The Executive Woman

Barbie Winterbottom

Authentic conversations for women who are done with superficial corporate speak and want real connection, resources and community. The world of work has evolved in many ways, yet women are still facing challenges most believe have been conquered. We talk about things like, Burnout, Aging at Work, Executive Isolation, What's my Next Chapter and the Female Tax. We don't shy away from the hard conversations...we are Executive Women and we mean business! read less
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Episodes

Letting Go
Mar 27 2023
Letting Go
The other day I posted on my social media channels an image I created showing 5 Things to stop doing TODAY.  There were a lot of comments from Women especially who felt seen in the examples I shared and in the “5 Things”. To give you some context, the 5 things to stop doing today are…      1.   STOP Being “nice” vs setting boundaries    2.   STOP Comparing yourself to others    3.   STOP Letting fear make decisions for you    4.   STOP Accepting less than you deserve    5.   STOP Allowing what happened TO you to define you Reading through the comments I started thinking about the whole concept of stopping something or “Letting Go” and how it’s so easy to say and so hard to do, even when we WANT to, it’s not always as simple as we would like it to be. I want to dive into each one of these areas, and how it’s shown up in my life, the lives of so many Executive Women I have interviewed over the years, and perhaps even your life and what we can do to start letting go of these habits & behaviors that are not serving us. Going deep into each one of these would make for a very long podcast, and likely one where you might start nodding off, (I know with my attention span, I need things in bite sized increments) so I’m going to address each one individually over the next 5 episodes.  But first, today, I want to talk about why letting go of old habits and patterns can be so hard for us.  I did some research, because that’s what I do, I research everything and I know how hard I struggle to let go of things at times, especially when it means I am the one who has to change!   I don’t know about you, but one thing I’ve learned about myself is that I can be incredibly stubborn and as soon as I think someone is imposing change ON ME, and it’s not something I freely want to do, I can be quite the force…even to my own detriment (ask my wife, she could tell you a lot of stories about how stubborn I can be!).  I’m not proud of this aspect of my behavior and I work on it daily and while I know I still have work to do, I have gotten much better than I used to be.    I have learned, typically the hard way through a lot of heartache, self-doubt and frustrations to step back and allow people to show me who they are vs seeing them for who I WANT them to be.  I have learned to set boundaries to protect my peace and for the most part I’ve let go of the past and live in the now.  I’m proud of these changes because for years I would accept bad behavior from others, hoping something would change.  I spent way too long questioning myself, my worth, my expectations and even my own sanity as a result of being treated poorly by others.  It was very hard for me to accept that whether their intentions were to hurt me or not didn’t really matter, it was their actions and how I felt that mattered.  I would accept bad behavior for a long, long time, and then something would happen, often something small and in the big scheme of things inconsequential but for whatever reason, in that moment, whatever they did or said pushed me just too far and that something finally triggered my brain, or my heart, and like a switch, I was done.  Something just clicks and then, there is no going back.  I tend to be all in on something or all out, I’m not saying this is a good thing, I’m just being transparent.  I know myself pretty well at this point, and I know there isn’t much about me that’s tepid, and change is no different. Change can be really hard, and making a change means we are letting go of someone, something or a framework that for some reason we have held onto.  Somewhere deep in the those dark, often scary places of our minds and hearts we know the change is needed, and yet, there is something keeping us tied to our current situation or mindset.  For me, I think it was often hard for me to let go because I felt like I was the failure and to acknowledge that I had yet again had a failed relationship meant there was something wrong with ME. We stay in bad relationships, we continue to work for toxic bosses, we open ourselves up to disappointment and hurt over and over and we while WANT it to be different, we often stay right where we are.  But why?  Why do we do this to ourselves?  I want to reiterate…I am NOT a therapist or a licensed mental health provider, but I have lived, and I have experienced some things…and I observe and I am a lifelong student of the world, and here are some things I believe to be true… 1.   Living in the Past is easier…for people who don’t like change, living in the past or repeating patterns of past behaviors and outcomes feels safe, even if it’s harming them in the present, there is a certain safety in the pattern.  The predictability feels familiar and provides a false sense of control.    Abusive relationships don’t typically start out as abusive.  Think about romantic partners, bosses, friends and even family members where the relationship started off beautifully.  You were so happy, your needs were being meet, if not exceeded.  During courtship, of any kind, whether it be a romantic relationship, friendship or a possible new job, typically the relationship starts off positively.  We are courted and shown the best they have to offer.  In personal romantic relationships we see their charm, we talk for hours, we have amazing fun experiences, there’s tons of affection, love notes, great sex, and we feel like the most important person in their universe.  In work relationships we are courted with the promise of a fantastic job title or salary, the great corner office, the autonomy we always wanted, the support and leadership we know is necessary for our growth and development, you name it…right? You get what I mean, we have all been there, we are introduced to the best and brightest members of the team, we are taken to dinners, flown to the corporate offices, maybe even taken to a concert or sporting event…whatever it takes to convince us this is the right job for us.   Once we are lulled into a place of believing them and loving what they have to offer, and we accept them and start getting comfortable, that’s when the power shift starts to happen and we begin to see the dynamics change.  Usually abuse starts subtly and grows over time.  Each time they treat us badly and we accept it, they grow more confident, and the next infraction goes a bit deeper and it continues over and over.  The abuser becomes stronger and more confident while the abused becomes weaker, destabilized and often confused while their confidence diminishes. The abused hold on, clinging to the memories of when things were great, waiting for those moments to happen again, we long for that feeling, the rush of being wanted, admired and pursued. We hold out for the loving, wonderful person we fell in love with, waiting for them to return and make us feel adored once again.  