Christine Dodson and Sascha Mayer

Christine Dodson and Sascha Mayer are the founders of Mamava, the leading expert in lactation space design. Mamava supports the 21st-century breastfeeding mother on-the-go with freestanding lactation pods, a mobile locator app, and an engaged digital community. There are currently more than 600 Mamava suites across the United States and Canada. In 2018, Dodson and Mayer were named Vermont Small Business Persons of the Year.

Can you please describe your professional journey and how you ended up where you are today?

Sascha: I worked for Bernie Sanders and was drawn to his progressive politics. I always had a desire to be politically active. I went on to work for the design studio Solidarity of Unbridled Labour (formerly JDK). My parents were artists and I was always creative. Christine and I were colleagues at the design studio and we decided to launch Mamava in 2006. Mamava was an opportunity for me to go back to my activist roots. It feels wonderful to work for a business that is also advocating for change.

Christine: I worked in advertising and design. I was conditioned to think of a problem in the world and then to design a solution. On a personal level, I was the first woman to have a baby and come back to work at the design studio. My own experience was eye opening in terms of what I needed to do to get back into work and the studio’s lack of awareness of the support they needed to provide.

How do you divide the roles and responsibilities as co-founders?

Sascha is the left brain – she focuses on the brand, design and mission.

Christine is the right brain – she’s in charge of operations and product development.

What are you short-term and long-term goals?

Our short-term goal is to constantly improve our mobile app. Our long-term goal is to change the culture of breastfeeding. It’s bigger than sales or digital products. Lack of infrastructure and lack of knowledge shouldn’t get in the way of breastfeeding.

Is there too much pressure on women to breastfeed?

There is too much pressure if it’s not a realistic choice. We don’t judge whatever a woman decides but we want to help make it a realistic choice.

There’s a whole movement to help de-stigmatize women nursing in public. Does your product impede women from publicly breastfeeding without shame?

We originally came up with this idea for women to pump privately because if women had to travel for work it meant having to pump in a dirty bathroom stall. When we put the first Mamava suite in Burlington airport, we were hearing from moms that they were using it to breastfeed. It was described as a quiet oasis. When you’re traveling with little kids, it’s nice to have a quiet place to feed your baby. Also many women don’t have the luxury to even breastfeed their child while traveling. If they go back to work soon after giving birth, they will need to pump.

What was your biggest career mistake?

Christine: there are definitely things in my career path that make me cringe. The hardest thing for me professionally is moving up in level of management. It’s not intuitive for me to manage large groups of people.

Sascha: I wasn’t deliberate with my career trajectory. Instead, I was along for the ride. Millennial moms are much more assertive about driving their career, and that’s something that I admire.

What are you most proud of?

We manufacture our products in Vermont, a place that has lost a lot of its infrastructure. We have a tangible object that makes people’s lives easier, and makes people think. We created a business where people want to work.

Who inspires you?

The millennial moms who are on social media, engaging with us and pushing potential customers to change their cultures and buy Mamavas. There are young moms with babies who are making it look so achievable and have created wonderful balance and partnerships in their home lives. The younger cohort is inspirational.

How do you balance motherhood with your work?

Christine: I have three sons and they can all speak very intelligently about what I do. My youngest is now 16 so I’m out of the weeds and don’t have to be as available to my kids as when they were younger.

Sascha: When you’re running a company, you’re working 24/7 so I brought my kids into it. My 12 year-old says that she wants to be a CEO just like me. My son always asks, “did you sell any Mamavas today?”

What life experience has influenced your work?

The importance of working in the community that you live in. Creating ways to be available to your family. Vermont is not an easy place to have a business but it is a beautiful place to live with quality of life. Living in a place that you love and making it work.

What are you struggling with these days?

Scale and all of the implications as we grow. Not growing too fast and maintaining our unique culture. Figuring out how to scale in a healthy and deliberate way.

Ilana Ruskay-Kidd

Ilana Ruskay-Kidd has spent her professional life working with students and creating environments that best foster their growth and development. In 2014, she pioneered Shefa, a Jewish Day School serving children with learning disabilities. Miriam Levine sat down with Ruskay-Kidd to better understand its inception and her vision for the future.

