Welcome to the Inspiring Women Interview series. We’re kicking off the show in style interviewing a truly inspirational female leader and advocate of women in leadership, Kristen Pressner of Roche Diagnostics.
Amanda: This is Amanda Alexander from cgxdev.com/amanda and today I am absolutely delighted and really excited to be interviewing Kristen Pressner, the VP and Head of Human Resources for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Latin America, that’s kind of two-thirds of the world for Roche Diagnostics. Kristen is joining us today from Switzerland.
Just a little bit about Roche, with nearly 90,000 employees globally they are the world’s largest biotech company and also the world leader in in vitro diagnostics. Kristen’s worked extensively both in States and in Europe in many different positions across all HR disciplines. Originally from the US she worked for nine years in HR within the high tech industry before joining Roche in the North American Organization in 2005. In 2007 Kristen and her family relocated to Switzerland and she took on the role of Senior Director Global Learning and Development at Roche Headquarters.
Today she’s responsible for HR, the largest business region with more than 7,000 employees spanning four continents across over 150 countries. There are the statistics but let’s get to what’s most important and that’s what’s most important is that I’m interviewing Kristen today because she is in a fantastic position to share some insights of someone who’s really passionate about diversity as a true business driver.
She provides perspectives from the view of the global environment, as well as from behind the dark curtain of HR. She’s also someone who knows the subject about women and leadership inside-out from the perspective of a real woman executive herself and also as a mom with four children.
Kristen was recently voted as a top keynote speaker of the Women in Leadership Economic Forum in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates and I am going to dive straight in. Kristen, welcome.
Kristen: Thank you, Amanda. It’s fabulous to be here.
Amanda: I’m really excited about this. Tell us, we’ve got the kind of, the official bio of your career so far but in terms of how you’ve got here and with four children has that been a kind of, has it been a straight road from A to B, with B being where you are now, or has it had many ups and downs?
Kristen: Definitely many ups and downs. It hasn’t been a straight road but I have to say when you look back you look at how each moment in time prepared you along the way and I wouldn’t trade any of my opportunities, but like you mentioned I do have four children and there were certainly about a handful of years that I affectionately called the “busy years” where our family was growing, and at that time while my career was a priority accelerating my career as quickly as possible wasn’t my top priority.
I can definitely say as I look back at my career there were windows where I decelerated and windows where I accelerated, and in looking back I wouldn’t have worried so … what that meant for my career because everything’s worked out great so far.
Amanda: How old are your children now, Kristen?
Kristen: They are 14, 13, 11, and 8.
Amanda: You have them fairly close together, 14, 13, 11. Did you have 4 and a 5 at any point? My math isn’t that quick.
Kristen: I had 4, not under 5, they were 5 years apart between the oldest and the youngest.
Kristen: It was a close call. It was a busy few year.
Amanda: Which were the busy years? How many years were the busy years where you decelerated your career?
Kristen: I would say it was probably those 5 years because we actually moved to Switzerland on international assignments when the youngest one was 1 year old. I would say there was probably a six year window where I was pregnant, or on maternity leave, or coming off of maternity leave, or not sleeping which is typically associated with those ages, and it was for me a bit magical when the youngest turned 1 and I was sleeping again and could imagine doing something crazy with my career like moving to another country.
Amanda: When you had your first child were you planning to have four children? Did you have a master plan within the children, the career, how it’s all going to work?
Kristen: I am the kind of person where I know people who know me will say, “Yes, of course she had a master plan,” but I really didn’t. My husband and I when asked when we got married how many kids we wanted, we’ve said three. We actually got pregnant on our honeymoon and it forced the discussion in our household much earlier than we expected with regards to, “So, what are we going to do from here? Are we both going to work? Is one of us going to stay home? What might that look like?”
For me I was really thankful that when my husband and I sat down and had a quite transparent discussion with each other that when I was honest with myself I felt like … of course not being able to predict what would happen when my first child arrived I felt like probably I was going to be best played at work because I really got a lot out of my career and my growth there. My husband felt like he was going to probably be best played at home because he always wanted to be a stay-at-home father and thought that that might be something that he would be really good at.
For us it was dose of good luck that each of us felt like we could get our dream scenario but we did try different scenarios. When I took my maternity leave I was home alone for a while. We were home together for a little bit and then I was back at work and he was home alone for a while, to kind of try all scenarios on for size before we made a final commitment, but after I went back to work my husband ended up quitting his job and he’s been a stay-at-home father for the last 14 1/2 years.
Amanda: Your oldest child is 14, he’s pretty much been the parent at home since the first child was born, that’s right?
Kristen: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Amanda: How was it in your career, it just occurred to me that you had your first child and then your second child within just a year apart, and I know that for many women that scenario is, “Okay, I’ve been on maternity leave and, huh! Oh, I’m pregnant again,” and that can be quite a tricky situation. Was it for you?
Kristen: I didn’t really feel apologetic or worried about the fact that I had two kids. They were 18 months apart in the end but it definitely felt like I’ve just gotten back from maternity leave and then I was pregnant again. I was one of the unlucky ones that really got quite sick for quite an extended period of time during my pregnancy and I wasn’t exactly at my best even in my pregnancy. They weren’t getting the best of Kristen during my pregnancy and then I was out.
