Episode 27: Andrea Kramer - Your Dream Team
On this episode of the Thinkset podcast, we welcome Andrea Kramer. Andie is a partner in an international law firm, where she has served on the Management and Compensation committees and was the first chair of the Gender Diversity committee. She has also been named one of the 50 Most Influential Women Lawyers in America by the National Law Journal.
On today's podcast, we preview Andie’s workshop at the upcoming BRG Women’s Leadership Conference, “Your Dream Team: Building a Personal Board of Advisors.” We also discuss her work helping women navigate their careers and the publication of her new book, It's Not You, It's the Workplace: Women's Conflict at Work and the Bias That Built It.
Hi, ThinkSet listeners. Eddie Newland here. As you might know, Phil Rowley, BRG's executive director and chief revenue officer, is getting into the podcast game. Check out his conversation with Jaime Diaz at the Golf Channel and other experts on leadership. Phil's podcast is called Intelligence That Works, and it's available in this feed and wherever you get your podcasts.
[music] Welcome to BRG's ThinkSet podcast. I'm your host, Eddie Newland. BRG is a global consulting firm that helps leading organizations advance in three key areas: disputes and investigations, corporate finance, and strategy and operations. Headquartered in California with offices around the world, we are an integrated group of experts, industry leaders, academics, data scientists, and professionals working beyond borders and disciplines. We harness our collective expertise to deliver the inspired insights and practical strategies our clients need to stay ahead of what's next. For more information, please visit thinkbrg.com.
On today's episode of the ThinkSet podcast, we'll be speaking with Andrea Kramer. Andie will be joining BRG at the Women's Leadership Conference this October in Naples, Florida, for a workshop on teams in overcoming workplace bias. Andie is a partner in an international law firm, where she's served on management and compensation committees and was the first chair of its gender diversity committee. She was also named one of the fifty Most Influential Women Lawyers in America by the National Law Journal.
For over thirty years, Andie has worked to remove discriminatory barriers to women's career advancement and has helped thousands of women navigate successful careers. She is a nationally recognized authority on the nature and operation of stereotypes and biases, practices, and policies to overcome workplace bias, and ways to increase women's leadership opportunities. Andie is the author of the books Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work and It's Not You, It's the Workplace: Women's Conflict at Work and the Bias that Built It. In today's discussion, we'll talk about these topics and more. And with that, let's get started. Andrea, thank you so much for joining us on the ThinkSet podcast today. How are you?
I'm very well, thank you. Glad to be here, Eddie.
Absolutely. Excited to have you today, and then also at the Women's Leadership Conference coming up here in October. Diving right in, though, you've worn a few different hats. You're a partner at an international law firm, and you've got an organization helping with women's leadership. To get our listeners caught up a little bit, can you just give us a bit of a background about where you started your career, and how you got to where you are now?
Well, I have always been a lawyer in my professional career. When I was eleven years old, twelve years old, that's what I decided I was going to be, so I've had a fairly straight-line approach to my professional career. But I found that stereotypes and biases affect the way women advance in their careers. And so one of the things that I did is I created, with two other women, the Women's Leadership and Mentoring Alliance, WLMA, to try to help mentor, support, and provide leadership opportunities for women across professions, and that's been very rewarding. We have a mentorship program. I have also been writing and speaking about communication techniques for women to succeed at work and have two books on the topic, both of them with my husband, and one of them that launches next week. And so I have been trying to do what I can to try to make it a little bit easier for women to succeed in today's workplaces.
And how long has WLMA been around now at this point?
Probably twelve years or so.
So, with that said, if you look back on your career, what makes the business world different today, specifically for women, than perhaps twelve years ago when you guys started WLMA?
Well, I can respond to that by just not even going back twelve years. But if we think about how fast the world is changing today, it is so complex, and so much wider with diverse workforces. People change jobs more frequently. We depend on technology more, that what happens is that the business world in and of itself is more complicated. And what makes that harder for women today is that one of the things that drives senior leaders is something that's called affinity bias, which is bias where we like to hang around with people who think like us or look like us or act like us. And since so many organizations are run by men, then they envision the next tier of leadership to be other men, and that makes it particularly hard for women, because we have to combat both gender bias, where men are expected to be, assumed to be more talented, more leadership material than we are. Coupling that with the affinity bias, women have a really hard time.
So that's actually part of what you are going to talk about in your presentation to the Leadership Conference is a workshop around building your team. And you just talked about affinity bias. We like to surround ourselves with people like us. Why do you think, in this environment, in particular, it's so important for women to build not only teams but diverse teams?
