Featured on The Cabro: Gavriella Schuster

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I am excited to introduce to you, Gavriella Schuster (LinkedIn), our latest Featured on The Cabro. I met Gavriella in early 2020 just before the world shut down. In the fall of 2019, Microsoft hosted its annual Give campaign and my husband noticed an auction item to have wine, appetizers, and a mentoring session with Gavriella. He worked in the organization that Gavriella ran and knew that I would enjoy the opportunity to meet her. I bid. I won. And a few months later, I was heading to her home with several of my coworkers for an afternoon of mentoring.  

Fun story, I was newly pregnant and wasn’t ready to announce it to anyone just yet. Gavriella was one of the first people I told – even before I told some of my closest friends – because I wanted to see if she could help me navigate not drinking in such an intimate setting with coworkers. She congratulated me and was kind enough to have non-alcoholic bubbly so that I wouldn’t stand out

A bit about Gavriella: She is a successful global thought leader and former C-level executive at Microsoft, where she brought digital and cloud transformation to thousands of businesses across the world. Even before I joined Microsoft, I knew who Gavriella was as head of one of the largest partner ecosystems in the world. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the terms channel partner, global systems integrators (GSI), or independent software vendors (ISVs) – these partnerships are a quiet force behind the success of any software company and their sales organizations. If numbers are more your thing, she grew her P&L at Microsoft into $10B over 5 years, managed global sales revenues of $40B, and led a global portfolio of channel partners that has influenced over $1 trillion through Microsoft’s fastest growing ecosystem (source). She’s impressive. 

Gavriella now runs a consulting business where she is dedicated to empowering women and their allies. She works with individuals and organizations to promote a culture of allyship and she created an online learning experience called #Allies Journey. Her framework prepares individuals in an organization to be an ally, to build allies, and to promote a culture of allyship through practical tools and insights. She recently launched a podcast, The Big Idea, where she examines how technology and society are driving transformation in high tech. You can also watch her talk at TEDx Cherry Creek where she speaks about driving gender equity in high tech and her interview with Simon Sinek at Microsoft Inspire 2019.  

Gavriella is a mother to two adult children and she lives with her husband in the Seattle area. Her daughter just completed her Masters degree in Clinical Exercise Physiology and is heading to Chicago in August for her doctorate. And her son is attending Cal State Northridge in LA pursuing a degree in TV and film production. During the mentoring session at her home, I learned how she managed her career to spend time with her children. I was impressed with her decision to scale back while continuing to perform at a pace that worked for her. When I reached out to her for a feature on The Cabro, I mentioned our time together and how I wanted to talk to her about her decision to lean in and out of her career. She accepted. And here we are. 

Buckle up readers, this is a longer form feature, and it does not disappoint. Even after our conversation, I think about what we discussed. My favorite takeaways are to nurture your network even when you are leaning out of your career, to use the concept of benchmarking as a way to positively compare yourself to peers to combat parental guilt, and to know that you can redefine what it means to be a successful leader even if you don’t see others doing the same. 

Thank you, Gavriella, for your support of The Cabro and professional women who are mothers. 

How did you decide to lean in and lean out in your career? And how do you feel like this affected your career?

Reflecting on it now, with the value of perspective, I can confidently say that it was all worth it. However, back then, I never knew how things would turn out for me. The decisions I made about when to lean in and when to lean out were guided by my clear boundaries and priorities. After having my second child, I was determined not to go back to work full-time or continue working in the same way I did before. When I had only one child, I managed to work 50 hours a week by adjusting my schedule to be home earlier. Of course, back then, physical presence in the office was required. So, I started doing more work from home but offline. Although I modified my working hours, the overall time commitment remained the same. 

