The Next Big Question


Episode 12
Hosted by: Drew Lazzara and Liz Ramey

Meredith Harper

VP, CISO

Lilly

Before joining Lilly, Meredith was the chief information privacy and security officer with the Henry Ford Health System, and she served as chair of the Michigan Healthcare Cybersecurity Council.

What Does Diversity Look Like in the Workplace of the Future?


FEBRUARY 12, 2021

This week on the podcast, Vice President and CISO Meredith Harper of Lilly joins us to discuss creating and supporting diverse and inclusive teams and how to move the needle on the diversity dialogue. Meredith discusses her approach to fostering an environment that embraces a full range of unique perspectives -- from race and gender to diversity of experiences, education and training -- and what it takes for leaders to commit to a diverse workforce.

/

Drew Lazzara (00:13):

Welcome to The Next Big Question, a weekly podcast with senior business leaders, sharing their vision for tomorrow, brought to you by Evanta, a Gartner company.

Liz Ramey (00:23):

Each episode features a conversation with C-suite executives about the future of their roles, organizations, and industries.

Drew Lazzara (00:32):

My name is Drew Lazzara.

Liz Ramey (00:33):

And I'm Liz Ramey. We're your co-hosts. So, Drew, what's The Next Big Question?

Drew Lazzara (00:40):

Well, Liz, this week, we're asking, what does diversity look like in the workplace of the future? To help us tackle this big question is Meredith Harper, vice president and chief information security officer at Eli Lilly. Before joining Lilly, Meredith was the chief information privacy and security officer with the Henry Ford Health System, and she also served as chair of the Michigan Healthcare Cybersecurity Council. For Meredith, a diverse workforce benefits from the full gamut of unique perspectives -- race and gender, but also diversity of experience, education, training and even geography. In our conversation, Meredith discusses her approach to creating and fostering this kind of environment. She discusses why the current historical moment represents a chance to move the needle on the diversity dialogue, and we chat about what it takes for leaders to truly commit to the goal of a diverse workforce.

Before we speak with Meredith, we want to take a moment to thank you for listening. To make sure you don’t miss out on the next, Next Big Question, please subscribe to the show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen. Rate and review the show, so others can find us, and so we can continue to grow and improve. Thanks, and enjoy.

Drew Lazzara (01:59):

Meredith Harper, welcome to The Next Big Question. Thanks so much for being on the show.

Meredith Harper (02:03):

Thank you so much for having me.

Liz Ramey (02:05):

Meredith, we are thrilled that you're with us today, and we've heard so many good things from our colleagues here at Evanta. So really looking forward to this discussion. You know, I'd love to get to know you a little bit outside of your professional life. So, you know, just a couple of quick questions about you – would love to start with kind of a big question is – what would you like to be known for?

Meredith Harper (02:32):

I love that question. I’ve thought about this multiple times throughout my life, but I think what I settled on once I entered into the glorious years of my forties is authenticity is important to me, more important than anything else. So, when people interact with me, when they walk away from the experience, if they can't say anything else, they'll say that she was really authentic to who she is.

Liz Ramey (02:54):

That's a beautiful way to look at how you interact with people and how they perceive you. I love that.

Drew Lazzara (03:00):

And as I get closer to 40, I think, I feel like that's the amount of time it takes to actually be your authentic self. So, maybe it can't even be done before you get to that benchmark.

Meredith Harper (03:09):

You are absolutely correct.

Liz Ramey (03:14):

That is so true. So Meredith, kind of speaking of this area, and just you and being authentic, what kind of books, movies, maybe music, what kind of things do you listen to and do you recommend to people?

Meredith Harper (03:30):

Well, I like to sing, so I'm a big fan of gospel music and listening to some of the greats in that genre. So, anything gospel I'm normally okay and wonderful opportunities to sing along when I have my own personal concerts in the shower. So, only I can see those, but they're great. When it comes to books, John Maxwell is a great leader-teacher and has a series of books on leadership, mostly either Christian-centered leadership or something related to the Christian faith. And so, I love his books on leadership, so that would be what I like from a book perspective. And then movies – it’s interesting because I love any movie that is based off of real people. So if this happened 50 years ago, when someone recreates that in a movie setting, I love that because then it gives me the ability to go back and research about that person based off of what I see in the movie. And then, I always have to share my number one favorite all-time movie, that I just love, love, love is Fame – and not the remake, I'm talking the original one.

