Aug. 1, 2019

Allowing Your Passion to Emerge, with Kellie McElhaney

When you hear that someone makes a list of top most influential leaders, it's easy to assume they were driven by a clear vision for their career since they were young. The truth is that success like this can be had even by people who start out not knowing what they want to do.

In the premier episode of Career Curves, guest Kellie McElhaney shares how she went from not knowing what she wanted to do to becoming passionate about corporate social responsibility and equity fluent leadership, and how these became the center point for her work. She also shares why she chose academia as the arena where she could make the most impact.

Meet the Guest
Dr. Kellie McElhaney is on the faculty and is the Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Equity, Gender and Inclusion (EGAL) at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. 

Launched in November 2017, EGAL's mission is to educate equity fluent leaders to ignite and accelerate change.  Kellie helped develop this concept and teaches it across the globe.  Equity fluent leaders understand the value of different lived experiences and courageously use their power to address barriers, increase access, and drive change for positive impact.  Haas graduates over 1,000 leaders a year; EGAL will ensure that they are all equity fluent.  The center deeply partners with the corporate and civil sectors.
 
In 2003, Kellie founded the Center for Responsible Business (CRB), solidifying corporate responsibility as a core competency and competitive advantage of Berkeley-Haas. Due to Kellie’s leadership, Haas was rated #1 in the world for corporate responsibility by The Financial Times.  She received the Founder and Visionary Award at Haas in 2013 for this work.
 
Kellie authored the book, Just Good Business: The Strategic Guide to Aligning Corporate Responsibility and Brand. She writes case studies of companies who are investing in women, and broader diversity and inclusion, and does research in the area of equal, pay, conscious inclusion, equity fluent leadership, and value-creating strategies of diversity and inclusion.  Her Gap, Inc. Equal Pay case won the California Management Review Case of the Year in 2017.  She was named one of the Bay Area’s Most Influential Women in 2019 by the S.F. Business Times.
 
Kellie’s consulting client list includes:  Ernst & Young, NVIDIA, Gap, Inc., Women’s Initiative Foundation (France), Orrick, Levi, , Network for Executive Women, Twilio, Vimplecom, KAUST, Nokia, Navigant Consulting, NetGear, Personal Capital, CALSTRS, Financial Professionals Association, Driscoll Berries, GE Oil & Gas, Triage Consulting Group, Ulster Bank, Accenture, Yum! Brands, Chevron, ING, Energizer Holdings, Inc., Pandora, Aboitiz, Outotec, Pillsbury Winthrop.
 
Kellie currently serves on the Board of Directors for Sierra Europe Offshore, LTD., the Closed Loop Fund, and Empower Her Network, and on the Gender Equity Diversity Subcommittee of the University of California Athletics Board.
 
Kellie lives in Oakland, California and has two college-aged daughters.  She earned her B.A. from the University of North Carolina, her M.A. from Ohio University, and her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.  Prior to moving in to academia, Kellie worked in retail banking in commercial lending, acquisitions and corporate leadership development. 

Links


Transcript

Beth Davies, host:     

When you hear that someone makes a list of top most influential leaders, it's easy to assume that they were driven by a clear vision for their career since they were young. The truth is that success like this can be had even by people who start out not knowing what they want to do, like our guest today.

Welcome to Career Curves where we talk to people who have interesting careers and explore how they got where they are.

I'm your host, Beth Davies.

Today we're joined by Kellie McElhaney, who in May, 2019 was named to the list of the Most Influential Women in Bay Area Business. Kellie is the founding director of the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, where she's also a distinguished teaching fellow. Earlier in her academic career, she founded the Center for Responsible Business, which helped bring corporate social responsibility into strategic business conversations.

Prior to moving into academia, Kellie worked in banking, corporate acquisitions and leadership development. Kellie shares how she went from not knowing what she wanted to do to becoming passionate about corporate social responsibility and equity fluent leadership, and how these became the center point for her work. She also shares why she chose academia as the arena where she could make the most impact.

Welcome Kellie.

Kellie McElhaney, guest:

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Beth:   

Often on Career Curves, we start at the beginning. With you Kellie, I'd actually like to talk first about the work that you do and then we'll go back in time and figure out how you got here. So what is the focus of your work and what is it that you're trying to accomplish?

