Enough is enough. We have finally hit our breaking point in seeing the amount of police brutality and racism across the country. Any life lost at the hands of racism is one too many. True leaders of all races across our society are standing up to confront racism and many others are standing with them to ensure that we do not miss this opportunity to hold ourselves and our country to a higher standard.
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Stephen Bailey.
Stephen Bailey brings a passion for helping executives and their companies solve their most pressing leadership and development challenges. He is the founder and CEO of ExecOnline, an enterprise platform partnered with top business schools to deliver online leadership development programs. Stephen grew the business from an early-stage startup to a company that serves nearly half the Fortune 500 companies across a range of international markets and business functions.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, and had a great childhood. I grew up with two parents who understood the value of education, particularly as Black Americans looking to advance in a society that doesn’t always make that easy. Despite the fact that they were from very different places (my mother grew up in New Orleans and my father in New York City), they both experienced discrimination of many types, but focused on education as a way to rise above it and become successful doctors. My parents made it clear to my sister and me that education was the key to writing our own script in life, rather than having a script imposed on us by many of the outside forces we are grappling with today.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
One of the most inspiring books I have read is, “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba, which is a story of a 13-year old boy from Malawi who, despite little formal education, saves his village from famine by designing and building a windmill to provide electricity and running water. Faced with an extremely difficult situation, the young boy was determined to make it through. This story serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of providing equal access to quality education. There is enormous talent distributed throughout the world, but it is too often stymied by the unequal distribution of opportunity. William was able to overcome enormous odds by literally creating opportunity for himself and his community, but what about the other Williams out there whose talents might never be shared with the world?
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
My mother once said to me, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” I immediately recognized the relevance and importance of this as a reminder that I have responsibility to try to make a positive impact on the world, within my work and among the people in my life. She also loves reminding me that… “There are no excuses, only reasons.” Throughout my life, when I’ve faced adversity and new challenges, I hear her words in the back of my mind and feel empowered to achieve what I know I can.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is the ability to galvanize and empower people around a common purpose through a recognition that the group is more valuable than the sum of its individual parts. Leadership is often defined by passion, courage, strength, and resilience. Those in a leadership role must be able to admit their shortcomings and should always be willing to put in the extra effort to help others succeed — both personally and professionally. Leadership is having resilience and not shying away from a problem, even if it seems impenetrable. Leaders are dogged and determined and have a fire that burns deep inside when it comes to their unique desire to make a difference and unite everyone around a common goal. That passion should shine through in both their personal and professional lives, helping their loved ones, friends and colleagues reach their own full potential.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I have made an effort to really disconnect and unwind from work at the end of the day to keep any unnecessary stress at bay, whether that’s through taking time to read a book or simply putting all electronics away and focusing on my family. Before a big meeting or event, I typically try to focus on being completely present and staying in the moment — I don’t think about any successes or failures of the past, only what I am about to do right then.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
Enough is enough. We have finally hit our breaking point in seeing the amount of police brutality and racism across the country. Any life lost at the hands of racism is one too many.
True leaders of all races across our society are standing up to confront racism and many others are standing with them to ensure that we do not miss this opportunity to hold ourselves and our country to a higher standard.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
I founded ExecOnline to be an inclusive and diverse company with a mission of cultivating more diverse and inclusive leaders at the world’s largest companies. We have sought to fulfill our inclusion mission by democratizing access to world-class leadership development programs designed to create more diverse leadership succession pipelines in our client organizations. We also collect benchmarking data throughout the year on how companies develop their female leaders compared to male leaders, as well as stats around racial equity at the leadership level to show the positive implications of creating a more inclusive leadership environment.
We have worked with our business school partners to host a series of free webinars addressing how leaders can use their positions of power to promote change both within their organizations and their broader communities. We are also launching a free video series highlighting advice from progressive chief diversity officers and chief human resource officers on how to make our organizations, and the broader communities in which we operate, more inclusive. Finally, we have donated to community organizations that are fighting for racial justice in our nation.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Organizations need to have a diverse executive team in order to truly represent the perspectives of all stakeholders of the organization, from employees, to customers to partners. This is important to make clients, employees and partners feel welcomed, accepted, and heard. The best way to represent those different communities is to have members from those communities represented at senior levels of your organization.
