Training Future Leaders

An interview with Melanie Katzman
JANUARY 21, 2015 BY: MEESH PIERCE

I love to learn. Just call me a nerd at heart. Plop me in front of SiriusXM Wharton Business Channel 111 and you’ll have a hard time distracting me.

So, I was super excited when I had the chance to catch up with Dr. Melanie Katzman, co-host of the Women@Work show. Given that my MBA program (eons ago!) was about 30% women, and from my personal circle of friends, about 70% of those have stepped off the track in some way, I always enjoy hearing what smart women have to say about their experiences in the work place.

Melanie and I both serve on the Trustee’s Council of Penn Women (TCPW) at the University of Pennsylvania. She’s a scientist turned activist, executive coach, strategic advisor and entrepreneur. She’s built businesses in London, Hong Kong and New York. In 1999, she founded Katzman Consulting; an international consortium of business psychologists working with boards, CEOs and their executive teams.
In addition, in 2005, she became an early partner and the Brazil Country head for the social enterprise, Leaders’ Quest, facilitating discussions with recognized and invisible business, political and community leaders to stimulate cross sector solutions to shared business and community issues.

She’s taken her doctorate in Psychology and put it to work to create a more inclusive, sustainable world and is often called into the C-Suite to highlight gender-based dynamics in the work place.

Hard-charging, high-pressure women are the most-hit (under-employed) in the family-rearing time frames. What are you seeing?

Women are leaving the work force in mid-career due to restrictive definitions of success that they can neither abide by nor relate to. Professions that allow limited flexibility while demanding excessive on-site presence present a problem for women. In the financial industry and many law firms when presented with the dictate “we own your time,” women opt out. It’s not simply child rearing that gets in the way. It’s the nature of the way work is currently structured. We are seeing a global referendum on what has traditionally been a male approach to leadership. In particular, millennial men and women are questioning “business as usual.” Women make great entrepreneurs and while working hard, have more control over their schedule. Goldman Sachs and other institutions have instituted re-enternship programs. They see women returning to the work force as mature, loyal and highly efficient.

Let’s talk about women on boards.

The catalyst.org research illustrates that Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of female board directors attained significantly higher financial performance, as measured by equity, return on sales, and return on invested capital.

When Morgan Stanley’s Eve Ellis launched The Parity Portfolio, she was onto something. The fund invests in companies that have three women on their board and the returns speak to how including women at the top is not a CSR effort-its good business!

We need more women in the board room and if we are going to get women to the highest levels of leadership we can’t lose them in mid-career. Hence, we also need to be sure women have a voice in the conference room as well. With or without a traditional seat, I often ask women to identify ways they can amplify their voices, push into debates and create a presence for themselves. The quality of decision-making is too important to ignore, and too often, we need to seek out the voices not in the room. To help shape the conversation amongst leaders, women are good at saying, “Don’t miss the point. Why are we here? What’s the real question?” Women have a chance to ignite their emotional intelligence, to exercise active empathy-driving, potentially innovative solutions as a result of diverse input.

How has the face of traditional business, whether management consulting, investment banking, etc., changed?

Both male and female millennials are looking for greater meaning and engagement at work. Historically, we saw greater divisions between the personal and the professional. However, technology has brought greater mobility, transparency and an opportunity to deploy the totality of our personhood at work to increase our capacity and inspire others. Authenticity, vulnerability and humanness is openly articulated as a key to recruitment and retention.

Do you find that for long-term teams to be truly effective and have full potential, teams need to be in the same building?

We have an increasing number of examples of people working outside of the office building proper. The approach to face time is very different. Technology facilitates greater connection but can also lead to interpersonal laziness. It’s not unusual to see people emailing co-workers who are in the same room or seated across the hall. It’s important to cement relationships with true face-to-face time whenever possible and sometimes, no matter how retro it seems, pick up the phone! If you are on the third round of emails or taking ten minutes to draft the note to one other person, think about whether a better investment of time is a direct conversation.

How can our schools train our future business leaders accordingly?

The challenge for Wharton and other top-tier business schools is training our young leaders to lead these teams in the future. I believe we need to train leaders to be human. Business is not a cold environment. For businesses to flourish, people have to relate to each other and know how to deal with the emotions that ensue. Over the 30 years I have been practicing, my being a psychologist working in business has become increasingly valued. I sit on the board of the largest Latin American Business School, the Fundação Dom Cabral and I am a Senior Fellow at Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management. Although I have been on faculty at the Weill Cornell Medical School for 27 years, I have also been a visiting professor at business schools in the US, Europe and Asia. I know how to talk numbers for the computationally minded and often use live mapping tools that capture behavior real time data reflecting interruptions, agreements and ultimate outcomes. Clients are surprised to see the results of group dynamics when viewed in this manner.

In the future, I hope business schools will provide a deeper appreciation of group processes, unconscious bias and provide training in soft signal detection, widening one’s peripheral vision to identify unintended negative consequences of personal and enterprise choice. In addition, I would like to see more time spent on how to leverage one’s platform for purpose-driven positive effect and, of course, how to use storytelling to motivate (and market).

What advice do you have for women leaders?

Women don’t have to be hand-holders. In fact, sometimes it’s better to be tough and emotionally savvy. Establish respect. Be disciplined. Work hard. Take responsibility. Don’t bake for the office.

Let’s shift gears a bit and talk about the role of money-making. Wharton Management Professor, Stew Friedman, shows us a tremendous shift in the past 20 years amongst our young college grads. Data collected 20 years apart from Wharton undergrads (men and women) show that millennials have significantly differing opinions on starting families than GenXers.

Stew’s data has really caught the eye of many and for good reason. It provides a prompt that business schools can respond to and that we have heard young alums ask for, namely more specific discussions with professors on how to plan a career over the long term. If you define success beyond money to include meaning, flexibility, autonomy etc., then how does that impact the first job you take, the role models you chose, the way you opt to save money, alternate career choices with your life partner etc.?

Why have you gotten involved with TCPW?

I joined the TCPW after working on the 125th anniversary of Women at Penn. It has been a real privilege to build relationships with smart, curious women while providing a unique insider/outsider perspective, catalyzing programming for students and faculty. This month is the year anniversary of Women@Work. Our show’s goal is to ask tough questions and ignite courage, leading us in a discovery of innovative practices for personal and system change to help more women join, stay, succeed, and lead in the work place. The convergence of our mission and TCPW’s is clear. My co-host Laura Zarrow and I are always looking for ways to showcase the faculty as well as fellow TCPW members’ work through the Women@Work platform.

What are your hopes for Penn’s women, alumnae, faculty, and parents?

I hope that we see increasing examples of women helping women at Penn and together helping women in the wider world. There are so many creative ways to strengthen group connection by learning and doing together on campus and beyond. We have to ask the right questions—recognizing the access we have to decision makers. TCPW is a treasure chest of experiences, relationships and ideas. We are a force to be inspired by and reckoned with.