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International Women's Day: How Can We Support Parents Returning to Work? with Natalia Ball and Molly McAllister

International Women's Day: How Can We Support Parents Returning to Work? with Natalia Ball and Molly McAllister

We sit down with Natalia Ball and Molly McAllister to discuss the importance of representation in leadership, normalizing parental leave for all, and how pets change the world.


Maricella Herrera: Where leaders go, learning follows. Harvard Business School Executive Education offers more than 60 in-person and virtual programs. Learn more and apply at That's


Megan Oliver: Welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. Conversations with Women: Changing the Face of Business. And now your hosts, Maricella Herrera and Megan Oliver.

MH: Hello everyone, it's Maricella Herrera, the CEO of Ellevate Network. I am here with the one and only Megan Oliver. How are you, Megan?

MO: I'm doing well. I'm 30.

MH: Yay. Congrats. Happy Birthday.

MO: Thank you. It was during... Last week's episode was released on my 30th birthday, but we record them a little bit in advance. So this is the first one that I am recording since being 30 years old.

MH: Do you feel any different?

MO: No. [chuckle]

MH: As you shouldn't. As you shouldn't. It is just a number. But also, God, your 30s are the best.

MO: That is what I have heard from so many people. And even people that are in their 20s now, are like, No. That I've heard from... That like my sister was like, "No. I've actually heard that from a ton of my friends that are in their 30s, is that your 30s or the best."

MH: Yeah. I hope I can say that about 40s once I move into that bucket. Which is gonna be soon, so.

MO: Yeah, we're just gonna make every dec... Every decade the best.

MH: Of course. Yeah, why not?

MO: And for anybody, I wanna give a quick update, for anybody who listened to our podcast two weeks ago, the one where I was talking about my mental health, thank you all for being so willing to listen and willing to hear about all these kinds of things. I am feeling much, much better. I did take a mental health day that week, which I wanna thank Maricella for being so open to. It truly helped me a ton, just breathe and be. But I'm in a much, much better place. It helps that my hormones have figured out what they're doing with their lives, with time.

MH: Great. Look, as someone who suffers from depression and anxiety, it is important that we have these conversations. I am very open about my mental health struggles and happy to talk about them anytime anyone wants to hear. But also, I think it's important to be able to have those conversations and be able to say like, "Hey, I am not okay today. I need a day off." You don't even have to say, "I'm taking a mental health day." If you don't feel comfortable 'cause it's not... Not everyone does feel comfortable or your workplace might not be a psychologically safe space where you can do that. But I do urge you, if you are having some trouble, make sure that you make time for you to do whatever it is you need to do, to get in a better place.

MO: Yeah, it's that. And I can say I've taken two mental health days at Ellevate, Both of which Maricella knew about and was fully on board with.

MH: I sent you cookies once.

MO: The first one, I was... What did you say?

MH: I sent you cookies once.

MO: You did send me cookies one time. You were so sweet. There was a buzz at my apartment. I was like, "Who is here?" And then all of a sudden somebody came up with it... I was like, "Oh my god. Are you kidding me?" And I almost cried. But yeah, and that one... The other one was... That one was a while ago, like years ago. And that first time I was really nervous about saying anything. So I just put in the overall availability channel. I was just like, "I'm just taking a day. I'm not feeling well."

MH: Yeah.

MO: But this time, you know, I've been with the company for years now, and I feel like I know everybody really well, and so... I was still nervous, but I put in the availability channel. And I said, "I'm taking a mental health day." And I got so many heart responses of just people being like, "We support you. Do whatever you need to do." And it was just a really nice confirmation of what I already knew about the culture here at Ellevate, which is that it's so supportive and people first.

MH: Oh, I love that. And that's what we want for all companies, people first.

MO: Yes.

MH: Yeah. What have you been up to this week?

MO: Well, I think you know what I was up to, 'cause I put some pictures in the chat.

MH: Oh Yeah. Yeah.

MO: But anybody who has listened to the podcast before has heard me talk about gymnastics and the Olympics at large. But you might know I am a huge Olympics buff. I love, love, love the Olympics. There's something about the giant international sporting competition of everybody coming together to compete for their countries, but also for themselves, but also just in the spirit of International peace and cooperation, and just... There's just something very beautiful about it.

MO: And so I, for my 30th birthday and for the last one that I know of that I'm gonna be in New York for, went up to Lake Placid, which has hosted two Olympic Games, two Winter Games. Which, just amazing. And specifically, the one that it's most famous for is 1980, which is when the miracle on ice happened. If anybody knows about the miracle on ice. That's when we beat the Soviet Union in hockey, and then we would later go on to win the gold. But that was when the miracle was, and specifically the miracle on ice happened on February 22nd, 1980. So 13 years before I was born, but the day I was born. And so it was really cool. I got a shirt that had the score of the game, as well as the date, because I was like, it's my birthday.

MO: We got to go to the museum. I got to go on a bobsled ride, like a professional bobsled ride. I got to go to the top of the ski jumping facility. I did ice skating on the Olympic oval for about five seconds before my ankles and feet were like, no. But really, really fun. Really cool. And so that's still just what I'm into this week right now. It's just like, ahhh. My amazing Olympic experience.

MH: The pictures looked great. And you looked so happy in every of them. You can see your smile from ear to ear, so. It seems like it was a great trip for you.

MO: Oh yeah, it was so fun. And we stayed at this little inn... Where if you wanna stay at a nice little inn, The Pines Inn, is where we stayed. It's such a sweet little thing. It's very clearly, like Mom and Pop owned. Because they just had like the keys ready for me to go. I didn't ever have to check in. He was just like, "Yeah, here you go. You're Megan. Here you go." And then he was like, "Just so you know, I have to run to the other property real fast but I'll be back in like five or 10 minutes if you need anything." And he was just so sweet and willing to help with whatever. So, fun, fun time at our little hotel. And fun, fun time in the town. It's a delight. And honestly, all of the food was really good.

MH: Mmm food. I'm hungry. We're taping this around lunch time, so...

MO: Yeah.

