We are delighted to feature Jane Perdue, former vice president for several Fortune 500 companies and co-author of two books on leadership. After many years going after the things she thought to be most important to her, Jane had a change of heart. She left the constraints of corporate America to create boutique professional development firm, Braithwaite Innovation Group, with friend and colleague Amy Diederich. Located in Mount Pleasant, SC, Braithwaite seeks to educate and develop today’s leaders though workshops, development programs, and consulting.
Introduce yourself to our audience. Tell us who you are and what you are currently focused on.
I’m the founder and principal of Braithwaite Innovation Group, a professional development consulting firm. There, I’m a leadership futurist who writes, speaks, and consults about paradox, stereotypes, gender bias, inclusion, and power. I encourage challenging the status quo through constructive dissent, respectful irreverence, and purposeful discomfort. I love it when women and men partner in doing the tough work of discarding limiting and old-fashioned notions of gender roles. Other passions include chocolate, TED, kindness, wine, and shoes.
Today I’m spending my time writing a book about women and their relationship with power, participating in the Status of Women in South Carolina Task Force sponsored by the Center for Women, and conducting workshops for bold men and women who want to disrupt the business status quo.
What has been the biggest challenge in your career to date?
My biggest career challenge was learning how to navigate the written and unwritten rules of corporate America without sacrificing who and what I was. Early in my career, I handled labor relations. There, I bumped into the double bind that women who are competent aren’t likeable and likeable women aren’t competent. Because I wanted to be both, I had to learn to manage paradox. That’s tricky stuff…and a skill I keep working to improve.
What was your biggest career breakthrough moment?
Up until a few years ago, I would have said becoming a vice president for a Fortune 100 telecommunications company was “the moment,” but that perspective changed a few years ago after a new post-merger boss described me to the CEO as a “soft and round Aunt Polly in a rocking chair.”
His words became the catalyst for a turbulent, years-long journey of introspection as I bounced around and against what I had experienced as a woman in business. During that journey of introspection, I annoyed my boss and his boss with questions and observations. I challenged my beliefs, laughed, cried, and bought shoes.
Then, at a business conference, I found clarity: the career advice typically offered to businesswomen was meaningless because the context for applying it was all wrong. That’s when I took off my corporate “charm bracelet” (the corner office, personal assistant, six-figure income) and joined Braithwaite to help women and men build inclusive workplaces.
Finish this sentence, "I knew I had "made it" when…"
…I realized could be powerful and still be a “good girl!”
If you could go back and talk to your younger self (before your career really began), what professional advice would you give her?
That’s a conversation I’d love to have! I’d tell my younger self that you don’t have to adopt masculine behaviors to be successful. Build alliances. Be a well-mannered maverick. Don’t just lean into the status quo, disrupt it. Don’t worry about everyone liking you. Take charge and take care, too. Support other women. Challenge stereotypes. Never let anyone make you feel defensive for having lots of shoes. Take an improv class and practice the power of “yes, and.” Apologize when you’ve done something worthy of an apology, and asking to take a few minutes of someone’s time isn’t on that list. It’s OK to say you don’t know. Volunteer. Always make the time for self-care; don’t wait for the cosmic two-by-four.
Share your two cents about money. What lessons have you learned about money along the way?
Money is important, but it’s not everything. As women, we have to be knowledgeable about finances and investing, yet we have to avoid failing into the trap of sacrificing people and principles for profits. I wished I’d learned how to read financials and invest while in my twenties. Dollars are the language of business, and you’ve got to “speak it” fluently. Always ask—gracefully and knowledgably—for more money. Negotiate for yourself like you would for anyone else. Philanthropy is a another practice I wish I’d adopted in my twenties, and now encourage everyone to make giving a regular part of making a difference.
And a message to CEOs everywhere: you’re leaving money on the table by not embracing diversity and inclusion!
What is your secret to success?
Not taking myself too seriously. Years ago, a beloved man where I worked gave me some great advice. He said to always remember the size of the hole your hand will leave when you pull it out of a bucket of water because that’s how much you’ll be missed. My takeaway lesson from his counsel that’s served me well is to be confident yet have humility.
Why are you a member of Ellevate?
I love to see women supporting women! Many women have had the shared experience of being met with silence after introducing an idea in a meeting. Then, within minutes usually, a man shares the same idea and is applauded for his great thinking. Ellevate gives women a forum for connecting, learning, supporting, and advancing one another so the next generation of women in business won’t share that experience.