About Susan Packard

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So far Susan Packard has created 51 entries.

Girls and Games

As I moved up in companies I saw what great gamers men were. It’s how they thought. They viewed work as just another playing field, with men and women running around on it. It was one grand competition. I swear every morning, before they even put their feet on the floor they were thinking: who dies today? Maybe I’m overstating that a little bit, but not by much. For women, we’re at an extreme disadvantage against men if we can’t figure out how to compete against them to win.

The trouble is, our current generation of women didn’t get all the wisdom wrapped up in playing games, as men did. That’s changing now due to Title Nine, but for most of us, we didn’t learn how repetitions of winning and losing could help us as we grew into adulthood. Instead, we grew up role-playing with our Barbies, and talking.

We did a lot of talking. Still do. A Boston Consulting Group study revealed that women talk about 20,000 words a day, and men about 7,000. Whew, that’s a lot of sentence structure for our brains to be engaged in every day. Meanwhile, men are over in their offices thinking about the next conquest.

Are we really less competitive than men? I don’t believe that. I wasn’t, and my competitive nature–which I enthusiastically embraced–was one way I advanced into senior roles. But for many women I’ve met and mentored, they’re generally uncomfortable expressing their competitive spirits outwardly. We’re great at self-mastery, which is competing against ourselves to do our best work, but others? That involves beating them, which could mean confrontation and most certainly means another person losing. Women are filled with compassion, and winning requires dispassion.

How can we fix this? I’m working on a book about this very thing. Business game-playing is easy to learn, if you’re willing to practice. That’s what my book’s about, showing you how to be a great gamer so you can advance in your career.

And no, I’m not trying to make women become more like men. It’s like learning a new language. Once you learn, say, French, it doesn’t mean you lose your ability to speak English. The same goes with gamesmanship. It’s just a new skill set that makes the workplace richer for you.

Because let’s face it: Barbie can’t help us now.
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By |July 24th, 2013|Advocacy for women, Career development, Leadership|0 Comments

Jungle Jimmy

My husband Bill agreed to be a stay-at-home dad for practical reasons: I was making more money than his teaching job afforded, and we wanted one parent home. Then the fun began.

We had settled into his being at home with our son Drew when the letter came, which I opened. It was from Drew’s school, Sacred Heart, and it informed us that “Andrew Packard has 14 tardies and this will go on his permanent record.”

“What the heck Bill???” I asked in my kind and understanding way. Drew was in kindergarten, and Bill didn’t know there were different rules for kindergarten vs. preschool. He was just hanging around in the morning with Drew, two guys in their underwear watching cartoons until they felt like heading to kindergarten.

Much of the stay-at-home parenting didn’t come naturally to Bill, but I don’t know that it comes naturally to all women either. It definitely requires a great sense of humor. When Drew got to high school, all sophomores were required to give a chapel talk. Bill and I sat in the audience, anxiously wondering what our child would say. He started out with this: “My mom wears the pants in the family, while my dad wears the dress.” I was horrified for Bill. I slowly turned to look at him, and he leaned over and whispered, “If I did it’d be a little black one.” This kind of self-effacing humor was key to how he handled his role. The rest of the speech regaled Bill, so it all came out in the wash.

Speaking of which, over the years I found Bill in the laundry room a lot. I guess he felt doing laundry was good therapy. One time I offered to take over the chore and I washed Drew’s cell phone. Who knew to look in pockets? He fired me after that. I was not meant to be a stay- at home- mom, for too many reasons to recount in a small blog. Kids pose very tough questions that I wouldn’t have had to wisdom to address, like when Drew asked Bill how conjoined twins rode a bike, or after getting the sex talk at school, Drew asked “if it could get stuck in there.” I’m really glad I didn’t have to be on the receiving end of those questions.

There were times I would come home and Bill was just worn out. It wasn’t easy, like it isn’t easy for women either. He lost his temper plenty of times. And yet, there are moments when I witness the love these two guys share, and it takes my breath away. Drew’s now a college pitcher and he still asks Bill to toss with him, and Bill trudges out there with two pairs of glasses because “it’s coming so fast I don’t want to break my nose.” But he gladly goes. They share something pretty special.

I know many women wrestle with taking an off-ramp from career to home parenting, because I’ve mentored many of them. All of life is choices. Know yourself well enough before you make them. Involve your spouse in this decision. Maybe the role makes more sense for him. It’s happening a lot more frequently today than you may realize.

