STB 5 | Mean Girl Culture
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Mean Girl Culture: Rethinking Female Relationships In The Workplace With Shirley Bloomfield

Mean Girl Culture – it’s widespread and it’s harmful, but it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. The shame is that this same culture is what reinforces the grip of the patriarchy over workplaces all over. Shirley Bloomfield is the CEO of the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association. She chats with Michelle McGlade about the proliferation of unkind cultures and practices in workplaces. Pulling on her experience, Shirley talks about how she conquered this culture, and how you can beat it in your own workplace.

Mean Girl Culture: Rethinking Female Relationships in the Workplace with Shirley Bloomfield

Ms. Shirley Bloomfield is in the house. She is amazing. This is one of those episodes where you want to grab a nice, full, hot cup of coffee and get in your cozy chair, have your blanket, so you don’t have to get up. You want to be focused. I know you tend to do three different things at one time, but this is one of those where you want to soak it in. Ms. Shirley Bloomfield has spent many years in the technology arena with most of that time devoted to advocating and implementing ways to bring broadband and innovation to American consumers. Professionally, she has worked with numerous service providers in the quest to expand broadband, but in her heart lies with her role working with community providers to expand technology in rural America. I would say she’s committed to bringing more women to the table in the high-tech arena and increasing the diversity of voices around the table and cheering on her two amazing daughters.

Shirley didn’t mention in some of the points about her career that she is the CEO of the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, a big trade association out of Washington DC. There are a million things about this episode. She hadn’t me at shoe shopping when we started the interview. I think that there is so much when I think about Shirley. I reflect on the time that I was able to spend with her and it’s calmness, wisdom, confidence and courageousness. I feel her fierceness and her sassiness in a good way. My sense about her is she’s just getting started. Some of the things I want you to soak in as you’re reading what Shirley has to say, to date, she has gone the deepest. She’s been the most vulnerable. She talks about things that she doesn’t want you to know about her. She discloses what is still a struggle for her, even though she’s one of the top roles in an organization. I think that it is fascinating for you to know because we all have it. It doesn’t matter what level of success you’ve achieved. We all still have personal struggles and we have things we don’t want you to know about us.

I loved that in our conversation, there’s a moment where she says, “Let’s hit rewind.” She makes it a point to drive home for me and for you one of the most important lessons she’s learned. It’s that you have to find time for you. We hear that a lot, but I wanted to put some emphasis around it so that it’s starting to ooze into your being. A lot of the individuals I’ve spoken with, and I’ve done this so wrong for myself, is putting myself last and coming around to the idea that self-care is not selfish as Shirley puts it. The more I take care of me, the better leader I can be in my life and in my business and the more powerfully I can show up. This is a woman who has a life motto that is fueled by optimism, evolution and transformation. Her motto is, “Live with no regret.”

If you’re looking to know more about women’s empowerment, what it takes to be a leading woman in Washington DC, raising strong and confident daughters. We talked about the culture of mean girls at work. Finally, she spends quite a bit of time talking about being part of that sandwich generation and what lessons she’s taken away from that. Take this in. It is a gift, the conversation that she had with me. It’s a gift that I’m proud to share with you.

Shirley, it is lovely to meet you. I already feel like we’re besties.

I want to go shopping with you. That’s what I know from stalking you on your Twitter account. We’re going to go shopping together, Michelle.

I knew when Jen made the connection it was going to be so good, so I’m very much looking forward to this chat.

Thank you. I appreciated the invitation and I agree, anybody who’s a member of the Jen Fan Club is a friend of mine.

I haven’t even known her that long. Have you known her for a while?

I plucked her out of the blue to do some coaching and then do some work with some women CEOs I have because who doesn’t want to work with somebody who has a title of a book called, When I Die, Take My Panties. That was a cold call. I was like, “I have to meet this woman.” Read her books, short and pithy, and words of wisdom.

She keeps it playful and I love that. Although it’s a value of mine, it’s not been one of the natural values that I have allowed to come out.

That’s interesting because talking to you, I get that sense from you. I’m surprised that wasn’t a little bit more on the surface for you.

