Measure and keep track of progress. In today’s world, we measure everything. And yet, when we talk about measuring diversity, everyone goes “affirmative action!” Instead, let’s reframe the assumption — rather than reserve spots for particular people, let’s measure effectiveness at managing diversely. What percentage of promotions are diverse based on our population? What is the velocity of promotion comparatively across groups? What’s the percentage of male v. female words we use in a job advertisement? Etc. Etc. Let’s measure our progress so we can see what’s working and what is not.
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 Kelly Watson & Jodi Detjen.
Jodi Detjen is an organizational consultant and educator. Her mission is to help organizations leverage their talent strategically by increasing inclusion as soon as possible. In addition to being Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Orange Grove Consulting, Jodi is Clinical Professor of Management at Suffolk University. She is the co-author of two books: The Orange Line: A Woman’s Guide to Integrating Career, Family, and Life and The Next Smart Step: How to Overcome Gender Stereotypes, published February 9, 2021. Jodi earned her B.Sc. from Virginia Tech, her MA from Duke University and is currently pursuing her Doctorate at Temple University.
Kelly Watson is Managing Partner of Orange Grove Consulting and has spent more than 20 years as an accomplished operations and organizational development consultant. Kelly’s clients have included Oracle and Toyota, as well as Skillsoft and Linkage, for whom she has designed women’s leadership curriculum. Kelly is an adjunct professor at Loyola Marymount University She is the co-author of two books: The Orange Line: A Woman’s Guide to Integrating Career, Family, and Life and The Next Smart Step: How to Overcome Gender Stereotypes, published February 9, 2021.
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?
Kelly Watson: I grew up in a working class household and was the first to go to university. My father was an immigrant and factory worker. I was fortunate to get involved in the Junior Achievement program where I learned about business careers and I was also fortunate to get a job in tech when I left college, despite not having grown up with a computer in my home. I immigrated to the US in the early 1990s and worked in the computer industry for a large computer distributor where I cut my teeth in sales, operations, and marketing.
Jodi Detjen: I grew up on a farm in Carroll County, MD where we rented out our property to a farmer. There were cows and acres of corn. We had goats, geese, a horse, a dog and cats. I loved going to Baltimore but my parents were country people and so we rarely went. So I grew up wondering around 40+ acres longing for the city life. I went away to a really big university — Virginia Tech — and LOVED being around so many people. But it was a real uphill learning curve.
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?
KW: One in the past few years that has rocked my world is Shane Snow’s Dream Teams. I loved the storytelling aspect and his deep thinking behind how cognitive diversity works on teams to improve outcomes. Running with his perspective, I aim to quantify and measure this effect and the skill of managing diverse teams to cultivate the kind of outcomes that are possible.
JD: Lord of the Rings. I am a big Sci Fi and Fantasy reader. Lord of the Rings resonated with me because it was about this motley crew of people, thrown together to change the world. It inspired me and helped me think that I could do that too.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
KW: From the movie, Raising Arizona — “This whole thing is just who knows who….Then over here you have favoritism.” This is a funny way of saying something that I had to learn, and that is that relationships and networking are everything. Coming from the background I did, I knew nobody of influence. And then I moved to a new country and knew nobody. Early in my career I thought networking wasn’t work, so I kept my head down at my desk and worked hard. The problem is, the deals were happening on the golf course and at lunch and I wasn’t there. It wasn’t until I started to appreciate how important going to lunch is to career development that I started to network. Now, I am all about networking and I try to encourage young people, especially women like me who might also underestimate the importance of networking, to get out there. Of course, reframing networking as “helping other people be successful” was very helpful because otherwise it felt like a selfish or social endeavor, rather than an opportunity to put that good karma into the system which ultimately comes back tenfold.
JD: No. I’m not a big Life Lesson Quote person. I love to read Pema Chodron because her work resonates very deeply.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
KW: I think of leadership as that informal thing that needs to happen to move anything in society forward, whether on a team, in an organization, or in your community. It’s about taking initiative to mobilize people to act and taking responsibility for what they do. It’s not about politics or dogma, it’s about stepping up when something needs to get done. During covid, a lot of people in my community were upset about what they couldn’t do and having to wear masks and whether or not kids should be trick or treating for Halloween. I mobilized an effort involving all of the service clubs, the city government, and people from both political parties to come together and create a magical community Halloween for our families. That’s leadership — I didn’t hold a formal title or official role, and it wasn’t about getting credit or a political point of view; I instigated a movement that involved hundreds of volunteers of all stripes because someone needed to act to make it happen. That’s leadership.
