Example of Unconscious Bias in Action: What’s wrong with this picture?

Take a quick look at this image. What does it represent to you? No, it’s not a test about unconscious bias in action but it should be. Let’s analyze this example of unconscious bias in detail.

A perfect example of unconscious bias in action. What do you see when you see this pic? Here's the description used by iStockphoto where both the publisher of the article discussed here and the Red Shoe Movement purchased it: A stylized vector cartoon of a Man and woman's feet playing footsie, the style is reminiscent of an old screen print poster. Suggesting Romance, flirtation, love, attraction, seduction or temptation.

What do you see when you see this pic? Here’s the description used by iStockphoto where both the publisher of the article discussed here and the Red Shoe Movement purchased it: “A stylized vector cartoon of a Man and woman’s feet playing footsie, the style is reminiscent of an old screen print poster. Suggesting Romance, flirtation, love, attraction, seduction or temptation.”

Here are a few things that come to mind when I look at it: A woman rubbing a man’s leg under a table. A seductress in action. A woman coming on to a man. And several variations which you can read in the caption (above) used by iStockphoto to describe the picture to potential buyers.

Let’s Add Context to the Picture: Sexual Harassment?

Now some context. This picture illustrates an article about sexual harassment in a magazine for leaders. The title of the piece is: “How to stop sexual misconduct in the workplace,” a problem that has mostly involved high powered men harassing less powerful women.

Yes, it’s true that there are cases of women harassing men. But this particular piece focuses on solutions for the more pervasive situations that started coming to light following the New Yorker revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predation. The illustration is a perfect example of unconscious bias on the part of the publisher.

A Great Example of Unconscious Bias: The Red Shoe

I know you probably think I’m hypersensitive because the shoe is red. And you’d be right. I’m hyper observant of red shoes in real life and on print. But that doesn’t make the pairing of this image with the text any righter. You see, it’s part of why things move so slowly when it comes to changing the culture in our workplaces and our communities. We let slips like this go unchallenged.

This particular article was written by two men and a woman. Granted, they may not have seen the picture the editor picked for their article. But the editor did. And the female president of the publication did as well. And nobody thought there was something wrong with the way the picture contradicted the advice they were giving.

This is how unconscious bias works. It’s unconscious. So you must be trained on how to perceive your own biases and on how to perceive those of others in your environment. Then, you must have the presence of mind to call out what you see at the right time. That is, before going to print. Fixing the workplace is a joint venture. We are all in it together all the time. Regardless of titles or job descriptions. In other words, we should adopt the very effective New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority campaign slogan, which has been licensed to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: “If you See Something, Say Something ®”

The picture used to illustrate the article we discuss here reflects an unconscious bias and it contradicts the advice in the article. Example of unconscious bias.

The picture used to illustrate the article we discuss here is a clear example of  unconscious bias and it contradicts the advice in the article.

Unconscious Bias in Action: 4 situations where you should say something

1Colleagues talking about women in a dismissive or derogatory way.

They may not realize that their comments reflect a bias against female colleagues or they may be doing it on purpose. Either way, when this happens in your presence, take a stand. Stop the conversation by pointing out that this kind of talk is damaging. Although it may be hard to do depending on the context and the people doing the talking, it’s imperative to find a way to avoid engaging in the conversation. Clearly, the same applies when the derogatory talk involves men.

Read more about how to become a male ally.

2People making jokes about women (or any other non-majority group.)

These may be the hardest situations to “fix” given that jokes often seem to slide by without much contention. But be aware that they are as damaging as the other examples of unconscious bias discussed here. Not only do they frequently offend women but they also perpetuate the stereotypes they portray: Women as weak, submissive, not smart or as sexual objects.

The best way to intervene? Rather than laughing along, just say something such as:  “That isn’t funny.” Then, when the joker points out your lack of sense of humor, you may reply in a kind voice and a serene demeanor: “How would you feel if I made that joke about your daughter or sister? Or if I told her the joke?” This way you bring the unconscious bias to light and give people a chance to put themselves in the shoes of the group that is the butt of the joke. You can apply the same approach to the previous point.

3Advertising by your company that features women who are unnecessarily scantily dressed (meaning, the ad is not for a product you’d use at the beach.)

There are no lack of examples of ads featuring women in sexy clothes, poses or roles to sell products and services. In a great many of them the women are just eye candy.

