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Enlightened Management Practices > Profits: Barry Schwartz

Contributor: Jacob Adler

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Barry Schwartz Barry Schwartzis a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College where he’s been since receiving his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1971. He’s the author of 10 books and 100s of articles and is well known for both his scholarship and his ability to bring complex sociological and psychological research to bear on the practical matters we all face in our daily lives at work and at home.  Schwartz has written The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, named one of the top business books of the year by both Business Week and Forbes and, with Ken Sharpe, Practical Wisdom about which he gave a TED talk viewed by more than 2M peopleHe discussed his most recent book, Why We Workwith Stew Friedman.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation. Or listen to the podcast here:

Stewart Friedman: Your new book is called Why We Work and you dig into the question why indeed do we work? Give us the brief synopsis of how got into this piece and what was the primary discovery when you sought to answer this question.

Barry Schwartz: This question has a long history with me. I was trained in the psychology of B.F. Skinner. Your listeners may not even know who that is anymore.  He was a prominent psychologist from the 40s to roughly 1970, invented the so-called Skinner box and his view was that if you understood how rewards and punishments work, you’d understand everything, and this is especially true of human beings. The answer for him to the question why we work is the rewards and punishments. I thought this was a way too limited and reductive view, it didn’t seem to describe me or most of the people I knew. Nonetheless, it seemed pretty much to characterize the way workplaces were organized.

I started talking to a couple of philosophers at Swarthmore soon after I arrived, and they got me to read people like Adam Smith. I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t read him before, and Smith, the father of classical economics, had essentially the same view. He said people are basically lazy, they’d rather be doing nothing than something, so to get them to do something productive, you have to make it worth their while and that means you have to pay them. And once you pay them, it doesn’t much matter what you have them do, because they won’t like it anyway, no matter what it is; they’re working for pay. So the assembly line, his famous pin factory where you take something that’s pretty simple to begin with and then you make it even simpler by dividing it into six or seven or 10 different components to make straight pins, that’s his model of efficient production. You’ll ask, “Would anybody like to be just putting heads on pins 10 hours a day, five days a week?” And his answer would be, “Of course not, but it doesn’t matter.”

SF: Because we’re machines.

BS: Yes, because we’re getting paid and we’ll do whatever we have to do to get paid.

SF: So the metaphor of the worker was as an extension of the machine.

BS: Absolutely.   And then 100 years later there was this movement called the scientific management movement that tried to take the metaphor seriously by doing meticulously time-and-motion studies so that you could create assembly lines where people expended the least possible effort and produced the fastest possible production.   They experimented with different ways of paying people to see what kind of pay schedule would get people to work the hardest, for longest. So the answer to the question of why we work was people work for pay, full-stop. That’s the economic model and it’s the industrial model, and I think that economists, when they wrote in this way, never really believed that it was true, because they didn’t think it was true of them. There’s us and there’s them; the people who wear white shirts and ties and the people who wear blue shirts and work boots. And for us, other things matter, but we are just a small fraction of the population and for them, everybody else, it’s just about the paycheck. I know this is an inaccurate depiction of work.  But I think what’s really important is that if you create workplaces in the image of this model, it will become true.  If the only work available to you is soul-deadening, repetitive, mechanical work then indeed you will work for the paycheck and nothing more, because there isn’t anything more to be done.

SF: So your soul is indeed dead and crushed, and you might rebel.

BS: You might rebel, but you have to put food on the table, you have to have a roof over your head.   We started with a false understanding about what people care about and then we made it true by creating work structures that were consistent with that false understanding.  This is what I call ideology, which is a term that Karl Marx used to describe false ideas about human beings that become true when they get institutionalized. And you can see this happening with schools.  Everyone is wringing their hands about how bad the public school system is, but increasingly, the attitude toward teachers, which is only being resisted because the teachers won’t stand for it, is that they’re basically cogs in the machine. You give them scripts, detailed lesson plans, and then you make their pay and bonuses and tenure contingent on how well kids do on standardized tests.   What happens when you do that is the good teachers leave and the not-so-good teachers never have any occasion to get any better, and then they start cheating. They teach to the test or they change answers, so test scores go up but kids don’t learn any more than they did before. So it’s not just blue-collar factory workers, this is really spread throughout the workplace.

SF: As a model for how we organize work, and of course it’s very destructive.

BS: It is very destructive. Doctors are incredibly unhappy with the way they practice. It’s becoming a national problem. They’re leaving the profession, they’re clinically depressed.   Lawyers have been the unhappiest profession for years, and I think it’s because we’ve basically sapped work of anything that people might aspire to, aside from a paycheck. If you’re a doctor or a lawyer, you’re getting a big paycheck, but that just doesn’t cut it.

SF: Back in the 60s and 70s, there was a humanist revolution of sorts that tried to counteract the destructive powers of this ideology and to create a new way of thinking about work, which I studied at the University of Michigan in the early 80s.  But in the 70s the University of Michigan was really one of the centers of the social movement to reimagine work as something that could be ennobling and enriching of the spirit and to create a sense of meaning, purpose, and real consequence.  And it seems to me that your work comes out of that tradition, which hasn’t really taken hold in the way that we would have hoped.

BS: There aren’t any ideas in my book that have not been articulated periodically before. You picked one time, but there are others times, even earlier on, where people acknowledged this, but somehow it never sticks.

SF: But maybe now the time is different.

BS: I’m hoping it is for a couple of reasons. One is that there’s research indicating that women care more about meaning and purpose in work than men do. As more and more women enter the workforce and companies have higher and higher proportion of employees who are women, managers may find they won’t be able to keep good employees unless they give the people working there some sense that they’re working for a purpose.

SF:  This was one of the things we found in our longitudinal study comparing the Class of 1992 to the Class of 2012 at Wharton when we asked hundreds of questions to the Class of 1992 when they graduated and did the same in 2012, so we have a true cross-generational longitudinal design. One of the important findings in the study was how the need for having a positive social impact through your work has grown for both men and women but especially for women.

BS: Right, but that’s the second thing. The aspirations of millennials, at least while they’re young, are quite different from what has preceded. I just think that if you run a business and you want to attract talent, women and young people, you’re going to have to show them that at the end of each work day they’ve made the world better in some small way. So I’m somewhat optimistic.  As these young people move up the organization, they may actually transform the organization.

SF: I have the same hope and expectation. How does what you write about in Why We Work help us understand this movement and what people can do to advance it?

BS: I try to talk about what things to matter to a person besides the paycheck. They want some control over what they do, some autonomy. They want some variety in what they do. They want to be challenged. They want a sense that they’re growing, learning on the job.  They want social engagement with coworkers and respect from supervisors and coworkers, and most important, they want this sense of meaning; that there’s a point to what they do aside from simply paying their rent. We know what you need to add to a workplace to get people to feel satisfaction.  I also show in the book that workplaces that are structured in this way are the most profitable workplaces in their industry across a wide variety of industries, which makes it even more puzzling that this is not more widespread.

There’s a management researcher named Jeff Pfeffer at Stanford who has a book The Human Equation, in which he reviews evidence from banking and other kinds of financial industries, manufacturing, a lot of service industries.  In every case, the most profitable companies are the ones that have the most enlightened management practices. The most profitable companies are the ones that invest the most time in training and personnel development. You might argue that work ought to be organized in this way as a social good, because why should people have to spend half their waking lives doing something they hate when they don’t have to? But then the boss would say, “That’s not my problem. I’m here to make a profit.” You turn around and say that it turns out that here’s a case where you do well by doing good.

SF: So why don’t we see this more?

BS: That’s the total mystery, right? Why are all these companies leaving money on the table?  The only answer I can come up with is that the grip of this ideology about why people work, the implicit answer that everyone has to my question, just closes them off to the possibility that if they had a richer thinking, if they gave their employees more credit, the employees would be happier, the employees would do better work, and the company would be more profitable.

SF: Credit?

BS: Credit for being responsible, serious people who want to do a good job. A lot of the reliance on micromanagement and incentives is a reflection of a lack of trust. If I don’t manage the hell out of them, they’ll just sit around doing nothing. They’ll take advantage. How do you combat that? You combat that by making it so if they do take advantage of you, you see it and they suffer. Trust your employees, give them the goal, and then trust that they’ll figure out a way to achieve the goal, or you give them the training so that they’re eventually in a position to figure out how to achieve the goal, instead of giving them recipes.

SF: Instead of micromanaging and telling them how to do things?

BS: Yes.  The problem is that with all this technology we have now the level of micromanagement that’s possible is just overwhelming. You don’t need to be standing there and looking over your employee’s shoulder, you can measure a million things.

SF: Yes, big data can be intrusive.

BS: So the tools for micromanagement are there and I’m afraid that managers can’t resist the temptation to use them.

SF: Because it gives at least the illusion of greater control, if not actual greater control. Just squeeze out all the human capacity for creative and ingenious effort that could produce great results.

BS: They have more control, but they get worse work. That, I think, raises another possible explanation, which is that managers hate the thought of giving up control.

SF: Well, some do. Why is that? What is the fear there? What’s the anxiety of giving up control and unleashing the human potential that’s there?

BS: Well, if you do that, what role do you play? Are you still needed? People can manage themselves.

SF: You’re perhaps needed to do something different, which is to guide and to help manage external connections and help to provide a sense of direction by having a bigger picture.

BS: It’s true, but there are an awful lot of people whose job is to make sure that an awful lot more people are just doing their jobs.  And if you had other ways of assuring that people would be doing their jobs, these people would have no roles to play.

SF: So you see the elimination of the middle management ranks in the office as people become more empowered, perhaps through big data, to be able to manage themselves?

BS: Well, it’s not out of the question that that could happen, but all I’m suggesting is that it may actually be one source of the resistance to the evidence that is plain and unambiguous.

SF: One of the things that we like to talk about on this show is the connection between work and other parts of life. What your thoughts on the connection between a greater sense of meaning and purpose that is plainly available, if perhaps difficult to implement for so many different kinds of organizations? What impact could that have on people’s lives beyond work, in their families, communities, and for themselves personally.

BS: You’d actually need to collect data on this, and I haven’t.  But what I suspect is that if you do work you value, you will be happy at work. If you’re happy at work, your relations with other people will go better. When you come home, at the end of the work day, your patience won’t be strained, you’ll be in a good mood more of the time, and the result is that your spouse and your kids actually find it tolerable to be with you.

SF: They might even enjoy it. The research on that is called positive spillover; when you feel good in one part of your life, it’s likely to spill over, in terms of your emotional state as well as the kind of behavior you demonstrate, in the other roles that you play.

BS: And we also have evidence, Barbara Frederickson’s provided this, that people who experience positive affect are more creative.  In the workplace the advantage of that is obvious. I haven’t thought much about the potential advantages of this when you come home at the end of the workday.  But it seems to me quite possible that being more creative means those problems we inevitably face in managing our, I don’t know, rebellious adolescent kids, we find that we have an easier time solving those problems if we can think about them more openly and creatively.  This might be more likely to occur if we come home from work feeling good about ourselves instead of feeling down, depressed, and miserable.

SF: There’s so many benefits to this.

BS: Let me just say there is one potential drawback that’s worth mentioning. I think this is a very small price to pay. There are some people who like the idea that when the work day is over, they leave their work and come home. They are okay with the idea that work is just for making a living, and they’re human in the rest of their life. And they don’t want to have to come home at the end of the day with work still on their mind.

SF: The so-called segmenters.

BS: Yes.  And the problem is, if you’re really engaged with your work, then you’re not going to stop thinking about it when it gets to be five o’clock, so you may be a little bit distracted. Could that happen? Of course it can happen. It certainly happened to me often enough in the course of my career.   My kids would ask me something, I’m looking right at them, and I’m not hearing a word that they say.

SF: I know exactly what you mean, Barry. It’s happened to me as well and I study this whole issue of boundaries – the psychological, physical boundaries that you need to be able to switch gears and attend to the people around you even when your mind is elsewhere.  It’s possible to learn how to control your attention, if you’re really focused on it, and to maintain focus on the people who are right in front of you when they need you. Those are learnable skills.

In Why We Work, what are the implications of your analysis for what we’re seeing in this presidential election season, which has begun and seems to last forever? The whole question of the economic divide, which has become such a pronounced issue in our society and in these debates — you’ve been in this field now for quite a while, as you look back retrospectively over the course of your career in psychology and thinking about work, what is different now aside from what you were saying earlier about millennials?

BS: The political debate is really quite disappointing because of the hollowing out of the middle class, all of the discussion, 100% of the discussion, is about compensation, job security, and benefits. No one is talking about the character of the work itself, except that the work has to be good enough that you can actually get a decent paycheck. If you find some way to get a decent paycheck to people working at McDonald’s, that would be fine. I think maybe that when times are hard, and there does seem to be pressure to fatten the pay envelope.   Then the kinds of things I’m worried about just recede into invisibility.   You need people to be flush for this to become an actual agenda item on somebody’s political platform. Maybe I missed it. Have you heard anyone talking about the question of what it is that people do when they work?

SF: Not so much as they have been, thankfully I have to say, talking about the needs of working families to have support that they need through family medical leave.

BS: But again, it’s all financial.

SF: Well, it’s about time. But it’s not about meaning.

BS: It’s about time, but it’s not just about time. It’s not about family leave, it’s compensated family leave. You can get some family leave, worse than any other developed country. Some of it’s available; it’s just not compensated.

SF: You see people in class everyday. What do you see unfolding if you were to look out at the next quarter-century or so? What do you think you might see in terms of how work is going to look?

BS: I’m optimistic because of the women and millennials at more and more workplaces will discover this not-very-hidden secret and give their employees a chance to find meaning and satisfaction at the same time that they get a paycheck. I’m hoping that by the time my grandchildren are entering the workforce, finding a wonderful job won’t be like finding a needle in a haystack anymore.

About the Author

Jacob Adler , W’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, andFake Teams.

Leadership Industry B.S.: Entertainment Vs. Enlightenment — Jeff Pfeffer

Contributor: Ali Ahmed

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business where he has taught since 1979.   He is the author or co-author of 14 books on topics including power in organizations, managing people, evidence-based management and author of more than 150 articles and book chapters. Professor Pfeffer has won numerous awards for his scholarly research.  He spoke with Stew Friedman about his just released book, Leadership B.S.:  Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time and what changes are needed in the “leadership industry.”

Stew Friedman: When I was in graduate school a fellow student referred to the articles we were reading in the premiere journal in our field, which is the Administrative Science Quarterly, as the “Administrative Science Pfefferly” to connote that in every single issue there was another profound article by Jeff Pfeffer. It’s a really great feeling to have him on the show.

Jeff Pfeffer: jeff pfefferIt’s a pleasure to be with you, Stew, and it is just a privilege to be talking to you this evening. Also, I’m privileged to be a signatory on the petition signed by many academics in favor of paid family leave. I think your work on the work family issue has just been outstanding, and it’s so important to make workplaces work for everybody.

SF: That’s really very gracious of you, and means a lot. You’ve been casting a keen and critical, evidence-based eye on organizations for so long, particularly on leaders. I’m curious to know, first, what inspired you to write Leadership BS? What has emerged recently that you just couldn’t ignore?

JF: That’s a great question because I had       not really ever intended to write this book or this kind of book. But the amount of hypocrisy and the cynicism that that hypocrisy spawns is just striking. You see these leaders, they come to Stanford and I’m sure they come to Wharton. They tell wonderful stories about themselves, and about how they would like to be seen and presented, which bear almost no resemblance of the realities of how they lead and how they conduct themselves.

SF: And everybody knows that, right?

JF: And everybody knows that. It provokes an enormous amount of hypocrisy and cynicism. In fact, as I began to think about this, it occurred to me that we have had decades – maybe five, or six, or seven decades – of this leadership industry talking about aspirational views of how leaders ought to be.    And I agree that leaders ought to be modest, authentic, they ought to tell the truth, they ought to do many things. But of course when you look at real leader behavior, it’s pretty much the opposite. And when you look at the condition of workplaces, not only in the U.S. but around the world, they’re in pretty dire shape. And so it occurred to me that the leadership industry had not only failed to make things better, but that by telling these stories that bear no resemblance to reality and having this kind of aspirational, feel-good quality to then, it was not doing anything to cause anybody to get off their butts and try to do anything to make the world of work better. And so it occurred to me if anything was ever going to be better, somebody had to look at what was going on and tell the truth about it.

SF: And you draw the very useful analogy to medicine a hundred years ago.  Explain how you came up with that idea and how it helps us to understand the argument you are making.

JF: We’ve known for hundreds of years that hygienic practices are important in preventing hospital-acquired or iatrogenic illnesses. And so we’ve done the studies that have shown that hand-washing is good for preventing illness.  Nonetheless the medical industry has done something the leadership industry has never done, which is to say, “We know hand-washing is a good thing, but let’s look and see how many doctors really wash their hands.”  When they found that many of them don’t wash their hands, instead of having more stories, or more admonitions, or inspirational talks, they looked at what interventions they might use that would cause doctors to do some of the things they ought to do, such as better hand-washing and other hygienic regimens.  The leadership industry does not have base rates. All these desirable leadership behaviors are occurring, and because we never measure the base rates, we can never evaluate any interventions as to whether or not those interventions are making things better or worse.  If you fail to do that, nothing is ever going to get better because if you don’t know if you’re getting better, you don’t know the success of what you’re trying to do.

