Emily Bennington: An interview by Bob Morris

about-emilyimgEmily Bennington specializes in two distinct forms of career transition: college students entering the workforce and women leaders entering executive management. Her work deep dives into what Stephen Covey famously referred to as “the space” between stimulus and response where she challenges executives to choose mindful, values-centered action. Emily is the author of Who Says It’s a Man’s World: The Girls’ Guide to Corporate Dominationand the coauthor of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job, a book she wrote with her first boss and mentor, Skip Lineberg. Emily has led training programs for numerous Fortune 500 companies and has been featured in business press ranging from CNN, ABC, and Fox to the Wall Street Journal, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan. She is also a contributing writer for Monster.com and a featured blogger for Forbes Woman.

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Morris: Before discussing Who Says It’s a Man’s World, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Bennington: Definitely my first boss and Effective Immediately co-author Skip Lineberg. At the beginning of my career, Skip really spent a lot of time coaching and challenging me to be better. One example I’ll never forget was when I had my first performance review and asked for a raise, Skip made me “demonstrate I was worth it” by successfully completing a series of projects ranging from writing a review of How to Win Friends and Influence People to finding a logistical “problem” in the office and solving it using TQM processes. At the time, a lot of my friends and family were puzzled by this, wondering why he didn’t just give me the raise I’d already earned, but I knew better. I saw Skip’s challenge as an opportunity to prove to him that I was not only worth more money, but deserving of more responsibility as well. Since then, our relationship has evolved into more of a partnership than a mentor/student connection, but I’m so blessed that we’re still able to work together after all these years.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Bennington: My personal and professional growth under Skip’s leadership made me want to offer a similar experience to others in their career. It truly was the turning point that set the stage for everything I do now.

Morris: What do you know about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Bennington: I wasted a lot of time in my 20s “looking for the path.” I was constantly planning for a life that would begin 2-4 years in the future when I lived in a particular city, had a particular credential, and achieved particular things. Looking back, I wish I had recognized earlier that I was already on the path. We all are.

Morris: Now please shift your attention to Who Says It’s a Man’s World. When and why did you decide to write it?

Bennington: It all started with dirty Tupperware. Years ago when I was promoted to a director-level position for a corporate accounting firm, I found myself with an assistant for the first time in my career. And I remember being nervous about delegating assignments because she had been with the company for about 15 years and I didn’t want to come off as the bossy new kid. So the first time I went to pass her the baton on a job, I noticed she had some dirty Tupperware from lunch sitting on the corner of her desk. In a flash I reverted back to my waitress days in college. I picked up a few pieces and said, “Can I take this for you?” Turns out, I was SO worried about coming across as too assertive that I overcompensated and made myself look weak. After that, I started thinking about all the “little” ways I was undermining my power at work and I created the survey to see if others were experiencing the same thing. The survey became the foundation for Who Says It’s a Man’s World.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Bennington: My first book, Effective Immediately, is full of really prescriptive advice on things you should DO if you want to stand out at work. I assumed this book would follow that same path but – literally in the middle of writing it – I realized that success actually starts with how you THINK. I ended up rearranging a lot of the text, but the end result is definitely stronger for it.

Morris: When formulating questions for this interview, I rejected the phrase “working women” because all of the women in my life since childhood were working…but few were paid —  and usually under-paid — as was my mother, a single parent. So I use the term “employed women.” Do you have a problem with that? Please explain.

Bennington: I have two young sons so I agree that it’s all work – just some jobs pay better than others. That said, I believe that every woman should have a way to support herself and I learned this first-hand through the hardships of my mother. She never had a career and, as a result, she hasn’t always had the freedom to walk away from situations and relationships that weren’t serving her. I teach career success because I want all women to have the safety – and I mean that literally – that financial independence provides.

Morris: In your opinion, what are the “must-have trade-offs” for employed mothers?

Bennington: For starters, go for the “big money.” In other words, what can you do that will be the most important, the most visible, and have the most impact? When it comes to prioritizing time, your kids aren’t all that different from your boss in this respect. If they are old enough – just ask them. Say something like “I can only make one event this month – either the lunch or the assembly. Which one would you prefer I attend?” The fact that they have a voice in the decision will help them feel better about it – not to mention they’re learning a valuable lesson in time management too. Also, if you’re on a crazy air-tight schedule, don’t allow yourself to get talked into anything behind-the-scenes. You may get a gold star from the PTA for selling the most raffle tickets, but your daughter probably couldn’t care less. So before you commit to anything, think about whether she will notice. If the answer is no, well, there’s your answer.

