Betsy Myers: How She Does It

Betsy Myers

Betsy Myers

Besty Myers 52, married, one daughter, CEO of Bentley’s Center for Women and Business, senior advisor to Barack Obama for President 2008, expert on leadership, and author of  Take the Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You”

You had a very high powered and visible job as the COO of  President Obama’s first presidential campaign with a small child. How did you manage?

That’s a good question. Like anything, it took a village. My husband was supportive and was willing to take total reins of our family responsibilities for much of the 2 year campaign. He really stepped up. It happened very quickly. From the time I met Barack, it was two weeks to my taking the job. I just thought:  this is an incredible opportunity and I would figure it all out afterwards. It was not the easiest for my family. You can kind of do something for a shorter period that you couldn’t sustain forever. We weren’t sure he would make it through Iowa. It was one year. For the first six months, I commuted to Chicago. I’d jump on a plane on Monday morning. Back on Friday. The good part was that I could work really long hours for those five days. That’s all part of being part of a political campaign. For the second six months my family moved to Chicago and when my husband returned to Boston, my parents–who live an hour from Chicago stepped in.

What is your secret to integrating work and life?

That is the beautiful part of this position at Bentley.  It is five minutes from my house, and is a job that has amazing flexibility. It allows me to integrate in a sane way, my home life and my speaking business. After the Obama campaign, my daughter’s needs were different. She was having difficulty transitioning back to Boston and I needed to be present and accessible. She needed more of a stable routine. As parents, we need to access the changing needs of our kids as they grow. What they need as a baby is so different than as a tween or teen. Academia is great to have balance in life.

How do your views on leadership inform how you integrate work and family?

Every leader has to lead themselves. First, you are leading your own life. I‘ve gotten very clear about what the most important things in my life, are. How does my schedule reflect that? What matters is my family, and self-care, exercise, and time alone. So every invitation I get, I think how does this invitation move one of the areas forward. I’m very careful about my calendar. When I was young and single, I was always looking for someone to have dinner with. But now, I’ve gotten very choosy who I spend time with.  Is this an A priority? That is how I am able to manage my life now. You have to say to yourself, “I am not going to be perfect but I can be strategic and thoughtful.”

Who did you admire growing up and why?

I admired my mother. She was a stay-at-home mom. She dropped out of school at 18.  By age 23, she had three babies. When I was a teenager she went back to school. And I watched her transform herself: she went toward the light. She showed us girls that you can change your life at any time by going toward your dreams and working hard. My dad had to adjust and he did. She was a happy person.  I respected him:  He would say “If you say you are going to do it, do it. Take the step.  Be tough.”

What do you think about the feminist movement?

I’m so grateful. Gloria Steinem just turned 80. I had the good fortune to cross paths with Betty Friedan. The only way we are going to make progress today is with men in partnership. They are the support and the teammates we need.

What role should government play in helping manage this balance?

Government can lead the way. When I was in the Clinton White House, it was the era of public-private partnerships. If the President sets the tone, then it sets the tone for the business sector. Another wonderful example: Massachussetts Governor Deval Patrick.  He said “we are still not there yet.” Even though almost fifty percent of his cabinet secretaries are women, he came up with the idea to create opportunity in the statehouse: the Women’s Leadership Fellowship. This is another example of a public private collaboration. Bentley and my center, CWB, will be coordinating the professional development around the 1 year program. Phase 2 of the initiative will be inviting Massachusetts businesses to do the same.

Tell me about your worst “house of cards” day.

I was in a staff meeting on the Campaign and I got call from my sister in law and then a call from my husband. My father in law passed away unexpectedly. I just picked up and had to get on plane.  I shared with the airline representative what had happened and she found me a seat on an over-booked flight home to Boston. These are the times that you are reminded of what really matters in life. Your career or job is just that — your career. You also learn from situations like this that you can leave and the organization keeps going. Even then Senator Obama called and said, “Betsy, you are right where you should be…take as long as you need.” Stuff happens in life and you have to deal with it one foot in front of the other.

 Photo credit: Bentley University


Judy Kugel: How She Does It

Judy Kugel, age 75, married 45 years.  Two sons, one the NYTimes Frugal Traveler, the other CFO of a prep school.  Grandmother of two boys, 7 and almost 10.  70-Something BloggerCompulsive exerciser, blogger (, friend.

