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The Stellar Women of Relativity [Podcast]

Mary Rechtoris

We kicked off 2020 and the third season of Stellar Women by mixing things up. We brought together a group of Relativity women who we believe are stellar. During the episode, we hit on a variety of topics that are the crux of this podcast, including mentorship and being a successful leader. We even perfected our improv skills! Expect to see us headlining the upcoming show at Second City…

Blair Heidenreich

Blair Heidenreich

Senior Specialist, Events

Bernadette Ford

Bernadette Ford

Specialist, Talent Development

Janice Hollman

Janice Hollman

Program Manager, Community

Raji Kaur

Raji Kaur

Team Lead, IT Engineering


Mary Rechtoris: Hey, Stellar Women fans. I'm your host, Mary Rechtoris.

Mila Taylor: And I'm your co-host, Mila Taylor. Stellar Women shines a light on female leaders making their mark in tech. We have a packed agenda today and we’re doing something that we're excited to do. We have a panel full of stellar Relativity women.

MR: This is a first for us. We work with a lot of amazing women throughout the company who are doing a lot of cool stuff. So, we brought a few of them into the studio today so they could share their experiences and have some fun. You can tell everyone your name, your role here, and something crazy about yourself. For example, something crazy about me. When I was five, I told my parents that I wanted to have my own pet, even though we had a golden retriever. My dad took me to a PetSmart and we got a Russian tortoise named Junior. He went with me to college and was just a great pal.

MT: Why a Russian turtle?

MR: It was just the one at the store.

MT: Is it from Russia?

MR: Yeah.

MT: That's awesome.

MR: Mila, what's your fun fact?

MT: Wait, what? My name is Mila and I’m on the corporate communications team in the marketing department. My fun fact, as some listeners may remember, Mary was giving me a hard time because I hadn’t passed my personal training exam. But, I passed. I am a certified trainer.

MR: When are you going to write my fitness plan?

MT: Any minute. Okay, let’s go around the room.

Blair Heidenreich: Hi, I’m Blair Heidenreich and I’m a senior events specialist on our events team. A fun fact about me that everyone might not know is that I’ve broken both of my pinkies doing the same thing twice. And, it makes a popping sound.

MR: Can you do the pop on here?

BH: Soft popping noise. Can you guys hear it?

MT: I heard it.

BH: I used to have this spiral staircase going up to my room. I was always running late. I would just slip and fall and crush my pinky. My mom never believed that it was actually broken, so that's why I didn't seek medical attention. And I have the pop.

MR: Can they do anything for a finger anyway?

BH: They could put it in a brace. I was just rocking a sausage finger in middle school.

MT: I think if it's a toe, they can’t do anything. They just hang out.

MR: Great, thanks for sharing the pop! Bernie?

Bernadette Ford: I’m Bernadette Ford or Bernie. I'm a specialist on our talent development team in HR. For my fun fact, I realized this morning that maybe it's not as unique as I thought it was. But anyway, I've celebrated the New Year twice in one day. I'll explain. I celebrated first in Tokyo—that was a stopover—and then got on a plane. I was able to get to Chicago in time to get back on December 31 and then count in the New Year again. What I realized is that it's not unique. You could get to Indiana and do that—like jump over the border. So my claim is that I celebrated twice, 15 hours apart.

Janice Hollman: I’m Janice Hollman. I'm the Relativity academic partner program manager. Fun fact: I was 21 before I first had my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I’ve had peanut butter and jelly, but never put them together.

MT: I’ve never had one.

JH: It’s an odd concept. Don’t you think?

MR: Seems kind of like a staple to me. Raji?

Raji Kaur: Hi, I’m Raji Kaur. I’m a senior systems engineer in the IT department and I recently became a team lead. I’ve been here about two years. I moved to Chicago—this is my fun fact—about seven years ago and I'm in my sixth apartment.

MR: Wow. That's a lot of moves.

RK: I figured that I've always been an athlete so maybe that's why I keep moving around. It’s just become a sport now.

MR: We're going to jump straight into questions. First, Raji, congrats on the team lead position. On that topic, I would love to get into your leadership style. What have you found successful in your time being team lead?

RK: Although I've only recently become a team lead Relativity, I have led projects and teams in the past. I think the style doesn't change much. I think it's very important to get to know your team members, find out their strengths and weaknesses so you can help them grow into those. This way, they can all feel like they've contributed to the team. Once you gain that trust with them and they gain that trust with you, you can help them be in a situation where they can succeed. A successful team is a successful leader.

MR: Thanks, Raji. Janice, throughout your career, you’ve managed a lot of different teams. How would you describe your leadership style?

