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“Be present.” With Candice Georgiadis & Laura Freebairn-Smith

A third factor is an emphasis on having children as a critical life achievement. More women and men are choosing not to have children but there is extraordinary societal pressure to do so. It’s a cliché but true — as soon as a couple gets married (hetero, gay, or otherwise), people start asking, “When are […]

A third factor is an emphasis on having children as a critical life achievement. More women and men are choosing not to have children but there is extraordinary societal pressure to do so. It’s a cliché but true — as soon as a couple gets married (hetero, gay, or otherwise), people start asking, “When are you going to have kids?” Children have a major impact on at least one partner’s income, and the world is overpopulated. We don’t need more children, but as a species that is biologically programmed to reproduce, we are driven to have them.


Aspart of my series about “The Five Things We Need to Do to Close the Gender Wage Gap,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Freebairn-Smith.

Laura Freebairn-Smith is a co-founder and partner at Organizational Performance Group (OPG). Laura helps leaders redesign their organizations and create strategic plans through organizational development guidance. Laura also teaches at Yale’s School of Drama and the Yale Office of International Affairs.

Prior to this work, Laura served as Yale’s Director of the Organizational Development and Learning Center, which she helped create in 1999. In addition to her work with OPG’s clients, Laura teaches leadership, diversity, and team building at Yale’s School of Drama.

Her work and career have three major foci:

  • Leading the creation of extraordinary organizational cultures
  • Guiding groups, large and small, to greater effectiveness and impact
  • Consulting on organizational development issues with a special emphasis on strategic planning and organizational redesign

Laura’s background includes a BA from UC Berkeley (Philosophy and Political Science) and an MBA from the Yale School of Management. She holds a doctorate in Organizational Systems and has published articles and chapters on organizational development topics, most recently the impact of gender on inequity in compensation.

Prior to joining Yale, Laura founded Good Work Associates, a consulting firm providing strategic planning and organizational development services. Before that, she served as Managing Director for the Gesell Institute of Human Development, as Chief Operating Officer for Jobs for the Future, and as Education Coordinator for the International Rescue Committee on the Thai-Cambodian border. In addition to her teaching position at Yale, Laura has taught at the University of New Haven, Georgetown University, and Central Connecticut State University. She has received several leadership awards.

Laura is committed to being a catalyst for the planting of one million trees in her lifetime.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?

Ibecame interested in organizational issues when I was working in a Cambodian refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border as the Education Coordinator for a camp called Khao-I-Dang. I had 1,000 Khmer staff and about 10 Thai and expatriate staff working for me. I reported to the International Rescue Committee’s Bangkok and New York offices, as well as to the UNHCR in Bangkok. I was struck with how difficult middle management and communication was. As a result of those challenges, I ended up at the Yale School of Management where I discovered the field of organizational development. I also discovered accounting and finance. Those two organizational “languages” became powerful sense-makers and tools for me in my career. I went on to be a Chief Operating Officer, Managing Director, Director of Organizational Development, Professor, and Partner in a variety of organizations ranging from a small nonprofit called Jobs for the Future to Yale University.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

I do not have a most interesting story; that’s impossible to choose from the events and experiences of 40 years. I have had the honor and privilege of working with CEOs and front line staff on a wide range of challenges that mattered to them greatly. I’ve flown in helicopters to retreats, skied down a mountain at night with emerging leaders, and watched multiple staff grow and flourish. It might sound corny but it is true for me that every single day that I spend growing OPG is interesting and meaningful. At my core, I’m an entrepreneur. I love creating jobs and value by creating great organizations.

Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This is not so funny as much as a powerful learning. One of my favorite bosses of all time, Peter Vallone, once said to me, “Don’t get out ahead of your boss.” It was such a great lesson about not taking initiative or saying things in a public space without being sure your boss was on board. I had done this many times, I’m sure, before he taught me that phrase.

Ok, let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. Even in 2019, women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. Can you explain three of the main factors that are causing the wage gap?