I always did have an insecurity about going on maternity leave and I have to say it’s been eye-opening to work in a global environment because maternity leaves in the United States are quite short, 6, 8, 12 weeks and I always took the maximum which was 12 weeks before you could not have a job to return to. I know my husband and I each time we discussed, “Hmmm, do you think that’s a good career move? Do you think it sends the signal that you want to send? Do you think that they won’t think you’re serious anymore?”
My mode has always been, “I’m going to do what’s right and if the organization isn’t supportive of that then I’m probably not in the right place.” In the end I noticed that I got promoted after each of my four maternity leaves, it’s certainly, I guess absence made the heart grow fonder.
Amanda: That’s really interesting that you got promoted after each of your maternity leave, especially as we’ve heard these stories of women being made redundant or losing their job after maternity leave. Tell me, what’s your secret? How did you get promoted each time after four children?
Kristen: I have to say I think the hardest moment is coming back from your first maternity leave. I think people, even I see today are often skeptical that a woman is actually going to return. I suspect my organization probably wasn’t sure if I was going to return either, but after you’ve returned from the first one the next three people count on you to return, I think it was less of that and given the short maternity leaves in the United States, 12 weeks in the end isn’t that long. I always showed that I was committed to growing and learning and trying new things. I think they didn’t consider my timeout on maternity leave as being much more than a blip, which I’m thankful for.
You were asking before about feeling kind of bad about being pregnant, and I have to say I remember when I got pregnant with my third and a male colleague had asked if … he asked me something, I think probably to go for drinks and I said, “I can’t, I’m pregnant.” We were instant messaging and he said, “Hahaha!” like it was so funny but I actually was. He thought it was a joke because I’ve just gotten back from maternity leave. Sometimes it’s not a joke.
Amanda: It’s real. Did you encounter any discrimination, any negativity when you were in the busy years?
Kristen: Not that I can recall. I come from a fairly optimistic place of looking at the world and my assumptions are always that people are doing what’s right and that if something that I don’t think is quite right is happening then perhaps I don’t have the full view or anything like that. I can’t honestly recall a time where I felt like I was getting treated badly or a bad deal or anything like that but I also feel like I give a lot to my organizations.
I once had a leader say, “You’ve given a lot to us so let us be there for you.” I think that is, that’s how it should work. If I continue to perform in a high way no matter what was going on with me personally, busy years or not, there might be a time when you need to leave me alone because I’m on maternity leave or give me some grace because I’m not feeling so hot that day and I think it’s the part of the mutuality of the relationship.
Amanda: Yes, mutuality is a thing, isn’t? I like that. Kris, do you think you could have achieved what you have achieved with your career if your husband had been in a similar position? Could you have made it work with four kids without your husband, without you and your husband making the decision for him to be a stay-at-home dad?
Kristen: I probably would twist that question a little bit. I’m not sure we would have had four kids if my husband wasn’t a stay-at-home dad. I mentioned before that we had, our magic number was three and for me the magic number became four, I think in part because he’s really good at what he does and I felt like our family didn’t feel complete. It’s quite a luxury position to be in to say, “I feel like there’s a fourth person who’s missing at the dinner table,” and to be able to do that because we were in, a bit the luxury position that he was staying home and he was loving his role and just performing it so excellently.
I think if we both have had tried to have high-powered careers I doubt we would have had more than one or two quite honestly. I’m really thankful for the way that it’s turned out but a lot of people ask me, “Can you have two alpha careers?” I’m not convinced you can especially in a global environment I think you could maybe have two people who at one time or another have alpha careers but I think that to have two alpha careers at the same time, especially as people get moved around the world and the different challenges I think it gets real tricky.
Amanda: Yes, yes, I’d love to ask you a question actually about your husband being a stay-at-home dad which wasn’t a question I was going to ask but I’m just listening to you I’m thinking and I know there’s so many women who are the main breadwinners now and I think stay-at-home dads are becoming more and more common. However, in certain circles they’re still seen as a bit of an oddity, did you find that? How did your husband find it?
Kristen: It’s actually really funny when we had our first son, we lived in Dallas at the time and the newspaper there is the Dallas Morning News and they actually did an article where they interviewed my husband, “the oddity”, the stay-at-home dad about his life and what he did all day and all that, and put a picture of him and my son in the newspaper. It kind of amused me at the time because my mom was a stay-at-home mom, it’s not that crazy of a model, it was just a flipped role.
I found it interesting that they found that newsworthy. What was particularly interesting to me is that a couple of years later when our second child had arrived they actually wanted to do a follow-up article because that article had been so popular. It wasn’t even just that someone thought it was news but I guess it was so much of interest that they wanted to do a follow-up article which I thought was interesting.
I have to say it’s funny when we moved to Switzerland some people had said to us that in some parts of the world stay-at-home fathers aren’t regarded very highly. They may be perceived as having failed to provide for their family causing the woman to have to go and provide. We were prepared for the worst if you will, with regards to how we will be accepted in society and we’ve not felt any of that at all.