Liz Ramey (04:37):

The original, yes.

Meredith Harper (04:40):

The original. The soundtrack was amazing.

Liz Ramey (04:42):

Yes, it was, absolutely. I remember rocking out to that soundtrack on a record.

Meredith Harper (04:49):

Yes, it was awesome. Awesome.

Liz Ramey (04:52):

I love it. That's great. And so, it's actually funny because when you're watching movies about real people, there's part of me, I get really excited, and then I get so disappointed if I do the research, and they changed different aspects just for the movie. 

Meredith Harper (05:14):

Absolutely.

Liz Ramey (05:15):

You know what I mean? What was that Tom Hanks one… where he was like, you know what I’m talking about, Drew?

Drew Lazzara (05:22):

Forrest Gump was not a historical character, Liz. So, if that's what you're thinking, you're barking up the wrong tree there.

Liz Ramey (05:30):

Oh, captain something, Captain Phillips, maybe?

Drew Lazzara (05:32):

Captain Phillips, yep.

Liz Ramey (05:34):

That's right. Anyway, I was kind of disappointed. So, Meredith, you know, last year was a tough year. It was a tough year for all of us, and hopefully we're kind of moving out of that. But looking back at last year and maybe other times in your life where you had to work through adversity, what set of principles or ideas keep you motivated during those tough times?

Meredith Harper (06:00):

I think a lot of it for me is really resting on my faith and my belief in God. Prayer is huge and big for me. Meditation is huge. As you can imagine, being a CISO of a global company, our lives can be quite unpredictable. And then you layer a pandemic on top of that, and I'm working from home on top of that. It can become a little overwhelming. So, I always have to fall back on that. But one of the other techniques that I've used in those spaces where I'm probably not as sure of what's happening, what's going on, and how I need to respond, is just reflecting back on my purpose. I am now exiting my forties in two months and will be 50, and I'm really setting myself in a position to continuously reflect on what is my purpose here on earth. I probably have more years behind me than I have before me. And so, what does that look like for me moving forward, and how do I make sure that I'm living out that purpose every day? So that also helps me through those tough times, re-focus back on that.

Liz Ramey (07:04):

That's great. I love that. I love that kind of being deliberate with each and every day, and what you're doing with yourself, and of course, adding that layer of just being authentic, I'm sure is going to be very impactful and thoughtful with your team at Lilly.

Meredith Harper (07:21):

Yes.

Drew Lazzara (07:23):

It's a great segue, Meredith, because the big question we're tackling today with your help is kind of a fusion of a personal and professional. And, we're talking today about what does the future of diversity look like from what we're starting today to where organizations may go. So, we're thinking about the makeup of your teams and what that means for the business, but we're also talking about the impact you can have in people's lives. So, I think it's a great topic for the things that you shared about yourself. Before we jump into kind of what you're doing at Lilly in the diversity space, I was hoping we could start at a very high level and get your personal definition for what diversity in the workplace actually means.

Meredith Harper (08:05):

So, I've been a proponent and a supporter of diverse teams. Diverse, diverse in a way that we probably have in generally thought about diversity. I think back 20, 30 years ago, we would always just use the age and sex is what we really look at, race is what we really look at, but we really didn't pull in the diversity as it relates to thought and experience, exposure, things of that nature. And so, when I have my own definition, I have to couple all of those things together. It's bigger than just the person, if you will, the physical features of the person. So, from that perspective, I think I have a broad definition. So, it's all of those things for me as it relates to diversity.

Drew Lazzara (08:47):

And, I know that you have been really fortunate to work in an organization that values this as much as you do. How does that personal definition that you've just described for us align with Lilly's overall more formalized kind of organizational definition?

