Kate Eberle Walker, THE GOOD BOSS

Kate Eberle Walker, THE GOOD BOSS

CEO of PresenceLearning, Kate Eberle Walker, joins Zibby to talk about her new book, The Good Boss, and what it actually takes to become one. After deciding to stop telling other women that they needed to change in order to fit into workplaces that were designed by men for men, Kate realized she needed to create a guide to change the workplaces themselves. Kate and Zibby connect over similar work experiences, and Kate shares some of the nine steps she recognized as essential for making working environments more supportive for women.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Kate. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Good Boss: 9 Ways Every Manager Can Support Women at Work.

Kate Eberle Walker: Thank you for having me. I’m very excited with you.

Zibby: Kate, tell everybody a little bit about your background and how you escalated quickly up the ranks to becoming head of your business and running companies and how you ended up writing this book.

Kate: I started out working on Wall Street, so connecting the beginning to the end, a very male-dominated first work experience, or even my undergrad experience. I majored in finance and accounting and loved working with numbers. Went to work in investment banking at Goldman Sachs. I loved it. I ended up working there five years. Then I went to business school and afterwards, continued to work in finance in mergers and acquisitions but found my way, fortunately, to the education industry through that work. Washington Post Company, one my favorite clients, banking. Then I worked directly for the company which happened to Kaplan, which, during the years I was there, became this very large education business. I got to be a part of buying and selling and investing in education companies and learning not only how to do deals, but learned about this industry and formed my point of view about what made for a good business in education. I was lucky. I got to a point in my career where I started to recognize that I wanted something a little different. My opinion about what makes a good business had gotten, perhaps, a little too strong to be satisfied with only investing in and buying companies and being behind the scenes. I wanted to do it myself. I thought I could do it myself.

I was really lucky. I met someone who became this really pivotal person for me in my life and my career, a woman named Mandy Ginsberg who, at the time, was the CEO of Tutor.com working within IAC, Barry Diller’s company. She met me and she recruited me to come work with her to figure out how to build a big education company with IAC. We had one conversation. We just really connected. She said, “I feel like we should work together.” I felt like, she’s somebody I want to go work for. It was decision. Thanks to her, she gave me this new opportunity. I learned from her. I said, at one point, “I want to do what you do. I want to be your successor in this company.” An opportunity came up after about a year of working together and having acquired The Princeton Review together where she was called upon to return to her origins in the world of online dating. She became the CEO of the Match Group. I got promoted to CEO of Princeton Review and Tutor.com. All of a sudden, I was the CEO. It was actually at that point when I first became a CEO — I’ll always remember my first day on the job. I’d been in the company for a while then. I’d been the CFO. One day, I walk in, and now I’m the CEO. People treated me so differently even though they already knew me. They differently. They deferred differently. I felt a different presence in the room.

I started to recognize the power that you really have when you’re a company and how much you can then define, what kind of company is this going to be? What are our meetings going to be like? Who is going to have success here? Whose voices are going to be heard? I started thinking really hard. I was feeling the responsibility of what that meant and what I should with it. I think especially when you’re a woman, when you’re a female CEO, because there are still not that many in the grand scheme of things — five percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. When you’re a woman and you’re a CEO, you get asked for advice by a lot of other women and younger women who want to get ahead about, how did you do it? What did you do? What should I do? I heard myself giving advice to these women that I realized at some point that I just hated. I personally had gotten ahead by changing, adapting, even hiding certain parts of myself to fit into these workplaces that were really designed by men for men. I was telling other young women, this is how you do it. This is how you maneuver . It struck me, what if instead I gave all these managers advice on how to adapt themselves to a workforce that is diverse? It’s no longer okay to have workplaces that are designed by men for men. That’s what this book is. It’s advice for those managers on what they should do differently, what they should say and do, and what they should not say and not to do to create more inclusive workplaces for women.

Zibby: Amazing. You outlined so many great things. I loved, you have little bullets at the end. For people who don’t have time, which I’m always looking for, excellent find. You have all the things at the end of the chapter. I loved your whole — there were many parts. The fact that women are emotional beings is just not something that you can overlook. I flash back to all the many times I’ve cried in bathrooms at work when I used to work in an office. I think that’s probably why I didn’t like working in an office. I was like, I like crying at home in my bathroom because then nobody really notices. Just that it doesn’t mean you’re necessarily any less good of an employee or weak or anything. It’s just that women have different emotional responses to things. If you’re managing women, that’s something that you should know as just one of those basic things to have empathy and sensitivity towards.

