293: Marie-Claude Stockl—The Time Is Now To Boldly Reinvent The Role Of Women In Business

Hear how change can really, actually happen for you

While I have known Marie-Claude Stockl a long time and we are both devoted horse lovers, I never had the pleasure of really getting to know her back story, and how she became so successful doing interesting and important things in teaching people how to better communicate. Today we have a splendid conversation about the challenges women face in the workplace, and the slow pace of change taking place in our society today. Both Marie-Claude and I have experienced being the only woman in the room and we have both endured, determinedly overcoming challenges and bias. Yet, we are both optimists at heart and enthused by the possibilities and opportunities we see for women today, and going forward. Do listen in!

Watch and listen to our conversation here

Marie-Claude video

Three themes we discuss which you will enjoy:

  1. We both grew up with strong women in our lives. They served as inspirational role models and taught us a great deal about how to thrive when we don’t always have a clear path forward.
  2. Marie-Claude is a big believer in helping people change. Her current venture is to become certified in a program to help organizations reinvent themselves. Our discussion about the relationship between innovation and reinvention is fascinating. Since for most of my career I have helped organizations change, I love learning about new thinking and innovative approaches for getting organizations and the people within them to do what they don’t like to do, which of course is to change.
  3. The Horse Institute which Marie-Claude created is a brilliant idea. She brings people and horses together and lets them each teach the other about how to communicate, given that horses cannot talk and humans often have trouble listening.

Marie-ClaudeAbout Marie-Claude Stockl

Marie-Claude is a native of France who began her career in New York,
where she reported to presidents and CEOs at Nestlé, Bristol Myers Squibb and Revlon for 20 years. She has orchestrated high profile events with such newsmakers as a former US President, James Earl Jones, Michael Jackson, Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, Angela Lansbury and Henri Winkler.

Fifteen years ago, she combined her two passions, corporate life and horses, by creating The Horse Institute, where she brings executives to her horse farm in Ancramdale, NY for strategic retreats and team development. Marie-Claude graduated summa cum laude from the University of Paris with a Masters Degree in Communications, is a certified facilitator and executive coach, and is currently studying to become a certified Reinvention Practitioner.

You can reach Marie-Claude through LinkedIn, Facebook, or The Horse Institute website. You can also email her at mc@thehorseinstitute.com.

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Read the transcript of our podcast here

Andi Simon: Hi, and welcome to On the Brink, a fresh lens to take your business to new heights. I’m Andi Simon, your host and your guide. And my job is to get you off the brink. How do I do that? I love to bring to you interesting people who are going to help you see, feel, and think in new ways. Why? Because unless you see it and feel it, you won’t know what it is. And then you won’t know how to think about it or do it.

But today’s a very special day. I have Marie Claude Stockl with us today. And Marie Claude and I have known each other quite sometime. She does some marvelous things I’m going to tell you about. But she’s going to talk to us today about her own perspectives of how do we reinvent and innovate necessarily, but reinvent our companies as we go through this wonderfully fast paced, changing kind. I say wonderfully, most of us hate it, but I love change. And Marie Claude also does. And part of our discussion is going to be about her observations about what’s happening inside companies today that need new tools, so that they can see, feel and think in new ways. And that requires us to pause, step back and look at it a little bit like an anthropologist.

So who’s Marie Claude? She’s a Communication Consultant and executive coach and native of France. We’re going to hear that in her accent a little bit. She began a career in New York where she reported to presidents and CEOs at Nestle foods, Bristol Myers Squibb and Revlon for 20 years. A C-suite public affairs executive who has a broad experience in crisis management and strategic planning, and internal and external communication with key stakeholders. She’s orchestrated high profile events with former US Presidents, James Earl Jones, Michael Jackson, Claudia Schiffer, cool stuff.

