Women Who Make a Difference: Meet Jena Booher
At Maggy London, we understand and value the power of women—the strength, perseverance and passion of women. Introducing Women Who Make a Difference: a series dedicated to the trailblazing, world-changing, ceiling-shattering women of our communities. Innovators. Entrepreneurs. Warriors. Mothers. Sisters. Daughters. Real women. Stay tuned throughout the month of October as we shine a light on five amazing women fighting to change the world.
Introducing Jena Booher
Meet Jena Booher: a mental health expert, public speaker and writer dedicated to empowering women and ending the motherhood penalty by "keeping working mamas working."
- Fighting for you: Jena is the founder of Babies on the Brain, a company on the mission to end the motherhood penalty and increase gender diversity in the workplace. Babies on the Brain helps women maintain their careers after motherhood and stay in the workforce in the midst of difficult life transitions.
- Speaking up: Jena is regularly featured as a Huffington Post contributor (with titles ranging from "Sleep Training 101...For Mom" and "3 Lessons Learned From a 31-Year-Old Intern") and will lead an upcoming TEDx talk called "Making Work 'Work' for American Mothers"
- Always learning: Jena is currently pursuing a PhD in psychology with a focus on how to improve gender diversity in large corporations.
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An Interview with Jena Booher
Maggy London: Today we are excited because Jena Booher is here with us. Jena is doing some incredible things. We are so excited because she’s taking some time out of her busy schedule for this installment of Women Who Make a Difference. Jena is the founder of Babies on the Brain, a company whose mission it is to end motherhood penalty. It is a resource for working women and helps women maintain their careers after motherhood. We are so excited to share this time with Jena and to hear more about her, her background, what her company is doing and much, much more. So Jena, tell us a little about your background and what led you to create Babies on the Brain.
Jena: Sure, so I started my career in sales and trading at a large bank at the very peak of the financial recession in 2008 — so very, very different from what I'm doing now. It was a tough economic time, as most people who lived through it can recall. Plenty of people we getting laid off. It was terrible. I managed to keep my job and to climb the corporate ladder and grind through the tough times and I was very much getting rewarded for the work I was doing. By the time I left, I was the top five percent against my global peers in the entire company. So I was loving this. Anyone who puts their head down and whatever their output is, they get equally back — who doesn't like that? I felt like I was in that space and I didn't want to leave. I never wanted to leave — I was like, this is great! And then what ended up happening, shortly thereafter in my late twenties I became pregnant — like women do. And it was then that I definitely saw how management and clients came to view me in the workplace. It was so perplexing and so confusing. I had operated very much for my whole life under this, what I call now, a myth of meritocracy. And that worked out for so long — until it didn’t. And while I was on maternity leave, I started to talk to many women of all different kinds of situations, so some women were moms like myself who had gone through similar experiences as me. Other individuals were women of color that I wanted to get their experience on their job progression. Basically what I found was that structural and relational obstacles at work is not uncommon, it’s not unique. My story was not unique at all. I became very much obsessed with trying to do my part in solving the problem but I realized I had a massive skill set deficit — I was a trader. So what this cuts at the core of is human behavior, psychology, how people think of and view others who are different from themselves. So I went back, I finished up my Masters in Mental Health and I am halfway through my Doctorate so I really shifted my life. And in that process, became what is now called Babies on the Brain, so the work that we do is really around ending the motherhood penalty but the crazy piece of it that I did not expect is all the work I’ve been hired to do by companies actually transcends any of the family dynamic — it’s more about culture and how to create a diverse and inclusive culture that’s supportive of all different kinds of people — not just families. It’s been a huge shift. That’s the long and short.
Maggy London: Can you give us, without naming names of course, an example of a company who may or may not have realized they had this deficit or they didn’t know what they didn’t know or how you were able to come in and educate them on ways to adjust their culture to be more inclusive to women in the space?
Jena: I have a bunch of examples but one really stands out. What typically happens, and this is the unfortunate scenario, is I’m brought in when there’s a problem. So typically what ends up happening is there are either one of two things: A) a company had a situation where during an exit interview, it was uncovered that a woman is now leaving of her own accord because of a, b, and c things that really did not have to happen and were unfortunate but they’re already out. I’m done. And management realized that was a key person they wanted to keep around. It’s like, “We’ve already lost one, what more could be percolating in our organization that this can happen again?” Or B) you can just see a mass talent exodus where people that are really unhappy and are bringing up issues to management that they don't know how to deal with. So what I typically see, and even in the consultancy space, is people are — it’s a highly opinionated space, people have a lot of ideas on how to crack the core of the problem — but no one’s really giving people the how to fix the problem. It’s the what, “What to do?” not the “How to do it?” And I feel like a lot of leaders, even if they are well-intentioned, they don't have the how. That’s where it falls off and that’s where we come in.
