Examining the concepts of owned ideas and recruiting help. An interview with Deborah Levine…
Exploring the traits of women in business
An interview with Jenna Fisher about interviewing businesswomen and creating strategies to help them close the gap.
Corporate progress for women is historically slow and filled with systemic biases that have stood for generations. So how can we raise up a new generation of female leaders capable of overcoming those challenges?
Today I’m pleased to be joined by Jenna Fisher – Co-lead of Global Financial Officer Practice at Russell Reynolds Associates and Wall Street Journal bestselling author with a new book To the Top: How Women in Corporate Leadership Are Rewriting the Rules for Success.
Jenna discusses how her book was 8 years in the making but only during COVID did she find the free hours to dedicate to the project. In February of 2022 she began interviewing amazing women in various roles and industries all over the world to learn their stories, struggles, and successes. Through these conversations, she learned how women can seize the opportunity in front of them.
In addition to the traditional biases that women have to deal with Jenna learned some of the things that women do that set them back, such as not applying for roles because they don’t tick every box in the job description, while men will traditionally apply even if they only check a few of the boxes. Jenna shares some tips for how women can overcome this hurdle and why they need to put themselves out there with confidence.
Finally we discuss how age and focusing on family can set women back in the workplace. Jenna explains that women often focus on being the best in their position and focused on family that other aspects, such as networking fall to the wayside. Peter and Jenna share advice for maintaining and growing those aspects that can make a real difference in climbing the ladder.
This is a wonderful conversation where women at any stage of their career can gain valuable advice on moving to the top!
Three Key Takeaways:
- Writing a book is like having a baby. Labor is hard, but the real work begins after the child is in the world.
- Women who pause their careers to focus on family need to find ways to maintain their network until they are ready to return.
- Age does not define the heights that people can go. Give people the grace to run at their own pace.
If you need a strategy to bring your thought leadership to market, Thought Leadership Leverage can assist you! Contact us for more information. In addition, we can help you implement marketing, research, and sales. Let us help you so you can devote yourself to what you do best.
Peter Winick And welcome, welcome, welcome. This is Peter Winick. I’m the founder and CEO at Thought Leadership Leverage and you’re joining us on the podcast today, which is Leveraging Thought Leadership. So today my guest is Jenna Fisher. She just wrote a book called To the Top, is that the right title, Jenna?
Jenna Fisher Yeah, it’s ‘To the Top,’ about how women in corporate leadership are rewriting the rules for success.
Peter Winick Yes, Thank you. And that book just came out. She is co-leads at Russell Reynolds, the global financial officer practice. She’s committed to finding transformational leaders who can guide companies forward in a changing world. So before we spend more time on her bio, let’s just spend time hanging out with Jenna. So welcome today. Jenna Thank you.
Jenna Fisher Thank you so much, Peter. It’s so great to be here with you.
Peter Winick So let me ask you this. You know, you were co practice lead at a major, major firm. You’ve got two kids. Obviously, the poodles are time consuming in all of them. So you must have been sitting around saying, you know what, I don’t have enough to do. I have way too much time on my hand and not enough obligations and responsibilities. I think I’ll just write a book. Is that how this happened?
Jenna Fisher Yeah. You know, sleep. It’s so overrated now. You know, honestly, what happened was I had this idea to write this book about eight years ago, and then, to your point, life really intervened. I was co-leading this practice group, I was running an office, young kids, etc., etc., and it kind of got put on the shelf. And then in 2020, when COVID hit, I found myself with a couple of free hours free and quotes every day because I wasn’t commuting anymore. And so I thought maybe I could write this book. And so I kind of got all my ducks in a row and lined up amazing women that from all around the globe who I interviewed. I started the interviews in February of 2022 and finished the manuscript in October of 2022. So it was kind of fast and furious, but it’s been a dream of mine to write a book, so it’s been really great that I finally made it.