Kellie:

The focus of my work is to agitate for change in an area that has not seen change for a very long time. We've been flatlined in terms of diversity and inclusion, specifically around gender in the business world, though I also am expanding much more into the area of race, ethnicity, and gender as a spectrum.

My purpose in starting our current Center for Gender, Equity and Leadership is to, first of all, elevate the conversation out of diversity and inclusion, and take it up a level, because right now the words "diversity and inclusion" are very electrically and emotionally charged. There are those who are in the dominant group who feel like they're suddenly going to lose something that is their birthright. There are those who are in the non-dominant group, however that's defined in any given situation, who feel like they're just there as a token because a box had to be checked. So we've elevated it into the space that we've created called "Equity Fluent Leadership".

So, to completely simplify what I do now at the Haas School of Business is we graduate throughout our four degree programs over a thousand leaders a year. My goal is pretty clear: it's to graduate a thousand equity fluent leaders every year.

Beth:

What do you mean by equity fluent?

Kellie:

We start out with the language of lived experience. So an equity fluent leader understands different lived experiences and courageously uses their voice to address barriers, increase access, and drive for positive social change.

Beth:

I'm curious about why you chose the academic environment to do this work.

Kellie:

Far and away, working with students is at the top of why I do what I do in academia. My students have labeled me the Chief Inspiration Officer, so when I was first called the Chief Agitation Officer, I have to admit that I felt uncomfortable. It necessarily wasn't the title I wanted to put on my card. I reflected on it later that night and I think a lot of that has to do with my gender because...

Beth:

I was going to ask you about that.

Kellie:

Girls are taught to be nice. One of the best pieces of parenting advice I got, because I have two teenage girls now, was to tell them that they do not have to always be nice – they do have to always be kind – and to really differentiate between nice and kind. So, when I was first called a Chief Agitation Officer, I wasn't pleased. But, the next day I woke up and I thought, "I'm very pleased. I think that was because I coupled agitation with inspiration. Agitating without coming up with solutions and working collaboratively is not in and of itself a strategy towards change.

The rest of academia – faculty, administration – is probably a little bit slower to change than government. That is why I spend a lot of my time in the corporate sector. I came from the corporate sector before I went back for my PhD. I am very interested in speed-to-market and that is not generally through academia; that's generally through the corporate world. In a business school, the beauty is we are training leaders who will then go out into the corporate world and have that ability to push for change.

Beth:

Do you think your voice is louder with those corporate audiences, or listened to more, because you are outside and coming from academia, so is that a reason to come from academia as opposed to inside the companies?

Kellie:

Well, I'll be honest, I left the corporate world for lack of inspiration. I wasn't feeling inspired. I started out my corporate career in finance. When I started to think about what life would be like as a working mother – because it never occurred to me that I would not work – I knew I would want some work-life flexibility. I did not experience that in my finance career. In fact, when I looked up, there were very few women ahead of me. When I left my corporate job, there was one woman at the executive VP level. She did not have children. I just didn't see a path.

I grew up with an academic father, so I saw the flexibility. He worked incredibly hard. He had a fair degree of flexibility. So I think moving into academia was a conscious choice. I love to learn and I found that I wasn't learning in my corporate job. Maybe I wasn't motivated to learn because I didn't have a lot of passion around making more money for people who already had money.

I was in banking, retail banking, in the 80s when forbidding of redlining came down to banks, which meant you could not redline and not lend in low income communities.

Beth:

To make sure I understand, you're saying that this was the era when redlining was stopping.

Kellie:

Correct.

Beth:

It was coming to an end and that had been the practice of putting a red line around communities and saying, we will not lend to these communities. You were engaged when that was ending.

Kellie:

It was in the 80s. It was called the Community Reinvestment Act where government mandated that banks had to stop redlining.

Change is hard. Part of my work at that point was to figure out, crudely, how we could redline and still get away with it. So that was not very inspiring to me.

Beth:

You're sharing with us your career in banking. Let's actually now go back. Tell me about the earlier parts of the story. Tell me about you and, growing up and some of the messages that you received as a child that have ended up shaping you and your career.

Kellie:

I grew up with a mother and father and a brother and sister. I'm the youngest. My father was in academia, so I always grew up in a college town surrounded by college students. So higher education was never discussed as a "maybe" in my household; it was absolute.

I remember my dad distinctly saying, "Education is never wasted. If you have a choice, always take the choice that may be more difficult, but in which you're going to learn more." I think that had a profound impact on me.

