Duo Resets Their Roles

Fran Sussner Rodgers ’67 and daughter Nicole Rodgers. Photo by Courtney AppleFran Sussner Rodgers ’67 has spent her career focused on women’s issues. Starting her own firm, Work/Family Directions, she sought methods and ideas that would transform the workplace to accommodate women’s growing presence. She also served as a consultant to dozens of Fortune 500 companies on women’s advancement in the working world. Since selling her business, she also became involved with creating progressive infrastructures such as think tanks and new media.

At one point, she was asked to teach a course at Tufts University on women’s movements. While she never taught the course, she wondered about repurposing her research to suit a new media platform that would develop and encourage contemporary conversations about changing gender roles in today’s society.
Fran sought the input of her daughter, Nicole Rodgers, a graduate of Northwestern and the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania; Nicole lives in Washington, D.C., and was then a vice president at Fenton, a public-interest communications firm. “Nicole looked at what I had, which was mainly based on women’s history, and thought we should try and do something contemporary, to reach a younger generation, and try to include men in the discussion.”

Mother and daughter teamed up to begin RoleReboot.org, which they launched in early 2011. Through its content, Role/Reboot aims to explore and support the changing roles of both women and men in contemporary society. The Web site currently features articles and essays—generated by staff, regular site contributors, and guest bloggers from partner sites. With her expertise in women’s and workplace issues, Fran often contributes pieces about generational differences and concerns between second-wave feminists and younger men and women. Nicole writes about trends and issues that affect men and women in their 20s and 30s today.

Nicole, who serves as Role/Reboot’s president, says, “I’m proud of what we’ve built; we wanted to start a movement for those who are breaking out of gender norms—whether by choice or circumstances. And I believe that just asking people to tell their stories can be incredibly important for social movements, since cultural change typically proceeds political change.”

Both mother and daughter are brainstorming their next move. Currently, Nicole says, they are focused on representing and supporting “anyone ambivalent about the bill of goods they’ve been sold as a result of their gender.” This means anyone from a breadwinner wife to a stay-at-home dad to others who have chosen careers not typically associated with their gender. Role/Reboot will ultimately expand from a content site into an organization that partners with different groups and institutions to help those in underrepresented roles create a support network.

Fran serves as an advisor to Role/Reboot from her Massachusetts home. She checks in and talks with Nicole often about the site’s direction, discussing ways to expand their audience, particularly through social media. Both feel their partnership has been successful, blending Fran’s expertise with Nicole’s communication skills, not to mention her read on today’s generation.

Says Fran, “So far, it’s been wonderful. I really appreciate my daughter as a colleague. Working with her has allowed me to see the really amazing managerial and creative skills she brings to the workplace.” And, like her mother, Nicole follows a long line of entrepreneurial women in the family. While Nicole was growing up, she did not show much interest in working on the issues that preoccupied her mom but, adds Fran, “It is a great blessing and pleasure to be able to share so much with her now, and watch her take those issues to places I never imagined.”

Nicole jokes that one of her biggest fears was that she and her mother wouldn’t get along professionally. “We’ve both been surprised how easy it’s been. We do keep work and family separate; we have boundaries.” Also, very important to Nicole, “Working with her gives me the feeling that I’m continuing her legacy.”

-by Andrew Clark