6 Questions With Helen Wagner, 3M Public Relations Manager

Written By: 
Lauren Ryan
November 15, 2013

Top Tips for Working Your Way to the Top -- Without Stepping on Others


1. What was the most important lesson you learned from a mentor in your life?


I never had a formal mentor, but I had people who mentored me informally, who were managers at 3M. One gave me a chance to take on my own work through special projects, which helped me take on responsibility that motivated me to work even harder. The other person gave me the feeling that I was really on my own, and along with that came the responsibility to succeed.


2. Why do you feel it is so important for women to help out other women?


I actually think it is important for people to help other people; I don’t believe that women are the underdog to men. There are skills and talents which women possess that men don’t, and vice versa, but that doesn’t make one better than the other.


But with women, the advantage of helping one another is that hopefully it will help us understand what we each bring to the party. I do not believe that women need to keep trying to act like men. Discussing your strengths and challenges with other women helps with professional development.


3. Which skills did you bring to 3M from being a teacher and freelance writer?


From freelancing, I brought my inquisitive, open mind -- always asking “what if.”


I was a teacher for eight years, and teachers naturally want to say, “I want to teach you how to learn.” So now, I have a very open-door policy at work. I think some people feel threatened by being too open because then they don’t feel like they’re “the boss.” I never felt that; my attitude is that I could learn a lot from fresh, new minds. My teaching experience also helped me learn how to work with introverts on teams. If the world was full of people like me, extroverts, the world might be noisier than we want it to be.


4. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced working at a huge corporation like 3M, and how did you overcome it?


It’s important to look at processes and see how you can make them simpler and easier. When you’re working with 80,000 people, there must be some specific processes in place to make the company run. That’s something a little company of five doesn’t need to worry about.


5. Is there any advice you would give to young women looking to break into communications?


The best thing is to look for all different opportunities, but it’s a fine line. You must be specific enough -- not just “I want to do something in communications” -- but not so specific that you cut out other options.


In an interview, you want to say, “I have a strong interest in A, and in addition, I’m also interested in B, C, and D.” Don’t make it sound like you’ll take anything available. But also realize that people don’t stay in the same jobs for a very long time now. Accepting a job doesn’t mean you’re there forever.


I also understand that finances are a priority -- but you have to put a very high emphasis on happiness. If you’re in a job that makes you miserable every single day, it probably isn’t worth it. It may be better to have a lower-level position and be happy than holding a high-level job and be miserable.


6. Tell me one of the most valuable life lessons you’ve learned in your career thus far.


Never give up, and step forward to say “I want to do this.” If I just sat there and did really great work, I may not have been noticed. But stepping forward is the way I got the job in New York. I said to my manager, “I really like what I’m doing now, but I don’t want to keep doing it, it’s too easy. I want something that’s more challenging. So if something comes up, let me know about it.” And a very short time later, my boss came to me about an opening in New York.


You also don’t need to be pushy. You need to be firm and confident -- if you don’t let people know you’re willing to work hard and that you want to progress, then they probably won’t make the connection that you want to.


However, some people have a tendency to ask to be manager even though they’ve only been at a company for two minutes. It’s important to step forward, but not with the “I’m better than everyone else” attitude. You need to know what you don’t know, too. So step forward, but with some facts behind you.


Posted by: 
Alyssa Fiorentino

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