Peter Winick That’s awesome. So before we dive into the essence of the book, what expectations did you have upfront about either what the process would be or whatever versus the reality of actually writing a book and now doing the hard part? Not that writing’s not hard, but actually getting it out and get eyeballs on the book and get it in the right hands of the right foot. What were the things that played out differently than you might have expected?
Jenna Fisher Yeah, it’s a great question. You know, one of my friends who has been a bestselling author said to me, you know, while writing the book is hard, it’s much like having a baby. And once the book has been birthed and into the come into the world, that’s really when the hard work begins. And I didn’t really believe him. But now that it’s two weeks from publication date, I’m spending a lot of time talking to people about the book, which is so wonderful to get the message out to the world. But I think there might be some truth to that. So that’s a little bit of a surprise.
Peter Winick Right? Well, we’ll hope the book leaves the nest before its 30 and becomes independent.
Jenna Fisher Back and all.
Peter Winick That.
Jenna Fisher I need to launch it.
Peter Winick Yeah, right, right, right, exactly, Exactly. So the model that you use, you interviewed a bunch of women, right? So give it give us the high level overview of the gist of the book and then how you went about writing it.
Jenna Fisher Yeah, well, I guess I would just say by way of background, I’ve always had a passion for keeping women on a path to professional success. Starting when I was in college, I wrote my honors thesis on the differential in performance between boys and girls in math and science. And what I learned in that endeavor was that the only statistically significant discrepancy between boys and girls was around their levels of self-confidence, not achievement. And then fast forward a decade to a very different sort of milieu. When I first started working at Russell Reynolds as an executive recruiter and leadership advisor, and I would hear from the women I interviewed, I’m the only one, only one, only one all the time. And so I started convening groups of women board members and CFOs, the two groups of folks that I recruit here and that followership person. And then simultaneously, I had the experience countless times where I’d be introduced to an incredibly talented woman who had had stellar academic credentials and had worked in a super hot company, led an IPO, blah, blah, blah. But then she dropped out of the workforce after she’d had her second or third child. Then fast forward a decade, she wants to get back in and and I was pretty much useless. And it was almost impossible for these women to rejoin the ranks of the working in a financially meaningful way. And this led me to think there has to be a better way, a way to keeping women with a toe, if not entire foot or more in the world of work so that women could ultimately be financially on par with men. And from there, I set out writing this book, interviewing dozens of incredible women, a very heterogeneous group, so different races, ethnicity, locations, functional expertise, industries, ages. And their stories were. Both incredibly inspirational but also really pragmatic that others, I think can benefit from and most importantly, that companies can benefit and learn from.
Peter Winick Yeah, so there are a lot of drivers and motivators and goals and such as behind the scenes, why people write books. Some of it’s intrinsic, right? It forces you to get your thinking tired. It was sort of always in you to get out, sort of speak a little bit about the bridging between the intrinsic like this was just fun to do because I could see as we’re talking your lighting up, you probably learned a lot, right? There’s something somewhat selfish in a good way like, wow, I get to talk to a bunch of smart people and learn. So learn more about a subject that I’m passionate about, but also bridge that to the benefit to the business. Because even though you had this free time with COVID, you could have said, I’m going to double down and find more talent, find more clients, buy more, whatever, right? So how does it benefit both you personally, professionally, etc.? And then where do you see it as a tool in the business side of the house?
Jenna Fisher Yeah, well, it was funny because in 2021 I did that as well, so it’s such a busy time in recruiting. So it wasn’t necessarily an either or. We pretty synergistic actually, because so many of these women were either clients or had been clients or candidates. And so there was there was some overlap, not 100%, certainly. But, you know, I certainly I’ve always been very reflective about what do I think it takes to be successful professionally. And I of course, I went into this book writing process with my own hypotheses based on my.
Peter Winick Sure.
