What Business Owners are Getting Right and Wrong About Workplace Diversity – Laura Liswood, Council of Women World Leaders

Diversity and inclusion are critical for the success of your organization, yet many still miss the mark. The statistics are staggering. Only 23% of C-suites are made up of women, according to a study from Women in the Workplace. On today’s show, we have an expert on diversity.

Laura Liswood, Secretary-General of the Council of Women World Leaders, which is made up of women presidents, prime ministers, and heads of government. Laura is a nationally recognized speaker, advisor, and author. Her latest book is titled, The Loudest Duck. She has been awarded for her contribution to women and minorities in the workplace and has also interviewed 15 current and former women presidents and prime ministers.

Transcription:

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule to join us today.

Laura Liswood:
Well, thank you, Jim. Thank you for calling me a young lady.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Well, it’s the state of mind, right? I mean, you’re as young as you feel, so. Diversity and inclusion has made headlines here over the course of the last couple of years now, but through the past year as may any companies evaluate their workplace efforts it’s at the forefront of so many people running companies today. From your perspective, why is diversity and inclusion so important? And now here we are, it’s on the front burner and everybody has got to pay attention to it, right?

Laura Liswood:
Well, one hopes that everyone is paying attention to it. If they’re not, that means they’re pretty well ignoring not only the statistics like you just represented, but the facts on the ground in terms of what’s happening. I think partly the reason for this importance is, and it’s been going for a long time, but I think things like COVID have stripped away some of the lack of awareness, if you will, of some of the inequalities that we find in various parts of society.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
And let’s drill down on that a little bit. What do you mean by that?

Laura Liswood:
Well, I mean, I think we’ve seen some pretty stark differentiation in terms of health provisions that give people access to vaccines in healthcare and we’re getting more and more data around that.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Laura Liswood:
You know, I think we’ve seen some very high visibility videos of interactions between for example, law enforcement and certain communities.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Laura Liswood:
And obviously social media has got its pluses and minuses, but it certainly has allowed for more visibility to some of these issues.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Laura Liswood:
In addition to which I think that this whole notion of what is the business case for diversity that’s been made and continues to be made is being embraced by many senior leaders.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. And it’s about time, right? I mean-

Laura Liswood:
Well, we’ve been at this for quite a while and for some people they’d say they’d been at it for hundreds of years.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
But I mean it’s about time that organizations and companies take notice and make this more of a focal point rather than just something kind of a … Something that they’ve also been doing along the way, but make it more of a very deliberate initiative in their company.

Laura Liswood:
I think that’s absolutely right. I mean, people have historically perhaps seen it as, “Well, this is kind of a nice to have, and we’ll put it on our list,” and something else will bump it down lower in the list.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
But I think most organizations, sophisticated ones are saying, “No, wait a minute. We’ve got … We know that there are changing demographics,” for example. Most organizations, big ones at least, are global so they kind of have a built in diversity right there. Lots more evidence that diverse ideas will keep you … Ensure that you’re innovative and creative. So I think the arrows are all pointing in the right direction.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That’s right. And it’s safe to say that these companies are, have been running these companies, but now consumers are taking notice, right, and they’re holding companies accountable. You just mentioned social media and as we all know, every audience now has an audience and it’s important that that companies do sit up and fly right on this topic because they can’t sweep it under the carpet any longer. These groups are becoming more alert and more aware of the businesses that they’re doing business with and holding them accountable in this area, right?

Laura Liswood:
Absolutely correct. I mean, social media has helped that along. Things like Me Too Movement have pushed that along. So not only do you now have to look at what are all the positives you’ll get from diversity, but you have to look at the risks if you don’t have diversity.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
You know, this risk of homogeneity, this risk of reputational management issues. A company can spend decades building up their reputation and within an hour lose their reputation.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. Yeah. That’s a good point.

Laura Liswood:
You’re right on target with that as some of the drivers for this.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. What’s needed to have, and I know that’s a very loaded question, there’s probably a four hour answer here or longer, but what’s needed to have a diverse organization. What are some of main ingredients?

Laura Liswood:
First and foremost, I have a book called The Loudest Duck around diversity and one of the sort of foundational points that I make is that a lot of organizations are still stuck in what I call the Noah’s Ark approach to diversity, which is sort of, “Oh gosh, can we at least get two of each in the ark,” you know? Well, you know, there’s a problem with that.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
We laugh about it, but you’re absolutely right.

Laura Liswood:
Yeah. That’s what people do. They go, “Oh, let’s just get two in.”

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
So they may even get those two in but as I say in the book, if the giraffe in the ark is looking at the zebra and he’s looking at him and he says, “Gee, you’re funny looking. How do you do anything with that stupid, short neck of yours?”

