Striking The Inclusive Chord: Building Equity In The Workplace With Stephanie Sandberg

by | Jul 4, 2024 | Podcasts

Speakers Who Get Results | Stephanie Sandberg | Nonprofit Leadership

 

In today’s world, creating a successful workplace goes beyond just qualifications. It’s about fostering an environment of inclusion and equity, where everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered to contribute their unique talents and perspectives. In this episode, Elizabeth Bachman is joined by Stephanie Sandberg, the owner of Accordant Advisors, to explore the essential concepts of inclusion and equity in the workplace. Learn how their data-driven approach helps organizations unlock the full potential of their workforce, leading to increased innovation, engagement, and ultimately, success.

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Striking The Inclusive Chord: Building Equity In The Workplace With Stephanie Sandberg

Introduction

This is the show where we explore topics of leadership, presentation skills, and especially aspects of diversity that you might not have thought of. Before I get into my very interesting guest, I’d like to invite you to see how your presentation skills are doing by taking our free four-minute quiz at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where your presentation skills are strong and where a little bit of support could get you the results you need and the recognition you deserve.

My guest is Stephanie Sandberg. We had a very free-ranging conversation with lots of different topics. It was all sorts of going off talking about performing arts, especially the business of performing arts, Stephanie’s official bio is that she’s the owner of Accordant Advisors, which helps organizations create welcoming work environments by focusing on culture, smart data, and the application of emotional intelligence.

Previously, Stephanie was the executive director of the political organization, LPAC, which is the Lesbian Political Action Community, and managing director at Out Leadership, which helps Fortune 500 companies realize the benefits of LGBTQ plus inclusion. While she was at OutLeadership, Stephanie also oversaw Out Women, which convened and supported senior women executives who identify as LGBTQ plus.

As she told me in our preparatory conversation, she went to the Out Leadership Conference and it was reigning men. She said, “Where are the women?” She started Out Women to help women step forward and take the leadership positions we deserve. Before 2016, Stephanie was a consultant and media executive, including serving as the publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review. That’s connected with Columbia University and is one of the major independent publishers, and president and publisher of the New Republic. She has major credentials and has interesting ways of thinking. I had the most fun talking with her. I know that you do too. Here’s the interview with Stephanie Sandberg.

Stephanie Sandberg, welcome to Speakers Who Get Results.

Thank you very much. I am delighted to be here.

I’m very excited to have you here. We’ve been chatting for a while to make sure that we’ve got this working. Every time I talk to you, you’re even more interesting.

The speakers who get results aren’t reflected in technology. That doesn’t always have results. It’s about the person.

Dream Interview

It’s about the person. Very good point. Thank you. Before we start on the many questions I have for you, tell me who would be your dream interview. If you were to interview someone who is no longer with us, who would you speak to? What would you ask them and who should be listening?

I started in my mind with Virginia Wolf when I thought about this earlier. I considered others and came back to her again, mostly because very few people have had the singular impact she has had on women’s rights and equality outside of the political sphere. I’m an English major and I was a Fiction Writing major. I have a love of theater and creativity as you do. In my own experience of reading A Room of One’s Own as a freshman in college, it was like the fireworks started going off around me.

It’s not as if I grew up in Victorian England without rights and the expectation of equality, but to hear it from her in such clear and brave wording and demands even and humor was transformative for me in terms of perspective. I would like to interview her directly. That led to my reading all of her books, diaries, and letters.

I also would come to that interview with some particularly intimate questions, most having to do with her identity as a bisexual woman, as a woman who then embraced it, but also loved her husband and stayed with her husband. I would ask her, “In 2024, would you still marry Leonard?” I would be very curious about that and what kind of life she would choose. If she had that choice to make today, how different would it be? From the audience’s perspective, I would hope any woman interested in both history and the evolution of equality for women would find that interview interesting. I certainly would.

Yes, and men too.

Of course, you’re right.

I’m trying to remember the dates. Virginia Woolf was an English writer, part of the Bloomsbury group, which included Dylan Thomas. I’m a little vague on the dates.