I had a mother who, because she was first generation Italian, could not afford to go to college. Her father passed away when she was 13 and he was the primary breadwinner. I watched my mother's sadness at not having had the ability to go to college and the juxtaposition between my dad who went on and got a master's degree.

I want to say a thing about my mother though. When I was in high school, I was the last child at home. She went back and got her college degree. She then went on to get her master's degree and she became a speech therapist. So while my older brother and sister weren't home to see that sort of metamorphosis from a stay at home, very traditional housewife, I got to watch that change take place and the profound impact it had on how she carried herself, her competence, her feeling of self-worth. That had a profound effect on me, the before and after view of my mother.

College was never a question and I went off to college. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, so I was studying political science and English, thinking that was the best foundation for law school.

I served on my university's Honor Court. There was an honor system at University of North Carolina, so it was all student adjudicated.

Beth:

If a student was given an academic charge, like cheating, I suppose...

Kellie:

...Plagiarism. Exactly. There was a student court who adjudicated that.

My very first case serving on this was a first in the family, female, freshman from a very low income background. Disadvantaged. Our school ended in May. In April, her father died and, two weeks before finals, she turned in a final English paper. It was proved that she had plagiarized a paragraph of that English paper, so it was a very black and white case. She had in fact plagiarized. It's very provable. We had to move to suspension, which meant she lost her financial aid, which meant she could not return to college.

Beth:

So in effect you were expelling her.

Kellie:

Correct. So that was the first moment when I thought maybe being a lawyer is not going to be a fulfilling career to me because I don't generally think in black and white terms.

Beth:

I can tell that the work you do and that you're passionate about at Haas right now, is a lot about justice and, in this particular example, there had to be something for you that just said this is unjust. It's not looking at the context; it's not looking at the story of where her life has come from.

Kellie:

And her starting block was completely different than my starting block in terms of the level of the block on which we were standing when we started college.

So, I did a pivot in my degree. I had no idea what I wanted to do, by the way, because I was so sure I wanted to be a lawyer. I apparently won most arguments in my household so I was told from an early age that law would be a great career for me to go into.

I pivoted then into English much more deeply. I didn't have any plan. I'll be really honest.

I got my undergraduate degree and my father was working at a university. That university's policy was that I could go to school for free, so I went back and got a masters degree straight from undergrad. I'd love to tell you there was some malice of forethought, but there wasn't.

Beth:

It was just postponing the decision about what to do

Kellie:

Literally, postponing and having the ability to go back and live at home. I hadn't returned home for most of my four years away in college.

I got my degree in organizational behavior, and that was probably the first time I was hit with feeling inspired around what happens when you get a group of people together in the organization – how can you then shape the culture of that organization, the leadership culture.

I got a job in banking, not in the finance part. At first it was in training and development, so I was utilizing my love for education and knowledge and how people learn to really build leadership programs.

Beth:

So you started at the bank in a role that matched your degree and matched what you were discovering was a passion. But then you mentioned that you did get into the banking side. Why did that happen? Why did you stop doing something that was tapping a passion and go the other route?

Kellie:

Probably pretty crass on two levels. I had done some training for a male executive vice president. (I still remember his name, which is amazing because I don't remember a lot of my students' names from this semester.) He came to me after I did some training for his group and he said, "You're wasting your time in this space. You're in a cost center. You'll do better at this bank if you move to a profit center." So he hired me, brought me over into the acquisitions and mergers side of the bank.

I do believe he wanted me to succeed and at that point in the 80s, it was to make more money and that sounded great to me. I graduated with college debt and when you're 23 years old and have debt – and it's not even close to what student debt is today amount wise – it was a money decision. I also like learning. So it felt like this would be something that would really stretch me in terms of my learning and skill set building.

Beth:

And you had somebody there who was saying, "I believe in you and I think you've got more."

What happened after you took that role? You already mentioned how you felt in that role about the redlining, but in general, how were you feeling in that position?

Kellie:

I didn't feel very authentic or inspired. I didn't feel inspired because I didn't see that I was creating positive social change. I was successful at what I was doing in the bank.

I had a master's degree advisor who had a connection at the local university in the city in which I was doing banking and he connected and said, "You're really good in the classroom. Let's see if you can do one night a week teaching." So I started doing that while I was still in banking.