Maggy London: Awesome. So I know that you go in to meet companies, maybe on a corporate level, maybe there’s a corporate environment, and you do a lot of talks. Tell us how the way that you are dressed influences or fuels your ability to get your message across?
Jena: I am a huge proponent and believer in the power of dress. So I’ve done a lot of independent research — especially because I feel this greatly affects women, and this definitely affects me — when I’m feeling great, looking my best, it definitely affects how I present myself in front of others. So this morning — this is funny this comes up — I was at an executive board meeting which is just a bunch of high-powered people. There was one other woman in the room beside me — which I was like “Yes, nice” — but when I go into a meeting like this I am very much aware of how I’m dressed. The outfit I picked out today has a little bit of an edge, it’s not too corporate-y, I feel “in my power.” I always carefully pick out my outfits, especially where I'm talking to people where I want my message to get across the right way or want to be perceived as the person with the expertise in the room. I definitely think the power of dress psychologically can affect my self-perception of competency which in turn shines through in my presentation.
Maggy London: Makes perfect sense. So for those of you who can’t see Jena today, she’s actually wearing a great outfit. She has on a sweater-blazer, contrasting white tank-top, and a patterned pant which is very stylish, very up-to-date, not distracting but current enough to see that she understands how to put herself together and she's confident. So clearly your message is being brought across very very well. Your outfit is not distracting but it’s enhancing.
Jena: Thank you.
Maggy London: In our readership, we have women who are in different stages of their life, we have women entering the workforce, we have women who are midlevel workforce, women who are maybe corner-office. At different times, different things happen. Sometimes in your twenties, you are planning a family, sometimes in your thirties — you too — you may be planning your second child and even from 45 to 55 you may be, if not expecting another child or your first child, women are having children later, or maybe you’re adopting or maybe you are now taking in your grandchild. There are different ways that people expand their family, begin a family, or you may be a woman adopting on your own. It may not be a traditional quote on quote what we come to believe or label as a traditional family. How would you tell women to — and they are working in a traditional environment or non traditional — I am just using the word traditional because I don't think businesses have really switched their thinking without the benefit of someone like yourself coming in, they really haven't switched their thinking to women who are starting families or expanding their family. What are the ways they can prepare themselves and or prepare their management or HR team members — can you, if you can, give us some pointers for our readership to know how to navigate this time in their life?
Jena: It is a spectrum so one thing I can say for women that are, let’s start, might be a bit older and might be in mid-upper level management C-Suite. One thing that you can do to pay it forward or even set yourself up because like you said you may have an aging parent that you may have to take care of and there’s also such a thing known as the sandwich generation where they have small children and they are taking care of aging parents. However, one thing that is particular to this group of women that have high influencing power is that making sure to the best of their ability that they can, even if it’s in their own department or in their own job function, that policy, that behavior is representative of the policy of the company. What does that mean? I see this all the time — this drives me crazy — but it’s a good way to start attacking the core issue, is companies will have these generous parental leave policies, flexible worker arrangements… All these policies but the middle manager is telling the individual who is looking to take advantage of the policy that they had better not take advantage of it or that they had better not be gone for six months, they’d better be gone for only four on their first kid. Or if you’re a dad, God forbid you take the full two weeks paternity leave — you have to be back in the office the next day. So companies can have policies that are so fantastic but if the behaviors don't support people taking them — guess what? nothing’s going to change. So to answer your question, women that are in high positions of influence and can effect that, they are the gatekeepers, they are the ones that are going to upper management or C-Suite saying, “Hey, we have this great policy but we don't believe in it.” We are not taking the values of what I call the walls into the halls and that’s one way. Now let’s move down and I empathize with this because I was in my late 20s when I was pregnant and I was just going into the next rung of my career. What could I have done? What do I advise that particular age group to do when they are thinking about planning a family? It’s tough. One thing that I often see is that women don't make the ask for what they need. What do they do? They leave. I was one of them. I left. I didn’t make the ask — I left.
Maggy London: So you didn’t push the envelope or be more vocal?
Jena: I could have, yes. So before you get to that stage, make the ask for what you need. And that goes anywhere you are within the organization is just to make the ask and if you don't get what you want, then you leave. But at least you did the best you could do and giving the management the opportunity to give you what you're looking for. If you don't give them the opportunity, it’s hard to stand on something.
Maggy London: Sure. Jena, thank you so so so much for taking this time out and sharing your wisdom, your experience and we just thank you for starting Babies on the Brain. It’s an incredible organization — much needed to change the conversation in the workplace and clearly, you are one of the women making a difference out there. So we thank you for your efforts and thank you for this interview.
Jena: It was such an honor. Thank you so much.