Lindsay Pizarro, General Manager of the California Yacht Club in Marina del Rey, Calif., has literally written the book on how women can start—and expand—their families while maintaining leadership positions within the club industry.
(As featured in C+RB’s 14th Annual Ideas Issue, June 2020)
Since joining the club last fall, Lindsay Pizarro, CCM, has settled nicely into her position as General Manager of the California Yacht Club (CYC) in Marina del Rey, Calif. However, after giving birth to two children during her career, the dance that got her to CYC wasn’t always flawlessly choreographed—serving, in fact, as a club industry version of the old saw that while Fred Astaire was certainly a great dancer, his partner Ginger Rogers might have deserved even more credit for being just as good while having to do her part of their routine “backwards and in high heels.”
Pizarro has worked in the club business for 20 years and as a general manager for six. She had her first child in 2016, when she worked at Newport Harbor Yacht Club in Newport Beach, Calif., in her first GM position.
She became pregnant with her second daughter in 2018, while General Manager of the Country Club of Rancho Bernardo in San Diego, Calif. Because she had a difficult transition back to work after her first child was born, her second pregnancy prompted her to write a detailed maternity-leave transition plan memorandum for the Rancho Bernardo Board of Directors and management team. With the help of her mentor, Crystal Thomas, MCM, the Managing Director of the Club Management Association of America’s Golden State Chapter, Pizarro outlined her anticipated maternity-leave dates and provided details on how she would (or wouldn’t) be accessible, the status of current work in progress, and planned coverage for daily work responsibilities in her absence. She gave the memo to the Board two months before she went on maternity leave.
“I was trying to improve my experience and the club’s experience from the first time I had a child,” says Pizarro. During her career, she says, she’s come to know one GM who had a baby while she was a catering manager. But otherwise, all of the other female GMs she knows did not attain their positions until after they had children.
Pizarro, who became pregnant with her second child when she was only five months into the job at Rancho Bernardo, says it was hard for her to tell the Board President about her condition.
“The timing of our second baby wasn’t planned, and I felt a mix of emotions—blessed, yet nervous, and for some reason, embarrassed to tell club leadership since I was so new,” she says. “It’s sad to say, but for career women who plan to go back to work, it’s hard to time having a baby.”
Pizarro and her husband had many discussions about the best time to start a family, an issue that she wonders if male general managers need to consider.
However, she says, Rancho Bernardo’s Board President, who had a young family himself, was overjoyed for her and extremely supportive. The fact that she was already a mother put the rest of the Board at ease as well, she felt. “The only thing that made them nervous was that I lived so far away,” says Pizarro, who had a 65-mile commute for her job at Ranch Bernardo.
Before she wrote the memo, she met with the club’s Board of Directors and her management team, to get an idea of their concerns. She had numerous conversations with the membership as well.
During her leave, Pizarro first checked in with the staff four weeks after her daughter was born. She wished the managers had contacted her with questions during her absence, but felt they were hesitant to do so because they wanted her to enjoy her time with her new baby.
“The department heads went to the Board with questions, so the Board got really involved in operations,” she says, and that involvement continued after her return.
Her long commute, lack of sleep, and foggy “baby brain” also made her return to work difficult after her daughter was born.
“It was hard to transition back into the team,” Pizarro says. “It was like being new all over again when I came back. The Board had changed while I was gone, and I didn’t gel with [its new members].”
Pizarro believes her return would have been more successful if she had worked at Rancho Bernardo longer before her maternity leave. “Relationships would be stronger, team cohesion would be stronger, and Board confidence would be stronger,” she says.
In hindsight, she says she would have pushed for an outside interim general manager to fill in during her leave. Six months after her return to Rancho Bernardo, she began her new position at CYC, which is less than three miles from her home.
She believes the detailed memo she wrote can serve as a template for anyone who will miss work for an extended medical leave. “It’s important to assure everybody that your plan is to come back committed to the club,” Pizarro says.
However, she adds, the arrangement needs to work both ways, so all of the responsibility doesn’t fall on the GM who must take time off.
“It’s important to find a club that’s aligned with your values,” says Pizarro. “The club has to be supportive, and the leadership has to be supportive.”
LINDSAY PIZARRO OFFERS these pre- and post-leave tips to GMs who will miss work for an extended period of time due to maternity leave or other medical issues.
• Bring in an interim GM.
• Meet frequently with staff and Board members to discuss any concerns prior to the leave.
• Have a plan for easing back into work and reintegrating with the team and board.
• If the Board will turn over during your absence, try to create a relationship with the new members of the Board, if you know ahead of time who they will be. Talk about goals, anticipated opportunities, and areas of concern for the next year.
• Meet one-on-one with the President, Board members, and department heads in the first couple of days back.
• Ask for a recap of “hits and misses” while you were away.
• Show gratitude for all the support in keeping operations going.
The Goal: Find ways to ease the transition back to work for general managers who miss time because of maternity leave or other extended medical absences.
The Plan: Prepare a detailed written memo for the Board of Directors and department heads, to outline information such as leave dates and accessibility, progress on current work projects, and daily work responsibilities and coverage.
The Payoff: A thorough plan can help a top manager anticipate and organize procedures and help other staff managers prepare to have operations run more smoothly during the General Manager’s absence and after his or her return to work.