Empowerment means you are lifting; you are amplifying somebody's voice. Click To Tweet

I’m curious about what you were like when you were young, but I was painfully shy. I’m not self-expressive, which is why I value these conversations so much and want to have them voraciously. Over time, I found ways to peel back those layers first when I was young on stages and things, but having to by default.

I’m shy but mostly, I like to do my own thing. I also found my first outlet on the stage. I have very little talent but I did theater camp to get me a little bit out there, but I have similar tendencies.

For me, I found like, “This is a role or a persona when I go onto the stage.” As crazy nervous as I was and never wanting solos or being upfront. It helped me to get into a new mindset or make a shift so that I could go out and do that.

If somebody has you do public speaking or something, how do you feel about it? Do you feel like it’s yourself or do you still feel like there’s a little bit of a shield around it?

It is totally me, but it’s taken years to do that because the next layer was as long as I can prepare ahead of time and it’s not an extemporaneous deal, I can get it done. Now I can wing it.

I was going to say, “Look at you now.”

I’m like, “Take me or boo me off. I’ve got to go.” One of the things that stood out that’s juicy and what I mostly want to talk about is when I said, “What are your areas of expertise?” The obvious ones were there, but then you said, “Women’s empowerment.” I want to know what this means, but I want to pick on the word because I don’t love the word empowerment. I feel like there are probably multiple definitions, but I always go to the one where you’re allowing someone or giving them the authority. Do you get picky about that?

It comes from each of our own experiences or interpretation. I would go with empowerment means I am lifting. I want to hear your voice. I want to find a way to amplify your voice. To me, it is building the box, taking the hand and pulling it down as opposed to giving permission. It’s like, “Can I use my megaphone to broaden your megaphone?” It depends on which prism that we’re all looking at when we look at words.

I know that for me, but I always ask people when they say empower or empowerment, “What do you mean by that?” What’s your intention behind it? Sometimes that gets lost. Amplifying your voice is like, “I’m behind that all day long.”

I wonder as you’re saying that if there would even be a different sense of a woman saying that versus if you had a man saying, “I’m all about women empowerment.” It feels gratuitous. It feels like you’re being condescending to me as opposed to helping my voice be a little bit louder.

I wonder if other people are thinking about it.

Words do matter and even more so, how we interpret those words really matters. You may think you’re saying something that’s supportive and creating this platform. I may be offending a lot of people, who knows?

STB 5 | Mean Girl Culture
Mean Girl Culture: Words matter, and even more so, how we interpret those same words.

 

Amplifying your voice, that does not offend me at all.

We’re going to go with that and I will be more mindful because we did slip into phraseology.

I don’t know where my paradigm is around that word. I’ll have to keep peeling back my own layers, but when people say that, I’m like, “I don’t know.” I have plenty of power.

Do you ever think that you have power, you have a voice, you have a platform so you can share your power? Do it by definition of what you do having critical conversations with people. That’s empowering.

I agree, 100%. I already love this. I was like, “I’ll ask her about this. I have my own hang-up. What’s my hang-up?”

Sometimes, if people use the word incorrectly or in a way that we find offensive, then suddenly it’s got its own bugaboo.

Maybe I’ve heard that word a ton by male counterparts in my several years in corporate.

When they’re creating a women’s networking program or something where you feel like, “You’re making me feel like we’re checking a box and you can say that you’re all about women empowerment, but it’s a buzz.” It’s how we use terms like synergy. There are many that we absolutely murder and overkill.

They get overused and exhausted and then the meaning is diminished for a decade and it’ll cycle back around.

That’s right, and then it will become cool again.

I was internet stalking you. Did I see a Chicago Marathon?

Having a house full of women is a new experience for many men. Click To Tweet

Yes, but I was simply a spectator. I only get spectator points, Michelle. My two daughters, this is the second time they have trained and ran the marathon together. My daughters are amazing, but I find myself like I see them at first. I plot out in advance. I’ll be at mile three, I’ll be at mile twelve, I’ll be at mile eighteen. I am running all over the place trying to make sure I can catch it with my snappy little signs, my cowbell and my screening. The first time I see them, I literally started boohooing a little bit and I’m like, “These are my women and they’re amazing.” I’m exhausted lugging my signs from mile marker to mile marker and I’m not running a marathon.