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What was your background prior to founding Shefa?

After I graduated college, I worked in a public school in Harlem. Once I had kids, it was hard balancing motherhood with being a classroom teacher. If my nanny was 10 minutes late, I had 26 kids waiting for me on the rug in school. I transitioned into a consulting role where I worked with various daycare programs throughout the city. I learned a lot but I missed having a home base. I wanted an office with a phone in case something happened to one of my own children and I needed to be reached. I didn’t want to be running around the city every day. I was then hired by the JCC of Manhattan to be the Director of Young Families and over time I became the Preschool Director at the JCC.

What was it like working in the Jewish community? 

I loved integrating my personal and professional life. I would listen to music at a Sabbath gathering at the JCC and feel personally moved. I felt like I could bring my whole self to work.

How did you go from Preschool Director at the JCC to Founder of the Shefa School?

A big part of my job as the preschool director was helping kids get into kindergarten. I saw the landscape – there were great special needs schools in the secular world and then there were Jewish day schools that couldn’t properly serve kids with special needs. There was such a demand for a Jewish school for students with learning disabilities. I wrote up a proposal to the JCC for a school that would fill this void and opened Shefa in 2014.

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Who does Shefa serve?

We work with students in grades 1-8 with language-based learning disabilities. The majority of our students are social kids who have difficulty with literacy. Some kids can read but can’t understand what they’re reading. Others can’t read the words off the page but can understand when someone else reads to them. All children come in with a neuropsychological evaluation, which is a 6-12 hour process that includes a diagnosis. Shefa offers two hours of reading every day in small groups. We currently have 143 students.

Where do the students go when they graduate Shefa in 8th grade?

We had our first graduating class last year. Ten out of the eleven graduates were able to return to mainstream high schools. Most kids who come to Shefa stay for 3-4 years and are then able to return to mainstream schools.

How is Shefa working with other schools?

We’re really thinking about how to help the field. We are constantly meeting with Jewish day schools and organizing workshops to share best practices for serving these students. For example, students have different processing speeds. If a teacher asks a question to the class, the kids who process faster will raise their hands first while others need a few extra seconds. In order to ensure that it’s not the same two kids getting called on, we instruct teachers to wait longer after asking a question and then they’ll see more hands go up.

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What kind of teachers do you hire?

We have a teacher residency program where we hire recent college graduates for two years and then help pay for their graduate school. No one comes in with the full package. I focus on hiring people who are smart, reflective, and good team players. We currently have 70 employees at Shefa.

What keeps you up at night?

The first couple of years after I started Shefa, I was always having an existential crisis. Would we survive? Would we be able to guarantee jobs to our teachers next year? Now, we are stable and I don’t have those same fears. Instead, I’m thinking about how to grow and how to support the field. Our future is amorphous.

Stacy Francis

Stacy Francis is the Founder and CEO of Francis Financial, a firm that specializes in helping successful individuals find and maintain financial footing while navigating life transitions. She is also the Founder of Savvy Ladies, a nonprofit organization that educates and empowers women to take control of their finances. In addition to being a leader in the financial planning and investment management industries, she has created a movement in which women no longer rely on their partners to manage their money and therefore are able to gain more independence and autonomy in their lives. 

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How did you end up founding Savvy Ladies and Francis Financial?

My grandmother stayed in an abusive marriage because she did not have the skills to effectively deal with money. That experience changed my life and drove me into the finance field. In 2002, I started my own firm educating women about money.

Why would someone come to Savvy Ladies as opposed to Francis Financial?

Most women who come to Savvy Ladies have nowhere else to go. They can benefit from one-on-one counseling. We also have a TED talk-like series. Savvy Ladies is a place where women can educate themselves about finance without any bias. No one is pushing specific products or financial services.

Francis Financial tends to work with high net worth women. These women have portfolios of at least $1 million. The women who come to Savvy Ladies don’t have those types of assets.

The common theme is that all of these women come to us feeling embarrassed and then they realize it’s not rocket science. They simply weren’t educated.