Meredith Harper (09:02):

It aligns nicely, honestly, with what Lily's perspectives are around that. So, some of the terms that you will hear us use at Lilly is 'your differences make the difference.' So, we understand the differences are there. We're a global company. So, we have different people around the world that help us carry out Lilly's mission. And so, we're looking at people who live in other countries, they speak different languages, they have different social experiences, their family structures are different. All of that plays a part in how we deliver on behalf of our patients. So, I think that I have a really good marriage here. And, if I could tell you a little bit of a story, when I was deciding to come to Lilly, the deciding point for me – what really gave Lily that edge was the fact that we had a strong commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. And I decided based off of that. That was my deciding point.

Liz Ramey (09:57):

That's wonderful. And, with other diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, they've really, many of them have been inspired by events that happened last year. There seems to be a lot more focus and dialogue around diversity. But there's still gaps. I mean, we all know there are still gaps. This is a systematic problem, right. So, what do you see as some of the biggest roadblocks that still remain, and how are you, and then maybe how is Lilly, trying to tackle those?

Meredith Harper (10:34):

I think the biggest roadblock is really just thinking about holistically across our country, we traditionally have shied away from these types of deep conversations around diversity, inclusion, race, things of that nature, social injustice, all those things that we encountered over the summer last year. I think that that's probably the biggest roadblock, that behavior and that belief system around the fact that we can't have these conversations because they're tough, they're uncomfortable. Things of that nature has stopped a lot of companies from engaging to the point where they could actually have some fruitful conversations to break down those barriers. So, I think that the way that we have chosen to engage at Lilly has been refreshing. When I think back over the last 27 years of my career, I haven't had a company that encouraged us to push to have the difficult conversations, give people grace and license. They may make a mistake in how they ask the question, but let's think about the outcome of that discussion and how we can share. 

I think the other barrier is when we get into these types of discussions, where there might be stark differences, there are times when people believe that I am trying to convince you that this is valid, like you have to adopt my way of thinking. And, if you don't adopt my way of thinking, then this is not going to be a good discussion. And my position on that is I am not asking anyone to fully understand the life that I have and the life that I lead as an African-American woman working in IT. Because most people won't understand that unless you look like me, you've been in this space, and you've experienced those things. But what I am asking people to do is to respect the fact that whatever I'm sharing with you is a real live, lived experience. And it's valid. Regardless of whether you believe it's unimaginable, it's valid. And so, I think because of that, we shy away from having those discussions, as well, because it becomes this – I need to get you to think like me kind of conversation. And I think we need to steer clear of that kind of behavior.

Liz Ramey (12:41):

Absolutely, absolutely. Have you recently read Emmanuel Acho's book, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man?

Meredith Harper (12:50):

I love him. And so, this is one of the things that we did over the summer. I have a fantastic leader who is all things diversity, equity, and inclusion. She's Indian American. And she actually has just done an amazing job as a leader, helping to lead us through some times that are a little bit difficult last summer. And, what we decided to do in a town hall with all of our team members globally across the world, as it relates to information technology, we actually saw the video, and we opened up a panel discussion around that particular video. And so, I love every single episode. I know he wrote the book, but I normally go and watch the webcast of different episodes that he has. I think it's amazing that he's tackling this topic.

Liz Ramey (13:37):

It really is. I recently read the book, and I haven't gone back to look at the videos, but it was one of those where I ended up buying 10 copies and giving them to like every member of my family, my husband, you know – this is the one book that you have to read right now.

Meredith Harper (13:56):

Yes, we did, we leveraged it. You know, one of the things coming out of that, as well – I was very vocal with my team that if you want to schedule some time with me, and you want to ask that question that you felt like you always wanted to ask, but you didn't know if you had license to ask, let's have those conversations. And so, what I have tried to do is open up a comfortable space for people who don't look like me, who want to have a conversation because we want to understand and see each other in different lights and being able to drive forward initiatives around DEI. So, I did have an opportunity to talk with several team members about what they were feeling, what they were seeing, what they were experiencing, how the George Floyd incident impacted them. They wanted to be able to process that with someone. And so, I tried to make sure that I was available for that. So, my team can have a little bit of a release when it comes to that.

