Ep. 113: From Boardrooms to Playrooms

with Dr. Janice Nevin, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, & Cathy Jacobson

May 17, 2023


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Dr. Janice Nevin, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, & Cathy Jacobson

Dr. Janice Nevin, President and CEO of ChristianaCare, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, Administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and Cathy Jacobson, President and CEO of Froedtert Health delve into the experiences and challenges faced by working mothers.


“Make sure you get a partner who's gonna let you be you.” - Cathy Jacobson

Dr. Janice Nevin, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, & Cathy Jacobson Tweet



In today’s episode, we shine a light on the multifaceted journey of working mothers and the remarkable resilience they demonstrate in balancing their professional careers with the demands of motherhood. We’ll hear from Dr. Janice Nevin, President and CEO of ChristianaCare, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, Administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and Cathy Jacobson, President and CEO of Froedtert Health.

Let’s hear from Dr. Janice Nevin first.

Janice Nevin: And you mentioned family, I’m, I’ve been married for more than 31 years, the two of us have managed to navigate to careers, raise two children. And I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve had a partner along the way. I always have an allergic reaction when people talk about work life balance, because I look back there was nothing balanced. And you sort of you you give and take that depending on what’s needed, what the circumstances are. So this phrase of work life well being I you know, I talk about, you know, I’ve learned how to integrate work into life in a way that is meaningful and purposeful and, and impactful. I do you know, we all have choices along the way. And sometimes I think we forget that, but we all have choices. And I can remember earlier in my career, I made a choice that I was not going to pursue a growing sort of going up the academic ladder. I was an assistant professor for a very long time. I’m now a professor. I got there eventually. But I made a very intentional choice that I had young children, but I was also a new residency director. I was growing my my leadership with some national organizations. And so for me, it was well what’s the most important for me in my life currently, and I prioritize what am I willing to say? This can wait or maybe even this comes off the list, but I do for women, particularly for young women in particular. Remember you always have you can make choices, you can choose what’s important to you about sort of how you spend your time and an energy when it comes to your career.

Chiquita Brooks-LaSure reflects on becoming a parent and how this helped her understand the balance between work and personal life. Let’s hear from her next.

Chiquita Brooks-LaSure: I really had in my life, many people who helped me to get here. And I would just when I look back and think about how many bosses I had, who were incredibly instrumental in helping me to grow as a person, helping me to understand public policy and the work life that we have, and just really helping me to understand how to balance all of those things with being a person, which I think is important in terms of this role of really understanding what life is like, I one of the things that I focus on a lot as, as people know, is maternal health. And I am a mother and a lot of my expertise in that area really comes from being a parent some of the challenges that I’ve gone through, but also talking to other parents and realizing, Oh, I didn’t experience some of these challenges because of my own walk in life. So I would say when I think about how I got here, I What really stands out is how many really supportive women and men but many women really helped me I learned partly by observation really seeing them in action. You know, some people like Speaker Pelosi I would say like I really watched her and how she conducted herself and it’s not that, you know, we had so many direct conversations, but then other people like my boss it ways means Abell, Dr. Glenn, Nancy and Jean Lambrou Mark Miller at the beginning of my career, you know, just to name a few, I think that you learned so much from observation and also more direct mentorship. I won’t pretend that I have it all figured out. And I would start by saying I think that so often we people in general, women in particular, and moms star it three times you really feel like we have to go through these kinds of challenges alone. There is a lot of wisdom in talking to people. And I still honestly, last weekend, I called up a friend with older kids and said, here’s what’s going on any advice you have for me? And I think that so often I see us struggling, but we are not the first people who had to figure out how to manage work life balance. And I think so often, again, we think we have to solve these problems ourselves. My own suggestion and advice is that I think, really understanding that being a parent can actually make you more efficient and better. And I was talking about this with one of my team who also is a mother. And you know, it’s true, I think I’m much more ruthless about my time than I used to be, I have much more like, Is this actually a critical conversation? Do we really need to have this? Is there a more efficient way to accomplish this, and I think a lot of that came from just knowing that every moment, I am choosing my time between the people who, you know, the 6000 people that work at this agency, that hill, that stakeholders, and being at home with my family, and so you get a little more like, I think precise with your time. So and I say that to say that, I think so often we take we think of our whatever the things are about ourselves as a liability, they don’t have to be that said, it is incredibly difficult sometimes to manage, you know, the all of the things that are going on in our lives. And I think, really making sure you can to the extent that you can have supports around you, whether they’re family members, whether it’s, you know, friends support, that that is critical. And I think also it ideally, right, a lot of that comes from employers, I try to create an environment at CMS, I will go out of my way to mention that I like to take my daughter to the bus. I don’t do that just because I want to do those things. But I want to make parents at CMS feel like it is okay to say I you know, got to be I need this meeting to start at 915 Rather than nine o’clock, because I want to be able to take my child to school. That’s, that’s okay. That does require a level of grace from employers and, and colleagues often right to understanding that, you know, we can’t always accommodate everybody’s issues, but often we can, it’s okay to start that meeting at 915. It’s okay to not have meetings that after six, sometimes there’s an emergency. But, you know, I think that that is a little bit of the advice that I would give