Or at work, we keep holding on to the promise of the raise, the promotion, or work environment we were sold and believed in and when it doesn’t happen, we often start questioning ourselves first, BEFORE we start to question those around us. The really strategic abusers know how to sprinkle in just “enough” of the good stuff for us to hold out hope that this is just a phase and things will go back to how they were, or they tell us if WE just acted differently, lost some weight, were more supportive, worked harder, or didn’t “make such a big deal” over little things, that they would then respond with the kindness, respect and fulfilled promises we deserve.  …and they rarely do…at least not in my experiences.  What makes it even more difficult to discern is that many abusers are 95% great in so many ways, and we hold so tightly to the 95%, we make excuse after excuse about how great they are “most of the time”, we hold on to the memories and moments of the good stuff and we turn a blind eye to the 5% of toxic, harmful behaviors, hoping they will disappear…but the 5% can be deadly, literally and figuratively.  The 5% can be so egregious that we experience physical harm or emotional and psychological damage that goes so deep it takes years to unravel. We deserve to be treated with kindness, respect and dignity 100% of the time, period.  Kindness, respect and dignity are not conditional or carrots to be dangled in front of us as a reward for being a “good girl” and following their rules.  This doesn’t mean that relationships, of all kinds don’t have struggles, they do.  Afterall we are human and conflict is a part of growing and evolving, but conflict doesn’t equate to abuse, regardless of the type of relationship. 2.   We also tend to romanticize our past and carry with us moments we loved, even if those moments become fewer and fewer and as a protective mechanism, our brains often hide the negative memories from us.  It’s like when you gather with a group of old friends or co-workers and you reminisce about “the good ole days”…or when you read or hear others talking about how great things were “back then”.  We tend to remember the highlights, the fun things and the good feelings.  We often forget about the not so fun things.  I can remember talking with my grandparents years ago, as they were complaining about how my generation didn’t care, we weren’t patriotic, didn’t have good work ethic etc., and how great it was to be of their generation.  While I am SURE there were great things about their generation, I also know there were NOT so great things…especially for women.  So I asked my Grandmother, “What was it like for you BEFORE you could get a checking account in your own name, without a male co-signature?  How did that make you feel?”  She responded, “I felt like I was constantly under someone else’s financial control, I could earn money, but didn’t have the autonomy to manage the money I earned, and your Grandfather is a horrible money manager, so it was really tough for a long time”.  I then asked her, “How did it feel when you and your best friend (who was a beautiful, brilliant, kind, loving and very dark skinned Black woman) couldn’t go to lunch and sit together at the lunch counter because Black people weren’t permitted there?”  She responded, “It was awful, she is my best friend, and we often had to hide our friendship…not because I wanted to, but to keep HER safe from others who might harm her”.  My grandmother then looked at me and said, “I get it, not everything from my generation was great and I’m very grateful for the progress we’ve made in those areas, anyway” Our brains often block out the negative things and hold onto the positive things, it’s just part of the human condition…we ESPECIALLY do this with past romantic relationships.  How many times have you compared a new love interest to someone you dated or were in love with in the past?  Oftentimes, our comparisons aren’t even real…we compare the new person to an idealized version of the person from our past.  We compare the new person to what we WANTED the person in our past to be, but that doesn’t mean that who they actually were…even when relationships become abusive, we often forget those parts and remember only the good.   I did this, many times.  It’s taken me years to figure it out.  I had a very bad habit of being attracted to narcissists…before I even knew what that word meant.  Growing up as I did, losing my Dad at 5 years old to suicide, then living in a house with an abusive alcoholic and a Mom who was, for the most part emotionally and physically unavailable, I craved attention. I wanted to feel important to someone else, I wanted to feel nurtured and cared for, I wanted to feel like I belonged to someone and they belonged to me…no matter what.  I also grew up knowing that my Mom, who divorced my Dad when I was about 2 years old because she believed he was having an affair, regretted her decision and still does to this day.  I grew up knowing my Mom longed to be with the love of her life and she deeply regrets being impulsive, flying to Haiti to get an instant divorce vs attempting to seek counseling and perhaps mend their relationship.  This is a whole story for another episode, but suffice it to say, there were many factors that influenced my romantic relationships and how I saw myself and how I ignored all the red flags that everyone else could see so clearly, all because I was searching to fill a void from my childhood.  I was searching for things I thought would make me happy, but in reality, what I was searching for no one else could ever fulfill.  I so wanted to be loved and feel a sense of belonging that I ignored horrible behavior and told myself time and time again that I was being too needy.  There were times when I would be almost ready to walk away and then I would think about my Mom and how she regretted walking away, so I would stay. I remember my very first girlfriend.  She was bigger than life to me.  I had known her for years, we actually grew up together, attended the same church and had been close friends for as long as I can remember.  As a kid, I had no idea what being gay meant, so to me, this girl in my life who I had known for so long, who I thought hung the moon was what a best friend was.  I was in my early twenties when our relationship changed from a friendship to a romantic relationship, up to this point, I had no clue I was actually in love with her.  I thought everyone felt the same way I did toward their best friends. I’ve since realized, I as wrong on that one! Thinking back on our relationship, I see so clearly now how I fell for her and why.  When she was around and placed her gaze on me, I felt like I was the most important person in the world.  She would go out of her way to spend time with me, even coming to the restaurant where I was waiting tables, just to sit and be in the room with me.  We would stay up all night talking, laughing, going on the sweetest dates and having so much fun.  We had all the inside jokes, we did all the things I loved to do, and we watched all the shows I loved to watch.  She felt safe, secure and easy because I had known her for so long and when I was with her, everything in the world felt right.  Then slowly, things shifted.  She wouldn’t call me like she used to, she would have “reasons” why she couldn’t have dinner, she stopped coming around and I noticed she was spending time with a lot of other people, and not including me.  When I would ask what was happening, I was met with, “what do you mean, everything is fine, I’ve just been busy, you’re making things up in your head…we are good”. But we weren’t good.  She was lying to me, and everyone else.  She was dating me and several other people, but none of us knew it. Suddenly the sun that radiated light in my world got very dark, and I didn’t know what to do.  I so wanted to feel the way I felt when we first started dating.  So, I ignored it.  