Newfront Board Member Courtney Leimkuhler Speaks on Creating Equitable Workplaces for Caregivers

During a recent fireside chat with NewHER, Newfront’s employee resource group, which aims to play an active role in creating a more equitable and inclusive environment for all women, Board Member Courtney Leimkuhler shared a stunning statistic: “75% of the workforce identifies as caregivers.” That means three-quarters of workers feel responsible for someone — an elderly parent, a struggling relative, a child — at home.

Leimkuhler, appointed to the Newfront board in July, shared the statistic to illustrate that creating structure within an office to support caregivers is much bigger than a “women’s issue.” For Leimkuhler, an essential step in creating an equitable workplace is not perpetuating the idea that caregiving is women’s work. “I don’t like to say that it’s women’s work; rather, let’s work to normalize that it’s everyone’s work,” she said. “The thing that is difficult is not that I’m a woman, but that I have a working spouse. I think that we conflate those things.” 

The issue is close to Leimkuhler’s heart. She spent decades in the male-dominated world of finance — starting at Goldman Sachs before spending a decade at the New York Stock Exchange, working as the Head of Corporate Strategy and Mergers and Acquisitions. She then served as the CFO of Marsh before cofounding Springbank Collective, a venture fund investing in the infrastructure to close the gender gap. At Springbank, she’s focused on investing in solutions to make workplaces more equitable for caregivers. “There is a lot of logistical tension that’s uniquely born by caregivers,” she said. “So, instead of just backing female founders, I was more interested in how you build solutions that impact lots and lots of women.”

On the Newfront Board of Directors, Leimkuhler plans to use a “noses in, fingers out” approach — be nosy and ask tough questions to management but stay out of day-to-day operations. But she says she knows that she, the rest of the board, and every employee can work to be a change agent for Newfront. “We have to always be thinking about what company we’re trying to build, whether that’s when looking at org charts and making decisions or just in how we do things around here, how we interact with each other on a daily basis,” she said.

More than a women’s issue: men’s critical role

Creating an equitable workforce isn’t just a women’s issue. It takes everyone having the situation awareness to continually ask, “What is not being said in this room or who is not being represented in this room?” That’s just the first step, but it’s an essential one, according to Leimkuhler.

Starting out in finance meant that Leimkuhler had a lot of men who became her mentors and sponsors as she rose through the ranks. But she’s realistic about why that happened for her. “We have to be clear-eyed about everyone’s, including our own, personal motivation here, and figuring out how to put people in alignment and not just be banking on altruism or paying it forward. That is an important component of building organizational culture, but I think if we’re really talking about sponsorship, it’s got to come from a place of business advancement,” she said. “The truth is, the folks who sponsored me did it in part because I was able to be really helpful to them as well. If I had to be ruthless about it, part of the reason I had a great sponsor was that I made my sponsor look really good.”

Finding the balance

But the reality is, women do tend to find themselves placed in the role of both employee and caregiver while in the office. It’s a constant challenge to know which interpersonal tasks constitute being a good teammate and which are an unfair extra burden on women employees. How do you avoid being pushed into the dual role of caregiver/employee? “It’s a balance between being a team member who just gets shit done and standing up for yourself when it’s not your responsibility,” she said. “Do things when they’re needed but don’t fall into the role every time.”   

Caregivers move through their workday with an extra load on their plate. But through her venture fund and her position on the Newfront board, Leimkuhler is working to create the infrastructure to support the employees who support so many others at work and at home. “We can do this. It’s not that hard,” she said. “We can fix this.”

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