AMA Transcript of our chat with Dr. Lois Frankel

AMA Transcript of our chat with Dr. Lois Frankel

Dr. Lois P. Frankel has been working with women to help them with their careers and professional development for around two decades, teaching them how to shed the nice-girl behaviors impeding their professional success.

Dr. Frankel left her job in HR at the age of 36 to start her own enterprise, founding Corporate Coaching International and authoring best-selling books such as Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office in the process. 

Today, she's an internationally sought after executive coach and keynote speaker who has traveled extensively around the globe working with corporate giants such as Amgen, Nestle, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Procter & Gamble, Walt Disney, BP, Experian and others.

She has been a guest on Larry King Live, The Tavis Smiley Show, The Today Show, and 20/20, among other media appearances. 

Dr.Frankel was gracious enough to join us for a very refreshing and interesting 60-min AMA session on June 3rd, during which she answered a variety of questions about her inspiring life and career, here is the entire transcript of the event. 

Q: Question by community member

C: Comment by community member

Q: Have you seen some of the challenges that women face in their professional careers change since the time you started working in this field over a decade ago?

Dr. Lois Frankel: Well, actually, it's been much longer than a decade that I've been working in this field. Unfortunately, many of the challenges remain the same.

In fact, some young women tell me that they thought their MOTHERS had taken care of the challenges and are disappointed to learn they are still present.

Women are still challenged with lower pay, less recognition, fewer promotions, and less credibility walking into the job than their male counterparts.

Q: Dr. Lois, if I’m correct, you quit your career in HR to start your own enterprise at the age of 36. Out of curiosity, was there a catalyst for this? And what is your general advice to other people who are thinking about making the leap and starting their own business?

Dr. Lois Frankel: The catalyst was two-fold:

(1) I always felt that in MOST corporations there is a skew toward mediocrity. That is, not too many people want to be seen as excelling TOO MUCH and companies reward that. I wanted to do more and be more.

(2) I always wanted to be a psychologist so once I received my Ph.D. in psych I went out on my own. With great trepidation.

For people who are thinking about making the leap and starting their own businesses, I would suggest a few things: make sure you're cut out to be an entrepreneur. Not everyone can tolerate the ambiguity and solitary nature of a startup.

Also, be the most prepared you can possibly be so that you can be competitive and excel in your field. Yes, there may be hundreds of people starting a bakery, but are YOU the best baker in your town? Why should anyone come to YOUR bakery? You have to constantly build your brand and distinguish yourself.

Q: As an introvert, I’m interested in knowing if you think introverts are less adept, more adept, or equally adept at handling leadership positions as extroverts?

Dr. Lois Frankel: I would say equally adept. Remember, that on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) that scale refers to ENERGY, not sociability. So introverts are energized by working alone or in small groups BUT they can rise to the occasion as necessary.

The important thing is that they remember to charge their batteries as needed with alone time so that they don't burn out.

Q: Hello Dr. Frankel. You mentioned in your first response that many of the same professional challenges face women now as in the past. Why is that?

Dr. Lois Frankel: Without getting too technical or political, I will say it's because we continue to live in a "white male system" as Anne Wilson Schaeff said back in the 70s or 80s. This means white males make the rules for everyone. Although this is changing slowly, like at glacial speed, it still means women have to play by those rules and the rules don't always (often don't) benefit us.

Also, you may recall a book by Susan Faludi called Backlash. In it, she suggests that for every step forward women take there's an accompanying backlash. You see, a system is designed to perpetuate itself and so when something threatens the white male system, the system closes in to protect itself. This is some of what we see happening now in the US in terms of the protests.

C:  What about the possibility of playing by different rules? I’m reflecting on the advice I’ve gotten throughout my career to acting more like a man. If that hasn’t worked yet, perhaps we should try something new.

Dr. Lois Frankel: I strongly urge women not to act more like men. It usually backfires. In every organization, there are rules, boundaries, and strategies for success -- for both men and women. You have to look around and see what those are on the playing field where you're working and play by THOSE rules if you want to win the game. And if you don't like the rules, then you have to find a new playing field -- or start your own business ;)

Q: Do you really think people should seek a career in something they love doing? Or do you think that it’s not necessary or important for how you make a living and what you love doing to coincide?

Dr. Lois Frankel: I do think that. Because when we love something, we tend to do it well and want to continue doing it. And if you think you can't make enough money at what you love, think again. You may have to pivot, but it can be done. Let me give you an example.

I said I always wanted to be a psychotherapist. But I soon learned that I would never make enough money with all of the restraints on payments. So I parlayed my education and experience to become an executive coach, something that was suited to me even better and much more lucrative. Don't get stuck in your vision for flexible and pivot as needed.

