“My number one piece of advice is to raise your hand”, With Sunny Ackerman

“My number one piece of advice is to engage — raise your hand! Most women I work with are typically less risk adverse, but you really need…

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“My number one piece of advice is to engage — raise your hand! Most women I work with are typically less risk adverse, but you really need to get out of your comfort zone in order to grow. Women are so hardwired to hold ourselves back, be modest, be deferential — as little girls, we’re told that competitiveness, ambition, and self-assurance are not “becoming”. Most of our mothers weren’t like that, and as adults, we continue to tell ourselves that this is the right way to be. But your determination and your eagerness are strengths; it’s about using those strengths in a productive way.”

I had the pleasure to interview Sunny Ackerman. Sunny is President of Americas at the niche technology recruitment firm Frank Recruitment Group, responsible for overseeing the company’s rapidly-expanding presence across North America. Known for her expertise in the staffing industry and her vital commitment to addressing relevant and important issues revolving around women in the workplace, Sunny is a lifelong advocate for closing the gender gap in the technology field. In both 2015 and 2017, Sunny was named to the Staffing Industry Global Power 100 List for her ground-breaking work in the staffing industry.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always been drawn to helping others, and the employment industry is such rewarding field to work in in that respect. It provides you an opportunity to make a positive impact on people’s lives, and offers you the chance to learn and grow in new areas.

There are many aspects to the staffing industry; from attracting and recruiting to retaining and developing talent, and so much in-between. It’s not just the individual candidates who you can make a huge difference to, it’s the businesses you work with too.

In recruitment, there’s nothing better than seeing the sparks that fly when you match the right professional with the right organization; I love to see innovation in action, and helping companies find the talent they need to drive their business forward, and transform the way they work, is truly gratifying.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I’d say the thing that really set Frank Recruitment Group apart is our unique combination of specialist knowledge and global scale.

Succeeding in niche recruitment, you need to be experts in the area you’re working in. That kind of granular knowledge is hard to maintain at scale, which is the majority of major staffing firms are generalists. Truly niche staffing firms can find it difficult to grow, not only because of the relatively small scope of their markets, but because its challenging to maintain that highly technical kind of understanding on a larger scale.

Through the development of individual brands, each dedicated to a specific niche technology product, and our lifelong training and development plan, we’ve managed to achieve significant international growth without losing that dedicated, specialist edge.

We also have a really distinctive a work-hard play-hard culture here. That attracts a lot of vibrant, ambitious young people; our offices are bristling with energy, and that is incredibly invigorating, especially for those of us who’ve been in the industry for a long time.

The new generation of professionals are constantly pushing against the status quo, and as the nature of work itself changes, we want to be ahead of the curve, and employ people who know what their peers want from their careers today. Young workers often get a lot of flak for having changing ideas about work, but to me that’s so exciting. I think we’re really uniquely open as a company to adapting to those changes. We listen to what our teams have to say, and we adapt accordingly. Why wouldn’t you want to find new, better ways of doing things?

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

As President of Americas, my job is to expand our reach across North America. I’ve overseen the opening of two new offices in the US over the past few months, with more to come before the end of the year; looking into new markets and finding new places where we can help people find work is my number one priority at the moment.

Tech is really blossoming in North America — the industry is no longer concentrated in San Francisco, or New York, we’re seeing incredible hubs of innovation popping up across the country all the time. Places like Dallas, Denver, and Phoenix are all brimming with tech businesses and professionals who’re pushing boundaries, and gaining a lot of attention.

There’s enormous growth happening in tech, and jobs are being created faster than they can be filled in a lot of places. Technology and IT really are going to be the future of work, and we want to be on hand to help connect people with these opportunities. People don’t have to move to the coast to land a great tech job anymore, there’s opportunities all over the country, and it’s so important that we’re guiding people in the right direction so that they can take advantage of those opportunities.

As part of that mission to get more people to work in tech, we’re running a number of initiatives to offer training and support for those entering, or re-entering, the tech industry. Our Mason Frank Tech Academy, for example, is a two-year program that gives people on-the-job training in Salesforce Administration, while also supporting participants through their official certifications. All of this training is funded and arranged by us, to help get new talent into the ecosystem, and address skills gaps.