MH: Well, that sounds really fun. I'm happy you went. I'm happy you took a couple of days off to just travel there and enjoy it. Because, God, we need some breaks in life. And I know how much it means to you and how passionate you are about the Olympics, so...

MO: Yeah. Oh and we got to go sled dog racing.

MH: Ohh.

MO: Which is kind of... We didn't race. But we did get to go on a sled pulled by dogs, which felt very apropos for our guests today.

MH: Yeah, absolutely. Apropos to our guests today. We have a double one today. I've been on the other spectrum, I think. I have been guilty pleasure watching Married at First Sight.

MO: I love it. I've never seen it. But I love a trash reality show [chuckle]

MH: So I basically, I think I've gone through every single show that I wanted to see. And I'm in a show hole. And so, I've also had... Talk about mental health, I've also had a really hard few weeks. So, as everyone who listens to this podcast knows, I've had three broken toes and haven't been able to run, which is my release. I've been swimming. Which has been nice. It's been a way to channel some of my anxiousness. Which I usually channel through running.

MH: So, I've been swimming and doing that. But I've also had a really busy time with work. It's been really rough. And it's been really rough also personally, because I've been going through what I think is my mid-life crisis. But it might not be. But just a lot of conversations with myself as to what I want with my life. Where I wanna live. Do I want a family? Lots of those things. Which I don't think anyone's interested. But also happy to disclose them. I'm an open book. But anyway, so I realized, I just needed something to not think. That was it. All I needed was something where I could be like, this is a train wreck. And it's okay.

MO: Uh, that's the Bachelor franchise for me.

MH: Yeah, I watched that a long time ago. But I hadn't watched any terrible reality or terrible but great reality TV shows in a while.

MO: Yeah we say terrible and trash with absolute love.

MH: Yes. Absolutely. So I'm watching season 10, which already happened a few years ago. But I found it on Netflix and I was like, Oh, let's see what this is all about. And it's keeping me company.

MO: I'm so glad. And that's... As a kid, I never really got trash reality shows. And now as an adult, I'm like, I understand. They just... The way I described it to my brother one time when I first got into the Bach... I got into it through the Bachelorette, which is not my favorite. My favorite is Bachelor In Paradise, which is where... So there's Bachelor, which is one man, 25 women competing for his attention. There was the Bachelorette, which is one woman, 25 men competing for her attention. Both of them are fun. I prefer the Bachelorette just because 25 women cat fighting over a man can sometimes feel a little reductive.

MH: Yep.

MO: I still have fun with it. And the more modern seasons, they've gotten a little better. But I think we can all see why I prefer the Bachelorette. But the best version of it, by far, is Bachelor in Paradise. [chuckle] Which is all of the rejected contestants from The Bachelor and The Bachelorette all getting a Paradise Beach vacation. And they're given unlimited alcohol.

MH: Oh boy.

MO: Just coupling up and trying to figure out. And they swap between the men and the women who gets the roses that week and they're handing them off. It's so messy. It's so ridiculous. It's the most fun version. They hit the jackpot with that one. They're in the eighth season of paradise. They've clearly figured out. They're like," Oh, people love this." I saw it one time, somebody got mad at somebody else for, I don't even remember what, everyone's whatever. And this is late at night, so they had clearly been drinking. Hitting the cocktails a little much. And somebody picked up somebody else's birthday cake and threw it into the fire pit.

MH: God.

MO: And I was like, "What is happening?" It was so funny.

MH: Yeah, I've never watched Bachelor In Paradise. I watched maybe two seasons of The Bachelorette or three. I don't know. But it's been a really long time. Anyway, that's what I've been up to. Megan, you know, we forgot to say something today.

MO: What did we forget to say?

MH: Happy International Women's Day.

MO: Happy International Women's Day, 100%. And what could be more appropriate than us talking about our passions [chuckle] and also our love for trash reality TV?

MH: Hey, we are complex individuals.

MO: We are. We are... Women are... Women contain multitudes.

MH: Yep.

MO: And that is exemplified beautifully, I think, by your conversation with your guests today. Who I know you were really excited 'cause you got to speak a little Spanish.

MH: I did. It was so fun. I talked today, and like Megan said before, it's talking about dogs and animals is very apropos because I talked to Molly McAlister, who is the Chief Medical Officer at Banfield Pet Hospital. And Natalia Ball, who's a Global Chief Brand Officer and Pet Specialty Retailing VP at Royal Canin. So Molly and Natalia are both leaders in the pet care industry. Part of the Mars family, Royal Canin. And they are... They're really great. It's really interesting because I get to talk to both of them who are in very different environments, right? Molly is very much in the veterinary space. Natalia is more on the corporate side. But we have a really great discussion around supporting parents coming back into workplace, about culture, about just their journeys. And it was really fun to be able to talk to them.


MO: I can't wait.

MH: Cool, let's go to my conversation with Molly and Natalia.


[foreign language]

MH: Okay. I'm not gonna keep doing that 'cause our audience will be probably like, "What is happening?" [chuckle] Guys, I just really wanted to give you a taste of how happy it makes me to speak Spanish.

Natalia Ball: Fantastic.

MH: So Molly and Natalia, you all are in the Mars pet care world. In different realms, right? Natalie, You're in branding, you're the chief brand officer at Royal Canin. Molly, you're a Chief Medical Officer at Banfield Pet Hospital. I have so many questions just because I love animals. [chuckle] But I know... But I know that's not where I should start. So the first thing I really like to do in this podcast, is to get a sense of your story, because our listeners really want to learn from women who've just had great careers. So would you mind telling me a little bit of your personal background and how you got to where you are today?

Molly McAllister: Absolutely, I'll jump in Natalie, if you're okay with that.

NB: Sure go ahead.

