Welcome to FNEI Insights, a blog series where FNEI interviews thought leaders about issues informing sustainable and socially responsible business practices in a variety of industries. This month, we talked to Brittany Masalosalo, 3M Head of International Government Affairs and Public Policy and member of the Global Government Affairs Center of Excellence, about the ways businesses can better support women in high levels of leadership as they power through these unprecedented times.
Can you talk about the personal challenges you see women facing as they attempt to show their value while juggling careers, working remotely, and caring for their families at home? What are some of the specific things that are good, and what things have not been helpful?
Here’s what I will say: Overwhelmingly, women, particularly mothers, are still the fabric of the home. I say that because we still do a lot of the traditional roles of caregiving, child-rearing, and homemaking. The shift in those gender roles hasn’t kept pace with the shift of women’s professional aspirations.
In terms of the current pandemic and the new circumstances of us all being home, what’s been good about it is that I get to be at home. Being the fabric of the home, there’s no better place to be than at home. I get to be with my children. If I was having to go out to work day to day, particularly in a demanding, high-paced career field like my own, my newborn baby would be going to daycare already. Instead, I get the luxury of being able to have him here. I have a care provider here helping as well, but I get to still be home with my family, and I don’t take that for granted — not for a single moment.
On the flip side, what’s been difficult is that I’m at home. The most difficult aspect of that is the constant distraction. When you’re the fabric of the home, I think there’s a natural inclination, at least for me, to prioritize my home and my children above work. That’s an excellent practice to have, but that makes it very difficult when you’re working from home, everybody else is working from home, and they’ve upped the ante on the demands. The expected level of responsiveness has entirely shot up. From what I’ve experienced, there’s just an overall lack of appreciation for that tug and pull between work and home.
Tell us a little bit about what your workday looks like, as a senior executive balancing all of these responsibilities. What does your leadership role look like while you are taking care of your family?
I cover government affairs; I am one of 3M’s in-house lobbyists, and I do a lot of regulatory and legislative advocacy in Washington, D.C. I also do a lot of branding and reputation for 3M, and then I coordinate and do diplomatic engagements with the diplomatic community in Washington, working very closely with the U.S. government, particularly the executive branch, the Department of Commerce, Defense, Treasury, and the White House as well, and occasionally, Congress. It is very fast-paced, particularly right now, when we’re adjusting to a new Congress and a new administration coming in.
I’ll tell you what a typical day looks like: In the mornings, my first calls usually kick-off as early as 5 a.m. Because I do have a global portfolio, I’m usually accommodating different time zones. So, I’m usually up and starting to work while all my kids are still sleeping. That happens to be the time when I can be most productive. Usually, by the time the kids start to rustle up and get their days started, I’m still finishing up conference calls. Oftentimes, I’ll be doing conference calls with one earbud in my ear while I’m making breakfast or changing diapers, still continuing on my conference calls and piping in when I can.
Once I get my kids settled, I can dedicate a little bit more undivided attention to work. I’m able to take a few minutes and answer emails, do a couple of morning conference calls, have a cup of coffee and breakfast when I can. I’m also trying to accommodate my newborn’s schedule, so I’m nursing him between conference calls and between answering emails as well. I usually continue my workday kind of sporadically in bursts where I can, between making dinner and packing lunches, and then I’ll usually settle in around 10 p.m. unless I have an evening conference call with my global team.
What are some specific best practices you’ve created to manage everything — to stay sane and ensure that you’re reporting back to your company and to all your key stakeholders?
There are a couple of tools that I use. First, I use a tool called the Time Management Matrix that helps me prioritize things that need to be done urgently, and I work off of that backward.
I also put holds on my calendar. I actually block out time for a meeting with myself, and I won’t let anybody else put an external meeting on my calendar. I won’t take any telephone calls. That way, I don’t get buried in my inbox, and I can be attentive to those that I have to report to and answer their emails as quickly as possible.
The last thing I do is dedicate a little bit of time each day to stepping away entirely. That is critical, even if it’s just a five-minute or 10-minute walk around my block. I have found that it’s tremendously helpful, like hitting the reset button on my brain to help me refocus and recalibrate.
Statistically, we’re seeing a lot of women in leadership positions dropping out of the workforce right now because they’ve reached a breaking point. At the same time, we’ve seen research that demonstrates women leaders are resilient and very focused during times of crisis. Can you talk a little bit about the contrast between these two statistics, and how we can keep more women in positions of leadership while supporting them?
