TalentX - The Talent Experience Podcast

Ep. 21 - Leslie Forde

January 28, 2021 Fuel50 Season 1 Episode 21
TalentX - The Talent Experience Podcast
Ep. 21 - Leslie Forde
Chapters
TalentX - The Talent Experience Podcast
Ep. 21 - Leslie Forde
Jan 28, 2021 Season 1 Episode 21
Fuel50

This episode sees us dive into supporting mothers and others juggling a career and caregiving responsibilities with Leslie Forde, who’s research helps mothers in particular make space for self-care. Leslie shares her story to what led her to develop Mom’s Hierarchy of Needs, using her ground-breaking research on working mothers and the stressful and difficult juggling act they have to navigate every day. More recently she has been studying how the pandemic is affecting work and life for parents and gives tips for business leaders to develop a work culture that allows and supports caregivers to not only succeed and grow but to achieve leadership in their careers.

Leslie has used research to inform growth and innovation strategy for over 20 years. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter: @leslieforde.

For more insightful conversations, visit www.talentxpodcast.com. We hope you enjoy this episode of the TalentX podcast!

Show Notes Transcript

This episode sees us dive into supporting mothers and others juggling a career and caregiving responsibilities with Leslie Forde, who’s research helps mothers in particular make space for self-care. Leslie shares her story to what led her to develop Mom’s Hierarchy of Needs, using her ground-breaking research on working mothers and the stressful and difficult juggling act they have to navigate every day. More recently she has been studying how the pandemic is affecting work and life for parents and gives tips for business leaders to develop a work culture that allows and supports caregivers to not only succeed and grow but to achieve leadership in their careers.

Leslie has used research to inform growth and innovation strategy for over 20 years. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter: @leslieforde.

For more insightful conversations, visit www.talentxpodcast.com. We hope you enjoy this episode of the TalentX podcast!

John Hollon  00:25
Hello, I'm John Hollon and welcome to TalentX, the Talent Experience Podcast. Today's guest is Leslie Forde. Leslie has used research to inform growth and innovation strategy for over 20 years. She's held brand management, product marketing and business development roles in consumer technology and products, market research, media and publishing companies and worked at places like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Care.com, Bausch and Lomb and Xerox. 

But that's not the most interesting thing that Leslie Ford has been engaged with. No, that would be her groundbreaking research on working mothers and the stressful and difficult juggling act they have to navigate every day. On her LinkedIn account she simply says, my research helps mothers make space for self care and employers retain working parents. And her research has led to her website Mom'sHierarchyofNeeds.com, which is inspired by Abraham Maslow's famous hierarchy of needs. I know there's a lot more to it Leslie, more than I covered in my brief introduction and I also know that our audience would love to hear more about it. But first, how are you today?

Leslie Forde  01:41
Oh, I'm doing great and thank you for that kind introduction. That sounds wonderful and impressive and it's nice to kind of hear my interesting journey summarized that way. So thank you!

John Hollon  01:56
I try to get as much and get it down as short as I can and you had a lot of things to put in there. At any rate, that's really good to hear. We have a lot to talk about and our time is always pretty tight but let's get started. Maybe you can start by telling us about just what led to your research work and the development of MomsHierarchyofNeeds.com?

Leslie Forde  02:20
Absolutely. Well, it was just over five years ago now. My youngest is in Zoom school kindergarten these days but after I went back to work from maternity leave, which is a very fragile time for new parents and particularly for new mothers, within a few months of coming back I completely burned out at work. I had taken on this much larger role in the company at the time I was eight months pregnant and I was frankly a little nervous about it but I was assured that everything will be fine, we have your back, it's going to be great. 

02:58
Within three months of coming back I learned that one of my most senior people had left to go into a different division. I had three other people that all for various reasons had to go out suddenly on FMLA leave and so I came back to this new job really, where my department was double the size. I was feeling just exhausted and depleting, I was sleeping in one hour increments with a newborn but I was expected to deliver my strategic best and I felt just hollowed out. So I would be kind of working and working away at one, two and three in the morning and trying to kind of shield my sleeping baby from the glow of the computer and it just became unsustainable. 

03:46
I left that job, a job that I once absolutely loved and within a couple of years of that I became really curious how other working moms were doing it because I thought I was someone who never even needed a lot of sleep. I always had tons of energy. And I just felt like I was going to die. So because research is in my roots, as you shared in my intro, I decided to reach out to some other people with this idea that I had. I was just kind of describing to a founder of a mental health startup why mothers are so stressed. And I said, well there's Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and then there's Mom's Hierarchy of Needs. And as soon as I drew it on a piece of paper, I just became curious, how would other mothers describe this and define this? What would it look like? Does it look like mine? 