Jenna Fisher But I did learn a lot. And one of the things I’ve always loved about my job in executive search is that no two days are the same, and I’m always meeting amazing people and talking to incredible people and learning. And this was really just an extension of that. And there were a few surprises that came out of it. Like, for example, one of the things I didn’t have that sort of a working hypothesis personally, but that I learned by interviewing these women is the importance of entrepreneurship and how critical that is as sort of a long term wealth creating, multigenerational wealth creating mechanism. And I learned that only 2% of VC deals fund women backed companies. And I’ve definitely seen this play out as a recruiter where women, when I call them about the job opportunities, they say, well, I haven’t checked this box or that box, so, you know, you shouldn’t consider me for that role. And it’s the same thing with entrepreneurship. Some of the women I interviewed, like one of the ones that comes to mind is Jennifer Goldfarb, who was the CEO and founder of IPSE, which is an online beauty company, very successful. She said, You know, like I could have always said, like, oh, yeah, there’s another box to check, but at some point you just got to jump in and do it. And, and so yeah, I learned a lot and there certainly were lots of surprises along the way.
Peter Winick Well, and stay there in terms of the differences between men and women. Right. So and the research backs this this is not my view chauvinistic or not. Right. Like it’s you know men will sort of not exaggerate, but maybe stretch the truth, you know, maybe apply for a job that they’re like, Mm. Like, yeah, I kind of know I’m not qualified, but what the heck, Draw my hat in the ring. But to women, that concept of, well, there’s always another box to check. And again, we’re painting with a broad brush here. I think it plays out more where many guys will look and say, well, missing three check box, but you know, I’m so strong and this other one or so dynamic or who would they be crazy not to want me. How does that you know it becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy right.
Jenna Fisher Yeah. No, you make such a good point. And I’ve seen lots of women over the years in my position who’ve not applied for a job I’ve called them about because they don’t check all the boxes. One example that comes to mind on a no name basis is a woman. I was working on a CFO search for a technology company. This is probably seven years ago now, and I kept getting referred in the market to this one particular woman who I didn’t know, but I called her and she seemed great, but she said, no, you know, I haven’t led investor relations before, so you should talk to me about this role. And it’s well, you know, that’s actually not that important to my client. The CEO is really okay if you haven’t led investor relations. And she declined to participate. And I kept hearing her name. So what I did was I figured out who one of her mentor as well as who I happen to be. I called her and I said, you’ve got to get this woman who applied for this job. Long story short, she ended up calling she ended up getting her in in the mix. She got the job. She was hugely successful. She’s now at an even bigger and more prestigious company on several public company boards. And I go back is amazing. If she was the kind of person as talented as she is, who is loathe to participate because she thought, I can’t possibly it made me think. One woman I interviewed, Amy Birdsall, who’s the head of technology and Autodesk. When I interviewed her for my book, she said, Position, specifications or wish list. No one is a unicorn. And I mean, I got to tell you, like I’ve been recruiting executives and board members for 20 years now, and she’s right. Nobody is perfect.
Peter Winick But, you know, it’s interesting. One of the things that was interesting about the story that you just told is that multiple other people in the market threw her hat in the ring. So they thought highly of her. They thought, why don’t you describe to them what the position entails, like, oh, this person, so-and-so clearly qualified, clearly whatever, But they didn’t think it themselves. Like, that’s really interesting, too. And I wonder if there’s something we could do with that in terms of saying, Wait, how many Ask your friends first or ask people that know you or ask your mentors or people that admire you and say, Listen, I have my doubts, but you tell me honestly, because, you know, I’ve been asking strangers at Starbucks, but people that you know, well, what do you think? And they might say, Hell yeah, of course you are. Or. Mm, Yeah, I could see why you would think that, right? Like, really, really interesting. Yeah, go ahead.
Jenna Fisher Rosie. I think that touches upon a really important point, which is for a lot of and I’m going to say women, I think this is more true of women than men when they have children and a career in a very pragmatic, sensible way. They say, okay, those are the two things. I’m not operationalize, right? I’m going to kick butt in my day job. I’m going to come home. I’m going to be the best mom I can be, and everything else gets pushed to the sidelines. And what comes out of that is you don’t keep up with your networks externally and very, very pernicious in when you get to a point where you’re maybe not in a job you like, you’re underpaid or so for this reason. And so one of the things that I write about in my book is the once a month rule, once a month, take yourself on a professional date. What I mean by that, it’s like go to lunch with a mentor, go to a networking event, go to an industry conference, do one thing a month that keeps your toe outside of your world of immediate work so that you have that perspective, because I think it could be really hard. I mean.
