Supportive Spouses Help These Women Advance

January 8, 2015 9:17 pm

By Barbara Frankel

Accenture’s Shelly Swanback: Do What Works for You

Right before Shelly went out on maternity leave with her first child, she was offered a major promotion to Managing Director (equivalent of partner) and asked to open up the local Denver market for Accenture (No. 12 inShelly Swanback, Accenture family the Top 50).

“It was a big bet for me. A lot of people thought I was crazy but I wanted the promotion and I wanted to create a career opportunity that didn’t involve travel every week. … People thought career-wise this was going to be a dead-end. But there’s nothing like not having a plan B to motivate yourself to make it work,” she says.

She went back to work when Andrew was three months old but nursed him until he was eight months old. The key factor was her husband, Steve, who decided to become a full-time dad.

Shelly and Steve met at Colorado State and married a few years later. She majored in finance and computer systems and came to Accenture early in her career—“I fell in love with the idea of having different jobs with the same employer. I felt like I fit,” she recalls. Steve worked for Bell Labs but wanted to start his own company.

After Andrew was born and Shelly was promoted, it didn’t take Steve long to decide to be a full-time parent. He “fully dedicated himself to work for Andrew and Lauren [born three years later]. … He treats this as his job,” Shelly says.

Shelly Swanback, Accenture

That was particularly helpful recently when she transitioned to her first global role. “It was very clear to me that I needed to understand the European market better,” she says.

She embarked on a 54-day business trip over the summer and took Steve and her kids. She went to work during the day but had nights and weekends with her family—and the kids had an opportunity to come with Shelly to the office for a few visits as well.

“Accenture provides an environment where flexibility exists. Each one of us has to take responsibility to find a formula that works for you and your family,” she says. “My firm belief is that flexibility is reciprocal. Sometimes my client or boss or Accenture needs flexibility out of me and I always feel it comes back around.”

Time Warner’s Michelle Blieberg: ‘We Shouldn’t Have to Give Up Children’
When Michelle got her first job on Wall Street, she lived during the week with her grandmother, who had an apartment nearby. “She would say that you can always have a career,” Michelle remembers, “but you can’t always have a husband and children.” Michelle’s mother, who juggled home businesses while raising three children, echoed that refrain: “Children are the most important people in your life.”

When Michelle got serious with her future husband, Jon, “we both knew early on we wanted children—and we wanted to work.”

For Michelle, that meant a series of HR positions with increasing responsibilities at major finance companies. Her job involved considerable travel and when she had her fMichelle Blieberg, Time Warnerirst child, Amanda, she asked her (male) boss if she could fly coach instead of first class and bring someone with her so she could nurse the baby. His response: “If you never mention this to me again, you can fly first class and bring the baby and anyone you want.”

She would bring Jon, who was working for a startup business and had flexibility, or her mother or sister.

Jon and Michelle lived in San Francisco at the time and had a full-time caretaker. They had a second child, Michael, and a third, Emily. And then Michelle was offered a big job that meant moving back to New York.

“It was too much struggling. Jon decided to stay at home full-time. It just made so much sense,” she says.

“To me,” Jon says, “it was an easy decision to forego my career and take on a new career—child rearing. I am a big fan of the work Michelle does. Her work ethic is amazing and she is doing incredible work with large numbers of people. … I can give her the space to come home after that to a loving family that’s been cared for.”

In Connecticut, where they now live, Jon plays hockey and softball and notes that 10 to 15 percent of the primary caregivers are men. “If you had told me when I was 24, before I met Michelle, that I would have been a primary caregiver, I would have been surprised,” he says.

Michelle today is the Senior Vice President of Global Organization and Leadership Development at Time Warner (No. 42 in the Top 50). Her advice to women: Don’t wait.

“You can have it all, but don’t wait to have children,” she says. “The corporate world is changing a lot to support women. At most companies, it’s not the policies, it’s the fact that you are a senior woman that gives you flexibility. …

“We shouldn’t have to give up children. They are the best part of life.”

Nielsen’s Dr. D. Sangeeta: The Right Balance

Sangeeta has always been a super multi-tasker. After getting a degree in chemistry, she worked at GE in Aviation andDr. D. Sangeeta, Nielsen and family Energy gas turbine engine technologies where she simultaneously took on roles in marketing, operations, acquisitions, quality, and risk management—basically wherever there was a need in the company. Likewise, today she has taken on two roles at Nielsen: Global Head of Measurement Service, overseeing Nielsen’s methodology for its Watch and Buy businesses globally; as well as, she is the newly appointed Chief Diversity Officer. Nielsen is No. 50 in the Top 50.

Sangeeta met her husband, R. Mukund, while studying at the India Institute of Technology, Kanpur. They came to the United States together to attend graduate school at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. “My husband was planning to stay in India for an MBA; and I was planning to come to the U.S. for graduate school. I said, ‘If we want to stay together, you have to come to the U.S.’ We have been here ever since,” she says.

When their daughter, Dipali, was born in 1994, Sangeeta’s plan to continue her multifaceted career was a given.

“I never thought that he ever wanted me to quit and stay home and take care of the kids. He thought if I stayed home, I would not be fulfilled and ‘help him’ do his job,” she says.

As both of their careers grew (he workedDr. D. Sangeeta, Nielsen for a large corporation and then started his own business when their daughter was in high school), they split the child-care responsibilities. “When I needed to travel, he took care of things at home. It was a given. I didn’t even have to ask him. If I cooked, he would clean. He would do laundry and iron my clothes,” she says.

