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“What do you bring to the table?” With Fotis Georgiadis & Pam Cohen

We’ve found that asking potential employees the standard “How do you see yourself fitting into our culture?” question can be off-putting. Worse, it’s detrimental to organizational growth and perpetuates a homogenous workforce. Instead, we’re urging decision makers to ask “What do you bring to the table?” It lets potential new team members know the company […]

We’ve found that asking potential employees the standard “How do you see yourself fitting into our culture?” question can be off-putting. Worse, it’s detrimental to organizational growth and perpetuates a homogenous workforce. Instead, we’re urging decision makers to ask “What do you bring to the table?” It lets potential new team members know the company culture is open to new ways of thinking and is ready to expand. It encourages creativity, new ideas, and evolving to a better, more profitable organization. This positively contributes to “culture expansion” and can be extremely valuable to employee sentiment and to corporate ROI and success.

As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pam Cohen, PhD, President of MP Labs.

Pam Cohen is President o MP labs and a behavioral research scientist with expertise in predictive analytics. She combines qualitative and quantitative research methodologies to create measurement systems and analyze data on workplace sentiment and engagement, family friendly policies, corporate reputation, and social responsibility, linking those and other relevant intangibles to key performance outcomes. Her teaching and research is focused on applications of behavioral economics and social psychology.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Thanks for having me! I’m glad to be here on behalf of MP Labs. While finishing my doctorate at The University of Michigan, I began working full time with the American Customer Satisfaction Index spin-off consulting group led by Claes Fornell. There we focused on building predictive models linking customer satisfaction to bottom line performance indicators.

Later, I worked at Ernst & Young’s Center for Business Innovation, a not-for-profit think tank owned by E&Y (and later Cap Gemini E&Y), whose task was to determine what businesses would be doing 5 years out. My work centered around understanding how to measure intangibles — like innovation, strategy execution, leadership quality, employee engagement, corporate social responsibility — and how to link those back to ROI. Basically making the intangible tangible.

At the think tank, I was asked to co-author a book about intangibles, Invisible Advantage. Its premise of considering intangibles as valuable assets (as we now know them to be) was groundbreaking for its time. From there, most of my work was focused on building large-scale measurement models of corporate reputation (including social responsibility) for large organizations.

I heard about The Mom Project when it was just starting out. I was intrigued. I raised my son as a single mom. I knew the challenges of integrating work and life firsthand, and the immense value women and mothers bring to the workforce. After meeting the founder, Allison Robinson, and being really impressed with the work she was doing, I started doing research for the group. I joined The Mom Project in 2016, shortly after it was founded.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

At one point in my career the partners in my company were all men. After bringing a lot of value to clients through building unique models, they nominated me to partner. The women who worked with me there were so thrilled that they bought me a plaque that said “girl partner”. I still have it! We all took it in good humor, and it empowered us to bring more women along to higher levels of the organization. Later, at another organization, I found that women at the top weren’t helping bring others up, In fact, they were often actively working against one another.

My takeaway? A strong desire to mentor women to higher levels of every organization I was with and for them to see the value they brought to the table. Women need to help women succeed.

What is MP Labs and how does it help working families and the companies they support?

MP Labs is the research and insights division of the The Mom Project, the leading career destination for women.. We started out researching what women want in the workplace; work-life integration, family leave policies, policies impacting all employees, employee engagement.

We found as we grew that we quickly became a huge repository of research and data on these topics that hadn’t been housed in one place before. And we found that the companies using our services wanted research on topics like employee engagement, what it takes to attract and retain talent, how employee sentiment impacts bottom line performance, how parental leave policies were managed (especially the great ones!) so that returning parents were retained and not leaving due to overwhelm.

And so, much of our work is dedicated to working with our corporate clients to make their workplaces more family friendly so that employees stay engaged and women are able to climb the corporate ladder after they have children.

How did the creation of MP Labs begin? Can you tell us the backstory?

MP Labs was born out of organic demand after several years of operating The Mom Project. We kept hearing from companies that were extremely interested in research on working parents, policies and beyond. But they weren’t sure where to start — or how to implement the findings to positively impact their bottom line or other desired outcomes. MP Labs was developed to ensure they could bridge that gap, through data, research and insights. It’s been fascinating to see the rising demand for this type of intelligence, and the ambition of companies to get smarter and more strategic when it comes to attracting, recruiting, retaining and engaging working parents.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

We just released our inaugural retail industry report, Who’s Driving the Cart?. The study shows that when retailers invest strategic resources into engaging store-level retail employees, they drive positive ROI into ever disappearing brick-and-mortar stores (a trend that predominantly negatively affects women in the retail sector). Especially timely as the busiest shopping season of the year is well under way!

Another exciting project in progress is helping companies to power their parental leave policies. We’re exploring what the ideal ramp-back process looks like, and looking at the question “Should both parents have equal leave?” Really momentous that we are finally digging in and getting it more right.

