The End of a Chapter

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I had several other topics planned for my next posts, but I think it would be disingenuous to ignore the current situation – my layoff this past week from my company. It’s a hard thing to talk about, but already I have found help in others who have been through this before me. I think, therefore, sharing my experience might help others.

Let me say this first. I bear my (now previous) company no ill will. Whatever the reasons for the layoff or the reasons my particular position was eliminated, this is, after all, just business. One of the most oddly comforting things anyone said to me was when my friend John asked, “Is this just your first layoff?” It is powerful knowing that you are not alone.

The news of my layoff came to me in a rather unusual way – by phone, in the middle of a presentation I was giving at a conference out of town. Many people asked if we had any warning. The short answer is no. At least, not the specifics.

The longer answer – there had been rumors circling for months and all manner of suggestions had been offered. That’s the way so much of this goes. Actions have to be taken but explanations cannot be offered. That leaves everyone to fill in the blanks with speculation.

A week out I am experiencing what the handy transition workbook I have been given calls “an emotional rollercoaster.” In fact, those are the exact words I have been using. Normally I love rollercoasters, but in this case, not so much.

There are moments when I am scared as can be. I have cried, I have had a panic attack or two. I have had moments of self-doubt and anger. As the main breadwinner for my family, the feeling that the futures of my children are in jeopardy can be overwhelming. Also overwhelming – the well-meaning comments that keep coming that say I will certainly find something incredible, something amazing. What if I don’t?

To find a new job, I suddenly find I need a clear vision of what I want for the future. Having to instantly articulate who I am, what I want out of a career…not easy stuff on a good day.

At other times on this rollercoaster, I am up. I am dreaming, scheming, networking, and planning for a brilliant future that may never have been possible without the layoff. I feel free. The world is my oyster. My family and I can go anywhere we want. While the kids do not want to move, we are all coming around to the idea that this inevitability could be an exciting (if daunting) possibility. I am generally a positive, don’t-look-back kind of person. I am fortunate this way – more of my time is spent in this space.

For the last week, I have been busier than I have been in a long time. I have been reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances. I have been talking with recruiters. I’ve been meeting with coaches and participating in all of my non-profit organizations. I’ve been continuing my research. And I have been driving my children around the city seemingly non-stop (I’m considering adding Pro-bono Uber Driver to my resume).

I am grateful for all of the opportunities I have had up to now. I have met so many incredible, wonderful, exceptional individuals, and worked alongside some of the most brilliant minds I have ever met. The teams I worked with were extraordinary. I’m sure many of these friendships will survive this.

And I will survive. The workbook says that unemployment can feel the same as the loss of a loved one. All of the stages: shock, fear, anger, depression, acceptance (many of them appearing simultaneously) are all there. I can confirm this.

I’m trying to learn now how to take things one day at a time now. I realize this is a whole new world for me and I am bound to make some mistakes along the way. I accept that. I am working to ensure I am not concerned about the expectations of others and that I keep the expectations of myself in line.

I am excited. I am scared. I am empowered. I am nervous. I am full of ideas. I am overwhelmed.

And I will continue to keep writing. I hope all is well with you!

What it takes to be yourself in corporate America…

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One piece of artwork I have in my office

This has been an incredibly difficult article to write. I am curious about your experience in finding yourself in corporate America. Please, if you would, share your experiences by leaving a comment on this post.

While I believe that corporations are evolving and that individual expression is becoming more acceptable than ever before, I believe we still have a problem. Certainly, some corporations are significantly further ahead on this than others. In many, though, the rules of the game demand that individual expression be left at the door.

What I want to share here is my personal journey and experiences I have had over my career. In doing so, I hope to offer others some guidance and if I do this right, some hope.

I have been doing quite a bit of thinking on the topic of what it takes to be yourself in corporate America lately. Over the last few years, I have been on a journey to ‘find myself.’ Or perhaps I mean I have been looking for my purpose in life, or my true happiness, or my mission.

Whatever it is, what I do know is that It can easily be lost in corporate America. This may not be true for everyone, and may be true for those outside of corporate America. What I know is that I lost part of myself somewhere along the way, and am now working hard to bring her back.

Before I go any further, let me say that what has lead to my success thus far may have been necessary. It seems to me that there is a pretty clear recipe for success in corporate American. Many people may not like this part of what I have to say – I honestly don’t like it myself.

Most of us, in joining the corporate world, begin at the bottom in an entry level position. We are one of many. In this position, we have to find ways to differentiate ourselves from everyone else. How we go about doing this determines whether we rise or whether we stay.

The best way to differentiate yourself is quite obvious – work harder, work smarter, and work politically. Notice that none of this says anything about being yourself. In fact, I would argue that all of this asks you specifically to subvert your uniqueness. This is, of course, true only if you are looking to move up the corporate ladder. If you are content where you are and have no ambition to climb higher, I believe corporate America will willingly take you as you are. We need people like you.

But if you are trying to get ahead, advance your career, earn more money, have a greater influence, you are going to hit some road bumps. You are going to find situation after situation where being yourself just doesn’t feel possible.

That may be your truth for a time.

You may find that you have to cover those tattoos, forego the bright blue hair color, save the crazy shoes for the weekend, talk more quietly/loudly, write your blog under an assumed name. You may have to play the game. For a time.

I am here, though, to tell you it won’t always be that way. Not completely.

I have found that when an individual has proven their skills and has earned the respect and admiration of their colleagues, that door cracks back open. Those parts of you that were stashed away can come back out to play. As your success grows, your ability to fully share your uniqueness will grow as well.

Before I share some examples from my own career, I want to address the need to be authentic to be a successful leader. I believe firmly in the need to be authentic. I believe that even when hiding away important parts of yourself, you can still be true to your ethics and beliefs. I believe that what I am suggesting here is not in opposition to being authentic. It is simply finding a way to be authentic while playing a game with rules written by someone else.

Here are some examples from my career:

I am an artistic sort. As such, I love to add color to anything I do. While managing a number of different teams, I was sending out emails that had updates for each team color coded. Team A was in blue, Team B was in pink, and so on. My manager had a rather violent reaction to this (he felt that I had produced something that belonged in a kindergarten classroom rather than a business office), and henceforth, I withheld color from all emails, and from most of what I did in the office. This was 10 years ago or so.

Whether he was right or wrong does not matter. What matters is that I had learned a rule of the game – when working for this manager (and others like him), do not use color. Got it.

Recently, I felt pulled to bring color back into all areas of my life. Taking a huge risk given the conservative industry in which I work and the conservative town in which I live, I added a few pink streaks to my hair. Then a few more. Before I knew it, I had a large swath of purple hair on the left side of my head. It felt amazing!

The exciting part – the only comments I got at work were positive ones. From there I have been adding other elements of creativity and color back into my work life – my office is decorated with different and crazy art and I have been intentionally buying brighter colors for my wardrobe.

Another example:

When I was first promoted into management, my manager pulled me aside and said this: “You need to be careful who you spend your time with during the day. You would do yourself a favor by choosing new lunch companions. Who you are seen with will reflect back on you.” I remember at the time being thoroughly confused – my friends were wonderful people, as far as I could tell.

The lesson there, though, was that people like to paint with wide brushes. Apparently, the folks I was eating with were not viewed as management types, and were, in some cases, seen as ‘difficult.’ If I continued to associate with them, I would risk being painted the same. What a horrible thing, and yet it was the truth.

Today, however, I have lunch with whomever I want – many, many different people – and I enjoy every one of them. I am not worried any longer about being painted one way or another – the privilege of my position protects me from that.

Final example:

Anyone who knows me knows my laugh. I love to laugh! I love to talk with others and share fun and delightful stories. I like to get to know others, hear about their lives, share in their joy. Early on, however, I learned that being loud and boisterous was not seen as having ‘executive presence.’ It was crass and unprofessional.

I have heard managers, regarding other associates say things like, “I need to get her to clean up that wardrobe,” or “She really needs to be wearing makeup,” or for men, “I really need him to shave/trim/get rid of that facial hair.” I even heard a comment at a recent event on workplace dress that all women who wish to get ahead should wear skirts and high heels every day. All of this in service to the rules of the game.

