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From Diversity to Belonging: How to Create Workplaces that Work for Everyone: Jennifer McCollum of Linkage, Inc. on PYP 456

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Women and people of color are systematically underrepresented in business.

That's a problem for woman and people of color. But, it turns out, it's a problem for businesses as well. According to research from Linkage, Inc., organizations with leaders who practice inclusion skillfully are far more successful and profitable than their less enlightened counterparts.

  • More money
  • Better employee productivity
  • Better morale and less turnover

Yet of the over $8 billion spent annually by US companies on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity initiatives, almost none of it has moved the needle.

Today's guest, Jennifer McCollum, is the CEO of Linkage Inc., a 33-year-old leadership development organization. For most of those years, Linkage has focused on preparing women for leadership, and transforming organizations to make them more amenable to female leadership. Over the last few years, and especially since the social justice protests that arose in the wake of the George Floyd killing, Linkage has addressed diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging in terms of race, ethnicity, and other factors.

Let's define our terms.

Diversity is about numbers. Are different groups represented adequately at all levels of the organization.

Inclusion is about whether those people are treated as integral members of that organization. In the words of inclusion and diversity trainer Verna Myers, “diversity is being invited to the party, and inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Equity is about whether everyone is treated fairly in terms of compensation, responsibilities, mentoring, and opportunities for advancement.

And belonging refers to whether all people feel like they can bring their full selves into the workplace, and that their “superpowers” are acknowledged, valued, utilized, and celebrated.

McCollum and I talked about three organizational practices that foster an  of an inclusive organization:

  1. Executives lead by example
  2. Leaders understand everyone's unique strengths
  3. Employees practice inclusive meetings

We spoke at length about these practices – how to implement them, and the challenges to doing so. How difficult it can be for top executives – and everyone else – to practice empathy. To be willing to be corrected for expressing an unconscious bias that is received as a micro-aggression (“Jennifer, why don't you take notes?”) To get comfortable with the discomfort of working with “others.”

McCollum shared many powerful stories, about being on both sides of the privilege dynamic. On being underrepresented and marginalized as a woman, and speaking up – and not speaking up. On finding the grace and generosity to spotlight Black colleagues when approached by a journalist from a major business publication. I offered some reminiscences of my own experiences of discovering and facing my own biases, and the discomfort that I feel when corrected.

We discussed the unfairness of placing the burden of change on those who are excluded and exploited and marginalized. And as McCollum reminded me, each of us is responsible for our own contributions. So while systemic racism is a White problem, and sexism a male problem – we can't just wait for White men to fix it.

Throughout the conversation, I kept thinking about how simple an issue this is – treat people fairly and with respect – and how incredibly complicated it is at the same time. I'm so glad that thoughtful, committed, and energetic people like McCollum are leading the charge, and opening doors for other women, people of color, and other marginalized group to have a voice and a hand on the rudder.

At the end of the conversation, I expressed my doubts that capitalism can solve humanity's political, social, economic, and environmental crises, regardless of who's at the helm.

Her answer was thought-provoking: business has a lot of power. Political power, and funding power. If we want to tackle global poverty, climate change, racism, we'll need business to participate and perhaps lead. And that's not going to happen until and unless all voices are represented at the highest levels.

Enjoy our conversation, and please share your thoughts and experiences on this crucial topic, either in the comments on this page, or on the Plant Yourself Facebook page.

Here's some background on McCollum, shamelessly copied and pasted from Linkage's website:

About Jennifer:

Jennifer McCollum is CEO of Linkage, Inc., where she oversees the strategic direction and global operations of the Boston, MA-based leadership development company. With a mission to “Change the Face of Leadership,” Linkage has dedicated 30 years to improving leadership effectiveness and equity in hundreds of organizations globally. Linkage provides assessments, training, coaching, consulting and conferences, with Solutions designed to Accelerate Purposeful Leaders; Advance Women Leaders; and Redesign Inclusive Organizations through Superpowers & Symphony.

Jennifer is a highly sought-after consultant and speaker, with a deep expertise in Inclusive Leadership and Advancing Women Leaders. She has delivered workshops, keynotes, webinars and podcasts to thousands of leaders globally on live and virtual stages, including 100 Leaders Live (Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches conference), Chief Learning Officer Exchange, Chester Elton’s “Leading with Gratitude” LinkedIn Live, John Baldoni’s “Grace under Pressure” LinkedIn Live, Candy O’Terry’s “The Story Behind Her Success” podcast, and VoiceAmerica radio broadcast. She is a contributing author to Leadership in a Time of Crisis and has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Chief Talent Development Officer, CEO Refresher, and Real Leaders. She is a member of the Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches.


Linkage, Inc.

Jennifer McCollum's professional page

Redesigning Inclusion: Superpowers & Symphony: Jennifer McCollum and Oshoke Abalu

Verna Myers consultancy

Wall Street Journal article featuring McCollum, Eddie Turner, and others: “What Does Being an Ally Look Like? Companies Offer Training in Support of Black Colleagues”

Harvard Business Review article: “Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome”

Oshoke Abalu's TEDx talk: “Symphony: A New Language for Diversity & Inclusion”

Linkage Inc. White Paper: The Hard Truth About Inclusion: What Works (and What Doesn't)

Linkage Inc. White Paper: Why the Most Effective Leaders are Also the Most Inclusive Leaders

Become: The Five Commitments of Purposeful Leadership, by Mark Hannum

Mastering Your Inner Critic, by Susan Mackenty Brady

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