367: Jennifer McCollum—How Will You Change The Face Of Women’s Leadership In Your Organization?

Learn how you can fight gender bias so women leaders can succeed 

As you know, I do a lot of work around women leadership. The title of my second book is Rethink: Smashing The Myths of Women in Business, and I have recently co-written with Edie Fraser and Robyn Freedman Spizman a third book, Women Mean Business: Over 500 Insights from Extraordinary Leaders to Spark Your Success. So I’m all about helping women in business succeed. So is my guest today, Jennifer McCollum, one of the remarkable women leaders featured in Women Mean Business. She has dedicated the last 20 years of her career to helping leaders fulfill their potential, and her mission is to change the face of leadership by accelerating the advancement of women leaders. Mine too. Listen in and please share.

Watch and listen to our conversation here

Nine key takeaways from our discussion today

1. Clarity is much more challenging for women than it is for men. It’s one of the biggest hurdles that women face. And by clarity, I mean, if I were to ask you, Look ahead one year, three years, five years…what does success look like for you in your life, in your role, in your environment?

2. Women tend to define success through the lens of others: my team’s success, my company’s success, my family’s success. As a woman, you need to develop the skill of creating clarity for you, your own future.

3. Jennifer’s new book, In Her Own Voice: A Woman’s Rise to CEO: Overcoming Hurdles to Change the Face of Leadership, takes 25 years of Linkage data and research and calculates what it will take to accelerate the advancement of women in terms of the unique challenges that women face on their path to leadership and how we can all support approaching gender equity in the workforce.

4. Gender bias has been internalized, so much so that we women may be preventing our own advancement, consciously or unconsciously.

5. We know that women and men ask for things equally. It could be money or title, but it also could be resources or flexibility or staff. But women tend to retreat when they’re told no. And we can learn a lot from our male counterparts who tend to go back in. So how do you make the ask, when do you make the ask?

6. All leaders need to be developed, but women need to understand the unique hurdles they face. We don’t need to fix the women. They’re fabulous leaders. We need to help them in overcoming the obstacles that exist to their advancement.

7. At the CEO level, we’ve just crossed the 10% barrier in terms of the number of CEOs who are women. But of those, only 1% are women of color.

8. The numbers still aren’t changing quickly enough. We have about 28% women in the executive leadership ranks and 26% in the leadership ranks, the VP level. But as you go down, director all the way to the manager level, we’re just not making enough progress at all.

9. All of us can do something. All of us may not be in positions of power and influence to be executive sponsors but all of us are in a position to be allies.

How to connect with Jennifer

You can reach out to Jennifer on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or the Linkage website, or send her an email at jenniferscherermccollum@gmail.com.

For a deeper dive into women and leadership, check out these 3 blogs: 

Additional resources for you

Read the transcript of our podcast here

Andi Simon: Hi, welcome to On the Brink with Andi Simon. I’m Andi Simon, I’m your host and your guide. And as you know, my favorite listeners, our job is to help you get off the brink. How do we do that? We want you to see, feel and think in new ways and understand that change is painful. On the other hand, if you begin to get the kinds of tips and tricks to begin to see things in a new way, you go, Oh, that’s how it’s done. That’s how someone else did it. And I can as well.

So I have a wonderful guest with us today, Jennifer McCollum. Jennifer and I met through the Women Business Collaborative, and it’s a wonderful organization for women of all kinds and all companies to come and participate as we collaborate to propel women forward. But Jennifer is here today because I just love what she’s doing to help train and develop women so that they can become the best that they can be. So, Jennifer, thank you for being here today. I appreciate it.

Now, let me tell you about Jennifer and then she’s going to tell you about herself. And as you know, in our format, she does a much better job than I can. But here’s Jennifer. Jennifer grew up in an entrepreneurial home in Germany. And there’s a story there, I’m sure. And her unique childhood not only instilled in her grit and resourcefulness and an ironclad work ethic, but she describes herself as a hustler by 15 and a desire to help others, which I think is the important part here, to excel like she has to her full potential.

