Podcast: She Said / She Said
Posted on February 7, 2020
Laura Cox Kaplan is the creator of the groundbreaking podcast She said/She said, where she interviews her peers, some of the most successful women in business, politics, and society, to find out what makes them tick. Laura was a top advisor to several influential US Senators and to the Treasury Secretary before becoming a partner in one of the top accounting firms in the world.
John Feehery: She Said/She Said. The Feehery Theory starts right now.
Molly Feehery: The Feehery Theory Podcast brought to you by EFB Advocacy.
John Feehery: I am delighted to welcome Laura Cox Kaplan to the show. She's the creator of the groundbreaking podcast She Said/She Said, where she interviews her peers, some of the most successful women in business, politics and society to find out what makes them tick. Laura was a top advisor to several influential US senators where I first got a chance to meet her, and to the Treasury Secretary before becoming a partner in one of the top accounting firms in the world. Laura, welcome to the show.
Laura Kaplan: Hi, John. Thanks for having me. I'm so happy to be here.
John Feehery: So let's talk about what came up ... What was the inspiration for She Said/She Said? Why did you start doing this really great podcast?
Laura Kaplan: Yeah, well, I have to give credit to a friend, actually, for the idea of the podcast itself. But I had been teaching a course. It's a self-awareness personal development course for young women at American University where we dig into some of the topics that I think are especially important for women to think about, the kinds of obstacles that we sometimes put in our own path that can really trip us up. So I'd been doing that. I had left PricewaterhouseCoopers and really wanted to invest time and energy into women's empowerment, but particularly into these topics that I felt like were not getting enough air time, that we were not spending enough time thinking about and talking about. I went to a friend's conference that she sponsors and was a speaker. And she called me a week later and she said," "You should really think about starting a podcast. And I had not actually considered that. I was looking for some way of creating a platform to really talk about these issues more. This was the perfect idea. So I have to give Sylvie Legere Ricketts credit for her great idea.
John Feehery: Excellent. So success is all in the name of the creator, right? If you decide you're successful, that's a big way to overcome any obstacles. Right?
Laura Kaplan: Sure.
John Feehery: I said successful women, but they kind of define their own success, right?
Laura Kaplan: Yeah.
John Feehery: But what's the common thread for all these women that you've interviewed? You've done 86 podcasts. That's amazing.
Laura Kaplan: Yeah, 86. Thank you very much. So we launched in March of 2018. We've been up for almost two years and I've talked to a really broad variety of women from all different sectors, walks of life perspectives. I think there's a number of threads that tie these together. They're all women that I think have inspirational stories, who bring tremendous insight to the topics that we're talking about and to whatever it is, whatever they're working on. But also in the way that they think about impact on the world and making a difference and looking at their work from the standpoint of, how can I help someone else? They also share that common denominator of really thinking about what's referred to as a growth mindset, where they take on challenges or obstacles in a way that helps them grow and learn and where they can share that value with other people.
John Feehery: So you really kind of started in the political game. And this podcast, you were thinking about how do I get more women involved in politics?
Laura Kaplan: That's right. That's exactly right.
John Feehery: We've had a couple different years of the women. This is something that's both Republicans and Democrats understand. I think Republicans don't do as good a job as Democrats. All right?
Laura Kaplan: Totally agree. I totally agree. So yeah, that was a big focus for me. When I was at PricewaterhouseCoopers, I ran public policy strategy and was a member of the firm's executive management team. And part of my portfolio was also overseeing a team and we ran the political action committee. We had a very big PAC firm, still does. We at the time brought in about three and a half million dollars a cycle. So it's not a lot of money to sneeze at and can be sort of hard to spend because you have pretty tight limits on what you can do with corporate PAC dollars. So as a result I thought, gosh, we do all of this incredible work as it relates to gender and empowerment of women and inclusiveness. But we've never really thought about looking at it from the public policy and political lens. So why don't we dedicate a small percentage of money specifically to help increase the numbers of women on both sides of the political aisle?