I stuck around, thinking she would change, I relived all the good moments over and over and over, I kept hoping she would remember how great things were and want that back as well, …she never did.  It got so bad and so manipulative that at one point she denied we had ever actually dated, that we had been nothing more than friends, and that there was never a romantic side of our relationship.  This cut me so deeply.  I opened myself up to her, told her all my secrets, my insecurities and my fears, and all my dreams and desires for my future. I was vulnerable in ways I had never been and I was manipulated, gaslighted and made to feel like I was crazy.  I knew I wasn’t crazy, I knew I hadn’t made up an entire relationship in my mind, but there I was.  Eventually, after a year or so of the insidious roller coaster of being pulled in and then pushed away, catching her in lie after lie, I finally had enough and I left.  I moved out, got my own place and told her I never EVER wanted to see her again.  I was proud of myself and it felt great to put myself first.  Sadly, I didn’t learn my lesson completely on this first go-round, and I repeated this cycle several more times with others.  The specifics were different, but the patterns were the same and I had to own them.  It took me almost 20 years to figure my shit out before I was healthy enough to be in a truly healthy relationship.  3.    We find satisfaction in a bad situation.  In work situations, we are often told that finding the positives and focusing on those helps us to build resiliency and to learn how to find the good in anything.  And while I can see that to an extent, I also believe this can be a slippery slope of manipulation causing us to squash our own needs in an attempt to be seen as a team player, strong and resilient.  It’s so easy to get stuck in the “I’ll show them” mentality…and it’s NOT healthy or serving you in any way! So many times throughout my career I have been told things like, “Once we see what our quarterly earnings are, we can revisit your compensation”…and then quarterly earnings are released, they are positive, maybe not stellar, but positive, I met and exceeded my goals, but there was ALWAYS a reason why my compensation wasn’t increased as it should have been…while at the same time, the company was offering massive sign-on bonuses, equity and more to new hires.  I used to actually take pride in being the “one who could handle whatever they throw at me, because I was going to show them I could handle it and they wouldn’t break me”.  If that sounds or feels familiar to you, I challenge you to reframe this RIGHT NOW.  Instead of the old thinking of “I can handle anything they throw at me…I’ll show them” Perhaps you might think this, instead…”I have shown them my capabilities.  I have nothing more to prove, my work speaks for itself and if I am not offered the respect or acknowledgment I deserve, I will choose what is best for me.  I do not have to handle everything they throw at me, because I deserve better.  I will continue to bring my best self, while holding healthy boundaries, which might mean finding a new employer who appreciates my contributions and pays me what I am worth”. We earn our paychecks and we deserve equitable pay and compensation.  We deserve kindness and dignity in all we do and in every relationship.  Far too many of us wear being overworked and taken advantage of like a badge of honor.  It’s almost like we play a game with ourselves as if to say, “bring me your worst, and I’ll show you I’m stronger, work harder and don’t need anything or anyone”.  If this feels familiar, PLEASE STOP it right now.  You are not a Superhero, you don’t have unlimited reserves of energy, and you don’t need to prove anything to anyone.  You are completely amazing JUST AS YOU ARE!  Are you perfect?  Likely not, but remember, perfection is an illusion too, and if that’s your goal, you will never reach it so stop trying.  Admit to yourself and others that you are human and you need and deserve support, time, rest, compassion and understanding.  4.    We can’t admit when we are wrong. Some of us cling to our past decisions and circumstances because we simply can’t admit we made the wrong choice. We are so married to creating a façade of perfection, that we stay in a bad situation or relationship to protect our ego…and remember, like I just said, perfection isn’t real…it’s literally an impossible target.  What’s perfect to one person is seen as flawed by another, so just stop it already!  If perfection is what you are seeking, then you likely have a much larger passenger along for the ride…and that passengers name is shame. Shame can plays a HUGE role in perfection seeking behaviors, especially if you grew up in an environment where making mistakes was not permitted or worse, you received harsh punishment for making mistakes.  We can feel it impossible to admit we made a poor choice because we believe it somehow reflects on our character and we can’t shake that feeling of impending doom for admitting we were wrong. What if, instead of remaining stuck in a bad situation, and beating ourselves up for a past decision, questioning our own ability to make good choices and the shame spiral that often comes along with these types of things…we reframe this one too.  What if you said…”At the time, and with the information I had, I made the best choice possible.  I now see things differently and realize this is no longer serving me and it’s time to make a new choice.”  This subtle shift in the way we talk to ourselves can have huge positive implications, because we are making a NEW CHOICE and by doing so, we are affirming our power and giving ourselves permission to make a needed change. Another way people can become stuck is what’s called the sunk-cost fallacy.  Meaning, we feel we have invested so much into the relationship, we must stick it out.  Business owners who invested huge sums of money into a company fail to get out when they should because of how much they already put in, thus sinking even more money into a losing endeavor.  Or an employee who is woefully unhappy at work, but has been there for 15 years and they love some of their co-workers and accomplishments, but are now have a new boss and are in an incredibly unhealthy space…they stay, hoping things will return to what they were, and afterall, they had 13 good years, the past two aren’t worth giving up on it, are they?  Sometimes, we have to cut our losses and move on.  Continuing to invest our time, money, energy and effort is no guarantee things will get better, especially in relationships.  If you aren’t met halfway, with equal amounts of investment, it is incredibly unlikely that the relationship will ever thrive.  I’m reminded of the lyrics in the famous Kenny Rogers songs, The Gambler…”You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run”.  We have to asses our situations and relationships for what they are right now, not what they were in the past, or what we hope them to be in the future, but what they are in reality, today and then determine if its healthy to stay or if it’s time to go and if it’s time to go, empower yourself to take the next right step…FOR YOU!  We have to live in the present, not cling to what we believe was great about the past or beat ourselves up for the decisions we made.  We made the best decision we knew how to make at that time, and now we know better, and it’s time to make a better decision. We can so easily fail to see and accept the present for what it is, because we continue to look at what it was.  Think about it like this…if you drive a car, you spend 95% of your time looking out the LARGE windshield in front of you, and about 5% of your time glancing in the relatively small rearview mirror.  