Inquiring working moms want to know how much time went into the signs. How much creativity?

The big magic markers from CVS, along with poster boards. My biggest artistic flair was blowing up pictures of their faces with their dogs that I could do funny little sayings. Even my hand glow wine glass where it was like, “Run now, wine later.” They were good ten-minute projects. We’re not talking about awards because you’re running all over Chicago with them.

We’re not falling off in the streets as you’re running to the next checkpoint.

The key is if I can make them smile at mile marker 22, I have done my job as a mom. Afterwards, they each pick out their favorite posters and one lives in Chicago, one lives in Washington DC. They take pictures of all of them so that they can save them. My challenge will be they choose to do a third marathon, which I’m hoping we’re done with this, then I’m out of ideas. That’s it. I’ve given them all I’ve got. Are you a working mom?

No, I’m not. I’m a working lady. I’m a working mom of four cats.

They don’t talk back. That is the biggest difference.

Only when they’re hungry.

There’s that and you don’t have to bemoan like, “Do I look fat in my fur?”

Did you have sisters?

I did not. I had a brother and my husband had a brother. Having a house of women is a whole new experience for him and for me. The challenge of raising amazing women in this day and age is women beat themselves up unnecessarily about it. It is that, “Do I work? Do I not work? Do I work too hard? Am I a role model? What kind of role model? What are the good things I’m passing along? What are the things that I’m going to make them a nut because I’m passing along?” Women are hard on ourselves. At the end of the day, you have to trust your gut.

Where do you think that comes from?

STB 5 | Mean Girl Culture
Mean Girl Culture: Women are made to feel like they have to be perfect to put themselves up for a position, whereas men just have to be men.

 

The part about trying too hard?

The self-inflicted ugliness of it all.

I will share with you where this hits home for me. We run an executive search service. One of the things we do for the companies that are in my membership is we run for C-Suite positions like CEOs, COOs, CFOs in the broadband industry in rural markets. I will get these job postings and I will get resumes from men who literally know nothing. Maybe they’re linemen, I don’t know. They’ve got no executive experience. They’ve got no distinct industry experience. I’ll get the resumes night and day. A lot of postings, I network a lot with the women in my industry. I’ll shoot out a posting and say, “I haven’t got any women’s resumes for this. It’d be nice to see some diversity of candidates.” They’ll call back and they’ll be like, “I saw these eight traits and I only have seven of them.” I talked to a friend of mine who’s a recruiter and she said, “We call it the imposter syndrome. Women feel like they have to be perfect to put themselves up for it, but a man has to be a man.” It is that whole sense of we are so hard. We take things literally and we are sometimes much harder on ourselves than anybody is on us.

You look at this next generation of women and I keep thinking, “Somehow, we got this in our head. How do we have that generation not get stuck up on the stuff that we got stuck on? Am I good enough for this job? Can I have a baby and do this job?” I will give a speech and I am always stunned where I’ll walk off the stage and I’ll feel like, “I nailed those ten things I wanted to share.” Somebody will say, “Your hair looks a little long. Are you wearing false eyelashes?” These things where I’m like, “Did you hear what I said?”

Are they women? They’re usually women.

Mostly women. Although I did have a gentleman. I wear a lot of dresses mostly because they’re no-fuss. I’m a no-fuss woman. I wore pants to give a speech once to a membership that I’m used to speaking to and a gentleman did stop me afterwards and he said, “I’ve never seen you wear pants before. That’s not a good look for you.” I thought, “I guess it’s judging time.”

That reminds me of what I had read. It was about the golf shirt. It was in an article. It was on TheHill.com. It’s about they’re taking the board picture and you’re like, “I don’t wear a golf shirt. What are we doing?” I thought to myself, “That’s awesome,” because I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to speak up and not wear a golf shirt because I was in the sales arena. You’d have the branded shirts. Everything was a male look. Even it was a female cut, they started changing it but it would be a female cut golf shirt. I don’t wear golf shirts. I don’t even wear shorts. I don’t even golf.

