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On the Brink with Andi Simon

Dec 19, 2022

Hear how to refuse to be held back, especially as a woman 

I listened to Kerry Flynn Barrett give a marvelous talk recently about burnout for the Westchester Business Council and couldn’t wait to share her ideas and insights with our fans. Careers like hers are common among many women I know who have started in a corporate job, moved up the ladder to higher positions in leadership, and then took off to form their own business. Kerry has done just that, and now she is building an exceptional business serving as a fractional CHRO officer and also a business partner and solutions provider. Do you wish to do this too? Listen in!

Watch and listen to our conversation here

Kerry F Barret viceo

Faced with a wall? Like Kerry, leap over it!

In some ways, Kerry Barrett reflects the tensions women in business and corporations are feeling today. Perhaps exaggerated by the pandemic, women are abandoning the corporate ladder to find their own purpose and passion, much like she has done.

Kerry spent her entire career in healthcare as a Human Resources executive. She, like so many women, has found that the wave of consolidations taking place these days strips employees, particularly women, of their roles and responsibilities, as centralization moves the decision-making process into other departments. So what do smart women like Kerry do? They craft another pathway and make it work for them.

Women today are fleeing dead-end workplaces and starting their own businesses.

As you listen to our conversation, think about your own path. Where are you on that corporate ladder? Give serious consideration to what you want to do with your life. As was clearly apparent in the McKinsey “Women in the Workplace 2022” report that came out in October 2022, women are finding the corporate world neither open to their expertise nor accommodating to their talent and ambition. Rather than trying to find a niche, they are leaving rigid workplaces to find others that see them as talented contributors, not women looking for a job.

In some ways, many women I know, including myself, have had to confront the limits which corporations offer and discover other avenues where we can contribute, have a personal and professional purpose, and earn an excellent income. Perhaps it is time for business and corporate leaders to see what they are missing and rethink the place of women in their organizations. The women aren’t waiting. In fact, they are very smart ladies on their own missions to build better businesses.

To connect with Kerry, you can find her on LinkedInTwitter, or her website, or email her at

Want to find a better workplace environment or strike out on your own? Start here:

Additional resources for you

Read the transcript of our podcast here

Andi Simon: Welcome to On the Brink With Andi Simon. Hi, I'm Andi Simon. I'm your host and your guide. And as I say in every podcast, my job is to get you off the brink. Remember, this all came about after my first book, On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights, was published and won an award. And everybody said, How do I get off the brink? And there's no better way to do it than to listen to the speakers on this podcast talk about how you can get better at whatever you're doing to change.

Remember, people hate to change. And so our job is to make change your friend, embrace change, and see things through a fresh lens. And I say that because we decide with the eyes and with the heart and how it feels. And then our brains get engaged and you begin to think about it.

So today, I'm absolutely delighted to have with me Kerry Flynn Barrett, and let me tell you about Kerry. Kerry gave a talk at the Westchester Business Council not too long ago. And I was just intrigued by her presentation. That topic was on burnout. But what was most interesting was her perspectives that came from a healthcare background, like my own. I did that for seven years in healthcare as an executive. I wasn't a nurse as she was, but I sure understood the feelings that you get when you're working with an organization of over 2500 or 5000 people, all of whom work hard to make your life better.

And then she launched her business not long ago to be, of all things, a Chief Human Resource Officer. And she's going to tell you a little bit more about her journey. But the question she's asking is, Are you an organization that understands that people are your most valuable assets? And I must tell you, coming out of the pandemic, people are reaching out to us and asking us what to do because everything's changed. Managing individuals with individual needs and roles is challenging for even the best companies, and managing people is the hardest job, full stop.

In fact, we can't get anything done as leaders or managers without followers. And why do people follow you? Are they bystanders? Are they invested in what you're doing? Do they believe in you? Every leader asked me the same question: "How do I get things done through others?" To begin with, how about with others instead of through them? It's an interesting question. Kerry, thank you for joining me today.

Kerry Flynn Barrett: Thank you Andi so much for having me. It's such a pleasure.

Andi Simon: Well, it was a pleasure to meet you. But let's tell our listeners and our viewers about your own journey. You have a great story to share. Please share it.

Kerry Flynn Barrett: Sure. So I believe very strongly in the fact that we are all "a person" from the start. It doesn't mean that's what our journey will be where we began. So I began as a nurse. I have worked in healthcare for so many years. But that doesn't mean that's the only place where my journey was.