Morris: Based on your own research as well as others’, do employed women prefer female bosses, male bosses, or really don’t care which? Please explain.

Bennington: I asked 750 professional women “If you could choose your boss based on gender, would you rather work for a male or a female?” The good news is that 56% of respondents just wanted a smart boss and they didn’t care whether that boss was a man or a woman. BUT the bad news is that 44% of respondents would select their boss based on gender and – in that crowd at least – men were chosen by a whopping 3 to 1 margin. When you dive in to why the women surveyed preferred male supervisors, three patterns emerged. First and foremost, respondents felt that men were simply more direct in their communications. In the comments part of this question, I would see things like “men are no-nonsense” or “men are to-the-point” over and over again. Also in the comments, women bosses were dinged for making too much small talk before asking for what they wanted which, in hindsight, seemed disingenuous. In addition, the survey participants who would choose their boss on gender felt that men were less competitive and less emotional than women.

Why is this important? Well, take being direct for example. When you know this is a much-valued skill in the workplace, you can plan accordingly. So before you delegate a task, speak up in a meeting, or approach your boss for something, it might be worth spending some extra time thinking about what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it in advance. This will allow you to have a more confident, pointed conversation because you’re not just rattling off the first thing that comes to mind. Also, when it comes to emotions, it’s important to understand that women are hardwired differently. We not only have six times the hormone that controls tears in our bodies as men, but our tear ducts are twice as large. This explains, by the way, why we tend to gush tears while men barely trickle. And so my point here isn’t to excuse any overly-emotional behavior in the workplace because I’m definitely NOT a fan. But when you have a deeper understanding of what triggers us to behave certain ways, you’re in a better position to manage yourself and, as a result, the impression you’re making on others.

Morris: In your opinion, which goals should employed women consider when formulating an action plan for their career advancement?

Bennington: I have a real love/hate relationship with goals. I’m all for being driven but part of the epiphany I had when writing this book is that – as driven people – we tend to get wrapped up in things we want but don’t yet have. The dream job…the higher salary…the better body…you name it. So when you want something, but don’t have it – what are you supposed to do? You set goals. You write it down. You check the box. You congratulate yourself if you get it done and beat yourself up if you don’t. This is why I think it’s dangerous to use goals alone as the blueprint for how life is supposed to turn out. They rarely unfold according to our grand plans – or our timeline – not to mention they constantly keep us focused on a future outcome. When your ability to feel successful is wrapped in goals, you inevitably spend the bulk of your time trying to be somewhere other than where you are right now. And even when you achieve the goals you set, then what? You just set more goals so the cycle is designed to ensure that you are never satisfied. That methodology is flawed.

Morris: What are the major differences between mentors and sponsors? What is the significance of each difference?

Bennington: Mentors are concerned with your career development whereas sponsors are concerned with your advancement. It’s the difference between saying, “Let me know if you have any questions” and “Let me know who I can call for you.”

Morris: For more than 25 years, it has been my great pleasure as well as privilege to work closely with the owner/CEOs of hundreds of small companies, those with $20-million or less in annual sales. In your opinion, of all the material you provide in Who Says It’s a Man’s World, which do you think will be of greatest value to leaders in small companies? Please explain.

Bennington: Who Says It’s a Man’s World was written for women who want fulfilling careers and fulfilling lives. It challenges readers to take a deep look at HOW their own beliefs and actions are propelling them forward or holding them back. As I say in the book, you have to be a magnificent person first to have a magnificent career and, at the end of the day, that’s true regardless of whether you work for a large organization or a small one.

Morris: Which question had you hoped to be asked during this interview – but weren’t – and what is your response to it?

Bennington: I think you covered it and then some!

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Emily cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

www.EmilyBennington.com

http://www.amacombooks.org/book.cfm?isbn=9780814431870

www.Facebook.com/EmilyBennington

www.Twitter.com/EmilyBennington

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2 Comments

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