Women’s History Month Spotlight: Rebecca Steinfort, CEO
As we continue to celebrate the inspiring women who drive the ERC and Pathlight mission forward to patients throughout the country, today we’re thrilled to feature our CEO, Rebecca Steinfort.
Rebecca’s story reflects many of our own: her family has endured the heartache that comes alongside mental health struggles, making the ERC and Pathlight mission of expanding access to high quality care even more personal.
Below, Rebecca shares what she has learned during Covid-19, who inspires her as a CEO, why dogs are the key to comfort and the advice she has for future female leaders to come.
It’s Women’s History Month – talk a little about the incredible women on ERC Pathlight’s team.
ERC Pathlight’s workforce is ~90% women. Alongside their male peers, these women have chosen a career and job of serving others in need. Each day, they help our patients on their recovery journeys and provide hope, sometimes at the expense of their own work-life balance and emotional well-being. I am also proud to be part of an executive leadership team that is 63% women, including our CEO, CMO/CCO, CNO, CDO, and VP of Human Resources. Like the people they lead, these female executives are servant leaders who work tirelessly to support their teammates in delivering our mission.
Who has personally supported and inspired your career as a CEO?
My father is my biggest inspiration. As an entrepreneur who started and ran multiple businesses, he showed me the fulfillment that can come from leading others in pursuing a shared goal and building a community. I’ve also had three (male) executives for whom I’ve worked over the years push me to fulfill my potential by promoting me into or encouraging me to pursue larger, more challenging roles.
Did you always know you wanted to lead a company?
Absolutely not. I have never taken a long-term view of my career, instead just focusing on enjoying my current role and evaluating new opportunities that came my way as they emerged. The only job changes I made in a different manner were when I found myself in an environment that did not equally offer opportunities to women and men. In those two situations, I proactively decided to leave those companies and join others that lived the values that were important to me.
Why did you want to lead a mental health and eating disorder treatment organization?
Mental health is very personal to me. I have a very tall family tree of members who have struggled, traceable all the way back to a great-great grandfather and great grandfather who committed suicide after struggles with severe depression. More recently, I have many relatives who struggle with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, ADHD and more. Closest to home, one of my three children, who has been diagnosed with and treated for a mood disorder, participated in a residential treatment program for over a year just prior to my joining ERC Pathlight.
Our family’s positive experience and outcome in working with an amazing treatment team in this setting is what ultimately led me to decide to join ERC Pathlight. The opportunity to expand access to this insurance-covered clinical experience by expanding to new geographies and opening new lines of service (including Pathlight Mood & Anxiety), was a dream come true from a personal and professional standpoint.
A major initiative for ERC and Pathlight is DEI (Diversity Equity Inclusion). Why is this important work to you?
ERC Pathlight offers a platform to implement actions in the pursuit of anti-racism and DEI. We know we have a lot of work ahead of us; we’re in the process of building our DEI roadmap to create lasting change within our company as well as using our platform to elevate the voices of marginalized changemakers speaking on mental health issues. With nearly 2,000 teammates, treating 6,000 patients per year, and communication vehicles to over 100,000 community members, we have a real opportunity and obligation to make a difference.
While by no means on the same level as the adversity experienced by millions of others historically and today, I have experienced the challenges of inequity as a female business executive. This experience, founded on inaccurate beliefs about what I was capable of doing as a woman, resulted in being assigned projects that were considered less important and lower profile than my male peers, being denied promotions over male peers who were “a better fit,” and continually experiencing micro-aggressions like being spoken over in board meetings where I was the only woman on a 10-person board. I know these are white-woman adversities and don’t compare to those faced by so many people of color, the LGBTQ community, and other marginalized groups. But they have given me an appreciation for the experience of being the recipient of bias and subsequently being denied equal opportunities. It has also given me the opportunity to reflect on the impact a few key people had in helping me overcome the barriers. Given my experience in having a helping hand, I have an obligation to play this role for as many others as I can.
How do you support your own mental health and unwind after a long week?
