If you were able to meet Maxine Attong as a teenage girl, you would probably wonder how did this quiet, reserved and somewhat wacky young lady grow into such a phenomenal woman and leader. Today, Maxine as we know her, is confident, articulate and inspiring to say the least. As a woman who believes in having daily routines and one that is proud of her prayer life and her strong relations with her family, Maxine tells us how through her work over the years she is now able to partner with other leaders who long to be less operational and more strategic so that they can execute vision on a daily basis. As an executive coach who leverages her 20+ years of organisational excellence to serve the needs of leaders, Maxine helps leaders navigate the different levels of systems with great focus on the individual, teams and the larger organisation as they execute their strategy. Her professional career has been spent in oil and gas and insurance sectors as a business leader in finance, strategist, process improvement expert and change agent. Since 2000, she has run her private consulting practice, and has consulted with hundreds of clients, throughout the Caribbean and with Organisational Development teams in Portugal, South Africa and Budapest.
Once seen as a shy girl who lived in her head, today this phenom is the author of two business books: 1: Change or Die The Business Process Improvement and 2: Lead Your Team to Win. Both document her experiences and theories on leadership commitment and employee engagement. She also serves as the president of the Human Resources Management Association of T&T (HRMATT) and is the interim treasurer for the Girl Guides Association. Maxine designs and facilitates the Enhance U Programme which transfers life skills to teenagers. Her Call to Creativity Programme which empowers and supports professional women on their career paths is now in its 5th year. This year, she will host her third edition of the Lead Your Team Leadership Seminars which shares research, theories and experiences on leadership with leaders and senior managers.
As we continue to celebrate women for the month of March in recognition of International Women’s Day, the XX team met up with Maxine Attong to chat with her on her accomplishments and to hear a little of her take on the theme for International Women’s Day 2019. Here’s what she shared with us.
XX: What is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?
MA: A career is not a life defining nor permanent state. As you grow and change and become more of whom you are, you are going to see things differently from the younger version of yourself.
Do not be afraid to embrace the woman that you have become. If your chosen career does not fit the grown you, then it’s perfectly ok to embrace a totally whole new career, that truly represents whom you are.
XX: With the International Women’s Day theme for 2019 being Balance for Better, can you tell us what balance in the workplace means to you?
MA: Balance for me starts with the recognition that life is a continuum. We often talk about life and work as opposite ends of the spectrum where we have the tricky job of keeping both sides stable. I think that if we move both pieces to the middle then of course we attain balance. My challenge is not to have the various aspects of my life as competing issues but to bring them in equal focus at any point in time. Build the routine in such a way that each day encompasses a bit of each. This outlook extends to diversity in the workplace, it’s not about giving women preference over men, but holding men and women together in an equal playing field with the same access and options.
XX: Do you think that women’s confidence and self-belief play a role in how well they do in male dominated fields and whether they are able to meet their career goals?
MA: I think opportunity and access are the key factors for meeting career goals. If given these two factors women will excel. The statistics show that in T&To we excel right though university and then what happens? Most young women have a sense of being unconquerable, until they run into life. The social and cultural expectations, the misogyny and other forms of discrimination take the wind out of their sails and they begin to doubt their invincibility, for some by 30, they have been exposed to some form of abuse that reduces them to rubble. Professional women face paradoxical situations that are truly challenging. There is the paradox of the second shift – after a full day of work, women are expected to adequately take care of all household related duties. There is the paradox of the imposter syndrome, qualified women feel fake when given opportunities and promotions that they have deserved. These and other paradoxes have psychological impacts that make women seem to be less confident and lacking in self-belief. Add to that our cultural and social taboos that women must be seen and not heard, our images of femininity or lack thereof, the silent expectation that females in the workplace must take care of others and be understanding as well as emotionally mature. For every woman who seems lacking in self-confidence or self-belief, it would be interesting to know if they are physically tired or frustrated by their powerlessness to change things or have given up in the face of misogyny and discrimination. The question should be, What happened to dim your light? My experience as a coach tells me that there are logical explanations to this question.
XX: How much has risk-taking contributed to your career development?
MA: I smiled when I saw this. I have been described as a risk taker. I don’t know what risks, I make decisions and have no angst over it. Every decision I make I am fully committed to, until it no longer works and then, I make another one. Risk exists for the beholder, the people who are looking in at me, who are not seeing or understanding the logic of my decisions and saying why did you leave that job or that company? Why are you changing careers? Why are you spending money on this? For example, the risks associated with hosting the third annual Leadership Seminar Paradox of Leadership on April 4 are often pointed out to me. Yet, three years ago, I made the decision to host these seminars because I am committed to leadership development in the Caribbean. I am part of a global Gestalt Organisational Development community, whose members share a similar vision of our role in society. I decided that each year I will collaborate with one of my global colleagues to offer some new reframe of leadership so that my Caribbean peers and colleagues can hone their leadership talents. This year Guardian Life of the Caribbean has joined my efforts by offering its Atrium for the Leadership seminar themed the Paradox of Leadership. My career has changed lots of times, opening up new worlds, opportunities, learnings and new communities, and I know that I am not done yet. Some day in the future I will make another decision and off I will go again.
XX: Can you tell us about a female role model who has inspired you over your career?
MA: My mom is that role model. She left her family and her home in Guayaguayare and moved to town because she had four girls to educate. She heard horrible things about girl children and the low expectations that society sets for them and she ignored all of that. My mom learned to drive when she was over 40 and to this day she is the fastest driver in the family yes even faster than my nephews. She went back to school when I was a teenager and finished her Bachelors, even when her friends were saying why you are bothering? She taught me the first principle of being a woman i.e. you always have a choice. She does not believe that age is a limiting factor she says Start what you want to start, regardless of your age because guess what? Three years will pass and you will either have done it or not.
XX: How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?
MA: The best compliment that I can receive is from another woman, whether it is about how I look or something that I have done. I really value these comments. I hear beyond the words, I hear: I see you, I know how hard it is, you are showing up, and we are in this together. It is imperative for us to celebrate and recognise each other, to seek and offer counsel to each other and most importantly to hold the space for others. We have to offer access and opportunity to other women and warn each other of pitfalls. Tell each other about opportunities for promotion, tell others what needs to be done to make the grade, nominate someone to a board position, share with them how to network. These are the main reasons why I started the Call to Creativity programs; to support professional women and share with them the tools that I have learnt along the way. It is one way that I get to lift other women up. It peeves me to hear that women are our own worst enemy. I don t believe it. I believe that some women fought so hard and were treated so badly on their way up the ladder that they don t know how to behave differently (we often do what we know) and some are also mortally afraid of helping others up (if she fails then what will that say about me?). Thankfully, this situation is changing.
If you re interested in attending Maxine s upcoming 3rd Annual Seminar to be hosted on April 4th 2019 which features the theme The Paradox of Leadership , you can register via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Speakers include Ms. Judith Gail (US), Mr. Kerrigan Roach (Barbados) and Ms. Maxine Attong.