As the Chief Human Resources Officer at Verizon, Christy Pambianchi is responsible for 135,400 employees who need leadership during this challenging year — many of which are parents and provide a life for their families.
Pambianchi, 52, can relate. She and her partner Mike, are parents to Phineas, 21, Avery, 19, Sarah, 17, and Harry 14, so she understands the importance of family and the necessity of parental leave allotted to new moms and dads. Beyond those early months with a new child, and establishing a way for parents to remain ambitious and succeed in their jobs, her role as an Executive Vice President has transcended during the Coronavirus pandemic.
“During the early months of the pandemic, parents quickly muted themselves on calls or declined to go on video because they had their kids in the background,” said Pambianchi. “My response was to bring my full world to work. My four kids are in and out of the camera, my dog is barking in the background, and I even shared photos from our family vacation.”
One of Pambianchi’s goals is to reassure her colleagues there is room for their whole self at work. The signs of life around them—a baby crying, a dog barking, or an elderly parent asking a question—make them a stronger contributor and an even greater asset.
For her team’s work, they recently earned spots on the NAFE Top Companies for Executive Women, the Best Companies for Dads, Working Mother 100 Best Companies, Best Companies for Multicultural Women lists and the Diversity Best Practices Inclusion Index by Working Mother.
Despite Verizon’s HR accolades, the Brewster, NY, native isn’t letting up on her mission to make Verizon more inclusive for parents. Read on to learn how Pambianchi landed her role, and her criteria for hiring employees.
How did you become interested in HR in the first place?
I entered the industry 30 years ago, working for PepsiCo not long after receiving my degree from Cornell University. I became interested in HR because it blended what I loved most about business — the opportunity to transform the future of a company by investing in its people.
It takes more than the best products or services to make a company successful; you need the right talent to keep a business thriving. I have always measured my success in life by helping others, and HR offered a direct path to help people achieve their greatest professional ambitions.
HR is an optimization challenge. People spend the most time at work, and companies spend the most resources on attracting, retaining and compensating the right workers. It’s on us as HR professionals to connect companies looking for specific talent with people finding work they love.
What’s the biggest challenge for human resources staff during the Coronavirus pandemic?
This has been an unprecedented year for everyone, but especially for HR professionals. Overnight, we pivoted millions of employees to work remotely and became laser-focused on building policies that prioritize our people’s well-being amid a global health crisis. It’s the trademark of HR professionals to raise our hands and do everything in our power to help people persevere. This is not a trait we learn, but simply who we are.
Do you offer time off for those with a COVID-19 diagnosis?
Those diagnosed with COVID-19 are eligible for up to 26 weeks of paid leave. We also partnered with Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield to establish a team of nurses to help Verizon employees diagnosed with COVID-19 understand their condition, address questions, identify resources, and coordinate care with doctors.
How has COVID-19 shaped working arrangements?
As a result of the continued impact of COVID-19, millions of people worldwide had to adopt a new way of working. With many schools closed or hybrid for the foreseeable future, families are also juggling increased caregiver responsibilities on the home front. Overnight, the lines between work and home have merged to create a single lane representing our new normal. Although there are many challenges, this is an opportunity for companies to throw out the rule book and find new, creative ways to support their employees.
The pandemic has also served as a reminder that there are many dimensions when it comes to our employees, and we cannot expect people to turn their life on and off to serve our business needs. I have long said that you don’t leave your life at the door when you come to work. This means allowing for more flexibility in working arrangements for all employees, including working parents.
Has Verizon granted its employees help for child care during the pandemic?
Given the continued school and care facility closures, we revised our emergency backup care procedures to increase reimbursement rates and full-time care options through Bright Horizons or personal networks. We implemented a COVID-19 specific leave of absence policy offering 100% of pay for up to 8 weeks, and then 60% for 18 weeks for employees who cannot work because they are caring for loved ones or themselves.
Before COVID-19, why has supporting working parents been such a high priority for Verizon, and what is done to support them?
We support our working parents with generous parental leave and time to transition when they come back to work. Going beyond those early months, we are proud of our inclusive and supportive work environment, where empathy is baked into our culture. We know, especially now, that leaders must remain responsive to what’s going on in the world and bend as a company. That means flexible scheduling and offering generous backup care and even leave programs.
