In today’s market, more women are leaving executive corporate positions than ever before. Women in the Workplace data shows that women leaders are about 1.5X as likely as men leaders to have switched jobs because their workload was unmanageable. Similarly, 43% of women leaders are burned out, compared to only 31% of men at their level.
According to one anonymous respondent to Women in the Workplace 2022, “Burnout from management responsibilities and unsustainable workload has made me more ambitious, but not in the same way. I’m more ambitious about going after something different. I’m more ambitious about making a career change or going after something where I feel more fulfilled.”
It’s an alarming development that doesn’t show signs of slowing down without some drastic changes. Lucky for us, we recently had the opportunity to speak with a client, Lisa Buckingham about her personal and professional journey during this pivotal moment for executive women in the workplace. She has the unique perspective of having served as a celebrated C-level Human Resources executive who spent decades championing change in the workplace to make work and life better for tens of thousands of employees, yet she recently chose to step away from the corporate world.
Lisa’s story deeply resonates with the She-Suite approach of empowering women to think about leading with their whole lives. It is timely and relevant because it reinforces the defining moment for organizations around the sustainability of women in the workplace. The pace and pressure of executive leadership is at times hard to sustain. Lisa represents a modern trend of women boldly taking back their careers and their lives.
Let’s delve further into what both corporations and individuals can do to optimize outcomes to retain and advance leading women across their career spectrum during this unprecedented time. Lisa notes, “Things have changed, and it’s important for HR leaders to take notice. Data and DEI initiatives are revolutionizing the way companies are running and retaining their teams.”
Buckingham emphasizes the importance of CHRO leaders using data to see the real story of what’s happening in their organization, the good and bad. Without facts, you’ll never really be able to see troubling themes early and rally the support of company leaders to enact necessary changes. When you get into the data, you can catch problems with your talent pipeline and culture and make better decisions as a result. Also, it presents opportunities to recognize successes and build upon those for better employee engagement.
Prioritizing and implementing people-driven analytics can reveal powerful insights to make meaningful business decisions. Whether making a business case, or bringing data to life through storytelling – executive leaders want to translate insights into action. Lisa highly encourages everyone to take a Data Analytics course to understand how they can leverage data to be more effective and persuasive. As a starting point, a free Khan Academy class can be a game changer.
As an HR expert, Lisa points out that corporations need to start being more proactive earlier in the hiring process, “Alternative equity-based pipeline planning for Talent Acquisition is critical. We are all seeing innovative new ways to attract and assess talent. I am thrilled to see organizations relooking at the way to recruit talent. The lens has changed. You are also seeing more innovation around talent planning and how we work. My hope is that HR leaders can influence hiring managers to understand that not every person has to have every skill to be qualified for the role. The manager may have to put more effort into their successful on-boarding and development.”
As for individuals, Lisa says that women can also be more proactive, “Don’t let a job description turn you away. You must be true to yourself and know what you can do and what you need to learn. But, if there’s a role – talk with people. Network, Network, Network.” You can also go on an inquisitive journey to understand how leaders you respect got to where they are and then do a quick cost-benefit analysis for yourself. What will it cost you in time, energy, and joy to accomplish it? If it doesn’t seem worth it, how can you reframe the process so that it will work better for you? It’s important to claim your power in the situation. Be willing to accept help and advice, but don’t lose yourself in the process.
Lisa’s professional success was fueled by understanding how to advocate for both the company and the employee. She was a purpose-filled People Leader that celebrated life, laughing, and working hard for everyone’s success. Lisa expands, “An effective Chief People Leader will know the business inside and out, how the organization drives shareholder value, and will know their people inside and out. They’ll recognize how to be a leader and offer the best employee experience through authentic leadership, competitive pay and benefits, all the right systems, and a purpose-driven reason WHY to work there.” Lisa’s ability to “listen” to the leadership qualities of those around her helped her build the best teams to find more success and create lasting connections.
Teaching purpose-driven leadership strategies and helping women to achieve their callings through setting and aligning their purpose paths is something both Buckingham and She-Suite are tirelessly dedicated to. She sums it up, “I think the lesson here is to really look at yourself and your leader and work as a team to achieve your highest potential together. And that is holistically, not just at work. Focus on ruthless prioritization, have strong employees around you, don’t settle. Don’t ever settle.”
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t have to be the hardest working person to get the work done. As she puts it, “Awesome teamwork is magic. It feels great, everyone is growing, enjoying the collective successes and guess what, sometimes you are going to have to pull a bit more of the workload to help someone else. But that should apply to you as well. High-performing teams are focused on the team, not just themselves.”