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By |June 21st, 2013|Learning, Parenting, Relationships|1 Comment


In Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, she devotes a chapter to the negative bias people express toward successful women. She cites a Columbia Business School experiment where students were divided into two groups, and shown identical profiles of a successful entrepreneur. One was named Heidi, and one was named Howard. The feedback on Howard was that he was appealing; the feedback on Heidi was that she was selfish and not the type of person you would want to hire or work for. (pgs. 39-40)

This was on my mind as I read a recent Harvard Business Review blog. Take a look at this illustration in the blog:


The HBR did a one-year research study that tracked chatter on the web about these women; sentiment toward them, and the intensity of that sentiment. The results: none of these women were liked, as the chart describes. Sandberg comes closest, but she also has the most people who dislike her passionately (hate). I might understand the sentiment about Mayer, given the recent news about Yahoo cancelling its telecommuting benefit for employees. But Sandberg and Slaughter? Sandberg is trying to help marshal a national conversation around women’s advancement. Slaughter’s points of view are different from Sandberg, but she, too, is engaging all of us in a dialog around balance in one’s work life and one’s home life. They have the platform to do it–which is rare for a woman–and they are taking action. Do we dislike anyone who acts to change our norms, or is our dislike reserved for women doing this? It really troubles me.

It especially troubles me because in a world top-heavy with men in senior management today, likeability is a foundational requirement for most women to make it into the senior ranks. Men network their way with other men into senior roles; women need to be liked. It’s unfair, but it’s true. In my upcoming book I’ve devoted a chapter to discussion and paths toward likeability. The topic may sound trite, but not so if you’re a woman aspiring to run an organization someday.

I can only hope that the reason Mayer, Sandberg and Slaughter were disliked is because they stand for change, and change makes many people uncomfortable. It’s less troubling than being disliked because you’re a woman who stands for change.

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The Earth is Crammed With Heaven

I was recently given a book by my friend Angela. It has beautiful sayings and illustrations. I came across one from Elizabeth Barrett Browning that really struck me: “The earth is crammed with heaven.” This saying got me very excited about the retreat that I am co-moderating at St. Mary’s Retreat House with my friend Susan Leonard on the weekend of June 14.

Who is our retreat for and what is it about? It’s for women who are at a reflective point in their lives. We are wondering how we should spend the most precious gift we have—time—at this life stage. I left the corporate world almost three years ago, in my mid 50’s, because something new was calling me. I didn’t know what that was, but I knew I needed a life change. We can be fresh out of school, mid-career, or tending to grandkids, and we ask the same questions: What is my purpose? What is my destiny? Through exercises, group discussion, and quiet reflection, Susan and I hope to get us all a little closer to that truth.

Since I’ve left corporate America I have seen how the earth is indeed, crammed with heaven. I’ve met many new friends, especially female friends, who have enriched my life. I’ve done new work in non-profit and for-profit. I am writing a book, something I’ve wanted to do since I was 16 years old.

When my husband and I were newly married about a million years ago, we travelled to New Zealand. We befriended a guide who flew us into a remote fishing camp, and we sat the day there, catching enormous sea creatures (ok, salmon) cooked them on an open fire, and talked. Our guide said: “Look around. What do you see?” I said: “Beauty everywhere. Infinite beauty.” He nodded and said, “You Americans are always in such a hurry. You never take the time to stop, and to really see.”

Our hope for the weekend is that we can take a moment to stop, and to really see…what paths we have already travelled, and the many we have still ahead. I know one thing we will find is that the earth is, indeed, crammed with heaven, and it awaits us with its open arms.

Click here to register for the retreat at St. Mary Sewanee’s website.
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By |April 27th, 2013|Friendship, Learning, Mentoring, Relationships|0 Comments



I was in Los Angeles last week to do some work, and had dinner with my old friend, Bridget. We’ve known each other for over 20 years, and became quick friends while both of us worked at CNBC. Most recently, Bridget was president of NBC cable network distribution, and had responsibility for several billion dollars in revenue each year. Big job. Bridget also has three kids that range from 7 to 16 years old, and a darling husband, Robert.

She shared that even with the raising of the kids, and all of the work stresses, she has kept her Thursday night book club date with her girlfriends. I thought about how I had let many girlfriends drift away during my heavy work years. It seemed I only had enough bandwidth for work and family. There was no third category of anything in my life.

I asked her how she managed to pull it off. “Habit and priorities,” she said. “It was so important. Now that I’m in this next phase of career, my friends have been tremendous support for me. I don’t know what I’d do without them.”

