Four Norwich alumnae at the top of their professional game talk about the navigating the career ladder, leadership lessons, and whether work-life balance truly exists
EDITED BY SEAN MARKEY
NORWICH RECORD | Winter 2021
Brig. Gen. Kim Baumann, PhD, serves as the assistant adjutant general and commander of the Rhode Island Air National Guard and as the assistant to the headquarters Air Force deputy chief of staff for Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Cyber Effects Operations. She is also an executive partner with Gartner, Inc., a global research and advisory firm based in Stamford, Conn. An IT and cybersecurity expert, she chairs the Board of Fellows for NU’s College of Graduate and Continuing Studies.
MaryAnne Burke serves on the NU Alumni Association Board of Directors and is a retail practice leader for Aon, an insurance brokerage firm that serves global clients for risk, health, and human capital.
Lisa Crockett, MBA, DBA is the executive director, system strategy and planning, for Providence St. Joseph Health, the country’s third-largest health system. She was the valedictorian of her CGCS MBA program at Norwich. She is a former member of the Partridge Society Board of Directors and currently serves on the Board of Fellows for the College of Graduate and Continuing Studies.
Alison Lanz is a former Army intelligence officer, who was awarded the Bronze Star in Afghanistan for her work as a cultural support team leader while serving on the front lines with Army Special Forces and Navy SEALs.
In October, the Norwich University Alumni Association hosted a virtual roundtable on “Women in Leadership,” the latest seminar in their ongoing Legacy of Learning series. Speaking on the panel were Rhode Island Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Kim Baumann ’87, P’19; Aon, PLC retail industry national practice leader MaryAnne Burke ’86, P’18, P’24; Providence St. Joseph Health system strategy and planning executive director Lisa Crockett M’06, PhD; and former Army Capt. Alison Lanz ’10, a public relations and communications senior associate for credit card services at J.P. Morgan Chase. Renee Charbonneau ’18 of the NU Alumni Office hosted the event, presenting questions from Norwich alumni. Ex¬cerpts of their wide-ranging conversation follow.
RENEE CHARBONNEAU: What would be your advice to alumni trying to raise their profile and reach their full potential? Can you share a story or advice on how you broke through barriers?
KIM BAUMANN: I grew up in a family of three girls. It was my mother, my sister, and me. That was it. Growing up, I was never introduced to the concept of male dominance, because the three of us did whatever we had to do and whatever we wanted to do. As I have always believed in following your dreams, I became one of the first female Little League players in my town. I thought it odd that there weren’t too many female baseball players on any of the teams. But several years later, I found out it was because they had only recently allowed females to play.
But professionally, you have to be aware of your surroundings. Look at your team. If you don’t “look” like the rest of the team, you need to understand the dynamics of the team and become an active participant. Being aware means that you will be able to recognize when a teammate might be struggling with something, or even struggling to fit into the team. You could easily reach out and show your support, offer assistance, or even provide them that level of comfort to be¬come an active participant on the team.
A hard lesson that I learned early in my career is, you don’t want to make your counterparts ever look bad, because you will not earn any friends or advocates doing that. I was on the firing range qualifying with a weapon once. My boss, who was standing next to me, was making all kinds of bets with the other men. “If you shoot better than me, I’ll buy you dinner.” He made those bets with everybody except for me. I was the only female. So, when I proceeded to fire expert and score higher than anybody else on the range, the guys immediately stopped talking about the range. Because here the only female did better than all of them. I think I hurt my boss’s ego and had to do a little pampering of his ego after that. I might have been half serious about it, but that mutual support was very important later on in my career to have his advocacy.
ALISON LANZ: When I deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, I was assigned to a cultural support team. I was one of two females assigned to an Army Special Forces team in Afghanistan, living in the middle of nowhere. We replaced a couple of females who were generally seen as lazy and didn’t really try to do much to be part of the team. We had a lot of work to do coming into that team. One of the first things I did was just ask questions and try to be part of that team to the point where maybe I was annoying. But it seemed to get the job done.
