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Expert Interview: Mim Senft

March 05 2019 / by Mari Ryan

In this Expert Interview, AdvancingWellness CEO Mari Ryan and Mim Senft explore the topic of women in the workplace.

Mim is the President and CEO of Motivity Partnerships, and she is also the co-founder of Global Women 4 Wellbeing. Mim is a positive force in the wellness and well-being industry, calling for collaboration to move the profession forward.

Mim Senft

Mim Senft Interview

Mari Ryan: Welcome to the Workplace Well-being Essentials Series. I'm Mari Ryan, I'm the CEO and founder of Advancing Wellness. It's my pleasure to welcome you today to this expert interview, where we explore topics that impact employee well-being. My guest today is Mim Senft.

Mim is the President and CEO of Motivity Partnerships, and she is also the co-founder of Global Women 4 Wellbeing. Mim is a positive force in the wellness and wellbeing industry, calling for collaboration to move the profession forward. Over the past fifteen years, Mim has worked in positions of increasing responsibility in the wellness and benefits field. Mim, welcome, I’m so excited to have you here today.

Mim Senft: Thank you so much, Mari. It is truly a pleasure to be here.

Mari Ryan: I am excited to have this conversation about topics that relate to women, and with the International Women’s Day coming up, we want to be able to talk a little bit about the role that women play in the workplace. In the past year we’ve heard a lot about women in the news. I think CNN even declared 2018 to be The Year of the Woman. We know that women play a key role in the workforce as well. Women’s participation in the U.S. labor workforce has continued to increase since World War II when it was about 32% to today, where it is in the high 50s, 57%. So, women make up a large part of the workforce. World-wide, that number is a little lower; it’s actually only about 40%. Another interesting element is 70% of mothers with children under the age of 18, participate in the labor force, and most of those, 75%, are employed full time. Mothers are primary or sole earners for 40% of households with children under 18 today.

We are seeing a number of things that happen with regard to the role of women in the workplace, in particular, states that are now enacting legislation around pay inequity. In the #MeToo movement, of course, has brought all of this to the forefront, with workplace harassment and the workplace issues associated with that. And yet, with so many things happening around women in the workplace, we still see that there are few women in leadership roles.

So, let’s explore some of these topics as celebrate International Women’s Day this week, Mim, share with us what your thoughts are about the unique contributions that women bring to the workplace.

Mim Senft: As we have watched women come into the workplace, we still tend to look at leadership through the lens of more male characteristics. To be fair, we are all on a spectrum. Some of us have more male, female characteristics, but there are some skills and traits that women bring that can drive a better bottom line and drive innovation. First and foremost would be emotional intelligence, and I think anybody who has read the research on this that has come out of numerous MBA programs, shows that emotional intelligence is one of the skills that we all need in our organization. It is something women can bring in a unique way. It becomes an economic driver within that organization.

It’s very important to have teams of people that are diverse, and feel included. So, the Gallup research shows that women, when they are leaders of teams, are very good at making the team feel included, making sure that everyone gets heard, which is a nice thing, but there again, it goes to the economic reason for doing this. That leads to better creative problem solving, and faster, more effective innovation. So, very clear cost … what do I want to say? It can save you a lot of money and a lot of time if you have everybody’s voice in your team being heard. That is something that women do very well.

That gets to the listening skill that women often come very well equipped to do. I’ll give you a specific example about why that is important, particularly in the workplace today. There’s a story that one of our members, Fabienne Jacquet shared with me, about a CEO that went to an airport, and went into the bathrooms, and saw all these old people in the bathrooms – and went to several of them, going wow, we need to have bathrooms that cater to more of these older people, like that must be a really great opportunity for us. The good news is he went back to his team and the team said, maybe we better ask a few more questions. They went back out, started talking to the people in the bathrooms, and found out that the reason they were in there is because they couldn’t hear the announcements out in the main hallway.

I think it underscores why listening and intentional questions, and getting a little bit more information up front, which is sometimes thought of as being a more feminine quality, can in the long run help with innovation and bringing things to market that are actually needed, versus what you may perceive it to be.

Those are three things that are unique in terms of what we think of as more feminine qualities.

Mari Ryan: Great, thanks for sharing that. You mentioned some aspects of the economic benefits of women in the workplace; could you talk a little bit more about that and tell us, are there ways to measure that?