During my maternity leave with my second child, I realized that I couldn’t handle the demands of work and childcare without making some adjustments. While my children were my priority, I wasn’t ready to give up on my career either. So, I decided to cut back and work part-time. However, at that time, flexible working hours weren’t common practice at Microsoft and I needed to negotiate with my leadership team on what it would look like. Eventually, I convinced them to let me work 30 hours a week with a 25% pay cut for a trial period of six months. I worked three to four days a week and made it clear to my manager that if it wasn’t working out, I would return full-time. But if it was successful, I wanted the option to continue working reduced hours until I was ready to come back full-time. After six months, when I checked in with my manager, he acknowledged that it was working and encouraged me to keep going. So, I continued working like that for 3.5 years. And I learned a lot from that time. 

In terms of how it affected my career, when I returned to working full time, I was ready to change jobs after doing the same role for so long. But, I had to start rebuilding my network from scratch because I didn’t build the necessary relationships while I worked part-time. I had foregone social activities with colleagues, like going out for lunch or coffee, and I didn’t dedicate time to mentor others. I hadn’t been actively maintaining those connections, which meant I had to put in the effort to find new opportunities instead of leveraging my network. 

However, during that period of working part-time I learned the importance of prioritizing and managing my time effectively. For instance, people often ask for things to be done by the next week, but they rarely mean it literally. When I pushed back and proposed a more realistic timeline, they were usually open to it. I also learned to inquire about their dependencies and find alternative ways to fulfill their needs. It became evident that nobody truly needed something by a specific time; they were usually flexible as long as I delivered within a reasonable timeframe. Additionally, I discovered that if I were essential to a meeting, people would reschedule it to accommodate my availability. I didn’t have to go through complex arrangements to attend if it was a larger meeting. This knowledge was crucial for me as I reestablished my work routine upon returning full-time. 

Finally, I fundamentally changed my approach to work. Instead of working 50 or 60 hours a week, I focused on a 40-hour workweek. I had learned how to work remotely during my part-time period, even though it wasn’t common practice back then. I identified tasks that could be done remotely and those that required in-person presence. Even after returning full-time, I still dedicated one day a week to working from home so I could participate in my daughter’s classroom activities and be involved in her preschool. It was important for me to have face-to-face interactions with the people my children interacted with, including their friends and parents. By volunteering in the classroom, I gained insights into my daughter’s challenges and could distinguish between typical struggles and issues requiring attention. This relieved a significant amount of stress related to parenting. 

Even when my son reached elementary school, I continued to prioritize knowing his friends and their parents. Despite leading a product management team at that time, I understood the importance of connecting with his social circle. I didn’t feel guilty about taking time off work to engage in those activities. It was crucial to let go of the guilt that often arises when we prioritize one aspect of life over another. 

Did you know that you wanted to move into the C-suite and if so, how did that play into your decision to lean out?

I remember when my peers would get promoted, and I would think, “I could have been promoted too.” But then I would also think, “Yeah, but…you are also doing something important, and you only have one chance to do it. You can get promoted later.” I had moments where I wondered if I was holding back my career, but then I would think about being the parent I want to be. There was a moment about two years into the part-time role when something happened. After six months of working part-time, they took me off the high-potential list at my company and I was confused. My manager explained that it was based on my commitment and what I wanted. I asked why they didn’t ask me first. We had a conversation, and I emphasized that my commitment hadn’t changed. If I lacked commitment, I would have quit working instead of negotiating a role that was part-time. So, they put me back on the high-potential list. About two years into this, I looked at my team, our accomplishments, and my responsibilities, realizing that I should have been promoted by now. I discussed this with my manager, expecting feedback on what I could improve. However, he had nothing to say and admitted he hadn’t thought about it. I was frustrated but told him he should consider it, and I offered to build a business case for my promotion.  