Q: In several books of your books, you have said that femininity will prevent women from being successful. Aside from dressing too feminine and smiling too much, I see being cooperative is one of the strong feminine features. Do you think it’s possible for women to be successful by empowering feminine features instead of acting like a man?

Dr. Lois Frankel: Good question. I THINK I said you shouldn't over-rely on your femininity to meet your goals. And yes, cooperative is just one example of a great stereotypical female characteristic. The idea is to embrace those good stereotypes (cooperation, kindness, listening, multi-tasking ability, support, positive reinforcement, etc.) AND add other behaviors to your skillset such as being more direct when needed, speaking up and standing out (the subtitle of my new book!), caring less about what people will say about you, and more about doing the right thing. I hope that clarifies it?

Q: One of the things I'm curious to understand is how you keep yourself up to date as a trainer in a corporate world that is dynamic and continually changing at a breakneck pace? A corporate world in which practices of hiring, training, and retaining talent are constantly evolving? Who do you turn to for mentoring, advice, and coaching?

Dr. Lois Frankel: Not just in my field but EVERY field people have to keep up to date to remain relevant. That means CONSTANTLY reading professional journals, The Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune Magazine, etc. And networking, networking, networking...both inside your organization and out.

You can't possibly stay on top of everything yourself. I know I can't. So I count on others for illuminating things I must know. For example, I often find great articles posted on LinkedIn that I would otherwise have missed.

Also, taking on a new topic to train on forces me to learn new things. Over the years, that learning becomes a large repository of knowledge that I can draw on.

Q: Could you tell us a little bit about the two non-profit organizations you’ve found? Curious to understand their mission and focus.

Dr. Lois Frankel: Yes. The first one, Motivating Our Students Through Experience (MOSTE) has been around for over 30 years. I started it when I worked at ARCO as a means of building a base of minority female talent for the future. MOSTE pairs professional women with at-risk girls and helps them to graduate, go on to college, stay off drugs, and not get pregnant.

The second one, Bloom Again Foundation, I started after my own challenge with breast cancer. It helps working women who live at the poverty level with money for living essentials when they miss work due to treatment for cancer and other serious illnesses. This group of women does everything right, but can't catch a break, so we help them out.

Q: What political or community organizations most effectively support changes (improvements) to opportunities for women in the workplace?

Dr. Lois Frankel: Hmm. I'm not sure I have such a quick answer for that one. It depends on the community where you live and the specific changes you would like to advocate for.

For example, I support EMILY's LIST which helps launch democratic women in political careers because I believe WOMEN are the salvation for our dysfunctional political system in the U.S. It stands for Early Money Is Like Yeast (it grows things!).

So my suggestion for women is to start with a cause that is dear to your heart and research what's in your area.

Q: Do you think it’s helpful for governments to make laws to ensure gender balance in companies? Or should this be solved by a free-market approach, where talented women looking to advance their career join successful companies run by female founders/CEOs?

Dr. Lois Frankel: Back in 1978 (I think) Lyndon Johnson made laws that were supposed to ensure equality. And they didn't work. My preference would be for employers to learn more about the benefits of a diverse workforce and implement systems that ensure that. If leaders were reimbursed for making that a part of their goals, we would see change because WHAT YOU MEASURE IS WHAT YOU GET. Remember that!

Q: The current cultural narrative around all of this sometimes seems to me to be a bit tired. I guess this relates to the fact that we are still dealing with the same issues after a couple of generations. I keep coming back to the idea that there must be something missing in this narrative. Or perhaps there has been more change than we recognize?

Dr. Lois Frankel: I'm with you. The narrative is tired...and I'm tired OF it. I was thinking just yesterday (and posted on my LinkedIn page) that we are at the precipice of great change.

All of the riots and protests (not the looting) is a good thing in my opinion. Because until we tear down the old we can't build up the new. We have been trying to do it incrementally and it's one step forward and two steps back.

If you think it's hard being a white woman in business, try being a woman of color. I believe the answer is at the ballot box and with more women getting involved with running EVERYTHING.  We have to step up to the plate and not WAIT for things to change.  Bold change requires bold efforts.

Q: Dr. Lois, what can you tell us about your two recent books? The first one Ageless Women, Timeless Wisdom which seems to be unlike the other books you’ve written on career advice. And the audiobook that was released this January, Nice Girls Don’t Speak Up or Stand Out?

