We all love a self-made success story. But “self-made” is a myth. Everyone benefits from help along the way. Julie Bockenstette’s life is no exception. Her unique career is one made possible through the support of others—especially male allies. Now she’s in a position to pay it forward. A person who once measured her value against other’s achievements, now Julie relies on a much better definition of success: her own.
IWL believes male allies are important to accelerating the advancement of women. How have allies played an important role in your life?
The term “male ally” was something I didn’t learn until later in my career. I heard it when the organization I worked for started discussing male allies as part of their diversity efforts. That’s when I realized I’ve had a male ally. Actually, several of them throughout my career!
My first experience with a male ally was at the very beginning of my career. My dream job was to be a pharmaceutical sales representative. I was frustrated because many of these positions required sales experience. How do you get experience if people won’t give you a chance? That’s when things changed for me. My first sales manager at Lilly (Bob Coakley) gave me a big shot and saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. Even today, he is one of my biggest fans and I am forever grateful for his support so early on in my career.
Bob recognized my unique talents and opened my eyes to working in Human Resources. I never considered it as something I would be good at or part of my career plan until he spent focused time talking with me about my transferable skills. He gave me visibility to what could be and advocated for me along the way.
An ally is important, but an advocate or sponsor is even more meaningful. These are the people that give visibility to your talents, vouch for you, and bring your name up when talent discussions are happening. They also challenge you and push you to advance higher in your career. Without Bob, I might not be serving as Vice President of Human Resources for a global company like Roche today.
Fast forward 20 years and now you have the opportunity to cultivate talent. How does your role help you “walk the walk” when it comes to accelerating the advancement of women?
Roche currently is in the midst of significant transformation. My work is shifting toward leading people and culture, rather than the traditional HR role. In my position, I am a regional business partner and focus a lot of my time on building leadership teams and their effectiveness. It involves creating a diverse and inclusive workforce, new ways of working, and integrating people and culture with business strategy as one ultimately, it means that HR has a meaningful seat at the table as a critical business partner to the organization.
I feel a sense of accountability because of the position of influence I have. It’s up to me to find the intersections, be diligent, and be deliberate in how I engage others to create the culture moving forward.
What advice do you have for women looking to branch out into a different career or accept a new responsibility beyond their comfort zone?
Be curious and be intentional about building a network! Curiosity is what should drive the networking. It’s crucial to start building relationships and connections outside of your direct leadership structure. For example, if you’re in Marketing, reach out to someone in Finance. Or if you’re in a US role, reach out to someone that works in a global role. Get to know them and what they do. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the people you work with and appreciate the differences and commonalities across functions and cultures. Sometimes when we’re stuck in our areas, we have blinders on to how things work. Once you take the time to network and gain diverse perspectives, you’ll develop a strong sense of understanding and strengthen your leadership skills.
Be curious and be intentional about building a network! Curiosity is what should drive the networking.
Great leaders are great leaders regardless of their role or department. When they move across functions, they have the transferable skills to be able to thrive. We should foster this more!
How has your definition of success changed as you’ve progressed in your career?
When I started my career, my definition of success was based on others. It was about how others saw me, whether I was able to earn top sales performance, if I could move into the next role, etcetera. It wasn’t about me or my vision.
As I’ve advanced in my career, now I’m more focused on job satisfaction. I’m more invested in my impact and legacy on the people that I have worked with. In a career, you need to feel like you’re doing meaningful work that you enjoy and positively impacts others. One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou: “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they’ll remember how you made them feel.” My legacy is my success.
My advice at the start of my career would have been to emulate other great leaders. If they’re doing something right, it wouldn’t hurt to try it out. But today, that’s not what I would suggest. You can learn from other leaders, but I don’t think you can ever truly be happy in your career if you’re not your genuine self. That means creating your own definition of success.
At the end of the day, it’s about balance and boundaries. I have moved away from trying to find “work-life balance” because I am not sure it exists, I am more focused on creating alignment in my life that is consistent with my values. From my experience, you’ll never regret putting your personal life first, but you may regret putting your work life first and missing out on precious time with your loved ones.
Why did you decide to get involved with IWL? Why is this organization important to you?
I reached a point in my career where I wanted to give back, but differently. I’ve had numerous meaningful opportunities to work with organizations, like Big Brothers and Big Sisters, but I knew I could give back in other ways. I’ve grown in my career so much and wanted to pay it forward. As a female, I feel blessed with the opportunities I have gotten in the corporate world. Those wouldn’t have been possible without a number of strong male allies that have helped me along the way.
As a female, I feel blessed with the opportunities I have gotten in the corporate world. Those wouldn’t have been possible without a number of strong male allies that have helped me along the way.
I also felt a sense of accountability to give back. When I got involved, IWL was at a time when we needed to make an important pivot for the future. I met CEO Kim Graham Lee and was able to connect with her on the vision she had for the organization. She’s a doer and so am I. I felt confident in my ability to leverage my diversity and inclusion experience and network to help build the organization. I also was drawn to IWL’s focus on men being a critical part of our “how and why” because I don’t think we can make meaningful change without their support and perspectives I have learned this first-hand from my male allies over the years.
Applying that new definition of success, what’s next for Julie Bockenstette?
I hope to continue leading and supporting IWL in a meaningful way, as well as continuing my career journey. I want to find opportunities outside of my comfort zone. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten more comfortable with being uncomfortable. My next step is leaning into that and getting excited about it. I want to challenge myself with either new roles or new life experiences.
Another goal is to be more intentional about where and how I spend my time, while supporting others in their journey of doing that as well. I’ve been so focused on what’s happening right now. I need to start taking more time to care more for myself.
I’m also looking to travel! Travel has always been a passion of mine. Fingers crossed I can start doing that again once it’s safer.