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What is your name and location?

Erica Dhawan, Boston, MA – United States.

What is your profession?

I’m a entrepreneur, writer, speaker and consultant on next generation leadership – in short, I’m a generational alchemist because I transform young employees into engaged, effective leaders and advise companies to harness multi-generational workforces.

I am also the co-founder of Galahads: The Secret Society for Kickass Women and lead Ideas that Move writing retreats for women with Lex Schroeder (we have one coming up this April, check it out here).

What did you study in school and what degrees do you have?

MPA at Harvard Kennedy School, MBA at MIT Sloan, BS at Wharton undergrad. Yes, I know I’m over-educated! I blame the South Asian thing… It’s in my blood to be nerdy!

What was your first job?

My first professional job was as an analyst at Lehman Brothers in… 2007. That’s right, I joined Lehman Brothers at the peak of the financial boom and worked through the bankruptcy collapse. This experience taught me about the lack of feminine models of leadership in these large institutions and why we need more women to spark a revolution in the workplace. It also taught me about how the workplace and the demands of Gen Y are completely out of sync, and called me to begin researching how to enable future-oriented businesses.

Who or what inspired you to break into your current line of work?

For much of my 20s, I tried to “do it all.” I lived someone else’s vision of success, not my own. I ignored some of my greatest passions, like writing and dancing, until I burnt out.

It was when I took time off to dance and to write that the dots started to connect for me. I began to act on what I cared about rather than focus on what I thought I should say. Within just a few months, I published in The Huffington Post and Forbes. While I’ve been a longtime dancer, I began daily Bollywood and African dance rituals to get my day started, which helped me become sharper in my work on Gen Y leadership. All of this led me to speaking at Davos this year and building my business. In short, I began to own my life rather than letting it own me. I have never had this much fun or felt nearly as creative and productive as I feel now.

Name/describe what has been your most rewarding project so far?

My most rewarding project has been diving in and beginning to own my self-made career. Hands down I believe the hardest thing for each of us is to become the person we are meant to be. For me, this wasn’t the Indian doctor (a path I was expected to follow by my parents). Instead I chose to be an activist, investment banker, social entrepreneur, speaker–somehow all leading me to this company I’m crazy committed to that aims to close generational gaps in companies and involves coaching young leaders and women innovators.

Name/describe one incident when being a woman has helped your career?

Right now, as I build my business. I stand out in audiences and on stages where there are few women. I spoke at Davos this past January on a panel titled Leadership Models Across Generations with three male CEOs. I stood out as a young woman of color and used my difference to my advantage. This taught me not to hide my femininity, now I even use Bollywood dance in my Ideas that Move retreats to engage groups.

Name/describe one incident when being a woman has hindered your career?

Investment banking at Lehman Brothers. It’s a male-dominated culture. While I met many great women at the firm, I unfortunately saw a lot of women taking on more typically male characteristics in order to succeed. Being a woman, I sometimes got type-casted as being the quiet girl or the b*tchy girl. There simply wasn’t space to be ambitious and feminine at the same time. After leaving Lehman Brothers, I realized that bringing my feminine qualities to Wall Street would have done me, my colleagues, and the industry a far better service.

Who is your role model or mentor (alive or dead)?

I wouldn’t say I have one role model or mentor, because role models imply imitation. Rather, I am inspired by women champions who help me become who I am meant to be. So my champions would be a combination of marketing experts Marie Forleo and Danielle Laporte – two bright fun women entrepreneurs. I think that many young women often idolize big “power players” like Sheryl Sandberg and Oprah and put them on a pedestal. I had a chance to meet Sheryl Sandberg at Davos and it made me realize how human we all are and that we don’t need to idolize these women, rather do OUR own unique work in the world, just like these champions have done and support other women (this is a key principle at Galahads).

If you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting out in your field, what would it be?

I actually don’t think giving advice is ever useful for young women, because each woman knows the answer for herself. We need to spark a culture of coaching to help each person uncover her own vision of success. We need to ask the right questions to women just starting out. Questions like: What is it that you dare to dream to do? What does this picture look like? What are actionable steps in the next three months that can help you get there? If a woman needs some coaching, I’m launching individualized coaching this summer and would love to help ‘em! Go dream!


Ideas that Move writing retreats for women

Follow Erica on Twitter: @edhawan

– Interview by Elena Rossini


Author elena

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