Up next, Cathy Jacobson highlights the need for employers and colleagues to provide support and flexibility for working parents.

Cathy Jacobson: I got married and I had a family and I had a child. And my husband and I were working full time and we came back to work even though now I’m not I don’t want 1000 people reporting to me, I’m I’m in that staff position at Rush. And after about a year, the two of us looked at each other and said that we don’t like this, you know, I mean, this just isn’t working. You know, for our family. We’re spending every weekend just trying to get our stuff done and, and we’re not spending enough time with our baby and all of that kind of stuff. And at that time, I was the one because of the role that I had versus what my husband was doing at the time. That negotiated a my part time job. You know, so again, I don’t have a ton of people reporting to me, but I’m still reporting inside the C suite and so and I had a couple of key you know, cost, you know, turnaround projects, you know assigned to me. So I went in and I, I gave them the plan, you know, I’m gonna work three days a week, I’ll work long days, but I need two days off, take a reduction of pay, this is how you’re going to divide up my job, you know, all these kinds of things. And they, you know, and I said, If I can’t, because I think I was one of the first women who ever did that, you know, at the executive level at Roche, then I’m going to have to choose to step off until I can find something else, you know, that I can do. And I would say great for me, I would say great for them, that they took me up on that offer. And I was able to do that, you know, for probably the next four and a half years had two more children during that time. During that time, the CFO did turnover at Rush. And they they did approach me the first time I’m pregnant with my second child, I am part time I’m like, yeah, be kidding me. You know, I’m not I can’t, you know, step up and do that. So I passed on it. While they had to come back, again, you know, two or three years later, because again, because of the financial difficulties, we had a new CEO by that time who had been in that C suite, someone I was working with Dr. Larry Goodman, and they had to come in and ask about the CFO job again, and I turned them down twice. Because I had three children, five, three, and one, I kind of liked my part time gig, it was working really well, until I had a very wise woman and our EEOC department, because rush runs a university also as well, who came to my office one day and just sat down, and she just said, you are going to be so ticked off when I hire somebody for this job that you know, cannot do it. As well, as you do. Let’s go figure out how we’re going to get this done. And so what I did is I negotiated to come back full time for days, again, long days in the office, let me work at home, on Fridays, you know, I mean, if I can just be at home, you know, I’ll work at home, you know, I have to tell you, life wasn’t as easy it is as virtual, you know, today, you know, I mean, I had a fax machine. And I mean, all of these kinds of things. I could do email. And I worked at home, you know, for a day. And that’s how we balanced it. But I will tell you, that lasted for a year, because I’m still working five days a week, and my husband hadn’t got promoted at the same time. And we had an international job and was flying all over the United States, it still wasn’t, you know, working for us. So after about a year of me being the CFO, we decided he should step off at that point in time, and he didn’t feel like he could balance a part time schedule. And so he just retired at that point in time and stayed home with our kids. And so my son was two. So they’re two, four and six. You know, by that time,