MM: Fantastic. Well, let's see. So, my... I am the Chief Medical Officer at Banfield Pet Hospital. So I am a veterinarian by training. Unlike most veterinarians I was not 100% confident of what I wanted to be when I grew up at age four. That is the typical veterinary story. I was always an animal lover. But I had a lot of loves. In fact, speaking Spanish, I had a great love of travel and of other cultures. Contemplated going into languages and education. But along the way animals and the study of animals and healthcare was always something that kept popping up and that I kept being interested in. And so as I graduated from college and started casting about in the world, to decide what I would do, what I might be when I grew up. Some family friends suggested, "Hey, why don't you look at veterinary medicine again?" And it was like the worlds all aligned at the right moment, and I did start working for a veterinarian and realized it was a great fit for me. Surprised that I hadn't found it earlier.

MM: So I went into veterinary school. But I'll say, one thing I'm really happy about is that I did have this breadth of exposure to other opportunities in the world, and I think that kept me going through my education with a lens of thinking about what else might be possible. How might I use this in a variety of ways? So through veterinary school, I continued to travel. I tried on a lot of different hats. And I did graduate and go out into the world to become what people might think of as a normal veterinarian. I worked in equine practice.

MM: I've helped, work with horses for a couple of years. I worked in a typical small animal practice. I even did a year of wildlife rehabilitation and conservation. And really enjoyed that aspect of my career. But found about seven or eight years in, that I was ready to try something a little different. And I spoke with some friends. I've always believed in the power of the network. And one of those friends was working... You know what we say, working in industry. She was working for a pharmaceutical company. And loved her job. And said, "You know, you should just look and see what might be available." And so I reached out to a recruiter. I had never worked with a recruiter in my life. That's not typically how veterinarians get their jobs. And lo and behold, there was a role available that she was searching for in my area. And it ended up being a role with Royal Canin, which is a pet food company within the Mars umbrella.

MM: I had no idea at that point. I remember in my interview saying, "Mars? The M&M's company? They're involved in pet care?" And yet, they certainly are. And so I started working for Royal Canin. I got introduced to the Mars culture. I got introduced to the opportunities that exist within a corporate environment, and I was really taken by something I had never imagined, a direction I'd never imagined with my career. I've now been with Mars for almost 14 years. I've worked with two different businesses. I've been in six different roles. I've met thousands upon thousands of people that are just amazing. And I still feel like I'm not sure what I'm gonna be when I grow up, but the future is full of endless possibilities. So, that's a little bit about me.

MH: Oh I love that, I love the ending too. The future is full of possibilities. Natalia, can you tell me... And I'm doing the American pronunciation, I should just call you Natalia. Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you got to what you're doing now?

NB: Yes, of course. I'm originally from Venezuela, and in Venezuela, I graduated as an engineer, but I never worked as an engineer a day of my life. Procter and Gamble quickly recruited me as I was finishing my last year of engineering to actually work in marketing, and I have the beautiful experience with Procter & Gamble to design and launch a completely new brand, which was Naturella, which is a brand that became very, very close to my heart. And it went from existing nowhere to being launched in Mexico for the first time. And then that brand took me all over the world because we expanded it to 28 markets in the next 10 years, and it went from nothing to 350 million in 10 years. So it was my pride and joy.

NB: And a brand experience that thought me a lot about business, a lot about leadership, a lot about international cultures and how an idea that is rooted in consumer truth actually can travel all over the world. And so because of that, I managed to grow in the organization, and I worked in regional roles in Latin America, I worked in regional roles in Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa. And then I move on to work on global roles in our categories like laundry where they had the opportunity to work on Ariel, Tide, Bold and other very iconic brands in the laundry category.

NB: And so after that, after 15 years with Procter & Gamble, I got the opportunity to start with Mars. That was eight years ago, and I moved on to work for Mars Pet Nutrition in brand building as well. And then I went into general management working with Europe, which was a fantastic experience, and then again with a global team. And a year and a half ago I joined this beautiful division of Mars Petcare, which is Royal Canin, which is more about health nutrition for cats and dogs, as the Chief Brand Officer on Pet Specialty Retailing VP. And it has been a fantastic experience. We are now living in the south of France, I am married and I have a five and a half-year-old daughter whose name is Mia, and we are loving it here and really loving... That is our fourth country together.

MH: I have so many questions. [chuckle] First off I... South of France. As I look out my dreary New York window in my very cold tiny apartment, I am so jealous right now.

NB: It's super sunny here. Actually I think we have 330 days of sun. So cannot complain.

MH: I'm so jealous. So so jealous. It sounds amazing, and I think your daughter will... What an experience to be living in different places and to be traveling and discovering the world at such a young age, which is beautiful, I think.

NB: Indeed.

MH: I'm gonna actually start with a question to you, Natalia, so you're talking about... As I'm here you talk, you're talking about brands that I'm very familiar with, and I'm sure our listeners are too. And even Naturella I'm very familiar with that brand. And it's been... Clearly, you've been leading teams, iconic brands, and doing it cross-country and cross-culturally. So what does leadership mean to you?

NB: Yes, I've had a very diverse experience of leadership because like you said, I've had to lead teams all over the world. At some point I had people reporting to me from Japan, from the US, from Latin America. So for me, really leadership is about bringing out the best in the people that you lead, and building the leaders of tomorrow. So when you're leading an organization and you realize that they are becoming leaders and they are building capabilities in their people, and they are driving a vision and they're driving and delivering business objectives with their people, that's when you really feel you are being a leader. So finding a way of motivating different types of people, particularly with the diversity that I have had to work with, is really a big reward when you are able to achieve it. And in my case, one of the things that I love the most about leadership.

MH: Yeah, motivating people and how... And watching them grow and change their... I don't know, even their view on the world sometimes.

NB: Yes, for me it's watching them grow and become the best version of themselves, is the biggest reward.

MH: Yeah, I was talking to someone yesterday on another podcast about that and how leaders really are coaches. Molly, on your end though, you went from being a practicing veterinarian and then moved into this much more corporate environment. How did you make this decision? What were some questions you asked when you were going from something that was kind of centered on your love of animals and helping animals? And this is also related to your love of animals and helping animals, but it's a very different context.