You know, someone in our past offers us an opportunity to do something in our future, and sometimes we’re not aware of it, but all of a sudden we go, Oh, I did that. Someone else can do a little bit more. She’s on a mission to help talented women rise higher and higher in positions of leadership. And on the other side of that, to help organizations understand how to enable them to do just that, to create the cultures where women can excel, thrive and together, men and women can really do better.

The winding road she’s traveled led to her current position as CEO of Linkage. Linkage is now part of the SHRM organization (Society for Human Resource Management) and together they have visions for how to take Linkage, quite frankly, to a new place. It’s really going to be exciting. She oversees the strategic direction and global operations of the leadership development firm. The mission is to change the face of leadership. It’s dedicated more than 35 years to advancing women and accelerating inclusion in leaders and organizations.

Jennifer is an acclaimed speaker, a consultant and author, and I love the fact that her book is coming out in November. So we’re going to time this so that you can see it. She’s going to show you a picture of it in her own voice. It’s got a really interesting story to it. And it’s a very important time for her to share where she is. And that’s what this whole podcast today is about.

My last little thought, because I sometimes forget this myself, she’s a wonderful mother of three children, all guys. And I say guys because they’re sort of grown up children and I have a happy husband and they love to travel. She loves to ski. And Jennifer and I have a lot in common. So today’s talk is going to be very collaborative. Jennifer, thank you for coming today.

Jennifer McCollum: It’s always very humbling to have someone else talk about you and introduce you. So I appreciate you.

Andi Simon: Well, you know, sometimes you say, Who is that she’s talking about and laugh sometimes because we haven’t heard of ourselves. It’s hard to get a mirror that looks at you and says, Oh, that’s who I am. Jennifer, it’s important for the audience to know more about you. That bio is lovely, but at the end of the day, who is Jennifer? Tell us about your journey and then how do we get to the next stage where you’re helping women? All kinds of different ways. Please, who’s Jennifer?

Jennifer McCollum: That’s such a big question. I have dedicated the last 20 years of my career to helping leaders and teams and organizations fulfill their potential. And there’s been a really special place in my purpose and my passion around helping women leaders. So even back, you know, 30 years ago, I was creating pro bono visioning webinars to help women leaders find their passion and find their purpose and as luck would have it, I ended up five years ago as the CEO of Linkage. And as you said, our mission is to change the face of leadership. A big chunk of our work is focused on accelerating the advancement of women leaders, but also helping all leaders become more inclusive and purposeful.

I can take you back a little bit further. I have 20, 22, 23 years in the leadership space. I run leadership businesses at publicly traded companies. Now, at Linkage, which was just sold to a wonderful organization called SHRM. Before that, I grew up at the Coca-Cola Company and traveled around the world working on the Olympics and the World Cups and sports marketing. And then I evolved my career into leadership at the Coca-Cola Company and beyond.

Andi Simon: People often ask about our own journeys. You know, I’m an anthropologist, but I’m also an entrepreneur, and I was a corporate executive. How do you know where you’re going? Early in those years, are we sampling? Have I found myself? People talk about imposter syndrome. As I said, I’ve always been an imposter. I was never quite sure I was competent or capable. Others saw me that way and I said, Oh, that’s interesting. How about yourself? Was there a plan to your journey or did you just sort of make it happen?

Jennifer McCollum: I love your use of the word sampling. I would even expand that into dabbling. So, you know, this was advice that was given to me early on in my career and if it’s helpful to others, this was a senior executive at Coca-Cola who said, “In your 20s, try a lot of things. Don’t worry about money, don’t worry about titles. Try and get a sense of what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about.”