A major way I refill my cup is through exercise, particularly yoga, outdoor walks, snowshoeing and skiing. More than the exercise itself, I find giving my brain time without any stimulation and just to wander freely as a needed reset to the week. I am also very guarded in what media I watch. I’m not active on any social media and don’t watch TV shows or movies with significant violence or sadness. My go-to show of choice is stand-up comedy. Not only is there healing in having a good laugh, but I am also fascinated by (and jealous of) the intelligence and creativity of comedians. Trevor Noah is one of my favorites.
What have you learned in the past year about yourself while experiencing the Covid-19 pandemic?
This last year has required almost everyone – whether an executive, therapist, teacher, parent or small business owner – to step up as a leader. We have been faced with unprecedented situations and extreme levels of uncertainty, and yet our constituents (teammates, patients, students, customers) expected us to have answers and provide confident direction.
For me personally, while I would not wish to do it again, I enjoyed the opportunity to test my leadership skills at this extreme level. Moreover, I’ve had the opportunity to navigate this year alongside the most talented and inspirational leadership team of my career. While we didn’t get everything right, I am proud of how we collaborated and supported each other through some very difficult decisions and actions and, in so doing, were able to treat ~15% more patients in 2020 vs. 2019, many who would not otherwise have had access to care.
You’re a lover of reading, especially books on leadership. What are your favorites and why?
My favorite leadership book is Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, as I believe that building high performing teams is 80% of how leaders add value in an organization. While the book is simply written and the five attributes of strong teams seem obvious (build trust, don’t avoid conflict, gain commitment to team goals, drive accountability, focus on results), actually working with diverse groups of human beings to create an environment with these attributes is far from easy. I revisit this book regularly to keep this framework fresh in my head so that I’m able to continually assess various teams along these dimensions and drive actions that migrate them to higher functioning behavior. I am also a fan of Kim Scott’s Radical Candor which shares many of the same leadership philosophies as Lencioni’s, but she offers more in-depth examples and tools.
Tell us about your dogs. How many do you have, and what role do they play in your life?
I have only NOT had a dog for about five days in my life. A dog is an appendage to me that brings comfort, companionship and grounding. I currently have two older rescue dogs, Lola and Cabo, who have very much enjoyed being my 24x7 companions since COVID. I do not have the heart to break it to them that I will not be a consistent officemate for much longer.
What’s one personal goal you have for 2021 that you’re able to share with us?
My biggest goal in 2021 is to complete a three-year effort to dramatically improve the processes, technologies and tools that support ERC Pathlight’s teammates in the important work that they do. Hundreds of ERC teammates and partners have participated in this transformation since 2018, with many of the final projects on deck to finish this year. I am excited to reduce administrative burden so our caregivers and other support professionals can focus more of their time and energy on activities that further our mission of delivering great patient care.
What would you tell your 18-year-old self that would have better prepared you for your life today?
Wear sunscreen. You really WILL care about the wrinkles when you are in your 50s!
What is one thing not many people know about you that may surprise them?
I met my husband in college, got engaged within six months and married a year later. Thirty years later, he is still my soulmate and biggest source of joy in my life. Our relationship is strengthened by our both navigating the shared challenge of having executive jobs while raising three children.
What advice would you give to the next generation of female CEOs?
My advice for female CEOs is no different than for male CEOs but is to view your career as a portfolio that you are building over time. Try to get diverse experiences (I worked in telecom and quick service restaurants before joining healthcare and led marketing, operations, finance and strategy functions). Diverse experiences and challenges give you more ideas to draw on when you get to the CEO level.
Also, your reputation and “brand” as a leader are everything and are built over time. You don’t get to walk away from one job and just start fresh. Always leading with strong values and treating people with respect will give you a reservoir of talented people who want to work (hard) for you in the future. I believe one of my biggest contributions to ERC Pathlight is the strong set of leaders I’ve been able to attract to the organization. And they work HARD for both me and our mission.
Learn more about Eating Recovery Center and Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center's CEO, Rebecca Steinfort.