Today, we are honored to introduce Susan Neely, President & CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI). Susan is our 2020 Luminary Award honoree and she has an impressive background which includes senior positions in the George W. Bush White House and the first U.S. Homeland Security Department, advising Members of Congress, and more recently at the helm of the American Beverage Association. She has also been recognized as the Trade Association CEO of the Year by CEO Update, one of Washingtonian’s 100 Most Powerful Women in Washington, Washington Business Journal’s Women Who Mean Business, as well as the first woman president of the Washington Rotary Club and The University Club of Washington.
We are so excited to hear Susan’s insights and advice during her “fireside chat” with Manar Morales, and know that you’ll be inspired by Susan’s commitment to gender parity and diversity and inclusion.
Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: What was the most meaningful piece of leadership advice you have received? Who has had the most influence on your career?
Susan Neely: My dad always preached the benefit of taking calculated risks. From my own career experience, I can now attest that Dad was right. Usually the bigger the risk I’ve taken, the greater the success. That being said, I have never found it easy to make a decision to take a risk, particularly if the risk involved impact on my family. I’m satisfied that I have made the right choices for me, but none of them have been easy.
I am also thankful for trusted advisers who understood me and were wise about career paths. Different advisers with varied expertise have helped me at different points in the journey.
Always be on the lookout for who can be part of your own kitchen cabinet. These individuals should be champions and provocateurs who have your best interests at heart and aren’t afraid to challenge your thinking.
DFA: What have you learned during COVID that has changed your perspective?
SN: My first video-enabled speech via computer was in mid-March. I was able to share perspective with over 3,000 people without getting on an airplane or staying in a hotel. We don’t want to lose the opportunity for personal interaction, but the time savings that technology provides is powerful. How much easier would my life as a working mother have been if we had technological tools like this?
DFA: How do you recharge? Where and when are you most content?
SN: One of my favorite mantras is work hard, play hard. I’m energized by my work, but I’m also equally energized by taking time to recharge. My family is so important to me, so any time I spend with them – especially if we are experiencing new things together – I feel recharged. During the pandemic, my two young adult children have been back home for this season. We’ve been purposeful about doing things we would normally not made time to do … like bake dozens of cookies and deliver them to front doors of friends in the neighborhood. We cleaned closets and boxed up fun packages of outgrown toys, jewelry and hair bows to send to young families we know. We also did a 15 hour road trip to Iowa to pick up my 92-year old mother and bring her back with us.
DFA: What do you know now that you wish you knew then?
SN: It’s taken me a long time to learn to be kinder to myself and cut myself some slack. In my zeal for making all aspects of life perfect, I too often would beat myself up about what wasn’t going as well and not savor the many things that were. Counting your blessings does not mean you don’t aspire to learn and grow. It just means valuing what you have.
DFA: How do you pay it forward?
SN: I believe the cycle of lifting others up is contagious. If you empower someone, they will empower someone else. I’ll share one story with you. I was well into my career and I held a role at the Department of Homeland Security. I was on a strategy call with a lot of top brass leaders, including Condoleezza Rice when she was National Security Advisor. I was the new member of the group, and when I offered a point of view, another leader who was an old timer in the group brushed me off. Secretary Rice jumped in, validated my point, and lifted up my voice. She didn’t have to do that. But that small action established my right to be in the group. It also inspired me to do the same for others. Now when I’m in the room, I always listen for the voices of others and look for ways I might be able to validate their right to be there. As leaders, it costs us nothing, but it can be a powerful way to ensure a diverse set of views and ideas are heard.
DFA: What can we be doing to create more inclusive organizations?
SN: When I became a senior executive and now a CEO for 16 years, I realized it was my responsibility to set the tone at the top. I believe we bring our whole selves to work. Achieving diversity is not enough. Belonging should be our goal, and people feel like they belong when they can be their whole selves at work. That’s when we are making progress. We can have a productive work environment that encourages and supports our employees in their personal priorities. A good leader must make this a priority.
DFA: How has flexibility impacted your life?
SN: Motherhood will always be the greatest privilege of my life and thus the role that is the most important to me. I have certainly made career decisions based on how it would affect my family and time with my children. At the same time I have done meaningful professional work and earned an impactful leadership platform that allows me to make a difference in the ways that are important to me. This has required calibration of my time more than sacrifice of opportunities. (Unless you count reduction in sleep as a sacrifice.)
Getting the work-life balance right has also required me to find employers that allow me the ability to calibrate. I never missed doing something that I thought was important for my children. Nor have I shirked professional responsibilities. Sometimes this means that I am answering emails early or late or catching a red eye flight from a meeting to get home in time. Flexibility allows people to include what matters most in their lives.
DFA: What book is on your nightstand?
SN: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. I love beautiful writing and think we learn from stories like Gyasi’s about race in America. Gyasi is the award-winning author of Homegoing and was a student in the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa.
Don’t miss your opportunity to hear more from Susan Neely and all of our dynamic and inspirational speakers on November 5.
Today, we are honored to introduce Barri Rafferty, Executive Vice President & Head of Communications for Wells Fargo. Barri is the former Global CEO at Ketchum Public Relations and was one of the first women to lead a global public relations firm. We can’t wait to hear how Barri was able to completely engrain flexibility into the culture at Ketchum and how she is always looking for ways to help to advance women and flexible work.
BR: I volunteer with organizations that mentor female leaders and young girls to help them reach their full potential. I also use my corporate positions to help foster equity and inclusion.
DFA: How has flexibility impacted your life? How has your experience been with COVID-related remote work?
DFA: What book is on your nightstand?
Don’t miss your opportunity to hear more from Barri Rafferty and all of our dynamic and inspirational speakers on November 5.