A little bit, yes. For the rest of the Bloomsbury group, there were some fringe characters, but her story and her love affair, in particular with a couple of other writers, has been documented now that the letters are out and those things are out.

In the Bloomsbury community, her sister Vanessa, for example, was a painter. She was married but in a quasi-open marriage to others in that art group. It was painting and it was writing. She and Leonard had a printing press. They published poets around that time from Eliot to some of the lesser-known folks who we don’t know as well today. They were all about bringing art to the world in a time of emerging bohemianism, but coming out from that cloud of Victorian England. I think that always makes that entrance much more spectacular. It’s the early 20th century.

I remember how excited I was when I went to London as a college student. I studied in Paris and then I spent a summer in London living with relatives and studying drama in the Bloomsbury neighborhood. I said, “The Bloomsbury is a neighborhood. Got it.” A neighborhood in London and how exciting that was. I think it would be fun to go back and be part of all that, but not stay. Go back and visit and then know you’re coming back to your 21st-century life and comforts.

Let’s not forget that she chose to end her life. She suffered from extreme depression that couldn’t be treated, and she didn’t think it could be. At the very end when she walked into the river with stones in her pockets, it was because she felt it coming on and couldn’t bear another round of that. The flip side is if she were alive today and were able to get treatment like so many people who weren’t able to, that would be something for humanity to have enjoyed a lot longer.

Yes, we could have had her a lot longer.

I agree. I wouldn’t have wanted to stay. I wouldn’t have wanted to live in that time.

Leadership And Identity

Getting to the 20th and 21st century, as I read your bio already, you’ve had this massive career in publishing and now you’re out working as a leader to help organizations be better. I love that you work with major nonprofits like symphony orchestras and opera companies, my old stomping grounds. How did identifying as the LGBTQ coming out and declaring that it was you? What role has that played in your leadership because you’re a major leader?

Everyone has a different version of their coming-out story. I think the impact it had for me wasn’t going from one side of the coin to the other in terms of job skills and presence. I had always felt comfortable at the table if you will. Part of my learning about myself, particularly recently with my colleagues, is a growing awareness of how I think I tend to sometimes dominate.

I wish for humility and I think I have it and then I hear myself talking because I think, “I’m going to put this better than anybody.” By the way, not true. It shuts people down. I always had that trait. That said, I was invited to a lot of places because I could synthesize and pull things together in front of groups in ways that people appreciated and hired me for.

When I came out in my early to mid-30s, I was also coming out to myself. My experience was a little different also in that I had dated some women, but it wasn’t this core identity that I was already fixed on. When I landed on this rock, I thought, “A-ha.” I was able to throw off the heavy coat that weighed you down.

The heavy coat of hiding.

You show up, and I think part of my over-dominating conversation sometimes is let’s not talk about my personal life. Let’s talk about interesting intellectual things. I don’t want to share too much because I happen to be dating a woman secretly and I don’t want someone to know about it. When I met my now wife, Augusta, and we both essentially came out together, I was able to stand up straighter and do something about that process.

I then was identified as you should come and be the publisher of this political magazine. You should come be the publisher of something like Columbia Journalism Review. I can’t connect the dots directly, but I can connect a new feeling of quieter confidence that lends itself to leadership more effectively. I’m not trying to prove anything or cover anything anymore so I can lean into the skills that I already have that maybe accentuate the best part of them.

That enabled me for example in that role of I was at the New Republic for many years. I was invited to be on the board of the magazine Publishers of America as it was then called. It has been rebranded. I went to start going to conferences because now I’m a publisher. I thought, “No one was paying attention as much as they should to be independent.“ I was asked to take over the so-called Independent Magazine Group. From there, I started a leadership conference because we needed to pump ourselves up. By the way, we were more interesting and entrepreneurial than a lot of these publishers who were also friends of mine.

The New Republic is a long-established political where the pundits sound off in long form. It’s not quick and easy. This is where people go into deep detail, scholarship, and scholarly things.

