They say never to bring a dog or a baby onto a stage because they will steal the show. In the case of a tiny mixed breed pup named Norbert, his human Julie Steines is totally fine with his getting all the attention.
“He's so quirky and charming and happy. He's such joy."
Steines, who is married to Home & Family star, Mark Steines, said despite having a high profile career that had nothing to do with animals, she soon found her life totally changed thanks to a little white dog she found in 2009.
“Norbert is my first dog," says Steines. "I knew I wanted to adopt but didn't know what kind. I looked for over a year. One day on Pet Finder I came across his photo and just had this feeling that he was going to be my dog. He was the only dog in the litter and was so tiny and needed unique home. I lived by myself in a small studio and it was the perfect fit. It felt like it was meant to be."
Because of his size and happy disposition Steines says she began taking Norbert with her everywhere she went. She eventually looked into him becoming a therapy dog so he could visit with people in nursing homes and in hospitals.
“He's so smart, he passed all his tests," says Steines with a laugh. “We started volunteering at a local nursing home and one thing lead to another. My brother said let's make a Facebook page, and we started with that."
With a long-time dream to publish a children's book and inspired by her pleasant pup, Steins decided to create a publishing company, Polly Parker Press. She wrote up Norbert's story, and her mother, Virgina, provided the illustrations for Norbert's debut book, Norbert: What Can Little Me Do?
"Norbert is a little nugget."
“We decided Norbert's story would be the perfect story to write," say Steines, who went on a book tour with Norbert. “It's uplifting and about finding your special purpose in the world. The book ended up winning eight awards, and we started traveling doing presentations and sharing Norbert's story. It was amazing to be able to work with my mother and Norbert. He went with us everywhere."
These days, Steines and Norbert are a tight knit team, focused on uplifting the spirits of those in need. They tour the country meeting with Norbert's fans, and they maintain a robust social media presence in order to continue spreading happiness, which is Julie's main goal.
“It's absolutely incredible for Norbert and for everyone," she says. “It's so rewarding because you go to these hospitals and nursing homes and it's such a welcome and happy moment. He's so cute and tiny. He can snuggle up on beds. He's known for giving high fives. It changes the entire mood of a room."
Norbert now has three books, including Norbert: What Can Little You Do?, and Norbert: What Can Little We Do?, which was written in conjunction with Lil Bub the Cat. There is also a Norbert plush toy (which is currently sold out) and other products like clothing, mugs and doggie gear. In addition, for every plush toy purchased, one is donated to Toys For Tots.
“Everything we do is to spread the mission to make people smile. You don't have to be big to make a difference in the world. Norbert is about 3.5 pounds but just by being his little self he brings so much joy to people."
Steines, who met her husband, Mark, because she and Norbert were guests on his Hallmark Channel show, says it's fun but not easy keeping in touch with Norbert's fans. Her husband, who is a photographer as well as an on-air personality, takes many of the photos, while Julie spends her time making sure images and captions are perfectly edited.
“This is something we feel that the world really needs. My life has changed in every way possible because of this little dog. I'm really grateful."
With who has more than one million social media followers, a community Julie calls The Norberthood, managing Norbert has become Steines' full-time job. In 2013 the brunette beauty quit her high-paying job in order to dedicate herself to her pup's career.
“I took a leap of faith to take this full time. in the end it was worth it," says Steines. “I know entrepreneurs are big on goal setting and vision but with what we are doing It's so unique and new, we don't even know what's around the corner."
When asked what a typical day is like Steines says it's always different, but one thing that is always consistent is her focus on authenticity when it comes to Norbert.
“I manage Norbert very carefully," says Steines. “We have the reputation for being very selective on whose work with, because we want to be sure anyone we collaborate with is in-line with our vision. We've said no to a lot of deals that could have been lucrative or big from a press standpoint but I value Norbert and what he stands for. It's one thing have a million followers but there's not a lot of value if people aren't being engaged. It's a bit of an art form combining images with videos. Every word is important."
Norbert's audience, according to his mom, is mostly women over thirty. Located all over the world, Steines says she spends much of her time interacting with Norbert's community via email, social media messages and regular mail
“I do my best to respond to all the emails and messages," says Steines. “When someone sends us something personal it means so much to us. Once a girl sent us a message that her mom was in the ICU and they both loved Norbert. She asked to send a message to her mother. We sent a message 'feel nor better soon,' it's a Norbertism. The girl reached out to us afterwards and said we made her entire life. Even something small like that is so powerful."
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."