Teach women to ask the hard questions and to be clear about the market rates for their role and the expectations of performance. If they suspect that they are not being compensated fairly, then they need to have the support and training to speak up. In our Cirque du Sophia program, we involve women in practice sessions, to simply become accustomed to asking tough questions and dealing with the reactions. It is possible to raise these concerns in a way that demonstrates market awareness, competency, self-confidence and business savvy.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisë Stewart, Principal-in-Charge of EisnerAmper’s Center for Family Business within the Private Business Services Practice. She has more than 25 years of experience in organizational development, strategic planning and training, and human performance management. A popular and nationally recognized speaker, Lisë is well known for her advocacy and training for, privately held businesses. She offers case studies, humor and practical, no-nonsense advice to make her information accessible and realistic for clients and participants. Her training is in organizational psychology and small business, and she is the author of numerous articles on organizational and individual effectiveness, and business sustainability. Additionally, Lisë has been a keynote speaker on topics pertaining to small business nationally and internationally for over 25 years. Prior to joining the firm, Lisë was the Founder and President of Galliard International, the largest provider of transition services for small businesses in the country. In 2014, she founded the Galliard Family Business Advisor Institute, a non-profit membership organization for those interested in supporting and saving family owned companies in their local communities. Lisë holds certifications from various organizational development institutions, including the Gestalt Institute’s Certification in Professional Coaching and attainment of Professional Level Certification through the International Coach Federation.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?
I started my ‘career’ in the non-profit world in New Zealand. As a gently bossy person by nature, I was leading a number of volunteer organizations and working hard to increase productivity, community impact and volunteer loyalty. Most of the volunteers were women (as is still the case) and yet, many of their husbands were running their own small businesses. These business owners heard about my work through their wives and asked me to do the same for their companies… and a new practice was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?
One of the most interesting, and often bittersweet, situations arise out of tragedy. In working with women over many years, one of the most rewarding situations has been when a company founder (usually a father or husband) has suddenly passed or become too ill to lead and a women has found herself needing to step into this incredibly important, yet frightening role. Coaching women and watching them blossom, sometimes becoming fully aware of their natural gifts for the first time is a fantastic experience. I have had the honor of working with dozens and dozens of women as they developed their unique, signature style of leadership, found their voice and stepped up to the challenge of running a business, supporting a family and leading a workforce. It is truly a powerful thing to witness.
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?
Early in my career, I worried that I was too young and too inexperienced to run my own company successfully. I started my first business at 24 and my 3rd business at 28. I was keen and excited but green and inexperienced — so I tended to hire older women to guide me. Unfortunately, I was too tentative, and failed to give them feedback or to be really clear about my boundaries. It wasn’t until I had to fire one of these older, more powerful women, that I found my voice. I am not very tall and I will never forget standing face to face with a women who was 20 years my senior and a good foot taller than me and telling her to pack up her things, she was fired. I was terrified. However, I learned that (1) I have a strong set of personal values for which I will not compromise; (2) I have a right to set professional boundaries that support the organizational culture that I want to foster and (3) Older is not necessarily wiser or kinder — those are attributes you must earn and demonstrate, every day.
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?
I believe that these are old, hierarchical patterns of behavior that need to come out of the dark to be addressed. In this day, I think that too few companies are really assessing their pay scales and are simply following old practices without really giving them much thought. So, one factor is simply ignorance and a failure to examine old practices. Secondly, I think that companies have been able to pay women less because women didn’t question their compensation and it was an easy way to save money. That is changing, quickly. Finally, women still seek to be liked — to get approval from those around her, and will often settle for less. Again, this is changing and more women are finding their voice in the workplace. But until we challenge the status quo, businesses have little reason to change.
Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?
In our leadership work with women, we help our clients to develop the confidence and tools to question these old practices and to challenge the status quo. We help women to learn new techniques for both demonstrating their value and advocating on their own behalf. We focus on our reactions to conflict, our communication patterns, our common assumptions and our expectations. We have a lot of old patterns to change. We also work with younger generations to point out these inequities and with leadership, regardless of gender, in organizations to call their attention to both the practice and the resulting impacts. If companies want to retain talent, then they must pay attention to compensation, recognition and rewards — for everyone.
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.
(1) Raise awareness of the issue. In a recent meeting with the leadership team of a west coast company, we asked questions about their compensation policies. They were surprised by the questions and said that they had not reviewed either their policies or practices in many years, if at all. The company had simply grown, organically over the past 20 years with little attention to those types of details. Upon further scrutiny, they discovered that female managers, in several cases, were being paid less than their male counterparts. They were embarrassed and offered no excuses, other than that they hadn’t thought about it and were not sure how it happened. Fortunately, the problem was quickly addressed.