15 years ago, she did something quite innovative. Maybe it’s a reinvention. But she and I are both horse people. I foxhunted for 25 years. I’ve owned horses. Marie Claude has a wonderful farm. And what she decided to do is combine her two passions, corporate life and horses. Now think about reinvention. Here, she created the Horse Institute, which is just brilliant, where she brings executives to the horse farm for strategic retreats and team development. Think about it, she’ll tell you more. But if you’ve never touched a horse, how do you build a bond with a strange creature? And then think about how you build a bond with an interesting person? It’s a really interesting institute and something you should pay attention to if you’re looking to reinvent, reimagine or change your organization.

Marie Claude graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Paris with a master’s degree in communication, which she used so beautifully. She’s a certified facilitator and executive coach. And she is now studying to become a certified reinvention practitioner that she will tell you about. Thank you for coming.

Marie Claude Stockle: Oh, Andi, thank you. I am such a big fan of you, your books, your blogs, and I’ve been looking forward to this conversation. You do so much for professional women. And I’m really, really honored to be sharing some of my experiences and maybe some of the future vision of where we can take the big adventure of ours.

Andi Simon: Thank you very much for the little plug, I truly appreciate the fan club. It’s been a fascinating experience helping women see, feel and think about themselves in a new way. Before we get too far into my book, I’d rather you talk a little bit about your own journey. It’s a very personal story, but it sets the stage for what you’re doing now, and why people will find it very fascinating to know more about you. Please, who is Marie Claude?

Marie Claude Stockle: So I was very fortunate as a little girl. I had two very strong role models. My aunt, who came from a modest background, small, rural area in France, but she pulled herself to medical school. She pulled my father, her younger brothers, to medical school. And if that wasn’t enough, she had six children married to a doctor who passed away young and she had to raise those children by herself. Fast forward into her 90s and she was still writing to the editors of medical journals and being published. So this was my first role model.

My second role model was my mother. She taught French literature, Greek and Latin at a time when if you were married to a doctor, it was not acceptable. So I had a pretty good inspiration. But yet, as young as eight and nine and ten, I realized that the messages and the expectations of young girls were different from those of young boys. For example, I had to make the beds and I was asked to clear the table. And pretty early on I rebelled, just as you say in your book. No, I don’t have to do this. No, I don’t have to accept the status quo. And I wouldn’t do anything my brother didn’t do. So I’ve been really fortunate. And I think now, with the perspective of having a career experience, we can also be role models for women. 

Andi Simon: I’m fascinated by your backstory because you’ve moved through corporate life in different ways, and then became a consultant. But you’ve always been a very strong woman. And I too, had my women role models. In some ways, they’ve been a subconscious, lagging pressure point for us to figure out how to achieve.

My grandmother owned a family firm. And my mother and my father both were there. It was hard to tell who was running it sometimes. But my grandmother would take me out into the market to show me how to buy goods for the store. And I remember sitting there next to her. And once I said to her, Grandma, how do you know what to buy? And she said, well, Andrea, a third is going to sell full price, a third is going to sell on sale, and a third is going to walk out the door. And if it all works out well, we will make a very nice living.

And I laughed. I said, so the science is just to buy stuff and hope it sells. Oh, it was quite an education. But as we were talking, both of us were raised by strong women. And I know my mother was very convinced that education was extremely important, and that I could be whatever I wanted to become. And I will tell you that my job wasn’t to become the head of their business. It was to become an anthropologist. How about yourself?

Marie Claude Stockle: So it’s funny, you should mention education. I was lucky because I was passionate about sports, and very competitive, very athletic. And I picked two sports where women and men compete equally on equal footing. That’s riding horses, showing equestrian sports, and sailing. So that was an outlet for my frustrations.

But then when I was 16, I announced at the dinner table, there was absolutely no point for me to go to high school because see, I was going to ride horses. Now you can imagine how that went over with my parents. And they said, well, you are going to have to complete a college degree, preferably a graduate degree, then you can do anything you want. You can get married, you can ride your horses. So that’s what I did.

