Name: Jen Swanson
By day, I work in the area of digital strategy and marketing, and my side gig is growing a community around and writing about women in leadership, the gender gap in business, digital and tech, and work-life integration. But truthfully, there isn’t always a clean break between these areas of my life.
Digital Marketing Director, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota
Founder and Blogger, imbina.com
Previous Work Experience:
I spent most of my career in higher education, working for Hamline University, the Carlson School of Management, and University of Minnesota Alumni Association; I did lots of “relations” work at those places – alumni relations, community relations, corporate relations – with a healthy dose of event planning and loyalty marketing thrown in. Before coming to Children’s Minnesota, I spent 8 years at Capella University on something of an unofficial management rotation. I started out in alumni relations, but in those 8 years I also worked in loyalty marketing, brand advocacy, customer service design and delivery, and operations. I’ve always leaned towards technology in my work, as the Internet was becoming a thing that mattered in business. At Capella (an online university) everything was digital so that really solidified my passion for the digital space.
About your current work:
At Children’s Minnesota, we are – obviously – a healthcare organization serving the health needs of kids and their families through our hospitals and clinics. But to truly serve families in Minnesota, our region, and even the nation, we also take seriously our role to provide sound information to parents about how to raise healthy kids.
This is where our digital presence comes in. We have to make sure that families who bring their kids to us for everything from well child check-ups to cancer and cardiovascular illness treatment have the information they need quickly and easily. But we also have to cast the net wider, providing trusted, easily accessed information to families who may never set foot in our clinics and create a community for parents with kids across the health spectrum. This is where my job comes in, and that’s an exciting place to be every day.
This work requires that I partner closely and extensively with our internal IT department and external vendors like developers and agencies. It also requires that I have close relationships with clinical and functional leaders across the organization, many of whom don’t have much experience with – and sometimes interest in – technology and the power of our digital world.
And I don’t blame them! They are focused on kids and families that are dealing with some big (sometimes scary) health issues. I try to figure out how to support their work with digital tools and an understanding of how our consumers use technology and social media, so that they can do what they do best – treat kids.
The work on women and leadership that I do through imbina really weaves through all this. As a woman working in the digital space, and as a leader in my organization and industry, I see and feel very acutely the challenges of being one of only a few women in the room, and of trying to balance a drive for career and business success with a drive to be a great mom and wife.
That combination – being the only one and having to really fight to be heard, plus the drive to do your best at absolutely everything you do – is exhausting. And isolating. And I want it to be less of both of those things for myself and for other women.
Imbina doesn’t really sell anything other than ideas – which at this point, are free for anyone interested in reading them. I don’t know if it will ever be a revenue source for me, but that’s not really the point of it.
What’s your story?
Feminism is having (another) moment right now–lots of high profile women are talking and writing about these issues. But I felt like there was a gap in the discourse for women that are past the phase of “leaning in” – they’ve driven forward in their careers, started families, and begun to rise in the ranks of their organizations. There are many of us sitting at upper level leadership roles, just shy of the C-Suite, looking around and thinking, “Is this it? Is this really what I want for my life?”
This is why there are so many women at their mid- or late- career jumping ship to start their own businesses, agencies, and consultancies. Because asking that question yields some answers that are pretty uncomfortable for organizations. And this is why the C-Suite and Boardroom aren’t getting more diverse. I don’t question the decision to choose another path for women (and men!) who want something different for their lives and don’t want to wait for companies to get it together. But we won’t change the gender imbalance in our companies or government this way. Something has to give. And this is what I’m trying to address and engage people in through imbina.
How do you manage your workflow? Are there specific tools you can’t live without?
I am a total productivity nerd. I feel like in my 20-plus years of work I’ve amassed a kit of hacks, tools, and practices that work for me, but everyone has to find their own method of keeping sane. My cornerstone is the Getting Things Done approach by David Allen – I was doing 80% of it before I read his book about 5 years ago, but that last 20% was the real gem and took me from “keeping it together” to totally kicking butt every day.
I keep it pretty simple; I use email (and have 3 primary email accounts – Children’s, personal, and imbina) as my primary inbox for everything digital, and use my-priorities.com as my to do list. I can access it via phone, ipad, or desktop and it allows me to set up multiple lists, sublists, and action dates. Every day I work the active items list – only the things I’ve set up to be due or in progress today – so that I don’t get overwhelmed by the volume of the entire list.
The key for me is that I set time at the beginning of my day (usually around 5 a.m. for home and imbina work, and 8 am at Children’s) to go through email, add and modify things on my to-do list, and set my 2-3 must-do priorities for the day. Equally as important is the hour at the end of my day (around 4:30 at Children’s, and again at 9 pm for all my work) to get through anything that wasn’t completed that needed to be, and to get organized for the next day. These touchstones in my day are critical to my sanity.
Where do you do your best work?
It changes. Sometimes, it’s in my home office at 5 am – honestly, that’s where my best writing happens and the hour or so I give myself every morning to get ideas on paper is often the best I’ll do all day! But I also have some great, high energy meetings with my team when we’re in our ideation space at Children’s – the marketing team has a small conference room we’ve converted to be a place to be really creative and inventive. There is a high-top table there and some small couches and we can really create some fun ideas in the space because it has such a different vibe.
What are your measurements of success?
At Children’s, we have lots of metrics we think about in terms of our success, but my favorites to look at are how people engage with our content – stories, videos, articles, podcasts or education materials – in all the places we share and post them around the web. I love seeing how people incorporate them into their own stories and that’s usually when something “goes viral” and gets shared and shared and shared.
Similarly, I love seeing what I write for imbina get passed on or talked about out in the world. I’ve recently started sharing the things I write on the blog through LinkedIn Pulse, and it gets a whole new life there. These ideas that I write about are often intensely personal to me, so the minute I hit the button to publish something a voice in my head screams “STOP! What are you doing?!?!?” But that feeling passes and then I am rewarded in seeing how it matters to someone I might not have ever met. That is success for me.
What advice would you give to other women entrepreneurs?
I often get asked why I’m trying to start something new when I’ve already got so much on my plate – a demanding job and a young family – and my answer is that I couldn’t not do it. And so I find the time and energy and focus to do it. I think a creative or inner drive tells you that which you can’t not do. If, in the insanity of your life as a leader, an entrepreneur, a mom, a partner, and so on – if you have a drive or spark to do something, find even just a little bit of space to make it happen in your day and see where it leads you.
**Don’t forget to read Jen’s authentic responses in our Unleashed Confessions interview as well!