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Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin, CEO of Gaia Project Consulting, LLC and Founder of The Gaia Project for Women’s Leadership, joins the program to discuss her own diversity story and how to effectively advocate for change. Elizabeth shares insights about how women can build allyship with men and reveals her hopes for the final outcome of the #MeToo movement. Elizabeth also details the steps that corporations can take to ensure that diverse talent feels valued and safe in the workplace.

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • How Elizabeth came to own her identity as an advocate (4:00)
  • How Elizabeth’s activism changed as she matured (8:05)
  • How unconscious bias can be used to combat oppression (17:00)
  • The importance of socializing across gender lines (19:10)
  • Elizabeth’s hope for the ultimate outcome of the #MeToo movement (24:30)
  • How to stay authentic even in the midst of criticism (28:00)
  • The corporate initiatives that Elizabeth finds inspiring when it comes to inclusion (35:30)
  • The importance of changing hiring practices (43:40)
  • How to get men involved in diversity efforts (46:00)
  • How to tap into the power of inquiry (48:55)
  • Policies that can help prevent harassment and create safe space (49:50)
  • How to build bridges and gain corporate commitment for change (52:00)

Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:

JENNIFER BROWN: Welcome to The Will to Change. This is Jennifer Brown. Today my guest is Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin.

Elizabeth is the CEO and Lead Executive Coach of ECM Executive Consulting. Elizabeth spent 15 successful years as a lawyer in private practice before founding ECM, working both sides of the aisle as a high-powered trial lawyer and litigator, including with the Wall Street powerhouse Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, LLP.

Known throughout her legal career for her ability to coach and mentor attorneys at all levels of professional development, Elizabeth eventually left the full-time practice of law to found ECM and help others get happy full-time.

At ECM, Elizabeth coaches and consults with individuals and corporations nationally and internationally. Her clients include executives and corporations at the highest echelons of finance, banking, technology, the law, fashion, retail, the arts, and various healing professions.

Elizabeth, welcome to The Will to Change.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Thank you. I’m so thrilled to be here.

JENNIFER BROWN: I am, too. I have probably never missed an episode of your Resistance Live on Facebook since that fateful day in January. I remember how I was first alerted to you. I saw a woman live Facebooking, effectively. You were dominating the shares on my feed, but you were using it like Twitter. I remember noticing that. Isn’t that emblematic of our life right now? Literally, there is no way to wait to do an update. It’s real time, it’s constant. You were right there and ready to use the medium in a new way. I want to congratulate you for that, and also alert our listeners that if you don’t tune into Elizabeth’s daily Facebook Live, it is like manna for the soul.

It’s also a total political education. Now I can tell you the entire line of succession plus or minus. I have learned so much from you, and you’ve made the political process so understandable for some of us who don’t stare at this every day. I wanted to thank you for everything that you’ve done.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Thanks. It’s a labor of love, and I adore it. I couldn’t walk away from it even if I wanted to because I’m so committed to it at this point.

JENNIFER BROWN: That is a good answer. We don’t want you to, and you have 30,000 followers and growing.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes, it’s actually close to 40,000 now, believe it or not.

JENNIFER BROWN: Whoa!

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: It’s incredibly exponential since the indictments started. Some days, we have views in excess of 100,000 because even without followers, the videos get shared. It’s a huge audience. Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: And global, too. I know you’re reaching a million people outside the U.S., too, which is really cool. It’s nice to feel like people are tuning into the drama that we are living every day. Yes.

Elizabeth, when we start The Will to Change podcast, I usually ask our guests to start us off with their diversity story. At JBC, we talk a lot about how everybody has a diversity story, even those that you might not think would. As a fellow white woman advocate, it may be said about you, whether overtly or assumed, that you may not know a lot about D&I—as we say in my field—and I know that you do. Deeply. You’ve done so much work on it. Where did you feel that awakening as an advocate? How far back does that go?

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Oh, my gosh.

JENNIFER BROWN: How has that progressed and deepened? How have you come to own yourself as an advocate?

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Wow. That’s a really good question. What a lot of people don’t know about me is that I was raised in a very “hippie-trippy” little town in Pennsylvania called New Hope, Pennsylvania.

JENNIFER BROWN: I love New Hope!

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yeah. For those who don’t know the history, in the ’60s and ’70s, there was a huge outpouring from Greenwich Village and the theater scene that moved out to New Hope because there was a theater there called the Bucks County Playhouse, still exists, complete with a revival. Folks who didn’t want to be living in a city more could make a home there that was creative, open minded, and incredibly progressive. It was a pocket of diversity, for me as a kid, that in any other—it really was the country when I was growing up, now it’s more like a suburb of New York and Philadelphia. It was a small town in Pennsylvania that was 50 percent gay when I was growing up, wild religious diversity because there were people out there who followed the Rajneesh, people who lived in communes, and people who were from all sorts of different religious bents, and very, very progressive people generally.

Not so much racial diversity, although there was—and still is—some of that. I will say that at least as far as the sexual orientation diversity and diversity of what at the time would have been considered very unconventional and progressive viewpoints, it was a really interesting place to grow up.

My mom was very politically active as far back as I can remember. She argued with the local librarian about them carrying children’s books that said women couldn’t be doctors and lawyers, right? They had to be teachers and nurses.

