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Joy Fitzgerald, Chief Diversity Officer at Eli Lilly, joins the program to discuss a study that the company undertook to gain a better understanding of the journey of women in their company, as well as some of the takeaways and key findings. Joy reveals what senior leadership needs to do to create a greater sense of safety and vulnerability for all women in the organization, including women of color. She also shares the unique approach that Eli Lilly took to sharing the data, and the impact that the study had on participants.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Joy’s diversity story and the origins of her desire to help others (3:00)
- Eli Lilly’s recent study regarding women in the workplace (7:30)
- The organizational challenges that can lead to the loss of diverse talent (14:00)
- Why women of color are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs (15:00)
- The “double click” that allows us to better understand women’s work experiences (16:30)
- The importance of transparency and accountability in the D&I process (21:00)
- The unique approach Eli Lilly took to sharing D&I data (23:00)
- The role that leadership plays in encouraging vulnerability (29:30)
- How to create a sense of safety among marginalized communities (33:30)
- The impact that the study had on the participants (40:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Joy, welcome to The Will to Change.
JOY FITZGERALD: Thank you.
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m so happy to have you here. As the diversity leader at Eli Lilly – a company I’ve worked with in the past and admire so much – I am excited to have you on to tell us a specific story today that is extremely powerful and groundbreaking. I want to dissect it with you and think about what we can learn from your experienced, witnessed, and were a part of driving. Our audience is in a variety of different industries, and are a variety of different change agents trying to influence change in a positive way. This will be illuminating for people. To me, this is a next-practice kind of story. You’ll see what I mean when we get into it.
Joy, we always start The Will to Change with our guests’ diversity story. We say everyone has a diversity story.
JOY FITZGERALD: Awesome.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oftentimes, these are things we don’t expect, can’t see, that aren’t visible. What would you share as your diversity story?
JOY FITZGERALD: First, thanks for having me on your podcast. I’m very delighted to be here.
As early as I can remember, I’ve always had a desire to help people. I guess you could say that I was an advocate before I even really knew what the word was or meant.
I come from a relatively large extended family. I’m very close to all of my family members. I remember in my early teens, I had an uncle who had gone into the military. When he came back, he was different – very different.
I began to see the hurt in his wife, my cousins, my grandmother because most of my family went to the same church and people treated him, in many cases, very badly. In fact, they shunned him at times. For years, this was a struggle for us, and one that really impacted me personally, because my family didn’t know how to help him or navigate through this experience.
I remember making a vow that when I went to college, I wanted to understand human behavior. In particular, I wanted to be able to educate families and advocate for disabled individuals and individuals who suffered from mental illness so that no one experienced the lack of knowledge and understanding like my family did.
This really was the beginning of my journey, passion, and desire to serve diverse populations.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s a beautiful story, and what a perfect role you’re in today to live that, teach that, model that, and continue your learning. On that note, tell us about your role today. How long have you been the diversity and inclusion leader at Eli Lilly? Tell us what you love the most about your job.
JOY FITZGERALD: Wow, you just made me reflect. I’ve been in this role probably a little over a year – it seems a little longer, though. (Laughter.) It’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, but it’s also the hardest job I’ve ever had.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s for sure.
JOY FITZGERALD: And, quite frankly, this is not my first time serving in this role, and it was the job that I made a vow to myself several years ago that I would never do it again. (Laughter.)
JENNIFER BROWN: You just can’t stay away.
JOY FITZGERALD: No, I can’t, even if I try. This role is a highly confidential role, and it’s met with tension on a day-to-day basis. The topic of diversity, for many, is a gray space, meaning that there is no one right answer on most days. It’s one of the most ambiguous roles I’ve had in my career. And it requires a lot of judgment and it’s emotionally draining, but it is the sea of uncomfortability that I, obviously, love to be in.
JENNIFER BROWN: You are a glutton for punishment. (Laughter.)
JOY FITZGERALD: I am. But it’s immensely rewarding.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, that’s true.