I’ll give you an example: I knew how to shoot a 50-caliber rifle, but we had a 50-cal. weapons system on top of one of our vehicles, and I wanted to become an expert and know what to do. Heaven forbid our gunner got shot or hurt or anything—I wanted to be able to step in. There were only about 11 of us at that site. I learned and learned and learned, asked questions, and by the time we were done with our deployment, a Navy SEAL team was coming in to replace the SF team. If you don’t know, there’s a friendly rivalry between the different Special Forces groups in the military. The SEALs didn’t have any of the training that we had for that specific gun. When they asked to get some, my team said, “Alison will teach you.” I’m a female, so the SEALs are asking, “Alison is going to teach me?” But the Navy realized I’m part of that team, they value me enough to actually have me instruct some SEALs on how to use this weapon. There are plenty of other examples. But the point is really to just jump in, be humble, and be willing to learn. Having a sense of humor helps a ton, too.
Moving to corporate America, I joined JPMorgan Chase in 2016. Huge company. I’m a criminal justice major. I have a master’s in homeland security. Now I work for a bank, right? Every week, I would basically do two networking sessions. I would put time on some¬one’s calendar, 10 minutes, and say, “Hey, let’s meet at Starbucks. I want to learn more about what you do” and just pick their brain to try to understand what was happening at the bank and how I could be helpful and to raise my profile as a new member of the Chase team. Two examples, military and corporate America, that have helped me throughout the years.
RENEE: What actions need to change to move the needle in diversity and leadership in board¬rooms, and how would you grade where your organizations are on this journey?
MARYANNE BURKE: Diversity and inclusion comes from the top. Our CEO is passionate about it. He believes that supporting different cultures makes us stronger. We’re more creative when we are diverse. Everybody has a different perspective, so we really need to make it part of our priority. It is part of our core business. But I also believe we need to work harder. I need to personally work harder. I feel like I swim in my white fishbowl a lot and I need to stop, think, and have some of those difficult conversations with friends.
I have a real story to tell, because I think it paints a picture. We always have a pitch, for a new client or business opportunity, right? When you are working with a prospect, you are trying to get new business. The person that was in charge of this new business opportunity came to me and said, “How would you create the team? How can we win this?” I said to the producer, the risk manager who is our potential new client is a woman. I think you need to show some creativity. This is an edgy company/prospect, and that’s the only way you’re going to win. My colleague agrees with me and then he goes away. Then I don’t hear anything. He takes it to his boss. His boss is a middle-aged man of color. You would think that he would agree, knowing that we have a woman client that we’re trying to appeal to and it’s an edgy, techie firm.
Fast-forward: The day before the pitch, my company always re-quires the team to have this big planning meeting. All you do is basically talk your pitch, coach your presenters, work the chemistry of the team, over and over. An outside “presentation coach” flies in. This guy is also edgy. He comes to the practice room, and there are four white men at the table. The coach asks, “Where is the team?” The guys say, “We’re the team.” The coach asked the boss, “Where is the team?” The boss said, “This is the team. This is why we have these people here.” And the coach was like, “So, we have a woman risk manager and we have four men?” Needless to say, they changed the whole strategy, a day before the big meeting.
They brought in our risk analyst on the potential project, the only woman in the room, who unfortunately was not prepared. She was sort of set up to fail, even though she was a Millennial, which was great, and having a woman in the room checked off the box. But unfortunately, the team was not prepared at all. We didn’t win. The long and short of this is, you really need to make an effort. You need to make it your priority. It starts with you, and that’s the only way you’re going to be successful, both personally and professionally. I feel like we all can do a little bit better.
RENEE: The next question goes to Lisa and Alison. You both accomplished so much at a young age. How did you manage people that did not take you seriously? What’s your career advice to others to manage the feeling that they are not worthy or capable of handling that next-level position?