They are adding insult to injury to injury.

My question around that was awesome for you. I knew I was madly in love and then I wonder how far in your career you were and how long it took you to finally get that voice out there?

That is the tough part, Michelle. Honestly, I think everybody should be born into their 50s because it’s empowering. When you hit that peak where you suddenly realize, “I don’t care what people think.” I love being true to myself. That is hard to do when you’re working your way up. It’s hard to do when you’re so conscious and people judging you. I remember hitting those early 50s thinking, “I wish I had been born here.” I dress for me. I talk for me. I deal with people in a straight-up way but things that I could honestly never have done many years ago. That would have been very hard to try to be snappy, sassy and say, “Not everybody wears golf shirts.” I will say they still all wind wore their branded little golf shirts and I wear a dress. I ruined the look and I didn’t care because I was very comfortable.

You make a great point. There is something about having that life experience and years of time where you get more comfortable in your own skin and less worried about what other people think. I don’t know that there’s anything we can do for other women, as moms, as mentors or leaders to change that. Do you?

You hit a peak in your 50s where you realize that you don't really care what people think. Click To Tweet

I’m not sure we can. I almost think we have to go through some of those experiences to get to that point. Sometimes we talk about it as a gender issue. I’m not sure men are comfortable in their own skin all the time either. That’s why you see a lot of bravadoes, chest-thumping and bad tweets, whatever people are choosing to do. I’m not sure they’re comfortable in their own skin either. You’ve got to go through life. You’ve got to get a few hard knocks. You’ve got to deal with the good, bad, the ugly and then decide which path you’re going to create for yourself.

I was looping back to where we were chatting about your daughters and I was asking you if you had girls before. The reason I was going there was because I’m wondering if having daughters, having little females in your household to raise elevated your awareness or interest in women’s issues. When readers go out and check Shirley Bloomfield online, they’re going to see that you’re very engaged in conversations around women’s empowerment and women in the workforce. Was that always inside of you?

It’s that chicken and the egg. It’s partially the way you’re wired. I was always wired that way in part because I grew up in a house where my dad was a corporate executive. I loved my dad dearly, a complete misogynist. I was always the exception to the rule. When I was doing well in school, sports and jobs, it was always, “Shirley, you’re different.” I was like, “I’m no different.” Watching him in the late ‘60s, ‘70s and early ‘80s, watching women try to rise within the ranks of companies where he was a senior executive at. If a woman was tough, she was the B-word. Those were the dinner conversations. I think I became very wired to be like, “I can do this.” I will say that having daughters, I am all about it. I am all about seeing that untapped potential and not letting them get hung up on the things that I got hung-up on.

For as much as I still see many things that you and I probably struggled with, it’s still out there. What can I do to clear the underbrush? I do a lot of career counseling with young women. I do a lot of mentoring work and always in the back of my head, “I want somebody to do this for my daughters.” My daughters don’t want me to mentor them necessarily. That would be weird and it’s mom. I’d want somebody to do the same for them. I want somebody to put that hand down. It always struck me. I don’t know if you remember, but when Starbucks would put little sayings on their coffee cup, there was one of the little rims that they’d had at the time that’s was the saying for Madeleine Albright, which I thought might have been urban legend. It was, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I’ve always taken that very much to heart that if we don’t help each other, then who will? Who will speak for us?

I was at a conference sharing with other women about what I’m doing here and the conversations I’m having with women like yourself. Many of them said that most of the time, it was other women who were holding them back. If anybody is reading and you’re nodding your head, I have been in a situation where it’s like, “What the hell? You make me feel like you’re stepping on me.”

Isn’t that interesting? It’s like the queen bee syndrome or the mean girl syndrome.

I’m going to call it that. I’m borrowing that for sure.

