All Articles Q&A with the Hot Mommas Project's Kathy Korman Frey

Q&A with the Hot Mommas Project’s Kathy Korman Frey

Kathy Korman Frey, founder of the Hot Mommas Project and professor at The George Washington University School of Business, discusses the changing face of today’s workforce and how millennial women can successfully advance their careers.

5 min read


SmartBrief hosted Kathy Korman Frey this spring for its fourth annual Women’s Leadership Program, an initiative to build the skills and leadership capabilities of its female employees and to strengthen diverse leadership within the company. Frey, founder of the Hot Mommas Project and professor of the Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program at The George Washington University School of Business, participated in a Q&A on the greatest challenges and trends facing millennial women in the workforce.

What do you think are the biggest challenges today’s millennial women are going to face as they work to advance their careers?

TMO — Too many opportunities. This is theoretically a “good problem.” There are many options on the career menu right now for millennials: Work for someone, start your own thing, become part of the #gigeconomy. Educated and on fire, millennials have their eye on the prize. Only time will tell if this is the generation that increases the percentage of Fortune 500 female CEOs. Not likely if you agree with the next point.

Entrepreneurial / Intrapreneurial skills. Research shows millennial success needs to be on their terms. Fast-forwarding the game board on this, very few large companies will be able to fit the bill. Smaller more agile companies — including those started by millennials themselves — are poised to win the human capital war. Is there training at these companies? Millennials will need to be disciplined self-starters with the ability to acquire skills without formal training programs.

  • To do: Lean on a strong support network (have five mentors, minimum, our research shows) for navigating a career path or acquiring new skills. All successful people have this type of network.

On that note, how do you see workplace norms evolving over the next ten years as the majority of boomers exit the workforce?

This year, the leading edge of the Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) turned 70. This means we’re in the thick of a wave of retirements for a couple of decades. What does this mean for us? Brain drain. Newsflash: This was the generation that worked for 20 years at the same company. A massive brain drain is about to take place. Gig economy rules. Higher quality part-time, flexible and volunteer jobs will increase in number, building on the already-popular gig economy, millennial short-term job orientation, sometimes sketchy economy and the advent of women / working parents into higher levels of responsibility.

  • To do: Gen X and millennials: Soak that knowledge up to win. Take part in your own informal recon and formal programs (e.g., a mentoring program like the ones we run). Also, use the opportunity to observe the most adaptable and effective managers you know, and learn from them. Can you, your manager, and your company handle the mindset needed to flex and adapt? If so, you win.

Several participants touched on dress in the workplace — how can women best strike a balance between professionalism and personal style?

Short answer: Dress code. Let the dress code be the bad guy. If there is no code, find a “style role model” in the workplace and emulate them.

How do you manage an anxiety-provoking conversation in a group setting?

1. Prep / Pre meetings. Prepare yourself. Read this. Do a self-check on any biases. Next, reach out from a neutral-to-positive tone. Example of hallway conversation: “What do you see as obstacles for the team right now? Tell me more … That’s a great point … can you share that on Thursday?” Is it an antagonistic relationship? Try this: “I want to be sure I read something correctly the other day and would like your opinion; can I take you to coffee this week?” This article recommends not even labeling it as a tough conversation.

2. Set the end point / goal. Have a goal. Example: “My goal is to put our heads together on the best solution. It may not be easy, but I believe enough in all of us to know we can walk out of here with an answer.”

3. Walk in with your message points. Some articles caution against sounding rehearsed and to beware of scripting. I disagree. I recommend having between one and three points clear in your mind. These are the points that anchor you during the conversation. Run through it in your head and possibly with someone. The successful characteristic of these points is that, no matter what someone says, these points will still be true or relevant. Acknowledging what the other person is saying, paired with your message points, will help keep you calm, establish the tone you want, avoid over-reacting and anchor the conversation. Example:

Person (who has lost their cool and is escalating the conversation): “I didn’t say that. I said this:__________. And you always dominate these meetings. I don’t see why this is important. I do a good job. I work really hard.”

You (keeping the tone of the conversation, anchoring, acknowledging, using a message point): “I agree you are a hard worker. That is worth talking about more, and I’d like to come back to it. The point I want to bring to your attention is not about being a hard worker, but rather about a fit with the team and culture.”

  • To do: As a second level follow-up conversation, be prepared to coach someone out of the “drama triangle” if they see themselves in the role of victim, rescuer or persecutor.

During the conference, we created vision boards and mind maps. Why do you think mapping techniques are so effective?

Cognitive synergy. The majority of us are visual learners. So that’s an important point. Furthermore, Mind Mapping works the way our brain works. This is called “cognitive synergy.” The visual representation of our goals and ideas helps make it real for us. There is lots of research on the correlation between planning / goal-setting and achievement.

  • To do: To each vision board, add metrics to your idea — something measurable. Example: “Travel to 10 new countries over the next 10 years.”