LISA: This is such a great question and, as I reflect on what Kim and Alison have both offered about the importance of being humble, of learning, those things are critical for us. I think it ties into this question well because it is so easy to slip into times of self-doubt, of feeling like perhaps I’m not ready for that next step. I’ve certainly had a number of those moments, and yet I actually think that having a degree of self-doubt and uncertainty is a healthy thing. Because for me, it means that I’m right on that cusp of feeling a little uncomfortable with the situation, that I’m pushing myself to that next level, that I’m not quite ready yet. If it is comfortable for me, then chances are, I’m not excelling as much as I should be. I think having that healthy dose of fear and self-doubt keeps me sharp and engaged.
The other thing that I consistently go back to is something that was shared with me when I was probably 14 or 15 years old and was in high school. A friend of mine shared a quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt that I’ve continued to keep as one of my personal man¬tras: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” When I have those moments of self-doubt creeping in, of “Am I ready for that next step?” that’s something that I go back to. How am I controlling what’s going on in my own head? How do I overcome those voices internally, as opposed to the voices externally that may be feeding into my doubts?
There have certainly been a number of times in my career where I felt like there were barriers because I was young, I was inexperienced, I didn’t necessarily walk in with the same skillset as others. So how do I begin to overcome that? There are a few key lessons learned that I’ve carried with me. One is the importance of self-advocacy. No one is going to own your growth and development and have as much passion behind it as what you’re going to have for yourself. Don’t wait for others to advocate on your behalf. Know how to tell your story. Know how to be able to say, “This is who I am. These are my experiences. This is the value I can bring.” It may look different than the value that others bring to that particular setting but be willing to self-advocate and tell that story.
I think the other thing, and Kim and Alison and MaryAnne touched on this, is the importance of em¬bracing the opportunities that are put in front of you. I remember there was a point early in my career when I was invited to serve as the communications representative or liaison for a big executive committee in one of our hospitals where I was working at the time. And when I looked around the table, I’ll be honest, there were a lot of days where I thought, “There is no way that I belong with a seat at this table. Everybody else out-titles and outranks me by a ton. And yet, here I am, this newly minted college kid trying to cut her teeth in the PR and communications world.” At that point, it was before I transitioned to working in strategy and planning. Yet, I quickly realized that regardless of how I got into the room or had a seat at the table, the bottom line was, I have a seat and so I’m going to embrace that for every ounce that it is worth.
If it means that I’m taking notes and largely being someone who is listening, then I am going to embrace that, because I am getting an unprecedented opportunity to see how others lead, how executives make decisions and the questions they ask. And it was moments like that that I now look back on and realize those things shaped me more than perhaps anything else could have in my career.
The third key in my journey is that those who know me know that I am really competitive. My team will be the first to acknowledge “Lisa is competitive. She likes to win. She’s not going to give up a good fight.” Especially if we’re in the right and this is something that we need to champion and stand be¬hind. I think with that has come a lesson that I need to constantly strive to measure and benchmark myself against the best.
The final lesson that I would leave is the importance of looking beyond the walls of your organization for other leadership and growth opportunities. I think sometimes we get really narrowly focused that growth and development from a career perspective have to happen within the four walls of where we work. And yet when I look at the different volunteer opportunities that I have embraced, whether it’s serving on various boards and events for Norwich, within the health care industry, or within the strategy profession that I’m a part of, all of those things externally have built me into a better, stronger leader. It’s given me skills that I can bring back into my health system and apply to my day-to-day work. Don’t think too narrowly about those opportunities. If you’re feeling like, “I’m lacking in project management or facilitation skills” or just other things that come with leadership, look externally instead of always thinking that you have to find those things internally.
ALISON: I don’t know how I’m going to follow it up, Lisa. That was just amazing, and I completely agree with everything you’ve said. To add on, honestly, because you have a lot of the same thoughts, I say first and foremost, if you’re invited to the meeting, be at the meeting. If you’re invited to the table, be at the table. You’re invited for a reason. I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve been at, at Chase or in the military, where I have friends of mine where we’ve talked about what we were going to say at the meeting or what our thoughts were before going to the meeting, we get there, and then later my friend says, at the end of the meeting, “They didn’t even call on me.” And I said, “Girl, girlfriend—you didn’t speak up either.” Be present. Be at that meeting. You’re there for a reason. Be confident. You’re invited. You need to speak up.