As working women, we go through many phases of life and career. I fully admit that when I got to the phase of senior management, I didn’t take the time to prioritize female friendships. It was a big mistake. When I became chief operating officer of HGTV, I experienced how solitary a c-suite job is. Not having the love, support, and mutual understanding that only girlfriends can provide was sorely missed. DON’T MAKE THIS MISTAKE. Stay close to your female friends, whatever it takes, as you make your way with life and career.

The good news is to we can learn from our mistakes, if we pay attention! Upon leaving Scripps Networks Interactive two summers ago, I joined a senior women’s organization called Committee of 200. These women have quickly become dear friends and trusted advisors. I’ve travelled the world with them, and we have worked side by side as we’ve mentored young, aspiring business women. Once a month, about 8 of us get on the phone to talk about life and career. We help each other. We celebrate exciting news, like a big new job or a child getting engaged.

Stay close to your girlfriends as you travel the road of life. It pays huge dividends.

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Can you relate?

I am in the middle of writing a book for women in business. I share the good, the exciting, and the sometimes horrible, so these can be lessons as we make our climb up the ladder. I came up for air from my writing to find two prominent women have released books this year.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomajor’s book, “My Beloved World,” recounts her life as a young Puerto Rican girl growing up in the Bronx. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has written a book/manefesto for women in the workplace called “Lean In.” She argues women need to raise their hands more at work, and not drop out when we’re starting families. We also need to have our husbands carry their share of the load at home with children and chores.

I’ve had the pleasure of wading through Justice Sotamajor’s book. She surprisingly opens herself up to the reader. She shares what growing up as a poor, ethnic little girl meant for her. I could relate to her special love of her grandmother, her feeling of being out of place amongst the blond and beautiful set, and her tough resilience as she made her way. I found myself cheering for her throughout the book. You go girl! And she surely went, all the way to the US Supreme Court.

I haven’t read Ms. Sandberg’s book yet since it’s not officially released, but the NYT and WSJ have posted early reviews. In both of these, it seems the problem is not the content, but her lack of relatability. NYT: “Will more earthbound women, struggling with cash flow and child care, embrace the advice of a Silicon Valley executive whose book acknowledgements include thanks to her wealth adviser and Oprah Winfrey?” (2/22/2013)

I know for fact that Ms. Sandberg has done a lot for women. She has mentored them, and she has gotten them on business boards. She seems to be this fascinating person who has dodged the life most women live. I don’t intend this as a ‘poor pitiful us’ comment, but the fact is we spend much of our lives being told we can not do—play quarterback, rabble rouse, run companies—so many of us greet adulthood a bit hesitant about raising our hands. Then we work, nurture families, do the schlepping, and, as the Carly Simon song says, fix the toaster too! I’m guessing Ms. Sandberg hasn’t fixed any toasters as she’s blazed her trail. Because we have amazing grit and welcome all sorts of new learning, we make our way just fine, and live our lives well.

The content of my book has personal stories, and counsel for women. In this way it’s a hybrid of the two mentioned above. I share tales of trying to balance being a mom with work, which was never easy. Some tough things happened on the job. At one company I watched a work colleague surrender to his alcoholism, with his final act being to kill his wife and them himself. All of the things I will recount helped me to mature, and gave me better tools in managing people. Ultimately, I made my way to the corner office at HGTV. The guidance I will offer strikes me as real and relatable, given the dimensions of our lives. I can only hope that is so. The reader will be the final judge.
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Celebrating 70 years of progress for women in the workplace


Today marks the 50th anniversary of the acclaimed book “The Feminine Mystique.” In honor of that, I am reprinting the piece below to remind women that, while we have a long way to still go, we have made some progress — thankfully!

In 1943, an issue of Transportation Magazine was devoted to tips to help male supervisors manage women:

1. Pick young married women. They usually have more of a sense of responsibility than their unmarried sisters, they’re less likely to be flirtatious, they need the work or they wouldn’t be doing it, they still have the pep and interest to work hard and to deal with the public efficiently.

2. When you have to use older women, try to get ones who have worked outside the home at some time in their lives. Older women who have never contacted the public have a hard time adapting themselves and are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy.

3. General experience indicates that “husky” girls-those who are just a little on the heavy side-are more even-tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.

4. Retain a physician to give each woman you hire a special physical examination-one covering female conditions. This step not only protects the property against the possibilities of lawsuit, but reveals whether the employee-to-be has any female weaknesses which would make her mentally or physically unfit for the job.

