Two-time Terp Brenda Freeman ’87, MBA ’91, isn’t shy about offering advice to women, no matter what stage they are in their careers.
She headlined the Robert H. Smith School of Business’s third annual Women Leading Women event on April 24, 2014, during which she talked to the crowd about fitting into different corporate cultures, finding a good mentor and having a good work-life balance, among other things.
Freeman, who recently started in her new role at DreamWorks Animation as the global head of television marketing, said she is having fun in her new entrepreneurial role at the company. DreamWorks, she explained, is a creative-driven, versus process-driven, organization. Coming from the highly analytical environment at Turner Broadcasting Inc., she’s had to get used to working in an organization that is more chaotic.
“The people that you work with and the environment, it’s critical,” she said. “We spend so much of our time [at work]. … You have to be really passionate about what you do because you have to spend a lot of hours doing it.”
Freeman urged women to look into the corporate cultures at different companies before accepting a new role. The creative and chaotic environment at DreamWorks may have been a change, she said, but one she knew to expect. “I did my homework.”
The conversation, which was moderated by Smith’s Vice Dean Joyce Russell, turned to one about mentors and their importance in women’s careers.
“The first mentors were probably my parents. Through them I saw a model of what success could look like,” Freeman said. In her career, she explained that she liked to seek out a woman who was a few levels higher than she was whose style and work-life balance she would like to emulate.
“I’d pop in their office and ask, ‘Is it ok if we get a coffee?’ After that, I’d just try to create a natural connection with them.” She told the audience that her mentors through the years helped her navigate the organizations she worked for.
Now, she said, “I have my own ‘board of directors’ that I like to go to when I make big career decisions.”
Freeman ended her speaking engagement talking about the importance of a healthy work-life balance and being a demonstrative leader. “You never feel like you are given enough time to all of the stakeholders in your life. And then there’s the challenge of allowing yourself to not be perfect, which is really difficult for women,” Freeman said. “But you have to let it go and say I’m going to enjoy this ride because I only have one.”
You have to figure out your own thing, but realize at the same time there are going to be gives and takes, she continued, adding that a compromise she made in her career was waiting until she was older to start having her kids because she wanted to be making enough money to afford a nanny.
As for leading by example, “I show signals of balance as much as I can. … I started being more demonstrative of doing balanced things so my staff knew it was OK to do it, too.”
An example of this balance: Freeman schedules time on her calendar each day to virtually read a book with her son, who is on the East Coast while she is on the West Coast. “It is embargoed time,” she explained, adding that her colleagues know not schedule meetings during this time with her son.
The conversation with Brenda Freeman was followed by a Q&A with the audience and a wine tasting sponsored by Total Wine. The event was organized by Smith’s office of development and alumni relations and spearheaded by Sharon Strange Lewis, director of graduate alumni relations.
“Tonight started out as a dream and I am so happy to be here,” Strange Lewis said. “You all are making this dream a reality and each year Women Leading Women grows larger and larger. Whenever you have a dream or vision, don’t ignore it. Talk about it, get people on your team and run with it.”
The University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business is a proud sponsor of the 2014 National Association of Women MBAs Conference in Washington, D.C., this fall.