WHO SHE IS: Tenny Hope Frost, Executive Director, Alumni Relations & Development, Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley

SUCCESS STORY: With loads of tenacity, hard-work, and a bit of luck, I have been able to be entrepreneurial within an academic setting.

WORK SCHEDULE: Full time with lots of evening and weekend work, but I get time off each Friday afternoon to take my kids to their soccer practice!

KIDS: Jackson (13), Jade (11)

SANITY VICE: BE FLEXIBLE!!

How She Got Here…

Ever since high school I have known that I wanted to build a career in an academic setting.  I was fortunate to have attended a wonderful all-girls prep school in Baltimore for my formative years which shaped my deep interests in serving in leadership roles, organizing school-wide spirit activities, and applying to Boston College’s Lynch School of Education.   Empowered and excited to learn more, I embraced my college years at Boston College where I graduated with honors and received a Creativity and Leadership award at my commencement in 1987.

Immediately after college, I spent two years teaching English in Kyoto, Japan and studied Japanese, Calligraphy, and Ikebana (the art of flower arranging). Living and traveling abroad exposed me to amazing cultures, people, and ancient history and helped to develop my global perspective.  This experience sparked my interest in working for international education and cultural exchange organizations.  Upon return to the United States, I worked in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco for two of the leading international education organizations (USAID affiliate NCIV and The Asia Foundation).  In 1994, I secured a position at the Haas School of Business in the alumni relations office and have been building the momentum at UC Berkeley for more than 40,000 business school alumni and donors ever since.

During my time at Berkeley-Haas, I’ve managed to create a variety of work arrangements over the years to balance my family needs.  When my children were young, I created a job-share which allowed me to continue to foster and build my career while also juggling the demands and pleasures of parenting.  When the job-share came to an end after two years, I was able to create an organizational structure that allowed me to work 60% and slowly over a few years I ramped back up to 80% and then ultimately back to 100%-plus.

I’ve been back at work in a full-time capacity for over six years now, but as I hire, train, and retain talent on my team, I am proud to share with both the women and the men the history of my work-life balance and I encourage them to consider what will work best for them.  UC Berkeley has invigorated me professionally and supported me personally over the years.

Q&A: Flexibility in Academics, Transparency, & Tenny’s Tips (in her own words)

MB: What is it like being a working mom at an educational institution?

THF: UC Berkeley-Haas is very supportive of working moms and I am surrounded by women juggling interesting, demanding careers and young families. There are opportunities to grow as well as mentor other working moms.  The university also offers access to exceptional infant/child-care facilities as well as a teaching preschool environment.  My children flourished in these environments while I continued working at Berkeley-Haas.

MB: What advice do you have for women who feel like they are struggling to get the flexibility they need to make work work for them?

THF: If you are having trouble getting the flexibility that you need, I would encourage that you check-in with each of your key stakeholders (or partners) and discuss what the best solution is. Have a heart to heart with your boss, husband/partner, child-care provider/school, parents, siblings, and neighbors, and figure out if there is any wiggle room or support that they can provide. Brainstorm with them and ask them for advice and input. People want to help you… if you invite their feedback, I can guarantee that you’ll come up with some clever and interesting solutions.  Brainstorming can lead to some great innovations!

MB: What’s your best time-management or work/family management tip?

THF: TRANSPARENCY & COMMUNICATION!  My work calendar is visible to my work colleagues and husband so that everyone knows where I am, what I am doing, and what I am working on at all times. I use the calendar to manage my work flow, project deadlines, meeting schedule, and doctor appointments!

MB: What advice do you live by as a working mom? 

THF: BE FLEXIBLE!  “Whatever you do, remember, that the most important thing is to always be flexible….” This was the sage advice my very wise and insightful 102 year old Baltimore Grandmother always gave me whenever I visited her.  She would always weave this comment into our conversation at some point. It would ring in my ears for days after our special visits.  That magical phrase “Be Flexible” became a core principle for me after I became a working mother of two beautiful children.

Juggling a full life with kids, a spouse, volunteer duties, and an active professional career simply requires flexibility.  If you are not flexible you can miss out on a lot of things.  I would get very frustrated with myself when I got too rigid or stuck in my ways.  The solution was to simply relax and try to look at the situation differently.  As a result, I truly believe that this core value, being flexible, has allowed me to be successful at work and at home.

HAVE A PLAN: At work, making strategic decisions and managing priorities for myself and others is a daily requirement.  At home, the same skills are applicable.  I have discovered that the more I plan, the easier it is to build in options and time so that I can be flexible.  Now, by default, I find myself planning my work projects with built in “what if moments”… this extra thinking and planning allows me to be more adaptable when things go off track at home or work.

And, as working moms know, things never go as planned.  Kids get sick, but they never seem to get sick on the days that could work well for you! They always get sick on the days that you have a major presentation or event, or, god forbid, a flight out of town for business.  I’ll never forget the morning my 3-year-old daughter threw up all over herself and her bed as I was on my way out the door for a major work event and a long weekend out of town. My husband and I had planned a trip for our 10-year wedding anniversary.  We were leaving the kids behind with the grandparents so that we could jet off to Mexico for a few days (our first major break / vacation since the birth of our kids).

My heart sank as my daughter become more and more ill.  Luckily, I was able to shift a few things around and reached out to my staff for help so that I could take it a bit slower that morning at home.  I did get to the event and it went fine.  We also got on that plane for Mexico later that night and enjoyed the long weekend together!  But, slowing down and being flexible made that horrible (and oh-so-guilty) situation, well, not so horrible anymore.

LEAD BY EXAMPLE: Another critical part of this guiding principle has been to create a staff environment that embraces flexible work styles and arrangements.  Not only do I personally need, want, and desire a flexible work schedule to accomplish my work-life-family balance, but I think it is a very healthy thing to offer every one (whether or not they have kids!) With today’s technology and communication tools, flexible work arrangements are vital to the success of teams and individuals in the workplace.  Productivity, respect, and teamwork is on the rise in my work place as a result.

GO WITH THE FLOW: At home, I have found that as much as I try to map out and plan out the week or weekend activities, they are bound to change for the better, and, well, sometimes for the worse.   A new idea for fun or family bonding might arise, so “going with the flow” is a theme I try to follow.

I am definitely not perfect at this “being flexible” thing.  I certainly know that using this as my mantra has kept me focused, happy, and successful over the years!!

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