Drew Lazzara (14:50):

Meredith, I wanted to follow up on something you said earlier. When you work for an organization like Lilly, that really does value diversity, you're probably going to have more kinds of people bumping into other kinds of people in the workplace. And so, you talked about that kind of collision of understanding versus respect. And, obviously no one can understand what it's really like to live a different person's life, but you can definitely build that kind of respect. I was hoping you could give us a little bit of an example of how you know when that's working? When you've had these conversations in your organization, you've created the space to have the kind of dialogue you were just describing, how can you tell at an organizational level whether that sense of respect is at play or whether there's still work to be done there?

Meredith Harper (15:32):

So, I can answer the second part of that question, if there's still work to be done. There will always be work to be done, right? So, I don't think we're ever going to get to a state where we can say, 'Okay. We talked about it. We socialize it with each other. We had a couple of rallies, and now it's over, and we're going to move on.' I don't think we're ever going to get to that point because I think once we get comfortable, we will put ourselves in a position where we will revert back because we're not consistently making this a part of who we are. And so, when I am having these conversations with my leadership or with my mentees or anyone else around this diversity space, what I look for and what I've asked them to look for, is how that person shows up in the conversation. You will start to see people becoming advocates and allies in a way that you hadn't seen them become advocates and allies in the past. And so, that's how I typically monitor it, to see what is the behavior that is now adjusted and changed and is different. And that can show up a couple of different ways. 

It can show up in a way where we're sitting in a meeting, and I'm just using a purely hypothetical example, but we're sitting in a meeting, and the person that you had that dialogue with prior to decides that there's someone who's in the meeting, a little quiet, not really talking a whole lot. They may be a minority group member, and that person actively saying, ‘Hey, such and such, what is your position on this?’ Drawing them into the conversation, having discussions around how you can help best support them in their careers, taking an active interest in someone who doesn't look like you. 

So, if I put that in a Lilly context, the behaviors that I saw coming out of a specific program that we had, I thought was amazing. We did a reverse mentoring program where we paired up men and women, and they were put together to mentor each other to help break down some of those barriers about women in the workplace and women in IT and things of that nature. So, you saw different conversations, you saw alliances building up between people, communication was being opened up, things of that nature. So, I watch the behavior and see whether I see that person engaging differently.

Liz Ramey (17:45):

Wow, that's wonderful. And, it also, to me, it almost made me take a deep breath thinking of having all the different backgrounds, different people, matched up together from a men and women standpoint. It seems like, if they're not comfortable in having hard conversations, that progress can't be made, right?

Meredith Harper (18:12):

And, I think one of the reasons why we wanted to explore that male-female dynamic was because we have a lot of opportunity there. Where we know, if we look at our industry, so this is an industry thing, not necessarily a Lilly thing, is that our IT spaces are male dominated. They are. And, our female talent that we see in these spaces lacks some of the things that we generally offer to our male talent. So, for example, sponsorship programs that wrap around that female person that's in IT. We don't do that very well as an industry, but we do it very well for men. So, I think as we were looking into this mentoring program between male and female, it also opened up the eyes of the men that were in these spaces to say, ‘You know what? This person over here is a woman and she's talented, but she seems to not have anyone who's sponsoring her. I had this wonderful mentoring relationship with another woman. I think I'm going to step up and be her sponsor.’ So, it opens their eyes up to ways that they can best become allies with women in the workplace and really support them as they continue to grow and develop.

Drew Lazzara (19:27):

Meredith, one of the things that I'm curious about in this space is I feel like there's such a long tradition of just sort of businesspeople, and there is perception that there is a way that business operates. And, there is this argument that the kind of leaders and the kind of people in positions of authority that you see are people that have proven themselves as business leaders. But when I'm thinking about diversity, I would imagine the benefit is you get people from different backgrounds who have different kinds of experiences and their take on leadership and their take on influence could pull the company in new and innovative directions. So, how do you create space for women, people of color, people of different backgrounds as they move up in Lilly? How do you make sure that they have the opportunity to be their own, authentic kind of leaders on that journey versus just kind of regurgitating the typical business speak?

Meredith Harper (20:19):

Yeah, great question. And I think, again, it's back to the intentionality that we have within our Lilly culture. We have employee resource groups that actually represent multiple demographics across our workforce. And those employee resource groups really offer the level of support that that particular team member would need in their affinity group. It gives them the ability to grow, change, and develop within their own affinity group. I think that's one way that we handle it. 