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Laura Liswood:
You know, if we are doing that in the organization, after we brought all these different categories of people in-

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
Then we’re not actually going to get what we want from diversity, right? That’s why you’ll see in a lot of organizations moving on to this notion of inclusion, equity, belonging. So this notion of we can’t just get them in, but we have to make sure we have programs in place. We have to make sure that people are treated fairly with their opportunities. We may have to make sure our processes are fair and so that … First and foremost, Jim, if you don’t have senior leadership commitment to this, just walk away, because you’re not going to move anything but once you get that in the door, then you have to start looking at, “Okay, what are the processes that are kind of gatekeepers that allow some people to get ahead and some people not get ahead?”

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That’s right. But Laura, I run a great company and the stockholders are happy and I’ve grown our stock price and our net profits are incredible and everybody seems to be happy and you bring this up but I mean, why rock the boat?

Laura Liswood:
Right. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Right. Well, there’s a couple of challenges with that. First and foremost, there’s assumption that everyone is happy within the organization.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That’s right. Huge assumption.

Laura Liswood:
Yeah. That’s a big, big assumption. And one of the things I always encourage organizations to do is to do what I call the meritocracy stress test. That is, does everyone in your organization feel like this is a meritocracy, or do certain people experience the organization as a perceived meritocracy but other people go, “Well, you know, actually I’m not getting the good assignments at all and I’m not getting the feedback I need and I’m not getting the support and the tools, and I’m not getting the mentoring that I see other people getting.” So, there’s … Without getting too deep dive into details that is an assumption.

Laura Liswood:
The second assumption is, is that well, you may be doing okay now, but if you don’t have that constant innovation and creativity, there is the real possibility that you’re going to get … You’ll get put out of the market at some point if you’re not keeping up with the market, if you’re not keeping up with the changing needs and desires and demographic shifts that are going on. So yeah, I mean, you could be the best buggy whip maker in the world and you will be until you’re not.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That’s right. And I think a lot of companies look at this as kind of a two pronged approach. One is to say, “We want to do the right thing.” The other one is that, “It’s good for the bottom line.” I mean, with minorities representing almost 40% of all of the dollar spent at retailers, doesn’t it just make good business sense for businesses to pay attention to this and have their boardroom and their management teams look like their customer base?

Laura Liswood:
Well, certainly that is one compelling argument to … “Okay, our customer base is changing. How do we know what our customer base wants?” Well, we have to have people in the organization who can help us be informed about that kind of thing. And we …. There’s … Some statistics would talk about better financial results. I’m less likely to want to hold to that because that can change over time but the whole notion of, “Hey, I want to be a creative organization. I want to make sure everyone feels like they belong in it, that my turnover of employees is not great, that I can attract the best and the brightest,” which is what every organization wants to do, and those are the compelling reasons that we want to do this.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
You know, we’ve seen some major corporations now being led by females out there in incredible jobs and obviously in the automotive sector, you’ve got Mary Barra, who’s a chairman of the board and does a phenomenal job as CEO of a company like GM and has got unbelievable profits in the company and has been running it very smoothly, and so many others, so many others. Talk to us about the importance and why companies really do need to hire more females in a C-suite position or as the CEO or president of the company. There’s so much talent out there that I believe is just untapped simply because it’s a female and not a male.

Laura Liswood:
Well, I think you’ve just hit it on the head. There’s so much talent out there that remains untapped that not only … I’m not going to posit to you, Jim, that women are better leaders than men leaders. That’s not necessarily true. But do they have perhaps a different perspective, do they perhaps interact with employees differently? So I have this sort of … I use a lot of animal analogies. So I have this other notion I call the elephant and the mouse. So the elephant … For one thing, the elephant doesn’t know much about the mouse, but the mouse knows everything about the elephant, right?

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
Right. And the elephant has certain traits about it. It goes where it wants to go. It has its own way of thinking about things. It’s not worried about the mouse.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Laura Liswood:
Mouse has other traits. It’s pretty hypersensitive and it knows what the elephant wants and where the elephant’s going because it’s got to keep tabs on the elephant.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
It can multitask, it can eat and still be aware of where the elephant is.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. Much more agile,

Laura Liswood:
Right. More agile. So my theory basically is, is that dominant groups and nondominant groups have different skill sets often.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Laura Liswood:
They’ve had to, but the best organizations use both sets of skills.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right. Right.

Laura Liswood:
So you don’t want all elephants and you don’t want all mice. You want both.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That is a very good point. That’s very, good point.

Laura Liswood:
Yeah. So that argument says, “Well, part of your team are these people called women, you know, and they certainly have certain perspectives on things,” and you just want to make sure that, as you say, you’re tapping all of the talent within the organization and all of the different ideas and all of the different perspectives and you’re rewarding people equally for that and that your organization has a way that everyone who should rise to the top rises to the top.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That’s right. How can companies better support women? What are a few best practices?