In Lisa’s case, her portfolio of responsibilities grew from CHRO to Chief People, Place and Brand Officer. She was promoted multiple times by ensuring all key company strategies were aligned to help build an amazing employee experience which manifested into a highly engaged culture. But it came at a cost. Lisa remembers, “I was working 7-days a week. Grabbing calls from the beginning of my commute until I pulled into the office. Same for the return home. Racing home to ‘order out’ since I didn’t have time to cook. I saw my family for a few minutes and then would jump back into my job.”
Lisa loved her work, her CEO, her Board, and her employees, but she could feel it wearing her down. She even offered to take a professional step back with lower compensation so that she could have less responsibilities. She says, “My relationship with my CEO was fantastic. (He is one of my dearest friends and advisors.)” She continues, “There was a point in time that we were preparing for our annual Board meeting to discuss succession planning. I was prepared. I finally had the courage to say I was tired. I offered to go back into my CPO role and give other executives the opportunity to build on their operational skills.”
Lisa had asked to reset, but instead she was offered a large project that was pivotal for the company. She realizes now, the CEO would likely say he thought she was just having a bad day. She decided to leave. Lisa offers, “In hindsight, I could have handled this much differently. I should have advocated for myself more, as passionately as I did for everyone else.”
Unfortunately, Lisa’s situation is not unique. Women in the Workplace 2022 reports that 43% of women leaders are burned out, resulting in a drain of talented women leaders at all corporate levels.
“After leaving Lincoln Financial, I was presented with an opportunity to join a new company, which I accepted. Shortly after joining, there was a loud voice in my head that said, ‘Stop, wait, what are you doing?.’ I was thrilled to be joining somewhere else, but realized I had lost my way. I was originally going to retire from Lincoln to stop, think, and pursue things that I could do to impact others.”
Whether you decide to stay or choose to move on, it’s important to search out opportunities that feed you holistically. Lisa doesn’t discuss work life balance, she discusses “you know where you need to be.”
During a recent coaching session with a client in a new CHRO role, she emphasized prioritization. Lisa explains, “Her role is incredibly important and will impact so many. But she must model what she wants her workforce, especially women, to see how it can be done, and done with grace. Sure, there are days she is just going to have to take it to another level, miss a soccer game or school conference, but I told her, ‘Please, please don’t let that become the norm. That time will not come back.’”
When considering your next move, she advises, “From my perspective, you must be true to yourself. Are you challenged? Happy? Fulfilled? Are you treated well? Are you compensated fairly? Why are you there? Do you dream of other things? If that’s the case, list out thoughtfully what gives you your fuel and what exhausts you. There are a lot of opportunities out there, but you only have one career, so make sure you protect every decision you make.”
Lisa herself took a big leap and hit a reset button. She made sure to take a few months to think through what her next move would be. She is still not fully sure what lies ahead, but she elaborates, “I do know that I’m not ready to retire. I am enjoying Angel investing and board advisory work as I am helping organizations and people with specific goals. I have incorporated an LLC in my name (that is my brand!) and have focused on all-things HR Consulting and advisory related to People, Performance, Organizational Development and Culture. I have learned a lot already.”
Buckingham’s focus has also recently shifted to getting inspired to finish a novel. Lisa reports, “I have started working on a book and let me just say, in 2021, I certainly made some bold decisions which told me I needed to write this book.” This focus is just one of the many ways that Buckingham practices self-care along with listening to country music, morning rituals, while also taking time to build up her own personal brand and to spend time with her family instead of entrenched in workplace projects. As she explains, being a present mom, partner, having a legacy of being a great HR leader and friend is key in life and, as for the rest, it is yet to be decided.
Lisa fondly remembers her father’s advice, “My Dad always talked to me about looking around corners. He would say ‘when it’s bad, it can only get better.’”
Following the numbers can seem grim for women in the workplace, but really, we should look at it as a brand new opportunity. A catalyst for positive change. We have an opportunity to relook at the model of work and explore what the future looks like that empowers women to sustain their impact in the workplace.
Everyone wins when corporations prioritize empowering women leaders, and women learn how to capitalize on that empowerment. As Lisa ended her inspiring interview she said, “My next chapter has not been written, but it will be a remarkable story—and let’s not talk about endings. Every day is a new beginning.”
We have an opportunity to relook at the model of work and explore what the future looks like that empowers women to sustain their impact in the workplace.
- 2021 Distinguished HR Executive Award – Academy of Management, August 2021
- 2021 HR Policy Institute – Fellow – Boston University, December 2021
- 2020 Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) – Innovation in HR
- 2020 Top CHRO list – N2Growth (And Stanford University)
- 2018 National Academy of Human Resources Fellow, Human Resources Executive Magazine
- 2017 HR Executive of the Year, Human Resources Executive Magazine
- 2015 Top 10 CHROs, Forbes
- 2012 Pennsylvania Woman of the Year, Pennsylvania Diversity Council