This is another example of unconscious bias in action that has a pervasive effect on the image of women. Why not question your creative team or your agency about their decision to use sexy women to generate sales? It may mean they are not that creative after all.

4Starting/Spreading rumors about sexual relationships in the office.

Whether founded or unfounded, rumors are damaging to everyone’s reputation but in the end, they tend to affect women the most. Almost inevitably, going forward, others will assume that these women received a promotion through special favors. An unconscious bias that doesn’t affect men the same way. On top of that, this kind of rumors create tension at home for everyone involved, particularly for those in committed relationships. So, as hard as it is to resist the guilty pleasure of gossiping, do. If for some reason, the information about the affair is relevant to you, your best approach is to discover the source of the rumor to verify its veracity and take action from there.

Changing unconscious biases that are so ingrained in our culture is not easy. By being observant and calling out unacceptable behavior and unconscious slips we can all contribute to creating a workplace that is welcoming to everyone. Is there any example of unconscious bias that comes to mind? Share it with me in the comments section below.

Sylvia Acevedo: From NASA to CEO, Girl Scouts

Sylvia Acevedo started off her career as a rocket scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs, not your regular first stop for a journey to become the CEO of one of America’s most beloved institutions, Girl Scouts.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

She left to attend graduate school at Stamford and pursue a career in Silicon Valley where she held executive positions at Apple, Dell and Autodesk. Sylvia is a life-long advocate for universal access to education and serves as Commissioner on the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics. She’s an expert in mobilizing communities to increase family engagement in education.

After serving as interim CEO of the Girl Scouts in 2016, Sylvia Acevedo was named permanent CEO in May 2017. Under her tenure, the Girl Scouts introduced a series of badges in robotics, coding, engineering, and cybersecurity.In 2018 she was featured among “America’s Top 50 Women in Tech” by Forbes.

For relentlessly breaking through the glass ceiling and opening new worlds to women and girls, we honor Sylvia Acevedo with the 2019 Hall of Fame.

Red Shoe Movement — There are few women CEOs but there are probably even fewer women who are rocket scientists and who participated in an actual mission. Tell us about your experience at NASA and how that helped shape your career.

Sylvia Acevedo, CEO, Girl Scouts of the USA

Sylvia Acevedo, CEO, Girl Scouts of the USA

Sylvia Acevedo —It was my first job out of college, working as a rocket scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs (JPL) in Pasadena, California. The first program I worked on was called the Solar Polar Solar Probe (SPSP). My job was to help figure out the payload and testing equipment that would be carried on a satellite going to the sun. I had to consider questions like how the equipment would work in the intense heat being generated close to the sun, how it would react to the radiation, how its weight would affect the amount of fuel we would need to carry on the rocket. So to answer these questions I had to create complex algorithms. It takes a long time to launch a new space expedition, and this solar probe finally, decades after I worked on it, launched in August as the Parker Solar Probe.

I also got to work on the Voyager 2 mission, which at the time was passing by Jupiter and its moons Io and Europa. This was a long-range program, which continues to this day, sending automated spacecraft to outer planets to record data and send it back to Earth. The Voyager was transmitting amazing images and data, and JPL needed engineers to analyze them. There were some images coming back from Jupiter and its moons that we had never seen before—just amazing stuff. I really enjoyed my time at NASA—it was such an exciting time to be there doing that work.

After the Voyager 2 had gone by Jupiter, I realized that it was going to take years before it went to the next planet and the next project I was on was going to take decades. So at that point, I realized, “OK, this was great,” but I was ready to go get my master’s at Stanford. Once I had that degree I had the background in engineering and the mathematics expertise to pursue a career in Silicon Valley.

It was a lifelong dream to work at NASA and a true honor to take part in such fascinating and world-changing projects. And the work I did on Solar Polar Solar Probe and Voyager 2 had an incredible impact on the way I think and approach problems. I had to consider the breadth of the universe and the complexities it contained. I didn’t just have to think big—I had to think literally as big as the universe! The infiniteness of the questions and the quest for answers to them inspired me—and it continues to inspire me. I also learned the value of “blue sky thinking”—of generating and ruminating on big ideas regardless of practical constraints—and the important role that each team member plays in the pursuit of big goals.

Sylvia Acevedo CEO Girl Scouts

Sylvia Acevedo CEO Girl Scouts

Sylvia Acevedo share traits of great leaders

RSM— What are some of the key traits of a great leader?

