Changing the corporate culture
business a way to have less stress so we could actually enjoy what we were doing?” Before she has to leave, Brzezinski chips in again, “Lots of doors have opened for women; we’ve come a long way, but if we’re not going to enjoy the ride, what does it all mean?”
This sentiment is at the crux of an issue Huffington thinks is “very much in the zeitgeist”, and she tells me it feels “tribal” to open up her home to further the debate. “Let’s get behind the facade of a successful life, the magazine ideal of having it all together – the job, the kids and husband – and ask what price are we really paying, and what are we leaving unattended?”
Brzezinski was preparing to share her war stories, along with women such as Padmasree Warrior, the chief technology and strategy officer of Cisco systems, who writes haiku poetry to manage her stress. Panel topics included wellness and the bottom line, human capital and men who “get it” (there are, of course, some).
Since Huffington passed out from exhaustion in 2007, breaking her cheekbone, she has been evangelical about women “sleeping their way to the top”, or rather, not sleeping. The sleep debate has been a gateway issue in what Huffington is calling the third women’s revolution: “First we had the suffragettes, then women’s lib and the battle for equality in the workplace, which, by the way, is far from won. But now the third revolution must begin.”
She says her mother taught her how to meditate when she was just 13. “She was ahead of her time, and was initiated by maharishi Mahesh Yogi [who developed the Transcendental Meditation technique] in Athens in the 1960s. She had my sister and me initiated, too. I’ve meditated ever since. Of course there have been times I’ve thought I’m too busy – I’ve also realised those are the times I need it most.” So how else do the ideals she is campaigning for manifest in her life? Her conversation is dotted with “inauguration” this and “Dalai Lama” that, and her schedule in the previous two weeks alone took her to Tokyo and Dubai. “I do yoga or Pilates four times a week, and I have my exercise bike, which I do while I watch TV. My bedroom is a device-free zone. I’ve also learnt to cancel things when it gets too much, although the ideal would be to not book them in the first place.”
She says she never eats airline food (“Eating junk affects your body and mind”), but admits, “I’m still practising these things.”
What about within her corporation? “I might send emails at 11pm on a Saturday night, but my employees know that’s my choice, and I’m not expecting them to respond right away,” she says.
She offers her staff free yoga, meditation lessons and healthy snacks, and famously installed nap pods in The Huffington Post’s New York offices. Devices are banned from the weekly leadership meeting. “That’s where we kick off by expressing our tension points that week, which may or may not be work related.”
She points out that about 25 per cent of America’s large corporations now have some kind of stress-reduction programme. But is this often a token gesture?
“What really needs to change is the culture that supports corporate life, a culture that puts a premium on ‘winning’, whatever the cost. We even need to change the language. Why, when we succeed, are we ‘killing it’?”
One of her assistants pipes up, “Erm, I’ve heard Arianna use, ‘We’re really rocking it.’’’
A couple of days after we meet, the same girl forwards me a copy of the speech her boss gave to the graduating class of the right-on, women-only Smith College in Massachusetts (notable alumni include Nancy Reagan and Sylvia Plath) that weekend. Speaking to the CEOs, opinion leaders and policy makers of the
to help her staff reduce stress by offering free yoga lessons and even installing nap pads in the office