that spark plug factory that I mentioned before. So I got through in three years with no summers working for P&G before I was 21 finally and I was the first one to get a bachelors degree in all the generations of my extended family that had been in the U.S. So that was great encouragement. So I think the when I think about it those mixed messages really helped to hone my creativity and innovation because I’ve never given up my femininity. It’s different from being a floozy, I’m not a floozy but my posture, my self-composure that my mother ingrained in me that when I would go into a room filled with men or to to lead a meeting or to give a presentation I was really thrilled at bursting those stereotypes by showing that I knew my stuff, I’m not an airhead, and I can get things done. And how did I do that? So, lots of times in preparation for those things I used my curiosity, asking questions. What is this? What is that? Just like you learned that you’re supposed to do when you go on a date with a guy, right. By asking questions you get them to open up. So using those skills I was able to get some information from them and then connect the dots and then come out with ideas and solutions that would become a win-win influence. And today so I just finished an engagement with a client where the subject was leadership, presence, and influence and through that, one of the things I shared with some of the studies that show that appearance is important for first impressions but if your gravitas, that confidence, that composure under pressure, being able to read a room and your emotional intelligence...that secret sauce to really what a lot of top leaders have. So, back in the day when I was first starting I can remember some women calling me out and saying that I was feeding into stereotypes by embracing my femininity but I think that that’s my authentic self and when I feel that, I can do anything. So, maybe that’s the message for women and I’m still continually appalled that the number of girls who are going into STEM careers now isn’t rising dramatically and maybe it’s because they feel as if they need to give up their femininity but I think that instead they should embrace it and that’s what I did and then combining that with curiosity helps to navigate some of those gender barriers.
Alexa: You kind of talked about how that authentic leadership is really critical for engaging women in engineering because if they do feel like they have to fulfill any gendered expectations that can really their interest in the field and their success as a leader. So with that being said, would you say that there are any gendered expectations surrounding creativity and innovation and if so how do you think those are helping or hurting women in engineering as it pertains directly to that curiosity, that creativity, and that innovation?
Sandra: Well I think - and studies have shown - that in lots of cases women are more creative in innovation because we constantly have those thoughts going back and forth between our left and our right brains so the synapses are always going whereas in men sometimes it’s not. We kind of can put things in different boxes so it kind of comes easier. I think that some ways that men don’t realize that women can be scatter-brained it might just be that they’re thinking as they’re… they’re talking as they’re thinking and it really is a real skillset that women have that needs to be embraced and being able to pull that out and put it in the right light I think helps to change a lot of those stereotypes and ways that men think about women.
Alexa Miller: Absolutely. So Sandra, you mentioned how a lot of times women are connecting the dots from say the left and right sides of the brain, and several different aspects of the scenario, and how would you say that a feeling of imposter syndrome where woman may not feel as qualified as they truly are, may not feel as qualified as men in creativity and innovation, how do you feel like that can thwart what they bring to the table?
Sandra: Well, what it can thwart is that a lot of great ideas stay suppressed, and don’t come out that could make things better or make things go faster. That had women been trusting their own true selves, and what they are capable of, things would be better because they would do that. so they are thwarting not only their own success, but the success of whatever organization or goal objective that’s there that would be better if they bring that out.
Alexa Miller: Absolutely, absolutely. So you had previously touched on the importance of authentic leadership, and just holding yourself authentically as a professional, how do you think that directly impacts creativity and innovation?
Sandra: Well, I believe that only be really understanding and believing in yourself can you be open to listening and trusting in others and asking the questions. Because then, where you are coming from and your stuff and being open minded to what others have to say. And it’s through that joint creativity and innovation that great ideas are born, and how things happen. But you have to feel strong, and authentic, and believe in yourself first in order to have that confidence and composure to ask those questions and to bring those things out in others.
David: Sandra wanted to elaborate on the idea of being authentic to yourself one more time.
Sandra: Well one thing, I would have to say is this whole aspect of of curiosity which leads to creativity and innovation, and then coming back to the question about knowing yourself and being your authentic self. It’s a whole lot more fun to be doing that and to not be afraid to ask those questions and not be afraid to ask the what if. for creativity than it is to keep that all inside and wish that you had said something later. It’s more fun life’s too short to not be enjoying everything that you do. So, I think that people should really embrace that and not be afraid to ask those really powerful questions.
Sandra: Hello, my name is Sandra Hughes. I am the CEO and President of Sandra Hughes Strategies Ltd. Since retiring from Proctor and Gamble about four years ago, I partner with clients to create custom strategies for leadership and personal development that increase their success faster and more robustly than they would on their own. Thank you so much for listening for insight.
Categories | Creativity and Innovation
Filetype: MP3 - Size: 16.72MB - Duration: 18:16 m (128 kbps 44100 Hz)