We didn’t buy grapes in my house when I was a kid because of Cesar Chavez. So there was a very early awareness that political awareness was very big, civil disobedience was possible, although I didn’t do a ton of protesting until I was a teenager. It was always on the table.

I can remember having conversations in the back seat of my car with my dad, imploring him not to vote for Gerald Ford. So I would have been five years old at that point.

JENNIFER BROWN: Look at you. (Laughter.)

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes. Not that he ever would. My father is also a rabid democrat, it should be said. Last year during the 2016 election, he was 75 years old and driving other people to the polls to vote for Hillary.

JENNIFER BROWN: Wow.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: I do have a very politically active family. But from a diversity standpoint, it was a really interesting upbringing. We were working class when I was a little kid, my dad started his own business, and we gradually became middle class. By the time I got to be a teenager, he was quite successful.

That changed things. I went to private school in Princeton, New Jersey, commuted back and forth every day. I had a lot of access to New York City and experience that other kids without that kind of income benefit did not have.

That fed, in a certain way, a long with the viewpoints of my parents, a real focus on education.

When I went to college, I already had started my activism, to be honest about it. My parents were Presbyterians, very liberal Presbyterian church, endorsed same-sex marriage before it was the law of the land. Again, very politically progressive.

But when I was a teenager, I ran for the deaconship of the church and got elected at 15. I ended up on this committee with a much older, much more conservative man who really thought I didn’t belong there. In the end, I resigned. And I wrote a very explicit, at 15 years old, letter that said, “I am resigning because you are treating me like a second-class citizen because I’m a girl.”

That’s really my first documented active political resistance, but also my first awareness that there were people who might try to silence me.

That experience was transformed as I got older into much more vocal types of activism. I was very involved in rewriting the campus rape policy at my university, protested the fraternity system there. Again, this was 30 years ago now, so it’s amazing how long these issues have been around.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: I was very focused on how I could use my voice as a woman and as a woman’s rights advocate from a very early age.

And then I went to law school. I went to law school with the intention of continuing to do advocacy for women’s issues, but I put myself through law school. I came out with 150 grand in student loans, and very quickly realized that I was going to have to do some work for “the man” if I was going to pay off my student loan debt.

I did some work initially, the first part of my career was really dedicated to class action and consumer rights litigation. So that continued to be very progressive, and eventually I did much more work on Wall Street. I was a securities litigator for many, many years, and Goldman Sachs was one of my clients. It was that high of a level of flip.

I will tell you, even when I was doing more progressive types of law, the experience of being in big law firms was really the first time where I was truly confronted with systemic sexism and had the experience over and over again that so many women can report—never feeling like anything I did was good enough.

I could win cases for three years in a row, but I would still be called too aggressive. Or I could take collaborative credit with my team for a really big victory at trial, and would be accused of trying to grab credit from the senior male partner.

That leaves aside all the daily micro aggressions of being on conference calls with committees managing litigation and having an older white male lawyer say to me, “Don’t get your panties in a bunch, Missy.” You know?

It was the first time—I’m not somebody who quits. I think that’s probably pretty apparent about me. I’m a fighter, I have a very strong rebel spirit, my daughter has inherited it.

JENNIFER BROWN: Lucky you.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: She’s a teenager, yeah, exactly.

Over the 15 years that I practiced law, it was incredibly disheartening to see so many women, myself included, with incredible levels of talent just because shut down or minimized or dismissed or laid off or pushed into arenas of the law that are considered to be more female friendly. And to really see it even from men who were out there saying that they were fighting for the public good.

I had an experience that I still think about to this day where a senior partner of a firm that I worked for that litigated gay rights cases refused to hire a transgendered person as an assistant because he was afraid of what the founder of the firm would think.

The levels of discrimination—the law is so backwards, still to this day. It’s so far behind compared to many other instances in corporate America where there’s at least some lip service given to these issues.

All of that was very difficult. And I was very unhappy being a lawyer for at least the last half of the time that I was doing it—seven solid years.

JENNIFER BROWN: As many people are.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: As many people are, right. The one thing I will say, though, is that I did manage, throughout the time that I was practicing the law, to continue to stay committed to human rights litigation in some form or another.

I was pro bono on a case that sued the nation of Japan for unredressed crimes against women resulting from the Comfort Women program.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh!

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yeah. That was a life-altering experience because the comfort women were rounded up, teenage girls as sex slaves in Korea, China, the Philippines, and all sorts of other Japanese territories during World War Two and put into camps to be sexual slaves for the Japanese military.

I was fortunate enough to meet some of the few remaining survivors when I did that litigation. It was incredibly powerful.

My diversity story is one where, obviously, there is a great degree of privilege attached to it. I recognize, of course, and have long recognized, honestly, the benefit of the privilege that I have as well as the nature of toxic racist patriarchy and the impact that has on all women everywhere, regardless of whether we lean in, we lean out, we choose to comply, or we don’t.

I will say that the racial intersectionality of it, the gender identity intersectionality—again, I was very aware from a very young age of LGBTQ issues just because of the town that I was raised in, and how AIDS decimated that community.