Dr. Lois Frankel: Ageless Women was a labor of love and combined my interest in photography with writing. I drove across the US and interviewed women 70 years old and better and asked them what advice they have for younger women. Some of their responses were what you would expect and involved family, health, etc. but others were real corkers! It's a fun book and a great gift for Moms, Aunts and any other woman who has everything.

Nice Girls Don't Speak Up or Stand Out is an audiobook where I help you HEAR what it sounds like to make your point known and your presence felt. There are nearly 100 scenarios that I use to demonstrate how to speak more cogently, have difficult conversations, advocate for yourself, etc. WITHOUT acting like a man! The e-book will be out in late June.

Q: You have said that people should eschew long term career planning. I’m curious to understand your thinking and rationale on that. Also, if we avoid long term planning, how do we answer questions such as “where you do you see yourself in 5 years?” in interviews with potential employers?

Dr. Lois Frankel: That's true. I think long term career planning prevents us from seeing what's in the moment or on the periphery that would really thrill us or be better suited to our needs.

So I think that the interview question isn't so relevant any longer, especially with people having shorter and shorter careers! But we do have to be prepared for it just in case a dinosaur asks it and a good answer would be, "Rather than thinking five years down the road, I'm thinking in terms of 12 - 18 months and how I can add value to your company. There's always time to think long-term later."

Q: Do you think your advice is generally applicable, or specific to certain industries? Since many people in this community are in the technology industry, where it seems like there has been a lot of improvement over the last few years. Although of course, there’s still a lot more work to be done to ensure everyone has access to the same opportunities.

Dr. Lois Frankel: I haven't read that article, so I can't speak to it. But yes, I have found the coaching and advice that I provide transcends industry because human beings are human beings.

There are great managers, lousy ones, visionaries, and those who can't vision their way out of a paper bag. Some tech companies are doing a better job, others not so much.

I don't think we can paint any industry with the same brush. Some might be a little better than others (entertainment for example is doing a much better job of recognizing and rewarding women executives) but for the most part, if you just look at the statistics, they remain dismal.

Q: Do you read a lot of books? Are they mostly non-fiction or do you read fiction as well? What are some of your favorite books?

Dr. Lois Frankel: I'm smiling now because I've finally had time to do more reading during the COVID19 lockdown. YAY!

But I've always been a voracious reader. I must say, my favorite genre is a psychological thriller. Harlan Coban, James Patterson, Baldacci, Cornwell are some favorites.

And then there are the business books I read to stay up on stuff. One of my all-time favorite books in this arena is Certain Trumpets: The Nature of Leadership. The author, Wills, compares, and contrasts various kinds of leaders throughout history. If you're interested in history and leadership and biographies, you'll love it.

I'm just about to start a new book that I think is called Sarah's Papers or Sarah's Family.  It's about an Ashkenazy Jewish woman's family history.  You know, if you read on a Kindle you can't always remember the title because you're not always looking at it when you put the book down!

(The correct title of the book Dr. Frankel is referring to in her answer is "Family Papers")

Q: What is your advice to people working from home during the pandemic and freelancers who usually work from home as part of their routine? What can we do to stay more active, focused, motivated, and disciplined?

Dr. Lois Frankel: This depends in part if you're an introvert or extrovert! You know this lockdown has been an introvert's dream! I can work steadily and quietly without interruption. LOVE IT.

If you're an extrovert, you're climbing the walls... so… I encourage people to treat working from home as you would any job: Get up each morning at the same time and get ready as if you're going to work.

Start your day at your desk with a to-do list created the night before. Build-in breaks. Get out and exercise as you did before (and if you didn't before, start). You may not be able to go to the gym, but you can bike, walk, etc.

Stay in touch with colleagues via e-mail, zoom, or however you like to communicate. Remember to maintain relationships because when you need a relationship, it's going to be too late to build it.

Q: I wanted to ask this for everyone in the audience who will read the AMA transcript once it is published: What can men get out of reading your books?

Dr. Lois Frankel: My brother tells me he finds them very helpful! Not only can you get some tips for yourself regarding how to achieve your career goals, but you will get some to help you coach your family and co-workers!

🌟 In order to be a part of future AMAs and get a chance to talk to your favorite authors, join the WSIRN community for a risk-free 7-day trial. If you don’t love it, cancel your trial before it ends and you will not be billed.  

📅 View Upcoming AMAs here.

Popular Blog Posts

A conversation with Marjan Kamali

New Year, New Book, New AMA

A conversation with Rachel Joyce

December Book Club and AMA with Rachel Joyce

Ask Me Anything

Each month there is a live monthly Q&A with a wide range of interesting authors. This is your opportunity to understand your favourite books on a much more personal level.

View Upcoming AMAs