“An opportunity to gain perspective.” With Penny Bauder & Bethany Allee

Living through something like the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to gain perspective. Every time we go through a challenge and come out the other side, we are stronger and we are better. The same applies to business. Businesses will become stronger and better. There will be pain and discomfort — pain and discomfort are […]

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Living through something like the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to gain perspective. Every time we go through a challenge and come out the other side, we are stronger and we are better. The same applies to business. Businesses will become stronger and better. There will be pain and discomfort — pain and discomfort are tools that both deepen our ability to learn and broaden our capacity for learning.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place. As a part of my series about how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bethany Allee.

Executive Vice President of Marketing for Cybera, Bethany Allee, is an accomplished business leader of global and regional marketing organizations, including prior to Cybera, Broadcom and Brocade. Allee has been responsible for partner marketing strategy that drove a $100M business to $2.3B+ and go-to-market efforts that included a product line with 78% market share. Ms. Allee has a deep commitment and passion for developing female leaders and for the arts; and currently serves on the Board of Directors for WISE4 Women, a networking organization that provides free consulting services for women-owned businesses and female executives. Ms. Allee holds a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and resides in Austin, TX.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Inelementary school I took several aptitude tests and all of them said I showed a propensity for communications. I had no idea what communications meant, until I was a listless sophomore in college who took an advertising class, because it counted towards a general credit and it seemed less boring than other classes. From the first moment University of Texas at Austin advertising professor, John Murphy, started speaking, I knew I’d found my passion and people. I went on to meet professor Gene Kincaid. Kincaid’s class required and fostered the need to be self-driven and reliant. His teaching style married my love of advertising with competition, and the rest is history.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

Interesting stuff happens every moment of every day. Something I think others might find interesting is that in my current role, I was given the opportunity to work with one of my husband’s ex’s wife’s best friends. In her, I found my work soul mate, the technical ying to my creative yang. She’s stuck with me for life.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

With COVID in play, I find time to be an even more fascinating thing. I’ve gained a ton of time back, because I’m not traveling for work or chauffeuring my kids. I’ve lost a ton of time, because I’m now the chief procurement officer, meal planner, chef, busgirl, dishwasher, custodian, superintendent of our family school district.

To gain back a few moments of the alone time I require and to help me feel like I’ve positively contributing to my local community, I’m using my marketing background to help local suppliers package up their goods (create products), create subscription delivery services (route to market), and marketing their products through local social media groups. One of the vendors I’m helping is a baker who supplies bread for our local farmer’s market. We created bakery bundles and created a subscription form (using a free service). Now she delivers bread on set days to entire neighborhoods. It’s been pretty cool to watch!

I also wanted to better understand the nuances surrounding small/local retail environments, so I started my own farm stand (Team Fire Farm). My “farm” sells plants I’ve started from seed or propagated, and fresh eggs. As part of this process, I got chickens. I didn’t expect to love them as much as I do — and it’s a good thing I love them, because those freeloaders haven’t laid even one egg yet. My ten-year-old son said, “They sold the newbie the duds.”

I’m keeping the faith. Long story short, to date, I’ve sold nothing, but I’m very much appreciating the experience and opportunity to learn.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When I was 25, I worked for a business owner who didn’t understand the business value of the skill I brought to the company. He is highly technical, and he didn’t understand the long-term value of “soft” skills like relationship management, campaign development, writing, and creativity. Fortunately, I reported to someone who understood the value I brought to the business and was able to help me understand how to quantify it in numbers and data. The business owner became emotionally tied to the belief he was overly investing in marketing — despite our adoption in the market and revenue. He tried to remove my function. When he did, my manager explained that my skillset was more valuable to him than he understood and she resigned her position, leaving me as the sole resource for marketing within the organization. This manager is a very private person, so I’m not mentioning her by name. On occasion, I’m given an opportunity to thank her and I do. This moment was the biggest leap forward my career has seen so far. She set me on an incredible path. And thanks to her, that man made a lot of additional money that was driven by marketing efforts.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?

Please see above. I thought I was running my household before the pandemic. I was, but it was on the backs of an incredible support staff. I miss my assistant, housekeeper, aesthetician, hair dresser, Laura at Gennaro’s who always finds a way to get my family a reservation, my kids’ teachers, their karate and soccer coaches…

I do think men and women parent differently. I do think moms tend to take on additional, potentially overly complicated responsibilities. Those same moms have high standards and they’re not willing to faulter. It’s really hard to not faulter or reduce what you’re holding yourself responsible for right now. I consider myself a person with strong mental fortitude. I also consider myself someone who is extremely fortunate in the midst of everything that’s happening — and I’ve had a few meltdown moments.

The three biggest challenges my family has had related to COVID is staying on track with homeschooling, procuring groceries (without having to guesstimate our shopping list two weeks in advance), and, for my mental health, having alone time.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

The easiest is the groceries. I cut myself some slack and last week, for the first time in five weeks, we had takeout. I’m going to trust that takeout is safe. One less meal to procure, prep, and cleanup after made my week significantly easier and better. I’ve also given up the control of having a confirmed grocery spot two weeks in advance. Instead, I keep my online basket current (adding and deleting items daily) and I put my trust in having a day-of or next day delivery open up. One week in and it’s worked. I’m still nervous about it, but I’m putting faith into our local grocer, the amazing HEB.

