THE BLOG

Women in Business: Lynn Roseberry

03/29/2015 07:39 am ET | Updated May 29, 2015

Lynn Roseberry, LL.M., J.D., Ph.D. is a tenured professor of Law in the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy at Copenhagen Business School, the largest Danish university devoted to undergraduate and graduate business studies. She also serves as the school's first Equal Opportunity Officer. Lynn is the co-founder (with Johan Roos, PhD. and CEO of Jönköping International Business School) of "On the Agenda," an international consulting firm that helps progressive organizations achieve gender-wise leadership and gender-balanced teams. She is also the co-author (with Johan Roos) of Bridging the Gender Gap, a new book that shatters the most debilitating gender myths and offers guiding principles to achieve a more equal distribution of men and women in leadership positions.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Witnessing my parents dedication to making the world a better place through their work and their activism, their leadership, their commitment to helping other people and to giving my sister and I the best possible educations are probably the most important factors that influenced my development as a leader.

My mother was a public school music teacher for 30 plus years and then a real estate agent for another 15 when she finally "retired" at the age of 80 only to start working as a volunteer fundraiser and get-out-the-vote volunteer for the Democratic Party in Arizona. Throughout her career as a music teacher, she displayed tremendous passion and dedication to sharing her love of music with kids. She loved producing musicals with her students, something that was definitely not required, but very much appreciated by the schools where she worked and especially by the students. These were big events that often allowed students who were struggling in other academic subjects to discover that they were actually good at something and could get some attention for doing something well.

My father was a Presbyterian minister and social activist. His career started in Chama, New Mexico, a small town in the mountains of northern New Mexico. When my parents arrived there in 1957, it was deeply impoverished. My father's natural leadership began to show itself there. He and a friend led a successful campaign to incorporate the town so they could get a water system that would deliver clean water to everyone.

It was unusual, and actually frowned upon, for a minister's wife to work full time, like my mom did. She says that the main reason she worked was because she wanted to travel with us and send my sister and me to music and dance lessons and later on to college, and she didn't think my dad's salary would be enough to provide those kinds of experiences. She also wanted to be able to own a home, something that my dad's salary wasn't enough to cover.

My mother always told my sister and me that the best investment we could ever make was in our minds -- that we could lose material things, but no one could ever take away our educations and experiences. She also told us that when she was growing up her mother would not let her learn to type because she didn't want my mom to become a secretary. She wanted my mom to go to college and have a job that matched her intellectual ability. Both my parents always told me I could be a doctor (not a nurse) or a lawyer or a teacher or an astronaut or even President of the United States.

The civil rights movement had a big impact on me even though I was quite young when it started in Chicago in the early 1960s. My dad got involved in the equal housing movement, and my parents took my sister and me to Soldier's Field in Chicago to hear Martin Luther King speak. My sister got to participate in a march afterwards and came back singing "We shall overcome." I remember wishing that I could have gone, too. It seemed like something special had happened during that march, and I wanted to be part of it.

I kept hearing about how black people were not being allowed to buy houses in white neighborhoods like ours. My dad helped the first black family move into a house in Skokie, when we were living there. They joined our church, and we visited each other frequently. I couldn't understand why people thought it was such a problem, although I knew that there were people who thought so. My dad had grown up in Atlanta, Georgia, and he told me about racial segregation, and when we visited his family there, I remember being shocked to hear my cousins and their parents use the N-word -- and that my dad had a huge argument with his family about Martin Luther King once. I loved my dad for sticking up for people who were less fortunate than us and for challenging racism when he encountered it. I saw first hand how individuals could make a positive difference by speaking out and joining efforts with other people.

When I began to notice how difficult it is for women to rise to the top of their professions and organizations, I drew on all these experiences to help me believe that I could help to change that if I put my mind to it.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure as a gender balance expert?
I have worked in male-dominated professional environments since I left law school. I felt that I did well and could get along with my male colleagues even when they occasionally made sexist remarks or displayed sexist behavior. I learned that if I want to change anything, I have to meet people where they are, not where I wish they were. If I don't do that, I can't get anyone to listen to me, and it is extremely important to be able to talk to men about this subject because so many men have the power to make the changes that will allow women to move into leadership positions.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as a gender balance expert?
The highlights have been discovering that despite what I've read and heard about young women who take the women's movement's successes for granted and men's animosity towards gender issues, I have met many young women and men of all ages who have been tremendously receptive when I talk to them about these issues. Many of them have come back to tell me what they have started doing to work for gender balance. I've met so many young women and a number of men of all ages and from all kinds of backgrounds that understand that gender balance is not a women's issue and that it is incredibly important for everyone's health and prosperity that we close the remaining gender gaps. I have felt enormously heartened by the responses I've gotten to my work.
The challenges are the flip side of that picture.

For example, I meet male leaders who claim to be supportive of gender balance and then fail to recognize the value of what I say until a man repeats it. Others claim that they can't see any reason why they need to do anything to promote women into leadership because no one's discriminating against women anymore. Then there are the women who are afraid to speak out about the obstacles they face in pursuing their leadership ambitions, and don't want anyone else to to draw any attention to them, or the women without children who have never noticed the difficulties so many women have with juggling work and childcare and can't see any gender balance problems. I've had to learn when to engage these people in a discussion about the issues and when to walk away. Sometimes it just isn't worth spending my energy on it. Luckily, these are not the people I have to work with most of the time.