I'll never forget my boss, my sponsor at that point came to me and said, "I just want to point something out. The four days that you come in in which you're not teaching in the evening, you have a distinctly different disposition than the one day you come in and you're going to teach that evening, so you might want to think about that." That was a hard thing to hear.

Beth:

What were they calling out it? What was he calling out about your disposition in particular?

Kellie:

He said I came in "with a higher level of zest for life and bounce in my step." I think those were his exact words. And he just said, "You might want to think about that. I don't want to lose you. You've been an incredible employee, but I view my job, as your sponsor, to develop you and point you on a path where you will make a difference and where you will feel more fulfilled."

Beth:

Was this the same person who had initially pulled you out of learning and development?

Kellie:

Yes.

To reflect a little bit, this is the same person who told me I needed to take golf lessons all day on Saturdays. I didn't love golf. I hadn't played golf before. I didn't really want to spend eight hours on a Saturday doing something that I didn't enjoy, but, I'll never forget, he said, "The deals are going down on the golf course and you're missing out on deals."

I was also told as a banker in the 80s that I could wear one of three colors, navy black or gray, very much to hide my feminine side; hair pulled back in a bun. So I started to experience a hiding, a little bit of a not coming in as my true authentic self. I would check it at the door and over time I noticed that less and less of it was there at the end of the day to pick up, which is why I was interested in this teaching position.

I then also became a big sister in the Big Brother, Big Sister program. The more time I spent with my little sister seeing her experiences in a very impoverished part of Kentucky, I started to just feel the difference between making money, buying up small banks, firing all the small town employees of that bank, backfilling them with our big bank culture, guidance, rules, and employees, that that just wasn't where I wanted to put my energy.

Beth:

It's such an interesting thing where something that we do for a short period of time, early in our lives, early in our career, sticks with us and stays a part of how we think, what we're doing, what motivates us. That's a clear part of what of what you have.

Kellie:

Focusing on return on investment, which is all you focus on as a banker, very much filters into the work that I do today. I don't come out of the shoots telling corporate executives, corporate leaders or students that equity is the right thing to do or corporate responsibility, which was my first area. I don't lead with, "It's the right thing to do." I obviously very much believe it's the right thing to do, but I start out with it's the right thing to do for business. I work in the business sector and businesses have to be successful, make profit, or it does not matter how sustainable they are or how equity focused they are, they'll cease to exist as a company. And that came directly from banking: the constant focus on return on investment.

Beth:

Eventually you decided to go back to school to get your PhD.

Kellie:

I did.

Beth:

How did you make that decision and how did you communicate that to others?

Kellie:

I remember the day I went into my executive vice president's office to quit, and while he was very much a motivator for me to take a look at my life, he also said, "I want to let you know that you're going to move from extrinsic rewards – money, all the lavish things that banking included in the 1980s – to intrinsic rewards. You're not going to get paid as much, so just be sure you're okay with intrinsic rewards, which is watching your students learn."

I took a year off and I moved to China for a year and taught at a university in China and that absolutely solidified how great it feels to be in the classroom and watch light bulbs go off in students' minds and to inspire students, which is what at the end of the day I think teaching is meant to do.

Beth:

He was talking about the difference between extrinsic rewards and intrinsic rewards as if he was telling you extrinsic rewards are the right ones and intrinsic rewards aren't. Yet, your own experience, even as you talked about going to China, was very much that you were fulfilled by the intrinsic. Did you feel that value judgment and conflict at the time? Was it hard for you to say, "I am going to go for the intrinsic"?

Kellie:

I don't remember it being hard. I mean it was harder to pay my monthly student loan, that's for sure. It caused more stress on that level, but I think the stress was very much canceled out by the passion I had for the work that I did.

China was a good proving ground for me because I had been accepted into a PhD program, which is a really large undertaking – five to six years moving to a new city – I wanted to make sure that this was something that I would actually like to do day in and day out.

Beth:

This is China around the year 1990...

Kellie:

1992, so just post Tiananmen is when I arrived in China. It was probably one of the hardest years of my life, because it was just vastly different from anything I'd experienced before.

Beth:

Did you have to sell your family on this?

Kellie:

I had to really sell my family, partially because I needed them to help me pay my student loan. For the first time, I had to actually ask for support, not something that comes naturally to me, and wasn't necessarily something that they advocated for, however, they knew I was unhappy. They thought it was a great experience for me.

Beth:

So, you did come back from China and start a PhD program. What was the PhD in?