One of the things about building a dream team—and that's what my topic is going to be at BRG's Leadership Conference, and I'm really looking forward to it—is about how we can make our careers, our lives, our experiences more meaningful and meet our objectives. And one of the things is that because of the diversity in the business world, we need something more than just one office mentor who can say, "Eddie, you really need to do this differently next time." We really need different perspectives so that we can get advice and feedback that's going to allow us to tackle our careers in a way with our eyes open, where we're not going to be blindsided by the sorts of biases that we have of ourselves—the stereotypes that we have. We need to really see a big picture. We need to expand our world view, and that's really what a dream team is all about.
And you'd mentioned there having an idea of your own biases. What's the importance of self-awareness, and how does that play into making a team, and what can it do for your career, if you're truly self-aware of your faults and of your strengths?
Sometimes it's hard to be self-aware. Very often, we think that we see the big picture, but we really don't. And being self-aware, understanding what our strengths are, what we can benefit from, what are our weaknesses, what are our blind spots, can really allow us to build our careers in a way that we would not be able to if we were doing all of this by ourselves. Having these different perspectives allows us to feel different parts of the elephant.
When you're looking to build a team, it's not just—diversity—you can have a number of different meanings depending on what form you're using it in. But when you're looking at building this team and assessing your team, what do you think is important when it comes to assessing the strengths and weaknesses across the board and the diversity of your advisers?
In this case, diversity is people who have different perspectives from you, who have different life experiences. You have to seek out people who have different views about the world, and what it'll do is, if you could find people who are different from you, it helps you identify your own blind spots. The studies consistently show that there's a business case for diversity in our organizations. That the companies that have diverse leadership, diverse teams, do a much better job. They actually make more money. And so diversity leads to different thoughts, different ideas, and better solutions. And so if diversity is really so great for our organizations, it's clearly going to be invaluable—enormously valuable—for the teams that we're putting in place to help us advance in our careers.
So I think here about a team, I know I have a team that I work with. And then at home, I'd like to think my wife and I are a great team, but those are two different teams. And if I had a work issue, I have a group of mentors I work with. And if there was something at home, I'd look to adults in my life or friends whom I would have that sort of relationship with. Is there a concept of multiple teams, and if so, how do you, kind of, organize, and is it allowed for cross-pollination in those two, or would you recommend trying to keep everything separate as you build these teams of mentors around you?
Well, Eddie, I think you made a good point about how you have different teams. Your team with your wife, and your teams at your workplace. And the way I view a dream team is not a group of X number of people that sit around a conference table, and you talk to them as a group. It is really people that you feel comfortable turning to for different facets of your experience.
So you might actually turn to your wife for family issues, but you might also turn to her for issues with respect to a difficult colleague. So she's clearly part of your dream team, but there might be other people who have different experience with respect to marketing or different substantive experience, subject-matter experts. Somebody who's senior in your organization. Very often, you want to look to people who are outside of your organization. Primarily, you want to look to people outside of your organization because they're going to be people that you might feel more comfortable being candid, and you don't want to forget looking to industry leaders. It's sort of like the stretch school, the dream reach. Somebody who's very prominent.
And another point about building this team is you want to always include people who are junior to you, because they have very different perspectives of the workplace, about you, and your place in it.
And that's actually another question I was wondering is, what happens when you get to, say, your level of senior partner at an international law firm, or somebody who's going to be in your workshop that's a c-level executive already? Does the nature of your team change? Do you need to have more younger people, just that you can hear more ideas, or should you seek out somebody that might be retired or board-level-type executive to help you find people that can actually give you perspective when you get that high up?
I think that it really involves all of the above. But one of the key things for senior women, the women leaders that are going to be participating in the BRG Women's Leadership event and senior leaders, generally—what happens is the hardest problem we have is to find people who are actually going to be honest, candid with us, because the more senior you are, the harder it is to find people who are going to tell you the truth. And that's really a key part of what a dream team's all about. It's to find people who will be prepared to tell you the tough truth. "You think you've got it figured out. You think you've got this solved, but you really don't, and here's why I believe you don't."
And then you as the captain of your own career get to decide whether you accept that advice or not, but you really want to have people who are not going to just be yes people. So you don't want to have a team that consists of just a fan club. And so junior people to you, senior people, people in your organization, outside your organization. You really want to have, again, a very diverse group, including diverse in terms of skin color and ethnicity, and where did you go to school and things like that.
That makes sense. How do you go about or how would you recommend setting up the communication channels that you have with the team? I can imagine at some point if you have an accounting person, and there's an accounting problem, you're going to speak to them a lot. But assuming no major events, what type of cadence and outreach do you to these people to keep them within your orbit?