But my more expansive view of diversity as we now run it in my company, which does so much work in the corporate world in diversity issues on behalf of women leaders and all leaders, really. We do unconscious bias training, and all sorts of other things.

The degree to which our conscious choices toward intersectional ideals guide what we do every day, I can’t overstate. It’s literally a part of every conversation that we have. When we’re planning our annual conference or we’re talking about how we can serve in a given program and how many scholarships we’re going to offer and whether we’re seeing applications from women of color, whether we’re seeing applications from gender-nonconforming folks. Are we able to support women in poverty by extending travel costs to events and things like that? We’re constantly looking at it as a mosaic.

Some of where we’ve landed has to do with my upbringing, some of it has to do with the fact that I’m constantly engaged in consciousness raising. And the vast majority of it just has do with the fact that I have—as my coach said to me many, many years ago—a “very significant justice trait.” There is nothing that provokes me more than injustice.

JENNIFER BROWN: I’ve seen that.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: Every day.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Every day, right. Exactly.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: That’s the tale of my own story. The one thing I will add to it is I’m really mindful, when I think about my own privilege as a white woman, of how I can use that privilege for good, and the importance of being able to take the education that I’ve been fortunate enough to have and that I worked so hard to acquire, and my years as a litigator standing up in court, doing public speaking and all of that, and my understanding of the law and everything I do now in the leadership sphere, and really using all of that benefit—which, obviously, comes in part from privilege—for the greater good.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. Our messaging is so aligned. I know when I get up on stage and I’m the diversity speaker, literally there is a question around, “What does she know about this? Why is she here? We can’t have her on stage because it’s a missed opportunity for someone else to be there.”

I’m always aware and I want to be incredibly respectful of that. I want to cede the stage to those who have not had that voice.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: But it’s interesting, too, I always envision myself as somebody who can at least—if I can get into a room faster, if I can get someone to listen to me differently through nothing that I have earned, but literally just what I was born with. These are the tools, right? This is the family I was born in, it’s the ethnicity I was born in, it’s the gender presentation and expression I was born in. It’s an opportunity and a tool that is less risky for me to use than others. I can literally pass through certain conversations in a different way.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: Is that the way it feels for you when you exercise your voice?

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes, it does. I will add that I think that it’s a fine like. For me, I’m also—as you are—very mindful of ceding the stage, right?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: And I feel like there’s almost an obligation for us to consider that at certain moments in time.

As well, when I walk into corporate environments, and we do work in some of the biggest investment banks and tech companies and law firms in the world now. I am able to communicate to senior white male leaders around concepts of diversity and change and unconscious bias in ways that convey an automatic credibility that others might not have, just simply because of that unconscious bias.

That allows me to set anchor points. That’s how I like to think about it, “plant seeds” you might put it, around issues of diversity that maybe are a little bit more open. Just because I speak the language. I mean that from the standpoint of having lived in high-profile corporate environments for 15 years.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes, I definitely see it. I also feel conflict in it sometimes quite significantly.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, I do too. I feel self-conscious in discussing it, but it’s interesting. I sought allyship up close and personal, as did you. I was inside the LGBT community, you were an ally to the community. Still, we know what it looks like.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: And we know how important it is. I want to ask you, why are we not further in the corporate conversation? I’m sure this keeps you up at night, but have we not utilized the voice of allies and advocates and what I call “the majority”? Certainly, at senior levels, there is a uniformity, a homogeneity of executive leaders.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: You just mentioned them. I somehow think that those of us who have been working bottom-up and those of us who have been trying to leverage our voice inter-community, have we missed an opportunity? Now, we are figuring out that, like any successful social advocacy movement like civil rights, we’ve got to do a better job of involving those who aren’t directly impacted inside the community in order to create change.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: How do you look at that these days? What is your message to the women that you have these deep leadership development conversations with? They’re in the job, they’re working in white-male-dominated organizations that are very slow to change. How are going to do this differently in order to accelerate?

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Building allyship is an interesting inquiry for me. The messaging for many years around women’s leadership was: You should only be seeking out mentors who are other women.

JENNIFER BROWN: Right.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Indeed, for a very long time, when I would teach at networking events and I would say to people, “You really can’t just network with women. You can’t just go to women’s networking events.” People would look at me sideways.

It’s become safer now, notwithstanding #MeToo. There’s at least a little bit more of an opening there for socializing across gender lines, and we can socialize in diverse environments and have that be at least safer than it was before. Which is not to say that things don’t still happen, because of course they do.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Everywhere. But one of the things that I have found to be particularly significant in the work that we do inside the corporate world is that we make explicit “asks” for allies.

For instance, when I go in and a pitch a big women’s leadership program at an investment bank, one of the things that I will often say to senior leadership is, “We want you to choose the man who’s going to be the co-head of this initiative.” We want the stamp of senior male leadership committing to the growth of women leaders within this organization. One of the ways that that needs to happen is by you designating a given ally, or asking someone to volunteer for the role.

We will also, in the work that we do, sometimes recommend that male leaders and senior male leaders are willing to be mentored by younger women.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Who will say to them, “You really did that wrong in that meeting. I made the point, I was talked over, it was difficult for me to claim my voice as a more junior woman leader. What you needed to do in that environment was shut off the man who was cutting me off and invite me to finish my conversation.”

