By: Jason McLure, News & Events Writer, Tuck School of Business Posted: May 2nd, 2013

Tuck Voices: Women in Leadership Series

As a mentor to numerous women at State Street and the mother of two children, including one with special needs, Tracy Atkinson knows all about what many working women call the “big juggle.” For her, the Tuck Executive Program was a chance to step back from her everyday duties at the firm and reflect both on her approach to business and life.  For the first installment of a special series on women and the Tuck Executive Program, Atkinson shared her thoughts about executive education, balancing work and family and keeping a focus on long-term goals. This is the first in a series of interviews with top women executives who have participated in the Tuck Executive Program (TEP). 

For Tracy Atkinson, it was her promotion from chief compliance officer to executive vice president for corporate finance at financial services giant, State Street Corp. that was the catalyst. With new and broader responsibilities, she sought out an executive education program that would expand her strategic thinking, refresh her skills and develop her peer network. Here are her perspectives.

Q: What are the biggest challenges for women when they become senior executives?
Atkinson: Generally, women are faced with the challenge of giving time to yourself and can feel selfish when they do take it. But it’s good self-care. You’re always having a level of guilt: “I’m not spending enough time at work. I’m not spending enough time with my family. I can’t remember the last time I worked out.” It’s particularly acute because of motherhood and societal expectations of what the role of a mom is. The way I try to think about it is that the more I focus on taking care of myself, the better I’ll be for others, the better I’ll provide for my employer and the better I’ll provide for my family financially.

Q: How did the Tuck Executive Program fit your work-life situation?
Atkinson: For me, the three-week program was a very concentrated experience and fit better than other programs that you come in and out of over a longer period. I have two kids, a 17-year-old and a 20-year-old who has severe special needs and so life is never quite in balance. Having three weeks to be yourself and reflect was really a gift to me from my family and my work.

Q: How did the program impact you the most?
Atkinson: TEP helped me think more broadly about what I do day-to-day. You tend to be insular in your thinking, particularly when you’ve been at a firm for a period of time and you may not think about how you fit in your industry or how your practices compare with those of other industries. For me it was eye-opening to talk about innovation with this breadth of people from different industries, different functions and from countries like Japan, China, Saudi Arabia, the UK and the Czech Republic. From a peer networking perspective it’s been great: there’s a group of six of us that were together in the same study group during TEP. Two years on, we still do bi-monthly calls and cheer each other’s success and help each other if we’re having an issue.

Marshall Goldsmith, Tuck Executive Program

Q: What resonated for you most from Marshall's sessions in TEP?
Atkinson: I think about what he had to say a lot. He really emphasized constantly challenging yourself to be a better person in all aspects of your life. His message was really appealing to me in terms of self-reflection and questioning and challenging yourself to make sure you’re doing everything that you want to be doing. It’s amazing how your day fills up, and then the next day, and then the next and suddenly a year goes by and you didn’t do the things that were most important to you for the long-term. He had a way of saying: ‘Think about what you really want to do today and are you spending your limited time wisely?”

Q: How important are your mentoring relationships with younger business women?
Atkinson: At State Street, I try to serve as a mentor for women—and almost every woman that works there knows me. It’s personally rewarding and you want to spend time with them, to be there for them, but it also takes time away from me and my other responsibilities. There are so few of us at the executive level that you constantly feel a demand for mentoring from younger women and you try to help them but not let it drain you.

Name: Tracy Atkinson
Age: 48
Title: Executive Vice President, Corporate Finance, State Street Corp. 2011-present, Chief Compliance Officer at State Street, 2008-2011.
Previous work: MFS Investment Management, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP
Education: B.S. University of Massachusetts-Boston 1988, Tuck Executive Program 2011
Boards: The ARC of Massachusetts; Partners for Youth with Disabilities

As Atkinson and her female peers assume greater responsibilities in their organizations, they face challenges unique to women leaders. That includes a dearth of women in corporate boardrooms, coming to grips with still-pervasive social expectations that they’ll sacrifice career opportunities for family, and studies that indicate they’re more self-critical and less aggressive in seeking advancement than their male counterparts.

“Extensive research has shown that one challenge women leaders face more than men is that they tend to be harder on themselves,” says leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith, author of the New York Times’ bestseller “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” and faculty in TEP for over a decade. “In coaching women leaders I am more likely to say: ‘Please do not be so hard on yourself.’ And, ‘be more willing to promote yourself.”

Read Part 2 of the Tuck Voices: Women in Leadership Series
featuring Boeing's Amy Wuerch

Read Part 3 of the Tuck Voices: Women in Leadership Series
featuring Hershey's Kim Schaller

Read Part 4 of the Tuck Voices: Women in Leadership Series
featuring BAE Systems' Susan Palmateer

For nearly four decades, Dartmouth’s Tuck Executive Program has helped transform successful executives into stronger strategic leaders so they can better drive growth, innovation and change for their organizations. The same faculty that teach in Tuck’s highly-ranked MBA program also teach in TEP. They are joined by visiting professors such as Marshall Goldsmith, renowned executive coach, bestselling author and winner of the 2011 Thinkers50 Leadership Award.

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