Never leave money on the table. As Robert Zoeller said, “Gender equality is smart economics.” Truer words never spoken. If you don’t have women represented in the boardroom and c-suite and influencer positions in R&D, marketing, the salesforce, you are NOT maximizing your ability to make money. I have way too many examples of this that usually goes something like this: An engineering firm who works with city planners is consistently losing work because they do not have women who meet with clients or lead client projects. They are losing long-time clients to more diverse firms because they have no one in the room who brings different perspectives in how the city will be lived in, played in.
I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Patti Fletcher. Dr. Fletcher is an internationally sought-after speaker, seasoned tech executive, award-winning marketing and business influencer, board member, angel and investor. Dr. Patti has appeared on NASDAQ, Cheddar, Bloomberg, and Greater Boston among others. Patti writes for Entrepreneur.com, Inc., The Guardian, Forbes and The Digitalist, and has contributed to/been featured in Time Magazine, RealSimple, Al Jazeera, Forbes, Fortune, Newsweek, The Boston Globe, The Muse and The Huffington Post and many more. She is the author of best-selling Disrupters: Success Strategies From Women Who Break The Mold. She is included in the coveted list “18 Women to Watch in 2018” by Brown, Brothers, Harriman. She advises women and men, from corporate executives and board members, independent contractors and small business owners, to lean start-ups to Fortune 500s such as SAP, IBM, Salesforce, AIG, Intuit, and Kaiser Permanente. She works with HR.com as a Leadership Futurist focused on workplace equity, technology, and disruption in the talent economy, is a founding member of Board++, and is currently Executive-in-Residence at Babson College WINLab and formerly EIR at the Simmons College Entrepreneurship program. She is one of only seven Entrepreneur Magazine expert mentors. She lives in Boston with her family.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Dr. Fletcher! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
My great-grandmother, who gave her life to save her children from Turkish soldiers, named my grandmother Arshalous, Armenian for “dawn.” In the midst of the Armenian Genocide, she believed her daughter would escape the darkness of night and find the light of a new day.
I come from a long line of women of whose lives and destinies were dictated by others. With each successive generation though, they’ve struggled to gain some measure of control and had hope that the next generation would have it even better.
My mother instilled in me the ideas of independence, self-reliance, and self-determination. My father taught me about responsibility, sacrifice, and loyalty. Without realizing it — and despite my father’s horror at the word — my parents raised a feminist.
The women in my family sacrificed their lives for their daughters, sisters, and nieces. Finally, Arshalous’ granddaughter lives in a country and time where women can make their own choices about their lives. As we’ve seen across the world over the last 18 months, when women struggle, we no longer cower or accept the misogynist status quo. We come together to create a force for change. Despite all the momentum, the systems in which we live and work still need to be transformed to adapt to women in the workforce.
I can’t remember NOT knowing that there’s no power in living someone else’s version of your life. I know this is informed by my family history and I want to ensure that all women know that they have a choice for and in their lives by deeply considering this question: what do you want?
Not every woman wants to be in the C-suite of a multinational. Not every woman wants to become a CEO. Not every woman wants to sit on the board of a publicly traded company.
Not every woman wants to be a wife. Not every wife wants to be a mother. Not every mother wants to be a wife. Not every woman even wants to be a woman.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
I was on a crowded plane from California to Boston. I was in the aisle seat and a young management consultant was in the window seat. The management consultant was feeling pretty good after drinking a lot of wine with his clients who were 3rd generation owners of a winery in Napa that they had to close. They ‘celebrated’ the closing by drinking all the wine they didn’t sell. We were the only row with an empty middle-seat. The flight attendants announced that they were about to close the doors. We high-fived each other, moved our stuff underneath the middle seat and went on with our shenanigans.
Of course, as luck would have it, a woman, probably one of the classiest and put-together women I have ever seen, came floating down the aisle in the last minute. She was perfectly put together: hair, make-up, Chanel Suit, Prada bag and briefcase. The guy in the window seat tried to include her in the conversation, it didn’t work, he passed out. I normally don’t talk with people when I am travelling because it’s one of the rare times when I can shut down, but my TV was broken and I was bored. She wasn’t watching TV or reading, so we started small talk. She asked me what I work on, I told her that I was working on a book called Disrupters: Success Strategies From Women Who Break The Mold, and a bit about the work that informed my book and its research. She replied that she had spent nearly three decades in enterprise technology and hadn’t experienced any sexism. I thought that if this were true, I wanted to know HOW. She would be the only women in the history of tech who didn’t. I asked her about her business travel. She explained that she had just come from a big all-hands meeting. The EVP of her division got on stage and talked about a big project that Ms. Chanel Suit had thought of, initiated, and got off the ground. The project was then handed over to two young guys from her boss (also a young man). The EVP made no mention of Ms. Chanel Suit. In the break-out sessions and in team meetings, the young men and their boss never mention Ms. Chanel Suit. She made it a point to say that she was not like other women. She was just happy that the project was turning into a part of the business. I asked her if her boss had done this type of hand-off with others. Her reaction was amazing. Her mouth contorted. Then she said “Oh… OHHH!” After that, she became an angry goddess on a mission to take control of her professional life.