One of the things that we’ve realized quite dramatically is that we do actually have a lot of allies out there who don’t know how to be allies, right? Folks who, if they understand their own unconscious bias, actually are quite profoundly called to change it, but they don’t always have the tools to know how to do it right. That’s also been a big component of what we’ve tried to do at my company.

I will say that in my vision of the world, the world I want to live in too, we have to make room for everyone to be allies with one another. We have to be bridge-builders, is the way that I like to talk about it. If we’re not building bridges, even with those who in the past may not have understood. I’m not talking about people who are overtly harassing or discriminatory, but really folks who have unconsciously not done the right thing. If we can build bridges with those folks and empower them to become allies and really educate about the ways in which the culture has ingrained in us certain beliefs that we’re not even aware of about the way things should be, and empower those folks to think differently, we can create radical change in exponential time.

Some of that is just about building awareness and knowing how to ask for allegiance.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. I like that, asking for allegiance. Also, by the way, not being triggered by questions that might be asked.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: We’ve got to show up half way as well. It’s interesting, I was at an event the other night. There was a male executive moderator, but it was a women’s leadership event. It was an entirely female panel, male moderator. I looked over the shoulder of the woman sitting in front of me and she was texting a friend. And she said, “Why is a man moderating this panel?”

I know that the pushback comes from us as well. Meanwhile, you’ve got this executive who, I hope, prepared and took this opportunity seriously and said, “I want to step into this dialogue and wrestle with it, moderate this, and know what I’m talking about. And also show up. I really believe in this.” The optics of it, an executive making the time to do it. But I was watching this woman text her friend and say, “What the hell?”

We’ve got to do our own work, too. And it’s hard because we’re fatigued.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: A lot of us just are thinking, “Do I really have to educate again?”

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Right.

JENNIFER BROWN: Do I really have to walk this person through this? Do I really have to undergo the indignities? When people ask me about being LGBT and they start to press a little around details. And I think, “You haven’t earned the right to ask me that intimate of a question.”

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: It can get funky. And, yet, we’ve got to show up over and over again. The sensation for me is when I come out on a keynote stage to thousands of people with lots of men in the room, my heart absolutely does little flips. You can hear a pin drop when I do that. I’m not even past the fear.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Oh, yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: But I have to do it over and over again. I know, regardless, it’s less important how I feel. It’s way more important that I’m making myself visible.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: In my body, in my gender expression. I have young LGBT come up to me and say, “It’s so good that a gay woman like you is coming to do our keynote.” In those moments, you realize there is such a hunger for different kinds of role models and different kinds of diversity in what we have traditionally treated as black or white or gay or straight. It’s not that binary.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Right.

JENNIFER BROWN: There’s all of us.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes. Yes. I agree completely. I will also add that this is one of the reasons why the difficulty that we each face in confronting this as individuals is one of the reasons why, in my view, one of my hopes coming out of the #MeToo movement and where we are right now as a culture and as a nation is that there will be more corporate responsible for that education. Right? It won’t be on individual women or individual folks of color or individual LGBTQ-identified folks to be the educators and to do the emotional labor.

I would much rather have a company hire me or hire you to come in and do this to create space for those conversations than to force individual people to educate folks on how they’re failing. It’s hard and exhausting. Also, you just want to do your job, right?

JENNIFER BROWN: Right.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: You want to do it well, you want to be taken seriously, and you want to advance. Having to navigate that one on one is so painful. By the way, for those who might be listening in the corporate world, it also really impact your bottom line. You want productive people who are in the workplace doing what they’re supposed to do.

We’re actually doing this work at my company, really thinking about how can we support the corporate world in doing that education in ways that are easy and provide opportunity for individual organizations to put their shoulder into truly creating intersectional, diversity-valuing environments.

JENNIFER BROWN: You articulated it well. The expectation of the burden that the individual has the responsibility to have the tough conversations. I see a lot of companies actually trying to solve it that way and put the onus on the employee. You and I know there is stigma related to stereotype threat. Right?

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Right.

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s drawing attention to my identity, by the way, in trying to have an honest feedback conversation with someone, it only serves to highlight the fact that I’m a woman, highlight the fact that I’m a person of color or LGBT. And, by the way, we will also be called “angry.”

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Right.

JENNIFER BROWN: We will also be called “strident.” We will be “not a team player.” All of that language creeps into performance reviews and all of that.

I was thinking about you. You’re a taller woman that I, you have probably gotten different kinds of feedback from your physical stature and your power.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes. Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s interesting. I meet so many amazing, amazing people. I was talking to an African-American male friend of mine who is six-foot-two. He’s in the advertising world. He was sharing, very vulnerably, with me that he has taught himself to hold a water bottle in his hands so that he doesn’t gesture too much when he’s speaking or in meetings.

Now, you and I know why he’s doing that.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: Right?

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Completely. Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s literally the stereotypes. We are so aware of the negative stereotypes that are going to be applied to us. We have actually adjusted the way that we dress, the way that we speak, the way that we take up space or don’t. We know, instinctively, whether you have the language for this or not, that all of us have to play this role. And when you step outside of that role, you’re going to make other people feel uncomfortable.

