The history of women in journalism in the United States can be traced back to the American colonies when, in 1739, Elizabeth Timothy assumed the role of publisher after her husband died.
More than a century later, in 1854, Mary Ann Shadd Cary would be the first black woman to publish a newspaper, The Provincial Freeman. Not surprisingly, she could only do this by leaving the United States and moving to Canada because U.S. laws suppressed independent black activism, and that certainly included any kind of journalism. While Mary was not alone in her journalistic journey, it would be a hard road for women in the field of journalism, and even more so for black women.
Apparently, things have not changed much.
According to "The Status of Women of Color in the U.S. News Media 2018," U.S. media companies have not hired or promoted enough women of color as journalists to allow newsrooms to reflect the perspectives of their readers and viewers. In fact—based on the newsrooms who replied to professional association queries—women of color represent just 7.95 percent of U.S. print newsroom staff.
Thirty-year journalism veteran Melanie Eversley shared with me her thoughts on leadership and her experience as a woman of color working in journalism.
What drew you to a career in journalism and news media?
I grew up in a household where local and national politics were always discussed. My family was intensely interested in staying informed and following what our public officials were doing. Also, my parents were both involved in social work and, in general, were the kind of people who always helped others. I loved to read and write too.
My first love was dance -- I'd studied since I was two or three and had two family members who were part of the New York City Ballet. But once I realized that wouldn't be a sensible career pursuit, I thought about all the other things that I enjoyed, and journalism seemed like a natural fit. It combined my love of words, my interest in politics, and, I reasoned, would allow me to help people.
Who have been your role models or mentors?
Sheryl McCarthy, former columnist at Newsday, who I met when I interned at Newsday just out of grad school, the late Mimi McAndrew, who was my editor at my first full-time paper, the Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal, the late Lisa Baird, a columnist the Bergen Record in Hackensack, N.J., a wonderful writer who always stood up for herself, Bob McGruder, the late executive editor at the Detroit Free Press, Mike Lupo, former editor at the Detroit Free Press, Rick Christie, now editorial page editor at the Palm Beach Post, who I worked with when he was foreign editor in the Cox Newspapers Washington Bureau, and Michael James, who was my editor at USA Today.
I also have been active with the National Association of Black Journalists and its local chapters since I started my career. That has been an organization full of mentors for me.
Carla Simpson was the first African American female to anchor a major network newscast in 1975, and it wasn't until 1986 when Oprah became the first African American woman to have her own talk show. Are you surprised by this, and did you see barriers in your being able to be successful in the industry?
I am not surprised, and, yes, there have been barriers. I have found that in some newsrooms, perhaps most, there is hostility when you come in, work hard, bring forth well-researched ideas, and aim to deliver quality work. That tends to throw some people off, and they will work against you working on that story that you pitched, or producing work that will be seen by higher-ups and lead to promotion. A lot of us experience hostile work environments and have to remind ourselves we are not working to make friends but to get the job done. Obviously, it's possible to do well, but I think you have to go in with an understanding that you will experience hostility and unfairness at some point.
You mostly started your career in 1983 as a News Writer, Production Assistant; what was it like for you back then?
When I think back now, there wasn't a lot of guidance out there. In college, I studied what I thought made sense for a journalism career, and when I graduated, I took an internship with a radio station in Kent, Ohio, where I noticed I was tasked with non-journalism work such as writing ads, while other young journalists were sent out went on news assignments. I didn't know how to speak up for myself, so I just let it happen and seethed about it.
When that internship ended, I moved back home to New York and applied for any kind of work with every radio station, newspaper, magazine, and television station and got a job scheduling commercials into one T.V. station's computer system. I visited the newsroom regularly to ask about openings and volunteered my time in the newsroom on weekends. I probably was getting in the way, but after people got used to seeing me, a couple of them took the time to explain what they were doing. Eventually, I was hired on to the newsroom as a production assistant. I had friends there by now, but it was also very competitive and unfriendly.
There was an editor who made racial jokes regularly. When I was promoted to newswriter, a coworker who had exactly the same amount of experience felt passed over and spread a rumor that I was only promoted because of affirmative action. But still, there were nice people there too, and there were three women in particular who looked out for me and advised me how to navigate the hostility. They were my oasis. In an odd turn of events, I gave my notice when I was about to start pursuing my master's degree at Columbia Journalism School. At the same time, two or three other fellow news writers gave notice too because they were moving on to other jobs. They just happened to leave before me, and there was a challenging, two-week period where I was the only writer for our two weeknight broadcasts. I had to hustle. I'm told that the editor who'd given me the hardest time in my years there (the one who made racial jokes) shared privately with others that I was really talented. I saw that as a mark of success, but also hoped there would be a time when people would not be able to behave the way he did in the newsroom.
Unfortunate that he could not tell you himself, he was probably intimidated by you on some level. From there you went on to work for a number of different organizations; were there any surprises for you as a woman and woman of color?
For me the biggest surprise was seeing the level of hostility and pushback when one attempted to produce their best work. Of course, it's not always about race and gender, but just about pure competition. Sometimes, colleagues or higher-ups see you as being in a certain box that's comfortable and non-threatening for them. When you show signs that you don't live in that box and that you are smart or hardworking, they react by asking an inordinate amount of questions about your ideas, holding back public support or producing illogical reasons about why your idea won't work.
I think if one can walk through the industry understanding, they will see some of this and being ready for it; they will reduce their stress levels and do better overall. As children, we're taught that you're supposed to work hard, and this will produce good outcomes for you and everyone around you. But as an adult in this industry, you learn it's much more complicated.
The hostility you describe is not unique to your industry; I have seen it and experienced it in different industries. Of course, it is undoubtedly different for women. What did you find was the hardest thing for you as a woman during your early years in broadcast media?
The hardest thing was realizing that the working world is tougher than I thought it would be and that I would have to rely on my own resources and find mentors to make sure I was up-to-speed on my skills. In some cases, people would hope you would fail. Fortunately, I had a few people who looked out for me in those early years. One friend who'd been in the industry for many more years than me advised me to toughen up. I went to graduate school, in part, because I wanted to be able to counter anyone who claimed people of color were not up on their skills.
I found it interesting that The Women's Media Center, women of color represent just 7.95 percent of U.S. print newsroom staff and only 12.6 percent of the local T.V. news staff. Why do you think that is?
Just like any competitive industry, networking is crucial when it comes to filling positions. In many cases, it's the most important factor in who is selected for open positions. The industry was making great advances at one time, but the changes that led to mass layoffs have set matters back in terms of who is connected. Whenever there is an opening in a newsroom, those with hiring power tend to reach out to who they know — and those people don't tend to be people of color.
Considering the statistics, I already cited, it comes as no surprise that only 6.4 percent of Fortune Magazines 2017 Fortune 500 list CEO's were women. In your opinion, do you think women are doing enough to advance and promote women into leadership roles?
I think women are working very hard to promote and advance other women, especially in the entrepreneurship space. There are groups like the National Association of Women Business Owners that offer a great resource, and the Journalism and Women Symposium is a great resource too. My friend and grad school classmate Mira Lowe is president.
I do think, though, that there are slip-ups when it comes to any competitive situation. I think there also is room for a greater connection between women of color and white women. Some organizations are working through growing pains in that regard right now. That divide is real and exists on a micro and macro level.
In my own experience, male leaders tend to help their male counterparts in ways that I have not seen women. That help includes networking, providing opportunities, and development; what are your thoughts about that?
I think that this is true, but I think this discrepancy is not so much because women leaders are doing less than they can when it comes to helping other women, but more because some male leaders overwhelmingly promote and support other male leaders -- not just pushing for them to be at the table, but making sure they have the support they need to perform well and offering greater levels of forgiveness if and when they fail. Even in the most toxic newsrooms and organizations, I've observed women leaders going out of their way to nurture women and help them advance.
Do you think there will ever be "equality" in the workplace?
I think the question might be whether there will ever be equality in the industry.
The National Association of Black Journalists performs an industry census each year, and numbers are not changing dramatically. But what is different is the number of people who have been downsized from traditional newsrooms who are seeking to create their own news organizations, and also the rise in niche organizations that fill gaps in coverage.
There are mainstream newsrooms that have talented people of color in significant positions, but I think equality will come from niche news organizations and startup organizations joining the industry.
In your career, have you had any female bosses? Anything you want to share about best or worst?
Yes, I've had a number of female bosses. I was quite fortunate because one of them was my editor in one of my first work experiences. Mimi McAndrew was in a leadership role at the Poughkeepsie Journal and took me under her wing. She made sure I was part of any special projects and called on me in meetings. She was hard on me when I made a mistake, and I learned from that. We became friends.
Later in life, I learned about the incredible amount of stress she faced in her role, and it made me respect her even more. Having her support in one of my first work experiences made me a stronger person for other jobs down the line.
On the other extreme, I've had female bosses who were less experienced or younger than me and seemed to have a problem with this. They would focus a lot of energy on creating cliques around me and leaving me out, attacking my work and throwing me under the bus. That dynamic is not going to go away and I think the best way to handle it is to make sure you can line up supporters in your corner too.
Do you think women lead differently from their male counterparts?
I think women, just like people of color, come to the table perhaps more polished, studied, and prepared than their male counterparts so as to be ready for the increased amount of criticism that tends to come their way. Women, just like people of color, know they are less likely to be forgiven if they trip up and that there are probably people waiting for them to fail, so they make sure they have it together. Because women leaders are this way, they have just as great expectations for the people who work with and under them.
I can see that and agree with you. What is the biggest mistake you have seen leaders make, male or female?
The greatest mistake I've seen leaders make is blurring the lines between them and their employees. Some leaders will form friendships and even cliques with members of their staff, which leaves others out and leaves others at a disadvantage. It's one of those "soft" issues that would be difficult to be addressed in a human resources forum, but I've seen a few leaders who create antagonism almost on purpose by "leading" this way.
In one case, the spouse of a leader also had a supervisory role and was allowed to play favorites with people who she felt worked harder to kowtow to her. A leader has to lead and cannot blur the lines and play favorites.
It is no secret that women have been subjected to discrimination, sexual harassment, and objectification in and out of the workplace throughout history, and it continues today. Despite more and more women coming forward and more and more men being held accountable, are we having the right conversations about this, or are we just being reactive to the current state?
No, we are just scratching the surface. It took decades for many women speaking up today to get to the point where they had the courage to speak up. For each one of them, there are many more suffering in silence. In the most competitive industries, women and everyone are afraid to speak up when they see behavior that is wrong because they don't want to lose their jobs.
Where does change begin; is it education, the law?
There's a saying to the effect of "Power gives up nothing without a fight." Education always is helpful, and that's in place now, but the law is what brings movement. It was not until some major organizations faced lawsuits -- some that dragged on for years -- that they made changes. It's always a huge sacrifice for the people who choose to file those lawsuits because it's a near guarantee that they will struggle professionally going forward.
