Rona Gilbert isn’t a numbers person.
But that hasn’t stopped her from becoming a Senior Vice President and Divisional Sales Director at retail investment firm Invesco.
“I get data and spreadsheets given to me, but I’m a people person, a strategy person. You don’t have to be an analyst. I’m just one example of someone who's been able to make [a career in finance] work,” says Rona.
And that’s especially important for other women to realize, says Rona. There’s no one-size-fits-all version of what a successful career in finance looks like, and the field needs more diversity of all types, including gender.
“Financial advisors have a lot of female clients, but women aren’t represented, so the end users of our products aren’t as broadly represented as they need to be. More women need to get into these roles,” she adds.
And she’s a perfect example of just how to do that.
We sat down with Rona and asked her about how she began her career in PR and communications and transitioned into financial sales—and what she learned along the way that she’s excited to pass on to our readers.
“In some fields, there's a perception that you need to have a certain pedigree, either where you went to school or what you studied,” says Rona. “I didn’t have that. I’ve been a generalist.”
Rona started her career in government, working as a legislative aide for a state senator. She didn’t have the political science degree most of her peers had—she’d studied communications—but she knew that there’d be a public relations component to the job, and that she’d do well there.
“I didn’t have the government degree, but I didn’t let that deter me from applying for the job,” says Rona. She got it, and spent several years in government before transitioning into doing public affairs and government relations at a consulting firm in her home state of Ohio.
When it came time to leave the Midwest for a different climate, she got a job at a financial firm doing in-house corporate communications. It built on her experience, but she quickly realized it wasn’t the ideal job for her.
So she raised her hand and volunteered to do some presenting on behalf of the sales team. Their then-presenters were both men, and they appreciated the opportunity to add a woman to the bench. She traveled around the country for a year, giving keynote addresses at conferences and other events, in addition to doing her main role, until eventually she was offered a full-time role on the sales team.
With that exposure to the sales team, she ended up moving into a salesperson role when it came available. Once again, she’d skirted the normal path—internal sales consultant to external salesperson—by stepping outside of her comfort zone and going for the opportunities she wanted.
She stayed at that firm for 12 years, until she heard about an opportunity at Invesco via a friend. The chance to head up the west coast sales team felt like the perfect next step, so she went for it.
Now she’s in her first people management role in finance, with 11 salespeople reporting into her, and working to help them build their careers and find success—including by stepping out of their comfort zones.
1) Look for a mission that excites you. While she enjoyed her time in PR, Rona says she’s much more motivated by the real-life implications of the work that Invesco does. “The role financial advisors play for their clients is in helping people achieve their retirement goals, helping them save enough and invest enough to where they can send their kids to college,” she says. “It’s about what people are trying to do with their lives and having enough money to pay healthcare bills and very real things that everybody deals with. And it's easy to relate to our end clients because I'm in the same boat.”
2) Find a guide. “Whenever I stepped into a role that I was a bit over my head in, I always found a colleague or a person that I could connect with and who could help me learn the ropes,” says Rona. “Aligning yourself with somebody that you trust can help get you over the hurdles. Every job I’ve ever had, I always had at least one of those.” She suggests starting with someone who’s achieved what you hope to achieve and aligning yourself with them by asking for their feedback.
3) Think about risk mitigation: what’s the worst that can happen? Moving into a sales role (and a commission-based compensation structure versus a salaried one) for the first time required Rona to take on a lot of risk, but she felt confident that she’d be okay even in the worst-case scenario. “It goes back to my strategic planning days when I was a communications consultant,” she says. For example, a salesperson considering taking on a new job in a different territory might have to think about their family. Would their kids not acclimating well at school be the worst thing? Is that a deal breaker or not? “And also ask what the best thing that could happen is. If you’re comfortable with those parameters, hopefully it’s the best that happens,” she says.
4) Remember your past accomplishments. Doing something new is scary, and it can be easy to feel like you’re starting from scratch. Rona cautions career-switchers and other people stepping outside of their comfort zone to remember all they did to get to that point. “Rely on your past experience and achievements,” she says. “keep in mind what you've done, what you've achieved, and how far you've come.”
Looking back on the personal and professional choices that brought her here, Rona is grateful for the risks she took and the times she proved herself. “It’s really motivating now, working in my field,” she says. “You meet some of the most extraordinarily brilliant people. They’re hardworking, and fun, and it’s hard work, but there are a lot of benefits.”
Reflecting now on her decision to join Invesco, Rona doesn’t have any regrets.
“At certain times in your life, you can afford to take more risks,” she says. “I had no reason to think I couldn’t do this—and I can.”