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“We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society” with Christie Lawler

I am an eternal optimist, although I refer to myself as a realistic optimist. So I am optimistic that the current issues we face culturally will be resolved, but I know it is not something that will go away overnight as it has taken centuries to build this state of affairs. I believe in the […]

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I am an eternal optimist, although I refer to myself as a realistic optimist. So I am optimistic that the current issues we face culturally will be resolved, but I know it is not something that will go away overnight as it has taken centuries to build this state of affairs. I believe in the core decency of humanity and that as soon as one’s eyes are opened to the pain of another person that we find motivation to help solve the problems. My hope is that as we are speaking openly about the issues with each other, we will find a positive path to fix the challenges together. I have been asking a lot of questions to gain a better understanding of how I can be a part of the solution.

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 Christie Lawler.

Christie Lawler is the Founder and Owner of CJL CONSULTiNG, a marketing consulting firm offering a full suite of marketing, branding, sales strategy and training services for local, national and global companies. In 2018, Christie launched the philanthropic arm of her company — The WITI Group, a 501(c)(3) organization — which allows her to dedicate her time to fulfilling her true purpose of building the next generation of female leaders. Christie is soon to be a published author and speaks nationally on the topics of marketing, cultural development strategies and branding.

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 grew up in Litchfield Park — a small suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. My mom stayed at home with my younger sister and I until I was in the sixth grade and my father worked as a banker and entrepreneur while serving as a weekend warrior in the Army National Guard. I had a fairly idyllic upbringing… kind of like a Rockwell painting in real life.

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?

I have always loved reading. Most recently, I loved Michelle Obama’s Becoming. I find her to be so inspiring from her childhood to her perseverance and intelligence to her complete grace under pressure. I admire her character as well as her nature. And I love that she uses her voice and position to elevate those around her.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

I find that inspirational quotes always manage to find me when I need them most. I have too many favorites to count! I am always inspired by words and ideas. I host my own women’s conference (The WITI Conference) every year and as part of the goodie bag, I produce artistic inspirational quotes on 10×10 canvases and place them around the property. When the attendees find the quote that speaks to them most, they choose it to take home to continue their inspiration all year long. I gathered about 50 different quotes, some famous, some anonymous and then I created one of my own to go into the mix. I was curious to see which of these women that I consider to be my tribe would choose the quote I created. Turns out, it was chosen by two of my closest friends who had no idea I had authored it. But if I chose the one that speaks to me most right now, it would be “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.”

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I define leadership as the example set by one person that mobilizes a positive response from others. And that the actions of this one person, promotes action from others and engages them to follow the same path. I have been blessed to have so many examples of great leadership in my career. But a leader is not defined by a title or management level. A leader can be a friend that inspires greatness in others through their deeds. I have had more friends in my personal life (opposed to career) that I view as leaders because of what they have taught me and how they serve others.

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?

There are so many ways to eliminate or manage stress in life. And the methods are as unique to the individual as their fingerprints. For me, my favorite way to relieve stress is to spend time with family or friends or to treat myself to a massage or a nice long walk in nature with nothing but music to fill my mind. As a leader in the climate of COVID, I have allowed much more stress into my mindset than I normally would. I am taking on the stress of others because I cannot manage to stop worrying about the long-term effects of the pandemic on the nation’s economy. So, while I do my best to mitigate my own stress levels — I am certainly not an expert at removing it entirely. That said, I definitely feel adept at managing my stress levels by helping others. Providing a listening ear, a generous heart and an open mind is cathartic for me as I always feel better when I know I have helped someone else. I also use my stress as fuel to force my mind to open further to creative solutions to the challenges I face. Stress can be a positive motivator when harnessed.

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?

The boiling point you mention has been building for decades if not centuries. When inequality exists in any society, it is only a matter of time before people start standing together to make a change. A culture cannot move forward until all members feel valued. Right now, our unconscious bias is playing a huge role in our cultural awakening and I am optimistic that we will evolve as a nation and improve ourselves by taking a look at our history.

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?