SF:  What would it require to measure base rates? What would we have to do to establish that?

JF: First of all, the leadership industry needs to define the constructs more precisely. A chaired professor at Duke University, somebody who you probably know, Sim Sitkin, has written a very nice review on what’s wrong with charismatic leadership. And one of the problems with charismatic leadership is that the construct is defined in a way that makes it almost un-measurable.  But I still think you can define precisely what you mean by servant leadership, by serving others, by authenticity, and so on. The first thing you do is measure the frequency of such characteristics in the populations you’re using. If you’ve found, and this would be my guess, that they’re relatively rare, especially among senior leaders, then you need to ask the question, “why is that?” Why are desirable qualities that research has shown do lead to healthier and more productive workplaces, why are they so rare among leaders? And what might we do to increase their frequency?

SF: So, employee engagement and trust is low in the world today — in business and in societies, as you point out.  Aside the impact that improved leadership performance might have, what else do you see causing the problem of disengagement and low trust?

JF: Well, I think leader behavior is one source. I participated once on a panel in restoring trust in leadership with Mr. Edelman, the head of Edelman who does the trust index in public relations to restore trust. I’d do that by stop whining to people, which of course has gone on.   Companies increasingly see their employees not as assets, but as costs that have to be minimized, and so you have fewer employees being employed full-time. Fewer employees are getting health insurance from their employer than ever.  Companies have cut wages, they’ve cut benefits, they’ve laid people off over the years. All of this would lead to not just lower employer engagement, but adverse health consequences for employees who face enormous levels of economic insecurity and difficulties in accessing healthcare.

SF: Do you see this fraying of the relationship between labor and management as something that is increasing?  Where does leadership play a role in trying to strengthen the connection that employees do have or can have to their organizations and to their own personal health and their families and their communities?

JF:  The relationships are certainly fraying. As your colleague and good friend of mine, Peter Cappelli, has said in his book, New Deal at Work, and in the subsequent research, there’s a lot of data that suggests that job tenures are going down, and that the percentage of part-time and contract laborers has gone up. And as I’ve already alluded to, benefits are going down. There is certainly a lot of fraying of the relationship. Research done by our colleagues in the human resources management area, such as by Tom Kochan at MIT, has demonstrated that these are strategic choices made by companies. You do not have to outsource, downsize, or pay people nothing, in order to be successful. When Cascio did the study comparing Sam’s Club to Costco, he found that Costco is more profitable even though it pays more and offers more benefits. The so-called high road approach dealing with your work force has been written about by Tom Kochan, and Paul Osterman, and by a variety of people over the years. This is a strategic choice that some leaders have and it’s a choice that is motivated in part by the idea that people are indispensable. It’s interesting to me that we are very concerned with environmental pollution, and companies now report their environmental bona fides, how much carbon they emit in the atmosphere, how much recycling they do, and so on and so forth. I keep pointing out to people that in addition to environmental pollution, we ought to be concerned about social pollution.

SF: How would you do that?

JF:  It turns outs that there is a single item measure of self-reported health (SRH). It basically asks people on a scale of 1 to 10, how good they feel, from feeling horribly to feeling very good. And this prospectively predicts mortality and morbidity. And it does so almost as well as physiological measures, such as body mass index and so on and so forth.

SF: That’s easy to acquire – that information.

JF: It’s very easy to acquire. Part of this is we need companies to measure health data of their employees. Second, just as we now hold companies responsible for their environmental impact, I think we ought to hold companies responsible for their impact on the wellbeing and welfare of their work force. I mean Gallop, as you know, has partnered with Health Ways, and they do their wellbeing index, measuring how that varies across geographies, and so on and so forth.  That’s also very interesting data for us and another way of measuring this. But we ought to be concerned about human wellbeing. As I know, you are doing at the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project.

SF: I’d like to try to bring this back to what you have composed here in critiquing the leadership industry. There seems to be a missing link between what we are aspiring to produce in our leaders – which is people who can take us to a better place – and what we’re actually producing. We’re not really emphasizing enough what’s required to create a leadership cadre of people who are dedicated not just to economic outcomes, but to human and social outcomes as well.

JF:  That’s exactly right. And it’s one of the conundrums I have highlighted in this book, Leadership B.S, but which I have not been able to solve.  Here’s the dilemma: the qualities that we claim we want in leaders – modesty, authenticity, telling the truth, taking care of others, etc. – are precisely the opposite of the qualities that actually make people successful. And by successful, I mean we know that narcissism (which I would argue is the opposite of modesty) has been reliably shown to be predictive of getting chosen for leadership roles, maintaining those roles, getting higher salaries, getting more successful, and some of the most successful leaders are narcissists. Michael Maccoby wrote this wonderful book called, The Productive Narcissist and talks about that.   The irony is then, there are a lot of reasons ranging from sociobiology to social psychology that explain this, but the qualities we claim that we want to see in leaders are exactly the opposite of the qualities we seem to be selecting for and exactly the opposite of the qualities that bring people individual success. So, there is individual success, which is often earned at the expense of the organization or social system’s success, and that is a conundrum or dilemma that denies so many.

SF: So, please go further with this issue of the disconnect between what we aspire to and what we do.  What ideas do you have for what organizations and individuals in organizations can be doing to ensure that they can start to produce those kinds of leaders that we would hope for as well as those that we actually see in the world today?

JF: Some years ago, when I used to write columns for Business 2.0 when Business 2.0 still existed, I wrote a column about lying, and as it occurred to me in the course of doing the work for that column, that a lie takes two people; the person who tells it and the other individual who wants to hear it. And so, in many ways we are our own worst enemy. We are complicit in many of the failures of the leadership industry. It is the consumers of the leadership industry’s products that want entertainment rather than enlightenment. It is the consumers of the leadership industry and the people who are selecting leaders who say we want leaders – I heard this story recently, even about the vaunted General Electric –who get good results, but only in the right way.   But then they are willing to make the tradeoff to get the good financial results, no matter the human toll that is exacted. So, it is we who are complicit.  In the Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld article that came out about Amazon recently, it’s just more controversy about this. One of the things I did in a Fortune column about that article is to look at the overlap between the most admired leaders and the most admired companies, and the best places to work. And not surprisingly, there is almost no overlap. Only four companies are on both those lists. So, we admire leaders who behave badly and exact huge tolls on their work force as long as they produce great financial results. That is something we are all individually and collectively responsible for.

SF:  There is something about those who seem to be the pinnacle of corporate society who have somehow belied this image of the grand and moral philosopher king that we all wish to have leading us to a better world, and that’s painful. So, as consumers what is available to us to start to deal more with that reality, that gap between what we wish for and what we’re actually paying for?

JF: First of all, we ought to do due diligence on leaders; we ought to do a little investigation. If I said to you tonight, I have discovered a cure for cancer and I’m going to sell it to you for $500 million, which by the way had I actually discovered the cure for cancer, that’d probably be the biggest bargain in history, before you write me a check for $500 million my suspicion would be you would do a fair amount of due diligence to figure out whether I knew what I was doing, and whether or not the cure that I have discovered actually had any positive therapeutic effects. When we make individual financial investment decisions or collective financial investment decisions, we do our due diligence. But when we listen to the leadership talks, the blogs, the TED talks, read the books, and hear the inspirational speeches, we want to believe. It’s almost like we want to believe in Santa Claus or something. So, we almost actively avert our eyes, as opposed to accepting the reality that every human being in the world is neither a complete saint nor a complete sinner. That there we’re all mixed individuals and have a combination of strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vices. So, we ought to be more clinical and do our due diligence on leaders. There are sites like Glassdoor. Many things are available now since every courtroom in this country is automated and you can find case filings. You can find information.  You can talk to people. And you can find out whether the stories you are hearing are true or not. And while it is uncomfortable oftentimes to confront the truth, my favorite movie scene is Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise in Few Good Men – “You can’t handle the truth.” I do believe that not only can people handle the truth, but we need the truth. Because the only way we’re going to get from where we are with this low level of employee engagement is to understand realities of the situation, why we are where we are and measure our progress toward improving things.

SF: And that means really seeing a person for who she is or he is, as a flawed human being who is perhaps aspiring to doing the right thing, but has limited capacity, limited ability to see the world from different perspectives and is going to make mistakes.  When I have guests come to class, I ensure that they speak as much as possible, if not solely, about the various ways in which they have screwed up because I find that’s what students are really interested in hearing about. Because they see the gloss, but if you cut through that with the real story I find that helps people to see Oz. There’s a human being – I can still be successful and be flawed. So, does this resonate with what you’re suggesting, Jeff?

JF: Absolutely. The idea of having leaders talk about their flaws, the idea of having people look deeply into how leaders are actually doing, and when you see people behaving in interesting and funny and difficult and maybe even problematic ways, to not say, which I hear all the time, “Well, this person is wealthy and so it must be ok,” or “This person is successful.”  “This person is on the most admired list and built this great company.” You see this with the CEO of Uber. You see this with the CEO of Amazon. You see this with many CEO’s, where people will say “well, yeah…” I just read this wonderful blog, which refers to my book, but also talks about the new movie about Steve Jobs;  Brook Manville, who used to be a consultant for McKinsey, said the interesting thing about Jobs is that Jobs had all these flaws and was not the nicest human being to work for, but people would say, you know, he built the iPhone, he built the most valuable company on the planet and therefore, the fact that he behaved hideously, in some respects at least according to some people, we’re going to give him a little pass on that. But we don’t do that in the environmental field. I mean I don’t say, “Well Stew, your running Freedom Enterprises and you’re producing a great product, but you’re fowling the water and the air, but I’ll give you a pass because you’re successful.”  We don’t give people a pass on that anymore. We say you need to produce a great product at a good price, but you also need to do it in a way that maintains the integrity of the physical environment. And I believe we ought to have the same requirements for maintaining the social environment.

SF: I could not agree with you more. Jeff, I am afraid we have run out of time here. There is so much more I want to ask you about, but I am afraid we must conclude. Your work on taking down the leadership industry or really getting us to see it in a fresh light and what it really means for us to be growing leaders who can make a difference in our society is really so important, so refreshing, so provocative, and so useful.

About the Author

Ali Ahmed is an undergraduate senior majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Cinema Studies.

Managing Boundaries on Paternity Leave From Vine– Jason Toff

Contributor: Jacob Adler

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Wharton Grad ‘08 Jason Toff was a Product Manager at YouTube and Product Marketing Manager at Google and is now the General Manager at Vine, a part of Twitter. Jason and his wife just had their first child. Jason took a highly visible paternity leave.  He spoke with Stew Friedman about his experiences, at work and at home, as a new father, and about the Millennial experience in general, at work and the rest of life.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: In the run-up to your wife’s delivery of your first child, you were pretty public about taking an extended paternity leave and not only because you wanted to, for yourself and your family, but you wanted to set an example. What went into your thinking?

Jason Toff: jason toffThere were two major things that went into my decision to take the extended leave. The first one was just thinking about prioritization across life. A lot of people talk about family being most important, but if that’s truly the case then, at least for me, it was clear that I was going to take time off to spend with my son and with my wife during this really important time. This was the only first child we were ever going to have, so I wanted to spend time with them. The other factor is, as you alluded to, what message is this going to send to my team, a team of about 50 people in New York. Many of them have children, many of them are thinking about children, and I could tell them as much as I want about how much they’re able to take leave, but really they’re going to look at my actions to get a look at what’s appropriate and acceptable for them.

SF: What was the message you wanted to convey?

JT: Twitter has a great paternity and maternity policy, 10 weeks for fathers and 20 weeks for mothers, and the message I want to send is: family is valued and your relationship with your significant other and your children is important and is something Twitter and Vine respect and want you to value as well. So the message is: the policy is not just for show, it’s totally acceptable and normal.  Luckily for me, I was not the first dad to take leave at Twitter. There were many before me who did the same.  But it was important for me, for my team, to send that message to them.

SF: So that path had been traveled, and probably some lessons learned along the way.   Were those conveyed to you? Did people tell you about tips for how to manage this transition period, being away, and how to prepare and ensure that your team was going to thrive during the time you weren’t there?

JT: There had been a new moms group and they recently created a new dads group a few weeks before I took my leave. I met with a number of other dads at Twitter. Some had taken leave at Twitter, others had at other companies. It was interesting.  People had different approaches. Some said, “Once a week, I check in for a few hours.”   Others said that they disconnected completely. Some passed along tips about travel. Twitter is headquartered in San Francisco and it’s important to travel there occasionally, which is obviously more difficult with a child. We exchanged tips about which flights to take in the late evenings, in the mornings to maximize time with our children.

SF: Before we leave that topic, what specifically are the best practices for travel?

JT: One thing I heard a lot was that children will go to sleep pretty early, and if you take the red eye at night and come back the next day, you can actually see your children two days in a row and not miss too much of them. Basically, people like to take shorter trips more frequently when they have children, and that’s what I’ve done. I still make trips out to San Francisco as frequently as possible but do so briefly.

SF: Are you back from your leave?

JT: That’s right. Twitter gives you 10 weeks in total, and you can split those up within the course of a year or so.  I took five weeks immediately once my son was born, and I’ll take another five weeks at the end of this year.

SF: So during those five weeks following your son’s birth were you 100% disconnected? 90%, 80%?

JT: I did a couple of things: I decided that I would check in once a week on Fridays with a few of my direct reports, 30 minutes.   And then sit in on our weekly all-hands.   And throughout the week I would read emails, occasionally reply to those emails. In hindsight, I probably would have done it a little differently. I’m happy to talk more about that, but I say I was like 70-80% disconnected.

SF: What would you do differently? What did you learn?

JT: What I learned was that being 30% connected was, in many ways, worse than being 0% connected. I would send emails without having full context of what was happening.  It turned out that that it would have been useful for me to stay in the loop on some things, but this, actually, was destructive to some coworkers. Some of my team’s feedback afterwards was, and this might be surprising, “I wish you disconnected even more.”  In hindsight I can totally appreciate that feedback.

SF: Why would that be surprising? If you’re popping in without the full context and offering a slice of the picture, causing all kinds of confusion, I can see that it would be better to not have you involved at all.

JT: That’s fair. I think some of the concerns for some of my reports were, What’s going to happen with X, Y, Z while you’re gone?”   So the first response might be that if he’s available for questions that’s better than nothing, but in fact, it was not.

SF:  That five weeks is coming up sometime later this year. What are you going to do differently

JT: My plan was to disconnect; not do the weekly check-ins but really trust my leads. The goal is to be 100% disconnected. Obviously, if there’s some catastrophic event I will be available and I want to be available to my team.   But my goal is not to do the weekly check-in, not to check email, but actually disconnect this time.

SF: What was the reaction of the people on your team, and of your peers, men and women?

JT: Pretty uneventful, overall. To be perfectly honest with you, I think at this point there is a standard within tech, certainly within Google and Twitter, that it’s perfectly acceptable and normal for men and women to take extended leave after childbirth. That was true across the team, across men and women, older generations and younger generations.

SF: You’re signaling, as we talked about at the top of our conversation, to your people, people around you, that this is normal and what we do, and you should do it, too. You reinforce that message, but it sounds like that message really didn’t need a lot of reinforcing. Do I have that right?

JT: I think that’s right. There were a few dads before me on the Vine team who took some leave. I think I took more than they did. I think maybe people say, Oh wow, there are 10 weeks. I should only take seven or eight.”  I tried to reinforce that this is not just a pretend policy to attract talent but a true policy because Twitter values your relationship not only with your children but your significant others.

SF: There have been some studies that show that men who take leave are stigmatized. They’re seen as not fully-committed, quote-on-quote feminine, as they don’t compare to those who are traditional model of the ideal worker, 24/7, 365, wholly committed. So you didn’t experience any of that and you don’t think that’s part of the culture of the company you are a part of?

JT: I don’t think so. I think if you ran this study with younger generations or tech, you at least would see a different result. I can’t say for sure, I can’t read the minds of everyone on my team, but the main feedback I heard was not that I wasn’t committed but was that I should disconnect even more next time.

SF: That’s so interesting, that the cleaner break would have been better, probably for you, too on the home side.

JT: Absolutely. It’s difficult when you are trained to carry this device around in your pocket, which buzzes whenever you get an email.   It takes a particular type of un-training in order to actually focus on what matters, your child in front of you.

SF: How did you do that? What kind of un-training did you concoct or what emerged as you had to learn how to ignore that thing?

JT: One of the tactical things I did, which sounds small but was actually pretty effective, was there’s a setting on your phone for the mail app that says,  Don’t show that red number badge that says how many new emails you have.”  I turned that off for all of my new emails and then every time I looked at my phone, I wouldn’t see the number of emails that were mounting. I could check in when I had a free moment but I didn’t have a constant urge to make that number go to zero.

SF: Jason, I forgot to ask you at the top. What is Vine and what are you doing there in terms of the next year or so, what’s your primary goal with the next phase of Vine’s growth?

JT: The short of it is that Vine is a video entertainment network. We have over 200 million people every month watching Vines. Vines exist in our mobile apps.    They exist across the web. You’ve probably have seen Vines embedded on sites across the Internet. We are trying to build the best entertainment platform.  We see tremendous Vines come onto our platform every day from people who are filing whatever is happening around them, to Vine stars.   There’s a growing number of people who have become celebrities within Vine. Our goal for the immediate future, or even long future, is to be the best entertainment platform.

