Arianna Huffington And Jennifer Breithaupt: Achieve More By Going Offline

Jane Lu

On this SHE Innovates episode, Michelle King, a leader in UN women’s gender innovation work, speaks with Arianna Huffington, founder of Thrive Global, and Jennifer Breithaupt, global consumer chief marketing officer at Citi, about how women can do less and achieve more. They discuss how technology can help women boost well-being and improve performance at work, and what #PressForProgress, this year’s theme for International Women’s Day, means for each of them.

The message behind #PressForProgress

For Huffington, #PressForProgress is about changing workplace culture. Despite many organizations’ efforts to increase the number of women in executive positions, the needle hasn’t moved much. Too often, workplaces are fueled by stress, which leads to burnout and creates the “illusion that to succeed you need to always be on—never disconnecting.” Many studies show such environments lead to lower productivity and less empathy for colleagues. They can take a toll on health as well: Women who experience job-related stress have a 40% higher risk of heart disease and 60% greater risk of diabetes. The bottom line? Employees should not be forced to sacrifice their health and their relationships for a job.

Although some progress has been made in recent years, Breithaupt notes that women remain significantly underrepresented in business. McKinsey’s 2017 report, Why Diversity Matters, shows that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 15% more likely to enjoy above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. In 2018, this number rose to 21%. Gender diversity is a key enabler for business growth. We need to continue implementing solutions for workplace inclusion.

How can organizations better support women?

Huffington suggests starting small—for example, asking questions such as “Are there places for nursing mothers to pump milk for their babies?” can go a long way to encourage policies that foster inclusivity. Does the organization offer opportunities such as mentorships for employees to establish strong working relationships and paths to career advancement? Huffington points out that social events in which employees are expected to bond with co-workers in frat-like party settings are not uncommon, especially in the startup world, and these can make women and others uncomfortable.

On an individual level, Huffington describes one of her biggest career challenges as “dealing with the obnoxious roommate in [her] head.” Self-criticism can take a loud voice for many women, and she recommends learning to deal with it by living in the present and avoiding unproductive, negative self-talk.

Breithaupt advocates for a workplace culture that supports balance: “Don’t send a flurry of emails on a Sunday night that upset everyone.” Additionally, she adds, women need to empower each other and teach the skills needed to compete at a higher level.

The pervasiveness of our digital devices

According to King, the average American smartphone user touches their phone about 2,617 times a day. She says the need to always be available increases our stress level and adversely impacts our health. Breithaupt agrees, adding, “People are just not present.”

Citi and Thrive Global are taking concrete steps to address this situation by developing applications that help us reduce the time we spend online because, Huffington explains, “it is almost a backlash against technology and companies that are trying to hijack people’s attention with endless notifications.” She wants to see companies promote technology that makes life easier instead of trying to consume more time from our lives.

Thrive Global recently launched the Thrive App, which puts your phone on “thrive mode” when you want to remain distraction-free. If someone tries to contact you, they are informed that you’re unavailable. “Right now, if somebody texts me and I don’t respond within 5 minutes,” Huffington says, “they’ll call 911.” Of course, the app includes an option for instant responses—she simply wants a way to honor people whose lives are well-organized and who understand the need to put down their devices.

Advice for women to be more effective day-to-day

Instead of coming up with a single, potentially unachievable international women’s day resolution, Huffington offers a challenge: “Start and end your day in an intentional way.” Strive to be able to say: “I’ve done everything I can do today; my day is done.”

We all get hooked on going online and dealing with endless tasks. But if we prioritize properly, Huffington says, we can declare an arbitrary end to the day. She suggests turning off all devices and removing them from the bedroom. This natural transition from the workday allows time to recharge. “Women have such an incredible slate of things on their plate every date,” Breithaupt says, “we just need to allow them to disconnect.”

Listen to Arianna Huffington and Jennifer Breithaupt’s interview on the SHE Innovates podcast.

SHE Innovates is a podcast that shares the stories, challenges, and triumphs of women across innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship. Listen to all our podcasts on PodBean.

Jane Lu

About Jane Lu

Jane is a writer and marketing intern at SAP. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in English at the University of Waterloo. While Jane is currently studying in Waterloo, she is originally from Toronto.