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How Rachel Bland of Jahia Tackles The Extreme Work Life Balance Of Being A Woman Business Leader During Covid-19

So many things are possible when we work together! When all this began, we didn’t know if or when we would get a vaccine, we didn’t know how to protect ourselves or treat this illness and much remains unknown.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Bland.

Rachel Bland has held a variety of product management leadership roles in diverse organizations over the past 20 years. As Vice President of Product Management and Design at Jahia, she is responsible for translating Jahia’s vision to an executable roadmap, bringing her experience in new product introduction, complex deliveries, and release planning to a highly distributed team. Rachel and her team focus on regular communication with internal and external stakeholders, gathering feedback, validating solutions, and staying abreast of market trends as Jahia moves to bring the value of data to all things content to ensure clients can deliver digital experiences that drive results.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I was originally a math major in school. In my head, I was on a path to a Ph.D. and academia until I took my computer science elective. That was probably the first time I experienced the “click” or “aha” moment you hear people talk about. I had found my thing! I pivoted hard into a computer science degree and got my first job as a programmer working for Statistics Canada where my first projects took me into data modeling, statistics, and data warehousing. The great accident, or move to Product Management, happened early in my career. I was working at Cognos, specializing in ERP data extraction when the dot-com bubble burst, and just as my team was being downsized, I was offered an alternative. The offer was to join the product management team as a specialist for a new metadata modeling component on a pre-GA product. As an extremely introverted and nerdy young person, very junior in my career, I didn’t know what I was getting into, and looking back, that’s probably for the best!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

Well, I guess COVID overshadows everything. I joined Jahia in September 2019 with a new team of UX designers and product managers. We were in the middle of a major release, the kind that makes or breaks companies if they get the migration wrong and doing a lot of traveling to make sure that with all the changes the team was OK. Then COVID happened. I remember our sales kickoff event in January, hearing the rumors out of China and noticing people traveling for Lunar New Year wearing masks on the Champs Élysées while we sat at a restaurant planning how we would capture attention through our free trials. A month later, we were traveling from Paris to Geneva for a management meeting as the news out of Italy became dire. That flight home, the various reactions and the flinching every time someone coughed, that’s something I will never forget. I haven’t seen my team in person since, and everybody’s perspective on remote work has been changed forever. I used to be the odd one out, never collocated with other team members. Now I’m just another square on the screen.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

One of the reasons I joined Jahia was the opportunity with our Customer Data Platform (CDP) and to apply my skills with data while learning about the Content Management System (CMS) and Digital Experience space. The CMS space is very crowded, but Jahia occupies a unique position as a true Digital Experience Platform (DXP) with our own CDP that was built with global privacy standards and our CMS in mind. Today, we are working to bring value to our customers by helping them understand the way their audiences are interacting with their content and to make it easier for marketers and marketing operations people to integrate their understanding of the “customer” through our StackConnect and jExperience offerings. Early this summer, we’ll be expanding our value proposition in an exciting way to help more companies optimize their customer journeys. Stay tuned!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It’s hard to pick just one person, or one story over the years. So many people have invested in me and given me opportunities. Even though it’s cheesy, I am going to choose my father. He always saw me as Rachel, not as a little girl or a tomboy, or a smart aleck. He even enjoyed my challenging nature which others found frustrating. Dad bought me my first computer and taught me to code in BASIC when I was five or six. Now that I am a parent, I strongly suspect he did that to get some peace and quiet! The reason that is important is because, like many people, especially girls, by the time I went to university, I thought computers were “hard” and “not for me”…until I took my first computer science class and the skills and the memories from my childhood came back in flash. It also reminded me to just be myself and not worry about the definitions or perceptions of others so much.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

Most parents, whether they realize it or not, have leadership roles in their own homes — someone who is in charge of the finances, the kids’ school activities, groceries or the meals. When lockdowns began last year, everyone’s routine went out the door and mine wasn’t any different. Having an end to end conversation or think time without interruption was impossible! Generationally and culturally many of today’s adults and children are still wired to look to “Mom” as the default for solving their household problems, so suddenly I found myself accompanied by my family during my workday. They had no clue what was or was not an acceptable reason, time, or way to get my attention. For the first months with homeschooling, an unstable home network, and toilet paper shortages, things were tense as we navigated each other’s schedules and anxieties. I won’t even pretend that yelling didn’t happen as we figured out a set of boundaries and ground rules to make it work for most of us, most of the time…except the cat…the cat has not yet learned boundaries.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

I almost installed a traffic light on my office door…and I still may, but for us, there was a combination of ground rules, scheduling, and being really honest about what we just couldn’t deal with. The ground rules are pretty basic: the difference between NEED and WANT and some basic workplace etiquette like peeking in and waiting to be acknowledged rather than bursting in and announcing what you are there for at the top of your lungs. The scheduling and focusing on needs and some compromises are what has made it work in the long term.

