In honor of Women’s History Month, we are proud to feature Barri Rafferty in this issue of The Wider View. Barri Rafferty has long been known as a champion for women’s equality in the workplace. She was a founding member of Omniwomen at Omnicom Group—an initiative to increase the number, seniority, and influence of women in leadership roles. Also a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion, Barri serves on the national board of Step Up, an organization empowering girls from under-resourced communities to become confident, college-bound, and career focused. Until July 2020, Barri was President and CEO at Ketchum—the first woman at the time to be the CEO of a top-five public relations agency. Currently Barri oversees the Communications and Brand Management teams for Wells Fargo, where she is playing a key role in helping redefine the company’s purpose, voice and brand narrative. A sense of adventure fuels Barri’s enthusiasm for tackling big goals. Read the full interview below to learn more about how she developed it and why she brings it to work.
Finish this sentence: I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for ________________.
My mentors and sponsors. Over the course of my career, I’ve been fortunate to have been coached and supported by all types of leaders—both men and women—who helped me identify new ways to grow and pushed me outside of my comfort zone. My sponsor Janet Riccio, who has sadly passed, urged me to leverage my passion for equality and my positions to make progress.
I also wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my family. I have two wonderfully successful sisters and my husband who I lean on for their candid opinions. My husband and my children have always supported my career aspirations, and that’s been invaluable.
Resumes highlight professional and educational achievements. Which one of your life or personal experiences deserves to be on your resume?
My father instilled in me a sense of adventure and taught me the importance of pushing myself to try things I was afraid of. That included everything from skiing down a black diamond run like “Widowmaker” (and yes I remember the name from when I was young) to whitewater rafting the Chattooga River in spring when it was a Class II-IV. This helped build my courage and taught me that conquering fear can be an adrenaline rush that pushes your energy further. These early life lessons have served me well and enhanced my love of adventure, nature and trying new things.
What qualities do you look for when hiring someone on your team? What qualities do you avoid?
I gravitate toward strong self-starters. I dislike micromanaging. I want my team to be empowered to do their jobs and look to me for guidance, not to check in.
When I was at Ketchum, I instituted a policy to allow my entire agency to begin working flexible schedules from home and the office. I don’t need to see someone physically at their desk to trust they’re working hard. If something positive can come from the pandemic, I hope it proves this point to more CEOs across all industries that flexibility provides more work/life integration.
Qualities I avoid are negativity and people who don’t like change. A willingness to constantly learn and adapt are non-negotiables for me.
“Take more risks and worry less about what others think.”
What’s one piece of career advice you wish you could give to your younger self?
Take more risks and worry less about what others think. I wish I had pushed myself to apply for more roles that I thought were beyond my reach at a younger age.
I also chose to take a step back from a role I worked very hard to get when my children were young so I could spend more time with them. Some people questioned my decision, which at times made me a little sad, but it wound up being the right choice. You have your entire life to build your career, but kids are only young for a short time and you need to do what is right for you and your family. Trade-offs can pay off, so follow your gut.
Which three books, podcasts, or news sources do you think everyone should read? Why?
My daily must-read is Fortune’s CEO Daily newsletter by Alan Murray. He captures the top business headlines in a succinct, digestible way. It helps me stay up to speed on everything in the business world.
Brené Brown has great guests on her podcasts, “Unlocking Us” and “Dare to Lead” that leverage her studies of courage, empathy and vulnerability. When the pandemic started, she did her first podcast on FFTs, standing for “F***ing First Times,” (situations that we don’t know how to handle because we’ve never experienced them before) and I was an instant fan. As a leader and marketer, she has inspired me to think differently.
The third book I recommend is a blank journal. I keep mine by my bed and write in it when I am inspired, grateful for something special or need to vent. It eases my mind, captures feelings and serves as a strong outlet for me.
Diversity, equity and inclusion is front and center right now. How do you express your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in your personal and professional life?
I’ve long been an advocate for building a more equitable and balanced workplace for women, and that’s become even more important over the past year as women have had to drop out of the workplace to care for kids, manage virtual schooling and care for aging parents.
Wells Fargo has a long history of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion within our business practices and employees. The company added sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy more than 30 years ago and, for the 18th year, the Human Rights Campaign gave Wells Fargo a 100% rating on its Corporate Equality Index and designated it a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality.”
I’m committed to being a champion of DE&I as a leader in the company and helping share our progress.
What’s one tangible step every employer should take to help build a more representative organization?
You can’t hire a diverse workforce and expect to automatically create an inclusive environment. Employers need to foster a culture where people from all backgrounds feel welcome to share their ideas and feel they have a seat at the table. If that doesn’t happen, your talent will become frustrated and leave. This is an area where we all have room to grow.