SA—I can trace my thoughts about great leadership back to my experience as a young Girl Scout. One of the first leadership positions I held as an adult was when I was still at New Mexico State University. I was asked to join the engineering honor society, Tau Beta Pi, and I was elected president of my chapter. And I thought at the time, and I still think today, that the experience I had as a Girl Scout earning badges, being a cookie entrepreneur, and working as a team with other girls in my troop on projects gave me the confidence to raise my hand, step up, and be a leader.

Great leaders are problem solvers—they are able to break down big challenges into small, achievable goals. They are able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of team members and delegate accordingly. And they are approachable. Open and honest dialogue is very important and helps avoid misunderstandings, build consensus, and bring out the best in everyone so that they can do their best work.

And great leaders stay curious. I had an investigative mind from a very young age—I was always trying to figure out how to get around roadblocks and obstacles that were preventing me from achieving my goals. I think curiosity is an incredibly valuable trait in a 21st-century leader.

Sylvia Acevedo went from rocket scientist to CEO of one of the most beloved American organizations.

Sylvia Acevedo went from rocket scientist to CEO of one of the most beloved American organizations.

RSM— Why do women make great leaders? 

SA—It’s a bit of a cliché but I do think women are consensus builders, and that is something we need more of in our leaders today. I think women also tend to have a mission mindset. It’s so important for leaders to have a real understanding of and appreciation for what their focus is, then have persistence and determination in carrying out their mission.

Sylvia Acevedo has brought a powerful leadership style to the Girl Scouts

Sylvia Acevedo has brought a powerful leadership style to the Girl Scouts

RSM— Girls Scouts is responsible for inspiring a great majority of the female leaders in this country. Could you give us some statistics?

SA—Yes, Girl Scout has incredibly powerful outcomes. 50 percent of female business leaders, 73 percent of female U.S. senators, the majority of women who have flown in space, and 100 percent of female U.S. secretaries of state were all Girl Scouts. More than half of the 106 women in the U.S. House of Representatives are Girl Scout alums, and of the nine women currently serving as governors across the U.S., five are Girl Scouts.

RSM—What are some of the skills that girls develop as Girls Scouts that help them pursue leadership careers?

SA—The values of great leadership are imbedded throughout the Girl Scouts experience. You seek challenges and learn from setbacks. You develop a strong sense of self. You learn to identify problems and develop solutions. You build courage, confidence, and character. And you learn to take initiative.

There are some amazing Girl Scouts who are taking on big challenges in their communities to earn their Gold Award, the highest award in Girl Scouting. To earn the award they must identify a community problem, investigate it thoroughly to understand root causes, create a plan of action, build a team of people who can help them achieve their goal, present their plan and gather feedback, and then execute on that plan. Gold Award Girl Scouts use the leadership skills they learn at Girl Scouts to make a real impact, and they go on to do incredible things as leaders in the world.

Don't miss this interview with another amazing CEO, Deborah Gillis!
Girl Scouts White House Camp out

Girl Scouts White House Camp out

RSM—Why is it important to reserve some spaces for women-only experiences?

SA—Women-only spaces and experiences are incredibly important, and that confuses some people who think, “Why are they necessary?” Well, we need those places where we can connect, create, and collaborate, where we can get encouragement, where we can learn skills that we might not have access to elsewhere, where we can get replenished, and where we can hear things tailored to the way women like to learn and lead.

I was one of the few women in tech when I was in Silicon Valley, and in one of my first jobs at IBM, I noticed that the guys would always huddle with the male engineers on my floor, but they would never include me or any of the other women engineers. They would talk among themselves about the agenda, what the boss really wants to hear, and insidery things like that. So I realized that they were exchanging much inside information that we women engineers weren’t privy to. And I tried crashing the party a few times, and they closed up pretty quickly. This was an important realization, the amount of informal networking that really impacts your career that I was shut out of.

There are more women today in all different industries, but I do think it’s still important for us to have spaces of our own where we can do our own informal networking, make those connections, build those relationships, and exchange information of our own!

Sylvia Acevedo visiting school

Sylvia Acevedo visiting school

Sylvia Acevedo reflects on a costly mistake

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

SA—One lesson I learned is the importance of managing expectations in business relationships. In the early days of the internet and the global digital transformation, I was working with Dell in South America. There was one particular deal we were trying to close with a governmental entity and this prospective client was very used to the traditional ways of working with a corporation, which involved having a lot more people on site and considerable investment in brick and mortar plants. We were coming in and pitching a solution that could be fulfilled with only a few people on site—we brought in fewer than ten—because we could do things globally through a dispersed network of team members.