So I was a nurse, an ICU and emergency department nurse, for over 12 years. And I love doing what I did. But then I switched over to the world of HR. And I worked in that field for 25 or so years, and loved every minute of it, really, truly. It's such a fascinating world. And when you think about it, it's all about working with people, right?, nursing, and HR. It's all about working with people and coming up with different strategies. And as I have said, and what I work in in my practice, I use the nursing process all the time in my practice. So it's all about that process. It's about how we assess what's going on in a scenario. We have to listen, as you said, we have to use our eyes. We also have to use our ears.

So that's such an important part of my journey in going from nursing into HR. Three years ago, I started my own practice, Flynn Barrett Consulting, right before the pandemic. So probably all of you are saying, Oh my goodness gracious, how do you start a business and then boom, the pandemic hits. So I have been incredibly lucky. Or just happenstance to be in HR at a time in the pandemic when HR was really needed.

So it's been quite the journey and even from the time of starting my business, that business has flowed very differently in the three years of time. So I refer to myself as a fractional chief HR officer. So I help companies with their HR strategy. And I use, as I said, the nursing process in what I do with companies.

So,often companies come to me because they are having people problems. As we said, in companies, really the most important asset are their people. And this is such a difficult time in the world right now, with people finding new jobs, leaving their organizations, the great resignation. How many people are just really sick of hearing that term? I'm sick of hearing that term, or the other term, which is quiet quitting.

I have employers saying to me, or CEOs saying to me, "How do I know that my employees are not quiet quitting?" Well, you know, this is one of the challenges that a lot of companies are facing. So people's problems are huge right now. So it is a lot of fun working at this time. But equally, there are so many challenges that are out there. And it doesn't mean that there is always the perfect solution for one company or if it is exactly the same solution for that next company.

Andi Simon: Well, you know, Kerry, when we were preparing for this, I mentioned that we have several leadership academies. And the topic is around how does one get things done with others? That's the essence of a company. And sometimes people come to me and say, "We have an enormous retention problem. It's our culture, we want to go back to the culture of pre-pandemic." But what was that culture of pre pandemic?

I love the Financial Times, my favorite reading in the morning, and its tremendous insights. In France, for example, they insist that you do not work on the weekends. You have your private time. Talking about burnout. And now I think Portugal and Spain have adopted this as well.

The hardest part when you're remote working, is: what is the weekend? The weekend? And how do you do it? And then you have a hybrid? And there was great research from McKinsey, I was just reading, where women are perfectly happy not going back. And how are they using the time that they're not commuting? Well, they're doing all kinds of fulfilling things. Remember that work-life balance? Well, it got imbalanced, because now I have time to do life.

And so there are real transformations going on. And as you shake your head, yes, our listeners, she's shaking her head. The question is, What are you seeing in your process analysis to help a client listening to think through what would I do now to begin to assess the major questions that are facing us as employers and employees to get our businesses really thriving? Your thoughts?

Kerry Flynn Barrett: Well, I will tell you, very often, in this time, right now, employers are saying, Should I bring my employees back full time? That seems to be the top question. And my response is by answering it with a question: Why do you need to bring your employees back full time? And so I think it's important for that analysis to be done as to: Is it important for that particular business. And it does depend upon the business.

Obviously, if we're talking about the hospitality business, that's a different story, and the healthcare business. Depending upon the position within the business, it makes a difference. If you're talking about a finance position within healthcare, that's a position that could be remote or hybrid, as opposed to a direct caregiver obviously needing to be in-person. So we need to be looking at this very specifically down to those nitty gritty details to make sense of whether or not we're bringing people back.

So that makes a very big difference when we're talking about culture. And when I hear companies say, "Oh, I want to go back to what the culture used to be," or "Employees are being very demanding now," I will say, "Well, tell me what you mean by employees being very demanding?" "Well, my employees are saying that they require that they work hybrid." And so my response is always, "Well, is it something that works for your workplace for them to work hybrid?" "Well, yes, it does." "Well, then if it does, why is it that we're calling those employees demanding? Isn't it something that actually is working? And why aren't we working together as a team on what's best for your organization, rather than having more of an argument about it, and fighting about it?"

So it's really fascinating because in my lifetime, I think about these demanding employees and I wish I could have been a little bit more demanding as an employee when I was earlier in my career. I probably would have done way better. But I don't think that in many cases, employees are actually being demanding. I think employers are actually looking at some scenarios, and actually looking at them now with rose colored glasses, but looking at them thoughtfully and saying, Does it really make a difference if I'm doing this work at home or in the office? And I recently actually wrote a blog about this.