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The majority of your clients are women. Why do you think that is?

70% of our clients are women who are on their own because their spouses have passed away or they’re going through a divorce. These women relied on their partners to deal with all of their finances and now they are left to deal with it alone. 

What are the financial challenges your clients most commonly struggle with? What advice do you have for women to avoid the financial pitfalls you see everyday?

Women sit in the backseat when it comes to their finances. If you let your husband manage your money, you’re never going to learn how to do it yourself. It’s very dangerous to bury your head in the sand.

You have a holistic approach with your clients since many of them are going through a difficult time emotionally when they seek your help. What services do you provide beyond financial assistance?

We will pay for two sessions with a coach. These coaches may be divorce coaches or grief counselors – we put a team in place to support them emotionally. We also make sure they have all of the people necessary to support them financially whether it may be an estate planner, a CPA or a lawyer. We become their quarterbacks.

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What was your biggest career mistake?

There are so many. If you’re not making mistakes, it means you’re not trying hard enough. I’ve been snowboarding for 30 years and I know that if I go the entire day without falling, it wasn’t a successful day because I wasn’t pushing myself.

I didn’t have enough confidence in myself when I started Savvy Ladies and Francis Financial. I was 27 and so intimidated by others. I felt people were judging me because I was young. Probably some people were, but I made it into a bigger deal than it was.

Who inspires you?

My mom. She is my guiding light. She lived her life truly in service of others. She was very successful in her career and on top of that she was so giving and caring. I learned from her the importance of supporting others and that’s what drives me.

Naomi Wolf said that one of the ways to make the biggest impact on the world is to become unbelievably successful so you can use those dollars to do good. I have volunteered but I know that the power of a dollar is even more important. I want to become as fabulously wealthy as I can because then it’s with that wealth that I can donate to important causes that need money. Charities don’t work without dollars.

Women to Watch 2016

Alli Kasirer

Alli Kasirer is the founder and CEO of FertileGirl. After struggling with infertility and undergoing three cycles of IVF, she researched the best foods to eat during this time. She then went on to create a granola bar that has many superfoods to nourish your body pre-pregnancy. Kasirer is now a mother to twin boys and has expanded her brand to become the go-to resource for the millennial mom-to-be.

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What led you to found FertileGirl?

My educational background is in science and engineering. I started my career at J.P. Morgan where I worked for almost eight years covering large cap Consumer & Retail companies. My “life plan” shifted dramatically when my husband and I struggled to get pregnant and start a family. I ended up leaving the world of finance and taking time to focus on “mothering myself.” With a combination of Western and Eastern medicine as well as my own healthy lifestyle changes, I became pregnant and we went on to have beautiful, healthy twin boys. During that personal journey, I decided to create a consumer brand that empowered other women to make healthy choices.

What is FertileGirl?

FertileGirl is a nutrition company and community empowering women to make healthy choices in pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, and postpartum. We brought our first product to market in Spring 2017 (FertileGirl Superfood Nutrition Bars) and hope to go live with other functional food products for this community later this year. The community we’ve built is mostly through social media (Instagram and Facebook) as well as our blog, Real Talk. Like any startup, it continues to evolve and grow based on what we’ve learned day by day, week by week, and month by month.

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What advice do you have for women who are struggling with infertility?

Mother yourself. Self-care is not just important during pregnancy – it’s crucial before and after as well. When you’re trying to conceive, so much is out of your control. Taking control of little things can help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety that comes with an uncertain future. For me, that meant taking control of my nutrition, going to acupuncture, slowing down, becoming informed, and ultimately finding balance.

How do you want to see the industry change?

Our mission has always been to change the fertility and pregnancy conversation to be more hopeful and empowering. I’d like to see the industry embrace this in a way that truly destigmatizes these topics. No one should go through this alone. I’d also like to see the price of fertility treatments come down in conjunction with better fertility benefits/insurance to a point where it is accessible to all couples that need it. FertileGirl is soon announcing the recipient of our first grant that we did in conjunction with Baby Quest Foundation and CCRM NY.

What was your biggest career mistake?