JOY FITZGERALD: It gives me the opportunity to make meaningful change not just in the business, but in the hearts and minds of families, communities, and organizations. It gives me the opportunity to educate and create strategies to help us not only become a better company, but better human beings. And just given the climate that we’re in today, to be able to impact the world makes this the best job that I think I’ll ever have.
JENNIFER BROWN: I agree. I’m dying to ask you what you needed to shift in order to retake a diversity role, but I want to get to our story first. Maybe keep that in the back of your mind.
JOY FITZGERALD: Okay, I’m listening.
JENNIFER BROWN: I would love to hear maybe what was different in your external circumstances or the person or the company you were doing it for and with. I think a lot of our success as diversity champions can have much to do with our chief executive. It has a lot to do with the company’s commitment.
JOY FITZGERALD: Correct.
JENNIFER BROWN: It has to do with, I would say, the urgency of the problems that you’re tackling, and whether you’re the only one that thinks those are urgent, which can be a problem, because then you feel like you’re pushing the boulder uphill. You had tremendous partnership, and I think this is a beautiful segue into the initiative that you became involved with.
Take us through. You all went through the typical change process. You identified a problem, you looked at the problem, you gathered data. There were surprises in that data, which I’ll let you tell us about. And then something really rare happened and it shifted so much as a result and has led to its replication in many more formats, extending to many more people. But the original place that you started, take us back to that. What was the problem? What did you look at? What happened from there?
JOY FITZGERALD: Sure. Eli Lilly and company has been on a journey for D&I for quite some time. This is not something new for us. And when we look back over data sets and the progress that we’ve made, there are some things that we’re proud of. But when we’re honest, we make incremental change, and not really some of the big, bold moves relative to representation of our workforce globally that we feel like we need to make to really be a leader and truly serve in making the world better for all of our patients, stakeholders, and constituents that we work with on a day-to-day basis.
We sought to understand, when we look at higher levels of leadership relative to gender and women in the workplace, why do we begin to see a difference? In fact, our global workforce is 50 percent women and 50 percent men, but when we began to look at the most senior levels of leadership, women certainly had been left behind relative to the numbers.
We had a powerful statement from a business case because when you look at the healthcare industry, 85 percent of decisions are made by women – whether for themselves, their children, spouses, or families. They also are a customer or patient in all of our clinical trials and therapeutic areas. So, we know that women are very important for our business.
Why do we see this gap relative to the data? What we sought to do was to approach this just like we do all of our other business challenges. We engaged in a research project. And I think what was different in this one, we put the same level of funding, resources, and rigor in this process relative to our people as we do all of our other business challenges.
The big challenge for us was that we had to ask questions that we never asked before, and we had to be okay with the answers that we had no clue of what we were going to find and uncover.
Basically, we sought to understand: What is the journey of women inside of our company? Not only on the first day that they began, but even prior to coming to Lilly, what goes into the decision of why they would want to join our company? And are there ever points in their journey or career in which they question those decisions? What gets in the way? What are the enablers? What are the barriers?
We wanted to understand this population from a global landscape for a little over a year, year and a half. And when we conducted all of the data, working with an external partner to provide safety and security to all of the women that engaged into the project, what we learned was quite fascinating and it helped us to move the needle not only from a data standpoint, but how people are treated and experience working inside of our company.
JENNIFER BROWN: Joy, I’m curious about what you’re going to share with us next. What were some of your key “ah-hah” moments or maybe counterintuitive findings? I know there were some findings that made people pretty uncomfortable. Say more about what happened next.
JOY FITZGERALD: There are a couple. One that I think really was surprising to our leadership team was that women felt that they had to change – fundamentally change who they are to be successful at certain levels of leadership.
One of the things that I didn’t speak to about how we approached the research, we researched the women in our organization that were identified as the highest potential. One would assume from a hypothesis standpoint that these are the most engaged, certainly these are the ones that we invest in quite significantly throughout their entire career. These women, of all women inside of our company, should be the happiest, have a different experience, and one that would speak to inclusion. That’s what one might assume.
JENNIFER BROWN: You would.
JOY FITZGERALD: But to learn that these women that we’re making this investment in, sponsoring, getting challenging and meaningful assignments are saying and raising their hand relative to authenticity. That was huge. In fact, being able to say, “I don’t know if I can be the true version of myself and be successful.” It was eye opening.
