Women's History Month Q&A: Program Management, Emotional Intelligence, Pathways to Consulting


We're proud to introduce a new internal Q&A series brought to the blog in honor of Women's History Month. Throughout March, we will be publishing candid conversations with women at Citisoft. Our goal is to explore issues unique to women in our industry and showcase the trajectories and experiences that have brought these women to their careers in consulting. This week, we chatted with Citisoft Director, Danielle Castrechini, and Citisoft Managing Director, Colleen Devine.

Can you both tell me a little about your background and how you came to Citisoft?

Colleen: Before getting into consulting, I worked in the accounts receivable department at a trust company where I had started soon after college. After nine years at the company, I'd been promoted eight times. A lot of that progress was tied to figuring out better ways to do existing processes, but I have to admit, the first few promotions weren't into particularly glamorous jobs. But after a few years, the work became much more attractive and challenging.

After some time, I noticed I’d been passed over for new opportunities and brought it up to the external project manager assigned to our system implementation. He said, “send me your resume” and he sent it off to a friend at PwC. Within the week I had a job offer there. Truthfully, I had no idea my skill set aligned with consulting but after researching the company, I realized this was an opportunity not to be missed. That’s how I started what has now been a 25-year consulting career.

Danielle: For the first ten-plus years of my career, I worked in various asset management firms in Boston, primarily in operations. I got to the point in my career where I was managing large teams, but I didn't see a path forward to diversify my experience in other business areas. While I was at Fidelity, I had an opportunity to move into the project space. Like Colleen, I had no idea what that really entailed but it seemed interesting and new, so I took the offer.

I loved the variability of the project space, but I was still pigeonholed into roles where I already had significant experience. Over time, I got to work alongside multiple consultants and saw that their work aligned more with what I wanted to do and would broaden my skillset. During this time, I also forged a friendship with [Citisoft Managing Director] Jenny Mynahan and after a few years of independent consulting, she reached out and convinced me to join Citisoft.

The reason I wanted to interview you two together is that you both have reputations as phenomenal program managers. What sort of skills make you great at what you do?

Danielle: I think a lot of project management can be repeatable, but the process by which you gain the confidence and buy in of a client and the project team is not necessarily repeatable. I tend to place a lot of emphasis on relationships and understanding who you're working with, the client culture, their personalities, and the strength and weaknesses of the project team. It’s critical to build a strong team dynamic but that’s different for every project.

I also think that taking the time to not only listen but to consider people's feedback and differing opinions is something that I had to learn. This didn’t come naturally to me—I wanted to be in control and call the shots—but over time I learned the importance of making people feel seen. Another way to show commitment to the people you’re managing is to work alongside them. I find that diving into the work instils trust from the team and makes me a more effective manager.

The hardest thing that I've had to learn how to do over time is to be fully transparent and attack difficult conversations head on. It’s always uncomfortable and never gets easier, even with practice. But being forthright also feels like I’m doing the right thing and that’s important to me.

Colleen: Program management is a skill that can be learned but I also think that some people just have a talent for it. I never thought being a good program manager was noteworthy until a friend told me, “you don't think it's a big deal because it comes easy to you.” This was a light bulb moment for me. I realized that maybe this is something I can be really good at.

I think the other thing that has helped me is communication skills. To echo Danielle, it's not just communicating with the clients and your team members, it's also being able to break down a complex problem and communicate the steps needed to reach resolution while remaining flexible enough to respond to unexpected curve balls.

You were both involved in the development of Citisoft’s training and professional development program. What sort of skills or training opportunities do you think might be particularly helpful in advancing one’s career as a woman?

Danielle: I think you need to build your personal brand and that comes down to developing an executive presence. You need communication skills, a desire to lead, and confidence. A lot of this boils down to emotional intelligence—that includes critical thinking, understanding yourself, and understanding how to read other people. And there's a persuasion factor around that too, right? Some people start to speak and others pay attention—their gravitas comes naturally. But it’s something that with practice and repetition, anyone can do if they’re willing to move out of their comfort zone.

Colleen: Danielle gave an excellent answer, so I am just going to say that I think it's the ability to be an advocate for yourself. I have always excelled at being an advocate for others, but I was not always a good advocate for myself. Women need to ensure that they can be a voice for themselves and their work. You may hope that the work you've done is self-evident, but if you don’t speak up, you’ll hold yourself back.

Are there any women that were important mentors or role models for you in your career?

Colleen: My grandmother was a schoolteacher when she was 16, teaching in a little schoolhouse in rural Minnesota. She taught kids from six years old through 17 and went on to get her bachelor's degree. Like her, my mom has always been a strong woman who values education. She always said, “Never be afraid to raise your hand and ask a question.” Today, I’ve developed a bit of a reputation for being the first to raise my hand in a meeting. But it’s a good habit—I can’t count the number of times somebody has said to me after a meeting: “I'm so glad you asked that question.”

On one of my first engagements as a consultant, I worked with the head of technology at a global asset manager. She was so dedicated, calm, and smart and she mentored me in my first role implementing an OMS system. She gave me the tools to be effective but more importantly, she inspired me. For the first time, I could envision myself in a technology leadership role. I still think about her periodically and I’m so grateful that I got to meet her on one of my first engagements.

Danielle: This may not be a creative answer, but my mom was a role model for me too. She taught me that I should never expect that anything would be handed to me. She stressed hard work and self-reliance and that has stuck with me my whole life.

From a career perspective, all of my mentors were men. One manager, in particular, had a major impact on my career. I was sitting in his office one day, and he said, “look, I'm going to be here until I retire, which means you're not moving up. You are far more ambitious than I am. You need to leave and go find something better for yourself.” Looking back on it, his candor was exactly what I needed to go somewhere else, and that's what got me one step closer to Citisoft.

Any other parting wisdom for women looking to get into consulting?

Colleen: I am not someone who can do the same thing day after day. Consulting has provided me with the change and challenge that I’m drawn to. It comes with the opportunity to always learn new things. If that resonates with anyone reading this, consulting may just be the path you need to go down.

Danielle: The only other thing I would add is the importance of building a strong network. And by that, I don’t mean acquaintances, I mean real allies. Jenny [Mynahan] was the first woman that I worked with that I formed a genuine kinship with and she’s also the reason I’m at Citisoft. It’s important to find those people who can advocate for you and who encourage you to advocate for yourself.

Thank you to Danielle and Colleen for their generosity in sharing their stories and insights. If you're interested in learning more about careers at Citisoft, please view our Opportunities here.