Podcast: Building a Mattering Movement, Jennifer Wallace and Sarah Bennison

March 31, 2023
  • Brent Stewart
  • Brent Stewart
    Digital Strategy & Content Leader at Barry-Wehmiller

A few months ago, BW CEO, Bob Chapman was sent an article in the Wall Street Journal, “The Power of Mattering at Work.”

As the author of a book titled Everybody Matters, which, incidentally, is about what happens when the people in your business feel like they matter, he was obviously interested. Bob ended up contacting the article’s author, Jennifer Wallace and they began a dialogue about their similar interest in this subject.

It turns out that Jennifer has written her own book that discusses the importance of mattering in children. It comes out in August 2023 and is called Never Enough: When Achievement Culture Becomes Toxic-and What We Can Do About It. Through Jennifer’s deep research and interviews with today’s leading child psychologists, she shows that what kids need from the adults in the room is not more pressure, but to feel like they matter, and have intrinsic self-worth not contingent upon external achievements.

The concept of mattering in children and adults is so important to Jennifer that she is partnering with her good friend, Dr. Sarah Bennison to found The Mattering Movement with the goal of helping people of all ages learn the skills and tools to enact meaningful social change by identifying genuine needs, big or small, and to recognize the unique value that each individual can bring to the world.

There are many ways they hope to do this and you’ll be able to find out more about it on their website that will be live soon. Right now, you can go to Jennifer’s website for more information about the Mattering Movement and her book.

Bob invited Jennifer and Sarah to visit our BW Papersystems facility in Phillips, WI, and to Barry-Wehmiller’s corporate headquarters in St. Louis to see Truly Human Leadership in action and to also learn more about our outreach initiatives to help people feel like they matter.

After the tours and meetings, Bob and Mary Rudder, Barry-Wehmiller’s director of communications sat down for separate interviews with Jennifer and Sarah to get their reactions and insights on the importance of mattering. So, on this podcast we’re going to bring you their discussion.




Jennifer Wallace: I was telling Bob this, and I was thinking over the last few days, what I think I've been seeing up close is the real efforts to revillage and to alleviate a lot of the stress and the burden people feel by having to go through this life alone. We see, I don't know what the statistics are, but a huge rise in loneliness and isolation. We see the stress on family systems of mothers having to be one-person villages for their children. We see the burnout in the workplace. We see the disengagement. In the words of Robert Putnam, who wrote this sort of seminal book, Bowling Alone, we've gone from having bowling teams, where people would be in support of each other, going to church together, and now we're bowling alone in our own isolated lanes.

And that is sort of the opposite of what I saw when we were up at Phillips. What I saw at Phillips was even in a place that each man had its own very distinct area to work, it was still a village. I almost felt like I was, I don't know, back in the 18th century, looking at the person making the horseshoes and the person feeding the village and that everybody had a role and that everyone contributed to it, and everyone knew what their role was, and everyone was celebrated for that role. They talk about the pride that they feel. And pride is a very... it has evolutionary roots. So we evolved, we think, to feel pride because we were contributing to the tribe, to the band. And so knowing how you were contributing made you feel a sense of pride versus shame. So what I saw in action was almost like going back in time and seeing what I hoped villages were like back then, because I certainly don't see them now. So that's what I saw. I saw the making of a village.

Mary Rudder: Talk to me about some specific conversations or some people that stuck out from yesterday

Jennifer: We were sitting at lunch with a young couple who's probably in their mid-twenties. They had just had a baby. And Bob was talking about, what's it like when you go home? How are you feeling after the end of the day? And she said, "I go home, and I don't feel stressed." She didn't feel depleted. She was able to come back to the second role that she plays for the other hours of the day, and she was replenished. And what she talked about was she felt replenished so that she then could be there for her child. She was calm, she wasn't stressed, and she said she was noticing that her baby was the same way.

And I think what adults need, and what we don't realize, but what Bob has figured out is that we need to feel valued and loved for who we are at our core. And that is what a good parent does, that the love they have for their child is for who they are deep at their core, not contingent on how they perform, not how they look, not what they say, not if they follow your rules, that you're loved no matter what. And I would say we don't give people the freedom to do that in offices or even in our larger communities. And so what I saw was Bob teaching people how to love other people unconditionally, the way a parent loves a child.

