Carnegie Mellon University
May 03, 2023

W.L. Mellon Speaker Series: Janet Foutty and Laurie Weingart Help Leaders Thrive

Janet Foutty, Executive Chair of the Board, Deloitte US, and Laurie Weingart, Richard M. and Margaret S. Cyert Professor of Organizational Behavior and Theory, have each forged successful careers in male-dominated domains. In the process, they have become determined to help budding leaders by challenging the status quo. They are striving to change the landscape for the betterment of not only employees but organizations themselves.

Each woman is co-author of respective informative books focused on helping women and male allies navigate the workplace. The authors recently discussed their endeavors in a fireside chat as part of the W.L. Mellon Speaker Series. The event, co-hosted by the Tepper Consulting Club and Tepper Women in Business, was opened by Dean Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou and moderated by Mia Pareek (MBA 2012), Principal, Deloitte Consulting. 

Foutty’s bestselling book "Arrive and Thrive: 7 Impactful Practices for Women Navigating Leadership," is a practical and actionable guide. Initially unsure if the 20 executives she contacted would participate, Foutty found all immediately eager to contribute. “I realized we were on to something,” she recalled. 

As “not a super planful person,” Foutty described her career path as an organic progression and defined courage as forging ahead despite fear and insecurity. While she found transitions such as starting business school or moving into different professional roles “happened very easily” for her, more personal decisions and difficult conversations were not. She described her lifelong method of overcoming fear as simply “practice, practice, practice.”

“That may sound mundane,” she continued, “but the courage I got from practicing delivering a tough message and all those little micro-moments over the years built my confidence to help make really big business decisions, like entering new markets, what to do in a downturn, or how to navigate a pandemic.”

Weingart’s book "The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-End Work," was born of a female colleague support group dubbed the “I Just Can’t Say No” club. They quickly realized that like them, women are often overburdened with work that isn’t core to their jobs and did research to figure out why.

“We wanted to write a book that could help change the way organizations allocate work and how individuals can better navigate the extra things they’re being asked to do,” Weingart explained.

Women, Weingart noted, take on a highly disproportionate share of “non-promotable tasks (NPTs)” due to culturally shared expectations. She shared her own experiences that included serving on three time-consuming building design committees, although “there’s nothing specific about being a professor of organizational behavior that makes me an expert at designing buildings!”

To avoid this, she counseled students to be consciously intentional with the amount of time they spend on NPTs in comparison to their to peers to achieve work-work balance. She cautioned the women in particular to “be more careful in how they say no to avoid negative repercussions” because when women say “no” they can be viewed negatively for violating the shared expectations that women will say yes to NPTs when asked.

On a hopeful note, Weingart pointed out that “there are some easy fixes, and we can all make small adjustments to solve the problem,” including management redistribution of NPTs, eliminating unnecessary tasks, and working to better recognize valued work, something she herself has worked to accomplish.

“Managers can play an important role,” she stressed. “Another important role is educating, especially your younger colleagues, in what’s promotable and what’s not.”

Foutty managed to turn her own early NPT experiences to her advantage. Despite “saying yes to everything that came my way," she used these tasks to practice her people skills. “In professional services, it’s all about people,” she noted. She cautioned the audience, however, to not let “extracurricular” work divert your focus from the work you were hired to do.

“I love that we have enthusiasm for a broad set of topics, but it can’t be at the expense of developing the skills you need to do the core function of the job.”

Foutty’s been driven by a deep belief that to handle increasingly complex issues, “the best executives of the next generation are those that can build the most diverse and inclusive teams.” In closing, she offered the group down-to-earth advice gleaned through a successful life and career.

“Get comfortable that things are going to go really, really off plan along the way and that’s OK because you are smart, talented, and driven enough that it is all going to be just fine.”

Dean Bajeux-Besnainou closed the event with heartfelt comments.

“What was mentioned here resonated with me at a very personal level and I really love that we’re able to have these conversations,” she observed. “It feels that back in the day we were not, and this is where probably we didn’t make as much progress as we should have.” 

Beginning in 2006, the W.L. Mellon Speaker Series has provided an opportunity for students to interact with global leaders, CEOs, and management experts. It represents the strong emphasis the Tepper School places on leadership development.

W.L. Mellon Speaker Series Presentation: Janet Foutty and Laurie Weingart