Can you tell us about a few findings within your report that may be interesting to readers?

I found it especially interesting that the differences between keeping store-level and corporate employees engaged diverge quite radically. Understanding the nuances of those drivers allows companies to allocate resources strategically. And so our proprietary model specific to employee sentiment in the retail industry was born: PRISM. In a nutshell, high sentiment begets loyalty, drives “work here!”, “shop here!” beliefs, and positively impacts ROI. For employees at the store level, it can really drive retail spending.

Tell us about the development of the report. How many people did you survey, how did you come to your conclusion of PRISM, etc?

We surveyed nearly 1400 people for “Who’s Driving The Cart”; 98% were women and 61% were store-level employees. Based on analysis of the results we built PRISM. This model narrows in on the path from sentiment (and all its various drivers) to retail organizations desired outcomes to ROI. And we discovered it’s a straight shot.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders who want to create a more diverse work environment for working families?

We’ve found that asking potential employees the standard “How do you see yourself fitting into our culture?” question can be off-putting. Worse, it’s detrimental to organizational growth and perpetuates a homogenous workforce.

Instead, we’re urging decision makers to ask “What do you bring to the table?” It lets potential new team members know the company culture is open to new ways of thinking and is ready to expand. It encourages creativity, new ideas, and evolving to a better, more profitable organization. This positively contributes to “culture expansion” and can be extremely valuable to employee sentiment and to corporate ROI and success.

Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Bottom line, diversity affects every touchpoint of a company’s bottom line.

  1. DIVERSITY DRIVES CREATIVITY. Diversity on teams fosters a level of think tank openness that fuels creative growth mindsets. In their 2017 special report “The Impact of Equality and Values Driven Business,” Salesforce Research found that employees who feel their voices are heard at work are 4.6x more likely to perform their best work. Empowering people works, people.
  2. DIVERSITY DRIVES INNOVATION. Teams with diverse backgrounds create things more appealing to buyers. Harvard Business Review defined two types of diversity traits: inherent (the ones you’re born with) and acquired (the ones you gain from experience). Their 2D Diversity model applies to organizations where executives possess two inherent traits and three acquired ones. Employees at these 2D companies were 70% more likely to report the firm captured a new market. That’s huge.
  3. DIVERSITY DRIVES SOLUTIONS. Teams with diversity bring a vast range of knowledge, perspective and experience to the table to address known challenges. Volvo’s 2019 E.V.A. Initiative, spearheaded by women, shares 40 years of safety research to facilitate making cars safer for ALL people (not just the average-sized male crash dummy).
  4. DIVERSITY DRIVES LOYALTY/RECRUITMENT/HIRING. Teams with diverse talent pools are a great first step in driving employee retention. But Harvard Business Review found that without inclusion efforts to wrap up with diversity ones, they’re selling their companies — and their talent — short. Employees that feel seen by leadership are more likely to support and champion their organization. Connect with your employees, connect with your customers, connect the dots to the bottom line.
  5. DIVERSITY DRIVES PROFITS. Diverse teams positively impact sales and total market value. McKinsey Global Institute’s January 2018 report “Delivering Through Diversity” found that organizations committed to gender diversity perform 15% better out the door than those that aren’t AND for every 10% increase in diversity at the executive level, companies see an 8% increase in profitability. It’s good business sense.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

One of the most valuable things I’ve learned in all these years of research is that everyone communicates differently. And everyone is most engaged and productive when they feel they’re being heard. I feel fortunate to help open those communication channels between employers and employees — and on a grand scale to link that communication back to some really important outcomes that allow individuals and enterprises to effectively thrive.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

My mother, without question. She became an MD in the 1950s and was one of just two women in a class of several hundred. And while many people (like her much older brother) laughed at the notion that she would become a doctor, she believed in herself and never hesitated. When she and my father (also an MD) got married, he encouraged her career aspirations even though the norm then was for women to focus on family. He helped her find a position where she could have work-life integration. Just to give a sense of the time, she often didn’t tell neighbors she was working outside of the home, lest they think she wasn’t focused on family. In fact, my sister and I were much older children before we found out that what she was really doing on some days was working (as opposed to working with an interior decorator on our home as she told everyone). That’s the way it was then. But she had a marvelous sense of humor about it all, a kindness about her that made everyone feel like they were the only one in the room that mattered, and an unparalleled zest for life that made me feel like anything was possible.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂

This one’s easy! There are so many amazing people I’d love to hear from, but Wanda Sykes is first to mind. Aside from being a smart, strong, and confident woman with incredible comedic skills, she is amazing in her ability to connect with any audience (even when she has been met with some hostility) about anything at all. Her humor and wit is beyond remarkable, and onstage and in interviews she just shines. Wanda, if you’re reading this, lunch is on me!

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