THE BLOG

Women in Business Q&A: Betsy Myers, Founding Director, Centre for Women and Business, Bentley University

02/07/2015 08:27 am ET | Updated Apr 09, 2015

Betsy Myers is the founding director of The Center for Women and Business at Bentley University. Prior to her appointment, Myers was a senior adviser to Barack Obama's presidential campaign, as COO and as chair of Women for Obama. Myers also served as executive director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and during the Clinton Administration, she was the President's senior advisor on women's issues. She published her first book in 2011, Take the Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring Out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You, which is about the changing nature of leadership.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Life is the accumulation of relationships, experiences and lessons. One of the advantages of getting older is the rich data - about me - to better understand myself. My book, Take the Lead, was the opportunity to look back at 25 years of my working life, which has spanned business, academia, politics and government, and to explore when I was most productive, happy and engaged, and where I saw high levels of productivity and passion in others. My conclusion was that leadership creates a feeling, a very different way to think about the subject of motivation. For me personally, I was most productive and inspired when I felt valued, appreciated, included and heard. Successful leaders are those who are conscious about how they show up at both work and home.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Bentley?
I joined the Bentley Center for Women in Business (CWB) with experience that spanned 30 years working on various aspects of women's leadership. How can it be that in 2014, women currently hold just 10 to 15% of the senior leadership (C-Suite) positions in corporate America? Often what passes for gender efforts inside an organization is a series of discussions or leadership programs where women find themselves talking to other women. All too often these programs are not woven into the fabric of the organization and a committed CEO, with the best intentions, goes away believing that his support, plus periodic face-time, is sufficient.

But to get a different result--to truly support, retain and promote women in the workplace--we must engage men in the conversation as full partners--not just supporters. This is why engaging men to advance women in the workplace is the new frontier for every company in America that wants to compete and remain competitive. This is why Bentley's Center for Women in Business, under my leadership, has made partnering with men our flagship initiative.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Bentley?
One of the highlights of working at Bentley University has been to be around students who are focused and passionate about business. This is new for me coming from a career in mostly politics and government. It has also been an advantage to be at an institution with such robust relationships with corporate America - top companies from the accounting, finance and insurance fields who recruit heavily from our student population. This has given me an inside view into how companies are truly grappling with the issues around the advancement and retention of women in their workplaces.

The main challenge is trying to contribute in a unique and meaningful way. CWB is still very much a start-up, so how do we make sure that we are not reinventing the wheel or duplicating efforts that other organizations already provide for companies? All of this also must be done while providing a value-add to the mission and goals of Bentley University.

What top tips can you offer women who are seeking a professional, business centered career?
I'd offer young professional women the same advice that I would give for a career in politics or government. From your first day, you are building your relationship foundation and professional reputation. How you return calls, treat people, and deal with uncomfortable or difficult situations is critical to how people will feel about you and remember you for years to come. You are the leader of your own life. The only control you have is how you decide to show up every day -- with the intention to bring value to your boss and organization. Bloom where you are planted. If you concentrate on being excellent in the job that you have, the right people will notice.

The four key lessons for young people are simple:
Become known as someone who has a positive, can-do attitude and is wonderful to work with. Ask yourself each day, how can I best support my boss today and make his/her life easier? What can I do today to support the organization's goals? This attitude and awareness will enable you to focus on the most important aspects of your job and contribute in ways that will create your next opportunity.

Always be diligent on follow-up and follow-through. Do what you say you are going to do. This is how you will build trust and your reputation.

Begin your journey as a life-long learner and strive to become an expert in your job. Average is no longer sustainable.

Begin to build (and maintain) your lifelong relationship network and team of mentors. Email, text and social media venues must not be mistaken for real meaningful relationships that are built and nurtured with face-to-face interactions and personal connections.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Is there really such a thing as work/life balance? I believe the real question is how do we achieve work/life integration? For those of us who have children, that question is always fluid. What your child needs at age one is different than what they need at age seven or eight, and different again when they enter middle school or high school. We have to adjust for constant change, along with what life brings us in regard to our support systems, including our spouse, local family members, friends and/or resources to afford help.