Kellie:

I thought I wanted to be a college professor because the part of my job I loved in banking was managing people. To try to be logical and convince my parents that there was a plan here, I said I want to be a college president. So, I started out in higher education. Fortunately, the PhD program I was in required you to do what they called a cognate, which was a focus in an area different from your degree, so I chose business since that's all I knew. Again, there was no great plan. I spent a lot of time in the business school at the university at which I was getting my PhD.

I was exposed immediately to the bureaucracy and slowness of academia, so I pretty much ruled out being a college president quickly. I was much more interested in business and how we could use business as a force for change.

I had an experience in China that feels really small. I took a donkey up this mountain and I remember getting to the top of this far-flung mountain and there were individuals pushing carts that had Coca-Cola, Pond's Cold Cream. It was this moment of, "Wow, companies have a lot of power to get their product to this far flung remote top of a mountain when we don't always everyday have electricity."

I think the seed that got planted was, "Companies are powerful. Period. I wonder if you can harness company's power..." (Because I was trained as a capitalist, I never had this, 'companies are evil' thought.) "...how could we harness that capitalistic power to create positive change?" So I pivoted from wanting to be a president and focusing my time on higher education to how can we really work with companies to make as much profit as they can while making the world a better place.

I ended up doing my dissertation much more in the area of corporate responsibility / corporate sustainability. I ended up developing at the time... (I didn't know it was a big undertaking. Again, I followed what made me feel good and I fundamentally believed in) ...developed at the Michigan School of Business corporate sustainability and a class on that which linked to gender, because at the time the MBA students at University of Michigan were 80% men, 20% women. If I looked at the core courses, that's what was reflected in the classroom. I started the new area of corporate social responsibility and the demographics almost fully shifted to 80% females being in the classroom and 20% males.

Beth:

Just in your class or in the school at large?

Kellie:

Just in my class. So that was another seed that was planted of, "I wonder if women are motivated differently." I started to observe, didn't do anything about it, but started to think, "Huh, women are taking different classes, making different choices." I saw some research early on that suggested that when our MBA students were graduating, they were looking for, yes, a good salary and a challenging work opportunity, but they also were looking at companies and roles inside of companies that were fundamentally making the world a better place.

Beth:

So at the University of Michigan, you're starting this class on social responsibility. Were you inclined to stay there and keep building this there? What happened with that?

Kellie:

I had a PhD advisor (again, a man, just to edify and clarify that I had mostly male mentors in my life). He got denied tenure because corporate responsibility was not a tenure-able path back then. It was new. They said, "You should go to a college of social work." They didn't understand it. He got denied tenure and left, as would happen when you're denied tenure.

There was a huge student demand that had swelled up for these kinds of courses. The school then looked around and they had nobody else to do it, so they asked if I would stay on post-PhD, which is quite rare. Most universities want you to leave after your PhD, that's the way academia works. They don't keep their own. They want you to go out, cut your teeth, have somebody else pay for you to develop your research agenda, and then, if you're good, they'll bring you back.

Beth:

Why did you end up leaving?

Kellie:

There was a job opening at Berkeley to start something. My previous mentor who did not get tenure, who was now at a different university, sent me the job posting and said, "I think this is a great opportunity."

The Haas School of Business at University of California had large student demand to do something in the area of responsible business and didn't have somebody. It was actually a perfect situation. They had a donor who had given $1 million to do something in the area of social responsibility. They had strong student demand. They had a Dean at the time who thought there was a there there.

Berkeley came to me and said, "Would you come and interview?" I said, "Sure." Never turned down any opportunity to stretch, challenge, grow, or see something new.

I thought California was a little bit liberal, plus I couldn't afford to live here. So, we turned down the job offer the first year. By then I was married, so I had a partner to factor into the equation. Did not have children.

I turned it down. They continued the search, didn't find a candidate that they felt was suitable, and came to me the second year. By then I was pregnant. I remember coming out and doing my interview. I was only three months pregnant so you couldn't physically tell. But I had a lot of morning sickness so I was struggling through a whole day of interviews.

I came back to Ann Arbor, Michigan. My partner's career had not taken off at that stage, so he said, "Let's not stay here for me," but I was pregnant so I was very concerned about moving at what would have been six months pregnant.

The Dean at the time was a female. We just had an open conversation about it. I do believe it was because of her gender. She said, "Why don't you stay in Ann Arbor to mitigate risk, and have your baby. Come out here on a one year leave starting mid-year, which is unusual, and see how you like it.