Peter Winick Well, I’ll add one to that. So yeah, because I just do this a lot. It’s been a habit and it’s actually worked really well, but it was never I never did it to say, Oh, what’s my ROI on this? Lunch is great. We can only eat lunch once a day and then, you know, now you’re like, Oh my God, I actually have to go meet somebody, whatever, whatever, like, and we want to do that, right? I find it incredibly impactful and powerful for me to go out of my way to three times a week to say, Who are two people I need to introduce to each other that could benefit somehow from it. I don’t need to be there. I can just say, Hey, Jeremy, Fred, Fred, me, Jana. Here’s what I think. You two should grab a cup of coffee or a call or a zoom or whatever. And then usually at least it’s a nice conversation and it’s turned into jobs and great I mean, the gamut. And a lot of it is like, you know, I get a little bit of the halo from that, like, oh, you know, well, we wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for Peter, you know, connecting. So that’s one I want to go back to the recruiter.
Jenna Fisher So I do that all day long.
Peter Winick Yeah, exactly. Exactly. If you’re enjoying this episode of Thought Leadership Leverage, please make sure to subscribe. If you’d like to help spread the word about our podcast, please leave a five-star review at ratethispodcast.com/ltl and share it with your friends. We’re available on Apple Podcasts and on all major listening apps as well as at Thought Leadership Leverage dot com forward slash podcast.
Peter Winick So I want to go back to some of the business benefits again. And one of the things that you touched on that I want to push on and then go a little bit further is most people think in a linear manner. That’s just how we are. We’re logical, more rational and you know, wake up, brush your teeth, have breakfast, sleep, wake up, have dinner, brush your teeth. I mean, we all might have had days. We’ve done that. But that’s not the typical. Right. And what I mean by that when it comes to a book is I’m going to do the research, I’m going to do an outline, I’m going to write the book, then I’m going to publish the book, then rainbows and unicorns, you know, good stuff will happen. And I think one of the things based on the model that you use and we encourage it for others is, well, when you talk to all these people, one is there’s probably a list of greater than the number that you spoke to that you considered maybe even greater than the number that you interviewed. That’s a relationship development opportunity. So there’s, you know, two calls you can make. Hey, it’s Jenny. And they might say, I’m not in the market, you know, thanks, you know, whatever. But when you say, hey, it’s Jen, I’m doing research on a book, great. Let’s talk next Tuesday. Right. Like, that’s a different game. And it’s a it’s a deep touchpoint. So touch on that. And then let’s go back to some of the other benefits to the business.
Jenna Fisher Yeah. No, I mean, it was really fun to put together a list. And you’re right, there were lots of people I considered, but I really, I tried to be as far reaching as possible, and I leveraged my partners here at the firm, you know, partners of mine in Asia and Europe to say this is kind of an archetype I’m looking for. Can you help me to have somebody in your network? Because. Yes, you know, let’s face it, we all are pretty much surrounded by people who are more similar to us, especially geographically. Right? That’s just true. And so it was a fun process to kind of go through a window to really make sure I was getting a diverse. As a ray of focus as possible.
Peter Winick Yeah. And even when people say, Oh, I can’t help you, but you should talk to so-and-so, they would be perfect based on the criteria that you laid out. Don’t they start cheering for you? Like the other thing is, I think that the more people that are aware before a book is launched that you’re in the process of winning on writing one that you’re writing one, you know, people want their friends and colleagues and people they know and love to succeed. So then you get a lot of, Wow, how can I help you? And I think the issue there is to say, Oh, thanks, I’m really flattered. That’s one answer. It’s kind of not a good answer. The better answers. So glad you asked. You know, here’s not to overwhelm them, but I’m doing webinars and companies. We could do a bulk book like here’s four or five things that you can do. You can write a review, so glad you want to support and you give them different things at different levels of support. Writing a review only takes 3 minutes. It’s an incredibly powerful thing that someone can do for you that that is really not a big ask, right?