Second, I’ll go back to your point on being an advocate for yourself. In the military there’s the idea that HRC, the Human Resource Command, manages your career. That is false. You are your own career manager. Believe that. Make sure that people know who you are. Be confident in your skills. Don’t sell yourself short on your resume. Be able to talk and talk about yourself well.
LISA: That’s great, Alison, and I love the point that you made about speaking up. I’ll share transparently, I’m naturally an introvert. Especially early on in my career, there were times when I was almost fearful of being the one in the room to ask the question. Then over time, I realized the questions that were running through my mind are the ones that other leaders are asking around the table, so I need to be more bold and courageous and willing to put myself out there. Because there is a good chance that if it was running through my head, it was running through somebody else’s. That was a turning point for me—recognizing I can’t be quiet if I want to be a decision-maker, who is viewed as a trusted strategic thought partner and leader. I have to lean into that role. So what a great point, Alison.
ALISON: Yeah. I’ve never been accused of being shy, so I have the opposite problem at times.
RENEE: How do you ladies feel about a lateral promotion? What was one of your best personal experiences? MaryAnne, you’ve been in the business world. How would you coach our young business mentees on approaching a lateral transfer?
MARYANNE: I find that many times women, especially as we’re progressing within our careers, we ask ourselves, “Are we ready for the next position?” Which brings me to the question, “Do you take a lateral transfer?” And I would say, absolutely, yes. I have had some wonderful mentors. I have had people that I still keep in touch with long after they’ve retired. I have mentors that have moved to different positions and I still bounce ideas and strategy off them. They are your beacon of help. They are your lifeline. I have taken lateral transfers twice just because I wanted to work with that individual.
It didn’t mean that I earned any more money, nor did it mean that I got a bigger title or anything. It meant that I was improving my career. Being with a spectacular manager will teach you how to navigate your career and better yourself as a person. It could be your personal self, not just your professional self. I would take a lateral transfer in a heartbeat. I feel that way with a lot of the people that I’ve worked with in the past. Many times, if they called me up today, I’d say yeah. So yes, take it.
RENEE: What pearls of wisdom do you have to share about handling work-life balance? So many of us are constantly juggling with COVID-19, virtual meetings, virtual school, and families, that we end up struggling personally.
KIM: I’d say learn to adapt and know how to prioritize and what things are really important. There are many, many things that you’re faced with and some of them are more important than others. Tackle those difficult ones first. A hard lesson that I learned was that family should always come first. Before I was mobilized to go to Iraq at the start of Iraqi Freedom, I was helping all of my airmen with a deployment, and it was kind of a tense situation. I spent so much time assisting them that I kind of ignored my family. When it was time for me to pack the bags and step on that airplane, they were not in a good place. And it was rough for all of us for the first couple of months to get back into a groove where I could perform my job overseas and they were comfortable at home with what they were doing and our relationships were strong enough to get through all of that. Family first, always.
Another thing that Lisa already mentioned was, you need to mentor and delegate. If you properly train your successor, for instance, you will have a whole batch of capable people to rely on so that you can delegate tasks to them. Sometimes you just need more trust in your team to do the work. Sometimes you need to trust but verify, because not everybody is quite up to the standard, perhaps, that you want to at the time. But give them the opportunity. If they start to falter a little bit, because you are verifying, you can help them. You can boost them up. That takes so much off of your shoulders.
And most importantly, I think, is take care of your people. Because if you take care of your people, they will take care of the mission or they will take care of the business. A lot of the folks in the military like to say, “People are your most important weapon system.” And definitely in the business world, they are your most important asset. It’s so difficult to train the people and find the right people and get them in the right attitude, that once you get them, you really need to take care of them.