Kate: It’s a thing. I was blown away when I was doing research for this book and found this stat that women are biologically 4.5 times more likely to cry at work. That is what we’re up against as women. I’ve cried. I tell a very small portion of the that I have heard from other women times that we’ve cried, times that I’ve cried. I also talk a lot about times that I’ve cried on the subway. I cry everywhere. It’s part of caring about your work and being invested in your work. Sometimes that’s the physical reaction you have. A woman that I spoke to when I was writing this book was telling a story about, the worst thing was she was told that she wasn’t getting a promotion she thought she was going to get. She started tearing up and was fighting, fighting, fighting. I’m not going to cry. I’m not going to cry. She hit the point where it started. The guy, her manager who was talking to her, did the worst thing ever. He was like, “Are you okay?” It’s like, don’t ask, are you okay? Just let it be. Let it be.

Zibby: That’s how I feel when I stub my toe or something. People are like, are you okay? It’s obvious I’m not okay. You saw me walk into a wall. Now my whole blood pressure is up, and so, no, I’m not. then that’s even worse, which is ridiculous. There are so many other things. Oh, even your introductory chapter where you talk about — just the way you said this was so good. “There was a fatal flaw in my approach. I was stuck in the mindset that women needed to learn how to adapt themselves to their environment to be successful. I was trying to change the way women played the game, to find a smarter way for them to spin the wheel so that they could land on the right squares on the board. What I needed to do instead was ask how we could change the game.” So great. Then just a couple other. Call Her By Her Name, that whole chapter, by the way, my name has been mispronounced more times than I can even tell you, at least twice a day. I value that one a lot, and even how you were saying — what’d you say? Someone calling you dear or sweetie.

Kate: Young lady.

Zibby: Young lady. That’s right, young lady.

Kate: So many women, I would venture to say all women have at least one story like that of somebody in a work context calling them sweetie or honey or young lady. It’s so disrespectful. It’s also just extremely distracting. My young lady story that I tell, for me, the thing that I can’t forget is just how much it hung over the rest of that meeting that I was in. It really did keep me from being productive. In that case, it was in a deal discussion where it was my career. I actually did have the power to make the deal happen or not. . It wasn’t exactly out of spite for being called young lady, but I know that was a factor. It impacted my focus and my ability to engage in trying to get that deal done.

Zibby: You had the scene at the table where the guy was leaning back arrogantly and not paying you any attention. I feel like that often happens. This is so cliché, but my husband and I went to a car dealer the other day. It was the same again. I’m like, why don’t you look at me? Why are you not looking at me? Who’s to say I’m not in charge of this decision? What the heck?

Kate: You know what? My husband and I, we still do this — I’m a professional negotiator. That’s what I’ve done for most of my career. I am not the one who represents us when we’re buying a car, buying a house, anything like that. I’m like Geppetto behind the scenes or like Cyrano de Bergerac saying, all right, you’re going to say this, you’re going to do this. Then my husband is the one to say it because we both just learned that it’s going to be received differently. We’re going to get a different outcome.

Zibby: Maybe that’s why I keep getting in trouble, because I insist on being the one who talks.

Kate: insisting, but at some point, we’ve got to flip these things around so that maybe I’m the one. I should be forcing and pushing it through. It’s frustrating. A lot of men do that. I was just talking to a woman in my doctor’s office the other day. She was all up in arms because her handyman was supposed to fix something. She told him all the things that needed to be done. He hadn’t done them. Her husband repeated it. All of a sudden, it was done.

Zibby: It’s so crazy. Although, I have to say, in my house, my husband tells me that same thing. He’s like, “How come when you ask for the window to be replaced, somebody listens?” I’m like, “I don’t know.” Depends on the dynamic. This goes to your next rule. Don’t ask, what does your husband do? Why don’t you talk about that one a little bit?

