Respect knows no gender; diversity is our collective strength. The goal is not inclusivity; it’s providing equal opportunities for everyone to be the best that they can be. In this episode, Lauren Neal, an award-winning chartered engineer and chartered project professional in the energy industry and author of #1 bestseller Valued at Work, discusses reshaping norms and embracing true inclusivity in the professional world. Laura talks through the nature vs. nurture debate, exploring how our natural abilities interact with societal structures that influence our skills and opportunities. She also dives into the realities of patriarchy, showing the challenges faced by women and even men. People are wired differently and experience unique struggles with being boxed and not being able to freely soar and explore themselves. How we can overcome this and create a world that truly embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion in our male-dominated society? Tune in and discover how diverse workforce can drive the best business outcomes and innovations.
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Beyond The Boys’ Club: Elevating Women’s Voices In The Workplace With Lauren Neal
In this episode, I am excited to speak with my guest, Lauren, who is very passionate about women in tech and STEM specifically. It’s an interesting thing for me. It drew me in when I was learning about your work, Lauren because I am surprised that I didn’t pursue more of a tech-related career. I have always been interested in technology and very drawn to learning about women in STEM and fields in which women tend to be minorities, not be taken as seriously, and struggle in these workplaces as we are going to explore.
The one thing that you and I were bonding over before we started this conversation was gadgets. I thought it would be a fun place to start because I love meeting other people in general but especially women, as I’m a woman, I feel like it’s a delight to meet another female who is also very into tech and gadgets. You have a background in Engineering. I’m curious to hear a little bit more about why you love gadgets and what type of gadgets you like the most. Do you have a favorite that comes to mind? Do you feel drawn to something in particular?
I’m happy to be here and I’m excited for our conversation. I have always been a gadget fiend as how I describe it. I’m torn because it’s almost like you are forced to choose whether you like the Amazon, Google, or Apple environment. I’m leaning more towards Apple at the minute because I have an iPhone and a MacBook. I do like that my iPad, iPhone, and laptop all synced together, which I do enjoy.I've always been a gadget fiend. Click To Tweet
When I was in the office, you had to have headsets. Everyone had a wired headset. I suddenly was like, “I want to be able to go make a coffee at the same time. I wanted to get a Bluetooth headset so that I could walk around.” These little things make life a little bit easier that you can go get a printout and stuff. I have seen people use their Bluetooth headsets and they go to the toilets. You are like, “Please, don’t. I don’t want that.” This is all pre-COVID.
That brings up another thought. I use a number of AI tools. I’m very drawn to those. It’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about as well as tools like social media, which don’t quite fall into the gadget realm but there are a lot of gadgets that are based on social media. There are new gadgets coming out that are based on AI. I saw one on Kickstarter and I thought, “This is the world that we are moving into. All these tools are helping us do things faster and differently.” There’s also this question of, “Is our humanity being stripped away?”
To your point, are we getting to this time where we are trying to be efficient and productive when we are using all these gadgets at the toilet? That’s become a big thing ever since cell phones came out. People bring their cell phones to use while they are going to the bathroom. Most of us can relate to that desire because maybe it seems a little boring to sit there and do nothing. There’s the other side of like, “Do we spend enough time doing nothing?” I’m curious about your thoughts given all the work that you have been doing in this field that you have been in.
I will probably quote my mom here because she always calls me a Borg when I go up and visit. After all, I have always got my phone, iPad, laptop, or something out. She’s like, “How much of you are human versus always using a gadget?” I do think there is a time for the digital detox but I don’t know. I don’t think I go to that extreme. It’s a case of sometimes it’s to turn your phone off.
I have always had this rule that when I go to bed, I don’t have my phone beside me because anytime I have been traveling, and I do have my phone because I usually use it for my alarm clock, I always end up scrolling. It’s the first thing I pick up in the morning. That can’t be healthy. It’s always been a thing. I will leave my phone in the living room probably on charge or something like that. I go to bed in another room and that’s my sacred place.
It’s important to have something that works well for us. Not being too prescriptive about it or one-size-fits-all about each of us needs to determine our relationships with technology. That’s going to depend on a number of different factors. I would love to go back a little bit to a definition of STEM because I didn’t understand what that meant. I still could use some more clarity. I remember learning about it focused back in 2016. I was invited to something that was related to women and STEM. The definition was new to me. I would love to hear how you define it for the reader who might also be a little unsure about what STEM means.
STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Math if you are US. Maths if you are in the UK. I graduated in 2006 with a degree in Electronic Electrical Engineering. I was born in Aberdeen, which was very oil and gas-focused. If you are an engineer and you live in Aberdeen, you go into the energy sector. It was almost an accident that I ended up in there.
When I was at school, I enjoyed coding. I was good at math. Even my yearbook said, “Lauren wants to take over Microsoft,” which is true. I did say that. It was my tech studies teacher who when he was asking me what I was applying to do, I said, “I was thinking software development.” He then said to me, “Do you want to go into an area where technology is always changing versus the principles of engineering never change?” At this point, it was 2002.
I chose Electronic and Electrical specializing in Computer Engineering. I got the best of both worlds. About a few years in, while I enjoyed doing coding, and I quite liked programming microcontrollers for robots and stuff and that was quite fun, I realized that I wasn’t as hardcore as some people were that I would see. They were just into it. They could write things without looking up example code.
I would look up examples and then say, “That does that.” I would tweak it to what I needed it to be but these people could write them from scratch. I was like, “That’s not me. I’m not wired like that.” I enjoyed that side of things. When I got into the workplace, that’s where things got interesting. I have worked for several years so I have a perspective.
That is so valuable to have a perspective like that, especially in a time where I feel like it’s an interesting transitionary time. Sometimes we are transitioning, especially with gender in so many ways. In the past few years, our society has been looking at gender differently and being more open and accepting in some ways, although we still have a lot of controversies and opinions.
When we look at the binary definitions of gender, male and female, we have come quite a long way in my lifetime. When I look back to what it was like as a kid versus an adult, there’s still so much that has changed. The one thing that you said, which was, “I’m not wired for that,” I’m curious to hear more about that. It seems like when I was growing up, it was different for someone like me to understand how to use a computer as I always have been.
I seemed to have a natural proclivity to it but then I don’t know if it was a nature versus nurture thing. My dad was interested in computers so I was around them a lot as a kid. Nowadays, that’s more standard. Devices are all over the place but when I was growing up, it was a major privilege to have a nice computer. More than one computer was not as common as it is now. A lot of those things have changed. All different types of people have access to tech in a way that they didn’t before.
There is that nature versus nurture question, which is the nurture side of it would be the fact that we have access to technology. We can learn it. It’s around. We can feel comfortable with it versus this idea of being wired for something that is nature. Is it within our nature to be good at technology and other facets of STEM? What do you think about that?
I fell into Engineering because I could do math. I was living in a place where engineers were brought into oil and gas. It was quite a few years later that I remember sitting down with my dad and I said to him, “If you take off all the fancy manager, director titles, and all of that, at your core, you are a subsea engineer and so am I.” How did that happen? My dad used to be a diver in the North Sea. He ended up working for an operator and then worked there for 27 years.
He went from being at the bottom of these platforms in the North Sea, welding and all of that, to managing the divers and becoming a manager and then project director as time went on. It was never something that I wanted to be. I always thought oil and gas was boring. It’s not something for a fifteen-year-old to say, “That’s what I want to do when I grow up.” I thought Microsoft was fun. I remember hearing about this lady who I’m sure was like the trackball or something that she invented. I probably need to look it up because I have always lived with this story. She became a millionaire at 29. I was like, “That’s what I want to do.”
When you think about gadgets, whether are people wired for them and so on, I look back to it. When I was about six years old, my mom got me to do keyboard lessons and play the instrument. My older sister did as well. The thing I liked about the keyboard, and I can’t remember how old I was, was when we got this new one. For argument’s sake, let’s say I was about ten years old or something. You could prerecord the different sounds you want out of it.
As you are playing it, you press a button and then it changes everything for you. I always liked that. I always say, “It’s because, at heart, I’m a lazy person.” It’s so much easier to click a button and it is done for you. It doesn’t matter that it takes time to learn how to program it and find the right tone in the first place. I’m like, “You press the button and it’s done.” Whenever I tell people, “I’m a lazy person at heart,” they never believe me. I’m like, “It is so true.” I suppose the probably more politically correct way of saying it would be, “I’m an efficient person. I just like to do things very efficiently.”People never believe me when I say I'm a lazy person at heart. I just like to do things efficiently. Click To Tweet
I can relate to that. This idea of efficiency has been interesting for me over the last few years. I read a book that shifted a lot the way. The author Celeste Headlee came on the show years ago and her book is called Do Nothing. She was talking about this addiction to efficiency. That framework was interesting because like you, a lot of us do tend to want to be lazy. We want to do things quickly and be productive. That’s why it’s so desirable to be productive.