In retrospect, the part time move did not hold me back and I learned valuable lessons, but it would have held me back if I had not taken care to ask my manager and push him on it.  When I was ready to go back to full time work when my son was in preschool, I decided to start with a new job.  The new job was in a completely different part of the business and so I decided that to learn it, I should take a lateral move as a Sr. Director but become an individual contributor in that role on the product team, essentially, I consciously took a step back. I was willing to be an individual contributor to learn and adjust to the new role. Soon, my manager realized I could lead the team and so he opted to move to a new role in the company and had me take over as his successor. I led that team and was promoted within a year. Within less than two years, I was promoted to General Manager and became a partner level leading a team of 60 and a $3B business. Looking back at the whole series of events, I don’t believe I lost anything during that time because I gained valuable experience in working efficiently and understanding my capabilities.  I slowed down to accelerate and over the period of that 5 years had outpaced my peers with 3 promotions in 5 years.   

What was the ebb and flow between your career and your husband’s career?

My husband is a software developer. When we first met, we were making the same amount of money, and that continued until I went back to work full-time. During my part-time phase, he worked a lot to support our family while I transitioned. We arranged a schedule that worked for both of us. We outsourced childcare during that time, but when I returned to full-time work, our son started preschool, and my husband adjusted his hours to handle drop-offs and pickups. 

It wasn’t until our son was around nine or ten, and our daughter was in middle school that the demands on us as parents increased. We had more sports activities, and our daughter was going through adolescence, requiring additional emotional support. During that time, my husband started taking on more responsibilities, especially as I traveled more for my global General Manager job, particularly during the launch of Windows 7. He was able to embrace the flexibility of being a software developer and worked when it suited him. 

At one point, the company he was working for went out of business, and he found himself unemployed for a couple of months. He was surprised to learn that he enjoyed the break from work. When he later found a new role, he negotiated a schedule that accommodated his parenting responsibilities – explaining that he needed to be home for our son’s bus stop, and he needed to leave around 3:30. The company accepted his schedule. When my husband called me to share the news, I felt that it was a sign from the universe that he should take the job. The company’s understanding and flexibility regarding his schedule made it the right opportunity for him. 

How did you and your husband look at the division of labor as dual working parents? What did you outsource? What was your approach?

I have mentored many people on this topic, and one of the first things I always emphasize is outsourcing. You should outsource anything that you can afford. Whether it’s hiring someone to mow the lawn or pull weeds, or even services for shopping and other tasks, there are plenty of options available. Don’t feel the need to do everything yourself. That’s the first piece of advice. 

The second lesson I learned was when my son was born, and he was about three months old. I was feeling overwhelmed and thought I was doing everything on my own. However, instead of voicing my frustrations to my husband, I took a step back and observed what he was doing. I realized that there was more to be done than either of us could handle individually. So, we had to prioritize and make conscious decisions about what tasks we would let go or postpone. It became part of our process to determine what had to get done and what we could afford not to do. We had open conversations about all of it.  This is super important because if you don’t have those conversations and if you don’t realize that your spouse may be doing just as much as you but different things, it can create a wedge in your relationship and you may resent your spouse unfairly.  

I recently received a question from a woman who is a nurse at a clinic here in Seattle. She wanted to know how to advance her career when outsourcing isn’t a viable option due to budget constraints. Any thoughts on this?

In these situations, I think this is when a community becomes crucial. You can extend beyond just yourself and your partner and think about shared resources. For example, carpooling can be a great solution. Maybe you can join with other parents and drive once a week for the group carpool instead of driving five days a week to school with just your child. Similarly, when your kids need to be somewhere, you can explore options where they can stay at someone else’s house while you accommodate their kids at your place. It’s about finding shared responsibilities and exploring trades within your community. As you talk with others, you might discover individuals who are willing to go above and beyond their fair share to help you out. 

I’ve personally found that there were points in our careers when I connected with other parents who were more than willing to attend every game and practice, as they genuinely enjoyed it. They took on that responsibility, which allowed me to focus on other aspects of parenting that I enjoyed without feeling guilty about missing out on the parts of parenting that may not have been my favorite. 

How did you encounter mom guilt or feeling like you’re doing enough? Even if you’re a stay-at-home mother or a mother who works outside of the home, you’re never going to be able to give 100%. So how did you work through this?