Laura Kaplan: But guess what happened, John? This was back in probably 2012, 2013, 2014, that time period. In looking at open seat races that would be the easiest to really provide some support for women running, we didn't have as many women. It was hard to find women running on the Republican side that we could support. So I thought, well, okay, A, that's an interesting question that I would really love to pursue more fully. But what we did was pivoted, and looked at places where we had maybe less tenured women that had already been elected. How could we help them get a better footing, help them start leadership PACs at a point really before they would typically do that?
Laura Kaplan: Elise Stefanik was one of the people from upstate New York, New York's 21, that we invested in early along with a number of others. They were up and comers. They were clearly folks that shared our perspective from a corporate standpoint. But that also were going to, we thought, do great things. So we gave money to them to really try to move the needle and get them to move up the food chain, which obviously they have, which was great. But the piece that really got my attention was the fact that there weren't more women running in the first place.
John Feehery: And so you've kind of made that one of your projects. But I think this, She Said/She Said podcast goes beyond that.
Laura Kaplan: It does.
John Feehery: You're talking about so many different types of people and so many different things that these women kind overcome their own internal obstacles. Right?
Laura Kaplan: Yeah.
John Feehery: And they're the only obstacles they put in front of themselves and how they succeed and how they define success. How would you give advice to yourself as a 25 year old?
Laura Kaplan: Oh wow. There's a lot of things that you mentioned there in that question. And I'll get to your specific question, but let me sort of take a beat and talk a little bit about what I learned when I began to dig into the research. Now, this may not come as a big surprise to you or to your audience, but there are some pretty significant differences between women and men.
John Feehery: Really?
Laura Kaplan: I know that's shocking. I'm not just talking about the physical differences. And again, I don't want to overgeneralize because you can certainly think of plenty of examples in which this doesn't apply. But nine times out of 10 it does. Nine times out of 10, this applies. Our brains are simply wired differently and we have a tendency to perceive external challenges or things that happen to us in very different ways. And I'll give you a couple of examples. A woman may receive, in the corporate setting, her annual performance evaluation. 90% of that evaluation will be spot on. "You're doing an amazing job. It's just fabulous." She gets 10% that's constructive feedback or maybe even negative. Maybe it's something that she really needs to work on in order to continue to progress in her career. And guess what she focuses on?
John Feehery: The 10%.
Laura Kaplan: Absolutely. Not the 90%. Whereas you're much more inclined to focus on, "I am so great. I'm doing a great job. 90% of this is positive. Yeah, I've got 10% to work on."
John Feehery: Interesting. Yeah, I'm in the 90th percentile.
Laura Kaplan: That's exactly right. That's exactly right. There's a big difference in how we see the world and it's not just that. I think that's a really great example and something that a lot of people can relate to, whether you're in the corporate setting, whether you're in the political world, wherever you are. Maybe you're a student, right, and you get feedback from a professor. If you're a young woman, you may have a tendency to really internalize that. The same thing is true for criticism, negative feedback. And feedback's the wrong word, but criticism that you get from complete strangers.
John Feehery: Yeah. It's a brutal world out there.
Laura Kaplan: It's a brutal world out there. And a woman may be much more inclined to internalize and personalize criticism that she gets from someone who truly is irrelevant to her professional and personal growth and development.
John Feehery: By the way, if you want to see some criticism, read the comments of The Feehery Theory Podcast. But I'm sure you'll get none. There'll be all aimed at me. And I would also make the observation that I was raised ... My parents got divorced, and so we had three boys and my dad all lived together.
Laura Kaplan: Oh, wow.
John Feehery: From the age 13 on. So I really have no education on how to communicate effectively with women. Just ask my wife or my daughter. And it's been ... it's a revelation. So I'm always trying to learn more.
Laura Kaplan: Yeah. Well, you are blessed with an amazing wife and an amazing daughter. So I know you learn a lot from them.
John Feehery: Every day is a new adventure. But, so you're 25 years old and you meet Laura Cox Kaplan. What advice do you give to her? What advice do you give to younger people who are not Laura Cox Kaplan?