I did get the degree but then fell in love and moved to New York with a young American who’s still my husband today. Very supportive, and then reality hit because, again, I met through word of mouth, I knew nobody in New York. English wasn’t my first language so it was kind of challenging. And oh, did I mention we also had a young baby. So that was the picture. And back in the 70s. It was a different world.

So I was lucky. I ran into women who introduced me to other women in PR and long story short, I ran into the editor of the PR trade journal, who was quite well known. And he was a man, he gave me some advice along the lines of you know, you better take shorthand and improve your typing because no woman is going to go into PR without starting as a secretary. Of course, I didn’t take that for the answer. And I was able to get a job as an assistant account executive and then account executive in a midsize PR agency where I had a great mentor.

And because I was on television all the time, I ended up, you know, being contacted by headhunters and that’s how I landed my first corporate job at Nestle foods. And Nestle was been really good to me for seven years. They gave me eight promotions. But I’d like to give you some anecdotes on how challenging it was. So in those days, I was the only woman manager.

Andi Simon: I know the feeling well. What are the anecdotes which can make your own career come alive in the stories? Please share.

Marie Claude Stockle: So at that time, companies were becoming a little aware that it would be nice to show themselves as having some diversity. But, they had only one woman so I ended up doing double duty dragging my poor husband to all these black tie affairs, functions almost every night of the week. It was exhausting. I mean, clearly, I did not get much sleep in those days, but I loved every minute of it and we had our moments.

This is gonna sound very antiquated. If you were talking back in the 80s, the computer couldn’t tell the difference between men and women. So all women were secretaries. And I would get flowers for secretaries that sent me in a tizzy. So my own secretary and the other assistants, executive secretaries, would hide those flowers. But they did more than that. And that’s the point I want to make.

When I was promoted, remember, we were making 59 cents to the dollar, not 82 cents to the dollar, which is not 100% yet, but 59 cents. Remember those buttons were carrying. So when I was promoted, they had a real problem. They came to me and said, look at that level, you have your own executive secretary, but I don’t think any woman is going to want to work for a woman. I said, well, why don’t you ask them. And I did end up with a woman who worked for the VP I replaced working for me. And then this was the beauty of it, they were so excited to see a woman now reporting to the President.

If I was left out of a memo, they would copy it and give me a copy. They kept me in the loop. So when I hear women don’t support women, I want to bust that myth. Women support each other. And we need to continue doing this at all levels.

And then a few years went back and I was in my 30s and 40s, I was able to start helping women network. So if I heard that there was a position open, and I knew of somebody, I would just pass it along. And 10 years later, five years later, I would run into a woman in a meeting and she would say, “Oh my gosh, you’ve changed my career”. And I didn’t even remember her. But see, I think that networking among each other is something that can still continue, and is very helpful and very supportive.

Andi Simon: You know, we both grew up where we were soloists very often. And sometimes the last to be moved into the senior ranks. You had an abundance of women in junior ranks, whether it was the secretaries or branch managers when I was a banker, and then you had to begin to be that communicator between the leadership group and the general management team and those who were working in the trenches.

And I remember I ran a bank branch for Citibank, and the women most of whom were my staff were fascinated because I let them bring their kids in when the kids had a school day off due to snow or something, and we turned the back kitchen into a classroom, and then they could rotate and go back in there and care for the kids. So they didn’t have to lose a day of work. And neither did the kids lose their parents’ involvement. And nobody said a word about it. And I never said a word about it, either. But we all helped each other.

And as you were talking, I remember that feeling of giving and sharing. And they all were great supporters. We also turned the bank branch around. I took over the worst bank branch in the region. I mean, can you inspire people to work hard, when there’s a collaboration going on there? And it isn’t I and you, it is we and those.

Marie Claude Stockle: Beautiful example, the one that you just gave. You know that is why I think that it’s been a relief for me to see so many women being promoted. And actually, I do a lot of work in healthcare. And I teach a course at Drexel called The Elite Program for Women in STEM. These are professors in science, technology, engineering, and math who are rising stars on their way to become presidents or deans. And it’s a wonderful program. It’s a communications course. And one of the issues that comes up regularly is how difficult it is for them, especially in STEM.