My husband laughs every time he goes, especially when the children were younger, to the grocery store he teases that little old lady stop him and tell him what a good husband he is and how they wished their husband was so good. I thought, “Wow, I don’t get a [inaudible 00:14:20] ride when I take the kids to the grocery store,” maybe there’s something to it.
Amanda: Yes, that’s [inaudible 00:14:26], see a man with a buggy, “Oh, you’re such a good dad.”
Kristen: Exactly. Exactly.
Amanda: Thank you, that’s really … it’s a really, really positive story, I think, for anyone considering doing that where the husband stays at home. I’ll get them to call you.
Kristen: Exactly. I know it’s not for everyone and I know there are tricky elements and I don’t try to downplay the fact that it’s a recipe that works for us and I don’t know if it’ll work for everyone but I’m really thankful that he had an open mind to take a non-traditional male role because there is no way I would be able to accomplish what I do in my career and my life if it weren’t for my husband.
Amanda: A real supporter. I can think of a dozen’s other questions I could think of to ask you that but I would like to move on to the question of female leadership and particularly your own leadership as a woman. What are the things that you think that you do well or that you get feedback from colleagues, peers, managers, on what you do well?
Kristen: I find leadership just in general as a fascinating topic and I’m particularly excited about women in leadership because when we have people representation in our leadership we have better business results and we have better organizational cultures. These are things I want and desire for my organization and it’s an important topic for me. What I find, there are some stereotypes with regards to women leaders and among them are that women are more collaborative and more likely to use a questioning or coaching approach versus a dictatorial approach to their leadership.
I found that to be a particularly interesting element because certainly it’s the leadership style that I display at work, but also at home which is I don’t tell people what to do but I do engage them in a discussion where they self-explore what they think is the right path and come to that conclusion themselves. Typically, people have it inside themselves what’s the right thing to do, they just needed some help making sure that it unfolds, and when they do they’re really committed to the action and willing to give a lot after.
It does take a little bit more time but it’s one of those situations like preparing well that you do the investment upfront and you get the payback later. This is something that I see in my own leadership style that helps me to be really effective and have the ability to attract incredibly talented people on to my team and keep them on my team contributing at a very high level, but I see this also as a trend in other women leaders as well.
Amanda: The coach approach is, of course we all have the answers within us as you said and we’re far more likely to act through to a really satisfactory conclusion when we’ve had the idea ourselves, when it’s come from what we’ve discovered ourselves rather than something that’s been pushed upon us, and that as you said, that that works at home and the work, doesn’t it?
Kristen: It was funny we had a disappointing grade on a report card and I felt like what stereotypically parents do is say, “That’s a bad grade. What are you going to do about that grade? That’s not okay and you’re grounded,” and all that. It was really funny because I sat down with my child and said, “How do you feel about this grade?” They said, “That’s a disappointing grade,” and I said, “Yeah, I feel like you could do better than that too,” and I said, “Where do we go from here?”
We engaged in this really interesting discussion where my child said, “Here’s what I think the problem is. Here’s what I think the potential solution is. Here’s what I’m willing to do differently.” That individual is spot-on working towards correcting that in a way that absolutely wouldn’t have happened if I said, “You’re grounded, get your grades up.” It’s been really cool as a parent to watch them grow and learn through that kind of parenting because when you do it that way you also get to have the … still having a good close collaborative relationship with your child versus a top-down I’m telling you what to do, I’m the parent you’re the kid kind of relationship.
Amanda: I agree with you there sister. Have you read How to Raise an Emotionally Intelligent Child?
Kristen: I have not.
Amanda: Daniel Goldman, really, really good.
Kristen: Sounds like a good one. I believe I am raising an emotionally intelligent children so I might need to give that a look and see if I’m missing anything but …
Amanda: No, you can read and you can go, “Yeah, I’m doing all these.”
Kristen: Let’s hope.
Amanda: It sounds like you are. On that –
Kristen: It’s a mother thing I do.
Amanda: On that issue IQ or EQ? Which do you think is most important for a leader?
Kristen: EQ, a 100 miles EQ. There’s a lot of stuff that can be learned IQ wise but being able to read a situation, being able to flex based on who you’re dealing with, being able to appeal to people from where they are and what motivates them, for me it’s been a huge differentiator in my career, and also, smart, I think you have to be smart to get to a certain level on the organization, at least I sure hope so but the EQ, is in my opinion, clearly the differentiator in leadership.
Amanda: Yes, that made the most effective leaders that I’ve worked with or come across have been strong … smart as you say, but EQ has been the driving force.
Kristen: The bottom line is there is certain things I’m not the expert on. There’s certain topics I’m just not the smartest one in the room but I’m smart enough to surround myself with people who fill out my gaps. I think on the IQ side you can always build a team around you to buffer a certain level of intelligence to a certain point but on the EQ side, time and again I see leaders fail when they just can’t accurately read a situation and know how to react to it on a fly.
Amanda: Kristen, you said you’re passionate about women in leadership, you said that women have a more collaborative, more coach approach than men and you referred earlier briefly to how having more female leaders makes sense for the business, could you talk a bit more about that, about what is really important about us nurturing and having more female leaders in the world.