If in fact, we're bringing employees back to the office, and they're sitting in an office, and they're on Zoom calls in the office, what is the point? That just makes absolutely no sense. So then the employees feel like, "Well, you've really kind of duped me, that is just not really treating me as a professional." So if in fact, you have meaningful work for somebody in the office, and that makes sense, then absolutely. But if you don't, then let's really think about that twice.

All in all, sit down with your employees, talk with your employees, listen to what their challenges are. Just listen to them for their ideas because they have great thoughts. That's why you hired them. Otherwise, it's not a great reflection on you if you think that you've hired people who aren't that smart. You hired them because they're smart, and you should listen to them.

Andi Simon: I love the conversation where it's about feeling. Two things I want to add. I often preach, being an anthropologist as I am, that words create our worlds. And as I'm listening to you, I can hear the leadership, the C-suite, mimicking others who are all too often men thinking about their stature. And they're mastering being in the C-suite. And that is about demand, and owning and controlling the environment in which people are working. And I find that the most exciting clients I have are the ones who are asking the questions with a real openness to change the words that are creating their worlds, that we know that the challenge for humans is, we live the stories in our minds.

And there's nothing more frightening than change because the cortisol is flying around there saying, Oh, fear this. But for those who are leading, pause for a moment and change the story: couldn't you be a leader in the next breed of companies that thrive and thrive? Remember, some of the major companies weren't perfect. For example, in a global company with everyone remote, take a look at what people can do if they aren't in the office. And the gig economy has become a really interesting, flexible workforce for you. But it requires you to change your mind. And don't be a copycat. Think about what it is that you can do and create something new. Because everything is new now. It's not what used to be, right?

Kerry Flynn Barrett: That's right. It doesn't mean that just because somebody isn't working in front of you, that they're not working. And productivity can be measured in different ways than tracking someone's computer.

Andi Simon: Now, that's a big topic. Are we moving to outcomes evaluation as opposed to punch cards? And time? Are we still in a machine model mode of a workplace? Are we managing minds? And I thought, I've been preaching for many years now that we've moved from managing hands to managing minds. But the mindset of coming back into the office feels like, "I kind of manage that person," as opposed to the product. What do you see?

Kerry Flynn Barrett: I'm seeing a little bit of both. I'm seeing a little bit of both, and I think it depends upon the particular leader. I think that unfortunately, sometimes past practice or past performance of someone has created a fear factor. So for example, if a particular leader has had someone really perform poorly in the past, they have unfortunately taken that model and said, "Well, because X person did this, I'm not going to allow anybody else to do it." Instead of saying, "Okay, that person was the anomaly. And I'm going to allow others, who are professionals, to rise above and be able to do it."

So unfortunately, I'm seeing some of that. And there's just too much of a fear factor. And I think that's because the threat of the recession is there. And I think there's just some fear of the recession and money. So there's a little bit more of that right now. But I think the more progressive leaders, to your point, are just more comfortable in their own skin, and more comfortable in their own practice. And they are very open to saying to the employees, What works best for you. Unless, of course, it is an environment where it is very dictated by, like a creative environment, where they do need to bring people together, for example.

Andi Simon: Then we have the challenge of another generation. I often talk about demography is destiny. And so you have a workplace. I mean, I had one great client, whose board were mostly Boomers, and most of his new hires were all the Gen Ys and some Gen Zs. And they had very different ideas about everything. It was like they were foreign languages, both speaking English, but boy, they didn't understand each other at all. And so now you have that added to the mix. Are you finding that as well?

Kerry Flynn Barrett: Absolutely, absolutely. But in addition to that, I don't really discuss that much about the generations as much as I discuss empowered workers, because I find that empowered workers can be of any generation. And I think sometimes those in Gen X and Gen Y are just like Millennials who get a bad rap. And they get kind of stereotyped as being difficult. And I don't necessarily find that to be the case always.

And so it is funny, though, that I am seeing a lot of the empowered workers versus the seasoned workers, is what I refer to it as. And so there is somewhat of the seasoned workers who feel that the empowered workers need to go through this rite of passage. "We did this and we had to suffer, so therefore, you're going to have to do that." And I don't know, I don't understand that. Why would want anyone to have to go through something and suffer?

Andi Simon: The interesting part is to your point, there's nothing reasonable or rational about it. It's a human symbolic transformation of coming from the outside to become part of us, and we control the space. So therefore, you can't get in unless we let you. But remember that Millennials are 50% of the workforce now. The Boomers, hang on tight, because the changes are coming. And somehow you got to embrace it.