Not finding a co-founder early on. It’s hard going at it alone.

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What are you most proud of?

Almost weekly, we get beautiful messages from women who feel empowered by our voice and community. When I hit a low point on the entrepreneurial roller coaster, I sometimes pull up these messages. It helps me remember that what we’re doing is unique, special, impactful, and very much needed. If even one woman feels comfortable sharing her journey or supporting others because of what we’ve built, I can be proud of that. From a personal development standpoint, I am proud that I was able to take a very challenging and sad life experience, shift the perspective, and turn it into something that inspires others.

What are you struggling with these days? What keeps you up at night?

My biggest struggle from a business perspective is bandwidth. Because I don’t have a co-founder (yet) and am still building out my team, a lot (read: everything) falls on me. I’m looking forward to surrounding myself with exceptional people who can do some of those tasks better than I can.

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Tiffany Dufu

Tiffany Dufu is devoting her life to advancing women and girls. She was a launch team member to Lean In and is Chief Leadership Officer to Levo, one of the fastest growing millennial professional networks. Prior to that, Dufu served as President of The White House Project, as a Major Gifts Officer at Simmons College in Boston, and as Associate Director of Development at Seattle Girls’ School. Over the years women have always approached Dufu and asked her how she balances a high profile career with two young children. She was inspired to write an honest answer to this question in “Dropping the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less.” Her book includes a foreword by Gloria Steinem and was reviewed by The New York Times. She sat down with Forward Females to discuss it in more detail.

New York Photos ©02-15-2016 by Elizabeth Lippman Portraits of author and thought leader Tiffany Dufu. New York Photos ©04-15-2016 by Elizabeth Lippman for Chantel Febus Portraits of Chantel Febus

Your book focuses on how working women can balance all of their responsibilities by prioritizing what’s important and delegating – or dropping – the rest. What advice do you have for women who choose to leave the workforce and stay home with their children? 

All women work full-time. All moms are working moms. I don’t like to use the phrase “stay at-home moms,” instead, I say, “non-paid working moms.” It’s a shame our society doesn’t value domestic labor. But I wrote this book with an agenda. My agenda is to bring more women into the highest levels of leadership. When I encourage women to pursue leadership positions, I get the biggest pushback from women who say they have too many responsibilities. They don’t see who will pick up the balls. I want them to understand that they’re not in it alone. Leadership is a team sport and they need to build an ecosystem of support. All of us need scaffolding. We need to lean in and lean on other people.

How should household chores be divided if one partner is working and one partner is not working? Should the at-home partner take on more household tasks?

The division of labor doesn’t have to be equal, but it should be equitable. Partners should co-manage the home based on their respective gifts, talents, skills, abilities and availabilities. Studies have shown that women’s share of domestic labor and household responsibilities is irrelevant based on hours worked outside of the home. We are socially conditioned to gender stereotype roles. We need to disrupt the assumptions we all make and become more intentional about living our own stories instead of living what was handed to us by default.

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Some parts of your book may be interpreted as putting more pressure on women rather than dropping the ball. For example, the anecdote of you waking up at 5 AM to pump breast milk and then go for a run so that you still have time to come home and go to work gave me anxiety.

Each one of us has to write our own job description. This isn’t a how-to book. This is a memoir. I run because it brings me joy. It helps me be creative. For someone else, it can be something else – and it definitely doesn’t have to be at 5 AM. That just happened to be a convenient time for me. That example was about creating a mechanism for taking time for yourself.

What are you most proud of?

At every academic institution that I’ve ever attended, there’s a plaque with my name on it. I believe that you’re not in a community to take – you’re there to make a positive impact. I’m proud that I’ve contributed to every community that I’ve been apart of.

What are you excited about?

Women. Every organization that has been working for years to fill the leadership pipeline has suddenly seen a surge in women jumping in. I love this quote from Andrea Dew Steele, president of Emerge America: “Women used to say that they couldn’t run for office because they had young children. Now they are saying I have to run because I have young children.”