What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
Ask yourself the question, "Am I willing to work for free for this and to learn by doing as I go along?" You will probably have to work on it in your free time -- outside of your normal job -- for a significant period of time. And you will find out there are lots of things you didn't know and can't go to school to learn about. Are you comfortable with not knowing everything ahead of time? Are you passionate enough about your idea to do all of that?

Find yourself a sparring partner or mentor -- someone who believes in you and your ability and who has some good first -- or at least second-hand experience with starting a business. Without support from someone else, you can start to feel like you're not smart enough or don't know enough or maybe even a little crazy, and when you start to believe that, it's really nice to have someone you can count on to tell you that you're not.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
To follow my passion and intuition. I spent many years trying to live up to other people's expectations and ideas about how my career should look. I finally realized that I wasn't really making anyone happy, least of all myself. I decided to change that. Writing a book with Johan Roos, my former boss at Copenhagen Business School, was one of the first tangible steps I took in that direction, and it proved to be one of the best decisions I ever made for myself. I have no idea what impact that will have on my career in the long term, but I've learned to stay focused on the present. I've come to realize there really isn't any point in doing things I don't enjoy now just because I think it might help me somehow in the future. I've discovered that when the future becomes the present, it often looks different from what I imagined.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I don't do well on less than seven or eight hours of sleep, so I make a point of sleeping at least seven hours every night. I exercise four to five times a week for at least 30 minutes, and meditate 15 minutes every day except Sunday. I take time every day to be with my family -- which until this year meant my husband and two daughters, but my 19-year-old is away now at school in London. We generally sit down together every evening to enjoy a nice dinner and good conversation. I also make time to see my friends -- at least one of them every month.

My husband and I have been working too much lately, so we decided that we need to have "just being" time very day. During the week, it's sitting next to each other on the sofa after dinner with our coffee. On Sunday mornings we buy bread from the bakery and sit and eat breakfast and read the morning papers together. We like to tell each other about the stories we find interesting.
Sometimes all those things are not enough. I try to pay attention to how I'm breathing. Sometimes I'll notice that I'm holding my breath a lot, or I notice a knot of tension in my solar plexus -- a sure sign of stress. If that starts happening, I find a few hours when I can lounge around at home in my sweat pants and sweatshirt. I'll read a book or lie on the sofa and daydream.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Lack of recognition for their professional abilities and achievements.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I've had one formal mentor, and I can't say that that person made any difference to me.
There have been people who have made a difference in my professional life. The first one was one of the partners in my first law firm, who invited me to go with him when he left to start his own firm. The next was my phd adviser, and then most recently, Johan Roos. All of these people included me in their projects, gave me challenging work, offered helpful sparring and encouragement when I found myself floundering. Each supported my professional development in their own way. All of them helped me by showing me that they believed I would succeed.
My experiences with the first two were not consistently positive, and I eventually realized that I needed to move on and find inspiration and support elsewhere.

My co-author and business partner, Johan Roos, has made the biggest difference in my professional and personal life. He gave me challenging assignments while he was president of CBS and appointed me Equal Opportuntiies Officer there. He has modeled courage and resilience in the face of tremendous challenges. He has an amazing energy and charisma that I think comes from his focusing his personal and professional efforts on what he cares most about. He doesn't waste his time on other things. From him, I've learned to tap into my own creative drive by focusing on what I care deeply about. Johan is incredibly generous with his time, experience, knowledge, and really good at giving constructive feedback. He has never wavered in his belief that I would succeed at whatever project I take on. I've often felt like he believed in me more than I did. As a result, I've dared to do more and have accomplished far more than I thought possible.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Hillary Clinton and Care.com's CEO Sheila Lirio Marcelo.

Hillary because she has weathered the most intense personal crises and professional setbacks and just keeps coming back stronger than ever.

Sheila Lirio Marcelo because she defies leadership stereotypes--she's a petite Philippino-American woman, with a J.D. and MBA from Harvard. She started Care.com in 2006, and it is now the largest online care destination in the world with a market capitalization of $252 million. Other corporate executives have mistaken her for being a secretary or assistant to the CEO, but she faces those kinds of painfully awkward situations with a big smile. She's a fantastic example of what women can accomplish when they set their minds to it and get a little help along the way.

What do you want to personally and professionally accomplish in the next year?
I am currently leading a research project for the European Foundation of Management Development (EFMD) on women in European business schools. I will be presenting the results of that project to the EFMD conference in June 2015. We plan to publish at least one academic article based on that project, and I hope that it will start a movement among European business school deans and managers to begin focusing on gender issues among their members of faculty and staff.

I will also be completing my second year of training in Gestalt Psychotherapy in June 2015, after which I plan to take some additional training in using Gestalt psychotherapeutic techniques in coaching and process consulting. All of these experiences, together with my continuing work with Johan on developing the ideas in our book, will equip me intellectually and emotionally to provide the best possible support to leaders interested in using their positions to promote gender-balanced leadership.