2020 Honoree

Mindy Grossman

President & CEO, WW International Inc.

“…It is pure empirical evidence that businesses with diverse teams, as well as diverse boards have better long term success. That’s what people should be investing in, and it’s still shocking to me today that in 2020, that we still don’t have enough Board diversity or even leadership diversity in many companies and organizations…”

What in your opinion are the qualities of a power woman?

So for me, I have really believed in, what I have called my mantra for my entire career, “am I doing what I am truly passionate about? Is it purposeful? Will I have an impact?” I always tell people that you can have an impact in your first job. Over time, you can have an impact on a wider scale, like the impact I am able to have today because of the platform I am grateful to have. I am grateful to be able to have more impact, whether it will be on business, on society, or on philanthropy. I believe position is not power. I believe impact is power.

Do you believe that there is any gender-specific role in the Covid-19 pandemic. Do you believe the response to the covid-19 pandemic highlights or emphasizes a natural resistance of women?

I do think it does. I am a firm believer that the qualities of great leadership are genderless. I think there has been real evidence of a couple of things in this environment. Women’s approach to measures of response are married to vulnerability and empathy. Vulnerability for many years was looked at as a weakness, but it is a strength. An absolute strength. It helps you lead better with authenticity, it’s realness. Empathy is the same way. I see those qualities in many people, but mostly in women. I think these qualities can be unifying and motivating and can bring people together. You want to keep your organizations focused and optimistic. I consider myself a resilient optimist, and I am definitely not afraid to be vulnerable and tell the truth. Whether that’s communicating with my organization, or communicating with my members. We are all going through something we have never gone through before. You really need to listen and respond and get a sense of how people are truly feeling so you can deliver the right messages and support.

On pursuing the importance of gender equality. How do you feel you can impact this space? Do you feel it has to be a global approach, or do you feel a specific passion to approaching gender equality?

I have been a champion for diversity long before it became as top of the line as it is today. 20 years ago, I started Nike’s first leadership council. I presented white papers to the board on the necessity for diversity in business and changed hiring practices. I have been an outspoken advocate for diversity as a business imperative. There is pure, empirical evidence which says that businesses with diverse teams, as well as diverse boards, have better long term success. That’s what people should be investing in. It’s shocking to me today, that in 2020, we still don’t have enough board diversity or even leadership diversity in many companies and organizations. I think this crisis, in my opinion, will highlight and hopefully accelerate board composition, because it is so important to have the right voices and the right conversations. This is what I call “productive discomfort,” when it becomes necessary for productivity for people to come together from different backgrounds and different perspectives. I think this crisis has highlighted disparities, whether it be race and ethnicity, or whether it be gender. The issues that women face with everything from education, to childcare, to their ability to manage family have become pressing. I think companies are really going to have to think about the support they give people. The benefits of diversity, it’s the same thing. Every company is going to have to rethink and come up with wellness strategies that work as well.

Is there anything else you would like to add that you think should be the number one action we as a society, can take to empower women and improve gender equality.

The number one action is to call for a greater level of diversity in all areas of business, politics, and on boards. It is critical now more than ever.

Absolutely. My next question is a little bit personal but I would love to throw it out there just to see if you feel you can share a short story or encounter of any kind of block in gender inequality that you may have experienced in your own personal life journey.

So, I wouldn’t call it a block, I would call it an important element of my journey and the reason why I feel so important about impact. When I joined Nike, I was the most senior woman in the company, and created a new leadership team. We rolled out the company’s new vision and manifesto and accelerated the growth of the brand. But they didn’t have the right levels of diversity, and there were definitely times I felt like, and was, the only woman in the room. Knowing how that felt gave me the courage to have a voice, and to say I shouldn’t be the only woman in the room. This is what we need to think about for our future. So, that, let’s call it discomfort, turned into a positive. I’m a very vocal person when it comes to saying the things that other people don’t want to say. I use the example of being in a global basketball meeting. Out of six people, I was the only woman in the room. I ran their global apparel business. I wouldn’t exactly have called myself a basketball expert, and at one point I went to speak and everybody looked at me. I was very clear to say, “yes I have an opinion, but you probably want more than one of me who comes from different backgrounds and understandings. If you really want opinions on women’s thoughts on this, it’s not just one woman you need. You have to have more diverse voices.” Those were some really important years, both for myself and for the company. I think the second thing was feeling what it felt like to maneuver in a different environment. That’s when I also decided to get a life coach to understand my behaviors, my impact, and what I could potentially do better. Not just for my own benefit, but for the overall benefit of the organization.

What do you think about asking previous salary requirements at a job interview contributes to the pay gap between men and women? Do you think that asking the previous salary requirement – Should we push for a nationwide (fam) in this evertaking craze.

If you consider the fact that women have historically had lower ceilings due to unconscious or conscious biases, yes, you have to relook at how you’re defining a position. I think that all can be circumvented. What is the evaluation of the role, what are the job’s contributions to the company, and what must you pay in the market to fill the role? Regardless of what somebody is making prior, what is that role worth to you? And then, who are you hiring to go into that role, that they have the right qualifications that provides their worth?

There are many studies that support the idea that a female presence in a boardroom increases the bottom line and at least helps the work environment. What can we do to continue to support and enhance the support of women in high profile positions.