We have also seen so many instances or issues related to race, discrimination, inequality, profiling, and lack of accountability. When I watch the news, people seem so polarized it makes me wonder if we are having the right conversations about that or if we are even capable of having them. What is your point of view?
I think we are having the right conversations. Events of the last few years have shown that we are more polarized than we imagined, but it was simmering beneath the surface. I think we need more of these conversations, and we need leaders in place who will welcome those conversations. Burying a problem does nothing to correct it.
I could not agree more. While I typically don't ask, and you are free to decline to answer, what are your thoughts about the state of our political system right now?
I can't comment on the state of politics right now because I write about politics. I will say, however, that the large number of Democratic candidates seeking the nomination for the White House has created a forum for a lot of needed national dialogue that might not otherwise have happened.
I completely understand I guess we will have to see what comes of it all. Besides writing about politics, what is in the future for you?
My future includes the launch of my own news organization. It's something I have been working on for years, but I stepped that up after being downsized in 2017 and took advantage of the transition to study business and entrepreneurship.I was part of a pilot program launched by Phillip Smith, in fact, called Journalism Entrepreneurial Boot Camp.
Beyond the Railroad will focus on enterprise and investigative news on people of color beyond what is typically out there -- beyond the Great Migration, beyond the Pullman Porters, and beyond the Underground Railroad.
Thankfully, I've had opportunities to freelance for Fortune, The Grio, and NBCBLK while developing BTR. I also plan on focusing my coverage of criminal justice, which is gaining more attention because of reforms, attention to exoneration, and even the White House race. I'll be a Guggenheim fellow at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice later this year, which will help me in that focus.
That is all very exciting; you are setting a great example of what is possible. What advice would you give to young women today pursuing a career in media of any kind?
I would advise young women to find mentors and to believe in themselves. In terms of mentors, I would advise them to actively find people who they admire in terms of skill and character and to outright ask for mentoring.
I also would advise them to join networking organizations like the National Association of Black Journalists, Journalism and Women Symposium, the Society of Professional Journalists and the like, and also become active on the Facebook pages of those groups. They'll not only make lifelong friends among their peers but will be welcomed into the fold of organization elders and find a natural support system.
I would advise young women to believe in themselves because I've seen that the industry has become so competitive that young people feel compelled to stab others in the back or disrespect others in order to get ahead. In the long run, they'll do better for themselves and the people around them if they try to move up by focusing on their own skills and feeling secure in themselves.
That is all excellent advice! What is one thing you hope you see when it comes to women in positions of leadership and influence in your lifetime?
I'd love to see the minority of women who are unkind to one another become even more of a minority, and for all women leaders to feel secure enough in themselves that they are comfortable giving open support to other women. We should not see one another as a threat. There is room for all people of talent.
Very well said. I am a lover of inspirational and motivational quotes, do you have a favorite?
I like to run marathons, and if you train well, the first 16 to 20 miles are like a big party, but the final miles until the finish line are painful and move by slowly. Because of this, I'm a fan of any quote that advises you to keep going, even when you can't see the finish line, and to just take it one step at a time. My favorite of these is one from the late Nelson Mandela: "It always seems impossible until it is done."
Melanie is a thirty-year journalism veteran with long-term expertise in civil rights, breaking news, social issues, social media, and multimedia. Her extensive career includes working for four major newspapers, one New York City television station, and multiple awards.
Learn more about Melanie and connect with her on social media.
Throughout history, women have been pioneers in overcoming social expectancies of what they should be and do, especially when it comes to the workplace. Around 1815, before women had the right to vote, Molly Williams became the first known woman firefighter by joining Oceanus Engine Company #11 in New York City. As remarkable as it was that the first woman joined a fire company, it was just as remarkable that she did so some 50 years before the abolition of slavery and was, in fact, a slave herself.
Despite this unprecedented entry into a male-dominated field, it would take more than a century and countless court cases challenging hiring methods of fire departments across the country before women became common among the ranks. Today there are hundreds of women that hold the position of lieutenant, captain, district chiefs, battalion chiefs, division chiefs, assistant chiefs or chief. While still a minority, these numbers continue to increase and among them is a woman who continues to pave the way.
More than 30 years ago began a firefighting career that would lead her to become the first female deputy chief in Fort Lauderdale Florida, the first Fire Chief of Little Rock Arkansas and then the first Fire Chief of Austin Texas, but the firsts didn’t end there. In August, she was elected President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC); she is the first female to hold that position in the organization’s 142-year history. In September, I had the honor and privilege to talk to her about her career, experiences and thoughts on leadership.
AE: You began your career working as a high school coach and physical education teacher, what made you decide to make a change and go into firefighting?
CHIEF: A friend of mine encouraged me to become a firefighter and once I joined, I knew I had found the perfect career for me!
AE: You are the fourth generation in a line of firefighters, what did your family think when you decided to follow suit?
CHIEF: They were very proud that I was going to continue the tradition.
AE: Was there any period of time in which you had to “prove” yourself just because you are a woman working in what is still a predominately male dominated field?
CHIEF: Whether or not I really did have to prove myself, I always felt like I had to.
AE: Firefighting can be hard physically, was there anything that proved challenging because you are a woman that your male counterparts didn’t face?
CHIEF: I think each gender has their own challenges when it comes to the physical part of the job, but it’s just like anything else—if you practice enough and train hard enough, you can do anything you set your mind to.
AE: You became the first female deputy chief of Fort Lauderdale and went on to become the first female fire chief in Little Rock Arkansas then Austin Texas. Recently you were named the first female president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, does being the first women in these positions come with a different expectation, greater responsibility or challenge than your male counterparts?
CHIEF: I’ve always said that I’m excited to be the first—but I certainly don’t want to be the last or the only. I think the expectation, at least for me, is different in that I feel a responsibility to those who will come after me to “break that glass ceiling” and open the door for others to follow through.
AE: While women have worked in firefighting going back to the 1800’s it has been a field dominated by men and there have been a lot of challenges for women to get the same opportunities, do you think they are now considered equals to their male counterparts?
CHIEF: I certainly hope so!
AE: You lead and represent a large department how do you keep in touch with individual employees and inspire them to give their best?
CHIEF: I try to lead by example in terms of giving their best because that’s what I strive to do every single day. And, I go to as many fire department events and locations to visit with my employees, get their feelings for how things are going, and find out what I can do to make their jobs better and easier.
AE: We clearly have a way to go with women in leadership positions, what do you think needs to happen to level the field and/or get more women into those positions?
CHIEF: I think it starts with the women themselves. They need to see more people like me in leadership positions so they can have an example to follow, to be able to see that they can do it, too.
AE: Do you think it is harder for women to be leaders?
CHIEF: No, I think it’s easier. We are more intuitive and more nurturing, and I think those are definite benefits to women in leadership positions.
AE: Strong women leaders get a different label then their strong male counterparts, why do you think people give men a credit and don’t give it to women?
CHIEF: I wouldn’t say they don’t give women credit as I think there are plenty of women in leadership positions at high-profile companies and organizations who are doing a great job, and getting the credit and recognition they have earned and deserve. But can it be better? Of course.
AE: What do you think is the biggest mistake a woman leader can make?
CHIEF: To expect to be treated differently because she’s a woman. If you want to be treated “equally” (the word you’ve used) then you have to earn that right; it won’t be handed to you and it shouldn’t be.
AE: Men have not had the same demands with work and family as women, as a woman with a long leadership career has it been difficult to balance these?
CHIEF: Not really. I’m very good at making time for the people and things that are important to me!
AE: In 2015, you were the first woman appointed as President of the IAFC in its 142-year history. For the third time, we have women who are candidates for the highest office in the country and I couldn’t do an interview with you without asking if you think the time has come for a woman president?
CHIEF: Of course! I think it’s long overdue and I’m excited about the possibilities in this upcoming election.
AE: Do you think women give each other the same support and opportunities as men?
CHIEF: I think that depends on the person, not their gender.
AE: Have there been any women leader role models or mentors for you?
CHIEF: There have been several, but there have been many men, too. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve worked for some really great men in my career who have pushed me, supported me, and encouraged me to follow my dreams. Women don’t always need another woman as a mentor; they just need the RIGHT mentor, man or woman.
AE: How do you “pay it forward” for other women?
CHIEF: By making myself available as often as I can, whenever I can. I do lots of speaking engagements, many of them to girls or young women’s groups, and I talk a lot about not letting anything stop them from reaching their goals.
AE: If you could give young women starting out their careers one piece of advice what would that be?
CHIEF: Go for it! Don’t let anyone or anything stop you. You can do whatever it is you set your mind to; your only limitation is yourself.
AE: What is next for you?
CHIEF: Who knows?! I’m so excited to be the first female president of the IAFC and for now, that and my job as Chief of the Austin Fire Department keep me very busy. But I’m always open to new experiences and new possibilities so I’m excited to see what life has in store for me next!
AE: I start each day by choosing a quote for the Leadership and More website and also share it through social media; do you have a favorite quote?
CHIEF: I have several, but one of my favorites is from President John F. Kennedy who said, “Moral courage is a more rare commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence.” Doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons, especially when it isn’t popular, takes great moral courage. But that’s what makes good people great leaders!
Austin is the 11th largest city in the United States and the Fire Department provides services to an area of 272 square miles with more than 800,00 residents. Started in 1841 with seven firefighters, today there are 1,200 + employees and more than 45 stations, making it the fourth largest fire department in the state of Texas.
I am always on the lookout for interesting people to interview and when I came across Diana Peterson-More I was hoping she would say yes. Since we share a background in Human Resources, I could hardly wait to get her opinion and perspective on the profession as well as her experiences over the course of her career.
Diana has a unique blend of educational background, as an employment lawyer, and business experience having led corporate groups of 35 or more for ten plus years. The best-selling author of Consequential Communication in Turbulent Times, A Practical Guide to Leadership she left a Fortune 200 company to launch The Organizational Effectiveness Group, LLC. that focuses on people strategies & organizational systems that support strategic workplace goals. Diana is also a guest lecturer at USC's Graduate School of Management, & Phillips Graduate Institute’s Organizational Behavior Program, and serves as a Law & Motion Judge for Loyola Law School.
AE: We share a background both having worked in Human Resources. With more than 30 years of Human Resource experience; how has the profession changed since you started?
DPM: My experience has shown me that there are primarily two types of HR roles, and thus, HR heads: compliance-oriented functions and HR heads; and, strategic or conceptual functions and HR leaders. Over the years, the profession has migrated away from compliance to strategy, which is not to downplay the importance of staying compliant with the myriad laws and regulations. This shift parallels organizations overall. Formerly, the traditional boss said “I say jump, and you ask ‘how high?’.” Presently, the enlightened leader asks “what can I do to motivate you to excellence?” The maturing of the organizational leadership role has also seen HR grow from a “necessary evil” fulfilling a supportive purpose to becoming an integral part of planning and growing a business that truly recognizes that people come first. The short-hand quip for the changing role has been “from personnel to human resources to chief people officer.”
