Saundra Pelletier Interviewed by Op Ed News
Article originally published by By Joan Brunwasser on Op Ed News
My guest today is Saundra Pelletier, CEO of WomanCare Global and author of Saddle Up Your Own White Horse: 5 Principles Every Woman Needs to Know.
JB: Welcome to OpEdNews, Saundra. You have devoted your entire life and career to empowering women. Let’s start at the beginning. You give your mother credit for making you the strong and capable person you are today. How did she do that, and in Caribou, Maine, of all places?
SP: As Jackie Kennedy said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”
My mother’s life was bungled as she was never encouraged as a child to do much of anything except work on the farm. Education, ambition, a runway for success was as foreign as her crossing the county line. She has lived her life with the disappointment that she should have done more but her way of breathing more freely was to encourage me to do all the things she didn’t do. For me, there were three significant differentiating ways my mother raised me that were different than other girls I knew.
— I was treated like an adult by age 8 and told things that were probably by most people’s standards beyond my age comprehension like, “never be in a position to need a man, it’s ok to want one but needing one makes you vulnerable” and “always have your own bank account and never tell the balance to anyone – you never know when you might need to leave town.”
— My mother always said, “no matter what happens, you can always come home and work at McDonalds.” This was her ultimate mind trick to ensure I would never need to come back to Caribou, Maine to work.
— She also always said, “being alone builds character, you should like spending time with yourself above anyone else.”
I really believe that if more mothers focused on building strength in their daughters vs. femininity, this world would be a better place. Strength trumps softness, always. I also believe if more mothers raised their daughters to know they could always come home, no matter what, women would take more risk and be more courageous.
I have seen so many women get left for younger, crazier models and they are helpless. Most are financially ruined but those who aren’t are emotionally distraught and can’t pick up the pieces of their lives. Women need my mother’s message to become the person you want to attract and stop waiting for it to arrive in the body of Prince Charming. Charm fades, if women build a foundation of strength within themselves, they can always rebuild their life if they need to.
My mother now says she deserves very little credit. She jokes that I was born with a willpower made of iron and a drive to never settle. I think every girl is born that way but she needs someone to cultivate it, to tell her it is ok to be beautiful and strong and that power is not just for the life of a man but for the life of a happy human.
JB: You didn’t carry a lunchbox or dress like your peers in elementary school. Why not? What was your mother after with these two small but essential tweaks?
SP: “Fake it til you make it” and “dress and act for the person you want to become, not the person you may be at this moment” are the mantras that were personified by my mother dressing me in suits and having me carry a briefcase. Now that I look back on my life, I think it’s important to note that although my mother was a strong personality, she also allowed me to make my own decisions.
At times, I had plenty of rope to hang myself. I can remember wondering if she had any idea how controlled the lives of my classmates were. I was never forced to do anything, encouraged lightly but I decided all my activities, who my friends were, and eventually what I wore and how I wanted to express myself, all at a very young age.
Her strong themes were all based on making a life for myself independently, having my own money and never having to be codependent.
There is a humorous statement, “a man is not a plan”; my mother would tattoo that on her forehead if she thought more young women would really believe it. Empowering girls is certainly not just about convincing them to steer clear of the “Leave it to Beaver” life but it was that precise message that I carried with me.
Every time I had an opportunity to advance my career, I took it. I relocated so many times for work I have lost count. I was always in a relationship at those times and they could have chosen to join me yet none of them did. They instead wasted many words trying to convince me “they were The One” and I should stay put to be with them. I have had many breakups, most quite dramatic and my mother always repeated, “In 24 hours this will be better, in one week it will seem as though it happened months ago and in a month it will be history.” When I asked, “what should I do today when it feels so horrible?” “Go buy yourself a present, you deserve it” was her reply.
JB: You and your mother have both worked hard to empower other women. You propose that we enable ourselves to take care of and take charge of our own future. You also point to the many men who, when push came to shove, wouldn’t commit to following you on your career path as society expects women to do for their men. Does female empowerment leave men out of the equation? Are women who take charge destined to go solo?