It feels good, yet we are also struggling with burnout and stress. It’s interesting how we have all these tools that seem to be saving us time and making things easier, yet we are still burnt out, if not more so. There’s a big question about why we are struggling with this. It also reminds me of a reference in another book I read, which I can’t remember which one it was. It mentioned how the washer and dryer became commonplace in households. There’s this idea that they were going to save so much time because you wouldn’t have to hand wash and hand dry. People started doing more laundry so it didn’t end up saving them any more time.
A lot of these tools end up adding something new to our lives. Social media, going back to that, is a big challenge for people trying to figure out the role that social media and other online tools play in our lives. They promise things like connection and saving time or efficiency. Somehow, we end up spending a lot more time using them, feeling a lot less efficient in other parts of our lives, and feeling more disconnected and lonelier. Technology is interesting in that sense because it’s not always what it seems to be to me. I’m curious if that plays a role in the way that you think about things when you are engineering or using something.
I am guilty of spending time scrolling LinkedIn, Instagram, and sometimes the news. I’m curious about it but even in my newsfeed. I’m convinced my phone spies on me because I will talk about something and then it appears. I call it going down the rabbit hole because then it’s like, “That’s interesting. Maybe I should think of buying that,” and then you go and see the other things.
You need to wake yourself up and go, “What was I going to do because I have wasted an hour of my evening?” I’m in a place of finding. My sister likes to call it chewing gum for the brain. I don’t get that sensation when I’m scrolling. I feel like I’m wasting my life. I have started rewatching old shows on Netflix. I managed to get through Gilmore Girls. I finished Gossip Girl all six seasons, the first one. I haven’t watched the second one. I enjoy it because I’m watching it. It’s easy to watch and I find it relaxing. My sister said this to me years ago about chewing gum for the brain but I’m like, “It so is.” I feel like for me it’s healthier than endless scrolling.
It goes back to the idea that there’s no one-size-fits-all way for us to use technology and it requires a lot of self-awareness. As for what you were saying, you are aware that watching a TV show is a very different experience than scrolling through social media but it might be a similar feeling, releasing dopamine and making you feel some sense of relaxation. It’s that awareness of what fulfills a need and makes us feel better versus what is making us feel worse and drawing us into that rabbit hole that we don’t want to be in.
Something else came up as you were talking, going back to this idea of women in STEM and how times have changed. It is also connected to your TV show reference. It shows that I have been enjoying, at least at the time of this episode, which is in November 2023, what’s called Lessons in Chemistry. It’s a television show that’s based on a very popular book. Are you familiar with it?
It’s on my list. I haven’t watched it yet but I keep seeing it and going, “Brie Larson is in that. I want to watch that.”
She’s good. It’s a beautifully done show. I’m not very good at periods but I’m going to say it takes place in the ‘50s. It’s interesting to see how it feels so dated and yet that wasn’t that long ago. A huge part of this story without spoiling anything is the character that Brie Larson plays is a scientist. She is often confused about being a secretary because people aren’t used to women being scientists.
There’s this one scene where she asks one of the characters to name other female scientists and the only one that he can name is Marie Curie. She said, “Point in case, you can’t even think of other women. You are having trouble understanding that I have all this knowledge and skills.” The show is constantly revealing how adept she is.
She has a natural tendency towards it. Going back to that part of the conversation, she’s naturally very good at it. She understands things and thinks a certain way. She applied herself at school. She’s very dedicated to all of this work. You follow this journey that she goes on in unexpected ways. It’s a fascinating story. That’s why I have gotten so into it.
It ties into your book and this idea of how women might not be super valued at work or taken seriously. You see a lot of those moments in the TV show. I have started to read the book so I see it in the book too. It breaks my heart, yet it also doesn’t surprise me. Does your book touch upon that evolution or journey and the transition time that we are almost in 2024? How times are changing and how times are also the same for women and the non-binary gender side of things. How are things the same and different for someone who isn’t male in the STEM field?
There’s a lot that’s the same if you are a man. Technology has changed. There was something someone pointed out to me in the Barbie movie. It’s not a massive spoiler but there’s a scene where Ken is in the real world and he is talking to a businessman. He mentions the patriarchy. He said, “You don’t have the patriarchy here.” The guy said to him, “We do. We are a lot smarter or quieter about it.” They probably said it better than mine but it was to that effect.