Nowadays for me, however, very few days go by without a loud, hearty haHA! and I feel much better for it. And I rarely wear high heels anymore. They hurt my feet!

So, what changed? From the early days to today? Time, effort, dedication, and proof that I am here, I am all-in, I am a leader, and I am serious. Despite (terrible word) the colored hair, the crazy artwork, the loud laughter, I am invested in the success of my organization and my employees.

In a word, I have earned privilege.

So what gives? Are we, the ambitious leaders of corporate America, doomed to a life of repressed self-expression? Of subverting our wishes and desires for the greater good?

The hard answer is, in many ways, Yes. The purpose of the corporation is to provide a return on investment to the owners, not to allow space for the personal expression of all employees. We win the game by playing the game.

But once you begin to climb, the freedom comes. You just have to insist on it.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this. Please share!

Have a great Wednesday!

An Experiment All Leaders Should Try

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I had an amazing experience this past week. I went to summer camp (Yes! Summer camp! For grownups!) up in the woods of Michigan with 70 or so other women. We did all kinds of fun things like swimming in the lake, having a pool-side happy hour, and sharing many deep and magical conversations.

We did arts and crafts, we danced, we did ropes courses complete with the biggest climbing wall ever (not me, but some stronger, braver people did). We cried, we laughed, we stayed up late and shared stories we couldn’t share anywhere else.

This was all due to the amazing work of Molly Mahar and her Stratejoy team. I give my highest recommendation for her work.

Underlying all of the fun, games and conversations at camp was one basic premise. This is what I want to bring back to all of you leaders.

In coming to camp, we all pledged to be completely judgment free for the whole week. We were coming from all corners of the US and further, and we were everything from doctors to lawyers, professional photographers to stay-at-home moms, vice presidents of life insurance companies (that’s me) to pharmacists, and everything in between. We were introverts and extroverts, early birds and night owls, single, married and divorced, young and old(er).

Bottom line, we were all very different.

It would have been the easiest thing in the world to be judgmental. For most of us, it is nearly second-nature. “She shouldn’t be wearing something that short/long/tight/loose!” “Why does she talk so much/so little?” “Is she really going to eat that much/that little?” All of this is part of what we do to some extent every day.

Think about what it would take to remove all of this judgment. It’s tough! When someone sat right in the spot where I had been planning to sit, instead of thinking, “That jerk! She is so rude!” I had to think “Okay, that spot is now taken, and I can probably find another one that will work just as well.”

When someone kept talking for an extended period of time, I might have thought, “Dang it! Is she ever going to stop talking? Can’t someone else have a turn?” but instead I thought, “She has quite a bit to get off her chest, and I should listen to see if I can learn from her or help in some way.”

The results were astonishing. People were suddenly free to be exactly who they wanted to be and who they were meant to be. There was absolutely no drama. Women were able to share deep, intimate stories quickly and without fear or inhibitions. We could dress however we wanted. We could be comfortable and rid ourselves of self-consciousness.

A very wise friend and I discussed this phenomenon on the way home from camp. One of the main reasons this judgment-free stuff worked is that there was an explicit agreement on both sides of any interaction at camp that whatever happened would be judgment free. This built an incredible level of trust. The trust helped us connect quickly and easily. Without this trust, it would have taken much longer to make connections. Without this trust, a person could be taken advantage of. Or maybe not.

So, I have a challenge for you.

Pick an hour of the day. Or pick a particular meeting. Or a particular person. And then try removing all judgment.

Start small. See what happens.

In a meeting, instead of thinking “I hate when he says things like that,” try going deeper to figure out why you feel that way, and/or why he might feel the need to say the things he says. You might find yourself surprised at what you come up with.

During a conversation with a colleague, instead of thinking, “She is so ignorant! Why doesn’t she get this?” try thinking, “What can I do here to help her understand what I am trying to say? How can I be clearer?” or “What piece of information might I be missing here?”

Try it once, then try it again. Then keep trying.

One lesson we hear often that will help is the idea of listening to hear, rather than listening to respond. In other words, while someone else is talking, instead of trying to figure out what you are going to say next, stop and just listen to what the other person is saying. The difference is rather incredible.

This can open us to different perspectives, different opinions, and additional facts and ways of thinking. It results in a more diverse workplace where everyone feels welcome, and everyone feels comfortable sharing their knowledge and opinions. We would be more effective and our companies would be more successful.

I think we, as leaders, can set an example to others by being open and accepting and meeting people where they are instead of expecting them to meet us where we are. This can sometimes take more effort and energy. It will take attention and concentration. I think, though, that we can create a better world for our employees, our friends and our family members by removing as much judgment as we can from our daily lives.

If we as leaders can model this behavior, in doing so we can create open, sharing environments where we aren’t constantly overwhelmed by politics.

It will take extreme corporate and personal courage to make this work, but I believe that we can all do hard things.

Give it a try, and let me know how it goes!

As always, keep it positive and smile!

Dealing with issues head on

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Last night my 10-year old daughter learned a lesson. It was hard, and it was important.

Last night she learned that dealing with problems head on is the best way to handle of them. She learned that no matter how bad she feels, or how much she just wants to crawl under the covers and pretend that nothing had happened, she will be much, much happier if she owns her problems and addresses them as quickly as possible.

We could all learn from this. In the workplace, just as it is outside, problems come up from time to time. Most of the time, these issues have something to do with imperfect communication, and many times, can be addressed with a quick correction. But add in emotions and you have a Problem. If the Problem is not addressed quickly and directly it tends to take on a life of its own.

Here’s what happened with my daughter. Its a common problem for 10-year old girls. She and her best friend got in a fight over what game they were going to play. This time it escalated to yelling and in the heat of the moment, my daughter yelled something she could see hurt her friend. The fact that she had caused this pain threw her into a cycle of shame, embarrassment, and regret.

Her first instinct was to run home, sneak upstairs, hide under her blanket in her bed, and sob. She quickly realized this wasn’t really working and came downstairs for comfort from her parents. It took quite some time and not a little courage to share what she had done.

Together we talked through a plan. What she said she wanted to do was to simply forget that anything had happened and deal with it all tomorrow. She was certain that her friend would never talk to her again, and even if she did, her mother would never allow her over to the house again. She was so upset about the whole ordeal that we had to help her to stop hyperventilating.

What we decided to do instead, a plan she agreed to with much trepidation, was for me to text her friend’s mom and ask if we could come over to talk. She would simply apologize for her part in the disagreement and would expect nothing in return.

Her friend’s mom was quick to say yes, and we headed across the street. My daughter was incredibly courageous and apologized to her friend, and also apologized to her friend’s mom. It was awkward for a minute or two, and then, suddenly, everything was back to normal.

What could have been a long drawn-out night of tears, fears, anxiety and hyperventilation became a night of just plain normal. What could have spiraled into a major drama that ruined their last week of summer was quickly resolved and put back to right.

So, the lesson here is that the same thing works in the work world. When there is a problem:

  1. Talk to someone who can help you – just as important, don’t talk to people who can’t help you. This just adds fuel to the fire.
  2. Face the issue head on – don’t bury yourself under the blanket.
  3. Be brave.
  4. Have a plan.
  5. If called for, apologize for your part in a misunderstanding.
  6. And while there are always two sides to a misunderstanding, do not expect anything in return – but be grateful when it comes.
  7. Move on. Let go, and let things return to normal.

Sound familiar? Do you have other thoughts on addressing problems in life or at work? I’d love to hear them!

As always, keep it positive and smile!

 

Leaders, take care of yourself!

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Butter and Lily on one of our hikes

I am not entirely sure why this is happening, but recently I am seeing more and more leaders, on Facebook and in real life, reaching the point of near-burnout. In fact, just a few days ago, there was an article on this very topic on the Forbes website, and a few articles elsewhere since then. The problem is real.

Some of this could be due to over-working (in which case see this post). Some of this could be the heat of the summer (I know it makes me grouchy), or some of it could be the unsettled political environment that seems to be affecting us all. Whatever it is, burnout is real and it is seemingly everywhere.