I still stayed home a day a week, which worked great, because I think it was 100 times more effective, you know, doing that, and more productive on those days, but he stayed home during that entire time. But you know, back in, you know, 2003 2004 there wasn’t a lot of guys doing that he was very fortunate that I had another colleague that he had it worked at that about the same time. So he had somebody to be together with joined the PTO did all the coaching, you know, all of that kind of stuff. But I think what it really demonstrates is is that we know it, okay, the childbearing. Family thing is different. When you’re the mom, it is different. You know, no matter what anybody says it is different. They do look at you differently. Meaning [Families vs the Workplace leaders in an organization when you’re of childbearing age, once you get in, especially once you get married, you know, are you coming back? Are you not coming back?]I have had my boss turn to me and say, I’m not so much worried just about you. But you have four female directors, what are you guys going to do when you all start having babies? Not kidding, okay, these are the conversations if it’s not going on, if they’re not saying it, it’s going on. And someone said, they’re always thinking about that whether what’s going to happen to the team if you decide not to come back? And then when you do have a family? Obviously, it’s something that you have to balance. So what did you give up? And what did you compromised, obviously, I did pass on promotions. During that time, I was part time and all of those different types of things. I’m not you can tell from my resume, I’m not a person who moved around a lot, you know, to move up, I waited, I moved up internally and waited for the right positions to come because I didn’t want to move my family, you know, all over the place for my job. I did it once. And that was traumatic enough to do it once. When my kids were teenagers, early teenagers is when we made the move to Milwaukee. And yeah, I mean, every single day, there’s something that you give up that you missed, you know, at home. It worked great for my husband and I because on weekends he wanted some time off and all I wanted to do is be with my kids, you know? So that’s how I spend all my time. So what I would say happens is that you Your job gets all of you when you’re at work, and your family gets all of you when you’re at home with them. And there isn’t a lot of time for you, you know, during that time period. Yeah, every once in your, you got to have a really good core group of friends that are going to be your friends, no matter if you can be in contact with them all the time, I’m so lucky. My best friends are still with me, you know, from college. And now we do see each other a lot more. But you just need to know that during that journey during that time, that there’s not going to be a lot at you time, a lot of me time. In that luckily, you know, they’re all out of the house. Now, I still crave them every day, you know, we always do you know, our kids, but they’re all young adults now and everything. But that gives us time, you know, to go out and refresh and be able to do things. So that’s at least my journey, not everybody has to go through that and balancing family and all those different types of things. And another key piece of advice that I always give people is if you’re blessed enough to walk this life with a partner, make sure you get a partner who’s gonna let you be you. And 30 plus years ago, I was amazingly lucky to find that person. And it’s worked. It’s worked for us. And, and now you know that my kids are out of the house, you know, my husband gets to come with me, you know, every once in a while, and we get to extend every once in a while. So you get that you get that break, you know, in there also as well.

So the same daughter, who is 16, was screaming at me, because I could not take off of work to take her to Chicago to pick out a prom dress because she couldn’t find one in Waukee. That was adequate. So she had to go to Chicago. Absolutely screaming at me probably one of the worst parental moments, you know, that I can ever remember. That same daughter, by the way, is an accountant, you know, works in a big four accounting firm doing what I did. So that, you know, just tells you but when she was in business school, at the University of Wisconsin, she called me what and she was so excited. She’s like, Oh, this is so great. You know, she gets to go to some little business retreat, something, you know, that the school was doing, she goes, Oh, we had these three CEOs come in and talk to us. And two of them are women, you know, and it was just great. And, and one of them was talking about the trade offs that she makes with her family. And you know what she has to give up. And she goes, I went up to her after that. And she goes, Mom, I went up and I talked to her. And I said, you don’t realize that your children are watching you every single day, and that they’re learning from you. She goes, I did that with my mom. And I learned so much. And I’m wild baby. You know, I mean, it was one of those moments where you know, so if you have a 16 year old screaming at you, you know, today, you know, because you can’t be with them in the moment. And then the minute, they’re watching you, they know what you’re doing. They they know they are loved, and they will come back around, you know, I mean, that was when she told me that she had she just went into business school undecided. And when she told me she was going to be an accounting, she just explained Yeah, how excited she is I go you do? No, I did that. Right? Yeah, no, I mean, it was just like she was oblivious to it. But they do they watch they do, they do come back around. So sometimes you gotta wait a couple of years. But they do come back around.

Through their inspiring stories, we are reminded of the strength and dedication of working mothers and the importance of supporting them in their journey. As we conclude this episode, let us celebrate the remarkable achievements of working mothers and recognize the ongoing need for greater understanding and support in creating a more inclusive and empowering environment for all.

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