JD: Leadership is a responsibility and a gift. Leadership is about providing the scaffolding so that people can do their work effectively, easily, and openly. Leadership is about listening, integrating, supporting, and challenging. Most of all leadership is about empowering so that people have the chance to grow into their 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?
KW: Amy Cuddy’s work on priming has had a really big influence on me, both the physical priming of stretching up tall and taking deep slow breaths as well as the mental priming of reminding myself that I have self- efficacy for whatever task I am about to embark upon. I also have done a lot of work on my nemesis — perfectionism — so that I can allow myself to perform at a high rate without feeling anything short of perfection is failure.
JD: I do two things 6 out of 7 days (I always give myself a day off!) I meditate daily for 20 minutes. That start to my day grounds and centers me. There aren’t really any words to describe the power of meditation. I’ve been doing it for almost 20 years and now, it is wordless for me. The second thing I do is work out. I might do a HIIT workout, walk, lift weights or do yoga depending on the day. But I do it second thing in the morning so that it’s done! ☺
After 20 years of meditating, what I now know how to do is to go inside during stressful times. I center and ground myself. I’ll give you an example. I was co-facilitating a high stakes meeting recently and the people in the meeting were suddenly confused about the activity. Years ago, I would’ve freaked out in the moment, maybe even froze. What I did (and this was just a few weeks ago) was remind myself that I am a skilled facilitator. Then I grounded myself. Then I asked myself, why might they be confused? The answer was that they felt uncomfortable thinking in the way I was asking them to think. So I explained more and I also asked two people who I knew understood to lead their discussion group. It was uncomfortable but the others actually came on board pretty quickly. I reinforced them positively. Afterwards, we got incredible feedback because it opened up a part of them they hadn’t used before.
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?
This crisis evolved, in our view, because the system is still in place whereby people who are connected get jobs and those who are not don’t, just like Kelly spoke about above. I always think about my own experience. I (Jodi) was so lucky. I had no connections because I grew up on that farm. But I got my degree in a booming industry (tech) and so I was able to get a job. But it was a long haul to figure out the norms — I had no reference points and had to do a lot of observing. There was a study just done by BCG that looked at exactly this in the context of consulting. They found that it was belonging that mattered. People who are not in the “in” group do not feel like they belong. This builds and builds and so today, women and people of color still have a slower velocity into leadership and make less money. It gets to you after a while.
But note, we are optimistic. The silver lining is that now it is an imperative. People won’t be able to just do the window dressing. Now the pressure will help motivate for deeper change.
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?
Our firm, Orange Grove Consulting focuses on operationalizing inclusion. What that means is that we bring in our decades of operational consulting experience and just apply that perspective to DEI. We’ve found three things.
1) It makes it so much more accessible. People have changed processes before. They have strategized change. They have examined behaviors. This gives people comfort because what’s new is the focus, not the approach.
2) the second thing we’ve found is that the main reason for the lack of diversity are the underlying assumptions people make about each other. So for example, recently I heard a discussion about a woman going on maternity leave. The discussion was whether she would come back. The assumption was she probably wouldn’t but they wanted to keep it open. So we look at the assumption and say, let’s assume that she will come back. When we reframe that assumption, what happens is now we work to help her come back. We support her in all sorts of way. When we assume she won’t, we leave it up to her and do nothing to help so that the transition back is all hers.
3) the third thing we found is that so much of DEI is about skillset. In some research we conducted on allyship we found that only 21% of leaders have the requisite skills for inclusion. 21%! So we are expecting leaders to be experts at something they have no experience in. When we approach this as a skill challenge, that is so much easier to solve than when we just assume (there it is again) that people will just do it.
For example, we worked with a group of executives in helping build their inclusion skills. Just the discussions themselves yielded results such as I’ve been hiring at the same school forever! I never even thought about it! (assumption plus operational process). In another example, we worked with a large national services firm and found a legacy of promoting those who were part of the “in” network. It was hard to examine because no one wants to feel like they excluded someone unfairly. This company stepped back and looked at this, really looked at it and asked themselves, what do we want? (assumption, skills and processes).
The power in this work is really the freedom that examining these old ways of operating brings. It’s like believing that everything has to be a certain way (we can’t hire from any other university because then we have to do extra work to onboard) and then realizing, hey, we could look at this totally differently (if we start broadening where we hire, then we’ll get a broader range of candidates from which to choose). Consider what’s going on in tech now and their investment in hiring more non-traditional candidates (see Apple for instance). They are now going to be able to build up the talent they desperately need. Big Win-Win.
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?
