by Mary Rivard and Kari Sims
Can you believe that it’s been almost two weeks since so many of us gathered in Amelia Island for Forum? It’s true! Even now, I’m still reeling from all the amazing speakers I saw and connections I made with senior leaders at the conference. I think a lot of attendees feel the same way—so many people have been sharing their highlights on social and Holly Goodhart and Jeffery Halter published great blogs about their experiences.
I’m Mary Rivard, and I’m a NEW Gen Committee member and Senior Category Development Analyst for Hormel Foods. Since I joined NEW 6 years ago, I’ve always felt serious FOMO about missing out on this conference, which is designed for senior-level members. I knew it would be YEARS before I received an invitation and finally, this year, I attended as a guest volunteer.
It was surreal representing my company at Forum so early in my career and interacting with such successful senior leadership at some of the top companies in various industries. As I come to the end of my NEW Gen Committee term, I can’t help but see attending Forum as a culminating experience. As an emerging millennial leader, I’m excited to share my highlights from Forum with you. Kari Sims, my fellow committee member and the VP of Business Operations for Green Chile Food Company, will join me in sharing an inside look at Forum!
Day 1: Mary
All of the speakers used their unique perspectives to tackle the “Reframe” theme in different ways.
Suzy Whaley (President, PGA of America), spoke candidly about reframing the concept of “winning” in your career. Using a golf metaphor, she explained that you don’t have to win the overall tournament to be considered a winner. You can celebrate improving your score as winning…after all ‘better’ is a win, too.
As women, despite all the advice that we’ve heard, many of us are still holding ourselves to unrealistic standards. Suzy reminded us to be brave, unconcerned with meeting society’s unrealistic standards for success, and confident in our own achievements. In a funny example, she used golf to explain this, saying that one shouldn’t be afraid to call themselves a golfer if they golf regularly, because only 3% of the population can score under 100, anyway.
Next, Daisy Auger-Dominguez, an inclusive leadership expert, asked us to be mindful of the Latinx women in the workplace who often feel like they are working overtime to be seen and valued. In order to solidify fair practices and provide equal benefits to women of all ethnicities, we must reframe our company cultures to create environments where every candidate can bring their authentic self to work. Daisy drove home the point that we need to reframe our workplaces because our workplaces need to work for everyone.
Thomas Page McBee
Author and women’s equality advocate Thomas Page McBee shared his transition story, highlighting the gender bias and differences in the workplace for men and women. “Until I was a man, I had no idea how good men had it at work,” he shared.
He gave us great tips on how to be more inclusive, and how to ensure that everyone in the room not only has a seat at the table but also has their voice heard or amplified so that it’s listened to.
Fireside Chat with Kim Underhill and Jocelyn Wong
Our last session of the day was a fireside chat between Kim Underhill (Group President, Kimberly-Clark) and Jocelyn Wong (CMO, Lowe’s). Jocelyn was refreshingly honest and a great storyteller who talked about experiences she’s had as a mom, sister, and daughter and how those experiences have shaped her career and leadership style.
She also shared a lot of the work that she has done with her executive coach, who challenged her to understand and own why she does what she does. We all know it can be hard to captivate an audience during the last session on a travel day, but we laughed, self-reflected, and left more confident in ourselves, knowing that senior-level executives have the same struggles that we do!
Reception and Dinner
After a day full of empowering messages, it was time to get to know the community as we sipped cocktails and assorted beers, provided by Beam Suntory and Heineken, respectively.
What’s so great about this group is that it’s made up of everyone from leaders who’ve attended every single Forum to those like us who were attending for the very first time. Regardless of seniority, everyone was eager to get their hands dirty and figure out how to continue modernizing our workplaces.
The night ended with an elaborate seafood dinner on the beach, the perfect setting for networking and re-connecting with friends. The evening’s activities consisted of dipping our toes in the warm Atlantic Ocean, learning about the local island sea turtles at a session sponsored by Mars Petcare, and of course, s’mores from Hershey!