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Elizabeth Sutton

Elizabeth Sutton is an artist turned entrepreneur. While continuing to produce her original artwork, she is also coming out with a home product line and a lifestyle platform called Hustle Chic. She envisions a community in which women support one another’s endeavors in a creative and collaborative environment. Two pop-up stores are featuring her work – one in New York City (236 W 10th St, New York, NY 10014, now open) and one at Art Basel in Miami (151 NW 24th St, Miami, FL 33127, December 6-10).  

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What is Hustle Chic?

“The hustle” represents ambition and hard work while ”the chic” is about the love for one’s self and the desire to constantly improve. Hustle Chic is a networking group and a lifestyle platform for women in the design and creative fields. It’s an online space where contributors can share knowledge, promote projects, seek advice, and find support across a wide range of topics such as fashion, art, cooking and parenting.

There is also an ‘incentivization program’ designed to award generosity and contribution with unique benefits, access, and privileges through its partnership with commercial brands, individual influencers, and exclusive communities.

We’ve developed a system in which users can acquire both ‘hustle points’ and ‘chic points.’ As users add content, offer solutions to presented problems, and participate in the community, they accumulate two distinct categories of redeemable points. Hustle Chic will solidify its group spirit and promote user activity through these rewards.

Rewards include gift packages; access to networking events; tickets to educational seminars; discount codes for retail outlets, cultural events, health classes and fitness memberships.

How do you achieve balance between your home life and your professional life?

My two kids are the most important aspect of my life. Then my work. Then my family and friends. For two hours a day my assistant takes my cell phone away from me and I log off. I spend time with my kids. Sometimes I invite a friend to come over during this time.

What are you most proud of?

The relationships I’ve built. My network.

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What life experience has had the greatest impact on you?

My divorce. I grew up financially dependent on my parents and then I got married and was financially dependent on my husband. My divorce forced me to be completely financially independent. It has motivated me to work extremely hard so I can provide for my children.

What advice do you have for other women and moms who are going through a divorce?

Work hard, build a support system and don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. Take care of yourself too.

What are you struggling with these days? 

When I use social media, I struggle with what to share with the public and what to keep private. I want my work to speak for itself but people want to know the details of my personal life. I’m sharing my personal life on social media in order to build my brand but in the next 5-10 years I hope to take myself out of my work and let my work stand on its own.

Katie Orenstein

Katie Orenstein is the Founder and CEO of The OpEd Project. Working with universities, think tanks, foundations, nonprofits, corporations and organizations across the nation, The OpEd Project scouts and trains under-represented experts (especially women) to take thought leadership positions in their fields (through op-eds and much more); connects them with an international network of high-level media mentors; and vets and channels the best new ideas and experts directly to media gatekeepers across all platforms. Orenstein envisions a world in which the best ideas—regardless of where or whom they come from—will have a chance to be heard and shape society.  

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Why did you found the OpEd Project?

The range of voices we hear from in the world is incredibly narrow – and comes from a tiny sliver of the world’s population: mostly western, white, older, privileged and overwhelmingly male. Which means we’re hearing from only a small fraction of the world’s brains. That’s a big problem for women and for all of us who aren’t being represented – our ideas and perspectives are not being told.

Why isn’t everyone equally represented in the media?

We live in a culture that treats people differently. It’s a complex matrix of deterrence and incentive that’s unevenly distributed. For example, if you’re a woman that wants to be taken seriously, you have to present yourself as an expert and it negatively correlates with likeability. There’s high risk and low rewards. Women are also pulled in a lot of directions – they don’t have the time, the support and the resources that others have.

What advice do you have for women who want to get published?

The OpEd Project offers workshops and resources to help alter the way stories are told in the media. You can learn more here:

https://www.theopedproject.org/seminars/

https://www.theopedproject.org/oped-basics/

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What do you say to people who want to get their voices out but don’t know what to say?

Everyone has a topic. The idea of expertise is very hierarchical. If you’re white, male, western, and went to Harvard you get more credit from our culture. There is a small group of thinkers who run things that others can’t touch. Everyone has knowledge and a right and responsibility to use it.

What is the long-term goal of The OpEd Project?

