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VOL. 132 | NO. 42 | Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Women Executives Share Business, Life Lessons

By Don Wade

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Through several career stops, Susan Hunsberger learned that she didn’t like being a financial analyst, she did like engaging with people through recruiting and human resources, and that it was more than fine to let colleagues see that you don’t know it all.

“Knowing what you like is as important as knowing what you don’t,” Hunsberger, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at ServiceMaster, said during the Women & Business seminar presented by The Daily News Publishing Co. The seminar was held Thursday, Feb. 23, at the Memphis Brooks Museum and Hunsberger delivered the keynote address.

“Careers are a journey,” Hunsberger added. “The path can go up, down and across. Stay curious. And generosity is key.”

Panelists for the event included Keri Wright, chairman and CEO of Universal Asset Management Inc.; Meg Crosby, principal at PeopleCap Advisors; and Lori Spicer Robertson, chief communications & engagement officer at United Way of the Mid-South. Eric Barnes, publisher and CEO of The Daily News Publishing Co., served as moderator.

Hunsberger’s previous companies included a major petroleum outfit, Johnson & Johnson, a division of General Electric, and global insights company Nielsen. She says even 30 years ago she didn’t encounter blatant discrimination because she was a woman, even though she was making her way in a mostly man’s world.

“I don’t have those horror stories,” she said. “There would be sometimes I might not understand the language, four-letter words being thrown around that were new to me. I did sometimes need to take an extra step so my colleagues knew I was interested in learning.”

Wright, 34, is in the aviation industry, and as she scanned the audience of mostly women at the Brooks, she said: “I see more women in this room today than I will in my industry in the next year.”

But Wright long ago got used to men doubting a woman. And at age 18, when she was giving flying lessons, the doubts had far more to do with her age than her gender.

“I knew by the look on their faces they were really not wanting to get in the airplane with me,” she said.

So Wright’s view today is practical.

“I don’t have a chip on my shoulder,” she said, adding that she now views bias as a starting point. “It’s an opportunity to show what women can do.”

The level of bias, or opportunity, can of course be very different from one corporation to another. In Crosby’s business, she helps companies navigate how to change culture for the betterment of the business and its employees.

“Every company has a culture,” Crosby said. “It’s not a right culture or a wrong culture; it’s sort of like a fingerprint.”

That said, Robertson recalls being in business meetings where other women seemed to speak up out of turn or say too much given the situation.

“Some of my prior roles showed me there are still women struggling to have their voice heard,” Robertson said, adding that she came to understand that was why women would share too much or offer a suggestion that seemed irrelevant in context. “This is a bigger issue than I ever paid attention to.”

Hunsberger recalled being something of a trailblazer as a working woman who was pregnant.

“It was like a novelty,” she said. “People had never seen a pregnant woman in the workplace. People always wanted to pat my belly.”

Robertson, who has one child and is pregnant with another, says people have suggested to her that having children could get her career off track. One aspect of being a working mom – finding a balance between job and family – is ever-challenging.

“Your heartstrings probably get tugged more than you’re willing to admit,” said Crosby. “The tradeoffs are real. I’m in a consulting firm now so I have more flexibility.”

Wright, meanwhile, is not a mother but says becoming one is now her top goal in life.

“The moms, every single one of you in this room, you are incredibly lucky and I’m pretty sure it’s the hardest job in the world,” Wright said.

And even harder beyond the borders of America.

“I’ve learned so much from my mentors that I’ve tried to give back,” Hunsberger said. “Sometimes it is people I see every day in the hallway and sometimes it is people halfway around the globe. Being a working woman in the developing world is really hard – and her mother-in-law lives with her.”

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