West Monroe recently had the honor of participating in Seattle Business Magazine’s inaugural Daring Women event to discuss challenges, growth opportunities and innovation in both business and life. The half-day event brought together more than 350 women (and a few men) from a range of industries and experiences, mixing TED-style talks with panel discussions on owning your leadership style, board participation, women in technology, and diversity and inclusion. (That last topic featured our Chief People Officer Susan Stelter.)
Below are three key themes that resonated with me as a woman in professional services.
Be Authentic—and Make Sure Others Can Be Too
A theme to the day quickly emerged: authenticity. MJ DePalma, a Sr. Global Channel Marketing Manager at Microsoft, kicked off the event with a powerful story of when she finally felt like she could bring her full self at work as a gay woman. That was the turning point when she stopped wasting energy trying to be someone she’s not and started doing the best work of her career. This is not a new idea, of course, and a study conducted by Harvard Business Review backs up MJ’s anecdote: 61% of workers surveyed said they felt they had to “cover” some aspect of themselves at work, and 50% of those who felt pressure to cover indicated that they diminished their sense of commitment.
But how do you make this real, especially for minority groups who may feel like there is more risk to being themselves in the office? One, leaders must use inclusive language to let employees know what they bring to the table is welcome. And two, all of us must have the courage to be authentic at work as a way of being an ally and building a more inclusive culture. As Dona Sarkar of Microsoft stated in the women in tech panel,“We shouldn’t change ourselves – we should change the industry.”
Commit to Culture
Speaking of culture, building an inclusive, open company culture was another consistent theme. In the inclusion and diversity panel, Susan relayed how West Monroe’s co-founders identified a set of shared values at the outset of the firm 16 years ago, which included diversity, before they even had a business plan. However, while it was easy to be inclusive when the company was small, it has since grown to nearly 1,000 employees, creating a need to be much more intentional and thoughtful about the process.
The women in tech panel talked about “culture fit” interviews, something West Monroe had to take a hard look at as well. Culture fit interviews can lead to hiring a homogenous group of people—and that means missing out on the different backgrounds and life experience that can shape customer experience. As Lydia Frank of Payscale stated, “hire for culture adds, not culture fit.” Last year West Monroe retooled our interview process to focus on values rather than “fit.”
Ultimately, company leaders play a crucial role in building culture – they set the tone for the entire organization. However, it’s important for each of us to ask ourselves what we are doing to cultivate the culture that we want. As Susan stated, not every organization will move at the same pace, but that doesn’t mean you have to be complacent or leave. Instead, raise your hand and be part of the change.
Amplify Each Other
The final theme that resonated is the need to amplify each other. One panelist on the women in tech panel put it this way: “Men give each other deals. Women give each other advice.” Moral support is valuable, but it doesn’t move your business forward. The panel on corporate boards discussed how men tend to ask their male friends to help them get board positions, and that women need to make the same ask.
The concept of there being only one seat at the table that women have to fight for is quickly fading, as research shows that at least three women are needed on a board to achieve critical mass, change the dynamics, and reap the benefits such as improved financial performance. As more seats are added to the table, women need to make sure they are amplifying other women at meetings and in networking situations. And it’s important for men to do the same as well. While this particular event was focused on women in business, the idea of amplifying the voices that may be sidelined can be applied more broadly, whether to people of color or people with different working or communication styles.
I left the event feeling energized, inspired, and ready to contribute to the work West Monroe is doing to build upon our culture of inclusion and develop the next generation of smart, diverse leaders. While it’s wonderful to hear the discussions and energy around the topic of women in the workplace, talk is not enough. I think the most valuable takeaway from this event were suggestions for tactics that make inclusion real.