Laura Kaplan: Yeah. I mean, perfection is a big one and that has always been a big struggle. And when I say perfection, people say, "Oh, she thinks she's so fancy." No, no, that's not what I mean. By perfection, I mean it as something that's actually, or can be, a real negative, especially for women. We tend to hold ourselves to an incredibly high standard. We tend to be very, very hard on ourselves. And when things happen that set us back, it can be really, really hard to get back in the game. If you are one of those people that holds yourself to that really high standard, it can make it difficult for you to take risks, the risks that you need to continually build your confidence, to continue to grow and develop.
Laura Kaplan: And so I've always struggled with this notion of holding myself to a high standard. I hold the people around me to a really high standard as well. I think as a boss, I'm a tough boss. I think I've always been a good boss, harder on me than I ever was on my various teams that I worked with, but I think they would refer to me as a tough boss. And a lot of that was because I was so hard on myself. Knowing that-
John Feehery: Do you think it's about you or you think that's about a lot of women out there as well?
Laura Kaplan: I think it is about most women as well.
John Feehery: Yeah, okay [crosstalk 00:10:36].
Laura Kaplan: What I wish I had known is A, the impact. Just making my journey less pleasant. If I had been much more self aware about the impact that that was having on my psyche then I could have developed tools to help counteract that and also been in a position to be more helpful to other women that I would see struggling from this in my corporate role. And I see it too in my current role as well. I see a lot of women and I can identify those perfectionists at the drop of a hat.
John Feehery: Like that. Like that.
Laura Kaplan: I see it, right. And so knowing what to look for, frankly, as a boss, whether you're a man or a woman, is a good sort of something to be aware of, that this may be something that your employee, your spouse, your sister, your daughter, maybe your boss is holding herself to that standard. Understanding that, I think, is really important as it relates to men and women in the workforce
John Feehery: So your good friend Sheryl Sandberg wrote this book, Lean In.
Laura Kaplan: Right.
John Feehery: Is it okay to lean back sometimes. And I say that because I know that you can learn a lot from that book and I think probably this helped spark some of your interest and your journey.
Laura Kaplan: Oh, completely.
John Feehery: Could talk a little bit about that relationship more, and the idea of how women need to approach life?
Laura Kaplan: Right, right. Well, Sheryl reached out to me. I was very flattered. She has a friend. She reached out to me at the point in which she was getting ready to launch the book and the foundation and said, "I'd really like for you to write your lean in story. Tell me about a time in which you leaned into your career." And so I said, "Sure, I'd be happy to help." And I sat down to write my story and I came up with something that related to risks that I had taken much earlier on in life. And it was a big aha moment because what I realized at that moment is that I didn't feel like I had been taking those big risks from a career standpoint that would really help me continue to push forward. And it was the beginning of my career transition of contemplating and deciding to ultimately leave PricewaterhouseCoopers. I mean, no one leaves the partnership, you don't leave. And I I'm a good conservative girl from West Texas. If you've got a bird in hand, you generally don't throw that-
John Feehery: It's [crosstalk 00:12:54] financial security too, right?
Laura Kaplan: Of course. All of those things. All those things. I mean, we've been very ... Joel and I've been blessed. We've done well. We had a financial cushion that has allowed me to do some things. This is not particularly lucrative financially as you can imagine.
John Feehery: But you're serving an important role.
Laura Kaplan: I hope so. I do hope so. But it was Sheryl's example, and really what I drew from that experience that, like I said, was a wake up call to tell me you really need to do more if you. If you, Laura, don't feel like you're having a big enough impact, then you need to do something about that.
John Feehery: So one of the things that we talk about is this ... at least in my family and society in general, this work life balance, the idea you want to take care of your kids, you want to be successful. And this is not just for women. I mean, I've been struggling with this myself. And I-
Laura Kaplan: Which is great. It's great that you say that and that's the way it should be. Both parents should struggle with work-life balance. You should want to be invested in your kids' lives.
John Feehery: I'm, I'm actually kind of annoying at St. Peter's school because I go there ... Because it's like two blocks away. I'm there all the time. I'm coaching. I feel like I really want to be part of it. And I'm not sure if the kids love to see me all the time, but I don't care. I want to be that annoying dad. But there are some things, if you're not on the corporate hierarchy, you're not making the money, you don't have that financial security, but you have that balance ... And I think, how does someone kind of make that internal kind of decision on achieving work-life balance and is it possible?