Mim Senft: That’s a great question. I think a lot of the discussion is, is this the right thing to do, do we have to get more women into leadership? There is actually a very good business case for that. We know that Harvard Business Review has published a couple of articles, and they are not the only major publication that has talked about this, but when you go from zero to 30% qualified female leadership at the top, on average you get a 15% bump in your profit margin for virtually any industry.

Very measurable. You can also start to measure the innovations process, again, that is a longer measurement process, but as you start putting more women into leadership, there are hard numbers about how fast it is going to market, how effective was the process of getting it to market, was it really something the market needed, program, resource service.

I think those are two pieces. I would also encourage anybody to go out and look at the Gallup data around women and managers. It’s very interesting that … the good news is the company itself is perceived as being a better place to work by women and men when you have more women that are included in leadership positions. Everyone benefits. It’s not just about women leading, it’s about the entire company being more profitable and having a better culture where people can thrive.

Mari Ryan: That is certainly interesting research. I’m curious about one thing, and that is as we talk about women in leadership roles, why is there are not more women in leadership roles?

Mim Senft: I think that’s a big question for most organizations because we know there are women’s affinity groups at almost all the brand names because we’ve seen them; they’ve been around for years, but the reality is the numbers at that top have not changed in more than ten years in virtually every industry. So, it is a very important question.

I recently read something that said it’s not just a glass ceiling, it’s a glass cliff. I loved that analogy because it isn’t just about us having an equal ladder up to the top, and then not being able to break through, there is a much harder trajectory for us. Some of it is about biases, spoken or unspoken, that are still not being addressed in the workplace. As more and more women have come into the workplace, our thinking around work is still very much rooted in the way that work was designed a hundred years ago.

So, how do you bring in the benefits of what women provide, that better profit margin, better team building, but they can’t do that if they are not addressing the unique barriers that are in the marketplace. I’ll share a couple of those with you; one is the pregnancy bias. There’s that “I’m a family man” and everyone is like, great, ”Jim is having a second child, that’s awesome”.Jane is having her second child. Gee, do you think she can really lead? Is this a problem?” I’ll take it even a step beyond that. There is good research that shows that young women, who are not married, not planning on having children, but if they are of child-bearing age, there is still a bias there. They will get passed over for a position. Same skills, same education, but the back-door conversations, unfortunately, are still going on. “Well, she is probably going to get married, she’s probably going to have a kid,” or, “Well, she’s married to somebody who makes money, she doesn’t really need that raise, but he’s a family man.”

We have to get over some of those biases, prejudices, however you want to classify that. Until we do that, we are not going to get that benefit of more and more women in leadership, and a big piece of that is care giving. There are good men out there that are caregivers, I don’t want to negate that, but the majority from AARP and pretty much everyone else out there, Working Mother … there’s tons of research around this … women at all levels, whether you are a shift leader, or you’re a CEO, chances are if you have children, aging parents or aging family members, or potentially a child that has a disability, you are going to be the primary caregiver. That means additional unpaid work that you are doing outside of your regular job description that your male counterpart is not doing. That’s why flex schedules and rethinking how we design work for both women and men so that it truly is inclusive, is potentially something that can help break down some of those barriers.

Mari Ryan: Let’s explore that a little bit because as you talk about some of these particular issues that impact women, and they impact any parent in some of those cases, but I’m curious, what can employers do, or what can an organization do? What action steps can they take around women’s well-being in the workplace around some of those topics, such as the care giving or the need for more flexibility?

Mim Senft: First and foremost, if you have a women’s affinity group, please take a look at the pictures of all the people in your C-suite. Pictures don’t lie. Saying that you have a diversity and inclusion program or initiative to get more women into leadership, but it is not reflected at all at the top, or you have your one token woman, start there first because I think you have to come to terms with you can talk the game, but anybody looking at your website is going to know. I think that’s a good place to start.

I think with a lot of these issues, and we didn’t talk about this, the financial implications of caregiving is very important. I highly recommend looking at your organization and is there true pay equity, and not just position-to-position – this is where it gets a little trickier, there is, obviously that piece of it – you also have to look at it in the context of are we moving up women at the same time, and how much are they getting paid?

There was an economic development professional that I met recently – she’s an amazing woman – and she works at a governmental organization, and they have a pay freeze. She’s been given an increase of responsibility, she is now getting a better title, but when that pay freeze unfreezes, she is going to be at a very different level than somebody who has the exact same job description who is male. She’s frustrated.