MM: Yeah, yeah. For me, as I've navigated different career changes or career opportunities and decisions around them, what I've realized is that I didn't define it maybe until five years ago, but what's always driven me is thinking about the purpose of my work and the impact that I can make. And so I came into this profession driven by this purpose that pets make the world a better place. Pets help people, pets help communities, and I believe that we have a responsibility to give back to pet. And when I say pets, I do mean actually animals broadly, but I work in a very pet centered environment today of dogs and cats.

MM: So to me the purpose is very clear, I'm here to help pets because pets help people and help our world. As I've navigated my career... As you say I started as a practicing veterinarian, and so the impact that I had was the 15 or 20 different pet owners that I interacted with every day, the team that I worked with, the pets that I touched. And that was meaningful, but after a certain amount of time doing that, I started to ask the question of, How might I be able to do more? How might I be able to have a bigger impact? And so when I went to Royal Canin and then when I eventually came to Banfield, what initially drew me was the idea that I could work with veterinarians and veterinary clinics in a broad space. So with Royal Canin, I was covering about a quarter of the United States so I was growing my impact by affecting more veterinary professionals, educating them, training them, and that was similar to some of my first roles with Banfield.

MM: Then what I started to learn was that not only can I just help other veterinarians by teaching them, but I can help them by providing a working environment that lets them be their best selves. And so as I've stepped into my last couple of roles, and very much so in the role I'm in today, what grounds me is that I have this impact on people, which enables them to have a greater impact on pets. So perhaps my purpose has shifted just a little bit, but it's still about this focus on how do you have as big of an impact as you can in a way that's meaningful. For me, and as I talk to other people, helping them find out what's meaningful to them and focusing on that as your career goal.

MH: Yeah, both of you are making me smile because it's so clear that you want to have that impact on the people that you work with, but in a greater way the rest of the people that that ripples to. Right? The rest of the world that that ripples to. And I will say I'm a huge pet person, I have a cat named toffee who sometimes makes appearances and they do help people.

MM: They do, they do, particularly when we've spent the last few years navigating this chaos. I think pets are a really nice grounding force, they're always happy to be there with you and see you when you come home.

MH: Yeah. They do. And it's my family, right? In my case, I don't have kids, and so for me, my family is my cat. I mean my family is my family but they're very far away.

MM: Yeah, yeah.

MH: I would like to know actually a little bit of how both Royal Canin and Banfield, how are your organizations... 'Cause if you have leaders that believe in growing people and growing the people around you and preparing them for doing stuff, it's clear that there is a culture of... I'm gonna say growth again, but a culture that focuses on the human. So how are your organizations equipping women particularly in the workplace? Natalia, let's start with you.

NB: Yes, actually, Mars is a very people-centric organization overall, and we are really working hard to make sure that women can thrive in the workplace. And the different ways in which we are supporting women is providing flexibility in as many different ways as possible. So in many cases, we're providing flexible work schedules, working from home, in some cases actually women or men don't want to work full-time, they wanna work less days a week. In many cases, we allow for that depending on the role. Particularly with women we are really focusing on mentorship and sponsorship because we know that is an area in which women are not necessarily going out and asking for sponsorship, going out and asking for this mentorship, so we are being very proactive in making sure that we are providing that for them, creating groups, ARGs of women support.

NB: We have programs... So for example, we have a big program that we work with Harvard Business School, which is Women Leading Purposefully where actually we seek to help women to advance their leadership agenda to understand better how to manage work-life balance, how to advocate for themselves at the workplace. So there are many, many different ways in which we support women. And one of the most meaningful ones, at least for me, is actually driving our diversity and inclusion agenda. The reason why I'm saying for me personally, because that made a difference for me in my career in pet nutrition, before coming to Royal Canin. Seeing women represented in senior roles actually gave me the signal that it was possible for me to achieve that level, which is something I hadn't seen before, and I didn't think I was capable of doing it.

NB: And because of that representation that I saw, then I was able to have the ambition to continue growing in my career, and now I am playing that role for many other young leaders in the organization, and I think that's absolutely critical.

MH: It is and you're speaking my language here. And I don't know... I don't know, I talk about this with me, I don't know if it's your experience, but for me, seeing women was one part, but seeing Latinas was another whole extra layer to it, particularly because I hadn't worked in the US, I had this moment of understanding, Oh, I'm different. After being in the US for a few years. It took me that long.

NB: Absolutely. For me, actually seeing women with accents was a...

MH: Yes.

NB: Huge un-locker because having the Sofía Vergara accent that I have, I never thought I was gonna be able to make it. But then when I saw other women with strong accents making it and being amazing leaders and creating impact, that's when I thought, Well, if they can do it, I can do it. And that really made a difference for me.

MH: Molly, what are you seeing on your end, particularly in the hospital kind of world in terms of leadership and support for women? And I will actually add, because I talk a lot about women, but there's this other aspect that is not just women, which is caregivers, so I wanna throw that in the mix too.

MM: Yeah, I mean, gosh, I'll try to keep myself somewhat succinct here, 'cause I could talk about this for hours. I mean, first of all, I wanna echo what Natalia said because I'm so impressed with Mars as a company, having grown up working in Mom and Pop veterinary hospitals, I wasn't aware of the impact that a corporate culture could have, and I just really wanna call out that Mars broadly has a culture that is so purpose-focused and people-centered, and I really feel that as an individual associate, as a senior leader, and the way it's impacted my career, and I'm really passionate about the way that allows our associates to come to work and be themselves and be their best selves at work.

MM: But more specifically, so the veterinary industry is approximately... We're about 60% or 70% women right now, whether you're looking at just practicing in a hospital or you're looking at the industry as a whole. At Banfield, 86% of our associates are women, so we...

MH: Wow.

MM: This is a topic that is front and center for us. I'll jump ahead and say, I'm also very proud that the senior leadership team that I sit on is made up of 50% women, and we've got also a very great racial, ethnic and passport diversity on our team, and that's part of the Mars culture of focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion, and how we really help promote and elevate leaders, associates into leadership roles.