So through my 20s, yes, I started in public relations and sports marketing and evolved into public affairs, but I knew in my 20s, somewhere around 26 or 28, that I was good at it, but it wasn’t fueling my passion or my purpose. So then the executive said, “Okay, in your 30s, really double down and take a lot of risks and figure out where you can apply your skills and your passion.” And it was in my 30s that I jumped ship from Coca-Cola to the world of the internet. And it was part of the first internet kind of boom and bust. And that gave me the confidence to then create my own consulting firm.

And so I became a consultant in the leadership space. Coca-Cola had trained me to do that, and that’s where I really started to find what drove me. And so I was working with leaders and teams all around the world, but really buoyed by Coca-Cola’s belief in me, and that was my launchpad to becoming a consultant in the leadership space. And then the executive said, “In your 40s, put your head down and work really hard. Make a lot of money so you can retire in your 50s.”

What that meant to me was actually doubling down on what my passion was. So throughout my 40s, I went back to the publicly traded world. I worked for multiple companies, running businesses and the leadership development space, and really then found that it actually wasn’t the designing and the delivering of the consulting as much as the management and the growing of the businesses designed to make the world’s leaders a better place. And I have to say, now in my 50s, it’s a beautiful decade to be. I feel so aligned to that purpose.

Andi Simon: Well, and part of what you’re sharing is that we can plan, but part of it is knowing ourselves. And I don’t think that’s inconsequential. It’s not the job. It’s really getting to know what makes us. You know, the good news is, you were very successful regardless of which of those jobs you were in. But now the question is, what’s my purpose? You know, what have I mastered? And how do I have the autonomy to go and do that in a way that gives me great pleasure. And I smile when I wake up every day. It’s pretty cool.

Jennifer McCollum: And you’re hitting something really important, and I’ll call that clarity. And sometimes that’s the discovery of purpose, discovery of strength, discovery of passion. Some of us are lucky enough to grow up knowing exactly what we want to do, exactly the contribution we want to make in the world. That actually isn’t the case for most of us.

And there’s this process and this is actually much more challenging for women than it is for men. It’s one of the biggest hurdles that women face. And by clarity, we mean, if I were to ask you, Look ahead one year, three years, five years…what does success look like for you in your life, in your role, in your environment?

Women tend to define that through the lens of others: my team’s success, my company’s success, my family’s success. And so that we call it the kind of the skill, the muscle of creating clarity for you, for your own future is something that I’ve worked really hard at from my 20s, which gave me the confidence to leave Coca-Cola all the way now into my 50s. And I do it very regularly.

Andi Simon: That point of clarity is so interesting because I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I spent 20 years in corporate in a very entrepreneurial fashion, and nobody quite knew what an anthropologist in business was supposed to do so I could play that one out all the time. And you found that people weren’t quite sure if I should have a PhD or not. But I began to think that I knew I wanted to be in my own business and after 9/11, I said, good timing. So that’s 22 years ago.

But like you, I knew who I was. I’m a creator, I’m an entrepreneur now. How do I do that in a way that can be very successful? And I always thought of it for our clients being the beneficiaries of who we are and what we can do. So that’s what we do, then what they need.

So it’s a really interesting story. You share now that you’re at a point that your book is very much of a cataclysmic moment. You know, it’s important. Books are important. You know, my third book is coming out in September. And every time I write a book, it’s less about the book than about what it can do to help others. And I have a hunch this new book is very full of wisdom that you want to share. And I would just love you to tell the story to our listeners about it because they will walk away saying, Oh, I gotta get that book. Tell me what’s in the book.

Jennifer McCollum: Well, and thank you for asking, and going back to the clarity. If you look back on the vision documents that I created all the way back into the early 2000s, it always says, I am an author, I am a speaker, I am on stages impacting thousands. And it is now finally the result of a lot of hard work and you’ve done multiple of these. This is my first book. This is the executive summary, In Her Own Voice: A Woman’s Rise to CEO: Overcoming Hurdles to Change the Face of Leadership. It’s actually coming out in November, so anyone can pre-order it.