Kate: That rule, don’t ask, what does your husband do? this is interesting. I found, in talking about the book and the rules, people get a little thrown off. They’re like, but your last rule said that I should relate to people and I should get to know them. Now you’re saying don’t ask, what does your husband do? Okay, to be clear about, what does that rule mean? it’s not that you should be interested in a woman’s family and family life and what goes on in her household. It’s that you shouldn’t draw conclusions about her and her career ambition or her income needs based on what her husband does. The truth is that when that question’s asked, the way it’s asked, it often is not really just because you’re interested in getting to know her. It’s asked by recruiters. It’s asked in interviews. The person who’s asking is making a judgement or drawing a conclusion about what that means for your commitment to this job. If your husband is an investment banker, does that mean you’ll take a lower salary? It’s those kind of where you’ve got to be really careful because what her husband does really doesn’t have anything to do with what she wants to do, what she’s capable of doing, and what is appropriate to pay her for doing the things. I, to this day, will get asked . The last time I was interviewing for CEO jobs, I was surprised how often people asked that question. Sometimes it was like, who takes care of your children? is another question that I get where they’re trying to figure out, can you do a job this big? in these different ways. I just always remind, trust me, I do have two children, and I make sure they are cared for at all times.

Zibby: Oh, them. I forgot.

Kate: They’re aware of my job and my work. I’ll figure it out.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. That also goes to your Watch The Clock chapter where you so intelligently point out that you can’t just keep somebody waiting. You had the one scenario where you were rushing home to get to your kids and relieve your nanny. Somebody made you wait. He was thirty minutes late. It’s like, oh, it’s not a big deal. You’re like, it wouldn’t be a big deal if I didn’t have to get home and the nanny didn’t have to miss her train or whatever it is she had to do. There are all these things that you line up that everybody should be — this is for men or women, honestly. You can’t take people’s — even five minutes, it actually does make a difference sometimes. It really does.

Kate: It makes a difference. There’s this domino effect. I think this is a big part of why things got so hard so fast for so many families during COVID. We all plan our lives and our kids’ lives and our schedules to have very little margin for error. Sometimes there really isn’t even five minutes of margin for error, and so you’re counting on, this happens now. Then this, and then this, and then this. When something is changed or added or moved, collapses. It can create a whole new kind of work to sort that out and to get things back into a balance that works. I’ve felt that. I know a lot of working parents, especially working moms, just felt this pressure. The school scheduled changed. Your kids couldn’t be where they normally would be at that time. You’ve got to figure it all out. You’ve got to line everything up in a different way.

Zibby: Then your last section on seeing her potential and praising her and seeing what she could do and finding new opportunities and building on her skill set and all of that, taking all of their skills and just finding a way to unlock them and keep them going within the confines of your organizations is so key.

Kate: One of the CEOs that I interviewed for the book, Sam Yagan who’s most recently CEO of ShopRunner, he talked to me about his philosophy of inventing jobs that fit the person. He loves to identify, here are these standout skills. There’s potential in that, so let’s figure out, what’s that job for you to make the most of that? Rather than trying to fit people into rungs and career progressions and all of that, try to figure out how to position people to make the most. A big part of that, it just starts with really telling people directly, I think you do this really well. I think that you have a lot of potential here. If you don’t tell people, they won’t know it. They won’t assume it. There are these huge gaps in perception, particularly for women. It shows in their own self-reviews, self-evaluations. There are real gaps in how women think they’re perceived versus how they are. They really won’t know how great you think they are if you don’t tell them.

Zibby: I feel like you should team up with — have you read The Fifth Trimester by Lauren Smith Brody?

Kate: Yes.

Zibby: Do you know her?

Kate: I’d love an introduction. I don’t know her.

Zibby: I want to put you guys in touch because I feel like you guys could put your heads together and come up with some really awesome — even on the national level or just reforms. I don’t know.

Kate: Exactly, yes, with that philosophy and how you could apply it to just create a better structure.

Zibby: It’s so true and really overdue. It’s crazy you have to even say this in today’s day and age, but you do. It comes across as news. Not to diminish the topic of your book, but how can people not understand this? Yet they have to be told. That’s okay. Men are from Mars or whatever.