I have stumbled many times over the years trying to juggle the demands of work with home. The glorification of "busy" is overrated! What I now believe is that the key aspect to less stress and a more peaceful existence is practicing the skill of saying "no" without guilt, and without the long explanations and apologies. When we strengthen our "no" muscle, we leave room to say "yes" to the requests and obligations that actually move us in the direction of our goals and the things, both professionally and personally, that really matter to us. When we clear the clutter, we are left with the ability to focus and live an "outbox" life--where we are able to choose and create some calm. However, most of us live an "inbox" life where we are spending our precious time reacting to what others want and their priorities. As the leader of our own life, it is up to us to manage our calendar--which becomes our day, our month, our year and our life.

What do you think the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Looking back over the past 30 years of my working life, I believe the biggest challenge or issue that women in the workplace face is fear. A close second is our negative internal dialogue about our fears and ourselves. Fear is something we have at every age, and it can often keep us from being our best self. I love Eleanor Roosevelt's quote, "You must do the thing you fear most." I add to that by saying we must do the thing we fear most because that is our lesson. Whether we are age six, 30 or 85, we all have fears of the unknown. I have always asked myself, "What is the worst thing that could happen if I take this risk?" If it doesn't work out the way I had hoped, is it still an adventure worth taking and maybe this adventure will lead me to places that I never even imagined? The biggest growth experiences in my life have indeed happened when I pushed through my fear to the unknown.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Much of what I have been able to accomplish in my life has been due to mentors and sponsors. I have been fortunate enough to have many throughout my life from Hugh Beaton, my fifth grade teacher, to Des Lizotte, my mentor in the life insurance and financial services business, to Warren Bennis and David Gergen, at the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard's Kennedy School, and President Gloria Larson at Bentley University. In every situation where I have been my best and most productive, there have been caring, generous people who took a personal interest in my success.

I feel that it is just as important, if not more, to do the same for others coming behind us. Our willingness to be a mentor -asking nothing in return - is how we pay it forward. The wonderful part is that we always end up benefitting as much as or even more than the person we are mentoring. The best and most successful leaders are the collectors of people and the mentors to many.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Over the years, there are many women leaders who have led the way and that I have admired -- and still admire today. Hilary Clinton is someone I have long respected for her amazing intellectual prowess and graceful resilience. I had the chance to work with her in the Clinton White House when she was the First Lady and I was the Head of the Office for Women. Her passion for improving the lives of women, girls and families was a key aspect of the Clinton White House for which she was personally involved and dedicated. I admired how she was able to go from first lady to US senator and became known for being a team player and a key collaborator. I also appreciate how she gracefully left the 2008 presidential race--going further than any other woman - and was willing to support Barack Obama the way she did. It made a big difference for the Obama victory and the 18 million votes she held. Her resilience in defeat, willingness to be a team player and ability to never give up, led her to the role of Secretary of State.

What do you want Bentley to accomplish in the next year?
In my role at Bentley, I am focused on the work of the Center for Women and Business (CWB. In March of this year, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, in partnership with our Center , launched the Women in the Workplace Initiative consisting of a Massachusetts Women's Leadership Fellowship program and the formation of a Successful Women, Successful Families Task Force. The Task Force, consisting of government, academic and corporate leaders, has identified recommendations to improve support for women and families in the workforce through both public and private sector action. In the next year we will move forward with Phase 2 of the initiative, inviting leading companies from every sector of the Massachusetts economy to participate in a multi-year initiative designed to increase support, retention and promotion of women in the workplace. I am hoping is that this initiative will serve as a pilot and example for other governors. Our goal at the CWB is to assist in scaling this public /private collaboration across the country in many more states next year and several years to follow.