I love that you’re free now, and so am I, to be really, really powerful.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: It feels amazing, and we’re so privileged that we can do that.

I wonder, I’m sure you’ve never tried to play nice at all, but—

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: No, you’d be surprised.

JENNIFER BROWN: How do you coach women and other leaders generally around navigating authenticity with people’s harmful or stigmatized expectations as you’re trying to find your voice, be empowered, and guide your career? You must think about the double and triple standards.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Absolutely. And one of the things that we do when we do our women’s leadership training, we have this signature piece of intellectual property that we call The Women’s Leadership Pivot Wheel. It’s got nine different segments on it that are keys to women’s leadership. There are things on there like overcoming the imposter complex and living a life that’s in alignment with your values.

But the issue of authenticity is toward the end of the wheel, which is cyclical. There’s a lot more that could be said about it, but the reason why it’s there is that in order to truly be authentic in traditionally masculine environments, you’ve already got to have good boundaries and you have to know how to communicate your needs nonviolently so that you can be heard in ways that disarm that unconscious bias response.

To me, authenticity is a fine line in those traditionally male environments because you can show up as yourself, but you do have to constantly be on alert for the response.

When I coach women through this, one of the things that we talk about is: How do you effectively communicate when your boundary has been violated around anything, while also staying authentic and professional? It’s tricky.

We actually will run scripts with people around all of this. It will be like, “We’re going to use our ‘I’ language, and we’re going to say, when I see you doing that, it really upsets me because one of the things that I value the most is an opportunity to be heard, just like you value that in this meeting, so would you be willing to let me finish?” Right?

It’s very specific, cultivated, strong language that, nonetheless, is not offensive, not triggered. And this is one of the reasons that I used to have to do this all the time when I was in my Wall Street law firm. I hated every second of it because I’m so free-spoken, as you can tell.

JENNIFER BROWN: Of course.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: And my rebel spirit is everywhere.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. Yes. Yes.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: But I will say, amongst the women leaders that we work with, the capacity to know how to communicate their needs and what they value most in the workplace is one of the biggest skill sets that allows them to be more authentic. If that makes sense.

JENNIFER BROWN: Absolutely.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: They’ve got the defenses. They have the shields and the tools that they can use to deflect that when it comes at them in ways that are effective and don’t diminish who they are.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. Do you find you speak differently to women of color or women in the LGBTQI community around additional lens, right?

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s an additional piece of work or consciousness that we have to do in addition to all of that other work we’re doing to walk the line.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Oh, yeah, absolutely. It’s interesting because the work that I’ve done most relationship with women in particular in the LGBTQ community, it’s interesting to see how things have shifted even in the last ten years. There is so much less fear and so much more comfort, which is really heartening to me in my circumstances. But as well, the layers around that of unconscious bias around what that means even, what it means to be a gay-identified woman is astonishing.

I still hear horror stories around it. And, of course, the added layers around this are all layered into the skill sets that we need. I’m not out there telling anybody this stuff is easy.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, my gosh, no.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: That’s a polite way of putting it. But, of course, there are many layers around it. And the women of color whom we work with as well, my goodness, there are so many layers of issues around that, not just in the workplace.

We had one woman at our annual conference last year who said, “All this political resistance is great, and I’m 100 percent behind it and I’m a feminist, but I have a five-year-old black son, and I want to know how everyone else in this room –” and it was a very diverse room. That’s one of the things that we’re real keen on intersectionality. But she said, “I want to know how everyone else in this room is going to address the fact that I am afraid of the conversation I have to have with my son very soon about his interactions with the police.”

Brought the room to tears, and also caused some really interesting conversations amongst white women in the room about how we had failed our sisters of color and what commitments we were making going forward on that front.

I think often about the fact that it’s not just the professional layers of what we’re dealing with here, right? The added stress of living in an environment that is homophobic in many ways right now, and violently homophobic in certain areas of our government, or toxically racist in supporting white supremacy, and what that adds to your day-to-day capacity to function.

I’m very holistic in the way that I work with people, my whole company is. And we’re very concerned about how we can support, in every way, through every aspect of what the people that we work with are living through.

Again, I’m not going to lie, it’s a painful time on all of us. To me, the greatest salve that I hope I have to offer in it is that I am so profoundly committed to creating safe space for conversations so that healing can take place, whether that’s with me one on one in a coaching session or at an event that we’re running. That’s a start. It’s certainly not the answer, but it’s a start.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. Back to your point that the onus shouldn’t be on the person to educate because that’s a very vulnerable thing to do, and what companies need to do more of.

I get asked that a lot. “Who are the companies that get it? Where are you seeing good behavior?” I talk to leaders and CEOs when have the chance to talk about how their employees really want to be seen, heard, and acknowledged. Not just, “Oh, good job.” No. Talk about trauma. Outside of the four walls of this company when you’re walking through your life, if you’re afraid for your child or you are enduring micro inequities or macro inequities when you have confederate flags driving by you, for example, in your neighborhood.

When you come into work, you’re impacted, you bring it with you. You bring in what’s in the news. I know in the LGBT community, the Pulse nightclub shooting.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: For us and our allies, that was all we could think of for days. For companies to remain silent on these things sends a message that we are not important, or all of us is not important.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: What have you been inspired by in terms of company leadership and the stance that, say, Salesforce takes, for example?

