In-Ear Insights: Secrets of the C-Suite

In this week’s In-Ear Insights podcast episode, Katie and Chris talk about one of the secrets of the C-Suite, based on a recent LinkedIn article. What does one set of executives do to be more productive that others don’t, and what lessons we can learn from it? Tune in to find out!


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In-Ear Insights: Secrets of the C-Suite

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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, it is a new day, a new year, and perhaps a new view. Who knows? And as part of that, Katie, you wanted to talk about a piece of content you saw on LinkedIn called ‘Dirty Secrets of C-Suite Women’. The summary being that two-thirds of people who identify as women at the manager level or above use assistance of some kind – house cleaners, nannies, etc., even if they don’t want to admit it. So, A, what makes this a dirty secret? And B, it seems like there’s more than one angle of discussion on this topic in general?

Katie Robbert: Yeah, I saw this article last week and I had strong reactions to it. My first thought was ‘why should we have to do it all?’, why am I the one who’s responsible for doing every single one of those things, by myself, with a smile on my face, without complaining? And the answer is no, I can’t do all of that. There are not enough hours in the day. And so, people often say things like ‘you have the same 24 hours as Beyonce has, for example.’ Well, Beyonce also has a team of people around her doing things like grocery shopping, cleaning her house, nannying her children, driving her around, and keeping her schedule. She is the epitome of what we’re talking about, she is able to focus on the thing she does best – entertaining. So the same should be true of any human, but in this case, women in a C-Suite position. Why can’t we hire help to clear our time so we can focus on what we should be focusing on?

So I started to think about it in the context of ‘okay, if we really break it down, it’s just like outsourcing anything else?’ If I don’t have time to make coffee, I go to the coffee shop, should I be shamed for having a barista make me a coffee? No, millions of people do it every single day, regardless of what role they are in. If the guy who cleans my gutters stops at Dunkin Donuts to get coffee on his way to my house, is he being shamed for not being able to make his own coffee? Absolutely not. He’s just getting coffee. If I have someone walk my dog while I’m out of town, am I being shamed for not being in two places at once? Yes, it’s a total double standard.

So, Chris, my first question to you is, have you ever been asked questions along those lines as a man? How do you balance it all – a family, a career, everything?

Christopher Penn: Not with that implication around gender, people have asked me how I get so much stuff done, but it’s more a question of productivity, rather than gender roles.

Katie Robbert: As I’m sort of going down this dark rabbit hole of a rant, what are your thoughts around this topic?

Christopher Penn: You should outsource two things: things you’re not good at, and things that are not the best use of your time. It’s a cost benefit analysis. If it takes you an hour to cook dinner, and in that hour you could have been doing a revenue-generating activity, would you generate more revenue in that hour than you would save by not paying someone else to cook that dinner for you? If it costs you $30 to buy a dinner, but you make $100 an hour, the math is pretty easy – you outsource the cooking the dinner part so you can make that $100, netting you a profit of $70.

From an economics perspective, regardless of gender roles, you should outsource anything that is a net positive benefit to you – sometimes even if you’re not making money on it, if it reduces and removes cognitive distraction and stress from your life, you absolutely should do it. There are tons of things I outsource – I hire carpenters because I’m bad at building things, I hire plumbers because I don’t know what I’m doing with plumbing, and I hire electricians, because I don’t want to electrocute myself. And there’s also a collateral benefit to society – everything you outsource, you are paying someone else, and you are helping keep money circulating in the economy.

Katie Robbert: It is ridiculous, but it still very much happens. Chris, if you said ‘no, I outsource or I order out dinner because I’m focused on work’, they’d be like ‘Chris, that’s so smart and so productive’. If I say ‘I order out dinner so I can focus on making money at work’, the reaction typically is ‘Oh, so you put work above your family? How dare you?’. That’s really what the basis of the article is – logically, if we take gender roles out of it, it all makes sense. I’d love to hire someone to clean my house, do my laundry, and cook my meals – and that makes sense. But the expectation of me, and others identifying as a woman, someone in a position of leadership, is that I should be able to run my business, grow my business, and also have a full-time domestic role in my house without needing help. And that’s the conversation I would like to have this year – to change that conversation so that getting help for the things you need help with is not seen as shameful. Chris, to your point, it makes you more productive and helps you focus on your goals. But as a man, it’s harder for you to have that conversation on behalf of women who are experiencing this double standard.

Christopher Penn: What are you asking you this? For the people who express that opinion? Why does their opinion matter?

