Sandra Sims-Williams Talks Career Assessments and Advancement

Women of Power: Not Moving Up at Work? 3 Smart Steps to Assess Yourself and Advance

Sandra Sims-Williams, Chief Diversity Officer, Publicis Group (Image: File)


Sandra Sims-Williams is the chief diversity officer for the advertising behemoth Publicis Group. But before she made it to the C-suite, she learned hard lessons about the importance of receiving feedback and getting the right advocacy in order to get promoted.

Early in her career, Sims-Williams was overlooked for a position she thought she was perfect for. She says she realized at that point that the deciding managers either misread her or were not comfortable with the perception they had of her.

“My HR background has taught me this,” she recalls. “When it comes time for reviews and career planning, and when [senior-level managers] know you, they’re going to speak for you [even] when you’re not in the room.”

So how do you get recognized? Williams offers the following tips:

Have regular conversations with your boss. Don’t wait for review meetings that may only happen twice a year. Schedule regular conversations with your manager to let him or her know what you’re doing and what you’re learning that could be beneficial to their objectives.

“Because I’ve now been in the room and heard them, I now understand what that conversation sounds like. What they do is talk around you, meaning that they will say that, ‘So-and-so is doing a good job. We like what she’s doing,'” Sims-Williams says.

“And that’s the end of the conversation. That’s not good enough,” she adds. “That being the end of the conversation means that they’re not talking about her trajectory, her next move. ‘She’s good, keep her over there.’ That’s what they’re saying. Now, there’s nobody in the room who can explain or give context.”

Develop relationships with other members of senior-level management. It’s not easy or natural for many women to develop the relationships that can help bolster her profile, but Sims-Williams says that there are a variety of ways to connect. “I am not telling people to be phony. You have to bring your genuine self,” she adds. “People will read through this. If you don’t know what to say or you don’t feel totally confident to express ideas, be curious, so that people understand that you’re really trying to figure out how [to grow].”

Asking for help also signals that you have a certain level of respect for their position. “It doesn’t mean you have to drink all of their tea, but you respect people for where they are and understand the game they had to play to get there. Integrity is very important. Trust is very important. You don’t have to take them home for dinner, but you have to make sure they’re in the room to give a thumbs-up on your project.”

Talk to your boss even if you don’t think he’s/she’s your advocate. It’s important to be less personal and more strategic at work. Unless you’re planning to leave your company, you and your boss—whether you like it or not—will have to maintain a relationship that you can influence.

“You still have to make the boss look good, even if you have to help them understand what they have to do. That means we supply her with enough information so when she replies to the CEO she looks good. Stop with the personal stuff. You have to make sure they get what they need to do. Be personal with your families and your friends, not here. Be personable, but don’t take it personal. You want to be successful, so if your boss is not successful, I can assure you that that’s going to run downhill.”

Sandra Sims-Williams will be sharing her knowledge at the 9th Annual Women of Power Summit. To REGISTER, visit

CELEBRATING 10 YEARS! Join us for the landmark 10th Annual Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit hosted by State Farm, March 2—4, 2015, at Fort Lauderdale Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, Fort Lauderdale, FL. This exciting, one-of-a-kind executive leadership summit is designed to train, equip and encourage women to become industry leaders, learn career strategies, and discover proven work—life balance techniques. Register Now!