How did you think about your work-life in your 20’s in your 40s and 60s?
Like most of my generation of women, getting the MRS. Degree was key and I failed to do that in college.  I was determined not to be a teacher or a nurse, so I started out editing a newspaper for a retail chain.  In my 30’s I co-founded the Boston Project for Careers—promoting part-time work and job sharing—while raising two kids and going to graduate school part-time..  But my focus was my family. My career at the Harvard Kennedy School started in my 40’s and lasted until now.

How do you think the feminist movement impacted your choices?
Unfortunately, I was about five years pre-feminism, but I do remember my well-worn copy of The Feminine Mystique and I have read much of the writing of feminists.

You have a great sense of style. How did you develop that?
Do you mean writing style, personality, dress?  I wouldn’t describe myself as one with great style, but I like that you asked the question.

What does balance mean to you?
Forever it meant work and family (and of course friends) with little time for anything else.  As a newly-retired person, I am exploring what balance means for me know.

Talk a bit about your blog and what it means to you?
I have always been interested in transitions.  I kept a formal journal of my 59th year, and often wrote about other meaningful transitions.  I taught several workshops on transition.  So when the blogosphere came along and I wanted to document what I thought would be a decade of great change, namely, the 70’s, I thought why not?  Since January of ’08, I have posted twice-weekly, never missing a date.  But my other writing has taken a back-seat, i.e., I just don’t do it.  I do hope to write a book about lessons for our 70’s.

What did you dream of doing that you have yet to get around to?
The only, and I mean ONLY, regret that I have is that I never lived in a foreign country.  I have been one very lucky person.

Did you have a role model for how to build your life? Who and How?
I did not have a role model.  It is true that I used to say I wanted to be Barbara Walters because she could talk to anybody about anything.  But obviously, I didn’t follow her path.

You are an avid traveler, how did you fit this in to your life?
Travel has enriched my life in so many ways.  We traveled internationally with our kids, starting when they were eight and ten, and we never looked back.  Earlier I had done Europe on my own (way before most women did).  In the past year, we have been to India and to Russia, both big trips.

How has your advice on career and life for your students, especially women, changed over the years?
My advice hasn’t changed, but women’s opportunities have.  I was honored to work with very motivated and bright women, so it was always more about helping them identify their goals than advising them differently.  The issues of work vs. family haven’t changed.

Describe you worst House of Cards Day?
Honestly, if I had a worst House of Cards Day, I have managed to bury it so deeply in my memory that I can’t recapture it.

Photo: courtesy Judy Kugel

Claire Goodman: How She Does It

$RHD4QHRClaire Goodman, 56, University Professor, MA/MFA Programs, Media Arts, Lives in New York City. Raised in England, one sister, documentary film maker

What led to your leaving England where you were born?

I arrived in New York on July 4th 1984 in time to see what all the fireworks were about. Why did I come? Well, I had just finished a series of contracts working as a producer and researcher for BBC Television and Radio; I wanted to escape London mired as it was in the throes of dismal Thatcherism; and I had an odd project to do in New York which was to set up advance promotion for a British all-women jazz band and land them a gig at the Blue Note (which I did, by the way.) Also, I thought it might be easier to be gay in New York than under the scrutiny of my cocktail party cronies at the BBC, or my sweet, traditionalist parents.

How do you think about work and life?

I think life is a grand experiment and we creatures are whizzing around a planetary zoo-crucible like flies – way too busy being busy to notice the large eyes of the wanton experimenter.Thus I think work is a good way of keeping busy, a hedge against having to dwell on life – on human insignificance. I think the hedge must be green, and definitely involve sex, laughter, fantastic views and whiskey.

What is your secret to integrating them?

See “hedge” above.

Who did you admire growing up and why?

My mother and my grandmother. Strong, indefatigable and unfailingly funny. Gloria Steinem because she is very handsome and talks sense.

What was your career plan?

Starting out, I wanted to make documentaries that dealt with social change and human rights. But before the days of cheap digital technologies and distribution, it was impossible to raise funds to do this. I changed horses and I realized I could make better headway to this end in the classroom. I am now a college professor of media arts and communication, encouraging and training young people to go out and do what I would have liked to have done.

What do you think about the feminist movement?