We also want working parents to advance and stay competitive in the industry. We offer a number of development opportunities and learning pathways to help them add valuable skills and even certifications at their convenience. We have extensive on-the-job training opportunities, tuition reimbursement programs, and career development support so that employees maximize their potential.
In terms of paid leave — what does that look like?
As a mother of four, I understand the work it takes to raise children, especially the precious weeks and months after they’re born. That’s why we offer a robust benefits package to help parents to focus on what’s important— caring for their little ones.
Verizon provides birthing mothers with 16 weeks of 100% paid time off between short-term disability and parental leave. Adoptive parents, spouses, and partners, also receive eight weeks of Verizon Parental Leave. Parental leave benefits begin day 1 of employment and apply to our full-time and part-time employees no matter their job function or role. In addition to paid time off for bonding, Verizon offers flexible schedules and partial return to work options for reintegrating mothers.
What do Verizon employees’ fertility benefits entail?
Starting next year, we’re increasing the lifetime maximum of our fertility services from $20,000 to $75,000, so that all families have the support they need during this process.
What does a typical day in your shoes look like (if there was one)?
There really isn’t a typical day, especially as we continue to navigate new developments and ever-changing information. My focus is leading HR, supporting Verizon in delivering on our purpose, and taking care of my family and myself.
[During Coronavirus] my mornings start earlier, and my evenings end later, but there is such a heightened sense of pride and camaraderie across Verizon. We are proud to run towards the crisis and not just COVID-19. Our teams are on the ground during hurricanes, floods and wildfires. We have been very vocal and quick to act in support of great social and racial justice. Through these waves of challenges, our employees remain steadfast in their dedication, and my HR colleagues have stepped up in such a huge way.
What do you look for in a candidate?
As businesses pivot and transition to their next normal, they are throwing out the rulebook, and the same should apply for anyone seeking a job or making a professional move. This is an opportunity to skill-up and rebrand based on what the world needs now and in the near future.
When I meet with candidates, I spend most of the conversation asking about their values and getting a feel for their work ethic. I want to see how they align with Verizon’s purpose and core beliefs. We have a constellation of job skilling resources, so I know we can help a prospective candidate train for their role. However, there is a high probability they will be successful if they demonstrate passion and synergy with purpose and values.
What are some new things you’re looking for in an employee during this new world of work?
My top recommendation to anyone seeking a job is to study what the company’s leadership has said about this new climate and any hints they have offered on their future workforce needs or potential investments. Have they acquired any new businesses? Are they focusing on a particular product or service? How has the pandemic changed its business model? I am much more interested in meeting with a candidate who has done their homework and pitch how they will be an asset during this adjusted state.
Take our Employee Value Proposition as a gauge. The first three tenets speak directly to the type of person we are hoping to attract. We want to engage employees from diverse backgrounds and experiences as that makes us stronger as a company. We want employees who are lifelong students and embrace a culture of learning. We want people who are eager to drive meaningful change. And our last tenant is our promise to foster a work environment where there is room to explore and grow. When I speak to candidates, I want to see how they cover these areas as a person and a professional.
What is the best career advice you’ve received?
The best advice I received is never to question my place. I have always held myself to high standards and worked exceptionally hard. And for every extra ounce of time I invested in my professional growth, I saw a return in terms of expanding my knowledge and experience.
I also learned to be motivated by the outcomes you can achieve versus the status you seek. It’s great to be ambitious, but there’s always another level when you are in an endless pursuit of status. If you focus on outcomes, do your best work, and remain ever eager to learn, the rest will fall into place.
And if you don’t see a seat at the table, build your own and surround yourself with people who share your values and commitment. We recently lost Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who was truly a herculean force for women everywhere. She reminded us that “women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” Never let anyone cast doubt on why you are in the room or silence your voice. Your contributions are too important, and you most certainly belong. And if there’s an obstacle standing in your way, knock it down not only for yourself but for the other women around you.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to break into this industry or follow in your footsteps?
