The William D. Reimert Lecture

Renowned Author, Journalist, Says Women Can Write Their Own Rules for Success

When respected journalist and New York Times best-selling author, Katty Kay, was attending college in her native England in the 1980s, she had an idyllic view of what her life would be once she entered the workforce.

“I would join an organization, and I would be president of that organization. I would work 60 hours a week. I would have a husband, and I would cook wonderful meals, and we’d have children. I would have it all,” the BBC Washington correspondent recalled, while delivering the William D. Reimert Lecture to a packed house of 350 at Cedar Crest College on November 17. The program was titled, “Womenomics: Write Your Own Rules for Success.”

But reality wasn’t quite so tidy for the energetic and hard-driven Kay. After several years of working 12 hour days as an up-and-coming journalist, she began to doubt that she truly could have it all. The situation escalated when she became pregnant for the first time in her late twenties.

“One day I burst into tears. I told (a colleague), ‘No one is ever going to take me seriously again. I’m going to be on the ‘mommy track’ the rest of my life,’” she told the rapt audience, which included students. She explained how the prevailing wisdom at the time—both among employers and often working women, themselves—was that women could have a fruitful career or family life, but not both.

Fortunately, she sidestepped the ‘mommy track.’ With her reputation as a serious news journalist growing—along with her family—Kay began to think outside of the box. She decided that it was okay to focus more on work or the family at any one time, so long as she dedicated ample effort to both over the long haul. And she asked for a more flexible schedule to accomplish everything she wanted to do. Because she had proven herself a valuable employee over the years, many of her requests were granted.

Kay was at Cedar Crest College to not only share some of the strategies she has used to balance her career and family life, but to bring some positive news: in today’s results-driven business environment where hours spent in the office aren’t as important as the bottom line, it’s easier for women to attain the balance they want in their lives.

“There have been a half a dozen studies that show that companies that employ more women, make more profit,” said Kay, adding that the typical woman takes fewer chances, thinks longer term, and tries to reach consensus more than her average male counterpart—all of which can be good for business. “The skill set that you have by virtue of being a woman is a very precious business commodity.”

kay with students

The elevated status of women in the workplace, coupled with the current economy in which many companies are willing to provide benefits in lieu of pay raises and bonuses, has set the stage for a true workplace revolution, said Kay, whose 2009 best-selling book with co-author Claire Shipman is titled, “Womenomics: The Workplace Revolution That Will Change Your Life.”

Members of the Cedar Crest College community were impressed with the speaker and her message, which ties into the College’s mission to educate the next generation of leaders. The College is implementing several women’s leadership initiatives as part of its recently launched strategic plan.

I think she is a very inspirational and successful woman. It was great meeting her, because she is everything a young lady at Cedar Crest College should try to be,” said first-year student Monika Marjanovic. “She is herself, she is down to Earth, she fights for what she believes in, and she tries her best even when she is told that she will not succeed.”

“I appreciate that Katty Kay has lived what she shares about women’s contributions,” said adult student Bonita Bleiler. “The recognition, at last, that women bring unique strengths and skills wherever we work is validating and significant.”

Cedar Crest College President Carmen Twillie Ambar added: “Katty Kay has attained tremendous success in her career, and she has also been there for her family when they have needed her. Her ability to lead in every facet of her life makes her an exemplary role model for our students, and I can’t think of a better person to deliver our 2010 William D. Reimert Lecture.”

Though her talk focused primarily on women in the workplace, Kay said men remain a vital part of the equation. She cited a University of Michigan study that found that work groups that contain men and women and their complementary skills tend to be more productive than those that are homogenous.

She said some companies, including Best Buy and Capital One, now provide greater flexibility for all workers, which helps them retain high-performing employees from both genders.