Katie Robbert: It’s funny, because I knew that would be part of this conversation. And in some ways, their opinion doesn’t matter. You know, day-to-day, their opinion doesn’t matter. I’m fortunate that I don’t really care what people think of me in general, I just sort of like keeping forward. However, when it does start to matter is when it starts to affect my business. And when it starts to affect the people around me in terms of potential opportunities. So, not so much these days, but when I was younger, and in different jobs and in different roles, I was often asked when I’m going to have children and what that’s going to mean for my projects. So, there was this expectation that as a woman in her late 20s, early 30s, I must be thinking about having kids and do I have a backup plan for when I’m going to be out on maternity leave, and or already planning on not coming back to work at all. And at no point did I ever say, ‘Hey, I’m planning on having kids’, even if I was or wasn’t – it’s not a conversation that I needed to be having in a professional setting, it was nobody’s business. And yet somehow, it was a constant theme of conversation of, ‘So, when you have kids, who’s going to take over for you?’ and so it was always with this eye toward having someone to replace me, for when I inevitably was going to selfishly go have children or have a family, or do whatever it is that women do that make them incapable of working, according to society.

And so that’s really where I’m coming from in this – where no, people’s opinions don’t matter until they do, until they directly impact your ability to do your job, to advance your career, to grow your business, because their unrealistic expectation of what you as a woman are capable of is then put on you until it becomes their reality, and then therefore your reality.

Christopher Penn: That’s just illogical and stupid.

Katie Robbert: I don’t disagree with you, but it’s what happens, yes, what happened to me.

Christopher Penn: It is no way. And I totally get that. But from the perspective of people who you want to maximize the productive productivity of your business, all of your workers are functionally identical. You get your allotted X number of hours of their time, and they have X number of skills. And they have to, you have to treat them like machines, right? And get them doing what they’re best at in the time that you have to do it so that you maximize their productivity, regardless of what your opinions are, about how they live their lives. They have roles to play like pieces of software to generate results for you.

And, you know, it’s one of the things I think is the most short-sighted about the labor markets right now. People are complaining, ‘Oh, we can’t find help. We can’t find workers, we can’t find staff.’ There’s nobody, and yet people ignore women who want part-time, who are perfectly capable of doing great work just not in 40 hours a week, people who need flexible schedules who have more than one job, people who are veterans, people who have disabilities that prevent them from going to the office, but guess what? Their brains and their fingers work just fine.

So, yes, that person may not be able to commute. Commuting is inherently ablest. You have to be able to navigate a world made for people without disabilities. Remote work is a lot more enabling and you have a huge legion of people who have perfectly working brains. And in an increasingly knowledge-based economy, we’re ignoring those in the labor supply.

So there’s a lot of things bubbled up into this, this dirty secret of C-suite, there’s nothing to bump up into the generals in general that are inherently illogical and unproductive. They are things that are costing you money because you’re not recognizing that talent is talent. And if you are a good business person who is focused on maximizing profit over the long term, you take your talent where you can get it. And the more flexible you are, the more egalitarian you are, the more loyal your employees will be. And the more likely you are to be able to retain them, because they know that working anyplace else is going to suck more because people are going to say stupid things like, ‘Oh, when you’re going on maternity’ or ‘Well, why can’t a wheelchair get to this office space?’ You people will say stupid stuff like that.

And so as a level-headed, logical employer, you should 100% be focused on ‘Am I getting the most out of the skills and the time that I have to work with people?’ And we were having this discussion this morning about VAs changing up some staffing and stuff and how to train up a new person. It comes down to ‘Can we get somebody with good processes and procedures? Can we get somebody up to speed quickly and continue to build to do the good work?’

Katie Robbert: What I really think about where this comes from, because I’m always fascinated by the psychology of, you know, where these types of things come from. A lot of it, I believe – and I’m not a psychologist – but a lot of where these dirty secret pieces of content come from is that there’s a lot of insecurity at the top of, you know, well, okay, I’m just going to say this directly. And if people want to come back and comment, please go ahead. I welcome it. There’s a lot of really insecure men out there, and women, who are trying to consciously and subconsciously find ways to hold other people down who they feel threatened by.

And so using gender roles is one of those ways that insecure men and women equally try to hold other people back who they feel threatened by. So if you have an A-plus player on your team, you may feel threatened by that person. And so, ‘Oh, you know, let me figure out how to sabotage this person so that I can continue to look like the star, and they can not advance ahead of me because I’m actually not that great.’

I’m not saying that’s all of why this happens. A lot of it is just ingrained culturally, and things that have to be unlearned. But there is a good amount of just flat-out insecure people at the top of a company who don’t know any other way than to put other people down. And using gender roles as a negative is one of those ways that it is done. It happens. It still happens to me. People assume that I’m Chris’s assistant, because I’m female, and because I’m not as outgoing and extroverted as Chris. So they just automatically assume that I’m your assistant.