The other part is we did roll out a sponsorship program that's more formalized, if you will. So, what we were looking at across our VP population, are there two individuals within your space that you see as your protege and really you become the sponsor of that person. So, I thought that that was a very intentional way for us to ensure that those high-flying talents, who could also be diverse candidates and diverse team members, get the opportunity to be mentored and sponsored by someone at the VP level across Lilly. So, we try to find those moments where we can walk these developmental journeys with the minority group women, minority group members, as well as our women talent, and ensure that they have everything they need as they continue to move forward. So, we really do encourage people to be a part of the ERGs, allow yourself to create community amongst those spaces, and then allow that to also propel you forward. One of the other things that I think the sponsorship program also offers – we flourish when we see people who look like us. And, I think one of the things that is helping team members understand across the board that we do have a diverse population of vice presidents, from all walks of life, in all spaces, from a geography perspective, all of that. And, now I get a chance to see someone who looks like me. And that also opens up possibilities for them of what they could become in this company. So, I think doing it more formally promotes it better than just deciding in a side meeting that I'm going to be your sponsor. This is something that's formal for us at Lilly.

Liz Ramey (22:27):

That's great. Meredith, we've talked a lot about the enterprise and at an enterprise level what you're doing to create a diverse culture and environment. Specifically, for your cybersecurity group, for you as a CISO, what's the value for the overall group to make sure that you do have a great, inclusive team?

Meredith Harper (22:59):

Well, the biggest part for us is the ability for us to have deep knowledge in the space that we support, which is cybersecurity. And I think that we have leveraged team members, whether they were team members who have been at Lilly for some time, whether they're team members that are coming from the outside and have industry experience that they can bring into Lilly to help us become better, whether it is veterans. We actually tap a lot of veterans to come into the cybersecurity space, and we have a good group of veterans that work for us. We look at all of these opportunities, women's focus groups, like the EWF, and we leverage them to make sure that we're getting talent coming into our organization that reflects that demographic. 

So, we have tried to embrace the idea of diversity, equity, and inclusion, not only from just the terminology, but we also have tried to pinpoint the experiences that come out of some of those diverse groups and how do we pull that talent into Lilly. So, that's been really fun thinking about that. Now, one of the areas that I'm still trying to decide how I want to tackle this, but I had a wonderful conversation with a gentleman at a conference about a year ago, and he shared some things with me around autistic talent. And that's another diverse group that we haven't tapped into yet. Individuals that are high performing and high functioning, autistic individuals, they bring great value to the organization. And we want to explore that a little bit. So, I want to see how I can possibly open a door for those candidates, as well.

Liz Ramey (24:35):

That's great. Have you seen the Netflix show Atypical? 

Meredith Harper (24:39):

I have not. 

Liz Ramey (24:41):

Oh, my goodness, I highly recommend it. And, it's about a teenager who has autism and his family and how they go about life and their learnings, and it is just – it's heartwarming and great. And I would highly recommend it.

Meredith Harper (24:55):

Oh, thank you. I'm absolutely intrigued by the whole idea. So, it's important to us. We focus a lot on DEI within our cybersecurity space. We do also have a very strong, robust internship program, and this is Lilly as a whole, I think, do a remarkable job as it relates to providing internships to our student populations, who could potentially become Lilly employees. And so, we have a strong relationship, for example, with our historical black colleges and universities. We have four of them that we recruit talent from, and we want to make sure that we have that representation. So, I think that we still have a ways to go. I think every organization does, but I love the work that we're putting forth in this space. And, I'm seeing the value. I love having these conversations with my veteran team members, and them just sharing with me some of the things that they had to do. And again, these were cybersecurity experts working for the government, working for the military, and some of their stories are just absolutely intriguing. And, I get to learn a lot about how they have had to protect our nation and how we can bring some of that into what we do here at Lilly. So, it's been really fascinating.