I think women in medicine have made a little bit more progress. But STEM, they’re really having trouble breaking through the ranks and becoming deans and it is communication. So more often than not, they’ll say, look, I came up with an idea I said in a meeting and then nobody even acknowledges it. Five minutes later, some guy comes up with the same idea as my idea and then he becomes the hero.

And I see this also when we bring groups of executives, both genders, with the horses at the Horse Institute because everybody’s on the same playing field. If we tell a horse to do something they’re not riding, they’re just using their nonverbal communication to communicate to a horse that they want to do something. And at some point, they get stuck if they’re not completely aligned or the horse just like, looks at them like a pet rock and enjoys the ride.

So, sometimes a woman will come up with an idea and say, well, I think, I don’t know, but perhaps we could, but what she says never makes it through. And when we debrief, sometimes she’ll even repeat it twice and not be heard. So then we have wonderful discussions about well, did you hear Jane here? What was happening? What was the horse doing? Did you hear Jane suggesting that? You go and hurt the horse? No, she doesn’t speak loud enough. Then I say Jane when does that happen? Well it happens all the time. You know, I get blown over and nobody listens to my idea.

So then I go back to the guy and say, Would it have been a good idea if you had you heard it? Yes. So now they know not to ignore a great idea. And then the next thing is, and I think women have to think about this, who is responsible? How can you be heard, and I think that, you know, coming from a culture where we speak softly, I find that you have to go beyond your comfort level and almost shout, you feel like you’re shouting. It’s not just women, some other cultures shout. And conversely, the person now knows not to ignore your great ideas, and it takes practice, it takes practice.

Andi Simon: I do think three things haven’t gotten better on virtual. There’s some good research showing that the more the men talk, the more important they are. And the women, the more they talk, the more painful they are. I mean, we judge things, same things, but in different fashions. And virtual women aren’t being heard any more than they were in person, which is really disturbing.

The second thing is that real boys and girls are raised, and they develop mindsets, stories in their minds about how boys and girls do things, and who you listen to. And as a result, those values are developing through their early years. And so while we can be unhappy or critical of those situations now, it’s not easy to change old habits. They are honed early on, they become the way we do things without anyone saying anything. They watch it, men and women, in the household how they talk to each other. And they watch who does what and how. And so we’ve got a culture that needs to be transformed for women to be able to have a voice.

Now what I love, there are some companies now like Siemens that have all women in the leadership role. And I was hearing of an insurance company, it’ll come to mind, where men and women are paid exactly the same and people of color are paid the same as white people. There are changes coming.

I have a friend, Jamie Candee, who runs Edmentum, she’s president of a $150 million business, and she’s making gender balance the way we do things. She’s teaching them how to listen and talk to each other. This isn’t, you know, say the words and it’ll happen. This is a transformation of the way we do things. That doesn’t come from saying, you can’t tell it or sell it, you need to begin to show why that matters. I mean, your thought about didn’t you hear? Nope, I didn’t hear when you weren’t listening because there was a woman who was saying it. What would have happened if a guy had said it?

And ideas will not be heard and not be done because of gender or racism. People of color have an equally hard time. I have a friend and she has a chapter in the book. You may remember Andie Kramer. She tells a great story about being on the compensation committee for a law firm. And the men would write their own reviews, and they all climb the Empire State Building to save the damsel in distress, and the company to reclaim $500 million. The women would write their reviews where they all worked well together to find collaborative solutions to make sure that the company never lost $500 million.

The men got promoted and got raises and the women’s jobs were cut. Very different values. And there’s nothing inherently bad or good in either. But truly if a woman said she had climbed the Empire State Building to save the guy in distress, they would scratch their head and so when she told me about it, it’s humorous on the one hand, but as Andie said it was tragic, because where do you begin to change the dynamics? Remember, there are 400,000 attorneys but only 27% are equity partners. And that’s all because of this bad funnel.