We want to change the culture of knowledge from a hierarchical culture to a democratic one. We’re all active participants.

What life experience has had the greatest impact on you?

I lived in Haiti in the 1990’s and it changed my worldview. [While in Haiti, Orenstein worked for the United Nations human rights mission, and with a team of lawyers helping Haitian victims of military crimes bring cases against the alleged perpetrators.] I witnessed that the majority of the population were not the ones telling their own stories – instead; others were reporting what was happening and it wasn’t always representative or accurate.

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Jennifer Gefsky

Jennifer Gefsky is the Founder and CEO of Après, a company geared toward women who left their professions to be home with their families and are now looking to go back to their careers. Gefksy, herself, was a high-powered lawyer at Proskauer Rose LLP and then at Major League Baseball before choosing to become a full-time mom. She wants employers to recognize the value that these women bring to the table – they are reenergized, loyal and hardworking. Après curates job postings featuring companies that have made a pledge to hire women returning to the workforce. Après also has career coaches to help women navigate this transition. Après now has 35,000 members from around the U.S.

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What advice would you give to a mom who chooses to leave the workforce? What should she be doing?

Strategically think about volunteer work – Volunteer at a nonprofit where you can network and meet people as well as expand your skill set.

Keep up with your connections – Put in the effort to grab coffee with old colleagues, write emails periodically and don’t let your networks fall by the wayside.

Keep your toes in the water if you can – Find consulting projects, stay current on what’s going on in the world and in your industry.

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You’re working within the current system and helping women make these transitions but how can we change the system?

Changing the system is going to take a lot of time to accomplish. The workplace doesn’t value the fact that women have children. In fact, it’s considered a negative. In addition to dealing with guilt, women are dealing with disengagement from their employers (they’re given less important projects, etc.). There’s also a bias that exists – men like to work with men. People think men make better leaders. It’s hard to change the culture. It’s going to take a lot of effort. And women need to stand up for themselves. They need to vocalize what they need from their employers instead of just jumping ship.

Part-time work is known to offer more flexible hours but ultimately ends up being the same overall time commitment as full-time work – with half the pay. How do we ensure that a part-time job stays part-time? 

Because we’re living in the digital age, when you leave work you never really leave work. Lines have to be drawn very clearly. Be available when you’re on the clock. If you are being paid to work two days a week, only answer emails and phone calls those two days a week.

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Is there a company that represents the model for what should be done?

PricewaterhouseCoopers is very smart about retaining women and maintaining a connection with those who leave. If a woman leaves the company, for up to five years, PwC continues to pay for professional training and each woman is assigned a partner at the office who keeps her up to speed on what’s happening internally. This is a brilliant play. PwC demonstrates that they want you and these women want to come back.

What was your biggest career mistake?

Taking a career break without researching and talking to women who did that. I didn’t take a break with my eyes wide open. Not that I would have made a different decision, but I would have made it with more clarity. I also didn’t investigate alternative opportunities for myself (i.e. part-time or flexible positions). I just left without exploring.

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The Case for an Imbalanced Life

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Samantha Ettus, author of “The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe for Success and Satisfaction” has caused a lot of controversy among working and stay-at-home moms.

Ettus found that the happiest moms are the ones who have seven main areas of focus — or “slices” — in their life: career, health, relationship, children, community, friends and hobbies. She advocates that women need to give themselves permission to participate in all of these slices. While it doesn’t matter how much time is spent in each slice, some time must be devoted to each of the seven in order to feel fulfilled.

After hearing Ettus speak at the S.H.E. Summit and listening to her espouse the virtues of a balanced life, I couldn’t help but shake my head in disagreement.

First, balance doesn’t exist. An artificially created pie structure is laughable to a new mom, an ER doctor, or an entrepreneur. At different phases of life, various priorities emerge. It’s appropriate to focus on one or two areas at a time, especially during a stressful or sleepless period.

Second, seven slices are not the key to happiness. I personally know many professionals who find the greatest meaning in throwing themselves completely into their work. They consider carving out time for friends or going to the gym a nuisance and a dilution of their purpose on earth.