SP: There was unfortunately a time when most women who took charge did have to go solo but with time came progress. Today’s woman can decide what she deserves and can define what “having it all” means for herself and what works for her own individual life. Yes, there are still some women who say it is not possible to “have it all” and I say, “redefine that argument.”
Figure out what matters most to you. It can be three or four things and then use your grand multitasking skills to create a life that includes all of them. Everything won’t be perfect all the time but when the dust settles on most days you will feel more fulfilled knowing you juggle many balls vs. the boredom of bouncing one.
Also, the mentality of men has improved and men now see the benefit of aligning with strong powerful women. They understand now more than ever that women can maintain a soft side and rule the world. Our sons see their mothers working while maintaining strong bonds with their children, rising to the top of corporate ladders and still finding time to invest in themselves. I will admit there are still a few bad eggs out there who can’t embrace women’s equality but they will be left in the caves they came from.
JB: Cool! In your book (and beyond), you emphasize the need to put ourselves first. Why is putting yourself/ourselves first not an essentially selfish act?
SP: The days of women leaders having to be fire-breathing dragons to gain respect are over. The extraordinary traits that make women wonderful companions and mothers are the same traits that make them exceptional leaders. A soft side is about making your employees know that you have their backs. They can trust and reply on you to defend, support and empower them.
Soft sides care about corporate culture for the right reasons and create working environments that allow for work life balance. This always results in higher productivity, stronger commitment and fosters team players. Soft is still powerful yet it does not rule by ego and arrogance. Soft sides rule from benevolence, progress and forward thinking.
When you put yourself first, everyone else benefits because your own life is actually working. Your own life is balanced and fulfilled and you live without regret so you give more back to everyone you encounter. It’s hard to give substance when you feel empty. If we can’t put ourselves first, why should anyone else? Women understand the critical importance of raising confident children who want to be first yet some still live as martyrs accepting a life of less because it is our responsibility and the cross we must bear as women.
That is just poppycock. Step off the cross, take off the shackles and put on the same confident pants we admire in others and cultivate in our children and friends. Putting ourselves first is the answer to sustainable equality for every woman in every aspect of life. Men have been doing it since the beginning of time, so this is one instance that I do believe we should imitate our male counterparts.
JB: In your book, you talk about the necessity of every woman having a cavalry. What do you mean? And how does it work?
SP: It takes a village. Doing it all on your own is exhausting and, frankly, just not smart. When women bond and collaborate, oxytocin is released which is the same trigger for orgasm, so a cavalry is like a great sex life. For example, my cavalry today is my super nanny, my tough as nails assistant, my crazy best friend and my incomparable mother. Without them my quality of life would be quite depressing. In fact, my life just would not work.
When I was clawing my way up the corporate ladder, I had three women in my cavalry: a woman whom I admired and who mentored me, a peer I trusted and used as a sounding board and an assistant who always gave it to me straight and kept me humble. I would do anything for these women and they would do anything for me. A cavalry is about having people in your corner who will tell you like it is with objectivity and people who will help you manage your tasks so life runs more smoothly.
A professional cavalry should be formal. Bi-weekly or monthly meetings should be scheduled so challenges, successes and progress can be shared. An agreement for candid conversation should also be agreed to as this is the fastest way for improvement and a time frame decided upon especially if you are asking for a mentor. Six months is reasonable. Women can also establish personal cavalries with girlfriends and relatives as a way creating our own tribe. I encourage personal cavalries to also rotate the leadership and the organizing responsibility for the group so different women take charge at different times. Simply put, a cavalry is a foundation to ensure personal and professional success.
JB: Your career in the healthcare field began rather serendipitously. Can you share that story with us?
SP: Sometimes what we choose, chooses us without us even realizing it. My goal was broadcast journalism when I went to college but because many experiences surrounded women’s confidence, women’s natural thoughts about what they deserved, I consistently felt that I needed to do more to impact empowering women. Unfortunately, I did not know how at the time. Searle launched the first birth control pill in the US, they a were a pharmaceutical company with a focus on the female patient. I started in a an entry level position and quickly moved up the corporate ladder to run a global division. This allowed more influence, more training for me on what women wanted and how to reach them from puberty to menopause. The most important lessons came in my journey to advance my career on managing and mentoring women and how some women really aren’t supporters to the most important recipients, other women.