Kristen: I’m so passionate about this my mind is spinning with things to say but I have to say the biggest thing for me is no matter what you do there’s a limited impact that you can have on a system when you’re under represented in the power structure. In other words of you’re under represented in leadership as a woman there’s a limited impact you as a woman can have on that system.
One of the clearest examples that I can see is the World Economic Forum, if you just look at the representation. The World Economic Forum in January pulled together 2,500 top business leaders, selected intellectuals, politicians from all over the world. Their stated mission is to improve the state of the world through public-private cooperation – health, the environment … these big topics. 15% of the people who were there were women and for me that’s absolutely unacceptable. That means men, 83% of the participants there are deciding what the system looks like for me and for you, and for me that’s not okay. It’s a topic that’s important to me because in order to force the change that we want in the world women have to be represented in top leadership.
Amanda: I agree with that. I agree with that. For you it’s about balance.
Kristen: I was speaking at the Technology Conference this weekend and one of my comments was, “It’s not just about equality of opportunity it’s about equality of product when you look at high-tech. I mean, how can technology work for all of us if only some of us are working in technology?” When you think about it these are the people who are creating the technology that surrounds us and that is a notoriously imbalanced male dominated industry. How was that technology going to work for all of us if it’s built by men?
Amanda: Indeed, and I think a lot more companies, for example I know the automotive industry they have got it now, haven’t they? That women generally make the buying decisions about cars and that they actually need to listen to women rather than assuming that all they want in a car is a pretty color.
Kristen: Exactly and it’s funny because I think almost every industry has realized the influence that women have over purchasing power. It’s interesting how that should be changing the way we build our teams that create things and certainly changing who we see in top leadership.
Amanda: I think this is a bit of a kind of just … I don’t know, just listening to you talking about the World Economic Forum, if you were organizing the next World Economic Forum what do you think we could … What would you do to try to boost that, was it 15% you said?
Kristen: 17%, and by the way 17% for the last three years.
Amanda: What would you do to boost that for next year?
Kristen: I love that question. I want to get to do that. Extraordinary women all over the world, I can tell you. You listed the regions of the world that I support I get to travel to South Africa, to Russia, to Latin America, come from the United States, work in Western Europe, home is in Western Europe, I daily am surrounded by incredibly bright, incredibly passionate women. It is not hard to come up with more women to go to this thing and to have a voice.
Given the task I would be delighted to put together a dream team that represents the world at large, if this is the World Economic Forum but also better represents the different genders. I don’t think it’s even that hard.
Amanda: I feel a new challenge coming on for you Kristen. Do you think you might have time to do that?
Kristen: I would take it on a heartbeat. Do you want to give the World Economic Forum my phone number?
Amanda: I think I will do actually, just remind me to do that afterwards.
Kristen: Right around the corner here in Switzerland, it only makes sense.
Amanda: You know what, we’re half-joking but who knows? Who knows?
Kristen: Who knows? Sign me up.
Amanda: What do you think these main obstacles are for aspiring female leaders? Why is it that there’s only 17% female representation in the World Economic Forum?
Kristen: That of course represents female representation in top leadership globally if you will, that’s how we get there, is if they go take the top echelons of leadership globally that’s who you get. Now, how do we get in that place? Honestly, if it was an easy problem to solve I think it would have been solved a long time ago. There are deep rooted cultural norms that lead us to this situation.
Certainly I carry around more than my fair share of mommy guilt every time I make a trade-off, but I can tell you as an HR person I’ve observed three areas where I see men behaving consistently differently than women and it comes in these three areas, one is knowing yourself.
I think I’ve observed women as less likely to really understand what they’re passionate about, what they want to do next, what they’re not so keen on, what their limits and boundaries are, things like that, really knowing yourself, and that for me comes down to if you had two minutes with a career maker can you, inside two minutes be tight on who you are, what you want or what you’re passionate about, and what you’re not so keen on.
The second one is around knowing you can do it or the confidence bit. I don’t believe that there is a confidence gap in that women somehow just have less of it than men, but what I do observe is that women tend to hesitate more than men, and I’m certainly guilty of that, and we could fill this whole time with stories about when I hesitated, but I think women need to hesitate less and really help each other through those moments of hesitation and go for it even if they’re not comfortable because you just have to be able to learn. If you’ve proven you can learn in the past then you can learn in the future and to learn to trust that.
Then the third area is around knowing the rules of engagement because if you look … the way I describe it to people is, “If the race that is being run right now is an academic one, women are winning, I mean they get more degrees, they perform better academically in all levels.” The problem is. I think women graduate thinking that the race is still the academic one that they’re winning at, and the problem is all the rules changed and no one told you.
I’m often finding myself kind of helping women understand the landscape of what the new set of rules are and some examples of the ones that I share are, confidence can beat out competence. Just being confident in certain situations you can win and men seem to get this or know this or learned this in ways that I don’t see happening with women. I think the combination of these three things and women getting tighter on these three things can be extraordinarily helpful and them taking the control in being able to drive their career forward.
Amanda: Confidence beats competence, is that about the rules of engagement? Do you think … Is that the number one rule of engagement?