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Oh, my goodness, yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: Marc Benioff throwing it down in Indiana. That made every LGBT person and others feel so honored, important, and valued. I would imagine that’s a giant bottom-line impact in terms of your people’s loyalty to you.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: All of it. How do you think about that? If we want to shift the responsibility to companies and executives in particular—who are often white male executives—do you get to have those conversations? What do you say?

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes. I do in some instances. I’ll tell you, I had the benefit of working with someone who was very high up in Salesforce for several years. He’s no longer with the company, but I got a little bit of an inside view of how Salesforce did what it did. That was an extraordinary window into decision-making on the basis of principles of justice. Nobody made Marc Benioff go pull 16,000 salary data points and compare how women and men and people of color and those who were out were being paid comparatively. But he did it.

It was an enormous undertaking, and I agree that it creates incredible loyalty. Not just inside the company, but out in the world.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Client-base loyalty is extraordinary.

I have taken that as a model for quite some time. I’m fortunate enough now to be working in a number of environments, particularly in tech, which I think rides—don’t get me wrong, there are outliers everywhere. Lord help us, right?

There are other companies that are profoundly committed to doing everything they can, and making the significant investments that it takes to rectify inequity, or just to make sure that they’re operating full time from a place where everyone is represented and seen. And those are the environments I most like to work in, frankly.

We have an opportunity right now at a company which shall remain nameless, because I think we’ve got an NDA pending, but a very prominent tech company, you all would recognize the name.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: The person who approached us about it said, “Look, we’ve been really good on this stuff for some time I think.” Right?

JENNIFER BROWN: I love that kind of statement. (Laughter.)

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes, exactly. But, lo and behold, she’s right. They actually have invested already a significant amount of diversity training, and not just the crazy anti-sexual-harassment videos, but really open, forward-thinking, conversation-building types of trainings. And they want to be best in class. That’s the other thing. They’re looking at it saying, “If we are selling to diverse communities, we are representative of diverse communities inside our own four walls.” So to speak, I mean they’re multinational, but inside the walls of this company. “And we want to show everyone how much we value them. What do we have to do on a day-to-day basis?” Those are really interesting conversations because they’re creative as well.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: It’s about, for instance, acknowledging—as you put it—significant events that impact people’s lives. It’s also about acknowledging celebrations at given points in history. Stonewall, right? Or shouting out to communities about ways in which they’re going to acknowledge MLK day or any other number of holidays that we would want to point to, and providing care as well.

One of the things that I’ve seen some of the more proactive companies do is that after events like the Pulse nightclub shooting, bringing in grief counselors and providing them free of charge to people in their own staff.

There are so many ways that companies can confront this that are nontraditional, and really show a fundamental caretaking and compassion in leadership. By the way, we consider compassion in leadership, when we go into companies and we do non-gender-specific training, which we also do—compassion and curiosity is our number-one touchpoint for effective leadership.

From that starting point, there are all sorts of things that can be done to really create a sense of community and family that is amongst everyone working in a given institution. I love being involved in that kind of stuff.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s so great. I couldn’t agree more. It stimulates your brain and your heart. You’re right, it’s feeling like, at the level that you and I are working at, that you are representing the voices of so many who are voiceless. But then we get to have a conversation about compassion with leaders who actually have the ability to change the daily lives of so many tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people, and customers. Right?

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: You’re right, it’s both inside and outside, too. And feeling that someone is listening to you and asking you the question, “What should we do? How should we respond? What do people need right now?” Intuitively, for me, it’s very much embodied.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s not just an intellectual exercise. It is literally born of so many conversations that I’ve been in, that I’ve heard, that I carry with me. Pinch me. It’s so cool to imagine. How can we create more Marc Benioffs?

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Right.

JENNIFER BROWN: How can we engender more of that curiosity, compassion, and connect it into the business proposition to the point where executives who have been marginalizing diversity and inclusion for so long—and I’ll tell you, it’s probably 95 percent of people have been saying, “Well, it’s the office of diversity’s effort, they’re leading it.” It’s such an opting out.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: These days, we get to work with a Fortune 5 company right now, and I won’t mention who it is, but on the concept of diversity storytelling.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: And helping people find their story, locate themselves in the work, and then use their voice as someone who you don’t think knows anything about diversity or cares how to express something vulnerable, something authentic, to expression passion and commitment. The messenger matters almost more than the message. These days, I’m thinking about, “Who routinely talks about diversity and inclusion? Who do we see talking about it?”

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s part of the missed opportunity that we’ve been looking past because we take resistance at face value and move on. I don’t think that we’re hanging in there to say, “We don’t just need the CEO talking about this, we need the entire executive team and the board.”

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: The first two levels. Yes, if you’re a white, straight man, it is completely unexpected for you to talk about this. Imagine, it is so little effort, and yet to do it, it is not only the right thing to do, but it’s making you a better leader, a more resonant leader, and literally shifting your company culture so that you can survive in the future.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: I think this is a burning situation. You have women, people of color, and others just leaving and fleeing corporate America.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes. Yes. And the thing that then becomes really dangerous, and I’ve seen this in companies where we’ve been brought in as the Band-Aid on the gaping wound.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: So to speak. It creates circumstances where you have enormous, publicly traded, billion-dollar companies where 4.7 percent of the executive teams are diverse.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Right? And think about what that means going forward. If you’re in a products business, if you’re in a service business, no matter who it is that you are working with on a client front, eventually that becomes a hindrance.