Drew Lazzara (26:03):

Meredith, one of the things that I was thinking about was you're at that C-suite level and a big part of that leadership responsibility is setting the tone and creating this vision of diversity and those values. But, it's really going to come to some of your frontline managers, your mid-level managers, to sort of transmit those values across the entire organization. So, I'm wondering what piece of advice would you give to one of your mid-level managers on having these kinds of constructive conversations? I know you mentioned there's lots of resources, but given your experiences, what's something that you would tell your mid-level managers to support them in this journey?

Meredith Harper (26:38):

One of the things we shared over the summer is, and I'm going to say it the way that we said it, but I think it was what really helped us break through. You have to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. I get that it's uncomfortable. We get that it feels a little funny that we're having these types of conversations in the workplace. Get comfortable with that uncomfortableness because I think that if we can do that, we can continue forth the conversation in a tangible way, that we will have the best outcomes for who we are as an organization. So, I would always share that with them. It's not going to feel at the onset, it's not going to feel good. You're going to feel a little uncomfortable, but let's push through that, push through that. Don't let that be the barrier that stops you from asking that question or having that conversation or sharing that experience, right? So that's one thing we would offer, or I would offer to a mid-level manager. 

I think the other part is just keep yourself educated as much as you possibly can about other cultures, about other experiences, other races, other, other, just the other, do all of those things to educate yourself the most because that will help in those conversations. You will have a little bit of context to be able to help that conversation move forward. So, that education piece cannot be underestimated at all. And sometimes that education comes from you having some dialogues with people who represent that demographic where you might have that question that she wants to have answered. So again, I think the education piece cannot be underestimated. Own that piece.

Drew Lazzara (28:10):

I love that. I love an organization that promotes kind of continual learning, regardless of what category you're talking about, but this is especially an important area to drive that education. I do have kind of a related question. When you think about, unfortunately, increasingly diverse teams are a relatively new thing. And so, as that change is happening, what do you see as maybe the most important leadership skill that people should be embracing to help them be successful with more diverse teams?

Meredith Harper (28:39):

Let me see. I think just, again, the understanding that things are going to be different. So, let's use the, let me use this demographic. This is not necessarily one of the race categories that we use or female, male, but I'm someone who just came into Lilly. I'm two and a half years here. I have a different set of experiences coming from the outside and coming into Lilly. And there are some team members who have spent their entire careers at Lilly. And so, they have great ideas, and they have great insight into what's going on at Lilly. And so, I think in those regards, in order for you to lead that diverse group of individuals, you have to have an acceptance of the fact that there are other ways for us to do things. And I think that that's what happens when we kind of merge those two groups of individuals together. Yes, we've been doing it this way, but I've done it this way at another company. And let me share with you what we learned and how that allowed us to grow and mature and change as an organization. So, I think doing more of that acceptance of the ‘other’ again, is back to the fact that there are other folks with other experiences that can help us. I think that will be very important to make sure that you're doing that.

Liz Ramey (29:51):

Great, Meredith, let's talk a little bit into the future. And, I want to hear, would love to hear your thoughts around, what does an enterprise look like that is really achieving that excellence in diversity? And, how do we take advantage of some of these things that we're doing now to make sure that we're setting up for a really diverse and inclusive enterprise in the future?

Meredith Harper (30:25):

Yeah, that's a great question. I think that when we're looking to the future and what could really encapsulate the enterprise of the future, as well, in terms of diversity, one of the things that we have to always keep in mind – that we're, again, we're never going to be done with this. This is something that has to become a part of our DNA. So, keep the conversations going, keep the learning going, keep the engagement going will be important because that's how we continue to shift and change and grow cultures. 

So, an organization in the future that's not prepared to continuously have conversation in these spaces, I think that it's going to be hard for them. It really is. Because I think what I saw happening over the summer is that employees started to become very, very comfortable with their organizations opening up these dialogues. And so, if you get to the point where now all of a sudden they're saying, ‘Well, okay, we've talked about it enough. We're going to shut that down, and we're going to move on to something else,’ how would that make that diverse team member feel? That, now we're done with it and we're going to move on to something else. 