Another one was relative to a word that I will tell you that had a lot of debate for women around how they viewed this word, and it’s that word of “sacrifice.” When it comes to the job structures that we have within our organization, are those better suited for men versus women? Do women have to give up more when compared to men to be able to compete and advance in more senior levels of roles in a way in which they feel equal?
Lilly caused us to revisit many of our core formal and informal practices and ask, “Should we be rethinking how we structure some of these roles so that they are more conducive to both genders, men and women?”
These were some of the insights that we began to learn, which has made us fundamentally look at all of our talent management practices, processes, and even systems inside of our organization.
JENNIFER BROWN: Joy, I’m sure you know this research well, but I want to refer our listeners to Alexis Krivkovic of McKinsey, who we had on the podcast. She talked about the Women in the Workplace study that they do with Lean In every year, which absolutely supports what you’re talking about, what is still broken in terms of how we structure women’s roles and how well we understand the derailers and challenges that get in the way for women, and what is the organizational commitment to identify those and actually change them, right?
JOY FITZGERALD: Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: If we’re losing our high-potentials and our high-potentials are struggling with this, imagine how many others are struggling.
JOY FITZGERALD: Absolutely. That’s the broader population base.
JENNIFER BROWN: Absolutely.
JOY FITZGERALD: And that was the bigger insight for us.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s huge. Joy, of course I am going to ask what was different for different kinds of women. I think you also learned there were some differences for women of color in the sample, and that led to this interesting implementation that ended up happening. One of the biggest things we have to point out is that not all women have the same experience, and it’s informed by our intersectionality, it’s informed by our ethnicity, our LGBTQ status, our disability, et cetera. What did you see in terms of diversity amongst these women?
JOY FITZGERALD: Well, it was interesting. After we finished the Women’s Journey, we began to see this enormous uptake within the company for leaders wanting to understand this journey, have more visibility not only individually, but to their leadership team. How could they help? Signing up to be part of our women’s network, the ally program.
So, our CEO said, “This is a great first step, but we should replicate this for our minority populations, specifically African Americans, Latino, and Asian Americans.”
The first population we replicated was the African-American Journey. And when we did our report, it was fascinating. There were stark differences relative to the intersection of race and gender for black women compared to Caucasian women.
I remember one of the leads saying, “Wait a minute, why do we see differences here when we didn’t see that in the Women’s Journey?” In fact, the women inside of our company coined this as somewhat of a “triple whammy” that they’re left behind white men, they’re left behind white women, and they’re left behind black men. And they’re actually the last to the party.
There were even statements such as, “That’s not the end of my journey, that’s the beginning. And if you think that articulation is my journey, you’ve missed a whole other journey that we haven’t even begun to talk about in the workplace.”
I will tell you, that was a bigger eye opener than even what we learned in the Women’s Journey as a whole. When we think of creating solutions or strategies inside of our company relative to gender, if you do not do the double-clicks and segment by race, setting it by sexual orientation, setting it by generation, you are missing and may even exclude solutions that can uniquely help elevate and create change for those populations.
Most women, I will tell you, from a multicultural standpoint, don’t identify solely with what we have traditionally across companies coined as “The Woman’s Experience.” They believe theirs is, in fact, in many regards, quite different and unique.
JENNIFER BROWN: I am so glad you coined it the “double-click” – double- and triple-click, perhaps.
JOY FITZGERALD: Yes. Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: What you say is so true. We need that level of sophistication versus that superficial programming more initiatives. We need to see how the intersectionality impacts each journey. It’s not more work. I can imagine the pushback you might get around doing the double- and triple-click, but you’re right, the stakes are everything. Imagine we need a diverse workforce in every way, and I always believe that talent who have multiple aspects of what we call “stigmatized identities,” let’s just say that, are more at risk of leaving companies – exponentially.
JOY FITZGERALD: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: You’re managing multiple headwinds.
JOY FITZGERALD: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m really glad you looked at this.