Kristen: It’s right up there. Honestly for me, the number one rule of engagement is recognizing that the rules aren’t fair because the standards that women are judged against are different than the standards that women are judged against. Did I say women and women? I meant men and women.
I think that’s horribly unfair and really frustrating but it’s a fact and I’m a pretty pragmatic person and just coming to the point where I recognized that there is a less wide band of accepted behaviors from me as a woman in the workplace than there is for men in the workplace, while unfair is a fact. I have to learn how to operate within that if I want to be successful, and then once I get to the top I can influence that.
Amanda: Can you give me an example of what you mean by the standards against which men are judged by different from the standards by which women are judged by?
Kristen: I have this great advertisement from Pantene that I like to share with people. I’ll describe it there but it basically shows in the first screen a man probably dictating some sort of memo in an office waving his arms around and behind him on a building is the Hugo Boss logo, so it says, “Boss.” Then it fades to a picture of a woman, impeccably dressed doing the same gesture and the building behind her says, “Bossy.” Next scene there’s a man passionately giving a speech, gesticulating wildly and in front of his podium it says, “Persuasive,” then it pans to a woman in the same space doing the same thing and the podium says, “Pushy.”
I love this ad because it really calls out some of these different ways that we view people for doing the same thing. A man working late with baby bottles and a crib nearby is dedicated, a woman doing the same thing is selfish. There’s such an emotional music the ad gets me every time because it really highlights it’s not always fair the way we get judged for doing the same thing.
Amanda: Absolutely. That [inaudible 00:30:14] I know the one you mean it’s a, really is powerful, very visual, isn’t? Very visual at that but it definitely shows the difference in me … in the standards. My son just came in and shouted, “Mum!”
Kristen: Well, that’s life for us, isn’t?
Amanda: That’s life. Can we have it all? Do you think we can have it all as women, Kristen?
Kristen: I think it depends on how you define, “it all.” Mind view is, and I think there’s different visuals that people have given over time, there’s certain elements of your life or the big rocks and you have the put the big rocks in before the smaller rocks and those kind of things. Honestly I spent quite a bit of time making sure that I’ve thought through what are the most important things to me and I keep a beacon of light on those.
The things that are most important to me, I can have all of that. I also know that I have to say no to some things in order to say yes to those things, and being really, really rock solid on what’s the most important to me makes me able to say no to the things that don’t fit in a much easier way. I feel like I have it all but that doesn’t mean that I don’t make sacrifices for saying no to things because I do.
Amanda: Yes, and in order to choose yes to one thing you have to choose no to another thing in which you’re going to choose. It’s all about choice.
Kristen: Absolutely and trade-offs. It’s shocking to me how many people seem to go through life making trade-offs without knowing what’s most important to them and then they get surprised by where they find themselves. I’m much more purposeful in the way that I go through my life, both [inaudible 00:32:03] -wise and I’m always keeping in mind what’s the most important to me.
It’s funny I always tease my husband that I can control time, I can expand a 24 hour day and there’s a couple of ways I do that. One, is if I’m in a situation where I can be all of me and I’m not having to moderate and flex in my environment a whole lot, it’s really energizing and I literally feel like I get longer than 24 hours in a day.
I’m really passionate about women in leadership and when I spend time doing things like this or speaking at conferences or having one on one discussions with women who are returning from maternity leaves and have some questions and need some advice, like I was this afternoon. I always make time for that and somehow when I make time for that I find that the day just seems to be longer on the other side. I don’t know how but it feels like I can bend time. If you prioritize what’s the most important thing to you I think it all fits.
Amanda: I love that. Basically do what you love and give time to what you love even when you think there’s no time for it and you will find that you magically expand time.
Kristen: It sounds hokey when I hear myself say it but I really truly believe this. It’s like yesterday I got off a plane and I was exhausted and jetlagged and my kids came home from school and I was loving on them because I haven’t seen them in a week and a couple of them really wanted to, in great detail break down everything I’ve missed over the last week, and of course my mind was, “I’ve got to unpack and I’ve got all these laundry and I have no idea what’s lurking in my inbox.” I just sat and listened with all my heart to every single word and somehow it all fit.
I knew my priority at that moment was being there for my kids and making them feel, hearing them, being there in the way that I wasn’t it physically there over the last week and the rest it fits somehow. It’s not the priority.
Amanda: I love it. I have to say, Kristen, I have got the perfect title for your next keynote.
Kristen: Bring it on.
Amanda: Kristen Pressner, How I Control Time.
Kristen: Exactly, just think how many people would pay for that.
Amanda: I certainly would. It could be just two minutes long and it would be worth it.
Kristen: That sounds good. I’m taking deep notes because maybe I’ll do that.
Amanda: Just housework and all that slab, you just touched upon that now when you said your kids needed you, you haven’t been there and you just … you gave that was the priority, you gave them that time, what about all the drudgery? What about all the stuff that every family, whether you’re a high flyer, you’re in middle management or whether you’ve got a part-time job it all seems, it expands … what do they say? It’s Murphy’s law, expands to fit, [inaudible 00:35:00] Murphy’s law, wasn’t it? Expands to fit the time available. What’s your take on the stuff that surrounds any family life whether or not you have a husband at home or a wife at home?
