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Celebrating International Women’s Day 2022 and #BreakTheBias

In support of International Women’s Day, a CoreSite communications specialist sat down with Leslie McIntosh, Senior Vice President of Human Resources. The 2022 theme is #BreakTheBias, which is explained by the vision of a gender equal world that is free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination and a world in which difference is valued and celebrated. This Q&A features stories and perspectives on workplace equality and leadership.

What early experiences shaped your views of the workplace?

In high school, I worked for my dad after school which was a fun experience and on my family’s ranch, which gave me a perspective on working hard. I moved on to work in human resources in a bank where one of the women leaders took me under her wing and introduced me to the world that was HR – this was long before HR had a strategic role in business. She was generous with her time and mentoring, and we remain friends to this day. Later, I was a secretary for the head of HR in a transportation organization. Several female managers showed me the ropes, and I was fortunate to participate in a mentoring program focused on career development for under-represented people and women. My mentor, the head of transportation, invited me to sit in with him during negotiations, and I saw what it meant to lead 1,500 drivers, mechanics and maintenance employees effectively. I learned firsthand about meeting people where they are, engaging everyone on a team and making space for individual voices and perspectives.  

Was there a pivot point in your career when you had to reset? 

Absolutely. I was working in a financial services organization with a female manager who was great. But I was working like a crazy person at the expense of myself, my family and relationships. Executive coaching led to the pivot point. And did this coach ask tough questions! For example, “Are you getting out of your life what you want? What is your quality of life? What are the things you’re never going to get back? Are you spending quality time in the areas of life that are important to you?” The answers all pointed to one insight, which was about living a balanced, integrated life in which I could be effectively present. Ultimately, I took off a year, making myself and family the priority. I volunteered at the school my young children attended and reconsidered what was really important to me. For several years after that, I chose part-time positions so I could balance the needs of my children, myself and my relationships and continue working in my field.   

Will you talk about some professional challenges you’ve faced?

Each of us have challenges at work and I’m no exception. 

In college, I had several part-time jobs, one in a legal office where the managing attorney expected a hug every afternoon before we started working. It made me uncomfortable because he was my boss and I was there to do a job, not have a personal relationship with him.  While I didn’t know what to do at the time, I eventually spoke up and put a stop to it.

In my first professional HR role, I worked with a very tough leader. She operated by the mantra that “feedback is a gift,” and she shared often. One piece of feedback she gave me was that my focus on results and intensity level made some of my co-workers uncomfortable. She asked me to think about how to show up at work and examine why I was doing what I did – a wake-up call. I became aware of the power of perception and the impression I was making on others. This manager encouraged me to be clear about my true motivation – for self or others – and this was a turning point that helped me shift my workstyle. I found a way to be myself but re-examined and shifted my motivation and intensity level.

During the years when I had a young family, a new head of HR confronted me one day about why I chose a job with less responsibility than one he thought I should be doing. I tried to explain that this was my choice – I was truly seeking a role that allowed me to make meaningful professional contributions but not at the expense of health and family. He didn’t get it and told me he didn’t have room in his organization for this type of arrangement. Ultimately, after a few years doing the job he thought was worthwhile, I left the organization.   

In one of my senior leader roles, I worked in a hard-charging, competitive C-suite. One of my female colleagues decided she did not like me and continually tried to paint me and my performance in a negative light. This ongoing criticism was very challenging and eventually shook my confidence. Through this experience, I recognized that trying to be someone I’m not doesn’t lead to the best result. I had to own who I was. Ultimately, my style is to balance a “get results” orientation with care for others, and today I’m unapologetic about that.  

Do you have advice to offer other women based on your experiences?

Yes, here are three of the many lessons I learned along the way. First, don’t look externally for validation of who you are and what you contribute. Understand what you stand for, your values and what you’re focused on and why. Evaluate yourself continually against your own standards, and when you need to shift, do so. Second, when you’re evaluating opportunities, lead with your values and ensure the company, the people who work with you and the people on your team are a strong match. Understand what kind of role allows you to give your best. Third, be a leader who invests in others and builds them up instead of intentionally or even unintentionally tearing down colleagues. Look for ways to help other people achieve their professional and personal goals. This investment may take forms such as mentoring, asking honest questions and giving of your time. True leaders invest in others.    

Any final thoughts?  

When I reflect on my career, I think about the idea of perspective. I’m especially grateful for the diverse role models and mentors who were generous with their time and experience. All caused me to carefully consider who I wanted to be, what my purpose was and how I wanted to show up in work and in life. This is an ongoing journey – I think continually about these things and try to learn from every experience.    

Thank you, Leslie, for sharing your stories and advice. On International Women’s Day 2022, we’re celebrating progress in gender equality but also recognizing there’s more work to be done. Let’s give readers a few statistics to think about:

  • The World Economic Forum reported a study that found a 1% gender bias effect at a Fortune 500 company that hires 8,000 people a year can lead to productivity losses of about $2.8 million a year. 
  • The Canadian HR Reporter cited a survey that found just 19% of employed women say tremendous [gender equality] progress has been made over the past 10 years and only 30% of employed women say their employer is taking the right actions to promote and support diversity, equity and inclusion within their workplace. 
  • On International Women’s Day 2020 the World Economic Forum said that 40% of the global workforce is female. This figure is set to increase by just 3% in the next 10 years, and it may take longer than 30 years to get to 50/50. 
  • Currently, women hold only 17% of major technology jobs, including programming or software development.
  • Representation of women in the C-suite in North America has increased to 21%, from 17% in 2015.

Want to learn more? Check out these ideas and news from the World Economic Forum, Gender Inequality.

Leslie McIntosh | SVP of Human Resources
Leslie is Senior Vice President of Human Resources and brings more than 25 years of experience defining and driving innovative human resources strategy.