Unconscious Bias Training and Practices: In order to grow female leadership within male-dominated industries, you have to encourage people to think outside their traditional box. Unconscious bias is just that, unconscious. It happens because people are typically most comfortable hiring people that they know, went to school with or worked with in the past. There is nothing wrong with that, but when you’re trying to increase diversity you have to find ways to break that cycle. Unconscious bias training is the first necessary (albeit small) step in addressing those choices and encouraging diversity.
As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the gender wage gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Ann Doherty. Kelly Ann serves as EVP and Chief People & Communications Officer for Mr. Cooper Group overseeing all facets of human resources and corporate communications. As the leader of the People organization, she also leads culture initiatives to create a more encouraging and empowering work environment. Previously, she served as Vice President of Corporate Communications at Elevate, a financial technology firm. She also served as a public relations and affairs consultant for four years and as a strategic communication staffer for a Presidential campaign and within President George W. Bush’s administration with a tour at the White House in Presidential Personnel and N.A.S.A. as a political appointee. Kelly Ann is also active in the community, serving on the Board of Directors for The Women’s Center of Tarrant County.
Thank you so much for joining us, Kelly Ann! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?
I never expected to be a Chief People & Communications Officer playing a leadership role for an HR function. My past experiences have all centered around strategic communications and corporate affairs, so my path to where I am today is a bit unorthodox. But I must say, it feels like the perfect fit for me. I am a people person — I love inspiring people, talking with people, and I’m passionate about being a positive change agent for the company. In my time at Mr. Cooper Group, I’ve had the great fortune of working on many high-priority projects, including leading our company’s internal transformation and external rebrand. As we transformed from the inside out, we brought big and positive change from our core values, to the way we communicate with our team members and how we lead. I’m proud to have played a part in molding our company culture, and I’m excited to be able to continue influencing that journey in an even more meaningful way today.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?
I’ve had so many incredible opportunities throughout my career and taking on my newest role as Chief People & Communications Officer has already had many “pinch me” moments. Most recently, I had the incredible opportunity to visit our offices in Chennai and Bangalore, India. I had never been to India, and my experience was beyond anything I could have imagined. One of the most memorable moments from the trip was the overwhelming, gracious welcome I received that included a surprise flash mob dance in the middle of the office! I was enjoying watching the dance when one of our team members grabbed my hand and pulled me in to dance with them. I’m not much of a dancer, but I had a BLAST! The energy and enthusiasm they brought to the dance is the same our team members bring to their work, and I left in awe of how well they’ve taken the best parts of our company culture and combined it with their own special customs.
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?
As part of the announcement of my new role with Mr. Cooper Group, I participated in an internal video series shared company-wide that regularly features our CEO and members of the executive leadership team. One of the many great things about this series is that each featured leader gets to pick their own theme song. My pick — Beyoncé’s song “Girls,” one of my favorite hype songs. To me choosing this song was a celebration of the growing presence of female leadership on our executive team, and I received many emails and comments from women across the organization saying they loved it. However, in an anonymous comment, someone shared that the song, which I intended to be about inclusion, made him feel excluded as a man. While this one comment didn’t make me regret my decision to use that song, it did teach me a valuable lesson. It taught me that in my role I am more visible, and people are watching and listening as I make decisions and help lead our company. I strive to be a leader who exemplifies what it means to live by our core values 100 percent of the time. My goal is to promote inclusion and transparent communication across the entire organization, and my actions and words need to reflect that mindset.
Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. 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?
1. Lack of Women in Leadership Roles: Although they hold almost 52 percent of all management- and professional-level jobs, American women fall substantially behind men in terms of their representation in leadership positions. This not only contributes to the wage gap but can also affect how organizations operate as leaders often play a big role in the decision-making process and business strategy. As leaders, we must pay attention to how many women there are in leadership roles and how many women are in development to be there. You can’t expect a woman to grow into an executive role and compete on an equal playing field with men if she’s not yet had the opportunity to be in a management or leadership position.