For the schooling, both my husband and I practice Kanban. We tried a week of strict scheduling with the kids and it was a disaster. By deploying Kanban, the kids have more control. Five weeks into this schooling method, and yes, I have to chastise my pre-teen that she cannot do all her work while lying on her back on the couch and looking at her phone, but otherwise, it’s going exceptionally well. Very proud of my kiddos, my husband, and our co-parents for working together to make it a success.

Lack of alone time continues to be the biggest challenge to solve. I’m working on doing a better job of communicating my alone time needs to my family — that helps. I’m also in charge of all curbside pickups/taking the recycling — all of the chores that give me an opportunity to be in my car and alone. I caught up on my favorite podcasts (Left Right Center and Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend). This simple thing — catching up on my podcasts — made me feel at peace and happy.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?

I’ve been a remote worker for almost 20 years. Working remotely is second nature to me…which is why my biggest challenge is managing folks who have never worked remotely.

This is also my first executive role. As a leader in my company, I’m part of the governing body regarding when our team ends work from home (in conjunction with their local government regulations). That’s a lot of pressure. There are a lot of parties vocalizing ideas, but the reality is there is much unknown. It’s tough to make decisions that impact a large group of people when there are so many unknowns. Right now, it’s of critical importance to remember your humanity in business.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

First, I’m working on my empathy. A “just get the work done” attitude isn’t going motivate my team, nor is it going to endear them to me as the leader they worked with during the pandemic.

Second, I’m working on being the best listener I can be. One of my team members seemed a bit off. I let them talk and had more 1:1 time than I would usually have. No clear issues came to light, but through listening I could tell there was concern with their living situation. In our next conversation, I brought up my living situation as a way of opening the door for that type of personal conversation. In doing so, I discovered this team member lives with a nurse and they are concerned about COVID exposure. By offering more than professional counseling, I was able to help this team member understand they have the support they need to take care of their basic needs and work would be there to support them. It was a rewarding moment as a leader.

We’re all human, and our basic needs must be met in order for us to be effective at work. In the past six weeks, I’ve modified my style so I’m asking more personal questions and better understanding the living situations of my team members. HR regulations are in place, so I’m careful to not pry. The intent of my questions allow me to understand if the members of my team have their basic needs met. Based on what I learn, I’m addressing any issues 1:1.

I’ve also replaced my bi-weekly staff meeting with twice-a-week 15-minute standups. During the 15-minutes I start with casual chit chat to help gauge the mental state of the team. After a few minutes, I kick us into business mode by restating the vision and objectives for our department, touch on the highest priorities for the week, then round table for questions, concerns, or “what in the world?” “What in the World” is an opportunity to talk about random things the team is seeing and experiencing. The team is geographically dispersed; I think we all benefit from hearing what’s happening in different locations. Reducing the amount of time we’re in staff also alleviates the time burden many face with having to work while caring for dependents and managing households.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

I’d love to say I’m a hands on mom who is able to run between meetings and coaching my kids on their school work. Frankly, I’m crap at it. This is why we’re using the Kanban method to schedule their schooling.

We’re leveraging technology to create an agile workflow process (Kanban methodology). After a week of struggling to stay on top of my kids’ school routines, and a small yell-fest, my husband came up with a Kanban-type schedule for their schoolwork, chores, and free time.

Ever since we started using it, the kids have been much happier, they’re actually enjoying the learning process, and they’ve regained an element of control in their life. And I’m feeling much calmer (and nicer to be around)! I’m also tracking my own daily tasks from both a personal and professional perspective, making sure to incorporate vital aspects of self-care to help balance my increased parental responsibilities.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?

Chickens. Three months ago, if you would have told me I’d be a “crazy chicken lady,” I would have questioned your sanity. Now, I have them and I love them. Yes, there’s a few more chores in my day, but when you see those little suckers run across the yard chasing bugs — it’s the cutest thing you’ve seen. The other day, my favorite chicken, Firestarter, walked up to me and waited for me to pet it. They’re an amazing distraction and one day when they start laying eggs, I will be able to stop stressing about trying to get eggs in my grocery delivery.

Also, take time for yourself. Force yourself to get out (even if it’s cold/rainy). Force yourself to move. Give yourself a moment to relax and recharge — none of us know how long this is going to go on. You can’t let yourself get burnt out.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Living through something like the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to gain perspective. Every time we go through a challenge and come out the other side, we are stronger and we are better. The same applies to business. Businesses will become stronger and better. There will be pain and discomfort — pain and discomfort are tools that both deepen our ability to learn and broaden our capacity for learning.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to your family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Again, chickens. We’re kind of city slickers, so our family and friends are amused with our newfound love of being chicken farmers. The chickens are requested on every video chat we do: professional, school, networking, friends, and family.

Like many people, we have friend and family meetups on Zoom. We’re also surprising people with delivered gifts (like small houseplants, games, puzzles). The kids write letters as part of their Kanban curriculum. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are coming up. Spoiler alert: we’re giving homemade gifts this year. Now if I could figure out a way to easily take care of shipments while self-isolating.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

In this moment, it makes sense to look to doctors and scientists for answers and inspiration. Dr. Alexis Carrel was a pioneer in vascular medicine. He also won the Nobel Prize. There’s a quote of his which makes me embrace pain and difficulty:

“Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor.”

There is beauty in everything. Sometimes we all need to be reminded it’s there and only with us it can flourish.

How can our readers follow you online?

Professionally, I’m a big fan of LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bethanyallee/

If you want to see chickens, I’m @Team_Fire_Haus on Instagram.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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