SF: Within the six-second timeframe that Vines now live within?

JT:  We’re not religious about any one aspect of Vine; no one at Vine would tell you that they work on a six-second square looping video, for instance. But we believe there’s a lot of value in this short format that we invented and we’ve seen amazing response from our users.

SF: Thank you for that explanation. It’s an amazing product and I’d like to now return to what we were just speaking about before that, which is what you learned to do to maintain your physical and psychological presence in the same place, which was at home with your new baby. What else, aside from your shutting off the red button that says you have 975 unread mails.   What else did you do?

JT: Another important thing was just empowering people at work to take over responsibilities that I previously had and being very explicit about those.    And setting up an out-of-office message to direct people to one of those individuals.   Also reminding myself on a daily basis of this great opportunity I had.  I had so much time with my first-born in his first weeks of life, those were the major things.

SF: You reminded yourself, how did you do that? Did you wake up and think, “Ah, I get to spend a day with my son today?”  What exactly did you do to keep your mind focused, because you are, as you said, trained. You have this habitual interest in connecting via your smartphone, or whatever device, to the people at work and beyond. That’s a tough habit to unlearn. We’ve been talking a lot about that on this show. What else did you do to hold that boundary?

JT: Honestly, it was pretty hard for me, being so connected. The way I experienced it typically was I’d find myself looking at my phone, getting an email, starting to stress out about something I didn’t have too much context on but enough to be stressed out about.  I’d need to stop myself and talk to myself for a moment and say, “What am I doing here, put this away, prioritize my wife and son.” Truthfully, my wife was a big contributor in getting me to stop.

SF: How did she do that?

JT: My wife has a talent to be very frank with me, and was very frank about my being here. I can’t say I was perfect at it but that was certainly a help.

SF: You need that. You need the social environment that’s going to hold you accountable to what you believe in. What you say is important because these habits are incredibly powerful and the draw is so strong, so I appreciate your candor in that. Having your significant other, your wife, reminding you about what was important, that was really helpful.

JT: Absolutely, enormously helpful.   And honestly just witnessing all that goes into childbirth, leading up to childbirth, and in the weeks after, I had an enormous amount of respect for my wife before,  but after seeing just the physical trauma alone of childbirth, it’s such an insane thing to happen to a human body and something that we don’t talk that much about or that I hadn’t heard much about, I had so much respect for her that the least I could do was give her my attention and help her, especially those first few weeks.

SF:  It’s a profound transformation of the human body to carry and deliver a child, that’s for sure. So the least you could do was to get off the phone!

JT: Obviously, I have the easy job in that I need to help out, so that was a good reminder to myself.

SF: But you needed that reminder. So I’m wondering if that’s something that you can help other people to understand as a result of your experience, some tips for the people around you. Is that a part of the conversation at Vine and Twitter, sharing best practices and dealing with this really important and critical question that you have been so candidly describing here about maintaining that boundary and focus on the baby in front of you?

JT:  Absolutely. There’s a group chatroom at Vine, and soon after I returned, we started a dads chatroom and just in one-on-one conversations with people.   We talked about what worked and didn’t work. And truthfully, it depends on the person and situation. There are some people who might go insane if they completely disconnected or, depending, in some rare instances, their job function, it actually would be better for them to stay connected in some way.  But I certainly learned the lesson and would pass it on to anyone on my team or anyone – to disconnect as much as possible. There’s only one time in my life, in anyone’s life, that they will have their first child. Just truly appreciating those moments is … it’s hard to compare anything to that.

SF: It’s probably too soon to tell, but how do you think becoming a father has affected your thinking about your career?

JT: Funny enough, within a couple weeks of returning, I was actually promoted.   So early signs seem to suggest that it hasn’t had a negative effect on my career. Again, I may be lucky to be in the tech industry, where this is normal, but I really don’t think it had any negative impact on my career.

SF: I was thinking it would have had a positive effect, so I don’t know why you’d assume that I was thinking negative!

JT: If anything, it’s given me perspective and helped me understand that sometimes things at work seem like tragedies, life-and-death experiences, and sometimes they are, but for most of us it’s not, and having that added perspective has allowed me, I think, to do my job a little bit better.

SF: Can you say how?

JT: Previously I would get very stressed out, which is not good for anyone on my team, about small issues.  I think on the whole I am less likely to do so now with that added perspective.

To learn more about Jason Toff and Vine go to their website https://vine.co/ and follow on Twitter @Vine and @JasonToff.

About the Author

Jacob Adler , W’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, andFake Teams.

What Kind of Country Are We? Time for Paid Leave — Ellen Bravo

Contributor: Ali Ahmed

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Ellen Bravo, directs the Family Values @ Work Consortium, a network of broad coalitions working for policies such as paid sick days and family leave insurance.  The network has achieved unprecedented victories,  such as paid sick days in Connecticut and California; San Francisco; Washington, DC; Seattle; Portland; New York City; nine cities in New Jersey; family leave insurance in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island; and paid parental leave passed in Washington state, with more wins on the horizon.  Ellen is the author of Taking on the Big Boys, or Why Feminism is Good for Families, Business and the Nation and a passionate, relentless, fun and funny advocate for families and children.

Stew Friedman: Since we spoke last year there’s been considerable progress at the state and federal level. Can you give us an update what’s new in the world of advancing policies and initiatives in our nation that are helping working families?

Ellen Bravo: Ellen Bravo 2As of today, more than 10 million people in the United States newly have access to paid sick days because of the work of our coalitions and their partners. It’s amazing how many people have paid sick days for themselves, but they can’t use it for a sick child or parent. Or they can take sick days, but they get demerits when they use it. Or they have them, but they don’t get paid for day one, and so many people just don’t take that time at all.  There are three states now that have family and medical leave insurance programs. And guess what? By the end of 2016, there may be three more. D.C. is the best place to have a baby, be sick, have parents. What a great way to summarize what it means to have access for paid leave.

SF: What are those three states?

EB: D.C., Connecticut, and New York all could win family medical insurance over the next year. There’s a number more where campaigns are growing: Massachusetts, Oregon, and a bunch of other places. Here’s what’s really exciting to us: our network formed because we knew that it was these boots on the ground that helped build the critical masses needed to get the national standard that we all need. We’re very proud of that. We’ve really helped create a network that looks at these local coalitions, deeply rooted in their own city or county or state, and helps them share their lessons, share their successes, and see themselves as part of a national movement by linking them all together.

SF: This also creates momentum, right? Because people see that it’s possible. That motivates others to get involved.

EB: I can’t tell you how important that is. We just wrote a booklet called “Why I Became an Activist.” It is profiles of twelve people telling how they became engaged in one of these campaigns, and what it has meant to their lives.  Another important part of life is people realizing that change is possible if we do it together;  what I couldn’t do on my own, we can do together. And it breaks through that disenfranchisement that so many people feel.  That sense of, “Who listens to me? Who cares about me if I don’t have money?” And it’s really showing people that there are solutions. That what happened to them wasn’t just one bad boss or one bad company. It’s something about the whole system. We can fix that by having these basic and common sense policies. It’s so exciting to see that.   Everyday I meet those people who’ve change their own lives and those of so many others.

SF: Is that part of your daily life, is meeting with people who are just getting involved in this, let’s call it a social movement?

EB: It’s one of my favorite things to do. I was invited to speak at the 20th anniversary of one of our anchor groups in Massachusetts called “Coalition for Social Justices, Fall River, Massachusetts”. It’s a $30 plate dinner. People there are ages 18 to 85 and very multi-racial. And someone gets up from New Bedford and says, “We talked 4,692 people. 4,062 of them became members of our coalition, and we went out in teams on election day. This is for the ballot initiative for sick time and we said go ‘vote yourself some sick time.’” It’s this very grass roots effort. They took a report one time when they went canvasing and there were people waiting on the porch saying, “I heard you were coming today. I had to tell you. This is my life. I’ve never had a paid sick day. This is what it means to me.” And just what you were saying talking about disharmony. What could be worse than you’re kid is sick and you have to decide do I lose my pay for the day to be with this child? Who do I let down? My family or my employer and my family again, because we need to provide for them as well as to care for them.

SF: And it’s a choice that America should not have to make, according to our president and so many other legislators. But it’s hard to get it through at the national level. Before we get to that very big question about how we create a national policy that works. Speak to the business interest at play here because many of our listeners are business people, first and foremost. Many of them have families and have people working with and around them who are committed to their families and want to be able to be engaged and supportive of the needs of the people in their families. Why is this an issue that businesses should really get behind?

EB: So, for both businesses and family medical leave insurance, the great thing is that every one of our coalitions has business partners. And those business leaders join in. First of all, many of them already provide these policies because they think it’s the smart, as well as the right, thing to do.

SF: Smart from a business point of view?

EB: Yes. It doesn’t take much thinking to say not one of us is as good on day one as we are on day 366. Everybody needs to get up to speed on their jobs. And so business owners invest in those workers. Whatever the kind of job, it’s a loss when they leave. So, we don’t want to put people in a situation where we say “get out” if you’re going to do exactly what the doctor tells you to do or what a good parent should do or good child should do for their parent. And businesses don’t want to be in that situation. They want people to have harmony in their lives, but sometimes they can’t afford to do it themselves. That’s what the family medical leave insurance does. It creates a pool of small contributions that help make leave affordable. That’s a real boon to businesses. Paid sick days is a much smaller investment and what the business owners who are partners of ours tell us is, “Look, I already do this, but I want everyone to do it. Because you know what? Other people’s staff, they are my customers.   And if they lose money because they are being a good parent or doing what the doctor said, they don’t come to my shop or store or whatever, that hurts me.”

SF: All those ripple effects that emanate from good policies that really support people so that they can stay in their jobs and be the kind of family member that they want and need to be. That benefits the whole ecology of our local economy.

EB: That’s exactly right. The great words are whole ecology. I commend you and the tremendous work you did to get a couple hundred of business professors who say, “yeah, this is smart business. Let’s do this. It’s time for our nation to do this.” You’ve done a tremendous service. I’ll tell you what one of my favorite things about the work we do is: there are people out there when we first started our network over a decade ago, the opposition tried to characterize it as workers versus business and they can’t do that anymore because we have so many business owners who said, “listen, those lobby groups don’t speak for me. I am the business community too. And I want this because it’s the best thing for our community and our nation. It’s good for me personally, but it’s also good for my community and that matters to me what kind of economy we have overall and what kind of nation we are overall.” And so, those divisions that people tried to legislate, we said you can’t do that anymore. We won’t let you. It’s identity theft. You can’t claim to be the business community when you speak against these modest little reforms like paid sick days or family medical leave insurance. You’re really speaking for giant corporate interests.

SF: And that’s an important issue.   Where is the resistance coming from and why? First, for our listeners, Ellen was referring to the fact that I helped author and was the lead signatory on a letter that came from 200 business schools’ faculty that we sent to every member of Congress in support of the Family Act, now before Congress. I have to tell you Ellen, it was so easy to do that, partly because of our partnership with Vicky Shabo with the National Partnership for Women and Families.  Also, once we sent it out to a couple of my business school colleagues, they sent it out to their colleagues and it spread rapidly because it’s a no-brainer for us to see how the current and future generations of business leaders want this and how we need it for our business and our society. So, back to where we were: where does the resistance come from?

EB:  Unfortunately, there are organized lobbies. Their job is to stand in the way of change. I think of them like the sheriffs in the doorway of schools when kids are trying to de-segregate. It’s a knee jerk reaction.  These lobbies are literally telling Congress, “Don’t tell us what to do. We don’t need any regulations.”  It’s the same thing got us in trouble with the housing bubble, the Exxon Mobil spill, and so on. Of course we need some common sense regulation and protection for people.  That’s what this is. The thing that amuses me is that you see that same arguments that were made before. I made this little quiz that says, “Who said this? Is it your local chamber of Congress? The National Federation of Independent Businesses?  The American Legislative Exchange Commission, or none of the above?” This is the quote: This law will destroy industry in the city and the state. It turns out it was from the head of the Real Estate Board in 1912 after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 148 women and kids. And for the first time ever, the city of New York said we might need some regulation. And you know what the regulations were?  Let’s have a fire escape, let’s have inspections, and let’s prevent employers from locking their workers in while they do their jobs. That’s all it was. Certain people said that will destroy industries. The same thing was said when we ended child labor and when we established minimum wage.  It’s unfortunate because it makes business owners look small-minded and narrow-minded. It’s a disservice because so many of the leaders in our coalition are business owners who have always been doing this and who see that it is a best business practice for them to be speaking out in support of a public policy to establish a voice for everyone.

SF:  Especially when the research on the impact of those public policies has shown that they support business goals such as the retention of great people. People are more likely to stay if they have this kind of support.

EB: It’s really mindset.  They view workers as inherently lazy and they need to be punished, or they view them as assets, the greatest assets actually. And if you invest in them, and take into account that they are whole people that need to integrate all the parts of their life, just as you said Stew, then your business will do better. Also, you’ll be contributing to a much better society.

SF:  It’s not just an economic imperative; it’s a moral imperative.  And there’s an accumulating body of research that demonstrates this. So, at the national level, when are we going to see real change? What do you think it’s going to take? The democrats are debating tonight for the first time. [Tuesday October 13, 2015.]

EB: I think it’s going to take just what we’re doing, continuing this growing number of wins. You see if you go to our website, the timeline of wins. You’ll see this growth in the number of wins each year. And there’ll be a bunch more in 2015, and then another bunch in 2016. And we need to do the same thing with family medical leave insurance. Get a critical mass of states over the next five years. That’s our goal. And I think that when we do that, we’re going to see changes in who governs and what they stand for. We’re already seeing that voters across the political spectrum and across every demographic really care about these things. They’re paying much more attention to where candidates stand on it. The more people see that this is good politics as well as good policies, that’s what it will take. But what you said is also true. If everyone adds to the growing body of evidence. Productivity goes up, morale goes up, retention goes up, and that’s just what we want. These are in sync, and it’s a disservice to say we have to decide – do we treat people well or do we do well in our businesses. Of course we do better when we all do better.

SF:  What can listeners do to learn more, and much more importantly spread their understanding of the stories of success that really do cut into these outmoded ways of thinking, which pit workers and their families against the interest of businesses, when in fact they are in sync, can be, should be, and must be. What can listeners do?

EB:  The easiest thing is just go to our website — familyvaluesatwork.org — and say I want to get involved and tell us a little about yourself.  If you’re in a state where we are, we’ll connect you to that coalition. There are local people who know the conditions and they know the kind of policies that will work best. And they want your help. And you can really help make the difference. If you’re in a state where there isn’t yet a campaign going on, you can help us speak out for these national policies. And you may also be able to help create something in that state. The exciting thing is that there are people everywhere that want to do this. Everywhere I go people say what can we do to get this started. And your listeners can absolutely be a vital part of making that happen. But also, you can support our work.

SF: Otherwise to provide support for this growing movement of people throughout our great country, to help us really start to get close to on par with the rest of the developed world,  because we are so woefully and tragically behind in terms virtually all of our competitors in the world economy, what are the options?

EB: Have I told you my favorite country? It’s Iceland. They have policy “3-3-3” that next year is going to be “5-5-2”. And what that means is each parent can take 3 months of paid leave and the couple can share the other 3 months. And next year it will be five, five, and two months they can share. And guess what’s happened? Most men take that leave, and after a year and a half 70% of the men that take that leave are sharing childrearing. This is a great thing for families, great thing for our workforce. I love it that Susan Wojcicki, who is the CEO at YouTube, wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal about how when Google, which is a parent company of YouTube, increased the amount of leave, their turnover rate among women was cut in half. She said “I’m a better person.” She has five kids. She’s taken five maternity leaves. She’s also unapologetic about it. But she said, “I’m a better leader by having taken that time. I am more in sync with our customers and what they need.” And that’s a good thing. It’s not a favor to women; it’s a better way to do it. That’s what’s really great.

SF: It’s not just about women, as we know. In our 20 year longitudinal study of Wharton grads, we found that young men especially are as eager, more so than women, to have policies, both corporate and social, that support them as fathers, as sons, as brothers to be able to provide support for the family and the people that depend on them.

EB: Absolutely. And in our pamphlet, a number of those activists became active as new dads wanting paid family leave for everybody. One of the things they say is, “We’re tired of dads being treated like a spare part. These are our kids. We want to be just as involved in their lives. And we don’t want to be punished for being responsible fathers.” The great thing about these policies is that they are strengthening families and helping so many men to be exactly what they want: be good fathers, sons, and husbands, and brothers, as you point out. We’re delighted to see that.

SF: Not only is it better for them as fathers, but it helps their children and it enables women to lean in at work if dads are leaning in at home. So, it truly is a win all the way around. We just got another couple of minutes here, Ellen. What’s the most important thing for our listeners to know about the work that you’re doing and how they can be a part of it at a personal level?