(2) Teach women to ask the hard questions and to be clear about the market rates for their role and the expectations of performance. If they suspect that they are not being compensated fairly, then they need to have the support and training to speak up. In our Cirque du Sophia program, we involve women in practice sessions, to simply become accustomed to asking tough questions and dealing with the reactions. It is possible to raise these concerns in a way that demonstrates market awareness, competency, self-confidence and business savvy. “I am considering my options for the future and I’d like to have some visibility regarding your compensation and professional development practices.” “Can you help me to understand how you ensure that salaries in this organization are fair, equitable and based upon merit and performance?” “What is your philosophy regarding the advancement of women or other minorities in the workplace?” “I am interested in learning more about how you identified the competencies for key roles and how your review and compensation program is working.” “I am concerned that, as a company, we have not had any direct focus on fair and equitable compensation. I’d like to start a conversation about how we can address this.”
(3) Promote more women leaders and teach the importance of advocacy. Because these inequities exist, we need women, in influential positions, to begin to change these patterns. Women need to advocate on behalf of other women, not to provide favoritism, but rather, equality and recognition for performance. Women leaders are not always great champions for their fellow women workers. In some cases, it is such a hard fought battle to get to a senior position and the slice of the pie that is available to women can seem so small, that women may be reluctant to share/promote/advocate for and with other women. These perspectives need to be questioned. A recent study, sadly, indicated that women were more likely to be bullied by other women in the workplace. We need to help women to not just seek a piece of the pie, but rather, to become bakers. We find that, when given the opportunity to design systems and work in fields that encourage collaboration rather than competition, women thrive. As more women move into leadership roles, we need to broaden the conversation about how women can change the design of business, and avoid melding into the old, hierarchical patterns of a male-dominated system.
(4) We need to get better, in the business world, at defining competencies — both behavior and technical — that constitute excellent performance. The more that people understand about what is expected of them and given direct, candid feedback about how well they are meeting those competencies, the better we will be at removing some of the subjective aspects of compensation, recognition and reward. Recently, when working with a successful and well-known family business on the East Coast, we asked why a certain gentleman had been promoted to a senior position. There were several people in the organization who seemed qualified, both male and female. Upon reflection, the CEO admitted that it was because he had been a friend of the family a long time and he would feel guilty if someone else had been promoted. When pressed, it was evident that this man didn’t have all of the skills for the job and that some aspects of the role would have to passed on to other people. Going forward, the company agreed to develop a clear set of observable competencies for every key position and to advance people into roles, or increase their compensation in roles once they could demonstrate those competencies. When we rely on our gut, our personal relationships, or historical practices to guide our decisions, we may not recognize or realize the long-term impacts.
(5) Start early. Young people today are more aware than ever of the challenges that minorities in the workplace, including women, are experiencing — thanks in part to the media. We need to capitalize upon this awareness and desire to change the way we work. Working in the deep south recently, we coached a smart young man, who, in his early 30s was taking over the family business. One of the first things that he did was to begin to question the practices and unwritten policies that his grandfather had put in place when he first started the company many decades ago. Almost immediately he placed his young wife, who was highly capable, in the position of Vice President. He then began promoting other women, most of whom were much older than he was and changing the performance management and compensation policies to reflect true performance as compared to the desired impacts and competencies in the role. This had an enormous impact on the organizational culture, morale among the workforce and the levels of product — all for the better.
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 would like to make conversations about succession and transition planning just as common in the business lexicon as discussions about sales, profitability or ROI. Over the next 20 years, over $10 trillion dollars is going to be transferred as business owners retire, sell or liquidate their businesses. This is going to have an enormous impact on our economy and most certainly on whole communities, particularly in rural areas of the country. With a little planning and a lot more awareness, we can literally change the direction of this economic ‘tour de force’ and help to buoy a sector that provide 40% + of our GDP. When companies actually plan for a transition in leadership or ownership, this opens up more opportunities for women, helps to ensure that practices and policies are fair and equitable and that the retiring generation is financially stable and secure. Let’s change the national conversation and make succession planning as important as business planning.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Deal with the emotional issues before emotion IS the issue. We are forever teaching our clients that the best time to deal with issues that might cause conflict is before they have become important or urgent. For example, if you have certain requirements for a family member to enter the family business, such as the need to get a college degree, then make that they know this before they graduate from High School. If you are going to require a pre-nuptial agreement from those marrying into the family (and family business), then the best time to raise the issue is well before the wedding day! Put plans in place and have these important discussions while family members are young, before you hire key people, before you promote people or make important decisions.
Thank you for all of these great insights!