MM: So there's really two things we think about at Banfield, one is the veterinary industry as a whole, and the role that we play as part of Mars as one of the... Well, we are the largest global employer veterinarians, so we have... We have a responsibility and an opportunity to really drive change for this entire industry at a time when it's needed, because it used to be a primarily male industry, and it's really shifted. What we know across industries is that as industries shift to be predominantly women-driven, sometimes there can be issues of pay, where pay goes down, prestige of the industry goes down, and that's something that we are just really determined to avoid and to really get around because we think it's an amazing industry, we have amazing women and men and people of all gender identities, and it's about what we do, not necessarily how we look.

MM: We also believe that the most important thing, as you say, women, men, broadly, in healthcare, in a caring profession, the quality of care that we provide is central to what we do, to how we feel about our work, to how we succeed as a business, and so we really focus on this idea of a culture of belonging, wanting each and every associate and each and every pet owner who walks into our hospitals to feel like they can show up as their authentic self, because only in that way can we really communicate effectively to put the pet and the pet's care at the center of what we do and make sure that we're fulfilling the needs of the pet owner, and that we're doing it in a way that's safe and effective for the pet themselves. And that involves taking care of our associates.

MM: So again, I could speak really about this for hours, but I'll say specifically around women, some of the things that have been really important, and we're talking about parenting as well, is focusing on paid parental leave, that hasn't been a standard in the veterinary industry. Banfield has brought that to life, and in January 2021, we launched four weeks of paid parental leave for all associates of any children born or adopted, and then certainly there are short-term disability opportunities on top of that. And we ensure that that's accessible to people of all genders, so it's not just about moms, it's about the importance of being a parent in our lives, and I should mention, I'm parent of two, a single mom of an eight-year-old and a five-year-old Anders and Harper, and so all of this to me is about my personal life as well, not just who I am as a leader.

MM: We offer discounts on child care, we offer back up care coverage, because in a caregiving environment it's hard, you can't just work from home for the day if your child is sick, so we try to do the best we can to be mutual with our associates and help them. We also have diversity resource groups, associate resource groups, we have a group called Women of Banfield that has mobilized to really create a great community for women, but also to bring great ideas to the table.

MM: One of the ideas that they brought several years ago was the idea of a baby bundle, and so now every new baby that's born to our practice, the parent gets a package that includes certainly information on their benefits and resources, but also we have Banfield onesies, we have burp cloths. And so it's fantastic. We've got an Instagram feed full of... It's got babies in their Banfield onesies all over.

MM: So the last thing I'll mention is just... Natalia mentioned it as well. The idea of flexibility, and I think as a parent, as a single parent, this is so important because you know I wanna go and help out at my daughter's classroom Valentine party, and to be able to have that flexibility with work, to be able to say, I'm gonna step away just for a little time so I can give that part of my life the love and focus it deserves, and then I can come back and I can be an even better associate at work, because I know that I'm respected, I'm honored, I belong as my full and authentic self. And so that looks different for us, flexibility is about working with individuals, and that's something we really focus on, whether it's schedules, whether it's tasks associated with a job, but thinking about how we can... Certainly within a framework of consistency, how we can be as flexible as possible with our associates.

NB: I love the passion with which you talk, Molly, about this topic.


MM: It is something, again, I can go on and on about.

MH: It's contagious though. And belonging... Belonging is the word that for many, many years, I had a thing, Post-it... A post-it note in front of my desk that just said, people want to belong, and it was just a constant reminder of, "This is something we need, it's ingrained in our human nature to want to be able to be our authentic selves and show up and belong to something." And the way you phrased, a baby born into our practice, talk about belonging. You're already bringing them in.


MM: Yeah, yeah.


MH: But I do wanna touch on the flexibility part, 'cause one thing is to have flexible policies, and I think both of you nail that on the head with, Yes, you do have flexible policies, but you're also trying to build a flexible culture, and how do you actually... 'Cause I've seen it too. I mean, we can say we have flexibility how many times we want, but that doesn't necessarily mean that people feel comfortable using that flexibility. So how are you encouraging, particularly let's continue in this route of parents and caregivers, but how are you as leaders encouraging that flexible culture within your teams?

NB: I'm gonna say that is a challenge actually, because caregivers, parents in general, and women in particular, are really facing a lot of biases. Once you become a caregiver, a parent, but particularly a mother, people make a lot of assumptions of who you are, what's important to you, many people assume that you maybe don't have any more ambition and then they are giving the best projects to somebody else, some people assume you don't have the capacity to take extra work, and then they don't even ask you about it. And they're trying to give you a favor by not including you in some of these things.

NB: So I think it is important to fight those biases, to make sure that we really focus on the individuals and understanding the individual needs of each one of those caregivers, whether they are going away or returning from a parental leave to really understand what is it that they're looking to have from the experience of returning, and for that, we need to train our line managers, we really need to train them on the biases that they may have, and they may hold without even realizing them. We need to make sure that they are asking the right questions and that they can individualize the approach to the needs of each one of those parents instead of making assumptions.

MM: Yeah. I agree with that completely. To me, it's about respecting each other as people, asking, communicating, establishing those clear lines of communication, and asking, not assuming. I'll say one of the things, as we talk about Mars' culture, I love the fact that our culture is founded on five principles, and one of those principles is the principle of mutuality, and mutuality means we don't treat everyone the same, but we want to engage in this win-win relationship with associates, with clients, with consumers, and so when it comes down to our associates, the way I look at mutuality is, "Yes, we employ people because we need a job from them, but they're gonna give to us and we're gonna give to them." And so that idea of mutuality is, how can we talk about what you need, we can talk about the framework of the job and the expectations, the priorities of the job, and then let's aim for how we can be the most flexible and make it work for both of us in the best way possible.

MM: And then the other thing I'll say is, I think that role modeling is really important, and I think it's about who's in leadership roles, but it's also how we show up as leaders, and I'll say for myself, I've started taking, in the last five years or so, taking an active role on social media, and as much as I post about my job and interacting with our hospital associates and what I do in our profession, I equally post about being a parent and the struggles that I have, how hard it is to travel and be away from my kids, how wonderful it is to be with them when I'm with them, and I think several years ago, my mom went through hospice and then I eventually lost her and posting about that journey for me was important to me 'cause that reaches our associates and helps them recognize that I'm a whole person and that I show up that way at work and they can do the same.

