Through three decades, Lori Zaret has experienced all areas of the human relations profession including talent acquisition, employee relations, compensation and benefits design and administration, performance management and organizational effectiveness.
She received a bachelor of science degree in bilingual social work and certification as a senior professional in human resources from the Society of Human Resources Management.
She says the HR profession is shifting from a tactical, compliance and risk focus to a strategic business focus as a result of new technology, outsourcing of basic functions such as payroll and benefit administration and the need for deeper, more specialized knowledge. New recruiting platforms and social media are changing the way people are hired, self-serve capabilities are changing the way employees manage their pay and benefits and tech-savvy millennials are driving a bottom-up approach to adopting new tools and applications.
“The HR professional of the future will be a strategic thinker bringing broader insights to the leadership team that will drive business strategies and results,” she said.
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR COMPANY
PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: Since discovering the field of Human Resources 30 years ago my career has navigated through all areas of HR including Talent Acquisition, Employee Relations, Compensation and Benefits design and administration, Performance Management, Career and Leadership Development, and Organization Effectiveness. My industry experience ranges from the insurance industry to telecommunications and ultimately landed me in financial services/banking.
EDUCATION: Bachelors of Science from the University of Connecticut in Bilingual Social Work, postgraduate studies at the University of Sevilla in Spain, Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification from the Society of Human Resources Management.
Exchange Bank is a great place for me because my personal values mirror the core values of our organization: Integrity, Commitment, Respect and Teamwork. People come to Exchange Bank and stay at Exchange Bank because of the strong comradery that exists; we are dedicated to serving our customers and also encouraged to support our community. There is an expression that I try to live by and that I believe reflects what Exchange Bank means to Sonoma County: “Say little and do much”. Although you don’t see it in our advertisements or hear us boast about it, we give our time, our talent and our treasury to support the needs in Sonoma County, helping nonprofits, providing funding for scholarships and giving countless hours volunteering and serving on Boards to make our community a great place to live and work. Exchange Bank does so much, and I am honored to have the opportunity to be a part of it.
MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENT IN THE PAST YEAR OR SO
This year, I led an initiative that made Exchange Bank the first financial institution in the North Bay to become a Heartsafe Business by installing defibrillators (AEDs) in most of its locations and training the majority of our 400-plus employees in CPR. Eight years ago, at age 48 my husband had a major heart attack which took his life. Had there been an AED available supported by someone to provide CPR, he might have survived. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and Sonoma County, and by making AEDs readily accessible we can protect the lives of our customers, employees and the community.
WHAT IS THE ACHIEVEMENT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
My greatest personal achievement is successfully raising two children as a single working mother without the benefit of a support network of family since my family is all back east. At a very early age my daughter and son had to deal with situations and emotions that are difficult even for adults. Their father died suddenly of a massive heart attack turning their world upside down, and they learned to handle adversity out of sheer necessity. My daughter is now a special education teacher in Oregon and my son is finishing his studies at SRJC as a firefighter/medic. I could not be more proud of all they have overcome to become the capable individuals they are today.
Professionally, the achievement I am most proud of is when I led the formation of an employer consortium to create a backup childcare center in downtown Chicago. Thirteen businesses bought “spots” in a center that provides child care when your regular arrangements fall through, for example, your regular caregiver is sick or on vacation or school is unexpectedly closed due to weather. Each “spot” is reserved for the company that owns it and is made available to the other consortium members on days it is not used. Backup child care provided a competitive advantage for attracting and retaining talent for our company, reduced absenteeism and became an important and valued benefit for working parents.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE TODAY?
Figuring out what comes next. So much of my life I was supporting and providing for others and my own hopes and dreams were placed on hold. My children are grown and my youngest will soon finish school and will officially be launched so I will be free to write the next chapter of my life. I just need to figure out how I want to fill that blank page.
WORDS THAT BEST DESCRIBE YOU: INTJ (for those of you who are into Myers Briggs), good listener, quiet with a hidden wild side that only comes out with the closest of friends, loyal, UCONN Huskies fan.
AS A SUCCESSFUL FEMALE PROFESSIONAL, WHAT WERE THE BIGGEST OBSTACLES YOU FACED AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?
I started my professional career back in the 80s; there was no such thing as family leave, no kin care, no baby bonding leave, no job protection. I recall as a young professional and new mother returning to work after 6 weeks of medical leave being turned down for a promotion. The male VP of HR consoled me, explaining that with a new baby I had other important responsibilities at home that my male counterpart who got the job did not have to contend with; he had a wife caring for his children. Overcoming these types of assumptions and stereotypes about professional women was the biggest obstacle that young professional women faced back then. We have made HUGE strides since that time, but now the assumptions and biases are more subtle and unconscious; in many ways, those are even more challenging to deal with. I learned that the best way to overcome the obstacles about stereotypes and false assumptions is to prove them wrong, and the way to do that is by consistently exceeding expectations, delivering on your promises and achieving your goals.