Marie Claude Stockle: Now it’s funny you should mention attorneys. I’m sure you read the news. I read something like 10 days ago, not that long ago, where the Supreme Court recognized additionally that male justices interrupt female attorneys and justices more than they do their male colleagues, and is now going to do something about it. And they’re going to establish some rules and procedures to avoid that. So there will be changes, there are changes.

Andi Simon: Just the recognition of it, and that acknowledgement of it. But remember, the other part of our society is that over half the doctors now are women, half of 400 thousand. 40% of the attorneys. 65% of the accountants are women. There’s more women in college than men, more women are graduating college than men do. So if you just take the data, and that was part of the reason for writing the book, just take the data, there’s a sea of change coming.

You might not notice it in the number of CEOs and fortune 500 companies, or the amount of VC money that is given to women, 2.8%. But there’s something coming that is well worth paying attention to, because it’s bigger and it’s societal, and it’s cultural. And we’re sort of, I won’t say we’re at the end of that transformation, we’re at the beginning of the next one. But to your point, mentoring other women, networking with them, this is a time for us to help others move through this transformation and see its possibilities. And I have a hunch you’re doing the same.

Marie Claude Stockle: Yes. And you know, it’s funny, you mentioned female doctors. For 10 years, I’ve been teaching a course through the American Association of Medical Colleges, AMC, for new deans of medical colleges. And lately, in the last 2,3,4 years, I’ve been seeing new deans who are women. In my last cohort, I had three female surgeons, they were so inspiring. And it was fantastic. So yes, there is a gradual change. And we need to celebrate that we do not always live in the past and wonder if all the work we’ve done was for naught. It wasn’t, we need to help others pick up the ball and not get discouraged.

Andi Simon: No, but I don’t. You and I are optimists. And we do see the upside. You know, there was always a line in my book that my proofreader pulled out. He said it makes me think it was a joke. I used to belong. I was an executive in a bank. And I would go to board meetings with 49 men and no women but me. And we didn’t say anything and we attended. And we appeared. And we diversified. And we had a role to play. But it was not worth trying to say anything. These are our growing pains that I feel profoundly. And it’s, it’s interesting. You though, have a new business developing, and this coaching and this re-invention. Talk a little bit about it, because I’d like listeners to know how you’re reinventing yourself.

Marie Claude Stockle: Yes, I’m no exception, the pandemic has forced me to step back and think about what’s working, not working in my life. And a lot of things are working but what’s changed are the clients’ needs. And we have for 15 years had those executive retreats, they come for two, three days. We would send them back with great strategic plans, new tools, new skills for leading.

But now, the biggest change has been the life of the cycle of a product or business model, which is getting shorter and shorter and shorter. So whereas 75 years ago, last century, you could have the same business model and the same product for 75 years and make some tweaks and improvements. But you definitely did not have to reinvent your business.

In the 90s, with technology, that lifecycle became 15 years, you really have to reinvent your business every 15 years. And now it’s six years. So the interesting part about this is how companies can address that. It was okay in the old days to have the CEO either hire a consultant and do a project and innovation project and manage that. But now the CEO cannot really humanly both run a company that’s growing fast and also start thinking about the next iteration of the company.

So CEOs are hiring reinvention officers and this is the key to success I believe, and I’m only in the process of being certified. What’s exciting is that it’s a little bit different from innovation. It’s quite different because if you talk about innovation, a lot of companies are trying to do this but the problem here is very few people are innovators. I believe science research studies suggest that only 2.5% of all of us are true innovators. So if you bring an innovator, whether it’s a consultant or in-house, it’s very hard to get the masses and to get everybody to embrace the change. Whereas everyone is capable of reinvention.

