Liz Grant is a Business Development consultant with a strong affinity to Diversity & Inclusion in the workplace. Liz genuinely believes that Inclusiveness is a business enabler and that smart businesses see it as a lever for growth by improving employee productivity, driving improved employee engagement across all of their staff, building more effective client relationships and attracting, retaining and motivating top talent in the market.
Liz works with a wide variety of companies and organisations across the commercial, public and not-for-profit sectors. From law firms to banks to IT companies to government regulators she works with clients to build inclusive leadership teams and implement best practice in Diversity & Inclusion.
Liz Grant was recognised in the 2013 New Year’s Honours where she was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender equality in the workplace.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I was born in New Zealand but have lived in the UK for 22 years. I completed a BA and trained to be a secondary teacher – after a brief foray there I escaped and joined ‘business’, being accepted into a graduate hire programme at IBM. And there I worked for 27 years but had multiple careers in different business areas in many geographic locations.
My time there was formative in terms of developing work processes and approaches and also in understanding when businesses work well and where they need help. This emerged particularly through my participation and leadership roles in Diversity & Inclusion in the workplace.
Inclusive workplaces thrive. They value and respect each individual allowing people to be themselves. When they do that they enable their people to perform to the best of their ability, they understand their clients better and they attract the top talent in the market to join them.
Building inclusive workplaces, particularly leadership teams, is where I now focus my efforts, having established my own consultancy to do this over the last 5 years.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Not exactly. To begin with all I was focused on was getting to the next band in the career hierarchy. But at the 12 year mark I completed a really useful course which helped me define what my priorities are and from there I have made better decisions about where I spend my working life.
I have had a number of challenges. I think it was harder in the 80’s to be a woman in technology.
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
I have had a number of challenges. I think it was harder in the 80’s to be a woman in technology. It was even harder to be an out lesbian so I removed that obstacle for awhile by staying firmly in the closet – not a good decision! Once I stepped out from behind that door I was for more at ease with who I was and could be clear and honest about what I could and wanted to do. Luckily I think IBM was a better employer than most and generally speaking I was given opportunities to do what I did best. There is no substitute for perfecting your skills set and working damned hard. Both of these are needed to get ahead regardless of your demographic background.
On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?
My days are now so varied. I work with a broad range of employers – many of them in the City. Much of my time is spent dealing with senior leaders in business, helping them to open up to the benefits of inclusion. I frequently present at conferences, town hall meetings, sit on panels, facilitate workshops and do lots of 1:1 meetings with people. I also help organisations to structure their diversity & inclusion strategies and plans. I enjoy mentoring others. I am involved in many not-for-profit endeavours. So every day is different. There are lots of after work functions – with too many canapés and drinks which are not so good for the waistline!
What advice would you give someone who wishes to move in to a leadership position for the first time?
Look for a project or business area which is strategic to the business – sometimes these can be areas which are in poor shape. Ensure it has lots of executive visibility and ideally the resources to make it work. Then get stuck in, involve executives in what you’re doing, keep them updated on progress and for heaven’s sake tell them you want a leadership role.
If there was one thing you could change about the corporate world, what would it be?
To be far more open to the possibilities that everyone has to offer. Take more risks with people and empower them to take ownership and be responsible for delivery. Develop or appoint more leaders who are authentic and who inspire others to be their best.
Make sure you get involved! Don’t just let work be the task specified in your job description.
What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations?
Make sure you get involved! Don’t just let work be the task specified in your job description. Help with things which might be outside the mainstream of the day-to-day: corporate citizen programmes, professional associations etc. Put yourself forward for problem solving groups. And above all perfect your craft whatever it is. Become well known for what you do and know.
How do you deal with difficult situations?
Firstly I take a deep breath – seriously, a bit of Mindfulness helps to remove the immediate heat in a difficult situation. Then if you need to step back and take time, ask for it. Listen to what other parties are saying. Qualify that you understand the issues and then step-by-step try and build a solution. The key thing above all is to listen and to be objective and to make sure you really do understand the problem before you dive in.
How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?
I have found tremendous wisdom and guidance from others. Working with mentors has built my confidence and helped me to clarify what I am doing and why. Mentoring discussions in a safe space which allows to test ideas can be very useful indeed.
What does the future hold for you?
I love the work I do. I enjoy helping businesses to move to new ways of working and to see the ‘lights come on’ as people get it. It gives me a real buzz and as long as I can keep making a difference I’d like to keep working in this space.