We're walking through the production area, and we come across this man with his back to us and this huge piece of equipment. And he turns around to us, and he very humbly and quietly sort of told us his story. And I was so deeply touched by the transformation he felt like he went through and how much he wanted to share that with others and was talking about, "I wish I had more children to work on the patients and to show them." And what struck me, and I'm still thinking through this, so I don't know that I have all the right language, but what struck me was I have seen women care for women. I have seen that model. What I have not seen is the model of men caring for men. I've seen fathers caring for daughters and fathers caring for sons, but out in the wild, men caring for men in a way that is beyond the emotions that we allow men to express, anger or crying at a losing football game, that men are able to show up and show the depth and the range of emotion of what makes us all human.

And it's not only accepted, it's normalized there. This is the norm. When you step in here, this is the norm. And that was extraordinary. I hadn't seen that, especially with that population. Randall was talking about how he grew up in a very middle class, blue collar community. You work hard, you keep your head down, you stay out of trouble. And that was kind of the model that he carried with him through his life. And that is the model that's offered to men. That's it. That's the model. So you fit it in it, or you don't fit in it. But what I saw were alternate models. And it wasn't that men were necessarily caring in exactly the same way women were. It was that men were caring in their own way of caring. We don't have to replicate women in how they care. Men have the exact same capacity. They just haven't been shown the modeling or given the tools that we naturally give to our girls when we socialize them.

Mary: For those of us here, explain to us what mattering means to you?

Jennifer: Mattering, to me, and this is not just my idea, but what I've been reading about mattering, is that beyond food and shelter, mattering is the most basic human need we have. And it is to feel seen, valued, and appreciated for who we are at our core and to be given the opportunity to be depended on, to add meaningful value back to our family, to our friends, to our community. I think you need all of those elements to really feel a high level of mattering, and I think when we don't feel the high level of mattering, when our mattering feels contingent on performance, or we feel really loved at home but we're not asked to contribute in any meaningful way, I think that's when we can become vulnerable. We're either overly focused on ourselves and so not extending our lens to others, which I think just makes us ripe for mental health issues, or our worth feels contingent so that our worth goes up and down with every success and every failure. And that's a really brutal, brutal way to live.

And there are lots of people in our lives today, not just the people in my book, which are the top 25% of household incomes, but I think we live in a world now where our worth is contingent on a lot of things, how we look, how we dress, where we go to school, what job we have, how much money we make, who our friends are, what our status is. And mattering is about status, but it's healthy status. You're still seeking status because we are hardwired for that. Status is what helped us to evolve. It gave us the best cut of meat, the best mating partners. We still crave status. Mattering, caring, as Bob calls it, gives you healthy status that is nourishing and sustainable. And to me, that's what mattering is.

Mary: So, what has drive you to spend the last three, four, five years on this? Why?

Jennifer: So I have three teens, and I was talking last night at dinner about how I have done everything in my power, my husband and I have done, to raise our kids to believe their worth is not contingent, to ask and sort of depend on them to add value. And I have one year left with my son until he goes off, moves out of the home. And three years ago, I realized I had four years left. And where did I want to spend my parental energy? I only have so much energy. I have three kids. I have a job. Where do I want to invest my energy? Because it didn't feel right to be investing my energy the way a lot of the people in my community are investing their energy, travel sports, breaking up the family every weekend, focusing so much, so highly on academics at the sacrifice of family time and downtime and community time.

And so I became really intentional about it. They call research me-search, and I think I was searching for my own solutions and what I could do and where my energy would be best spent. If parents are tasked with raising kids who can thrive beyond us, what do I have to put into motion for that to happen? If I want to manage for future happiness and success and wellbeing for my kids, what's the best place? Where do I manage that? And for me, it was mattering. I no longer say to my kids, I want them to be happy. That never comes out of my mouth anymore since I started researching this book. I want something so much more for them. I want them to live a life that matters. And that is where happiness comes from. That is belonging, that is meaning, that is purpose. So I think if I accomplish anything in this book, it is my hope that parents will stop telling their kids they just want them to be happy, and instead we want them to live a meaningful life.

