Erica Pinsky



Are We There Yet? - Women, Position, & Power

 available as a PODCAST

Sixth in an interview series... an interview with  Jen Schaeffers


In May 2012 I participated as a community leader in the Minerva Foundation’s Learning to Lead weekend.  Jen Schaeffers, executive director of the CKNW Orphans’ Fund was the Keynote speaker on Sunday morning.  What struck me about this young, energetic, and at that time pregnant woman, was her willingness to talk openly about the challenges she was facing  as a working mom, a particularly relevant message given that a third of the audience were Grade 11 girls.


It is important to remember that this was before Sheryl Sandberg created a forum for this conversation with the release of her book ‘Lean In.’  My experience is that far too many women choose to stay silent with respect to how hard integrating family, life and leadership actually is.  After hearing Mrs. Schaeffers, I knew she was someone I was interested in getting to know and at some point, featuring in this series.


I am pleased to be able to share the highlights of our interview with you in this month’s post.  If you want the full story, please listen to the entire interview


Her career path to date

Echoing what we have heard in other interviews, Mrs. Schaeffers career path has not been a linear one.  She started her career in the hospitality industry then moved to sports marketing, working with Intrawest Corporation, Canuck Sports and Entertainment, then becoming the Director of Marketing Communication for Sport BC.


As was the case with Janet Austin, CEO of the Metro Vancouver YWCA who we interviewed for this series in March, in addition to her “day job” Mrs. Schaeffers was volunteering up to 20 hours per week.  She focused on children’s charities: BC Children’s hospital, Canuck place, Ronald McDonald house. Like Ms. Austin, Mrs. Schaeffers started wondering whether she might want to seek paid employment in the non-profit arena, as it was more reflective of her values and seemed to be where her passion lay.


In 2011, Mrs. Schaeffers was approached by a head hunter about the position of the Executive Director of CKNW Orphans’ Fund. Established in 1944 the fund is dedicated to enhancing the lives of children living with physical, mental, social and behavioural challenges living in BC communities. It has proved to be the perfect opportunity for her.


    Lessons for Aspiring Leaders

Values based leadership is a commonality I discovered among Employers of Choice featured in Road to Respect and one that is shared by the other female leaders interviewed in this series. Mrs. Schaeffers is no exception.  “If you are aligned with your values, both personal and professional you can never make a “wrong” decision.  It always feels right.”


On Gender and Career Progression

I was pleased to hear that while Mrs. Schaeffers acknowledges the reality of gender discrimination she has not personally experienced it in her career.  That said, when she worked in sports marketing she noticed that while there were a lot of women in middle management there were very few at the top.


American activist Marion Wright Edelman wrote “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Mrs. Schaeffers knew she was interested in senior leadership. The dearth of women in senior positions in that industry caused her to conclude that her career progression would be limited. She acknowledges that this was a contributing factor in her decision to leave the field.


    Lessons for Leaders

To ensure that your organization retains top talent, why not take a page from the Vancouver Whitecaps FC playbook.  When I went in to be interviewed for the position of Ombudsperson I was pleasantly surprised to meet Rachel Lewis, COO, along with her colleagues Bob Lenarduzzi, club President and Don Ford, VP Finance and Administration. Two of the 8 Whitecaps Directors are women. That translates to 25%, above the average not just in sports, but in senior positions in most industries.


On Women and Power

Mrs. Schaeffers recalls having been called “bossy” when she was a child.  “I was aware from an early age that that was not a good thing, though I didn’t necessarily link that to being a girl. I am thankful that I had parents that built up my confidence and told me I could be anything I wanted to be.”


As the mother of a four year old daughter, the “Lean In” research supporting the fact that success and likability are positively correlated for men, and negatively correlated for women, really concerns her. “Sadly these perceptions of women still exist. It is very prevalent in the media. High ranking female political figures are often portrayed negatively by the media.”


What women can do to counteract these perceptions is “Don’t perpetuate the stereotypes about women.  Don’t gossip and don’t play into it.”


Women who lead or who aspire to leadership positions can choose to “Define what is important to you.  Be authentic in who you are and how you lead.  Actively build a supportive network of like-minded men and women.”


    Lessons for Aspiring Female Leaders

Mrs. Schaeffers cautions young women not to buy into media messages that “dressing sexy is how you get power.  Don’t use your sexuality to get somewhere in the workplace.  It simply doesn’t work in the long term.”  Rather, create an image that is professional and choose clothing that reflects that and supports professional success.


On Being a Mother in the C-Suite

As opposed to other C-Suite Moms interviewed for this series with adult children, Mrs. Schaeffers has a 2 and a 4 year old.


Her husband grew up in a “traditional” household: where Dad worked and Mom stayed at home when the kids were little.  When she was first married, there was an underlying assumption that this would be the pattern she and her husband would follow. “People have these ideas in their minds that this is how it operates, when in fact so much has changed."  As their marital relationship developed, her career continued to progress and grow.  That required a shift in thinking, facilitated by numerous difficult and frank conversations about what “work and family” would mean for them and how to “redefine what ‘balance’ or whatever you want to call it really looks like.”