AE: I like the way you describe it. We still hear HR organizations say they want to have a seat at the table; this sounds passive aggressive to me, are they sabotaging themselves?
DPM: Fair or not, and unlike other integral company roles, HR must earn the right to be at the table – few organizations will bestow it. HR earns the right by over-performing on what many HR professionals view as mundane, boring or beneath them, which I call “getting out the wash.” It can vary with different organizations. However, the majority appear to want HR to earn its respect through: hiring (prompt, painlessly, and the “right people”); and, managing employee relations (giving feedback, disciplining, etc.). HR professionals would argue (rightfully) that they are there to facilitate or assist managers in fulfilling these tasks; sadly, most managers expect HR to do it for them. That said, by delivering in these areas, HR can demonstrate it has earned a right to be at the table.
AE: I agree it can be different depending on the organization, it seems to be a carryover from times gone by that HR do the things you mention. There is also this idea from a lot of executives that HR is easy and anyone can do it. How do you respond to that?
DPM: HR professionals, of which I number myself, choose the work and excel in it because we understand its vital importance to an organization, we care about how people are treated, and because, overall, we feel good about the contributions we make. In short, none of us selects this profession for the kudos and recognition we will earn from our colleagues and superiors, since we know that many (perhaps the majority) believe anyone could do it “with his/her eyes closed.”
In fact, a true HR leader has to master a number of functions, and tasks within those functions, ranging from recruitment, hiring, onboarding to compensation, performance management, training and development, all insured health and welfare plans, retirement, personnel and employee relations, EEO, payroll, etc., etc., etc. Despite frustration over the lack of acknowledgement and recognition of what it takes to be a sound HR leader, when asked most HR professionals say they love the work because despite workplans, one never knows how a day will unfold; most days are full of surprises because it’s about people -- with all our complexities!
AE: In 1997 you started your own consulting business and offer a range of services that include executive coaching. Historically coaching has been at the upper levels of an organization, but does that make sense? Wouldn’t there be greater benefit coaching new leaders before they develop poor leadership habits?
DPM: I couldn’t agree with you more. Identifying high-potential employees/emerging leaders early on and giving them the tools to succeed through targeted coaching is the proverbial win-win: for the organization and the individual. While coaching senior leaders is admiral and, dare I say, needed in far too many cases, intervening much earlier would net better results, and, hopefully, minimize the damage that can be caused by well-meaning and good intentioned executives who lack the skills to communicate with and motivate others.
AE: So, barring a coach for the new leader, what do you think is the biggest mistake organizations make when putting someone into a leadership role for the first time?
DPM: Granting the title without providing or ensuring the individual has the tools to get the job done. Most individuals – including yours truly – are or were promoted because we are great individual contributors. However, supervising, managing and leading others is an entirely different skill-set that most of us must learn. A very few have the intuitive sense of how to do it; many more of us learn through mistakes. And, although learning through mistakes is a valid method for growing and developing, damage can be caused along the way.
When I start a coaching assignment or a series of leadership training sessions, I’m fond of saying “I made a lot of mistakes as a first-time manager; the good news is that I learned from those mistakes; the better news is that I’m willing to share those mistakes with you so you don’t make them.”
AE: When you are working with your clients, do you see commonalities in what they struggle with?
DPM: Because I work with clients of all sizes – ranging from “ma and pa grocery stores,” to national market chains, the complexity of the issues grows with the size of the organizations. However, people are people regardless of the type of organization for which they work – whether volunteer, nonprofit, corporate, governmental – and regardless of industry; and, as people we have more in common than that which divides us.
I see my clients struggle with the same issues: how to effectively communicate expectations; how to motivate employees to peak performance; and how to hold them accountable. The practical side of those issues – the tasks and duties - means drafting relevant job descriptions, coaching, mentoring and counseling employees to achieve desired results (delegation, training & development), evaluating performance, coaching those who struggle to achieve success, and holding employees accountable through applicable discipline, when needed.
AE: What is the biggest mistake any leader can make?
DPM: In my view, deciding that the ends justify the means, by compromising ethical norms and their own sense of morality for a so-called greater good. When one does this, in my mind, it is a slippery slope downward.
AE: You have been running your own business for quite some time, what is the best part about doing the work you do?
DPM: Being able to speak my truth. I found as I was making a “meteoric rise to the glass ceiling,” that many along the path to senior leadership were obsequious and deferential to the CEO, regardless of the “acts and facts,” and their values and ethics. Given I doubted that an employment lawyer/HR officer would become CEO of a major corporation, I chose to run my own business where I could live my values, passions about people, and ethics. To repeat, to live and speak my truth!
AE: On the flip side, what has the biggest challenge been?
DPM: As most baby-boomer women, I earn less than men, and find I have a more difficult time commanding the same professional fees as (frankly) less-educated and -less qualified men.
AE: We have talked about other leaders, what kind of leader are you; how would you describe your leadership style?
DPM: Fortunately, I was asked to participate in numerous leadership experiences throughout my career, and took five or six 360-performance evaluations along the way. As a result, I had the opportunity to see myself as others did. Determined to turn around the negative perceptions of others, while maximizing the positive perceptions (on the theory that perception is reality), I strove to be, and have been told that I have become a motivational leader that truly cares about others, works to enhance their capabilities, and inspires them to greater heights. By the end of my corporate career, I was honored to have employees from other departments clamoring to come work for me. By the way, because I am living proof that one can change the perceptions of others, it informs my very pragmatic, down-to-earth coaching, training and facilitating style, which, I am told, contributes to my success. The case study in my book of Simon Sr. VP, who practiced the “two-for-one rule,” that is giving two positives for every negative, who (without being phony or fake) thanked those who had done something nice for him, and who gave out “attaboys” and “attagirls” was a client who benefitted directly from my own experience.
AE: You recently published your book Consequential Communication In Turbulent Times. You correctly state that “Workplace miscommunications, be they well-meaning or not, result in lost productivity, discontent, and even violence.” What is the biggest mistake you see in the workplace when it comes to communication?
DPM: I glad you agree! Each chapter in the book details an important communication tip that addresses a universal communication/miscommunication issue that I’ve observed. Of the many, I would highlight two as the biggest missteps that if addressed would go a long way in improving workplace communication: first, listening, asking and telling – leaders do too much telling and too little listening and asking; and, second, the need to be strategic: begin with the end in mind (to borrow a phrase from Stephen Covey) – this means leaders’ should invest the time to truly understand what the goal or aim is, and then planning/communicating/delegating the tasks and duties that need to be accomplished to get there.
“This book is chock-full of examples of how to make sure your communication is intentional, positive and designed to be embraced by the recipient.” ~Marshall Goldsmith
AE: Were there any ah ha moments for you in writing the book?
DPM: This may sound mundane and rather ironic. The book itself had been written in my head for at least ten years plus, and it is a result of my cumulative and varied experiences – as an employment lawyer, a growing leader, as an executive and officer, consultant, trained facilitator, coach, parent and community member. Yet the process of actually putting pen to paper, as it were, I found to be more daunting than anticipated. My “ah ha” moment was in working hard not to violate one of my own principles: “assuming facts not in evidence.” We all bring to bear our own experiences, understandings and ways of being (manera de ser in Spanish – love that phrase), and tend to assume that our base of knowledge, experience, upbringing and other cultural and societal pressures are shared by all. Not so. I wrote, read, reread, edited, had others read the book-in-formation to ensure it said what I intended.
AE: I really like the way you build a foundation in the book starting with explaining what communication is. Most leaders would argue that they know how to communicate; in my experience I would disagree. What do you think?
DPM: I agree with your premise, and this response is directly related to the one preceding. Leaders bring their own unique baggage with them, and assume their base of knowledge is shared by all. They “assume facts not in evidence,” and therefore fail to communicate thoroughly and in the methods/modes that the recipient understands. This obstacle is exacerbated by the leader doing too much telling and too little asking and listening. Further, leaders have position power, thus, very few subordinates or colleagues question them. As a result, many leaders are cryptic in communicating, and then get frustrated (angry?) when the results are not as they believe they clearly communicated. I hope some are open-minded enough to read the book and try out some of the easy-breezy techniques. They work!
AE: You include great case studies, are they all from your experience or did others provide theirs? Any that really stand out to you?
DPM: None of the case studies is made out of whole cloth. All of them happened exactly as described, though the workplaces, genders, and names were changed to protect identities and avoid embarrassment. Some of the case studies happened to me personally; some happened to those individuals I managed; and, the balance happened to clients of mine. The story that stands out most for me – because I witnessed the damage first-hand – was the PhD who had never taken a 360-degree performance evaluation (in fact, appeared to have been incensed that someone had the temerity to ask the question) yet gave hurtful feedback, without considering that the person who gave it was projecting his own intentions, and ascribing them to another.
I’m glad you find the case studies to be helpful. My experience has shown me that we can all relate to stories – see ourselves in them – over learning from cold, hard, rather antiseptic facts or data and research.
AE: Do you see different communication styles with people in and out of the workplace?
DPM: I see and experience very little difference between how people communicate in and out of the workplace. Language itself may be less inhibited in one’s personal life; however, the individuals’ basic style, which is an expression of who she or he as a person, changes little, if at all.
AE: Do you think men and women communicate differently in and out of the workplace?
DPM: My own experience is that it’s less about gender and more about the individual and her or his style. I’ve observed that generally men are more laser-like focused than women in their thinking, thus communicating; while women tend to be more conceptual and outer focused in their thinking, thus communicating. For me, the ideal communicator is a blend of the two: strategic, purposeful, laser-like in focus; yet, compassionate, empathetic, focused on the wants and needs of others. When I think of leaders I admire, they have the characteristics just listed – of either gender.
AE: We live in an age when you can say something with the click of a mouse. Is technology hurting our ability to effectively communicate?
DPM: I believe it is. Because it is ubiquitous and at our fingertips, too many of us use technology to get something off our chest, often when we have an emotional response, and frequently when that response is anger. It’s a liberating feeling to just spill out without thinking first. I believe there is nothing wrong in writing that “get it off your chest” response;however, sending it is another matter. I find it’s important to think first, and communicate second. So, write it down, then save it and consider/ reconsider editing it, shelving it, or sending it as is the following day, fully recognizing the response it might engender. In sum, communicate with your “eyes wide open; vs. eyes wide shut.”
AE: When it comes to women in leadership, are women leaders doing enough to open doors for other women?
DPM: An important question, about which it is tough for me to offer a current assessment, though my “tweener” daughter (also a lawyer) tells me “things haven’t changed that much.” In my day, I saw women in two camps: “men’s women,” those who believed they needed to be more macho than the men to get ahead, and were tough and very competitive with other women; and, women’s women, those who recognized that many women were hard-working professionals, perhaps harder working than their male counterparts, and who relied upon their sisters to get the job done. The former camp believed that the pie was small and that if one woman got a piece, that meant there wasn’t a piece for her, rather than looking at the pie as expanding with plenty of pieces for all of them.