Mary: Ok, so let’s talk a little bit more about today. So, yesterday was the tour and talking to people on the frontlines of our business. Today was more about how we do some other outreach activities or how, through our university, we bring that to life. You had a lot of information today. In general, what’s bubbling up from today?

Jennifer: So I was expecting it to feel more patchwork, more puzzley. And actually, to me it felt extremely streamlined. And what I mean by that is you're teaching the same skills, just to different sectors. So it's exactly the same content. It's teaching people how to let other people feel valued, seen, recognized, and also teaching them how and where they make an impact. So to me, the framework is exactly there. Maybe it's not highlighted in a super visual, but I almost could see a visual, literal framework of what you guys are doing, with each button just going into a different portal of, here are the skills that could help you at work, here are the skills to make you feel like you're a more meaningful part of the community, here's what you could do at home, here's what you could do with your spouse. I mean, I think it just transcends. It's the same skills, and they're transferrable. And so I think what you're showing is that here are the skills, and here's how we can transfer them to different sectors of your life.

Mary: So what will you do differently, if anything, tomorrow, based upon your time with us these last couple of days?

Jennifer: I will tell you what, it has really solidified in a way that I hadn't been able to really capture. So in my book, the research finds that the best thing we could do for our children, the number one intervention if you have a child who's at risk, whether they're at risk for substance abuse disorders, if they're living in poverty, if they're under excessive pressure to achieve, the number one thing you could do is make sure that the primary caregivers are themselves supported. They feel loved and looked after. And we always talk about putting the oxygen mask on first before we…, right?

But what Bob shows, what this company shows, is that it's not asking you to do another thing. It's having people around you who will put the oxygen mask on for you when they see you need it. So it's not you having to reach and search for the oxygen mask. It's having people around you who will put it on for you. That, to me, is what a village is. And that, to me, is what I've seen. And so I think that's what I'm taking away.

Bob Chapman: We’re here today because you wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal which led us to connect. So, we’ve been talking for a month. We connected because of Everybody Matters and your mattering movement. Where do you see alignment of your vision and what you are now more aware of in our vision. Where do you see alignment from your totally different path than ours?

Jennifer: So I think what I have seen in my past three days, and when I look at what the alignment is between the work I've been doing for the last three to four years, it is the skills of helping people feel valued. And how do we do that? Helping people learn how to care in practical ways for other people. Bob has said this, too: we in this country just, you have a baby, you go home, and good luck. And you get married and you're like, good luck. You start a job and you're like, figure it out. And there are skills, and there are ways to feel supported in these huge journeys. And while I feel like my book talks about the aftermath of a child, having parents who are in these high-achieving communities, working themselves and stressed out and anxious and coming home and not being able to be resilient for the child, it's not that parents aren't unloving. We're not unloving. We want to give our children everything.

But the stresses of work, of feeling depleted at the end of the day, of wondering, what is my impact here, do I have an impact, do I have a voice, ruminating about office politics, who doesn't have my back, where's my psychological safety, all of these things come home with a parent, and then they have to go and be there as first responders. As one of the researchers that I emailed said, parents are first responders to their kids. To be a first responder, you have to have your support. So when I think about the alignment between what you guys have done and my work, is that you are giving parents the skills in the office to support each other. You are giving communities the skills to re-village their communities so that parents are not one-person villages, that parents can go home to their kids, be there with the epidemic levels of anxiety, stress, suicide ideation that the kids are feeling today, and parents have the resources, because they are no longer villaging alone, to actually be there and a source of true support for their child in a way that you cannot do it if you are depleted. You cannot do it. You cannot do it.

There's no such thing as somebody who's who can go through life... We are not made to go through life alone. Our bodies are made to co-regulate each other. And that's what these offices do. They help you co-regulate to get back into a nice equilibrium before you walk in the door and your kid hits you with whatever is upsetting them for the day, that you have the resources now to help. You have the energy. Like that mother I met who works as an engineer, she can come home to her newborn baby and have the energy to give to that baby, to be responsive. So that's where I think the alignment is. I think it is that you are working at it from the 9 to 5 perspective, and I've been working at it from the 5 to 8 perspective and how they're interdependent and how what happens during the day impacts what happens at night and on the weekends with the kids.