JH: Kind of casual. People try things and, you know, sink or swim. But I think I had some great advice early on from a manager that told me to look at all the things that you don't do well and embrace them. Challenge yourself and try to figure out a long range plan to learn how to do those things. It's not a one-stop thing where you figure it out and then you go on. In each new experience, you may have some things that will occur. Like for me, public speaking, which I'm loving doing here today, is a requirement. You have to learn how to do it, embrace it, master it, and figure out what your plan is for the next time it comes up and how you're going to handle that. I teach now, so I work with students helping them understand that you're not going to die standing up in front of a group of people even if sometimes it feels like it. And understanding that anxiety is real. So just paying attention to the things that people are enjoying. What things are they struggling with? Then, help them master those. And the second thing is, don't ever ask somebody to do something you're not willing to do. It seems very simple, but there's a lot of managers that aren’t willing to do that sometimes. Get down in the dirt. Get in the nitty gritty. If you're working on a project and you're going on 12 hours, learn how to order catering. Be really good at it.

MT: A little side note about public speaking. I was lucky enough to see Janice do some public speaking at Relativity Fest and she's amazing. So if that's something you had to work on, you really nailed it.

JH: Learn to hide the fear.

MT: For the rest of us, what do you guys think makes for a successful leader? Does anyone come to mind that you feel comfortable sharing?

BF: I can take this one. This is pretty common but it is being a great communicator. I think frustration always builds when there's a lack of transparency. This may be about project, decisions, or expectations that aren't clearly defined. There’s always frustration about that. If team members aren't receiving the info that they need to effectively do their job, you're just going to continue to have this negative attitude and this pessimism about the future. So, your projects are affected and eventually maybe you start doubting your role. And then, eventually, you know, someone's over it and they eventually quit on you. A big one for me is just someone that inspires instead of dictates for you. So if you have the ability to be inspired by your leader, you have that room to be creative and think outside of the box. In turn, you'll enjoy your job and look to do other things.

MT: That's great. I totally agree with that. Blair, would you like to add anything?

BH: Yeah, Bernadette, such amazing stuff. My top thing is communication so you’re completely right. Emotional intelligence in a manager is really, really important. I don't think it's something that is always immediately taught to a manager. I also don't think it's innate to everyone. I myself am an empath. I don't know if I can call myself an empath. Do you have to be like diagnosed with that?

MR: What do you mean diagnosed?

BH: Does a psychic have to tell me that I'm an empath or am I allowed to just say that I'm an empath?

MT: You can say whatever you want.

BH: Okay. I don't know. I have a lot of feelings. So it's really important for my manager to be understanding. I have anxiety. Working with events, you might not think that that's the best match. But, it's really nice to have my manager, Kelly. She's known as cool, calm Kelly so she really combats my energy well. I'm also really, really lucky to be on a team of all women. They've all been in the events industry for so long so I'm able to learn from them. Although they're not my managers, they're such a repository of knowledge for me that I'm able to lean on them. And I think it's important for a team that everyone has a different role and everyone's different. So you need to kind of cater your management style to each person.

MR: Definitely. I think that's a really interesting point because you hear about people not working well with their manager. But, I think a big part of being a manager is learning how to work with the people who are reporting to you. Someone might be really great at taking direct feedback and someone else might want it couched in a different way.

BH: It's kind of like love languages. We give and receive love in different ways. You can’t say that getting gifts is my love language in the workplace. But I do think it's like, how do you give and receive work love?

MT: Thank you. So, Janice, I have had the privilege of working closely with you on a couple of things and particularly some mentorship programs here at Relativity. You have an interesting perspective of matching mentors and mentees. Based on your experience, what makes for a good mentor-mentee relationship?

JH: For the mentors, we found that it is about being engaged and being interested in doing it as opposed to being volunteered or assigned. Having people that are really interested in connecting and watching other people grow. They should be available and have the time. We had some great mentors, but they just really didn't have a ton of time to put with their mentees. Those that put more time into it and were willing to share everything that has been in their experience, like being able to explain real life situations and share that knowledge. That was really helpful to the students and the mentees that we had. And from the mentees, being open to listen and being able to hear what the mentors were trying to share with them. Having the mentees feel comfortable enough to ask questions, even though some of them had no idea of what the right question was. It was being able to say, “I don't even know what that acronym means.” Those pieces are [what makes the relationship successful]—being present, being available, being willing to share, and being open to listening and hearing.

MR: Shifting gears a little bit, Raji, I’m going to throw this one at you. At Relativity. We have a women’s group called RelWoW, aka Relativity Women of the Workplace. I'm a member and also on the leadership board. Raji, when I joined two years ago, you were an active member on the planning committee. Can you tell us a little bit about it? Why did you join and what is your favorite part of the group?

