CEO Scott Scherr Leads Inclusion in Tech

A tech company that truly puts People First is not a glitch. It’s the result of the deliberate work of its founder and CEO Scott Scherr. In a business that provides HR solutions, Ultimate Software sets the example by taking care of its own associates first.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

When in 1990 Scott Scherr founded Ultimate Software with three other people (two of them women who still work at Ultimate,) they decided one of their key priorities would be to take care of their employees. It’s proven to be a winning strategy judging by the long-term profitability of the company, their enviable 94% employee retention rate and the recurrent recognition as one of the best companies to work for. (Forbes, Fortune, Glassdoor, etc.)

Among his many leadership qualities, Scott has always stood up for inclusion of all kinds, paying particular attention to gender inclusion at the top. He’s fostered a culture of listening to people’s needs and taking quick action even when it meant changing a policy to accommodate one associate’s life’s circumstances.

For his commitment to improving the workplace for 100% of the talent, we honor Scott Scherr with the 2019 Hall of Fame.

Red Shoe Movement — What are some of the key traits of a great leader?

Scott Scherr, CEO, Ultimate Software

Scott Scherr, CEO, Ultimate Software

Scott Scherr — I was brought up in a small family business led by my dad, Reuben Scherr, and I saw first-hand how to lead by example and “walk the talk.”

The core values I learned, whether working with my family or coming up through Corporate America, were the same: treat everyone with dignity and respect. As a leader, take care of your employees. They’ll, in turn, take care of your customers, and the company will thrive.

We founded Ultimate Software 28 years ago on this principle, with a commitment to always put people first. “People First” is more than a mantra. It’s an ethos our more than 4,700 employees embody every day. It drives how we care for our people, design our HR technology, and serve our customers.

As a kid, growing up in the Bronx, I loved to play baseball, basketball, and soccer with my friends. Whenever it came time to choose teams, I always got to be a captain who hand-picked my players. I knew then, and I know now, how important it is to pick the best team and to motivate them to do their best.

I believe the key to Ultimate’s success is the strength of our team—the people who lead and inspire me every day. To symbolize the trust and respect I share with every employee, I give all our people a card with the word “Trust” on one side and “Forever” on the other when they join our team. The idea came from when I met a longtime role model, legendary basketball coach Pat Riley. Pat had given his players similar cards to reinforce the unconditional bond among the coach and his team.

I feel a similar bond of lifelong unity within our Ultimate family, a phenomenal group of leaders I’m honored to work alongside daily. This bond extends to our 4,400 customers, and many now have Trust cards (which I give out at our annual customer conference, Connections), symbolizing our lifelong partnership together.

Scott Scherr talks to a group of employees

Scott Scherr talks to a group of employees

RSM — Why do women make great leaders? 

SS— Ultimate transitioned from a four-person start-up, two of whom were women, to a publicly traded company with more than 4,700 global employees. I’ve witnessed stellar leadership first-hand, starting with my founding colleagues, Vivian Maza and Debra Sasso, both of whom are still with our company to this day, 28 years later. Today, women comprise nearly half (49%) our total workforce, and about 50% hold frontline manager positions.

I don’t believe Ultimate would be as successful as we are today without the unique abilities our female leaders bring to our organization. They’re relentless and innovative in problem-solving. They inspire others to achieve high performance. They collaborate and communicate effectively to make the lives of our employees and our customers better.

For example, Ultimate’s Women in Leadership (WIL) is a companywide group that’s flourished in helping women at all levels of our company achieve their maximum potential. At the same time, WIL encourages women to discuss their goals, ask questions, and collaborate with one another on ways to positively impact future female leaders at work, school, and in the community. WIL has over 65 sub-committee members throughout the United States and Canada and will host more than 90 seminars, workshops, philanthropic outings, and networking events this year.

Don't miss the interview with Hall of Fame 2018 Andrés Graziosi of Novartis
Scott Scherr inspires his team daily with his strong, inclusive vision.

Scott Scherr inspires his team daily with his strong, inclusive vision.