Jenna Fisher Yeah. One of the things I did too, I started when I started to have this idea at the beginning of COVID, of going back to my book before I even started putting pen to paper around who I was going to interview. I started putting postings on LinkedIn just sort of with my thoughts. I had a broad outline and now I have a followership of over 10,000 people, and they’ve been really great in sharing my book to other people in their networks, which I’m really grateful for. So and it’s been a fun way to get ideas and feedback too. So it’s a great way to iterate.
Peter Winick Well, I think that that concept of sharing that, you know, there was an old school mentality of, oh, maybe we show the movie trailer, but we don’t show the film. The reality is LinkedIn and other platforms are great places to do real time R&D, because once the book books out, you can say, Oh geez, Chapter three. Wow, that feedback was really good. I really, I really should have done it differently. It’s done right. You press ahead. But if when you’re testing ideas and testing concepts, that’s a great way to put content out on LinkedIn. Engage with folks, get the feedback, because oftentimes what I find both not just myself, but clients were really, really bad at accurately guessing what will resonate most with people. So we you know, we come up with something and say, Oh, this is my Mona Lisa, and we put it out there, crickets. Then we come up with something else and say, I’m almost embarrassed to put my name on this I brain fog. I don’t know. It’s a little too whatever. And that’s the thing that sort of catches on. Your thoughts on that?
Jenna Fisher Well, it’s funny, I was smiling because one of the things that I found just in sort of putting things out there and then going back and looking to see what had the most receptivity word, I get the most comments and feedback. To my surprise, a lot of the things where I put a picture of me and my daughter together, people love that. You know, and that’s something like for me on LinkedIn, I felt like, oh, that really that’s not very professional, is it? You know, like, this is my work life. But it’s one of those things where I learn that actually being vulnerable and being open, people respond to that.
Peter Winick And really when I think I think there’s something interesting about that because LinkedIn, my view from what I see has sort of won the race for where do you need to be? If you had limited time to spend on social, you have to be on LinkedIn. Now, it used to be there was a hardcore separation between church and state. Facebook I’m hanging out on the couch with the kids on Hawaii. Look, I just eat a vegan burrito, like all that stuff, whatever to your quote friends. And then on LinkedIn, it was more of the buttoned up. And I think largely as a result of COVID where every line got blurred. You have more freedom and leeway. So it doesn’t mean that you confuse the sort of norms of LinkedIn for Insta. Right. But whereas five years ago, you probably wouldn’t have done the pics with your kids, I’m like, Whoa, that’s just not you’re hiding your kids. But yeah, it’s kind of not how we do it here. And what I’m finding now on LinkedIn is people are so showing things are going with their families, going to church with a bit of travel, not a lot. I mean, it’s just a little dose and people go, Oh, they’re kind of human like me, you know?
Jenna Fisher Yeah, exactly. No, I think it’s great. I think it’s good.
Peter Winick You have to pay. You have to get the kids to sign a release forms and then pay them royalties or they will they will potentially sue you.
Jenna Fisher But yeah, like my son is an introvert, so he doesn’t really appreciate it as much as my daughter.
Peter Winick Okay, There you go. So it’s our launchpad to fame.
Jenna Fisher We pretty much talk. Here we go.
Peter Winick Any any other takeaways in terms of as we start to wrap, you know, things that you’ve learned or things that you wish you knew two years ago when you were starting this process that you now know and maybe fell off the bike and scraped your needle or.
Jenna Fisher Yeah, well, I think there definitely there about three things I would say were kind of surprises to me. And writing the book in terms of things I learned. One is, as a recruiter, if you had said to me two years ago, Hey, here’s the resume of a 50 year old VP in a company, well, he or she ever make it into the C-suite, I probably would have said, you know, I don’t know, maybe if they’re not there already, maybe they’re never going to be. Maybe there’s just a really good number two. But now I think, oh, my goodness, that’s such a misguided sentiment. Maybe there were reasons that that person wasn’t running a 26.2 mile sprint every day of their careers. And maybe they’re going to write you tweet at age 55 when their kids are off in college and they’re more free to travel for work. I interviewed several women in my book who didn’t work outside the home until their forties, and now they’re hitting their stride in their sixties or seventies.