But what I am so excited about for this book is, it takes 25 years of Linkage data and research and frameworks and experience on what it will take to accelerate the advancement of women. It puts it together with very personal stories, not only my stories, but other CEO and C-suite women, to help all of us, women and men, understand what are the unique challenges that women face on their path to leadership and how we can all support approaching gender equity in the workforce far faster than the World Economic Forum is predicting, somewhere around the 125 year mark.

Andi Simon: Well, 125 years is almost impossible to imagine since you and I want it to happen tomorrow. My question is always about why it’s so hard to see the opportunities. And it’s two sides. Part of it is the way women see themselves in others. And part of it is the way our society and our culture see men and women and their different roles. In the book, though, you’ve really begun to master to lay this out. Talk to me a little bit without giving away too much about the thinking behind it In Her Own Voice. The title itself is telling you a great deal, right?

Jennifer McCollum: So you framed it perfectly. There’s really two sides to this. One is what we have more control over as women leaders. So deepening our understanding not of the external bias that exists in the world. And we could talk a lot about that another time. And it’s real, but it’s really how that bias has been internalized and how we may be preventing our own advancement, consciously or unconsciously.

So just to give you a little sneak preview, Linkage has studied and we support it through coaching and assessment and development and our big Women in Leadership Conference. We support the individual woman leader and overcoming some of those hurdles. The top three are clarity, which is what we just talked about. The second one is proving your value, where women tend to give and say yes and volunteer to more and more and more. And we call it putting your head down and overthrowing the boat, hoping that someone will notice and they usually don’t. And then the third one is making the ask.

So we actually know that women and men ask for things equally. It could be money or title, but it also could be resources or flexibility or staff. But we know that women tend to retreat when they’re told no. And we can learn a lot from our male counterparts who tend to go back in. So how do you make the ask, when do you make the ask? So those are three of the seven or eight hurdles that we cover. The other side of this, which I love that you framed it this way, is what can organizations do? We actually call that the organizational surround. And we study these things. We know that there are very specific levers organizations need to pull.

The first is around their culture. Do women feel valued? Do they feel like they belong? The second one is around their talent systems. Is there equity in the talent systems, all the way from acquisition to pay to high potential selection to succession? The third one is what we call executive action and commitment. This is one of the lowest scoring ones and this is, are the executives truly committed to advancing women leaders? Are they doing more than saying the right things? Are they actually doing and modeling and sponsoring women or other underrepresented populations? And then the fourth one is the one that Linkage does a lot of work in, and that’s leadership development for women.

So again, we know that, you know, all leaders need to be developed, but women need to understand the unique hurdles they face and they need some, you know…we don’t need to fix the women. They’re fabulous leaders. We need to help them in overcoming the obstacles that exist to their advancement.

Andi Simon: You know, as an anthropologist and I also have three leadership academies for three different kinds of organizations, the questions are very profound and very important to me in the work that we do, as well as to my emerging leaders who are trying to understand all this. But I often find that people don’t know what to do. They say the words, they have good intentions, but then when the time comes for action, they go back to old habits. And we know so much about the neurosciences and the brain and the cognitive sciences, that the habits are very comfortable. And so they go to whatever they learned early, whatever happened to them that seemed to work okay.

And the idea of moving out into a foreign place where they’re uncomfortable, the amygdala hijacks the whole idea and says, That’s dangerous, go away. And so part of the work that we do is almost like theatrical performance. I said, We’re going to change. You used to play Macbeth, and I share this with you because the metaphor seems to be comfortable for people to get. And now you’re going to play Hamlet. And in Hamlet, the women get promoted and they get advanced. But you don’t have a script for it and you haven’t had any rehearsal time. And both of you need to play a different role in a different theater. That is life. And I share that with you because what I realized without rehearsal time, they don’t practice. They don’t know what it is they’re going to do. Have you found the same or do you have a different perspective on it?