Kate: Yeah, and again and again. Another thing is just realizing that, yes, we’re still talking about all of these things. Me Too started in 2017. Here we are nearly five years later. We are still having to point out all of the problems, challenges, inequities that exist in the workplace. One thing is exposed. Then Andrew Cuomo happens over here and this and that. There’s always something. Figuring out how to break the cycle does seem to call for some formality.

Zibby: Yes. Although, I shouldn’t have said that about men from Mars because plenty of women manage other women. Honestly, some of my most complicated working relationships were with women I worked for versus men I worked for, in a way. I found some of the women, not all — I hope they’re not listening — were not as direct. My male bosses, they might have made me cry, but they were direct. If I did something good, I knew it. If I did something bad, I definitely knew it. I thought it was easier to suss out. Why did she not invite me to this meeting versus that meeting? Now I’m a woman and I manage other women, which is weird to think about, but it’s true. This was still relevant for me. Obviously, I am one, but it is a good reminder all the time of how to — it’s just a good reminder. It’s a good refresher for anyone, even if you’re a woman yourself.

Kate: Exactly. It works both ways. People do have different experiences. A lot of people have said that to me. It feels like you’re writing more to educate the male manager, but I had some female bosses that I feel could benefit from this. I think that’s true. I think I do write more with a male manager in mind because two thirds of all managers are men. That’s the majority of the audience, but it’s not the only audience. A lot of this just comes down to, the clearer you are in your communication, the more that you listen and pay attention to and adapt yourself as a manager to what’s going to work to support the people who work for you, kind of flipping around that dynamic that you don’t expect your employees to bend to what you expect of them, but you’re responsive to what kind of a person they are and what they need to feel comfortable speaking up, is something that everybody can learn from. I still learn every day. I’m still actively managing a lot of people. I continue to learn about things that I do that I didn’t realize were alienating people or were not giving them enough opportunity to speak. I just think everybody should really set as a goal for themselves, how can I make people comfortable telling me what they think? That’s where the value-add is for any manager. For any kind of manager of anything, you really will be a better manager if the people who work for you tell you the truth.

Zibby: Now in addition to all that you do, you wrote this actual book. Now you have a book, so you’re also an author. What advice would you have on the author side for people who have never written a book before?

Kate: I loved writing a book. I miss it. It gave me just a totally different kind of fulfillment in the day. Really, all of my day-job work as a CEO involves other people. I’m not really being productive if I’m not talking to other people and engaging or at least reading, responding to something. You’re always interacting. For me as someone who, Myers-Briggs-wise, tests right down the line of introvert and extrovert, I spend a lot of my day extroverted. Having this other side where I would have a professional reason to sit by myself and be reflective and produce something independently, I thought was amazing. Whether you see yourself as a writer and an author or not, I think everyone can benefit from thinking about that balance that they have in how they spend their time. If you’re not getting that reflective outlet somewhere, try it here. I found that after I had submitted my book manuscript, as you well know, there’s a lag between when you finish your book and when you the world receives your book. That, for me, happened during COVID. I found myself — it felt out of the blue at the time. I started thinking of these more short stories and personal stories and memoir-type memories in my head. I started writing short stories not that long after I finished the book manuscript. That’s become this ongoing thing for me. I don’t know that I would’ve come to it if I hadn’t created this new working habit. I like to spend time, it’s fulfilling for me to spend time reflecting and writing it down and hoping that somebody else will read it and get something from it too.

Zibby: Awesome. So maybe we’ll see a short story collection from you. Who knows?

Kate: I don’t know. Maybe. They’re building up. It started as a couple. Now they keep turning up. If nothing else, my daughters really like reading them. They’re from different parts of my life. Most of them have been from before I had kids. My daughters really like reading them. They’re like, “When are you going to do another one?”

Zibby: Aw, that’s really cute. Kate, thank you. Thank you for helping everybody else out there become better bosses and thereby improving the quality of work life for everybody else. It’s great that you took the time to write this and educate and clarify. It was really great to chat with you.

Kate: Same. Thank you so much. Thanks for reading the book.

Zibby: No problem. Have a great day.

Kate: You too.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Kate Eberle Walker, THE GOOD BOSS

THE GOOD BOSS by Kate Eberle Walker

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