Have you ever considered seeking out a professional mentor or even organizing your very own personal board of directors? There is a plenty of value to be found and gained in a thoughtfully curated group of professional peers, potential mentors, and even mentees. Whether you’re trying to navigate a workplace issue, a professional decision, or a major career transition, a group of willing advisors with a variety of skills and experiences can be a tremendous asset.
Briana Wilsey, Senior Director, Acquisition and Lifecycle Marketing for Marriott Rewards, was inspired to start a Personal Advisory Board after hearing former colleagues discuss the benefits of a group of women dedicated to meeting on a regular basis to support one another through workplace-related issues and challenges. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Briana to chat about how she launched her very own women’s Personal Advisory Board, or PAB, and how you can too.
Q: Tell us a bit about who you are personally and professionally
A: I lead member acquisition and promotions for Marriott Rewards. I spend my days thinking about ways to engage with our members and drive deeper loyalty through offers that blend data science and creativity. I love to travel and can probably recommend a good doughnut shop in most major cities. When I’m at home, you can find me at a hip hop dance class or reading a book outside.
Q: How did you initially come up with the idea for PAB?
A: An executive at a prior job had a PAB and I heard her mention it a few times. A PAB, or Personal Advisory Board, is a group of ambitious, thoughtful, and generally awesome women who meet regularly to tackle tough questions about work and advise each other as they build their careers. That type of inspiration and support sounded like something I would really like to have in my life so I decided to start one.
Q: How did you introduce PAB to your network?
A: To get a PAB started, I needed members. I was looking for women in a similar stage of their career, who were willing to make a commitment to the group and who worked at different companies. I sent out a few emails to women I knew, describing the idea of PAB and asking if they would be interested in joining. Then, they asked a few people to join and so on, until we had about 10 people.
The result was that everyone knew at least one person in the group and we had a broad array of industries and job types represented. I think you could choose to have your PAB members concentrated in the same or similar industries and there would be certain benefits of doing that, but we found really unexpected upsides to having members from the private sector, government, nonprofit, finance, etc.
Q: Can you share a bit about your very first PAB gathering?
A: Our very first meeting (and several thereafter) were focused on getting to know each other. I talked about what I wanted the group to be and asked others to share what they were hoping to get out of it.
We then spent time learning about each other. Each person shared details about their job and how they got to this point. We spent the next several sessions doing a deep dive into one or two of our members—getting really detailed about what they do, what challenges they face, what their work place and co-workers are like, what their aspirations are, etc. It was important for us to have a real familiarity with each other’s jobs and workplaces so that we could give meaningful and efficient advice. That way when you say, “I was having a conversation with Barbara and she said…,” we already know that Barbara is your boss, you have a good relationship, but she hasn’t been supporting you for the promotion you want.
Q: What does a typical PAB gathering look like?
A: Each meeting was chaired and planned by a different member. Rotating this responsibility gave each of us ownership of the group and spread the work. The format of each meeting was generally the same, with the focus topic selected and developed by the chair.
- Social time: For the 30 minutes before the official start time of the meeting, we had optional socializing time. If your schedule allowed, you could show up early and catch up with the others. Although we mostly didn’t know each other at the beginning, we quickly became friends who wanted to talk about each other lives outside of work too. This social time was a one way for us to do that, but keep the focus of the meeting on career related topics. We also made plans from time to time that were purely social and had an annual holiday party.
- Update: We started the meeting by going around the circle and giving a brief 2-3 minute update—what’s the big news item in your life since we last met.
- Individual Topics/Explorations: One or two members might have brought topics that they wanted to discuss and get input on. That could be a tough situation with a boss, a salary negotiation, an upcoming interview, or questions about managing a team.
- Focus Topic: The chair would lead a discussion or activity related to the topic of the month. Sometimes the chair would send homework in advance—an activity to complete or an article to read. We would usually brainstorm a list of topics at the beginning of each year that we wanted to explore or learn more about and each volunteer to chair a meeting covering one of the topics. We covered areas such as goal setting, negotiations, personal finance, communication styles, and more.
Q: Do you have any advice for people who want to start their own PAB?
A: If you want to start your own PAB, the most important part is finding a group that is willing to commit to prioritizing regular attendance. This is challenging because everyone is busy, but the format doesn’t work well if people are constantly in and out.
I would not recommend a group where everyone is already friends. You will become friends over time, but the goal is to focus the group on career development rather than social time. In our PAB, everyone knew at least one other person on day one and then got to know the others, which ended up working very well.
Finally, I would recommend that everyone works at a different company or organization. This will allow you to speak freely about your work place.
Have you ever considered creating your own version of a PAB? What questions do you have? What’s holding you back? Share in the comments below.