AE: Are we having the right discussions about things that directly affect women in the workplace like equal pay, sexual harassment, being a parent?
DPM: As a baby-boomer professional woman, the discussions on these three vital topics were in their infancy, pun not intended. Great strides have been made in sexual harassment recognition and prevention, and offering benefits to assist parents. The huge lagging indicator is equal pay for equal work, where today white women make less than 80 cents on the dollar when compared to men, with African Americans and Latinas lagging further behind.
Once again, and drawing upon my own experiences, as Secretary of the Corporation at Southern California Edison, and the then senior woman of 18,000 employees, I proposed and chaired an internal child care task force (that included the labor unions, also a first); was named as vice chair of the founding LA board of supervisors Child Care Advisory Board; and, represented the company on the United Way of LA’s, “Alliance of Businesses and Child Care Development,” tackling child care and elder care. With respect to sexual harassment in the workplace and commencing as a practicing in-house employment lawyer, I developed the curriculum and trained supervisors and managers on sexual harassment prevention, among other EEO-related matters. To this day, I continue to provide what is now (thankfully) California’s required two-hour sexual harassment prevention, anti-bullying and anti-gender identification bias, to managers and supervisors of organizations of five or more employees, and one hour for employees. Recently, I was certified by the State Bar of California to give the required ethics credits for continuing legal education.
AE: What is the biggest mistake you see new women leaders make?
DPM: Trying to be more macho than their male counterparts vs. understanding and embracing their own unique strengths, capabilities and people-focused leadership styles. And, it goes without saying, displaying a harsh competitiveness with other women. That holds us all back!
AE: What has been the greatest gain for women since you began your career?
DPM: Despite headwinds against it, opportunities for women to move through the ranks of organizations to the top do exist: though nowhere near our numbers; there are now female CEOs and those serving on boards of directors. Also, the majority of those who have made it were and are mentored by men. Among many other gains, work-life balance has been recognized as necessary for men and women, overcoming the much-derided “mommy-track” that hampered women’s ability to be taken seriously in the workplace, and has served to acknowledge the fulsomeness of all of our lives.
AE: We still see very few women at the tops of organizations and on board of directors, how do we change that to create great representation?
DPM: As with the introduction and acceptance of any group that has been denied access, and over the long haul, it’s changing hearts and minds through hard work and demonstrated success. As women succeed, women get more opportunities. In my own case, while at Southern California Company, I was both the first woman and first in-house attorney to be promoted outside of the law department . . . into the Human Resources Department. I was fortunate because I was offered three diverse opportunities at the time. I could have managed a steam station, lobbied on behalf of the company in front of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), or managed a large (35+ employees) HR department. Frankly, the dream job would have been lobbying in front of the CPUC; however, it would have required my being up in San Francisco a few days a week, and I live in Southern California. At the time, my son was five and my elder daughter, two. Thus, I was unwilling to sacrifice my parental duties to take that job.
This answer intersects with the earlier question (about women supporting women), since it was one of the few female attorneys that squawked the loudest about my getting the opportunity, spreading a rumor that I must have slept with a senior executive to get the job. I was hurt, offended and felt betrayed. It was a male colleague who understood the importance of my success with this opportunity telling the female lawyer to quiet down and that “if she [in reference to me] succeeds, we may all get offers outside the law department; if she fails, we may never get that chance.”
That said, a little prodding never hurts: My home state of California, has passed a law requiring that women must comprise a certain percentage of board members on publicly held companies.
AE: If you could only give one piece of advice to young women entering the workforce what would it be and why?
DPM: Manage your own career: be both strategic and tactical. Figure out where you want to be and in what time frame, and then develop the tactics to get there. Finally, execute! It is critical that women (and men) accept responsibility for their own careers. Although it’s great when others recognize one’s value and contribution, the person that should be driving that is herself/himself.
Final Thoughts: Thank-you Anthony for such a penetrating interview. It caused me to dig deeper, with the result of very personal responses. I hope that my experience will positively inform others – women and men.
Diana Peterson-More, employment lawyer, corporate manager, executive, and officer, left a Fortune 200 company to launch The Organizational Effectiveness Group, LLC. Her company provides tailor-made services, processes, and products to align people with values-driven organizational goals. Through her career, Diana has touched the lives of tens of thousands of grateful individuals world-wide.
After launching The Organizational Effectiveness Group, LLC and in response to client request, Peterson-More founded HRO on the GO, a full service, outsourced human resources consulting firm specializing in: strategic pay and performance management, employee relations, administrative and compliance matters, and all insured and qualified benefit programs. While retaining her current clients, Peterson-More shifted focus exclusively to her organizational work - strategic planning, facilitating/training & individual and group coaching - and conference speaking in alignment with her best-selling book: "Consequential Communication in Turbulent Times, A Practical Guide to Leadership."
Her guest appearances on Empire Broadcast, and her YouTubes on Diversity & Inclusion & Sexual Harassment Prevention can be accessed via her website (www.dianapetersonmore.com). She received her BA from UCLA & her JD from Loyola Law School. Her 2019 talk at the HRWest Conference "Cut Through the Noise: Tips for Consequential Communication" received high marks and reinforced the concepts in her best-selling book.
Learn more about Diana, purchase her book, follow her on social media.
What initially caught my attention when I first came across Klara’s profile on LinkedIn is the opening quote in her bio.
“Everything we do - in work and in life - is rooted in communication. "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place" - G.B. Shaw.
This was the hook that drew me in and made me want to learn more about who she is and the work she is doing.
AE: What attracted you to study international business and marketing?
KF: I was always fascinated with what motivates people to behave the way they behave and buy what they buy. Growing up in the 80’s everyone was a walking billboard. Whether it was an alligator on our shirts, a swoosh on our shoes or a certain label with a horse on my jeans – it was all about the label. Having visited my relatives back in Hungary which at the time was still behind the iron curtain, I was fascinated how even without access, the awareness and attraction to these brands was even more feverish.
AE: I remember the 80’s well, it was the advent of branding for sure. Are their significant differences to the way other countries approach both business and marketing compared to the U.S.?
KF: The principles and frameworks for good marketing, meaning positioning, branding and communications are universal practices. What fascinated me was the cultural insights which would drive the approach to market. The brilliant approach I think that we took at Yum Brands was we exported certain foundational pillars of each brand and then allowed for local interpretation and execution. This is exactly what made KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell so successful in so many markets worldwide.
AE: That is interesting and it makes a lot of sense that there are universal principles. As a woman working internationally were there unique challenges?
KF: I was fortunate to have been warmly received and well respected everywhere I went. I came with the intent to learn and add value, and I believe this was appreciated. At Yum, there was a Corporate Culture that superseded local culture. Everyone treated each other with respect and admiration for the unique talents and perhaps cultural perspectives they could share. My role was also a global one and had I worked in-country and tried to “fit in”, perhaps my experience might have been different.
AE: Having worked for mufti-national companies myself I understand how important corporate culture is to being successful. Did you find that other countries have the same kind of leadership challenges or are their differences?
KF: In my experience I believe leadership challenges are more similar than they are different regardless of domicile, but perhaps more pronounced in different parts of the world. Great leadership in Thailand looks similar to great leadership in India which looks like great leadership in Brazil. It’s where leaders are inclusive, respectful, have a clear vision and empower people to get the job done.
AE: Clearly the leadership approach makes all the difference. I really like what you state on your website “Personal branding isn’t about adopting a fake persona; it’s about becoming more YOU—the best version of you.” Have you encountered individuals who have some kind of brand but it does not match who they really are?
KF: Our innate ability as humans gives us the perceptibility of recognizing whether someone is being authentic or not. When someone is trying just a bit too hard to be something they are not, it is evident. I see it most often when someone is newly promoted into a big position and they overcompensate, believing they need to be a certain way in order to “live up” to the role.
AE: Do you think that women leaders make the mistake of putting on a false persona?
KF: As with men, some do and some don’t. Some are ready, steady and in the game and bring a level of confidence that says I belong here. Even if I don’t know the answer, I can get the job done. Other leaders may feel either in over their head or are bending to what their constituencies want to hear and therefore compromise themselves, so they turn up inauthentic.
AE: It was after your own executive coach taught you how to develop your unique personal brand that you started your own business. Was it the catalyst or had you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
KF: Not at all. I thought I would live out my days in Corporate America. It wasn’t until after my coaching experience that I realized that I wanted to have a greater impact and focus my efforts on helping other women in large organizations navigate the jungle gym and thrive. For sure my coach had planted the seeds, but it wasn’t until a few years later that I actually took the chance to go out on my own.
AE: And now you coach individual professionals, groups and small businesses. Is there one area over another that you enjoy more?
KF: What lights me up is facilitating “a-ha” moments. This can happen one-on-one or in a room of many. I do admit I love the energy of an audience which is ironic coming from someone who would miss class if I had get up and speak. The fear of public speaking plagued me for years, but eventually I was able to move through it thinking of myself as the messenger and not the main act. This way I could focus on helping others.
AE: I love that you say that because it is the “a-ha” moments that bring me the most satisfaction in the work I do. Working in HR I see common struggles with those I support; are there common struggles amongst the groups you coach?
KF: Clarity and communication. This is how Klarity International was born. Whether individuals or groups, the common struggle is getting clarity on where we need to go and how do we communicate our vision, mission and purpose. Often, even when the path is unclear, we can always figure out what is the 1 thing we can do next. That 1 step is a step out of paralysis and into action.
AE: Communication seems to be the key for both of us. A big focus of your approach is around personal brand. We have been hearing the term for some time now especially with celebrities, but do you think most people really understand the concept?
KF: Vaguely, but my sense is people don’t. Personal branding at its core is about personal accountability. What do I stand for? What are my values? How do I demonstrate my value? So before taking to social media and promoting yourself, there is a fair amount of work and reflection which is required to get a sense for who you are.
AE: I have certainly seen that in the leaders I have encountered. In addition to your business you serve as the Program Manager, Facilitator and Business Development Consultant for WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. What drew you to working with them?
KF: I first started mentoring for Women Unlimited while I was still at Yum Brands. Shortly after leaving, I was contacted by Women Unlimited and invited to facilitate one of the sessions in Southern California. That experience led to me to becoming the Program Manager for LEAD, a year-long program which aims to help women move from managing to leading. Think of it as an Executive MBA in leadership.
AE: What kind of training does the program provide to women?
KF: Women Unlimited Inc. (WUI) partners with organizations that want to bridge the gender parity gap. The beneficiaries of the experience are the women that these companies nominate to attend one of our programs. It’s not training, but rather an experiential processe where the women learn to create a network, get coached by senior-level mentors and learn about the fundamentals of leadership such Influence, Risk Taking, Executive Presence, Leading Strategically. Women have a different experience in the workplace than men and often show up differently than men. Women Unlimited provides them with a safe environment where they can speak openly without fear of judgement, learn from each other and coach each other.
AE: How important is it for women leaders to give back?