It’s a deeply troubling and unsettling statistic because women have made such significant strides professionally, across every single industry. It has been shown that when women are in the workforce, it makes organizations, communities, countries, and the world better. I don’t even want to say that they’re leaving the workforce. I would rather say that women are being driven out of the workforce because of a lack of compassion and a lack of accommodation.
I think that 3M has done a really fantastic job of helping to accommodate. A lot of that is not just in the policies they’ve put in place, but also culturally, because I think that that’s where it begins. Across different industries, whether you’re in the legal industry, communications, government affairs, or politics, there has to be a cultural shift that appreciates how much women contribute and also understands how difficult it is, particularly right now. And that culture needs to praise women — and mothers and fathers, in general — when they do a good job at balancing that, and give some accommodations when it becomes a bit more difficult.
In terms of specific things that can be done, I will say that within my team at 3M, the level of collaboration during this pandemic has increased so significantly that it is awe-inspiring. My team has begun covering down for each other in areas where they wouldn’t typically cover down. We’ve been doing a lot of cross-functional training and cross-functional work, picking up the slack where we can for each other, because together, we’re all stronger.
What are some of the first steps a company can take to create more compassion and accommodation for women in positions of leadership?
The first thing that companies need to do is talk to their people. I think that’s tremendously important because a lot of organizations are coming out with these fantastic goals about diversity and inclusion, accommodations, and different policy steps that they’re taking, but they’re making these goals and aspirations without talking to their people and finding out what their people need to ensure their own success, individually and collectively. So, I would encourage every C-suite executive and every CEO to talk to your people, because that’s how you’re going to find out where your gaps are. That’s how you will learn where you need to start.
Is there anything you can tell us about 3M’s culture that makes people feel comfortable sharing feedback with the C-suite executives about what they personally need to do their best work during the pandemic?
I think that’s a key highlight of 3M. When I first joined the organization, there were two words that always came up, and those words were collaboration and innovation. 3M has always put a lot of emphasis on collaboration, but I think the emphasis on innovation is what made the difference. There is a lot of pride associated with an innovative mindset, and it’s rewarded — and rewarded often. Whether you’re a scientist coming up with a new solution for wastewater treatments, or whether you’re coming up with a new solution for adhesives that go on walls, you’re given that leeway to be innovative, even in your day-to-day work.
There are some other statistics that say that because women are amazing and resilient leaders during moments of tremendous change, we may see more women than ever joining C-suite roles during 2021. What do you think will be the inflection point for getting more women into the C-suite this year?
First, let me say that I hope that that trend holds true because there’s so much value in the diversity of the C-suite level, whatever form that diversity comes in. So, I do hope that that trend continues and that women are able to flood C-suites all across the country.
I think the inflection point is going to be when children start to return to school in mass. I think one of the biggest difficulties right now for a lot of people is keeping their kids out of school, keeping their kids out of daycare. I think it’s a tremendous struggle for a lot of women right now, to be able to juggle those constraints of home and work.
I think another big inflection point is that we now have a stellar example in the White House that has truly, truly broken through a layer of our glass ceiling. That is going to show the capacity of women leaders, and it will really set the example for why this is something that should be embraced enthusiastically.
Is there anything else that you can speak to as far as a lesson in resilience that you really want other C-suite women and companies to hear, based on your experience as a senior executive during the pandemic?
This pandemic has left no stone unturned. It has impacted work-life balance, economic growth, and organizational structures within various different companies. It has also changed our professional dynamics and how we interact and engage with each other. I would challenge everybody to look reflectively on the last year and honestly evaluate where we have done well, and where we have not done well.
I think some of the areas where we did very well was as a country, across multiple different industries, is adapting to this new virtual landscape. The technology is absolutely amazing with how fast it’s been developing, improvising, and rolling out.
Some areas still need improvement. We are a year into this, how are we still struggling to support working mothers and working fathers? How are we still struggling to support people that maybe have mental illnesses or people that have social disabilities that are hurting significantly from being in their homes and being on virtual landscapes?
There’s still a lot of unknowns as to how this situation is going to evolve and change. We just have to commit to doing our absolute best with the knowledge we have from reflecting, and then chart our own path forward.
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