“Both of us wanted to work, both of us were ambitious. We didn’t feel one of us should take a back seat,” she says.

Dipali, who is now a junior at the Stern School of Business at New York University, is studying international finance. What advice would Sangeeta give her daughter on combining career and family?

“The sooner you can start to have children, the better off you are. The level of responsibilities continues to rise as you grow in a career and it gets harder to juggle the balance. I was 30 when she was born. I wasn’t too young but it wasn’t too late in my career,” she says.

New York Life’s Carrie Hall: Flexible Employer, Equal Partner

Carrie comes from a long line of working women—many on the cattle ranch in Arizona her family’s owned since the 1890s. “When I thought about a career, I wanted one with flexibility so I could be with my kids,” she says.

She found that at New York LifeCarrie Hall, New York Life and family (No. 25 in the Top 50), where she has had a remarkable career as an agent since 1988, recently ranking in the top 3 percent of all agents.

Her husband, Brian, who is Vice President of a mortgage company and is immediate past chairman of the Fiesta Bowl, has been a “full partner in every way,” she says.

“I work a lot of long hours. We always split up the duties in our marriage. At first I paid the bills, now he does. One does the work on the inside, one on the outside,” she says.

When their first child, son Max, was born in 1996, Carrie stayed home until the end of May and then took off the month of July. “What is so nice about New York Life is that you can take unlimited maternity leave,” she says, noting that when daughter Windsor was born she also took extended time and took off every Friday until three years ago.

Carrie Hall, New York Life

“[In sales] at New York Life, your income is not reflective of how many hours you work. You have total flexibility. No one tells you the hours you are going to work. I don’t think we could have had the lifestyle we have had if I worked a traditional job,” she says.

She advises young women today to “look for someone who is going to be your partner. … Be honest about what one person wants because one person can’t do it all.”

Cox Communications’ Jill Campbell: You Can Have Jill Campbell, Cox Communications and familyIt All—Just Not At Once

Having spent her whole career at Cox Communications (No. 18 in the Top 50), Jill now oversees all daily operations for the company to help grow its 6 million commercial and residential customers. There have been (and continue to be) few women in cable operational roles, and it hasn’t always been easy for Jill.

Her children have been spread out (they are 29, 20 and 9), and while her first husband, an attorney, was very supportive, the marriage didn’t survive. Her second husband, who is in sales, has a more flexible schedule.

“My older daughter had the brunt. I moved her six times in 10 years for my career,” Jill says. “I often wondered what she would think about women having big careers. She married a guy whose mom was a stay-at-home mom. Yet when they decided who they wanted to the their guardian [for their baby daughter], they chose me. She said I was the best role model because I showed that you can have your own life and career and be a loving, supportive mom.”

That support—and help with her children, iJill Campbell, Cox Communicationsncluding a 9-year-old daughter adopted from Guatemala with her second husband—comes from Cox Communications and Jill’s boss, President Pat Esser. “He had three daughters who danced and he made no bones about it that he had to go. We all work with BlackBerries, iPhones; we are not 9-to-5,” she says.


Eli Lilly and Company’s Melissa Barnes: ‘What It Takes Is 50/50’

Melissa comes from “pretty humble beginnings”—she was the first person in her family to graduate high school and she went on to graduate from college and Harvard Law School.

“MMelissa Barnes, Eli Lilly and familyy parents didn’t have the opportunity to pursue higher education but they are among the most intelligent people I know. They taught me the importance of hard work—or, as my Dad would call it, ‘grit,’” she says.

Melissa met her husband, Bradon, when she was a senior in high school and he was a freshman at Purdue University, which she later attended. They have been together for 30 years and married for 25.

“We knew we were going to have a family and we knew we were both going to work. We didn’t have specific conversations about how it would work. We just trusted that it would work out,” says Bradon, who is an Associate Professor and the Chair of Mechanical Engineering Technology at Ivy Tech Community College – Central Indiana.

Melissa Barnes, Eli Lilly and Company“It is absolutely, positively doable to have a two-career successful family,” Melissa says. “What it takes in the aggregate is 50/50. It may not be 50/50 on any given week—it may be 90/10 or 70/30. The key is over time that it is 50/50.”

In the early days of their relationship, Melissa and Bradon took turns.

They married after her first year in law school and he followed her to Boston so she could remain at Harvard. Melissa had “every intention of staying in the Boston area,” but Bradon got “a fabulous offer” to go back to Purdue to do his master’s work/teaching. So they moved back to Indiana and Melissa found a job at a law firm as an antitrust litigator.

While working on an antitrust case, she had contact with Eli Lilly and Company (No. 27 in the Top 50), which led to a job offer. She realized life in a corporation that had inclusive and supportive policies would be much easier for a new mother.

“Working at the law firm, I billed time on Friday and gave birth on Monday. … As a litigator, when you leave in the morning you don’t know if you are coming home at 3 in the morning or 3 the next day. That didn’t work for my standard of motherhood,” she says.

For Melissa, who has chaired Lilly’s employee resource group for women and mentors numerous women at the company who are mothers, Lilly’s emphasis on flexibility has been a boon. Her youngest child, son Jackson, is only 10.

“He keeps me real. I’m the only one on the executive committee with a 10-year-old. He keeps me remembering that we shouldn’t start the town hall at 7:30 in the morning and we have to make it doable for working moms and dads,” she says.

Her advocacy for women, she hopes, will benefit her daughter, Kristin, now 17. “I sure hope I leave the work world a better place for her,” she says.