KF: Vital I would say. It is important for women to set an example for others and be great servant leaders.
AE: Do you think existing women leaders do enough to help up and coming women?
KF: Yes and there is always more that women leaders can do. I work with many organizations and I am happy to find that women for the most part want and will help up-and-coming women. The key is to ingratiate this into the culture where not just women leaders, but ALL leaders are helping up-and coming female talent so they are consciously included in conversations, and informal networks.
AE: Have you had a mentor or someone that helped you during your career?
KF: Of course, I was fortunate to have several mentors, both formal and informal, but I only had 1 sponsor and this is the missing link for women in the Corporate world. 13% of women have sponsors – that person who will take a risk on you and put their neck out and advocate for you.
AE: We still see a small number of women running major corporations and serving on board of directors. How does that change to create greater representation?
KF: I think the latest figure was 24 women leading an S&P corporation. On International Women’s Day, the CEO of Xerox, John Visentin published an article strongly endorsing the need for a balanced workforce. “I am a believer that businesses, such as ours, need to take the lead in tapping into the full pool of human talent to build a sustainable future.” . This is where it must start – at the very top. Leaders must believe that it makes business sense and hold their teams accountable for creating diverse and representative teams.
AE: I read your article “Why we all remember his dream” about Martin Luther King Jr. where you wrote “…he spoke from the heart. We felt what he felt. His passion ignited the same emotions in everyone, branding it on everyone's heart.” Resonated with me. Why don’t more leaders do this; make themselves vulnerable?
KF: For fear of being vulnerable and looking the fool – this, I believe, is what many leaders fail to do and yet by being vulnerable, it is the surest way to enroll an army of devoted employees to your cause. I had the good fortune of working for some of the best leaders. I will never forget when Greg Creed, now CEO of Yum Brands said at a global franchise convention “I may not be right, but I will be clear” which I thought was incredibly bold. No leader can make all right decisions, but the leader who steps up and says “I was wrong, we need to course-correct” will always have respect over the person who postures and positions.
AE: I could not agree more. So many times leaders are unwilling to admit they are wrong and stay the course even when they know it won’t lead to success. What is the biggest mistake you see new women leaders make?
KF: I have observed some women new in a leadership role believing that they need to have all the answers, not fully empowering their teams (a recovering perfectionist dilemma) and not strategically building sufficiently diverse networks inside and outside of the organization for support and candid feedback.
AE: What is the biggest mistake any leader can make?
KF: Not listening and not continually learning. If a leader begins to “drink their own cool-aid”, their perspective becomes very skewed, and frankly, outdated. At the pace of business today, a great leader has to anticipate the ever-constant changing landscape. Relying on past methods or successes would be a very big mistake.
AE: How would you describe your leadership style?
KF: I love to get people excited about what makes them excited! Rallying the troops if you will. My passion is for others to find what they are good at or can become good at. I have become much more empathetic while still seeking excellence from others.
AE: You are speaking my language! As a leader, what is the one thing you will not tolerate?
KF: Lying or posturing. Nobody wants to be lied to or manipulated (or feel as though they are being manipulated). My aim is to get to the truth and uncover the root cause of an issue or behavior.
AE: What has been the greatest gain for women since you began your career?
KF: I think we’ve gained a voice, not just individually but collectively. We are no longer acting and dressing like men and are showing up more authentically. This of course depends on the company and industry, but on the whole, I think women are coming into their own.
AE: If you could only give one piece of advice to young women entering the workforce what would it be and why?
KF: Worry less about what people’s opinion is of you and more about what value you can contribute to your team and to your company. Learn, fail, try again, make mistakes, get up, take risks, and keep becoming!
Klara studied international business with a concentration in marketing in the U.S. and London, followed by an internship in Germany. She did her graduate studies at the Thunderbird School of Global Management. After being promoted to the Global Marketing Director at Taco Bell International her team launched the Taco Bell Brand in a dozen countries.
After 20 years of corporate branding she launched Klarity International. As a personal brand coach with Klarity International Klara helps people create their own personal brand by discovering their unique promise of value and sharing it with the world. To learn more about Klara and Klarity International visit her website http://klarityinternational.com/
I am always intrigued by other people’s journey and it was no different when I came across Colleen Birdnow Brown, the former CEO of Fisher Communications who served in the C-Suite of various Fortune 500 multimedia companies. It was no surprise when she agreed to do an interview for this series that she would give such thoughtful answers to my questions.
AE: You started out in broadcast media, what attracted you to that?
CB: At the time it was not only a cool industry but it was also an industry that was growing and changing. I grew up with one TV station, the CBS affiliate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The signal was poor, but for a kid from rural Iowa it opened up the world to me. The possibility of doing that kind of work, to open up the world to others, was inspiring.
AE: Broadcast media was and still is dominated by male executives, did you have any challenges being a woman executive in the field?
CB: Of course we all have our stories: From being underestimated, to being discounted to being objectified …it was never easy. As you may know, a great majority of TV stations are held by corporations that have two classes of stock. This enables the controlling shareholder to have the luxury of staying at the helm of their organizations.
AE: Your career in broadcast media was very successful and you worked all over the country, was that by design or necessity?
CB: Thank you, it was a little of both. When I began in the industry the belief that you worked your way up by working in smaller stations first before moving on to larger markets was the norm. Once I began to work at the corporate level it was a mixture of the glass ceiling and opportunities that kept us on the move. That, and a wonderful husband who adapted to whatever the circumstance.
"It is a challenge to move from big corporate thinking to a startup mentality."
AE: We still see a small number of women running major corporations and serving on board of directors. How does that change to create greater representation?
CB: I’m disappointed this fact pattern has not changed. While progress has been made, it is still difficult to understand what is holding back half the population. Especially, when there is evidence of the benefit of women at the helm and at companies that diversify their boards.
AE: Do you think existing women leaders do enough to help up and coming women?
CB: It’s a complex subject. Do we ever do enough? I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of great women…corporate executives and female spouses of corporate executives. They helped pave the way for my ability to perform. I’ve committed to moving other women forward.
AE: You made a fairly significant career shift going from broadcast media into tech; what was the catalyst for that?
CB: Some would say the career shift came when I went into media. Technology was my first job….from a long line of family members that are engineers and technologists …I began as a programmer.
AE: In 2015 you founded Marca Global and it was named as an Inc. 5000 fasted growing technology company. Were there any ah ha moments in starting your own company?
CB: It is a challenge to move from big corporate thinking to a startup mentality. But it has been a tremendously healthy thing to do from the board room perspective. Metrics driven performance can be applied in any division or department, yet it is still uncommon in traditional companies. A comprehensive professional strategic or marketing plan is not always the norm and a metrics driven performance and the urgency is not commonplace. Yet as the service provider it is our holy grail.
"…none of us succeed alone. Many terrific individuals made a difference in my career."
AE: The tech world is still very male dominated, do you/have you encountered any challenges being a woman CEO running her own tech company?
CB: A few really, really great people get it…but it’s a pretty lonely dynamic situation no matter if you are a woman or a man.
AE: You have served on the board of directors for some very well-known companies. Do you see common challenges that leaders struggle with?
CB: It is difficult to transition from the traditional way things are done to the uber competitive specialists applied today. How do you compete against the big, ubiquitous online companies when you are in a market without the natural digital talent pool, ability to manage high level performance, have the key “know how” for transformation and the discipline to keep up with the big guys. Competencies for most for the most part are quite apparent but true differentiators are much more difficult to identify and claim.
AE: Have you had a mentor or someone that helped you during your career?
CB: Yes, none of us succeed alone. Many terrific individuals made a difference in my career. A female graduate professor who mentored us to a national General Motors award, to an executive that was motivated to put a women in his chair when he was promoted and a grandmother that assured us we would never be given more than we can handle.
AE: What is the biggest mistake you see new women leaders make?
CB: Ahhh…putting our heads down and doing top level work and thinking that is enough.
"It all works out. Do your best and you will be successful."
AE: We have seen some shifts recently with the way women are treated in the workplace as it relates to equal pay and sexual harassment to name a couple areas; but are we having the right discussions about these things or are we just polarized by them?
CB: First of all, I think it is great we are thinking about this and having the discussion. So much has happened that needs to be examined with women in the work force. The pendulum always swings widely when there is a course correction. It’s important to use diligence, judgement and compassion when looking at the situation. But I’m hopeful that we will find a fair, equal and open evaluation of the individuals that help us build our companies.
AE: What kind of leader are you; how would you describe your leadership style?
CB: Intense but fair. At least that is the feedback I’ve gotten through the years. I’m from the Midwest…most people will say authentic…focused curious. I give a lot of rope until you prove I should do otherwise.
AE: As a leader, what is the one thing you will not tolerate?
CB: Bullies and lies.
AE: What has been the greatest gain for women since you began your career?
CB: Wow…no panty hose…for sure!! I was once sent home to change due to a run in my pantyhose by a male boss…embarrassing!! Seriously, we are experiencing more diversity of voice and greater light on behavior in the board room and most organizations have it on their agenda.
AE: What is the biggest mistake any leader can make?
BC: Being a coward…shirking accountability or responsibility for your team.
AE: If you could only give one piece of advice to young women entering the workforce what would it be and why?
CB: It all works out. Do your best and you will be successful. Don’t take things personally, even when it is. Keep things in perspective.
AE: I like to finish my interviews with a quote, do you have a favorite?
CB: …“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,”…Or woman! ~Theodore Roosevelt
Colleen has also served as Chairwoman on the Board of American Apparel, the Boards of Spark Networsk, Careerbuilder.com, Cars.com and DataSphere Technologies.
Besides being a board member, Colleen is also an award sinning leader and frequent speaker, she has received numerous awards and was named in the top 100 by NACD. To learn more about Colleen’s company Marca Global visit the website at https://www.marcagloballlc.com/
This interview was originally posted December 2015
While doing research for another WOMEN ON LEADERSHIP article, I stumbled upon an interview with Shabnam Mogharabi which in turn led me to the discovery of SoulPancake.
SoulPancake is a multi-platform media company whose mission is to create uplifting and inspiring content. I was immediately intrigued not only with what I read about the company but also its CEO and how she fulfilled her own desire to do work that was meaningful and inspiring.
In the world where there is so much but often little substance Shabnam shared with me a bit about her journey to becoming CEO of SoulPancake, her experience, and thoughts on being a leader.
AE: Let’s start with you. While it comes as no surprise that your educational background is in business administration and journalism; you also have a minor in comparative religion. What drew you to that?
SM: I've always been fascinated by how people come to believe what they believe. Everyone has a different relationship with faith, spirituality, and religion, and I like understanding that side of people.
AE: Was or is there a woman in journalism that you admire or that has inspired you?
SM: Like most women, I love Oprah. She is naturally curious, observant, and empathetic, and I think those qualities make the best journalists and storytellers.
AE: We have experienced this phenomenal shift to a “reality television” kind of mindset where people will do and share anything to be “seen”. How do you think this is influencing young women?
