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Exit Interview by Patrick Donegan — Newsletter #100

By: Patrick Donegan

For some time, I’ve been looking for one “source” that curates modern takes on HR Tech, perspectives from the people who build it, and its impact on enterprise — something that’s tailor-made by professionals for decision-makers.

I never found it — so I decided to build it.

Every week, I’ll be sharing fresh insights on tech platforms, design, data, and the future of work — straight to your inbox.

My Thoughts

We did it, folks! Exit Interview #100 has arrived — and faster than I ever thought it would. Before we go any further, I’d like to extend my deepest gratitude for the support and positive reception this newsletter has received. Every week, I look forward to sitting down and creating Exit Interview for you. To me, it’s a very unique opportunity to be a part of our industry and connect with others in the community. And for that, I want to thank you. ❤️

Like I mentioned, this week’s Exit Interview is a very special guest edition. The holidays, as you know, are a time for gathering with family, and it just so happens that consulting runs in the Donegan family. So this week, we’re joined by my mom, Sharon Donegan. A now-retired consultant, her career has always been a point of inspiration for me (and a large reason why I chose to become a consultant myself). 

My mom wasn’t just any consultant, though. She is a true trailblazer of diversity, equity, and inclusion in corporate America. Working at the height of the feminist movement, her career was dedicated to shedding light on the biases and barriers that were keeping women from advancing to management and executive roles. In this edition, I’ll be sharing some of her accomplishments and wisdom, both old and new. Enjoy.

Sharon Donegan: A Pioneer of DE&I

IMAGE: 60 MINUTES / BBC NEWS

In 1962, recent graduate Sharon Donegan was recruited to IBM’s Data Processing Division, analyzing staff and management trends across the company’s national workforce. Several years later, executive leadership selected her and four other women for a task force to investigate the potential of discrimination against women within IBM. The final report went — by 1960s standards, at least — viral. It was featured by major outlets, including the New York Times, Fortune, and a 1975 episode of 60 Minutes — which is where the media featured in this newsletter is sourced from.

After a decade at IBM, my mom and a colleague formed their own consulting firm, Boyle/Kirkman Associates, in 1972. The all-female team specialized in helping companies successfully integrate more women and minorities into their workforce. Boyle/Kirkman Associates was retained by major companies across the country, including CVS, Exxon, and Pillsbury, to audit their workforce, analyze human resources policies, and educate male leadership on how to create equitable workplaces and overcome implicit biases. Her feature on 60 Minutes actually included a real workshop Boyle/Kirkman Associates held at Pillsbury.

As I watched the segment, I realized that so many of the concerns she raises are frustratingly relevant today — nearly 50 years later. So, I want to call out three key messages she would teach in her workshops. The clips I’ve included are so ghastly they almost seem like caricatures or bad HR training videos. But the reality is that, though the language has changed, the root issue persists.

1. Women face a teamwork gap.

From football to Eagle Scouts, boys are given significantly more opportunities than girls to practice being part of a team. To compensate for this disparity, it’s vital that organizations offer ongoing professional development and mentorship opportunities that help women succeed in management roles.

2. Language has changed, but biases persist.

Implicit bias is incredibly difficult to overcome because nobody wants to admit they have them. Unfortunately, though, the only way to truly redress the negative influence of these unconscious thoughts is to acknowledge and practice actively counteracting them. If you watch the full segment, you’ll see my mom lead a very powerful discussion that helps the male leaders recognize their implicit biases and how they’ve limited management opportunities for women.

3. Real equity requires us to see gender.

The goal of diversity, equity, and inclusion is to create a better work experience by recognizing and celebrating our differences. To ask someone to sacrifice part of their identity in exchange for career advancement flies in the face of initiatives that have proven to create a stronger, more profitable business.

Sharon Donegan on Approaching DE&I in Today’s Workplace

Do you think it’s important for the person or party delivering DE&I training to be personally connected to or representative of the topic at hand? You, for example, were a female consultant, training primarily-male leaders on gender equality in the workplace. What strategies would you recommend for people when they’re presenting or leading discussions about DE&I topics they aren’t very familiar with?

SHARON: Bring in an expert or someone with experience. The worst thing you can do is misrepresent yourself and your ability, as that only makes it worse. Direct experience makes any messaging more effective and eliminates the possibility for the audience to respond, “Hey, I don’t know anyone that has been impacted,” etc. They now know someone standing right in front of them who is facing the challenges you’re communicating — and the feeling of accountability that stems from that is the strongest form of adoption there is. I don’t just say this as it was my business, but because I know that each organization has team members with experience and can be a force of change if you allow them to. It also allows you, as a team leader, to foster employee growth which everyone wants.

Is there anything else you would consider vital to making DE&I training impactful?

SHARON: Interaction and commitment. When I re-watched the 60 Minutes episode (it had been a while!), I couldn’t believe it was only me in front of the room and everyone else sitting behind tables. I bet that training would have been more impactful if I had involved the audience more. With commitment comes expectations that you truly believe in the message/topic and are not just checking a box. The best results from organizations we supported were those that led by example and invested in training programs and resources. They were not just responding to what was in the news — they were already ahead of it.

One of the things you talked about in your 60 Minutes feature is how young girls aren’t taught to be team players. Everybody could stand to improve their teamwork skills. Do you have any quick tips for employees and/or leaders on becoming a better collaborator or helping employees work together more effectively?

SHARON: Assume positive intent. As an overall optimist (Patrick can thank me for that!), even I sometimes had to ensure I focused on assuming positive intent given the environments I worked in and the approaches my clients took with me. Not every approach is on purpose. If I didn’t like someone’s approach, I made sure to go through a checklist of three things before reacting potentially negatively in response. 1. Have I met this person before? Is it a trend or just their style? 2. Ask something personal as a follow-up question. Did their tone/approach change now that the conversation wasn’t on their job? 3. Show some gratitude. Finally, smile; it never hurts.

Thank you, Mom, for briefly stepping out of retirement to help me with this week’s newsletter. I hope you found her insights as powerful as I did.

All About Data: Exit Interview by the Numbers

It wouldn’t be a digital transformation newsletter without data. So, before we say goodbye for the year, here are some of my favorite stats about Exit Interview:

  • We launched Exit Interview with 330 subscribers. As of Monday, we’re at 11,288 — an increase of 3320.61%.
  • In 2022 alone, we gained 9,386 subscribers — growing our audience by 493%.
  • The most used word this year was employees, which appeared in every single edition for a total of 301 mentions.

Subscriber’s Picks: Top Articles of the Year

Again, thank you all for coming on this journey with me. Like everything in our field, Exit Interview is constantly shifting and improving. We have some major changes coming up in the new year — changes that we hope will make your experience even better. Subscribe to join us for another year of Exit Interview!

Patrick-Donegan-headshot

Patrick Donegan

Chief Strategy Officer

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