The feminist movement spawned feminist theory, even as it lost political traction since its early beginnings. As a teacher, I think feminist theory is probably the most important framework of knowledge through which to analyze culture and media. It illuminates and interrogates everything from who owns the knowledge, controls the production, pulls the strings, directs humanity. One cannot separate feminist thinking from theories related to race, class and gender. It is fundamental.

Tell me about your worst “house of cards” day.

The day I found out I had cancer at the age of 35. I am still alive and have managed to rebuild the house quite successfully. But I have found several cards are missing. They must have disappeared down the back of the sofa.

Jessica C. : How She Does It

Jessica C.  28, single,  has a younger sister, college graduate, food industry marketer, grew up in Boston

What do you think about Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s CEO, ending theJess C.
company’s telecommuting policies?

It is so hard to balance a career and kids that being less accommodating of employees being able to work from home seems very shortsighted.  Maybe it isn’t fair, but I am more surprised that decision came from a woman.

Do you think women can have it all?

Yes, but not necessarily everything at the same time. Having a good partner is a big part of that, I think. Between working hard all day, commuting, doing housework, cooking, taking care of your kids and spending quality time with them, and on top of that maintaining a strong and loving relationship, it is a lot to balance. Being with the right partner is necessary to do all those things well.

How do you and your generation think about the women’s movement or
women’s rights?

Truthfully I think we totally take it for granted. We can’t imagine a world where women are just supposed to get married and have babies. Recently when Nora Ephron passed away, I read all her old essays and honestly found some of her feminist articles boring because I just not relate to it at all. I am of course very grateful that the generation before us worked to change so much.

Tell me about your career trajectory to date.

I had a bunch of internships in journalism and really wanted to pursue it as a career. I took a semester off to intern full time on Weekend Edition Saturday at NPR and worked on a film festival at National Geographic. In Chicago my first job out of college was as a Research Analyst at a sponsorship consulting company.  The recession hit and so I found another job, for one of the best breweries in the country at Goose Island.

I founded the communications program and started managing their social media just as it took off for marketers. The culture of craft beer was wonderful.

One of my biggest passions is local food and I had a chance to explore working with start-ups. They included a sustainable coffee importer, an artisan food gift marketing business, and a food truck festival company. I worked at Allandale Farm in Brookline this fall and since November have been the Consumer Development manager at New England Country Foods in Cambridge, a natural soup company.

What do you aspire to career-wise?

I need to work for something I believe in and enjoy. After having many different experiences early in my career, I would like to grow within one company or organization for many years as the next phase of work. Both my parents were very passionate about their jobs and that inspired me to work hard so that I would be able to do what I love.

How do you imagine your life unfolding?

It was unexpected to move back to Boston.  Chicago is one of the greatest cities in the world and I love being out West, but the East Coast is home.

However it is very expensive here. I hope to be able to buy a place to live in the next couple years. I hope to advance in my career, get married and have a happy family life. Living in the same city as my parents has been wonderful and I’m grateful to have good new and old friends in Boston.  

At 28 I feel like I’m right between being young and growing up. As I get older and have greater responsibilities and commitments, I still always want to be able to follow my passions and have new experiences.

What do you want on the personal front? Do you want family?

Yes I do want kids. I am not in any immediate hurry at all, but definitely want a family.

How do you think integrating those things?

My sister and I always had babysitters growing up, because both my parents worked. I know it is almost impossible to have a full time career and be a full time parent, but I hope I can be very present in the lives of my children. I think having dinner together is very important and would love to be able to cook for my family most nights.

What will you be looking for in a life partner?

I feel so lucky to be in a relationship now that is completely fulfilling. Sharing values is essential as well as wanting the same lifestyle. A life partner to me is a best friend who you can rely on completely and be a team together. Someone that appreciates my interests and has their own, has a family I feel at home in, and a person you can always laugh with.

What is your own personal definition of work-life balance?

Being able to have time for family, the friends, and the career that makes me feel fulfilled.

Tell me about your worst or funniest House of Cards days?