When they told me that, I thought, “That’s true.” It is still there. There is still Lauren’s opinion based on what I have seen. The boys club exists. The golf days still exist. When the guys go out for a drink after work, it’s probably male-dominated. You may get some women there but, generally, it will be the men. There is still in a lot of places this macho approach. Sometimes it’s polished but it’s still there.
Sometimes you get these women who think to progress, that’s what they need to be like. You see them not being themselves. They are deliberately trying to raise their voice. They are trying to put other people down to position themselves better. You look at it and think, “Why are you doing that?” I don’t know if is it just me. I can tell when someone is being themself and when they are not and when they are trying to do something.
When you become a good friend of mine, I will point it out to you. There’s a good friend of mine whom I openly said to him, “I didn’t like you when I first met you because you used to try too hard.” He used to run around the office so it made him look busy. I was like, “I used to think you were a little weird doing that.” He said, “I know. I don’t know why. I felt like I had to keep proving myself.” This is a guy as well. I said, “You are much better now because you have chilled out. You are a normal person.” That’s the thing.
I honestly think normal people are much more valued than those who try to be something that they are not. It is more difficult for women in any STEM industry than men, science, tech, engineering, or math. Here’s my experience in the energy sector. I have been there for eighteen years. I honestly think one of my biggest challenges is people don’t think I’m as old as I am. Someone said to me, “The problem is you look 29.” I said, “That’s not helpful at work because people look at you.” It’s amazing how much admin stuff I have been asked to do over the years.Normal people are much more valued than those who try to be something that they're not. Click To Tweet
I have been asked if I was a team assistant or a secretary. Someone starts telling you stuff and you are like, “Thank you very much. I have been doing this for eighteen years. I know how to manage suppliers or negotiate a contract. I have done it not just once or twice.” It’s that bit where I have felt that I’d have to remind people but then I got to a point of why am I having to remind people. You get stuck in this bit of a vicious circle of if you don’t tell people, they don’t know but then if you have to keep telling people, you get tired of it all the time. It’s like, “Why do I need to keep proving myself?”
Where I ended up getting to was making sure that I have built good relationships with people who are more senior, who when they say it, it’s like their word is golden. Everybody listens and they use their political power, social capital, and all of that type of stuff. That’s what I like to speak to women about if they are in male-dominated environments. Much of what drove me to write the book was I knew something wasn’t right and I thought, “I want to use my voice.”I knew something wasn't right, and I wanted to use my voice. Click To Tweet
My partner had said to me for years whenever I’d had a bad day at work, “Don’t worry. It’s all good book material.” In 2022, he said to me, “Are you ever going to write this book?” I went, “I will show you.” What I wanted to do was to write something that shows my perspective on women in STEM. When I first started writing it, it was a bit like trying to write this essay for school. “Here’s what’s going on in the world.”
Where I got to was that there’s far too much that is about women needing to be more confident, putting themselves forward, using their voices, and all the things that are wrong with women. I’m sitting there, and this sounds terrible, but I’m like, “There’s nothing wrong with me. I haven’t had issues,” but I did think the problem was me so many times.
In the last few years, I was speaking to a lady who is maybe about 7 or 8 years older than me. She said to me, “You sounded just like me.” I thought, “Maybe I don’t articulate myself properly. Maybe I need to do this or that.” I spoke to this senior man and he was like, “There’s nothing wrong with your communication skills.” I was like, “Interesting.” After that, I spoke with a very good friend of mine who’s about ten years younger. She was in her twenties. I was having a vent one day and I said, “It makes no difference if I come to work or not.”
She said to me, “I know we are on very different levels, experiences, and so on but I felt the same.” I went, “No. When you were in your twenties. You are a sponge. You should be getting all the experiences. You should be exposed to this job, discipline, way of working, and all these different types of things.” I thought that was crazy. That is what sparked it for me I thought, “No.” What’s happening to me is one thing. You go, “It’s me. I will tolerate it.” When it happens to someone you care about, you are like, “No. That’s wrong.”
As time went on, I started thinking, “It’s not about the women. We need to get the men on board with this.” When I heard Tim Cook from Apple saying, “We need more girls studying coding at school,” I was like, “That’s not going to do anything.” I’m being a little bit flippant. You can have the most confident and competent women being brought into these companies.It's not about the women; we need to get the men on board with this. Click To Tweet
If they are not being included or they are being treated like crap, they are going to walk out the door. If they need to keep their jobs, they are going to stay there and they are soul-destroyed. It’s horrible sitting there knowing that you have so much more to offer and people put you in this box of, “No, you can do the admin, book the meeting rooms, or proof-check something,” without using the real value and skill that they add.
