Chief People Officer
Democracy Prep Public Schools
EA Creative’s Women in Leadership conversation series recently connected Chief members Lisa Friscia with Sandhya Jain-Patel and artwork by Eunjoo Byeon, an NYC-based graphic designer and frequent collaborator. Through interviews and artwork we are committed to showcasing women in leadership positions who are making history today. Please send us a message on Linkedin, e-mail us, and share socially to nominate someone in your network.
Sandhya Jain-Patel: Where do you work and what is your current role there?
Lisa Friscia: I work at Democracy Prep Public Schools, as our Chief People Officer.
Sandhya: What was a defining moment in your career which has led to your current role?
Lisa: My role has evolved over time, a result of so many smaller decisions and pivots along the way. One moment that changed how I approach my work was in my second year as a principal. We were working to turn the culture of the school around to be a more positive and warm space, centered in learning. Instead of planning the meetings the way I had in the past, I planned it the way I would plan a Socratic seminar lesson with my students—it was the best meeting we had that year! It was a reminder of two things: first, that leaders need to name the goal, and then step back to facilitate, and second, to remember your strengths as you approach any challenge.
Sandhya: When was a time in your career where it was clear that being a woman made your job more difficult? Are there any times it was easier?
Lisa: This is a tricky question because I'm not sure it's always clear when gender plays a role. Early on, I found that I was being tone policed. This isn't to say that I didn't have real areas of growth. But I found the way that I was given this feedback—and that males seldom received similar feedback—clearly showed that feedback on tone was often a gendered thing. I learned to take the parts of the feedback that made sense, and worked with those on my "personal advisory board," to grow as a leader.
Sandhya: Have you had a mentor or sponsor who has helped you in your career, and how did they do that? How have you been able to do the same for someone else?
Lisa: I've had several, but the one most pivotal is an amazing woman, educator, and leader named Eileen. Eileen had similarly started a high school several years before me in Boston, and was then the Chief Academic Officer of a network of schools. She had literally been in my shoes years before, and offered so many valuable insights. Early in my leadership career, she was hired as my coach and helped me navigate one of the toughest years of my life. She honored the challenges that I was facing but was always honest in her feedback to me. Ten years later, I still call her for advice.
Sandhya: Who is a historic or living woman that has inspired you?
Lisa: As a history nerd, this a very difficult question! I'm going to go with Ella Baker. She was a Civil Rights activist who led tremendous change through community empowerment. Her ability to empower others to lead themselves has always inspired me in my own leadership. I don't always get it right, but, to me she is the model.
Sandhya: Is there something you would say to your younger self?
Lisa: Trust your gut on the what, but listen better to determine the how.
Sandhya: What haven’t we asked you that we should and what would your answer be?
Lisa: I'm not sure what the question would be, but my best advice is to stay curious and embrace your inner nerd!
Sandhya: How is the pandemic affecting your work and daily routine?
Lisa: This is one of our busier periods at work, so that at least has stayed consistent! I do find I am taking more calls, to help stay connected to our team. As for daily routine, I am trying to stay consistent with working out and seeing friends, but shutting off has been a real challenge.
I've also found I'm spending more time working with several nonprofits. For example, I'm on the Associate Board for Gilda's Club NYC, an organization that provides free services to cancer patients and their families. With social distancing, all of our spring fundraisers have been cancelled, and we're trying to get creative on fundraising for Gilda's members, who are a highly vulnerable group during this pandemic.
Sandhya: As difficult as it is, has the isolation and social distancing had any unexpected benefits?
Lisa: It has forced me to get creative- in how I do my work, to how I stay active. It's also reminded me to be very grateful- to my sister and brother-in-law, who have adopted me, to my teams who consistently impress me with their dedication and creativity.
Sandhya: Are there specific ways you have focused on staying positive throughout this temporary new reality?
Lisa: It's easy to stay positive when I know the work that my team and I do will help our schools to be ready to serve and educate kids when they likely need us the most.
To learn more about Lisa and keep up with her work at Democracy Prep Public Schools, follow the links below.