Remembering Brenda Barnes

This week Brenda Barnes, legendary Fortune 500 CEO, mother and advocate for working women passed away at the age of 63. It was a sad day for many on multiple levels. She was known most recently for her role as CEO of Sara Lee and was named by Fortune Magazine as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world. She was also a pioneer for finding new ways to keep women in the workforce through flexible work schedules so that companies didn’t lose their critical pipeline of female talent.

Her path to CEO of Sara Lee was not traditional. She worked her way up the corporate ladder to be the CEO and President of Pepsi’s North American business, but she later stepped down to care for her children who were 10, 8 and 7 at the time. This move sparked an international debate on the issue if women could “have it all.” Many looked at her move as a setback for working women, but what came next would surprise many, as her story didn’t end there.

She spent the next several years sitting on several public company boards, before returning to a CEO role at Sara Lee. It gave her unique experience and perspective that she never would have gotten if she had not made the bold move. A creative way to navigate her career path and work life balance.

In her role as CEO at Sara Lee, she created the first Returnship Program, allowing women to come back to meaningful roles after taking time off to be with their families. Born out of the need to solve a business problem, she changed the dynamics in corporate America and created instant advocacy for working women. This triggered many other companies to follow suit and find better ways for women to find balance while maintaining a career.

Back in 2013, I had an opportunity to meet Brenda for lunch and talk about the challenges that we face as working women and how we manage our balance. She agreed to meet with me after I had written her a letter, which was delivered to her through a common acquaintance. I knew this was not something that she did often. Her advice, which I am sharing with you now, was simple but impactful.

Do what’s right for you. It sounds simple, but it’s not always easy to do. Brenda told me that her decision to step down was difficult, but at the time, she said that she wanted and needed more time with her kids. Her decision was for personal reasons, but it was part of a bigger plan to meet her balance needs and stay in the game in a different role. Know your needs, be courageous and plan your next moves with intention.

Create new paths to make change in the workplace. Be an advocate for change. Business problems get solved by voicing new ideas and charting new paths.   Do this in your work and your personal lives, because the two connect in many ways.

Confidence is critical to your success. As a working woman, confidence is something that your employer can’t give you, but you need. Building confidence is hard, even for the most successful women, but it’s like a muscle that builds as you exercise it. Don’t overlook the importance of this, especially in male dominated environments where asserting your needs can be challenging.

Navigate your career path in strategic ways. Know your areas of strength and position yourself in roles where you utilize these skills and solve complex problems for the business. Think out of the box on ways to make your next moves and know there are untraditional paths that can get you to the same place.

I took her advice to heart with several actions to further my own career. When I changed jobs, I took a remote role to manage my balance in a way that was better for me and my family. I hired a communication coach to build my presentation skills to feel more confident presenting at an executive level. I started the first working parent committee at our elementary school to advocate for working parents to participate in school events in new and more flexible ways. Most importantly, I realized that she’s one of us. Brenda and many other women of her stature have the same challenges that we do. Connecting with other women to get ideas on how to work through them is powerful.

I, on behalf of many women thank Brenda for all she did for us, both directly and indirectly. I’ll forever be thankful for her guidance.

The Dreaded Salary Negotiations: Three Things You Can Do to Up Your Game

Job applicants having interview

The September issue of Marie Claire magazine included a collection of helpful articles on what working women can do to close the wage gap.  Featuring input from the New York Times columnist Jessica Bennett’s newest book “Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual,” the article outlines some sobering statistics on the wage gap between men and women, but more interestingly, some things you can do to negotiate more effectively for yourself.
So let’s start with the facts.  According to the article, the Census Bureau still estimates that women still earn $0.79 for every dollar that men make.  A 2016 Survey Monkey report cited that 55% of women vs. 45% of men say they have never asked for a raise. Finally, a Carnegie Mellon University study found that when offered a job, 57% of the men asked for more money but only 7% of the women did.  Shocking, but what do we do about it?
We have to learn to advocate for ourselves and understand the right time to do it.  Bennett recommends that when negotiating, cite your specific accomplishments, but tie it back to the team to show a collaborative approach.  Don’t compromise quickly and take the first offer on the table and don’t relate your ask to your personal needs.
In my experience as a Human Resources Leader and learning to negotiate on my own behalf, I know how hard this can be on both sides.  In over 20 years of talking to hundreds of women about negotiating their salaries, from CEOs of large public companies to women entering the workforce, I have never talked to one who enjoyed advocating for themselves.  Companies have budgets they are charged with managing and we hate having to ask for something that should be so evident that we deserve. So how do we do it?
I encourage women to know the facts, be aware of the timing of when they should negotiate and practice their salary pitch.  Here are some tips to help with your salary negotiations:
Know the facts:  There are plenty of resources available to get salary data on what jobs pay.  Salary.com and Indeed are two easy to access free websites for job seekers and employers which provide salary data based on job title.  Use these resources as a baseline of what market pay for the role is.  Negotiating with the facts and your accomplishments can help to support your request and give you the confidence that your request is reasonable.
Timing:  I always recommend that the best time to negotiate salary is at the time of hire or promotion.  Communicate your ask by saying “this is my targeted salary that I am looking for in the new role.”  If the salary comes up short, don’t be afraid to ask if they can get closer to your desired amount, split the difference or as Bennet says be reviewed in six months for an increase.  If you are waiting for the next merit increases at work, set the stage early with your boss that given your accomplishments or added responsibilities you would like to have a discussion at your review about a higher salary. Tell your boss in advance that your salary goal is x and how can he/she help you to achieve this if your performance continues to excel?
Practice Your Pitch:  Lastly, don’t forget to practice your pitch before you ask.  Since these conversations are typically uncomfortable, it’s important to script out what you will say and how you will respond to the push back.  Avoid having these conversations on the fly (unless the timing is right and you are ceasing an opportunity) and don’t have them when you are emotionally run down.
The reality is just like anything else, you get better with practice, so learn to negotiate in small steps and use every opportunity to negotiate as an opportunity to not only achieve your goals, but to up your game.

