Make a Stranger Believe in You

Category : CULTURE

by Anne Kreamer  |  February 19, 2013

I recently received an e-mail sent to my business address that began with the salutation “Dear Ms. Anne,” — the kind of greeting that suggested that the rest of the note would offer me riches from some recently deceased Estonian cousin I didn’t know I had. It continued, “I know you have no idea who I am, however, I will try to keep this as short and to the point as possible” — words destined to cause a further sinking feeling about what was to come. But in the seconds I skimmed the note, a few words jumped out at me and I was intrigued. In three short paragraphs, Zanele Mutepfa, a junior at Portland State University in Oregon, told me that she was an immigrant Zimbabwean-born orphan and youth advocate who aspired to be a television talk show host. With a bravado that might have been off-putting, she said, “I assure you, my dynamic life story will one day hit headlines…but most importantly change lives, it just needs to be shared with the perfect person.” She was coming to New York City — might I have time to meet with her?

I had moved from the hinterlands to New York myself, 35 years ago, with virtually no professional contacts, so when she closed her note by saying, “Some may think one of the strangest things to do is believe in a stranger, but if not one stranger believed in us, once upon a time, where would we all be today?… someone did it for you.”

Yes. Yes they did. So I Googled Zanele, found a link indicating she was who she said she was, and agreed to meet. And as I discovered, so did several other media professionals whom Zanele had e-mailed cold. In this challenging job market, I think it’s worthwhile to explore why these busy professionals took the time to respond and help Zanele. I contacted a few of them to find out, and have come away with some ideas that might help other people looking for work — and not just those entering the workforce for the first time.

Have clear professional goals

Before she e-mailed anyone, Zanele sat down and wrote an outline for herself, articulating her several goals: to become a talk show host, establish a women’s empowerment organization, become an author — and maybe become a plus-size fashion model as well. While these are crazily ambitious and at first glance unrealistically expansive goals for a college student, two unifying themes — to work in the media and be a catalyst for helping other women — helped her target her search.

Cast a wide but focused net

Zanele’s focus on media professions (she wasn’t exploring legal or financial positions, for instance) allowed her to channel her search towards those operations (Oprah Winfrey Network, Oxygen Network, Essence, Ebony, YWCA) whose missions seemed to align with her dreams. “It was important for me to truly believe in what they do,” she told me, “in order for my letter to have truth.” Like any modern day sleuth, she used every tool to find the right contacts, web-searching terms such as “corporate women authors,” “women in magazines,” scouring sites like LinkedIn, company websites, Twitter, and executive profiles. Since most companies have standard e-mail formats, she sent multiple emails in every conceivable format until she didn’t get a “mail delivery error.” Within her relatively narrowcast objective, she contacted as many people as possible — eventually writing to 2,000 people. Thirty responded to those e-mails and six agreed to meet with her in person. With that kind of a response rate, the benefits of going wide are obvious.

Be authentic — tell a personal story

Dina Gusovsky, a broadcast journalist and columnist, was one of the media professionals who responded. While most people would think that being as brief and to the point in their cover note as possible would be the most professional and likely to succeed approach, Dina’s response indicates that the opposite may true. She told me that she agreed to meet with Zanele “because I think at one point we were all Zaneles. Sometimes I feel like I still am. For creative people…the journey never ends. Whatever success I have had so far is directly correlated to all the people who gave me a chance. Not just those who decided to put me on television, but those who listened, those who gave me advice, and those who mentored me.” But as an emigre from the Soviet Union, for Dina it was Zanele’s immigrant background that resonated most. Her meeting with Zanele was “probably less pay-it-forward and more pay-it-backward. I think all those people who had helped me and continue to help would be proud that I was in some way continuing this wonderful trend.”

Offer a variety of connection points

Janice Huff, the chief meteorologist for WNBC TV in New York, responds to lots of inquiries from young people interested in becoming meteorologists, but rarely takes the extra step to meet with them. However, Zanele had susssed out that Janice was a fellow Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sister, and personalized her note referencing that shared connection. For Janice, “that’s what made me decide I’d love to meet her and help her.” Zanele took the time to find shared interests for about 20% of her targets and mentioned them in her notes. So before you reach out it pays to research, and determine where your connection points might lie.

