From Enduring to Adapting
Melissa Barra, executive vice president and chief sales and services officer, Sleep Number Photo by BY ACKERMAN + GRUBER

From Enduring to Adapting

Hybrid work is here to stay. Now how do companies ensure it helps create more diverse leadership teams?
Melissa Barra, executive vice president and chief sales and services officer, Sleep Number Photo by BY ACKERMAN + GRUBER

Our April/May photo shoot with Melissa Barra at Sleep Number headquarters felt like we had come weirdly full circle. 

This time, we were featuring Barra, executive vice president and chief sales and services officer, for our cover story. Two years ago, I stood in the same sweeping three-story foyer overlooking downtown Minneapolis with CEO Shelly Ibach for a photo shoot that turned out to be our last from “the before times.” Little did we know on that blustery February day that it would be the last in-person interview I conducted before the onset of the pandemic that fundamentally changed how and where we work. 

There’s no going back. More than 80% of senior executives believe hybrid work will be the primary work model by 2024, with more than half of work done outside the office, according to a recent Future of Work survey commissioned by AT&T and Dubber Corp. Yet 72% said their company lacks a fully formed hybrid work strategy.

Sleep Number had a flexible work culture years before the pandemic. Reading Ibach’s pre-Covid thoughts on the importance of diversity and allowing team members to “work for their day” rather than adhere to a strict corporate schedule, she sounds eerily prescient. And it’s clear that Sleep Number’s people-first philosophy made the company’s transition to remote, then hybrid, work smoother than some more traditional businesses. 

One year ago, senior editor Liz Fedor focused our annual look at women in leadership on the pandemic toll that remote work, coupled with heightened caretaking responsibilities at home, was taking on professional women, to an extent much greater than on men. Our cover shot for that issue—a little boy in Spiderman pajamas bouncing on the sofa behind his mother’s desk—remains one of my favorite of-that-moment images.

If last year’s story was about endurance, this year’s theme is acclimating to a forever-altered business landscape. In our cover story, “Will Women Win in Hybrid Workplaces?”, Fedor once again expertly captures our current circumstances, as our cameras followed executives around largely empty offices in the middle of the day at both Sleep Number and nVent.

Barra—who was working hybrid years before the pandemic—was among the C-suite execs Fedor talked to, posing the fundamental question: How does the next generation of aspiring professionals move up if they’re not seen? 

That’s not a women’s issue per se. But data shows that women, who are underrepresented on executive teams and public company boards of directors, are more interested in remote or hybrid work, therefore at greater risk of losing ground when they continue working from home. So the “p” word of 2022 isn’t “pivot,” it’s “pipeline.” 

Read more from this issue

Getting ahead in business, particularly in large companies, requires support systems and allyship. We’re seeing dramatic change in boardrooms, according to the St. Catherine University 2021 Minnesota Census of Women in Leadership, included in this issue. Public companies in Minnesota added women—in particular, women of color—to their boards in record numbers last year. 

Still, Sleep Number is one of just three public companies in Minnesota to achieve gender parity on its board. Three. Worse, the C-suite is changing much more slowly, suggesting companies may need to be more deliberate about cultivating internal talent. Now is the time for businesses to focus on lasting cultural shifts, not token gestures.

Fedor explores how Sleep Number and three other public companies are building their pipeline for diverse leadership in a hybrid environment. 

And since we know this topic is top of mind for organizations of all sizes, we recently introduced the column “How We Work Now”, where leaders share successful adaptations (and challenges) at their companies. In the latest issue, we’ll feature insights from Colle McVoy CEO Christine Fruechte, who sums up her pandemic learnings so well: “The last two years have reinforced to me that if you take care of your people, they take care of the business.”