My son was lonely. He was OK going to school online, but to sit in his room alone all day while Dad and I did meetings was just too much. He and I now have a scheduled lunch break, we take turns “cooking” (tater tots and chicken fingers in the foodie) and then we go for a bike ride around our neighborhood or play some Mario Kart before returning to work and school. I also became the afterschool buddy because I could front-load my daily schedule and be done not too long after school ended. I’m also pretty good at LEGO Crash Bandicoot. Dad couldn’t stand being stuck at home, so he became the hunter of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. His schedule had more flexibility/less predictability, so all grocery shopping and other out-of-the-house errands became his. My main challenge has been feeling crowded, every waking moment filled with meetings and people, aka introvert hell. I found myself staying up late into the night just to enjoy the silence and read a book or watch a show, so I caved in and expanded our bubble to include our caregiver who would come and take my son outside to play a couple of evenings per week.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

Jahia is an international company with a large presence in both Canada and France. We employ a lot of people who are just beginning their families. As lockdowns went into effect, repeatedly in some locations, we had a lot of juggling and stressed team members. Some would be struggling with loneliness, some with juggling multiple parents’ jobs plus children in a small space. To add a little spice to the situation, we shipped our first major release with new leadership in products and marketing which required us to do many things for the first time, remotely. As a leader and a parent, this was a challenge I felt well equipped to address. There were lots of moments along the way where my management style was exactly what the situation required. We had a product to deliver, and we needed to make sure everyone crossed the finish line undamaged. We succeeded.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Early in my career, I was introduced to the concept of command context, essentially making sure everyone understands the mission and the context of the mission so that they can make independent decisions in the field. Our teams needed that more than ever, to know which things were essential, and how the dependencies mapped so they could figure out how to make their contributions within the team as well as within the company and take care of their personal responsibilities. We built out a master plan and had everyone come together once per week to share progress and risks across teams. We involved our sales and service/support teams earlier than usual to compensate for lack of in-person time and we made everyone accountable to communicate frequently. What this let us do was give people flexibility whether they were working early, late, having a gap in the middle of the day, or shifting hours to the weekend, everyone around them was aware of what was going on and could adapt. It wasn’t without challenges or dropped balls, but considering that the first lockdown happened just before we started early access, it was more successful than we could have hoped.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

  • Brutal pragmatism. The people you live with aren’t perfect, you aren’t perfect, the situation is certainly not perfect. You have limited choices about work, school, and schedules. Accept all those things before trying to figure out what to do.
  • Be kind to yourself and set realistic goals. If you have small children, you may need more help from your partner or from others, whether that’s someone who comes in to help, or flexibility from your employer to adjust your schedule. If you have older kids, it’s an opportunity for them to step up and take accountability for specific tasks or school outcomes, like being up, dressed, and fed in time for school.
  • Communicate. With the people you live with, the people you work with, your managers, anyone who relies on you or on whom you rely. Set priorities and differentiate NEEDS from WANTS. If you can have open communication about how you try (maybe not succeed) to meet those needs, then you have a good shot at making it work.
  • Remember that you CANNOT die from embarrassment. When we kicked off our work from home initiative, I shared my worst work from home story to emphasize to our team that yeah, stuff is going to happen, you can handle it.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

In my experience, days need structure. At least a beginning, a middle and an end, there should be something to look forward to. Find things that you like to do alone, in pairs, or as a family. If you are human, chances are that you and your family have different needs and preferences for activities.

  • Alone: I signed up for Ancestry.com and compiled notes that my father and uncles had assembled, taking me all the way back to the 1600s.
  • In pairs: My son and I did puzzles and Nintendo Switch games, lots of Mario Kart and retro games like Crash Bandicoot. We also binge watched all the seasons of Marvel Agents of Shield.
  • As a family: We found a couple of shows that we could watch together as a family — no excuses allowed. We made popcorn and had soda (or not soda) and watched LEGO Masters and the Masked Singer every week. We also started a family movie night in place of what had been soccer night.