That’s so wonderful to hear about that journey. I’m so glad you rambled because I enjoyed listening to this evolution and the reasoning behind it all. It’s so important. Most people can relate to being put in a box regardless of gender but there are certainly been all sorts of ways in which people have been marginalized and put into boxes. Given that it’s so relatable, it’s interesting that it’s also so still accepted for people to be put into a box based on their identity.
At the heart of a lot of what you are talking about is oftentimes, we can accept to some extent ourselves being put in the box. I love that you made that point because it’s easy to say, “I’m not good enough so I deserve this. I’m not ready yet so I deserve this. I’m not worthy of it.” Yet, when we look outside of ourselves and see someone else being put in that same box, it can feel unacceptable.
I’m so glad that you mentioned that and you use that to propel yourself towards writing a book to get the word out about that. I’m curious about how people have been responding to your book and the feedback you have been getting. Is this something that is resonating in the way that you had hoped it so far?
There’s been a lot of women reading it who have then come back to me and they are like, “That happened to me. It’s like my experience.” Every story that is in the book is real and has happened. It didn’t all happen to me. I put a post out on LinkedIn asking women in STEM careers, “Please come and share your stories with me,” in LinkedIn delivered so I interviewed them. There was even a guy who does this for a living about male allyship. I interviewed him.
What I have also found is there are a few men who work in this space. When they go in and speak in an organization, the message lands very differently than if it was a woman who was to talk about it. I caught onto that very pretty quickly but I find it interesting to talk to these guys and say, “What stories have they told you?” I have always been a lover of stories. Everybody’s got them.
Finding out about people’s experiences, what is it that they have done? Someone told me and it’s a little bit concerning that they are saying the new generation coming into the workplace, they think there’s been too big of a focus on DENI. I listened to it and thought, “You could take that in a few ways. It could be that they think it shouldn’t matter so therefore why is there such a big focus on it?”
I do get the point about it shouldn’t matter because it shouldn’t but we are all pre-programmed from so young about differences in the world. I make it simple, “You are like me so I like you. You are not like me so I don’t like you.” I do think that’s what happens unconsciously for many but I’m pretty sure it’s conscious for some people.
There’s an element there that does worry me about how things are going in the world. I was on this other show and it was very focused. The guy was being quite provocative saying women shouldn’t be at work because men can’t be themselves. They have to speak differently when women are around. I thought that that’s the problem. There are people who think that. He was using language that I didn’t quite like. I will tell you what he said.
He said, “How would you feel if a guy was saying, ‘I slept with this slut last night?’” I said to him, “I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that.” When I got to with him, I said, “Think about how you would speak to your grandparents. Would you say that language in front of them? For me, it’s about respect for people around you and your fellow human beings. That’s not a gender thing. That’s a human being thing.”It's just about respect for people around you and respect for your fellow human beings. That's not a gender thing. That's a human being thing. Click To Tweet
There’s value in hearing the things that people say that I can’t imagine myself ever saying. It’s important to hear these perspectives to understand where these biases are coming from and how they are being developed. That idea of the patriarchy is so important because it’s very similar to some things I was reading about capitalism. It is deeply embedded into us from the moment we are born. We come into a society and this is the way things are. As we can do our best to develop our ways of thinking and become educated, we are still fighting against forces that are there and very powerful.
It’s not just as easy as saying, “I’m not going to participate in that.” The people who are not marginalized and the people who tend to be in power don’t often need to change the way that they think and change their perspectives because it benefits them to stay within those systems. This is something I can even relate to being a White person and having to examine what it means to be White and what don’t I know.
My ignorance that I have had due to my privilege requires me to spend a lot of time intentionally looking at other people’s experiences and how I have contributed to things sometimes unknowingly but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t contributed to them. Something else you said reminded me of this wonderful book I read, have reread, and probably will read again because there’s so much to learn from it. It’s called Inclusion on Purpose. Are you familiar with this?
I haven’t read it but I have heard of that book.
It’s a beautiful complement to the work that you are doing because it’s not just about women in the workplace but it’s about women of color in the workplace and the struggles that they face. It provides a lot of great information, tips, and strategies for people. That’s why I have read it multiple times to open my eyes to what’s going on for not just women but women of color, as well as to understand how someone in a position of privilege can be an ally.