Netflix has a great new series, “Explained.” One of the topics is the pay gap for women. In the series, based on Rwanda’s success at decreasing the pay gap, one effective approach to change the pay gap is to have a majority of women in political and other leadership roles. Women, in general, seem to create and approve more policies that decrease the gender gap. They vote for free or inexpensive childcare. They vote for income equality.

Another factor in the pay gap is the idea that childcare and home management are women’s work. In Arlie Hochschild’s book, The Second Shift, written in 1989, she documented how women do 80% of the house work and management. Men tend to do the once a week, once a month, or once a year house tasks such as mowing the lawn, taking the garbage out. Women are cooking multiple meals a day, feeding the dog, bringing in the mail, and getting children ready. For some younger generations in developed countries, this imbalance is shifting as young men have begun to see house care and childcare as part of their relationship contribution.

A third factor is an emphasis on having children as a critical life achievement. More women and men are choosing not to have children but there is extraordinary societal pressure to do so. It’s a cliché but true — as soon as a couple gets married (hetero, gay, or otherwise), people start asking, “When are you going to have kids?” Children have a major impact on at least one partner’s income, and the world is overpopulated. We don’t need more children, but as a species that is biologically programmed to reproduce, we are driven to have them.

Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?

We work with leaders in our client organizations. As part of our work, we ask them to consider how they can use their power and influence to change the world for the better, not just their organization. Through those dialogues, we hope that our client leaders will make changes to pay scales, promotion tracks, and equalize expectations across gender about who needs what kind of support (men need parental leave too).

Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the gender wage gap? Please share a story or example for each.

Here are five things we can do on a societal level.

  1. As mentioned above, based on Rwanda’s success at decreasing the pay gap, one way to change the pay gap is to have a majority of women in political and other leadership roles.
  2. Model shared house care. Be sure that you and your spouse divide up all the work that it takes to run a house in an equitable way.
  3. Model gender equity in your home. Don’t allow or use language or ideas that make women second-class citizens with fewer rights.
  4. Encourage your daughters, nieces, and other young women in your life to question the images they see in the media.
  5. Run for office.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I have a few ideas here:

  • Every second Sunday, everyone would stop using their cars, flying, or using any individual vehicle with emissions. They would walk, bike, take public transit. Twenty-four hours of decreased emissions world-wide, once a month, would help global warming.
  • 14x Pay Differential: Every company would commit that the pay differential (including all forms of compensation) would never be more than 14x between the highest paid and the lowest paid worker. OPG’s differential is 6x.
  • “I have more than I need” — My son once asked me if we were rich. I said, “We have more than we need so, yes, we are rich.” If we could all focus on using less resources, sharing more, and voting in the interest of others, not ourselves, I think it would continue to improve the global condition.
  • Every company would commit to Paul Hawken’s guidelines for a responsible free market economy from his book, The Ecology of Commerce, with some modifications:
  • Reduce absolute consumption of energy and natural resources in the North by 80% within the next half century
  • Provide secure, stable, and meaningful employment for people everywhere
  • Be self-actuating as opposed to regulated or morally mandated (for me, this needs modification)
  • Honor market principles (for me, this needs modification)
  • Be more rewarding than our present way of life
  • Exceed sustainability by restoring degraded habitats and ecosystems to their fullest biological capacity
  • Rely on current income
  • Be fun and engaging

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson” quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I use the five rules of life in my teaching and my own life.

  • Show up
  • Be present
  • Speak your truth
  • Don’t be attached to an outcome
  • Be open to all possibilities

For me, speaking my truth has been an ongoing practice — how to speak the truth without anger or sarcasm or fear. This is hard work.

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 see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Warren Buffett. I’m intrigued with his deep commitment to sharing the wealth. I’d love to talk to him about how capitalism can be changed to reduce income inequality, at a system level, not just individual by individual. How do we reduce greed? Increase ethics? Increase sharing? I think he’s worked hard on these issues his whole life.

How can our readers follow you online?

www.orgpg.com[email protected]

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.

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