04:37
And so it was hundreds of mothers later, I refined it to what it is today and this framework I think still holds. It's really at the foundation of a lot of my research that we're often trying to juggle these impossible choices, the foundational priorities we have at the bottom, our children's wellbeing and their milestones and household responsibilities then our professional role are kind of always in conflict with the aspirational categories of the top, anything that we might want to do for our mental, emotional and physical well being. And it's that tension that I became really curious about and started doing kind of my own research studies into in addition to interviewing a lot of experts about over the past four years.

John Hollon  05:27
Tell me a little bit more about the research that sort of drives all of this. What are the highlights and what jumped out at you about it?

Leslie Forde  05:36
Yeah, so what has been particularly interesting, particularly in this most recent study, so at the end of March I began studying the pandemic to really understand how it's affecting work and life for parents. Although I began my work really focused on mothers, now that I've kind of expanded to look at the pandemic and also, in some of the work that I do on the employer side, I'm really looking at how caregivers are experiencing this. And what I've learned is that everybody wants to be excellent at everything, which is probably not a surprise. And people feel incredibly torn and distraught about the fact that they cannot do their best as parents and cannot do their best as workers, and cannot do their best as caregivers to themselves. 

06:31
So in the most recent, I began, the study has been running since March and now about 44% of the parents in the study, and it's now close to 1400 parents have described that they are doing terribly or not as well as usual as workers. More than half about 60% actually feel that they're doing well or better than normal as parents but that still means 40% don't so it's not a trivial number. And to make up for this gain in productivity at work, because originally 60% of the people back in the spring felt they were doing terribly at work, everyone's abandoned self care. So 80% of parents have said they've all but given up self care. 

07:15
So as you know, especially with your area of expertise, that it's just not sustainable to not take care of your physical wellbeing and your emotional and mental wellbeing and to work without breaks. And depending on where people are in the world, and how much of their community has opened or not opened in many cases parents are still working locked down with their children, with their families and without a lot of access to resources that made the work-life fit happen.

John Hollon  07:48
Yeah, the juggling act that people have had to deal with over the last year mostly is just incredible. And you're starting to hear, I hear, I see in the media, more and more stories speaking to that. But there's a great quote that sort of gets into this, it's a great quote from you, that I would love to have you talk about. Here's what you said. You said "right now, we don't have a work culture in most organizations that supports caregivers, not just mothers, to succeed and flourish and grow and achieve leadership in their careers. Work as a whole, the system of work, the way it's executed and the history of it doesn't provide a framework that allows that for most people." Could you talk about that? Maybe unpack it a little bit and expand on what was behind it and what you were thinking about? And has that changed at all?

Leslie Forde  08:46
Absolutely. So what I think is really interesting right now that I've been kind of researching all of the internal reasons that it's difficult to achieve leadership roles and to make this kind of work-life combination fit and all the external and systems reasons. It kind of goes back to like the 1950s, you had this and I've seen it described in several studies as the ideal worker, and the ideal worker was usually it was a man, if that ideal worker was a father he had someone at home who was taking care of the household and taking care of the children on his behalf. 

09:28
And we kind of had this expectation, which I think has persisted right to this day that during work hours, which used to be nine to five and of course now stretched to be much longer than that. You're kind of on call, you're available, that it's the default that you can at a moment's notice jump on a call be at the ready. Back before the pandemic jump on a plane, be somewhere else. So all of that has really influenced the way work happens. I mean, people ask for permission to leave early to pick up their child from school or soccer practice or daycare. People ask for permission if they're going off to a doctor's appointment or visit. There's this expectation that all the time during that eight, nine, ten hour stretch, work is what's happening and work is the primary focus. 

10:28
It doesn't really allow people to have caregiving responsibilities. It frankly, doesn't allow a lot of people to have hobbies. And I found that not only does this particularly harm mothers who tend to take on still the majority of household and childcare, it also harms fathers who want to be hands on involved parents, it harms anyone who has elder care responsibilities for aging parents. So this system of expecting the always on worker who does not have anything else going on in their lives for this large stretch each day. It's just not realistic anymore, but persists. 

John Hollon  11:09
If you were talking to a group of business leaders right now, what's the most important thing you would want them to know to help support moms and other caregivers who are trying to juggle a job and their caregiving responsibilities? What can they do to help?