The amount of discrimination that can happen is not talked about because it’s so uncomfortable and people want to brush it aside and maybe they think, “This is only happening to me. I’m not going to tell anyone about it. Maybe it’s my fault.” Going back to that mentality that you identify within yourself, it’s like, “This is about me. This isn’t about a problem.”
It takes people speaking out about their challenges and experiences to reveal what might be going on for many people who are also afraid of it. It feels scary and overwhelming at times but I’m so grateful for someone like you who’s doing that work to put it out there and talk about things like respect being a basic human interaction, not a gender issue or an issue of any other form of identity.
When people start talking about diversity and inclusion, people start eye-rolling, and so on. I have been playing with this messaging where it was digging deep going, “Why am I doing all of this? What is it that I want?” Where I got to was the goal is not diversity, and this will sound controversial but if you go with me for a minute, the goal is everybody getting opportunities to succeed and be the best that they want to be. That bit is a key. It’s about their choice in this.
If a woman wants to stay home and raise a family, fantastic. If a woman wants to become the next CEO, fantastic. I say women but I could mean anybody from any demographic here. That’s the bit that’s important to me because there have been multiple times in my career and with other women whom I speak to where they have felt they have either had a situation occur, they haven’t been able to progress, or they have been offered a deputy role instead of the actual role, which never existed before when a man was doing it.
When they are trying to do it, and even worse when they are a woman of color, they are given the deputy role because they have to prove themselves and demonstrate it first. I imagine a world where that doesn’t happen and people get stretched opportunities but, in a place, where if they are to fail, they will have support around them, a psychologically safe environment, and all of this stuff.
I’m not going to say all women but I do think women do bring more empathy to the table and much more feminine characteristics. That mixed with the masculine traits of pushing forward for a goal and trying to achieve it, mix the two, you have a great recipe. That’s the bit that I push for. I call diversity, equity, inclusion, and all of that an enabler to get to the state where it doesn’t matter your ethnicity, sexuality, gender, neurodiversity, or ableness.Women bring empathy to the table. Click To Tweet
None of that matters because every single person is unique and has the value that they are going to add. If we start saying, “The problem is the men.” They go, “No. It’s the White man.” “It’s the straight White man.” “It’s the straight White man who doesn’t have any disabilities and isn’t neurodiverse.” You start getting this specific thing. You are going to find lots of examples where there are no people like that.
You can go, “There’s a woman over there and she’s a jerk.” It’s not the demographic that makes a person good or bad. For me, it’s so much more about workplace culture, understanding people, and getting to know people. That’s the bit that’s underrated. Leaders get to know people in their organization and not just those who report to them.
The way that I got into it in the book was because I wanted men to read the book. I created these two male characters. There’s Steve who works for a tech company. He works directly for the CEO and he’s very traditional. He’s always had a position of privilege in his career. He didn’t know it. He’s noticed that women are leaving the organization. He doesn’t know why but they are losing clients and being told that they are not innovative enough.
You have Marcus, who is a senior leader in an energy company. He has a daughter called Isabella. She likes playing with Lego. Not the traditionally girly dollies or anything like that. She likes robots and all that type of stuff. He wants her to have every opportunity available to her when she grows up. The two of them meet at the beginning of the book at an award ceremony for women in STEM.
They hear the stats that less than 26% of the STEM industry is populated by women. They hear some examples of how women feel when they are at work and how they are treated. They agree to do quarterly reciprocal mentoring where they are going to learn from each other about how they can improve things in their respective organizations. You get to see as a fly on the wall the different approaches.
What does it mean when someone, even though they don’t say it, is focusing on ticking boxes? Have we done that? Have we recruited the right people? Are they getting to know their people and understanding that different people need different things to be successful? Once a quarter, that’s the different parts of the book. They come together and discuss it.Different people need different things in order to be successful. Click To Tweet
As the reader, you get to see their conversation as well as the respective conversations that they have with women either inside their organizations or outside. It was fun writing that because I can picture them. I have been around people like them. You know who are the Steves in the organization. A friend of mine lives in New York. She said to me, “Everybody knows Steve.” You want everybody to know Marcus. Everybody needs a Marcus in their life.
I love that you framed it that way because it sounds delightful and incredibly necessary. Where my mind went was, how do we get the Steves to read a book like this? This is a question I often face. One of the reasons I love having people like you on the show is to help spread the word and introduce people like you to all different types of readers who are reading because the marketing side of it is such a big part of this. It feels tricky at times.