What does burnout do to us leaders? Several things, and none of them good.

First, life becomes exhausting. Everything seems harder. I know when I was suffering from burnout, one of the first signs was difficulty getting out of bed. I knew I needed to, I knew I was going to eventually, but actually doing it was incredibly hard.

Even harder – getting out of the car at work. Have you ever done this? Just sat in the car, waiting, hoping that things would somehow miraculously get better? I know I have.

Then we fall back into bad habits. We eat poorly. We give up on our exercise. We drink more alcohol. We don’t get enough sleep. We oversleep.

On top of all of this, our attitude plummets. We develop tempers, not just at work, but at home too. Or we check out. We are not engaged, we don’t participate. Worst of all, we forget how much our attitude affects others around us.

I have talked with a whole host of employees who are angry, confused, and on the verge of burnout themselves, who simply seem to be suffering under a boss who is burned out. If for no other reason than this, we must address burnout.

Look for the signs of burnout in yourself and your employees. Be vigilant about this. As with most things, it is so much easier to correct when you catch it early. Address situations head-on and with compassion. Especially when dealing with yourself. Most importantly….

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF!

There is quite a bit out there on self-care. One of the most important lessons I have learned about self-care is that self-care is NOT the same as self-comfort. Molly Mahar, the creative genius behind Stratejoy.com, shared an important essay on this on her blog, and I encourage you to check it out. The difference boils down to what you need. Molly stresses that there is a time and a place for both care and comfort.

It seems to me that we are all probably pretty good at the self-comfort piece. More often than not, though, when dealing with burnout, it is self-care that we need. Here are some ideas for taking care of yourself:

  1. Take a vacation. Something as small as just driving out of town for the afternoon. Just find a way to put yourself into a new environment. Do this on a regular basis.
  2. Take up a new hobby. Try lots of different things until you find something you love. I did a quick search for local options here and found a warehouse that will allow you to weld, a t-shirt shop that will allow you to design and produce your own shirt, a glass-blowing workshop, an archery range, several yarn shops, ballroom dancing classes, a pottery shop….so many options!
  3. Schedule those doctors and dentist appointments you’ve been putting off. I just listened to a podcast on Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam about how we all seem to avoid health information that could help us to live better lives. Take a deep breath and go take care of this.
  4. Find a new gym. There are so many interesting options out there! I met someone recently who was trying a new gym each month or so to see what option worked best for her. She was having an interesting time with this – and if nothing else, was coming away with some amazing stories!
  5. Get yourself to a therapist. Many companies have employee assistance programs that provide for free appointments. There is nothing wrong with talking to a therapist. Talking to an independent, disinterested third party can be so healing. I have done so myself when life has become overwhelming and cannot speak highly enough of the important work therapists do.
  6. Get out into nature. There is something particularly healing about being out in the woods or on a lake or in a field. Go for a walk or a hike, go fishing, or kayaking down a river. Get in touch with that side of yourself, and get some exercise while you do so.
  7. Go to the spa. Do something new while you are there. Acupuncture? Why not! Mud wrap? Sure! Float tank? Just might be your new thing.
  8. Reach outside your comfort zone. This summer, I am going to summer camp! For grown-ups! Find something that seems crazy to you, and go do it. Open mike night, poetry jam, bungee jumping, 5K, TedTalk….just go!

Burnout is real, and it affects everyone around us when we don’t address it. Take some time to take care of yourself now!

As always, keep it positive and smile!

 

 

Tips for making that tough decision

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The other day I had a wonderful conversation with a colleague of mine. She had come to me for help in sorting out a particularly difficult decision she needed to make.

Together, we brainstormed some creative ways she could go about making this decision, and I thought I would share these ideas with you.

Some basic assumptions first, though:

  • This was a (personal) career decision. While these ideas may very well work for other types of decisions, I am not specifically suggesting them for anything other than a personal decision.

Examples of these types of decisions: Should I take the promotion if it means I have to relocate to Texas/Iowa/Alabama? Is it time for me to switch careers? Should I take this other assignment when I think I might be getting a promotion if I just stay where I am?

  • All of these ideas were likely suggested to me by the many and various wise teachers I have met during my life. Apologies for any oversight in attribution.
  • Some of these things may seem a little “wacky” for the average business person. I simply ask you to give them a shot. At the very least, don’t dismiss them immediately.

Some things it is important to keep in mind when these types of decisions come up:

  1. It is always important that you actually make a decision. If you don’t, you give the power over to someone else (see previous post on personal accountability);
  2. Be sure you right-size the problem. By that I mean do not give your problem more importance than they deserve. In most cases, if the choice you make doesn’t work out, you then have the option to make another choice;
  3. Most of the time, we know in our gut what we should do – any of these techniques I list below will likely only function to confirm your gut instinct.

So now, the ideas! I’ll use a hypothetical situation and question to work through each suggestion:

Hypothetical Situation: I have been offered a new position within the company. It is a lateral move into an area I find interesting. I am not fully challenged in my current position, but I am concerned that there does not appear to be any upward mobility in the new area.

Question: Should I take the new position?

1. The tried-and-true method of pluses and minuses.

How this might look:
Plus

  • New area offers more of a challenge
  • I would be learning something new
  • I am genuinely interested in the new job

Minus

  • No upward mobility
  • Might lose out on a promotion opportunity in current job
  • Risky – I might not like the new job

2. List your values, what is most important to you in life, determine which choice best aligns with this.

How this might look:

Current (hypothetical) values:

I need to be challenged. When I am bored at work, I am miserable, and then my family is miserable. While salary and advancement are important, I believe that if I am doing something I love, the money will follow.

3. Journal. Spend some time with a notebook, journal, or computer, and simply pour all of your thoughts onto the page. Keep going. Don’t think about what you are writing, just write. Many times I find that I write myself right into the decision. If not, go back and read over what you have written, and see if you find any clues there.

Some tips on how to do this:

  1. Ask yourself a question, then set a timer for three minutes. Write for the full three minutes without stopping. This is important – do not stop! Do not judge what you are writing (no one else is going to read this unless you let them).
  2. Ask yourself the opposite question. If you started with “Why should I take this other position?” now ask yourself “Why should I not take this other position?”
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 as many times as necessary.
  4. Go back and underline, circle, or simply take note of what seems to rise to the surface for you.

4. The “Why” game. This works best with a journal/notebook as well. Ask yourself what decision you want to consider first and write down your answer. Follow this with the question “why”. Write that answer down, and repeat this as many times as it takes to get to the real, underlying truth.

What this looks like:

I want to stay in the position I am currently holding. Why? Because it isn’t that bad. Why? Because there is stability here. Why do I care about that? Because I have ambition and student loans to pay off.

5. Talk it out. It often helps to include movement with this – going on a walk while you talk is a great idea!

There are some very important rules for this one, and these rules are incredibly important:

  1. This person has to be someone you trust, someone you know will have your best interests at heart;
  2. This person needs to be someone who does not have a vested interest in your choice. For example, do not talk this out with your boss who might be invested in you staying put, or a colleague who might benefit if you were leave;
  3. This person should only ask questions to help you dig deeper, and/or repeat back what they hear you say. They should use phrases like, “What I hear you saying is….” and “It sounds like you are really feeling….” and “So why is that particular thing important?”
  4. This person should be patient, empathetic, open, and understanding.business meditation

6. Meditate or pray. I highly recommend guided meditations. If you do a Google search for “guided meditations for decision making,” you can find all kinds of free examples. You may need to go through a few to find one that works for you, but keep trying. Praying can also be effective, no matter what your religion. Simply focusing on your problem and then releasing it to God, the Universe, your choice of higher power, can be extremely effective.

One thing I particularly like is the Rotarian Four-Way Test. This is an ethical guide to be used in personal and professional relationships, and would be an excellent start to a mindful meditation exercise.

Of the things we think, say, or do:

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

7. Finally, try changing your perspective.

You could do this many different ways.