Leslie Forde  11:29
I'm glad you asked that question, because there's a lot that they can do. Two things come to mind first, really look closely at those hidden rules that are in the culture. Because there's kind of what's stated, there's the stated policies, there's what's in the employee handbook, there's what's on the walls with the mission statement, or the vision statement. But then there's how things actually get done and in most workplaces those hidden rules often don't allow for flexibility. 

11:58
So when you have people who are trying to now suddenly maintain their full time workload and perhaps have full time childcare responsibilities as well, that they're trying to manage simultaneously, which of course is somewhat impossible they are still expected to be in Zoom calls all day and to just port over the meeting schedule from the office to the home environment. They're still being expected in many cases, to be like, always on and responding to email, responding to Slack messages, responding to text messages within a moment's notice. 

12:35
You know, I had a leader once, just by way of example, who this was long before I had kids, the expectation from this particular CEO, was that any of us on the leadership team, we were just kind of expected to respond to her text messages or to her messages or emails within 15 minutes. And I remember one night I was at dinner, it was unusual that I wasn't looking at my phone for a long stretch of time. And I went up to use the restroom, checked the message responded to her and she said 'Where were you?' This was like at eight o'clock at night. So this is kind of what's happened though at a lot of workplaces. When I took that job and I loved that job and I have a huge amount of respect for that leader, I didn't expect that it really meant that I needed to be responsive within 15 minutes every time I was sent a message no matter whether it was weekends, day or night. But that was really what the culture was. 

13:32
And most people don't know what rules they're opting into. And what workers need now, especially people with care responsibilities is real flexibility. And real flexibility doesn't just mean hey, I'm at home, it means not only are my hours different, my synchronous time that I'm available for meetings are available for calls should be different, right? I can't be on call for eight or nine or 10 hours a day, if I have to feed my children, get them on and off of their Zoom school calls. And it also means performance measures need to be different. I've seen in the study, parents are just terrified of performance reviews right now. They're terrified of losing their jobs. And the work and what the output is has to look different to deal with the fact that there are often less hours to apply to it, and that there's less availability for synchronous meeting time.

John Hollon  14:27
Wow, that's really some interesting stuff that you just laid out there. And my guess is if you had five CEOs or high level C suite leaders, and you told that to them they wouldn't know most of them how to respond. It's something that they've never had to think about and so much of what we've had to do the last year as we've adjusted the business has just been done on the fly. And so you've got people now we're working at home who suddenly had to adjust to that and it's tough. 

15:00
One of the problems that I've had with with the whole work at home thing, and I've worked at home for about 10 years, is that the old notion that when you work at home, you're never off work is absolutely true. Because it's easy to go back to work, oh, I've got more time to do this. And we see it on my end, my eldest son and his wife, both work at home and they're both trying to teach their kids and monitor them on Zoom doing school at home. And every once in a while, they'll call us with a video chat that's more for us to sort of babysit, and chatter with them so the kids have something to do, because the parents don't have time to get out of work. So it's really tough.

Leslie Forde  15:49
Exactly. And though it's challenging, people are afraid to have that conversation. To renegotiate the rules, because income extremely important and in a pandemic health insurance extremely important, which in the US is still directly tied to work for most people. So those conversations aren't happening, which is why I think that if leaders are proactive, about creating real flexibility, proactive about adjusting performance measures, proactive about kind of killing those hidden rules that really make it hard for anyone who's not always on available to be successful. That's I think that transition we can make.

John Hollon  16:33
Well Leslie, these TalentX Podcasts always go really quickly. And we always have much more we want to talk about than we have time. So let me give you the last question and this is something we ask everyone. Here at TalentX Podcast, we wholeheartedly believe everyone should have a job that they love one they're passionate about. So Leslie, what do you love about what it is that you do?

Leslie Forde  16:58
I absolutely love giving this I think platform and voice to the benefits of self care, growth and wellbeing as being positively correlated with performance. It's like taking care of yourself makes you a better worker, a better parent. And it's often people who are not in leadership, I started with mothers who are often the least represented in leadership, have the least amount of discretionary time, who are like hungry to have a voice and hungry to be at the table. And for many years for all the years that I've been working and working at the senior level, those conversations weren't happening. People weren't sharing how they did it and people weren't sharing how difficult it was. So having the ability to unlock people's potential, give themselves permission, and give leaders and organizations permission to really think about productivity as correlated to wellbeing is something that I'm incredibly passionate about and I'm proud of.

John Hollon  18:08
Well, that's a great note to close things on. And thank you Leslie, for a wonderful conversation. There's so much more we could chat about but we really do appreciate you being here today. So for Fuel50's TalentX Podcast, this is John Hollon. Thanks for listening.