It felt really good. I was not risk averse, but I suddenly had an almost dependent husband; I was soon to be a mother and sole breadwinner. I mean "dependent" financially on my salary. I was not risk averse, but I was very risk aware at that particular stage of my life...

Beth:

So the safety net of just do this for a year and test it out opened up that possibility for you.

Kellie:

I will also give credit to another very significant male sponsor and mentor of mine named Bob Haas, who clearly is of the Haas family, founding family of Levi's, and you might see the connection between the Haas School. I was walking through an airport in Chicago and I got this phone call that had a 501 prefix, which I should have known at the time...

Beth:

For Levi's 501 jeans.

Kellie:

I picked up the phone. He's like, "This is Bob Haas." My first reaction was that I've never spoken to a CEO, so this had to be some joke. My father was a prankster. I assumed it was my father. It was in fact, Bob Haas. He asked me a few questions and said, one simple line to me: "I think we can transform business education at Haas. I want to support it and I want you to be my partner in crime." There's no way you can say no to that.

Beth:

You ended up creating a foundation or a center...

Kellie:

A center. I ended up creating the Center for Responsible Business in 2003 at the Haas School of Business and it took off. It just went very fast. Very successful. I was able to bring in a large amount of funding for it.

In 2008, unbeknownst to me, the Financial Times decided to rank business schools based on their social responsibility strengths. Haas was rated #1.

I learned from my dad: (A) academicians never know when to leave; they hold on way too long, and (B) there's no better time to get out of an endeavor than when you're #1. So I turned that over to somebody else to run.

Beth:

That seems so counterintuitive, yet that was the advice from your dad and you were able to recognize it. I think there are quite a few people who would say the opposite, which is if you're #1, keep riding it.

So you turn it over to somebody else. You followed that. Let me first ask you, have you ever regretted that? Did you ever think that wasn't the right advice?

Kellie:

No, what I learned in that process is that I have a strong entrepreneurial streak. I found out that I am much better at starting things, getting them off the ground, building them, setting the vision and strategy. I'm not as motivated by the operations side of it. So it was a good time. I had had success and I believe that leaders need to move on after a certain time.

Beth:

So it was time, and if there's ever a time to recruit a high quality replacement, it's got to be when all that success is there.

So what did you do next?

Kellie:

I reflected, got quiet. My dad always said, "Don't look for other people to tell you what to do next. The answer's inside of you."

Beth:

Pausing on that for a moment. That's pretty interesting because when you think about the time in your life when you were following the advice of somebody else on what to do next, it was solidly taking you in banking and extrinsic rewards. And there was this time that you started thinking about what was right for you, which you then said, "No, I'm doing the teaching and then on this other path." So it's pretty interesting.

Kellie:

Yeah, it kind of brings me back to a philosophy of my dad. He very much instilled in us growing up that you have to ultimately rely on yourself. You can get advice from other people. You also need to have quiet time and reflect on where your voice is in that.

I think it's particularly pointed with women because we are trained to not trust our intuition, to go to others for advice so that was the way I was trained. Your parents can instill some things in you, but society instills a lot more at the end of the day.

I did step back and really reflected. At this stage I had two young daughters, so I actually do remember a really interesting moment. I was nursing my now oldest daughter and when you nurse in the middle of the night, everybody else is asleep. It can feel dark and extraordinarily lonely and I think your thinking gets a little bit intense. I looked down at her, my daughter Isabella in my arms, and thought, "Gosh, what's the world going to be like for her?" I just had this sense of what can I do to make the world better? I can nurse her, I can educate her, I can feed her, but what about the world she's gonna grow up in? I want her to survive.

I should say, concurrently, I was experiencing the second gender discrimination, even tilting towards harassment situation in my life. The first one I had turned a blind eye.

Beth:

Where you were the target?

Kellie:

Yes, it was not a positive experience for me. I actually had gotten by then a job offer at University of North Carolina, which is my undergrad institution. I had tried to have individuals in leadership intervene and help. It didn't happen.

So, I took this job at University of North Carolina, which I did not understand kicks it into hostile workplace, so it got turned over to the Provost office. It was investigated and, in fact, there were six women who had gone before me who were also had been harassed, who had left or were being harassed.