  1. Consider the situation as if an employee was asking you for advice. What would you tell him or her?
  2. Take a drive. Put on some tunes. Go somewhere you have never been, or haven’t been in a long time.
  3. Get out into nature. Breathe deep. Ask the trees and the birds for advice. (You’ll have to answer for them, but then that’s the trick!)
  4. Call a friend who knew you way-back when. See what they think.
  5. Do a headstand. Sit on the other side of your desk. Drive home a different way. Anything to shake up that brain of yours.
  6. Jump on a treadmill. Try a walking meditation (Google can help here again). Or try out a new playlist.

I know there are many other things people do to help them make a big decision. What is your go-to method? I’d love to hear from you!

As always, keep it positive and smile!

Why you (workaholics) should go home and take the day off

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Me and Dad enjoying a hike and a selfie one random day (2014)

Hi, my name is Melinda, and I am a workaholic.

I don’t know if you are like me – I certainly hope for your sake you aren’t! But for years, I neglected to take my vacation days. That isn’t to say I didn’t take vacation. I have three children, and between all of their activities and the need to show them the rest of the world, I have certainly had days out of the office. “Vacation Days” – or so my calendar at work calls them. Really, they just feel like “My Other Unpaid Job Days.”

My job was exceedingly demanding for several years. Luckily (for the company and for me), I thrive on ‘demanding’. I worked long hours, weekends, even became an expert on-line shopper for holidays. And I didn’t take extra days off.

It got to the point that I was “losing” days. We had a policy at that time where you could only roll over into the next year half of your vacation days. Then you had to use those days before the middle of the following year. If you used less than half, you lost the balance. If you didn’t use the days you rolled over by the June, you lost those days. I lost days in December and in June for many years.

It didn’t really matter to me – I was exceptionally happy at work. I felt like I was contributing at a high level and that kept me motivated. I loved my team, I loved my company, and most importantly I had an incredible partner at home (my husband). I made sure that every minute I spent with my kids and my husband was meaningful, if it wasn’t plentiful.

It seemed like everything was going along perfectly, until I lost my dad. I had dealt with loss in my life – just a few years before this I lost my great aunt, my grandfather and my grandmother. Loss and grief were not foreign to me.

In fact, when I lost my father, I was smart. I took care of myself, and (hopefully) my mother, my brother, my kids and my family. I took a week off of work. I turned off my phone for that entire week (I had never done this before). I never even thought about work. I took some time (its never enough time) to grieve and to heal. This post isn’t about that week.

It’s about the following year. At that point I was fortunate enough to be working with a brilliant executive coach. During one of our sessions, I mentioned that recently I had been having trouble focusing, that things weren’t coming so easily for me, and that I had been overreacting to seemingly small errors or differences in opinion. In fact, things had gotten so bad that I was not certain that I was able to contribute in a meaningful way any longer. The entire future looked bleak.

She asked me a simple question, “So what’s going on?”

Suddenly I realized that it was the one-year anniversary of my father’s death. And I was not coping well. I was relying on old habits of pushing through and working hard. It wasn’t going well. At all. I thought I would be fine. I thought a top-notch worker didn’t take days off for things like this, and I wanted to be top-notch. I thought that the strongest thing to do would be to go to work, swallow the tears, and keep moving forward.

Turns out I was wrong. For me, for this particular situation, this was the absolute worst thing (okay, maybe not the worst) I could do. My coach told me to pack up my things and head home. I can’t tell you why, but it was one of the hardest and best things I have done.

She talked to me about taking time for myself. About taking care of myself. Of listening to myself, and granting myself a little grace. She showed me that laying on the couch, staring at the ceiling with a bowl of buttered popcorn balanced on my belly was the best thing I could do for myself, if that was what I needed.

I needed to go home and take the day off.

And it turns out I only needed a day. I needed space to breathe and understand why I was feeling the way I felt. I needed to be free, for just a few hours, from the demands of other people. From the expectations of work and family.

You won’t be surprised to hear that it worked. I have a feeling that if I had I not taken that day off, I would have been miserable for much longer.

Since then, I have become a huge proponent of what I call “Mental Health Days.” If you are not going to be productive and you need some time to reflect, recharge, heal, sleep, journal, run, whatever it is, it is better that you take care of that right away rather than subjecting your unsuspecting coworkers to an ugly side of you.

In the event that you are a workaholic like me, I have some other suggestions for reasons to take a day off here and there:

  1. To help out in your child’s classroom or supervise a field trip
  2. To celebrate an anniversary with your significant other
  3. To appreciate the fall foliage or spring flowers
  4. To celebrate your birthday!
  5. To play with your puppies
  6. To just sleep in. For once.

Whatever you do, just be sure you are taking care of yourself. Do what you need to do to perform your very best each and every day.

And as always, keep it positive, and smile!

 

 

 

 

Women in Insurance – A History – the 1970s

prudential 1970sIf the 1960s were a tumultuous decade in the US, the 1970s were simply a continuation of the chaos. With the protests against the war in Vietnam, the continued push for the Equal Rights Amendment, the fervent backlash to that legislation, and the resignation of a President under the threat of impeachment, the decade was full of controversy.

In 1972, Congress amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to allow the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) to go directly to court to enforce the civil rights legislation. This resulted in significant litigation and settlements with companies reaching hundreds of millions of dollars. Many companies worked hard to comply, but sometimes the discrimination was so ingrained in a company’s culture, it was not easy to fix.

This increased litigation led to significant push-back on the EEOC and the aims of the agency. The criticism came from many directions. On one hand, the complaints coming in from employees who were reporting discrimination were so great in number, a backlog of 130,000 had amassed by 1977. This meant that most employees never saw their complaints addressed. On the other, corporations certainly did not want to face settlements or judgments that would cost them significant amounts of money.

In one instance that caused significant disturbance in the press, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. made what the Wall Street Journal referred to as a “surprise move” in 1978, and refused a request from the EEOC for personnel recorders for an examination of compliance with the anti-discrimination legislation. A government official is quoted as saying, “John Hancock…fears what the records will reveal. Historically, insurance has been a white male profession at the managerial level, a white female profession at the clerk level.” Meanwhile, John Hancock maintained that the government was overstepping it’s authority, and had not followed its own rules in making the request. Additionally, an official from the company stated the dispute was just another instance of “additional, continuing, increasingly oppressive…government intrusion that is counterproductive” (Wall Street Journal, 17 Feb 1978).

If women and minorities fought at the highest levels (legislation, etc) to reach equality during the 1960s, it was the 1970s when they began to insist and truly fight for those rights on the ground.

INSURANCE DURING THE 1970S

The growing inflation during the 1970s was a significant issue for the life insurance industry, now comprised of over 1,700 firms. Rising from 4% in 1971 to over 13% by 1980, policy owners saw the value of their insurance eroding as the cost of living grew. Insurance companies and their agents had to find new and innovative ways to sell their products. Because of the rising interest rates, loan and surrender activity grew significantly. Policy owners found that they could withdraw their money and reinvest it elsewhere for greater returns. Tax laws were undergoing significant changes, and insurance company investment strategies had to be restructured to meet this new economic environment.

In the middle of the decade, the amount of life insurance in force had reached over the $2 trillion mark. This continued to climb as the face amounts of policies increased, largely due to inflation. By the end of the decade, it had climbed to over $3 trillion. By 1974 and through the end of the decade, it was estimated that over 90% of all husband-wife families carried some amount of life insurance. Average amounts of coverage for this group were $25,200 per family, where the family had a mean disposable income of $11,200. The number of policies in force reached a plateau in the middle of the decade, climbing only slightly by the end of the decade. This slow-down in growth of policy numbers foreshadowed a decline in the number of policies in force in the 1980s.

The life insurance industry now found itself in considerable competition for household savings, given the higher yields investors could reap in alternative investments. Whole life insurance was no longer the attractive investment it had been for the last many decades. It is precisely this environment that gave birth to a new type of policy, the Universal Life Insurance policy. It was also this environment that gave fuel to the debate over whether an individual should buy an “ordinary life” (or whole life) policy or a “term life” policy and invest the difference.