It’s an opinion leader magazine because not everybody has to read it. The right people have to read it. Nobody else can pretend to read it but recognize that those who need to know about the policy and the back of the book was about arts and literature. They knew that we have the strongest authority because we had the best writers.

It was a big coup to be at the New Republic.

Thank you. It was a privilege for me. I loved it.

Out of curiosity, I always think of the New Republic as a very staid, stuck-in-the-mud, old-established thinking. How did it happen that you came as a woman?

It had a mixed reputation. The staidness may come from that it’s longstanding. It’s been around for a long time. It’s been helping shape opinion for a long time. It’s been relatively centrist in its long history. Who was in charge for so long? They were men. There weren’t women around whether at the New Republic or in other places.

My friend, now Joan Tooley, was named publisher before I was. She stepped down a year or two into it because she met and married the mayor of Billings, Montana, and moved out there. I say all that because she says, “The New York Times decided to do an article about the publisher of the New Republic moving out to Montana.” They would say, “Truly, 40,”

Everybody was talking about me and my age. She was a theater person. She did not stay. She was a singer and she sang in cabarets at night and had a lovely personal life. Anyway, they were ready for me and I wrote a few new ideas about how to maybe package conferences and shake things up a little bit. We were able to turn that model around so that it was both a more dynamic, it never made much money, but a more dynamic business opportunity so that the owners weren’t losing money and we’re still influencing policy the way they always had hoped.

Company Focus

Stephanie, you’re now running Accordant Advisors which is a company that you took over. It’s labeled as doing DEI work, but I know that there’s more. What makes you different? What makes the company different?

Thank you for asking that question. There are two answers to it. One is we don’t label ourselves except as a shortcut, to have shorthand for it. As a DE&I shop, we are inclusion strategists. We help build workplaces that feel more welcoming and psychologically safe. That means you’re feeling included and it’s not original to us.

If you do have as inclusive a workspace as possible, you are far more likely to have employees, staff, and stakeholders who want to stick around, who want to join you, and who come up with new ideas. There is no hard science, but there are a lot of data sources now that prove the connection to that. You can bring your whole self except your jerky self to work.

Speakers Who Get Results | Stephanie Sandberg | Nonprofit Leadership

Inclusion & Equity: If you have an inclusive workspace, you are far more likely to have employees, staff, and stakeholders who want to stick around, join you, and come up with new ideas.

 

Your jerky self?

It always makes me laugh when people say, “Should I bring my whole self? When I can be myself, I get more work done.” If you have a part of yourself that’s rude to other people, I don’t want to see that.

The obnoxious part, so don’t be a jerk. That’s what you’re saying.

Don’t be a jerk if that’s in your nature. Leave that part at home. Our key critical differentiator is the application of emotional intelligence to the process. By that I mean, first of all, we have on our team Dr. David Caruso, who is among the progenitors of emotional intelligence, defining it as data to be used effectively by leaders. It’s not good or bad if you have a high or low score. It’s about knowing who you are and then using that appropriately. That’s in leadership dynamic.

As it relates to measuring workplace inclusion, where we are hanging our hat, the survey that we’ve developed was developed with that emotional intelligence component in mind. We spent a lot of time and money developing it last year, to make sure. David is an academic, so we’re never quite done but we’re done. Bringing much further context and nuance. You don’t just ask people how they’re doing but you also ask them, what behaviors do they observe?

We have the six dimensions of inclusion that I can share. You can see them on our website. Taking people through and running our questions and data through that highly individualized and thoughtful approach to asking how people are doing gets a different kind of answer. Asking them one question, what would you tell the boss to improve inclusion around here? It’s amazing the things that we hear. That’s a bit of our difference.

What brings a company to reach out to you? What problem are you solving? Let’s put it that way.

I want to say this in two parts because historically, a lot of companies wanted to check the box and they wanted to cover their fanbase to show, “We have someone in here. We did a survey. We did training. We let people do DE&I training on videos.” All of which we respect and so many good practitioners do that. The clients who come to us and who tell us that they appreciate our approach are because it’s perhaps more bespoke in a way.

More bespoke or more tailored to.