SM: I think the desire to be "seen" is driven by a more fundamentally human need to connect, which is what I think causes most human behavior and action. I think it's OK for young women to want to express themselves and discover who they are. But I also think it's important to teach young men and women both to have a sense of self-worth and self-value that is not dictated by whether he or she is "famous." You have to have inner confidence -- that's where real beauty and visibility of spirit come from.
AE: Would having a woman president break the ultimate proverbial glass ceiling?
SM: It would be a historic and profoundly important moment for women. I think women have a great deal to offer in the workplace, including in the highest office of the land. That being said, I don't think a woman should get elected just because she is female. She should also be strong, decisive, compassionate, experienced, and cool under pressure -- the same qualities I would expect of a male president.
"SoulPancakes mission is to ask questions and inspire discussions about humanity, spirituality, and philosophy. In 2010, Rainn Wilson, Devon Gundry, Golriz Lucina and Shabnam Embarked on a project that would become the book “SoulPancake: Chew on Life’s Big Questions.” In 2012, the company launched what would become viral video sensation “Kid President” and in 2014 the hugely successful "Kitten Therapy".
AE: I absolutely love what SoulPancake is doing. I believe having meaningful conversations and experiences is what life is about. What has been the most meaningful conversation or experience you have had lately?
SM: I went on a week-long trip to Italy with my mom this summer -- just her and I. I'm the oldest of four, so getting dedicated quality time with my mom as an adult, without my dad or sisters, is a really precious thing. We had a great time driving around Tuscany and talking, not as mother and daughter but as friends.
AE: Is there anything new happening at SoulPancake that you can share?
SM: SoulPancake is in a really exciting time from a content perspective! We were just named to the Inc500 list of fastest-growing small businesses in the country. We have announced licensing deals with big partners such as Verizon, Conde Nast, and others. And we have a number of new shows launching this fall on our YouTube channel.
We’re often so distracted that we forget to connect with each other. This is a reminder of how easy it is to show you care.
On September 29th in partnership with Hershey's Kisses chocolates "Strangers Surprised by an Unusual Reminder to Care" was launched exclusively on SheKnows.com, and is being hosted on SoulPancake's YouTube channel, where viewers catch passers-by being surprised by a reminder to share a kind gesture to spread positivity and joy.
AE: As a leader of a company that spreads joy and celebrates the human experience how do you incorporate that with your own employees?
SM: Lots of dance parties. And cupcakes. And skateboards. And service days.
AE: Do you think men and women lead differently?
SM: I think every human being will lead a little differently. Leadership styles are profoundly influenced by our experiences and backgrounds. No two people will lead in the same way. That being said, I think there are certain qualities that are traditionally described as 'feminine' that are growingly important in leadership -- qualities like compassion, empathy, being a good listener, and authenticity.
AE: If you could tell every young girl something, what would it be?
SM: The same thing I would tell any young boy. You matter, you have the power to change the world, and I believe in you.
Rainn Wilson, co-creator of “SoulPancake,” is a famed actor and most well-known for his role as Dwight Schrute on NBC’s “The Office,” his acting credits include “Six Feet Under,” “Cooties,” and most recently, “Backstrom.”
AE: Of course I have to ask, what is it like having Rainn Wilson as a boss?
SM: Rainn is smart, funny, and a little weird -- brainstorming meeting with him is always... um... interesting. But he is also still as passionate about SoulPancake today as he was 6 years ago when he founded it. You couldn't ask for a better business partner than that.
I am always on the lookout for someone new to interview for this series, and, a great leadership book. I recently found both with Julie Winkle Giulioni co-author of Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go. Julie was kind enough to send me an advance copy of the book and when I read it, it immediately resonated with me. It doesn’t matter if you are an employee or a leader, you will get something out of this book!
AE: Where did the original idea come from for your book Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go?
JWG: Despite volumes of data that paint a really compelling business case for career development, managers and leaders still struggle to do it (or to do it well.) My co-author and I wanted to get to the bottom of what was getting in the way… and, more importantly, we wanted to offer a way of thinking about career development that would make it more relevant and doable in today’s environment.
AE: There is a lot of data and material available, but it can be very difficult to sort through in a concise way. I personally like the way the information has been presented and how easy it is to apply. The book has been updated and in its second addition; what’s new?
JWG: In the time since the first edition was released, I’ve had the chance to travel around the world working with organizations to implement the Help Them Grow principles. So, we were able to expand the second edition with some of these learnings and enhancements. But, most importantly, we’ve taken on the critical role of culture in supporting career development and included an assessment and discussion of cultural hallmarks.
AE: Those are great additions, especially for those starting out or looking for a better way. The second addition was just released, what has the response been?
JWG: We’ve been delighted with the response. Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go immediately hit #1 in its Amazon category and we’ve received tremendously positive feedback from readers. What was most personally heartening to me was the outpouring of support I received from my online ‘tribe’ and the number of people who became actively involved in the launch. It was a rich and rewarding community effort.
AE: I am glad to count myself among those and thank you for giving me a sneak preview to the book. Each chapter starts with a kind of statement from “an employee (perhaps yours). Are those from actual people or created? I like them.
JWG: We conducted a lot of interviews as we prepared to write Help Them Grow. So, some of the descriptions represent real people we encountered along the way. Others are more composites, representing in one character the issues and themes we heard from many.
AE: Do you think leaders really understand the power of developing their people?
JWG: No. If they did, they would enthusiastically do it. There’s such a body of evidence around the benefits of career development. It enhances engagement, discretionary effort, innovation, quality, job and customer satisfaction, recruiting, retention, productivity and the bottom-line. When leaders understand this – really understand this – it’s a hard business case to ignore.
In a recent Dale Carnegie survey, companies with engaged employees outperform those without by up to 202%.
AE: Flipping that question, do employees take enough responsibility for developing themselves?
JWG: In most cases, no. But, I’m not sure it’s their fault. There’s a lot of talk about employees owning their development but too few organizations are backing that talk up with the tools, systems and support required to allow them to take action in the direction of their goals.
AE: There are great “What if” questions throughout the book; do you have any favorites?
JWG: This is akin to asking which of my children is my favorite! J I like them all. I like the idea of ‘what if’ questions in general. This kind of possibility thinking is hopeful and expansive… and can lead to new insights and intentions.
AE: Do you think that it is more important during times like these, where unemployment is so low, for organizations to put more effort into developing their people?
JWG: While it should be a perineal priority – because your best talent will always have options – career development is mission critical today. With record low unemployment, retention is one of the issues keeping executives up at night. Since we know that development is one of the top reasons people give for leaving a position, this is an obvious and high payoff area of focus.
Research shows that a full 40% of employees who don’t receive the necessary job training to become effective will leave their positions within the first year.
AE: We are in agreement, it should not matter but it is critical at times like these. Development is absolutely a retention tool. Where did your passion for development come from?
JWG: I had the good fortune that several of my first bosses were extraordinary. They were deeply committed to me (and all of their employees.) They took the time to get to know me, understand my talents and uncover my goals. They encouraged my growth and threw me into the deep end of the pool… all the while standing ready with a life preserver. I experienced remarkable growth as well as joy at work. Tim Kelsey, Diane Morgan, and Beverly Marsh were exceptional leaders who I modeled my own approaches – and ultimately my career – after.
AE: It makes all the difference when you have a great boss who is as invested in you as they are their own success. Do you see common problems with leaders or individuals when it comes to how they approach development?
JWG: The most common problem is that they either don’t do it… or they just go through the motions, completing the forms and meeting the deadlines but with a spirit of compliance rather than commitment to connecting, inspiring, and creating forward momentum.
AE: How key is the connection and relationship between the leader and their employee and where do leaders start?
JWG: The connection and relationship are absolutely key. But I wonder if this could be a chicken or egg situation. Sure, you could start with the relationship and use that to build trust and encourage growth. But what if you’re a new supervisor who hasn’t yet created those personal connections? Could you start by offering genuine support for the growth of others and build the trust and relationship as a result? Either way, I think we create a virtuous cycle in which growth and relationships positively feed upon each other.
Communicating well is the one critical skill that 91 percent of 1,000 employees in a recent Interact/Harris Poll said their leaders lack.
AE: You have included some great feedback about the book by readers inside; have you gotten one that really stands out?
JWG: I did a speaking engagement recently and one of the attendees came up afterward. He shared that he’d bought Help Them Grow over six years ago when it first came out and still kept it on his nightstand to remind him each morning about his highest priority at work!
AE: That is awesome! Sometimes, leaders are over looked when it comes to their continued development, how do organizations ensure that the leaders get the same kind of focus and attention?
JWG: It can be challenging for leaders to get excited about making a commitment to developing others when they aren’t getting similar development themselves. As a result, they owe it to themselves and their organizations to seek out what they need. To request time and attention from their own managers. Or, if they can’t get their needs met in that way, to find mentors or coaches in other parts of the organization.
AE: Most of the time when it comes to coaching in an organization it happens at the executive level. I think that it should start long before that. What do you think?
JWG: Agreed. I think everyone benefits from coaching. And leaders at each level of the organization should commit to ongoing coaching conversations focused on performance and growth with their direct reports. But, given our increasingly distributed workplace, large management spans of control, and the focus on knowledge work, we also need to begin preparing peers with the skills needed to coach each other – as they may be in a better position to offer feedback and support than managers anyway.
84% of organizations anticipate a shortfall of leaders in the next 5 years.
AE: You make a very good point; some of the best coaching I have received has actually come from peers and even my direct reports. How do you describe an “authentic” conversation between an employee and leader?
JWG: Authentic conversations begin with a genuine intention to be of service, a spirit of curiosity and the deep desire to learn. These three elements trump everything else. And if I had to choose between these and a polished process for navigating the conversation, I’d choose the former any day because authenticity resonates with others and supports growth.
AE: Very well said. Why do you think we have traditionally looked at career development separate from what employees are currently doing?
JWG: The image of the old career ladder is deeply embedded in many of our minds, despite the fact that it’s been dead for some time. Much of the workforce continues to hold the expectation that growth means making a move. And, this in large part explains the consistently low levels of satisfaction that exist with career development. But, in today’s flatter environments with less mobility, we have to confront the reality the in many cases, the best place to grow just might be right where you are.
AE: I see managers get it wrong time and time again when it comes to what their employees want and need; why do you think that is?
JWG: Normally when they get it wrong it’s because they’re not talking to employees about these very important things. Too frequently leaders think they know others – or they make assumptions based upon their own preferences and interests. When they take the time to ask, though, they’re rewarded not only with correct and actionable information – but also a deeper relationship, more trust, and greater loyalty (which in today’s tight labor market can be a powerful retention lever.)
AE: If there is one fundamental piece of advice you would give to both employees and managers about career development what would it be?
JWG: Start talking. The power – of connection, insight, motivation, and action- all emanates from the conversation.
AE: Will there be another book?