Well, what you want to do is you want to be sure that you are reaching out to your team on a regular basis. You don't want to just be reaching out to them when you've got a problem. And how you're going to communicate with them is going to depend on who they are. I might like to talk on the phone. The next person might like to do everything by email, or somebody might want to do things by Skype or Zoom or some such thing or FaceTime. And so we need to try to work together in ways that are going to be the most accommodating for our teammates, but they don't usually know each other.
It's not as if you say, "Here's my dream team. Here's the six of you, and we're going to meet every Wednesday twice a year," or some such thing. It's really not like that.
And so what you want to do is, you want to worry about the care and feeling of your teammates, and to be sure that you're there for them when something's going on in their lives, to applaud when they have a victory. You want to reach out. You want to be looking to them for their judgment and advice, but you also want to be certain that you're building the type of relationship with them where they know that there's more in it than just being there for you, that they're getting something out of their relationship as well.
How do you go about asking folks to be part of it? Do you recommend going about it informally, where—just in your mind—you know that this is a mentor for you, or is there an actual process of maybe not saying, "I'm building a dream team," but, "I'm looking to build a team of mentors to help guide me, and I'd like to be able to lean on you"? Or do you let it happen organically and hope that you make the point of building a certain number of relationships and then just have it there?
Well, I think that in preparing for it and in putting this all together, you want to be very structured as to what you want from each person and how you want their help, but it's going to be different. If it's somebody who knows you very well, you might say, "Hey, I know that you're an expert in X, and I could really use help in X. And so I'm putting together a team of people. Can I put you on my dream team? Can you be one of my advisers?" Sure, people can do that, but there's a lot of people who you might not have that kind of a relationship with, and calling them up and saying, "Gee, would you like to be on my dream team?" is really a big ask.
And so what you want to do is you want to start slow. Get to know that person. Find common interests, and also be prepared to take some nos. Even if you make it clear that it's not a big lift, and it's not going to be a ton of work, there're some people who just might not be interested in being part of it. And so we have to be prepared that somebody is going to say no.
I want to dive in a little bit talking about the Women's Leadership and Mentoring Alliance. Curious, you said it started twelve years ago. What did it start as, and what does it look like now? How did you guys go about helping build mentoring relationships for folks and for women specifically?
Well, it's had an organic life. It started very informally. Actually, it grew out of a women's leadership event, where we realized that there were a lot of women who don't have access to other mentors and connections. And so it started informally.
It's turned into a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt entity. I'm board chair, and we've developed a six-month mentorship program. Most mentorship programs you get randomly assigned mentors and mentees. And what we do, which is really unique, is we'll have a very extensive questionnaire about what it is that you're looking for, and how would you want to communicate, and what is most convenient for you? And then we actually work very hard to try to pair mentors and mentees up in a way that, as I said, is not typically done.
The last mentorship program we did was about a year and a half ago, where we had about fifty pairs of mentors and mentees in Washington, DC, and because of the second book that I've worked on with my husband, I haven't put together mentorship pairs since the last one in DC. And so I'm working with the other board members for WLMA right now, where we're talking about doing the next round of mentorship. One of the things that we're actually talking about is possibly including men in the mentorship program, even though it's sponsored by WLMA, because we see that there're a lot of women that can benefit from having men as mentors and allies, and we think that that could be a way of expanding the reach.
In that instance, then, when you guys go about looking for mentors, is it yourself and the other board members of WLMA going out, and using your network to find people to sign up to be mentors, and then women that have come to the program, you help them pair off? How do you guys generate the one hundred folks that make up those fifty pairs?
Well, there's a lot of women who are willing and happy to be mentors. They just need to be asked. And so that's where our personal networks come in, but one of the things is that we'll pair up with an organization that has a lot of junior women. So, for example, in DC, it was a Lean In Circle that brought most of the mentees to us, and then we were able to flesh out the mentor side of it with the contacts. There's a lot of women in WLMA who are very senior in their organizations, but very often a senior woman says, "I want a mentor. I've got these issues, and I need a mentor."
And so it can be one-on-one pairs. We've done triangles. We've done mentorship circles. So if there's three or four people that really want to talk about the same issues, have the same sorts of objectives, then sometimes we'll do it that way as opposed to just you and me together.
Over the last year and a half, have you had any particular success stories of people that have hit it off and maybe were able to take a next step in a career or with a particular project that you're particularly fond of?
Yes. In fact, what happens is I still get emails and follow-ups from women who had participated in the very first beta test mentorship program, and a lot of them have felt that by having the mentor—we set it up for six months, but a number of people still get together who were part of the initial mentorship pairs, and that was seven, eight years ago. It's formerly for six months, but it can actually be a lifetime relationship.