Going back to junior high and high school where there was only enough room for one homecoming queen. One girl to date the quarterback of the football. Anybody else was a threat to that. Sadly, you still have that reinforced in the workplace where women feel very threatened by other women. I find that to be one of the saddest parts of our culture. I don’t know where that gets created from, but somehow along the way, we’ve created that there can only be so much space for a woman who is whatever you want to define those characteristics as. I hate hearing that still. I want us to be beyond that.

Why would it be any different? I can think about in neighborhoods growing up where one neighbor would be jealous of the other because of X, Y and Z.

They have a new car.

That’s a perfect example. Everybody hears that. Why wouldn’t that seep into you as a child?

It is funny because I don’t live in Wisconsin anymore where I grew up and watching it on social media like who aged well? Who didn’t age well? Who’s still cool? I was like, “We are 40 years beyond. We have had full careers maybe or at least lives since that time. We’re still judging people on some of these things that we slip right back into.”

STB 5 | Mean Girl Culture
Mean Girl Culture: You have to deal with everything – the good, the bad, the ugly – before deciding which path you’ll take for yourself.

 

I love that we’re talking about this because I know there’s chitter-chatter all over and you can call it whatever you want out in the social marketplace. I don’t agree that it’s men holding us back.

I have the luxury. I’m the CEO, so I get to empower or support anybody I want to. I like to think we hire for the best position. Although in our CEO searches, I do make sure I have a woman’s resume in every search because I do think in those situations, people sitting around that table need to see that diversity of candidates, even if they’re not quite there yet, they need to start getting comfortable. I think women do hold other women back and that would be an interesting nut to crack.

It circles back to where we started our conversation about we all have a voice and you’re looking to empower other women to use their voice, not stifle it. Those patterns and behaviors start from the very youngest of ages. It doesn’t start in the workforce, I promise you that.

It’s interesting that you would say that. I have women executives and I’ve got some who are very comfortable being very transparent and sharing what they want to share in a meeting. I have others who still do the traits that they were taught in grade school and junior high where, “I’ll snipe at her idea behind her back or I’ll go straight to the CEO. Maybe throw some mud around,” as opposed to, “Let’s sit around this table, you can disagree, but let’s disagree based on a factual discussion as opposed to doing things that feel sneaky.” It’s like a sleepover. Did you ever fall asleep at a sleepover early and wake up to hear everybody else talking about you?

Yes.

That’s what happens. That’s why you can never go to sleep first at a sleepover. That’s where it starts, Michelle. Screaming Yellow Zonkers and sleeping bags are a tough combination.

We all know that not everybody out there is a mean girl. I’m not and I know you’re not either. It is possible to find your people. It’s hard sometimes when you’re in a company culture to be able to do that more easily. It seems like you found a little group of women within your industry that has chosen to support one another.

It was a fun gathering. It was one of those things where there was a voice here in Washington DC for women in the high-tech industry to create an opportunity to network, to work with politicians, to work with other women industry leaders. It all fell on the back of there were a few of us that kicked it around, but dynamic nature of a woman who does a lot of political organizing who was like, “I already have my own consulting firm. I do different events. You guys pay me a little teeny stipend and I will put this group together.” She had the right personality, incredibly smart, incredibly dynamic, but not threatening. Nobody felt that sense of, “She’s getting into my space.” She created this group that it’s extraordinarily fun many years later to see the events they hold, the discussions that they are having, job fairs and branching out to not only create this safe space but also to do events for that next generation of women.

Without giving away anybody’s secrets, I’m not asking for that, but if I were a fly on the wall in that group, what would be something I might hear that circle of women are talking about that might surprise me?

Would it surprise you, Michelle, because you assume they would only think high elevated thoughts? I will share the thing that I struggle with. There will be a discussion with the head of something for Monster.com on how do women look for different jobs? An ambassador is talking about women in National Security roles. Then it will be, “Let’s do our next event at Jody’s boutique and we’re going to sip wine and we’re going to try and close.” I’m always like, “I don’t know, are we slipping into that? Is that too traditional female? I love clothes shopping, but should we keep these separate? Can we be serious?” That’s my struggle. I look at those events and I’ll be honest with you, I’ve never shown up for the events that are girly and yet I know I would love it. Those are things that I probably have deprived myself of because I’m like, “I’ve got to be seen as above that.” Maybe that’s a byproduct of always being like, “I’m a girl but I’m only going to be so girly.”

