Name: Denise Hopkins
Role: VP of Strategy – Global Credit Services
I met Denise through the Executive Mentorship program at Merage. Our monthly meetings have been invaluable for me in gaining career advice, exposure to different functional roles, and even company insight that helped me land an internship at Experian Consumer Services. Denise has a tendency to go above and beyond to help so I was not surprised that she jumped at the opportunity to be featured in WIB’s Spotlight Series. I hope you enjoy her commentary! – Lucy Perkins
Who did you consider as a role model in your early career? What did he/she teach you?
One of my first role models was the President of the advertising agency I worked for. She was great at communicating, storytelling, and engaging an audience during a presentation. Great public speaking skills. That was something I had struggled with at the time so I learned from her. I learned to communicate my value and my ideas on a project effectively, which has been key to my professional advancement. After I moved to Experian, I found a role model in one of the Sr. Investor Relations Managers. What impressed me was that she had worked her way up through the company, capturing respect from the people she worked with. She understood the business and she had great curiosity about how various areas of our business come together. She taught me that it’s important to take the time to build your network. She actually became one of the first female Sr Executives at the company.
What advice do you have for someone breaking into Strategy?
Strategy is about understanding your business and having curiosity for where the market is going. You have to research everything. Make no assumptions. You need to have that external vision to see what is happening outside of your company and with your customers, and the internal vision to see what your company is doing. You’re talking to everyone. And you need to get to know your Finance team if you don’t do that yourself!
What about somebody placed in their first leadership role?
I believe that you learn something from every leader you’ve worked for. You learn what works well. And even bosses for whom you had less respect will teach you what doesn’t work so well. So when you become a leader yourself, you take all of those experiences and make them your own – make your own style from them. I also like to remind people that even though a leader is you are there to provide guidance, the whole team is taking the journey together. It’s important to over-communicate, especially when it comes to helping team members understand how their role fits in to the larger picture or strategy. How do they make a difference? You must get that connection for everyone on your team.
How has the workplace changed for women since you first started working?
I see more recognition of the need to understand diversity and to talk about it. My coworkers and I will share articles on gender and leadership, and our company also encourages discussion. For example, they helped organize a webinar about diversity in the workplace, with a focus on opening our eyes to our own biases. When I first started working, people didn’t talk about it the differences between men and women in the workplace, so that’s a positive change. Recognition is the first step. Lots of organizations still struggle with how to influence biases though. The hard part is that people make unconscious moves that aren’t helping to advance women and they don’t notice it. Interestingly, the UK recently passed a law that large companies must disclose their numbers for how many men vs women in certain roles and their wage gap. So it will be interesting to see the discussion that falls from that.
[The law mentioned is the “Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017” and affects non-public sector employers with at least 250 employees. Read the legislation here: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2017/9780111152010]
How did you first build confidence in your professional self?
I’ve had a few opportunities at Experian that have helped me develop that type of confidence. I’ve always been self-confident in my abilities, but it’s a different type of confidence when it’s validated by someone else. So early on I had the opportunity to work on large pitches where I was brought in specifically for my communication skills, to explain a concept or idea. I was brought in because the existing team lacked the skills that I brought to the table. Part of the confidence came from being called out to join these teams without having to raise my hand and say “I can do that.” Somebody recognized those skills in me. Although, I do think the tendency to “wait to be asked” can be a downfall for women because we’re often less likely to offer up our skills and self-promote.
Have you ever asked for a raise or promotion? How did that go?
I have. I always walk in with the facts: this is what I’ve done. this is why those results mean I should move up. I’m a very fact-driven person and I’ve always known what I wanted to do next. So asking for a raise has never been a conversation like, “help me define my career path.” I’ve always had a clear idea of how to reach my next goal. That hasn’t come without it’s regrets though. I remember I was once asked to join a sales team and said no. I’ve had my career scoped out since college, even high school maybe, and that didn’t fit into my plan. Looking back, though, it could have offered a good perspective for me in my current role. So I would advise staying open to letting your career take its own course and potentially getting a wider range of experience.