Having a diverse executive team encourages different and often difficult conversations that include various viewpoints and ideas, which ultimately provide the best possible solutions and brings a higher chance of organizational success. When a company focuses on having different voices and viewpoints, they are also helping build a mature and dynamic culture within their organization.
And, taking it a step further, diversity and inclusion in the workplace helps all employees feel accepted and valued, which means they are likely going to be happier in their current role and position in the company. Generally speaking, when employees feel valued and happy, they tend to stick around longer, meaning turnover rates will be much lower than if you were to have an organization full of less engaged employees.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
- Talk About It. As a whole, our society needs to be willing to have those hard or uncomfortable conversations. Ask questions and talk about what’s currently happening in America and across the world. The only way we can truly create a peaceful, inclusive and representative society is if we have a better understanding of the issues and how we want to handle them.
- Acknowledge Diversity as a Key Societal Value. Create more diverse classrooms, more diverse athletic teams, more diverse places of worship and more diverse communities, membership associations or clubs. Having equal opportunities across the board will create a more diverse and inclusive society across the board.
- Hire Diverse Leaders. When you look at your company’s leaders, does that group represent different backgrounds, genders and ethnicities? It’s not just race that is important. Leaders must also look at what their seniority team within the organization looks like in several different areas, including sexual orientation, age, and gender. In order to create a diverse society, you must be willing to create a diverse organization. Take their thoughts and opinions into consideration for business plans and you’ll see how much your company can flourish.
- Support Diversity through Inclusion. Inclusion is all about the environment that you create for diverse members. Make diverse individuals feel as though they’re empowered and included in the discussion. Leaders should also publicly show their support for specific communities throughout the year, not just during Black History Month or Pride Month. Demonstrating a true company culture that embraces diversity in all facets year-round gives organizations genuine visibility within those communities they are supporting, which means the company and brand will gain followers and allies.
- Invest to Achieve Meaningful Outcomes. Leaders need to be willing to invest in training, resources and people to help bring a better understanding of creating an inclusive society. Investing in diversity and inclusion also means investing in what your employees believe in, follow and support during their own time. This means bringing culture and education opportunities into the workplace on a regular basis, such as having historians or cultural experts come to speak at company events and retreats, or even providing financial assistance for employees who wish to take professional development courses in gender or race studies at a local college. There are a lot of ways to invest in diversity and inclusion — the possibilities are endless.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
Absolutely. Our younger generations havedifferent expectations for our future society and they aren’t willing to accept discrimination, whether it be intentional or unintentional, as the “norm.” They question everything and are willing to take a stance and demand change, which is exactly what we need right now. We’ve already seen so much progress being made across the United States, even in a year as tough as 2020, so I am extremely optimistic that we will achieve true and lasting change.
It takes passion and courage to be a leader, not just intelligence and book smarts. Look at the March For Our Lives movement. Those teenagers took a stand for something they believed would help make a difference in all of our lives, and there’s a natural born leader in all of them. In tough times we are all forced to look for the weak spots and find improvements that can be made to help the situation.
President Obama recently noted in a video townhall with the New York Times that he has seen great improvements in civil rights, even though it may not look like it right now. He feels strongly that the country in general is in a much better place than it was in the 60’s as it relates to racism and moving the needle forward. I believe he is right and while there is a lot of work to be done, we have already come a long way in bringing diversity and inclusion into the national and global conversation every single day, not just during times of strife and hardship.
How can our readers follow you online?
- My LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephen-bailey-7bb5144/
- ExecOnline’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/execonline/
- ExecOnline’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/ExecOnlineInc
- ExecOnline’s Website: https://www.execonline.com/
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!