I appreciate you sharing that. I think somebody who is aspiring to be where you are at and reading this is thinking, “I would have never guessed that Shirley still has her hang up just like I have my hang up.”

Workplaces reinforce a culture where women feel threatened by other women. Click To Tweet

I have to get on a stage and I want to look nice. I do spend time on my appearance but I don’t want anybody to know it. It’s a by-product.

Investing in self-image is important to you, but you don’t want anybody to know it. One of the things that has completely changed for me since I’ve left a corporate environment because I used to work myself to death. I’m sure you’ve seen that before. It took me a while to break those habits. Self-care is high up for me. It’s not in a vanity way but it is more like when I’m caring for myself, I show up more confident. I’m more clear and focused in my mind and the creativity comes in. How do you make that happen for you?

I wish we could all rewind the clocks and give ourselves our 25 to 30-year-old self to be able to say, “I don’t care if you’re a mother, if you’re a hard-charging executive, if you get on a plane every week.” Find that time to find the right skincare routine that works for you. Find time to go to the gym. Figure out if you have to be a road warrior. How you carve that time in your schedule to do ten minutes of stretching before you get up or a nutjob for the rest of the day? I honestly did not learn that lesson until my daughters were closer to being grown. I started realizing that I was spending so much time making sure they were doing self-care. They were involved in sports. They were involved in activities. They were being kind to themselves that it struck me like, “I probably need to do that for myself.” I lost my mother and it was striking to me watching somebody aged like that. Every time I go to the gym, 2 to 3 days a week and I lift weights or I do some of this stuff with bands in a hotel room, I keep thinking, “I could be a beer truck that gets me for the next day, but I’m going to be as strong as I can be.” I find myself much more empowered by my strength than by being lean, fitting into those black, curvy pants. I want to feel strong and that makes me feel good.

You look amazing.

You’re very gracious, but thank you. As a matter of fact, I’ve told my team, “Let’s save money. No HD cameras for our big meetings.” Nobody needs a 30-foot HD view of your face next to you on a screen. I do want to hit on your point. Michelle, you make a strong point for women thinking about self-care is not selfish and it’s about our ability to take care of others when we take care of ourselves.

One of the things for me that even the years seeped in deeper into the roots is that for a while, I had false lashes on. I got the biggest one so everybody knew that they were false lashes like extensions. I didn’t care because I loved it. What I’m getting at here is I’m over if it seems vain. I used to be like, “That’s vain. It should be more natural.” I’m like, “It makes me happy.”

If you put those on and they make you smile, that is what it’s all about. I could not agree with you more. It’s that five-year-old self that wants to wear the princess pajamas, so what? I had this book called Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, and there was this whole section on wearing pink, colors to wear and colors not to wear. I kept thinking, “Pink is not necessarily my color, but the whole idea if I loved wearing pink.” I look at Nancy Pelosi. I’m like, “That woman rocks more colors than anybody I know.” I’m the queen of dark colors because I know how to match black. That’s my talent. I can spill anything I want on it in an airport and you’ll never know. I do look at women who are bold enough to wear those and I’m like, “That’s great. Go for it.”

I’m still in the, “Black is back,” mode.

Black never left in my book.

One of my superpowers that were pushed down when I was young that has served me great as an entrepreneur is my intuition. We all have it. It’s stronger in some than others. There are many times where intuitively I knew it might be not the right thing to do, but I did it anyway. Have you had moments like that in your career, like big decisions for your company or organization or for your own personal career and growth?

That is hard, that voice in your heart to see how much you trust it. I will share that I work with an all-male board.

Women thinking about self-care is not selfish Click To Tweet

Is it the golf shirt?