JWG: You bet… but if I tell you any more, I’ll have to kill you! J
Julie Winkle Giulioni is an author, speaker, and consultant who helps organizations: demystify what it takes to become a great ‘people leader’; fire up the passion and commitment of employees; and keep great talent by activating and developing it.
Named one of Inc. Magazines top 100 leadership speakers, Julie is also the co-author of the international bestseller, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want. She works with clients domestically and internationally, offering keynote addresses, facilitated workshops, custom webinars, elearning and microlearning solutions that deliver measurable results. She is a regular contributor to The Economist, SmartBrief, Saba’s TalentSpace, the Conference Board’s Human Capital Exchange, and a variety of publications and offers thoughts on leadership, career development, and more via her blog: www.juliewinklegiulioni.com
By Anthony T. Eaton | January 2019
I met Francene some twenty years ago when we worked together for a municipal city government, me as a Human Resource professional and her as the Health and Safety professional. Although we only worked together for a short time we forged a close personal and professional relationship built on mutual respect and appreciation for both our similarities and differences. It is because of this history along with the many debates and conversations we had that I was sure a new conversation would make for a great interview.
AE: You and I worked together almost 20 years ago which is amazing when I think about it. How different is the work environment today from what it was then?
FSD: A lot has changed in the past 20 years for me and my career. Things like flex-work time, working remotely and family/work life balance were just ideas on a note pad years ago. Employers talked about balancing family and work but never created systems to foster this concept.
Over the past 15 years, I have worked for organizations that really understood and promoted these concepts. 20 years ago, I was still having children and trying to balance all that came with having a career and being a new mother. Having the opportunity to work remotely, adjusting my schedule to accommodate breastfeeding and nursing schedules would have been very nice. If the City had these benefits, it would have been harder for me to leave. One would have thought that civil service/local government employment would have included these types of perks; unfortunately, it did not.
We worked a fixed schedule and had a fixed amount of leave. Nothing was offered or given in the area of leave as it pertained to new mothers. I can remember being on bed rest at the hospital for my son over a 3 month period and my leader at the time trying to force me to handle safety concerns while in the hospital. I forced her to pay me for work accomplished while hospitalized; as she did not want to do this. To think back, this should have been easy for her, as she was a woman with children and should have naturally understood the unfairness involved in demanding this request for a scared mother on hospital mandated bed rest. Unfortunate for her at the time, she did not. She and I have since reconnected and I am sure that her thought process has changed, but at the time, she did not have the courage, foresight or the compassion to empathize with me at the time.
AE: If I recall, you were at the very beginning of your career in the Health and Safety field and at that time it was unusual for women to hold those positions. Do you think that has changed or is it still one of the few fields where men dominate?
FSD: I do see a shift in the field to include diversity of candidates. However, many of the most powerful jobs in EHS are still predominately held by white males. I have been fortunate in my career due to my deciding early on to superiorly educate myself and to earn as many national certifications in the field early in my career. I held the ASP/CSP before it became popular. Most safety professionals were unable to pass the original exams due to the rigor surrounding the engineering principle based on test questions. This forced the Board of Certified Safety Professionals to reconstruct an exam; making it easier to pass.
However, by the time that the Board did this, I was already well on my way and had access to many of the better jobs due to me already possessing these coveted certifications. Around the same time that Board reconstructed the exams, the field of safety was becoming more stringent on worker safety and companies began increasing the knowledge and standards that safety professionals needed to possess to earn mid to upper-level positions. I had prepared for this wave of change and this resulted in my rapid career trajectory. By the time that I was 30, I held my first VP job. This was pretty rare and still is for a woman of color.
Just because I was able to climb does not mean that I was treated well. Companies at the time were not comfortable hiring and retaining a woman of color who had immense knowledge and could stand her ground with male counterparts. Companies also did not really understand how to relate to women such as myself; strong, confident and compassionate. I was always labeled as “mean, the bitch, or other derogatory terms which denote a strong woman with even stronger convictions. The first part of my career reflected an immense level of unhappiness for me. At times, I would be the best safety performer on the team, always given the toughest safety locations/book of business but was expected to always shine. I did shine, but even when I earned my results the right way, I was often accused of cheating, failing to report incidents, etc. It was an old song and dance for “women should not be in charge of safety,” despite the fact that I was a natural fit. I was reminded recently of the fact that the “lioness,” not the lion managed safety in the lion’s pride. Women truly are equipped to do this work for sure.
AE: That statement about the lines is so true, but then women have been pushed down in many ways throughout history because men were afraid of losing a preserved control. Back then I know we had these discussions, but what was it like for you then, coming into a civil service job with a local government as an African American woman replacing not just a man, but a white male?
FSD: Early on in my career, I begin to realize that when replacing a white male in a work role that my work standards would be much higher and what was expected of me would be much higher. Had I continued to produce the level of work that my predecessor produced, I would have been criticized as a slacker. This is true even in times where my predecessor was terminated for not doing a good job. There were several things that he (my predecessor at the City) left undone and did not do very well. Remember, the person coming behind you always has the clearest view of your successes and failures; as they are generally charged with cleaning up all of the messes you have left behind.
Despite his shortcomings, my leader at the City still had very high regard for him personally and professionally as it pertained to his work. Even when she was aware of things that were not up to code or regulatory standards that he was charged with handling, she would make excuses for his performance or oversights. Maybe this is because his work was a reflection of her, but one will never know. Even today, she admires and respects my predecessor at the City.
AE: It can be very difficult to come in behind someone, but it can also be a great thing because sometimes people don’t know what good work is. The first time we met was when I initially met you after you had applied for the H&S position with the City of Casselberry in Florida. I am going to summarize here, but I remember you asking me a question about how I felt as a gay man working there; it seemed that you had some concerns as a black woman as to if you would be accepted. Understandable since I think there were less than a handful of black employees. Since then you have held other positions; has this still been a concern? If not, when did it change for you? If so, why?
FSD: Back then, I was lucky to have an employee advocate like you in the workplace to make things fit. Had I not had you in my life at the time at work, life at the City would have been dull and difficult. Despite the fact that you were not African American, we shared so many commonalities, that even when we had bad days, you would make me smile. As a gay man, you understood the difficulties involved in trying to balance the task of being authentically yourself in a world full of people who only recruited and retained people who looked just like them. The City’s staff understood me, no better than they understood you. You never allowed that to stop you or hinder your work abilities. You always knew you had larger career aspirations awaiting you. You were also very cultured and had a large world view. I was so fortunate to meet and befriend you.
In case you did not know, I inherited my love of art from you and always credit you with helping me to frame things that remind me of my past and the strength in that. I also still put the small angel that you gave me (African American angel; the first one that I ever owned) on one of my trees each year as a sacrament to our friendship and your gift to me. I also see your framed art throughout my home each day. I want you to know this.
To answer the full question, I don’t think that the industry has changed much in terms of workplace diversity. I think that I have changed; especially as it pertains to companies getting the diversity equation right. I presently work in an organization today and am the only person of color on the senior leadership team. I don’t think that I have stopped caring about balancing the diversity equation, I just think that I am used this being the case in every organization. Most companies don’t believe in full diversity; only in meeting the federal government requirements. As you well know, this is the problem with any federal requirement goal; to include diversity goals/metric; people only want to meet them and not exceed them.
AE: I am humbled by your kind words and can’t express what they mean to me. You make a great point about diversity and that when there is a mandate of any kind by the government the objective of most business’s is to meet it and do little more. This leads me to a follow up question, the world has changed so much since we met some 20 years ago, in the general and in the workplace. What amazes you most?
FSD: What amazes me most about the EHS career field is that it has been slow to change. This is reflected in the number of executive leadership roles still being held by older white males; who really have not been made to embrace technology or changes in the field that have the potential to make the workplace safer. Technology and its advancements have been the most amazing thing over the span of my 20+ year career. We have autonomous driving vehicles and drones being deployed to assist in managing workplace safety. This is truly amazing.
AE: Funny that you say that because I experienced that first hand where the person in the E&H leadership role could barely write a sentence and would send out information that was full of typos and made no sense. Besides that, where else is it that you feel that we still have work to do?
FSD: Fully embracing women in the workplace is still our weakest axis on the career beam. As a society, we still have ideas of what jobs women should and should not hold in the workplace. Being a woman has held me back harder than being African American. Being both of these things is very difficult at times to overcome.
AE: If I recall correctly, we had discussions 20 years ago about equal pay because when you were hired you were paid less than the white male you replaced. While there were differences in experience, in terms of the work performed there was not; so what are your thoughts on equal pay for equal work and where we are today; in your opinion and from your perspective have things changed?
FSD: In the words of Fredrick Douglass; “power concedes nothing without a demand.” 20 years ago, I lacked the confidence to demand an equitable salary. Today, I am paid on par or better in some cases then my male counterparts because I have truly learned how to negotiate my package (to include vacation, sabbaticals for school, sign-on bonuses, etc.) and have gained an immense understanding of my workplace value.
Due to my physical packaging, (A female), I must go into every job expecting to work harder to prove myself and work harder in general. This is okay and I have adjusted to this concept. However, just as I am unafraid to endeavor in the hard work, I should be just as unapologetic in demanding my worth in salary and benefits. It took me a while to get this, but I finally got it. I have been six figured since 2004. I bookmark this year as a pivotal point in my life due to my learning to love and value myself and my work contributions. It also helped me that I created a slam book which documents my financial success at every organization. People talk about what they can do, I show employers what I have done. I can share my “Fran’s slambook” if you are interested in seeing it.
AE: I would love to see it! I came across a statistic that only 6.4 percent of Fortune Magazines 2017 Fortune 500 list CEO’s were women. In your opinion, do you think women are doing enough to advance and promote women into leadership roles or even those roles like yours that have been traditionally held by men?
FSD: I may not understand all of the power struggles at play in the promotion and advancement of women, however, women do have a role to play as well. When I was informed that the Clinton Foundation (run by both Hillary and Bill) did not practice equity of pay for women and men and failed to promote women to many of its top roles; this was very disappointing. Men certainly have a role to play, but as women; we should just get it. Many times, women are not in roles of influence to make the top decisions on whether other women are promoted or advance within an organization, But, certainly, when we have roles to play in this process, we should be sure to advance the causes of other women. If all things are equal between candidates, we should use every opportunity to promote other women and not make it harder for women to rise. Men already do a great job of holding women back; especially women who make the decisions to start families.
AE: When we first met you had one child and then had another. How did motherhood change your perspective on having a career and societies expectations of working mothers?
FSD: Children forced me to create my personal list of non-negotiables. I owe companies my work, not my family and certainly not my children. Women are expected to leave so much of themselves at home; especially as it pertains to children and family life. Because we are emotional beings, we feel all of the pains involving our children and should not be expected to manage our personal lives robotically/transactional but to be fully engaged while at work despite real at home family crisis occurring at the same time.
Real companies understand that your family is of primal importance and will allow you the time and leverage to manage your family life. When my child is sick, I should not feel guilty because I may miss a meeting or can't manage a last-minute request. My family comes first. I can get another job, but can't replace my family.
