Finding the Strength to Overcome Obstacles

As a minority woman and member of Generation X, Thuy Sindell has had to overcome a number of obstacles in her career, from ageism to motherhood.

But as co-founder and president of Skyline Group International’s coaching division, Sindell has found success in Silicon Valley despite the odds — and with her new book, “Hidden Strengths: Unleashing the Crucial Leadership Skills You Already Have,” she hopes to help women like herself succeed in business.

Sindell talked to Diversity Executive about the struggle for work-life balance and other challenges she’s faced in the business world. Below are edited excerpts from her interview.

A section of your new book, “Hidden Strengths,” discusses how to balance work obligations with family life. What advice do you have for working mothers like yourself who are trying to achieve work-life balance?

Work-life balance is an ongoing effort that changes as the family grows and changes. The better way to look at it is more from a work-life integration perspective. The key is being flexible and being able to adapt to whatever the day or week demands. A meeting might have to take place on the phone in the car while driving the kids to school. An appointment might need to be rescheduled because of a school event. Flexibility is key.

Thuy Sindell, Skyline Group International
Thuy Sindell, Skyline Group International

You also want to go easy on yourself. Specifically, quickly forgive yourself if things don’t go the way they should. Additionally, find ways to take care of yourself, especially with the basics like sleep, exercise and food. We think we can be 100 percent productive and present, but that is impossible when you don’t get enough sleep. Exercise is great, but if you don’t get your exercise in for the week, it’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Do exercises that don’t require you going to the gym as that travel time is wasted time, like going for a run or a 20-minute walk. Finally, during the week, keep meals simple: one protein and one set of greens. Grill, sauté or broil your protein source so you can make meals quickly. Steam your vegetables — it only takes 4 minutes — or make a salad.

Why is it important to build downtime into your schedule?

Downtime gives you the space to recharge before jumping back into things. We don’t expect athletes to perform at their peak constantly and without rest and breaks, but we expect that of ourselves. That’s just silly.

What are the biggest obstacles you’ve faced as a woman working in Silicon Valley?

You may assume the obvious: I am a woman and Vietnamese. That’s not it. In fact, it’s a great differentiator. Rather, I am challenged by my age. I am a Gen X. I am not old enough for gray-hair CEOs and not young enough for millennials.

How have you overcome those challenges?

It’s all about balance. I’ve used my age as a way to go quickly in between these two generations. I ensure I take care of my skin and aesthetics such that I look like I could pass for a millennial —until they find out I have a 7.5 year old — while also ensuring that what comes out of my mouth is strong business acumen and my speech pattern and tone is authoritative. Balance means I look feminine and sound masculine.

What other advice would you give to women aspiring to successful careers as leaders?

Assess yourself on the masculine and feminine continuum along many dimensions to find opportunities to create more balance. If you are too masculine on too many dimensions, you will be get labeled as bossy or a jerk (if you are a man). If you are feminine on too many dimensions, you will get labeled a wall flower or wimp (if you are a man). We all get labeled regardless of gender, so don’t give people the opportunity to define you — instead, define yourself. Create that balance. The earlier example was if you like to dress really feminine, then make sure you sound masculine in your tone. If you like to be consensus driven (feminine) in your decision-making then balance that by being more data driven (masculine) in your articulation of your opinion (vs. the feminine expression being intuition).