Communication As The Linchpin Of Change With Jennifer McClure

by | May 12, 2022 | Podcasts

SWGR 108 | Proper Communication


Digital advancements and the COVID-19 pandemic greatly transformed the world. For everyone to cope with the rapid changes, especially women in leadership, proper communication is needed. Exploring this topic even deeper with Elizabeth Bachman is Jennifer McClure, CEO and Chair of JEM. Jennifer talks about the need for in-depth internal and external communication today when intranet platforms are rampant. She explains how to build a board composed of diversified expertise and the right way to approach tone-deaf executives. Jennifer also shares tips on how women should express themselves clearly and encourage men to be their trusted allies.

Watch the episode here


Listen to the podcast here


Communication As The Linchpin Of Change With Jennifer McClure

Before I get into this episode’s interview, I would like to invite you to see how your presentation skills are doing by taking our free four-minute quiz. If you go to, you can take our free four-minute assessment. That is where you can see where you are strong with your presentation skills and where perhaps a little bit of support could get you the results you need and the recognition that you deserve. If you score high enough, you will rate a free conversation with me to talk about how to apply those results.

Meanwhile, I have the great honor of having Jen McClure as my guest. Jen is someone I have known for some time and I follow her religiously on her various posts and the wisdom that she shares with the community. She is an executive and a board leader with decades of experience in media, technology, and information services. She is the Founder and CEO of JEM, serves on the advisory team of BoardWise, and is a Program Director and Distinguished Principal Fellow Emeritus of The Conference Board’s Marketing & Communications Center.

Jen has been named a “Power Player” and top disrupter in management consulting by Business Insider. She is considered to be one of the original authorities on digital and social media and is a respected leader with a track record of identifying important business, technological and societal trends. We had an interesting conversation, mostly focusing on communications, stakeholder capitalism, the need for transparency, and how to get more diversity on the boards. We talked about all sorts of things. You will enjoy this conversation. Onto the interview with Jen McClure.

Jen McClure, welcome to the show.

Thank you.

I have known you for some time, but we did not have a conversation for a while. Although, I have been following you and I love the various things you have to say. I have been saving you as someone I could bring on to dispense some wisdom to us all.

Thank you so much. I am excited to chat with you.

Before I ask the many questions I have for you, who would be your dream interview? If you could interview anybody, who would it be? What would you ask them? Who should be listening?

I will get personal really fast. My dream interview would be with my birth mother. I am adopted and grew up with a wonderful set of parents. My mother always said, “You can do whatever you want to do,” when I was born in 1964. That was not true when I was born. She made it clear that those were not among her choices necessarily.

You are not the mouthpiece of your leaders. You are the eyes, ears, and enablers of the organization. Click To Tweet

I was raised with the idea that there would be no glass ceiling by the time I was an adult. I totally believed that. It was very aspirational on her part. She also did what a lot of moms did and still do, which is to live vicariously through me and try to push me to be everything I could be which I very much appreciate. My parents gave me the opportunities through education, support, lots of travel, reading, love of all things, and learning.

This is your adoptive mother that you are talking about?

Yes. Much later in life, I have discovered quite a bit about my birth mother. I know who she is, what she has done with her life, and what she looks like, which is exactly like me when she was younger. It has given me a real sense of myself. I have now a better perception of nature versus nurture. she was a professional woman in the 1960s. She was a single woman. She made a difficult choice. You talk about speaking, she was one of the first women to make a very large presentation in an industry setting. That was rare then.

I would like to speak with her to understand more about her and myself, what translates even when you do not know someone, and what gets passed on. Also, I do think she had to make a very difficult choice at a time when women were asked to make even more difficult choices than they are necessary now, what was acceptable in society, what their role was in society, who they had to please, and what does she now think about that in her late 80s. That would be my dream interview.

Would you have anybody listen?

Probably not.

SWGR 108 | Proper Communication

Proper Communication: The demand from the new generation of workers calls for more transparency. There will be not only more communication with them but also interactive conversational communication.


This is a question I ask all my guests. I have a whole category called Ancestors. These are people who would like to interview their ancestors. I was 24 when my grandmother died. I was living on the other side of the country and I was so involved in my new life in New York City. I wish I had known her better as an adult.

I would not want to have anyone listen to that conversation. Now, being an adult and having friends that have adopted kids, a lot of adopted kids are of a different race or ethnicity than the parents are. There are kinds of questions that come up from the kids and the people they know. There is something that adopted kids share and questioning about identity like, “Where did I come from? Who am I? Why am I like the way I am? Why do I feel like I do not belong in the family that I am living in?” That is not always acknowledged, addressed, or appreciated. It is nice to be able to share that with people who have that same feeling.

I have asked you to share some of your insights. We were talking earlier about leadership in a changing world. With all your board experience and management consulting, that is easy to say, but what is it? How can we boil it down in the time that we have?