Moving Beyond Balance

 

This week I had the opportunity to join a panel discussion put on by Women Employed  about the state of balance in the workplace and the challenges women face meeting the demands of work and life. Women Employed www.womenemployed.com is a Chicago based not for profit foundation with a powerhouse board of directors and team focused on improving conditions for women to thrive in the workplace.

Moderated by Anne Ladky, Executive Director and Board Member of Women Employed, the conversation explored how we get beyond talking about “how tos” of balance and move to creating conditions for employees to thrive in the workplace and in their personal lives. While the panel discussed the harsh reality that we still don’t do enough for women in the workplace, I walked away inspired to think about how we as leaders invoke the conversation in our workplaces that we must do more.

This is a complex challenge. I know all too well as a business leader myself that remaining competitive is a number one priority to businesses in this economic environment. This task is so consuming that we oftentimes forget to continue the conversation of what we can do in the workplace to make it a better place to work for our employees. Human Resource Departments are facing double digit increases on their medical plans and pressures to find ways to reduce cost. Proposing more paid time off can be challenging, especially in environments where coverage is difficult to schedule.

I believe businesses and leadership teams don’t have all the answers. Women, oftentimes have the best and most creative ideas, but they struggle to propose them to their companies in fear that it will appear as though they will be shot down or viewed as if they can’t meet the commitments of their jobs. It’s hard enough to speak confidently about needing flex time or rescheduling a meeting because it’s too early in the morning, how will they change the way their companies operate?

Here’s how. Let’s open up the conversation at work. Leaders, let’s remind our employees that we need their ideas to make it a great workplace where working moms (and working parents) can thrive. Let’s treat this as a business problem, not a nice to have new benefit, because business problems get solved, but new benefits get put on hold when there’s pressure to hit numbers.

Human Resource Leaders, integrate work life balance needs into your strategy to attract and retain employees. Find best in class policies and practices from companies like yours to get ideas. Empower a committee of employees at your companies to come up with their recommendations in how we can accommodate work life balance needs. Take small steps that are not costly if the big steps can’t get approved yet and communicate the successes to the leadership team.

Women, let’s shift the conversation. Bring your recommendations to the workplace in how we can do things better. Your ideas matter. In this age of technology, our workdays are no longer 8-5, so stop feeling guilty about requesting adjustments to work schedules, or declining that 7:30 a.m. meeting because you are getting your kids ready for school. I would kindly remind you that men rarely give a reason why they can’t attend a meeting, so suggest a new time that works for you and move on to your next business issue.

Clearly, these are steps, not solutions, but it will take a lot of steps, effort and commitment from us all to get there. Thank you Women Employed and panelists, Iliana Mora, COO oat Erie Family Health Center and Women Employed Board member, Susan Lambert, University of Chicago Associate Professor in the School of Social Service Administration and Rex Huppke, Chicago Tribune journalist and author of the column “I Just Work Here” for a thought provoking conversation in how we can do more to move beyond balance.

Is it the Journey or the Destination?

On vacation this week, we went on a boat ride in the northern woods of Wisconsin. It was a beautiful night. The water was placid and the chain that we were passing through was without the normal traffic of speed boats and jet skis. About 30 minutes in, I took the place of my kids and asked my husband if we were almost there yet. He was clearly relaxing and gave me the look as if to say “What’s the rush? We’re on a boat ride?” I wasn’t cold or hungry and I didn’t have to go to the bathroom. I just like getting there.

Like many women, I tend to be very goal oriented. At home, I like to use lists of my “to dos” and cross my tasks off when they are done. At work, I have specific goals I want to accomplish each year and eventually in my career. With both, I focus with the end in mind. Finishing that project, reading that book, hitting that plan. For some reason, I think I’ll have this euphoric feeling when I get there or I’ll be able to finally relax when it’s all done.

