The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: “What advice would you give to women who hope to make to the C-suite?” is written by Judith Monroe, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation.
I love to watch and share Ted Talks—I’ve even given a few locally in Atlanta. I am inspired by passionate women like Amy Cuddy, who shares her fascinating research on body language, Angela Lee Duckworth, who believes that grit is the best predictor of success, and Temple Grandin, who shows us that the world needs all kinds of minds.
These inspiring speakers, and others like them, are onto something big. What I’ve learned from them, and the many other talented women (and men) I’ve worked with over the course of my career, is that there isn’t one single path to success. Sometimes you need to stay flexible and be open to new possibilities. You must always believe that you belong at the table, no matter where you sit. And you often have to persevere with grit and grace when you’re faced with tough challenges and decisions.
My career path hasn’t been a straight shot to the C-suite, but I always knew my passion: health, and, more specifically, the public’s health. In my first job as a physician, I worked in impoverished areas of rural Tennessee. My patients suffered from a range of chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. I quickly realized that health was more than just an individual problem—it was a community problem. That light-bulb moment set me on a lifelong path to improve health for as many people as I possibly could.
I think figuring out what your strengths are, and leveraging them, is key to any woman’s success. In my case, I realized that I could learn and grow and apply my talents in many capacities, whether practicing medicine, teaching, serving as a hospital administrator or state health commissioner, or leading important work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Now, as CEO of the CDC Foundation, it’s exciting to advance CDC’s lifesaving work to protect people and save lives. Whatever your passions are, be open to new possibilities and be willing to apply your talents across a broad spectrum.
From my vantage point, there are key lessons that apply to every woman on a path to the C-suite. First and foremost, be true to yourself, and find those who will support your dreams and your vision. Second, know that experts are not always right—follow your gut, bring energy to new ideas, and create enthusiasm around what you believe in. And third, embrace change and be flexible. What unique innovations can you offer to make the world a better place? How can you inspire others and bring together teams to help articulate and advocate for your vision?
Millennial wisdom is a wonderful thing. My family is important to me, and I’ve raised three smart, funny, interesting young adults. I learn from my kids all of the time, whether they’re giving me a crash course in Snapchat, or reminding me of the value of work-life balance. As an aside, humility and a sense of humor go a long way, both in the C-suite and in life.
My professional development has taken me beyond just the practice of medicine into public health, public policy, leadership, and now philanthropy and public-private partnerships. My best advice to women on the path to the C-suite is to explore your passion—and look for ways to apply your unique talents broadly.