In every conversation we have about business and leadership, we have to talk about COVID. We will couch this in COVID but I do think there are other factors that are leading to a change in the world of work. Unfortunately, women, as we know, have been more impacted by those changes than men. That has become apparent again with the Deloitte Survey. It is the women at work survey that came out. Women are struggling at work, but I also want to talk about the opportunities that we have, particularly for women communications professionals and women that are good communicators.

I do not like lumping into stereotypes around gender too much, but there is a general perception that women tend to be better communicators than men. What we have seen in our management consulting practice is that with all of the changes to people being sent home, to work during the worst of the pandemic often uncertainties about when people will be coming back to the office for multiple reasons. Sometimes because there are new variants, there have been employee surveys that indicate people want to continue to work from home, or they want a different working relationship with their employers.

The role of communications and the role of professionalized corporate communications has become more important than ever. It is starting to be more valued. The rise of the chief communications officer and organizations is increasing. The increase in boards’ understanding of the role and effectiveness of communications, measuring the effectiveness of communications, enabling leaders to be better communicators, and managers to be better communicators presents an opportunity for women. More than 60% of corporate communications professionals are women, but by the time you get to the chief communications officer in many professions, it is 40%. That is frustrating to me.

There are reasons to talk, and there are reasons not to talk, write, or have an opinion. Click To Tweet

You keep talking about communications but a whole lot of my work is about helping g men and women communicate with each other and understand the differences. It is not just masculine and feminine. I think of it as single-focused versus multi-focused. Can you break that down and define it? When you are talking about communication, internal and external, what do you mean?

In the digital world, there is no such thing as only internal. If you are in communications, the things that are internal will go external. There is a real push to have employers be more transparent for leaders in business to take stands on issues that traditionally companies would not have taken stands on. Social issues, environmental issues, equity issues, and political issues. There is a need for clearer communications internally with the understanding that those communications internally will go external, whether you intend them to or not.

There is a competency that everyone needs to have that we need to understand to your point that different people, genders, and cultures communicate differently. Sometimes, particularly in digital communications and written communications, things do not necessarily land the way you intended them to. Being able to have the skillset to be clear, concise, transparent, and straightforward, but then also to make sure that what you think you said is understood in the way that you intended it. Those are all communication skills that are important, whether you are talking about internally, externally, or one-on-one communications.

Communications in the boardroom are verbal communication skills as well. You can say something in a meeting setting that you want to ensure is being perceived the way that you wanted it to be perceived. We all understand that the need to be more communicative, more transparent, and be sensitive to how we are communicating with each other is more important than ever. The demand from the new generation of workers coming in is that there will be more transparency and communication, not only more communication to them but interactive conversational communication.

Where does listening fit into this?

It is the most important aspect of communication. When I was leading digital communications at Thomson Reuters, internal and external, we were moving to an intranet platform, which was our new way or a very collaborative way of working together. I remember training our internal communicators to say, “You are no longer the mouthpiece of the organization or your leaders writing their statements and pushing them out to our employees. You are the eyes, the ears, and the enablers of conversations.”

SWGR 108 | Proper Communication

Proper Communication: This past year, employers and lawyers have been the most trusted institutions in the country. The least trusted are journalists, scientists, and government officials.


Listen in to what conversations are happening. Being able to see that on an open platform like an intranet or social media and understanding what conversations are happening matters. There is a reason why you should insert yourself, what questions are being asked and how can you add value to that conversation. That is a good set of questions for anyone to ask in the course of their lives. Leaders are being asked to weigh in on more social, political, and environmental in this hot topics. What is our role as an organization? What is my particular role as this leader setting at this time? Is it relevant? Can I add value by participating in this conversation?

For some organizations that may be getting pushed to have an opinion or make a statement on a certain topic, it is a good way to say, “We do not play in this area as an organization. Therefore, we are not going to make a public statement.” There are reasons to talk and not to talk, write, or have an opinion. We have to understand that in many cases, saying nothing is also a decision and an action that sometimes needs to be defended.

The nuance around communications that are perceived to be the opinion of an organization, company, nonprofit organization, or political party needs to be defended, whether you are saying something, not saying something, and what you are saying. The communications professionals and communication skills that everyone needs to have are more important than ever.

What can you do, as a communications professional, if the head of the company is tone-deaf, not listening, not responding, and saying things? I have been dealing with this. One of my clients has a senior executive who is trying and does not get it.

It is, unfortunately, a somewhat common problem. There are some things you can try to do. One is to measure and show the impact of what they are saying on different audiences. The power of social media, if this is an external communication, is to be able to bring that data back in, “Here is the feedback that we are seeing from people because of what you said.”

You can do that internally too, depending on what platforms you are using and channels for communication. You can use surveys. Our employees understand these messages. If you have a social intranet, you can start to look at comments. You can also do real speaker training that will better enable them to continue to improve, and there are some leaders who do not care.

