It’s not good enough, and it’s not fast enough."
Victoria Harker is the chief financial officer (CFO) of Tegna and was the guest of honor for the most recent Kogod Connections webinar hosted in partnership by AU’s Sine Institute of Policy and Politics, AU’s Women Network, and Kogod’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.
Harker earned her MBA degree from the Kogod School of Business before breaking into the male-dominated world of finance. When Harker started at Kogod with a fellowship, she quickly jumped into her role of establishing the new tutoring center at AU. “It was kind of like running a mini-business. We didn’t have profit and loss statements. Still, we had to do all of the organizational planning, marketing, getting tutors screened and signed up—it was fun for me to experience this while taking my business coursework,” said Harker. “It was enriching and had me on a vertical incline in terms of my learning curve.
Harker was doing her best to get the tutoring center up and running when the encouragement of a woman faculty member left its mark. “Faith Leonard was in charge of student services at the time that I was completing my fellowship assignment at the tutoring center, and she watched me make decisions that would be conducive for the center, and she said, ‘You need to be doing more of this, you’re good at it.’” This comment led Harker to later pay it forward by mentoring other women who aspired to work in c-level positions.
To get a much faster glide path to CEO and the corner office, you need more than just the skills themselves."
"It’s the ability to lean into leading projects with accountable, demonstrable metrics that you can point to and show your ability to run profit and loss statements for major organizations that aren’t just support roles,” said Harker.
Harker stressed how critical it is that women do not wait to be assigned but volunteer their skillsets to solve challenges and be willing to take on the risk intentionally.
Harker has personally mentored nine people who have become CFOs—not all women—but thematically, all nine mentees were able to prove that they could jump in with both feet to an area that needed direction, and they didn’t wait to be assigned to challenging projects. “They weren’t given blueprints on how to solve problems. These experiences added skillsets and tangible experience to their utility belts,” explained Harker.
Harker also points out that having diverse perspectives in the c-suite is essential for growth. “Women bring different skills to the suite,” said Harker. “Women are risk-takers in a less linear sense—we can toggle more quickly between tasks, and I say that lovingly as someone who raised three sons.”
However, Harker points out that it is vital to recognize how some strengths, such as toggling between many tasks at once, are not always the most effective paths. “We need to force our brains to focus and prioritize. Not everything needs to happen at the same time. Some things may need to move to tomorrow, next week, or never,” explained Harker.
Harker helps herself prioritize her most important goals by choosing ten things she can focus on while training for iron man competitions. “When I am running, the only things I have with me are my ten fingers, so I go down my list of ten goals and zero in on the most important goals that I want to accomplish within the next year,” said Harker.
Prioritizing goals is so essential for Harker and something that she stresses that other women do because often, women feel underqualified for advances in their careers. “One thing that is uniquely female is the notion that you need to master all 12 of the skills listed on a job posting, but men tend to think maybe knowing how to do half is fine, and they’re willing to throw their hat into the ring,” said Harker.
I have to push women along and say you don’t need to have perfect knowledge of this area to take the leap!”
While Harker has formally mentored many women and men, she says it is crucial to be intentional when looking to others for guidance. “People often don’t even know that I view them as a mentor,” said Harker. “I zero in on some facet of how they manage their professional life, and I will reach out and ask specific questions, invite them to coffee, and be deliberate but not imposing.” Harker manages her network in this way so that she can learn from a diverse range of leaders across a range of industries. Harker explained that quantity is overrated and exhausting; it is better to be specific and position yourself around people who can help you get a foot in the door for your considered positions.
Although the youngest generation of workers seems to focus more on “Aces in the right places,” as Harker put it—there is still much progress to be made toward increasing the percentage of women in c-level roles.
“Now that wall street is focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion, it forces public companies who may not have focused on it before to invest more into the pipeline,” said Harker. “Public policy also needs to continue to make strides in helping more women have the opportunities they wish to have. We need more access to higher education and subsidization of childcare.”
Harker continues to pay it forward, though she is focused less on mentoring on a one-to-one basis and more on roles that will allow for more significant change at a broader scale. “I am a governor’s appointee on the state council board of higher education, so I can help more women access opportunities from a political policy perspective,” said Harker.