EB: The most important thing for them to know is that peoples’ lives are being transformed. If you read the language in the booklet, they talk about it “being an honor to do this.” And, “I suddenly felt I found my voice. I realized the power that we have to make change happen.” There are so many people who want to do exactly that, but they don’t know what they can do alone as individual.  By becoming part of these coalitions we amalgamate our power, and that’s what’s enabling us to make change. Elected officials say, “Look at these business owners speaking up. When the lobbyist comes and tells me business says X, I’m going to say no they don’t. I just sat and talked to them in my office, or I got a call, or I got a letter.” So, sharing your stories, why you do this, and why you support it.   Sharing how these policies help you to invest in and retain the people that work for you, and how it made your company a success. That’s the best thing we can do. We so appreciate the work that you’re doing already and I hope that you’ll add to the strength that we’re building up in the field. And that will get us the national policies that we need.

SF: It’s going to take time. It’s going to take effort from a lot of people, but it really doesn’t take all that much. And it doesn’t cost business. The policies that I’m aware of, they are neutral in terms of the revenue implications for most business owners.

EB: I remember the guy who was the CEO at Stride Rite, and who had an intergenerational care center, so there were little kids and there were seniors. And they did activities together. They made bread. They told stories. But there were also activities they did separately. Somebody said, “Are you an idiot? Why are you wasting money on that?” He said, “Have you seen the faces of our employees when they get off the elevator and they see a parade of the little kids and the seniors going through the hall. Even if it isn’t their kids or their seniors?   You think that doesn’t last, that smile, when they go back to work?” He says, “Who’s the idiot?”  And I’ve always remembered him saying that. I think that’s so true. I mean, Stew, I meet people all the time who tell me stories of having to kiss their dying son or husband or mother every day at the hospital and then go to work knowing that this was the day, and she might die forever. And they can’t help it because it’s the only way they can pay the bills. Or think about the nearly one in four mothers who go back to work within two weeks of giving birth. What kind of country are we?

To learn more about The Family Values at Work  Consortium visit their website and follow them on Twitter, @FmlyValuesWork

About The Author

Ali Ahmed is an undergraduate senior majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Cinema Studies.

The Achievement Gap & What We Can Do About It — Jane Waldfogel

Contributor: Jacob Adler

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Jane Waldfogel is a Professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work and a visiting professor at the London School of Economics. She has written extensively on the impact of public policies on poverty, inequality, and child and family well-being.  Her books include: Too Many Children Left Behind: The U.S. Achievement Gap in Comparative Perspective; Britain’s War on PovertySteady Gains and Stalled Progress: Inequality and the Black-White Test Score GapWhat Children NeedSecuring the Future: Investing in Children from Birth to College; and The Future of Child Protection. She is also the author of over 100 articles and book chapters. Her current research includes studies of paid parental leave, improving the measurement of poverty, and inequality in school readiness and achievement.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stewart Friedman: Why should businesspeople care about early childhood education and about the achievement gap, and what’s the connection to work and working families?

Jane Waldfogel: Jane WaldfogelThere are two important connections for businesspeople. One immediate connection is that this is the workforce of the future.   The children we’re talking about, who have the achievement gap, are lagging behind their peers more so than children in other countries, are going to be their employees five, 10, 15 years from now.

SF: Before you get to the second reason, just define what we mean by achievement gap.

JW: In the work that I’m doing, I’m focusing on the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children; children whose families have high levels of socio-economic resources and children whose families have low levels of resources. There are different ways of measuring that. I’m focusing on the difference between those whose parents have a college degree or more and those whose parents have a high school degree or sometimes less.  We think of those as being highly-educated and low-educated, but there’s a big group in the middle that has something beyond high school, some kind of college education but not a full college degree. The achievement gap is the gap in school readiness or the gap in school achievement between those whose parents have a college degree and those whose parents have high school or less.

SF: Thank you for that.  Yes, it’s about future employees and their readiness to contribute to society’s economic growth.    And the other important rationale for businesspeople to be mindful of your research?

JW:  The other reason for businesspeople to be aware of and concerned about it is they’re not independent of this, they’re parties to this. The way that our safety net works in the United States is that a lot of the safety net benefits that families rely on, especially when they’re working, come from their employers.    A lot of their employers offer some help with parental leave, sick leave, even help with child healthcare and eldercare.   But not all employers do.   And, unfortunately, there’s also a gap in the provision of those kinds of benefits.  The best-off employees who are most educated, have the most resources, are also the most likely to have employer benefits.  While the businesses that are employing low-income workers, low-educated workers, are the least likely to provide those benefits.

SF: What’s the implication of that for businesspeople listening to our show right now? Why is the increasing gap relevant to the small-business owner, for example?

JW: I think a small-business owner would be entitled to say, “Why is this my responsibility and why should I be paying for expensive benefits?  I think the small-business owner actually has a point there, and this is why we’re seeing in several states’ paid family leave benefits being provided through employee contribution into a public insurance fund.  This is the model in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. It is a very innovative kind of model and one of the prime beneficiaries of these new benefits, it’s not parents, it’s small businesses, because small businesses would like to be able to give people some time off when they have a baby. These people are human beings, they’re decent employers, and in fact they have been giving people time off, this is not a new thing.

SF: The point that you’re making here is such a critical one, that these are employee-funded initiatives.

JW: These are 100% funded through employee contribution and the state pays a few pennies a week into these funds. And then how many children do these people have? They don’t have that many children.   So, on the one or two or three occasions that somebody has a child, then mothers and fathers, they both get some paid leave. It might be four weeks, it might be five weeks, it might be six weeks.  And it’s funded through this public insurance fund that’s funded by contributions from all the employees in the state.

SF: So it gets spread out and it’s administered by the Social Security Administration already in place to manage these funds.  The private sector can say, “It’s not really up to us.”  And to that you would say, You’re right. We need a national policy to support families and children, and that’s good for all of us, as the research has shown.”

JW: Yes.  These social insurance programs were set up to insure workers against the kind of eventualities that might strike any of us. Things like death, disability, unemployment, illness.  And virtually every advanced industrialized country has some form of paid maternity leave because it’s that kind of an event —  giving birth is that kind of an event. It’s an extraordinary event, it’s not a recurring, frequent event, so it’s the perfect thing for these kinds of social insurance funds to cover.

SF: One of the things that you’ve focused on in the great treatise that you’ve published, Too Many Children Left Behind: The U.S. Achievement Gap in Comparative Perspective, is how we fare compared to other nations. What were the big ideas in the insights that you drew from that comparative study?

JW: It’s probably no surprise to any of your listeners that children whose parents are more highly educated themselves are going to come to school more ready to learn than children whose parents are not highly educated. But it’s not obvious why that kind of a gap should differ across countries. If, in the United States children whose parents are less educated are coming into school a full standard deviation behind in their test scores than children whose parents are more highly educated, then we would expect to find similar gaps in other countries when we compare similar families, families with college education and families whose parents have just a high school degree or less.

SF: So the effect of parental education ought to be universal and not country-specific.

JW: Yes.  More educated parents are reading to their children, they’re buying books and toys, they have a computer, and they have a love of learning they’re passing it on to their children. There’s lots of reasons why you might expect the children of more educated parents to come to school more ready.  But in fact, the gap at school entry is twice as big in the United States as it is in Canada or Australia.  When we compare the United States to Canada, Australia, and the U.K., that gap is significantly larger in the United States than in the other countries. There must be something going on in the United States that’s peculiar.

SF: Something that exaggerates the achievement gap that’s caused by differences in parental education.

JW: Exactly. So partly it’s that when parents are low-educated in the United States, not only are they low-educated but they also have low levels of other resources. They’re younger, they’re less likely to be in stable families.  Some of it’s about family structure, but some of it is because they have lower incomes relative to the rest of the population than low-income families in other countries. And unfortunately, you then add in the government resources, and that just augments the differences across the countries.

SF: What do you mean?

JW:  It turns out that the reason that we have a much higher child poverty rate than Canada, the U.K., Australia, is not because of our demographic makeup or our labor market situation. When you look just at families’ market earnings, the child poverty rate is about the same across the four countries. Once you take into account government taxes and transfers, that’s where you see the big difference. In the U.K., in Canada, in Australia, those government programs are cutting child poverty in half.

SF: Our government tax policies exaggerate the achievement gap that kids experience as a result of whether or not their parents are college-educated.

JW:  It’s the government tax and transfer programs; what we call the safety net. Those programs are cutting child poverty in half in the other countries. That’s a really important element. And then there’s the whole work/life/family arena.  Virtually all advanced countries, all of our peers, now have universal preschool that covers children in the year or two before they start school. You can see how that would be tremendously equalizing if all the children were going to preschool before they’re going on to school.

SF: That’s going to cut into the achievement gap?

JW: Yes, and it’s going to be equalizing, whereas in the United States, because we don’t have universal preschool, we don’t have universal pre-kindergarten in most places, the kind of preschool or whether or not your child even gets preschool.  And then, the kind of preschool is going to be very dependent on family resources. At the top end, we have some of the best nursery schools in the world, and we know which families get to access those, and at the bottom end, we have families who if they’re lucky, maybe they’ll get a childcare voucher or they’ll get a spot in a subsidized childcare program, and then you’ll get the families in the middle who can’t afford the price of high-quality preschool, so they’re making do with family daycare or informal care, such as kids being with relatives. At some point, those kids are losing out compared to other kids who are having more educational programming.

SF:  This exaggerates the achievement gap which just grows over time.

JW: It does grow over time.  Although one of the surprising findings in the book was that if you had asked me before we started the book, I would have said probably about half of the achievement gap that we see in high school was already there at school entry, and the other half of it emerges as that gap widens during the school years. And that actually would have been wrong. We estimated this very carefully in the book and it turns out actually about two-thirds of the achievement gap, 60 or 70 percent, is already there at school entry. That’s a ‘wow!’

SF: So universal Pre-K and tax policies and transfers that enable kids to be better ready, when they start, that could solve most of the achievement gap problem that we see later in people’s lives and in their school careers?

JW: Exactly.   And if we’d at least give teachers a fighting chance. You can’t have kids coming in so unequally prepared at kindergarten. I mean, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a kindergarten teacher facing that range of abilities. Either you’re going to teach to the children that are very ill-prepared, and then the better-prepared children are really missing out and everybody’s level is dragged down. If they’re going to teach the children who are well-prepared, those who are behind at the start are going to fall further behind.

SF: What can we do to help solve this problem, because it really is a tragic set of circumstances in a nation that prides itself on being the most resourceful in world history?

JW: I think it’s not rocket science. You start from birth: paid parental leave.  We all know it’s a good thing but it’s taken us a while to figure it out. We now have these three states that have programs in place, so we’re getting there. Look at all these companies that are implementing 16 weeks of paid parental leave; all the tech companies, the Navy, I think this is a sea change, I think we’re getting there. We also have a much better evidence base on parenting programs for parents of infants and toddlers than we’ve ever had before. The Nurse Family Partnership is the best known of them, but there are now several. This is an example of a very well-studied, well-evaluated parenting program that works with young first-time mothers starting prenatally and into the first year or two of life.  Nurses work with the mothers to help strengthen their parenting skills. So the children get better care before they start preschool because, honestly, we’ve been talking about universal preschool or Pre-K at age four, but that comes pretty late in the life of a child. There’s an earlier foundation of paid parental leave and then the evidence-based, high-quality parenting programs for parents who may not have received very good parenting themselves and especially young, first-time, disadvantaged moms.

SF: Does your comparative study help to propel interest by American lawmakers to take this issue more seriously?

JW: I think it should in two different respects. One, that wow factor of 60-70 percent of the achievement gap being there already at school entry, is such a smoking gun in terms of pointing to early childhood as the point of intervention. The second big wow is that achievement gap being so much larger in the United States than our nearest peers, Canada, the U.K., and Australia. There’s no reason we should have so much of a bigger gap than those other countries, and we know it’s happening in early childhood.

SF:  Not only should there not be that gap, but we should be leading. What can listeners do, a number of our listeners are going to be thinking, What can I do to try to make a change with respect to how children will be affected by policy?” What would you recommend?

JW: I think there’s a lot to be done at the local and state level. A lot of these programs are being funded and rolled out by the states.  These early home-visiting programs, these parenting programs, paid parental leave is happening at the state level, universal Pre-K is happening at the state level, so I think finding out what’s going on in my city or state and getting on board and supporting these things with funding and candidates who support these initiatives.  At the local level, finding out what are the good programs in my area and what do they need? Do they need some volunteers, some help? I know a lot of businesses are involved locally in having folks volunteer and help out, so find a strong program in your area and find out what they need.

SF: What has this research meant to you personally in terms of your sense of the impact that you’re having?

JW: I just feel very strongly committed to doing what we can to make the living situation of children in our country more equal, and raising the level for everybody, and it’s dawned on me that the school system is one really important place to make that happen. That’s really driven my interest in these achievement gaps, but it turns out that we have to start a lot earlier than the school system and so I think there’s an awful lot for all of us to do.

About the Author

Jacob Adler , W’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, andFake Teams.


Employee Well-Being at Marriott — David Rodriguez

Contributor: Ali Ahmed

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

David Rodriguez, is the Executive Vice President of Global Human Resources for Marriott International.  He has a doctorate in Industrial/Organizational from NYU and has held various HR positions at Citi and Avon before joining Marriott. Rodriguez is on the Board of Directors for the Human Resources Policy Association and a member of the Personnel Roundtable, Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, American Psychological Association, and Board of Governors for the American Health Policy Institute. He spoke to Stew Friedman about providing and maintaining employee well-being at Marriott.

Excerpts of their conversation below:

Stew Friedman: So, David for those few people who are listening who may not know, what does Marriott do?

David Rodriguez: David RodriguezWe’re one of the world’s leading lodging companies with over 4,300 properties in 81 countries and territories under 19 brands – everything from our namesake Marriott and JW Marriott hotels to luxury brands, like Ritz Carlton. The company was founded by the parents of our current executive chairman, Bill Marriott in 1927.

SF: Your firm has consistently been ranked one of the best places to work. What is the secret to your success to attract and retain the top talent in your field year after year?

DR: If you examine company documents and videos, you find a phrase that appears again and again: If you take care of the associates, they will take care of the customers, and the customers will come back again and again, and the business will take care of itself. If you talk to just about anybody in our business, and ask them what separates us from our competitors, they probably will say it’s our company culture, and our core values.  We are a very people-centric business. In essence, we believe the foundation of our business models never strayed from its early roots. And that’s a focus on employee well-being.

SF: So, that’s been there from the start?

DR: It has. It’s grown over time, as we’ve grown. We started as a small little root beer stand, then the restaurant business here in D.C., then we grew in the U.S., and then we got into the hotel business in the late 1950’s. That’s become the core of who we are today. This focus on well-being has never strayed from its roots, but it’s evolved. It has three components. First, we believe that people have to feel good about themselves. We provide resources to support physical, mental, and emotional health.

SF: What exactly do you provide and how do employees use it to help them feel good about their physical and emotional health?

DR: We have a nationally recognized wellness program with a number of resources and activities directly related to helping people maintain good health. As you and I know, there is a big expenditure in this country in helping people who are sick get well. There needs to be more focus on prevention. Our wellness program, in part, helps people by giving them the knowledge, tools, and resources to maintain a good health.  We also have what we call our associate resource line. Let’s say you have elderly parents, then you need to become better educated and know what options there might be and how to consider, say elder care.  Whatever issues people face at different stages in their life, we know that to the extent we can help them to face those issues, it has a great impact on their general well-being.  We also provide courses and resources for people to become better financial stewards.  A big focus, particularly with our hourly employees, is on providing them with career development guidance and programs. Let’s face it, the path to a more secure retirement and to financial security – I think the minimum wage debate in the country is a very important debate –- is for the private sector, for companies, to look at their practices and make sure they’re doing all they can to help people develop the skills that make them recession-proof and give them the opportunity to get higher paying jobs. It all falls under this umbrella: people have to feel good about themselves in order to participate fully and productively.

SF: What’s the signal differentiator of your programs?

DR: It’s multi-faceted. I think it’s been recognized for a couple of different reasons. One, it’s global.   We have worked to make it relevant locally in many different cultures and companies.

SF: So, you’ve had to adjust your policies to fit the local culture?

DR: Yes.  Some cultures are smoking cultures, for instance. So, how do you introduce wellness and help people live healthier lives, while being sensitive to cultural messaging that is a bit at odds?   The other thing that distinguishes our company is that we have literally hundreds of what we call “wellness champions” across the company.  These are associates who, in many cases, have been helped and want to give back by becoming wellness champions and helping at our hotels and other locations to lead the effort and to get those sites to adopt healthier practices.

SF:  Do they get extra compensation for that or is it seen as a boost for their career development prospects? What why would somebody sign up for being a wellness champion?

DR: They become passionate about it. It’s on company time so they are being compensated for it. But, they’re doing it because they’ve become passionate about it. And yes, these are great learning opportunities for many people. It can be one of the first opportunities to show leadership.  So people get very excited about that, and there are some great stories that come out of it. I am a direct beneficiary of our wellness initiative. I was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic Leukemia just a year and a half ago.  One of the reasons I am alive today is because of our wellness initiative.   Through the initiative even someone like me, who is fairly well-educated, was able to learn a great deal about how to take better care of myself. I keep all of my own health records. If I ever go see a physician, I know a lot more than they do about my personal chemistry and so forth.