JOY FITZGERALD: We even began to say in a very succinct way, “The greater the difference, the greater the tension.” The more differences you add to an individual, the more tensions they experience inside any type of organization, whether the community, for-profit, nonprofit, they experience those tensions to a higher and greater degree.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. And it’s exhausting.
JOY FITZGERALD: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: It can mean that you throw your hands up and say, “This corporate thing is not for me.” We might say it’s death by a thousand cuts. It can be really subtle, and it can really creep up on you as well.
JOY FITZGERALD: Yes. Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: Employers scratch their heads often and say, “Why are we losing these populations?” Especially at the point where they are just on the cusp of becoming senior leaders, which is where it drops off significantly.
To me, I’m not surprised. We have organizations full of unconscious bias – sometimes conscious bias.
JOY FITZGERALD: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: You go through your day, you don’t see anyone who looks like you, you don’t see people who look like you in leadership, you don’t feel seen and heard. And then when push comes to shove and those tensions crest a bit, you think, “Why am I doing this? Why am I hanging in her?”
JOY FITZGERALD: Correct.
JENNIFER BROWN: You might leave. You might go start your own business. This is why women of color are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs that we’ve ever seen. The systems we are laboring in when we are an employee somewhere weren’t built by us or for us. We don’t understand the rules. We’re not taught, mentored, or sponsored.
JOY FITZGERALD: Correct.
JENNIFER BROWN: The list goes on in terms of the ways we’re isolated. You have to be really strong to push through that over a long period of time, and not all of us are like that.
JOY FITZGERALD: I absolutely agree. It’s very exhausting.
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s exhausting. You isolated this group. There was a lot of wringing of hands on the part of leadership to say, “Wait a second, we didn’t know that all of this was going on. We thought maybe we were starting to understand, but now you’re telling us that women of color have particular headwinds that white women don’t.” What happened next?
JOY FITZGERALD: Our CEO used two words to articulate the journey we’ve been on, and it’s one around transparency and one around accountability. We began to share the data and what we learned across the board to our global enterprise – even if what we shared wasn’t good. That was very different, in my opinion, from any organization I’ve worked in around D&I.
JENNIFER BROWN: Highly unusual.
JOY FITZGERALD: We love sharing good news; we don’t want to share bad news, and particularly to everyone. We save that information for the core executive group.
But we took a very different approach. We felt that we were making progress around diversity, but we needed to be more intentional and conscious around inclusion. The only way we could help make this significant improvement inside of our company was to help people understand the journey. They had to understand the tensions, the experiences.
And when we began to do that, somewhat a scary and maybe even risky place because it’s unprecedented for us and the history of our organization. But something powerful happened. I may have at times thought, “Oh, my God, how is this going to play out? What is this going to mean?” It was quite the opposite. It was met with so much – I’m going to use a word we typically don’t use in the workplace, “love.”
JENNIFER BROWN: Aw! I love that you say that.
JOY FITZGERALD: But also empathy for what people were experiencing in the workplace. It gave people the language and the opportunity to have conversations that we’ve never had with our peers in the workplace before. People across gender, across race, across sexual orientation, generations, were now saying, “Oh, my God, I watched the news last night, and I just wanted to check in with you and see how you were doing.”
Those are things people weren’t comfortable doing before. Or saying, “I’d love to take you to lunch and hear more. I’ve heard about the Women’s Journey, and I’d love to understand what might some of your experiences be and how can I help better support you?”
For women and minority populations inside the company, the fact that there was just a conversation, there was acknowledgement of the differences and a desire to understand, it created a table, a safe space, and a brave place for all of us that we have never had before. I think people were waiting for permission. Now, in their minds, this was an indictment for people to have these conversations and it gave us permission to get it wrong sometimes, that you may not always say the right words. You may not always have the best response across the lines of difference, but the intentions were noble, they were good, they were steeped in the values of respect, dignity, and honor to truly hear your experiences and your journey.
There were a lot of systematic things that we began and still are doing today relative to one of those things was we took a hard look at every talent management process that we have historically had in our organization. We worked, we brought in an external organization and said, “We want you to look at what we’re doing today through the lens of both diversity and inclusion. And we want to understand, are these practices and policies and systems helping us or creating additional barriers?”
