Making a successful career transition: 5 tips from Annie Heath, VP of DE&I
Updated: Sep 19
Have you ever considered a mid-career change? The journey from one professional path to another can be both exciting and daunting. Just ask Annie Heath, Stryker’s Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I). Annie started her career at Stryker fresh out of college, spending the next twenty years working her way up the corporate ladder in Operations before switching gears and diving head – and heart–first into the world of DE&I.
Annie's career progression is evidence to the power of embracing change, having supportive mentors, and staying true to your authentic self. Whether you're a recent graduate, mid-career, or an experienced professional looking for a change, Annie's insights offer valuable lessons for anyone considering a switch in their career focus.
From operations to DE&I: Owning your career journey
One of Stryker’s core values is people. We like to say, “We grow talent” and Annie's experience is just one example of how Stryker’s employees are empowered to own their careers.
Annie’s #StrykerStory began shortly after her graduation from CalPoly. With a business and marketing background and a natural affinity for working with people, Annie had every intention of pursuing a career in sales. However, the recruiter's persuasive approach led her to explore the world of operations, setting the stage for an unexpected yet rewarding career.
Over the years, Annie's roles included operations leadership and supply chain roles, each position increasing her skills and responsibility. While her career unfolded in operations, Annie discovered her passion for leading diverse teams and driving change management—a revelation that would shape her future path.
Insights on switching your ‘planned’ career path
1. Be willing to change your plan:
Without the ability to embrace change head-on, Annie’s experiences might look entirely different. Her leap into operations, despite her initial reservations, eventually led her to discover her true passions and strengths. Annie shared “Sometimes you need to go out there and try things. Because you don’t know until you’re doing it if it’s for you. I thought I wanted to go into sales because I loved working with people, was competitive, and wanted to achieve goals that were set out. Working in operations checked those boxes, and I didn’t even know that world existed when I was in college.”
2. Be your own advocate:
Five years before Annie started exploring DE&I-related career paths, she was sharing with her manager her love of talent development and change management “I had always put on my development plan that I might want to go into HR someday because I wanted to expand the impact I had leading and developing diverse teams and helping with change management.” By communicating her professional aspirations with her leadership team, Annie’s self-advocacy kept her name front of mind when a DE&I Advisory Council was created. “At the time, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to switch careers. I loved leading the operations team, so when they asked me to lead this council in tandem with my current role, I jumped at the opportunity – and had so much fun. It was my pure joy!”
3. Build meaningful relationships:
Annie highlights the significance of surrounding yourself with a supportive and inspiring network. The relationships Annie cultivated along her journey were pivotal in her career growth. Mentors, coaches, colleagues, and family members provided invaluable guidance and perspectives that empowered her to make informed decisions. About the importance of others in her career, Annie shared “It’s important to surround yourself with great people. People that really challenge you and people that really believe in you.”
4. Overcome perfectionism:
One of the people who believed in Annie was a mentor who helped her overcome her perfectionist tendencies. When talking about her experience, Annie reflected, “I am a perfectionist at heart, and it’s rooted in a fear of being judged. I had a mentor to help me overcome my perfectionism, and she asked me two questions that changed everything. First, ‘Who is perfect?’ and the second, ‘Who are you worried about judging you?’ Once I figured out how to let go of my perfectionism, that’s when my career trajectory changed."
5. Embrace trusted partnerships:
Having trusted partners both inside and outside the workplace can provide invaluable guidance and a sounding board for your career.
Finding people who care about your success, who can cheer you on when you need it, and can provide constructive feedback is critical to career development. Annie credits her trusted partners to helping her find her way to a career she loves. “After 20 years in operations, I was asked ‘Do you enjoy what you’re doing?’, and I thought, ‘I’m good at it’, but that wasn’t the question. I had never asked myself a question like this. I just kept moving forward and never stopped to reflect and see if it was what I actually wanted to do. That question, helped me realize I wanted to move into HR.”
Annie’s career journey from operations to leading DE&I at Stryker highlighted the importance of leaning into your strengths, embracing change, and valuing other people’s insight. Her story reminds us that careers are dynamic and that each role can offer unique opportunities for learning and development. Annie’s final words of wisdom? “I feel very grateful that I’ve had people that cared about me, about my career, and about my engagement.”
If you’re looking for your next career move, Annie's insights offer guidance on navigating the exciting terrain of a career transition - your next adventure might just be a leap away.