- Lisa McGeough leads all of Wells Fargo’s international banking operations.
- She said calling out microaggressions is crucial to creating an inclusive workplace culture.
- Leaders must get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations around bias, she said.
- This article is part of a series called “Leaders by Day,” which takes a look at how prominent business leaders are tackling various challenges in today’s economy.
Lisa McGeough leads Wells Fargo’s international banking operations, which encompasses all the firm’s businesses across the Americas, Asia Pacific, and Europe, Middle East, and Africa.
In other words, she’s one of the most important people at the bank, and one of a select few women who’ve broken the finance world’s glass ceiling, or the set of barriers that hold women back from the industry’s top positions.
According to Deloitte research from 2019, women hold only 22% of leadership roles in finance. While the number of women in leadership roles is expected to grow to 32% by 2030, that’s still well below parity.
Microaggressions, or subtle forms of discrimination and prejudice, are a major reason why more women and others from underrepresented backgrounds aren’t able to climb the corporate ladder, McGeough said.
Calling out microaggressions is one important part of creating an inclusive environment where everyone can succeed, she said.
“We must address all aspects of diversity in both our recruiting and managing strategies, asking difficult questions about where we don’t measure up and why?” she said.
McGeough knows from experience just how microaggressions can turn a workplace toxic. She shared her suggestions for any leader to address microaggressions in the workplace.
Learning from her own experience
Since starting at her first banking job in 1984, McGeough has experienced many subtle forms of bias.
Male colleagues would say things like “You’re so good at note-taking” or “I didn’t know you were interested in golf.”
She even had one manager who insisted she go home to take care of her kids instead of offering her the opportunity to cover clients who required extensive travel. This was despite her insistence she was the family’s breadwinner.
“If microaggressions are left unchecked or are not addressed in real time, they can create an exceptionally negative workplace environment and culture,” she said.
Today, as a leader, she uses her past experience to inform how she oversees her direct reports. She has a zero-tolerance policy for microaggressions, and will call them out.
How to call out microaggressions
In the wake of the racial reckoning happening in the US after the murder of George Floyd, fighting prejudice in the workplace is no longer an option. Employees, customers, and investors are demanding more diverse and inclusive companies.
In addition to the moral imperative, it’s also crucial for business. Microaggressions alienate employees, increase stress, and lead to a decrease in productivity, McGeough said.
A study based on over 11 million survey comments by Peakon, an employee engagement platform, revealed that a poor office environment is one of the top three reasons why people quit their jobs.
The first step, Sheena Howard, associate professor of communication for the online Masters of Business Communication program at Rider University, previously told Insider, is to remain calm. Then, address the comment in a direct and composed manner.
McGeough said managers shouldn’t be afraid to say things like “She was talking,” “Don’t interrupt them,” “What did you mean by that?” “Let her finish,” and “Don’t talk over them.”
“It’s essential that leaders and managers prioritize building diverse and inclusive teams,” she said.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recently told Insider that the key to creating a more inclusive environment is not being afraid to have uncomfortable conversations. McGeough agreed.
“Leaders must challenge this behavior by addressing it directly,” she said.