More tailored to figuring out what’s going on and helping leaders take that information in. All kudos to McKinsey but you don’t get a binder and then someone leaves it on your desk. It’s very important that we help leaders understand how to take this information in. If you’re a CEO, a lot of your folks are saying, “We don’t love what she’s doing. We think she’s too much this and that.” It takes a terrific leader who has humility to accept these results, to share them, and to commit to doing something about them. Not everybody does, by the way.

It takes a terrific leader with the humility to accept their emotional intelligence results, share them, and commit to improvement. Share on X

People find us because they have found us effective and people tend to find us in the performing arts because we do more and more work and then more and more people from the performing arts. We’re working now, for example, more closely, as we work with almost all of the symphony orchestras in the country as a result of both direct engagements and having been hired by the League of American Orchestras. I’ll be presenting that data next week at their annual conference.

We’re also moving into more theater spaces, the whole notion of helping people feel welcome in any group as an inclusion engagement. Helping people feel welcome with work that is challenging in an environment that’s challenging perhaps. It’s complex. We’re partnering with other performing arts to explore that as well.

This raises several things that interest me in what you were saying, partly because I have spent 30 years in the performing arts myself. Performing arts organizations are businesses. It’s a business. That’s not recognized enough. As a teacher, I used to teach young singers that own the business. In school, when you’re learning to be an actor or a filmmaker or whatever, nobody ever talks about money and how you make a living.

The teachers at the school are invested in keeping them there. I often came in as a masterclass to talk about the business side of it. Think of this as a business or it becomes an expensive hobby. When you’ve got a symphony orchestra, you’ve got 500 people on the payroll every day. One of the things I know from the opera business is that if you sell every seat in a 3,000-seat auditorium, you raise 50% of that night’s payroll.

Not any of the preparation costs, none of it, but from the security guard who unlocks the building through the crew and the orchestra and the performers and all the staff in the front of the house, the ushers and everything. That payroll chunk, those salaries are about twice what the income from every seat is. This is why in America, performing arts companies are non-profit organizations, and you spend a lot of time raising money.

The other existential issue that that model raises is let’s say you’re trying to bring an evolutionary model to classical music, which is itself a tough nut, let alone from the diversity front, but relevance in communities, younger people keeping it alive. With that business model, you rely on the boards and donors. I’ll tell you, it might have changed a little bit. The New York Philharmonic Board, half of them are brilliantly generous white men in their 80’s.

If that is the case, then there’s no getting around how change isn’t going to always be in sync with the 25-year-old in a certain neighborhood of New York who knows nothing about classical music, but whom you’d like to reach by hook or crook and that might mean changing some basic issues in the classical music.

That brings us back to emotional intelligence in terms of the internal politics of an organization like that. Also, a business that rewards egomaniacs.

That’s true, every light bulb has a name.

Not the egos of the donors, but also the egos of the performers. You don’t spend all the time it takes and the work it takes to become a star performer without having a pretty healthy ego because you have to want it and you have to be lucky. The people who get the positions, as in any large organization, you’ve got the egos and you’ve got the people who are working to keep their positions.

That’s a good point.

The one good thing about 30 years in the performing arts is there’s probably a higher percentage of people who are there for the love of the art form. That also means that a lot of abusive behavior is tolerated. I haven’t spent all that time around symphony orchestras, but a lot of opera companies have pretty dysfunctional offices. The people who are there love the fact that they can make a living by producing the art form they love. They put their heads down and choose their battles.

I’ll tell you, I’m not a little bit. One interesting finding that is common-sensical, but still worth pointing out, we measured orchestras of every size. There are only a dozen to twenty major symphonies in the country that work year-round, go to China, and do their thing. There are another 300 orchestras that come together off and on across the country.

The smaller orchestras, the less well-funded have happier music. It’s funny. The musicians tend to be happier. The staff happens to be happier. They’re making less money. They’re not in major areas. It’s interesting to take a look at some of those relevant details. Why? One is there is less diversity. Everybody gets along.