HOW DO YOU THINK YOUR PROFESSION WILL CHANGE IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
The HR profession is shifting from a tactical, compliance and risk focus to a strategic business focus as a result of new technology, outsourcing of basic functions such as payroll and benefit administration and the need for deeper, more specialized knowledge. New recruiting platforms and social media are changing the way people are hired, self-serve capabilities are changing the way employees manage their pay and benefits and tech-savvy millennials are driving a bottom-up approach to adopting new tools and applications. The HR professional of the future will be a strategic thinker bringing broader insights to the leadership team that will drive business strategies and results.
WHO WAS YOUR MOST IMPORTANT MENTOR?
The mentor who had the greatest influence on me is Carol Newman. At the time she hired me, Carol was General Counsel for a subsidiary of Fireman’s Fund headquartered in Chicago, and she gave me my first HR management position. Carol taught me the importance of giving others credit and stepping out of the spotlight to let it shine on them. She pushed me to do things I would never have attempted without her encouragement, such as speaking at national HR conferences and she helped me learn that diplomacy can have more lasting value than winning the battle. Most importantly, Carol showed me how to communicate with sensitivity and respect on even the most contentious issues. Carol went from being my boss to being my mentor and today I am proud to call her my friend.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A YOUNG WOMAN ENTERING YOUR PROFESSION OR THE WORK WORLD TODAY?
Leverage your talents and the gifts you were born with, the things you are naturally good at and likely enjoy the most. You will get farther faster by exploiting your talents than you will trying to develop your weaknesses. And don’t use gender bias as an excuse for not achieving your goals… every woman in this room today has likely encountered it and has overcome it through achievement and accomplishment.
MOST ADMIRED BUSINESSPERSON OUTSIDE YOUR ORGANIZATION: My sister Lisa Foster who took a ho hum career as a real estate agent and turned it into a profitable business doing what she loves; she gets paid to go into beautiful homes, take photographs and create the listings for the local agents in her community. I admire her entrepreneurial spirit and that she discovered how to earn a living doing something that brings her joy…isn’t that what we all really want?
TYPICAL DAY AT THE OFFICE: There is no such thing as a typical day when you work in Human Resources — usually due to the humans.
BEST PLACE TO WORK OUTSIDE OF YOUR OFFICE: On the beach, doesn’t matter where as long as there is sand, sun and waves. For me that’s the best place for just about anything, even work.
CURRENT READING: “Quiet” by Susan Cain, which examines the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.
MOST WANT TO MEET: Since it doesn’t specify it has to be someone living, the person I would most want to meet is a strong woman I admire, former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. A girl from a small town in Wisconsin, she followed her dream to the young state of Israel and led the tiny nation country when its very existence was threatened by its neighboring countries. Golda Meir was a tough yet diplomatic woman who never allowed gender to be an obstacle.
One story told about her is that Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion described Golda as “the only man in his cabinet,” intending this to be the greatest compliment that could be paid to a woman. Golda responded by saying “I very much doubt that any man would have been flattered if I had said about him that he was the only woman in the government!”
SOCIAL MEDIA YOU MOST USE: Facebook, to the embarrassment of my son who refuses to friend me. It’s allowed me to reconnect with wonderful people from all over the world who shared an earlier part of my life.
STRESS-RELIEVERS: I so wish I could say running, or exercise or going to the gym but I would be lying…so yes, it’s chocolate!
FAVORITE HOBBIES: Cooking, traveling, learning to speak new languages (currently speak English, Spanish, Hebrew, some Italian, read and write in Latin and know how to curse in Chinese!)
Through Exchange Bank I have been able to give back within the community. For the last nine years I have served on the Board for PASCO, putting on monthly programs, workshops and conferences to educate and develop our local HR professionals. I have been involved with Ceres Community Project for six years providing pro-bono HR consulting services for this amazing nonprofit.
I am on the Leadership team for Petaluma’s Relay for Life that benefits the American Cancer Society and participate on Exchange Bank teams for both the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Relays. I serve as a volunteer judge for Casa Grande High School’s senior projects and am inspired by the energy and vision of these young graduates. And with so much need in our community, I am exploring new ways to get involved and do more to ensure Sonoma County stays a great place to live and work.