Every once in awhile, I realize I need to slow down a bit. It’s not always necessary to operate with herculean speed, to get it done this week or even to accomplish that self-imposed goal. In fact, it’s the journey along the way that’s a lot more impactful and interesting. Figuring out how to tackle the challenge, taking a break along the way to stop and smell the roses and ditching the lists for a weekend or two isn’t such a bad thing. I’ll get to the destination eventually or maybe it will even be a different destination I didn’t expect that will be a lot more interesting.

On the way back from the boat ride, holding my sleeping daughter and looking at the beautiful scenery, for the first time, I was the one who spotted the eagle flying in the sky. A beautiful sight and a beautiful reminder. I vote for the journey.

“SUPERWOMAN”

As posted on http://www.cathycassaniadams.com blog March 5, 2014

SUPERWOMAN. We’ve all seen her. She resides in many of our towns. Sometimes she is in magazines or even on TV. From afar, she looks perfect. She has this confidence about her, her outfits are put together and her hair and makeup always look good. At work, she is a rainmaker. She has a successful career and seems to have it all. Somehow she manages to keep it all together with the kids and make it look easy.

Many of us compare ourselves to SUPERWOMAN and wonder why we haven’t achieved “SUPERWOMAN” status yet. If we only worked harder, were more organized, had the confidence or the patience to be that ultimate Mom or career woman.
When you get to know her, you finally realize, she’s just like us, and she has challenges like we do, but she’s figured a few things out. She knows what she wants and she’s willing to work hard to have it. She surrounds herself with the best resources she can to be the woman she wants to be.

The SUPERWOMEN I know, have a few important things in common, even though they are each unique in their own way.

• They are confident, but humble enough to ask for help because they realize, they can’t do it all without the right support in place.

• They think creatively to find their strengths and build their success around them.

• They are resilient. They have experienced life’s ups and downs, problems and setbacks, but they find a way to pick up the pieces, get stronger as a result, and march on.

• They are resourceful. They tap into people who have tackled the same challenges or problems and come up with solutions. Then, they put those solutions into action.

• Most importantly, they don’t give up. They are passionate about being the best they can be for themselves and for their families.

The SUPERWOMEN we see out there really are SUPER WOMEN. Ones that we can learn from, network with, and maybe even help someday. So the next time you see her, invite her over for a cup of coffee or send her an email and ask her for her best tips. You never know what she will share.

Working the Work Life Balance

As posted on http://www.cathycassaniadams.com blog January 27, 2014

Work Life Balance.  I am not sure who came up with this term, but to most women, it’s something we dream about, but find it difficult to have.  As valuable as a winning lottery ticket, achieving work life balance means that we would actually have the time to meet the expectations of our career AND have enough quality time for ourselves, our families and our hobbies so that we feel “balanced”.

The demands of work in this electronic, 24-7 iphone world are intense. Many jobs are not just 8-5 anymore, but open for business whenever our phones are turned on.  Whether your career is managing a household or a role in Corporate America, achieving balance is more challenging than ever.  However, there are ways that we can work to have a more balanced life so that we feel satisfied.  Here are some tips to help:

  1.       Identify your Balance Activities

Identify the activities that you need to spend time doing to feel satisfied.  This could be quality time with your kids, working out, time for crafts or a visit to the book store.   Establish a targeted amount of time to spend on these activities that will make you feel good.  It could be 30 minutes of special reading time with the kids, two workouts a week or a one hour trip to the bookstore.  Be realistic with the amount of time that is feasible so that you can make it happen.

   2.       Plan a Schedule

Plan your week to include time for your balance activities.  We schedule meetings, kid’s activities, business trips and dinner reservations and don’t think twice because it is a necessity to ensure it gets done.  Scheduling time for balance activities will help to ensure that time is budgeted and available for you.  Be protective of this time just as you would with your work or parenting activities.

   3.       Choose Quality over Quantity

Start with small and realistic timeframes for your targeted balance activity and ensure that the time you have is well spent and focused.  You can feel immensely satisfied getting in one good workout or having special time with your kids where you are fully engaged.  Learn to value the quality of the time you have over the quantity.

   4.       Leave the guilt behind

It’s important to recognize that having activities that “balance” us is a necessity to our mental health. Feeling guilty for taking the time away from work or your family to do things you enjoy is normal.  Taking time out for your balance activities can greatly refresh you and ultimately make you better when you return to your work or family.  Learning to give yourself permission for balance activities will help to replace guilt and frustration with satisfaction.

   5.   Own It! 

I am a big believer that we play a large role in our own happiness, balance and success.  Once you have a plan, you have to own it to make it successful.  It takes discipline, conscious decision making and assertiveness to manage your plan.  Work to develop this highly valuable skill –you can do it!

Ultimately, it takes a lot of “work” to manage your balance, but every step you take will make for a happier you.