JB: The very opposite of the concept of nurturing cavalry. You’ve carried over that concern for women to your current role as CEO of WomanCare Global. What goes on over there? What are you trying to accomplish and how do you go about it?
SP: WomanCare Global is a non-profit organization focused on providing reproductive healthcare products to women and girls. The unmet demand for contraception is significant with 230 million women wanting options they are unable to obtain. On a positive note, there are many wonderful organizations doing important work but often times band-aids are provided instead of long term sustainable options so the need continues.
We at WomanCare Global (WCG) believe that every woman, no matters who she is or where she lives should be able to choose when, if and how often she has children. We sometimes forget that these women are often invisible, treated as second class citizens and beaten if they use a contraceptive method even though they can’t feed the children they already have. Women WILL make the right choice if given an option. We see women who will walk two days pregnant, carrying children and pulling them along behind her so she can stand in line for contraception.
Women in every corner of the world simply want a quality of life for the children they already have and sadly they are willing to risk their lives to prevent having an unwanted child. Too often, women do lose their lives from complications that could be avoided. Let me shock you by sharing that when children lose their mother in Africa, they are 10 times more likely to die prematurely.
What makes WCG different? What is the value we add? Well, we say that we are in the unsexy business of managing the supply chain which is the path to providing quality contraceptive choices. WCG has three characteristics that we feel are value propositions in the women’s healthcare field globally. 1. We use developed market quality assurance and regulatory which is the same process pharmaceutical companies use to evaluate their products for the US market. This matters because we can ensure our products have quality ingredients, quality packing that can stand up to heat and that we will be able to supply these products indefinitely.
2. We use a behavior modification approach to calling on doctors, nurses, midwives and other healthcare providers. We call this program MAX: Maximizing Provider Performance. This means we have meetings with high frequency, we collect data on patients, products and procedures that we upload on iPads in Africa. This allows us to make educated assumptions on how people are being trained on various contraceptive choices and the obstacles that exist in tier daily work. We can then do “real time” interventions and assist with providing solutions. Perhaps a woman is only being offered one choice because the provider needs additional medical training.
3. The final differentiating characteristic is that WCG is a hybrid model. This means we use business practices to generate profits in developed markets and we us that profit to subsidize places where we lose money on purpose like the continent of Africa. This will allow us to become self-sustaining in the future. We can very transparently show the cross subsidizing of funds to achieve our mission. Finally, I think it’s important to say that we make a very deliberate effort to act as a complement to other organizations. Success lies in partnering with other organizations that have different skill sets so we can use a total market approach and impact lasting change. My concern is that we must think globally now and correct the problems that exist with providing access to real choice for women and girls in every country.
JB: Your business savvy and experience in the field are definite assets to your work at WomanCare Global. We tend to think of access to contraceptives as a Third World issue. But, alarmingly, that very same access has been steadily shrinking here at home. Have you thought about including the US in your global outreach?
SP: Access is a global issue and American women cannot rest and feel that our rights are safe and sound. The same issues regarding choice and access to that choice continue to be debated here at home. One out of every two pregnancies in the US involve women who do not want to be pregnant with that child and the biggest increase in women having unplanned births are women between the ages of 20 and 24. The US market requires a significant investment to make an impact as an organization. WomanCare Global does not yet have the financial resources to make an impact in the US market.
JB: But you’re mindful of the problem. What haven’t we talked about yet, Saundra?
SP: YES, I am VERY mindful of the problem.
The only thing we have not yet talked about is the sexiness of philanthropy. Giving ignites your soul and a little contribution can make a big difference when you give to the right cause that is being impacted by the right organization. I obviously wave the WomanCare Global flag passionately because I want every woman to have choice BUT there are many important, life changing initiatives that can pull on our heart strings if we open our minds up to the knowledge that the power of one will compound. Taking three days a week and forgoing our latte for our “giving” fund is a simple way to start. Allocating 5% of our salary is another deliberate way to give back. When we remember that we are all connected, we can easily embrace purposeful living by including philanthropy in your life.
JB: Starting small is a great way to jump in. Thanks so much for talking with me, Saundra. It’s been a pleasure.