Day 2: Kari
Oceanside Yoga & Meditation
I started my day early, resisting the urge to sleep in to attend Oceanside Yoga & Mediation at 6 am. It was pitch-black this early in the morning, but we all made it down to the beach and were surprised by a perfect sunrise mid-way through class. By the end of our session, I was very glad I chose this way to start the day.
Like many women, striving for perfection seems to be a part of my DNA. Hearing Reshma Saujani, Founder of Girls Who Code, talk about the negative impact the fight for perfection brings was just enough to shake me into considering what I could let go of today. She explained that we need to be brave enough to stop being perfect and that bravery is just a muscle, something we can all flex.
Her challenge to grow our bravery muscle included doing three things: practicing imperfection, doing something you suck at, and just starting whatever task you’ve been putting off or whatever dream you’ve been pushing down.
Hearing that Reshma started Girls Who Code without any coding experience was a reminder that her challenges to us were extremely doable and could have lasting impact.
Next, we were basically invited into a Coca-Cola 1:1 with Dagmar Boggs (Chief Retail Sales & Bottler Operations Officer) and Jim Dinkins (President Coca-Cola North America). They reminded me of the importance of having a male ally.
Jim taught how to be a male champion for women by putting your money where your mouth is. He gave examples from his own history of promoting women, even if they didn’t have direct experience for the position. He explained that he does this because he believes that smart people can do anything and that the technical parts of a job can be taught. Despite the high expectations women place on themselves, he said, transformation happens when they remember they can do anything.
Dagmar and Jim gave us all some #bossgoals to aspire to. I was so inspired that I ended up subscribing to Coca-Cola’s podcast, Total Refresh, for the flight home!
Next, we switched our focus to “agility” with Suzan Kereere (Global Head, Merchant Sales and Acquiring, VISA). In her session, she discussed how even the largest companies need to become nimbler in response to consumer expectations in this marketplace.
Susan also highlighted the way she’s used the concept of “trust but verify” in her everyday work to empower people on her team. Finally, she discussed the importance of having a point of view, explaining that it is not about being the smartest or most experienced in the room, it’s about knowing your POV and having the confidence to voice it. That means using the words “I disagree” as much as “I agree”.
Deep Dive #1: "The Cost of Bias: In Society & In Work"
There were two deep dive breakout sessions for the afternoon, and I started with “The Cost of Bias: In Society and In Work” with a team from Deloitte. The facilitators, Devon Dickau and Sophia Zeinu, created such a safe and welcoming space that during the session, I had some of the most honest and personal conversations I’ve ever been a part of at a NEW learning event.
We went through an exercise that allowed us to get to know the people at our table, well beyond the typical name/title/city intros that we’re all getting bored of. Specifically, we went through a sheet of social identities and checked which ones that we would use to describe ourselves. The activity was meant to enforce how the intersectionality of all these identities makes us who we are.
I left feeling excited that I will be able to see real shift during my career toward a more inclusive workplace.
Deep Dive #2: "A Drama-Free Workplace"
In the second session, Patti Perez gave us four musts for drama-free leadership: be authentic, be a creative and effective problem solver, practice radical fairness and use emotional intelligence.
As a licensed attorney and certified HR executive, Patti also had a lot of stories about what NOT to do in the workplace, including a caution against having national meetings in Vegas (it’s just a bad idea). I was glad that she also addressed current male hesitancy to mentor female employees because of the #MeToo movement. Whenever she gets a question about that topic from a man, she tells them that fear-based mannerisms in the workplace never prevent lawsuits, but they can attract them. After all, is neglecting the development of half of your workforce really the answer?
By 2 p.m., I pretty much felt like I’d learned 8 hours’ worth of content and couldn’t believe we still had more coming! Alicia Petross (Senior Director Global Diversity, Inclusion and Engagement at The Hershey Company) led a great group debrief on those deep-dive sessions.
