Kiersten Barnet, Deputy Chief of Staff to Bloomberg LP Chairman Peter Grauer, spent the first half of her 13 years at Bloomberg without a job title. While that may sound downright bizarre to most professionals, Barnet is grateful for this Bloomberg norm: “I actually think a linear career path is an outdated concept,” she says. “You’re not restricted by job titles at Bloomberg.”
Indeed, she has not been restricted in her career growth; rather, the absence of a predefined trajectory has allowed her to assume a leadership role in the company’s most cutting-edge projects. Today, Barnet oversees innovative and influential initiatives at Bloomberg, which arms investors around the globe with financial market data, news and analysis. This includes the company’s Gender-Equality Index (GEI) — a product that holds companies accountable for demonstrating diversity — as well as its involvement with the 30% Club, a group devoted to getting more women on corporate boards (When the club was established in the U.S. in 2014, members had an average of 21.7% women on their boards. Today, that number’s up to 30%).
Barnet spoke to Fairygodboss about how and why these initiatives exist, the most valuable lessons she’s learned from her boss, and how she manages to balance her work and family time.
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
In October, I’ll have been at Bloomberg for 13 years. I’ve never really had a traditional career path. I didn’t have a title for the first seven or so years I was here — most of our employees don’t, and I think that’s a blessing because you have to earn the respect of your colleagues through the value you add, as opposed to the title you hold.
When I think about my progression, and what prepared me most for what I’m doing now, it’s the five years I spent as the right hand for our chairman Peter Grauer. During that time, I traveled with him to more than 30 Bloomberg offices around the world. While it was a busy five years, it taught me a lot about operating a global business.
Along the way, I never knew what was next – but it was my exposure to our people, our business and our culture that prepared me to manage initiatives such as the 30% Club and Bloomberg’s Gender-Equality Index (GEI), which I started overseeing in December of last year. That’s probably my favorite project right now.
Tell me a bit more about the GEI.
What LEED is to sustainable construction, the GEI is to gender equality in the workplace. Companies, investors, governments and consumers are increasingly looking at environmental, social and governance (ESG) data to understand the business impact of such policies and practices, but until now there wasn’t a standardized reporting method specific to gender-related data. We built a framework with 67 different data points that measure everything from what percent of a company’s promotions go to women to fertility and parental leave policies to whether it has gender-conscious product offerings and advertising. This framework is now the common standard in gender reporting and Index membership has become the gold seal for public companies around the world to demonstrate their commitment to advancing women in the workplace.
Increasingly, companies understand that transparency earns trust and look to publish this data both to connect with investors and other stakeholders and to measure progress internally. In fact, we’re currently accepting applications for the 2019 GEI and are thrilled with the spike in interest this year – a testament to an increasing commitment in the marketplace.
What’s the first (and/or last) thing you do at work every day?
Eat the frog. I know it sounds weird, but it’s from a quote by Mark Twain, who once said, "Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
The idea is to do what you most dread doing first each day — whether that’s writing a long brief or doing your expenses or checking emails. It’s an amazing way to alleviate the anxiety of procrastinating.
What’s something you’re especially good at work?
Asking questions and learning from others. I’m lucky I get to work with really smart and innovative people who challenge me every day. If you pay attention to what people are good at and try to learn from them, it’s a great way to turn weaknesses into strengths.
What about outside of work?
I’m a new mom... Bloomberg has a very generous parental leave policy, so I had some great time off, but I felt my most complete returning to work after I had my son. I had imagined that I might be a bit frazzled, but I’ve redefined my balance and learned to focus on quality over quantity. Now, when I go home, I don't look at my phone until after I’ve put my son to bed.
Do you have any advice for people who struggle not to look at their phone after work hours?
Being more thoughtful, rather than being on autopilot, certainly helps a lot. Most nights, I check my email twice between the time I leave work and the time I go to bed. That allows me to enjoy my evening without distraction and, during those pauses, to give my full attention to anything time-sensitive.
What’s your #1 piece of advice for women who are looking for jobs right now?
Networking is so important — but there’s more than one effective way to network. I used to think networking meant going to an event full of people I didn’t know and trying not to look awkward while standing in the corner. It can also mean reaching out to friends and asking if they’d each be willing to connect you to one person they know that does something interesting. Meeting many people with many experiences, however you meet them, is critical because you never know who will open the next door.
So how did you get involved with these Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) initiatives at Bloomberg?
I am very fortunate to work with a leader who is truly committed and passionate about people. Through our travels, I’ve learned how much diversity impacts our business and how important it is for us to prioritize inclusion in the workplace. Getting involved and driving the GEI and 30% Club were no-brainers for me – they are both data-driven initiatives that involve global companies and call for accountability in the gender space.
In addition, I’ve always personally valued the importance of contributing to our culture at Bloomberg, through mentoring employees, participating in our employee resource group events, and providing opportunities for women to grow in their careers. When everyone contributes authentically towards inclusion, we’ll succeed faster.
On a related note, nearly all profits from Bloomberg LP go to Bloomberg Philanthropies, which is dedicated to saving and improving lives around the world. Every Bloomberg employee, in every one of our offices, makes that work possible. Knowing that everything you’re doing has that kind of global impact is also a powerful motivator for me and many of our employees.
How has Bloomberg taken into account the GEI when forming its own diversity programs and policies?
We use the same framework to measure internal progress in executing our own data-driven diversity and inclusion strategy, something we put into place over the past five years. D&I is a business imperative, so we use data to hold people accountable just like we do for other business targets.
For example, as part of our diversity and inclusion reporting process, our business heads come together twice a year to present to Peter [Grauer] and our Chief Operating Officer on targets that were set for their business and D&I strategy. They see what’s working and what isn’t. I think this approach has really helped all of our business leaders get behind this. Without data, it’s hard for business leaders to identify how and where they can have the biggest impact.
You work closely with Peter Grauer, Chairman of Bloomberg LP and Founder of the US Chapter of the 30% Club. What's your favorite aspect of his management style?
Peter is a very inclusive leader and manager. He really cares about our people. To give you an example, when the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami decimated the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan in March of 2011, Peter got on a plane and was in Tokyo just a few days later to demonstrate his concern and personal commitment for our employees. He stopped by every single employee’s desk to say “we’re here to take care of not just you, but your families as well.”
This was a powerful way to let them know that, at Bloomberg, our people are our most valued asset. And no one in that office has forgotten that. Knowing you have a leader who cares is really a special thing.
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