Learn the craft from the bottom up. I started in employee and labor relations to understand the manufacturing industry from the frontline, the heart of the organization. Learning how a product is made or how a customer is serviced gives you a critical vantage point to see the work come together and further understand your role in HR.
If you are already in your dream company but not your dream job, raise your hand to take on new projects that pique your interest. Step forward to intern, get a flavor for different teams, and don’t be afraid to try something new. I spent one summer working at a law firm and quickly learned that was not the path for me, and I was meant to work in employee relations. I needed that exposure and perspective.
Also, make sure to find a job that satisfies not only your hunger for success but also respects who you are as a person. You should never feel pressured to compromise or hide your authentic self. That’s why researching a company’s culture is just as important as aligning with what they provide or produce.
Lastly, never underestimate the importance of mentors. When I feel stuck or need a trusted perspective to help me move past a challenge, I lean on the people who I respect and have proven to be great sources of wisdom. It’s a tremendous show of strength when you have a network of bright leaders at the ready to offer help.
Do you have a role model in the industry or a mentor?
Throughout my career, I have been very fortunate to have supervisors that stayed with me as mentors. There are many people I admire throughout the industry. Verizon is home to some of the brightest minds in the business, and I have benefitted and grown as a leader from listening and learning from my peers.
Even as a young student, I knew there was so much to gain from learning and working with others. Teamwork is everything, and I live by the old adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Do you ever seek advice from HR pros at other companies?
When COVID-19 became our reality, resulting in the largest shift in the workforce since WWII, a group of CHROs reached out to each other to see what we could to lessen the social and economic impact.
The staggering rise in unemployment caused by the pandemic has created a parallel crisis that will be felt by companies and employees for many years to come. Realizing that no one company or even industry can address this problem alone, I joined forces with fellow CHROs from Accenture, Lincoln Financial Group, and ServiceNow to launch People+Work Connect, a coalition to connect people to work and work to people.
Under normal circumstances, companies wouldn’t think of collaborating on talent. However, now is the time to build bridges for the greater good of society. People+Work Connect was born out of an urgent need to solve a growing crisis, but this model of cross-industry collaboration is going to be our new normal moving forward and what we gain from our united response to this pandemic.
Who are your biggest cheerleaders?
My family. My career wouldn’t be possible without the unending support from my husband and kids. I have known my husband since I was 17, and we have raised four children together. They are my biggest cheerleaders and have been by my side at every turn and new chapter.
Outside of my family, I am inspired and moved by my team. I work with the most talented colleagues who eagerly raise their hands to take on more and conquer whatever challenges come our way, no matter the scale or size. That’s why it’s important to cultivate and cement relationships with your peers. At work, you don’t leave your personal life at the door or turn off reality. Having people you trust at work and can lean on is critical to your success. Plus, there is no greater joy than helping each other thrive.
What’s the biggest misconception about working in HR?
The biggest misconception about working in HR is that we are solely focused on hiring and retaining talent. If you think about the most well-known media portrayals of HR leaders, the representation leaves little to be desired. Toby, from The Office, and Catbert, from Dilbert, are just two examples that perpetuate this notion we are robotic rule-followers or spend our days firing team members. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
While managing employees is a core function, our purpose is to transform the business by investing in our greatest asset, our people. That means we need to care for their full experience and foster an inclusive culture where everyone is encouraged to bring their authentic self to work. From promoting continuous learning to fostering an engaged culture, HR is the pulse of a business and we make sure it’s growing and improving. As a function, HR has radically changed. Not too long ago, people would only hear from us about benefits, bonuses, and policy changes. However, we became a more visible group as we started to talk about the future of work and the forthcoming transformation sparked by a seismic digital and tech shift. With the disruptive impact of COVID-19, we are now mapping a new future, one that is rapidly approaching.
What obstacles have you faced in your career?
I started my career when there were very few women in the industrial sector, including HR and labor relations. More times than not, I was the only woman on projects or teams. Being on your own as a woman and then as a mother requires you to work exceptionally hard to prove that you belong. Thankfully, I had strong supervisors who became mentors, and they made sure I felt supported in my career. While it was certainly a challenge, I am proud to have contributed to the transformation we are seeing today that will empower the next generation of women leaders to go even faster and further.