Right now, I think about the law firms that we’ve worked with. They pitch on request for proposal two entities to be on their legal representation team, and those companies will go to those law firms and say, “Don’t show up with a room full of white men.”

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Because our company has a diversity initiative in terms of the people we will even work with. And then they look around their law firm and say, “Wait a minute, who else do we even have to send?”

JENNIFER BROWN: Because the pipeline is dry.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Right. Exactly. It’s amazing to me that, in some sense, we’re only now starting to have the conversation about what ignorance of diversity on a mass scale inside institutions has done for profitability.

I always have to go in and say, “Here’s how it affects your bottom line.” That’s the question that people always want the answer to.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, they do. Yes, they do.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes, they do. To then be able to say, “Look, if you don’t have an adequate family leave policy, you’re going to lose women and others who decide to have children.” If you don’t have a policy that accounts for flex time needs for single working parents, you’re going to have a problem. If you do not have diversity initiatives that allow folks of color to find effective mentoring and to create space inside this organization, if you don’t change your hiring, for goodness sake.

I actually talked to a corporation last week. They do huge recruiting in the south. And I said, “Why are you not recruiting at traditionally black universities?” It was like the idea had never occurred to them.

JENNIFER BROWN: Really? How is that possible? (Laughter.)

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: If you’re concerned about improving your diversity, you might want to go talk to the students at Morehouse or Howard in D.C. It’s really interesting.

The one thing I continue to run up against that I will say I find very difficult to take is that I converse with a lot of women in HR and human capital management, women of color, LGBTQ women, who understand in their bones the problem that their institution is having. And then they try to rectify it by going up the chain of command. Lo and behold, the head of human capital management is a white man who won’t designate $100,000 or $200,000—fractions of what the company makes—to even start a conversation about it.

Those are the places where I start to get a little bit disturbed still about the progress that we’re making. Even though I agree with you completely. It’s a hell of a time to be in this kind of work and to be alive and to be able to propel the conversation forward, and we also have so much further to go.

JENNIFER BROWN: My goodness. Oh, yes. You knew that I was going to ask this, but I’d love to know what you think of the topic of getting men, in particular, involved. I had a lot of mixed feelings about the Google memo writer and how that was handled.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: I think a lot about not terrifying people. It’s just escalated, of course, with #MeToo.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s become off the hook. But when that memo happened, that was pre-#MeToo. And yet, it felt to me like it sent a message that this situation is fraught, delicate, and you are definitely going to get it wrong. Don’t even try to understand it, to get involved with the discussion.

I feared that although he was probably a problematic individual, and I think we can surmise that, an action needed to happen in order to reassure so many people who felt violated by what he wrote.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: At the same time, I’m so cognizant that we need male allies more than ever, and yet there are so many terrifying prospects to getting more involve, to continue to mentor and sponsor women. Right?

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: I think Sheryl Sandberg wrote in her book where she talked about if people see a man and a woman in a bar in a hotel, and that woman is subordinate to the man or they’re at different levels, what’s going to be said is not, “Oh, they’re having a mentoring conversation.” That’s not where people go. The propriety around the real help that minority talent—and I say that with a small “m”—really needs the sponsorship in this time of #MeToo and scrutiny and transparency and quick, quick, quick action without really thinking about the blowback from this action.

It concerns me because the worst place we can find ourselves is not having dialogue and not learning. The worst place.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes, I completely agree. In fact, one of the things that I’ve taken a lot of smack for—

JENNIFER BROWN: Among many. (Laughter.)

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Among many, is telling people when people start to get “woke”—let’s just put it that way, right? And we’ll take an example: A senior male leader who really decides that he wants to mentor younger women talent. I’ve worked with men like this, by the way, and it’s really interesting when there’s a flip point. Frankly, I don’t care if it’s because they’ve got daughters.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, we’ll take it.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Definitely, I’ll take it, right?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: But one of the things that I have had to say to people in examples like that where, you know, here’s the guy, maybe he hasn’t done the right thing in the past, or he hasn’t shown up in ways that you would have wanted him to show up in the past, but he’s here now.

The thing you cannot do is beat that person over the head with a verbal two-by-four about how they failed you in the past. Right? That will shut people down. That doesn’t mean that there’s not room for difficult conversations, but you have to take people as they become “woke” with the understanding that it’s a process.

I, particularly, am always interested in inquiry. So why are you interested in doing this now? What’s the spark for you about this? What are your fears about what might happen as a result of this?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: I have to say that I disagree with Sheryl Sandberg about that point, actually quite vociferously, not that that’s not the perception, but some of the blowback about #MeToo has been men aren’t going to be able to go out to dinner with women anymore, and women are going to pay the price from a mentoring standpoint.

