Janice Bryant Howroyd: “The advice I offer female leaders is the same I offer anyone: Be honest about where you are in the process”

The advice I offer female leaders is the same I offer anyone: Be honest about where you are in the process. Not just your role. Be honest about your abilities. Are they growing? Will what got you here get you there? If not, what are you prepared and excited to do to fill the gap? I […]

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The advice I offer female leaders is the same I offer anyone: Be honest about where you are in the process. Not just your role. Be honest about your abilities. Are they growing? Will what got you here get you there? If not, what are you prepared and excited to do to fill the gap?

I had the pleasure of interviewing Janice Bryant Howroyd, a North Carolina native, who left her hometown in 1976 armed with $900. Two years later she founded ActOne, which she grew into a multibillion-dollar global organization that now leads the human resources industry. With 2,000+ employees across more than 20 countries, ActOne Group is the largest privately held, woman-owned workforce solutions company in the world. A businesswoman, entrepreneur, educator, and ambassador, Janice has also worked with U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. In 2016, she was appointed by President Obama as an advisor on HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), and continues her service today. Her passion for education, mentorship, and self-empowerment initiatives has earned her extensive professional and philanthropic recognition. Her passion to support women and next generations in achieving their dreams of self-fulfillment are key motivators to her sharing her story.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Janice! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

The process of looking for work when I first made Los Angeles my home was not one I enjoyed, felt well served from, nor resulted in the manner I wanted. This, dynamically, fed my interest in the staffing industry — why it worked for some, but not most. Once I was encouraged by my brother-in-law to pursue staffing, based on his impression of my capabilities during the time I managed his office, the connection was made!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

“Funny” may not be the appropriate description, but “interesting” certainly fits! Once I had begun placing talent from behind the desk, versus sitting in front of the desk looking for work, I had the opportunity to talk with a firm I had actually interviewed with. Six months into the relationship, and 12 placements later, they tried to recruit me into a role that paid twice the salary of the role I had interviewed for less than a year earlier! The relationship with this HR executive grew from indifferent to disappointed to offended to understanding to one of a coach to friends. Although she’s retired now, we continue our friendly relationship. Another life lesson!

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?

To be clear, I never sought to achieve a title. My focus was on achieving results. CEO came with the job.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

First, let’s establish that the CEO of a startup can be anywhere from the only employee to one of less than 20 employees. So, naturally, the job is going to encompass many roles. Once the company is established, though, two of the key roles include (beyond visioning and articulating the vision): 1) Making the hard directional calls of the organization and being ‘the one throat to choke’ and 2) If there is a board, being accountable for all areas of the business to the board. Again, ‘one throat to choke’!

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

In my role, and particularly in the culture of my work, I get to interact with NextGen and Millennials across the globe. This keeps me fresh in my conceptualization process and very informed about how talent wants to be serviced.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

The downsides of being in executive leadership are a series of ‘ifs’: If you don’t do this, then this happens or won’t happen; If you’re not consistently learning, then the organization you lead goes flat, etc. For me, while there are certainly risks in front rewards, like with any leader, I don’t see downsides. It’s a blessing for the little girl I was to now have the opportunities I have as a woman to ensure that the many other little girls facing futures are prepared — and prepared for!

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

CEOs are not autonomous. The best CEOs are stewards of people first, immediately followed by organizations. This does not conflict with any fiduciary responsibilities.

What are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

There are, indeed, thriving disparities between male and female access and respect from legacy discriminatory practices. This is the header for a long list of ills — with no magical cures. We stay in the fight to create equality.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

The biggest difference between what I knew about my job at the beginning and now is that I LOVE it! Every challenge, every happening, every team member all bring joy to my ability to navigate this journey.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

The advice I offer female leaders is the same I offer anyone: Be honest about where you are in the process. Not just your role. Be honest about your abilities. Are they growing? Will what got you here get you there? If not, what are you prepared and excited to do to fill the gap?

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

The numbers of people who have championed my growth are too numerous to mention. Family members, team members, customers, organizations, my girlfriends of WOD who text at all hours of the night to offer comfort when caregiving — and this is across the globe!

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Giving forward is critical for the soul to thrive. Mama taught us this. Being a good steward of your own behavior — Dad taught this. Obeying Mama and Daddy has brought me many rewards and helped me to pay for my space in the universe.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Each one Reach one.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Never compromise who you are personally to become who you wish to be professionally.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Jeff Bezos, Melinda Gates.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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