Lauren Siegel

Lauren Siegel?

Lauren Siegel is managing director at Trepwise, a New Orleans-based strategy consulting firm that specializes in helping purpose-driven organizations — both nonprofits and for-profit companies — engage in strategic planning and improving organizational cultures.

It’s not what she set out to do when she graduated from college as a French major. But after working with a marketing firm for clients in?diverse industries such as food and beverage, fashion, digital media and public health, Siegel felt drawn to a space where she could focus on helping organizations focused on helping others.

Since joining Trepwise in 2016, she has led strategic and growth planning efforts for dozens of clients. She has also developed something of a specialty working with women-led organizations, which continue to face unique challenges despite the strides women have made in the workplace over the past 75 years.

In this week’s Talking Business, Siegel explains some of those challenges and how her firm is helping women-led organizations overcome them.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You say Trepwise has found its niche with purpose-driven organizations. That sounds like a trendy marketing thing. What does it mean?

It is the trendy thing and we are riding that wave, but it is real and it means solving problems to create a brighter future. The organizations we work with either have a specific mission, like a nonprofit, or they are a for-profit company that is leveraging their value creation to give people access to resources so they can thrive. And for us, a thriving equitable community means all these sectors are working together. Unfortunately, those who have historically been marginalized include women, so we work with a lot of women leaders, and it is something I definitely feel is important.

What services do you provide?

We do traditional strategic planning, which is a nonprofit term. We also do systems planning, helping organizations that are not well-coordinated work better together with other organizations trying to solve similar problems — like youth development or childhood adversity and trauma, for instance.

Nonprofits, though well intended, are famously territorial. How do you get them to coordinate and all follow, say, one plan that you come up with?

After Katrina, we saw loads and loads and piles and piles of organizations and nonprofits forming because there was so much need, so much funding coming into the city. What we have seen since then and why Trepwise was originally founded as those dollars started to dry up, and once the Katrina story got old, funders moved on. That created a serious issue of competition among the organizations that worked here, and it has been a real multiyear learning curve for organizations in our community to see that we better work together, figure out who is good at what. I find that the organizations in our community are very willing to work together. They trust that we are doing that out of good faith and good purpose. And funders really prioritize that collaboration.

Can you give me a specific example of how it works?

One of the most recent that we worked on was a plan called Whole Health Louisiana, a state-level plan through the Department of Health. The purpose of the plan was to reduce the existence of and treat childhood trauma because we have one of the highest rates of childhood trauma in the nation. So, we brought together leaders from multiple state agencies and leaders from different communities to work together and plan. That was really impactful.

How does working with women leaders fit into all this?

If we think about the working world, whether nonprofit or for-profit, the system was designed by men for men to serve the needs of men at a time when the workforce was almost 100% men, and that’s OK. But that was a long time ago, and while women have entered the workforce, the system itself has not changed, and that is why we are at a disadvantage because we are trying to fit ourselves as women into a system that is designed for men. So that is how I think about it. That motivates me to help women redesign their little piece of the system.

So how do you help women redesign their little piece of the system?

Women get feedback that they need to toughen up, fit more into the system and that can feel so inauthentic to them. They’re trying to fit themselves into a mold that limits their potential. They’re also likely the caretakers in their family but they’re expected to toughen up, and it’s really hard to balance. The standard view of leadership doesn’t give women space, time and energy to lean into their roles as women, mothers and leaders. So, we see self-sacrifice, impostor syndrome and burnout. Our role is to try to figure out where they are. What that looks like more tangibly is giving them permission to lead with their natural caring and empathy — leaning into who they are. When women can do that, their superpower is relationship building, understanding team building, building networks, and that is very powerful.

Can you give me an example of a woman-led organization you have helped in that way?

One of our clients is Sprout NOLA, which is headed by a woman who saw this trade-off. And in her own journey to motherhood, we worked with her to redesign the structure at the top so instead of one woman at the top of her organization, there are three women who share the power, and all divide the duties — operations and administration, programs and environmental sustainability. We also teach them about setting healthy boundaries and delegating. Women try to carry everything and are expected in the workplace to fix everything, so being able to practice handing things off and training others to share that load is so important. One other thing I am doing is practicing making space for other women and other folks who have traditionally been marginalized. I am trying to do it in my own life and in my own company and also teaching others to do it. Challenging people's assumptions and exposing them to more women in the room is the only way to overcome this system of adversity.

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