On an individual level, women should advocate for themselves and know their worth. Don’t shy away from having a career conversation with your manager and be confident in discussing promotional opportunities and negotiating pay. Educate yourself on your company’s compensation philosophy to help reinforce that discussion. You should also be diligent and thorough in any self-assessments and annual performance reviews. Be intentional about stating where you feel you exceeded performance expectations and ask for specific feedback to know exactly where you stand and how to get to that next step.
2. The Persistence of Stereotypes: Despite efforts made to alter long-standing stereotypes, many women are still driven into roles that pay less than men on average. According to a Glassdoor study, nine out of the 10 highest paying majors are male-dominated while six out of 10 of the lowest paying majors are dominated by women.
In order to break this trend, I believe mentorship and advocacy are critical. When it comes to finding mentors and advocates, you should strive to build relationships with people you admire based on your career goals. That also means being open to your mentor being male or female. I hear many women express that they only want to mentor or be mentored by another woman. Perhaps it’s a comfort level decision or maybe it just feels like the right thing to do. In my experience, we need to be champions for each other in the workplace regardless of gender. In fact, many of my mentors have been men. I’ve found that a male mentor or advocate can give you a different perspective that builds confidence in your own voice. When you are the only woman at the table, that confidence is key to feeling empowered to share your ideas and opinions. Opening minds to mentor and advocate relationships across genders can help remove the “us vs. them” mentality that may be present in the workplace. The most important thing about mentor or advocate relationships is finding someone who believes in you and is capable of stretching and pushing you further than what you thought was possible.
3. The ‘Motherhood Penalty’: Research shows that many mothers suffer workplace-related consequences after having a child. In fact, according to one study, the pay gap between mothers and women who aren’t mothers may actually be even greater than the one between men and women. One reason this happens is due to inflexibility at work, which often hurts women the most as they tend to play a greater role in childcare. As a society, I believe we need to destigmatize the role men can play in the household. Truth be told, the path to becoming an executive requires hard and tireless work. The long hours can make it difficult to balance work with the demands of raising children, maintaining a home and living a balanced life. Having a partner that not only helps but is also willing to take on a leadership role at home can make life easier and create more balance. That could mean being a stay-at-home spouse, taking on daycare pick up and drop off duty or simply more evenly splitting or even doing the majority of the household chores. To get there, I think men will need to feel that role is as valuable as women know it is.
Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?
To close the wage gap for good, it’s critical that companies look at systemic solutions that help to reduce unconscious bias. Compensation, learning and performance processes and training are all key.
· Unconscious Bias Training and Practices: In order to grow female leadership within male-dominated industries, you have to encourage people to think outside their traditional box. Unconscious bias is just that, unconscious. It happens because people are typically most comfortable hiring people that they know, went to school with or worked with in the past. There is nothing wrong with that, but when you’re trying to increase diversity you have to find ways to break that cycle. Unconscious bias training is the first necessary (albeit small) step in addressing those choices and encouraging diversity.
· Annual performance process with SMART goal setting and merit guidelines: If you are going to level the playing field, you must have a consistent way of managing performance and compensating people accordingly. We have a cascading goal setting process that flows through every level of the organization. When it is time to do reviews, people are measured on clear goals. From those ratings, merit increases and bonuses are recommended based on formulas provided by the People Organization. This pay for performance compensation philosophy is one way you can help to eliminate favoritism throughout the process.
· Stay market competitive: We review our salary ranges annually to ensure we are competitive in the marketplace. If we have opportunities to right size team member salaries as a result of that analysis, we work with their managers to ensure they are being compensated fairly. Understanding the marketplace is not only smart from a retention perspective, but it also helps us recognize inequities within the organization so we can make adjustments.
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 an example for each.
1. Women should know their worth and ask for what they deserve. This year, women are earning just 79 cents for every dollar men make. To make things more equitable, organizations should routinely assess market data, job roles and performance objectives then review what they’re paying each team member and adjust compensation accordingly. On the flip side, women should feel empowered to ask for what they deserve. Not everybody loves negotiating, but some preparation can help increase confidence. Take the time to research salaries for your job role and experience in your market and be ready to get creative if the base salary isn’t negotiable. Perhaps bonuses, benefits or a commitment for a future raise are on the table. In my case, I didn’t truly learn this lesson until I was laid off and then asked to come back to the very same company six months later. They asked me to take on a different position than before, and given my recent experience, I was bold enough to demand a bigger title, more compensation and equity. To my surprise, they gave me everything I asked for, and the role turned into one of the highlights of my career.