Bob: If you were looking at our directors as a person with a great deal of experience, and said “let me tell you what I think you have here.” In your words – and I will share this with them – what do you think you want them to appreciate they have here through the lens through which you have seen it?

Jennifer: It's a bold statement, but I think what you have here, where I have not seen anywhere else, is a model of caring that could help curb the loneliness epidemic of men in our country. As a woman, I could care as much as I want for my boys, and I do. But they need male models to show them how to care. I was telling Bob that my son was nervous about going on a trip, and I said, "Well, why don't you just tell your friends that you're feeling this way? I'm sure they all feel this way." And he said, "You make a great girl. You'd make a lousy boy." And what I saw in the last few days was actually, that is men's work. I visualized when I was walking in the production area, a visual sign that says "men at work." And it's not just men at work building parts; it's men at work building emotional lives, full lives. And that's the work of men. And we've always made it the work of women, and it undermines it for our boys. It undermines if it's the woman who's teaching the caring. It just reinforces the idea that it's women's' work, and it's everyone's work.

I've traveled the country looking at communities that are working on this, and I've gone to schools. And what I think stunned me most was to see that at Phillips, for example, I did not get a feeling that the women were doing the emotional labor and the men were not. And we talked today about the burden on women to do all the emotional labor, to do the caring. And there, I felt like it was almost a utopia of equality. And with my own preconceived notions of what a production area would look like, it was the opposite. It was not... Men were welding. They were screwing things and operating heavy machinery, but they were operating heavy emotional machinery, too. And just the men and the women were sort of very equal in that way, and it just shows everything that I was doing in my home, raising my boys and my daughter with the same emotional depth and span and experience, that I wasn't crazy and that it's actually true and that maybe they have to move to Wisconsin.

Bob: If your parents asked you, “Jen, I understand you went to this manufacturing company in the Midwest, what was that about?” What would you say to your parents?

Jennifer: My dad worked in a really traditional environment. He worked for a major oil company, I won't say which one, for 50-plus years. And from the stories that I've heard, it was sort of very traditional, hierarchical. I mean, this was a different time. You didn't bring yourself to work. So I would talk to my dad about what I saw. And my dad is extremely caring. And so I think he would appreciate it being brought into the office. I mean, he did bring caring into the office. When he retired, all the women in the office all came to his... a lot of them were my age, and they were all crying, "We can't believe he's leaving us," because he very much was a caring father. And he brought that into the office in an appropriate way for the very traditional setting. So I think I would tell my parents... And my mother actually was a teacher, and she brought caring and emotion into the classroom early, 30, 40 years ago. And she would ask her students to journal about their emotions and to talk about emotions in the writing. So I think they would be psyched to see that they weren't crazy, too.


Sarah Bennison: I just really want to engage in work that is closely aligned to my own personal values. In my own life, and this may be a selfish answer, and it's not just about me, but the moments where I feel most in a flow and most present and alive are in the moments when I am connecting with other people from different places. It's not even really about service, but just making those connections and working together with someone else to come up with a solution or to improve lives. So I think that's part of it.

Also, I did mention I grew up in a church rectory and I think somehow my world view from a very young age was shaped by this, and really one of my earliest memories is going with my dad to call on patients in the hospital, as a little girl, four or five years old. I didn't really consciously say I want to do work like that, but I find myself constantly gravitating towards situations where I can, as I was saying, accompany someone else on their journey or stand by them, or hopefully make a difference.

So teaming up with Jenny and really thinking what she has to offer in her book is so valuable to parents. But also understanding that it's not enough to just understand the research about what it means to matter, but that also, in order to matter, you have to act and do something. I know Jenny and I are very passionate about that idea to leverage the powerful, compelling research to inspire people toward taking actions for change. So that's really the hope. 

Mary Rudder: So, from your perspective, how does Barry Wehmiller fit in – why Barry-Wehmiller, what are we doing?

