We’re passionate about the world of work and how we can make it better. For this to be achieved, we need ideas from a wide array of people from different backgrounds and experiences.
In this interview series, we pick the brains of experienced leaders, business owners, managers, and individual contributors to get their thoughts on how we can collectively build better workplaces.
Join us in our next installment below as Rachel Bellow, Co-founder of Bonfire, host of The Big Payoff, and guest lecturer at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Managemen shares her insights with us.
Hi Rachel! Welcome to the series, we’d love to get to know you better. Please provide an overview of your backstory.
Looking back on my career, I realize that I’ve always been fascinated by power, mainly because my experience of power (my own, and the kind of power that I respect) was so different from what was conventionally recognized and rewarded as “powerful.”
I understood early that power wasn’t something you “had,” but something you “did,” and that it all came down to radiating impact.
What effect could I produce in the world? How could I make what mattered to me matter to others, and how could I help what mattered to others matter more in the world? Those questions provide the through-line for a career path that might otherwise be seen as a drunken gerbil’s walkabout.
I’ve worked across sectors (nonprofit, for-profit, governmental) and industries (the arts, branding and marketing, venture capital, philanthropy, entrepreneurship), and what all these ventures have in common is my drive to find big markets for big ideas—ones that make the world more equitable, more enlightened, more beautiful, or more sustainable.
My longtime business partner, Suzanne Muchin, and I have created several businesses based on this motivation, the latest of which is Bonfire, a talent development accelerator for women on the rise.
If we were to ask a friend to describe your personality to us, what would they say?
That depends on whether they’re speaking on or off the record. On the record, they’d probably cite my energy, quirky thinking, and collaborative ethos. Off the record, they’d point to the fact that I’m dangerously unfiltered, savagely irreverent, and ruthlessly judgmental.
Thinking back to your career journey, what’s an interesting story that stands out?
Years ago, I was hired by a powerful, well-known man who will go unnamed (unless you call me and then I’ll tell you) to advise his company and coach his CEO, Suzanne Muchin.
I flew to Chicago to meet her, we sat down for breakfast and didn’t leave the table until the lunch service began. By that point, we’d decided to find a way for her to leave the man’s employ and me the consulting assignment so we could go into business together.
What’s the most impactful lesson you've learned over your career thus far?
If you pitch your career tent on your deepest neurotic material, you are bound to be successful.
When you hear the phrase “build a better world of work”, what comes to mind?
What I envision is a workplace culture that is in sync with the culture outside the organization, one that celebrates the diversity of individuals, rewards employees using a nuanced understanding of the difference between output and outcome, values “soft skills” as much as technical skills, and that respects the need for rest and renewal as an essential part of high performance.
If we build workplace cultures that place the needs of ALL human beings at the center, and if we then organize work around those needs versus the reverse, we will have a better world of work.
For you, what’s the main blocker you see as standing in the way of building a better world of work?
A thought cannot know anything bigger than itself. The current paradigm of work was built by men, for men (no blame by the way, why wouldn’t they?), but the paradigm cannot deconstruct and reconstruct itself.
There must be some special animating force that is inspired, mobilized, and equipped to help rewrite the rules of the workplace. At Bonfire, we believe that force is women.
What’s one thing within our control that we can practically do to build a better world of work today? And, how do you recommend going about it?
Women are naturally predisposed to go above and beyond their assigned jobs to ensure the engagement and well-being of their teams and to attend to a larger DEI agenda.
This isn’t anecdotal, lots of data supports this, including the most recent McKinsey Women in the Workplace study.
Women must begin to view themselves as the architects of the future workplace and must unlearn the ways of working (and leading) that they have been taught by the current paradigm of work, and learn new ways of showing up, standing out, and breaking through in their workplaces.
Can you share one thing you’ve experienced, seen, or read about that is leading us toward a better world of work?
Every month, Bonfire holds half-day sessions for cohorts of women who have been nominated by their employers to undertake a six-month development program.
The experience of watching these women, cohort after cohort, move from deep uncertainty to full-throated conviction in their own power to change the world of work is what pulls me out of bed every single day.
I have seen these women not only awaken to their own sense of purpose but to then use what they’ve learned to lift others at their company. It gives me hope in humanity and makes me proud to be a woman.
Thinking about building a better world of work, is there a company and/or leader who stands out to you as someone we should follow? If so, what are they up to?
I think Esther Perel is unfailingly fascinating and has original things to say about work from a relational point of view (www.estherperel.com). Not your run-of-the-mill angle, that’s for sure.
Thanks Rachel! Some great insights in there. How can readers follow your work?
For more about Bonfire visit bonfirewomen.com
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