And as we’ve gone through this journey, and we’re still going through it in some of our systems and processes, we have made the changes that we felt we needed to make based on what we’ve learned, and we’ve shared that broadly. We’ve shared the journey that we are on as a leadership organization and also as a human resources function in better supporting the needs of all of our employees.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s fabulous, Joy. I love hearing that. Eli Lilly is the kind of company with a rich and long history and commitment to these things, so I’m sure that with something like this, the ground has been seeded for a long time to enable that level of dialogue, candor, question-asking, and trust in intent, which I think is a beautiful point. It enabled a lot of those things to happen.
JOY FITZGERALD: There are a number of things I’m very proud of. The Women’s Journey started with the Women’s Network, and from that it became a corporate initiative for the minority journeys and all of the work that we’re doing partnering with human resources.
Now, the business is taking this work and owning it. They started business diversity councils – roles within the business that have a specific focus on inclusion relative to leaders.
To give you an example, for a number of years, we have had an African-American network. They have a signatory event, always in the month of August, in which we invite 1200 people from across the U.S. for one day to really talk about the African-American population, to grow, develop, and learn. Typically, we open the registration and it may take a number of days to fill up the 1200 spots.
This year, when we sent the link out for the African-American event on August 17th, we filled up the 1200 spots and the waiting list in two hours.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, my goodness.
JOY FITZGERALD: Two hours. I can tell you that the e-mails have flooded the Global Diversity Office asking, “Can we add more? What can we do?” This is just one example of the energy that we have around inclusion and diversity in our company right now. For the first time ever, at this forum, we have more of our vice presidents coming than we’ve had in the history. Almost 75 percent that are in the U.S. will be at this event. Just the energy around everybody becoming part of this conversation to learn more is empowering. There is probably not a week inside our company right now where some group or function isn’t having a panel, a learning event, bringing in an organization, or doing something to continue to advance this conversation around gender and race in the workplace.
JENNIFER BROWN: What I hear in the story is the permission. You used the word “permission” earlier.” The transparency, first of all, of sharing the good, bad, and the ugly from the top. Right?
JOY FITZGERALD: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: And the intent to come from a place of love. Honestly, it’s not loving to hide where people are struggling. It’s not loving to brush things under the rug. It’s not loving not to check in with someone and say, “Hey, I watched the news last night, how are you coping today?” That is a loving gesture.
I write a lot about how not talking about things creates more isolation and bad feelings and breaks trust.
JOY FITZGERALD: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s interesting, there are so many companies that are taking the opposite approach. If they don’t have strong leadership who are really committed to say, “We want to talk about these things,” there is actually more fear going on right now because people don’t want to say the wrong thing. There is a distancing from each other. I’m really glad to hear you’re actually in the process of opening up the dialogue, normalizing it, acknowledging that things aren’t always going to be handled perfectly, but that intent matters.
JOY FITZGERALD: Correct.
JENNIFER BROWN: You shared some questions people are asking each other. I hear a lot of hesitation with leaders who ask those same questions. They don’t want to intrude, they’re afraid they’re going to say the wrong thing, they don’t want to tokenize somebody and imply, “All I see is your race right now, let me ask you a question about your experience.”
JOY FITZGERALD: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: There is a lot of back and forth about where those boundaries are. I’m glad to hear you say that it’s actually working in your culture.
Joy, I want to ask you, specifically, would you feel comfortable telling us about the multi-day commitment that your chief executive made to spend time with your women of color high-potential leaders?
JOY FITZGERALD: Before I do that, I want to answer a question you referenced earlier.
JENNIFER BROWN: Sure.
JOY FITZGERALD: I made the statement that this was the role that I thought I would never take again in my career. (Laughter.)
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
JOY FITZGERALD: But I did, and I can tell you why – it’s because of our CEO. I respect and honor him so much. When I think of a white man who is truly leading, being a bold voice of change, unapologetically, and doing the work and putting in the accountability measures and the systems and practices to hold people accountable, I can’t find a better example than our CEO.