There’s a reason for that.  Your view of what’s ahead and the possibilities of where you might go, the decisions you need to make and the outcomes you desire need WAY MORE of your attention than what you’ve already driven past or what’s behind you. Your life is the exact same way!  Looking ahead can feel scary, especially if you’re like me and get caught up in the unending “what-if” cycle, but if I’ve learned anything over the years it’s that the “what-if” of possibility gives me options and I can influence what happens.  I play a little game with myself when I start to feel the “what-if” spiral kicking in…I will walk down the path of the very worst case scenario of what could happen, and as long as I know I can handle whatever THAT worse thing is, either by planning for a response to the worst case scenario or by making different decisions, then I know I will be ok.  I often have to do this over and over, but it works and helps turn off the spiral. I have to accept that what’s in the past is over and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.  That doesn’t mean I will always get exactly what I want, but I HAVE the power and ability to influence and make decisions that are best for me and make the next right move.  Giving myself deadlines to make decisions is also really helpful.  If I tell myself, I am going to do this, whatever this is, for the next 90 days, and if I do not feel differently, or see things change, I can accept that I did my best, I tried to make it work and I can then move on without regret or shame.  Setting and holding timelines can be a very healthy way to move past, and you’re giving yourself permission to move on.  Shifting our mindset to embrace the changes is key.  I have been quoted many times for the following, and I share it with all the people I coach and the teams I work with…I ask this question… “failure to evolve causes what_________________?” I usually give folks a minute or two to think about it and then I say, it’s a Universal truth, an evolutionary fact…Failure to evolve causes…extinction.  Species that fail to evolve become extinct.  Business that fail to evolve become extinct. Kodak and Blockbuster are prime examples.  Kodak held so tightly to the cash cow of film and film developing that they chose NOT to release the first digital camera, they HAD the plans, they could produce it, but they held back because they didn’t want to evolve their business model and they believed they could continue on as they were.  Until Fuji came along and introduced the first digital camera, and the rest is history.  In early 2000, Netflix offered to sell their company to Blockbuster for 50 million dollars, Blockbuster turned them down, holding on to their model.  Blockbuster had collected 800 million in late fees that year and were convinced this was the way of the future and, afterall, late fees were easy money and we all know what happened to Blockbuster. Don’t be the Kodak or Blockbuster of your own life!  We have to recognize the cost of not evolving, becoming stagnant, of remaining in unhealthy relationships comes at a MUCH greater cost than the cost of making the changes necessary to live a life where you THRIVE! We also have to recognize our OWN patterns.  Unhealthy relationships, especially personal relationships are a two way street, and while abuse is never ok, sometimes we have to look in the mirror and identify all the ways in which WE might be contributing to our own unhealthy cycles. Breaking these cycles can be hard, especially if we don’t do the work.  We have to get really uncomfortable to recognize our own issues and their origins and then do the work to break our OWN patterns.
Hero or Villain?
Mar 14 2023
Hero or Villain?
The hero or villain…often depends on perspective.   So much of what we believe and hold to be truth is passed down to us from our parents, grandparents, friends, siblings and the stories we are told.  The beauty in story is that it helps our brains conceptualize, and our emotions connect and therefore we remember and internalize the information in deeper more meaningful ways, especially when we see ourselves reflected in the story.   As a kid, I loved, I mean LOVED the movie The Wizard of Oz.  I loved the music, the vibrant colors and of course, Dorothy’s sparkly shoes. I’m fairly certain it was this movie that was the impetus of my love for, and some say, addiction to beautiful shoes.    I thought the Wizard was a truly benevolent man who found himself in a foreign land and did his best to help the people of Oz, and even in his flawed attempt at being the Great and Powerful Oz, ended up being kind and helping each one of Dorothy’s troupe and even though he wasn’t able to get Dorothy home, he tried his best and was endearing.   As I watched The Wizard of Oz year after year, I started to see the Wizard differently.  I began to realize he wasn’t who I believed him to be for so many years.  I saw through his tricks, the illusions and that he was a fraud…but even then, I didn’t see him a straight up BAD person, just one who tried to make his way in a foreign land and WANTED to be good, but had somehow lost his way…   and THEN I saw Wicked.  If you haven’t seen Wicked, it’s the Broadway musical, based on the book, Wicked, published in 1995, written by Gregory Maguire and is the prequel or origin story of the two witches in the Wizard of Oz, Elphaba, The Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda, The Good Witch.  Wicked shows us how these two young women meet at Shiz University and how their unlikely friendship develops.   If you’ve seen the Wizard of Oz, but have never seen Wicked you might still believe that Elphaba was the villain, and that the Wizard was the hero.  However, throughout Wicked, we learn about Elphaba, and all that happened to her.  Elphaba is an incredibly kind, compassionate, and caring young woman who, even while ostracized, bullied and tormented daily due to the color of her skin, uses her incredible magical powers to fight for justice for all who were being oppressed and silenced in Oz because they were “different” and challenged those in power.    At the end of Wicked, we learn the traveling salesman who had an affair with Elphaba’s mother, gave her the green elixir and put all these wheels in motion, had indeed, become, the Wizard of Oz.   The Wizard, was nothing more than a traveling salesman who landed in Oz, had no magical powers of his own and who, manipulated Elphaba, and everyone around him into creating the façade that he was “The All Knowing and Powerful Oz”.  Through his manipulation and conditioning, he created a world where everyone in Oz believed he was powerful, magical and benevolent.  He surrounded himself with those who would consistently tell him what he wanted to hear and who would reject and even harm, anyone or anything that challenged this paradigm.  The sycophants in the Wizards inner circle had positional power due to their proximity to the Wizard and because of their own insecurities, and desire for power, ensured everyone in Oz had just enough fear to remain compliant, while also trying to endear themselves to the Wizard by playing the role of blissfully happy, non-independent thinking citizens of Oz.  We also learn that the Wizard tricked Elphaba by making her think she was saving the monkeys, when in reality, the spell she used, made the monkeys sprout wings, thus creating his own flying spy network so the Wizard could keep watch on all the citizens of Oz.   So, why this walk down my childhood movie memory lane?  Well, the parallels between the Wizard of Oz and what I have experienced time after time as an Executive Woman, are incredibly similar, and I bet for many of you, too.   