Laura Liswood:
Well, there are a number. It’s not only the notion of kind of the “fix the woman” kind of thing, which is often what happens. I call that … I’ve got all these little phrases. I call that the seed in the soil. The seed is the individual. Okay. We want to help every individual develop more, right? So for women, that may be certain things that maybe they haven’t been able to develop their skills on, or haven’t had the opportunity to develop their skills, whatever that might be, but then there’s the soil, the institution. So it has a 50% responsibility to also shape.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Talk to me about we see females get into the C-suite in companies and there’s … I don’t have any statistics on this. This is just my own survey among some of the female CEOs and CMOs and such that I have worked with and are aware of and have interviewed, quite honestly. It seems as though they sometimes struggle with hiring other females underneath them and they’ll have a staff of all males and you kind of scratch your head and say, “Well, that … The whole idea is to pass that down.” Is it not … Should those females, shouldn’t they be looking for more males to be reaching down and bringing up as well? What is your take on that?

Laura Liswood:
Well, first and foremost, probably one of the reasons you haven’t seen any hard data on that is because it doesn’t exist.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay.

Laura Liswood:
So what you have seen is you are aware of this dynamic going on and so you sort of hyper observe this dynamic.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Laura Liswood:
Okay. So you may have seen a woman doing that and you’re going, “Ugh, I really would’ve hoped she would’ve done this,” but you missed the five other women that you talked to who did do that. It’s sort of this … We kind of do a little bit of what’s called confirmation bias. If we believe something … it’s like the old joke that I often use with men. You’re driving along and somebody does something stupid in the car in front of you and you go, “Oh God, who’s driving?” And you look and you go, “Ah, woman driver.”

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Woman Driver.

Laura Liswood:
You knew it. “I knew it.”

Jim Fitzpatrick:
There you go. There you go.

Laura Liswood:
I knew it. There you go. You didn’t see the five idiot men doing the exact same thing but you did see the one idiot woman.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s because we don’t make mistakes driving but I know you-

Laura Liswood:
Well of course. You know, I stand completely corrected.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
You don’t make any mistakes.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
No, but you are so right.

Laura Liswood:
That some people … It’s just like, you could observe that some men only hire men and you’re going, “Ugh. What’s the matter with you?”

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
And then you could observe five men who have hired a mix of people. So I think it exists because we’re all human beings, and we all have our ways of doing things, but we have a tendency to be a little bit overly harsh when we say, “Okay, why didn’t she support other women?” And some … You look at … I interviewed Margaret Thatcher, right? She was only O in a room full of Xs.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
Right?

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
And she was perfectly happy being the only O in a room full of Xs.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yep. Yep.

Laura Liswood:
Right?

Jim Fitzpatrick:
She was amazing.

Laura Liswood:
That’s because all of her own internal beliefs about who people were and things like that.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure.

Laura Liswood:
So yes, there are some people who are perfectly content to have it this way.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
But I would say that’s getting … If it’s happened at all, it’s getting less and less.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. For sure. Do you think in the last five or ten years, it is getting better? I mean, do we … From your perspective, and obviously you’re an expert in this area, do you think things are getting better in this area? Obviously not quick enough, but are they improving?

Laura Liswood:
They are improving. Yes. It’s a … I think it’s a lot slower than a lot of us at our delicate age thought it would improve, that we thought, “Well, all of this effort,” and I think part of the challenge is, is that people confuse effort with outcome. Cheryl Kaiser from University of Washington has coined a phrase called “the illusion of inclusion”. So a lot of organizations are doing all these programs, but they’re not quite seeing the results.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Laura Liswood:
And then you flip into something that you’ve probably seen with talking to people with diversity fatigue.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Laura Liswood:
We’ve been doing this and we haven’t seen the changes.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
But yes. Have we changed? Sure. The military academies will now allow women. Women can go into combat. You see the fuller inclusion of women. We’ve certainly seen the educational numbers shift, but most organizations don’t have an intake problem anymore but they do still have an upgrade problem.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right. Right. Yeah. And I think … What was your quote about the glass ceiling?

Laura Liswood:
Yeah. Yeah. There’s no glass ceiling. It’s just a thick layer of men.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
And I will tell you that, yeah, from the male perspective, I happen to agree with you. I mean, there’s … It’s incredible how many smart, great females are out there in business and in so many cases, I hate to say it because it’s my male counterparts, will tell you, “What are you doing?” But it’s true. I mean, there’s no question that they’re just not given the opportunities that they deserve.

Laura Liswood:
Well, and you therefore represent what we would like more men to represent.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Laura Liswood:
Which is to be allies-

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
In this effort.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
To be the kind of people like yourself who understand the dynamics and give people opportunities.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
And it isn’t a shame that males see that as somewhat of a weakness, that if they show support to females and want to bring them up and include them in the C-suite and the decisions and bring them up to the president’s suite or the CEO of a company, if you’re on a board or what have you, that that might be looked upon by their colleagues as, “What are you doing? Why are you soft in this area,” right? And that has to change in order for us to really get anywhere.