Jennifer McCollum: Well, interestingly, I would actually use that kind of frame on both sides. So first, let’s talk about the women themselves. And yes, what is comfortable we can extract you from your workplace. We can develop and coach and assess and send you to very inspirational conferences and you will go back into the workplace if left to your own devices. It’s scary. It’s uncomfortable. How do you start to flex that new muscle?

And so in our very best, you know, clients and the very best scenarios, women are doing this through community, so they’re not doing it alone. And we will have, and I’ll give a big shout out to Disney as an example. Disney will send 100 to 150 women to our conference across their business units, but they bring them together and then they find ways to keep them together in communities so they’re supporting each other.

Andi Simon: Before you go on to the second, let me emphasize to the viewer or the listener that we’re monkeys. We model ourselves over watching others. And so that community isn’t inconsequential. Because if I think, This is what they want me to do and I don’t see anyone else doing it, I flee it. But if I watch someone else doing it, I can model it and bond over it. So those communities aren’t inconsequential. They’re essential. Does that make it consistent with what you’re saying?

Jennifer McCollum: I’ll go to my second point in a minute, but just based on that, I want to give you a really specific example this weekend. So it was the 4th of July weekend. I’m part of the Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches Organization. It means the world to me to be part of this. There were a couple hundred people in the group. About 150 of us gathered in Nashville just a few days ago. And this group is full of authors, thought leaders, academics, CEOs, coaches.  It’s an incredibly inspiring group. Three quarters of the group are like you. They have published book after book and they’re very confident as authors and thought leaders.

So I showed up at this event. I have a box of 200 of these and my literary agent has said, You will ensure that this gets in the hands of every one of that network. I got there and I realized something was going on with me. I’m incredibly confident as a CEO. I’m confident as a team leader and manager and mentor. I’m confident as a mother, a wife and a friend. I took that box. We call these things monographs, and I hid them behind the piano at the Belmont Auditorium in Nashville, this beautiful auditorium. And the monographs are hidden in a box. And I would take one out at a time and would kind of sheepishly show one person at a time. And finally, it took a group.

There happened to be this group of women that were surrounding me. And they said, Well, where can I get one of these? And said, Well, they’re in a box behind the piano. And they said, What is wrong with you? Here you are a thought leader, an author, and you’re hiding your gifts behind the piano. And it hit me that I needed that monkey tribe, right? I needed a community to help build my confidence. And it was such a big lesson for me. I was trying something new. I’m flexing a new muscle. Okay, so that’s that story. Well, that’s not going to go to the second piece.

Andi Simon: Don’t lose that story because for the viewer or the listener, those are the kinds of stories that will change the way you think about what you’re doing. And when you go to that meeting, you’re going to hand out business cards. And I’ve heard people say, I’ve left the meeting because I didn’t feel comfortable. I said, Push, go in there, hand out those cards. Be real. Next point.

Jennifer McCollum: So well, and actually, just to finish that, on that point, when this is a huge problem with women, we call it recognized confidence.  And it’s another one of the hurdles. Look, you mentioned imposter syndrome just a little while ago when we were getting ready for this call. We know you can’t beat confidence into anyone. You also can’t beat imposter syndrome out of someone. But here’s what you can do. You can develop the skills to promote yourself like I was trying to do over the last couple of days. But if you don’t feel ready to do that, I wasn’t ready to self-promote as an author. I phoned a friend and this is what women can do a lot better. Surround yourself with people, women or men who will help hand out that card.

What happened was, they started grabbing 10 and 20 and were handing them out for me. And the response I got from people overwhelmingly helped me build that confidence. So that’s kind of another tip and trick to phone a friend. You don’t have to do it on your own. This was okay. Well, what if, you know, we invest in companies? Do they invest all the time in their women leaders? And those women leaders come back full of hope and confidence and optimism, but their companies don’t change. Their manager doesn’t understand what they’ve been through. They don’t get access to that stretch assignment. The talent systems don’t change. The executives don’t really act on what they’ve learned or what they’ve invested in. And this is one of the biggest challenges.

