For longtime New York Women in Communications member Sarah Durham, a key question for professional women is Where should I place my time and energy?
It’s a question Sarah answered for herself by launching Big Duck, a New York City-based communications firm that helps non-profits raise money, recruit for programs and increase visibility. Founded in the early 90s, the firm has since built an impressive roster of clients, including the Brooklyn Public Library, Robin Hood Foundation, Columbia University Medical Center and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The question of where to put our energies must not be answered just within the realm of our professional lives, however, as NYWICI members undoubtedly will learn in a Cocktails & Conversations event on March 30, 2017, with serial entrepreneur and sleep advocate Arianna Huffington.
For Sarah, as Big Duck’s founder and CEO, Arianna’s message of redefining our professional lives to include time for personal time resonates deeply. Here, she shares how she puts that message — and NYWICI — to work for her.
Let’s start with the basics: How do you get it all done?
You know what they say, if you want it done right, hire a woman. I really believe that. I’m a mother of two, have a successful marriage and manage 15 employees as well as other part-time workers. But I’m able to achieve that with the help of my team. I really do believe that women are the best employees. I’ve found that female employees are able to communicate in candid and transparent ways.
Why did you decide to work with non-profits?
When you’re a woman in communications, you have to choose where you will place your time and energy. At the end of the day, I’m choosing between marketing products — like lipstick or hamburgers — or an impactful non-profit organization.
In many ways, working for a non-profit is more complex than for a company selling a product to customers. In non-profits, there are so many more audiences with competing agendas. It’s more complex and challenging to measure success and the outcomes are varied. For example, did this campaign increase brand visibility, raise dollars, or recruit new employees?
What are you most proud of in your work?
Whenever I’m having a bad day, I think a lot about how certain clients have taken huge leaps forward and how incredibly lucky I am to work with a team of people who can achieve incredible things.
Given what’s going on in the world today, I’m proud that in the past, we worked with organizations like the ACLU. We’re a small piece of their success today. I’m also proud that I’ve built a business that is a positive place to work. It’s an environment where people want to build their careers.
How has NYWICI membership helped you along the way?
I’ve been a member since the early 90s, when I founded the company. When I first joined, I was very green and used it as an opportunity to learn from other women and find my role models. It was a great opportunity for networking — it still is.
As time went on, my responsibilities changed and so did my use of NYWICI as a professional resource. Now, I use my membership as access to fellow members who have expertise in areas beyond my wheelhouse. Other times, it’s an effective network to conduct a job search for my company. Any NYWICI member can take a look at Big Duck job opportunities and sign up for our e-mail updates on our website.
What advice do you share with your fellow NYWICI members?
I know there are critiques of Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, but there are so many important lessons to unpack from that book. Women really do put themselves in the backseat. They’ll use qualified language like “I think…” rather than “It’s the case that…” Men will apply to a job without the needed skills for that position, while women hesitate despite being overqualified. So lean in, speak up and have your voice heard.
How can women help each other advance at work?
Tiffany Dufu, who wrote Drop the Ball and formerly ran The White House Project on women’s leadership, is a powerhouse. She always used to tell me that men intuitively know how to network and share resources with other men. If a man sees a position that’s not a good fit for him, he’ll tell his buddy and put in a good word for him, knowing that his friend’s advancement will serve him in the long run. Women need to treat each other less competitively and share resources like men do. Also, if you have to ask, “Will you be my mentor?” then you’re doing it wrong. You have to build solid relationships with other women and help them. Pay it forward.
Because we have to take care of ourselves and each other.
That’s basically it. I’ve read Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive and I think it’s great that a woman of her visibility and success has highlighted the importance of self-care. It’s hard to balance work and your life, but it’s something we all have to figure out.