I actually think that if you have the right corporate policies in place that are basically zero tolerance, somebody is sexually harassed or makes a sexual harassment complaint, you separate that person from the person they’ve accused and investigate then. And there’s an immediate understanding that the investigation is going to take place, but that you’re protecting the person who is complaining about it, and that is a company policy that is company wide, you then also, by having that, create the presumption that when people are doing those necessary professional things, that that is safe space.

Those two things have to go together. You can only have the assumption that people are having an affair or that an older man is harassing a younger woman if the assumption is that that is ingrained in the corporate culture. And if the corporate culture going forward is saying, “We’re taking a stand and we’re zero tolerance on this, and here are all the policies we’re putting into place, and here are the ways in which we’re going to address it.” Then, those conversations necessarily are viewed through a different lens.

So the two things have to go hand in hand, and we’re not there yet. Again, this is all part of forward-looking conversation, but it’s one of the things we’re thinking about quite significantly on this front.

I’ll just add one other thing there to the “verbal two-by-four” comment, to circle back to your original question.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes?

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Which is this: I think that accountability for past behavior is really important. I also think there’s room for apology. That said, people are capable of change. You and I are in a business where that’s what we’re all about.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, we’re banking on it. Literally.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Exactly. I’m not talking about violence, assault, and all that sort of Harvey-Weinstein-level kind of stuff. I do think there is room for people to recognize that the behavior they’ve engaged in in the past might have been unwelcome, and to do the deep work of figuring out why they did it. And also to say, “I’m not committing to not doing anything like that ever again, and here’s how and why.” Then you create room for conversation.

Again, this is part of bridge-building, and workplaces need to be engaged in it. I don’t think these can be conversations that women only have amongst themselves or that individuals only have with individuals. There needs to be, at this moment in history, profound corporate commitment to creating safe workspaces for women and minorities.

JENNIFER BROWN: Absolutely. I love what you said. That is how a lawyer would address that situation. I feel like we’re all just twisting in the wind as employees, trying to get our own development, trying to jump in when we don’t have those protections, policies, or the culture. We’re not sure where our companies stand in terms of the boundaries.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Right.

JENNIFER BROWN: For us, it’s like the wild west when you’re trying to develop your career or get mentors and sponsors. More and more, the onus for career development is on the individual.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Right.

JENNIFER BROWN: You’ve probably heard this in all of your corporate life, “Oh, you’re in charge of your own career. It’s up to you now.” We’re basically dismantling all the training we used to do, all the leadership conversations that we used to have, and you’re on your own.

I get it. Technology allows us to be self-starters, and I get that millennials want to find their own information, but you and I know, organizations are still very baby boomer designed and led.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: And it’s not that world yet. It is not. To ask talent to undertake all of the risk in terms of pursuing all of that and setting up their board of directors, if you will, particularly if they’re a woman or person or color or somebody who is the only one like them.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s an unfair burden, absolutely.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s even more of the reason why I put the onus on executive leadership to step forward. Mentoring and sponsoring goes far beyond you, it is literally your pipeline that’s on the line.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Right.

JENNIFER BROWN: You cannot afford to lose a single person at this point. Not only that, I have friends who are really radical, actually, who are only hiring people of color anymore. Period.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: And I say, “Good job.” Because that’s the only way we’re going to fix this.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes. I know senior executives inside very large publicly traded institutions who, in their own teams, because they can’t get leadership to do it themselves, but in their own teams, are mandating that no one can be hired unless a minority candidate, a person of color, LGBTQ woman candidate has been interviewed for the job. So you can’t just interview the three white guys you want to work with, you have to actually go out and interview diverse candidates. That creates opportunity right there.

JENNIFER BROWN: It does. It does. Absolutely. That’s so good.

I could talk to you all day, but I want to direct people to Resistance Live on Facebook, which is a daily practice for me. I check in with Elizabeth virtually, and the community that follows her, which is full of passionate advocates and folks who want a better world, and a more inclusive world.

How can we all support you going forward, Elizabeth, and follow you? Where do we find you?

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Facebook is where I am, of course, most of the time on political stuff. I’m also on Twitter, which is ECMcLaughlin. The place where you can find out all that we do in the corporate world and in women’s leadership is at GaiaLeadershipProject.com, which really covers the full swath of everything that we are doing in the world, which at this point is pretty broad.

JENNIFER BROWN: Awesome.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: When do you sleep? (Laughter.)

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: I know, it’s a good question. I do my best.

JENNIFER BROWN: You make it all work, and thank God. Pace yourself, because you’re a treasure to so many people.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Thanks.

JENNIFER BROWN: Practice that self-care. Keep snuggling the resistance mascot. Continue being awesome voice for so many. I know you’re speaking at the #MeToo rally here in New York City tomorrow, and you have your own #MeToo story, which we didn’t get time to talk about a lot today.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: I deeply appreciate your honesty and vulnerability in sharing that on Facebook, and I know you will share it tomorrow. As you keep growing, so many people are learning how to be intersectional advocates from you. Every time you make your journey visible to us, we are a lot better for it. Thank you so much, Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH CRONISE McLAUGHLIN: Thank you so much, this was great fun and a true pleasure.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you.

USEFUL LINKS

Elizabeth on Facebook

Elizabeth on Twitter

Gaia Project for Women’s Leadership