How many times have we started a new job, or been promoted and during the “honeymoon phase” we see our new boss or co-workers as kind, compassionate, benevolent and as someone who truly cares about our growth, success and well-being?  In our efforts to show them we are worthy, we jump through hoops, we believe them, we work late, we come in early, we skip lunches, work through weekends and do absolutely anything possible to show our value.    As time passes, we often ignore the subtle signs that perhaps they aren’t the person we thought they were. We turn a blind eye to the blatant signs in front of us.  We tell ourselves that they “didn’t really mean to embarrass me in that meeting”, or that they simply don’t understand how hurtful or degrading it is when our male co-worker gets promoted based on his “potential” while we, as women, have to wait until they are convinced of our merit before we are even considered for a promotion.   We often become angry and confused because we are being told one thing, and yet, what we experience is a completely different reality.  We so WANT to believe their stories, the façade and the lies.  Sometimes believing the lies is easier than facing the truth.    We want to believe them because we need our jobs, we want to prove we can handle whatever the world throws at us, that we are invincible…because to be a woman in an Executive role, we have been conditioned to believe, and our experiences have taught us, that if we show the slightest crack in our armor, the whole delicate house of cards comes crumbling down.   Executive Women are expected to be fearless, creative, assertive, smart, fierce and powerful, when it suits the agenda, and the moment it doesn’t, we must be compliant, give away our power, shudder our creativity, and stay in our lane.   A few years ago I was working for an organization and the owners decided to replace the current president and bring in a new CEO, who would be my new boss.  When he first arrived, we met daily, I was his right hand person, crafting communications, creating plans to introduce him to employees throughout the organization and in general, getting him up to speed.  He made it very clear that he was a huge advocate for women and that he would much prefer to have women on his team whenever possible.  I thought, wow, this is GREAT!  A male CEO who is going to listen to ideas and be an advocate, and take me seriously for the value I bring vs see me as a necessary evil.  (sometimes, especially when you work in Human Resources, even at the Executive level, many people, even CEO’s view you as a necessary evil they have to put up with vs a value added voice on the Executive team.  As an HR Executive much of my role is to challenge conventional thinking and behaviors, to coach the CEO and  to ensure ALL employees are treated with respect and given opportunities to thrive…and not everyone wants to hear that kind of thing) but this time, I was hopeful…until I started to see that the words he said and his actions didn’t necessarily align.     One clear example that showed me his true colors was in an Executive meeting.  It was the monthly Executive Leadership Team meeting, which included me along with the other C-suite executives. The company was struggling with fulfilling orders accurately and in a timely manner.  This organization had these same issues for a very long time, however, for many years, they were the only player in their space, so customer satisfaction was never top of mind, as it simply didn’t really matter to them as it didn’t impact their bottom line, or so they thought.  They were the big dogs and the only option out there for their product…until they weren’t.  Now they were facing stiff competition and every broken process, every out of touch executive and every resentful employee was an issue that needed to be solved immediately.   Having worked in lean manufacturing environments throughout my experience, I suggested that if, as an executive team, we REALLY wanted to learn what was happening with our people, process and product, that we should consider initiating GEMBA walks throughout the organization and especially throughout the manufacturing, shipping and customer service areas.    Now, if you aren’t familiar with the term GEMBA, it is derived from the Japanese word GEMBUTSU, which means “the real place”, and it’s used in Six Sigma or Lean philosophy to bring leaders out of their offices and into the places where the actual work takes place.  GEMBA walks create opportunities for leaders to see the work as it’s happening, hear the challenges workers are facing directly from the workers and not filtered through other leaders and to see with their own eyes the obstacles they might not have realized exist and to then take these learnings and do what they can to remove the obstacles, fix problems and enable employees to be and do the best possible work with the least amount of friction.   As soon as I said the word GEMBA, as the CEO I worked for didn’t understand what GEMBA meant, and had clearly never heard the term, rather than pausing to educate himself, by asking me what this strange word meant, he decided his course of action would be to make fun of me during the meeting.  He huffed a bit and then with a gaffaw said something like, “Oh sure, here goes Barbie, wanting to bring GUMBY into the plant to entertain the employees, like that going to fix anything.”   I tried explained to him what GEMBA was and that anyone who has ever worked in lean manufacturing is aware and understands…his response, “Yeah, ok, whatever, you and Gumby can do your thing, we are going to focus on the numbers”.   As you can imagine, I was less than pleased, embarrassed and humiliated.  This man, the person entrusted to lead the company, a self-proclaimed feminist and advocate for women, was literally making fun of me, in a meeting in front of my peers.  After I calmed down and realized there was no talking to him about this during the meeting because he would simply not stop with his blustery push back, I decided to talk to him after the meeting.  Once again, he wouldn’t hear it and brushed me off in what he thought was humorous, but was nothing more than insulting.   I tried to bring the concept up again a few times and was always met with the same reaction.    Fast forward a month or so, and we hired a new COO.  The COO was and still is, a lovely man, who has great manufacturing experience and brought a lot of great changes to the organization.  In the first or perhaps second Executive team meeting the new COO attended, as we got around to discussing the customer service challenges we continued to face, he suggested that the executive team go on GEMBA walks or as he called the boardwalks.   The CEO says, I LOVE this idea, let’s start next week.  As I sat there in shock, I looked around the room.  I was looking at the faces of the others in the room to see if they were reacting at all to what had just happened.  I saw a few folks look at me and nod, as if to recognize that they knew, but they weren’t going to say anything.  I couldn’t sit there quietly, so I said, hang on, wait a minute, this is exactly what I have been suggesting for over a month and you weren’t interested, what’s changed?  He gave some sort of non answer, laughed and walked out of the room.   I couldn’t believe what just happened.  It was like I had hallucinated the entire previous encounters where I had brought this up, but I knew I wasn’t hallucinating, I knew it happened.  After I calmed down, a few days later, in a one on one meeting with the CEO, I confronted him one more time.  I mean I couldn’t stop thinking about this.  What had I said wrong?  How could I have positioned this better?  