Now, do I have a problem coordinating your schedule or responding to emails on your behalf? Absolutely not. But don’t make that assumption about me. Ask. Say, ‘Hey, what role do you play?’ or ‘Hey, Chris, do you want to do this thing? No, but let me talk to Katie and see if she can help me pull this thing together.’ It doesn’t matter at the end of the day who does the work. But if you go into the conversation assuming roles about people, you are automatically perpetuating the problem. And people use gender roles as a weapon in a lot of ways. Because it’s ‘How do I continue to keep this person down?’ They use assumptions about ethnic backgrounds as well. ‘Oh, Chris, well, you know, it looks like you’re Asian. So I’m going to make a bunch of really racist, stereotypical assumptions about what you are and are not capable of.’ I’m not actually going to list any of those things out on this podcast, because that would be incredibly rude and untrue. But I’m sure that that has happened to you in the past as well.

Christopher Penn: I am in fact bad at math. What is the system?

Katie Robbert: What is the system?

Christopher Penn: It’s a collection of processes, right? So, I don’t know. It’s a collection of processes, written and unwritten rules that make things work. Standard Operating Procedures, could something like that form a system? Yep. One of the things that a lot of people in a position of privilege don’t understand is that when we say systemic sexism or systemic racism, it is not about the attitudes of an individual person, it’s not the person, it’s the system; the sets of rules and processes and procedures, the Standard Operating Procedures, that create and perpetuate inequities from people who have privilege, and this is all privilege, race, gender, religion, wealth, etc.

To deconstruct and chip away at things like asking someone when they’re going to have kids, for example, the processes and systems around the gender role of women have to be altered to be more egalitarian. To give a simple example, instead of having maternity leave, what if we had parental leave, and the parental leave extended to anyone of any gender, and they had X time off? So, whether you identify as male, female, something else, or choose not to identify, they get the same level of time off if they want to have a kid. We have what’s called paternity leave in some places, and even if you get a new pet, you get a week to spend time with the new pet. But it is those systems in place that perpetuate these biases, things that otherwise you would not think about if you had something called parental leave.

Think about pay differently too. If you have pay scales that are defined by a role and seniority, then you automatically dismantle the ability for somebody to say, “Oh, well because you’re a woman, you don’t deserve to get paid as much as a man.” Nope. If you are in slot G7, your grade G7, then this is your pay, right? And then there’s a performance factor of one to two percent. That’s how the government’s civil service scale works. The whole Civil Service scale was engineered specifically to reduce bias in the system, so that a black woman who is a G7 gets the same pay as a white man who is a G7, because they’re at the same level. Now, there are obviously still ways that bias can occur, but the system, by constructing systems like this, helps to reduce that. The same for things like resume blinding. When you take a resume, remove all personal identifying information, and say these are the characteristics, summarize the resume without giving away identifying characteristics. That makes the system more equitable, because you can no longer tell, “Oh, this is a woman; I’ll if I want to hire her, she might go out on maternity leave.” Nope. You’re looking for a DBA with seven years of experience, who can use MySQL, Oracle, and Microsoft SQL? Does this candidate qualify for those things?

If we restructure the system, now you get rid of the ability for people to make those assumptions, and you get a more diverse workforce, or in some cases, you get some very strange effects. Malcolm Gladwell talked about this in, I think it was Outliers, when orchestras started to use blind auditions. Up until that point, it was assumed that only men could play classical music. After orchestras start using blind auditions, something unusual happened – the vast majority of people in orchestras are now women. Because it turns out, women are actually superior musicians. But dismantling the system allowed that actual talent to arise.

Katie Robbert: That goes back to the insecurities and people needing to be aware enough that that’s what’s happening. I have countless female friends who have felt that they’ve needed to hide their pregnancy during interviews, for fear of not being hired. No interviewer would come right out and say, “We didn’t hire you because we know you’re gonna go on maternity leave,” but that was always a big fear and anxiety as a woman who is expecting a child, because there’s an assumption that, “Well, you’re not gonna be here in three months, so why would I hire you?”

So there needs to be an awareness from the people who are in charge of those decisions and in charge of those systems and processes that they’re the problem, that they’re a big part of the problem, and something needs to change. So if we go back to that article of the dirty secrets of C-suite women, I hope that at least in our tiny little ecosystem, in the grand scheme of things for Trust Insights, we are fixing some of those issues where gender roles don’t matter. It doesn’t matter what gender you identify as, what you’re responsible for outside of your job, doesn’t matter how much you outsource of it, how much you do yourself, doesn’t matter as long as your job is getting done and getting done well.

Christopher Penn: So, if you’re doing a job, then what you do outside of work is irrelevant, because the results, the performance, indicates that you’re doing your job right. If we had stayed flat, or had declines in revenue, then we have to have a conversation like, “Okay, the role of the CEO is to execute the business of the company and to foster its growth. And if you can’t do that, if you’re on Twitter all day, mouthing off and stuff like that, driving your stock price down 78% within a year and losing $200 billion, you might be a little too emotional for that role. Maybe just to step back and start outsourcing somewhere when you lose $200 billion in a year.”