Laura Kaplan: Right. Well, everybody's circumstances are different. I consider myself to have been incredibly blessed. Joel and I married later in life. We were both 36 years old. And by that point-
John Feehery: You were young compared to me. I was 39.
Laura Kaplan: Well, there you go. But we were established in our careers and because I had been at a firm that really appreciated what you've just said related to work-life balance and the challenge associated with keeping female employees in the workforce, especially those that were at or about the level of partner, they were much more accommodating and accepting of work-life challenges than a lot of organizations would have been. So I was particularly blessed in that regard. At the point in which we started having children, which was a couple of years in, the firm was very accommodating. I could work from home one day a week. I mean, I could work a flex schedule. But I had established myself by that point.
Laura Kaplan: And I think the hard part is when you have children younger and you're maybe less established in your career, you may not have built up as much equity, brand equity, if you will, that can be really helpful to an employer. And these are things that organizations are struggling with across the board. If you want to have a diversified workforce and you want to have the right balance, these are considerations that you're going to have to figure out as an organization.
John Feehery: So talking about work-life balance, talking about women and how they define success, social media. So much of social media, everyone puts on Facebook or Instagram how great they are and how their life is. And there's this kind of sense of envy. God, I wish I had that life. But it's not really realistic is it? I just have a question about social media and how women kind of view social media. I know there's just a lot of envy going on, not just women and men, but how everyone's living these fabulous lives on social media. How do you get people to get the right perspective and how they define success and how they define who they are in this era of social media? And I say that because people sometimes comment and the comments are so nasty. And it especially it has an impact on kids. Have you had any discussions with your many different interviews about the impact of social media and the negative and positive impact of social media?
Laura Kaplan: Right. There's so many different dimensions to what you just said and I'm going to take it a slightly different direction and say I think from the standpoint of social media, you have to be selective at where you view, participate, comment, the people that you follow, the kind of ... If you're getting positive energy from your interactions on social media, then it's a good thing and it's helping you build community. There's amazing things that are happening around the world as a result of social media that you and I, when we were coming up on the Hill as press secretaries ... I mean, remember we had the fax machine and the telephones, right? Not even a cell phone but, but a land line and a fax machine.
John Feehery: Right.
Laura Kaplan: Now, your ability to get a message out, a positive message out, it's only limited by your own creativity, right?
John Feehery: Right. Exactly.
Laura Kaplan: And your own desires. And so it's an amazing tool. Now, just as it can be used for good. It can also be used for nefarious purposes. And I think we've touched on this a little bit, that this can be particularly difficult for women in dealing with nasty comments. And I ask many of my guests on the podcast about how do you deal with this when someone is just mean to you? I was struck by something that I heard just after the Super Bowl. Someone was interviewing Jennifer Lopez about her career and things that she struggled with. And I was astonished, although I shouldn't be, given what I do, to hear her talk about the fact that criticism, even once she had reached a level of fame and success, both financial and being well-known as a singer, as an actress, as an entertainer, that the criticism about her body, about whether she could or couldn't act, or whether she could or couldn't sing, still was devastating to her.
John Feehery: Yeah. Don't read the comments.
Laura Kaplan: Right? Don't read the comments. But I think maybe even more importantly if you do read them, consider the source. And if you don't know the person and it's just somebody who's trolling you out there, my goodness, ignore them. They just aren't relevant to your personal development. Focus on the people who care about you and care about what you're trying to build.
John Feehery: And that is even more difficult for public figures who are on social media. Lots of female reporters, they just get hammered all the time and I feel terrible for them. And it's a different type of criticism. It's a more vicious type of criticism. And where it comes from is a really, really bad-
Laura Kaplan: Dark place.
John Feehery: ... and dark place. Anyway, so I'm glad that you're on The Feehery Theory Podcast. I want you to just spend a couple minutes talking about the value that men get from listening to the She Said ... I've gotten a lot of value out of listening to it.
Laura Kaplan: Thank you. Thank you very much.
John Feehery: And these are really important, because women are not in this alone, right? Men are here. They're not going away. They're part of the society.
Laura Kaplan: Sure hope so.
John Feehery: This has got to be a cooperative arrangement, right?