What did I miss?  What was lacking in the way I presented the information vs the way the new COO presented the information.   So, I asked him, “I’m hoping you can help me understand what happened in the Executive Team Meeting this week because I am really very confused and need to understand how, perhaps, I can improve the way I present information to you.  Several weeks ago, and repeatedly since then, I have been suggesting the Executive Team initiate GEMBA walks, and each time, you not only dismissed the idea, you did so by also making fun of me and the concept.  Yet, when the new COO made the EXACT same recommendation, you immediately supported the idea, so much so, that you personally ensured every Executive was in attendance on the first walk.  Can you help me understand what I could have done differently in that moment to have you hear me and my ideas the way you heard his?”   He looked at me puzzled, denied EVER making fun of me and told me I was clearly being overly sensitive, that he would never do such a thing and that I must have misunderstood him.   Looking back, I can now see so clearly the gaslighting, the attempts to undermine my confidence and how he, along with others who clearly did not want me challenging them or their precious balance of power took every possible chance to diminish and keep me in my place.   I can’t help but think about the Wizard and how he did so much of the same thing.  He had no magical powers, but wanted power…so, he made up stories, straight up lied, coerced, pretended he was an innocent victim of circumstances who just wanted to help the citizens of Oz, all the while, he was conspiring to undermine those who actually had power, who legitimately wanted to make things better and fight for justice, like Elphaba.   As female Executives, I would be willing to bet we have all felt like Elphaba and we have all worked with or for a Wizard.   We have learned to be skeptical and wait until people SHOW us who they really are vs those who TELL us who they are.  We have learned the more they TALK about what or who they claim to be, the less they likely they are to actually be what they claim.   In my life and work, I have seen and experienced so many wonderful, caring and supportive people who live authentically and walk the talk, and I have seen just as many who don’t.   I will no longer give away my talents, my work, my energy or my power to anyone or anything that isn’t worthy of receiving my efforts and attention.  I will not tolerate lies, gaslighting or vague responses, that can be turned into anything they choose based on what serves them in the moment.  I’ve been down that road far too many times, and it never ends well.  You know, when someone doesn’t really take ownership for what he or she really wants or says and then somehow tries to flip it back on you?    I dated someone once who would never confirm plans until the very last minute and would always say things like, “well, if YOU want to go, ok” or, “I don’t really want to go, but they asked me, and so I guess I will, but maybe not, probably not, I’ll let you know”.  Of course, she ALWAYS went and did whatever she wanted with her friends, and if we ever did do something I wanted to do, and she didn’t like it, it would then be thrown back in my face because it was something I wanted to do.  Ahhhh….lessons learned.   I have now learned to not allow vague commitments.  Someone either wants to do something or they don’t, they either own their decisions or I’m not interested.  I have very strong boundaries now.  I won’t allow anyone to place blame on me, for something they chose to do or not do, we are all adults and we choose, period.   I will walk away from an opportunity when my intuition tells me it’s not right.  I will walk away from a relationship when I see the red flags of narcissistic behaviors.  I refuse to question my worth or value because someone else doesn’t see it.  Now that doesn’t mean everyone out there loves me, I am QUITE sure they don’t, and that’s ok.  What others think of me, is NONE of my business.  I have to worry about me, my actions, my reactions and the way I treat myself and others…and really, that’s all we have control over in this world.   As I look back on this lesson, and how women, even Executive women are expected to give away our power, to diminish our voices, to comply and not create friction, to not challenge the balance of power or the institutionalized and systemic power systems currently in place and at the Wizard and Elphaba, the alleged Wicked Witch, how easily one can go from hero to villain or villain to hero, once we have the whole story, I am also reminded of a beautiful piece of art that hangs on my wall and serves as a reminder of a very important lesson.  I will leave you with this quote, from Glinda, the Good Witch…   You’ve always had the power my dear, you just needed to learn it for yourself.
Finding My Purpose
Feb 28 2023
Finding My Purpose
I don’t know who will hear this, maybe no one but me, and really, that’s ok, it really is.   It’s taken me a lot of years to realize, in so many ways, I’ve been living my life in what I call “neutral”.  While neutral may not seem like a bad thing necessarily, as I shared in the Executive Woman newsletter, it’s not really a positive thing either.  When a car is in neutral, is rolls along according to the pitch of the road, following along whichever way it is propelled.  The car will gain speed when going downhill, lose speed while going uphill, possibly even causing the car to roll backward and depending on the car, you may or may not be able to stear it well while in neutral, which might land the car in precarious situations.    Well, this was me, for much of my life.  In many ways, rather than living my life fully and with intention, I simply rolled whichever way the road pitched, and sometimes it was great fun and other times, not so much.  I didn’t feel I had the power to choose a direction.  My life was more me reacting to some circumstances and working hard to avoid others.  I didn’t feel empowered to live my dreams, I had been conditioned to believe avoiding pain, chaos and fear and finding safety was my goal.  And while as a child, and an early adult, that is an absolute reality and a goal to be admired, at a certain point in time, we deserve and need more out of life all the while, our brains have been so influenced by our childhood journey’s we develop very strong fight, flight, flee and fawn responses, that we forget there is more, so much more.   On the outside looking in, this might seem surprising, if you know me or have worked with me, it might not make sense.  You see, I built a successful career, I even made it to the C-suite, which as we know, for women doesn’t come easily. I’ve done some traveling, which is a huge passion of mine.  I have an amazing wife and family who I love dearly, we are even in the midst of building our dream home, as I speak.  I am blessed to have some of the most supportive and loving friends I could ever hope to have and yet, as I reflect on my journey thus far, I can see so clearly how I have avoided taking bold steps, I’ve suppressed my talents, thoughts and ideas.  I’ve put my passions and desires on the back burner to stay in what I believed was a “safe-zone”.  I would take things just “so-far” before backing off out of fear.  I would become more and more isolated, and wore this as a badge of honor, thinking I didn’t need anyone, and that I was the only person I could actually rely on…man was I wrong!   