And I will give you an example. And all of you can try it with a room of 30 people. If you say, you all come up with a new way to transport 10 pounds, a brand new way. You probably get zero ways after five minutes or maybe one idea. However, if you ask the question in a different way, and you say, can you come up all 30 of you with a way to improve your backpack, you will have 30 ideas and they will build on each other. And then you have allowed people to say, okay, it doesn’t have to be perfect, but I can have good ideas. Now this is only an example to show that there are a number of ways you can start having a culture of reinvention, and a time when you know things, and I’m reinventing my own business. I’m trying to preach what I practice.

Andi Simon: I want to share because that’s exactly how each of us have evolved through our careers by not being stuck or stalled, but by reimagining ourselves. My first book, On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take your Business to New Heights, was about how anthropology helped some businesses that were stuck or stalled make change. And the eight case studies in there were eight clients who had come to us when they were stuck or stalled and had to change. Often to your point, the ideas were all around them. The problem was that their brains and minds saw their business this way.

But that was good when you had 70 years for a business. And all of the ideas were floating around here and your mind just discounted them because it didn’t fit the story of what we do and how we do it. And all of a sudden, they discovered if they just looked on either side, they didn’t have to create a new sandbox, they just had to think about all the edges of what’s there in order to see how it could move the business in new fashion.

But as you know, I’m a Blue Ocean Strategist, and blue oceans are creating new markets as opposed to competing in them. And it’s very much the same perspective, that there’s a way of taking what you do really well and saying that’s a red ocean. I’m just like everyone else in the same business. What could I do? You intuitively did blue ocean with your horse institute. There’s no market, there are no competitors. You know, you saw a need, you had a passion and intuitively you are a reimagining person. Right?

Marie Claude Stockle: And in fact, I love the fact that now we have more competitors and more people are doing Equine Assisted Learning. I mean, I became the president of an international association, and just attended a conference in Arizona for three days. Our keynote speaker was a remarkable neurosurgeon, Dr. Steve Peters, who wrote a book called The Evidence Based Horsemanship.

We spent three days thinking of how people learn, and how horses learn. And I’m marrying the two because some of the things that horses teach us: nonverbal communication, how to organize our herd effectively for the greater good, rather than, you know, survival of the fittest, all these things are coming together quite nicely. And the biggest change I think I envisioned, but again, I may change my mind after I speak to clients, is that instead of having a one-time fantastic experience, to support the client in their journey is to establish processes in reinvention and managing change.

Andi Simon: This has been such fun, since both my granddaughters are very successful horse people at 12 and 14. And both of my daughters are extraordinary horse women, and then my husband and I are both horse people. And we get it. But if you don’t know horses, well, you’re missing an opportunity, whether it’s at the Horse Institute, or talking to Marie Claude, about how cross species relationships can open you through the senses to what’s possible and to see yourself. Remember I am an anthropologist and I want you to see yourself through a fresh lens, step back and begin to see what this can actually do to help you see, feel and think in new ways. So let me wrap up today’s recording. If they’d like to get a-hold of you, what’s the best place to do that?

Marie Claude Stockle: I would love for them to go to the website, thehorseinstitute.com and they can either download to go deeper into how we work with the horses to help companies perform better or you can ask me for a hardcopy. My contact information is on the website and you can reach me.

Andi Simon: And you’ll have the conversation as I do. Well, for all of you who come to our podcast, thank you for coming to see us or to hear us. My fans are really there. You are great!

In Psychology Today, an article is coming out that Michael Stein is writing about why On the Brink is such a cool podcast. So share it away. It’s a cool podcast with neat people, so you can help them get off the brink. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

My two books are out there on Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. And they will make you feel good about what you’re doing and how to do it better. And so share them. We’re sharing people these days. So it’s been a pleasure. Remember, you can send me your ideas and info at andisimon.com. And all of this is available on Spotify and iTunes and you can find us on our website, andisimon.com or simonassociates.net. So come and join us, enjoy! It’s been such fun. So we’re gonna say goodbye. Goodbye, everybody. Bye now.