So, I think that continuous perspective around the fact that we will have to continue to do work in this space, probably forever, truthfully. So, just changing the mindset around that. You have to make sure that you're doing that. I think organizations in the future, as well, who want to do diversity, equity, inclusion in an exceptional manner would have to think about a couple of things that we have done over the last 30 years and ask ourselves the question, has it really worked? So, let's use the example of - I've been in health IT for 27 years. I again came into the organization that I had my first job out of college. I was the second African American they had ever hired. There were only about four women or so in my entire department. And since then, we've been having the exact same conversation around diversity, equity, and equity and inclusion and women not being represented effectively within the IT space. Same conversation. So, I think that we have to change the narrative for that organization of the future. You have to change the narrative. The line of questioning has to be different. 

And what we have to start asking ourselves, we've established these mentoring programs throughout the years because we felt like, well, okay, let's see if we can mentor them and then they can become more of a consistent population within IT. Well, do we really believe that the mentoring worked? Because I would venture off to say, if the numbers haven't shifted that much, in the last 30 years. They've shifted, but not anything extreme. And I would say that mentoring is great and has its purpose, but what I'm seeing as a lack of women in the workplace as it relates to IT is they have not been given access to the right roles. So, if we're going to just keep mentoring people, that's not going to help us for the organization of the future. The organization of the future is going to have to look at the support that's wrapped around that person the moment that you give them that job. Who opens up that door for that person? You have to be able to be that gate. And then you wrap the support around that individual for them to be able to grow, flourish, and change in their careers. 

So, we have to think differently than what we've been doing for the last 30 years, because I'm going to venture to say, it's worked a little bit, but it has not worked enough. So, when it gets to the point where I walk into a security conference, and I don't have to actually try to look to see how many women are here. Like I want to normalize walking into the room, and I see a vast abundance of us represented at these conferences. That, to me, is really what I would love to see happen. Well, how do we make that happen? We have to open up the door. We have to give access. We have to sponsor. Yeah. Or I'll never see those people.

Liz Ramey (34:15):

Sure. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And you've focused a lot of time in this discussion – we've talked a lot about mentoring and how you're trickling down your own understanding of diversity and really kind of setting up mentor programs and such. A little bit tougher question is how do we teach up, right? When a majority of CEOs around the country are white males, how do we begin as female leaders or leaders of color, how do you begin to teach up and start having those uncomfortable conversations – that this many CEOs or white male leaders, I would say, aren't really prepared for?

Meredith Harper (35:12):

Well, one, there's a boldness that has to be there. You have to be comfortable being the one carrying that particular message, and some people, depending on where they are in their careers may be prepared for that kind of discussion, and some people may not. One of the things that I have used though over the years is you always will find yourself an ally somewhere. There'll be some ally somewhere who's saying, ‘Yes, Meredith, I get it.’ And, ‘Yes, we need to tackle this differently.’ And ‘Yes, I have no problem continuing to carry that message on your behalf.’ 

So, I have leveraged individuals who I know my CEO or my executive leader. I'm not going to say just CEO because it's been other executives, as well, but who has that trusted relationship with that individual, where they can also carry the message alongside me. And then say to that person, maybe you want to have a conversation with Meredith, and she can give you some more insight on that. So, I've leveraged that technique before, and I think it's one that's been successful for me. So again, figure out where your allies are. Leverage their voice in the room until they can help open up that door for your voice to be leveraged in the room. 

But the boldness piece is one that, again, I think it comes with inherently who you are, and you're not afraid to kind of walk that thin line or that fine line. But that has to be there because again these are uncomfortable conversations. You don't know how people are going to respond. You don't know if they're going to be offended, but you have to know that you're doing it for the greater good. You're doing it because it's going to make us a better organization. You're doing it because your team members deserve these conversations to happen, so they can have more influence around their careers and their development and things of that nature. So, that boldness piece is huge. It is.

Drew Lazzara (37:00):

I love that boldness as a value and as a trait. I think that's really important. It takes a little bit of courage to be bold. And I think that speaking from an employee’s seat, I love to see when leaders are able to be courageous at the same time. Meredith, you touched a little bit there on the last question that I have, which is around some different outcomes. If we're thinking about the future, and you're very successful at bringing diverse ideas and different experiences into the organization, what kinds of things should organizations be doing in tandem to make sure that they are then able to capture new ideas in new ways? Are there other things beyond your diversity efforts that need to happen in concert with that, so that you're able to reap those benefits in the future?