And I’ll tell you another story. And he’s one of my favorite ones, Tom Greco, who has up until recently been the CEO of Advanced Auto, a big client of ours. I was on a webinar with him about a year ago when they launched their Women in Leadership program, and he said, “As the CEO, I will tell you, our leadership does not represent our customer base. We need more women. We need more people of color. And I have done this before when I worked for Frito-Lay and Pepsi, and I am going to commit to this and I will become a sponsor. My direct reports, their direct reports. By the way, there are 2025 of us and we are overwhelmingly white men. And that is going to change on my watch.”

So that’s an example of executive commitment in action, and that’s what companies need to do. What do they need to do proactively to change their culture, proactively to change their talent systems. And we help with that as well.

Andi Simon: And I’ll add one more dimension because I’ve had to work with boards who are also the white guys. And even if the executives were advocating, they always often rolled their eyes as if this was a sidebar, not the bar. And conversations at board meetings weren’t about…I can’t tell you how many times I was the only woman on that board and or at a board meeting where there were 49 men and just me. We didn’t say very much. And people said to me, That sounds like a joke, depending on what time in our evolution it was.

But the point is that there are different barriers along the way to transformation. And to your point, if the leadership really commits to it, now the question is, How do the the men, the women and the leadership begin to see a different reality, almost a different visual of the whole world that we’re living in with a whole different interactions and training each other to talk to each other? It’s like a foreign language coming together.

Jennifer McCollum: And I’m glad you mentioned the board level there. I mean, as you and I both know, being very deeply entrenched in the Women’s Business Collaborative where we are making the most progress is that the board level now, it’s not as fast as we would like, but we are making more progress there than anywhere else. At the CEO level, we’ve just crossed the 10% barrier in terms of the number of CEOs who are women. You know, only 1% are women of color. So we can talk about that separately where we tend to focus as we move down in the pipeline.

The numbers still aren’t changing quickly enough. So we’ve got about 28% women in what I’ll call the executive leadership ranks and 26% in the leadership ranks, kind of the VP level. And then as you go down, director all the way to the manager level, we’re just not making enough progress at all. And so it takes a couple of things. One, we can’t wait for CEOs or boards to become enlightened all at once. We’ve got to focus on this from many different lenses.

And one thing I love, especially because I know your listeners are a very broad range across gender, across role, across age and across experience. All of us can do something. And I talk a lot about this spectrum, from allyship to mentorship to coaching, all the way up to executive sponsorship. All of us may not be in positions of power and influence to be executive sponsors. All of us are in a position to be allies. In fact, that’s what happened to me this weekend. The people who surrounded me said, Look, phone a friend, I’m going to help you. They were all my allies and it was a really beautiful thing.

Andi Simon: Well, but your story is a very powerful one as well, because in some ways you weren’t sure how to ask for their support, but they saw an opportunity to reach out and help someone who wasn’t mentoring, wasn’t sponsoring, it was collegiality, in a very sorority-like fashion. But I have a hunch that the guys began to catch on to some of this as well. And I do think that there is a desire to do better. Do you have any of the data to share on why the diverse, inclusive companies do better and why that’s so hard to get people to pay attention to?

Jennifer McCollum: Even have an anecdote. The data is so clear. Andi, you and I have seen all the various studies around when you have diversity. We can talk about gender diversity. We can talk about racial diversity. Those were where most of the studies sit. But whether it’s at the board level, at the C-suite level or at the leadership level, whether it’s financial metrics like revenue and margin or whether it’s operational metrics like more effective decision making and better innovation, or whether it’s internal metrics like engagement and retention. By and large, gender diversity and racial diversity, by every single count, it’s better.