RK: When I first heard about this group, I thought, I'm in. I mean, it was a no brainer because it was a chance to meet other women who were not just in tech, but in all sorts of fields at the company. That was great. And I love the fact that they don't want people to be spectators. They really do encourage members to give ideas. [Members can share] what they want to do or how they can help and volunteer. They really want you to take part in it. You do feel part of the group, not like you are on the outside looking in. So if you are not part of this group, I highly recommend it.

MR: And, Bernie, you are a member as well.

BF: Yes. I joined just a couple months after I actually joined the company in 2014, so almost six years now. I started in the engineering department which is, as you know, male dominated or [comprised of] folks who identify as men. The reason I decided to gravitate toward or start attending RelWoW meetings is because there was this commonality between women that we could come together and talk about our personal lives or talk about our professional lives, or sometimes we could just come together. You don't have to discuss details about what's going on, but you could just say to someone, “I'm having a difficult day.” That person would support you and be your cheerleader therapist if you need it.

MR: I think it's really great. If there are any new Relativity listeners on this podcast, it's a great way to meet people throughout the industry and you do feel like you have immediate friends. It gives you a way to do that in ways you might not be able to throughout the company. I mean, I personally love it.

MT: I think it was my third day and Tammie, who is on my team, asked if I wanted to go to a RelWoW meeting. I said, “sure, I'll go.” And then as you said, I immediately felt like I had friends and I knew some familiar faces. I started right before Relativity Fest. During Relativity Fest, everyone's running around and moving all over the place. I felt like I had people that I could just talk to and say, “hey, what is this? What's going on here?” It was a great way to root me into the company and a great way to welcome me. Moving right along, for our listeners who don't know Blair outside of work, she does a lot of fab improv work. From the very small improv experience that I've had, I learned about this concept called “yes, and...” For me, this concept can be translated into the workplace. So, Blair, I'm going to let you explain what “yes, and…” means because I'm going to do a terrible job, and then maybe you can talk about how this concept can be used to help elevate other women.

BH: Of course. Fun fact: I actually had “yes, and…” inscribed in my husband's wedding ring because we met doing improv. It’s this tenant of improv that talks about, in my opinion, radical acceptance of others’ ideas and building upon them. For example, Mila, if I ask you: “do you want to go to Hibachi after work?”

MT: I would say: “yes, and…”

BH: No. But…

MT: But, I do want to get Hibachi after work.

BH: If Mila were to just say like “yeah” or “yes,” it doesn't give me like a lot to work with. It doesn’t make me feel confident in my idea in the same way if I were to pitch an idea in a brainstorming session and everyone would just be like, “sure.” Not a lot of buy in or group thinking. [For this concept] someone adds “and” to the end of that sentence, like, “ yes, we should do a screening of this at Relativity Fest. And what if we had a silent disco?” That's a real life example of a brainstorming session where we used “yes, and…” It was an idea that was built upon. I use it a lot in brainstorming sessions and a situation where you can't say no. I feel like in the workplace, especially as a young woman professional, I hear “no” a lot to a lot of my ideas. It's a “no” because it hasn't been done before. But in brainstorming sessions, if you just say “yes and…,” you continue to build upon the idea. Not only does it create confidence in people who normally don't have a seat at the table, but it creates greater group cohesion. It empowers people with their ideas to have them come to life. So not only do I use “yes, and…” in work, but I use it in life. You always want to say “yes.” Don’t be saying “no.” Say “yes.” It’s a huge thing in my life that has truly gotten me to where I am at Relativity today. I started out as an admin and made a jump to the events team. And had I not done that or said “yes,” I wouldn't be here today.

MR: Because we have time, is there an improv activity that we can try?

BH: This might be taking “yes, and…” to another level, but I think that you guys can all do it. So, we're going to tell a story together, going around in a circle. And I'll just say, like, for example, we went to the movie. Yes, we went to the movies and we got a ton of popcorn. Yes, we got a ton of popcorn and oodles of candy. It's about listening and repeating and building. I'll start us off and then we’ll go to Mila and go from there. I hosted an epic game night.

MT: Yes. Blair hosted an epic game night and I brought my brand new game.

MR: I brought my brand new game and everyone loved it.

RK: Everyone loved it and now they are going to buy two.

JH: And, games are just great during the holidays.

BF: Yes, games are great during the holidays. And, so is eggnog.

BH: Yes, eggnog is great during the holidays. And, it's really good if you add a dash of nutmeg. It really brings out the notes.

MT: Yeah, that sounds really good. Adding to that dash of nutmeg, I wonder if you could maybe add some alcohol too?

MR: And, then that party would be lit. Okay, great job everybody!

BH: Scene.

MR: Well, thanks for indulging us. Mila and I want to thank you all for coming. For Stellar Women, I’m Mary Rechtoris.

MT: I’m Mila Taylor.

Both: Signing off.

Mary Rechtoris is a senior producer on the brand team at Relativity, where she's always collaborating and looking for new ways to develop and socialize stories.

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