5. Give the female employee a definite day-long schedule of duties so they keep busy without bothering to ask for management for instructions every few minutes. Numerous properties say women make excellent workers when they have their jobs cut out for them, but that they lack initiative in finding work themselves.

6. Give every girl an adequate number of rest periods during the day. You have to make some allowance for female psychology. A girl has more confidence and is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick and wash her hands several times a day.

7. Get enough size variety in operator’s uniforms so each girl can have a proper fit. This point can’t be stressed too much in keeping women happy.
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By |February 19th, 2013|Advocacy for women, Women in business|1 Comment

No Shortcuts

I don’t have a technical bone in my body. So why I would choose an industry steeped in wires, cables, and satellite dishes, well, I truly don’t know. But when I started my career, engineers were my customers, and I had to learn their business if I was to be effective. I was representing Home Box Office to these guys, and it was up to them to put it on their systems, which they’d then transmit into peoples’ homes. We needed the cable guys so that HBO could have viewers.

That’s why I found myself, on a blustery winter day in Peoria, Illinois, at the top of a phone pole with my client. He was stunned I was willing to be up there with him, so once we made the climb, he taught me about his wires and cables like a proud dad. When we climbed down I asked to see his “head end” which housed his receiving equipment, so we went into the air-conditioned room ( on a winter day, in the frigid Midwest–get the picture?) and we talked about his receivers, modulators and satellite dishes.

HBO was added to his channel line-up after that call.

There are no shortcuts to learning what we need to know to be successful in our jobs. You must take the time to study and understand your customer and their business, as if you could do his or her job yourself. Never be shy to ask questions. Clients will be pleased that you genuinely want to solve their problems. And if you’re worth your salt, you do. I call this “getting into the head of your customer.” It’s a great, winning strategy for success.

Later in my career, one of my customer groups was shareholders as I was Chief Operating Officer of HGTV, a division of a publicly traded company called Scripps Networks. I had to stand up in a room full of investors and answer questions about our profits (or lack there of in the early years), our plans for growing revenues, and other related questions. Finance was a new language for me. I had to learn it, and I did that on the job through studying our financial statements and asking our Chief Financial Officer about them. Endlessly. I’m sure I wore him out. But to be credible with our investment company and to manage budgets, I had to know this. I also took an executive financial management tract at Darden to learn more.

There are no shortcuts to the top. We have to learn all the stuff along the way. Think of it as ongoing college or grad school, with pay. It’s part of the adventure of the job. With the will and the discipline to learn, we can succeed. We can win.
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By |February 8th, 2013|Career development, Learning, Negotiation, Women in business|1 Comment


Stan Musial died this week. Most baseball fans, like me, know what a powerhouse athlete he was. He was called a “gamer” in the media coverage, which meant someone who comes through when the game’s on the line. For women, this one thing—being a gamer—can help us to have great career success like Stan did in baseball.

The word “gamer” has become associated with players of video games, but the Stan Musial definition is more apt for business people. It’s an attitude—an inner, competitive drive to win when the game’s on the line. In our case the game is business, and the win is moving our careers and our companies to the next level of success.

Gamesmanship is not easy for women; I give whole seminars on the topic. We aren’t socialized this way, as men are. It comes easier for us to cooperate than to compete. It helps if we’ve played sports as a child growing up. There we learn how awesome it feels to win on a ball field, and how to take losing in stride without personalizing it.

Here’s one example of being a gamer that women have trouble with: In a business negotiation, there is a certain rhythm to the back and forth as offers are thrown out, accepted or rejected, and new creative ways are advanced to close a deal. Less is more in terms of the verbal volley. There will inevitably be that moment when you must pause, and wait. The wait can feel interminable. You must be comfortable in the silence. For some reason we have the need to fill that yawning gap of time with our words.  Doing that can crush you in a negotiation. Count to 60 (not 10 or 20—60) slowly, quietly to yourself. Keep waiting until the other party responds to you. Maintain eye contact while you are waiting.

Some gamer things women do very well, like anticipating the opponent’s next move. Pro athletes watch a lot of taped footage of the next team they’re playing so they can anticipate how the plays will go down, and to uncover the team’s strengths and weaknesses. We do this in business with thorough preparation. For example, if you are a candidate up for a promotion, preparing for the interview(s) is critical. Roleplaying what might be asked of you and how you should put your best foot forward—these are gamer moves. I have found women to be absolutely excellent in anticipating clients’ and colleagues’ next moves when the game is really on the line.