He has a long history of being known as a great leader, a man who moves the needle, and he is treating diversity and inclusion just like he does everything else in our business. Because of his tenacious nature in going after improvement around diversity and inclusion, he made this an easy “yes” for me to take on this role. I wanted to be part of this change with him and with the organization.
I remember as we were presenting the African-American research with our CEO and his executive lead team, when we did the intersection of both race and gender and talked about what African-American women were experiencing and how they saw themselves in many degrees different than Caucasian women in our organization, we took a break. I remember him standing beside me. He leaned over and he whispered, “I’m blown away by this, and I want to better understand it. How do you think African-American women inside our company would feel if I were to invite the top African-American females to a three-day conference facilitated by me? I want to continue and advance our conversation. I want to better understand it and let them know they are both celebrated and supported. And I don’t ever want them to feel any degree of invisibility inside our company.”
My eyes bugged real big because I have never had the experience of any CEO redoing his entire schedule to give up two and a half days. He didn’t hire an external facilitator. He didn’t ask our learning and development team to go design this agenda. He did it himself.
I had an opportunity to be part of that program. It will go down in the history of my career as one of the most powerful, moving experiences I’ve ever had, when I felt celebrated and supported as a black woman in corporate America.
JENNIFER BROWN: How did he conduct himself during those days with that small group of women? What were some of the things that were discussed and shared? What was the energy in the room? I’m most interested in his behavior, how he created a sense of safety.
JOY FITZGERALD: It was interesting. I would say I don’t think he was worried at all or had any reservations about this. He grew up in a diverse area of the United States. But I will tell you, the African-American females were a little nervous and worried. They asked, “Will this be of value to us? Can we be ourselves?”
In all honesty, we had several meetings prior to this with the women who were participating to just say, “How are we going to show up? Are we going to be comfortable? Are we truly going to be vulnerable? What’s the risk?”
I will tell you, all of those fears and reservations were certainly nullified after the evening of the first day on which we had a reception. I think he was intentional in everything he did. He probably came more casually dressed to be able to create a welcoming and warm environment that would be more of a conversation.
The room that we were in, there was one point at which he just created a circle of chairs, no tables, and we were all united in this circle to have a brave conversation in which we shared personal things about ourselves. He demonstrated by starting it. He shared things that many of us did not know about him, and we grew to respect him even more through hearing them.
It wasn’t a traditional formal type of setting. It was very informal in nature, but we did a lot of strong, good, and impactful work during those couple of days. Not only from an individual standpoint, but also we moved to ask, “How do we impact the business? How do we bring the dimensions of difference that we occupy to a place where we can own it to, ultimately help the patient,” which is why we’re all there and what unites each and every one of us.
We got a chance to talk about those things, present ideas that most maybe wouldn’t have the opportunity to have that one-to-one discussion with him and tell him ways in which we think we can leverage race and gender to help our business and our patients.
JENNIFER BROWN: Subsequently, I’m sure he was transformed by the experience. I wonder, how do you measure the impact of something like this? Probably a lot of different ways, but I know that it’s been wildly successful with multiple ROI metrics from engagement to promotion to awareness.
JOY FITZGERALD: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: How did you go about perceiving what the result of this was? I’m sure it’s still unfolding as we speak.
JOY FITZGERALD: Absolutely. One of the things, we were very intentional to not put too much rigor around this. As you can imagine, with a company of our size, inviting 15 women to two and a half days with the CEO can be quite intimidating and a little scary and risky, particularly when you know that you will be acknowledged as a minority woman.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right.
JOY FITZGERALD: In particular around race. Race in the United States is very scary for many of us around how people perceive us, the stereotypes around us, and how we’re treated. Now, to bring this into the work setting with your CEO and to feel like you’re safe to be vulnerable, it was a little scary.
We didn’t put too much rigor around expectations, other than this was meant to be an opportunity to advance the conversation from an individual personal perspective as well as a business implication and impact conversation.
So we kept it pretty general to those areas to let it evolve and grow and go where we all needed it to go without overmanaging it.
