Though she was only twenty-two years old, Sam Paxson was going places with her career—and she knew it. Ambitious and driven, she secured a position at a large marketing agency where she worked on big-name accounts like Aston Martin, Billabong, Ford and Fender.
Her biggest priorities were paying off her student loans and having a vibrant social life. With a career that allowed her to increase her income proportionate to her performance, her financial goals were obtainable. Being so young, she was untethered by familial responsibilities and lived that vibrant social life she sought after.
Life was good, and she kept working hard to make sure it stayed that way.
A Step Up
Eight years passed. Sam was now 30, and she happened upon a job with a very different type of company. A little ATM network, called CO-OP Financial Services, was looking for a VP of Marketing.
Bold and unafraid, Sam applied for the position—and got it. Today she largely attributes finding and getting the position to luck. But if luck is when hard work meets opportunity, Sam had done her part on the “hard work” end.
“CO-OP offered me a job because I was a very driven person who was delivering. I was also probably the most inexpensive candidate,” she admits, nodding to her youth. “They were getting a great deal.”
Since Sam joined on twelve years ago, CO-OP has evolved into a FinTech company that serves 60 million consumers. As a back-end tech provider striving to help people lead better financial lives, the company helps credit unions connect to each other so they can share branches and ATMs. Add its digital apps and fraud protection services, and CO-OP plays a large role in helping credit unions compete with banks.
“It’s a very fun and purpose-driven business,” Sam relates. “We’re living in a tech world that’s evolving so quickly that we constantly have to race towards what’s next. It’s been really exciting as a leader to live in that world.”
Lead she has. Sam has helped the company grow, and she’s been rewarded for it. She’s a big believer in meritocracy—when you deliver excellence, you’ll be compensated well for it.
Getting Paid What You’re Worth
You have to do more than simply deliver excellence, though. You have to advocate for yourself and ask to be compensated according to the value you’re providing to your employer.
“A book that really influenced me was Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead But Gutsy Girls Do,” says Sam. “It taught me that it never hurts to ask. It never hurts to go for it. The more you do, the more you’ll get paid.
“Every time I add value to the company I’m in my bosses’ office telling them, ‘Look at the value I provided to you! You should pay me more because of it!’
“’You are relentless and hilarious,’ they all say. But doing so has served me over my twenty years in the workforce. You need to tell them, ‘Look I’m doing this great stuff–and you need to pay me well so I’ll continue doing it for you.’”
As Sam’s life progressed, her priorities changed. Today, her friends are still important to her, but her number one priority is her five-year-old son.
“He’s only going to be five for a year,” she says, “and I’m going to miss it if I’m completely focused on work. I was offered other job opportunities that required being in the office five days a week. I had to turn those opportunities down.”
One offer in particular came with a pay raise and a better title, but something about it didn’t feel quite right.
“You should always interview your potential employer as much as they’re interviewing you,” Sam notes. “During this interview, I could feel in my gut that the opportunity was more conservative and they would be more old school about how they were getting the best out of me.”
At CO-OP, Sam is given flexibility to work from home many days while still holding meetings with coworkers in their physical office on others. This setup gives her opportunities for creative engagement with others, yet also provides her with the time she needs to think and work independently.
The arrangement works best not only for the production of her work content, but also for her family as she saves hours per week that would otherwise be spent commuting. Those hours can now be dedicated to her husband and son.
— State Street (@StateStreet) March 7, 2017
Why Women are Great Intrapreneurs—and Why Big Business Needs Them
With the rise of technology, the business world is changing rapidly. As old companies try to adapt, they are in desperate need of intrapreneurs.
Intrapreneurs are the movers and shakers inside a traditional nine to five. They have the creativity and drive of entrepreneurs, but are able to direct their energy to change and innovation within an existing business rather than using their energy to build a new entity.
Sam identifies some of the necessary traits of an intrapreneur as problem solving, being creative, and possessing the ability to think on your feet. She notes that these same skills are necessary for women as they navigate motherhood.
“According to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, you become an expert at something once you’ve devoted 10,000 hours to practicing it. I think back on the first five years of my son’s life and what I had to juggle in order to make my life work. As a mother, you have to problem solve, think on your feet and be creative to get things done. That’s a part of what women do. They have more practice than many people in the working world.”
Indeed, just before a child hits age two, mothers hit the 10,000 hour mark. And that’s if you’re accounting for eight hours of sleep each night, which any mother will tell you is a liberal estimate in the first twenty-four months.
Mothers have an incredible amount of experience practicing these skills, making them effective and powerful intrapreneurs.
Retaining Talented Mothers
You may remember Chatón’s powerful argument that by providing flexibility, employers can retain talented mothers and enhance their bottom line. Combine this with Sam’s theory on intrapreneurship, and there is a very real reason to accommodate mothers’ needs for flexibility.
Sam has seen this with her own team. In an industry where people climb the ladder and increase their salaries by hopping from company to company, the women and men she oversees have a typical tenure of six to eight years.
“They stay because they get to work on exciting things,” she explains. “They get to work the hours they want to work–where they want to work them. All they need to do is deliver excellence and they can keep working in that way. In return, I get a happy, connected and loyal team.”