Katie Robbert: A lot of focus is on the fifth P in the five Ps, which is performance. Are you, and you listening to this, getting the results that are expected? Are you achieving the results? Katie, as CEO, has the company been increasingly profitable every year? Yes, right, we closed 2022 with our biggest revenue growth yet.

Katie Robbert: But also to your point, you do have a favorite quote from Star Wars from Emperor Palpatine, the middle, he was the bad guy.

Christopher Penn: It’s true, though, all those who have power are afraid to lose it. And systems that are in place, benefit those who are currently in privilege. And so, in addition to how people don’t, don’t kick down on other people, solely because they’re emotionally insecure, they also recognize if you change the system, they lose their privilege. That is scary for a lot of people who, to your point, know, they probably don’t generate as much value, or as much performance as they could.

Katie Robbert: And that is 100%. The core issue of this whole conversation is, yeah, there is a lot of solutions that we could put in place to fix a lot of these, you know, gender disparities, and, you know, all of this, you know, economic inequality. But to your point, Chris, the systems are in place to keep certain people in power, you know, we could go down, you know, an even darker rabbit hole and sort of turn to politics. But let’s not do that. But that sort of that factors into a lot of this as well, of the systems that have been put in place to keep certain people in power, making terrible decisions about our own individual lives. Those are the systems that need to change. But people don’t want to change those systems, because it doesn’t benefit them, because they would then lose the power that they currently have, they would lose their money, they would lose the lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to. And so the same is true of businesses, and even households. If you think about, you know, you break it down to even smaller things, such as an individual relationship between two people, those power struggles exist in a lot of relationships as well, not everyone treats relationships as an equal partnership. And so these are just, you know, what do you find yourself in an individual relationship accompany, you know, the political landscape of inequality. This is the reality of it, and there are our solutions, but the person who makes the decisions has to come to some sort of self awareness that they have to change the way that they’re thinking about it.

Christopher Penn: And in cases where that’s not going to happen, because you do have some very calcified institutions, that at least in the business world, the alternative is entrepreneurship. You can try not to say, “Okay, you know, I can do this work and I can’t do this work at this company, because this company is going in the wrong direction, or does not support the values and vision that I have for the world,” right? You and your associates and partners and stuff about people who may even share that vision. There is, in most parts of the world, not much stopping you from starting your own company and saying, “Hey, we’re gonna do it our way.” And I’ve talked about this in the past and on the show, I’m Trust Insights was founded. You look at our values page on our website, our values page, there’s a there’s a hidden secret version of it, which is the list of listeners dumb things people have done that we’ve worked for by name, who said, “We’re not going to do that stuff.” And so we have a value that says, “You know, we stand for X, because, you know, the secret bridge is because Bob over here was a dumb.”

Katie Robbert: And wasted everybody’s time all the time. That’s the opportunity and there has never been a better time in all of recorded human history for people to try doing their own thing. There have been more careers that are available to people. It’s not easy. It’s not it’s not simple. It’s not a fun. A good chunk of the time when you is particularly when you’re first getting started off, but it is possible. And there’s a lot to be said for the freedom of saying, “I’m going to do it my way. And I’m going to do it free of the systems that in that were previously placed previous employers or in the rest of your industry.”

As you succeed, if you succeed, you then get to define what the new systems are. That will attract some talent will be some people. Yeah, well, yeah, that’s not for me. That’s okay. But there will be absolutely some people like, “Yeah, that’s a company I want to do business with. That’s a company I want to work for this company, and want to promote or be an influencer for.” All these things come from you changing systems, governments and stuff. Yeah, that takes longer to change, but it does change over time. But in business, and in marketing, you can change it today. Again, it’s not gonna be easy. But it is possible.

Katie Robbert: It is possible and it’s not going to be easy. But Chris and I, and our whole community are here to support you. So you know, as we wrap up our first rant of 2023. If you want to join a supportive community that doesn’t focus on gender roles, or cares how much you outsource to get your job done, then you can join our free Slack community analytics for marketers. You can find that at I think we have close to 3000 members at this point. We do, which is really exciting. And it’s a lot of like minded individuals who don’t care about gender, who don’t care about personal ethnic backgrounds. We just want to talk about cool stuff and answer questions and get things done. So you can join us.

Christopher Penn: And wherever it is, you watch or listen to this show. If there’s a privilege to do so, prefer to have it on set, go to, where we have almost every platform that is still in business that we’re podcast. Thanks for tuning in. We’ll talk to you next time.

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