Hear Scott Scherr’s recommendation for approaching your CEO

RSM — How open is your door for your associates to approach you and what’s the best way to do it? What do you expect people to come with when they ask for a few minutes to see you?

SS — From the beginning, I’ve always had an open-door policy and answered my own phone. No matter their roles on our team or how long they’ve been with Ultimate, I want to hear their ideas. I value their feedback and hope to answer their questions and address any concerns.

Listening is vital to any organization, and it’s been key to Ultimate’s success. When our people meet with me, whether in small groups or one-on-one, I’m there to listen. I try to put myself in their shoes. I recognize it’s not always easy to talk with a CEO, but we’re all people and should treat one another with equal respect, value, and care.

When you have the opportunity to meet with company leaders:

  • Bring a Thought-Out Plan: Always know the purpose of your meeting and what you’d like to discuss or accomplish.
  • Be Clear and Concise: Discuss a specific product, service, or organizational issue, and how it impacts you, the company, and your customers.
  • Research Your Ideas: Learn how this might impact the big picture, and the company’s place in the overall industry. What do customers expect. What are competitors doing?
  • Offer Solutions: If you disagree with how something’s done, provide a new method that can lead to more efficiencies or greater success.
  • Remain Open to Change: Accept constructive feedback. Be willing to discuss how the entire team can build upon your idea. The outcome might look different than the original. Be a team player. Offer ways to collaborate with others to achieve goals.
Scott Scherr keeps an open door policy

Scott Scherr keeps an open door policy

RSM — What would you say are the key ways to make people feel like they belong to your organization?

SS — One of my favorite affirmations is “Everyone, Every Day.” This reminds me to always care for, respect, and trust everymember of our organization—and to treat every colleague like family.

From early on, even when Ultimate struggled toward profitability, I made the commitment to pay employee medical and dental insurance and provide everyone, from the receptionist on up, with equity in the company. This is our business. We’re all in it together.

Today, our company is thriving, and we’re about to reach our next championship milestone of $1 billion in revenue. I’m proud that Ultimate still offers 100%-paid healthcare premiums for all employees and their families (including same-sex couples). We also have a 40% dollar-for-dollar 401(k) employer match, with no cap; unlimited personal time off for all exempt employees; annual service days for volunteering in the community; and generous paid maternity, paternity, and adoption leave policies.

Ultimate’s goal is to value the whole person, emphasizing a work-life balance that fosters individual professional growth and development while supporting personal pursuits. That makes Ultimate a company where, we feel, everyone has a sense of belonging—a sentiment that’s illustrated by our 94% employee retention rate.

RSM — In your experience, how does having a diverse and inclusive team of executives impact your bottom line? 

SS — “Walking the talk” in a “People First” culture means we care for and treat all people equally. I believe that, by celebrating individuals’ unique qualities, experiences, and backgrounds, we can all learn a lot from one another and continue to strengthen Ultimate as a whole.

Our family-like culture welcomes all people, and we encourage our employees to bring their whole selves to work. We illustrate that commitment with our companywide Communities of Interest that support LGBTQIA individuals, women, veterans and active service members, and cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers.

Our teams and leaders come from diverse backgrounds, with nearly half of the highest-level management positions on our Software Engineering team are held by people from Canada, Colombia, Dubai, India, Romania, and Puerto Rico, making Ultimate a true melting pot.

I believe these differences define who we are as individuals and make us stronger and more successful as an organization. In Q2 2018, we reported $239.5 million in recurring revenue, up by 23%, and total revenues of $271.2 million, up by 21%. These results are in no small part due to our diverse, inclusive workforce. Our diversity makes Ultimate an inspiring, empowering place for anyone and everyone to work.

Scott Scherr Take Your Kids To Work

Scott Scherr Take Your Kids To Work

Scott Scherr helping promote more women in tech

RSM — As a leader, what are you specifically doing to level the playing field for women in technology?

SS — I believe any team’s success is based on “we,” not me. A company can only achieve its maximum potential if we create a culture that supports and empowers women as technologists, innovators, and leaders.