There are a couple of things that helped me. One of them is benchmarking. I was fortunate to have a wonderful group of women friends, each in different situations. Some didn’t work at all, some worked part-time, and others worked full-time. We would meet regularly and discuss what was going on in our lives. I would ask them questions about their routines and practices, like, “Do you do this? Do you do that?” And often, their responses would reassure me that I wasn’t missing anything crucial for my kids. It was comforting to see that we all had different approaches. 

I remember when my daughter was born, she demanded a significant portion of my attention, as any newborn does. And when my son came along, it was challenging to give him 100% of my focus because my daughter was always there. I felt guilty about not having quality one-on-one time with him. I told a neighbor that I was feeling guilty. She wisely said, “You won’t be able to give him that, and he will never know the difference.” It hit me that he would grow up in a world where his sister was always present, and that would be his norm. It made me realize that I didn’t need to worry about this anymore. 

So, in essence, it’s about finding peace in the fact that you’re doing your best and acknowledging that no one can do it all at 100%. Sharing experiences and learning from others can be reassuring, and understanding the unique dynamics of your family can help put things into perspective. 

Often, I hear working mothers say they are worried about becoming an executive because of the impact it will have on their schedules. How did you manage your schedule as a parent and executive?

So one day, my manager told me that he made the decision move back to his former team at Microsoft and he wanted to recommended me for his job. 

I declined, saying: “No, no, no, I don’t want your job.” When he asked why, I explained that I didn’t enjoy the responsibilities he had, such as excessive travel and attending numerous reviews. I preferred the tasks and responsibilities I currently had. He said, “Well, here’s the secret: I don’t really like the things you do either. I wouldn’t want to do your job. But when you take on this role, you can do things differently than I did. You get to choose which tasks you want to focus on and which ones you can delegate to others. Build your own team with people who enjoy doing the things you dislike and dislike doing the things you enjoy. That’s how we can all be effective together, and you have the power to make those decisions as the boss.” So then he asked if I wanted the job. I hesitated and said, “Honestly, I’ve never seen a CVP (Corporate Vice President) I’ve liked, apart from you.” He responded, “Well, here is another secret, you have the opportunity to become the kind of CVP you would like to be.” 

With that in mind, I finally agreed. However, I was still concerned about the expectations others might have for me as a CVP. It wasn’t necessarily the other responsibilities and tasks I had to handle as an executive; it was managing one executive’s expectations of how I should spend my time. I ended up having some conversations where I nervously shared my concerns and asked for this leader to prioritize their expectations so that I could also focus on crucial tasks that were essential to my role. This leader was taken aback by the realization of what they were asking and was willing to sit down and help me prioritize when my presence was truly necessary. This person became more conscious of the demands placed on me after that discussion. This again, reinforced the necessity of being transparent and willingness to be vulnerable.  It is important to remember that you are the only one that knows the challenges you are facing, as empathetic a manager as you might have, they can’t really walk in your shoes and don’t know what challenges you are facing until you tell them.  Overall, the job wasn’t any more difficult than any other, but I had to help manage other’s expectations of how I would spend my time. 

________ 

I am grateful to Gavriella for the thoughtful and informative interview. With every feature, I take away a few ideas and integrate them into my life. The idea of benchmarking transformed how I think about guilt as a parent.  The concept that you get to create a role to be what you want it to be altered the way I think about taking on greater responsibilities. And, the concept of asking for what you want until you’re told it’s not possible will be lifechanging.  

Thank you, Gavriella. 

For more on Gavriella: 

  • Learn more about her #ALLIES training here 
  • Watch her TedTalk here 
  • Follow her thought leadership on LinkedIn here 

If you’re new to The Cabro (or just didn’t know), you can find me on Instagram at @_thecabro, online at www.thecabro.com, and on LinkedIn at The Cabro

Check out more Feature on the Cabro on my blog here.

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