Sarah: Well, I think that what you have done here, and yesterday when we went to Phillips it was very clear that you have actually been able to take audacious dreams for a better world and actually make them real through the lives of everyday people. I came into this whole visit thinking, "I'm here to see a company and a manufacturing plant at work." I thought it was really more about work. And what I realized yesterday is actually, it really is at the heart of it, about the people and personal development and seeing how lives are changed and that that actually yields benefits for the company too. But it's a real shift in paradigm and it's a shift in thinking.

And I just see, of course, deep alignment between the ideas of mattering, that everyone needs to feel valued and to add value to the world because what I've seen here is a lot of people who feel valued, who feel that they matter. And as a result of that, are driven to, in a way, a higher calling to matter to someone else, whether it's the colleague next to them, or even we spoke to people yesterday who cared so deeply about efficiencies in making the various parts that they were making... I don't even know the terminology. When I say bigger purpose, it doesn't have to be, I want to change the world. It's really just how can I do what I'm doing better and understanding that it contributes to the whole? So I just really feel that viscerally here and think that we could work together to continue to, as I say, amplify our joint passion and work.

Mary: Who’s the most  interesting or the most  surprising person that  you got to meet and why? Tell me a little about that experience.

Sarah: I was really moved by Randall's story and had the pleasure of sitting with him at dinner last night as well and chatted with him a bit more. But here you have this big, burly guy who I think made some very courageous decisions in his life to change from someone who, as he described, was very shut down, almost alienated from people around him. And through it sounded like the persistence and determination of the people he was working with around him to keep engaging with him, he, it seemed to me, realized at a certain point that he mattered. He mattered to what was happening there and made a real change in his ability to connect with people around him. The most amazing thing was he said it really impacted his relationship with his own children. And you could see now that even to get up in front of the group, with our group, and share that story with a real sense of vulnerability was, I thought, really, really powerful. So that will definitely stick with me.

I was really surprised the entire atmosphere was very calm, collegial. When we had the opportunity to go up to the second floor and look down and get a scope of one whole area of the manufacturing floor, I could see it was very collaborative. People were talking with each other and then getting back to work, and it was just a very... Everyone said hi. Everyone who went by said hi. People were smiling. It was just a very collegial environment. And also going into it, I was saying I really expected it to be loud and chaotic, and it wasn't like that. Everything was orderly and it was just a very nice atmosphere.

Also, I could never do any of those jobs. It seemed so complicated. I mean, I have a whole newfound appreciation for making these huge machines. I'm not a puzzle person, but I feel like you have to have that kind of mind to figure all those steps out and to keep it organized and not lose a part is extremely complex.

Mary: Any conversations on the tour that stood out?

Sarah: Well, Lance was just lovely. I don't know if it was one specific conversation, but just his demeanor was so open, so warm. Also, clearly, he's a leader, an on-the-ground leader who really deeply understands the values and goals of Barry-Wehmiller and conveys that with such passion. It wasn't talking points with him. I could really see he really cares. And again, I had the opportunity to see him again later outside of the official tour and I just really felt like I connected with him. And when we left, he looked me right in the eye and said, "It just was such a pleasure to meet you," and I said, "It really, really was. I really want to stay in touch with you." I think I just realized I have so much to learn from people who are doing different things that I've ever been exposed to who live in a very different place than I have ever lived in.

Mary: So, how would you summarize the last few days to your husband? What did you experience?

Sarah: Well, I mean it's the real deal what's going on here. It's a validation that you can dream big, be a bold thinker, and be creative, imaginative. Also, even just this morning, we were saying, "There are all these puzzle pieces, we've got a lot of interested people and people who have great ideas, we're not sure how this is going to shape up, but let's bring people together and see what emerges from that." So I think that's another key takeaway for me, is just this idea of bringing people into the conversation to come up with solutions together. And it's a highly collaborative environment.

So there were a lot of unexpected takeaways and lessons from my visit, and it's going to take me a couple days to process everything, I have probably seven pages of handwritten notes and all kinds of things. But in general, I feel extremely inspired, motivated, and hopeful. Yeah.


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