Laura Kaplan: Absolutely.
John Feehery: And so I think men can learn a lot from the She Said/She Said, but I want you to tell us what they can learn from listening to your podcast.
Laura Kaplan: Sure. Well, I appreciate that very much and I appreciate you listening. As I would be quick to tell you, you're not really my target audience, but I'm delighted that you are listening. It is a podcast with, about, and for women. And while we haven't had men as guests yet, hopefully we will because I do think, to your point, it's an incredibly important conversation that we should be having. I think increasing awareness overall about the differences between men and women. It's not a positive or a negative, it's just different. And the more we understand that as women about ourselves and the more that you as a man understand that about the women that you live with and the women that you work with, all the better. Right? It gives us a more sort of just a level playing field from the standpoint of starting a conversation.
Laura Kaplan: I used to hear a lot ... In my past lives, I would hear male colleagues say about a young woman that we were considering promoting, "Well, we can't promote her because she can't take feedback or she gets really defensive." And it goes back to what I said before about perfectionism and how that can manifest itself.
John Feehery: Interesting.
Laura Kaplan: Feedback and criticism, for a young woman who's holding herself to a high standard of perfection, can physically hurt to her because she wasn't planning for it. She feels like she's completely lost control. So she hears that and it has a real sting for her. One of the best things that you can do if you have a woman in your life and she gets defensive when you are trying to provide helpful feedback, is to maybe call attention to the fact ... Why does this bother you so much? Right? Have a more candid conversation about it. And then also you can teach young women how to maybe hear the feedback differently.
Laura Kaplan: One of the best really tools that I think it's helped me a lot that I think helped the young women in the classes that I teach, is this notion of kind of taking back control of the conversation. And by that I mean, be armed with followup questions. When you know you're going into a personal evaluation, arm yourself with followup questions. Assume that you're going to get some constructive feedback and say, "John, thank you so much for bringing that to my attention. Have you ever struggled with this? Have you worked with other people who have struggled with this? What would you recommend? What path would you ... or what actions would you recommend that I take?" Whatever the questions are, but just be armed so that you're not just sitting there dumbfounded and stung by the criticism or the feedback, but you actually have something to respond with. And that can be really helpful.
John Feehery: So one of the books I read as I was going through ... I did it on, I think, my iPad, Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Laura Kaplan: Yeah, How to Win Friends and ... Of course.
John Feehery: One of his advice is, don't criticize anybody. Which I've actually taken to heart because women don't like to get criticism. Nobody likes to get criticized. So be careful as you are giving positive evaluations. You learn this as a coach too. I mean, because sometimes when you're a coach, you really get frustrated when the kid's not doing what they're supposed to do. But part of this is the positive. Try to accentuate the positive, and if you're going to do something, try to use it in a positive way.
Laura Kaplan: But let me give you a slightly different take on that. I think sometimes it can be hard. Sometimes it can be hard for men to give feedback, not so much criticism, but feedback, to women because they are, men, are afraid of the reaction that they're going to get.
John Feehery: That right.
Laura Kaplan: Some men are terrified of tears. I don't fully understand this because tears are a very normal thing for an awful lot of people, women and men. But for a lot of men, the idea of giving her that constructive feedback is really terrifying. And so understanding that you, if you're the boss, you're the person giving the feedback as the man, remember that the only way she improves and can work on those things that she really needs to work related to her performance is if you share that feedback. And so it can be a hard conversation for the both of you.
Laura Kaplan: So maybe have a more honest and candid airing of the fact that, "Hey, this is hard for me as the person giving you the feedback," and sort of just be more candid about the conversation.
John Feehery: Candid, but candid with some diplomacy.
Laura Kaplan: 100%. Always be diplomatic.
John Feehery: Right. Laura Cox Kaplan, thank you so much for being on The Feehery Theory Podcast brought to you by EFB, at EFB Studios. Great to have you on and tremendous discussion and thank you.
Laura Kaplan: Thank you, John, for the opportunity. I really appreciate it. And also thank you for hosting She Said/She Said a few times as well. We really appreciate it.
John Feehery: It's been great to have you here.
Laura Kaplan: Thank you. I loved it.