The number of insurance agents during the decade was estimated at 135,000 at the beginning of the decade, growing by almost 100,000 by the end of the decade. The retention rates for these agents were, however, dangerously low. One study found that two year retention rates were at 39%, dipping to a very low 13% by year five of the agent-company relationship. Many reasons were given for this very low rate, including a lack of training offered to new recruits, a lack of continuing education for those already hired, and the unstable income of agents when they first began their careers.

New types of employment opportunities began to develop in the industry. With advances in technology, companies were now looking for computer operators, programmers, and system analysts instead of the file clerks and assemblers of the past. Overwhelmingly, these new positions were filled by men while the clerical and administrative work was nearly 100% handled by women. Overall, there were approximately 1.5 million insurance company employees nationwide.

WOMEN IN LIFE INSURANCE DURING THE 1970S

life insurance 1970s.jpg

In the 1970s, women were graduating from college and joining the workforce in ever-increasing numbers. Because of the limited number of possible occupations for women, this led to a significant issue. A Labor Department report from 1970 cautioned that if women did not expand the range of careers for which they prepared, strong competition would develop in the female labor market. The same report spoke to a coming shortage of chemists, dentists and physicians, careers typically filled by men.

By 1973, more than 19.8 million married women were a part of the workforce, and from 1961 to 1973, there was an 86% increase in the number of married women who had both children and a job. In 1976, there were nearly 35 million women in the workforce, and 60% of them were married.

At the same time, businesses were beginning to understand the importance of a diverse workforce. In one article in The Baltimore Sun, the CEO of a mid-west mutual fund company was quoted as saying “It makes good business sense to bring interested and motivated women into the financial services industry. After all, our products such as life insurance and mutual funds represent security to millions of Americans. Who knows more about security than a woman?”

virginia schein.png

Companies that were not as successful in understanding the need to employ minorities faced major lawsuits. A landmark settlement in 1973 with AT&T called for an immediate payment of $15 million in back pay to women and minority employees, and an additional $23 million budgeted for future wages and promotions. Overnight, recruitment for women and minorities went up dramatically across all industries. A year later, however, women were still not making it to the executive suite, in most cases seeing their careers stall out at the middle management level. In 1974, there were 268 seats on the boards of directors for the largest insurance companies. Of those, not a single one was filled by a woman. In 1976, 97% of the individuals earning a salary over $15,000 were white males. In 1978, the EEOC settled a sex and race discrimination suit against Farmers Insurance Group for $1.5 million. One of the issues holding women back from the executive suite: in 1974, only 5.5% of all graduate and doctoral business students were women.

In 1970, the Institute of Life Insurance put out a publication entitled, “Your Financial Worksheet, a Guide for Women Returning to the Job,” with the purpose of helping women determine whether they could afford to work. The guide suggested a woman take into account taxes, child care, lunches, additional wardrobe, grooming, transportation, among other things, before she decides to return to work. While certainly meant to be helpful, a contemporary perspective shows this to be counter to efforts toward equality for women, encouraging them to stay home.

In decades past, the life insurance industry seemed to stay out of the social and political drama of the times. In the 1970s, this changed. The Equal Rights Amendment affected the industry directly and the industry was forced to react. In 1971, the largest companies operating in New York made a joint announcement that they were committed to at a minimum ‘doubling the number of minority group members and women in technical, sales, professional and executive jobs in two years.’

Some companies reported having already begun addressing the inequality of minorities in hiring and promotion activities. Equitable claimed that in 1971, 40% of new hires came from minority groups and of those, 13% were in executive training programs. Equitable found particular value in hiring black women, and worked to recruit and promote them. Metropolitan Life reported efforts to visit black college campuses in order to recruit minorities to that company. In 1977, they launched a major campaign to recruit minorities, especially women, into their sales force.

Regarding the purchase of life insurance, an interesting article in the New York Times reported that while young business men were typically receiving a call from an insurance salesman once every month, young business women, whether married or single, were never approached. It is not surprising then that in 1972 women carried on average $9,700 in insurance while men carried an average of $20,000 in insurance. The article makes the following statement: “…It gives the insurance man a new approach – selling insurance to the wife for her own benefit,” as if it were a new and novel concept. Another article from 1974 states, “…Very little attempt is made to sell insurance to women. The industry admits that agents (who are predominantly male) often do not take women seriously about insurance and will make their presentations only when the husband is at home.”

Thelma 1971

By 1978, the situation may have been changing. Insurance companies seemed to be awakening to “The Female Market.” Single women were now reporting more calls from agents, and some agents were beginning to understand the value of selling to working married women. Awareness of the fact that it would take more than a new marketing campaign or new product was growing. It would, however, take a major attitude shift to reach the women’s market.

In 1978, Monumental Life Insurance Company released a kit to help agents sell to the female market. Among the helpful hints the company urged agents, “If [the prospect] is single, don’t imply she will not marry…Expect many questions – Generally a woman will ask more questions than a man since she has had less opportunity to discuss life insurance.” These comments certainly seem funny from today’s perspective.

Throughout the decade, however, the amount of insurance carried by women was still significantly below that of men. In 1976, the amount of insurance carried by single women had increased to $28,400, but single men had also increased the amount of insurance they carried, up to an average of $31,000. At the beginning of that year, women owned $325 billion of life insurance, a new record, and a 150% increase from a decade earlier.

In addition, an old debate continued. Should a married woman carry insurance? In a column of the New York Times, Personal Finance, the reporter shared arguments from both sides, two years apart. In 1971, she discussed the need for “wife insurance,” arguing that the value of a wife had increased to a point where it should be insured.

In 1973, she shared that in many families, the money that would be spent on insurance was instead being spent on training and educating the wife for a career. Other reporters throughout the decade shared other opinions on the difficulty in the determination of whether to insure a wife. One life insurance agent explained, “It is fine for a woman to have full coverage, but, generally, if a working woman dies, her husband can get along okay as long as he can work…If he needs a loan, it’s easier for him to get one than it is for a woman.”

Mary Roberston 1972

In 1975, due to the increased attention on sales to women, insurance companies began to examine the life expectancy of insured women. At this point many of them decided to increase the set-back from men’s policies to 4 or 5 years, from 3 years as they had done in the past. This meant premiums became even lower for women. By 1978, separate mortality tables were being developed for women.

The data indicates that more women were purchasing more term insurance than ever before; over 4.3 million women took out term policies in 1972, a 20% increase from a decade earlier.

WOMEN AS LIFE INSURANCE AGENTS IN THE 1970S

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The number of women selling life insurance in the 1970s had not shown marked increases from decades past. In 1977, there were approximately 4,000 women selling life insurance out of a total of 135,000 agents. The women who did choose the profession, however, seemed to do well.

In 1975, the “Top Salesman” for Prudential Life Insurance company was a woman, Mrs. Estelle Holzer. That year, she sold $2.4 million of life insurance and garnered the prizes that came along with the award. In an amusing article in the Los Angeles Time, a company official explained that the award consisted of a silver trophy in the shape of a man carrying a briefcase, a men’s suit with three tie tacks and a pair of cufflinks, among other ‘male-oriented’ items. Clearly, they were not expecting a woman to win. Mrs. Holzer was quoted as saying:

Men, both co-workers and clients, don’t think we women are in this seriously…Men assume that because you are not the breadwinner in your family, you are working because you have nothing better to do or because you’d simply like a little extra spending money. Therefore, a woman has to work much harder to prove her worth and ability.

In 1975, only three women in Maryland held the CLU (Chartered Life Underwriter) designation. By 1977 nationwide approximately 770 women had earned the CLU, with approximately 125 new women qualifying each year. In 1972, 490 women qualified for the Women Leadership Round Table ($350,000 in sales or higher), 38 of whom qualified for the Million Dollar Round Table. In 1976, these numbers had jumped to 985 for the Women Leadership Round Table and 78 who qualified for the Million Dollar Round Table.

A New York Times article from 1975 (Aug 24, pg 78), reminiscent of similar articles from decades past opens:

Steady, men. That friendly woman’s voice on the telephone may not be the life insurance agent’s secretary. It may well be the life insurance agent herself.

Slowly – and activists in the field contend, far too slowly – life insurance companies are awakening to the marketing potential of women agents.