That’s different. I sit on that board because if the director was coming for me, it would have been like, “Wear your business suite.” I would never even have put out a golf shirt notice. There are definitely times where I know what the right thing to do, whether it’s on behalf of my staff or behalf of the direction. Having to feel comfortable within myself to say, “I’m not sure I can live with myself if I don’t put this out there.” I have this motto for myself, which is, “Live with no regrets.” I don’t want to regret things. I don’t want to turn around and be like, “I regret that I didn’t say something. I regret that I didn’t go visit that person one last time.” That’s my voice in the back of my head. That allows me to say not in an obnoxious way and not in a way that I am staking something on it, but to say the things I feel like need to be said or to take the actions I feel like need to be done. If I can live with it, then hopefully I can help others with it.

You’re checking yourself when you’re getting that little voice or that little tap or that gut feeling. It’s different for everybody. You’re saying to yourself, “I might not want to, I’m afraid or should I.” You’re saying, “I don’t want to regret.” That’s a great tip for people. A way to switch the talk in your head.

It helped me enormously both professionally and personally. The nice thing about that is it’s consistent. It’s just one voice as opposed to two voices. That would make me start to be psychotic. You hit a point where you have enough friends who go through a lot of life changes. Being able to look back and say, “I never want to look back and say, ‘I regret that. I didn’t do that. I did do this.’” It makes it easier.

You mentioned you lost your mom and I’m not sure where you’re at in your journey to share with that because I’ve lost a parent too. You can politely decline, but I was thinking that’s the season for a lot of us and my readers as well. That’s a lot to juggle. I was in my own business at the time. I don’t even know that I have my best tips yet to navigate that, but I didn’t want to let it pass us by. Maybe you have some insight or a tip to offer anybody who’s reading who might be going through that.

I am sorry for your loss. I will be frank. What has been surprising and difficult part of it was we tried to get my parents to think sooner about living in a place where they could get more support. When I talk about living with no regrets, one thing I do regret, I did push them to think about coming to Washington DC. They lived in the Midwest to be closer to me. I am a daughter. I tend to be a little bit more nurturing. They chose to stay in the Midwest closer to where my brother lives. They moved. That was upheaval for them because my mother passed about a month after they moved. It’s been in retrospect for my father. He had been knocking around an old house all by himself with no support, no help, and no companionship. He’s in a wonderful community. I’m sorry that I didn’t push harder to have them come out here because the thing that surprised me was one parent without the other. We only know our parents as a couple, how they interface a couple, and how they support each other as a couple. Seeing my father adrift and much needier than I would have ever assumed has surprised me all the time. It has made me regret that I hadn’t done like, “You are never going back to Michigan. Instead of moving to Chicago, you must come to DC,” and trying to put my foot down a little bit to have taken over some of that.

The thing that I find hard for us is we’re that squeeze generation. I find that I try to visit my dad once a month if I can. I’m going to Chicago if I can, but I have a daughter in Chicago. When I’m there, I want to see my daughter. I want to meet her boyfriend. I want to hang out with her in her apartment. I am feeling that being torn between I owe my dad some time, some help and some assistance and this is my daughter and I adore her. There’s nothing I’d rather do than sit on our living room couch and have her tell me stories of her life. I’m having to share some of that time. It’s a jungle.

There’s no figuring it out. My husband said one time and I still think about it a lot, “Disappoint each area equally.”

That’s very judicious because you can’t do it all right. You can’t keep doing what you’re doing. You can’t take care of yourself and take care of everybody else. I think it’s a hard time. I don’t know what the answer to any of that other than to say it has forced me to think, “I won’t put my children through that.” My husband and I, I’m not 60 yet, but we have started to have conversations to start saying, “What will it look like? When do we pull a trigger?” I won’t have my kids go through the same end of time moving chaos that my parents did because frankly, they were in their 80s. They should have moved sooner. Can I learn a lesson from that instead of repeating it? Those are things that I think while it was somewhat hellacious and chaotic. Hopefully, I’ve learned something. Even if I’m sitting here and years from now I’m like, “Life is good, I feel great.” I owe it to my kids to be thinking then about what do I want to do? Where do I want to be? How do I want to do this?

Shirley, one of the observations and it was bright in what you were saying, but throughout our conversation is the optimism that you bring to everything we’ve talked about.