Coming out of that, for the women who attended, we wanted to be seen as valuable to this company. That was the biggest ask. I want to be valued. I don’t want to have to leave my blackness behind or at home to make you feel comfortable. I want you to see that as a differentiator to help us win as an organization, because your patients look like me. Really, I think that was it from the individuals who attended.
Now, it’s still evolving. What I will tell you, promotions have come out since then for women who have been part of that project. The engagement and the permission – I’m going to use that word again – every woman left on that last day feeling like, “I have a voice, and shame on me for not using it more often. I’m going to stop apologizing when it makes others uncomfortable. My voice is exactly what this organization needs. Now, I’m going to be more intentional and committed to using it in every meeting, every setting, and every opportunity in which I can. The CEO has given me permission to use my voice.”
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s pretty cool to be able to say.
JOY FITZGERALD: It’s pretty cool.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, it is.
JOY FITZGERALD: It was almost like we walked out that day singing, “I’m every woman.”
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
JOY FITZGERALD: I think all of the women felt like, “I’m in.” The network has continued even without any formal discipline from him or any other group to keep us connected. The group has kept connecting with one another.
There was another win that came out of that which we maybe weren’t expecting. It was a small number of us. We all knew each other, some of us probably more intimately than others. But we didn’t know each other’s strong resumes and experiences. While we loved each other, we became impressed with one another, and then have found ways to coach and mentor each other as better partners because we represent all areas of the business.
Now, when we need a trusted friend to think through a problem, situation, or business challenge, we know who to call. We have one more network and connection that we can rely on and depend on. Some of us have invited others to parts of our extended project teams just because of their great experiences and insight. We learned even more about one another as part of that experience.
JENNIFER BROWN: Beautiful. I have to ask, is this going to be now extended to other communities that you’re also struggling to retain? How do you expect any of them to be different? Do you think they will yield equally rich information and connections, build trust, and maybe even impact your retention statistics in a concrete way.
JOY FITZGERALD: I think our CEO has, certainly, made a commitment. There is a program that he’s working on right now that’s a small cohort that’s multicultural and global. He’s really committed to being hands on as it relates to development.
Relative to Latino women, Asian women, we’ve talked about most likely every year there will be one special cohort that our CEO will have for a very similar experience such as this with other groups.
One of the things that we’re doing, we’re allowing the data to take us there, just like we did for African-American women. What are our greatest challenges based on data that we need to go after and better understand and create somebody pretty significant, timely, urgent mitigations to help women and other populations have a different and more equal experience inside of our company? I absolutely expect that we will continue this.
I think that it would be very powerful and probably more safe because now people have a group of women they can go to and say, “Okay, now tell me, can I really be myself? What was it like for you?” There is a lot of energy around this, and I believe it will be as successful, if not even more.
JENNIFER BROWN: In closing, I want to express gratitude that you decided to return to a diversity leadership job. You’ve been really humble today in describing this, and not so much telling us about the incredibly important role that you played in making all of this happen and facilitating it. I just want to acknowledge our jobs and your job as one of the hardest, most rewarding, and most complex jobs. When things line up like they have for you with your chief executive, with your business case for wanting to reflect the patients that you serve, and with the need for women of color in particular to feel seen and heard and to thrive, it has all the ingredients that I would wish for in terms of a successful culture change towards inclusion.
I applaud you. You’ve been humble today, but I know that you had a lot to do with this.
JOY FITZGERALD: It has certainly been a pleasure to even have the opportunity to share our story. Again, we didn’t go after this for any type of public acclaim, we really wanted to do this because we care about the people who work inside of our organization. We’re an innovation company, and we needed to be more innovative for our people. We’re grateful and thankful that we’re yielding good results, we’re learning, and we’re hopeful that because we’re better humans, we can bring a little bit more love, a little bit more caring, a little bit more sharing and understanding to the external environment to create a better society for all populations. The world certainly needs that right now.
JENNIFER BROWN: For sure. I have nothing to add to that; it was beautiful. Thank you, Joy, for joining us on The Will to Change.
JOY FITZGERALD: Thank you. It’s been a wonderful pleasure. Thank you.
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