A similar argument for women entering the field was presented several times throughout the decade. In 1978, an article in the Chicago Tribune read:

The advantages of a career in insurance sales for women is that it lacks discrimination in both earning potential and public acceptance…In insurance sales, a woman can enjoy unlimited earning potential – agents are paid on the basis of results, not seniority or sex.

Sources:

Anonymous (1978). “An Insurer Accepts $1.5 Million Accord In Job-Bias Dispute.” The New York Times, 4 Jan, B4.

Anonymous (1972). “Black Woman Appointed to John Hancock Board.” Wall Street Journal, 9 May, 32.

Anonymous (1970). “Chasing Women Viewed as Good for Business.” The Baltimore Sun, 11 Dec, C13.

Anonymous (1976). “Insurance Can Mean Happily Ever After.” Atlanta Daily World, 1 Jul, 16.

Anonymous (1971). “Insurance firms agree to fair promotion policy.” The Baltimore Afro-American, 25 Dec, 3.

Anonymous (1974). “Marriage or Career? ‘Both’ Cry Women.” Atlanta Daily World, 11 Oct, 5.

Anonymous (1973). “More Women Buying Term Life Insurance.” Los Angeles Times, 9 Aug, C2.

Anonymous (1975). “Mrs. Tall, first woman in state to hold CLU.” The Baltimore Sun, 13 Sep, A13.

Anonymous (1971). “United Mutual Names First Woman Director.” New York Amsterdam News, 3 Jul, C16.

Anonymous (1970). “Women’s Career Market.” The Washington Post, Times Herald, 6 Dec, F3.

Anthony, Toni (1971). “A woman’s niche in a growing field.” Chicago Daily Defender, 29 Jun, 18.

Auerback, Alexander (1974). “Women Aim Sights at ‘Chauvinist’ Insurers.” Los Angeles Times, 3 Feb, H1.

Bralove, Mary (1974). “Where the Boys Are.” Wall Street Journal, 18 Apr, 1.

Brookins, Portia S. (1977). “Metropolitan Recruits Minorities In Sales.” Atlanta Daily World, 30 Jan, 2.

Caralmela, Edward J. (1973). Staffing and Pay Changes in Life Insurance Companies. Monthly Labor Reivew, Aug, 66-68.

Carmichael, Carole A. (1978). “Diverse groups find opportunity in insurance.” Chicago Tribune, 17 Dec, ND1.

Cray, Douglas W. (1977). “Life Insurers Putting Premium on Women.” New York Times, 24 Aug, 78.

Curry, Timothy, Warshawsky, Mark (1986). “Life Insurance Companies in a Changing Environment.” Federal Reserve Bulletin; Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, July, 449-460.

Fowler, Elizabeth M. (1973). “Women May Find Numerous Benefits Are Possible Through Life Insurance.” New York Times, 8 Mar, 55.

Johnson, Thomas A. (1971). “Rights Accord Set on Insurance Jobs.” New York Times, 11 Dec, 1.

Kleiman, Carol (1970). “Does it Cost You to Work?” Chicago Tribune, 26 Apr, F15.

Maynes, E. Scott, Geistfeld, Loren V. (1974). The Life Insurance Deficit of American Families: A Pilot Study. The Journal of Consumer Affairs, Summer, 66-81.

McElheny, Marge (1975). “Top Saleswoman in ‘Man of the Year.'” Los Angeles Times, 23 May, F16.

Mills, Kay. (1976). “Single Women Found Underinsured.” Los Angeles Times, 14 Mar, F19.

Rousmaniere, James A. Jr. (1978). “Women’s Insurance Gains New Status.” The Baltimore Sun, 19 Feb, K7.

Stuart, Reginald (1975). “Personal Finance: Women’s Policies.” New York Times, 4 Sep, 48.

Taylor, Angela (1974). “To Women, Insurance Companies Are at Fault on Many Things.” New York Times, 9 Feb, 35.

Umble, M. Michael, York, Paul F., Leverett Jr., E.J. (1976). Agent Retention Rates in the Independent Agency System. The Journal of Risk and Insurance, 481-486.

Women in Insurance – A History – The 1960s

women 1960sThe 1960s were a turbulent time for the US. In 1961, John F. Kennedy was elected President, the youngest person at that time to be elected to the position. The remainder of the decade was overshadowed by the assassinations of President Kennedy (1963) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968), the Vietnam War, the on-going Cold War with Russia including the Cuban missile crisis, and the Civil Rights Movement.

As part of his larger legislative agenda, President Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act of 1963. This legislation made it illegal for employers to discriminate job wages by sex for jobs requiring the same level of skill, effort, and responsibility. Congress stated the following in passing the bill (Sec. 2 of the Act):

The Congress hereby finds that the existence in industries engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce of wage differentials based on sex:

(1) depresses wages and living standards for employees necessary for their health and efficiency;

(2) prevents the maximum utilization of the available labor resources; (3) tends to cause labor disputes, thereby burdening, affecting, and obstructing commerce;

(4) burdens commerce and the free flow of goods in commerce; and

(5) constitutes an unfair method of competition.

It is hereby declared to be the policy of this Act, through exercise by Congress of its power to regulate commerce among the several States and with foreign nations, to correct the conditions above referred to in such industries.

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. This put an end to legal segregation in schools, theaters, restaurants, movie theaters, and in any action by state or federal governments. It also banned employment discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, or national origin. It was a victory hard won after many protests, some of which had turned violent. There is an interesting debate over how “sex” became included in this bill. There are a number of stories suggesting that the senator who added this particular amendment did so in order to convince others not to vote in favor of the legislation. Regardless, it passed both the Senate and the House in 1964.

Throughout the decade the war in Vietnam divided the country. Riots, protests, and sit-ins took place across the nation. At the same time, the country was dealing with the escalation of the communist regime with the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 set off a number of riots and protests across the country.

Despite all of this chaos and violence, the decade closed out with the concert at Woodstock, where on a rainy weekend in August, over 400,000 people gathered to share peace, music, and love.

LIFE INSURANCE DURING THE 1960S

During the 1960s, the intense competition that had begun in the 1950s continued. Companies escalated their endeavors to introduce new products and new features.

In the early 1960s, the industry was facing competition from stocks and mutual fund investments, slowing the significant growth of the previous decade. This was reasoned to be due to growing sales in group insurance and continued inflation that might have reduced the real value of the life insurance. New life insurance sales (ordinary and industrial) totaled $59.8 billion in face amount that year. This brought the total amount of insurance in force to $585 billion, $175 billion of which was group life.

In 1966, life insurance in force crossed the trillion dollars mark for the first time, reaching $1,045 billion. New sales for that year were $122.5 billion, one of the largest gains in the history of the industry to date.

Face amounts of life insurance policies were growing. Massachusetts Mutual reported in 1960 that it had 40 policy holders with more than $1 million in coverage, three of which were women. Of the 40, seven individuals had greater than $2 million in coverage. In 1962, the company reported its largest benefit payment in its history, a $2 million benefit paid out on a business man. In 1960 New York Life reported 34 sales over the million dollar mark, three of which were women, and Equitable Life Assurance Society reported 14 sales over the same amount, three, again, which were women. At the time, the average size policy on an adult male was $11,300 and on an adult female was $3,000.

Credit insurance became one of the fastest growing segments of the life insurance industry. In 1966 over 70 million policies were issued for over $62 billion in coverage.

In the 1960s, the most successful black-owned companies were the life insurance companies. Surveys showed that 80% of black families held life insurance. One company at the time was fully integrated, that being Progressive Life Insurance Company, based in Red Bank, New Jersey. The company had several black executives (all male) serving in many areas of the company, although in 1964 the company as yet had not elected a black member to the board of directors.

WOMEN IN LIFE INSURANCE DURING THE 1960S

The number of women in the US workforce continued to grow throughout the decade much as it had over the last several years. By 1964, the number reached 22 million women workers, and by 1969, had reached 27 million. In 1963, white-collared women outnumbered white-collared men. These women largely filled clerical and lower paid jobs, but slowly but surely they were rising in the ranks. Already in 1960, the Census Bureau classified just over one million women as ‘managers, officials and proprietors’, up from 450,000 in 1940. Also, Harvard Business School opened its MBA program to women for the first time in 1963 to help train women for the higher ranking positions.