SF: And that’s something that you’ve learned through the program and company?

DR: Absolutely. And many people say this. So, what do you need to know to be able to manage your health and know what are signals that require you to take action? There are many stories of people who become inspired.  a fellow, who I was talking to the other day lost 60 pounds. He got inspired by hearing some of the success stories in the wellness initiative. He essentially said, “They inspired me. I need to do this for myself and my family. ” But he also realized if he succeeded in this, he would also be in a position to inspire other people. That has sustained him throughout the process.

Let me move on because I mentioned three pillars. Secondly, I feel good about myself, but I have to feel good about the workplace. And a lot of that has to do with relationships in the workplace. Our belief is: if our associates don’t have to worry about whether or how they can fit in, they can, instead, use that energy to build relationships in the workplace, be creative, be productive, and that creates a virtuous cycle for everyone in the workplace. That’s part of our approach to global diversity and inclusion. It is about making sure that we not only feel good about ourselves, but also that we feel great about the relationships in the workplace. And the last pillar: people have to feel good about the company itself. That’s about the company’s mission in society, its purpose. What we do for a living is providing a home away from home for people who can’t be home.  We help people who are on business travel.  Or we provide great venues for family and friends to re-energize while on vacation, or for gatherings of people from across the world to share perspectives. People at Marriott feel very good about what we do in society, and feel very good about the company’s citizenship.  When these three elements are in place, employees really engage with the company, the mission of the company. What we find is they also get very inspired to give back to the community.

SF:  And that’s going to enhance your brand. If you’re employees are your ambassadors for why this is a great place to stay. As a person travelling or convening with friends or family, as you described, there’s no better advertisement.

DR: Let me tell you a great story. I was travelling outside the United States. I land at the airport and my colleagues say, “David there’s a housekeeper that wants to speak to you. Would you be willing to speak to her?” And I said, “Of course.”  I was wondering what am I about to hear?  What has gone wrong somewhere? What complaint? I get there and I meet this woman. She was a single mother with young children and she proceeded to tell me about a life of generations of poverty and domestic violence. And what she said to me was that Marriott to her, when she went inside the doors of our hotel, it was like walking into an oasis. She found dignity and respect that she could not find outside the workplace in a place that believed that she could grow as a person. So, she said to me – here’s the catch – she said, “David, because Marriott takes care of me and my family…” in essence because it broke that cycle of poverty and lack of self-respect, “I am going to make sure that all my co-workers feel like family. And that every customer that walks into that hotel feels like family.” Stew, how could you not be successful if you’re in the service industry?

SF: If you get everyone to feel that way? So, how do you get everyone to feel that way?

DR:  It’s the goal and objective of the CEO and every one of his direct reports, including me. And it’s focused on employee well-being.

SF: So, that’s a measurable objective and everyone is held accountable?

DR: I’ll give you an example of the penetration of our “Take Care” well-being program. Our Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board, Bill Marriott, and our President and CEO, Arne Sorenson, won’t rest until that becomes ingrained in every single one of the thousands of hotels that we manage.  It starts with the philosophy of the three pillars I talked about. Underneath all those pillars are specific programs and actions that people are measured on.

SF: How are you doing this year? What’s your rating going to be on that metric?

DR: I don’t have a final metric for the year.  Every year as we globalize the wellness program, what we look at is the adoption rate by hotels. Year after year we will exceed our goals for the number of hotels that have jumped on board and are actively, not just knowledgeable about it, but are self-sustaining in terms of the energy and activities they have in the wellness space.

SF:  I know that a number of our listeners are thinking, “Well this sounds great for a big company, like Marriott. But how do we do it in our company? Or a company that’s not a service business, where you are really dependent on the attitude and passionate engagement of your employees at all levels who are directly customer facing?” What advice do you have for other businesses to help them to see the value in this investment in well-being that your company has been so successful in creating and benefiting from?

DR: Certainly the story I told you about – having an associate describe how integral her work experience has been and how committed she is – a lot of our employees describe our hotels as their hotels. Not the company’s hotels, but ‘their hotels’. It’s like they’re taking care of their homes. I think you achieve that by having senior management held accountable. They have to share the philosophy. And they have to be held accountable.

SF: That’s really making it a key priority that people are measured on?

DR: Yes, at the very top.  And it can’t be a tactical thing.  This company takes great pains making sure people understand our business model stands with employee-centricity. When you’re in the service experience, part of it is the hotel has to look beautiful and up-to-date and so on and so forth. But that experience is entirely dependent on our employees and the degree to which they are enthused about creating great experiences. So, people get it here and we make sure there is accountability.

SF: What’s the second key point you want to leave our audience with?

DR: The second key point is that it can’t just be at the top. It has to be from the grassroots itself. You need to give people the forum and the mechanisms where they internalize this, they think of the company as their company, and they’re invested in making it the best place it can possibly be

About The Author

Ali Ahmed is an undergraduate senior majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Cinema Studies.

You, Your Mobile Device and Your Child — Dr. Jenny Radesky

Contributor: Jacob Adler

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Dr. Jenny Radesky of Boston University Medical Center received her undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins and her medical degree from Harvard and then trained in Seattle.   Her research interests include use of mobile media by parents, young children’s self-regulation, parent mental health, and parent-child interaction.  She is also exploring how digital resources can support parent engagement with their child’s development and social and emotional health.  She is a member of the Executive Committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Communications and Media as well as the Institute of Digital Media and Child Development.

The following are edited excerpts of her conversation with Stew Friedman about digital technology and its impact on boundaries between work and the rest of life.

Stewart Friedman: You’re a pediatrician, a doctor that works with kids. How did you get interested in parent’s use of mobile devices in front of their children? And what have you learned?

Jenny Radesky: jenny radeskyI got into this when I was working as a primary care doctor in Seattle. It was right after the iPad had been released and iPhones were becoming much more of a factor in our culture.   I was fascinated by how it much it changed the dynamic in the office setting. I wasn’t seeing this as good or bad. I observed that this was a new cultural trend that we’re going to have to study and figure out.  It’s good in some ways because it’s connecting parents to their spouse or information or what I was telling them about, but it also put up a new barrier.  I found that there was less eye contact, attention,  and social engagement.

SF: This is with the children?

JR: The child or with me.  So I started developmental behavioral pediatrics training.

SF: Developmental behavioral pediatrics training, what is that?

JR: A pediatrician who specializes in children who have developmental differences. I see a lot of kids with autism, ADHD, developmental delays, learning disabilities, fussy babies, anything that is a little deviation or concern for parents about their child’s development. I worked and trained in a pretty low-end part of Boston, so I’ve been really interested in what forces of resilience we can nurture in kids growing up in poverty. And the parent/child relationship is the number one source of resilience for so many kids.  And for all kids it is a major source of how kids develop their language, their cognitive skills, their social skills, the way that they can handle strong emotions.  So putting this all together as I’m training, as I’m learning more about how to watch parents and kids interacting in exam rooms, I’m seeing more and more technology, this kind of portable device entering into the dynamic much more than it ever had before.   That’s why I tried to start this line of research, to begin the questions:  How is this affecting the dynamic?  What ways can we use technology that will be disruptive?  And what ways can we use it that might bring kids and parents together?  I’ve found it’s so highly-relevant for my own family dynamic.

SF: You mean your own personal family?

JR: Yes. I have a two-year-old and a six-year-old. My six-year-old has special needs. It’s really interesting to watch the way they differ, interact with technology, and the way they demand my presence when I get home. I work full-time. My husband works from home. We really have examined this closely since I’ve started studying it because I experience it all the time.

SF: What have you learned? What are some of the big ideas that have come from your study and your practice?

JR:  The biggest thing I find interesting about this is that mobile devices and the sort of rapidly-evolving technology that we’re constantly using throughout the day can contain so much of our lives. It contains our work emails, it contains information, data, news. It contains good news and bad news.  I find when I’ve been interviewing a lot of parents about their own technology use, the amount of emotional and cognitive reaction that they have to what they’re doing on their devices is really remarkable. It’s so different than just watching TV or reading a book.
SF: Can you elaborate on that? What do you mean?

JR: Parents describe it as they’re so invested in their work lives. They don’t really want to be irrelevant in their careers, so they might be in the middle of playing with their child or out at the playground and get an email that really upsets them or really makes them feel oh, I’ve got to answer this right away, I’ve really got to act on this. Some people describe it as intrusive.  Some people describe it as they’re happy that they can have the opportunity to be at the playground and still be working.   But it’s a new type of cognitive balance that they need to achieve.

SF: Are they really at the playground?

JR: They can be. On and off and on and off. There’s a lot of toggling that parents describe between “work brain” and “child brain.” That’s not easy because your work brain is very task-oriented and analytic and your child brain is often trying to be more emotional and flexible. The parents describe that feeling as pretty hard, especially when the child is reacting to the parent’s withdrawal.

SF: Withdrawal into their work stream through their digital device to which they’re reacting very emotionally because they’re missing out on something or they need to respond to some urgent matter that their boss or colleague is asking them for?

JR: Right.   And sometimes it also depends on the child. One of the studies we’ve done was just observing families in fast food restaurants during meals. We know that mealtimes are very important for parent/child interaction, time when kids have a lot of conversation and emotional connection. Fast food meals, maybe not so much. For probably half the kids, not much happens. People didn’t talk.

SF: When mom or dad’s cellphone comes out, you mean?

JR: Yes.  Not many kids used devices during this study. It was a pretty small sample, we only observed 55 families to try and get an idea of how we should start studying this. Some kids just hung out, didn’t make any sort of attempt to get their parent’s attention. They played with what they were doing, and there was very little interaction during the meal. For the other half of children, they really amped it up. They would be just silly or do provocative things to try to get the parent’s attention, which is very stressful when you’re trying to do something on your phone. You’re trying to think, and you keep getting interrupted. So we saw a bunch of parents yell at their kids, or one mom pushed her son’s hands away when he was trying to lift her head up, lift her face up from the tablet she was looking at. We saw more parents looking really stressed and starting to raise their voices and starting to show more negativity towards their kids.

SF: Probably not realizing that the instigation for this sort of escalation of the child’s attention-seeking behavior is caused by the arrival of the smartphone into the family environment.

JR: You bring up a really good point. One of the things I’m really interested in is something called mind-mindedness, which is how parents understand the motivation for their child’s behavior, how parents can kind of read their child’s mind and say: “I know you just said something annoying, but I realize that the real underlying reason was because you were upset about this, so let me help you with the thing you were upset about rather than just punish you for the behavior.One thing that a lot of parents say, and I’ve definitely experienced this myself, is when your mind is busy analyzing or working on something, it’s really hard to switch over to analyzing the child and being mind-minded about them. I’m way more likely to just react to the behavior, to snap at them. I really have to put it down, take a breath, and say,  “what’s going on here?” in order to actually solve the problem and see why they want my attention.

SF:  It’s hard to take the time to have some empathy for and understanding of the motivation for your kids’ behavior when you’re busy trying to solve a work problem.

JR: And the other thing is that reading children’s behavior takes a lot of practice.  Parenting is not as intuitive as people want to believe, especially when there is a child with any developmental differences or self-regulation problem. Sometimes their behavior is just bizarre and, as a parent, you really need those unhurried, undistracted times of getting to know your kid’s rhythm, getting to know their behavior to be able to respond to their behavior and help them navigate whatever sort of difficulties they’re having. There was a really interesting study that came out last summer of teens and pre-teens.  They found that when they randomized teenagers to a week of summer camp without any screens versus a week of summer camp where they had full access to any sort of screens or mobile devices, after they came back from summer camp, the kids without screens were significantly higher on tests of reading other people’s facial expressions.  This is something I care about because all my families where children struggle with social skills, they really work on reading other people’s non-verbal behaviors and facial expressions.

SF: The source of signals about emotional life.

JR: Exactly. I thought it was a fascinating study because it shows you just how much practice, the day-to-day hanging out with other kids, being face-to-face with them, reading their faces, problem-solving together, really builds some sort of emotional intelligence.

SF: Which is so critical for survival and success in life in general. So does this imply that parents should be restricting or circumscribing their kids’ access and their own access to digital devices under certain circumstances?

JR:  The American Academy of Pediatrics (and I am on their Council of Communications and Media) just came out with a new set of tips and guidelines for parents about how to help manage their child’s digital media use when it feels like our kids are swimming in it. How can you talk about screen time when there are screens everywhere? The guidelines try to be very evidence-based but also real-world about the fact that this is harder to navigate now that it’s not just turning the TV on or off, or turning the computer on or off. We still are recommending trying to put time limits on this because we know that teenagers are spending eight-and-a-half hours a day in front of screens. This was an estimate from three or four years ago. It’s probably even more than that today. Using multiple screens at a time, hanging out in clusters, sometimes mostly communicating through screens. I think it’s really changed the way that young people communicate with each other, and not always in a bad way. But in a way that I think Sherry Turkle has really highlighted in her new book. She did a lot of interviews with young adults talking about how this has changed their comfort with reading each other’s nonverbal signals and being able to tolerate the boredom or distress of a difficult moment or conversation. So when Sherry and I have talked about this (her realm is the adolescents and my realm is the parents of young kids) there are those moments of trying to tolerate my young kids’ distress where I would just love to get on my own screen, get them on theirs, and have quiet in the house. And sometimes you need to do that, and I would much rather the parents do that than do something drastic, but I just don’t want it to be the main way that families learn to cope with conflict or frustration.

SF: And now it’s become so easy to do that as a source of relief from the great strain and stress of dealing with difficult moments with your kids. What does this foretell about the future of humanity? Where are we headed?

JR: I think we’re going to be okay. Most of the families that I see have a really strong sense of wanting to be wary of this. They recognize the discomfort in this cultural change, they want some guidance on how to navigate it. I just saw a family this morning that was saying, “My son watches Minecraft videos on YouTube for three hours a day and I can’t get him to do his homework and I don’t know why he wants to do this.” As pediatricians and other providers, we need to get comfortable with how to give guidance and how to help replace some of that time, that we see as pretty passive consumption of media, with either using digital media in a creative way, doing something where he’s constructing things or building things or composing music or doing something else with digital media, or to get him interested in some other hands-on or social activity that will give him that same feeling of calmness or fascination that the video is providing him.

SF: Unless that video is providing him with an outlook that really is a productive one for him.

JR: And it could be. Digital media serves so many good, functional purposes for families. One of the things I really advocate for amongst pediatricians giving advice about this is that you have to understand the function of the use of this. If this is the only way this child knows how to calm down, we need to work on teaching other ways, and we need to give the parents other ways and give them a viable replacement, because nothing works as easily as this, and we really need to empower the parents to use other approaches.

SF: I want to turn back to what you were saying earlier about the parent bringing the device out and it causing an escalating cycle of tension by removing him/her from the family environment psychologically by attending to the black mirror. I don’t know if you saw Susan Dominus’ piece in The New York Times recently; it was called Motherhood, Screened Off. Basically, what she described there is when she was a kid and her mother went to her address book, Susan knew that her mother was looking up an address, when she went to the newspaper it was clear that she was reading the newspaper, checking the weather, being current on the world events and the environment. But now, you go to a screen, and as you said earlier, it could be anything. Your whole stream of information comes through that device and your child doesn’t know what you’re doing. The solution that Susan is trying is to narrate what she’s doing so her child knows why she’s doing what she’s doing, and thereby to help the child understand the purpose of her not being attentive at that moment. What do you think about that approach?

JR: I like it because it is, in one way, teaching the child digital literacy. We often talk about this idea of teaching children digital literacy, learning to use digital technology as a tool, not as an end in and of itself. She’s narrating how she’s using it as a tool. It also gives the child, who may be in many different stages of cognitive or social-emotional understanding, and idea of what his mom doing.  One of the things we’ve thought might be confusing or dis-regulating for the child is this sudden change in facial expression. People have called it the still face. I have this great photo of myself that my mother-in-law took, where my son is bounding around the yard smiling and I’m in the background looking at my cell phone with this totally furrowed brow, not in the moment at all. I love it because it’s probably me checking my work email and things come up with patients or things I’m concerned about and it totally sucks me in.

SF: Your patients are happy about that part, that you’re present for them. But what does that mean for your son?

JR: That’s why I’m really interested in some of the discussions about how do we make work less overflowing? How can we filter out the noise that keeps coming into my inbox or the inefficiencies that make my workday overflow into my time with my kids?  Part of that is my own rules that I’m not good at, which is when I see someone needs help from me, I react to it and I send way too many late-night emails.

SF: What advice do you have for working parents based on your research and your practice to help them manage the boundary between their work and their family lives with respect to their use of screens?

JR: I think the first is not to react with guilt about this. I really want my message to be that I’m not doing this research to tell parents one more thing that they’re doing wrong, because I’m totally in the thick of it myself. I’m really doing it, number one, to make aspects of parenting young children a little bit easier, because it’s hard enough. Number two, to try and understand the way that these new demands that are placed on the family unit are affecting some of the dynamics and how we might slowly shift that, whether it’s through technology interventions or through types of recommendations that we put out through the AAP. One of the things we always say is to create those boundaries in your home and make a rule for it. When I get home, I know I have a solid hour-and-a-half that’s meal, book, then bedtime with my kids, and unless there’s some emergency that I need to attend to, my phone or tablet usually stays in my bag. My husband jokes that I take it out and ignore him for the rest of the night, but we are really explicit about trying to communicate well with each other when we want time with each other, when it’s okay to have a work night. The other thing I’ve been attempting to do is find ways to filter out the inefficient ways that I’m sending multiple emails to solve a minor problem, when there are things that can be resolved with a simple face-to-face discussion.  I might have to wait a day for that. I need to start being comfortable with tolerating that.  That’s a way of me reducing the amount that I have to do after I get home.