Kerry Flynn Barrett: Right. And I have said that to some of the companies that I've worked with: "You can stand there kicking and screaming, or you can accept, listen and learn. It's entirely up to you which way that you go. I could make a suggestion."

Andi Simon: I actually had one situation where they gave the new hires the job of mentoring those who had been there a while. In other words, How do we introduce you to them instead of them taking charge of you, and you come in and really educate them as to the things that matter, because you are our future, let's face it, and if we can build it together into a future that will thrive.

But there are also things you don't know, maybe those are all changed. I have one great client, and their buyers had all retired and their salespeople were calling their buyers, nobody was buying. And they didn't understand why nobody was answering the phone. And as we did the research, the retirees were replaced by 30-somethings, and they didn't answer the phone. And they weren't going to answer the phone, and they weren't going to buy on the phone and maybe because of one relationship. And it was sort of like, But what are we going to do?

I said, I think you're gonna change. So you gotta figure this out. We're gonna have to figure it out. Now, when you spoke at the Westchester Business Council, you spoke about burnout. And I don't want to not discuss that, you had some great insights, because this word, you're telling me, let's not talk about the great resignation. I'm sort of looking around and saying, burnout is self-induced. You know, if in France you don't have to work on the weekend, is anyone telling you to work on the weekends? Or is anyone telling you to work all the time? And so can you share with our listeners and our viewers about your perspective on this thing called burning out?

Kerry Flynn Barrett: Sure. So for sure. And some of it is self-inflicted. Some people are just naturally driven people, and they want to get ahead. I understand it, I'm a type A through to the core, always was, probably always will be. In my own business, I made the choice on how it is that I want to do things. So I get to work when I want to work. So I changed the whole structure of how I do it. So I understand it.

I think that women have a very, very difficult time, especially those who were young in childbearing years and trying to get ahead in the workplace, who are trying to do everything. And I think that our work community isn't always as supportive of them, as it should be. And I don't know that women are equally as supportive of fellow women as we should be. And I think it is not always allowed or thought to be allowed, because of stigmas for somebody to stand up and say that they just really are burnt, they're just really burnt out and they need a break.

I don't think a lot of women feel that they have opportunities to make career changes. I don't think that they think that they can take a break, and be able to come back into the workforce successfully. And so I think those are the types of things that we need to do a better job with. I hope we will do a better job with it. There are some groups that are really helping women with that. But I think that that is something that is a real challenge. And I think it is something that is real. And I think that there are corporations, some corporations are very, very helpful and known to be supportive of women in the workplace.

Andi Simon: Well, that's an interesting word. Because whether it's gender bias, or it's understanding that women do have to care for children and what's wrong with that, can't we get a childcare center here to make it easier for them, and actually thinking about women as a whole, as opposed to another worker. And it's an interesting time. I always preach, never waste a crisis. Use the pandemic as an opportunity to think big.

You know, the women aren't coming back after the pandemic the way the workplace could use them, right?, with a recession. But they just aren't; they basically are looking for jobs or careers that will allow them to balance in a different fashion. They've discovered they can work from home. And I used to coach women who were executives, and they were taking care of the laundry and cooking dinner and working on a computer and taking care of the kids and working on the computer and taking care of meetings and they didn't miss a beat. But they had life in a very different, very interesting fashion.

And they said to me, "You know, this is really cool, I can get life done and also work." And I went, Oh, there's some kernels of real interesting stuff. Was it hard? Yes. But life is, unless you're going to be a stay-at-home mom. And that's hard. There isn't a thing, "easy," right? And I used to laugh. People would say, "I have to balance life and work." I said, "Isn't work life? And Isn't life work?"

I mean, through words we do create our worlds. So you know, you have a challenging time of it. But as you guys were talking about burnout, there was this sense that if it's not in our hands, and we can't control it, it isn't really in the boss's hands either. And I've heard too many places who have said to their management don't talk about behavioral health, emotional well-being, it's not appropriate for us to talk about. I don't want to talk about it, and I'm saying to myself, Well, maybe it's not a bad time to put it in part of the discussion. Because, you know, 30% of Americans are depressed. And that's not just those who are unhealthy; way more, way more. And you can't simply all deal with it with a pill.

So life has become challenging. It's never been easy. But I do think it's an interesting time to really rethink women in the workplace in a way that can be exciting and exhilarating, instead of painful, and why not? 60% of the college graduates are women, they're all smart. They're all looking for good opportunities. So as you're looking ahead, anything coming into your future or ours that we could share?