I greatly value the card we give every new hire, and to our customers. As I mentioned it has the word “Trust” on one side and “Forever” on the other. Every person joining Ultimate—from the first two women who helped me launch the company in 1990, to the more than 4,700 people with us today, including our original two—they’re all members of our Ultimate family, “Forever.” You should feel that inclusion in any organization.

We trust in the talent, innovation, and creativity of our people to make our products and services better every day. My job is to support programs that help us accomplish this.

Our TechStars internship program brings college students and recent graduates onto our development teams. They gain firsthand programming experience, develop their coding skills, and foster personal and professional growth through mentoring.

We’re extremely fortunate for what we’ve built at Ultimate. We pay it forward every year through programs like our Athena Scholarship. We award two college scholarships (up to $20,000 each) to graduating daughters or high school seniors of our employees. These scholarships make it easier for young women to pursue studies in technology and leadership.

Most recently, we introduced Unlimited PTO, to give employees greater flexibility in their work-life balance. They use the time to travel, recharge, or to care for children, parents, or loved ones. This goes back to my commitment of “Trust” and “Forever.” I trust our employees and respect their whole selves, not just their work. It’s a forever commitment from me, on behalf of Ultimate.

I’m proud our commitment to female technologists was recognized by AnitaB.org. This means we’re “walking the talk” in leveling the playing field for women in technology.

RSM— In terms of leadership lessons, is there a particular mistake or failure that you now “cherish” because of what you learned from it?

SS — Nearly 30 years ago, I took a leap of faith in leaving one of the top HCM providers at the time. I enlisted three colleagues to make the jump with me. We started Ultimate Software with two cubicles, and a shared “People First” vision.

I raised our initial funding from a group of peers. I believed in our company and what we were trying to do. I’m grateful for those who embraced Ultimate’s vision and got us off the ground.

It hasn’t always been easy. Throughout our history as an HR software company, we’ve faced great challenges. I call these “thunderbolts.” We’ve seen tough financial times, like when our stock price dropped to $2 a share. I felt tremendous pressure to keep the business moving forward.

In 2002, we made the strategic decision to become our industry’s first Software as a Service (SaaS) provider. It was a risky choice, but I believed this would help Ultimate reach a new level, better able to serve our customers while bringing on new business.

When you face thunderbolts, keep a clear vision. Remain relentless in execution. Stay true to your values and “non-negotiables.” (I refused to waver on healthcare coverage for our people, even when investors questioned the expense).

No matter your industry or business, you’ll have challenges. But it’s during these thunderbolts when you’ll likely do your best work and achieve your greatest success. Great teams are the ones that persist through adversity. They’re focused on one, primary goal as a team. They build upon individual strengths and contributions to reach their objectives—together.

As a company, we’ve seen lows. But when others called it the end for us, we remained strong. We remained committed to our people, and to our lifelong promise of putting people first (employees, customers, and the community). Today, we’re stronger than we’ve ever been. We’re about to become a billion-dollar company, and we have the greatest team of people to thank for it.

Scott Scherr takes a selfie. The organization feels like a big family.

Scott Scherr takes a selfie. The organization feels like a big family.

Cynthia Hudson Moving the Needle Inside the Newsroom

She’s one of the most influential women in Spanish media. Cynthia Hudson, SVP & GM CNNE, is all about having a team that matches her diverse audience.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

Cynthia Hudson decided very early on in her career that she wanted to make the decisions about what stories got told, by whom and how. She quickly realized that in order to have that kind of power, it wasn’t enough to be in front of a camera. That it was even more important to be behind it. Since those very early days as a journalist she has had an impressive career as an executive in media organizations such as SBS, Mega TV Cosmopolitan Television (a Hearst Entertainment and Syndication Group division) and other influential networks. Hudson has won 8 regional Emmy Awards, been named as one of People en Español‘s most powerful women, as well as one of the most powerful Hispanics in Poder, Hispanic Target and other influential publications.

For her relentless work towards inclusion in the newsroom, we honor Cynthia Hudson with this year’s Hall of Fame.

Red Shoe Movement — You started your career as a news producer and reporter in Univision 23 in Miami and quickly decided that you rather be behind the camera calling the shots. Do you remember how you arrived at that decision?