One of the things we embraced early on was going digital and building our bubble. We scheduled virtual sessions with a trainer to get some exercise and virtual playdates for the kids to play Minecraft online…they can even play tag in there (do not ask me how). When it became clear that this was going to be a marathon rather than a sprint, we created a bubble with two other families that also had only children so that we could have outdoor playdates. It made a big difference to our mental health.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  1. Connection may have never mattered more. Sometimes, we forget that it’s not just ourselves trying to get through this crazy life. I’m an introvert and I was born for 2020. I feel crowded at times with my whole family here all the time. Still, I discovered that without seeing different faces, I was just feeling blah. I didn’t realize it until I got brave enough to start outdoor playdates and I spent an hour sitting in the backyard having “tea” with another mom, it completely changed my rhythm for the weekend. After that, I started trying to get together with friends who were also being safe, even when it’s just every other weekend, it makes a big difference for me and my son to interact in real life (IRL) with another human. I’ve become even bolder now that vaccines are rolling out. I currently try to babysit my friend’s two year old a few hours every weekend. It’s refreshing to get outside again and see a little one mesmerized by dirt and leaves, plus it gives my kid a taste of what it would have been like to have a sibling and it gives my friends a much needed rest. Everybody wins.
  2. There’s never been a better time to stop and smell the roses. Or to plant them. If you are among those of us who are lucky enough to have work from home jobs, you no longer have to commute. If you are doing virtual school, yeah…that’s rough, but there are no field trips or after school activities. That means there is TIME, and summer is coming. It took me six months to finally embrace some of the new freedom of the COVID world, then I went back to my favorite adult hobby (besides shoe shopping), gardening! I have never worked on the garden at this house. Too much travel and too many activities, always something to do. To the horror of some (not naming names), I proceeded to dig up the entire front yard, build French drains (with a pickaxe) and replace most of the original default landscaping with beautiful flowering plants. It felt good mentally and physically. It taught me that I am no longer in my 20s. In the spirit of less injury and more family inclusion, we’re going to learn paddle boarding this summer instead of doing any more demolition.
  3. It’s getting better. In the U.S., things are a lot better than they were 12 months ago, six months ago and even three months ago. If you compare our situation to other countries, we are so fortunate. As adults, caregivers, employers, employees, and whatever other roles we assign ourselves, we sometimes must be patient. My trainer has a saying whenever he’s about to give me something horrible to do for a long time, “pack a lunch.” When he says that, I know that I need to pace myself, focus on my form and my breathing and sometimes let my ego out the door, because at some point in this exercise, I am going to reach the point where it’s time to rest before I hurt myself. We don’t know how COVID will end or when it will end, but we do know how to live with it better than before. Humans are incredibly adaptable. We adapted to Influenza and we will adapt to COVID. Be patient.
  4. You have just witnessed a global transformation. Congratulations, you have just lived through a world changing event. Things that weren’t considered practical or possible are now being done routinely. A huge number of jobs have shifted to remote, making it possible for many families to re-examine how they negotiate work and life. If you are among the lucky people who can work virtually, you can now consider living closer to your family AND pursuing your dream job! Virtual schooling, long thought to be impractical and unrealistic, has been tested, and while there is work to be done, there are some valuable lessons learned about how to transform education to be more inclusive and more flexible.
  5. So many things are possible when we work together! When all this began, we didn’t know if or when we would get a vaccine, we didn’t know how to protect ourselves or treat this illness and much remains unknown. However, we should not forget the stunning execution of the world’s science and medical communities or the volunteers who collaborated to bring all of us multiple safe and effective vaccines in record time, bringing us HOPE. The vaccine development effort in all its complexity makes me continue to believe in miracles, in this case, humanity working together toward a common goal.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Most of us want to fix things for our loved ones, wipe tears, apply bandages, and find solutions. Anxiety is different; it’s not a cause and effect logical thing like being afraid to stand in the middle of a freeway. That is a clear, well understood danger. The sources of anxiety are deep and may not be understood by the person feeling them. I can’t say I get this right all the time; often I simply try to listen and ask questions to understand the anxiety. If it’s appropriate, I share some of my own anxieties, and if the person is open to it, ask about what makes them feel better. Unless it’s necessary, I try not to push. I think it’s more important to respect how someone feels and be there for them to help them through when the anxiety is triggered. The reason I do this is because, like most humans, I have anxieties. I can burn more calories floating in deep water where I can’t see the bottom than by running laps. When I lived in Ottawa, I used to swim in the lakes. There is nothing in a Canadian lake that will hurt you besides a boat. If there was a lot of grass on the bottom, I would be terrified. By contrast, I’ve happily snorkeled in the Bahamas knowing there were sharks, even seeing sharks in the distance. Show me the logic in that!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My grandfather stole and adapted a quote from Albert Einstein. “The person who never made a mistake, never made anything.” This quote has been with me my whole life and is something I remind my son of. Things don’t have to work out all the time; sometimes all you get is the lesson. That’s part of the art of living and moving forward.

How can our readers follow you online?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/rkmbland/

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Karina Michel Feld

Karina Michel Feld

Executive Producer of Tallulah Films

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