My first major client at Bain & Company was a firm in the steel industry, which was, in the 1970s, an uncommon place for a woman to work. I remember when Bill Bain first asked me to work on the project. I said, “Steel?” And then I thought, “Wait a minute, he just threw me a ball, and I’m saying the ball is too big? I can do it.”
The first time we met with both the CEO and the CFO of the steel company, I was the most junior person in the room. At one point, the CFO was talking about arranging a tour for us of other steel companies (to help understand safety regulations). “Well, I don’t know about Orit.” Nobody had any clue what he was talking about. Then he said, “Women are considered bad luck in our industry.” Everybody froze. I turned around and said, “In that case, I think you should make sure I go to every single one of your competitors.” Everyone laughed and the ice was officially broken; soon we were chatting normally.
In my position working with the steel company, I quickly learned that while you can find creative ways to solve any problem, at the end of the day, the most important thing you can do is deliver. After a certain point, I don’t think the men at the steel company even remembered they ever treated me differently because of my gender. I went on to work in the steel industry for about five years. Today, I’m the chairman of Bain & Company and continue to engage with our clients on a daily basis.
It’s important to push yourself and to always stay just outside of your comfort zone; doing things that are uncomfortable should be par for the course. Try not to dwell on your successes or your failures, and instead just keep pushing to try new things; you might surprise yourself and actually develop a new skill.