SF: Being more mindful about your choices about what you attend to and through what medium.

JR: Finally, I encourage parents to just be reflective about the way they react to technology.  It’s all based on our own emotional reactivity and our own personalities.  For one person, being able to text during meals is actually a really fun way to have social interactions with someone who’s not physically there.  That’s different from, for example, when I get that urge to check emails when I’m bored at the playground, but then I get sucked in.  Maybe I need to have a rule that I can check the weather, I can check my personal email when I’m at the playground, but if I don’t want to get sucked in I should resist the urge to check work email.

Learn about The American Academy’s tips to help parents manage the new digital landscape.


Jacob Adler , jacob adlerW’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, andFake Teams.

Investing in Human Capital: Conversation with Anne Erni

Contributor: Ali Ahmed

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Anne Erni is former head of Human Resources at Bloomberg and before that Managing Director and Chief Diversity Officer at Lehman Brothers where she pioneered global efforts in the recruiting, retention, and advancement of women and under-represented groups in financial services. She came to talent management with more than 15 years of front-line banking experience in fixed income and equity sales, at Lehman Brothers, Bankers Trust and Swiss Bank Corporation. Erni serves on several not for Profit advisory boards. She recently left her position for a much needed sabbatical.  Anne Erni spoke with Stew Friedman about HR in the 21st century and how we can invest wisely in human capital.

You can listen to the podcast here:


Stew Friedman: What did you do, in brief, over your course of tenure at Bloomberg?

Anne Erni: anne erniI joined Bloomberg in January of 2009.  My role was to build leadership, learning, and diversity. Bloomberg was in a big growth phase.  We were looking not only to grow the number of employees (which, by the way, grew from 8,000 to 16,000 by the time I left) but, in the course of that growth to make sure we were fully prepared with leaders who understood how to lead others, to understand business strategy, and to learn how to motivate and manage human capital as well managing the company’s capital.  While I was there I spent the first several years working on issues, such as leadership training, the hire to retire aspects of learning for all employees, as well as succession planning, and something dear to my heart, diversity.

SF:  You weren’t trained in HR. You came at this game through line positions in banking. How did you get into this field?

AE: I started out of school going into an investment banking training program and then worked in corporate finance. But there was something about that trading floor that really attracted me. It was alive and a perfect place for an extrovert to go and learn how business gets done. And I loved to sell. That was always part of my DNA. I worked my way up from repo, which is sort of the overnight, least sexy part of the trading floor – Re-Purchase Agreements. As I moved up the curve, and as my career progressed and I was promoted, I found myself increasingly alone as a woman on the trading floor. In August 2001 I was literally tapped on the shoulder by then President Joe Gregory who said, “Anne, men run in packs and women don’t. I need you to go out and create your pack.” Creating my pack has become a mantra throughout the course of my career – bringing groups of people together to encourage, inspire, and support one another. And it doesn’t have to be like-groups of people. It doesn’t have to be women for women or African Americans for other African Americans. It’s really about getting senior leadership to understand the nature of nurturing, sponsoring, and mentoring talent. That was really the beginning of my journey of moving from the trading floor to become, ultimately, the first Chief Diversity officer at Lehman, and learning how to you make sure that human capital strategy is in tune with what the business strategy is day-to-day on the floor, and how to really reach out and engage with mostly senior-level men who don’t naturally look at HR as an important issue.

SF: What was the greatest challenge in making that connection clear and compelling to the people that were decision makers?

AE: First, it’s related to the business challenge: to do a great job, we need great people. And you need great people to be highly engaged in order to bring their very best.   And you need people to stick around. It’s quite a competitive labor market, and when you have terrific people, your competitors find out very quickly. When you have a great performer and they leave to go to a competitor, that really strikes a nerve with senior leaders. The other piece is how do you get them to truly engage in change.  That is often through empathy.


While at Lehman and Bloomberg, one of the other things I noticed was that a lot of senior male leaders marry women they meet in the work force. And often, because they’re earning enough and have one of them to stay home, often the wives will leave the workforce. And when the kids grow up, they to tend to languish.  These are women who are highly educated, had terrific career trajectories, but had the choice and ability to spend time at home. But when they decided they wanted to go back, there were no avenues. They were not a legitimate pool from which companies recruited. The idea was how do you create those on-ramps and create an enthusiasm by senior male leaders to take a chance on someone who’s not been working for two years versus paying a premium for someone who has? Empathy was something that has often worked when thinking about how to change your organization.

SF: Can you give me an example of how you did that when you say ‘using empathy’? Can you recall an instance where you actually did that?

AE:  While at Bloomberg we spent a lot of time developing a curriculum. We have individual contributors, team leaders, and managers.  When I first arrived, when someone was promoted to team leader it wasn’t aspirational, it was like, “was I not a good contributor? Why am I having to manage other people?”  But over time, we made it an aspiration. The way you would get them to want to be leaders is to show them the impact that they have on others by relating it to the impact their boss may have had on them. When they think about “what’s a good boss?” “what’s a bad boss?” “how do I feel with a good boss?” “how do I feel with a bad boss?” it often has them think about what are the behaviors that I exhibit each day that will have an impact on my people. And it was often through that type of “relate it to yourself before you can then be able to be effective with others” that would help people understand why they would need to go through leadership training, why they would use new models of managing other people, and, frankly, changing the way work works. If people need to take time off, they need to think about their own lives before they can relate it to others.

SF: So, how did that play into what you had to do to get senior male leadership to understand the diversity challenge facing Lehman when you were first given this charge by Joe Gregory to create your own pack?

AE: When we would go to campuses to recruit, 58% of all undergrads were female. If you are recruiting a class that’s 90% male then you’ve actually lowered the standard because you haven’t taken equal parts of the intelligence that exists. Often we say, “you’re pulling an all-male class or an all-white class, how much talent have you left on the table?” You often have to appeal to the fact that, one, diversity in thought and perspective actually better solves problems, and two, to get that diversity of thought and perspective you can’t have a class coming out of school that is not diverse. You need to get them to really want to appeal to difference to bring them on board.

SF: How did you get them to be more open to see why it was important to invest in programs that were going to enrich and broaden the talent pool?

AE: First, you expose them to philanthropy and engage them with organizations like Prep for Prep in New York City where you see this amazingly talented group of African American students having opportunities to go private schools, get special tutoring, and access to training and experiences that ultimately put them in some of the best schools in the country. Seeing this, executives are much more open to looking at talent more broadly.

SF: Giving people opportunities that they may not have had otherwise helps them get a greater sense of emotional understanding. I guess that’s the way to characterize the sense of empathy.

AE: Absolutely, and we talk to them about what are some of the best ideas generated within teams. We try to highlight and understand that when you bring in multiple perspectives ultimately that will better solve problems.

SF: There is probably a lot you cannot say about the fall of Lehman. But I’m wondering if there is something you could tell our listeners about what was the biggest takeaway for you in terms of the fall of that great firm? How it went down. What did you take from that as a kind of life or leadership lesson?

AE: It was similar to Bloomberg in that it had an incredibly well defined and beloved culture. People loved being part of the organization. They genuinely believed in the mission. They genuinely believed in the leadership.  In 2001 we lost our buildings on September 11. And there was always this sense of being an underdog, and if we worked hard enough, if we fought hard enough, and we stayed together it would work. People genuinely believed that it would not happen to us. Being part of that culture, I was absolutely devastated along with the rest of folks that this had happened. One of my great learning’s was I believed so much in the company that I sacrificed many important times in my life for the company.  I had young children and worked late nights and weekends, giving up important events.   I realized that something that is here today and gone tomorrow was something I actually sacrificed very important aspects of my family life for that will never come back. That was how much I believed in a corporate entity. I ultimately learned, as trite as it may sound, that family trumps. Family decisions should sometimes, more often than I allowed them to, trump some of the work-life decisions that I made during that time.

SF: Now let’s get back to the Bloomberg story. So, you start there. Linda Wolf invites you to take responsibility for the leadership track. How did you become head of HR? And that lesson you learned at the fall of Lehman, how did that inform your own leadership act at Bloomberg?

AE: When I arrived at Bloomberg, it was a tough re-start.  It was a completely different culture, and I was an outsider coming in at a relatively senior level. Bloomberg had always grown organically over time, and we were in a time of great growth where we were going out and acquiring talent, both junior and senior.  Again, my point on empathy is as your designing programs to onboard senior leaders, you have to apply your own experiences of what you would’ve liked when you first came onboard. My focus was on building a culture of leadership. I think what I learned at Lehman, which I applied at Bloomberg, was in order to do that it always has to be in tune with what the business strategies are. And at Bloomberg, we have five different businesses: R&D, media, sales, data acquisition, corporate. And each one had very unique needs that you had to incorporate into whatever leadership training agenda you put in place. A training program for a journalist might be a bit different than the way you might approach the R&D folks. And that’s something that I really made very signature to my tenure; build an HR organization that was in tune with business strategy.

SF:  Looking back what do you think was your most significant accomplishment at Bloomberg?

AE: My most significant accomplishment was the establishment and roll out of a leadership program for our most senior leaders in which we were able to establish, at a time again of great growth, one common message about who we were as a company, what was expected of them as leaders, and have them all sing off the same song sheet, both new as well as long-tenured employees. This Global Leaders Forum was sponsored and led by the top leaders of our company. And to get them together to engage in the content and delivery (we did about 13 programs over the course of two years) was really a group effort. What I enjoyed most about that program was that all of our leaders ultimately went through individual coaching and I got to know many of them quite well before I became the Chief Human Resources Officer.

SF: Which I’m sure was crucial for your success in that role. Melila is joining us from Toronto. Welcome to the show, Melila. What is your question?

Melila: Hi, it’s very interesting that you are talking about corporate culture because in Canada we’re very multi-cultural and I suppose diversity for us is beyond women.  What I’m wondering is how do you start to build a corporate culture which recognizes and embraces the diversity but at the same time be able to unify the company and the culture so that you all start to speak on behalf of one organization? And start to have one corporate life experience?

AE: Great question. I have worked at two global organizations. At Bloomberg we are in over a hundred and ninety countries. What is so critical to the success of the company is making sure you are attracting, developing, and advancing local talent, and that not all of the decisions are coming out of the home office. And to do that you have to make sure that you understand local markets, that you’ve developed a recruiting strategy that brings in the right talent. But once they’re in the door, and I mentioned this earlier, creating the right onboarding experiences is critical. Hopefully, through the interview process you’ve designed the questions and the right type of corporate fit that you’re looking for. But once they’re in the door, it’s really helping them onboard and learn the corporate culture. At the same time, make sure leaders understand how to be inclusive in the way they manage them day-to-day.

Melila: In terms of the onboarding, is that a process that is owned by HR or is it a combined process between HR, the direct supervisor, and the communications team?

AE: I believe HR should create the infrastructure and the frameworks, but engage leaders in the process. For example, onboarding is not just day one where they sign papers and get some information about the company. It’s really about managers checking in with individuals, day 30, day 90, day 180. And also bringing together new hires over the course of the year so they can form networks, and be able to listen to each other, and talk about their common experiences. That piece of it absolutely needs to be led by both the managers of those individuals and some of the senior line managers. And to your earlier point about how do you build a corporate culture that embraces difference, you need to bring all those folks together and constantly expose them, as a group, to senior leaders and have senior leaders engage with them.

SF: But that takes so much time Anne. Who has time for all of that, if I can ask the devil’s advocate question?

AE: First of all, it’s very expensive to acquire talent, but it’s more expensive to lose talent. So, if you look at the economics, a typical rule of thumb is that it costs 1.5 times the compensation of a new employee. And we would often look at the cost of recruiting, which is significant as well.  Invest a few hours a year checking in and doing what we used to call a “stay interview” to see how the employee’s doing to get them to stay. You can ask them, “How are things going? What are you experiencing? What about our culture? How can I best support you?” Those small gestures by either your direct manager or senior leader in your group can really yield great results. I think often what you find is some managers will tend to connect, sponsor, and mentor folks that are more like them.   We need to embrace all new joiners to the company and make sure they get equal access to that stay opportunity.

SF: Melila, thanks for that wonderful question. I want to find out why you left this extremely cool job, and what you have been doing since you’ve left. How did you come to that decision?

AE: It was truly one of the hardest decisions I ever made in my life. My career was never more exciting. I had a great opportunity to work with senior leaders and Mike [Bloomberg] himself. He is an incredible visionary and leader. But it was also a crossroads in my life.  I recently celebrated a big birthday.   More importantly I have spent the majority of my HR career in the last fifteen years creating policies and practices to help individuals navigate work/life issues. So, for example, at Bloomberg created the first flexible leave programs. We were working on creating different types of long-term leave programs – maternity leave, paternity leave —  trying to make it accessible to all employees. We call them leaves of absence, and do not have differentiated leaves. So, if you were a gay parent and adopted a child, you were going to get one period of time. And if you were a female and were giving birth you would get another period of time. What I really wanted to make sure was that all employees had equal options and equal time. Bloomberg is always on the cutting edge of most policies and incredibly generous, but there were outdated approaches. The very last thing I got approved before I left was an updated modern approach to leaves, which essentially put our leave policy on the cutting edge in terms of length of time away and support that we provide.   We did primary caregiver and secondary caregiver, so that makes it gender neutral and it also makes it neutral across whether you’re a hetero- or homosexual couple.  It benchmarked incredibly well against those with whom we were competing for talent.


This passion for creating options for people led me to think what about me? I was going through a point in my life where certain things were going on that I would never get back.  For example I brought up two children and my daughter is 24 and lives in London. She has already flown the coup. And I have a son who was a rising senior in high school and I always said to my family — my husband and my mom, who is one of my great confidants – that when Noah’s in his junior year I want to know what it’s like to be a stay-at-home mom. I pushed through 28 years in my career in a very fast paced, high powered, high pressured environment working 12, 14, 16 hours a day because I wanted to succeed. I wanted to get to that next level. I wanted to do the best job possible. As I said earlier about Lehman, since I was being paid to do that job it often trumped family decisions. But I knew that if I waited until my son went to college, and all of a sudden I had the time and money to take time off, what was it worth? I knew it was a very important time in any high school kid’s life when they start to look at colleges, when they start to work on applications, and I didn’t have any of that time.


Often, when I went on a college tour, something would happen at work, and I’d spend time sitting in the car, while my husband walked around campus with my son. Or on a weekend, we were going to work on his list that he had to give to his guidance counselor and I was in the office and I didn’t have time.  I also have elderly parents. I’m part of the sandwich generation.  My dad has Alzheimer’s and is 81.  You feel a different kind of obligation not only to support the parent with Alzheimer’s but really more to support my mother who is taking care of my dad. And they need support to make difficult decisions they may not be seeing objectively. And there is my husband.  He and I had equally intense careers, and he has been an incredible supporter of mine throughout it all. And often when he would pick me up from work, and I’d get in the car, I was the one who spilled the beans first.  I’d talk about decisions I had to make, problems, or politics I was dealing with at work. And we haven’t spent a lot of time focusing on his career. Also, for my marriage it was a very important thing for me to spend more time focusing on him. I really came to this point where I had to make this decision: I can continue to keep my head down and plow through it like I’ve done at every other stage of my career, or am I going to exercise the option that I put in place for everybody else.


And I have to tell you, Stew, I shocked everybody. No one knew that I was going through this sense of personal pain. No one really knew the toll it was taking on me personally in terms of lack of sleep, and the inability to do what I really wanted to do.  I spent two weeks on vacation – my first vacation in fifteen or twenty years and during that two weeks I felt a sense of freedom. This was in December and January of 2014 going into 2015. I was in Uruguay, South America.   Far away. No cell phone reception. And it was during that time that I decided that I need more of this time. But I needed to sit on that thought. I needed to think it through. I needed several months before ultimately approaching my boss to say that I needed to take some time off. And there was a great discussion about should we change my job, would I be interested in doing something else, but I really felt that I needed a genuine break, time to focus on family, to experience for myself what it meant to be a stay-at-home mom after being a professional mom for my whole life. I resigned in early March. My last day was May first. I stayed on to help with an orderly transition. I’ve stayed in close touch with most members of my team, but I really took the summer off and did the things I set out to do.

SF: So, was this understood to be a sabbatical where you would return/might return/might not return? What’s the mutual understanding if you can talk about that?

AE: Sure, I can. Bloomberg had a no re-hire policy.  It’s quite public and Mike [Bloomberg] writes about it in “Bloomberg by Bloomberg.” Over the years many people who were incredible performers had to leave for personal or professional reasons, but ultimately realized that they might want to come back. So we have hired back several key people. When the announcement went out that I was going to be leaving Bloomberg to pursue family pursuits, first of all, there were lots of snickers like “oh, sure you’re going to take care of your family,” or I was being fired or something more sinister. I knew it was the euphemism often used, but it was the truth for me. But I was so honored and pleased when it was written “Anne will be returning at some point.” So while I didn’t go on a formal sabbatical because we don’t have sabbaticals at Bloomberg, there was absolutely an agreement and opportunity that should I want to return that I could go back and talk about what potential opportunities exist, which I haven’t yet done.