As a female business owner and leader, I tend to focus on inclusion and diversity to connect with others. Since we cannot truly understand the experiences of another person as acutely as our own, I find it empowering to learn about the challenges that others face or have overcome. When I work on cultural strategy initiatives for a client, I always work from a place of anonymity when discovering where the challenges lie within their organization. I find that the authentic responses given when fear of backlash is removed paints a much larger and more actionable picture. Often, the challenges arise from lack of inclusion or diversity or both. When these two needs are met, the potential for success swells and the company often only has to make small shifts or changes to bring about the positive impacts.

As part of my efforts to create more diversity and inclusion, I created a 501(c)(3) foundation in 2018 to focus on empowering the women of my particular industry… the food and beverage side of the hospitality business. My company’s philanthropic arm is The WITI Group. Our purpose is to support the future female leaders of the food and beverage industry regardless of their career stage. We provide mentorship as well as financial and emotional support when women find themselves in abusive or otherwise hostile work environments. We hope that through our efforts, gender inequality as well as instances of abuse and harassment will lessen as our visibility and mission evolves. We have a volunteer base of nearly 70 women nationally in our industry who are all investing themselves in being a part of shaping the future of our business.

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?

Diversity is the foundation of our country. We were built on a desire for change, new ideas and a hope for all who live here. And as our society has evolved to recognize the changing faces of our melting pot culture, we have grown in so many ways. Without diversity, we wouldn’t enjoy the art we’ve seen, the music we love, the ideas that inspire future generations and the foods we love to choose when picking a restaurant. The same goes for business, if everyone thinks the same and shares similar experiences and background, the pool for new ideas becomes too shallow. A diverse executive team promotes not only a clearer picture of society as a whole, but the mobility gained by different perspectives is a wonderful bonus to the bottom line. Quite simply, if everyone was rendered queasy at the sight of blood, we wouldn’t have doctors. So, the person sitting across from you may not have the same interests or ideas as you do, but the fact that they don’t is what makes them valuable to the conversation.

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.

Five steps… okay

Ask Questions — Don’t assume someone else in the room doesn’t have the answer you need. Ask questions that promote brainstorming and involvement from all stakeholders. Some of the best ideas are simply questions that have never been asked of the right person.

Honor Ideas — If a person is willing to share an idea, honor them by listening. For some, speaking up is the most terrifying of obstacles that they must overcome. So, if someone offers suggestions, thank them and see if it can work. The most brilliant mind in the room may be hidden by shyness.

Dig Deeper — If you don’t immediately understand the thoughts or ideas, ask more questions. Work with the idea generator to flesh out the value within the proposition. Not every idea is brilliant, but working with others to brainstorm new solutions never has a down side.

Add value — Before you speak, ask yourself if what you are about to say will add to or detract from the conversation. If you can’t answer that question, wait to speak. If you think your words could potentially hinder progress, then definitely don’t speak.

Respect others Know that you don’t know everything and that others have different opinions and ideas because their experiences are different. Life molds our minds in a variety of ways. Understanding that your experience may not be the same as the person sitting next to you is half the battle to creating an inclusive environment where others feel safe to join.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

I am an eternal optimist, although I refer to myself as a realistic optimist. So I am optimistic that the current issues we face culturally will be resolved, but I know it is not something that will go away overnight as it has taken centuries to build this state of affairs. I believe in the core decency of humanity and that as soon as one’s eyes are opened to the pain of another person that we find motivation to help solve the problems. My hope is that as we are speaking openly about the issues with each other, we will find a positive path to fix the challenges together. I have been asking a lot of questions to gain a better understanding of how I can be a part of the solution.

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. 🙂

That list is very long… Michelle Obama, Ellen DeGeneres, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, P!NK (Alecia Moore), Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and Tina Fey. This is simply the list that immediately pops into my head. Each of these women have broken so many barriers and shattered so many expectations and glass ceilings. They have stood up for what they believe in while standing up for others — even when it wasn’t popular. I admire their humanity, their talents and their tenacity to constantly do more for the world.

How can our readers follow you online?
The best place to reach me is via LinkedIn, Christie J. Lawler. And the best way to reach our company or foundation is through our website, cjlconsults.com.

We can also be found through these links as well:
On Facebook @cjlconsulting@thewitigroup
On Instagram @cjl_consulting_llc and @witigroup
On LinkedIn CJLCONSULTiNG LLC and The WITI Group

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my ideas!

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