Inside the #SpotItToStopIt movement

Conversation with leaders


There is a need to remind people that they’re talking to another human being

Laurie Craig

Global IT Chief Operations Officer, Sedgwick
There is a need to have conversation with people and educate them
Laurie Craig in conversation with Adam Bryant, Senior Managing Director at The Exco Group

Adam Bryant: What are some headwinds you’ve encountered over your career as a woman in business?

Laurie Craig: When I encounter those headwinds, I always try to turn them into something positive to help me grow. When I first started in IT application development, I was the only female intern on our team. We were doing some maintenance coding and I found a bug. I went to one of the guys I work with and said, “Can you look at this with me? I want to make sure I'm not missing something.” He looked and said, “You did find a problem.” So he took it to our manager.

During the next team meeting, our manager said, “I wanted to say congratulations to the gentleman who helped me. You did a great job finding this.” That was really the first time I experienced being invisible. I was effectively sideswiped.

And then I remembered what my dad told me. I took a breath and said, “No sir, that was me.” And he said, “No, that’s not possible.” I wasn’t going to be combative or emotional. I just walked him through the code and told him what I discovered. And then he said, “Good job.”

I told him, “I appreciate your input and I'm glad to know where I stand with you and this organization.” I spent another year there, moved into another leadership role, and then moved on to another organization where I was able to find amazing male and female leaders who helped me to grow.

Adam: What are some other headwinds you’ve experienced?

Laurie: Especially in technology, many guys want to make sure you understand their point of view and they want to make sure that they're the smartest guys in the room. But I surprise people sometimes because I know a little bit about a lot of things.

There's a lot of body language that you have to watch. Sometimes they’ll turn their chair away from you and talk to others. It's subtle. You have to acknowledge it to a degree. But again, I don't like to be combative. I try to turn the situation around to make it more positive so that you're not necessarily calling people out.

So you lead by example. I have a lot of smart people on my team and there'll be instances where you'll just turn to the person that you're working with and make sure that they're the person to lead the conversation because they're being acknowledged. There are a lot of cultural differences in a global organization. And sometimes you just have to be able to acknowledge that and find the right people to talk to each other so that they get the job done. Because it's about getting the job done.

Adam: Let's get tactical if we could. How do you handle those moments when someone is mansplaining or not acknowledging you. What do you say?

Laurie: You turn to them and explain, “I understand where you're coming from. This is where we're going with this. This is what I mean.” I had an instance where a gentleman was talking away from me to my boss about what he needed done. I turned to him and said, “I appreciate that you want to have his attention, but I'm the person who makes that decision. I'm the person who controls that portion of the application. If you want to make changes, we need to have a conversation. If you're not willing to work with me, then we have to figure out a different way to handle this.”

It was the nicest way I could think of to call him out without belittling him. But sometimes you have to remind people that they’re talking to another human being. Respect and trust are very important.

I try to be careful in large group situations not to call people out. I've taken people aside after a meeting and said to them, “Look, I didn't appreciate what you did on the call or in that meeting. That's not fair to me and that's not fair to my team. People look at me for guidance and for leadership.” I'm big on leading by example. And so I have to have that conversation with them and explain that there are rules that we have to follow in an organization.

Adam: You’ve achieved a lot in your career. Where does your drive come from?

Laurie: I am the middle child of five. My father worked really hard his entire life. He once lost his job, and then he went and got three other jobs. He always told us that hard work is important and that it will get you where you need to be. He's always encouraged every one of us. He's always told me that I could be anything I want to be and do anything I want to do.

When I was six years old, I wanted to play baseball but the local leagues wouldn't let me play. He decided he was going to teach me how to fast-pitch softball. And so I had two years of fast-pitch softball training before they opened up a softball league in my area. And then I was one of the only ones who could pitch. He's just always been a positive influence.

Adam: What's the advice you often share with women who are building their career?

Laurie: I always tell them that there are certain things you have to be able to do at the end of the day. You can be a strong individual. You don't have to be rude, nasty, or arrogant to make your point. At the end of the day, you need to be able to look yourself in the mirror and have a moral compass and know how that guides you. And you need to be able to take that moral compass and measure your growth as a person. And never, ever let somebody treat you “less than.” There are ways to stand your ground and make a point without being combative.