Every year, I get three, four, five reach-outs from people telling me about how the program allowed them to see themselves better. The self-awareness that we talked about at the beginning. What it is that I'm really looking for. And in fact, it's also interesting that a lot of women will say, "It gave me the strength. It gave me the confidence that I've changed my career," or, "I've moved to a different organization, and I've found a better fit."
I imagine that must be really rewarding, when you get those outreaches each year.
Absolutely. I love to get them.
You mentioned, a couple of times, you have a new book. What part of this all does that touch on, or is it going in a totally new direction?
Well, Al and I have done two books together now, when we factor in the new one that's coming out. Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work has been out for a couple of years now, and that's about communication techniques in gender-biased workplaces; what women can do; and what men in organizations could do to make it easier for women. When we started speaking and writing about our first book, women would come up to us and say, "I get along fine with the guys. It's the women I hate working with." And the very first time I got that, my question to her was, "Can you explain to me why you're saying this?" And she said, "Oh, well, guys are great. They're so wonderful to work with. The women, they're just mean, and they're just nasty, and they're evil." And I said, "Really? How do the women treat you differently from the way the men treat you?" And the response I got was, "No differently. The women and the men treat me exactly the same."
“So let's talk about that for a second. 'The men are great to work with, and the women are terrible, and I hate working with the women,' and they treat you exactly the same way." Well, it's because of the stereotypes and the biases about the way women are expected to behave, that if you've got a woman in a leadership position, then she's obviously got to be a bad person because she's not nice and kind and sweet the way women are expected to be, supposed to be, and punished if we're not.
And so Al and I thought, "This doesn't really make a lot of sense. We're really curious." And so our new book, which is, It's Not You, It's the Workplace: Women's Conflict at Work and the Bias That Built It, is about how the popular press, the popular literature—there's a whole book genre about mean girls. Mean Girls Grow Up. Mean Girls at Work. The Stiletto in Your Back. Mean Girls, Meaner Women. Catfight. There's lots of books about—Queen Bees and Wannabes.
And so we started to first look at those books and the articles and things, and what we thought is that they totally are missing the boat. That the problem is not that women are just inherently nasty because of evolution or socialization. What happens is that our workplaces are biased. They're gender biased. And so what happens is that women, because we're different from the men who tend to control and run the organizations, we are at a disadvantage. We're the out-group. And when women are in a workplace like that, if there's one seat at the leadership table, and it's either me or you, then how can I be your friend? How can we work together?
And so that gender-biased workplaces feed problems that make it harder for women to work together, and that it's not that women are just inherently nasty or evil.
And so that was our premise when we started the book, and our own social science research and reading hundreds if not thousands of studies and interviewing hundreds of people, we've come out the other end of that process, saying that it's really the workplace. It's not that women are somehow hard to work with.
We like to end the ThinkSet podcast on a forward-looking note. So taking everything we talked about today, building your team, biases, the workplace, what it's like to be a woman in 2019 business environment that as we know is increasingly changing at a more and more rapid pace, what do you make of all this ten years from now? And you can give an idealized version or a realistic assessment, but what would you expect to see in 2029 for somebody that might be sitting in your position?
Well, what I would love to see in ten years from now is a workplace that is more gender balanced. That there's more gender parity. One of the ways to do that is to see more women in senior leadership. That we need to have a critical mass of women in senior leadership so that she's not the token, she's not the exception, and that that'll open it up and make it easier for all women working their ways up in their careers.
So in ten years from now, I hope that organizations, instead of just talking about how important diversity and inclusion is, is that they actually walk the walk as well as just talk the talk. And the way to do that is to take out of the evaluation process a lot of the opportunities for senior people to let their biases interfere with their evaluations of people. So we need to get the evaluation process, the hiring process, the promotion process—we need to get that changed so that what happens is, it is more objective, and that's what I believe is what it's going to take in order to have ten years from now much more women in senior leadership positions and the workplace to be more fair and equitable.
Plenty of work ahead, but we can only hope. Andie, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. We look forward to seeing you in October, and hopefully speaking with you again down the road.
I'm looking forward to it as well, and I very much appreciate the time. Thanks so much, Eddie.
All right. Have a good one.
This ThinkSet podcast is brought to you by BRG. You can subscribe to the podcast and access other content from ThinkSet magazine by going to thinksetmag.com. Don't forget to rate and review on iTunes as well. I'm Eddie Newland, and thanks for listening.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the participants and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, position, or policy of Berkeley Research Group.