Mrs. Schaeffers acknowledged that she was hesitant to take on larger leadership roles because she has 2 young children. “Trying to do it all especially when you have young children is really challenging. Working at a senior level, managing the household, sitting on boards, doing volunteer work, networking and keeping your personal relationships sound can really feel like a grind a lot of the time.”  As a result, many women she knows have chosen to exit the workplace just when their careers are going to take off because it is too mentally and physically exhausting.


    Lessons for Women and Men Aspiring to “Have it All”

What she and her husband have done, is “redefine our relationship and what a household looks like.  It is not that traditional household that he grew up in.”  It requires having ”really having hard conversations with your spouse or person you are in a relationship with about what responsibilities they are going to take on and what responsibilities you are going to take on.”


Part of the conversation is looking at domestic chores through a different lens.  “As far as what is a “pink” job or a “blue” job, we threw that out the window.  We sit down together on Sunday night and make a list of what needs to get done. We go through our calendars and create a schedule based on who can do what that week.  The communication has strengthened our relationship and provided us with opportunity for growth. If one of us is feeling overwhelmed we know it is important to speak up and be vulnerable because that support is so important.  It’s about being open with each other and knowing when to bend.”


The requirement for open and honest communication extends beyond the household and into the workplace. Mrs. Schaeffers has already started talking with her team and Board about her need to take time off next year when her daughter begins a gradual integration into kindergarten.


“Communicate with your boss.  Set yourself up for success: ensure that your leader knows that flexibility in the workplace is important to you.”


   Lessons for Leaders

Mrs. Schaeffers experience confirms that workplace flexibility benefits both the workplace and the workers, whatever their gender. Consistent with what we have heard throughout this series, what is important is to “focus how much you are achieving overall rather than   time spent in the office.  I do a lot of work at night when my kids are in bed and I can concentrate and be very productive.”


On Women and Bullying

Mrs. Schaeffers began her thoughts on the subject of women and bullying with this quote from former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright


“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”


Her take on why women overwhelmingly target other women has to do with the fact that “women can have a lot of self-worth issues. When women gossip or bully or judge, it is usually about their own issues.”


She cited American scholar, author and speaker Brene Brown who has explored the relationship between the concepts of self-worth, shame and power. “Shame based people often use their power over others.”


Mrs. Schaeffers points to the role of the media, as explored in the documentary MissRepresentation. “The media plays a huge role in this.  You don’t see a lot of women supporting other women in popular media. (rather it) portrays a brutal stereotype of how women might be towards each other.  Young women are consuming this form of media. They may enter into the workplace thinking that is how things are and that it is acceptable to act this way, when in reality it is not acceptable.”


Mrs. Schaeffers practices self-awareness and strives to lead by example. “I choose not to engage. I notice my own reaction. If a beautiful woman walks by and my first reaction is negative I get curious about what is going on for me. Maybe I am not feeling that good about how I look. I choose to step away and not participate in judging or gossiping.”


The fact that CKNW Orphans’ Fund runs the Pink Shirt Day Campaign provides a myriad of opportunities to talk with her team, as well as other women she mentors and networks with about bullying and strategies to deal with it.


“I encourage women not to ignore it: rather stand up for what you believe in and don’t participate. If someone comes into your office and starts to gossip - nip that in the bud.  Choose not to engage.”


Mrs. Schaeffers also encourages awareness about the role of the bystander. My experience, confirmed by the research, is that most individuals who witness bullying are often reluctant to speak up or take action in large part due to the fear which disrespectful bullying behaviour creates in a work environment. Bystanders can use their power in a number of ways: “…providing support to the person who is a victim, or in some cases, addressing the behaviour with the person that is engaging in it by being curious and finding out what is going on for them.”


Advice for Male Leaders of Fortune 500 Companies

Mrs. Schaeffers shares my perspective on how to make a compelling argument to male CEOs on why gender diversity is good for business – focus on the bottom line. (hence the choice of the book title, Road to Respect: Path to Profit).  “Men are usually quite to the point.  I would share the research (Forbes among others) that proves that profit is tied to diversity on a board and in senior leadership ranks.  One finding of the research focuses on the collaborative approach that women often bring to the conversation and how that impacts decision making and business success.  It feels like a no brainer in this day and age.  It is about the numbers.”


Advice for Young Women Aspiring to the C-Suite

“I mentor young women, many of whom are incredibly articulate and bring a lot to the table.  They are figuring out who they are, and often put an incredible amount of pressure on themselves early on in their career.  What I believe is most important is to stay true to yourself. Be strategic and genuine. Embrace a positive outlook.”


She advises young women to develop a thirst for personal and professional involvement. “I am a big fan of mentorship. Surround yourself with people that can help you, bring you up.” She recommends reading: about leadership and about women in leadership. To increase self- awareness a critical leadership competency, she recommends the work of Brene Brown, in particular “Gifts of Imperfection.”


Her final piece of advice is one I often share with individuals I work with.


“Remove yourself from a bad situation if you can.

There are many corporate cultures that support the advancement of women.

Know what is important to you and don’t settle until you have it.”


"Our company recently implemented a Respectful Workplace training program. While researching and developing the program I discovered Erica’s book Road to Respect: Path to Profit. After reading it I realized that the information and guidance contained in the book would provide real value to our organization, so I distributed copies to the entire leadership team. For those organizations committed to building a respectful workplace, Road to Respect: Path to Profit is a must read."

Pauline Johnson
Envirotest Canada