Don’t be afraid to show vulnerability

Ellianna Placas, a fashion consultant and another immigrant (from Australia), and the former Fashion Director for Essence Magazine, was impressed by Zanele’s ability to “show honesty and vulnerability and risk, putting her faith in human nature first — a brave and open beginning. ‘Believe in a stranger’ was so romantic, yet realistically appealing to me. Maybe I am imbuing it with more than Zanele intended, but it held universal appeal. We should all be helping each other. Zanele came to me for advice, she left as a new friend.”

Be open about where the path takes you

After several people in New York City had responded to her letter, Zanele decided she had reason enough to make the trip from Portland. And while she did not leave New York with a firm job offer, she will be returning to follow up on the leads developed in her first round of conversations. “I learned so much about myself and exactly what makes me tick,” Zanele told me after her trip. “I believe it is so important to know or hold a conversation with people who have career positions you aspire to have someday. The value of relationships and conversation is incredibly important to me. Those conversations will not magically appear on my phone and g-mail, I have to go and get them. No, not everyone will respond and not everyone ‘needs’ to — only the people who are meant to.”

Ellianna Placas put it best: “No one knows how we arrive in the places or jobs we do. We did not do it by ourselves, we were surrounded by people along the way who gave tiny bits of advice, who we watched, who helped us make and not make choices.”

That’s something we should all keep in mind, especially as we make the upward and sideways journeys in our own careers. To paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton, at some point in our lives we have all stood on the shoulders of (seemingly gigantic) strangers, and there comes a time when we need to give others the chance to stand on ours.

Harvard Business Review


Category : CULTURE

Since I am new to the generation of iphones, I am always looking for great and interesting apps. Summertime is when US carriers tend to offer the best upgrade deals. Me, being a proactive person (lucky for you), I am giving you all a heads-up on some great apps for busy and working moms. This is such a worthy and informative article, I really dropped everything else I was doing to devote time to go through the different apps and picking my favorite. The winner is Evernote!! This app let’s you create lists of any kind, keeps all kind of notes, text, voice, and photos on hand, and is accessible on any desktop. This is a must have for working moms and moms just on the go. I’d love to hear what are your favorite apps.




Big Companies Want Their Moms Back, McKinsey, Goldman Sachs and More


By LESLIE KWOH, as see online in The Wall Street Journal,

McKinsey & Co. wants its moms back.

The big consulting firm is quietly reaching out to female employees who left some years ago—presumably to start families—to see whether they are ready to return.

WSJ’s Leslie Kwoh has details of companies, including the large consulting firm McKinsey & Co., that are recruiting mothers back to the work force who previously left to start families. Photo: Getty Images.

Details of the initiative, still in its early stages, are sketchy, and McKinsey offered no further information, except to say it isn’t a companywide policy. But the effort is one small signal that at least some companies are re-examining some of the most basic terms of women’s working lives.

The issue of lost women workers remains a delicate one for many companies, particularly in highly skilled professions, such as consulting or banking. After spending their 20s in high-intensity jobs, many women leave or switch to part-time work when they have children.

Most companies simply acknowledge the departures and move on, but some of them are starting to recruit talented women who are ready to resume work.

The AtlanticAn Atlantic article critiqued work-life balance for women

Princeton University / Associated PressAnne-Marie Slaughter’s essay, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” sparked a furor when it appeared in the Atlantic last July.

McKinsey has publicly grappled with the issue of recruiting and retaining women. In a 2011 interview with The Wall Street Journal, McKinsey managing director Dominic Barton acknowledged that women accounted for just 25% of the firm’s “intake,” adding that “if you look at the numbers, we’re not where we need to be, so we’re losing on the talent side.”

According to its website, McKinsey has 8,000 active consultants in the field and 24,000 members in its alumni network.

The other Big Three consulting firms have their own programs targeted at current and former female employees. At Bain & Co., a group of partners oversees women’s initiatives, staying in touch with female alumni and promoting flexible work options.

More than 100 women, most of them mothers, have returned to the firm since 2000, says Russ Hagey, Bain’s global chief talent officer and a senior partner. The firm says more than 80% of its female partners have taken advantage of flextime.