So here’s my favorite story. Dr. Tanya Matthews is the CEO of the International African American Museum. It’s just opening now in Charleston. So if you’re in the Charleston area, run to that museum. And about two years ago, we were thinking about writing this book. And in all of my presentations, I was leading with a lot of the data. And I finally just got fed up and said, Dr. Tanya, I don’t understand why it’s just so mind blowing that the data is so clear and any rational leader in a position of power to hire or promote diversity, why don’t they just do it?

And she said, and I quote, “Girl, if it were all about the numbers, we would have solved this problem a long time ago.” I can hear her saying that. I love her so much. And she said, “The forces for change have to be more powerful than the forces for the status quo.” That is true, that it’s not going to be numbers and data. It’s going to be appealing to the head and the heart, appealing to the emotion of fathers with daughters saying, I want something different for my daughter. I want to make sure that if she wants to be a CEO, she has a better chance than 10% of the Fortune 500. Or It’s the Tom Grecos of the world. “I need my staff to be reflective of my customer base.” And that’s not everybody that’s ready and aware. But that’s where our starting point is at Linkage. We choose the clients who have, that awareness in that readiness.

Andi Simon: Well, and that’s a good point to try to work with a client who hasn’t come to their own aha moment or the realization of it is very difficult because you’re going to be pushing this ball up the hill. But your point about the data shouldn’t be underestimated because as an anthropologist, we learned early that out of context data do not exist. And I used to teach a course “Is your data talking to you and can you hear it?” And it’s the hearing part, because you’ll take that data and manipulate it to do anything you like with it, including ignoring it.

You know, doctors love to delete the data that don’t conform to the way they like to do things. Learned that early on. But to your point, the data is very compelling and whether it’s your KPIs or whatever else you’re looking to achieve as a leader, make sure that you’ve got alignment around that with the right people who can get you there, as opposed to pointing fingers, complain and blame and find all kinds of excuses because often the resources are there and the gap is not that you don’t have the resources, it’s that you’re not using them wisely.

And to your point, then that requires a different mindset, a different set of values. And my last point before I go back to you is that we decide what the heart and the eyes, and that’s extremely important. The data is in the head. I’ve got to see it. So storytelling with the data is not inconsequential. What does this tell you?

Jennifer McCollum: I guess the other thing I’d say is, what are you tracking? We spend a lot of time with our clients who say, We’re tracking our talent acquisition. We’re tracking our diversity metrics and we’re tracking our retention. And, you know, we just say, You know what, that’s great. Those are all leading indicators. You’ve got to get ahead and start tracking the leading indicators. So when McKinsey a year ago reported that there’s a huge issue at the director level, so for every one woman who is promoted, two women leave.

At Linkage, we weren’t surprised by that at all because we’ve been tracking. We’ve got about 20,000 women in our database and with our Women in Leadership Institute every year, we’re gathering thousands and thousands of women’s perceptions around their organization. So we’re actually at a macro level looking at what do they feel, what do they think about their culture, their talent systems, their executive action and their leadership development as a woman, But also what is their commitment, their engagement, their values fit and their net promoter score?

And by every count, especially the Net Promoter score, that director level was a zero, which basically meant, Don’t believe anything. They didn’t care at all to promote that their company was a great place to work for women, and their commitment was less than 50% which said, if I’m offered another job that is similar to yours, I’m out of here. McKinsey’s The Great Breakup is grounded in, unfortunately good data, bad experiences. “I see what’s happening. I’m not stupid. I’m out of here. And I’d rather go, being, you know, a success in my own business.” You were or I am. And not to fuss around with this other system that’s evaluating us in a way that I can’t get ahead.

So I often say, Look, we know, and this is super interesting. I mean, you may remember, many more women lost their jobs during Covid than men. And there was this big concern across 2020 and 2021 that women in the workforce were the lowest that they’d been since the 1980s. And there was this thought that, Oh, my gosh, this is going to not only delay gender equity by a decade, which is what the World Economic Forum came up with, but how long is it going to take us to get back to above where we were with women in the workforce in the 80s? It only took two years. The women all came back to the workforce.