What I didn’t understand was that for this client, the absence of actual bodies in the building was a big deal. Their expectations were not lining up with what they were seeing from us. It was a very large opportunity, with millions of dollars on the line, but we didn’t close the deal because of mismanagement of expectations.

My failure was in not communicating beforehand our vision of the project, the efficiencies we would bring that would actually lower costs, and what it would require on site. To us these things were obvious, but in those days our proposal was still a new way of doing things. The fact that we had such a small in-person team said to them that we had undersized the opportunity and weren’t taking them seriously, so they didn’t take us seriously. We were really speaking past each other. It was a tough—but a very valuable—lesson to learn.

Girl Scouts Daisies

Girl Scouts Daisies

Kees Roks, servant leader, leads by example

Kees Roks, Head Region Europe at Novartis Oncology, has been an incredibly visible inclusion leader at his organization. A servant leader if there ever was one. Read on!

It’s hard to miss him. Kees Roks (pronounced “Case”) is close to 7 feet tall and usually towers over most people at a meeting. The Swiss native, however, could be the quieter person in a room, just taking in what all the stakeholders have to share. With over 30 years of international experience gained in Country and Regional organizations around the globe, Kees has most recently been the Head of Region Latin America and Canada at Novartis Oncology. In this role, he was a key sponsor of the women taking part of the Red Shoe Movement’s Step Up Plus leadership development program. He wore his red tie every week, made sure to meet and support not only the female talent in the program but any one who required his attention.

Kees Roks has built a career on inclusive principles, living them day in and day out. For his exemplary leadership and implementation of concrete actions to open doors to female talent we honor Kees Roks to the 2019 Hall of Fame.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

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

Kees Roks, Head Region Europe, Novartis Oncology

Kees Roks, Head Region Europe, Novartis Oncology

Kees Roks—Being a leader is not about the individual leading. In fact, the concept of servant leadership is one that resonates strongly with me. I see this as someone who offers support, is humble and removes obstacles. The idea of leadership being dictating is quickly vanishing. Being focused on my team, helping develop them and ensure they succeed is of utmost priority; after all when your team does well, so does the leader.

 RSM—Why do women make great leaders? 

KR—Diversity is a critical component of leadership and it builds stronger and more efficient teams. Gender is an important pillar and one we have to support.

I have had the pleasure of working with strong and capable women, now and in prior roles. In my experience, the female mind works differently from the male one. I value what female leaders bring to the table – sometimes offering better solutions because they are able to see an issue in a more 360 point of view and take into account the impact from all possible angles.

In my opinion, female leaders offer a different perspective on issues. They deal with challenges and situations with a more reflective and holistic approach; a man’s approach can sometimes be very solution-oriented and single minded. Neither is a negative but this is why we need to have more women in leadership positions to help find a good balance.

Don't miss Andrés Graziosi's interview for the Hall of Fame 2018

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?

KR—First, at Novartis, we sit in an open space environment so there is literally no door (laughs). Figuratively, there is none because I believe in being fully accessible to my team. Going back to the concept of servant leadership of which the most fundamental tenant is that our people are our most important asset, I am never too busy to make time for them.

However, communication works two ways – as direct and as open as I am, I fully invite and expect them to be equally so. I want them to ask for time, ask for what they need and be proactive.

Kees Roks in meeting at Novartis East Hanover, NJ office

Kees Roks in meeting at Novartis East Hanover, NJ office

RSM— What do you expect people to come with when they ask for a few minutes to see you?

KR—Well, I never give a few minutes; I give as much time as they need. To dive deep into any challenges or have a deeper discussion, it is important to allow enough time to have the conversation.

Once we have that time, I fully expect and invite them to drive the agenda since they asked for the meeting. It is important to come with an opinion, come with what you need from your leader and what you need them to do. This means you are taking ownership and accountability – you are also being a leader. 

Kees Roks leads by example

Kees Roks leads by example

Kees Roks suggestions for men to become allies

RSM—What would you say are the most effective ways to get men to become female champions?

KR—There are many ways to have men become champions. Put them into a diverse environment – perhaps they are the only man on an all-female team and/or work stream. Women have worked this way for years, often being the sole female in a group or team. Invite men to experience it as well to provide perspective. Also, highlight the successes of women on your team. Show how well they are doing to everyone else – prove it with facts. Personally, I also try to create as diverse an environment as possible and find the right balance of women on my leadership team.