Kristen: My husband and I have a separation of duties that we’ve agreed to and he does, he’s our Chief Executive Officer of household operations. He sees it as part of his role as a stay-at-home father also to run our households. He takes care of the laundry, he takes care of the cooking and shopping, he takes care of all those things. Although I have to say in the interest of true honesty I do my own laundry because I trust no other human being to do my laundry, but that being said he does everybody else’s laundry and he runs our household.
I think when it comes to anything that can be outsourced, I’m a big fan of outsourcing. We do have people who come and clean the house and because that isn’t something that makes sense for either of us to do and we also have four children which they would tell you it means we have four very good little helpers who have extensive chores that are preparing them to live on their own in the world when they’re not in my house anymore. The older ones know how to cook meals and do laundry and cut grass and shovel snow, and the younger ones are progressing toward that.
While it was a busy few years when they were younger being really honest, there’s not much besides my own laundry that I have to do around the house given or set-up, and I’m really, really thankful for that because it enables me to give a 1000% at work and then come home and be a 1000% at home versus scurrying around doing stuff.
Amanda: Excellent, I love that and again it’s all about priorities and what’s important and going back to your first golden rule about knowing yourself and what’s important to you and what you want.
Amanda: Kristen, when you talked about your second golden rule about hesitate less, is that about leaning in to use Sheryl Sandberg?
Kristen: Probably, I think we’re probably using similar language and I know … I’m a huge Sheryl Sandberg fan, wouldn’t want to steal her words but I think it’s a similar thing. It spoke to me the way she shared in her original TED talk about how women are making decisions to lean in back or not fully be all-in in career or education in anticipation of a life balance issue that doesn’t exist yet. That kind of really struck with me and I don’t ever recall doing that but I have seen it, and sometimes I think I’ve been guilty of thinking about that.
I often give the example of when I was offered my current role, my job is a big part of the world and I have 50+% travel and I have four children and I have an hour and a half commute to the office each day and I … Originally when I was offered the job thought, “Yeah, I’m not going to take … there’s no way. How does that work?” I almost turned it down until I really got real with myself about why, because I was telling myself, “Well, you’re going to have to turn it down because it isn’t a good fit for your family,” but deep down really I knew I probably could find a way to sort it.
It might requires us to learn new skills as a family and we did have a discussion about what that might look like and how the kids might need to step up to enable it, but in the end the real reason that I was telling myself that it wasn’t a fit for my family was because I was afraid I couldn’t do it. What I really want is for women to be honest with themselves when they’re making a decision. If you’re making a decision because you really, really think it’s not the right fit for your family right now, fine, but if you’re making a decision because you’re scared and you’re blaming it and you don’t think it’s a good fit for your family, I think that’s a bad call and you’ll be … you just …
Amanda: Kristen, are you there?
Kristen: I hear you.
Amanda: Sorry, I just lost you. I lost the last bit of that sentence.
Kristen: Do you remember what you heard last?
Amanda: You talked about being a bad, what is a bad fit for your family.
Kristen: I just often see women not being honest with themselves about why they want to turn something down and if you really look truthfully at your own motivations and what’s going on and you say, “This is a bad match for my family,” then by all means don’t do it but if really what’s going on deep down is that you’re afraid you won’t be successful and you blame on it not being a good fit for your family I think that’s the wrong call.
I know I’ve been guilty of almost doing that, probably more than once if I’m honest with myself and I am really thankful in those situations where I, to use Sheryl’s vernacular lean in or to use mine, I don’t hesitate or give a label to why I’m not doing something that’s actually … that’s socially acceptable that it won’t fit with my family socially acceptable reason, when in fact I was going to turn it down because I was afraid.
Amanda: That requires a lot of self-knowledge to be able to recognize that and be honest about that, isn’t it? Coming back to –
Kristen: Back to know yourself, exactly. Exactly.
Amanda: But I think it’s worth … It’s worth bearing in mind that so many of us, particularly women worry about what other people think. Have you ever suffered from that? Have you ever been worried that, “Oh, what do they think of me?” Going back to the yadda-yadda stuff that should have gone out with the arc about, “Women should be at home when they’re …” I had a friend who actually used to say to me, she wasn’t a mother, “If I’d had children I would have stayed at home. I don’t believe women should go out to work … go to work if they have children.”
Kristen: We women are really good at making each other feel bad, aren’t we?
Kristen: I really try not to be that person. I’ve had people judged my choices and physical husband’s choice and it’s a bit befuddling to me because I don’t understand why they care if it’s working for us. That’s a bit, my take on the world is, “Whatever your set-up is, if it’s working for you, go for it.” Quite honestly, do I care what other people think? Only all the time but I’m learning, I think it helps as you get a bit older to know you’re on a good path for you and to be less concerned about that, or less driven by that.
I have carried around more than my fair share, four kids worth of mommy guilt for the trade-offs that I’ve made and I can tell you I just celebrated a birthday and my 12 year old daughter gave me a gift. It was a little booklet of 50 Reasons Why She Loves Me, and there’re really adorable things in there like, “Because you help me with my homework, because you’re taking me to Paris for my birthday,” but the one that brought tears to my eyes was, “Because you’re changing the world.”
