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Q&A with Jelena Radonjic

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Jelena Radonjic, Career & Leadership Coach @ WhatWork

How could you describe your career path in a few words?

My career has been an unusual one for several reasons – for example, I was the first woman from my country (ex-Yugoslavia, now Serbia) to land a corporate job in Japan. Having graduated with two degrees (English Language and Literature and Japanese Language and Literature), this was a perfect opportunity, especially at the time – early 1990s when opportunities for fresh graduates were close to zero. I landed into Japanese corporate life with excitement and trepidation. Despite having 3 major drawbacks – being young, female, and foreign, thanks to supportive bosses and mentors, I flourished and enjoyed my work in international recruitment. After 4 years in Tokyo, I moved to London to run European operations for the same Japanese company. There was a very steep learning curve, but I gave it my best shot and did well, expanding recruitment events to include European, American, and Asian companies as clients. Following the 10 years with the Japanese recruitment and publishing company, I had several roles in international recruitment, finally working with top business schools helping them source and assess MBA and EMBA students. Another not so common thing – all my jobs came through networking, introductions, recommendations…There was only one role - at the University of London Career Service - for which I applied and got it. The rest of my jobs and positions all came through networking, or even being head-hunted by former competitors.

What was your most challenging experience, and it has changed your mindset?

It’s got to be changing countries, continents, cultures, business etiquette…I had to learn fast and adapt in Japan. At the same time, I had to draw some boundaries and make decisions about what I can accept and what I cannot, what I will let affect me and what not. Commuting in packed trains 1hour and 40 min ONE WAY every day, working 10+ hours a day as a routine, and then in the evenings attending corporate dinners, meant I hardly had time to sleep, let alone anything else! It was exhausting to say the least and I had to make sure I took good care of my health and well-being. When I wasn’t super busy, I’d leave the office ‘early’ which was actually on time, say 6:15pm. That caused many heads to turn in a big open plan office, but I did my absolute best to show that it’s results that matter, not “face time” in the office. My mindset also changed when I learned to adopt, to an extent, the Japanese concept of “gaman” which means putting up with things, especially if you cannot change them, sticking it through, not giving up…I felt that if before I was spoiled, (and I was!), I learnt to be more resilient and humbler. It wasn’t easy but it was transformational!

Based on your experience, what’s the key success factor for a female leader / manager?

Both from my personal experience often being the youngest in meetings with an all-men senior team, or even in networking events once I moved to London where I would stand out amongst silver-haired British (old school) gentlemen, as well as running my coaching business for the last 6 years, I would say – mindset! What we believe about ourselves is so crucial and it affects everything else – how we speak, how we behave, how we limit our choices…I coach many successful, ambitious, and driven women and you’d be surprised to know that even the most senior ones are not immune from “impostor syndrome”. I am not saying men don’t have it, but women overall tend to be more critical of themselves. As much as I don’t like to generalise, it’s a fact. For many years I have researched the gender pay gap, women in the corporate world, and I often write and speak about “women leading with confidence” and share strategies with my clients to empower them, help them with visibility and personal branding, influencing and negotiation. There are things you can learn, read, educate yourself, adopt tools and techniques, but essentially it always comes down to mindset first and foremost – what you believe about yourself, what stories you are telling yourself, knowingly and unknowingly. So, to be a successful female leader, work on your mindset, invest in personal and not just professional growth, because they go hand in hand.

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