What obstacles have you faced specifically as a woman, and a mother?
Women are rarely given a paved path to pursue their dreams. We have to figure out how to move forward while navigating uneven terrain. It’s what builds us, strengthens our resolve and prepares us to persevere. Not too long ago, being a mom and providing care was largely seen as a weakness and an anchor to your professional dreams. When I started in HR, the policies and protections around working moms were weak at best.
I raised four children and was very involved as a mom and a professional. In fact, I am still raising my children as that role never retires. Finding a work-life balance is a constant challenge, and I am not sure it really exists, at least not how we have defined it. When I was a new mom, the head of HR told me to make peace with my decisions and be there for the moments that mattered. There were times I couldn’t go to a business event at night because one of my kids had something at their school.
Do you have any tips for working parents?
Motherhood requires a village both at work and at home. You have to surround yourself with a strong network of supporters, delegate what you can, and carve out what you can own. I am hugely fortunate that my husband is a total partner in parenting. We both have big jobs, but we figured out how to bob and weave through the infant days, toddlerhood, preteens and now teens and college-bound. I also learned the value of connecting with other mothers for solidarity and advice. A mom with kids five-years-older than mine were like a sage with unlimited wisdom. They were close enough to my current experience to share what works but far enough into the next chapter to flag what’s ahead. If I was raising toddlers, they were already in the throws of elementary school.
Why are moms imperative to the success of a business?
Moms are one of the most valuable contributors to the workforce. We are master jugglers and have figured out how to keep all our balls in the air. However, the notion of “having it all” has cost us dearly in our well-being and self-care. It also doesn’t help that the working world went from standard operating hours to always-on and ever-available. Most of the working moms I know are up at dawn to get their day started with work. After greeting the morning way too early, they are getting their kids ready for school, working a full and arduous day where lukewarm coffee is a luxury, leaving work only to start a second shift with the kids then jumping back online when everyone is in bed. That’s not sustainable, and we are putting moms at risk of burnout. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has made it far worse as the razor-thin boundaries that existed pre-pandemic disappeared, and many moms are now kitchen table teachers trying to keep their kids engaged with school.
That’s why I try to practice what I preach because I know the women who work with me are not going to care for themselves if they don’t see their managers lead by example. My kids are in the background of calls, and I share my mom-moments with the entire company. Normalizing our reality will help the next generation be even more successful in balancing their world.
How can businesses become more inclusive and supportive for parents?
Throughout the time I have spent in HR, diversity and inclusion have long been treated and perceived as an HR function. But at the end of the day, diversity and inclusion are only as good as how we as leaders show up and support our employees. To put action into practice means we will strengthen support systems to ensure that women and people of color have equal opportunity to thrive professionally and never have to scale down their ambitions or anchor their dreams. That means doubling down on our efforts to infuse greater equity into our processes, behaviors and operational rhythms.
We have been very transparent with our workforce data, where we need to improve and how we intend to further champion diversity. We also have a constellation of programs to make sure the next generation of innovators, especially young women and people of color, have the support and resources they need to thrive personally and professionally.
What’s on the horizon for inclusivity at Verizon?
We don’t shy away from tough conversations. We launched a new series called #Next20 to raise awareness for the most pressing societal issues that will change the next-20 years. Racial justice, social inequities, and our history of bias and discrimination are just a few of the topics covered.
Diversity is one of our most potent competitive advantages. A diverse workforce that values different perspectives makes us stronger and better prepared to solve the complex challenges that lay ahead. As leaders, to attract and retain the best people, we need to go even further to create an environment where employees feel valued and encouraged to bring their whole selves to work. Employees should see work as a place where they are invited to the table and given space to have a voice, feel heard, and receive developmentally challenging assignments – early and often – that maximize their potential and ultimately grow their career.
In many ways, COVID-19 has served as a catalyst, propelling us forward with certain degrees of flexibility for working families that are far beyond where we were pre-pandemic. It’s critically important that we keep the best of what we learned and not step back when we jumped 10-years ahead.