Cynthia Hudson, SVP & GM, CNN en Español

Cynthia Hudson, SVP & GM, CNN en Español

Cynthia Hudson—I wanted to have an impact on the story choices and on the ‘gate keeping” process that is part of journalism.  I understood that great shows, news and any form of content is already cooked way before the first camera starts rolling and I wanted to be the master Chef in that kitchen.

RSM— What tools have you developed to deal with a job that constantly faces you with the unexpected, the unpredictable?

CH—I have learned that expecting change is a given in our field and trying to anticipate the impact of change is a much-needed skill for a leader. Sometimes, it is knowing how to react to a news event but in other cases, it is being able to anticipate the huge impact of technology changes, new media and audience habits that really affect the job of a leader.   I am always trying to understand how our audience is engaging with our content and where we need to be to stay connected with our audience.

Cynthia Hudson’s advice on negotiation

RSM— What have been some of your most powerful tools when negotiating budgets or other major issues with your board? 

CH—Although I don’t deal with a board directly at CNN as I have done at other businesses I have managed, I do deal with a complex and layered business units within one of the most important communication businesses today.  I feel that Transparency and being able to see opportunities for growth are important.   Negotiating a budget is asking for the trust of leadership and that means that you need to be able to understand the wider business needs and how your unit needs to deliver to help reach key goals.   Sometimes, it is about growth and sometimes it is about timing and knowing how to maneuver your overall business opportunities.  Being able to manage risks is critical to overall success. I have faced challenges that required my walking away from a project or plan I believed in, but knew that the timing wouldn’t work with the larger business needs.  At that point you simply have to bite the bullet, but doing it with grace is a sign of management maturity.

Cynthia Hudson is an example of how far you can get in your career when you do what you love.

Cynthia Hudson is an example of how far you can get in your career when you do what you love.

RSM— Would you share with us how you navigated one of the many crises your team has faced in the past few years?

CH— In 2017 we had back to back natural disasters with hurricanes and the Mexico earthquake. Our teams were stretched thin trying to give thorough coverage of these important Human catastrophes and they were working day and night to ensure that CNN en Español was leading the coverage in our region.  This was also a big hit on our budgets.    I needed to inspire my teams to persist even when they were all very tired.   I had to evaluate upcoming planned expenses and cut down so as to ensure that the human and financial resources would be prioritized where we needed them most.   That is a constant in the world of news but you can’t be afraid to say NO to the projects that don’t have the big overall impact while pursuing others.

Cynthia Hudson, SVP & GM, CNNE, is the winner of many Emmy Awards

Cynthia Hudson, SVP & GM, CNNE, is the winner of many Emmy Awards

Ismael Cala's show was a success under Cynthia Hudson's leadership.

RSM— In terms of leadership lessons, what have you learned from your mistakes?

CH—Mistakes are the best university of life.  Unfortunately, many people feel that if they make a mistake they have failed and they give up or pull back and that is when you have to push yourself forward, own it, and move on.   You will learn only if you understand what went wrong and evaluate how you might do it differently next time.  As I have gotten older, I am more aware of the impact that decisions have on all aspects of the business, but you can’t let that damper your sense of risk if the potential reward could positively affect your business.

Cynthia Hudson and Juan Carlos Lopez of CNNE

Cynthia Hudson and Juan Carlos Lopez of CNNE

Ultimate Software, a Tech Company Ahead of the Rest

Ultimate Software, a company that provides Human Resources solutions, is way ahead of the competition. Boasting nearly 50% female leaders in an industry where that number is in the single digits is a testament to the company’s lifelong focus on equality and inclusion. This is what makes Ultimate different!

Ultimate Software is the 2019 Red Shoe Movement Tech Lead. And there couldn’t be a better partner. They lived by our 7 Red Shoe Principles even before they ever met us! The strength of our partnership is evidenced in our interview with two of Ultimate’s top talent, Cecile Alper-Leroux, VP of HCM (human capital management) Innovation, and Heather Geronemus, Senior Manager of Media and Community Relations, who share what makes Ultimate a frontrunner for advancing women’s careers in tech.

