Our Women & Wealth series offers insights about the multi-faceted relationship women have with money, career, managing their finances, and how that all affects their personal lives and families. This month, I was honored to interview Christa Carone, a highly successful and perceptive C-suite executive whose career has included senior roles at iconic American companies. Christa graciously answered our questions and described what work habits helped shape her success and how she developed a healthy relationship with her financial success.
Christa Carone is the president of Group Nine Media[i], which owns a portfolio of successful digital media brands, including Thrillist, The Dodo, Now This and Seeker. She began her career in marketing and communications at Xerox Corporation and rose through the ranks to become Chief Marketing Officer. She eventually left Xerox to run brand marketing and communications at Fidelity, then moved into the media field. She now leads several teams at Group Nine Media, the number-one digital publisher on social media.
Laurie - What work habit do you think has helped you the most in your career and is it something you cultivated, or did it just come naturally?
Christa – I have two habits or guidelines that I believe are critical: First, taking care of my health is a priority. It can’t just be something I squeeze into the day only if everything else is done. I tend to be fiercely protective of the time I need to include fitness as a much-needed start to my mornings before I head into the fast pace of the day.
It sounds obvious, but it requires a conscious effort to make fitness a top priority. And, I know that the physical and mental boost it gives translates into the focus I need for my role.
My second guideline is this: It’s not that people need your time, they need your energy. And, yes, it’s why health is a top priority for me, giving me the energy boost so I’m not just present but an active participant in everything that comes my way, both personally and professionally.
Laurie – Did you set specific goals at any point in your career? Did you have a 5-year plan, or something like it?
Christa – I definitely did not have a “5-year plan”; my career evolved organically. It always felt right to be focused on what I was doing at the time, and I trusted that it would lead somewhere good. It’s some of the best advice I’ve ever received; focus on making today great and tomorrow will take care of itself.
Laurie – What are some challenges you had to overcome to get where you are today, and do you think they are related to being a woman?
Christa – I was fortunate in that Xerox was an early adopter of the philosophy that the workforce should reflect the client base and the overall society you want to serve. I essentially grew up in a company where diversity and inclusion were not the exception but the rule.
I was also given big responsibilities at a relatively young age, which was somewhat unusual at a well established company. And, no doubt, I faced uncertainty from my peers. In fact, I went out of my way to look older (cutting my hair and wearing glasses) so I was taken more seriously. But, in hindsight and with the benefit of years, I understand their reservations and I respect that experience is as valuable as skills and talent to build sustainably strong companies.
Now, I’m in a company the produces content for young people by young people. And, it’s my responsibility to be empathetic to the needs of our younger audiences and our younger workforce, I’m always learning from them and immersing myself into the tools and behaviors of digital natives.
Laurie – What does work-life balance mean to you?
Christa – Balance is such a subjective term and it really can change by the day, by the week. For me, it’s being able to give my energy to what’s needed most at the right time and for the right people, and being empowered to making those judgement calls.
Laurie – On a related note, we often hear that women have to work harder and smarter than men to achieve the same level of career success. Do you agree or disagree?
Christa – Women are harder on ourselves in trying to achieve a perceived sense of personal and professional balance. So, the pressure we apply does often make it feel like we’re working harder, and often that is the case. To me, when you’re a mother, the umbilical cord is always attached – as it should be – but being an involved mother and a senior-level executive comes with its own set of challenges. Over time, I figured out what I could and couldn't let go of, while being true to my values and my own set of priorities.
Laurie – What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of being a woman in a senior role in your industry?
Christa – There is the unconscious bias of describing a man who speaks up as “assertive,” but a woman who does or says the same thing is “aggressive.” To advance the conversation about equality in the workplace we have to be careful about how we describe ourselves. I value empathy and humility, balanced with being brave and bold, all underscored by the paramount importance of being kind. Those traits can be found in women and men.
Laurie – Did you have mentors or others who supported you along the way? Do you believe women should be mentored by women, or can a male mentor be as effective?
Christa – Mentorship doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement. It can take the form of a colleague who informally provides input and acts as a sounding board. I currently participate in a formal mentorship process and find it extremely beneficial as a guiding force for my career. I also distinguish a “mentor/coach” from a “sponsor” who quietly advocates for you, who has your back, perhaps without you knowing about it. I had a (male) sponsor at Xerox who, unbeknownst to me, was instrumental in putting my name up for the senior role that made me an officer of the corporation.
Laurie – Some young people just starting out in their careers believe the notion that women need to push for equality in the workplace is outdated. What would you say to them?
Christa – I think it depends on the industry, and on the culture of the company, but we need to continue to have the conversation. I am proud of Group Nine’s approach to inclusion, but we still have room for improvement. The new parental leave policy is a great example. I also believe women need to be encouraged to “opt in.” Often women leave the workplace because they’re overwhelmed with the personal and professional responsibilities of both a growing family and a blossoming career. The more women we have in leadership roles, the more role models who prove out the effectiveness of raising a great family while building a rewarding career -- and the more women who have an influence in shaping workplaces that foster inclusion.
Laurie – Lastly, as your career has advanced, how have you approached managing your finances?
Christa – There definitely was a moment where I looked at my financial life and realized “I’m not doing this well.” The lifestyle my husband and I have worked very hard to give our family is quite different from how the both of us grew up. Frankly, we find it humbling and we always, always have perspective considering our backgrounds. There was a moment, as our careers progressed, that we realized, we’re not just working to make a living, we’re working to make a life.
If I can offer advice to women about financial matters, it would be this:
Just as you prioritize taking care of your family, your health and your career, make sure you are fully present and participate fully to understand and manage your financial life, instead of passively letting it “happen.” Women have the right to take an active role in their family’s finances, whether they are the primary breadwinners or not. It’s never too late to take the time to understand and manage how money affects the way you live your life. It’s empowering and liberating.
Financial Advice for Women by Women
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The information provided above is general in nature and is not intended to represent specific investment or professional advice. No client or prospective client should assume that the above information serves as the receipt of, or a substitute for, personalized individual advice from GW & Wade, LLC, which can only be provided through a formal advisory relationship.
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