NB: I love that, Molly, actually. Oh. Go ahead.

MH: No. Go ahead, Natalia.

NB: No. I just...

MH: I think we were both gonna say the same thing.


NB: Yeah. I just wanted to say that I really love that role modeling, I think, is super important to allow yourself to be vulnerable in front of others when you're in a senior leadership position, actually allows them to feel more like themselves and to be more open to the needs that they have. From my own experience when I was much more junior in the organization, I was trying to get pregnant for many years, it was not easy for me, but I never ever dared... I was not working at Mars at the time, and I never ever dared to tell anyone that I was trying because I had the fear that if I told people that I was trying to get pregnant, they would not look at me for promotions and they would put me in a box of, "Okay, forget about her, she's gonna get pregnant and she's gonna go away."

NB: And I would really like people at Mars and in Royal Canin and in pet care to actually not have to worry about those things, to feel like they can come clean and say, "Listen, I'm looking to get pregnant." And that's not gonna get in the way of their career if they wanna continue growing in the organization.?

NB: And that's why I really love a lot of examples that I see from my team and from teams of my peers, where actually women are getting promoted when they get back from maternity leave, or even before going on maternity leave, they get the promotion because that's really sending a signal of, "It's okay to go and be a mom, it's not a problem, that's not gonna get in the way of your career." And the more we are doing these things, the more we are role modeling that we are mothers and that we struggle as well, but somehow we can make it work if we're open about it, the more we're gonna see progress in that sense.

MH: I love that. And I think you're both so right. We don't see leaders enough doing the things that we say are important, and so this is, I think... I was... God, I have so many things to say.


MH: Well, first off, because I... Natalia, you started off with the answer, and I wrote it down of assumptions of how people assume what women want and what we're gonna do, and I talk about this very often of how I changed my career because the last interview I had in the finance world, one of the questions was, "Are you planning to get married in the next two years?"

MM: On my gosh.

MH: Right.


MH: Wow.

MM: Wow.

MH: And it was like, "What?" And then another time, which this made me think of, I was on a panel with a very, very, very successful Latin American executive, male. And someone in the audience asked, "So why are there not more women in leadership?" And he dared next to me to respond, "Well, the problem with women is they wanna get pregnant."


MM: Oh my God.

MH: Yeah, I did not stay quiet.


NB: Good job. Good job.

MM: We can't. We can't stay quiet. That's a big piece of their right is we have to lean into the conversation, we have to drive change and call out those assumptions that people make, those biases, so that we can truly change them.

MH: Yeah.

NB: Equally, I have seen a lot of male colleagues being the biggest advocates for women and the biggest advocates for mothers, actually. So it's good to see that for every person, like the one that you described, there is one that is also fighting for us.

MH: Yeah. And I would say this person was also way, way, way back generations, he was already retired. It was very different. I would say he came up in very different times. And I would say that this type of comments not only are harmful for women, but they're really harmful for men who want to be able to take parental leave, who want to be able to do these things, and who should be able to do these things.

MM: Absolutely.

NB: I think that's a...

MH: And we're not just talking about parents, we're talking about caregivers too.

NB: That's an interesting point because, for example, in the UK we offer equal parental leave for anyone who's gonna have a baby. Whether it's adopted, any type of way that they're getting a baby, we offer equal parental leave. And it's actually six months of 90% pay, so it's really pretty, pretty generous. But there is a stigma for men to actually take it, and so we really want to push more men to take it because the more men that are taking that parental leave, the more it's gonna become normalized and the less the stigma is going to be there. And I do think that's gonna be one of the biggest way in which we're gonna drive equality, having that equal parental leave, because not only getting pregnant become less of a concern for women because men will also take parental leave, but also men will start taking more responsibility in the caregiving of children. And that will really help in the long run with equal distribution of tasks in the household.

MH: A hundred percent, I completely agree with you. And it goes back to what you were saying before of... And Molly, both of you guys actually, of role modeling. Men need to see other male leaders taking parental leave.

NB: Exactly.

MH: We've talked about leaders and the role of leaders in these cases, but how can colleagues be there for people who are coming back after a leave?

MM: I'll jump in and say that I think that there's... I'll go back to what I said about leaders, which is asking your colleagues what's important to them, and don't assume. And I lead a team with a lot of women, I lead a team where a lot of people have gone out on maternity and paternity leave. And I think as you described, sometimes yes, people do wanna come back and their focus has shifted and they want to be laser-focused on spending time with their newborn, and that makes so much sense. And there's also plenty of situations where, again, as you both mentioned, even myself, I received a promotion right before I went out on maternity leave to have my daughter. And I was incredibly grateful to have my career recognized while I was in the midst of this big life transition that was important to me as well.

MM: So all of that is to say, I think that encouraging or acting as leaders, role modeling and encouraging our teams to respect each other as people to ask, to not assume and really lean into this idea that we are a community, whether it's a single workplace that can build that team spirit and sense of community or it's one of the things I think is fantastic about us as Banfield, is we have community across the country, and so helping people. Some of the challenges that you face are related to parenting, which maybe people who aren't parents can't support as much. But again, we're all real people, and sometimes the challenges are just, "How am I gonna get my dog walked? How am I gonna get the groceries?" And so, leveraging our community to feel like we can share our personal lives, we can share our personal struggles, we can help each other through those, I think is so important.

MM: And the great thing about the world today is, that doesn't have to always be physical. One of the things, one of the groups that I'm part of is that we started a Facebook, "Moms with a DVM." So that's moms who are veterinarians. We have a Facebook group for Banfield, and there are others that are not just for women and not just for veterinarians, but it's a fantastic place for people to come and feel like they're part of a community where they can get that help and support. So creating virtual communities, I think, is something that we can do. We have multiple platforms in which to do that within Mars. And we all wanna be part of a community, and that is one of the best ways to feel supported as you're going through hard times or transitions or just figuring out a new normal.

