Meg Fitzgerald, author, “Ascending Davos: A Career Journey from the Emergency Room to the Boardroom,” takes a deep dive into some of life’s lessons for her book and career. She tackles some of the tough questions like how to carefully pivot to help a career advance, keys to female executive health, and tips she has learned climbing up the career ladder.
Below is an excerpt from the interview. To hear the entire interview on The Peggy Smedley Show, visit www.peggysmedleyshow.com, and select 5/05/2020 from the archives.
So Meg, we’re all trying to stay safe and healthy during all this crazy time with Coronavirus and COVID-19. So I’m really glad that you could spend some time with me. So let’s talk a little bit, it’s maybe something a little bit more upbeat. I think we’re all kind of trying to figure all this out, but I think what I’d love to do is really talk about your book. You can talk a little bit about what’s happening and give us some upbeat talk about this, but let’s talk about (what) we really have to think about going forward. I’d love for you to talk about how you transitioned from the front lines of patient care into your current role, because you understand patient care. So maybe you could give us thoughts about that and maybe talk about how we need to think about keeping ourselves healthy, but now you’re in the business side of things.
Yeah. Correct. And I love that energy. You should be able to come through COVID-19 hopefully better, right? I mean, you should be able to use this time to really think about your career, your family, yourself. If there were ever a time to jettison negative things in your life or habits, now would be the time. So I did. I started my career out on the Tohono O’odham Indian reservation in Southern Arizona. I took a job no one wanted; it was a two-hour drive South from Arizona down to the border, on the Mexican border.
And what I learned was by taking a job that no one wanted, I got a lot of street credit for that. It was as if there was battle pay and battle cred for doing that job. And my brand was clinical. I was a frontline nurse and by going down and working on a new dialysis clinic and then subsequently setting up more dialysis clinics within a very short period of time, my brand went from clinical to being a business building leader. And I was able to come back to Tucson and take on more responsibility. And really that was my entry into the business side of healthcare. So as you think about moving forward in your life and your career, sometimes you have to take a lateral. Sometimes you have to take the job no one wants, but a carefully constructed pivot allows you to move forward in ways that maybe you didn’t foresee when you originally got out of school or got a graduate degree.
And I think that’s really a great thing for you to say now, because right now it gives us that time to reassess our lives. And you conducted some research on the health of executive women, and that gave you some opportunity during this time to really think about things and to look at things. What were some of those findings?
So the study I conducted was on the health of executive women in the Fortune 500. And what I wanted to find out was as you gain more power, as you gain more earning potential, do you sacrifice your health doing so? And do you then opt out of corporate America because of health reasons? So my study had findings that were paradoxical. On one end, executive women have access to care because they have health insurance. So their general health overall was pretty good. The paradox was when you tested on psychosocial aspects, that’s where things began to fall apart. 48% of executive women could not see a doctor due to workload, half the group did not exercise. In fact, there was a whole cohort that was basically exercising less than two days a week; 25% used medication to go to sleep, 25% use medication for anxiety, and 19% said that their pet was their best friend because of the hours that they were keeping.
In fact, the highest earners worked enough hours to qualify for a second job. So you layer that on the fact that they then come home and are the CEO of the household. And so the study really presented a strong case that executive health is an important benefit. When people join a company, they often think about their pay package and their title. And I think the data from my study shows that your health matters too, and that you should work for a health friendly environment. Now I wrote this book and did this study well before COVID-19, I think it’s fair to say that health is now more than top of mind for anybody going back to work. And especially for people that have now lost a job.
So do you think that women are still going to push for or want a corner office and executive roles after seeing what’s happening now, are we going to see perhaps a change with this idea of working more remotely or are they going to demand both? “I want to be able to work remotely, still want those executive benefits,” because I think we’re going to change the way we work now being what COVID-19 has introduced in a lot of ways, because the world’s going to change.
100%. A friend of mine works at a very top tier bank, one of the top in the world. And she said to me, their bank hasn’t missed a beat since going remote. They were able to still do transactions, call clients. Now that is a service business. I think a business where you have to touch and see customers and face contact matters and facetime matters like sales, I think that that might not be the case, but I think this live experiment of remote work and everybody being on Zoom and Google Hangouts and Skype, I think is really going to make a case for why more remote work can happen, because you have the most senior people working remote. You now have the CEO working remote. And so I think you raise a good point that this should help. This should help with flexibility if it sticks. And I think that it will.
And while we’ve seen a lot of people are stressing and they’re nervous, there’s some opportunities. And that’s why we have to look. Out of negative, comes a lot of opportunity. So what advice would you have for women looking to climb the career ladder now? Because we should look at this, as we should say, “Look, don’t panic. Because look, we realize a lot of things are happening, but there’s opportunities as well if you reassess your role in the company and what you can offer the company.”
100%. I think right now you should take inventory because you have the time, even if it’s an hour a day to journal or meditate or think about what it is you want out of life and your career. And do you currently have the career you want, or is it time to make a change? Because you have time to do research. You certainly have time to take some online classes and connect with people if you want to make a career change. And I think coming out of this, healthcare is going to be a big area for careers. I think we took the U.S. medical system, certainly public health, for granted. And I don’t think that’ll ever be the case again. So I think we come back stronger in healthcare, which is the field that I’m in. And I think for those that are interested in working in healthcare, it’s an opportune time to really think about that and either go back for training, go back for education, or start networking with people that are in that field. Because I do believe it’s going to be a big opportunity.
We have an opportunity now to seek out mentors, right? Is that something we should be looking at while we’re at home? … There’s an opportunity there.
Two things. Mentors are great, right now more than ever to ask for advice, or what I did was I’d asked for a playbook, “How did you do what you did? How did you get that job? How did you get into that role?” I have found Peggy, that if you’re not asking somebody for a job and you’re asking them for their playbook or their advice, almost always they will share it. They will have a sense of pride to share how they did it and then take it a step further. And what really gets you the job is transitioning mentors into sponsors, people that are going to say, “Peggy should get this job. I believe in Peggy, let me connect Peggy to somebody else.”
I’ve had phone calls on both fronts. I’ve probably had 10 phone calls in the last two weeks about how did I get into academia and become a professor? And how can somebody do that? Out of those 10 people there was one who I said, “Wow, you should be teaching right now. And I’ll make an introduction to where I teach.” So I think you’ve got the time now to reach out to people both on the mentor side and then when this kind of blows over, you’ll have a chance to deepen those relationships and hopefully make a sponsor because at the end of the day, a sponsor is who gets you into a job. A mentor helps coach you on the path, but a sponsor actually is going to put you in play.
Do you think people right now are afraid to reach out to people that they just think, “Oh, they’re not going to respond,” or is now the perfect time because they think, “Well, they’re too busy because things are happening.” Is now the perfect time?
Now is perfect time. Everyone has idle hours, tons of time late at night or early in the morning, even if they have kids to be on LinkedIn, looking around and doing research. Before with the go, go, go, commuting on trains, in meetings all day. It was really hard to think somebody had an idle hour to be online. So make sure you have a good intro if you find somebody on LinkedIn. Use somebody else, I call them spot sponsors. “Hey, I noticed you know Peggy, would you mind making an introduction to her for me and linking us together?” And then there you go. You have an opportunity to reach out and email this person. But I actually believe now with a lot of downtime, time for reflection, time for writing, reading, and really thinking about what you want out of a career. I think a lot of people are doing the same.