I wouldn’t be able to be the kind of mom who’s admired by her 12 year old daughter for changing the world if I hadn’t done the things that I’ve done. I’m a 100% convinced she’s growing up to be an incredible young woman and I’m really thankful for the choices that I made back when I wasn’t sure if they were the right ones.
Amanda: There’s almost tears coming out to my eyes. I’m convinced of that too, Kristen.
Kristen: I think it’s hard when you have young kids. I had a mom who just returned from maternity leave saying to me today, “Do I take the promotion? Do I not? Am I hurting my child somehow?” I shared this story with her because I said, “I had all those same questions and I had all the same people whisper in my ear or raising their eyebrow and wondering if I wasn’t going to regret later the choices I made and I am just as part of myself as others are, and so I can tell you, you know my kids are 14 … 8 to 14, which means they’re getting close to being finished, and I have no doubt in my mind that the choices that we made were the right ones for our family.”
My job, my primary job is to turn those four children into the best human beings out in the world possible and they’re turning our just fine, really, fine, fine individuals.
Amanda: My primary job to agree with you there and I think you answered my next question, how can we arm ourselves, protect ourselves from those naysayers and the mommy guilt. What would you say to a young woman, which is what you did, to speak to somebody who has got their head screwed on like you and somebody who is multi-faceted and who understands, who’s been there and done that but who can give you a broad perspective rather than the judgmental perspective to help you to see things logically rather than through the prism of guilt.
Kristen: Absolutely, one of my biggest pieces of advice to people is, “Be careful who you listen to.” You don’t have to listen to everybody and I remember I think it hit me when we had our youngest son …Sorry, our oldest was two and he would say things and all of a sudden I have this parenting epiphany that not everything your child says requires questions reaction. This is a moment for any new parents, this is going to blow your mind that not everything they say requires a reaction, sometimes your best reaction with your kids isn’t no reaction at all.
I think that’s the same thing when it comes to people who are naysayers or people who don’t have the whole picture or are giving not very positive feedback. Surround yourself, make sure you’re listening to and reacting to the right people.
Amanda: I think I’m going to paint that on my wall, I like it.
Kristen: You know the funny thing is it’s easy to give advice and then I have to go back every day when I have my weak moments or my moments of doubt and then I would say, “What would I advise me?” Then I have to do that. It’s easier to say than to do.
Amanda: Very, very [inaudible 00:45:31] advise, thank you Kristen. I’m going to jump right out of home and mommy guilt and with not comparing yourself, not worrying about what other people say to, back into the micro world of the gender pay gap. Do you believe it’s still a problem for women? Obviously it’s a problem for women not in the developed world but in the Western world, from your perspective, is it still something that absolutely needs tackling?
Kristen: Absolutely, I saw a cartoon, cartoon is a scary word to use since it wasn’t really funny but a man asked a woman if he could borrow a dollar and she hands him something and he says, “This is 77 cents,” and she said, “Yeah, it’s a woman’s dollar.”
Amanda: I saw that.
Kristen: It’s [crosstalk 00:46:21].
Amanda: There’s a video, actually it’s a … It was a woman and a man, I wish I’d saved it and send it to you, and the guy, they’d just both been given their pay rise in both the same jobs. What she started doing was she started doing 77% of the job and when her boss [inaudible 00:46:44] her on it she said, “Well, yeah I’m giving. I’m giving my full 77%.” Very good.
It’s just, for me that is mind-blowing, really unacceptable. I think again if they were easy problems to solve they would be solved a lot and they would have been solved long ago, but I do feel like the world has … must address this issue and women need to start raising it and forcing that discussion.
Working in Human Resources you get to observe anecdotally gender differences with regards to salary negotiations and things like that, and time and time and time again I find that men will negotiate their pay literally almost for what seems to be the sport of it, like to see if they can get more but no harm if not, where I see women time and time and time again take what they’re offered and be thankful for it.
My advice is in particular to young women when they’re taking their first roles, your base pay is the gift that keeps on giving because every increase after that is on that basis. If you don’t do right by yourself on your first job you are hurting yourself and your income for the rest of your career.
Amanda: I remember when I went from my first company to my second company and my pay increased by, it was by 85%, 85%, and that was …
Kristen: Good negotiating.
Amanda: No, it wasn’t that, I didn’t negotiate at all. When I told them what my salary expectations were I think they almost fell off their chair laughing and thinking, “We’re getting such a bargain here.” Because I had accepted a very, very low salary on my first job.
Kristen: I find that is consistently a gender difference. I mean I’m not a big fan of, “Oh there’s a problem, blame the women,” but at the same time I am a big fan of pragmatic solutions and a pragmatic solution to this is for women to start educating themselves on what they’re worth and start asking around.
Amanda: Absolutely. The women need to educate themselves on what they’re worth but from the organizational perspective has it got to be top down?