NB: Yeah. And in other parts of the world, in many cases actually, parents are taking a long leave. So for example, in Germany, it's not uncommon to see parents taking three years before they come back. In the UK a lot, take a full year before they come back. And so when this happens, I think it is very important to make sure that we are re-onboarding those people into the organization and that their colleagues are playing that role. A lot can change in a year, a lot can change in three years, so it is important that we take into account the experience those people have had from the past, but as well that we make sure they have all the tools necessary to re-onboard on their jobs.

MH: Yeah, hundred percent. It's not easy. And I think you all are doing a great job in both leading by example, but also in thinking about people as individuals. Look, I keep nagging on this, I've been writing about this for a while now because I feel like the biggest thing companies have learned from the last three years, and I hope they don't forget, I think some of them are, is that people are people.


MH: And we're not numbers, we're people. You have to talk to each one, you can't assume. You have to understand what their needs really are. And I really hope that that continues.

NB: Yeah. And I will say for people who actually leave the workforce for a while to take care of their children, they develop skills that they cannot develop just working that are super valuable. I was able to see that with one of the women who reported to me about five years ago, she went on maternity leave for six months, and when she came back I'll tell you she was so much better in terms of efficiency, time management, really focusing on what matters and where she wanted to make an impact, completely step change her performance after taking maternity leave. So in some cases, it could even be a career accelerators, if you really look at it for the value that it can bring. I had a friend of mine who used to put in her CV, she had three children, and in her CV during the three maternity leaves that she took, she put Chief Operating Officer of a household. So...

MH: I love that.


NB: It's not an empty time, actually, the things that you have to do when you're taking that time as a parent to take care of a household of children is super valuable experience.

MM: Absolutely.

MH: I love that so much. Alright, so we talked a lot about returning to work, so how's Mars pet care supporting women and parents in general, when they return to work?

NB: Yeah, actually, last year, we launched a new program which is called Encore, and it's about supporting parents, both moms and dads with the transition back to work after the leave. And this is one of the programs in which we're very happy to partner with Ellevate and an example of what this program entails is obviously internal allocation about the opportunity that exists in bringing parents back to the workplace, but as well, for example, we have a squad program in which we have peer to peer mentoring throughout many, many weeks when parents are returning to the workplace so that they can have that support and they can feel really from their peers, that level of support that they need. We are also partnering with Ellevate to have job postings, external sponsorships, and in general, just making it easy for parents to return. So we are learning through this program, it's quite new and in early stages but we are excited about what this program Encore can become in the future.

MH: Yeah, yeah, it sounds great. And I know you're partnering with Ellevate, and you mentioned squads, and I do think that having that support with a community and your peers is probably paramount, particularly when you're coming back.

NB: Absolutely, absolutely. We really hope this makes a difference. I can tell you more about it in the future.

MH: Well, thank you. I know I've taken a lot of your time, actually, I know we're kind of running over but if you have a few minutes, I'd love to do our little lightning round.

NB: Absolutely.

MM: Sure.

MH: Okay.

NB: How do we do that Maricella?

MH: So I'll ask... It's a little lightning round, I'll ask about three to five questions, I'll ask one and then we can start with... You should respond with one sentence or less, and I can call on you and we can go first Molly then Natalia, and then Natalia then Molly. So we mix it up.

MM: Perfect.

[foreign language]

MH: What's a skill you wish you had? Molly.

MM: Oh, home improvement. I am not a do-it-yourself-er. I call somebody else, sorry.


MH: Natalia.

NB: I would love to be able to play an instrument. That would be awesome. I am useless at music.


MH: If you could either go and explore the depths of the sea or outer space, which one would you choose? Natalia.

NB: Outer space. I'm terrified of the sea, and outer space to me sounds so interesting, and I would love to really see if there is life out there.

MH: Molly?

MM: Depth of the sea. I used to wanna be a marine biologist, so I'm fascinated by the ocean.

MH: Yeah. You went and studied whales.

MM: Yeah. Exactly.

MH: Yes. Why am I not surprised? Best piece of advice you've ever been given, Molly?

MM: Be declarative about what's important to you. People around you wanna help, but they can't help you if you don't declare it.

MH: That's very good. Natalia?

NB: What got you here won't get you there. Referring to everything that you have been doing that got you to this point are not necessarily the skills that you need to demonstrate or you need to develop to get to the next one. And so you really need to evolve and grow to get there.

MH: I love that. Favorite book, Natalia?

NB: Oh my God, I blanked...


MH: You can pass.

NB: A Thousand sSuns, but I don't know. I think I forgot. Go with Molly.

MH: Molly?

NB: A Thousand Splendid Suns.

MH: Oh, I haven't read that.

NB: It's amazing.

MH: I'll check it out.

MM: I'll have to read that as well. For me... Gosh, for me, there are so many, I have to say, I'm sitting here looking at my wall of professional books, and I would have to say Brené Brown, Daring Greatly, was a life and professional career changer for me.

MH: As many podcast listeners know, I am a Brené Brown absolute fan.

MM: Fantastic. Me, too.

MH: I read all of those.

MM: Me too.

MH: And finally, what's one thought you'd want to leave with our listeners? And I'll start with Molly on this one.

MM: Yeah, I think I'm gonna go back to the idea of how important it is to create, to foster, and to live into a sense of belonging. When we can be our full and authentic selves in our lives, including our work, we can be our best selves. And so anything that you can do to create that environment, to promote that environment and to encourage others to do the same makes the world a better place for all of us.

MH: I love that. Natalia, what's one thought you'd want to leave?

NB: I think that was very well said. I think I was gonna go to a very similar place so I'm not gonna repeat it, I think Molly said it beautifully.

MH: Okay. Well, thank you both for being here and taking the time today.

NB: Thank you so much, Maricella.

MH: Muchisimas gracias.


MH: And we're back. That was fun.

MO: That was so fun. That was... Any conversation where you get to talk about pets a lot is always a good conversation. I currently have... We're cat-sitting for a friend today, so I have two cats crawled up on either side of me right now, both asleep, thankfully, they've been super chaotic all day, but they are being very good boys while I'm recording this, so very happy with them.

