Mar

Charles Aris women reflect on the importance of representation and discuss empowerment through mentorship

By Anabella Berti

 

Jill Jitima and Julia Opaleski, vice president and associate practice leader at Charles Aris Executive Search, respectively, have fine-tuned their mentor-mentee relationship to create one of the highest performing practices within the firm.

Our marketing associate, Anabella Berti, met with them earlier this month to discuss strategies for cultivating a positive dynamic and how they drive company culture in a more equitable direction, both inside and outside of Charles Aris.



Anabella: When you started at Charles Aris, how did you develop leadership skills, increase self-confidence and navigate obstacles to advance in your careers?

Jill: I started as an associate recruiter almost 10 years ago now. Before Charles Aris I was in a mostly male-dominated industry, and I had no idea about this world of recruiting when I joined. It was like drinking from a firehose learning everything from the ground up.

I was very fortunate to have strong leaders that took me under their wing: Jody Karavanic Bischoff and Caroline Wilson, specifically. Both were at the associate and practice leader level when I joined, and both are now vice presidents in the organization.

Very similar to what Julia has done for me, I was able to support Caroline in her early years and push her to grow. She now runs one of the largest practices at the firm. This example also showed me that there's a long-term career here at Charles Aris and that I could build my own practice.

Julia: I came to Charles Aris right out of college. I didn't have any business background, but I was eager to learn and was very high energy. I think in your first year at any job, you're just nervous ... and I wanted to do my very best.

In the beginning I tried to be quieter or even lower my voice a little, trying to be something that wasn't authentically me. Most of the leaders at Charles Aris, particularly the women, showed me I could be myself and find my own voice.

Jill gave me a platform, and once I felt a little bit of confidence things changed for me. That's how we began to grow this practice together. We had a natural working relationship and friendship, with a common goal of building long-term connections with leaders in the consumer and retail space.

Most importantly, we both agree it’s critical to enjoy your day to day and to make a very hard job as fun as you can.

Anabella: Why do you think mentorship between women is important within the walls of Charles Aris?

Jill: By watching other women navigate [this industry], I was able to learn how to get very comfortable being myself and standing on my own two feet. One thing that Julia and I have done quite a bit is give each other a lot of reassurance, confidence and validation.

It’s also really enlightening when we're able to talk through a woman's career and empower them to ask for a promotion or for a bigger team when they’ve earned it.

We’re also in a position where we can give [executives] the data to support those asks. That is one of the most rewarding things for me: to be able to influence and empower women across Charles Aris and across the consumer and retail space.

Anabella: How did you find space to foster a mentor-mentee relationship?

Jill: We have a very authentic relationship. There's a trust that we’ve found together that I've never had before in my career. [We know] that we're always looking out for each other’s best interests and that we're always going to tell each other the truth, even in the hard moments.

Also, when I was expecting my third child, we were figuring out how Julia and I would partner through my maternity leave. Having her support and camaraderie while spending this time with my family was significant to me. It was very powerful to see her level of support and dedication.

Julia: In the meantime, Jill also gave me a significant step-up opportunity to run the practice in her absence and push myself professionally in a way that I could never imagine. So, thank you.

Also, a few years ago Jill and Caroline helped create Charles Aris’s maternity leave policy. I think that’s a really big piece of what you've done for the women here.

Anabella: What are some skills that have helped you achieve success in the mentor-mentee dynamic?

Jill: Listening. At this point, each of us can tell when the other needs additional care or space to breathe, and we try to do an exceptional job of supporting each other in those moments.

Julia: Communication. I think with all the folks at Charles Aris that I've mentored, I've had to adjust how I communicate to share feedback or give advice.

Jill: The only other thing I would add to that is always being 100% transparent, authentic and genuine.

Anabella: What does the future of mentorship look like at Charles Aris?

Julia: We're hoping to build future opportunities where everybody can have a healthy work-life balance, grow professionally and have the space for adventures.

Jill: Professional services is a tough industry to navigate, and people can burn out in these types of positions very quickly. Having space for work-life balance while trying to shape something that we feel is going to create sustainable, long-term careers is something we are both very passionate about.

Julia and I are also working on some things behind the scenes for career paths that I think are going to be exciting for the firm and will allow people to grow with this mentorship model in a different way than we've done before.

Anabella: Today, women make up 43% of our organization’s leadership. How does it feel to be part of that community?

Jill: I feel very proud to have watched us grow over the last 10 years from having no women at the VP level to having multiple women in leadership positions. Seeing the firm create space and opportunity for that has been encouraging.

Also, watching women go into leadership and professional services has helped Julia and I make sure we continue to trailblaze for future leaders in the company.

To learn more about Jill Jitima and Julia Opaleski's executive search capabilities, call or text Jill at (336) 217-9115 or email at jillian.jitima@charlesaris.com, and call (336) 217-9132 or text Julia at or email at julia.opaleski@charlesaris.com.