Dr. Pamela Cohen
Next, we had Dr. Pamela Cohen (President of The Mom Project Labs), educate us on their approach to providing opportunities for women to remain active in the workforce after becoming a parent and what companies can do to better support employees as they go through that life transition. As a new mom, this is a company I’ve been watching, and I was excited to see their mission spread.
What we learned is that flexibility is talked about a lot, but it’s not often fully understood. Benefits need to be established that benefit Mom and Dad pre-, during, and post-leave. Dr. Cohen also reminded us that flexibility without respect doesn’t matter. You can give mothers benefits but if you don’t allow them to use them without judgment, all your efforts are negated.
In this session, we learned that #Millennials are OUT and Gen Z is IN! As a Millennial, this was so great to hear because it’s time to get obsessed with the next group of future leaders.
Deloitte walked us through a few shocking points about Gen Z and then discussed how Gen Zers fit into the workforce. We learned that career priorities for Gen Z include building a curated work experience/skill set that they can use in any role. As Gen Zers join the workforce, they will be searching for companies with values that match their own, which is important for companies to consider as Gen Z will make up 20% of the workforce by 2030.
The last session of the day was a panel discussion led by Jill Standish (Senior Managing Director of Global Retail, Accenture). Featuring talent, diversity, and inclusion leaders from IKEA, The Kroger Co., and H&M, the discussion centered on the expectation for brands to be inclusive and authentic as customers begin to shop their values.
The biggest takeaway was that there is always someone watching what your company is doing versus what it said it would do, which means that matching your policies to your products, advertising, customer touchpoints and workforce is key.
After a day full of deep thoughts, statistics, emotions and reflection; it was time for a wine tasting and some friendly competition in the form of lawn games sponsored by Acosta.
Day 3: Mary
Diversity & Inclusion Convene Breakfast
The final day of Executive Forum started out with a special invitation to a Diversity & Inclusion Convene Breakfast, one of several thought leadership discussions hosted by Sarah Alter and other leaders at NEW. This breakfast was for HR executives, who were brought together to discuss NEW’s recent findings on Gen Z, in-depth.
Mostly, they discussed the differing expectations of Gen Z workers. Specifically, how Gen Zers don’t want to be put into a box and limited to just one job function. One solution to this is providing the opportunity to take on temporary assignments outside of one’s area of responsibility at work. This gives employees a chance to develop new skills and mixes things up a little!
I have to say, even as a millennial in the room, I was super excited that learn that companies are testing programs like this. It just goes to show that changes made to engage Gen Z employees may have benefits for all generations. We can’t just keep making modifications to the workplace one generation at a time. Companies must be thinking about solutions that will be sustainable and useful years into the future.
Fireside Chat with Maggie Timoney
Next, all Forum attendees gathered for a fireside chat with special guest Maggie Timoney, who was named CEO of Heineken in 2018. Maggie was incredibly funny and authentic. One of my favorite moments of her chat was when she opened a bottle of Heineken® 0.0, their new non-alcoholic lager that “tastes great in the morning” (#nowyoucan).
You could tell that Maggie is a CEO that values people at all levels, and she was extremely proud of the fact that she treats all of Heineken’s employees the same. We heard earlier in the week that being an executive can be a very lonely job at times. Maggie expressed that she doesn’t ever feel lonely because of the bonds she has created with the people on her team, who know her for her sense of humor, something that Maggie tries to bring to work with her every day, because after all, “people who have more fun deliver more results!”
After that, I attended a talk by Dawn Perry (Vice President of Business and Regulatory Law for Retail Business Services, an Ahold Delhaize Company). Dawn shared her experiences with bias and talked about several instances during her career when she was ignored during meetings because of her gender and race. She often uses situations like this as an opportunity to educate her colleagues about bias, always remembering that someone else’s bias is not a reflection of herself.
