THE BLOG
06/17/2013 11:44 am ET | Updated Aug 17, 2013

Women in Business: Q&A With Val Insignares, President of LongHorn Steakhouse

Val Insignares is the President of LongHorn Steakhouse, and is responsible for managing a $1 billion brand with more than 400 restaurants and 25,000 employees. Prior to her role at LongHorn Steakhouse, Val served as Chief Restaurant Operations Officer for Darden, the world's largest restaurant company and parent of LongHorn where she led strategic operations initiatives across the enterprise with the goal of accelerating profitable sales growth.

How do you manage your work-life balance?

There are a few things I do to manage work-life balance. First, I think it's important to not let work define you. When I mentor and work with young women, I sometimes observe them centering their identity on what they do at the office. I'm a firm believer that a job is what you do, not who you are as a person. Second, it's critical to have a partner who believes in balance and who helps you manage household responsibilities. For me, I am very fortunate because my husband plays a big role in raising our two daughters; we're very collaborative when it comes to our family life. Last, having an outlet or hobby is a great way to refresh and maintain a sense of well-being. I enjoy running and cooking for my girls. When I schedule these activities into my day, I end up feeling better and am ready to tackle work challenges the following day.

What difficulties have you faced managing your work-life balance?

As women, we often want to "do it all." I remember listening to Carol Bartz talk and relating to her idea about women feeling guilty for not being able to "do it all." I continue to adjust the pressure I put on myself to accomplish everything and have become better at letting go of that guilt.

Have you faced personal criticism within your company/in public with your decision to be a working Mom?

I have not faced personal criticism for being a working Mom. In fact, Darden's culture celebrates working Moms and Dads. Having school age children is one of the commonalities I've found with male leaders across the company. It has helped me foster positive relationships with other working parents. Additionally, Darden has a variety of resources to support parents, including several employee network groups that focus on and address the needs of families.

What tips can you offer women in similar executive roles who find managing the balance difficult?

The most important tip I can offer involves being clear on your boundaries. For example, ask yourself -- what are you willing to give up and what is a key priority for your family? Every year I plan my time off around some non-negotiable activities, including several key school events and our family vacation. Dad can also be a great substitute at events, but not a Mother's Day celebration at school! Bottom line, being clear about your priorities helps you stay in control of your schedule and in case you have to make a different choice, the ball is in your court.

What are your top tips for switching off from work, and focusing on home life?

There are a few. First, I have a period of time when I can focus on me, doing something I enjoy like my nightly run. This is critical for my stress management, which more than anything impacts my family. Second, we have a saying in our house that we are all a team and everyone has a job to do during the week. For me its work, for my daughters it is school and then we laugh and say dad's job is to ride his motorcycle. Bottom line, I try to be "all in" during the week at work and "all in" on the weekend with my family. This is what works for me now...who knows how this will work when my girls' social schedules start picking up!

What is your opinion on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In manifesto?

I haven't read Sheryl's book yet; I am currently enjoying Justice Sonya Sotomayor's memoir. I do believe her manifesto is attempting to advance the dialogue about women in the workplace, which is a positive step forward.

How do you mentor and sponsor other female employees?

For the last three years, I've been a volunteer mentor in Darden's formal mentoring program. All three of my mentees were women. The biggest impact I've made on their careers relates to clarity of their goals, a critical first step in anyone's career progression. The greatest challenge I see with many young professionals, both men and women, is they want to advance, but aren't quite clear on where they want to go. This uncertainty makes it difficult for their supervisors and HR partners to support and champion them during their career journey.

Additionally, young professionals can sometimes sway too far on the work-life balance pendulum. They either work so much they feel the impact of burnout. Or, they draw lines in the sand about not wanting to travel or being unable to stay late when deadlines are tight. In these cases, it becomes difficult to make meaningful contributions to your company and make the most of opportunities when they present themselves.

What are challenges of managing a $1 billion restaurant brand?

First, I think it's an exciting challenge to be leading a $1 billion restaurant brand. However, I would say addressing the needs of our guests at the rapid pace of our world today is a challenge. Guests are seeking affordable prices, variety and choice, lighter meals and offerings, and at different day parts. What's more, they are seeking this all at once. We continue to work through how we innovate and solve for some of these needs at the right pace for the guest and for our business. Additionally, I place a high value on culture. LongHorn has a real, authentic culture that makes it such a special brand and place to work. I want to ensure we maintain that culture as we grow our restaurant footprint. Lastly, in many markets out West, LongHorn is a relatively new concept. We're working hard to refine and hone our brand positioning and develop ways to differentiate our food and offering from other restaurants to have a clear identity.

Do you think the trends highlighted in the recent Pew report on working women will continue to increase?

We're raising young women today to focus on post-secondary education and entering the workforce. Therefore, it's likely the trends will increase. The bigger point of the study, however, talks about the impact on families. There isn't one best way for raising a child; each family has their own set of values and customs. It's important to find a system that works for your family. For example, I have three sisters and all of us took a different path and are raising healthy, well-balanced children...two of us work full time, one of us works half time, and another returned to work after her children were in high school. For me, my husband plays a critical role in raising our two girls and I'm very thankful and appreciative of his support. Additionally, I aspire to be a role model for my girls. I talk a lot about how they can achieve their dreams using my career story as an example.

How can we collectively work together to change the negative stigma that is sometimes attached to working women?

I'm a believer in women supporting other women regardless of whether it's a working woman or a woman who has taken on a larger role at home. We all work hard whether in or out of the home and we're doing all we can for our children. A mentor once told me you can never do too much to recognize the work of people around you. A simple thank you and appreciation of others efforts goes a long way. I also think we can be more tolerant of individual differences and open to diverse family situations. What works for one family may not be the best solution for another.