MH: Aww. Toffee is currently sleeping, which is good 'cause she is a menace. I've had cats pretty much all my life, but this one is so playful, she steals things. I've found earrings and things that are just like... I'm like, what are these things doing here?

MO: Yeah.

MH: And it is Toffee. But I do have a better update on Toffee, she still is getting used to being here, although I've had her for, I don't know, six, seven months. But she was a very shy kitty when I adopted her. And I usually tend to go for the shy, rough, difficult cats because I feel like... I don't know, it's part of my... I wanna help them. No one else will. And the update is she now jumps on my lap.

MO: Yay! I love that!

MH: Yeah, so it's very cute.

MO: I love it when you earn a pet's trust, it's so sweet.

MH: It's the best feeling. Anyway, what's happening this week at Ellevate?

MO: So this week at Ellevate, I will be your guide through some of the top things that are happening. The Ellevate Roundtable is gonna be talking about Practicing Intentional Delegation, So You Don't Just Do It All Yourself, that's gonna be on Thursday and our Women Seeking Confidence Roundtable is gonna be meeting and talking about how to stop second-guessing yourself next Tuesday, so those are both online, great spaces to meet different women in the community and just talk about topics that is frankly, very important.

MO: We've got a few community circles happening in the next week or so. We don't have any happening this week, but next Tuesday is our Remote And Hybrid Professionals Community Circle, as well as our LGBTQIA's circle. This one will include allies, allies are welcome. I host those so if you wanna meet me, come on by, that's next Wednesday. And our Asian and Pacific Islanders Community Circle is next Thursday. So if you're a member of any of those communities, feel free, come on by, again, virtual. These are never recorded, they are completely confidential, and yeah, it is a completely safe space for you to come and be yourself.

MO: And then we also have some in-person events. Our New York chapter is gonna be hosting an Executive Breakfast all about How To Unlock Your Potential Within Yourself and Your Team by Embracing Equity, that's on Wednesday. Philadelphia is gonna be having an in-person meet-up all about Combating Impostor Syndrome, also on Wednesday. Atlanta is having a book club covering atomic habits. Cincinnati is doing an Ellevate Business Connect, with coffee connects and networking on Friday. Washington DC is doing a networking lunch at Basic Burger on Friday. Seattle is having their March coffee meetup next Tuesday, and Long Island is gonna be talking about Crafting a Personal Brand in a Changing Workplace, and it's a workshop with Valerie Nifora and that's again gonna be next Tuesday.

MH: And just a plug for the week after, I know we usually just tell you about what's happening this week, but next week we have a special International Women's Day event in New York City, that's on Wednesday the 15th. And if you're in the New York City area, we'd love to have you, we'd love to see you. I'll be there, I'm one of the speakers. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but I'd love to meet you. So come join us.

MO: Yeah, definitely come join us. That's gonna be a ton of fun and just a really, really cool event.

MH: Cool, and now let's celebrate our history makers.

MO: Let's do it. So this week's history makers, Patricia Lee, who became the first black woman and Asian-American on Nevada's Supreme Court.

MH: Dame Angela McLean became the first woman appointed the UK's Chief Scientific Advisor.

MO: Michelle Yeoh, who keeps breaking records left and right...

MH: Love her.

MO: Yes, hopefully will be back here, announcing another first at the Oscars, crossed fingers, but Michelle Yeoh became the first Asian best actress winner at the SAG Awards.

MH: Leah Weckert will become the first woman to run Coles, a 109-year-old Australian supermarket chain.

MO: Crystalyne Curley became the first woman to be elected Speaker of the Navajo National Council.

MH: And Orla Feely became the first woman appointed as president of University College Dublin. We were international today.

MO: Yeah, it was very international.

MH: Well, those are our history makers we continue to celebrate, even though some glass ceilings need to be broken still, and it's kind of like... Why has it taken so long? We're still celebrating, we're still bringing attention to them and we will continue to do so, especially on a month like Women's History Month or a day like today, which it's International Women's Day, and I know I keep mentioning those, but it's just so we can be like the rest of the world, I guess, because for us, we kind of do International Women's Day every day.

MO: Yeah, exactly, and keep an eye out for our social media too. We're @EllevateNetwork virtually everywhere. I'm sharing some women who have made history in the year since the last International Women's Day, so keep an eye out for those and just a big celebration. Always really fun.

MH: And as we continue to talk about women who have made history and who have raised their voice and used their power and done a lot to move forward gender equity and the rights of women, don't... Really, really, really, I really stress this... Don't miss next week's episode with Freada Kapor Klein. Oh my God, she's done so much. She's an entrepreneur, activist and pioneer in the field of organizational culture and diversity. She's the author of the forthcoming book, Closing the Equity Gap: Creating Wealth and Fostering Justice in Startup Investing, which she wrote with her husband and business partner, Mitch Kapor.

MH: She's the founder of SMASH and co-founded the Alliance Against Sexual Coercion, the first organization in the US to address sexual harassment. So we talk a lot about her journey, how she started the alliance, why she started the alliance, how things have changed in the world, and also a lot about how investing in minorities both is an economic smart idea, but also how it can help change the world.

MO: Yes, I cannot wait. I've said before that sometimes I reach out to some people, some people I get pitches for, and when we got her pitch, I was like, I literally just sent her to Maricella, and sometimes I'll send it with like a recap of like, here's why I wanna book them. And my "here's why I wanna book her" was literally just... Have you seen her resume?

MH: Yeah. She's fantastic. Hope you can join us next week and have a great rest of your week, y'all.

MO: See you then.

MH: Bye.


MH: Join an exceptional peer group to sharpen your leadership skills and advance your career. Harvard Business School Executive Education now offers in-person and virtual programs. Learn more at That's

MO: Thanks so much for listening to the Ellevate Podcast. If you like what you hear, you can subscribe, give us five stars and share your review. You can learn all about Ellevate membership and all the great things that Ellevate Network is doing at our website, That's E-L-L-E-V-A-T-E, And special thanks to our producer, Katharine Heller, she rocks. Thanks so much and join us next week.