Peter Winick Wow.
Jenna Fisher That’s really amazing. I mean, you know, and so, you know, after all, we’re all living longer, hopefully. And so I think we need to give people a little bit of grace to run whatever it is at their own pace. So that’s one. Another is the importance of measuring the outputs, not the inputs. And what do I mean by that? I mean, I think, you know, many years ago, if we saw somebody getting into the office at seven in the morning and leaving at ten at night, that Bob, he’s a killer. He’s crushing.
Peter Winick Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jenna Fisher Right, right. But who knows if Bob’s doing anything other than surfing the Internet all day. And so now we can look at somebody.
Peter Winick Of his wife or his miserable at home and his wife. Remember that? Like there was there was at least our mental connection. And in some industries, financial services, there’s this machismo, alpha, whatever. Oh, you get down at six, I can get it at 530. Well, I can get in yesterday it looks like dude like. But I think you’re right. Like now I think we’ve all realized one of the, one of the wacky, dirty secrets of corporate life now that we’ve been through combat is you can get a lot done in a short period of time. Not in the office, actually. You get an eight hour day done, probably in three or four, if you’re actually honest.
Jenna Fisher Yeah. And I think we need to leverage technology more. And it made us it was forced us to do this right. So now we can see what somebody is contributing regardless of when or where they’re working. And so I think that ultimately, you know, of course, there are new managerial skills that have to be learned to do that well in a company. But I think it’s a game changer, particularly for women in corporate roles. But for everybody, frankly, I think it’s a real benefit.
Peter Winick Yeah, no, I think you’re right. That’s right. Well, this is pretty phenomenal. Yeah. Oh, we got.
Jenna Fisher One other thing.
Peter Winick Around here, just quickly. Yeah.
Jenna Fisher One other thing. That was a surprise to me, Peter, that wasn’t on my list when I started. This was the importance of paternity leave, you know, parenting being done by both genders. It’s not enough for companies to have paternity leave options. We really need to create the culture in our companies where men don’t feel friction about taking time at home with their families, because otherwise you’re sending the indirect message that home and hearth is really up to women to manage, and that really is deleterious to women’s careers. And so I’m a big believer in that now. And it’s something that really wasn’t even so much on my radar screen when I set out to write this book.
Peter Winick Well, I think some of that is generational, and I think what you’re alluding to is the importance of it’s cultural. You might have a great policy, but there might be the unwritten culture said, Yeah, but if you’re a guy and you take paternity leave, goodbye to that promotion. Oh, you just went on the daddy chart. Like, like, what does it really mean here? Right. Let’s be honest, because what the culture says and what the handbook says, the culture is going to trump the handbook.
Jenna Fisher That’s right. But I think that smart companies are going to win out because they’re going to get the best talent by having the most progressive policies.
Peter Winick I think we’ve seen that. We’ve seen them doing that with much smaller things in maternity leave, you know, like no meeting Fridays and those that really enforce it. And typically it also has to be a top down, right? You can’t say, oh, for you folks, but I’m obviously royalty. And that doesn’t apply to me. Right. Like, that’s why it has to be some modeling from a leadership perspective. Well, this has been phenomenal. I appreciate your time. Appreciate your effort. And thank you so much for sharing with us today.
Jenna Fisher So nice to meet you, Peter. Thank you so much.
Peter Winick Thanks. To learn more about Thought Leadership Leverage, please visit our website at ThoughtLeadershipLeverage.com to reach me directly. Feel free to email me at Peter at ThoughtLeadershipLeverage.com and please subscribe to Leveraging Thought Leadership on iTunes or your favorite podcast app to get your weekly episode automatically.