If everybody is about the same, they’re going to report that they don’t feel pressure or much conflict. One other thing is that the higher these elite players, to your point, and understandable egos, the more perfectionist comes into it. The more individualized they are at perhaps a major symphony, the less the feeling of we are X, Y, Z major city, but I am, and how come I’m not sitting there instead of here.

Another piece of that is that to keep a nonprofit organization going, the leader must have charisma. Charismatic people don’t always have the business sense you need to keep a company going. You have to have enough charisma to get people excited to come to the show and to bring good people. I often think about the work I did as a stage director when I started working with corporate clients.

In the opera business, everybody knows what the stage director does. Everybody knew I didn’t have to define myself. My job as a director who came in to visit was to have an idea and get together with a group of bright, opinionated people, most of whom thought they could do it better than I could, convince them to follow my idea, and then work with them over three weeks to pull the best out of each person. It was leading in teams, what this is, to pull the best out of each person and then deliver a result by a deadline because 08:00 Saturday night is going to roll around and there are going to be people in the theater who’ve spent a lot for those tickets.

The other piece that nobody talks about but that I recognized fairly early on was as a stage director involved in the actual product, which is the fun part, that was getting to do the fun part, my job was also to deliver an experience to the public and the donors that would inspire them to come back. That’s like any other product. I had to deliver a product that sold and was exciting and got people enrolled in the idea of donating to pay for the other 50% of that night’s salaries.

Importance Of Emotional Intelligence

It’s a holistic view. It’s a C-suite view that as someone who was working in the trenches, it took me a while to figure out. I was very lucky to have mentors who had done a lot of work with nonprofit boards who said, “See the whole picture.” Part of seeing the whole picture is recognizing the need for charisma and recognizing the need for leadership. This whole principle applies to any organization. Maybe people aren’t as excited about making widgets as they are about playing a symphony.

Also, you’re talking about giving someone agency by inviting them to see the whole picture, and then the story that is often told, I think President Kennedy was walking through NASA before one of the first space launches. A guy was pushing a broom and he asked, “What do you do here?” He said, “I make rockets, sir and we’re going to send a man to the moon.”

He happened to be the guy with the broom, but he was sending a man to the moon. That’s part of what you’re getting at is not only the importance of seeing the connection to it but from a personal standpoint, someone who feels that way and is invited to feel that way. That is what you want in the workplace. That’s inclusion at its best.

Somehow he felt safe in front of all those folks to use his own voice and to say something that wasn’t obvious. Anyway, I think that’s a great story on your part. That is about being a person to not only tactically make sure that there’s a good experience in three hours, but that it’s connected to these broader goals of success for the organization, which is smart.

Tying that back into the role of emotional intelligence, why do you think we’re talking about that so much these days?

Good question. I was going to say something funny about nature hitting a vacuum, but I think it’s more that there’s a decades-long moment now, where people are recognizing, first of all, there’s no one way to be.

For the audience, she has a book. Leaders Guide to Emotional Intelligence. I love it.

This is by Dr. David Caruso, who has been at Yale for a long time and created one of the first tests to assess emotional intelligence with Peter Salovey, who’s now stepping down as the president, but they were the early progenitors of the testing of that as well. It matters because of what we need for people, and there are different ways to find it and different ways to explain it and bring it there.

You talk about bringing your whole self. You need to know yourself, and that’s from biblical times and Shakespeare to today, of course, I married a psychiatrist, it’s perceived as a benefit to know who you are. The way that emotional intelligence is exercised and applied at Accordant Advisors, according to the Dr. David Caruso model, has to do with understanding your emotional intelligence well enough to be able to map other people’s emotional intelligence and move with them.

This is all part of being effective as a human being to make a picture of emotional intelligence that touches into something that acknowledges that we are people. The best way for us to not only get along but work well together, creating these inclusive work environments, is to have the right sensory perception of who I am and who you are and to metabolize that correctly for the most effective results.

Speakers Who Get Results | Stephanie Sandberg | Nonprofit Leadership

Inclusion & Equity: The best way to work well in inclusive work environments and achieve the most effective results is to understand who I am and who you are.