Last year I moved to Burlington Vermont, to be part of a very exciting and high profile start up. Starting over in a new city with a new job, new friends, and being single was a lot of change all at once. I also was working on a program I run at a music festival in Chicago in my spare time and it ended up being too much to handle. I was so stressed out between working hard to perform in a role I was not well suited to, trying to make a life for myself, and producing this program that I crumbled. The job did not end up working out, but that ultimately was the best thing that could have happened. I learned a lot and it was a valuable lesson in not spreading myself too thin.

Photo credit: Jessica C.

Gabriella S. How She Does It

Gabriella S. 42. one son. married. leadership development and organizational development trainer.



Describe your career trajectory.
I went to graduate school as a dance movement therapist. But it was so intimate and so intense. I couldn’t handle the emotional boundaries. So I was able to convince the school that group therapy was the same as same as team building. I worked on a project that was affiliated with the Harvard Negotiations Project. I spent many years on the road. I worked with guys on oil rigs and taught them about “difficult conversations.” I remember being on an oil rig in the North Sea and telling these guys, that if employees brought concerns to them, it would actually be good to ask them questions.  They sent me up to work with truckers in Chicago, where I was the only woman dealing with male dominated groups. When I was working for Goldman Sachs, I would psych myself up by going into a bathroom stall and saying to myself, “think like a sperm – you need to be direct, confident, concise.”

How do you think about building a life?
I get overwhelmed immediately. Why? Because I want my son grounded, and rightly or wrongly I’m his compass. Sometimes that is in conflict of needing time to take care of myself or being clear about my own professional focus.  Sometimes I feel as if I have lost my way. How do I act as a stay at home mom in terms of my presence and act like a mom with a nanny in terms of an ability to have a career.  I’m not sure that I am that ambitious anymore. I don’t have the energy I used to.  Fingers crossed that I can invent something that holds both.

How do you think about work life balance?
I don’t believe in the balance thing. I have found that it more calibrated, more like mid-course corrections.  It is a language of mosaics, putting a patchwork together. It is like a kaleidoscope, to be a mom and a working professional, the boundaries aren’t so clear.  If you want to be both you either have to have a boatload of flexibility or a boatload of staff.  I am an office Sherpa.   I leave the office every day with a bag with everything, in case my son gets sick, then I can work at home.

Who did you admire growing up and why?
My godmother. She was a consultant to nonprofits.   I can remember her being on deadline for something and she’d go and hang the laundry.  “We are always rushing,” she’d say. “I need thinking time”.  We forget that we need thinking time. Now, sometimes I will say to myself, “Just go hang the laundry”

Did the women’s movement have an impact on you?
My godmother had been a nun. She left the church because she didn’t feel the Vatican II didn’t push far enough on rights for women.  So that sense of equal rights was very much in my growing up. I had that sense I could do anything and part of my job was to question.  I never felt like I couldn’t do that because I was a woman.

What are some of your “special sauces” to making it all fit?
I have let go of cooking every single night. It is okay to buy a prepared chicken. Outsourcing whatever can be outsourced, letting myself off the hook.

What advice do you have for young men and women who want families and work?
Forget about planning. There is no ideal time, and no bad time to have child. You will always conflicting priorities, with or without with a spouse in life.

Is there a role for government in creating some kind of balance and integration?
In the Netherlands – you get a year of paid maternity leave and you can do second year all paid for by government.  There is a culture that children should be with their parents and this does not mean a sacrifice in their career.   In the US, there is more a role in corporate sector than in government to address this.  What is the role of dads?  There are more men on the daddy track.  What does it mean in how we develop women’s careers. I don’t think it is necessarily the traditional “male” model.

But part of the challenge is how we frame this conversation. It is usually framed for rich, and usually white, successful women and the discussion is positioned as “self-actualization”. For some women, it is about survival.

Describe the nuttiest thing you had to do to as a professional working mom.
I was still breastfeeding. My son was a picky eater: he wouldn’t eat anything that is not the temperature he thinks it should be.  He refused to drink formula or frozen breast-milk.  So when I travelled, I would pump and then Fed-Ex the breast milk home (with an cold pack.) The hotel staff knew me and so did the Fed-Ex folks.

Are there things that you take from home life to the office and vice-versa?
One very tactical thing I do is tell my team personal stories about my life when they are opportunities for teaching moments. Also, so much of what I am responsible for is for seeing patterns in organizational setting.  A lot of my job as a mom is also to look for patterns relating to my son’s development.

Photo credit: Gabriella S.