I couldn’t resist the sexist question.
“How do you manage work and family?” I asked the three female co-presidents of Smarties Candy Co.: Sisters Liz Dee, and Jessica Dee Sawyer, and their cousin Sarah Dee. Technically only Sarah and Jessica have kids, but I was still fascinated to learn the answer from all three women on how they juggle their personal and professional lives.
I never ask men that. I know that. They know that. But there it lingered, in the air. “How do you manage everything?”
I’m officially a horrible feminist.
“The same way guys manage it,” Jessica said, all three of them laughing. I laughed too — grateful that they weren’t offended by my question.
Sarah chimed in, “You do as much as you can until you’re completely depleted and then you deplete yourself a little more.”
Sounds about right.
I recently interviewed them for my April cover story on Smarties, and the three women blew me away. It is still rare to see women in such high ranks in the confectionery industry, and I was inspired not only by how they run the company, but also by how open they were about embracing the fact that they were, well, women.
Liz literally showed up to the interview with a pink phone case featuring red letters that spelled out, “GRL PWR.”
“I see it only as an advantage,” she explained. “Because when we’re underestimated then we get to surprise and delight and over perform, and when we’re over estimated then it’s up to us to live up to the challenge and thus far, we’ve been able to prove, through results, that we are capable and able to take this 70-year-young family business and keep us relevant and modern, and mainstream. And that’s been shown through our growth.”
The trio officially took the reins from their fathers Jonathan and Michael in October 2017.
“We were never doubted here,” Sarah says.
And Liz added, “I don’t think there was ever any question of our ability here, so we own that and we reflect that elsewhere as well.”
But it isn’t always that way in the industry, which is still mostly filled with men in positions of leadership.
“I might walk into the room and someone may be surprised and express a surprise to hear that I’m the president of this company. I’m not going to let their surprise lead me to doubt myself because I own my role. And that’s something that maybe we just get tougher skin about,” Liz said.
Sarah said things are improving, though.
“The candy shows, it’s gotten so much better,” she explained. “It’s amazing now how many women have filled these roles that were filled by men that had been there forever.”
And Jessica agreed.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised on sales calls, walking into a room and having them be all women, so I do think that the shift is happening,” she said.
Liz confessed she’s sometimes guilty of bias herself though.
“I had a conversation with a gentleman the other day and he said to me, ‘I’d love for you to meet my boss,’ And in my mind I thought his boss was going to be a man, and then when he said, ‘She really wants to meet you,’ it turned out his boss was a woman and there I am, with my own biases. So that’s part of it, and hopefully for your daughters that won’t be part of it.,” she said, turning toward Sarah and Jessica.
In the end though, Sarah had the best response to the age old sexist question about how they manage it all.
“There’s also something really awesome about showing your kids that Mommy goes to work every day. Mommy is a badass.”
Mommy really is.
Be sure to check out the April issue for more on these incredible women and all the amazing things they’re doing as the third-generation to run Smarties Candy Co.Read more: Smarties Co-presidents Take Third Generation Company Into the Future