Work and Money
The Comeback Queen: Q&A with Verizon’s Aimee Novak
The old rules — unwritten, of course — said that if you left a job, you could not come back. That was especially true for women — women to whom responsibility fell for eldercare, child care, childbirth, and other family-oriented scenarios that have torpedoed too many careers to count.
None of that has sat well with Aimee Novak, who has been a technology and business-development executive for more than 20 years. As Verizon’s Vice President of Business Sales, South Area, based in Irving, Texas, she has expertise in business strategy, business development, and international sales and marketing, as well as building strategic alliances. And she also has a particular passion for helping women return to the workforce after time off. She is, in fact, helping to rewrite those old rules.
CircleAround caught up with Novak, who also has expertise in workforce optimization, analyzing complex situations, turning strategy into action, and using synergy, credibility, and cross-functional business knowledge to catalyze change and drive success. (She is also an executive sponsor of Verizon’s Women of the World initiative.) She gave us — and you — more information about how women can reenter the workplace, and how the pandemic is changing how we do business.
CircleAround: One passion of yours is mentoring or helping women reenter the workforce after taking time off. Tell us about why this mission is so important to you. Are there tools and/or resources that we can give these women to help them navigate that reentry?
Aimee Novak: I have seen this throughout my entire career. Women who leave for a period of time often find it difficult to regain the same-level position when they return to the workforce. As individuals, corporations, and as a society, we need to recognize this problem and do something about it.
"A woman who has been out of the workforce caring for an ailing parent comes to the table with different and valuable skills that give her a unique perspective."
One of the things we must study is why these women are leaving in the first place. One reason is definitely a lack of flexibility in the past. This pandemic has certainly changed that.
Mentorship is something everyone can do to support other women. I’m an executive sponsor of WOW, Verizon’s Women of the World career-development program. Through this organization, I have had the honor of mentoring women, helping them write their résumés, coaching them on the interview process, and assisting them to better market themselves. This is just one of many tremendous things that Verizon Business is doing to help women through the pandemic.
CA: How can businesses more broadly assist women to get back to work?
AN: If you are in a position of leadership with the power to hire, make an effort to deliberately seek out applicants who don’t have traditional corporate experience. A woman who has been out of the workforce caring for an ailing parent or who took time away from corporate America to start her own business comes to the table with different and valuable skills that give her a unique perspective — a point of view that someone who has only been immersed in corporate culture doesn’t have. Corporations should want employees who think differently, and this is a great opportunity to diversify your workforce.
As a people manager, give your employees the freedom, when possible, to work remotely and work the hours that work for their lives. As a result of the pandemic, many parents are dealing with decreased child care and, in some cases, their children are being home-schooled. Flexibility is no longer a bonus — it’s a necessity. Listen to your employees and ask them what type of schedule works for them.
Traditionally, many women did not have the flexibility to do this and had to choose between work or family. Today, there is no reason we can’t have both. When people have flexibility, they work harder, deliver better outcomes, and have higher engagement. Flexibility is also key to retaining and attracting top talent.
CA: What advice do you have for women looking to reenter the workforce?
"Perhaps you learned the importance of empathy after caring for an elderly relative. Those lessons you learned make you a better team player, and in my opinion a more attractive hire."
AN: If you are a woman that wants to reenter the workforce or have just taken some time off, research online classes in the areas of interest to you. Just because you aren’t working doesn’t mean you have to stop learning on your journey to your dream professional role.
Often, I see women come in for interviews and ignore the years they spent at home, either on their résumé or in conversation. Women should be proud of that time they took to do what was important to them. Talk about classes you took, your hobbies, and personal lessons you have learned that differentiate you from other candidates. Perhaps you learned the importance of empathy after caring for an elderly relative. Those lessons you learned make you a better team player, and in my opinion a more attractive hire.
Create a LinkedIn profile and use it. If you already have one, make sure you keep it updated, upload a professional headshot, engage frequently with leaders in your field, make connections, and plan virtual coffee dates.
CA: Before the pandemic hit, there were, of course, challenges for small-business owners, particularly women small-business owners. What were the typical problems that you observed among your customers, pre-pandemic?