Valeria Mendoza— When you think about female leadership at Ultimate Software, what do you see that is different from the tech industry?

Cecile Alper-Leroux of Ultimate Software

Cecile Alper-Leroux of Ultimate Software

Cécile Alper-Leroux—

At Ultimate, half of our employees are women, and approximately 48% of our leaders are women. It has always been that way, since our inception over 28 years ago (we began with four employees: two women and two men). That is a remarkable state of affairs in any industry, but it is unheard of in the tech industry!

Ultimate offers a unique working environment, where women feel they have an equal voice in decisions and are more likely to voice their opinions, disagree, or raise alternate suggestions, without fear of repercussions. Women feel they belong and are welcomed and encouraged tobring their best selves to work. It also means that we have a broader, and I believe, more innovative view of the future of work. Our HR management products are in large part being chosen by women decision-makers, and we believe we can always be better. Including other voices and viewpoints that influence our product creation and services strategy makes our product more competitive.

Scott Scherr, CEO, Ultimate Software, honored on 2019 Hall of Fame

VM— Can you share the story of a successful stretch assignment you had at Ultimate Software?

CAL—The most satisfying stretch assignment I’ve been given at Ultimate was to create a new team—the HCM Innovation team. We knew that, to make the thought leadership applicable for our sales teams, we would have to connect future and theory with the concerns of decision-makers in our prospect and customer organizations today. Because I was given significant creative license, we created a center of excellence and knowledge that has helped not only our standing in the marketplace, but has also elevated the conversations our employees have with customers and prospects. That is helping to shape the conversation about the future of work in a rapidly changing world. If I had not had a leader who trusted me and was patient as we designed the new function, we would not have had the courage to push our limits.

VM— Which ones of the RSM principles do you relate to most and why?

CAL—I relate most to principles 1 and 5, because I believe that they are inextricably linked and can have a significant impact on women at work. Principle 1: “Mentor younger or less experienced women whenever you have a chance.” Mentoring women is important, for all women at all levels and stages of their careers. I’ve learned from every mentoring relationship I’ve had, whether I was the mentor or mentee. Mentoring others helps us crystallize our thoughts and refine our beliefs, which makes us better mentors. Every person can use support and mentorship in their work lives, as it provides a necessary alternate perspective and enriches our thoughts. But I believe mentorship is a critical first step for women’s careers, and we all need to take the next step to become sponsors of the women we mentor. Principle 5: “Celebrate the accomplishments of women publicly.” Sponsorship is more than a one-on-one relationship. It requires a public endorsement of another person. It becomes a relationship in which a sponsor advocates for the mentee/sponsee to propel them forward in their careers. It requires a sponsor taking on the risk of publicly endorsing someone else, and the effect can be career- and life-changing. We need more sponsors for less experienced women in the workplace to ensure a future with equal representation of women in leadership roles.

Ultimate Software team

Ultimate Software team

VM—What is the mission of the group Women in Leadership at Ultimate Software?

Heather Geronemus of Ultimate Software

Heather Geronemus of Ultimate Software

Heather Geronemus—The mission of Women in Leadership is to help women at all stages of their careers at Ultimate reach their maximum potential and support one another. One of the most inspiring traits of female leaders at Ultimate is their willingness to spend time mentoring other women in the company. No matter how busy they are—whether it’s through our formal mentoring program or simply taking the time to give advice, provide encouragement, or answer questions—they’re always available or willing to make time. Our leaders are constantly helping the next generation of Ultimate leaders thrive. They are genuinely warm, caring women who are always ready to share their knowledge and experience with their colleagues, whether they have been with Ultimate for years or days.

VM—Can you share some of the benefits you derived from being part of the group?

HG— There are countless benefits to being part of the Women in Leadership (WIL) group at Ultimate Software. We provide opportunities for personal and professional growth, service to our communities, and networking with peers. I recently participated in one of our mentoring cohorts both as a mentee and a mentor. Without a doubt, this was one of the most rewarding opportunities WIL has provided to me. Naturally, the ability to have a mentor was amazing. But, the most surprising part of the experience was learning how much I had to offer my own mentee who is in a completely different part of the company than I am, and, more importantly, how much we were able to teach each other. Additionally, as a leader in the WIL organization, I have grown tremendously. Working and collaborating with a group of inspired, passionate women who are dedicated to helping other women at our company thrive has been so rewarding.

