Women in Business Q&A: Traci L. Fiatte, Group President, Randstad Staffing

With over 18 years of industry experience, Traci is recognized for understanding the ever changing needs of clients and is responsible for establishing many of Randstad's largest customers.

Effective October 2008, Traci became Managing Director of Strategic Accounts for Randstad Staffing, becoming the leader for strategic and national accounts business.

More recently, in April of 2012, Traci was appointed Division President of Strategic and National Accounts, RIS and RCS. Her distinguished career in both the professional and general staffing sales markets will serve her well as she and her teams focus the growth of their accounts.

On September 4, 2013, Traci's appointment to President of Randstad Staffing was announced. Within this new role, Traci's responsibilities have expanded to include full operational accountability for all company-owned operations in the United States.

Traci holds a BA from University of Iowa and a MBA from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I'm from the south side of Chicago and was the first in my family to earn a college degree. Upon graduation I was hired by the McDonald's Corporation, whose fundamental management philosophy is that to make good corporate decisions, you must know what it's like to run every aspect of a McDonald's restaurant. So after school I went to work behind the counter and learned from everyone I worked with. That experience truly shaped my approach to work, and I'm convinced that nothing affords a leader the ability to make good decisions the way that walking a mile in someone else's shoes does.

On another note, I've noticed over the years that many people in business try to skip the drills and go straight for glory. But doing the hard work behind the scenes communicates to those within your sphere of influence that you know how roll up your sleeves and, very importantly, that you're credible. Developing mastery of your profession takes time, but in the long run it allows you to speak with conviction and be a problem seeker vs. a problem solver--both true signs of leadership.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Randstad?
I began working in the staffing industry in Chicago, where I mastered my trade--or so I thought. I was having consistent success, so moved to New York City and assumed that what worked in Chicago would work in New York. Was I in for a surprise ... everything was different! I had to quickly gain new perspective and adjust. And that experience taught me to continually look through different lenses and adjust.

I believe in getting out of your comfort zone. I encourage my employees to attend meetings that are outside their scope of responsibility, take roles that are not exactly what they want to do, but that will provide a different viewpoint, and to move around the organization and within the field. Broad perspective and the ability to look beyond yourself helps with understanding that there are few "perfect" decisions, knowledge that's critical when you're a leader and need to make "good" decisions.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Randstad?
My start in the staffing industry was in the IT sector, which at the time was male dominated, both in terms of bosses and customers. When I moved to New York from Chicago, I was the only woman in the branch, and our building was on the corner of Wall Street and Broadway, so the office was like a trading floor environment. Open bullpen, all guys. But I wanted and needed to make money, so I didn't let the fact that I didn't necessarily fit in get in the way, and I didn't get wrapped up in the office "noise."

Did I love it? No. But honestly, no one was trying to hold me back. It was just a different environment, and I didn't let it distract me from my goal, which was to help companies find good workers and workers find good jobs. Ultimately the experience taught me that, gender-related or not, some challenges required me to alter my natural style to be successful in my career. And I learned that I could do it.

Highlights: I've always felt that Randstad affords opportunity to anyone who shows they've earned it. My experience has always been that results drive opportunity, which is why I'm driven to focus on results and then attain them. Additionally, at Randstad I've always had support from leadership, and I'm very grateful for that. And in some aspects, I feel that I got lucky, because I've been able to work for some great people who've helped shape my career.

What advice can you offer women who are looking for a career in recruitment?
My advice to women isn't any different than my advice to men, which is that staffing is a great and very satisfying career with massive opportunity. If you are results oriented and people focused, then my advice is to dive in head first and go get it. We do see a lot of strong females in this space, and particularly in general staffing. This could result from the origins of the classic "temp" worker, such as the Kelly Girl, which at the beginning was a largely female talent population. And many of those females were opportunistic and started their own firms or started working at the recruitment company.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
The truth of the matter is that I probably don't, but that's my personal choice because I love what I do. I'm responsible for a business that's in four time zones, and I work for a company headquartered in the Netherlands. I do work some weekends and nights and a lot of different hours, and I don't mind it. The balance that I have is that if I really need to turn it off, I can, and I do. For example, when I go on my annual vacation with my two daughters (ages 10 and 11), I completely shut down. But when I have early morning calls or meetings, I have someone come in to make sure my girls get where they need to go, and I don't look at that as work disrupting my life, because work is a substantial part of my life.

I travel approximately 40 percent of the time, but sometimes that jumps to 80 percent and then drops to 0 percent. My family is a huge support, and when my children were small, I had a full-time nanny. Now I depend on family and carpools, and then I repay those carpooling favors on the weekends when I'm home.

It is a massive juggling game, and the truth is that sometimes my life is so scheduled and preplanned, that if one thing falls out of whack, the whole thing can fall apart. It is stressful, and not always fun or easy. But it's where I am in this stage of life.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I believe that one of the biggest questions regarding women in the workplace is deciphering the difference between women's issues and parental issues. I observe in both women and men who work for me that concerns such as work/life balance are not women-in-the-workplace issues anymore; they are family issues. In many cases both parents or partners work and have to share responsibility. I feel that part of "women's" issues is not positioning them as "women's" issues. For example, whether you're a woman or not, or have kids or not, work/life balance is an issue.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I never had formal mentors, and that has not been as critical as having excellent colleagues who can be good sounding boards for ideas and give honest feedback. Some of my strong female colleagues have been astronomically critical and formidable to my professional career.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
The woman business leader I have followed the most is Indra K. Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo. Clearly she has amazing business acumen, but what I like about her is that she's human. She shows some of her vulnerabilities and without apology reveals some of her personal self, such as sleeping with her Blackberry next to her. To pretend that you're going to run a global company and not respond in the middle of the night is crazy, so I love her honesty. In terms of other women leaders, Eleanor Roosevelt stands out for me. She never let adversity stand in her way. She lost both parents as a young child and was considered an ungraceful "ugly duckling," yet she was hugely successful. Roosevelt changed the role of and was a controversial First Lady for her outspokenness, particularly her stance on racial issues. She was the first presidential spouse to hold press conferences, write a syndicated newspaper column and speak at a national convention. On a few occasions, she publicly disagreed with her husband's policies. She advocated for expanded roles for women in the workplace and the civil rights of African Americans and Asian Americans. This type of work and outspokenness was unheard of by women at the time.

What do you want Randstad to accomplish in the next year?
I want Randstad to remain a leader in shaping the world of work by providing opportunity to both women and men, both within our organization and through the job opportunities we offer with our clients throughout the United States. Additionally, I'm excited about Randstad's Women Powering Business initiative, which is our investment to help guide and inspire women to career success and positions of leadership. I invite you to visit womenpoweringbusiness.com/ and look for our upcoming women's panel events. We're truly all in this together!