LISA: Work-life balance is one of these topics that I feel like it’s the bane of my existence. Within every mentorship relationship that I’ve had with young mentees, they have come to me and inevitably bring this up: “How do you address work-life balance?” The concept of work-life balance seems to imply that somehow there is going to be this 50/50 split. That everything is balanced and equal. The bottom line is, it’s not and life changes.
Kim made the point about learning to adapt. That’s so true. There’s a natural ebb and flow to life. There are times when work may need to be front and center, when you may be putting in ultralong days and weekends because of something critical that is occurring. And then there are other times when family takes center stage, because you need to care for aging family members or have kids in school who are currently studying at home or whatever the situation might be. There’re just things that happen that change your priorities from day-to-day, week-to-week.
Ultimately, I think you have to be comfortable defining your own version of balance. If something is feeling out of balance, if you find yourself saying, “I don’t have work-life balance,” really take the time to pinpoint what is causing you concern. Is it that I’m spending too many hours at the office and that’s making me unhappy? Or is it that I’m missing out on hobbies at home that I would really like to be doing instead? Pinpoint what is out of balance instead of trying to pursue this mythical 50/50 work-life balance.
RENEE: Alison, how about you? How do you strike the right balance between work and life, especially during the pandemic?
ALISON: When COVID hit, we were in Jamaica. We were the last American flight out. When we landed, the world was completely different. From that moment on, I worked from home and I still work from home. Throughout the summer, Chase, my team, our leaders have been saying, “Wow, we’re more productive from home than we are from the office.” That was all great. Until we realized that people are getting burned out, because now I’m working from 7 to 7, whereas before I had a commute. Now we’re thinking, “Okay, maybe that’s not the best thing. We were also very effective from the office. Maybe we shouldn’t be working as much.” Now that’s just my company’s perspective on possibly going back to the office in time and also encouraging folks to take those times that they need during the day to kind of regroup.
Personally, I like people. I like crowds. I like to go out. So that was a struggle. I was just in the dumps. Thank goodness I have a one-year-old at home, because she is amazing and just great to wake up to. I love my fiancé, but she’s cuter. That kept me going. To be honest, I definitely got in a funk, and I think a lot of people did.
I finally started going back to the gym. It makes me feel good, and it sets my day up correct¬ly. I think a lot of us can agree with that. I also started going to a café that had outdoor seating in my neighborhood just to get a change of scenery and to kind of be around people, even though we’re not super close, to have that surround sound of other human beings. That’s helped a lot. I was never super active on social media, but I stopped Facebook altogether. It was so negative. I didn’t need it in my life. I was waking up actually angry. So I thought, “Let’s get rid of that toxicity.” I also stopped following highly political people on Instagram to get that out of my feed and focus on what matters, which is family. I realize how important family is and how important taking care of family is. Hopefully that helps a little bit. Those things have helped me. It’s been quite the journey. I know we all are on the same page there.
MARYANNE: Life balance? It’s definitely an oxymoron. I’m not sure I’m balanced at all. But I feel like you need to set some time away just for yourself. What I’ve done is a put in 20 minutes or half an hour in my calendar that nobody can block. I can move that time throughout the day. You make sure you walk, you meditate. I’ve got a nice app, it’s called Calm. I’ll do 15 minutes and just meditate. It could be at your desk. You could put your feet up and lie on the floor. I feel like we’re sitting too much. I take a walk. It doesn’t have to be the same time every day, but I have a block and I’ll move it to make that time happen. You don’t have balance because we’re virtual. I feel like this phone is available for anybody to call at any time and they don’t care. I’m a national practice leader at my company, so I have California calling me at eight o’clock at night because they’re still working. I take the call and you take it because that’s what we do, and it’s fine. I love people, too. I’m not going to not answer the phone. I’m an extrovert. If they’re calling me, I think, “Oh, isn’t this is great! I have a problem that needs to be solved.” But you have to make sure you make time for yourself.