Throughout Forum, we heard many stories and examples that demonstrated that the bias women of color are subjected to is quite different from that experienced by white women. Really, this has reinforced for me that solutions for gender equality in the workplace should always be developed with their effectiveness for everyone in mind.
Andy Dunn (SVP of Direct-to-Consumer Brands for Walmart and Co-Founder of Bonobos), next bravely told a story about a time when he caught himself treating a female executive at his company differently than the men. When it came time to name his successor as CEO of Bonobos, Andy had a great female candidate in mind, but he gave her a list of things to work on before she could get the job.
Later, his involvement with NEW caused him to recognize how many men are promoted into roles before they are ready, while it isn’t uncommon for women to be told to conquer their development plan before they can get a job. As soon as Andy realized this, he went back to his company and set into motion his decision to make Micky Onvural the new female CEO of his men’s clothing company.
You could say Andy took a risk telling this story, but I think that transparency about making a mistake and making it right in the end are extremely commendable and that more leaders should be open to doing so.
"What Are You Ready For?"
The next presentation was a case study entitled “What Are You Ready For?” by two leaders from Target, Caroline Wanga (Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer and Vice President of Human Resources) and Erin Rath Moos (Senior Director Reputation Management).
They walked us through Target’s team of Reputation and Risk professionals, who are constantly training for the worst possible situations that could tarnish the reputation of any company in an instant. In the age of social media, we all know that negative news and opinions about those events travel fast. Their model of “prepare, respond, recover, and improve” is enabling them to manage risk with a team that is constantly experimenting with “what if” scenario planning.
They are encouraging companies to consider their preparedness and understand that every company action and inaction will have consequences. They concluded that the way to reach a solution that leadership can stand behind is to weigh the results of each option and decide which outcome best supports your company’s mission and values. You can’t make everyone happy, but you can feel confident that you made the right decision.
Keynote: Valerie Jarrett
The last keynote of the conference featured none other than Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor of the Obama Foundation, who was interviewed by Leslie Anderson-Rutland of the BMO Financial Group. A change agent and advocate, Valerie recently wrote a book about finding her voice and her journey as a public servant.
One of the earliest lessons that Valerie learned in her career was the importance of listening to the people that you represent because it’s not about you, it’s about the people that you serve. Valerie put forward a refreshing view on politics, encouraging us to not only be concerned with the presidential election, because local government matters just as much, if not more.
She also shared that the only way we can make our voices heard is to stay involved, which I think has implications beyond politics and was a compelling challenge for all leaders as we closed out Forum.
As a first-time millennial attendee, at first I found it curious that there was so much content presented on what executives in attendance could do in their own personal career to affect the gender equality movement. Collectively imagining the number of people each leader in the room has on their teams, I figured a main topic of conversation would be how to permeate a D&I mindset throughout a company.
Connecting the dots between all the sessions, I’ve realized that even at the executive level, the best way to make progress is still one invitation, one action, and one tough conversation at a time. I’ve also realized that the bravery required to personally effect change is a muscle that you must continually work out every day, multiple times a day, and yes…it is hard work.
Events like NEW Executive Forum bring leaders from all backgrounds together to encourage and educate each other in this movement, and I’m thankful to be leaving with an even bigger network of inspiring people who are committed to progress.
Mary Rivard is a Senior Category Development Analyst for Hormel Foods. In addition to serving on the NEW Gen committee, she serves as a Communications Officer in the Northwest Arkansas region and a NEW Ambassador for Hormel Foods.
Kari Sims is the VP of Business Operations for Green Chile Food Company. Kari serves as the Committee Lead for PR & Social Media in the NEW North Texas region. Additionally, she's the rockstar mom of two-year-old daughter, Kennedy.
Both Mary and Kari serve on the NEW Gen Committee, a group of millennials who help to keep NEW relevant and impactful for the next group of future leaders!
Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.