Insights from a Shared Cup of Coffee
Brenda Freeman, MBA ’92, arrived at Pepsi as a young professional with marriage and children still in her future. Like many businesswomen, she wondered how these personal decisions would affect her career.
One woman who seemed to have the answers was Pepsi’s chief operating officer, a mother of three. “How did she do it?” Freeman asked herself.
The question was not something she could discuss openly in a corporate setting, where talk of family planning can raise suspicions about long-term commitment to the firm. Like many issues that matter most to women managers, the inquiry fell into the hushed category.
Rather than broadcasting her concerns, Freeman arranged for a private conversation with the executive. “I remember being brave enough to have coffee with her, and I asked her that question,” said Freeman, who now works as chief of television marketing at DreamWorks Animation.
The chat touched on many topics, from work-life balance to career achievement in a male-dominated world. “There is always going to be sacrifices,” the Pepsi executive told Freeman. “For me that sacrifice is sleep.”
Now that Freeman has emerged as an entertainment industry executive with her own family commitments, high-potential women managers sometimes come to her with their hushed questions.
She met with about 200 female business students on April 24, 2014, at Women Leading Women, an annual event organized by the Smith School. Like the private coffee early in her career, the comfortable setting allowed Freeman to talk openly with her audience.
She said such conversations are vital for women trying to climb the ranks in male-dominated industries.
“I remember sitting in the chair of a student when I was younger, and I certainly asked lots of questions and was interested in the stories of women who were a few steps ahead of me,” Freeman said. “As women, we tend to bond in a certain way when we have intimate discussions.”
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