Kerry Flynn Barrett: I do have to say this, Andi, just to go backwards a little bit. 30 years ago, I had a boss who told me that when I walked through the doors, I needed to park my life outside the door, when I walked in. And I had a 6-week old child. I told him that there was absolutely no way that I could ever possibly park my life outside the door. Okay, that was just not humanly possible for me as a thinking, breathing person to do that in order to be able to do my job. And he said, and I learned more from him, and I say this to this day, on what never to do as a boss.

During the pandemic, there was a woman I knew who is a C-suite person and her 4-year-old was climbing over her, she was on a Zoom call. And all the other C-suite individuals were men. And she was criticized afterwards by her boss, because of the fact that her child was climbing on her. And she did the same work, just like everybody else. And it was not a problem. And she said to them, she said, "You do realize all of your wives probably were taking care of your children? And my husband was on his business call. And I didn't skip a beat on that call." So why is it that we criticize our women who are doing this? Totally unacceptable. So we have to do a better job.

Andi Simon: Did they say anything to her? Or was it just simply her trying to establish the credibility? I mean, I couldn't agree with you and her more. But the attitude was, you know, don't mix that. I mean, "I didn't miss a beat on my call, I perform for you."

Kerry Flynn Barrett: I met her boss and he said something to her afterwards that it was inappropriate for her to have her child in the call. So what's going forward? I think that we can do a much better job: for men, for women, for everyone, for transgender, for every single person in the workplace. I think we can be incredibly inclusive. I think that we could do a better job with just general equity. Just hearing about wage equity, thinking about that this morning. What's going on?

November 1st is here tomorrow. New York City and Westchester County declaring wage equity. Thank goodness we're doing this. I think it's important for people to know that they have choices in the workplace. And then they should speak their mind. And if the workplace doesn't accept that, then maybe it's just not the right workplace for them. And there are people out there who will help them to find another workplace. So I think that's very important for people to know.

Andi Simon: And the times, they are a-changing, like Bob Dylan told us. But I think that we can't go backwards. And when people say the pandemic put women back 30 years, it breaks my heart, but we can't let it happen and we must vote. And mostly for business's sake, our economy depends upon vibrant businesses, and women leading companies are doing amazing jobs. And it's a time for change. So let's embrace change and make it our friend, and see how great things can be. Kerry, one or two things you don't want the listeners to forget.

Kerry Flynn Barrett: I just don't want people to stop listening. I mean, I think it's just the most important thing. And to stop and listen, to put your phone down. Don't be looking at your phone while you're listening. Whether or not it's your child, your husband, your employee, whatever it is, I really say to listen. I think that is the one thing that you could do for your employees. That's so important. And every single employee deserves 10 minutes of your time, whether or not it's once a week, once every two weeks. I think that is absolutely critical. And if you tell me you don't have time for that, then you and I could really talk, and we could talk about how you could better use your time that would help you so that you can find that 10 minutes of time.

Andi Simon: And to add to that, that when you listen, try and stay focused on what they are saying, not what you're thinking, because our minds are trying to take the words they're saying and make sense out of them in the story that we have in our mind, not really what you're hearing. And I'll only tell you how many times in our careers, it wasn't what they said, it's what we heard. And it had nothing to do with what they meant. And that is ask questions to clarify.

Kerry Flynn Barrett: Make sure you really understand.

Andi Simon: And that means you cannot have your cell phone sitting there or your computer in front of you. This has been such fun. If they want to reach you, where could they do that, Kerry?

Kerry Flynn Barrett: Oh, very simply, I'm on LinkedIn. My email is KFB so, easy to find me I have my own website. It's And please reach out to me on my website. And you can just send a quick question or an inquiry. I look forward to hearing from anybody.

Andi Simon: If you want a very smart fractional Chief Human Resource Officer, or just a very sharp coach, or someone who can help you see, feel and think in new ways, meet Kerry Flynn Barrett, because she's here to help you do just what we love to do, which is to change and the times they are changing.

And so for all of our listeners, thank you for coming. It's always so much fun to share with you smart people who are really here to help you do what I love: to see and feel and think in new ways. And remember, we're here to help your organization adapt to these fast changing times. Stay with us. Stay tuned and listen to some of the webinars and speeches that I have posted on our website. We're talking all the time about how to make change and how to embrace change, and particularly how to rethink women in the workplace. And on that note, I'll say have a great day. Remember our theme is take observation and turn it into innovation. I hope you've had a great day today. Bye bye now.