Linda HudsonIf you want to really figure out how someone will act, find out their beliefs. If you want to find out what someone believes, have them share their personal story. It is our personal experiences that shape our beliefs.

I was a speaker a few weeks ago at the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) conference for BAE Systems Inc. (one of the top defense contractors in the US with $30 billion in sales and 100,000 employees). I was somewhat surprised by the large number of men (about 50%) at the conference (most of these conferences tend to have mostly women). I was somewhat surprised to hear that D&I is a Top 5 priority for this company with metrics measured at quarterly business reviews. I was somewhat surprised to sit through some courageous and uncomfortable conversations about “white male privilege” in the room. Then the CEO came in and I got it.

Linda Hudson, CEO of BAE Systems Inc., is short in stature but she certainly more than makes up for it in presence. She is the first one of soon-to-be three women CEO’s among the top 6 defense contractors. She is on Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business.  What struck me was the incredible clarity and conviction she had about D&I: “Not embracing D&I is not an option. You need to find a way to get convinced this is a business imperative”. She joked, “Don’t expect to wait for me to retire and this will all go away”.

Linda Hudson certainly backed up this clarity with a strong business case but what stuck with me were her personal stories:

–   In the 1970’s, earning more money than her husband, and still not being able to get a mortgage in her name because she was a woman and the bank thought she might get pregnant.

–   As an engineer starting in her career 40 years ago she was often the only woman in the room. She had to learn how to get herself heard.

–   She talked about the difference in the dynamics of her BAE board when it moved from just one woman to three, how there is more debate, honest conversations, challenging of the status quo.  She also sits on the Board of Bank of America and had a similar experience there.

Linda’s experiences have shaped her beliefs about the value of all diversity (not just gender) in driving bottom line results.  She’s got religion and if anyone of the 200+ top executives in the room didn’t have it before, they definitely got it after she spoke.

There were three myths about D&I she challenged:

  • D&I benefits one group at the expense of the other
  • D&I comes before workforce quality
  • D&I is fluff and has nothing to do with business

She also shared compelling data on the benefits of an inclusive culture:

  • McKinsey study on Diversity & Inclusion 2012 talks about the bottom line benefits of diversity
  • Customers are demanding this (US government mandates)
  • Competition is way ahead in the talent battle

The same data is available to every single organization out there. So why are organizations at different ends of the spectrum on D&I? At the end of the day, data is good but what makes the difference is the conviction of the CEO.  And conviction doesn’t come from data. It comes from personal experience. So if I want to determine what actions someone will take as a leader, I ask them to share their personal story.

Additional Resources

Forbes Story on Linda Hudson

Henna Inam - Professional Photo - ColorThis article was written by Henna Inam, executive coach, speaker, and consultant.  She works with women to realize their potential to be authentic, transformational leaders, and create organizations that drive breakthroughs in innovation, growth, engagement, and impact in the world. Her corporate clients include Coca Cola, UPS, Nestle, J&J, Home Depot and others who deeply care about growing their female leadership talent. To accelerate your own growth connect with her here. Connect on Twitter @hennainam.