SF: So, you’re now in this interim period. Noah, your younger child is now a senior.  So, you’ve got a year?

AE:  That’s correct. We did the visits over the summer, we worked on his list, he’s worked on his essay. And I think he’s in a terrific place where he genuinely knows the direction he wants to go in. I’ve spent a great deal of time with my mom. We’re working on getting care at home. We’re looking at what long-term care looks like, looking at homes. I’m going to D.C. next week to do that with her. I was actually most surprised about the space I’ve made for myself, and my own personal nurturing. I love to entertain. I love to cook. So, I spent a great deal of time working on that this summer. And I’ve also done a great deal of research. Because the question is: Do I want to go back to doing what I did, or is this an opportunity to pivot, change direction? I did a great deal of research on “great women” or “high-powered women” that have made career changes. I’ve been studying that quite hard, Stew.

SF: So, what have you taken away from your study?

AE: There are lots of people that have worked in the White House, or state department, or in investment banking, or in media that came up with an idea, and took some time off, and then went in completely different direction.  Someone like a Martha Stewart, she worked in the state department. Or Ina Garten, who’s the Barefoot Contessa, who worked in the White House and now has an incredible food network brand and global following. There are entertainers who have built multi-billion dollar businesses. Jessica Alba, she’s a billionaire. So, there are great examples that have been inspiring to me.   I have a notebook, which is in front of me here, which has the ideas that I’m thinking about. But also, I’m thinking about whether I want the portfolio career, my own entrepreneurial venture, or do I want to go back to the corporate world. And that’s sort of the crossroads I’m finding myself in now, and I’m looking to January 2016 to make that decision.

SF: Wow!   That’s only a few months away.  You’re going to have to come back to tell us what you ultimately decided and why. As you think about the next phase of your journey of discovery, as you referred to it on the break, what’s going to be paramount in your thinking because there are some competing interests here? You can’t just do everything. How do you come to understand what’s really most important to you now and where you want to invest your precious moments and energy in your life?

AE: One of the things I’ve always made a core principle as I decide what to do is: can I make an impact? Am I empowered to make an impact?  When Joe Gregory tapped me on the shoulder and said men run in packs, women don’t, he put money behind it. I had a pool of compensation that I could reward for engaging. He put his money where his mouth was. When I was at Bloomberg, I was working with senior leadership. They completely put the right resources behind us. So, whatever I do has to have the right resourcing for me to have the kind of impact that I want.  That’s a core principle. Impact can be measured in dollars or political capital.  One of the other aspects I’m exploring is the whole notion of ‘affiliative capital,’ ‘affiliative power.’   The extent that you’re working for someone as amazing and world-renowned as a Mike Bloomberg, that’s an incredible affiliative capital to be able to have in order to get things done. The question is whatever I do next, do I need affiliative capital or does my own capital carry itself. I’ve always been part of a corporate system, and I’ve always had that benefit.  I would say the third criteria that I’m setting is:  I do want to have more freedom. So, whether it’s a portfolio approach, perhaps consulting, or whether it’s going back to corporate, it’s going to need to have more flexibility than I’ve been able to have in previous roles.

SF: Which is what we know everybody wants: greater freedom to pursue the things that matter in ways that enable them to have the kind of impact that they want to have. That’s what the show is about and what all of my work is about: to create opportunities for people to be supported to pursue the lives they want to live. Of course that happens at the level of social policy, corporate practice, and empowering and skilling up of individuals to claim that power.  As you think now about your kids and their future, and of the millennials generally, what did you learn in your experiences most recently at Bloomberg? What did you learn about how the rising generation sees the whole issue of work and life? And what is the most pressing concern for business with respect to addressing those needs and interests?

AE: I think whether you’re a millennial or a baby boomer, what has changed all of our lives is technology and the ability to work 24/7. You’re reachable 24/7 pretty much anywhere in the world, except where you can’t get reception. I think that has blurred work and life. I think the millennials are doing a much better job at navigating that and being able to leverage that to get their work done.   But on the other hand, I think they’re much more intent on making sure that they have a distinction between their work and life. And that whatever they are working on has meaning. And one of the things I was incredibly proud of while working at Bloomberg was the fact that we were able to work so closely with the Bloomberg Foundation, which is one of the most high-impact foundations in the world, and engage particularly our millennials in a lot of the volunteerism. I think bringing that meaning to the office and allowing employees to, for example, clean beaches, or clean schools, or work on a myriad of projects, that was incredibly meaningful to the next generation. It’s blurring the lines because they can come to work and then go work on the beach, or when they go to the beach and they may be working on a proposal. They’re able to integrate it, but we have to make sure that we are very much more intentional in providing them meaning as it relates to work.

SF: Absolutely, we did a study comparing the class of 1992 to the class of 2012 at Wharton, and one of the major findings of that study was how much more the current generation values having meaningful impact through their works, especially women, but men too. The growth in that value as expressed by women is really powerful and it makes perfect sense that a company like Bloomberg would invest heavily to create opportunities for people to have a greater sense of meaning through their work, and not just through volunteer projects, but the everyday. So, were there ways that you did this at Bloomberg For other business leaders listening in, what advice would you have for them to create a greater sense of meaning and purpose for millennials, to fully engage them?

AE: It goes back to our opening conversation about corporate culture, and I think that it’s really important for any company to define what is the ‘there there’. What are we ultimately accomplishing?  At a place like Bloomberg, which provides incredible transparency to global markets, which ultimately feeds economies and affects everyone, it was something everybody believed in and understood. People understood what Bloomberg did, whether it was Bloomberg media bringing information and breaking news, or whether it was allowing you to get data and analytic overlays that help you make better decisions. People believed in that mission. But the other thing that I thought was just incredible about working at Bloomberg was the fact that a large percentage of every dollar was going to philanthropy. It’s a privately held company, and people knew the profits we were making were for a higher purpose. A very large percentage, a majority of the profits, were going to fund the Foundation and the Foundation was going to re-distribute that to really important projects, which by the way were highly measurable.

SF: That’s a part of the Bloomberg world that not many people know all that much about, so I’m glad that you pointed that out. Before we sign off, Anne, let me ask you as you advise younger people coming out of school as they think about their careers based on what you’ve seen in the financial services world and tech and media world, what is the most important thing for young people to know as they’re launching their careers?

AE: I think the most important thing to know is that every magic carpet ride is going to experience some turbulence. You really need to do what you love, what you believe in, and work for a company that will help you understand the ultimate purpose of what you do every day.  And understand that a career is long-term. There will be good days and bad days, but ultimately being focused on the higher purpose is such an important thing for all of us to do. Otherwise, it becomes a drudge day in and day out.

I want to say one last thing, Stew. When I graduated from SAIS with my masters in International Affairs, I wanted to go into the government because I wanted to do good in the world. But the best piece of advice I ever received was go to the private sector, understand how it works, accumulate your own power, your own wealth, and with that then you can affect real change.   Then go back to the public sector. So, I think really understanding ultimately what you want to do, you need to have your own influence and your own power to be able to make that happen.

About the Author

Ali Ahmed Ali Ahmedis an undergraduate senior majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Cinema Studies.

Working Your Way Back to Work — Karen Rubin

Contributor: Jacob Adler

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Karen is the Managing Director for Talking Talent North America, where she and her colleagues have coached over 14,000 women and their managers at companies including Deutsche Bank, McKinsey, and many others across the globe. In her work a certified coach Karen is helping Fortune 500 companies to develop the female talent pipeline and bring more women to the top.  She spoke with Stew Friedman about why she’s committed herself to helping women at all different stages in their career succeed in the workplace, and the programs she is helping to establish that enable women and their managers to successfully manage the maternity transition and the child-raising years.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation and the full podcast.

Stewart Friedman: What do you think about the Netflix parental leave deal?

Karen Rubin: karen rubinI think it’s an exciting announcement and certainly a step in the right direction. It’s really wonderful to see some U. S. companies offering more generous benefits for the parent transition. With that said, I think that the danger of this type of policy is that a company might say, “OK, now we’re done. We’re offering a year of paid leave, so we don’t need to do anything else.” And not everybody is going to feel comfortable taking that leave. Everybody wants it, but the concern is if an individual actually takes it, what will the perception be? Will they be perceived as somebody who is no longer committed to their career, and what if somebody else takes two months? Is that person on track for a promotion in leadership? So it puts a company into a gray area.

SF: There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to manage the expectations and stigma.

KR: Absolutely. Management really has to be behind it. There needs to be a cultural acceptance of taking that type of leave for it to really work in practice. Otherwise, it’s a carrot that’s dangled that nobody can actually take advantage of.

SF: Right, so it has to be used, and that’s what we know to be a problem with unlimited vacation policies. The problem isn’t that people take too much time, it’s that they take too little for the very same reason.

KR: It’s the work martyr syndrome, where in some cases it’s better to just have a defined period of time. But with that said, I am all for companies offering more generous maternity leaves. As you probably know, the U.S. lags behind just about every developed country in the world.

SF: Yes, a topic we’ve reviewed many times on this show.

KR: So it’s good that everybody is starting to pay attention to it. The tech sector in particular is one where it’s very difficult for women to stay engaged. There’s a lot of dropout, and very low numbers in terms of women making it into senior leadership. So these tech companies, I applaud their effort, but it needs to be supplemented by more support.

SF: You can see just today, Adobe announced that they’re going to be doubling the amount of time that they’re devoting to maternity leave following the announcements by Netflix and then Microsoft. These announcements, they’re steps in the right direction, and they do have ripple effects as they create competitive pressures on other companies who are now trying to keep up in order to be able to win the war for talent.

KR: Absolutely, and when Google found that when they increased their maternity leave from 12 to 18 weeks, they saw a 50% increase in retention of women going through their maternity transitions, that was certainly helpful.

SF: Let’s get to the work you do with your company. You worked for 16+ years at companies including DirecTV and Showtime Networks, then you took a career break to stay at home full-time with your three girls who are now teenagers. During that time, you trained and became a certified coach at one of the top coaching programs in the country. What was the catalyst that inspired you to make this career shift?

KR: When I left the corporate arena, and I was fortunate that I had the opportunity to be home with my kids, but after a certain period of time, I was really itching to get back to work.

SF: So when you say you were fortunate, you mean you had the financial resources?

KR: I had choices available to me. Not everybody has that. But I had invested years in my career, I had gotten an MBA, I loved working, and I looked around and I wasn’t sure what I should do next. But I also knew that when I exited from that corporate arena, and between my second and third child, I knew that if I had had the benefit of a coach during that time, I absolutely would have stayed.

SF: Do you regret not having stayed, Karen? You’re saying that looking back, you’d rather have stayed?

KR: No, no, no. Absolutely not. I love the time that I had at home with my girls and I am fortunate that I landed on my feet and I was able to get back into the workforce. But I also know a lot of women don’t. About 40% of women who leave the workforce to stay at home with their kids never make it back, and often they want to, they just can’t find a way back in. So I loved that I had the time with my girls and that I was able to go back, but that’s why this work is so meaningful to me. I know that there are a lot of women out there who love their careers, they also love their families, and they’re just looking for a way to make it work.

SF: What drove you to take this up as your primary work?

KR: I had so many smart, educated friends who were sort of unhappy being full-time, stay-at-home moms, and this is not a judgment in any way. It’s a wonderful thing to do for many people, but I know a lot of women who wished they could get back to work and couldn’t figure it out. I know there are companies like iRelaunch that help women get back to work, but I thought, “what could companies do to hold on to their women?” [Friedman’s interview with iRelaunch founder, Carol Fishman Cohen.]And that’s what Talking Talent specializes in. So I was able to connect with this wonderful company that works with organizations to help them figure out how to coach employees and managers throughout this really important inflection point in your life so that if you want to continue with your career that you can.

SF: What do you do? How can you help?

KR: We work with both the women as well as their managers. I say women but we also work with men who are becoming parents. It’s another group that really needs support. But we help them figure out how they should make the announcement, how do they transition their work, what do they want, what type of parent do they want to be, what role models can they find within their companies, how connected do they want to be while they’re out on leave? We help them think through all of the important issues along the way. How do you reenter, how do you make sure that your key stakeholders know what you want so that false assumptions aren’t made?

SF: It’s so important to communicate and find out from the people around you what’s going to make this a win for them. So you help people, coach people through that process and that’s naturally going to result in better outcomes. I want to hear more about this, but we’ve got Jason calling from Chicago, who has a question about what we’re talking about here. Jason, welcome to Work and Life. What’s your question?

Jason: I’m a recent father of twins and today was actually the first time my wife went back to work, something that was hard for her. She works for a large corporation, a large retail store based in Chicago. She went back today, obviously that’s hard for her, she would like to stay home but where we live, we can’t afford it. How do we go about finding a stay-at-home job where salaries and benefits can match that corporate world?

KR: I’m sorry, that’s not really my area of expertise, helping people find stay-at-home jobs, so I don’t really have too much to offer.

SF: Stay on the line and we’ll provide some resources.

SF: Karen, let’s get back to what you were saying about how you work with people who are making this transition. It’s critical to know what your goals are, to be able to find out what people around you, what they expect. What else do you do that makes a difference?

KR: This brings up a really interesting point. The guilt that many working mothers feel is a big topic of conversation in the coaching. So often, women feel they can’t have a successful career and also be the type of parent that they want to be, and that leads to sometimes, they’re working so hard at home and working so hard at work to be the perfect professional and the perfect mother and ultimately, that leads to burnout. What we often will think about or help our clients consider is what is really important to them, what might they be able to let go of, what might they delegate, because you can’t give 100% in both place without burning out at some point.

SF: What are the keys to reducing that guilt? How do you get past that, because I’m sure that’s something you hear about a lot and what helps, and what really makes a difference in having people feel better about the choices they are making?

KR: Well, one thing is to consider what’s most important to you as a parent. So if it’s being available for a pickup or a bath or appointments with the pediatrician, you figure out what are those things and make sure that you are available for those things. But there are probably lots of things that you do because you think you should, but that you may not enjoy and you could really delegate to somebody else.

SF: So for example?

KR: For example, there are people who do drop-offs to childcare that they could hire that out, they could have somebody else do that, they could figure out another way. It’s not necessarily the best time with your child, or you could figure out perhaps a different childcare arrangement where it makes your life a little bit easier and it makes it more sustainable. Another area in the workplace and thinking about are you constantly involved with office chores?  Sometimes women get delegated planning things, mentoring, things that are good in a small quantity but over time can really lead to exhaustion and burnout. So it’s trying to figure out what is most important, where are your strengths, where do you shine, what lights you up, and really letting go of some of the things that don’t.

SF: And perhaps helping other people to take up those responsibilities in ways that would be good for them, right? How else do you help people in terms of how they get to you. How does someone in an organization, small, medium, or large, know that they need help with making the transition to parenthood, because it’s not something that anybody ever told me about when I was young, and sounds like you didn’t get that support either and you’re way younger than I am. This is something that’s new, right?

KR: It is fairly new, in particular in the United States it’s a new concept, so I would check with your HR group, find out if this is a benefit that’s offered to you through work, usually that’s how organizations provide it to their employees. If you can get it through your organization, that’s really a wonderful way. You can also look at the Talking Talent website for some tips. The other thing that’s really important is managers.  Sometimes managers think, “I’ve had lots of women become parents, I know what I’m doing.” But that relationship between the employee and the manager really predicts how successful that transition is going to be, so I would encourage managers to learn all you can about what conversations you should have with your employee. How would you present this to your team so that it’s a positive situation?

SF: So let’s take the employee who works in an environment that hasn’t been focused on the question of how to help you become a better parent – most businesses. So if you’re 27, you’ve just had your first child, you want to be the best parent you could possibly be, but you also want to continue to advance in your career, how do you work with your colleagues, your supervisor, when that’s not a normal thing to talk about? How do you coach people to do that?

KR: That’s a good question. It’s really about being clear and communicating what you see for yourself in your future. So if you want to continue on that same career trajectory that you had before, you want to make sure that everybody knows that that’s what you want. Yes, you are 100% committed still, so that they don’t make assumptions. Sometimes after a woman has a child, it will be assumed that she won’t want a high-visibility project, she wouldn’t want a promotion, so she may be overlooked.

SF: It’s an unconscious bias that exists for young mothers, so you have to overcome that both from the perspective of the men and others in positions of power, but from the perspective of the young mother who wants to create some change.  What should she do?

KR: She should definitely have a conversation with her manager. She should be talking to mentors, sponsors, all key stakeholders, letting them know what she wants.  Not everybody wants to continue along that same career path. Sometimes people want to stay at the same level for a while. Maybe they want to make a lateral move, and that’s okay, too. What’s important is to make sure that people know when you are ready to start on that promotion track, that you’re having those conversations, that you’re letting people know what you want.

SF: I could see how it could be kind of frightening, though, for some people to raise those issues, especially in an environment that hasn’t traditionally been open to having conversations like that. What are the kinds of fears that people have, and how do you help people overcome them?