Laura Liswood:
That’s right, and you just said that has to change. And it has to be that people don’t see it as a zero sum game, you win I lose as a thing.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
No. It’s an addition.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yep.

Laura Liswood:
It’s a way to … If you have more creativity and innovation, you’re going to expand the pie.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
The pie of opportunity is not going to shrink. It’s going to grow.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. It’s actually a sign of strength, not weakness.

Laura Liswood:
Right. And that’s why when we started this conversation saying it’s really important to have leaders who have that kind of attitude.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That’s right. So let’s talk about your book, The Loudest Duck. A, where’d you get the name? I love the name. And then let’s talk about what you want the reader to leave with.

Laura Liswood:
Well, The Loudest Duck comes from the notion that, as we talked about, that a lot of people want diversity in an organization so they may get a person in from a culture that says the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Laura Liswood:
Speak up, you get what you want.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
Right. That’s culture. Often American culture.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
The Japanese are taught the nail that sticks out gets hit on the head, which means don’t speak up.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Don’t speak up.

Laura Liswood:
Yeah. Women have been taught sort of, through their grandma if you will, if you can’t say anything nice-

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Don’t say anything at all.

Laura Liswood:
Don’t say anything at all.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
Right. And then the Chinese are taught the loudest duck gets shot.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Wow.

Laura Liswood:
Right? Which means don’t speak up.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
So I’ll say that to people. I’ll say, “Okay, you told me you wanted diversity. Now I’m giving you diversity.”

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Laura Liswood:
You have a wheel, a duck, a nail, and a nice.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yep.

Laura Liswood:
Who’s doing all the talking?

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
The only person doing the talking is the wheel.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Laura Liswood:
So you’re overhearing the wheel. You’re under hearing the nail, duck, nice.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
And you don’t get those ideas of the people who’ve been taught this other thing. So if we’re going to embrace all the … If we’re going to bring in all these different cultures and all these different ways of doing things, we better have the tools to deal with those things.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
So in a way, that’s kind of the message that I like to get across to people. You can’t just say, “I want this sort of number counting diversity.”

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Laura Liswood:
You have to, in fact, put the tools in place that will get you to the goals that you want from the diversity. So you have to have ways that people will speak up, ways that people will contribute, understanding the different cultures that people bring to the organization.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. And they’re so vitally needed. They have been needed. They’re especially needed today, as we’re much more aware of this situation and this isn’t going to be something that’s going to be remedied in your lifetime or mine, right? We’re going to be talking about this for a long time, but not just talking. It’s something that needs action, right, and in every company, large or small.

Laura Liswood:
And that … I mean, that’s as good a message as any, yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Laura Liswood:
Which is you can do a lot of talking, but until you have action, measurement, accountability.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
Until you say, “This is as important in our organization as if we were a company that had to have great safety.” We’re an airline industry, okay, and we have all sorts of norms around safety.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Laura Liswood:
Everyone is responsible for safety. Safety is measured every way it can possibly be.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yep.

Laura Liswood:
And it’s embedded in the organization.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
You know, my friends, Mark Donovan said … Has said that, has talked about it in their book, The Diversity Dividend and that notion of integrating safety in your organization. We don’t want airplanes falling out of the sky.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Laura Liswood:
Right.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Top priority. Yeah.

Laura Liswood:
Right. So that notion of putting it fully and embraced within the organization is key to make those kind of changes you’re talking about.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
And that can only come from the top down. That’s not going to go from the middle up. That’s got to be the C-suite. That’s got to be the chairman of the board, the president, the CEO. They’ve got to lead that cause in their companies, right? It can’t be something that we look at it as a checkbox and go, “Oh yeah, yeah. We’ve got that diversity training. We’ve got that … We did that piece on inclusion, remember about a month ago, and we talked about and we brought everybody in and we talked about it? Yeah.” It can’t be that anymore. We just can’t … that can’t be tolerated.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
So Laura Liswood, thank you so much for joining us here on the show. We very much appreciate it. Love to have you back because this, as I said, is an ongoing issue that every company needs to learn and hear more about. For those people that are watching us have this discussion today, check out her book. We’re showing all the information here to get a copy of it. You can click right underneath this video and it’ll take you right to get that copy and that book. So Laura, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

Laura Liswood:
Well, I really enjoyed the interview, so thank you very much.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Great. Thanks.

Laura Liswood:
Take care.


The Atlanta Small Business Network, from start-up to success, we are your go-to resource for small business news, expert advice, information, and event coverage.

While you’re here, don’t forget to subscribe to our email newsletter for all the latest business news know-how from Atlanta Small Business Network.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here