Boston Consulting Group says it focuses heavily on recruiting and retaining women, offering part-time options, mentoring and professional development programs. Lucy Brady, a BCG partner and mother of three, says she was appointed partner while working part-time at the firm, which she has done for 10 out of 15 years.

Several other employers are trying programs to bring former workers back into the fold. Some of them, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., GS -0.96% have “returnship” programs, paid short-term jobs targeted at professionals who haven’t worked for several years.

In most cases, these employees are women who left to have children, says Carol Fishman Cohen, co-founder of iRelaunch, a career re-entry consulting firm in Newton, Mass., and author of a Harvard Business Review article about returnships. “Companies…should be focusing on this pool just like they’re focusing on the pool of recent college graduates,” she says.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former U.S. State Department official whose essay, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” sparked a furor when it appeared in the Atlantic last July, said McKinsey’s Mr. Barton has discussed a plan to win back talented women who “stepped off the track” years ago.

“What Dominic Barton said to me was, ‘These women were phenomenally smart, and we lost all that talent, and we’re going to get it back,’ ” she said in a speech late last year.

McKinsey declined to make Mr. Barton available for comment.

A 2009 study of female attorneys in New Jersey, conducted by Rutgers University’s Center for Women and Work, found that 29% of the respondents said they left their previous firms because they had “difficulty integrating work with family/personal life.”

And in a 2010 McKinsey report, female senior executives cited the “double burden syndrome” of balancing motherhood and work as the main obstacle to women attaining more top roles in companies.

To be sure, reactivating workers who have been off the job for years presents big challenges for both employers and the returning worker.

Returnees must adapt to a changed workplace, with a less-stable workforce and new technology, says Karen White, director of the Working Families Program at the Rutgers Center for Women and Work.

Employers can ease the transition by including returning employees in orientation sessions, says iRelaunch’s Ms. Fishman Cohen. However, it is up to the employee to brush up on tools such as Microsoft MSFT -0.36% Excel and social media before coming back to work, she says.

ReutersMcKinsey managing director Dominic Barton.

Often, the biggest challenge returnees face is how to regain their confidence while allowing for mistakes. “People coming back, especially high performers, feel this pressure to walk back in the door and expect the same level of performance,” Ms. Fishman Cohen says. Instead, they should hold candid conversations with their bosses about an “adjustment period.”

Work and family experts often tout moms as “great managers,” but skills developed while managing a household don’t necessarily translate to the office, Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter said in a recent essay. “Family managers are accustomed to being surrounded mostly by people who are…clearly dependent, unable to function fully on their own,” Ms. Kanter wrote. “Spending quality time with people with limited vocabularies doesn’t hone complex strategic thinking.”

Victor Cheng, a former McKinsey consultant who now advises aspiring management consultants, recalls a push in the mid-1990s to increase the firm’s female partners. Typically, M.B.A.s take six to eight years to make partner, so many women attain partner status just as they are ready to have children.

McKinsey offered a slower path to partnership for part-time employees, but the demands were so great that during his time at the firm, Mr. Cheng says, “the joke was that working half-time was still 40 hours a week.”

McKinsey still offers flexible work schedules for women, and many offices have networks that provide guidance for mothers. New mothers can participate in a “phase back” program to help them readjust to work after maternity leave.

The firm also publishes a guide for mothers titled “Laptops and Lullabies.”

Write to Leslie Kwoh at


What You Talkin’ Bout?

Category : CULTURE

Some conversations among employees are not for the workplace. Talking religion is often very personal and people are very sensitive about it. Politics around election time even if u feel very strongly about a candidate, or have negative views about an opposing candidate will not win anyone over with brownie points. Whatever you do don’t try to sway their opinion. Speaking about your sex life is taboo and could possibly border sexual harassment. Sharing your feelings and aspirations with your co-workers regarding your career may question your loyalty to your employer. If you are interested in climbing the corporate ladder, speak to your boss directly. I have attached an article that I found very interesting and informative with a few more subject matters that are taboo. .Have any of you ever put your foot in your mouth at the workplace? If so, we want to hear from you.