KR: One big fear from the manager’s perspective is that they’re going to say the wrong thing and they’re so afraid of saying the wrong thing that sometimes they don’t say anything at all. From the manager perspective, you really want to ask, “What do you want?  Where do you see yourself?  How can we be supportive here?” If you’re the employee and you’re thinking, “Wow, I really don’t want to travel so much, I maybe want a flexible work arrangement,” then you need to think of how can you align what you want with the business needs so that when you’re crafting a proposal for something like that, you’re not just saying this would be good for me, but this is how I’m going to make it work for everybody.

SF: So it’s going to be a different solution for different people because some young parents want to take a lot of time off, they want to be super involved in their children’s lives. Others, perhaps, less so, and everything in between. There’s no one-size-fits-all, is there?

KR: There’s not, and you want to look around and see what’s working for other people and maybe cobble together different elements that you’re seeing. If you talk to 10 parents, they might be making it work in 10 different ways, so you really need to look at all the role models available to you and not make assumptions.  What I see happening with women, especially if they’re in a heavily-male-dominated industry or a type of work that’s very time-consuming, is that they’ll say, “I don’t see anybody doing this job in a way that I want to do, therefore, I’m going to leave right now.” That’s not necessarily the best way to approach it. You might want to look at different ways that people are doing things and maybe you need to become the role model.

SF: That requires courage.  Again, how do you help people overcome what must inhibit many people from speaking honestly with people who might say, “ No”  or “That’s a bad idea.”  How do you help people to put that out there in a way that is seen not as selfish but really as intended to make a positive impact on the business.

KR: Sometimes it does feel for some that it’s a gutsy move to be able to come out and say what you want, and we encourage the employees to do it, we give them the tools for having that conversation, and ideally, we’re also working with their manager so that the manager understands the perspective of that employee, what it must be like for them. How can they engage in that conversation, if somebody provides them with a proposal for a flexible work arrangement, how do you evaluate that? If you have to say no, what might that mean for others who want to request it? Or if you’re not sure it’s going to work, could you consider a trial. The beauty of coaching about this is it’s not that we’re prescriptive and saying, Just do these five things and it’s all going to work out.” It’s helping people understand what’s important to them and what their fears might be, but also knowing when you can make it work, you can have the career that you want and the family that you want, you have a beautiful life.

SF: What’s the most important thing you want our listeners to know about this topic and the work that you do?

KR: I think the most important thing is that it can work, and that for women who are out there who are feeling exhausted and discouraged that it’s important to look around, see what others are doing, just to know that there are ways to be a great mother and a great professional and that you can do both and that we can make this work.

SF: You have three daughters, Karen. 20 years from now, if I were to be talking to the three of them sitting around in the studio, what do you think they’re going to be telling me about their lives and careers?

KR: I think they will be glad that their mom worked and that she went back to work and that she was a role model to them. They see how happy I am being back to work, so I think that even though life is crazier and clothes aren’t folded beautifully and sometimes we run out of milk that it’s okay.

For more information visit http://us.talking-talent.com/ and follow on Twitter @talkingtalent @KarenRubin1.

About the Author

Jacob Adler , jacob adlerW’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, andFake Teams.

Leading with Creativity for Social Impact

Contributor: Ali Ahmed

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Jason Harris, President and CEO of an award-winning creative agency called Mekanism, which works with brands to create shareable and provocative campaigns. His methods have been covered by Harvard Business School, and under his leadership his agency has been profiled by The New York Times and ABC’s NIGHTLINE. Friedman and Harris discussed the nature of leading a firm of creative people in ways that produce positive economic and social impact.

Stew Friedman: Mekanism?

Jason Harris: jason harris 2Mekanism is spelled with a “k” because when we went to register it, the “ch” was taken. So, it doesn’t have a very weighted story. Except now it’s a “k” and we love it.

SF: What do you love about the “k”?

JH: People think there’s a mythology behind Mekanism with the “k”, but I just spilled the beans. That’s all we have.

SF: That’s it? No “ch” was available?

JH: When you work with a lot of partners, it’s hard to come up with a name everyone likes. We couldn’t change the name, so we changed the spelling.

SF: So, that’s the creativity, right? Adjusting to what’s available and using it the best you can.

JH: Yeah, using jujitsu and being flexible. And now we are thrilled it doesn’t have a “ch”.

SF: Why is that?

JH: When you’re doing radio interviews you now have to spell it out. That’s the number one reason. That’s the primary reason.

SF: It has a kind of unique value.

So tell us about Mekanism. You are known for working at the cutting-edge of innovation and new markets and using new media. How did you get started?

JH: I always knew I wanted to be in advertising since I was 12 or 13, which is very strange. I watched a lot of TV. I really liked TV. And I realized there were these fun, entertaining shorts in between all the shows, and I thought well someone has to be doing those.  It seems like that could be a job.  Very strange for a young kid, but I always thought I wanted to do that. I majored in business and started doing the traditional advertising agencies.  I started my own company basically flipping the script and creating broadcast productions for brands like Adidas, Xbox, and Levis where we would produce 44 minutes of content, give that to a network, the network would get the production for free, it would be branded content from these brands, and they would sell advertising space. So, they essentially got free production they didn’t have to pay for and the advertisers got a lot of air – much more than a 30-second commercial. So, I started that company and did that for a while.  My friend had a small digital agency called Mekanism, and we merged those companies together and that’s what Mekanism is today – an advertising agency. It’s independent, and we are always looking to do innovative work, never been done before work.

SF: Can you give us a couple of examples of projects that you’re particularly proud of, or that you’re working on now that got your juices going?

JH: We launched a campaign for North Face called “This Land”, which is a TV campaign about North Face owning the idea of exploration. We used the classic Woody Guthrie song, “This Land Is Your Land” and did all the proceeds from that song went to the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps.  We drove a lot of downloads, we helped a lot of people, and helped build a brand at the same time. That’s one that just recently launched.

We did a Super Bowl ad with Pepsi when Beyoncé did the Super Bowl. It was completely comprised of user photos, so the audience created the ad for us, a truly crowd-sourced product that we’re proud of. And I would say that the number one project that we’re working on currently, that we’re really proud of, is with The White House. It’s a campaign called It’s On Us.  It was launched by Barack Obama last September. On the anniversary of it we’re doing another round of work.  You see it on college campuses. That stats are that one out of five women are sexually assaulted in college, primarily in their freshman and sophomore years.  The White House reached out to us because we do a lot of work with Millennial audiences, and we came up with a campaign called It’s On Us.  We do not typically do cause-related marketing. We launched this like we would do a deodorant or a soap or a shampoo; we launched it like a brand. And we came up with a name called, It’s On Us, and a logo.  We launched it with a TV spot that had John Hamm [of Mad Men], Kerry Washington, and a lot of other celebrities. We created a social badge, so if you went to the website and took the pledge – itsonus.org, very easy to remember – the badge would be on your profile. We’ve had toolkits developed so schools can create their own ads. I think we’ve had 400 colleges and universities participate and create their own ads. We had the number one video on YouTube. And we created a brand with t-shirts. We even got Joe Biden to wear one of our t-shirts, which was not an uneasy feat. But it’s been a fantastic campaign and it’s really been making a difference so that’s one that we’re really proud of.

SF: What kind of results have you seen?

JH: This is really about driving awareness and their measuring the impact of recorded incidences. What we’re really trying to do is get more incidences reported, which seems contrarian  — that you want the numbers to go up. But you really want this to be out in the public. We also want colleges and universities to sign up for having more resources on college campuses to protect the victims, or survivors rather. I saw something as I was walking through the halls here coming to the studio that is very ad propelled. It said “Business for Good is Good for Business”, which I absolutely loved. And I think this type of campaign summarizes that. It has really helped the company galvanize behind this issue and you can create brands for everything from soda to good causes. So, it’s been really powerful.

SF: How has it affected the culture of your workplace to be working on projects where you’re clearly having a direct impact on a major social issue of the day and your client is The White House?

JH:  It has had a huge impact. It really has felt that for the company not only can we do advertising and build brands for big companies, but we can do it for causes. And everyone feels really responsible, personally responsible, for this issue. So, it’s created a really great culture. We want to do a lot more of it.

SF: Can you just drill down a bit?  How have you seen the impact on the way that people show up at work?  How they think of their role in the organization? And what it means for them as a citizen, and how that kind of enrichment of their own identity is something that creates value for your business, through the work that you’re doing in this cause-related marketing?

JH:  There’s been about 3 billion impressions throughout this campaign. We had a lot of great partners along the way.   Generation Progress, which is the not-for-profit public company that helped get in-kind media donations for the campaign and the White House. We worked on this campaign together. And the biggest impact it has made in the company is to see a small agency partner with the White House with no funding and have this type of impact – I’m doing this pro bono, that’s right Stew. So, it’s a huge investment. That investment and this particular issue have shown the employees how much we care about something more than just dollars, more than just business. It’s also shown that an agency our size can have this kind of impact across colleges and universities across the country. It’s inspirational and it makes people feel like if you put your mind to it, and , work together, anything is possible.

SF: So how many people work in your agency?

JH: We have about 85 people. We have two offices: San Francisco and New York  about equally split.

SF: So what are others looking at when they look at your firm? What are they trying to steal from you or learn from your practices that help to advance what great advertising looks like in 2015?

JH: I don’t know what they see or what they look at. But I can tell you fundamental principles we believe in that steer the culture and affect the type of innovative work that we do. One of those is that we’re driven by a culture of innovation and friendship and collaboration. The heart of it is the company is motivated and created for the love of creativity. That’s why we started this company. That’s why we’re still doing it ten years later and trying to grow it because everyone that works there is bonded by this love of creativity and this friendship. When everyone starts at the company, they get a book – a Mekanism book – that outlines our founding principles and our DNA. The first one is that we are optimistic. So, as a culture we’re optimistic. We hire optimistic, positive people because advertising can be a nasty, dirty business. It can be a knife fight sometimes. It’s very competitive. We need people that are always looking at the positive and always optimistic, not through rose-colored glasses, mind you. They have to be grounded, but we need optimistic people, we need fearless people.

SF: Optimistic and fearless. How do you screen for that?

JH: I think it’s less that we screen for them, that it’s more gut-instinct. We have a pretty rigorous interview process. And if someone is the right cultural fit, we hand them this sort of DNA that we believe in. We want them to embody that spirit, and you will quickly know if people abide by that spirit.

SF: How do you know?

JH: You can tell pretty quickly. You never know until you start working with someone, but when you start working with someone you can see how they interact with the culture. Another one is we tend to be a little off-center; we tend to be a little weird, a little quirky. So, we tend to hire people that way.

SF: So you get that by the way people dress or what their resume looks like?

JH: I think it’s usually their career path. People that have had a roundabout way of getting to where they are. Someone who’s sort of had the mapped out plan usually wouldn’t be exactly the right fit. We like people that come from all walks. One other principle we believe in is loyalty, and loyalty doesn’t mean that people don’t leave because people always leave. People come and go. That’s the nature. Loyalty means that we have each other’s backs, and in a work environment we keep the politics on the outside. So, our clients and the brands we work with bring enough politics with them and enough issues with them that we don’t need that in the building. So, the building has to be political-free. It has to be a loyal environment where we all work together to accomplish something. And of course there’s going to be one-offs that don’t fit that, but in general that’s what we need as a company.

SF: How do you maintain, especially as you’re growing more successful, how do you maintain that culture of friendship and creativity as you get bigger? You must be thinking about that.

JH: Absolutely. We’re starting to think about additional offices and more hires and more accounts. We really don’t have the answer, but we’re trying to come up with a rigorous process to keep the culture. It’s easy when you’re small the keep the culture nice and tight. As you get bigger, it gets more challenging. There’s one more fundamental belief that we have that I want to cover. Optimistic, off-center, fearless, loyal, and then the last one is the power of story telling. This is a philosophy that everyone has to believe in.  And this is what makes us slightly different. We’re an advertising agency that believes that people hate advertising. So, that would be like a professor assuming that people don’t want to come to school. But the idea behind that is that no one is sitting around waiting for you to interrupt them. No one is sitting around waiting for your ad. No one is sitting around on their computer or in front of their TV or on their phone waiting for you to cram your message down their throat. So, if you believe that everybody hates advertising, another truth is that everybody loves a great story. So, if you can think about connecting with an audience through a great story and the power of that, the power of nailing a truth of whatever you’re advertising, whatever you’re communicating, wrapped in a story, that has power. That has entertainment. And that gets people interested and it makes them listen to your message. And so, that’s a little way for an advertising agency to come at things a little differently.

SF: Is that distinctive? Aren’t all ad agencies going after the power of compelling narrative that has bonded people since the dawn of time?

JH: Yes, but I think they may approach it, and sure a lot of agencies do tell great stories, but I think they may look at as: we’re going to have a message, we’re going to tell it to the audience, and we’re going to tell it to them the same way. We’re going to pound it into submission until they know that our message has gotten in there. We just fundamentally come at it a little bit differently.  In our creative teams, we believe that people aren’t just waiting around to hear what we have to say because they’re not.

SF: They’re not.  And that is an assumption that is important to make if you’re going to be able to connect to their hearts and minds. So, the North Face piece I have seen. It is a compelling story with beautiful music and a great song. A song that in my playlist for my East Street radio segment, I started with Bruce Springsteen’s cover of “This Land Is Your Land”, which he did back in the late 70’s. It’s a song that I believe should be our national anthem. That is an important song and important theme to bring to that story about what North Face is all about. It’s more than just exploration. It’s also about a shared ownership of our nation and our future.

JH: That’s the next level down, that’s correct.

SF: So, tell us what it’s like to be managing creative people. So you got these positive, optimistic, fearless, off-centered people who don’t want to deal with the political stuff, but want to get the work done, which of course everyone wants that. What do you do personally as the CEO to make sure that continues to be the way that things are?

JH: That’s a great question. It’s a constant struggle, frankly. But I think you do that through lots of sharing, lots of communication, lots of storytelling. One thing that we do every year is the whole company goes on a retreat. This year we went to Mexico, and the company all goes. We take three days, which can be challenging for spouses and boyfriends and girlfriends because it’s just the whole company. We do an off-site. We’ve done it for the past four years. And the idea is we have artists, we have speakers, we outline what we’re all going to accomplish that year together. And then at the end of the year, we measure what we all did together. So, the idea behind that is that sometimes working together and collaborating is getting off the merry-go-round and spending time together, and getting to know people on a level deeper than being in a meeting with them. We found that to be incredibly effective way to build both the vision for what we’re going to do together, and also to build bonds for people that have to work together or are cross functional in different departments so they normally wouldn’t spend time together. It’s been key. And then throughout the year we have all company meetings every Monday where we have different people in the company talking about what’s happening within the company. So everyone has a voice. The idea is that everyone should feel part of it and be able to stand up and speak in front of everyone else.

SF: So, how do you keep people motivated working on the more commercial clients when you have the White House as a client? I know you’re working with the U.N. Doesn’t everybody want to work with those social causes?

JH: We do work with Ben & Jerry’s. We do Jim Bean. We’re doing work right now with the NFL. We do Nordstrom Rack. So, there’s a lot of clients in there. One filter we have is we tend to work only with clients that we think people will want to work on, and they tell us. We tend not to go after or pitch clients that won’t get people excited. So, that’s one way we do it. And we try to tailor – football oriented people on NFL, fashion-oriented people on Nordstrom. So that’s one way to do it.  We don’t always get it right

SF: And that’s an important way to find out what people really care about. We’re almost out of time here, Jason. I have to ask you, you call yourself a functioning workaholic. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I also know you’re a dad. So, what’s it like being a dad and a CEO of a dynamic company like this? What kind of dad are you, or can you be as a CEO?

JH: I think that’s fundamental to your life’s work — the balance between those and the integration. I call myself a workaholic, but I would also call myself a ‘familyaholic’ as well. That’s pretty much what I spend my time doing. I’m passionate about both. I don’t always make the right choice, but you have to make selections of where you’re spending your time. And there’s sacrifice on one end, but you really try to weed out a lot of the extraneous stuff from your life to really set your goals and make sure you’re not working a lot, adding in other things that take you away from your family, but you try to focus on those two things. That’s one thing that I’ve found, whether it’s the right way to do it, it works for me, which is really just focusing on workaholic/familyaholic.

SF: Committing to those two and to work that has a positive social impact. So, in the last fifteen seconds here, what’s the one piece of advice you want to give to our listeners throughout the U.S. and Canada about how to be in a senior executive role and be an effective parent too.

JH: Well, that’s a big question. I would say it’s cliché and you’ve hear it a lot, but it’s the truth: if you are going to spend your energy and your time, then it has to somehow relate to a passion of yours if you are going to be successful and if you’re going to be content and happy. It doesn’t have to be the exact thing you want to do, but it has to be related to something that you’re passionate about. That’s sort of the key to success.

SF: I couldn’t agree more based on everything that I’ve seen and heard, and I appreciate you sharing that simple but powerful wisdom. Jason thank you for joining me today.

To learn more visit http://www.mekanism.com/ and follow Jason on Twitter @jason_harris.

Ali Ahmed Ali Ahmedis an undergraduate senior majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Cinema Studies.