Similarly, there are individuals who are not career-oriented and find happiness in their interpersonal relationships. Ettus has reportedly received hate mail and criticism from stay-at-home moms who say they have found fulfilling lives without investing time in a career. However, in multiple interviews, Ettus rejects this claim.

She told the New York Post, “I have yet to meet a woman who is completely fulfilled without keeping up her career. There are plenty of women who claim to be happy without a career, but two glasses of chardonnay in, you will find a well of dissatisfaction. Where you see a woman who is not in an independent pursuit of her own life goals, you’ll likely find an anxious child, an over-perfected home, a marriage out of balance and a school administrator who wishes this woman would get a job.”

She continued, “Would you ever say someone who spends every moment at the office has a good and satisfying life? A woman who spends every moment doting on her family has an equally unbalanced life.”

I would agree that both a professional who devotes all of her time to work and a stay-at-home-mom lead an imbalanced life. But an imbalanced life does not necessarily translate into an unhappy life. Many people find joy and fulfillment in the lopsidedness of spending more time on things that matter to them. Ettus’ seven slices – career, health, relationship, children, community, friends and hobbies – sound like a laundry list that needs to get checked off and not a list that leads to pleasure. A career is not for everyone. A romantic relationship is not for everyone. Children? Certainly not for everyone.

Disproportion is what leads to satisfaction. Throwing yourself into one or two areas of focus at a time leads to greater impact. When you get a promotion, when you make a difference in your community, when you develop a skill or a hobby – that’s what yields happiness. By spreading yourself too thin, you risk feeling subpar at everything.

Ettus has created a model that is easily digestible by the masses. However, it is an unrealistic portrayal of life for the modern woman. Having an evenly balanced scale is a nice image, but isn’t practical or even ideal for many people. As we navigate the different stages in our personal lives and our careers, it is up to us to determine what areas deserve more attention and what can be put on the back burner.

S.H.E. Summit 2016

It was an honor to represent Forward Females at this year’s S.H.E. Summit. I wanted to post highlights from the conference and inspirational insights that the speakers shared throughout the event.

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How to Amplify Your Leadership through Radical Self-Love

Gala Darling, an author and self-help guru, spoke about the need to practice “radical self-love.” She described a “self-loathing industry” that capitalizes on our need to constantly improve. There is a mantra of “we’re not enough” that women must fight against. She urged the audience to let our “judgment muscle” atrophy.

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Darling also mocked our need to constantly look for purpose. She said seeking your purpose is an “obsession with perfection masked in procrastination.” She continued, “The meaning of life is whatever stops you from killing yourself.” Darling explained that the meaning of life is what you bring to it and there’s not necessarily one secret answer that you need to discover.

From Partners, Co-Workers, Bosses, Fathers to Friends: How We Can Engage Men on All Levels

This panel featured Wade Davis, former NFL player and #HeForShe UN Advocate; Simon Isaacs, Co-Founder and Chief Content Officer of Fatherly; Connor Beaton, Founder of ManTalks and Adam Parker, Chief U.S. Equity Strategist at Morgan Stanley.

Simon Isaacs     Wade Davis    Claudia Chan

Wade Davis shed light on the mentality of athletes and their locker room banter. Mainly, the widespread notion that women are gold diggers who are only interested in their money. He also said that it’s important to widen the definition of masculinity. Davis grew up thinking that he couldn’t be a black athlete and also be gay because homosexuality is associated with weakness and being like a woman. While women are socialized to share their emotions and be vulnerable, it is critical to also educate the next generation of boys that vulnerability is a strength.

Simon Isaacs founded Fatherly because he felt that men’s media shouldn’t just be about swimsuits and BBQ sauce. He wanted to create an online space with content about family specifically geared toward men.

Adam Parker     Connor Beaton

Adam Parker expelled the myth that the quality of a maternity policy indicates whether there is gender diversity in that given place. For example, he said that Japan has an excellent maternity policy, but it’s not representative of the reality there. So what is representative? 1) the percentage of women in the C-Suite 2) pay parity and 3) representation of women across all ranks

Parker conducted a study and ranked 600 publicly traded companies on gender diversity. He found that those stocks that had greater gender diversity were less volatile.