I believed if I checked the boxes, hit the milestones and did the things, that somehow, I would feel fulfilled and my purpose would magically illuminate in front of me, like in the movies when a treasure hunter finally makes it through the many obstacles of a remote jungle, navigates through the darkness of the cave buried deep beneath the mountain and places the ancient key into the rugged piece of rock at just the right moment and suddenly the sunlight pierces through and the eyes of the statue start to glow, the entire cave lights up, the walls recede and massive hidden treasures are revealed.   Well, as you can imagine, as exciting as that sounds, it didn’t happen that way.  My revelation has been much slower, and as I continue to peel back the many layers of my life and lived experiences, I am discovering a burgeoning desire to strip away all the masks, doubts and bullshit I’ve either believed was my only reality or that I was conditioned to accept as a singular truth, and so telling my story is as much for me as it is for anyone who might hear it.   I am your host, Barbie Winterbottom, and the is The Executive Woman.   When deciding to launch this podcast, I had a very different plan in mind.  Well, actually, let’s rewind.  A few YEARS ago I had a plan to launch a podcast, but alas, I didn’t, not really, it felt too scary to do something so bold.  Who would want to listen to anything I have to say?  What is so ground-breaking about me and my story that anyone would care to listen?  I told myself story after story as to why it just wouldn’t work.  I did, however, launch a video-based interview program, which I truly enjoyed hosting, called The Table. With over 20 years in my Executive career in Human Resources, somehow this felt safer.  I would interview guests to share THEIR stories and experiences, all the while, I was safe and protected, not really sharing mine.  I interviewed some of the best and brightest minds working in HR and the People Space from around the world, executives, authors, leaders, and even a celebrity or two and we talked about all the many things related to the Workplace, People Strategy, DEI and more…and while, like I said, I did enjoy each and every session, I also felt like something was missing.  What was missing, was me.  I was hiding behind my guests, it felt so much safer to have them front and center and I just facilitated the conversation, with the attention on their story, not mine.  I decided to take a hiatus from The Table during the summer of 2022, and during this hiatus, I started to interview women off camera about their lived experiences, both personally and professionally and it was through these conversations that I realized the huge gap existing in the conversations happening in the world.  There is a polish to everything.  When I was interviewing folks for The Table, they were often representing their company, and as a result, there was a very corporate feel to all conversations.  Once I started interviewing women off camera, just the two of us, the REAL conversations started to happen.    The more I interviewed women, the more stories I have been fortunate to hear, both on and off camera, the more I realized, so many of us are in the same boat, struggling with many of the same things and that while we have definitely made progress, the workplace and society has not evolved fast enough and definitely not transparently enough for women,  and that Executive Women are facing even more challenges than perhaps anyone realizes.   There is a belief that women in Executive roles “have it all”, and in most cases, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  I’m not saying it isn’t possible, I suppose it is, but I have yet to encounter an Executive Woman who hasn’t compromised something she values, hasn’t stepped away from a conversation, swallowing her voice while at the same time ready to scream so loud you could hear her 3 counties away, hasn’t dismissed an inappropriate comment for fear of being perceived as rigid, and who doesn’t feel isolated and lonely in many ways.  I know these are truths we all share because I have lived each and every one of these scenarios and am willing to bet, many of you have too.   In recognizing the continued disparities women face both in the workplace and outside the workplace, I knew I wanted to go deeper into the “why” behind the façade of perfection we are conditioned to believe we must put forward.  So many of us are dying on the inside while we project this false armour of perfection, meanwhile, we are getting older, facing more challenges to be perceived as relevant and we want more.  We want and deserve more, we deserve to be fully who we are meant to be…and that is absolutely NOT a one size fits all model.   I want to recognize and talk about the lives and stories behind Executive Women. We are more than our job titles and each and every aspect of our lived experiences has brought us to where we are right now.   I also recognize the immense privilege I have in this world…and before you hit the pause button and think we are going to get all political, just hang in there, I assure you, we are not.  I do however, believe, it’s important to talk about the “real stuff” and privilege is part of that real stuff.    I am a white, middle aged, blonde-ish (with the help of hair color), green-eyed, cis-woman, who is able bodied, I have my eyesight (though it’s plummeting by the day, I swear), I can hear, I can speak, I can read, I have a home and a car, I have access to clean water and healthy food and so many more things we often take for granted. And while I have worked my entire adult life to achieve what I have achieved and I’ve definitely been through some things, I also know I have been afforded opportunities and been welcomed into spaces that have not been opened up to others, not necessarily based on my merit, but based on the color of my skin, the color of my eyes and the texture of my hair.  It is because of this privilege I am able to pause and see it for what it is, and hopefully, if I get this right, I can use this privilege and this platform to raise awareness and bring light to topics and conversations many shy away from having.  I want to shine light on the dark spaces and corners where discrimination of all forms lives, talk about how it shows up, how it impacts all of us, and how we can rail against and use the privileges we have to rise together.   I also want to bring forward the reality that anyone listening to this podcast has some level of privilege.  Simply having access to the electronics necessary to listen, understanding the language I am speaking, having ears to hear or eyes to read the transcript, gives you a privilege others don’t have.  Privilege isn’t a singular issue of race, or gender, or skin color, or disability staus, it is embodied in so many aspects of our lived experiences and those with whom we share this magnificent planet.    Privilege isn’t inherently good or bad, it just is.  Like water isn’t inherently good or bad.  Water is a life giving force, it’s something every human body needs, it hosts millions of creatures in our many oceans, lakes and streams, and you can weaponize it by holding someone’s head under it for long enough, causing them to drown.  I think of privilege in much the same way.  We can use the privilege we have to lift others, open doors, raise awareness, and to build relationships and bridges.  We can also lord it over others, withhold it and even deny we have it in attempts to gaslight others into believing they simply aren’t worthy or good enough.   