There are many other techniques to being a successful gamer, such as the art of the bluff, reading the ‘tell’ (a huge one in professional poker), and the walk away. The key to all of this is your mindset. Always know that if you lose a round, the next day you’ll probably win one. Learn from it, regroup, and go back on the field, or, if you’ll forgive my mixed metaphors, go back into the scrum. I promise that if you think like a gamer, you’ll come out of the muddy mess with the ball.
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Your first two jobs

I am writing a book for women who are making their way in business. This comes from Chapter 1.

Your first two jobs

We sometimes wonder if we’ve learned anything at all from our first paying job. Sure, we earned some money, but did that first job teach us anything? To have perspective, you must have something to compare that first job to. Thus it’s more helpful to look at your first two jobs, to compare and contrast them and to unearth the bits of learning you got from them. By doing this you begin to know early on what drives your enjoyment at work, and what’s a grind. No one is lucky enough to enjoy every single task one does on a job.

Factories and boardrooms

Typically your first two jobs are very different. For me, during summers in high school I worked where my dad worked, which was a direct mail house in Detroit called Ad-Mail Services. I did various things but my main job was to work on the factory floor, assembling direct mail pieces for packets that we would mail for our clients. Many days it hit 90 degrees on the floor. There were enormous fans subtly placed around the shop so as not to blow all the paper askew and mess with our production. Even with the fans though, it was really hot. But those of us there were young, and didn’t know any better– this was where we worked. We chatted, assembled, and got through our day.

My college summers were spent at General Motors, where I worked as an office assistant. This was the golden age of GM and the corporate building was quite a wonder. There was deep, rich woodworking everywhere, plush carpets lined the hallways, and yes, there was indeed air conditioning. I worked for two secretaries who attended to the director of logistics (yes, he had two secretaries). He was a kind man, not prone to the arrogance of others who worked there. He had a secret button located somewhere on his desk, and if he wanted privacy for a meeting, he’d push it and his office door would quietly close behind the visitors. Clearly this was not the factory floor.

I nicknamed the two secretaries I worked for Cruella deVille and Mary Poppins. Cruella was almost 6 feet tall, thin as a rail, and liked looking down at you. She never cracked a smile and took her job far too seriously. Mary was a sweet, perky blond who was into natural foods. She talked about vegetables all the time. Being ethnic, I was raised on meat and starch and had never met a vegetable, except sometimes there were limp, mushy things that would pool around my meat and potatoes. Maybe those were vegetables. While her chatter wasn’t of great interest to me, I preferred her company to Cruella and was always grateful the days I was assigned to her.

One memorable day when I was assigned to Cruella, she slapped a checkbook on my desk and explained that I needed to balance the director’s monthly statement. Plus, I had to find a missing $1,000. How could he ‘lose’ $1,000? $1,000 was three months of rent and plenty of beers at the bar for me. The task seemed quite inane, but I found the blasted $1,000 in about ten minutes due to someone’s poor subtraction . Cruella barely nodded when I handed the checkbook back to her.


First jobs make deep impressions on us. We learn from these impressions. How do I handle myself in situations that are not physically ideal, for instance? Today it’s typical in buildings, even green ones, that we have too much or irregular air conditioning. Bring a sweater. We often get assignments we think are a waste of time. Do we have adequate context for why they are being assigned? Who knows, maybe with the checkbook task the director’s wife normally balanced it but she was busy taking care of some dying relative. Maybe Cruella was testing my math skills. As a college or early career employee, we truthfully don’t know enough about how business works to assume things are a waste of time.

The real interesting question to me is: was I happier at one place or the other? Did I enjoy the day more at job #1, or job #2? I genuinely liked the camaraderie of the factory floor. I had none of that at GM. I liked working in a small business environment where I could know everyone, and help to create the products that were being developed for customers, even if it was just direct mail. On the flip side, at GM I got to use my developing business brain to organize meetings, to summarize the notes after attending them, and to hear what the business issues were as a fly on the wall. I enjoyed hearing the banter between the guys. And sure, I liked that air conditioning and those secret buttons.

So it’s no surprise I ended up in jobs that were a hybrid of the two: creating new businesses within corporate settings. It was the ideal for me, a mix of small and large, entrepreneurial but with the deep pockets of a corporation so I didn’t have to impoverish myself or my family.

What were your first and second job experiences, and what did you learn? Let me know in the comments!

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