On March 8, 2019, International Women’s Day, Ultimate Software’s employees and customers join the Ring the Bell on the 7 Seas. They will conduct bell-ringing ceremonies in 18 locations in North America, Europe and Asia! On this day, a company whose color is green, is stepping into red shoes, ties and accessories to support our mission to accelerate the representation of women at the top. That’s just how they roll. Welcome aboard Ultimate Peeps!

Viv Maza, Chief People Officer

Viv Maza, Chief People Officer

 

 

 

On International Women’s Day 2019 We Ring the Bell on the 7 Seas

International Women’s Day 2019 is an important day for organizations to take a stand on gender parity. To show their support for an inclusive workplace. Join us in a unique celebration that resonates worldwide!

International Women’s Day 2019 is the perfect platform to celebrate the professional, political, social and cultural achievements of women while shedding light on the need for more women in top leadership positions. And although this is exactly what we do year-round with our #RedShoeTuesday campaign, on Friday, March 8, we kick it up a notch.

Ring the Bell on the 7 Seas on International Women's Day

Ring the Bell on the 7 Seas on International Women’s Day 2019

For the second year in a row, we will “Ring the Bell on the 7 Seas” with Celebrity Cruises, a Red Shoe Movement® Gender Equality global initiative. We echo the UN Global Compact “Ring the Bell for Gender Equality” with stock exchanges. An initiative that brings the attention for the need of more involvement by the private sector to elect women on boards.  But we will not only ring the bell on the 7 seas, we will do so on the 7 continents as well.

“We are thrilled to team up once again with Celebrity Cruises. This year we actively set sail for gender equality.Working with Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President and CEO, we get to see her innovative style in action as she thinks in inclusive terms from the design of a ship like the Edge to the Captain at the helm. It’s exciting to see the entire Celebrity fleet and offices around the world take part of this International Women’s Day event,” said Mariela Dabbah, founder and CEO, Red Shoe Movement.

International Women's Day women on the bridge

International Women’s Day women on the bridge

Lutoff-Perlo will join Dabbah for the ceremony on the Celebrity Edge and the Celebrity Reflection. The two ships will be anchored side by side in Grand Cayman so that guests and crew can participate in a joint event on the top decks of both vessels. The ceremony itself entails an introduction to International Women’s Day and to the Ring the Bell on the 7 Seas initiative, followed by the captain of the ship reading the Ring the Bell Manifesto and ringing the bell by several people. As it can be expected, everyone wears red shoes, ties, and accessories to honor the Red Shoe Movement’s mission of accelerating the representation of women at the top.

“We couldn’t be more excited to partner with the RSM for a second year to carry out this initiative and bring the message supporting gender equality to every corner of the world with our ships. As a female executive in a field that continues to need more women on the bridge and in leadership positions, I am devoted to this issue one concrete action at a time. For our guests and crew to stand together as they Ring the Bell for gender equality is quite special,” shared Lutoff-Perlo.

International Women’s Day 2019— A Special Award

On International Women’s Day 2019, Captain Kate McCue, the first North American female captain of a cruise ship, will be honored with the Red Shoe Leader Award as a role model of inclusive leadership. Not only is she part of a small group of female captains of cruise ships, but she has also developed a global reputation in the industry. Her passengers, crew and colleagues adore her unique style. Come meet her on our Instagram Live on Friday, March 8.

Viv Maza, Chief People Officer Ultimate Software

Viv Maza, Chief People Officer Ultimate Software

Ultimate Software joins International Women Day’s 2019 event

Part of the coverage of the 7 continents will be delivered by the Ring the Bell Tech Lead Ultimate Software. The organization, a leader in the creation of Human Resources solutions, and recognized as one of Fortune 100best places to work for, will conduct bell ringing ceremonies in numerous locations throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.