Meredith Harper (37:39):

Of course, I think that the workforce of the future is going to look quite different than what we have now today. So, we've become comfortable with our buildings. We've become comfortable with our office spaces. We've become comfortable with this brick and mortar perspective. And I think one of the things that we learned during the pandemic is that we can still deliver on our mission and have alternative ways of building diverse and inclusive teams that also brings in the era of geography – the fact that I can tap talent in other spaces. 

So, I think that we need to look at some of the traditional models that we've had in place in terms of how we house our workforce, in terms of the restrictions we put on team members, where they locate and where they live, things of that nature. Those things are going to have to be tackled. I think the other part is, as we look at these diverse teams, and we also look at the fact that we are in the state of this pandemic, we need to think about – relationships are huge, and we have to build those relationships, but how do we now shift our culture to build relationships in virtual environments? That's going to be different for us because I'm used to you walking in my office and having a conversation with me. Now I'm logging on to Teams, and we're having a discussion. Will that take away from the relationship building that's necessary in order for you to do your role and do your job at your particular company. So, there are other things around the workforce that we need to tackle. Diversity, equity and inclusion is just one of them. The workforce of the future is going to look different.

Liz Ramey (39:16):

Absolutely. I agree with that. You know, putting a screen in between these individuals, but then at the same time, asking them to have really uncomfortable conversations to deepen their knowledge and understanding of others. It adds another layer of difficulty.

Meredith Harper (39:35):

And one more thing, let me just add this, too – as I was thinking about the other things that we would need to work on – that I believe in 2020 we learned some valuable lessons of how to help our team members have great work life balance. When you choose to push your team members to their home environments, it can be very difficult for you to shut it off. I know it was for me. And I'll look up, and I'm 13, 14 hours into it, and I'm still sitting at my desk. So, I think the whole part around the whole well-being, the total well-being of that team member, is something that you have to think through as an organization. What support are you going to give those team members? Are you going to set up something through EAP? Are you going to provide them with some other external resources? Are you, as a leader, are you going to give some flexibility with schedules? There are all these things related to that work-life balance piece that we probably need to touch on a little bit more as well.

Liz Ramey (40:28):

Absolutely. That's great. Well, Meredith, at the end of every podcast, we like to ask our guests to really think about a big question that maybe takes up space in your own mind, but that you would like another executive to think about and respond to. So, we'd love to hear from you. What's your next big question?

Meredith Harper (40:59):

I think, well, it's still in the vein of diversity, equity, and inclusion, but what would that next person do to ensure that we're giving access and exposure to kids as it relates to STEM careers? Because I think we have to capture these kids long before they get to college. But we don't do a great, great job of that. So hopefully the next person that does this podcast can solve that problem for us and figure out how we can expose more kids of color, as well as young girls to all things STEM.

Drew Lazzara (41:33):

I think it’s a great question.

Meredith Harper (41:34)

If that can be solved, my life will be good. Yeah, my life will be good. I have a pipeline. I'm looking for my pipeline here. So, if that can be solved, this is awesome.

Drew Lazzara (41:44):

And that's another one of those things that, even though it is traditionally the realm of cybersecurity and technology, STEM is really going to be driving all business outcomes. It's not just going to be those two areas anymore. It's going to be important in every aspect of the business because we're just living in a digital world. So, I think that's a very relevant, business-wide question. So, can't wait to hear what our next guest has to say about that, but Meredith Harper, thank you so much for being on the show. This was fantastic. We've learned so much, and it's been a pleasure speaking with you.

Meredith Harper (42:13):

Thank you for having me. This was fun.

Liz Ramey (42:17):

Thank you so much, Meredith. And, I've just been thrilled to talk to you about your authenticity and boldness and courageousness. So, thanks, again, for being a guest.

Liz Ramey (42:29):

Thank you, again, for listening to The Next Big Question. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to the show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen. Rate and review the show so that we can continue to grow and improve. You can also visit Evanta.com to explore more content and learn about how your peers are tackling questions and challenges every day. Connect, learn, and grow with Evanta, a Gartner company.


Connect with your community