So that situation got adjudicated on the right side. It did a lot to wake me up around power differentials. I'll never forget writing a note to my Dean and ended that note and said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to remain silent. And I'll never forget you as that silent man."

That was brave of me to say, but I just had to express how I felt.

Beth:

Did he respond?

Kellie:

He did. He came to my office and he had tears in his eyes because a 20-page report got delivered on this review. He had tears in his eyes and said, "I feel awful. I am so sorry I did not speak up. "

I looked at him and said, "You have a daughter. That should make you feel more awful.

Beth:

And so this is the time that you're saying if I'm going to do something next and you're having these experiences about women and finding your voice that this kind of takes us full circle probably to where we started, which is the work that you're doing now.

Did you end up going to North Carolina?

Kellie:

I did not go to North Carolina. Haas was forced to make me a better offer to stay. I'm very logical. I'm a banker. Return on investment. I asked for three months off. There was nothing they could say "no" to at that stage.

I was not mentally healthy or emotionally...

Beth:

Sure, you were suffering.

Kellie:

I was exhausted, so I did take time off and started to think much more. I remember traveling in Hong Kong with a friend. By then, I was divorced. I remember traveling with my boyfriend at the time. He is a CEO still of a company and I had been telling him what I wanted to do and he finally said, "I'm sick of hearing it. What do you want to do? Write it down. What's your mission? What's your vision?"

He forced me to commit on this yellow legal pad. I came back and did nothing for a while. Again, at this stage, I am divorced, single mother, still the primary financial breadwinner, but I took the leap.

Beth:

And what was it that you had written down on the yellow paper?

Kellie:

I had basically on this yellow pad of paper created the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership. It was not called that. The language wasn't there.

I probably sat on it for the better part of a year. Sheryl Sandberg wrote her book, very well timed, and I got to ride the coattails of her opening up this conversation nationally.

Beth:

And now this is what you've been doing?

Kellie:

Yeah.

Beth:

Thank you for sharing this story and the journey of where you are now and how you got there. It's a wonderful story, so thank you.

I have a few final questions for you that I like to ask everybody. I call them the lightning round.

What would you say is the smartest career move that you made, whether intentionally or accidentally?

Kellie:

For me it was to stay in corporate America long enough to get solid management training, to see effective leadership in action, to really have instilled to me both that companies need to make a profit and companies can be a force for good. And moving into academia where I was almost wholly focused on teaching students in a way that lit them up.

Beth:

If you could have one do over in your career, what would it be and why?

Kellie:

It's probably six do overs, which would have been to speak up much sooner when I was experiencing gender discrimination, that ultimately was harassment. Not only because I would feel better about myself when I'm out there teaching other women to use their voice, but indelibly I know that I could have made a positive impact on all the women who went behind me who experienced the same discrimination and who are experiencing it today. There's power in using your voice.

Beth:

What's one piece of career advice you wish you could give the younger Kellie:?

Kellie:

This came from my Dean at University of Michigan Business School. Again, a man. I really want to talk about the influence of powerful men in my life. He pulled me aside after a meeting, not publicly, and said, "Kellie, if you focused as much on being effective as you focus on being right, you will be one of the most powerful leaders."

I got a little stubborn in my mind and thought "I am right," but this is amazing career advice that I have not fully mastered, but I work on it.

Beth:

And how do you define success?

Kellie:

When I gave my TedX talk, they asked me to include my core values in that talk. This was 2010, I can't remember the year. I sat down and thought, "This is an easy question. Let's put pen to paper. Here are my core values" and nothing came out.

I had to do some personal reflection. I came out with four core values. I wanted to be authentic, bold, connected, and useful. So defining success is actually really easy for me and I do this when I'm experiencing burnout. I will sit down and say, "There's gotta be a disconnection between one of those core values and what I'm doing today. I have to recognize it, name it, write it down, right size and point towards it.

So, success is when I'm connected to those four core values.

Beth:

I'm inspired. Thank you, Kelly. I've really enjoyed our talk today.

Kellie:

Thank you so much for having me.

Beth:

A quick epilogue. We've made it easy for you to find Kelly's TedX talk and information on the Centers at UC Berkeley that she created. Just visit our website, careercurves.com where we've posted all the links.

While you're there, join the conversation, check out our other episodes and take advantage of the resources we've posted to help you in your career.

Finally, if you liked this podcast, please subscribe and be sure to tell your friends to do the same.

Thanks for listening.