AN: Before the pandemic, I saw small-business owners struggle with a resistance to digital transformation. That has certainly changed. Digital transformation is no longer an option — it’s a necessity. Over the past six months, our small-business customers are seeing the need and value of products that enable mobility, such as our OneTalk mobile-first business phone solution that gives small businesses the ability to quickly and easily receive, route, and redirect calls across an employee's devices. A workforce can work from anywhere with the same features and functionality as they would at their desks.
We also acquired BlueJeans this spring, which is the world's leader in enterprise-grade cloud videoconferencing. BlueJeans has been a great tool for small businesses as they navigate through this pandemic. It enables them to easily and securely hold live video calls, webinars, conference calls, and online meetings. Security is another thing that may have been put off pre-pandemic. With millions of people working remotely, security is now top of mind for all businesses — big and small.
CA: Can you tell us about the challenges you’ve witnessed — particularly for clients, but also for women you’ve mentored, or generally, in terms of doing business during the pandemic?
AN: As we heard during the first “Women in Media” event hosted in partnership with CircleAround, Shelley Zalis [CEO, The Female Quotient] said it best: “When you look at the lexicon, leadership is still predominantly men and caregiving is still predominantly women. This is a great moment if we want equality in the workplace. We need to start with equality at home and practicing where the family shares responsibility. Because it is disproportionately falling on primary caregivers.”
I think women are feeling the burden of caregiving more right now during the pandemic, and that is leaving them with less time to focus on their careers. We have come so far in the workplace, and it’s scary to think that we could go in the opposite direction. Women whom I have spoken to during this time seem overwhelmed. I think it’s something we all have to be aware of, and we need to be kind and forgiving to ourselves.
We are living in particularly challenging times, and while the pandemic has most certainly presented all of us with different levels of loss and uncertainty, it has also provided us with, oddly enough, the gifts of perspective and potential.
The “new normal” is anything but normal, but what this really means is that we have the ability to define a new path forward. We have been given the opportunity to take pause and reflect upon our core values as human beings, and intentionally take measures to shape a future that we one day hope to realize.
CA: Are there any tools that Verizon offers that have been particularly helpful in overcoming or navigating some of these challenges?
AN: One example is our Comeback Coach program, which is Verizon’s first small-business resource hub, bringing together valuable tools, services, and advice to small businesses. This new hub for small-business resources serves as a one-stop destination, bringing together Verizon’s numerous COVID-19 small-business relief programs and vital information to help small businesses survive and thrive.
According to a recent Verizon Business survey, 64% of small-business owners indicated they would find a resource hub dedicated to supporting and reviving small businesses once the pandemic subsides helpful.
"Seek out women whose leadership style and success you admire. I would not be where I am today without the mentors I’ve had."
CA: Leadership is core to your business and brand. What, to you, are key elements of good leadership?
AN: While I believe that the key elements of good leadership are qualities like integrity, courage, and commitment, for me, the key element of great leadership is unquestionably authenticity in that this is a uniquely differentiating characteristic.
The best version of you is, in fact, the real you. When you grant yourself the permission to be authentic, you will have command of abilities that are not new but rather unrealized or latent and more often than not appreciated.
CA: What advice from lessons you have learned in your own career do you have for professional women?
AN: One of the best lessons that I have learned in my own career is that my true value or potential is not determined by popular consensus, conjecture, or opinion.
You absolutely have to have confidence in your own abilities, recognize your own opportunities for growth, and pursue what inspires you to the essence of your being, but never, under any circumstance, let anyone tell you what you are worth or what you might or might not be able to accomplish.
CA: You’ve had an incredibly successful career. What advice can you offer women looking for tips from the executive suite?
AN: Seek out women whose leadership style and success you admire. I would not be where I am today without the mentors I’ve had. I had a great manager who told me never to be shy about taking credit for the work I have done. So many times, as women, we are too shy to say, “Hey, I did that. That’s my work.” Take credit when you have done the work. Men don’t have trouble doing this — neither should we.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.