If you have something that’s addressing a systemic issue, how do you get the people in the place of privilege and power to pay attention enough to understand it versus going to the checklist because that’s easier? The reason I ask that is it’s hard to acknowledge that you have been part of the problem. It’s hard to face up to this unless you feel motivated to for some reason or not. I’m curious about how you approach this. Is this a matter of somebody gifting your book to Steve in their office and placing it on Steve’s desk? How do you encourage someone like Steve to take the initiative to pick up and read a book like yours on his own?
That’s the holy grail at the minute. When I have been speaking with women about it, I have been saying to them, “If you enjoy it, go and give it to a man in your life.” The only ones that I know are friends of mine who have picked it up and read it. I almost feel like everybody should know that diverse teams are more profitable for the business. There was a study done and it’s true. Everybody brings their unique perspective in there.
We have got some real problems in the world at the minute. If you only have one demographic trying to solve it, you are probably not going to get on as well as if you have many more. I feel like everybody should know that. What I don’t know is exactly how to get the men tuned into it. I’m trying to post on LinkedIn. When I had my book launch, I got some men and women doing some recording so I will be playing those. I wonder if it’s someone like me saying it, would they be more likely to listen?
There’s some psychology required in all of this. I know myself. I will tell the story that my mom said to me. She said, “If you imagine Steve walking into a room like in the office or conference room, what do you think happens?” I said, “Everybody gravitates towards him.” She said, “They do because they want a bit of the limelight and spotlight. They want him to see them, recognize them, and so on.”
She said, “Where do you see Marcus?” I said, “Marcus is at the back of the coffee machine. He’s making himself a coffee and is talking to the guy or the lady beside him because he’s a lot less all about him.” He’s happy to sit on the sidelines and watch. He’s still a good leader. You don’t need to be the person under the spotlight to be a good leader.
I do think leadership is changing. It used to be so much more command and control than it is now but in STEM especially, it’s still in that command-and-control environment more than servant leadership. Even people don’t even like the term servant leadership. They are like, “I’m not a servant.” There’s some language that needs to be in there. When words turn people off, you are not going to win.
That’s another reason why we need diversity different ways of saying things, different approaches to things, and experimenting, coming down to the core of what makes your team thrive. It’s always fascinating to me all the different forms of leadership. Outside of this show, I work as a freelance consultant and I’m often exposed to a variety of different teams. They are always different from one another.
I tend to notice the extremes. When a team is well run, everyone’s communicating, supportive, and happy. There are all these different initiatives to nourish the team members versus the people who run teams and don’t have that awareness of even how to tune into each other’s humanity. It’s like that focus on go, do, get the job done, and let’s not acknowledge that we are human beings to one another.
I worked at the Apple store for six years. I’m curious about your thoughts on them and their leadership since you mentioned Tim Cook. When I worked there, it fluctuated a lot. We went through a recession during the time that I was at the store. That was interesting how the change in finances shifted the culture at work.You don't need to be the person in the spotlight to be a good leader. Click To Tweet
I was there when Steve Jobs passed away so there was the shift in which the person known for running Apple, the notoriety, and the presence that he had, the shift that went on there, and the changes that happened when Tim Cook took over. Through it all though, Apple has maintained a feeling within me of a company that felt committed to acknowledging the humanity within their employees.
I have noticed that time and time again when I walk into an Apple store versus when I go into most other retail stores. Leadership is very prevalent and the differences. The difference between a company that has maintained values for many years since I even worked there continues to grow in my opinion. That is noticeable. Each of us can notice this when we are in any team setting, even if it’s not a professional setting. We can notice this in the group that we are in. Who’s leading the group? Who’s organizing it?
We have these opportunities in many different parts of our lives. The one thing I’m grateful that you have touched upon so much is acknowledging that it’s not about our differences. Our differences do not define us. This is my interpretation and correct me if I’m wrong. It’s about our similarities as human beings who want to feel like we have a purpose to want to be successful, who want to be acknowledged and validated, and who feel like we are part of something important.
I have a very good friend of mine and he is a straight White man. I hate the phrase pale, male, and stale because I’m like, “That’s such a horrible phrase.” Someone said it on a stage. I know what they are getting at. You are creating this ring around a certain demographic but even within that, you will have lots of different types of people.
My friend is a straight White man. He has a family and has two kids. He’s an engineer and project manager like me. He has had times in his career where he has struggled where someone has made a comment to him that he’s too young to have the visibility that he has or that he gets put in a role because they tell him, “You are good. We will put you in here,” and then when the actual person they want becomes available, they replace him.