Connor Beaton of ManTalks urged women to assume that men have positive intent. He said that no man loves to fail – in fact, men have a deep desire to succeed in everything they do: being a father, a husband, a professional, etc.

How to Maximize Your Career Success as Your Whole Self

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Carla Harris, Vice Chairman, Wealth Management, Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley, was the most phenomenal speaker of the entire conference.

She said that information doesn’t give you a competitive advantage anymore. Today, information is a commodity. Instead, your distinction and your authenticity is your competitive advantage. Harris went on to explain that she is a gospel singer but didn’t want to reveal that side of herself to clients. She wanted to be taken seriously and not be thought of as someone who “sang and danced for the boys.” But she soon realized that the more she shared her whole self with clients, the stronger her relationships grew with them. They enjoyed learning about her interests and passions and even found a common bond when they too expressed a love for singing. The current trend is that the boundaries between personal and professional spheres are crumbling. By bringing your whole self to work, you become a more interesting, multi-dimensional individual.

Couples Therapy with Esther Perel: How Marriages and Relationships Thrive as Women Rise

Esther Perel, sex therapist and author, said that women are so focused on their daily mundane tasks that they don’t make time to embrace their sexuality. “Women think that they don’t deserve to focus on their own pleasure until the list is completely checked off – which is never.”

Perel said that often where we work becomes an erotically charged place. Work is where you’re charming, where people laugh at your jokes, where you’re energized, where people respect you. Home is where you bring whatever energy is left over. Perel said if you treated your partner the same way you treated your customer, your marriage would be thriving. A couple’s relationship also deeply affects the family. Therefore, the connection between parents needs to be paramount. If the couple isn’t doing well, the whole family falls apart.

Invest Your Time in “What Matters” Over “Having It All”

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This panel featured Chloe Coscarelli, the vegan chef and founder of By Chloe restaurants; Kelly Clarkson, three-time Grammy winner; and Ellen Seckler, Executive Vice President of Marketing for Citizen Watch Company.

Kelly Clarkson spoke about the difficulty of juggling everything in her life: a book tour, an album, four children, a husband, etc. She believes in the “trickle down” effect where the mother needs to take care of herself before she can take care of everyone else in her family. Clarkson was raised by a single mom who taught her the value of being independent. But today, she is learning to ask for help.

The Pie: A New Guilt-free Paradigm Shift for Thinking About Work-Life Balance

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Author Samantha Ettus found that the happiest moms are the ones who have seven main areas of focus — or “slices” — in their life: career, health, relationship, children, community, friends and hobbies. She said that women need to give themselves permission to participate in all of these slices and while it doesn’t matter what the ratio is of how much time is spent in each slice, some time must be devoted to each of the seven in order to feel fulfilled.

Ettus has reportedly received hate mail and criticism from stay-at-home moms who say they have found fulfilling lives without investing time in a career. However, in multiple interviews, Ettus rejects this claim.

She told the New York Post, “I have yet to meet a woman who is completely fulfilled without keeping up her career. There are plenty of women who claim to be happy without a career, but two glasses of chardonnay in, you will find a well of dissatisfaction. Where you see a woman who is not in an independent pursuit of her own life goals, you’ll likely find an anxious child, an over-perfected home, a marriage out of balance and a school administrator who wishes this woman would get a job.”

She continued, “Would you ever say someone who spends every moment at the office has a good and satisfying life? A woman who spends every moment doting on her family has an equally unbalanced life.”

In an interview with Us Weekly, Ettus said, “Nobody raises a daughter and says, ‘I hope she will grow up to be financially dependent with no career of her own.’ Model what you want your kids to be.”

Although I dug up these controversial interviews after the conference, Ettus was less provocative in her speech at the S.H.E. Summit, focusing on women dividing their time more effectively. 

The 2016 S.H.E. Summit was extremely inspiring and engaging. The speakers energized the audience and gave us a lot to think about and work towards. I look forward to attending this annual event in the future. Thank you Claudia Chan for putting together a wonderful conference!

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