That said, it boils down to the organization – as an individual I can only do so much. Companies need to make D&I a priority and include gender D&I KPIs in the objectives. Of course there has to be a balance, it is not just about filling slots with one gender because forcing something is not good overall. However, it is possible. However, it is possible; for example, if there is a leadership position available, have gender equality and diversity in the candidates being invited to apply. More importantly, it is critical to have gender equality and diversity on the side of the key decision makers for these roles as well, so we really find the best candidate based on qualifications.

Kees Roks supporting #RedShoeTuesday at Novartis

Kees Roks supporting #RedShoeTuesday at Novartis

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

KR—What I can say is that having a diverse team and a diverse organization already, we are doing quite well. We are having deeper discussions and making better decisions. 

RSM—At your level of responsibility, what do you spend most of your time on?

KR—People first. In fact, 80 percent of my day is talking to and helping my team. That can be anything from talking, debating, discussing various topics in both formal and informal settings. Being there for them is how I spend the majority of my time.

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

KR—Every experience is a lesson. I do not know that there is one in particular that stands out but I can say with certainty that, as a leaders, every time you come into a new environment you need to calibrate the need for context. I am not known to be always so patient (laughs.) I really force myself to step back and reflect and find the patience I need to help my team succeed. Mistakes and failures never end but how you handle them defines how you move forward. It is an ongoing journey of endless learning.

Kees Roks Head Europe Region Novartis Oncology

Kees Roks Head Europe Region Novartis Oncology

 

Lisa Wang Levels Playing Field in Investment Capital

Lisa Wang has an unusual background. A former USA National Champion gymnast, she used her ten-years of experience as an elite athlete to build a unique platform to help female entrepreneurs. Enter SheWorx.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

Lisa Wang does nothing half-heartedly. The former USA National Champion gymnast, has not only founded SheWorx (a global collective that connects female entrepreneurs to capital, networks, mentors and knowledge) but has also become the host of the Enoughness Podcast and a high-performance leadership coach. She’s on the Forbes 30 Under 30 List of 2018, on the 20 Female Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2017 and 2018 by CIO Magazine, a Red Bull Hero of The Year, and has been featured in top publications including the Wall Street Journal, CNN Money, USA Today, Washington Post, The Atlantic, and others.  She is a national writer for Forbes and Fortune.

For her leadership in driving gender parity in the entrepreneurial space, we honor Lisa Wang with the 2019 Hall of Fame.

Red Shoe Movement— How does a world-class gymnast end up leveling the playing field in fundraising for women?

Lisa Wang, CEO, SheWorx

Lisa Wang, CEO, SheWorx

Lisa Wang—Gymnastics is a very competitive environment. It’s a zero sum game: There’s only one medal – If I win, you lose. When I was a gymnast, my teammates and best friends were also my competitors. It’s a very toxic competitive environment. As I progressed and retired from gymnastics, I continued to notice these competitive patterns in the workplace there was a sense of scarcity among women who fought to outperform each other rather than collaborating.

When I became an entrepreneur, my fundraising experiences made me realize the unique challenges women face when raising money. I wanted to be around like-minded, ambitious women who could support each other to achieve our goals. But it was very difficult. SheWorx was born as a result of my personal struggle. I wanted to create something for women who needed to raise capital, to have access to the skills and to investors and build meaningful relationships in a collaborative way. Behind every successful woman there is a group of other successful women who have their back. Our motto is: Closing the funding gap by collaborating not competing. Our duty is to support this generation of female leaders and teach people to think from a mindset of abundance. ‘My success is other woman’s success.’

Lisa Wang shares key traits to succeed as an entrepreneur

RSM— What are some key traits you need to succeed as an entrepreneur?

Lisa Wang—The most successful people are the ones who fail and always get back up, over and over again. I had to have a clear North Star as a gymnast. Every time I fell down I had to remember that North Star and get up again. What people see on the outside is the five minutes of the performance on the mat the day of the competition. But there are millions of hours of practice and tears behind those five minutes.

As an entrepreneur, you are inspiring people on stage but they don’t see the hours of pain, tears, and sweat that get you to that point. That’s a lesson everyone needs to learn. Understanding that any kind of journey that leads to success comes with millions of hours of hard work and failure. Only if you’re willing to slog through that and if you have a true North star will you be able to attain the level of impact you want to make.