In the 1960s, the life insurance industry employed approximately 500,000 people, 1/3 of which were women. These women primarily filled clerical roles within the home offices. In 1963, 25 of the 1,325 fellows of the Society of Actuaries were women. By 1966, this number had only risen to 26.

Leadership and management were still largely a man’s world. Many times women were held back by the fear that they would soon leave the workforce to raise a family. Other times, it seems that women held themselves back, lacking the full confidence to deal with the struggles of getting ahead.

Women reported having to work harder than men to get ahead, and had to be better than men to retain the same rank. Some women clearly believed that to become an executive, a woman had to dedicate herself fully to her career, foregoing a husband and children. A Wall Street Journal article from 1963 quoted a female executive saying, “Men doing the same sort of work advanced more rapidly. They would climb two rungs up the ladder while I climbed one.” A Harvard Business School survey from 1965 found that 41% of business men “viewed female executives with undisguised misgivings” (Newsweek 1966).

Still, women did succeed. One woman, Margaret Brand Smith, a lawyer from Dallas, formed and sold a number of life insurance companies, finally, due to a merger, becoming president of Union Bankers Insurance Co. of Dallas. One employee paid her the compliment (?), “Talking to Margaret is just like talking to a man.”

Much like the 1950s ended, the 1960s began with a number of “first women.” Mrs. Viola G. Turner became the first women elected to the board of directors for North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. She was elected vice president and treasurer of the company at the same time. Lillian Hogue, an agent for New York Life, was elected the first woman president of the American Society of Chartered Life Underwriters. In 1968, Mrs. Amelia Reichert was the first woman elected to the level of vice president at New York Life.

In addition, there were regular updates in the press regarding the formation of the first woman’s life insurance company, Woman’s Life Insurance Co. of America, headquartered in Bethesda MD. The company was formed in order to address the fact that, according to a study conducted by the founders, “women would seem to be the most natural prospects for the life insurance product, yet only 13 percent of the $493 billions of life insurance in 1958 was owned by women.” The company began writing policies on January 1st, 1962.

The company was headed by Phyllis R. Biondi, a 36-year old woman who had worked as assistant to the general agent for another insurance company. Press releases indicated that while policies would only be sold to women, men would be represented in management and in the field force. In 1965, the company secured additional necessary funding. The president of the investor company, Inter-Ocean Insurance Company of Cincinnati, was quoted as saying, “We believe enough women will prefer to select their life insurance from a company managed by women and dedicated to serving only their financial problems enough to give this company every chance of success.”

In the industry, new mortality tables were developed that showed that women were living longer. In one article, this was described as a way to “flatter” women while saving her money. The article (Washington Post, Times Herald, 22 Mar 1960) reads:

New mortality tables developed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners show that women live an average of six to seven years longer than men. The Insurance Commissioners decided that three years was a nice, safe – and, it might be added, still flattering – bonus for the ladies.

Companies were aiming their advertising more and more toward women. One example given in a Wall Street Journal article from Travelers Insurance shows a woman, Laura, who once shuddered at the idea of life insurance but now realizes that it is her husband’s way of protecting her and her son. In another ad featuring a women’s consultant, it reads “insurance is as much a woman’s business as shopping for tonight’s dinner” (Printers Ink, 1962).

Throughout the decade there were acknowledgments of the women’s market, sometimes referring to it as a “new market,” and sometimes as a “growing market.” One headline from Printers Ink (1962) read “New Ways to Reach The Women’s Market,” and opened saying “American women today represent a colossal market – one so large that a marketing executive recently described it as ‘a whole new country’ for many advertisers.” Later in the article the author addresses life insurance directly:

Portions of the life insurance industry have also discovered women and are engaged in an education program for women policyholders, both actual and potential…Insurance companies have become aware, too, that women can have an important influence on the purchase or nonpurchase of policies.

An article from the New York Times was headlined “Growing Market Noted Among Working Women.” Another headline shared the news, “Brochures on Insurance Are Written for Women.” This particular article pointed out that “women know more about family finances than they did twenty years ago and, as a result, are demanding answers to questions about insurance.” One article from the Wall Street Journal was titled “She’s the Boss; More Women Conquer Business World’s Bias, Fill Management Roles.”

The Atlanta Daily World printed an article in 1963 titled “Girls! Career In Life Insurance Beckons To You,” that talked about the wide variety of careers available to women in the insurance field. From high-schoolers to college graduates, from single to married women, from urban to rural dwellers, there was a job in the insurance industry for any “girl” or woman. The types of jobs suggested included electronic data processing, accounting, advertising, and others, but did not include any mention of management or executive opportunities.

At the end of 1965, women owned more than $130 billion in life insurance and were expected to reach $140 billion by year end 1966.

WOMEN AS LIFE INSURANCE SALES AGENTS DURING THE 1960S

Just as insurance companies were recognizing women as home office associates and sales targets, they were looking at women as sales agents as well. An article in National Business Woman from 1963 was titled “Life Insurance Welcomes Women.” The article begins:

As more and more women are awakening to the opportunities available in life insurance selling, life insurance companies are awakening to the fact that women can do the job.

In 1960, it was estimated that there were 200,000 full-time agents selling life insurance in the US, only 5,000, or 2.5% of which were women. Only 1% of these women were agency managers and assistants. This was a reduction from 1945, during the war, when women made up 5% of the total agents. By 1968, the number of female agents had risen to 11,000. An article in the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper from December 16, 1961 stated:

Although life underwriting [selling] is an occupation well suited to women, traditionally, very few have been in this area of work. Why this situation prevails is not clear. Women in the field are enthusiastic about life underwriting as a career…Insurance selling is a field of work in which women consistently earn at the same rate as men. Compensation schedules are fixed by each company. They appear in the contract and apply equally to both sexes.

BettylouA question and answer column in The Los Angeles Times (Nov 12, 1960) shows the rising consciousness of the women in this industry:

Question: It is indeed a pleasure to see life insurance problems discussed objectively in my favorite newspaper.

May I, please, however, make one suggestion. Several thousand women in the United States are now selling life insurance. I am one of them, and I believe I speak for the others when I say we will appreciate it if, in answering questions, you will find some way to avoid implying that life insurance information, advice and service can be obtained only from men.

Instead of “talk this over with a life insurance man,” couldn’t you suggest that the reader discuss the problem with an “underwriter” or an “agent?”

John Hancock formed an experimental training program in 1961 to train female agents. The intent was to provide additional access to the women’s market, believing that women would be more likely to purchase life insurance from other women. Metropolitan also launched an initiative in 1963 to recruit more women as agents. New York Life claimed to not have a specific program for hiring women, but boasted the highest number of women who qualified for the Women Leaders Round Table (sales exceeding $250,000) in 1962, and for the 18 years before that.

While women were certainly making strides forward during this decade, it is clear that the workforce was not yet welcoming them with open arms. A handful of women were successfully navigating the career ladders, but the path was difficult and certainly not clear. The language used around women, often referring to them as “girls” or “gals” as well as the tendency to see successful women as an aberration or singular situation continued, unfortunately, beyond the end of this decade.

Up next, the 1970s.

Sources:
Anonymous (1965). “$300,000 Invested in Woman’s Life.” The Baltimore Sun, Jan 24, pg. D14.

Anonymous (1960). “All Life Insurance Agents Aren’t Men.” Los Angeles Times, Nov 13, pg. E14.

Anonymous (1962). “Brochures on Insurance Are Written for Women.” New York Times, Jan 30, pg. 33.

Anonymous (1967). “Credit Life Insurance One of Fastest Growing Kinds.” Chicago Tribune, Nov 13, pg. E7.

Anonymous (1963). ” Girls! Career In Life Insurance Beckons To You.” Atlanta Daily World, Feb 5, pg. 2.

Anonymous (1962). “Growing Market Noted Among Working Women.” New York Times, Sep 23, pg. 167.

Anonymous (1962). “Life Insurance Firms Pays Biggest Claim: $2 million.” Wall Street Journal, Nov 13, pg. 12.

