Success as a Journey: Work Life Trailblazers Discuss Big Dreams

iStock_000017642294XSmallBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Last week, the Families and Work Institute presented its Work Life Legacy Awards, marking ten years celebrating work life pioneers. The FWI, led by President and Co-Founder Ellen Galinsky, has spent the past few decades studying how families are affected by the demands of our rapidly evolving workplace.

During her remarks at the event, Galinsky recalled, “Dare to dream. Those were the exact words said to me by a gentleman at one of our founding companies, the Salt River Project.”

She continued, “And dream I did.”

Galinsky described the challenges the FWI faced as it grew, for example, convincing the Department of Labor it was the right group to take on the next iteration of its Quality of Employment Survey, first published in 1977, which, she remarked, “had been laying fallow for 11 years.” By 1992, the FWI had published “The National Study of the Changing Workforce,” a follow up to the QES, and has published a new version every four or five years.

The workforce and workplace are both rapidly transforming, and the FWI’s research has been an integral part of the conversation around shifting roles and responsibilities at work and home. But it didn’t happen overnight, Galinsky explained. At each phase of the organization’s growth, its members had to take a risk and reach higher.

“Turning dreams into reality is pretty hard,” she continued. “All of these dreams were – to use a corporate phrase – stretch opportunities.”

Galinsky’s remarks reflect that while the FWI is now considered a mainstay within the work life space, its success has been driven by passionate people overcoming obstacles and working toward a vision, much like the other trailblazers who were honored during the evening.

The Journey to Success

The evening shone a spotlight on the people working tirelessly to move the conversation forward in the work life arena. It’s easy to view this topic as one of statistics and surveys. But behind the reports are passionate people who love what they do.

The FWI and Bright Horizons Family Solutions presented the 2013 Chris C. Kjeldsen Work Life Legacy Award to Evelyne S. Steward, Vice President for Global LifeWorks and Inclusion at Discovery Communications. Steward said, “I have been fortunate to work for companies and leaders who understand the business imperative for being a great place to work — a “destination employer.” She continued, “We know that supporting employees is the right thing to do and the right way to run a business.”

Steward offered the following wisdom to other trailblazers: “to thine own self be true.”

“Create the work you love and love the people you do it with,” she explained. “Live your passion and live it earnestly. When you think you have done enough, push yourself farther.”

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Founder of the Center for Talent Innovation, was one of the recipients of the 2013 Work Life Legacy awards. She also views her success as a journey. “When Walt Disney committed to build Disney World in the swamps of Florida he knew he needed to build the castle first. He realized that the grandeur and magic of a fairy tale castle would provide a beacon for his army of workers toiling in difficult conditions, inspiring them to give their all and stay the course,” she said.

“So much of what we read and hear about successful women is focused on the sacrifices they made to achieve success. These narratives fail to provide women that vision of the glorious castle they might build. Thus, I have dedicated my life to determining how women can have rich, multi-dimensional lives and empowering them to do so – to realize the vision of the castle. I learned through my own life experiences that grit and determination are not enough to propel you to the top. Levers – like sponsors with influence – are necessary to climb the ladder in any competitive field and my life’s work has been dedicated to unearthing and sharing the tools that level the playing field for all ambitious individuals.”

Since Hewlett founded her organization in 2004, the Task Force for Talent Innovation and its associated research center, the Center for Talent Innovation, she has put forth dozens of corporate initiatives that have changed the game for women, people of color, Gen Y hires, and members of the LGBT community. “I am proud of our work but remain convinced that much change is still needed,” she continued. “To be recognized as a trailblazer by an organization that is known and revered for its work on the changing workforce is humbling and I am encouraged by the work of the other trailblazers recognized in the space. The stories and challenges shared by the other honorees encourage me to continue advocating for change with the hope that we may soon win the ongoing fight for equal rights and opportunity.”

Rosalind Chait Barnett, PhD, Senior Scientist, Women’s Studies Research Center, Brandeis University was another of the recipients of the 2013 Work Life Legacy awards. She remarked that she was pleased with the diversity of the honorees. “They are all from differing arenas – academics, activists, practitioners. It’s very interesting. Whoever assembled this group is very well read,” she said with a laugh.

Barnett commented that she is honored to have named a trailblazer. “I’m completely thrilled to have received this award. To understand that people in the business world and policy makers are reading what I’m writing – it’s very heartening,” she explained. “As a researcher, you’re not always aware of how you are having an impact.

She and her research partner Caryl Rivers have a book out this fall, and she explained that, lately, her journey has been largely around making sure her work is accessible to a broad audience. “As a researcher, I tend to think deeply about concrete problems. If you want to have an impact, you have to frame your questions somewhat differently. It’s an evolution I’ve been going through, a journey I’ve been on and will continue to be on.”

The 2013 Work Life Legacy award honorees included Rosalind Chait Barnett, PhD, Senior Scientist, Women’s Studies Research Center, Brandeis University; Lisa Belkin, Senior Columnist, The Huffington Post; Ellen Bravo, Executive Director, Family Values @ Work; Stephanie Coontz, Director of Research and Public Education, Council on Contemporary Families, University of Miami, Professor, The Evergreen State College; Stewart D. Friedman, PhD, Practice Professor of Management, Director of the Work/Life Integration Project, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania; Bradley K. Googins, PhD, Professor, Carroll School of Management, Founder of Center for Work & Family, Boston College; Brad Harrington, EdD, Executive Director, Center for Work & Family, Associate Research Professor, Carroll School of Management, Boston College; Sylvia Ann Hewlett, PhD, President and CEO, Center for Talent Innovation; Arlene A. Johnson, Co-Founder, Livingston Citizen’s Institute and recent Mayor, Livingston, NJ, Former Vice President of WFD Consulting, Families and Work Institute, and Catalyst, Former Director of Workforce Research, The Conference Board; and Deborah M. Stahl, Deborah Stahl Consulting, Former Director, AT&T Family Care Development Fund.