If women do not get paid as much as their male counterparts, and they are paying for care giving, it puts us behind the eight-ball from day one. As the world becomes more transparent, so not only do I think you should do it, we have Glassdoor. People are becoming much more comfortable talking about how much am I getting paid, was I passed over for a promotion, I didn’t feel like it was a female-inclusive environment, it’s going to be very important. Back to that attract and retain issue that almost every organization is talking about. If we make up more than 50% of the potential workforce out there, and you want the best female talent to be there, to help you with that profit margin, then looking at things like pay equity, how you are supporting caregivers, do you have a real paid leave, what kind of real ‘down time’ recovery time are you allowing for people? It goes back to, again, if I’ve got children at home, and I’m the person that is taking care of them, it’s a lot harder for me to get on an eight o’clock PM call when I’m supposed to be putting my children to bed, as opposed to my male counterpart, who may or may not have children, or has a spouse that.

I will say that I think with the younger generations we are starting to see a shift in how we are thinking about this, but we still have a long way to go.

Mari Ryan: Those are some great tactics that can be employed, but obviously those take a lot of work because they are big issues and fortunately I’m seeing many of my clients addressing some of those issues. It’s good to see there is movement in that way. I’m curious, as the co-founder of the organization called Global Women 4 Wellbeing, which is focused on some of these topics, what is the unique issue that GW4W is addressing?

Mim Senft: We are working to build much more awareness around the deep connection between women’s unique health and wellbeing issues, and our ability to lead, but also how we are viewed as leaders. It is the ecosystem of all the pieces of the puzzle that touch us as leaders, and get to some of the deeper gaps that have not been addressed. We do that through research, not just research though because research is fine, but if you can’t translate that into real action steps, it doesn’t do any of us any good, it’s as good as the research may be. We are very good about taking that information and turning it into practical steps.

Some specific examples: we are building a workshop that is about bridging the gender gap, male/female presenter, and it’s about having a deep discussion about what do we think of as toxic: masculinity toxic, femininity, what are healthy male role models, healthy female role models, building real conversation in a safe, open space. If men and women are truly going to show up as their best selves, it’s not just about keeping conversations in a silo. Global Women 4 Wellbeing isn’t just about the women’s side of this, it’s about how we reach out and make these connections so we can move it forward.

We are big on talking about women’s inner voice. This is important because most of the mental health professionals that we have involved in our organization have told us that at least 25% of the women that you get into a room to talk about inner voice have had real trauma. That may be rape, that may be domestic abuse, that may be … what it is. It’s important for us to make sure we are bringing in a resource that is grounded in science, and that has somebody in the front of the room that can handle that kind of a conversation in a responsible way, and get them back to the company resources, like your EAP, for example.

It’s not just about leadership and mentoring, it’s the inner health and well-being, and making sure that they are getting better resources.

The third piece is the leadership piece. There are so many amazing organizations that support women, and we are so proud to stand next to them. We look at ourselves as being a connector organization, but unless we get leaders at the top, the top of countries, the top of communities, the top of organizations that understand what needs to get done and push some of these things down through an organization, so we can pull women up, we are going to be in the same position that we have been in the past 25, 30 years. It’s saying this is an “and,” not an “or,” but an “and” to everything else that is already out there in the marketplace so we can enhance and accelerate positive change.

Mari Ryan: I am so excited about the work that GW4W is doing, and your commitment to addressing those unique issues. Mim, if our audience wants to learn more about you and the work you are doing, where can they reach you?

Mim Senft: They can go to either one of the websites, motivitypartnerships.com, to learn more about what Motivity does with organizations. If you would like to learn more about Global Women 4 Wellbeing, you can go to gw4w.org. Please join us on Facebook and I would invite all of you to look at some of the events we have coming up, and join us. I just want to say thank you so much, Mari. Mari you were a founding member for Global Women 4 Wellbeing, and thank you for your leadership, and everything you do to connect and do more good in the world.

Mari Ryan: My pleasure, and as always, it’s a delight to spend time with you, Mim. Thanks so much for being here today. You have a great afternoon.

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Topics: Worksite Wellness, Wellbeing, worksite wellbeing, workplace wellbeing, wellness, employee wellness, worksite well-being, hr, women at work, working women, company culture, employee well-being, human resources, corporate wellness, corporate culture, gender balance, gender equity

Mari Ryan

Written by Mari Ryan

Mari Ryan is the CEO/founder of AdvancingWellness and is a recognized expert in the field of workplace well-being strategy.