Anonymous (1961). “Men Too Risky, Insurance Firm Issues Policies for Women Only.” Boston Globe, Dec 23, pg. 12.

Anonymous (1960). “More People Buying Million Dollar Life Policies, Firms Say.” Wall Street Journal, Dec 12, pg. 8.

Anonymous (1962). “New Ways to Reach The Women’s Market.” Management Review, 51(6), pg. 20.

Anonymous (1968). “New York Life Names Woman Vice President.” The New York Times, Jun 5, pg. 68.

Anonymous (1960). “N.C. Mutual Life Insurance elects first woman to board.” The Baltimore Afro-American, Jan 30, pg. 19.

Anonymous (1963). “She’s the Boss; More Women Conquer Business World’s Bias, Fill Management Jobs.” Wall Street Journal, Feb 19, pg. 1.

Anonymous (1966). “Women at the Top.” Newsweek, Jun 27, pg. 70-73.

Anonymous (1961). “Women’s World: Life insurance underwriting open to mature, young women.” The Baltimore Afro-American, Dec 16, pg. 12.

Bromage, William (1967). “The Women’s Corner.” Chicago Tribune, Aug 14, pg. 6.

Equal Opportunity Employment Commission: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/epa.cfm

Goodman, Oliver (1960). “First Woman’s Life Insurance Firm Set.” The Washington Post, Times Herald, May 8, pg. C12.

Haitch, Richard (1968). “Private Flying: Woman Finds Exciting Way to Sell.” New York Times, Mar 3, pg. 90.

McVicker, Vinton (1961). “Life Insurance Push: Sales Efforts Intensify As Growth in Individual Policy Business Slows.” Wall Street Journal, Sep 18, pg. 1.

Nichols, Edwin (1962). “The Women’s Corner.” Chicago Daily Tribune, Jul 9, pg. C10.

Reichert, Amelia E. (1963). “Life Insurance Welcomes Women.” National Business Woman, July, pg. 20-21.

Segre, Claudio (1963). “Life Insurers Hire Women Agents to Tap Large Distaff Market.” Wall Street Journal, May 9, pg. 1.

Todd, George (1964). “Progressive Life Insurance No Newcomer to Integration.” New York Amsterdam News, Feb 22, pg. 9.

 

A frustrating day at work…what to do

frustrated at work

Ever have those days at work when you just want to scream?

I know I do.

Sometimes its something that happened before work – alarm didn’t work (or the snooze button worked too well), kids weren’t cooperating (“Mom, I can’t find my shoes!” “What do you mean I have to hurry?” “But I’m tiiiiired!”), or something at home goes awry (dishwasher, hairdryer, husband). While we all try to leave this stuff at the door, the emotional fallout from these encounters can follow us around all day.

Sometimes it is something that actually happens at work – a project isn’t going the way we would like, someone won’t make a decision we need to move our work forward, communication between departments has failed once again. We have all learned to control our reactions in these types of situations, but they can add significant stress to the day.

Then there are the times when the frustration is intense. We miss out on an assignment, we have to meet with that one person again (you know who I mean) and they still don’t get it, a decision is made and you know it isn’t right, or worst of all, you miss out on a promotion. Been there, done that.

Most of the time, its the small stuff that gets you. The other day, I was running late because my puppy dog decided to take some extra time with her morning routine. Then, traffic was terrible on the way in because, of all things, the city government had decided to do some tree trimming during the morning commute. I missed breakfast, probably spilled my coffee, and couldn’t find my ID badge to get into the garage at work. This, on top of the fact that my daughter had trouble sleeping the night before which of course means I had trouble sleeping.

By the time I got to work, I was a mess. That’s the day that, for some reason, I couldn’t log onto my computer. Something about profiles and VPNs and overnight updates and such – the very kind and knowledgeable people on our help desk got me back up and running, but not until I was late for a meeting (not their fault – I blame the tree trimmers). The meeting itself was awful. I don’t remember the topic, I don’t even remember who was there. All I know is I came out of the meeting feeling like my head was on fire. I was full of frustration and anger.

So, what to do?

If I continued on this way, the whole day would be ruined and I would only have myself to blame. I’d probably take that anger and frustration home with me and subject my husband, kids and dogs to a mean, ugly wife/mother/food-giver. This, in turn, would likely put them into a bad mood. Which would make me even angrier. Nobody likes angry people. And I don’t ever want to spread ugliness around.

It was at that moment I knew I needed to make a shift.

Here is what I did:

1. Deep breaths. I know this sounds obvious, but it feels so good! So often when we are tense we forget to take full, deep breaths. Sometimes we just need to stop and take a long, slow, deep breath in and then let it out, and the frustration goes out right with it. It’s magical!

2. Stretch. Again, probably obvious. Stretching puts the focus back on ourselves and helps us to relax and let go. If you can, try something outside your comfort zone. Close the door (or find a room and close the door) and stretch out on the floor. Use your desk or chair or bookshelf to do some crazy yoga poses. The point is to really let go. Maybe even laugh at yourself.

3. Vent. One of the most therapeutic techniques for me is venting. As Shrek says in his movie, “Better out than in!” That said, venting can definitely backfire if not used appropriately. Here are some basic rules for proper venting (this could almost be a post of its own!):

(a) don’t vent for very long; make it short and sweet, get it out and move on;

(b) vent to someone at your level in the organization and be sure it is someone you trust. I highly recommend you do not vent to someone above you – they should be used for coaching, not venting. Also, bosses are people of action and may respond to your venting in a way you were not expecting. Absolutely do not vent to someone below you (they will likely take your opinion as that of other leaders of the organization);

(c) be sure you make it very clear that you are just venting; failure to do so can result in some pretty dramatic unintended consequences (for example, a whole new job);

(c) be absolutely certain that you aren’t disclosing confidential information.

4. Change gears. If you are able, take a few minutes to do something you enjoy. It could even be other work stuff! (There are some reports I love to analyze. If I focus on them, my curiosity is triggered and my frustration disappears.) Or kinda work stuff. (Read a page or two from that self-improvement book you’ve been reading. I happen to be reading Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work by Dave Isay right now). Or not work at all. (Find that recipe for tonight’s dinner.) The point is to redirect yourself in a positive direction.

5. Take a walk. In the middle of the workday, this might mean just doing a lap around the floor. This last time, I did tiny laps in my office. But if you can, head outside for a minute. The fresh air can work miracles. The exercise, too, will help you rid yourself of some of the anger. I add in some jumping jacks if I can – for some reason, these in particular always help me to dispel extra energy.

6. Practice Gratitude. You may have heard about this. I believe in it 100%. You just can’t be angry when you are thinking about everything you have to be grateful for in your life.

I recently listened to a podcast where a woman shared her practice of writing a short list every morning and each night. She talked about the significant change this had brought about in her life and in her health. I know that I start off on a happier, lighter foot when I remember to write my list in the morning.

Beyond this, there are other longer-term things we all know we can all do to cut down on our frustration levels. Exercise is at the top of the list. Getting enough sleep and eating right are also right up there. Keeping a journal is a wonderful practice if you can handle the writing/typing. I personally have a couple of them – both guided journals and plain paper journals. Listen to uplifting podcasts – right now my favorites for lifting my spirits include Wild Ideas Worth Living, Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations, and Good Life Project. I love that they get me thinking about new and different things. Try some meditation – I highly recommend the Headspace app if you are new to the practice. Meditation is exceptionally hard for me, but I still try to do a little bit when I can. Talk it out if the frustration involves others at work. Be brave and have those difficult conversations.

Finally, if things are tougher than all of that, I am hereby giving you permission to take the day off. Some of us need to be given that permission. I am a firm believer in “mental health days,” days where you stay home and get yourself back in the right frame of mind to be productive at work. Slogging through a huge pile of negative energy will likely only make you (and possibly those around you) suffer longer.

I did, finally, get my day back on track, and got quite a bit accomplished. So I know this stuff works! I hope this gives you a few ideas to try the next time work is getting you down.

As always, keep it positive and smile! I’d love to hear what tips you use to deal with frustration at work – please share!