Mary Hengen is the Senior Vice President of Patient Outcomes and Experience at Be The Match. As a long-time advocate for professional women and a proponent of self development, she decided to enroll several promising women leaders in In HER Element. After observing several profound transformations in her team, she has become a stalwart supporter of the program and plans to enroll several more female professionals. In her interview, Mary discusses the barriers women face in the workforce and why it is prudent for companies to invest in their emerging women leaders.
What first drew you to In HER Element?
I have always been actively interested in developing my people. One of my main passions is helping women succeed in their careers and in life, and that passion has led me to explore different avenues of development, including mentoring women and actively seeking impactful personal development programs.
When I met Paula (CMO of The Disruptive Element) and began talking with her about the In HER Element cohort program, it seemed like an excellent fit for the emerging female leaders at Be The Match. She, and the other coaches at The Disruptive Element, seemed to share my passion for empowering and enabling women, so I decided to go for it. I’m so happy I did! Changed from “program.” Does this sound okay? I would say cohort program.
What are some of the common mental barriers women face? How does In HER Element help women leap over these barriers?
Some of the barriers women face are systemic, but some are self-imposed, like impostor syndrome. Far too often, women believe they do not truly deserve a seat at the table or a voice in the meeting. They worry that everyone else is more qualified and capable than them, and they’ll soon be exposed as frauds.
I’ve found that men don’t often deal with the same level of impostor syndrome as women, so this is an issue that female-oriented programs like In HER Element are uniquely positioned to tackle.
I’ve found that In HER Element is a real confidence-builder. The women at Be The Match who have gone through it have learned to embrace their whole, authentic selves and have become more self-assured and confident in their abilities. I’m thinking of one woman, in particular, who absolutely blossomed. Her whole attitude is now infused with confidence, she’s motivated, and she’s making her way up the company ladder. It’s incredible to see.
In what ways is the working world different for women than men? Is it different?
While things are gradually improving, there are still uneven expectations for men and women. Throughout my career, I have seen women attempt to emulate traditionally masculine traits that workplaces tend to value, such as competitiveness, harshness, and independence. I think it’s a shame to favor these traits and de-emphasize more “feminine” traits, such as authenticity, collaboration, and support. Personally, I value these traits and think we should embrace them. I like to think of female leaders walking down a hallway—walking forward—together. Maybe the leader has to guide their team every once in
a while, but the environment is one of support, not competition. That’s the environment In HER Element facilitates—one that promotes collaboration, positivity, and growth.
Another way the working world is different for women is that we are often expected to lead two separate lives—personal and professional. But it’s unreasonable to expect women to shed their personal lives when they step into an office (or sit behind a laptop, when working from home).
As one of my team members put it: “In HER Element is whole-person-focused.” They are proponents of bringing one’s authentic self into the workplace and embracing all the traits that make you, you.
Has working from home — which has increased dramatically during the pandemic — helped or hurt female professionals?
In some ways, the pandemic has been advantageous for women, especially when it comes to creating flexible work schedules. Mothers of school-aged children can bring their kids to school or extracurricular activities without having to ask special permission. Mothers of young kids can put their children to bed early and work later at night, if they choose. Working from home simply allows for a greater degree of autonomy.
However, the pandemic also highlighted the disparities between male and female professionals. In some cases, one parent or the other was forced to quit their job and become a full-time caretaker for their young children (whose daycare center may have been closed). More often than not, that responsibility fell to the mother. Women quit the workforce in droves. But what if they would have had better support from their workplaces? What if workplaces cared about their professional development in the same way they cared about men’s? Things may have been different.
Why not put everyone through the same program? Why should company leaders seek out a distinct program for women?
At the beginning of my career, I was sometimes tossed into generic training programs. They were one-size-fits-all and did not address many of the hurdles I was facing in my career, as a woman. The facilitators emphasize individual strengths and build their guidance around that. They emphasize practices that are particularly helpful to women (practicing good self-care, building confidence, etc.), and all their work is backed by evidence and neuroscience.
I wish I had gone through a similar program when I was first getting my feet wet in my career!
Should every company invest in its female leaders? Why?
Yes! A cohort program like In HER Element is a game changer. It challenges people to rise to a new level and develop skills they may not have realized they had. I look at this type of program as not only an investment in the company’s leaders, but as a gift. The lessons the participants learn are forever—something to carry with them, no matter where their path leads.
What has your team been saying about In HER Element? What results are you noticing?
The women who have participated in In HER Element have been very complimentary. I have heard comments such as, “My confidence is higher,” “I felt a strong rapport with the facilitators,” “I have started to see myself as a ‘whole person,’” and “I have found my voice and leadership brand.” One participant summed up the experience by saying it was “life changing.”
In HER Element is meant to have sticking power—the results are expected to be long-lasting and pervasive. Would you say that’s the case?
Absolutely. In HER Element has made a noticeable difference in the participants’ confidence levels and leadership acumen. People still talk about the experience, referencing lessons they learned or “something Paula said.” Some of the participants even have lunch together on a regular basis—something they initiated after participating in the program together. This high level of collaboration and camaraderie is the direct result of In HER Element.
About the In HER Element program:
The In HER Element Program is a transformative leadership development cohort program for women that combines mindfulness and neuroscience with one-on-one coaching and community. Our goal for this program is to build upon women’s leadership skills and empower them to be their best self. Click here to learn more.