Supporting this kind of upskilling is really important; helping people who may not have had the exposure or opportunities to get into tech and enjoy all the benefits that a career in IT offers is something I’m especially passionate about.

Fewer than 25% of computing jobs in the US are held by women, and that number is far lower at senior and executive levels. One of my favourite projects that I’m currently working on is our Diversity in Dynamics initiative. This returnship helps people who’ve taken a career break — either to care for children or family members, or for health reasons, for example — start a rewarding IT consultancy career through extensive training, mentorship, and paid work placement.

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

My number one piece of advice is to engage — raise your hand!

Most women I work with are typically less risk adverse, but you really need to get out of your comfort zone in order to grow. Women are so hardwired to hold ourselves back, be modest, be deferential — as little girls, we’re told that competitiveness, ambition, and self-assurance are not “becoming”.

Most of our mothers weren’t like that, and as adults, we continue to tell ourselves that this is the right way to be. But your determination and your eagerness are strengths; it’s about using those strengths in a productive way.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Be present, even if you are not physically there — communicate your expectations, be clear on the goals you set for your team, and frequently meet to review their progress. Motivation is key to leading a team; if you get to know your team on an individual level, you can understand what motivates them, what their own goals are, and that will be your guiding light in driving them to be the best they can be.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

My mother — my mom inspired me in so many ways, but primarily in the way I was raised. She was, and always has been, about truth, ethics, responsibility, and maintaining a high level of accountability. She taught me that those who work hard get ahead, and to never take things for granted.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

In my previous role at ManpowerGroup, I was a sponsor for ACE, an employee resource group created to advocate, connect, and elevate women within the business. This group was central to supporting our female team members, and helping them advance their personal and professional development.

That group helped so many women grow and advance their skills. We should never underestimate the power of supporting each other in the workplace as women; that is an act of incomparable goodness in itself, and the who took something from that program will continue to bring their own kindness and integrity to the world throughout their careers.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I think there are already a huge number of incredible movements driving change and helping people. I would like to support the movement towards greater diversity.

Diversity benefits everyone; not only the women who’re walking through these newly open doors into fantastic, lifelong careers in tech, but the companies who are welcoming these new ideas and new perspectives into their teams, the economy they’re supporting, and the world that their work is going to change for the better.

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

If you want to succeed, you need to step into the ring.

Showing up is half the battle, and getting involved wherever you can will not only help you move your own career forward, you never know who you’re inspiring along the way.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Kindness costs nothing. There’s a difference between being kind and being a timorous in the workplace; just because you’re a leader, and you want to command respect, doesn’t mean you have to throw your weight around. True leadership is about motivation people to follow you because they want to, not because you tell them to, and making frequent deposits in the “emotional piggy bank” is the best way to do that.

Be resilient. Working in staffing, you face a lot of rejection. There are a huge number of variables in play, and no matter what you do, there are going to be times when things don’t go your way. Setbacks aren’t always easy to swallow, but you can’t afford to take knocks to heart. The only way you’re going to be successful is to remain consistent in the face of challenges. That takes a lot of grit and determination, but if you want to succeed, you need to get back on the horse quickly, every time.

Be adaptable. You will have your own style of management, but bear in mind that one size does not fit all. You’ll get the best results as a leader if you need to find out what kind of engagement, involvement, and interaction individuals in your team respond to.

Always give credit where it’s due. This is the easiest and most effective way to make your employees feel valued. You might think that deferring credit to your team doesn’t make you look as good as accepting the glory yourself, but it actually reflects even better on you; after all, a good manager’s team is an echo of the work they put in, and making sure your team enjoy the accolades they earned will not only cement your position as a great leader, it will also do wonders for your team’s morale.

And lastly, as I mentioned earlier, show up. It doesn’t matter how good your intentions are, if people don’t see you turning up and taking part, you won’t generate the kind of engagement you need to lead a productive, contented team.

Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I find Malala Yousafzai incredibly inspiring. That she continues to campaign for equality, and inclusive education for girls, in the face of tremendous adversity is so moving. Seeing her work so hard for a cause she believes in, and at such a young age, really drives me to do everything I can to support women and girls in my industry. People like Malala can and will truly change the world for the better.

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