Corporations are the next best hope for real action. Therefore, they have to become trusted organizations where leadership is able to communicate and listen well. Click To Tweet

I would not call them leaders at that point, but there are some senior executives or people in places that are of influence that do not care about what they say and how it is going to land. You can do the best you can. We like to say with one of our clients, “Equip, enable, and empower them to do a better job.” Talk to them about how important it is that leaders are good communicators and the importance of their influence over all the different stakeholders that they serve.

This came out in the Edelman Trust Barometer. Employers are the most trusted institutions in the country. The leaders of those organizations and employees are the most trusted people. The least trusted are journalists, scientists, government officials, and government, in general. The government has been perceived to have failed, corporations stepping in for putting together PPE and getting it out into the world, and being so quick to develop vaccines that are highly effective.

The perception is that corporations are our next best hope for real action. They, therefore, have become very trusted organizations. To be a trusted organization, you need to have responsible leadership that is able to listen, communicate, and continue to earn the trust over time of all the stakeholders, their employees, customers, investors, and the general public they serve. Hopefully, if you put that into the context for that particular leader, they will understand the weight of their words.

You do a lot of board and advisory work. Can you talk to us about what a good board should do and how important it is? There is such a range of requirements so I am going to aim for it and why there should be more diverse voices on boards.

Traditionally, on corporate boards and public boards, there were a couple of things that people thought they needed to be responsible for. Hiring and firing the CEO and returning shareholder value, bottom-line shareholder value. In this world of stakeholder capitalism, which we can agree with or not agree with whether that should be the case, it exists. I would speak directly to traditionally bottom-line results.

If we know that consumers are increasingly making their decisions based on the values of a company and they want to support and align as investors and consumers with companies whose values they share or employees want to work for companies that have values that they can stand by, then that is going to impact the bottom line. Stakeholder capitalism is real. Therefore, boards and governance expand because we need to think about things like employee engagement and retention. It is the companies or any organization’s commitment to DEI and the additional B, Belonging.

SWGR 108 | Proper Communication

Proper Communication: Boards must not only focus on equity, inclusion, and belonging. They must also strive for diversity in expertise in communication, human capital, and digital expertise. These new areas offer opportunities to women.


That is Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging.

That would previously not have been seen as a board’s purview. It is not about the atrium because it is about the culture of the company and any organization’s ability to fulfill its mission and goals. We need to think about digital risk. This is something that I teach a lot in the board certification program. We need to think about reputational risk, ESG, Environmental, Social, and Governance issues, and not just for public companies. Increasingly, institutional investors are asking that public companies report uncertain ESG metrics. They are pulling institutional, which is the largest component of investment, from companies that do not meet certain standards.

The Securities Exchange Commission is pushing to have private companies be more transparent. Whether or not this will happen, there is a push on behalf of the SEC that private companies should be more transparent about their financials and ESG positions. There is a wide range of things that boards need to consider like the traditional board members and the ways that traditionally boards have been brought together, which is a friend of the CEO and the existing board members will result in a fairly homogenous board.

With what I experienced in my world of focusing on digital, things being said is not our role. All we need to ask is if there is a CIO, Chief Information Officer or a CISO, Chief Information Security Officer. It is the CEO’s job to make sure they are doing their jobs. That does not portray a realistic understanding of the way that organizations work and the way that technology is brought into or managed within a large company.

What it is saying is, “I do not know the right questions to ask.” I am going to use the noses-in, fingers-out mode of board governance, which is good. That is important to know what is operational versus oversight. However, you do not use it because you do not know the right questions to ask. That is what too often is happening on boards. It is not about having a board that looks different.

It is very important to have diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging on the board, but it is not just racial, ethnic, gender diversity, and cultural diversity. It is also a diversity of expertise and new kinds of expertise like communications, human capital expertise, or someone from the specific world of DEI, which is a subset of HR, with digital or cyber expertise.

In a more virtual world of work, people have to speak up for themselves a little bit more than they already have. Click To Tweet

All of those things are core to the success of a company. Those are new areas of skills that offer an opportunity for women, if you have that skillset that is different than the traditional job role that you would see for a board recruitment role, which would be CEO, CFO, public company board experience, and prior company board experience, which is often that barrier. There have been some shifts.

There is also room for more consideration about people who can bring the right perspectives and expertise to diversify the board to round out the lack of experience and perspectives that sit on that board. That may not be people that have had a lot of prior board experience or CEO role, which is going to uniformly eliminate a lot of women, because a lot of women have been public company CEOs. That automatically takes them out of the running if that is the criteria that we are using.

Is there anything that you particularly want to say or a question I should ask you that would be useful to this conversation?