I empathize with it because that type of thing has happened to me. It happens to a lot of women that I know about, people of color, people whose English isn’t their first language, and so on. When people say to me it doesn’t happen to the White man, I go, “It does. I know a person where it has happened to them.” I’m glad that he shared that with me because then I can spread the word, “It does happen.” It probably doesn’t happen as often as it does to people who are different from under-recognized backgrounds and so on but that’s not to say that it doesn’t happen at full stop.
There was a lady who was commenting on one of my LinkedIn posts. It was about the Barbie movie. I said, “The Kens deserved a better ending because Barbie took over at the end of it.” I felt that there could have been a better balance. She was on the opposite side of the spectrum when she said, “No. Men need to know their place. Women need to take over.” She’s not the first person that said that to me. I have had some men who have said, “Men need to realize they need to step aside.”
I’m listening to it going, is that even realistic? You are putting something out there and you are going to tell every man in the world to give up their position of power. They could be the primary breadwinners in their family. Are you telling me you expect them to step aside? I don’t. What I do hope is that the men who are in a position of privilege, have power, authority, or anything like that use it to shine a light on what’s happening in their organization.
Can you imagine these CEOs having reverse mentoring relationships with people junior in the company? How cool would that be to say, “I get to go to a board meeting?” They bring a few of them together and then say to them, “You heard what the board said. What would you do?” These are fantastic opportunities. Not only do you get new ideas coming in but the CEO gets to learn so much from them because you build that relationship. I would say, “You don’t need to be the CEO to do that. You could do that at so many levels within an organization.”
It’s not for everybody and everybody’s wired differently but there are a lot of people who would love those opportunities like getting a picture with the CFO, a president of a country coming to meet them, or something like that and they get an opportunity to be there. I see there are far too many pictures and all that where you see the senior leadership team and so on. It’s like, “There are so many companies in the world. You could do more.” You could brighten people’s days with that.
It’s such an important point going back to this idea of opportunity and that humanity there of like, “What do people want?” They want to feel that purpose and also have their days brightened. There’s so much stress and people often feel so discouraged. There are a lot of challenges happening in the world that can feel incredibly depressing to witness.
To have a moment like that where someone feels Valued at Work, the title of your book, goes an incredibly long way. It also goes back to what you are pointing out about diversity being good for business. I have seen those statistics as well and it is interesting. There was a number I remember related to something by 2060 about the shifts that our world is going through and even in the US, the shifts that are happening in demographics.
We can’t deny these things. We are changing in so many ways, not in just our thoughts but in the people around us. At a certain point, we won’t have a choice. We might as well start now but we also have a huge financial benefit to making these changes. On top of all of that, along the way, we can also make a big difference in people’s lives through simple shifts like inviting somebody and giving them a seat at the table.
If you are in a place of power, it’s often not a hard decision to make. It’s much harder to ask for it when you are not in that position but to offer it can be a life-changing thing for both of you, all of you, and everyone involved. The ripple effects of all this are massive. Thank you so much for exploring it with me. This is a very complex topic. I’m sure it took so much to figure out how to approach it not as an essay but as a comprehensive book that’s going to make a difference in people’s lives.
For those who are reading and eager for more who know a Steve in their life or even a Marcus hopefully, if you want to see more Marcus or help them feel recognized, please get a copy of this book. I hope that the readers enjoyed it. I have certainly enjoyed learning and hearing from you, Lauren. It brightened my day. Thank you so much for being here.
Thank you so much for having me. It’s been great. It’s the end of my day here. It’s a bright end to my day having this conversation with you. Thank you very much.
I’m glad we could bring each other some literal and metaphorical sunshine.
- Lauren Neal – LinkedIn
- Celeste Headlee – Past Episode
- Do Nothing
- Inclusion on Purpose
- Valued at Work
About Lauren Neal
Lauren Neal is an award-winning chartered engineer and chartered project professional in the energy industry. Since 2005, she has been working with men and women offshore, onshore and onsite on multimillion-dollar projects across the globe. Chartered through both the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the Association of Project Management (APM), Lauren is a sought-after speaker, writer, and consultant championing gender equity and career progression within STEM.
- WeAreTheCity Rising Stars (Energy & Utilities) winner 2022
- WeAreTechWomen TechWomen100 winner 2022
- Diverse In’s ‘130 Women Who Break the Bias List’ 2022
- INvolve’s 2023 Heroes 100 Future Leaders Role Model List
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/laurenneal/
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