PR’s Top Pros Talk… Women Leaders – Lisa Osborne Ross
Lisa Osborne Ross, COO, Edelman U.S.
>> More episodes here
About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: LISA OSBORNE ROSS
DOUG: This is our second chance to speak with Lisa Ross as part of this program. She brought some great input, advice the first time around. So, we’re looking to achieve that and probably even more. Thanks so much for spending time with us.
LISA: Oh, my pleasure, my pleasure. I was so honored to have been the first part of that group. And so, I’m glad you came back to talk to me again.
DOUG: Sure. Now, your background has been in public affairs and obviously there’s been a huge change with the Biden administration in place, change in power in Congress. As a communicator in an organization, what are some of the positive steps that you need to take because of this new environment?
LISA: I think this is going to be and has been a sea shift. President Biden has been in for a little over 50 days. And the way he communicates and the way he expects his cabinet and those close to him to communicate has really determined how all of us now have to communicate with them. And the president is clear, he is direct, he is probably honest to a fault. He is not perfect by any means. I think we will see that. But his style of communication is to speak in a way that is measured, that is moderate. He answers questions that he chooses to answer, but he doesn’t answer others. But there is a real sense of integrity in this administration. And as a former political appointee, one of the things that struck me most was the day of the inauguration. And I don’t know if you remember it, when he showed all of the political appointees being sworn in, which is such a really big deal. And he said, almost out of the blue, because it was a lovely moment, and then he said, “and to be clear, each of you is required to maintain the principles and the values of this administration, and I will fire you on the spot if you don’t.” And you saw that he did. And so, I think it’s a different type of communication. And I think the expectations on both sides are different, and from my personal, humble opinion, better.
DOUG: One of the things that’s probably easier for corporations, unlike the past administration, is there’s probably zero chance that a business is going to be called out by name and an us versus them kind of way. Even though that helps companies have a sigh of relief, what are some of the increased challenges businesses face and pitfalls they might want to make sure they avoid during this time?
LISA: I think that this is the most exciting, important material time to be in business. I think what we have seen from this administration and from the last administration is the role of business. You are very familiar with the Edelman Trust Barometer and the questions that we ask. And we just released our research on Friday, and we talked about what is the expectation of business under the Biden administration, but particularly as a result of the pandemic. And what we have been seeing starting to appear is rock solid, true and honest now, and that is employees are the most valuable asset that any business has. And without the support and the understanding and clarity of expectations between my employer and employees, you are nothing. And even when we look at going back in the pandemic, you and I talked about how we will go back and if we will go back, employees will decide… I think it was something like 69% said they will determine how they go back, and they expect to have input on how they go back. And so, I think it’s a very different environment and again, a positive one.
DOUG: And so, it seems like on some levels for those who are fortunate to be in a workplace where it’s been able to continue functionality, working remotely, it sounds like from your research, employees are going to have more of a say in how businesses are run on many more issues than they used to in the past. How do businesses make sure that that’s a good thing for them and not a challenge?
LISA: We say embrace the mandate. Even from our research this summer or from the first part of the year when we talked about what is the role of business. And the role of business is significant. Our research has indicated that business is trusted more than any of the other institutions, more trusted than government, more trusted than media and more trusted than non–profits. Our research indicates that within business, it’s my employer and the CEO. And really critical here, and I think we’ve seen this with the pandemic, trusted sources of information more so than social media, traditional media is employee engagement. When my employer, when my CEO gives me information about the vaccine, about social unrest, about racial equity, about pay, about immigration, I trust the information I get from my employer more than I trust information I get from anyone else. And so, that’s a beautiful burden. That’s a beautiful burden for employers and for businesses to run with.
DOUG: Is the partisan divide that’s perceived, is that more of a Washington political divide? We saw no Republican votes on the recent COVID relief bill, even though it’s got significant support among Republicans. Is that something that business has to track, and can they overcome it because people maybe are more in alignment than they’re led to believe, even though politicians are firmly in the “we won’t support the opposite party” space?
LISA: If I could have fed you a question, that’s the one I would have fed you, but because you are such a stellar journalist, and you don’t play that, you didn’t tell me the questions in advance, but that’s one I would have asked you to ask me because there’s some positive news there. Again, in this research that we’ve indicated, this was the only place we saw alignment between Trump voters and Biden voters, and that was that they both trusted their employer. And then we saw it in some of the research that we released regarding COVID, the pandemic and going back to work. And almost again, similarly, you saw very, very, very little differentiation between Trump voters and Biden voters about how they feel about going back to work. I find that positive. It makes me believe in this hyper partisan world that we live in, that if we can find alignment on two or three things, we might be able to find alignment on 20 or 30. And I think that leads to a much better outcome.
DOUG: Yeah, that would be fantastic. And as we wrap up, it is Women’s History Month. Businesses have had a huge role to play in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion. Can you maybe talk, give some advice for people of diversity, for women in the workforce, how they can become leaders if they aspire to that, and what they need to do to be effective leaders?
LISA: I was on a call, maybe last week, and it was a group of students, and a young man, I could tell you, sort of fidgeting, and he finally said, he said, “I have a question.” And I was like, certainly. And he said, “Can you tell me, as a young black man, how do I achieve success in the workplace?” And I get this question all the time from young people of color, Black, Latinx, AAPI, Native, how do I succeed? And I said to him, and my answer to your question is bring your full self to work. So, bring your blackness to work, bring your femininity to work, bring your masculinity to work, bring your true self to work. And at the end of the day, be really good. And we talk a lot about racial equity, and we talk about gender equity. And those things are all essential, but at the end of the day, you have to be really, really good, you have to give the best, you have to give 100%, and then be yourself. Because being someone else is a second full time job, and it takes away from your first.
DOUG: Now that makes so much sense. I was going to ask that’s a perfect lead because about the importance of just being better than other people, especially if you’re walking into the workspace at an historical disadvantage. Just like do the job better, be prepared better, think more about what does your boss need to make your boss successful, and how can you help make that happen. If you do those things consistently, you’ve got a much better shot at overcoming the barriers that unfortunately do still exist.
LISA: And that’s for everyone, honestly, that’s for everyone. And I also say to people, lessen your burden with this concept of you are in a disadvantaged situation, lessen your burden that you’re coming in as a woman of color, or you’re coming in as a man of color, you’re coming as a person who’s younger than the rest of the team, everybody on the team is from the north and you’re from the south. Remove that burden of thinking that you are different and therefore, because you are different, you are less than. Embrace whatever the change is and bring it to the table. Because what I say to our teams, when you’re making a decision, if you look around the room and everybody looks like you, you are not going to make a material decision that’s going to be reflective of the world around you because you don’t have enough diversity of voices. And so that’s for anyone. But you have to diversify, you have to embrace cultural relevancy, and as you and I know, you just have to be really good and compete against an organization, don’t compete against your colleagues. Don’t, you’re not here to beat anyone, you’re here to beat yourself and be the best that you can be, not the best that’s someone else is.
DOUG: Lisa, thanks so much for sharing your wisdom, your passion, your ideas, you’ve made such contributions to the industry as a whole and to the individuals who watch this program.
LISA: Thank you. Thank you for having me again, and I’m a big fan of the series. It’s pretty fantastic.