That’s very nice of you to share. I appreciate that. I do have my ‘The Glass Half Full’ shirt at home. There are times I have to go into the bathroom and do a few primal screens before I pull it on over my head. Life is short and we’ve got one shot at doing things that bring us joy, whether it’s raising cats, raising dogs and daughters, coaching younger women coming in, or working with women who are trying to figure out what they want to be mid-life. I’m lucky that I’ve been given a good hand. I feel I’ve got an obligation to give it back and to see what those paths forward can look like.

My last question for you is I have a sense that you’re not just optimistic, but you’ve challenged yourself to continue to grow. We didn’t talk about that in a deep way. You’re passionate about helping to support women’s voices to help them bring their voice forward. What is the next voice that you want to bring from within yourself?

It’s one of the reasons why I met our mutual friend, Jen Coken. I’ve got twenty things on my to-do list and here’s everything that needs to get done. It goes to that self-care that we take care of ourselves last. I started working with Jen because I said, “I want to see beyond what I’m doing 24/7. I want to see beyond my role as a trade association CEO. I want to know how do I figure out what those next steps are. Where do I put my time and energy?” I’d like to think that when I’m 75, I’m going to be like, “I’ve got these five groups I’m working with.” I want to know. I want to be able to chart that path and to start thinking, “Is it a nonprofit arena? Is it an educational arena? Is it possibly a political arena?” What is the arena where I feel like there’s a way to keep growing, stretching, giving, thinking, connecting dots and all of those things that I love? I’m a work in progress. It’s very top of mind for me. That’s about as clear as I can be, but it’s a goal I have set for myself.

It’s on your mind.

I keep little things on the side of my desk that I will look to periodically and I say, “If my value system is based on integrity, kindness, and authenticity, how does that get to roll up into something to do? What does that look like?” I don’t have any answer for you, but I’m hoping that in a few years, I will.

I hope you come back and share with us what it is.

I would love to do that. I have loved chatting with you.

Thank you so much for being on the show.

Thank you very much, Michelle.

Shirley is completely amazing. There are a few of my guests on the show who are very active on LinkedIn. If you like what you’ve read, I encourage you to pop on over and follow them because it’s inspiring to see the work that they’re putting out into this world. They’re not showing up here and talking about this one time. I’m proud to say that the women I’m having conversations with, many of them are top of mind for them and they’re active in the area of women’s leadership and women’s empowerment. This is totally off the side and I don’t know if you caught it in the interview, but it’s a great tip and it is something that I follow as well. Shirley and I are aligned on many things, but one of the things she said that I love is, “I’m a no-fuss woman. I wear dresses.” I didn’t want to skim over that because you’re looking for a tip. If you’re not a person who regularly wears dresses, there’s a misconceived perception that it’s difficult. It’s much easier because when you wear dresses you look very put together very quickly. You can dress it up and dress it down.

When you travel, you don’t need two pieces of clothing or three because you’re having pants, a shirt, and a jacket. Now, you only need one, so it is much simpler. I don’t know why I felt the need to call that out, but I have a feeling you’re reading, you travel a lot, and you want to look put together. That was Shirley’s no-fuss tip to do so and I do the same. I wear a ton of dresses. The last thing I want to end on was, have you read that quote by Madeleine Albright? I looked it up to make sure I had the verbiage correctly, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I couldn’t agree more. My call to action for you is to get your buns out there. Go support your sisters. Do something kind for them. Help elevate them and if you are in need, ask and be specific. That’s what I got for you. Comments and feedback are always welcome. We’ll talk to you soon.

About Shirley Bloomfield

STB 5 | Mean Girl Culture

Shirley Bloomfield has spent over 30 years in the technology arena with most of that time devoted to advocating and implementing ways to bring broadband and innovation to American consumers. Professionally, she has worked with numerous service providers in the quest to expand broadband but her heart lies with her current role working with community providers to expand technology in rural America. Personally, she is committed to bringing more women to the table in the high-tech arena and increasing the diversity of voices around the table AND cheering on her two amazing daughters!

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