I recognize for all the privilege I do have, I also have challenges, I struggle with a neurodivergent brain, I am well over 40, I am overweight, I am gay or lesbian (either term works for me), I am a cancer survivor, and while the “survivor” part is amazing, the aftermath of living without a thyroid for the past 20+ years has been a challenge like no other, especially once you cross that threshold over over 40 as a female and your hormones decide to write their own script for your future self…when you have no thyroid, this creates utter disaster, and well, the list goes on and on and it is these challenges that that move me (and so many others) away from what is traditionally centered in this world, the white male.    Now, before you come at me with the ugly vitriol that often follows a statement like that, I want to be very clear…nothing about this podcast, or any of the work I do, is about hating men.  I don’t hate men, I never have.  Some of my dearest, most trusted friends, co-workers and advocates on this earth are men. I adore our son, my brothers and my cousins, that, however, doesn’t erase the reality that in almost all cultures, men have been at the center of power in society, religion, business, politics and more and as a result, government systems, societal infrastructures, personal and professional beliefs, doctrines and financial systems have been built to protect this power dynamic.  Are we making progress?  YES!  We are!  and do we still have a long way to go?  Yes!  We do!   Which brings us back to why I launched this podcast.  I am committed to sharing my story and the stories and lived experiences of others in hopes that we can learn something new, see things in a different way, open-up conversations that perhaps we have been afraid to have.  I want every Executive Woman and those who aspire to be to feel empowered to live her truth, to embrace every aspect of who she is and celebrate all she has to offer this world…because, selfishly, WE NEED YOU!   I want to talk about all the things that have made us into the people we are right now, both good and bad and to pause and reflect, and with all the self-love we can muster, step forward into shaping the lives we want vs simply accepting the lives we have - if where you are isn’t where you want to be.   I want to reframe many of the concepts we have been conditioned to accept as our only option, and challenge all of us, myself included, to find the courage to step into ourselves as fully as possible.    For me, this means coming to grips with fear and shame and all the ways I have allowed fear to make decisions for me.  It means, making the painful connections between my childhood traumas and experiences and my reality today, and all that has influenced me in getting to where I am, and all I still need to face, to learn from, to embrace OR let go of and to share with all of you.   So much of my life has been shaped by my fears and my shame.  One easy example I can share that many of you may relate to is how I shied away from putting myself out there because of my weight.  I let body shame rule my life for so many years.  I avoided social events, being on stage, I told myself I would never make it as a performer because who would ever want an overweight white girl on their record label.  I avoided the beach, which is likely my favorite place on this planet, and yet, for so many years, I wouldn’t go to a place that brings me calm, and joy and peace, out of embarrassment for how I looked in a swimsuit.  And while I cannot honestly say it no longer haunts me, because I assure you, it does, I AM slowly starting to get to a place of accepting that it is only one part of what makes me who I am, and it doesn’t define me.  This topic, is a whole podcast in and of itself, as this demon of mine is one tough mother, let me tell you!     While I do plan to have guests on the podcast, I will also have episodes, like this,  where it’s just me, sharing something with you.  Be it something I have discovered, a lesson I have learned or a challenge I have faced and either overcome or let beat me, or a challenge I am facing right now.  I want us to get to know each other for who we REALLY are and all we want to become…whether we recognize it or not, we really ARE in this together!   I truly hope you will find value in these episodes and that there will be a nugget of learning or enlightenment, maybe a laugh or two and that in the end it brings us closer together and that collectively we recognize our power, embrace it, amplify it share it with others.   Years ago, I was active with a non-profit that raises millions of dollars each year for AIDS and supporting those living with and affected by AIDS called the SMART ride.  SMART is an acronym for SOUTHERN MOST AIDS RIDE.  Like many non-profits, this one was founded by a courageous person who was impacted by something, in this case AIDS.  The founder was diagnosed with AIDS in 1993, and in that time, this diagnosis was often a short-term death sentence.  Thankfully, this was not the case for him and he is still living and thriving, but as we all know, millions around the globe do not have this same outcome.  The primary fund raiser each year is a 165 mile bicycle ride from Miami to Key West, over the course of 2 days.  The riders typically ride about 100 miles on day 1 and 65 miles on day 2, arriving in Key West in the mid-afternoon.  Once every rider is in at the staging area, all the riders parade down Duval and through Key West, ending at the large pier that jets out over the ocean.  The riders are met with often hundreds of well wishers, family and friends who are there to celebrate their accomplishments and the cause. There is a closing ceremony way out on the very end of the pier and the amount of money raised is shared with the group.  There is a large stage on the pier, huge speakers blasting high-energy music, people cheering and an overall very celebratory atmosphere to greet the tired, fatigued riders as they file in.  After the last rider is in, and the pier is filled to maximum capacity, the music quiets, people start to settle and move into an organized pattern creating an open path all the way down the center of the pier, to the stage.  A soft music begins to play (something like a Sarah Mcghlachlan song) and you can feel a shift from celebration to a somber quiet.  At this point, many heads are down as people take this time to reflect over the past two days, their loved ones or how AIDS has impacted them in some way.  Often you can see people peering through the crowd with tears streaming down their faces as one of the riders walks down the entire stretch of the pier, through the massive crowds pushing beside them a riderless bike, in memory of those who have lost their battle to AIDS.  This is an incredibly powerful moment, no matter how many times I have experienced this, I am always brought to tears.    As the riderless bike makes it’s way around to the back of the stage, the Founder will enter the stage and bring focus to the crowd, sharing some updates, stories of wins and losses and at the end of his comments, he shares a quote, the same quote every year, just before revealing the big number showing how much money was raised.    This quote is from Margaret Mead and one you may have heard, it is one that sticks with me and I think of often, especially now that I am launching this podcast and all the elements that will be part of The Executive Woman, because I truly believe if we focus more on finding our common ground, if we focus on recognizing what has happened to us, what IS happening to us and finding ways to come together, share, overcome and thrive, by supporting and empowering each other and the next generation, in doing so, we will find our purpose, we will find our fulfillment and we create a better tomorrow for all of us.   So, for this episode, I will leave you with this quote from Margaret Mead…    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has”.