Look, I do think we are making some progress here over the last couple of years. However, it goes back to my comment before. Diverse boards and diverse teams have greater long-term success. Certainly, gender diversity is critical but so is diversity overall, including diversity of thought. So, it’s age, race, ethnicity, gender, life stage and experience. It is all of those things that make the conversation in the boardrooms much more powerful, and make the organizations themselves much more innovative. It motivates employees and attracts the best talent. I think it’s important. If you look at our board for example, we have six women and six men. Two of the women are African American, we have international representation and people who come from very different backgrounds. It makes for the very robust conversations, certainly for me as a CEO. My executive team reflects that same dynamic, and as a matter of fact, it is more than 50% female.

Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are in your life today, and can you share when that was.

Sure, my experience is what set me on a path to being a transformer, a person with the ability to take risks. I was an adopted child, I was adopted when I was three days old. My parents actually couldn’t afford an adoption, so my father worked nights. One day, his boss came in and gave him a check because he felt so bad that, after twelve years of marriage, they couldn’t have children. I grew up believing and being told that I could do anything I put my mind to. This also kept me relatively serious at a young age, and I ended up graduating high school at 16. I actually got engaged when I was in college, and I had plans to be a lawyer. That was my path. Then, as I was about to go into my last semester of my senior year of college, planning on going to law school that fall, I realized my life needed to take a different path. I realized that although this may have been the path I thought was right for me at one point, it wasn’t. I ended up breaking off my engagement and decided not to be a lawyer. I moved to New York to be in a more creative business. Not necessarily a creator, but I want to be in a business of making and creating because people have much more impact in those fields. That started a very different 40-plus years in a career I had not originally anticipated. What it also taught me was that risk-taking is the golden essence of transformation. Not taking risks is often riskier than taking that risk and then if you have to pivot from that you can.

Have you seen changes in the political landscape of women over the past few years. If so, what are they in your experience?

I think there still needs to be more, but I think there is more of an expectation for women to be in a political landscape. For them to have camaraderie and support for one another as well. It’s still not where it needs to be.

Education, Education, Education is one of the top three responsibilities of civilized society. If so, why is it so prohibitively expensive. If not, why not?

The education piece is critical. It goes back to one of the things I am so passionate about, my UNICEF work. It is the one thing that has the potential for economic growth, societal growth, etcetera. I do believe and am hopeful that this crisis elevates that and we find ways for educational access in every country, but particularly in the United States. Just like wellness should be a human right, education should be a human right.

If you could have anyone’s job for a day, who’s job would you want and why?

You know, I would have answered this differently before this crisis. My brother is a paramedic EMT on the front lines, and I have talked to him. I think we underestimate the character of people, and what people are capable of in a positive way. I am hoping it changes people’s perspectives on certain people’s jobs and roles. I hope people begin to see how committed people like my brother are to helping and caring for people, even if it means compromising his own safety. I have just been so impressed and honored to call him my brother, and I would choose his job.

What do you think is the best piece of advice you were ever given?

It’s attached somewhat to this idea of impact. Two pieces of advice I received: one was, “If you focus on making others’ successful, your business and you by nature will be more successful.” It’s not just about you, but investing in others’ success to move things forward. I am a big believer in that. The second thing was, “Self awareness is your greatest superpower.” You really need to take the time to be aware of your strengths, your potential weaknesses, and your impact on others and how they perceive you. In doing that, you’re aiming to be better every single day… That’s why I always say to hire the best people and surround yourself, I want to surround myself with people more talented than myself because I am just going to learn and grow. That’s important.

What’s your favorite book? Fiction or nonfiction, present or past?

I was a Literature major, I am a pretty voracious reader, so everything from Proust to Thomas Mann to the modern retelling of Beowulf. I have a very, very, very eclectic library. I am reading The Splendid and the Vile right now. One of my favorite business books is Give and Take. But the book I would say is absolutely my favorite is Winnie the Pooh. When I was in London, I went to the library at Trinity College in Cambridge to see the original publication. It is brilliant in its conversations about love, life, and friendship. It is for a three year old, it is for a thirty year old, and it is for a ninety year old. When I left my last company, they had dinner for me and I spoke. In my story, I used all quotes from Winnie the Pooh. One of my favorite quotes is, “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them with curiosity, effort, and love.” I think there are so many underlying messages which may come off as a children’s fable but are so much more than that.

What do you most value in your friends?

Honesty and loyalty.

Which trait do you most uncomfortable in yourself? In others?

I would say with myself, I have to be better at turning the work off and being present when I am not working. In this particular crisis it has been harder than ever, because work seems like it is twenty four hours. But I continually work and try to be able to do that.
I tend to not really like pessimism. I always say there are two ways to look at something. One is the perception that the worst thing is going to happen, and the other is, “what’s the worst that can happen?” I think women tend to be a little bit more “the worst thing is going to happen.” We have to be better at looking at things through a different lens and being able to take the risk whether that’s for ourselves or our career. I cannot be in a room with any toxicity.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

I think it’s following the rules. It’s not about not wanting structure or a desire to break the law, that’s not what I am talking about. I think particularly in an environment where innovation and looking at the possibilities is so important, it’s not about conformity. It’s about using new ways of thinking. What are the new rules? That would be what I would think.

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