Interview with Jeri Dunn

Jeri Dunn is the Former CIO of Nestle, Bacardi, and Tyson Foods.

BT: What aspect of your career do you find most fulfilling?

Jeri Dunn: People leadership, people management, and generally developing people. I like interacting with my peers and watching their business transformation. Primarily, I love the challenge of getting the most out of my people, seeing them grow, and seeing them transition into their own leadership roles. Some of the people that I have mentored have followed me since Nestle – they still call me and ask for advice for career decisions. I particularly love that I have a lot of females who have chosen me as their mentor. That feels really good. Madeleine Albright once said, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I think that’s really true. I have had great experiences mentoring young women and watching them move on to be executives in other companies. It’s been wonderful. Ever since I went to my first day of work, there’s been someone I could turn to for either information about the business itself or personal coaching tips because I was a bit brash. So it was great having mentors help me both with business and personally.

BT: What was one surprising challenge you were forced to overcome as a woman, that your male colleagues did not have to face?

JD: I have been in business for a long time, so I experienced the whole sexual harassment world that went on back in the 1980’s. There was no such term as “political correctness.” Men felt that they could say whatever they wanted to, and those experiences were not something men had to put up with, but women did. I don’t know that if it’s that bad in the workplace today, but it’s still something women have to face. Another challenge that continually haunts me is that women do not get paid the same as men for doing the same job. That has been a source of frustration for me for many, many years. When I’m asked if the glass ceiling should still be a topic of discussion, I absolutely believe it should be. When you look at the statistics for women in leadership, they’re not drastically different from where they were thirty years ago, when I started working. Yes, there are more Fortune 100 leaders, but the percentage of women with key leadership roles or on the board of directors stalled in the ‘90s and we have not made much progression since.

BT: What do you think women currently in the business world can learn from the incoming generation?

JD: I think you’re influencing the work/life balance. I have two daughters, and I think they manage their time much better than I do. In my generation, we felt we had to work harder to get the same attention a man would get in the workplace. You guys are doing much better at saying that you’ll work, put in the hours, make the job make you successful, but you won’t work from seven in the morning until eight at night. The work/life balance you guys create is much better.

BT: What is one piece of advice you would give to young women looking to succeed in the business world?

JD: The piece of advice I generally give to women is to master their networking skills. That’s something that women do not do nearly as well as men. Men have common topics of discussion that they can talk about – they can go to work and say, “What did you think of the game?” or, “Hey, how about a round of golf?” Women don’t have those common, networking activities. I would jokingly go into an executive meeting and say, “Did anyone shop for a great pair of black heels this weekend?” because they were all discussing sports. Not that I’m against sports or golf– they’re both great networking topics – but women really have to actively hone their networking skills. You can’t just network with people you know or who are like you, because that becomes very incestuous. You have to work with people outside and people that you don’t know. That’s how you build a network that can help you when you’re out of a job or move to a new company. Also, women typically lack the confidence men have – they don’t tend to walk with the same casual attitude. Women have more of a hesitation factor; they’re not as easy to filter in. In Patty Azzarello’s book Rise, she has a fabulous section about networking that I use while I’m coaching and mentoring. It’s something I wish I had twenty years ago.