“Ultimate’s women leaders have helped build and shape our business from the beginning,” said Scott Scherr, CEO, president, and founder of Ultimate Software. “A culture of equality—where we value, respect, and care for all individuals, every day—has been one of the main drivers of our success. We’re proud to join this movement and celebrate International Women’s Day together.”

Ultimate Software, tech lead of the Rings the Bell on the 7 Seas

Ultimate Software, tech lead of the Rings the Bell on the 7 Seas

Clearly, Ultimate Software is not your run of the mill tech company. They demonstrate day in and day out that they care for 10% of their associates.

In a time when there are only 5% of women in leadership positions in the tech industry, nearly half of all women at Ultimate Software are leaders. It’s the reflection of CEO Scott Scherr’s commitment to equality and that’s the main reason why this year we honor him with our Hall of Fame. “Ultimate is a leader by example, proving that a companywide focus on equality brings real change,” said Dabbah.

Celebrate International Women’s Day 2019 with us!

Moving the needle in female representation at the top doesn’t happen by remembering the issue once a year. But International Women’s Day offers a global platform to continue to elevate the conversation. Don’t stay quiet on March 8. Join our conversation on social media using #GenderBell#IWD2019 #IWDleader.

Don’t miss our Instagram Live with Captain Kate McCue and Mariela Dabbah on March 8, 2019.

 

This International Women's Day join us with our hashtags #GenderBell #IWD2019 #IWDleader

This International Women’s Day join us with our hashtags #GenderBell #IWD2019 #IWDleader

 

Iris Bohnet Promotes Changing Design Over Mindsets

Iris Bohnet, is the Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government, the Academic Dean of Harvard Kennedy Schooland author of What Works: Gender Equality by Design. Don’t miss an equal parts insightful and inspiring interview!

An indisputable leader in the field, Iris Bohnet is a behavioral economist who combines insights from economics and psychology to improve decision-making in organizations.

She has helped companies and governments across the globe use behavioral design research to de-bias how we live, work and learn. We had a chance to meet her at a recent conversation at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City.

Iris Bohnet at Council on Foreign Relations

Iris Bohnet at Council on Foreign Relations

Red Shoe Movement—At the recent Women and the Lawconference at the Council on Foreign Relations you mentioned that you are hopeful about the state of the gender equality conversation despite the fact that we keep talking about the problem when there are already very well researched solutions. Where does your optimism come from?

Iris Bohnet—My optimism is based on the demands that I see for the solutions. I did not see this 10 years ago. Back then, we didn’t have evidence about what worked. And we didn’t have a demand from companies and governments from different countries asking for help with these interventions. However, let me qualify my optimism because I fall prey of what we call selection bias. I’m responding to organizations that are reaching out to me. So, this is a self-selected group of organizations interested in this issue, and it’s not a representative sample of companies in the U.S. But by now I’ve worked with 50-100 companies around the world. Apparently, there’s enough movement in the space for all these companies to reach out and ask for help on this issue.

RSM— What are some good practices for women who don’t work in HR who wish to contribute to de-biasing their organizations?

IB—Let’s start with people who are not in managerial roles. Everyone can be a micro-sponsor. Everyone can play the role of watching out for micro-inequities or -aggressions. For example, if you make a comment in a meeting and then it’s repeated by John, I could bring this fact up easier than you can. And hopefully I can do it with tact and not in an adversarial manner. That’s an example of micro-sponsorship. I can thank John for building on your comment and then, bring the discussion back to you so that you can own it. And it can be done by women and by men. Everyone can pay attention to these patterns of exclusion.

When you have a managerial role you have more responsibilities in leading meetings, giving feedback during appraisals, and offering people opportunities to grow. Women may not be sent to leadership training or not offered a higher salary because they don’t ask for it as they fear backlash. Unfortunately, feedback is fraught with bias. Women and people of color often get less useful feedback. Managers can check that they help everyone grow. The best predictor of people’s satisfaction with their job is a good manager, so they have a great role to play every day.

Iris Bohnet award winning book

Iris Bohnet award winning book

RSM—Of all the interventions you propose in your book, which ones have you seen consistently implemented successfully?