I am trying to tie it all together. We talked a lot about communications, work, and identity. You talk about speakers who get results. I will bring it back to the focus of your show and how this all fits.

The focus of my show is helping women get past that glass ceiling. I do that through the lens of presentation skills and how important public speaking is. A whole lot of my work is how do you speak internally and be heard? Jen, you were saying earlier that even with communications officers, it tends to be mostly women until you get to the top 10% of something.

For years in my opera career, companies are run by a lot of people who are passionate about it and do not get paid very well. You have to have lots of women until you get to the top and then there is a man. I have seen the same thing in business up until the last number of years. As professional smart women, how can we think about the glass ceiling? It is certainly still there, what can we do to break through it and thin it out? It should disappear. I wish it would.

SWGR 108 | Proper Communication

Proper Communication: Breaking through the glass ceiling is even more challenging right now because of more women working remotely and getting left out of the loop. They must advocate for one another and hopefully get men as their allies.


Unfortunately, based on this survey that I mentioned earlier by Deloitte, the glass ceiling is even more challenging because of more women working remotely and being perceived that they are getting left out of the loop and they may be passed over for promotion. That is a feeling that is quite real. What we can do is continue to advocate for one another as women and hopefully, our allies as men too. If someone is not in the room that should be or they are the person on the Zoom screen, but they are in a hybrid meeting, let’s not go back to the old adage that we have all experienced.

If I said something but then when the guy said it, everyone said, “That is a great idea.” Let’s do that with our Zoom colleagues too. I would say women and men, but you are less likely to be heard and acknowledged for those good comments or even less likely to speak up if you are in those hybrid meeting settings. This new world of work is not going away.

We have to all figure out how to be more sensitive to our colleagues, women, men, and non-binary people, and make sure that we get heard because we are confident enough to speak up regardless of where we are. We are supporting our colleagues to be heard when they should be heard and acknowledged when they should be acknowledged.

It is going to take some more confidence on behalf of women. Many of your other guests have talked about being comfortable with yourself, putting your hand up, asking for what you want, and applying for jobs and roles that you know you can do. Going back to the original example of corporate communications, you reach a certain amount and then all of a sudden, the majority of those top roles are men. That applies to many professions. It is asking, “Why?”“

I was more qualified. I have been here longer and doing this role. Why was I not chosen?” Make sure that you have made it known that you want that top role. There are assumptions being made about women having too much on their plate with COVID. They are taking care of their kids. They are doing this and do not want to come into the office. Dispelling the myths that we cannot make our own decisions about where we are going to spend our time and how much we can accomplish as opposed to having assumptions drive those decisions about how far we are able to get.

One of the assumptions that I learned was when I was studying with Kim Avery. She has taught me the most about the two different styles of communication. It is how often women will drop hints without asking for what they want. The single-focus person does not understand that that was a hint and it does not respond. The woman says, “My manager hates me and has never given me that promotion that I wanted,” when she hasn’t asked in a way that the manager can hear it, which is a mistake that I made over and over again.

As women, we do not want to be perceived as pushy because we have been told that is not attractive. We are being clear, concise, and transparent. Also, we have to watch that, “He does not like me. She does not like me.” Assuming positive intent so that we do not get defensive and checking ourselves in saying, “Was I clear about what I wanted or what I was trying to say?” Asking for what you want and also not letting people assumptions about how much we can do. I was talking with another board member. It was a presentation that you were participating in and you heard her say this too. She was talking about wanting to join a board and a man said to her, “Boards are a lot of work.”

Would you say to that a man? Probably not. She said, “Riley, do not tell me how much work I can take on. I know exactly what my capacity is.” That is something we need to be comfortable saying to someone when they are making some assumptions about who we are and what we can do. “Please let me decide. I have already proved to you what I can do,” and having that confidence to be able to do that. Unfortunately, in a more virtual world of work, we are going to have to speak up for ourselves more than we already have.

Jen McClure, it has been such a delight to have you as a guest here on the show. I do believe it is going to be several years before we settle into a new norm. We are still in the middle of massive change. I am going to have to circle around in six months or a year from 2022 and get you to come back and talk about this again. What else is happening?

We might be doing this in the metaverse the next time.

Thank you so much for joining us. It has been a delight to have you here.

Thank you so much for having me. I am honored. I hope this was helpful. I enjoyed our conversation.


Important Links


About Jennifer McClure

SWGR 108 | Proper CommunicationJen McClure is an executive and board leader with more than three decades of experience in media, technology and information services. She is founder and CEO of JEM, serves on the advisory team of BoardWise and is a Program Director and Distinguished Principal Fellow Emeritus of The Conference Board’s Marketing & Communications Center. Jen has been named a “Power Player” and top disrupter in management consulting by Business Insider. She is considered to be one of the original authorities on digital and social media and is a respected leader with a track record of identifying important business, technological and societal trends.

Dream Interview – her birth mother