 

It’s hard to see yourself. There’s a saying that I go back to over and over, “You can’t see the label when you’re inside the bottle.” This is where having outside advisors is very helpful so that they can help you see your blind spots.

Yes and help you negotiate them. Not just leave you feeling bad, but say it’s not good or bad news. These are the facts. This is the label and here’s how you can address what is stopping you from being most effective, which I know you do every day.

One of my favorite podcast guests is Tina Greenbaum of Mastery Under Pressure. Her phrase is, “Don’t you want to know your blind spots? Because everybody else can see them.”

That’s good.

Being A Better Leader

That’s a quote I use a lot. Stephanie Sandberg, this is fascinating. You and I could go on and talk about the performing arts for the next five hours, but I’ll give our audience a break. If somebody was tuning in to this and said, “They’re speaking my language, where do I start?” If someone is tuning in to our whole conversation and says, “I need to know more about emotional intelligence. I need to be a better leader,” what’s one thing you could do to start being a better leader?

It’s wildly self-serving to say call Accordant Advisors and let us introduce you.

Of course, you call Accordant Advisors.

There are books. David’s A Leader’s Guide To Solving Challenges With Emotional Intelligence is very good. It’s also very straightforward in a way that’s not jargon-filled and very accessible. That’s a good first step because you need to learn the basics of why emotional intelligence matters. There are other practitioners as well. Take a walk around the internet and see what appeals to you. Ours works so we promote our approach to it, but it’s not at odds with anyone else’s approach to emotional intelligence. It’s how it’s labeled and presented, and how people can access the frameworks because you do need discipline.

Emotional intelligence can also be used as “Poo poo” that’s just good for girls, like a gendered insult. What if the emotional intelligence to step forward and lead?

Yes, to make the decision.

To know yourself and to know the people you’re working with. I’m always telling my clients to use strategic empathy by putting themselves in the shoes of their listeners. Who are you talking to? What language do they speak, emotionally and literally, and then how can you reach them in a manner that they can hear you, that they can take it in? That’s emotional intelligence as well.

That is emotional intelligence. As I say, the application of that data is what will move you forward and become more effective but that’s what that is.

By applying your emotional intelligence data, you will move forward and become more effective. Share on X

It starts with awareness.

It starts with humility and willingness, and then awareness, and then a continued awareness of now that I know me and I know you, how do we use this data between us to be most effective and how can I do that with all my people as a leader?

Conclusion

Stephanie Sandberg, that’s a great phrase to end on. I love this. This has been so much fun. Leadership is so important and it can be so tricky. The other thing I’d say is you don’t have to do it alone. Surround yourself with people you can talk to and people who can give you informed advice. Surrounding yourself with the sycophants or the people who complain doesn’t help. People who can give you informed advice. What I love about you is you learn how to apply emotional intelligence, noticing it isn’t enough. What do you do with it? Stephanie Sandberg, thank you so much for having been my guest. This thing went a whole different direction. It was a fun conversation.

Thank you.

This has been Speakers Who Get Results. I’m Elizabeth Bachman, your host. If you enjoyed this, please subscribe to the podcast on whatever app that you listen to, follow us on YouTube and please leave us a good review on Apple Podcasts that raises our ranking, and then more people can hear interesting guests like Stephanie Sandberg. This has been Speakers Who Get Results. I’ll see you on the next one.

 

Important Links

 

About Stephanie Sandberg

Speakers Who Get Results | Stephanie Sandberg | Nonprofit LeadershipStephanie Sandberg is the owner of Accordant Advisors, which helps organizations create welcoming work environments by focusing on culture, smart data and the application of emotional intelligence.

Previously she was Executive Director of political organization LPAC and Managing Director at Out Leadership, which helps Fortune 500 companies realize the benefits of LGBTQ+ inclusion. While at Out Leadership Stephanie also oversaw OutWOMEN, which convened and supported senior women executives who identify as LGBTQ+.

Before 2016 Stephanie was a consultant and media executive, including serving as Publisher of Columbia Journalism Review and President & Publisher of The New Republic.