Kristen: You know it’s funny because there’s always the discussions, especially in Europe, if that should be mandated by the governments or things like that. I think pay is a very nuanced thing and a lot of people would like to treat it like it’s a science and I see it more of an art in paying the right amount for a particular job, given skills, and capabilities, and potential and all those things.
I do think that organizations need to be committed to ensuring that they are not inadvertently paying people differently based on their gender, but I always say, I use the example I’ve taken … I’m a woman who’s taken four maternity leaves that were each 12 weeks long, which means I have one year less work experience than if I had a, what I’d like to call an evil twin brother who is exactly the same as me in every way but didn’t take four maternity leaves so he has a year more experience, and I again, and again, and again see leaders wanting to pay, give a pay premium for years of experience.
Again, my CV doesn’t carve out my maternity leaves or anything like that but to a certain extent if you really boil it down I have a year less experience, does that make me worthless? Of course not, not if I’m contributing to the job right now. I think some of the things that we use to measure differences measure how we differentiate pay aren’t the right things to be looking at, but it’s an art.
In fact there is a study where professors were asked to rate the CV of a pretend laboratory manager applicant and in some cases the CV was named John, in some cases the CV was named Jennifer, but everything else was the same, and the professors rated John on a seven-point competency scale, they rated him a four and they rated Jennifer … Are you ready for this?
Amanda: Go on.
Kristen: A 3.3, and then when asked to propose an annual starting salary they proposed a starting salary for John that was $4,000 a year more than for Jennifer. It was the same CV.
Amanda: That’s an interesting story that rolls eyes here. What about …
Kristen: In certain roles.
Amanda: Discrimination? Is there a place for positive discrimination given this gender pay gap?
Kristen: Positive discrimination meaning doing something to pop women up?
Kristen: It’s always interesting because I often have people telling me … You know I see evidence of bias against women but I also see evidence of things going the other way, like they say they would point here to maybe a promotion of a woman that they wouldn’t have personally endorsed or programs that are targeted at women, or what you were suggesting was something to try across the board to fix this. People will tend to say, “Therefore it all evens out because there are some actions that if you would make things better for women then it evens out the actions that are making things not well for women.”
I point back to the global gender gap study that the World Economic Forum did this year that says that it’s going to take 80 years to close the gender gap given the current rate of women’s advancement around the globe. If it’s not going to happen in my lifetime or in my children’s lifetime I don’t think things are evening out. I really think there needs to be a mindset change that some actions need to be taken to level the playing field if you will.
I don’t have a strong opinion about whether or not certain actions need to be taken specifically on base pay but recognizing this is an analogy that I really like. It’s easy to think the system’s fair if you’re the beneficiary of the system’s unfairness and if this was a race there’s an invisible tailwind they’re supporting men through that race, and there is an invisible headwind that women must push against. When you accept that analogy then you realize you’re going to have to really do something to overcome that to get things fair.
Amanda: 80 years.
Kristen: That’s a long, long time. It’s a long, long time. It makes me so sad because if … pragmatic … “Well, it’s not going to happen in my lifetime,” but my eight year old daughters, come on, surely, surely we should make some progress for her and I mean honestly that’s what drives me to be so passionate about this topic. It’s too late for the world for me but I sure want to leave the world a better place for my kids and that is including my boys.
Amanda: Like you’re on a mission to accelerate and cut that 80 years gender gap down to, maybe about 10.
Kristen: Sounds good.
Amanda: Kristen, do you know what? The time has flown by and there’s so many different questions I wanted to ask you as well, but I’m very aware of the time and your time as well, can I just ask you one last question which is related to what you said before that your daughter said, “Mom, you know I’m really proud of you. I love you because you are changing the world.” There’s going to be lots of different women listening to this in different positions in their career in the world, how can an ordinary woman, each individual or ordinary an inverted [inaudible 00:54:35] change the world, do you think?
Kristen: My view, honestly I come back to what I said earlier which is you have a limited ability to impact the system when you’re under represented in the power structure, and my view is women who haven’t until now seen themselves as a leader or thought of themselves as a leader really have an obligation to step into leadership to enact that change. My call to action for women is to move into leadership so that you can have an impact on the system, and I think that’s what we can do. If we can start leading we can start having an impact.
Amanda: Given that everybody can’t be leaders how would you define leader that are not in that perspective?
Kristen: For me leadership, you can be a leader of none and I tell this to my kids all the time, they don’t have direct reports but you’re leading every day in the way that you’re taking in information, the way you’re working with the people who are in authority, the way that you’re driving change and driving a new way of thinking. I would ask if you can move into a formal leadership role, great, if that’s not for you or you’re not capable of doing that figure out the part of the world that you can influence, whether that’s your household, whether that’s your social networks and make sure that you’re pushing for the kind of change and the kind of fairness that you want to leave behind for my kids.
Amanda: Perfect. Thank you very much. What a wonderful way for us to … sadly bring this interview to a close.
Kristen: It was such a pleasure talking with you.
Amanda: An absolute pleasure for me. Thank you so much. I absolutely know that this interview is going to be so valuable to so many women to start changing the world alongside your day job of changing the world. Thank you very, very much. Kristen Pressner …
Kristen: Thank you, Amanda.
Kristen: Bye-bye, thank you.