Arts & Entertainment and Human Resources

Speaker offers game plan for successful women

Author Susan Packard compares achievements in business to athletics.

November 13, 2015
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Women in the business world don’t need to act like men to succeed; they need to act like athletes.

That’s the message of the book “New Rules of the Game: 10 Strategies for Women in the Workplace,” by Susan Packard, a powerhouse in the entertainment industry.

Packard, who helped build well-known brands such as HBO, CNBC and HGTV, was in town last Tuesday to discuss her book, which was published in February, and serve as keynote speaker for nonprofit Inforum West Michigan, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

About 500 women came to hear Packard, who is a co-founder of the Tennessee-based Scripps Networks Interactive, which has a market value of more than $10 billion, and former chief operating officer of HGTV, which under her leadership became one of the fastest-growing cable networks in television history.

Packard, a 2008 Cable Center Hall of Fame inductee, spoke on the themes of her book, calling for women to face the business world with the same determination and discipline an athlete would a sport.

“We don’t think about business as an institution with traditions and protocols, but it is. Since men have been in charge, one of the traditions is the rules of success revolve around team sports and the metaphors of team sports,” said Packard, a Detroit-area native who attended Michigan State University.

“From my experience with men, they really see this as one grand game, and what the book is about is not just being a good performer but a great player in all aspects of the game. … Act like an athlete. Come in to work with composure, confidence and fortitude. Act like a winner.”

When Packard started practically on the ground floor of HBO in the 1980s, it gave her a unique perspective on women in the workplace, particularly in the entertainment industry, which she said is more hospitable to women than most.

“You’ll find 20 percent of entertainment companies will have women in senior roles, whereas with most companies it’s smaller than that,” she said.

She feels that, for many women, getting into an industry isn’t as difficult as navigating the path to senior roles.

“The data would say the relationship between success and likability for men is positively correlated, and for women it’s negatively correlated. The higher up you go as a woman, it’s trickier because there’s less likability as you go up,” she said.

“In a nutshell, I think it’s because we’ve always played support roles as women … and we’ve not traditionally been the breadwinners. So, all of those are pretty hard to break. That’s society. That’s culture. So, you get into the workplace and you look different … so, you’re scrutinized more. … It wouldn’t be any different, truthfully, for an African-American or anyone who is not normally seen in these roles.”

In the process of writing the book, Packard interviewed a dozen business leaders representing a wide swath of industries. Nine were women and three were men. All of them were either CEOs, COOs, presidents or in some other senior position. Based on these interviews and her own experiences, she developed 10 strategies for how a woman can rise to become a business leader. The first seven strategies are about skills, and the last three are about emotional maturity.

The first strategy is seeing the business world as an athlete does. The second is about composure and adopting an attitude of levelheaded coolness. But it’s also important to show strength, she said, and that’s why the third strategy is “playing offense,” particularly with salaries.

“We often negotiate against ourselves. I don’t know if we realize we’re doing it, but we do, and it’s especially true with compensation,” she said. “Every man who I’ve ever given a job to negotiates their salary. … We don’t try. Why don’t we try? We are still 72 cents on the dollar, ladies, compared to them.”

The fourth strategy was about brinksmanship and the fifth about building a fan club. Women need to stick together to help each other succeed, Packard said.

“Because men already have a network, women, I think, sometimes don’t do as good of a job of networking. That’s another reason things like tonight (help) broaden your network and help you know your colleagues and learn from them,” she said.

“This event is an enormous statement about the attitude women here have. And, to me, 500 women showing up to this event … that’s enormous. You don’t get that many sometimes even in bigger cities.”

The sixth strategy is “Practice, practice, practice.” The seventh strategy, “Suit Up,” is about dressing professionally, and Packard said she’s been surprised at the wide response to it. To her, it was the most inconsequential chapter, but national media outlets focus on it, she said, adding the media are partly to blame for keeping too much scrutiny on a woman’s looks and not her abilities.

“At the end of the day, (what matters more is) really your brain power, your empathy, how well do you motivate teams — those are the things that matter,” she said.

The final three skills are about “good sportsmanship,” grit and being a team player, all of which are tied into the ethics of a good leader, she said. One of the most important qualities is inclusiveness.

“Inclusiveness is about realizing that having people at the table who don’t look like you or have your background will improve the debate and dialogue and improve you,” Packard said.

“Self-respect is a leadership quality. I have never met one CEO that is not a broad composite of skills.”

Men have a role to play in helping women be treated with more equality in the workplace, she said, and many are trying.

“I spoke to a large group in Denver a couple of weeks ago, and it was men and women both. Several men came up afterward and one man said, ‘I’m glad I came here because I manage a group of women and some of the things you said struck home. I know I really don’t have enough empathy. I have to work on that.’”

Packard encouraged younger women, in particular, to focus on doing quality work. Any woman who came to hear her speak and read her book, she said, is already taking steps to become a better professional, but the journey is far from over.

“If the millennial women show up tonight, and I bet they will, that in and of itself shows they’re learning how they should, at some point in time, sponsor and advocate for women,” she said.

“But for (millennial) women right now, it’s a question of what are they doing to add value to their company? At the end of the day, that’s how you’re going to be viewed. If you want to advance, whatever job you have, are you doing a good job?”

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