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Breaking Glass

Meet Sonia: A career and life coach with a passion for coffee and a soft spot for working moms

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Sonia Boudreau is the founder of Integrated Executive Coaching.
Sonia Boudreau is the founder of Integrated Executive Coaching. - ()

After several weeks (well, if we're being honest, months) of no Breaking Glass questionnaires, it is back — with Sonia Boudreau, who transformed her career from pharma industry exec to career and life coach.

I met Sonia months ago at a networking event, and she told me about some of the coaching she has done with working mothers, helping them prioritize work projects and home responsibilities. As my son approaches his first birthday (!!!), I appreciate how much could be gained from having an outside person take an inside look at my life, picking out the wasted time and energy and helping me focus on what actually matters.

And not only is she a woman in business herself, but she has three kids. Chances are, if she can handle her life with three, she can streamline mine in her sleep.

Plus, she has a love affair with coffee that I find absolutely charming.

So without further delay, meet Sonia. And check out her working moms' blog, Mamas That Work It, here.

Name: Sonia Boudreau

Business: Integrated Executive Coaching

Position: Founder

Previous job: director, Global Strategic Pricing, AbbVie Pharmaceuticals

Where did you go to school, what was your major? University of Connecticut, finance

Family: Married, 3 children (11, 8 and 6), one dog

What were the attitudes toward women in your industry when you first started? I always find this question hard to answer because I think I was ignorant to the subject, and I feel I was blessed to work in environments that if you were smart and had the guts to speak up, then you were treated with respect. I first started in banking in the early '90s. I was often the only female in a room of middle-aged men. What I do notice is that high-level discussions behind closed doors today are much more professional than they were back then. The 'old boys' discussions that I had been privy to in my 20s just don't take place today.

What has been your worst experience as a woman at work? I had a boss for a few years who got into a cycle of beating me down mentally when he became insecure. Toward the end of my time with him, it began a monthly cycle. It took me a while to see it, and by the time I figured it out, I was miserable. It was a textbook case of an abusive relationship. What was most disconcerting was that he never displayed those behaviors with my male counterpart. I have seen similar behavior in others, and it's easy to spot because everyone can see it — men and women alike. But with this individual, it was only toward women, and at this time, it was directed at me, and I didn't even see it coming.

And your best experience? My first maternity leave was the best experience I had. My team ran like clockwork when I was gone. To me, that signified that I did my job. My staff and my boss were well-organized, aligned and prepared for anything. My staff also felt empowered to make decisions or go above my head in my absence. While I think they were all happy to see me return, there was a healthy trust between us that resulted from pure dependence on one another. I truly believe if you lead to make yourself essentially redundant, it allows you to take on new responsibilities and roles.

What mistakes do women often make at the workplace? Letting people fail, including themselves. As women leaders, I see two things happen quite often: 1.) We don't want to sign up for something that stretches us beyond our known capabilities. We want to make sure we have every skill set honed to perfection. While we are perfecting, the fun stretch roles go to our male counterparts.

And 2.) I have worked with two types of senior female leaders in my career: the masked ones and the authentic ones. Instinctively, we all follow the authentic ones without a question. But the masked ones — the ones who never smile too broadly, never laugh too loud, never admit to a mistake, never shed a tear — those are the ones who don't last. People follow people — not ideals of the consummate executive. Smile, laugh, trip and fall, then share it.

What's the best advice you ever got? Always leave something better than you found it — an analysis, a presentation, a team, a process, everything! Continual improvement — don't allow mediocrity.

What advice would like to give young working women? Be authentic! You have natural strengths: Understand them and find the right place to put them to work. By this I don't mean just your education or your technical skills, but find a place that can use your natural strengths (i.e. influencer, motivator, etc.) combined with your technical skills. What you do for work should make you feel strong and give you energy. If it doesn't, don't be afraid to examine it and make a change — big or small.

What advice would you give a woman in college? Go beyond the books, learn how to solve problems and work face-to-face with all kinds of people. You will encounter both of these in the workplace, and you can't learn it in a book. Wait tables, work retail, find a mentor or a customer-facing position in your field of interest — learn how to deliver exceptional service to someone who is hostile and hungry. It will come in handy in your career.

And when you are ready to interview, look to the women in the organizations you are looking at for your dress code. In my last corporate position, we worked with a well-known business school on a case study. The young women came to the table looking like 1980s bankers. When I asked one of the advisers why they all looked the same, she told me it was the advice the school gave them. As a hiring manager, I want to see some individuality and confidence in who they are. Our future leaders need both. Although this is a very superficial subject, pay attention. When you are dressed in something that is not 'you,' it affects everything about you, your voice, your body language, your message.

What's one thing about you that most of your co-workers would be surprised to hear? I am rarely as confident inside as I appear to be on the outside.

What did you want to be when you were 8 years old? An architect.

What's one item you can't live without, and why? Coffee. It is a constant no matter where I go. It is like a 'welcome home' sign in the form of a smell and taste. Coffee for me is emotional; I can remember how it smelled and what was going on at certain times in my life, in certain homes I have lived in or places I have visited. I am very adaptable. I can eat anything and live anywhere. I don't get attached to clothes or shoes. But coffee is like a string I follow through life.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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