But it’s not that women are leaving the workforce, it’s that they’re leaving you. They’re leaving your organization. And so, our question to the organization is, Look, if you’re having trouble retaining women and attracting women, that’s on you. Why is that? Let us help you figure that out.

Andi Simon: Oh, I could tell you many stories. I’m not going to share them for now. We are just about ready to wrap up. You and I could talk for much longer about an issue of great importance to both of us, mostly because we both have lived our ways through this, personally and professionally, and we have a bigger purpose, which is to help others and their organizations really understand the richness that comes with diversity of all kinds: cognitive diversity and challenging ideas, beginning to see curiosity, all kinds of things that will open up possibilities for them. I enjoyed this tremendously. Jennifer, one or two things you’d like to end with so that folks can remember the wisdom that you’ve brought today.

Jennifer McCollum: I’m happy to offer a few things. I’m at a really interesting, pivotal point in my career with the book coming out. And as we integrate Linkage into SHRM, it’s kind of like landing the plane on a five year journey. And I always think these are really important inflection points in life. So I’ll leave with two things that are really helpful for me. If they’re helpful for your listeners, I hope so.

Number one is, grab the opportunity when you see it. And this takes tremendous courage. And I’ll go back to my first leadership role in a publicly traded company when I was running a business unit and my peers left and I saw the opportunity to run a much bigger part of the organization. And just as my boss was saying, we need to get your peer replaced. I went in and said, I don’t want him replaced. I want to run it. And so I’m now thinking about what that looked like at this stage in my career? So that’s the first thing.

And the second thing that goes along with that is, don’t move quickly until you have that clarity. And I can tell a lot of stories about how I jumped reactively a little bit earlier, just even five years ago in my career and made a mistake because I wasn’t clear about what I wanted. So you’re the entrepreneur. I’d worked at multiple publicly traded companies and I landed in that sweet spot of the private equity-backed small to mid-market company. And that was my landing place, but only because I gained clarity. So I will offer up those two things.

And finally, if you are a woman who aspires to advance in her career, or a man or woman who aspires to support the women leaders in your life, please, please, please consider In Her Own Voice. It launches November 13th, but it’s on pre-order on Amazon now.

Andi Simon: And I know Amazon awaits you with joy, as does Jennifer. Jennifer, this has been joyful. If they would like to talk to you further, is there a best place where they can reach you? LinkedIn or someplace else?

Jennifer McCollum: Absolutely. So Jennifer McCollum, Linkage CEO, a SHRM company. I am available on LinkedIn. And you can also go to our website at Linkageinc.com.

And Simon: And as you can tell, Jennifer is a wonderful mentor, sponsor, colleague, idea person. And sometimes you just want to use her time very wisely. But also the book is full of her thinking that will help you as you begin to pursue your own career. And there is no straight line. The one thing you should understand is that while you may think there’s a goal at the end here, there’s really a path that takes you there. And the path is as much fun when you look back on it and as it is to be certain. Humans want certainty. It doesn’t work that way.

So I want to thank all of you who come to our podcasts and who who put us above the 5% globally of all podcasts, which is really an honor. We enjoy sharing with you and our book, Women Mean Business, comes out September 26th. It is a compilation of 102 women who share their wisdom with you. And if you think of the two books as a collage, you’re going to have lots of interesting points of insight, and they always say, turn a page and change your life. That’s what we’re all about. How do we help you become the best that you can be?

My other books are available on Amazon: On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights is about anthropology and how it can help your business. And Rethink: Smashing The Myths of Women in Business is about women who smashed the myths of women in business. We keep wanting to help you change.

And so today I will say goodbye with great joy. Jennifer, thank you for joining me. It’s been fun and I love your conversations. We’ll be back. Bye bye now.


WOMEN MEAN BUSINESS ® is a registered trademark of the National Association of Women Business Owners®  (NAWBO).