Also, people don’t ask nearly enough: “What do I want? And Why do I want that?” A lot of people go into entrepreneurship because they want the external glory or the money. But that’s when they burn out. You need to find something you’re really passionate and curious about that will pull you through even the lowest lows.

CEO of SheWorx helps level the playing field by providing access to venture capital to female entrepreneurs

Lisa Wang, founder and CEO of SheWorx helps level the playing field by providing access to venture capital to female entrepreneurs

RSM— You went from hardcore competition to hardcore collaboration. What were some of the hardest lessons you had to learn?

Lisa Wang—The hardest lessons always have to do with people. One of my mistakes is mixing friendship and business and not differentiating intentions. Specially as you become more successful you attract more people to you who come with many layers of intention. Sometimes it is hard to decipher what those intentions are or if they are true. I had to learn the hard way to keep a close group of friends and advisors around me and to be more skeptical. I believe you are the reflection of the people you surround yourself with, so that’s why I’m careful with who I let into my closest circle.

Lisa Wang is leveling the playing field for female entrepreneurs.

Lisa Wang is leveling the playing field for female entrepreneurs.

RSM— SheWorx focuses on helping female entrepreneurs secure funding in a field that’s mostly male. What are some advantages women have in a fundraising situation? Can you give us concrete examples of seeing them in action?

Lisa Wang—Women are natural leaders when it comes to being team-oriented. We are great operators… we are more realistic about financial projections and what we can do in a certain amount of time. Entrepreneurs tend to think they can do more than they really can. In fundraising, women often get asked different questions as a result of unconscious bias. But in some ways, the fact that we have to prove more means we get tougher, we come in knowing all the data and numbers. We are consistent when it comes to showing progress. One example is Court Buddy, founded by two African American founders (a woman and a man.) She became the 14thever African American female to raise $1M who met their lead investor through SheWorx. Now she just closed her $6 million series A round.

Key negotiation tactics you can't afford to ignore!
Lisa Wang during Tech Week

Lisa Wang during Tech Week

RSM— Your generation is changing the way we think about our current workplaces. What would you say are some of the big changes that it will put into place in the next twenty years?

Lisa Wang—The entire workplace composition and dynamic will be transformed, and is already transforming. We’ll see a change in leadership. More women, more minorities, more diverse sexual orientation. There will be a massive shift in the workplace. The structure we see today of people working 9-5 in big corporations will completely fragment or disappear. People won’t stand for corporations that don’t represent the true makeup of the actual population.

70% of Gen-Z wants to be an entrepreneur. For 1 in 3 their dream job is to be a “YouTube star.” This is the most entrepreneurial generation in history. They are skeptical of big corporations, red tape, and bureaucracy. They care about authenticity, people creating good products for themselves and the environment. They hate being sold to. They are the most socially conscious and connected generation in history. Also, women are changing. Women are the more ambitious and more educated than we’ve ever seen. They are delaying children; there are more women with kids in their 30s than 20s for the first time in history; women are 60% of college students.

Advice to women contemplating entrepreneurship by Lisa Wang

Lisa Wang of SheWorx is changing the face of entrepreneurship

Lisa Wang of SheWorx is changing the face of entrepreneurship

RSM—For a woman contemplating whether she should strike on her own or stay employed, what exercise would you have her do in order to help her make a wise decision?

Lisa Wang—I’m a high-performance leadership and mindset coach and I have people do this exercise. I’d ask you to close your eyes and imagine your ideal day 5 years from now. Imagine it in as much detail as possible. From what you’re wearing, what you’re eating, where you live, who’s on your team. All of those things will help you understand your North Star and what changes you should start to make today. When you start by envisioning your perfect day you can start working backwards. If you care about having an office close by or a flexible day, etc., it will help you create your roadmap to get there.

RSM— In terms of leadership lessons, is there a particular one you’d like to share?

Lisa Wang— Embrace your own unique style of leadership.I learned to embrace my own style of leadership, which is not the same as that of the dominant model of leadership that’s been created by men. The narrative says that the most successful CEOs are the ones who are overconfident, command the team, and are aggressive. And my style is caring, listening, collaborative, individualized, it’s quieter than the aggressive, dominant one, it’s wiser. Over time I realized there was nothing wrong with me but something wrong with the model we were worshipping. There’s something to learn from that model but it’s also important to realize there is not just one type of leader.

Take the leadership style quiz to discover yours!

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.