The Alliance’s Action Steps are designed to assist organizations with implementing practical strategies and policies related to diversity and flexibility. Members can access full versions of all of the Alliance’s Action Steps in the Member Resource Center.
Organizations and employees have faced significant struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, one positive that’s developed from the pandemic is that many organizations, even those historically against flexible work, have adjusted to employees working remotely and flexibly. Now is the time to collect data and build a business case for flexible work to continue after the pandemic ends. Monitor experiences and measure employee productivity, satisfaction, and effectiveness to understand what worked and what didn’t in order to pave the way for the future of flexible work:
Continue Reading in the Member Resource Center
In an effort to inform and inspire our members and friends, we often share diversity and flexibility Bright Spots – those small or large successes that impact an organization in a positive way. We believe that important diversity and flexibility initiatives can truly impact your organization’s bottom line, recruitment and retention capabilities and employee satisfaction.
Kutak Rock’s operating procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic are clear Bright Spots that demonstrate its people-first philosophy. Before the COVID-19 National Emergency was declared on March 13, 2020, the firm’s Regional Managing Partner for D.C. and Virginia had begun discussions with firm leadership about operating procedures aimed at keeping people safe at home and working. The procedures, which remain today and apply to all staff and attorneys, allowed for 100% remote working on a “reason-neutral” basis.
Kutak Rock leadership worked with each employee on a case-by-case basis to ensure that everyone continued to be productive and maintain their positions and their employment status while working remotely. The focus continues to be on keeping all employees and offices safe from COVID (first and foremost) and helping every individual become productive in this unique COVID work environment.
The firm also made it a priority to provide several training sessions focused on remote learning, including:
In addition, the firm created a guide for employees and a guide for leadership with tips for working remotely. All employees were also provided a resource kit with information about inclusiveness and bias in remote environments.
In keeping with its “people-first” mindset, the firm continues to communicate with employees on a regular basis about the performance of the firm in an effort to relieve anxiety and stress caused by COVID-related uncertainty and countless legal industry articles talking about furloughs, lay-offs, and firms with difficult financial situations. The firm also, repeatedly, reminds employees to take care of their mental and physical health. The firm sent information about benefits available to all employees related to mental and physical health and has created a Mindfulness Group that has met every Friday since the beginning of April.
Kutak Rock has made it a priority to maintain its commitment to diversity and inclusion during the shut-down. Since March 11, the firm has finished all of the tactics in its three-year inclusiveness, diversity, and engagement strategic plan, developed the goals and tactics for its new three-year strategic plan, and has had the plan approved by the Executive Committee. In addition, the firm ran its annual training program (by Zoom) with well over half of the firm attending and 80+% of leadership attending. Affinity groups continue to meet and new initiatives have been added.
While some Kutak Rock offices have allowed employees to return to the office for limited amounts of time and a targeted purpose in recent weeks, almost all employees continue to work remotely. Many employees voiced their appreciation for the firm’s focus on their and their community’s safety.
Over the long-term, the COVID-specific operating procedures will be transformed into a flexible working arrangement policy similar to the current procedures. The primary goals will continue to be focused on allowing flexible working arrangements, on a reason-neutral basis, while also maintaining the function of the team in a way that supports the clients, individuals and firm.
Progressive Parental Leave and Flexible Work Programs Becoming a Major Industry Priority
Washington, DC – February 26, 2020 – The Diversity & Flexibility Alliance announced today that the results of its 2019 Law Firm Flexibility Benchmarking Study show that the industry is making measurable improvements to the quality and breadth of its parental leave and flexible work policies.
This study consisted of one-on-one interviews with leaders and talent professionals from 50 major law firms and serves to provide multilayered trends, insights and data about successes and challenges with parental leave and flexible work programs and practices. The goal of the initiative is to examine the availability and accessibility of holistic flexible work and parental leave policies, in particular, the types of policies, the features of these policies, and the support/resources around these policies.
The study found that virtually all firms interviewed have continued to offer formal gender-neutral leave and flexibility to attorneys, and many also offer on-ramping (gradual return-to-work) programs to attorneys returning from parental leave. Additionally, a significant number of firms are demonstrating a strong commitment to these policies by removing caregiver designations, increasing the amount of paid leave time generally, and offering fully-paid on-ramping.
However, the study also found that more firms need to provide better support structures around flexible work programs in order to promote better usage, true acceptance and accessibility for all. More firms should focus on offering education around flexible work, flexible work affinity groups, true-up policies to compensate reduced hours lawyers who work more than their agreed upon schedule, and more comprehensive and consistent monitoring mechanisms. Additionally, the study revealed that there is a substantial, qualitative gap between staff and attorney parental leave and flexible work programs.
“We are cautiously optimistic that the majority of firms are beginning to understand that by making minor adjustments to their leave and flexible working policies they can reap major benefits and meet the needs of a new generation,” said Manar Morales, President & CEO of the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance. “We are encouraged that many firms are committing to more progressive parental leave initiatives, however, we hope more firms will commit to building more robust and inclusive policies for all attorneys and staff,” she added. “These relatively inexpensive tools can mean the difference between retaining and loosing a valuable employee at a pivotal time in their lives,” she added.
The report is available to members of the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance (in the Member Resource Center), as well as other participating firms. Detailed results and analysis will be presented during the Alliance’s Flex Launch! NYC – A Boot Camp for Flex Advisors – on Thursday, March 12 (open to non-members). To access this report, contact Manar Morales for more information on Membership.
The Diversity and Flexibility Alliance is a think tank that collaborates with organizations to develop non-stigmatized flexible work policies that promote inclusive work cultures and help to advance more women into leadership positions. The Alliance provides practical research-based solutions, training workshops, and strategic advisory services that increase organizational effectiveness through diversity and flexibility.
Contact: Manar Morales