Consider the rain forest. The rainforest is extremely diverse. Whether you are in the Pacific Northwest, the Amazon, or the Arctic Tundra, the diversity is magnificent. We travel to go see it. We admire it. The diversity of flora and fauna is amazing — the synergies are built into the system itself. Now compare that to the average corporation. The majority of people have similar backgrounds and, if the websites are any indication, far too often look far too similar. How can a group of homogenous thinkers be creative? How can they compete? The only reason they can compete today is because most other organizations are similar.
But that’s changing — and fast. Research and our experience suggest that becoming inclusive to the point where you are realizing business benefit takes time — we estimate three to five years. So that means that organizations who have already started are already down that road. The longer you wait, it’s your wait time plus 3–5 years. That’s why it matters. Diversity yields bottom line benefit. That research has been done extensively so I’m not going to repeat it all here. The key is, it’s happening. You competitors are doing it so it’s either wait and catch up, or start now and get on with it.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. 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.
Our 5 steps really underline our whole approach and what we describe in our new book, The Next Smart Step: How to Overcome Gender Stereotypes and Build a Stronger Organization
1. Identify your underlying assumptions. As we describe above, underlying assumptions are a killer. Let’s look at what’s happening right now in COVID. Women are leaving the workforce in droves — 4 times the rate of men. It’s even worse for Black and Latinx women. Why? Two reasons, women predominate in the service industries that were hardest hit and they are ones that have the predominant burden around childcare. And what’s happened to childcare? Closed. What’s one underlying assumption in this? Women are responsible for childcare — and it’s their individual problem. When we assume this, it locks us in. There are only a few options we available for us to solve the problem.
2. Reframe these assumptions to release opportunity. Now, what if we reframe that assumption. What if we say: we are all responsible for caring for children. Now there are a myriad of options. Some of them could be the government subsidizes childcare. Another is that organizations — which many have — support parents in their child care challenges. Managers could check in with their people and see what challenges they have and work to find solutions. Communities could come together to help. There are a myriad of solutions — but we have to reframe first to get to them. Otherwise it’s an individual problem to solve and the rest of us can ignore it.
3. Skill up. Once we tackle the problem with a new mindset, we now need the skills to manage it. For example, I always chuckle when people say they can’t find good coders. The assumption is that there are not enough women or people of color coders. But I (Jodi) was a coder. And coding requires two main skills — logics and linguistics. Guess who has these skills? People with a liberal arts undergrad. You can take a coding bootcamp in two months. So why not invest in that? When I shared that with a company and their coders they scoffed. Here’s where inclusion hits the wall — If someone can learn coding in 8 weeks without a CS degree, what does that suggest to those in the job already? So skilling up can happen here in two ways: 1) give diverse people the training to do coding and 2) work with those in the job already to help them manage working in a more diverse team.
4. Change the processes and how things work. Here is where we have to change things to make it easier to be less biased. Let’s take promotion. Promotion in many (most?) organizations happens based on who raises their hand or is the loudest. So we overvalue loudness and arrogance (sometimes disguised as confidence). Both of which have been socialized down for women and people of color in the workplace. So change the process. Open it up. Compare candidates based on clear and measurable skills and outcomes. And, compare the candidates with each other because when we compare a candidate with the “ideal”, women and People of color are evaluated as less than (Bohnet, 2016).
5. Measure and keep track of progress. In today’s world, we measure everything. And yet, when we talk about measuring diversity, everyone goes “affirmative action!” Instead, let’s reframe the assumption — rather than reserve spots for particular people, let’s measure effectiveness at managing diversely. What percentage of promotions are diverse based on our population? What is the velocity of promotion comparatively across groups? What’s the percentage of male v. female words we use in a job advertisement? Etc. Etc. Let’s measure our progress so we can see what’s working and what is not.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
Yes I am. There has been an incredible awakening over the last several years. People’s who’s voices have not been heard are now out. Yes, we have to figure out a way forward but that’s part of where our work comes in. The solutions will be negotiated so that we keep the pieces that work and change how we include. What this means for us as a society is incredibly positive. Think about this. McKinsey suggests that just adding women to the economy more formally globally would add — 12 TRILLION dollars to the GDP. That’s just women. Think of all the other people who have been marginalized. Think about all the talent that just US corporations leave on the table because people outside the “in” group leave. We all would be better off with that growth. All those incredible ideas out in the economy. All those incredible voices making this world a better place. We’re incredibly optimistic!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Melinda Gates. She has done so much for women globally and the US and is willing to speak out to raise the issues.
How can our readers follow you online?
Linked in: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jodidetjen/
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!