IB—Probably the one picked up most is the debiasing of language in job advertising. It’s easy to do because HR doesn’t have to reinvent their practices. It’s an ad-on to what they are already doing.  The second advantage is that is a no-brainer because organizations want to cast a wide net and attract a wide range of talent. This intervention is not costly.  You can develop your own algorithm or work with one of the start-ups such as Applied or Textio offering the tool, and the system then does the work.

RSM—Do you see a major shift in gender dynamics as Generation Z enters the workplace? How do you think the current dynamic will change or not?

IB—I truly don’t know. I haven’t studied this generation specifically. It appears from surveys that both men and women are more interested in work-life balance. They have more demands about the time they spend outside of work. They are looking for self -fulfilment and self-realization. The younger generation asks a lot about purpose at work. The meaning of what they do is important to them. This will likely impact gender dynamics but we don’t really have the data yet to show how.

Iris Bohnet on gender equality design

Iris Bohnet on gender equality design

Advice by Iris Bohnet on reaching men

RSM— What do you say to men who are “tired” of all the gender equality talk. The pushback of the #MeToo movement? It seems to force women to once again, protect men’s feelings before their own.

IB—It depends on the men. I’d say there are two categories. On the one hand you have those men who care but are tired because we’ve talked about it for so many years, they’ve gone through diversity training programs, they’ve seen their companies implement leadership programs for women and still don’t see a change. To them, I’d say, we’ve done the wrong things. We tried to change mindsets or women. What we’re doing today is different than what we’ve done so far. Our approach is based on research, it’s new and different from what we’ve done before. It builds on evidence of what works.

On the other hand, there’s the category of men who don’t care and don’t think we have a problem. People who love homogeneity and are comfortable with people who look like them. This is a bigger problem and it requires a different approach. This group needs less talk and more action. These are people who don’t want to move from A to B. They are comfortable in A. For them, we need to look at a social movement. Figure out how to promote change even when people don’t see that gender inequity is real and a violation of human rights.

RSM—For many years, we’ve all looked at the business case for inclusion and encouraged women to bring up the metrics to conversations around this topic. Do you believe that’s still the best approach to get an organization to get behind inclusion at the highest levels of decision-making? Or have we arrived at a place where you can answer “it’s not just good business is the moral and ethical thing to do to support 100% of your talent”?

IB—I think we need to use both approaches. We always have to talk about human rights. But the business case is helpful. But even the two approaches together are not enough. There is a third piece that we need to add: We have to help people follow their virtuous intentions. It’s like healthy eating. We can make the case that it’s good for you to eat healthily but even if you believe that eating more vegetables is the right and the smart thing to do, it doesn’t happen automatically. We have to help people work through their intentions in a practical way. You have to debias systems and not start by debiasing mindsets. Eventually, good behavior changes mindsets. But it takes time.

Iris Bohnet sharing about gender equality by design

Iris Bohnet sharing about gender equality by design

Iris Bohnet’s suggestions for best inclusion practices

RSM— If you had to recommend one best practice for fostering gender inclusion in an organization, what would it be?

IB—I don’t think there is the one silver bullet that will solve all our issues. And which one you start with depends on where the organization is in its journey. If an organization is at the beginning of its journey, I’d say measure. Understand what’s going on before you throw money at the problem. Who are you hiring, what are the pay gaps, who’s leaving, what’s the climate? What doesn’t get measured not only doesn’t count but it also can’t be fixed.

RSM— If you had to recommend one best practice for women to reach the highest levels of decision-making, what would it be?

IB—Build a support network inside and outside your organization. People who lift you up and help you navigate the system. It should include mentors, sponsors, friends. And make sure you also have a support system at home. Don’t try to do this alone.

RSM—What do you think of our #RedShoeTuesday campaign?

IB—I like the idea a lot! The red shoes are a signal —the more people wear red shoes the more others will wear them. That’s just human behavior. I like that it’s something visible. My biggest concern is whether enough people own red shoes. (Laughs.) Maybe, you have to decrease the barriers to entry a bit and allow people to wear anything red, a scarf, a hat, a tie. But the idea is great. I often say: seeing is believing!