So, why is this important? Why do we have to move beyond the rhetoric of life not being fair or that’s just women being women and men being men and we need to get over it? We need to stop talking about why and how things are so much harder for certain populations. Why, as I am asked about 100 times a week, are we still talking about this? About women in the workforce?
Why, because our current system needs to be disrupted. And because we, each of us and all of us, have the power to disrupt that bias.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We help women lead change in the world. That means we work with everyone. Companies spend trillions of dollars trying to make people change and about that much in well-meaning programs focused on equality. It’s not working. The focus is on the wrong population and the approaches commonly taken are akin to pointing at someone and saying: change. That never works. People don’t change when you tell them to change. They change when you enable them to change. That’s what we do.
When it comes to our work in diversity and inclusion, we instead focus on creating a culture, policies, and practices that cultivate belonging at the individual level. We are in a crisis. 89 percent of the workforce have been disengaged for over a decade. 72 percent of the world’s population self-describes as unhappy. Most people are not bringing their best selves to work. That’s money and innovation flying out the door. When people belong, they are engaged, they are happy. A culture of belonging is everyone’s job, not just the job of the under-represented population. This is a cultural shift in what we believe, what we value, what we must believe to be true, how we treat others, what success looks like, and who gets to be successful. This is hard stuff fueled by a systemic bias. Our work systems have not really changed in 50–100 years. Sure, we have better technology, but that technology is based on inequitable status quos fueled by unconscious biases.
The work we do is focused on everyone in a business. Not just women or other under-represented populations. We don’t blame and shame those in power. We don’t try to ‘fix’ under-represented populations to be more like what the antiquated status quo of what success looks like (based on ONE population in the workforce). We enable everyone to change.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
I am excited — this is breaking news. I recently started working with HR.com as their Chief Equity and Workplace Disruption Futurist to start an exclusive enterprise membership for 100 Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs), their leadership teams, and their individual contributors. The membership is called Legacy Makers from HR.com. I see this as a channel to create some serious disruption in the future of enterprise, the future of leadership, the future of work, and the future of how work is done. It’s a dream come true! The CHROs are hand-selected to work together in order to create a new legacy for Human Resources, one that maximizes human potential so that all talent can thrive. HR.com has spent the last 20 years serving over 1.7 million HR practitioners around the globe through certifications and research. Now is the time for focus on the executives responsible for people strategy.
Together, we will disrupt the business of HR, the future of HR’s impact, and the career paths of HR professionals. We will cover all key top-of-mind topics. One close to my heart is Diversity and Inclusion. We have our work cut out for us.
HR.com’s latest research confirms that there’s a problem among organizations. In most respondent organizations (62%), women are less than 41% of leaders. In nearly a fifth of responding organizations, they are no more than 10% of leaders. Despite the stagnation, only 36% of HR professionals say their organizations have one or more development initiatives focused on improving diversity and inclusion in the leadership ranks. In addition, few (34%) have mandates for making leadership more diverse. In fact, it appears that managers have few tangible incentives for increasing diversity. In the large majority of organizations, managers are not even partially rated, promoted or compensated based on their ability to help the organization achieve diversity goals. AND, this is depressing: our research also indicates that only 13% of HR professionals report a decrease in harassment complaints over the past two years, whereas 15% say there have been increases. The remainder indicate that the number of complaints has stayed the same.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
As a change leader, I know this for sure: you must meet people where they are in order to get them where they need to be. In order to get them where they need to be, you need to practice equity over equality. Equality is a one-size-fits-all approach to leveling the playing field. It doesn’t work. Everyone’s journey is different, everyone’s needs are different, their support systems are different. Most equality systems are based on what works for white males. Practicing equity helps you understand that everyone is different, has different experiences and different needs. Ask your people if they feel like they belong. Find out why. Train and enable your middle-managers on creating inclusive practices. They are the ones who are responsible for the majority of your workforce. People don’t leave companies, they leave bosses. It’s your job to enable those bosses to do what it takes to enable their employees and contractors to bring their whole selves to work.
Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. Can you share with our readers the top five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line.
- Never leaving money on the table. As Robert Zoeller said, “Gender equality is smart economics.” Truer words never spoken. If you don’t have women represented in the boardroom and c-suite and influencer positions in R&D, marketing, the salesforce, you are NOT maximizing your ability to make money. I have way too many examples of this that usually goes something like this: An engineering firm who works with city planners is consistently losing work because they do not have women who meet with clients or lead client projects. They are losing long-time clients to more diverse firms because they have no one in the room who brings different perspectives in how the city will be lived in, played in.
- Increasing market share. Women are responsible for ~90% of consumer buying decisions. From politics to the #metoo movement, women are boycotting brand en masse when they feel their voices are not represented in corporate values, spending, and investments. And, they are taking their money with them. Thanks to social media, the impact is immediate and severe. A good example is when women banded together against Trump brands, ultimately causing retail chains to drop the brands. The implications to Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom would have been catastrophic if they did not boycott.
- Creating the right innovations. Men have been in the driver’s seat for most every business investment decision, even those products made exclusively for women. Surbhi Sarna, founder/CEO of nVision (acquired by Boston Scientific) created a non-invasive medical device that can be used in the doctor’s office, versus operating room, to detect ovarian cancer. It can also be used for detecting infertility. As a survivor of repeat ovarian cysts where detection was barbaric and not updated ever, these devices are changing the lives of millions of people around the world. The innovation disrupts that status quo around early detection for both diseases.
- Attracting all top talent, not just some. Women are just over half of the workforce, more than half of PhDs, MBAs, and undergrad degrees. We hear all of the time that there is a shortage of talent. There is no shortage of talent. Our talent acquisition practices have never changed. We use the same words to go into the same rooms, talk to the same people, about the same things, all the while expecting a different outcome. Changing little things, like removing names from resumes, can yield big impact. One of my clients, one of the first in their industry to practice blind resumes, increased the number of qualified applicants and hires of women in their engineering jobs. They have a council in place that has been in place since then to ensure all recruitment and onboarding practices are truly inclusive. The council has representation of all personas in their workforce, mapping to their buyers and users.
- Increasing brand equity. Women are really good at being loyal to brands and really good about sharing their brand allegiance with other women. I think about brands like Zaggora who built their business and their brand of fat-burning workout clothes on Facebook. Their customers are their models, their biggest brand advocates and their #1 salespeople.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
When I did my doctoral dissertation on women who hold board of director positions in publicly held life sciences and technology businesses, I noticed a trend: women believe in power of the platform, not power of the position. Every single one of us has a platform. Some are big, some are small. We all have the opportunity to share that platform. That is what I do for other women. I wrote Disrupters: Success Strategies From Women Who Break The Mold because I do not think that women need to lean in more. I do think that system needs to be disrupted. When you are a woman leading change, you tend to feel alone. I wanted women who lead change to know that they are not alone in their belief that what they care about matters.
I have worked in big tech for a long time. I also consult for large organizations to help them with gender equity programs and with women who are leading large-scale change in environments with constructs that perpetuate bias, unconscious and otherwise, against women leaders. I coach women poised to become chief executives or board members. I’m an investor in women-led enterprises. I work hard to enable women to lead and live on their own terms.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“This too shall pass.” It’s gotten me through the bad times because it’s a reminder that nothing lasts forever. It helps me experience the good times by understanding that those too will end and therefore, I need to be present and enjoy!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
So many. My mother is a first-generation American Armenian daughter of an orphaned genocide survivor. She didn’t go to college. Grew up in a household where men were superior to women. She would have none of that for my sisters and me. She has been my greatest enabler. She helped me understand myself, accept that I am different from other people, and to embrace that difference. “You are who you are. Everyone else has accepted it. So should you,” and, “stop saying you want to be a writer. You write. You are a writer. Now move on.” I love that woman.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
My work brings stories of women who find the courage to change the world, by first disrupting themselves. They are women who experience and contribute to the power of female relationships. I do believe that people are educated easiest when they are entertained. I would love to share a meal with Michelle Obama. She gets it. She lives it. Her work with Netflix on bringing stories of real people to life are exactly where my stories fit. I have so much to learn from her.