2. Women should advocate for themselves. It’s important and acceptable to remind people, particularly your direct manager, of the great work you have done. Oftentimes people shy away from boasting about their successes during annual reviews, but it’s ok to take the time to talk about your strong performance by providing specific examples and metrics. Ultimately, no one is going to be a better advocate for you than yourself. On my leadership journey, I’ve also realized that regular recognition and celebrations of successes can go a long way in encouraging team members to also speak up and acknowledge personal and team wins. Teaching our teams how to be cheerleaders for themselves and for one another is a cornerstone of engaging and effective leadership.
3. Focus on growing your experience bank. Remember that sometimes it’s not all about your bank account. When you consider opportunities think about how they could expand your experience. Developing your experience bank can lead to a bigger salary or better role in the future. Careers are not always linear; sometimes you may take a pay cut or demotion in one area that gives you more varied experience in another. This may provide you with a future opportunity you may not have initially expected. My role at the White House is a great example of this. When I was offered the job, it was at a pretty significant pay cut. However, one of my mentors pushed me to take it knowing it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He was right. I may have passed up money that year, but I have been paid back in opportunities, growth and experiences many times over since then.
4. Encourage interest in STEM fields for women at an early age. We know the higher paying jobs, especially those in STEM fields, start with the necessary education to take on those roles. Today, those degrees are held predominantly by men and I think that disposition starts at an early age. Thinking back, I was told early on that I was good at English and history, and my brother was good at math. True or not, the danger in that statement was the subtext that I was not good at math. That was certainly not the intent, and I had parents that encouraged me in every way possible; however, I did shy away from math-related fields until college when I realized I actually loved economics thanks to a wonderful professor. Without that professor’s confidence in me, I’m not sure I would have had the confidence later in life to take on projects of a financial nature such as mergers, acquisitions and IPOs. Now, I can’t say with certainty that being told I was “good at math” early on would have changed my career path, but I can say having someone believe in you can transform the way you think about a subject. We should all start by believing someone can before you believe they can’t.
5. Invest in Diversity & Inclusion programs. I believe closing the gender (and race) gap starts with ensuring your workplace is inclusive and equal. A great place to start is having a thoughtful Diversity & Inclusion strategy. Strong D&I programs can spotlight under-recognized populations, give a voice to groups that may not have felt heard before and raise important issues for discussion (such as the gender wage gap). They also play an important role in leadership development through informal opportunities such as holding officer positions on D&I resource teams. At Mr. Cooper Group, I’ve seen several rising stars, many of them women, demonstrate leadership, strong cultural values and a commitment to excellence that has increased their visibility within the organization. That improved visibility can help lead to more opportunities and career growth.
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. 🙂
You are giving me an opportunity to speak about something I’m very passionate about! I believe encouraging women to have an equal seat at the table is good for women, great for companies and even better for society. If I had to think about where that all starts, it’s in the classroom. I’d love to live in a world in which every child, regardless of the situation they are born into, had equal access to the resources they need to learn, grow and be successful. I’ve been blessed in my life with parents, friends, teachers and mentors that have all enabled my growth, and the result of that has been incredible opportunities. I wish every child had that same good fortune.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity”
I attribute that quote to my father, but I think it was actually a famous Roman philosopher Seneca, who said this. Either way, it’s a motto I try to live by, and it’s served me well. It’s important for women to know that when a great opportunity comes their way, it’s not just luck but rather the result of hard work and dedication.
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 see this, especially if we tag them. :-
Sallie Krawcheck. She founded Ellevest, a company on a mission to close the gender-investing gap for women. I love her inspiring messages and focus on making investing and money more attainable for women. When thinking about how to close the pay gap, Sallie’s work is critical!
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.