The Women in Business Continuity Management (WBCM) committee shines a spotlight on accomplished women in resilience. For the inaugural issue of the DRI Foundation e-newsletter, members of the WBCM committee conducted interviews with some of these women. Chloe Demrovsky is President and CEO of DRI International.
What business continuity fields, and related industries, have you worked in?
Time has flown, but I’ve been working with DRI for 10 years. I ran the international operation for five years helping to expand our training network to 50+ countries. From there, I became Executive Director in 2014 and then President and CEO in 2017.
What’s your overall background, and how did you get into this field? Did you go into the field on purpose?
My tale is much the same as those told by the thousands of resilience professionals who I’ve met over the years in that I wound up here almost totally by accident. We don’t do a good job of teaching this profession in schools so it wasn’t exactly on my radar. With a liberal arts degree, I at least knew that I wanted to work for an organization that made a difference but wasn’t exactly sure what form that would take. I also had a background in nonprofit work that made me a good fit for DRI. Our mission is so important and I can see the impact every day.
I am a big believer in continuing education and adult learning. In order to learn the skills I needed to build DRI’s global network, I went back part-time for my Master’s degree at New York University and gained a better understanding of international business. I began teaching about public-private partnerships in the same program upon graduating. In my classes, I work in a few lessons on emergency response and cross-sectoral resilience-building initiatives. Hopefully my students will have a better understanding of this field upon graduating than I did!
What is the one characteristic that you believe every leader in this field should possess?
Resilience, of course! In designing resilience strategies for organizations, it’s helpful to have a certain amount of personal resilience as well. In DRI’s glossary, we define resilience as “the adaptive capacity of an organization in a complex and changing environment”. Good leaders also possess this adaptive capacity in the face of complexity and change. In this space we focus on heavy subjects and see a lot of terrible things over the course of our careers, so having the ability to bounce back emotionally is essential.
What are important characteristics for women, in particular, who manage and lead programs in this field?
The number of women pursuing careers in business continuity is growing although it is still low at around 35% of the total. The increase may be in part because the role is changing within organizations as senior leaders up the level of responsibility assigned to business continuity professionals to prepare for and respond to challenges growing in number and complexity. Women, by nature of cultural training and other factors, may already have honed the soft skills that are needed to craft and implement these strategies and lead successful programs.
What do you enjoy about your job? What aspect of this work are you passionate about, and why?
I am so lucky that I get to come to this job every day. It’s an honor to set DRI’s strategic direction and figure out how we can better pursue our mission. I love my dedicated, talented team and the great people who I get to meet at all the events I speak at, attend and host around the world. Building DRI’s body of thought leadership is intellectually stimulating — I’m a professorial nerd at heart so I love all the reading, writing and data analysis. My days are filled with variety and are rarely repetitive. I truly love what I do.
Tell us about a real-world situation or crisis that taught you an important lesson – professionally or personally.
My wedding nearly got rained out, and it wasn’t even outside. Two days before our big day, an aging sprinkler system soaked the venue, leaving it unusable and not up to code. I didn’t panic. Instead, I got to work because disasters are what I do for a living. Running DRI, I get asked all the time how companies can become more resilient — how resilient organizations can adapt to changing political, economic, and environmental realities. The simple answer is to expect the unexpected. Know that you’re going to get thrown a curve – that you can get rained out even when there’s not a cloud in the sky. In the case of my wedding, I applied my business continuity training and got to work. We found a new venue, coordinated with our vendors, and relocated the whole affair in just under 48 hours. In DRI speak, we focused on the effect rather than the cause, identified our major obstacle as a facilities problem, and executed our plan. Sounds romantic, huh?!
What are the biggest challenges that you face as a leader in today’s world?
There are a lot of them. People call us and write in with questions when they are unsure how to prepare for or respond to various crises. We get questions on everything from the difficulty of moving to cloud computing to the dark side of artificial intelligence to planning for the threat of nuclear war. It’s our job to figure out what is best practice and how companies can address these myriad challenges. I enjoy the intellectual and practical challenge of finding solutions to the most difficult problems we face as a society. We can’t predict the future and we don’t know what will happen next. What we can control is our preparation for it and our reaction to it.
What good advice did you get, professionally, that has helped you in the field?
It’s important to be a cheerleader for your team and shine a light on their success when they do well. If your team excels, you will also. Fortunately, this is an easy one for me at DRI – my team is amazing and they make it easy.
What advice do you wish you had gotten? What advice would you give a mentor, either what to do or what NOT to do?
I have a habit of taking on too much and sometimes that can make life difficult. I’ve received the advice not to bite off more than I can chew many times, but it’s not always easy to follow. There is so much to explore and accomplish that it can be hard to say no to something you really want to do. But who knows? Maybe the geniuses working in biotech and robotics will find a way to extend our lifetimes and I’ll get a chance to do more!
What other fields do you see people transitioning into, starting from business? Are there any other knowledge areas that would help someone in business continuity succeed?
Most business continuity origin stories begin in information technology or physical security, but that’s changing. The one I hear more of these days is that people are transitioning in from human resources, which may also account for the slight increase in women in business continuity. It’s a good fit and a natural transition. We also do see more young people who have a relevant degree, often at the master’s level, for whom this is their profession of choice from much earlier on in their careers. I expect that trend will continue.