When my 10-year old daughter had to have heart surgery, my company at the time was not very accommodating. I was a VP and it was hard trying to explain why I had to turn my phone off in the ICU hospital waiting room. This was one of many signs that I was not a fit for the company’s “work everyone to the ground” culture. I eventually left the company but learned a valuable lesson of guilting myself about life’s circumstances involving my children. Children will get sick. This is a fact of life. Balanced organizations run by engaged leaders understand this.
AE: I had the opportunity to interview Jessica Shortall who wrote the book Work Pump Repeat describing the challenges she faced as a new mother returning to the workplace. As a man, I was shocked by her descriptions of how other women treated her both when she was pregnant but also when she went back to work. Did you experience any lack of support from other women?
FSD: At the City, this was true until my leader’s husband had a stroke. Once this occurred, my new baby and the times where I was late and could not make it became more understanding. It was like the universe/God created a crisis so that my leader could become more compassionate as it pertained to family life balance.
Women are sometimes harder on other women. At the present time, I am unsure if this is learned behavior or internal hate of ourselves because we are not men. We should understand each other if no one else does. Women must work harder at sticking together.
It was the same when I decided to transition my hair too much more natural styles as an executive. Women had the most negative things to say. I had one Caucasian woman state that my natural hair was unprofessional. Unprofessional? I produced the same high level of work and acted the same at work. This baffled me and ended up in HR as a full-blown investigation that led to nowhere. The company surely did not want to admit that it had a diversity problem.
I also had women of color just state that they did not like my hair (afro) in its natural state. For the women of color, I took it is self-hatred; as many of them did not have the confidence or the conviction to do the same. They continued to wear wigs and weaves, preferring what they felt corporate America expected of them and continuing to resist loving their whole self; just the way God made them. For the Caucasian women, I took it as the same self-hate; the same way that they color their greys and straighten their curly hair each day to appear mainstream. All of this stems from a lack of self-love and self-acceptance. I transitioned my hair in 2010 and have continued wearing braids and other natural styles. My hair has not kept me from getting interviews or earning a job with perks. But, most of my recent hires have been working for white men. This proves that men are not the problem as it pertains to AA women’s hair.
AE: It is so interesting that you tell this story because I interviewed someone for a role and he had braids; the African American woman on my team said it was unprofessional but I disagreed. As the leader I was the decision maker and we hired him but the thing that bothered me most that this was another person of color making that statement.
It never ceases to amaze me how parents do it, do you think people without children can really understand what it is like to have the responsibilities and challenges that go with being a parent and having a career?
FSD: No, not really. Even with pets and family dogs, I have seen the childless cry and carry on for their pets. But, pets don’t live as long as people. A mother worries for her child from the time that they are born until they die. This is a long time to manage your own life while trying to manage the stressful lives of your offspring. You hurt when they hurt. You feel all of their joys and disappointments. This emotional experience is hard to explain to someone who does not have children of their own.
It is doubly hard to explain an emotional choice to a co-worker or leader who does not have children. Some experiences you really have to go through to gain a full understanding. Having a child does not mean that you are not serious about your career. Having a child is a choice, but it is an emotional choice. Men in business have a hard time understanding how women make emotional choices; especially at work. I have made these same choices to give a person another chance when they violate a safety rule. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it does not. Explaining an emotional choice to a man is hard, but to a man without children; forget it.
AE: As a successful woman, did you have to think about becoming a parent and what it would mean to your career?
FSD: I really never gave this much thought. I was a little naïve on this front. However, my own daughter is graduating college this year and we talk in depth about this. Several mainstream lawsuits and recent events have brought to light the challenges that women face while deciding to have a family in the middle of their careers. Some women are choosing to forgo motherhood during the first half of their careers (childbearing ages) to freezing their eggs and opting for surrogates and the like. My daughter is of this mindset. She is an accounting (actuarial science) major. Those types of jobs don’t support women being pregnant in their 20’s.
I told my daughter not to make a 21-year-old decision that has the ability to have 70 years of implications; if she lives to 91. Family is an important part of life. No one dies morning stuff; we all mourn our families.
AE: That is so true! A lot has changed in the workforce for women, but women still make less than men and the glass ceiling has yet to be shattered. Do you think there will ever be “equality” in the workplace?
FSD: Yes. It only takes women to begin believing in themselves and understanding their worth. I have guided my daughter through these salary processes and she is becoming good at it. It does not feel good when initiating conflict, but she is learning. She has also turned some things down in the process due to the offered wages being too low. However, she has learned to speak up for herself in the areas of salary as well. When she was made aware of a pay discrepancy between her and a male intern, she spoke up. This is all that we can hope for. Having the guts to speak up is where it starts. In her case, they made it right for her.
AE: One of my earliest interviews for my Women on Leadership series was with Vy Higgensen who was the first female advertising executive at Ebony magazine and the first African-American woman to write, produce and direct the longest-running, Off-Broadway musical in the history of American theater. Our interview gave me a much greater awareness of not only the struggles of women in the workforce but how much greater it has been for women of color. What are your thoughts and experiences?
FSD: How much time do we have? Seriously, our experience is unique. We have had the entire world on our backs due to the systematic oppression of black males in a society which shouldered the burden of raising a family onto the black women. Couple this family dynamic with the overt racism and microaggressions that occur at work and it is a formula for mental illness. I was raised by a single mother who was stressed every day of my childhood life. Imagine that; I never really saw my mother smile until I was a grown woman.
Some of this has rubbed off on me. I take care of everyone in my family every day and constantly put myself and my wellbeing last. To this day I believe that my pre-term pregnancies were both associated with work stress and the pressures of life. The medical specialist has found no medical reason as to why I cannot carry a pregnancy to full term. I have chocked it all up to stress. You grow up fighting for this and fighting for that. It is tiring. All good soldiers lay down their weapons to rest.
Life is hard and doubly hard when you are a woman of color. If we are too strong, we are aggressive. If we are too weak, we are taken advantage of. If we stand up for ourselves, we are automatically the provokers. If a white person makes a statement about us, it is fact. We get no second try to make most things right; especially at work and especially when it pertains to budget or safety performance. We must come out of the gate saving money. This is unreal and we are held to standards that our white counterparts are not and never will be. They have support and sponsors that protect them even when they have a bad month or bad year. Unfortunately, women don’t have these systems of protection. Malcolm X said it best, “there is no one more disrespected, unprotected, and neglected in America than the black woman.”
AE: It is no secret that women have been subjected to discrimination, sexual harassment and objectification in and out of the workplace throughout history and it continues today. Despite more and more women coming forward and more and more men being held accountable, are we having the right conversations about this or are we just being reactive to the current state?
FSD: We are being reactive. We are fully aware that sexual harassment has and will continue to exist until we have honest conversations about the conditions which promote these types of interactions at work. Also, most men are never really held accountable. The recent rash of judges giving white males slap on the hand for college rape episodes is a great example of this. The judges would rather put their bench careers in jeopardy instead of admitting that rape culture is a systemic problem.
AE: Being respectful of personal differences and never wanting to offend those I interview but don’t personally know I rarely if ever ask about politics, but since I know you, I am interested in knowing what you think and feel like a woman about the current political state?
FSD: Women have been far too quiet for too long politically. Maybe it is the fear of being branded as aggressive or running the risk of not being well liked/hated; very few women have had the courage to run for large political office. I admire Hillary for this. She ran even though most people branded her as a “bitch.” The election outcomes revealed to America our hate and disdain for strong, powerful women. We would rather elect a rapist (his own words) than to put a qualified, strong woman in the White House. For the women who are there now; the old holdovers; (Pelosi, Collins) they are afraid of upsetting the status quo. I was pleased to see the new house sweep by a diverse brood of women. We need more of this. The government leaders and the presidency should be a reflection of the people. Society is not all white male or white female. We all have a role to play. Very few “nice” women ever make history. We need to awaken the radical “women” so that we can solve these long-standing societal problems in our nation.
AE: We have seen so many instances or issues around race from the Travon Martin case in Sanford Florida where I lived to the female police officer shooting of Botham Shem Jean here in Dallas where I live now and the many instances of racial profiling throughout the country; as I think about all of these and the responses that people have, all the discord, I wonder if we are having the right discussions about the state of discrimination and race or anything else? We seem so polarized an unable to have a “discussion”. What are your thoughts and opinions?
FSD: This is a holdover from Jim Crow and slavery. This is not new; the videos are simply bringing more of this to light. America needs to acknowledge, apologize and create systems to right the wrongs of the past. Far too many people are still being plagued with modern-day slavery; “systemic incarceration and the criminal justice system” which still sees black bodies as slaves.
AE: What advice would you give to young women today pursuing a career in safety of any kind?
FSD: In safety, a lot. Be bold. The problems of today will be solved by bold thinkers. Be who God made you to be. There is a place for you in corporate America just the way you are.
AE: What is one thing you hope you see when it comes to women in positions of leadership and influence in your lifetime?
FSD: Access and equity. This includes access to the best jobs and equity on all fronts to include pay, benefits, stock, and shareholder access, etc.
AE: I am a lover of inspirational and motivational quotes; do you have a favorite?
FSD: “To thine own self be true.” Guard your thoughts; “As a man thinketh so is he.”
A LOOK BACK | By Anthony T. Eaton
History is full of women leaders that have left their mark and whose names are easily recognizable from Cleopatra and Joan of Arc to Eleanore Roosevelt and Rosa Parks. But there are many lesser known women who have made significant impacts on the world.
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) Mary was a British philosopher and feminist who is best known for her book – A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), The book was ground-breaking as it proposed women were the equal of men and that only lack of education made women intellectually inferior to men, not their gender.
Sojourner Truth (1797–1897) was born into slavery but escaped to freedom and became one of the most noted African-American women speakers on issues of civil rights and abolition.
She was deeply religious and felt a calling from God to travel America speaking on slavery and other contemporary issues. At 6ft tall, she was a striking presence and used her powerful oratory to awaken the conscience of America to the injustice of slavery and discrimination.
Frances Perkins (1880 - 1965 was the first female to serve in the U.S. presidential cabinet. In 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her be to the U.S. Secretary of Labor. On the heals of the great depression Perkins helped in the creation of the New Deal and Social Security programs. Additionally she fought for laws to set minimum wages, pensions, unemployment insurance and restrictions on child labor practices.
Barbara Jordan (1936 - 1996) was the first African-American to be elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction, the first black woman elected to the United States House of Representatives, first African-American woman to deliver the keynote address at a Democratic National Convention.
Arabella Mansfield (1846 – 1911) became the first female lawyer in the United States in 1869 after challenging Iowa state law excluding women from the bar and in 1893 Mansfield joined the National League of Women Lawyers. Although admitted to the bar, Mansfield did not practice law and instead concentrated on college teaching and activist work. In 1893 Arabella was selected as Dean of the School of Art at DePauw, and in 1894 as Dean of the School of Music.