The time to act is now. Organizations have begun to prioritize D&I in the last decade, but the progress has been slow. COVID-19 and the recent protests for racial equality and social justice require that corporations act with greater speed and clarity.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Lyndon A. Taylor.
Lyndon is the partner-in-charge of Heidrick & Struggles’ Chicago office and leads the global Diversity & Inclusion Practice across executive search and consulting. He is also a member of the CEO & Board of Directors and Financial Services practices.
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’m a native Texan, but I live in Chicago now. I graduated high school early at the age of 16 and decided to join the Navy. After the Navy, I went to college at Southern Methodist University and became the first person in my family to graduate from college, attaining a BA and BS from SMU and later an MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. I’m proud to say all my younger sisters also attained their undergraduate degrees, and one completed her PhD.
I initially planned to get my PhD and teach history, but a fraternity brother introduced me to investment banking, and I began my career working in the financial sector at Merrill Lynch and later worked in corporate development in the energy sector and UBS.
As part of my current role at Heidrick & Struggles, a leading global leadership advisory firm, I work with both privately held and publicly traded clients on executive leadership, and board director engagements. I also advise organizations across sectors on diversity and inclusion strategies, particularly talent management and succession planning.
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?
In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell talks about social epidemics — when something becomes suddenly and unexpectedly popular — and the three kinds of people involved in them: connectors, mavens and salesmen. The definition of connectors really resonated with me. Immediately, I knew that was something I was good at: connecting people. Even before moving into executive search, I sought to connect with a wide group of people and find ways to maintain those connections.
BLINK by Malcolm Gladwell was another “light bulb” book for me. In this book, Gladwell talks about how humans make judgements. I found that I am a quick assessor of situations, and this book helped me better understand my tendencies.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
In the foreword to The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Alex Haley says of the human rights activist, “He became more than his time would allow,” and that Malcolm changed and grew over time as he learned from his experiences. The concept that people can grow over time has really stuck with me, and I have attempted to be a continuous learner.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leaders have the ability to create and articulate a vision, communicate effectively, set a strategy and a plan to execute, and bring people along. Good leaders are also inclusive. They build and develop diverse teams, synthesizing different thoughts, visions and approaches to develop strategy. Finally, good leaders are decisive and have the courage of their convictions. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is a great example of this. At a time when many organizations were talking about pay equity and gaps without taking action or making meaningful changes, Salesforce conducted a review, analyzed their results and fixed the problem.
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 hang out with my kids! I have 17-year-old twins — one boy, one girl — and one of the benefits of this pandemic is that I haven’t been traveling, and we have all been together. I have valued the time we have been spending together and getting to know them better. I also stay active on my Peloton bike and treadmill, do yoga and meditate. Every Saturday and Sunday, I love to cook, and planning and cooking meals is cathartic for me.
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?
I think many of the issues faced by underrepresented groups were not widely understood or seen by the broader community. Therefore, they were of secondary importance. You can’t be empathetic to something you can’t see or understand, and it has come to this reckoning point with technology allowing everyone to see the challenges faced by Black and Brown communities. If I am encouraged by anything, it is that now these issues are seen and understood more broadly.
Also, many Black professionals, like myself, who had been quiet and had separated our personal life from our work life have recognized how unhelpful that is. We need to take off the masks we wear and allow others to see and understand the challenges we face.
Paul Laurence Dunbar has a great poem called We Wear the Mask. Many of us who have risen through the corporate world, up to this point, have worn the mask, shielding our colleagues from the challenges we face. If we take off the mask, this allows us to have genuine discussions about what needs to be done and determine what concrete actions we all need to take to drive 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?
Over the years, there have been many attempts at diversity and inclusion in many different companies and settings, and I think one reason there has been so little progress until now is that diversity efforts have been framed as short-term initiatives. The challenge with initiatives is that they have a start and stop, and that’s why they haven’t had the desired impact. To successfully move the needle on diversity and inclusion, organizations need to do three things: First, define diversity and inclusion — What does it mean to your organization? Second, link both diversity and inclusion to the company’s talent and business strategies, including impact on both. Third, create a culture of inclusion, which starts at the top, with every leader modeling inclusive behaviors. And then, of course, it’s critical to measure the results over time.
As advisors to leadership teams around the globe, we at Heidrick & Struggles are uniquely positioned because we integrate our executive search capabilities (to help companies attract diverse leaders) with our in-depth consulting experience and data-driven approach to developing and retaining top diverse talent with our learnings from years of working with organizations to develop and transform their workplace cultures.
In addition to advising clients on how diversity and inclusion can accelerate performance, we continue to underscore our commitment to further promote diversity and inclusion at the top through a number of efforts, including our Board Diversity Pledge, a commitment to specifically focus on increasing diversity on boards, and we have exceeded our pledge goal each year. Last year, we also launched the Director Institute, an apprenticeship program designed to accelerate the development of diverse executives and prepare them for broader operating and executive roles and corporate board service.
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?
Diverse executive teams drive business value for the company and its stakeholders. It’s more than representation, rather, inclusive leadership teams create cultures where a robust exchange of ideas and viewpoints is welcomed. When inclusivity is modeled in the highest levels of a company, it fosters innovation, creates an environment that honors risk-taking and ensures that new or unique voices are incorporated. Unsurprisingly, the data shows that diverse companies financially outperform their less diverse peers.
D&I leaders, who are on the forefront of transforming teams and cultures will be well positioned to lead into the new future and guide their organizations with a deeper sense of community and connection, both internally and with their clients and communities.
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.
1. The time to act is now. Organizations have begun to prioritize D&I in the last decade, but the progress has been slow. COVID-19 and the recent protests for racial equality and social justice require that corporations act with greater speed and clarity.
2. Close the gap between diversity initiatives and creating true inclusion. Employees feel the gap between solely increasing diversity “by the numbers” without also seeing focused efforts on creating truly inclusive cultures at work. Many people are responding to the current moment, speaking up and demanding change. Heidrick & Struggles’ research from some of corporate America’s top organizations shows that 86% say their company leaders clearly define D&I, yet only 27% say their company is inclusive “to a large extent.”
3. Corporate leaders must measure their effectiveness, with a three-part plan: define both diversity and inclusion, link D&I to business strategy (not just social imperatives), and measure D&I efforts on a regular basis.
4. Build for the future. The numbers speak for themselves here: among the Fortune 100 Companies, only 16 companies have a non-white CEO (3 of those are Black). Stanford recently conducted research into the diversity of Fortune 100 senior leaders and their teams and found that the lack of diverse representation is not just in the top jobs in the C-suite, but also the P&L and CFO roles that most often lead to the corner office and boardroom. Companies must look strategically at their succession planning and a CEO’s direct reports and their direct reports to start building diversity into the future leadership of the company.
5. Creating an inclusive culture starts with being a great leader. We can look across corporate America and see the companies who are leading on these issues, now. These organizations have had the difficult conversations and decided to invest in human capital to tie inclusion to their business metrics, and they are leading by example and emulating open, inclusive behaviors.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I think that the racial inequities and injustices that exist in this country will take decades to heal, but I am proud and grateful that the current changes are underway and feel hopeful that this crisis will give us an opportunity to imagine and build new systems that better serve us all.
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. 🙂
I referenced Malcom X and Malcom Gladwell in the first part of the interview; if I could change history and have lunch with both of them — that would be amazing.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!