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Inclusive cultures evolve with training. NextUp & Lisa Baird are empowering the next generation of workplace leaders

Workplace equity can’t wait. That is a key tenet of NextUp, whose members and partners are a collective force for eliminating barriers for women in the workplace, championing more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace cultures.

With a mission to “Advance All Women in Business,” NextUp intends to improve leadership capabilities for all and to generate more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace cultures. The solutions and benefits that NextUp offers have been adapted to promote allyship, better support the needs of women of color, and transform corporate cultures. Since joining NextUp in spring 2023, Lisa Baird, president and CEO, has been focused on advancing all women in business. Most recently Lisa was the commissioner of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), the world’s leading league for professional women’s soccer. During her tenure, she signed groundbreaking media and corporate sponsorships, led the industry as the first pro sports league to return to play in North America in 2020 during the pandemic, and expanded the league into three new markets. Prior to joining the NWSL, she was the chief marketing officer at New York Public Radio and served in the same capacity for more than a decade with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee. Lisa is credited with creating and launching the Team USA brand, widely recognized as one of the most valuable brands in sports. 

In a wide-ranging discussion with Eileen McMorrow, Lisa Baird reveals her interest in workplace equity and how she believes NextUp can be a resource to the commercial facility management, planning, design, architecture and real estate professions. Part I of our interview appears here.

NextUp is 17,000-members strong, focusing on women’s empowerment in the workplace. What are your broad goals for NextUp?

Baird: Strengthening its governance and setting tasks for the new board members who include the COO of a major retailer and the president of a consumer products group. Research from IBM and McKinsey details how the pipeline of women in top leadership is growing, getting better, and positioning more women on boards. There are more women in the C-Suite, and 4 out of 10 junior professional positions are filled by women, but there is still bias. 

NextUp training aims to strengthen the pipeline to senior leadership to achieve gender parity as part of its mission. Our strength is the 70/20/10 learning model: 70% of learning is through on-the-job experiences, 20% from networking–a huge way to forward your career and we offer plenty of that–and 10% from learning events. A leading reason to be a member of NextUp is its ongoing formal training. We provide all three!

Our research indicates that 75% of the women seeking formal training are growing their career. Generation Z is quickly joining the next generation of leaders at NextUp. This group is ‘in peril,’ and we need to give them help and access to allies. Women can join and use us as their pipeline-builder.

How have your leadership roles prepared you to be the CEO of NextUp?

Baird:  I started in classic consumer marketing at P&G, one of NextUp’s biggest supporters and learned basic business skills. For my second and third roles, I was catapulted into global marketing and sales with GM and IBM and learned about complicated franchise dealerships and channels of going to market. The globalization of business and factors that impinge on our business models made me a more sophisticated businessperson.

While I was working at IBM, I asked to take a sabbatical, and IBM agreed. Simultaneously and unexpectedly, the National Football League (NFL) offered me a position in sports marketing. Everyone wants to work for the NFL, and for family reasons, including a commitment to more time with my young children, I really wanted to take a career sabbatical. So, I asked Roger Goodell (commissioner of the NFL) – in the month of August – if he could wait two months. Goodell agreed! He was an ally!  That’s a great example of how to identify who’s an ally to women in business.

Women dream of working for the NFL, where you spent three years, but then you also joined the US Olympics Committee as CMO in 2009.

Baird: In 2009, the USA lost its Olympics bid (to host the 2016 games in Chicago). It was ‘globally humiliating’ for the U.S. Going forward, I focused efforts on the athletes, and we were immensely successful at the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010. The U.S.A. Olympics’ committee pivoted, and we shared the amazing games. The Olympics places women’s sports front and center in terms of equity. We saw that in London, Rio de Janeiro, Sochi, Beijing, and I brought the focus on women in sports to the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League).

Considering you joined the nascent National Women’s Soccer League on March 7, 2020, just days before the world was shutting down due to the pandemic, how did that impact decision-making in your career?

Baird: Well, the sports industry shut down in 24 hours, led by Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner. We knew nothing about Covid; there was no playbook, and the shutdown created medical protocols. By May 27th, we were the first professional sports league in America to embrace the “bubble” method of returning to gameplay. I’m proud that the women’s soccer league was the first one back (the NHL was later in the year), but then the death of George Floyd also happened. There were many challenges. It was a massive moment in time for the changes we experienced. We allowed players to decide how to participate during the National Anthem. This was a heavily white sport (whose players) stood up for George Floyd and the changes encountered during the (Black Lives Matter) movements.

In addition, you experienced the reverberations of an incident between a male coach and a female player a decade earlier at the NWSL, and it impacted your role. What was that like?

Baird: Yes, there was press around a report from 10 years earlier with a coach who did something wrong. This complaint was investigated years prior, and any new allegations were investigated in the 13 months I was there, but it was not something to just tamp down. I am proud of my record there, but the best action was to resign and let a new leader come into the NWSL.

What inspires you since joining NextUp in April 2023?

Baird: Traveling to all the regions of NextUp and going to meetings has been very rewarding. It’s a credit to my board, volunteers and staff that they are leaders and they wanted to be led. We had the Forum, our C-suite level conference, then the Summit in Chicago, and both were sold-out. NextUp is now growing beyond its 17,000 members, which is a record number of members and a strong position with our 107 partners who believe in the mission and support us.

Click NextUp for more information. NextUp Membership is open to individuals or members of a partner organization. When you join NextUp through The McMorrow Reports/FMLink, you are entitled to 20 percent off an individual membership when you enter the code: NextUp24McMorrow at checkout. For more information, email bfasching@nextupisnow.org.

See Part 2 of this interview with Lisa Baird: “Workplace planners who join NextUp can make an impact, learn new skills, and help to eliminate barriers, says CEO Lisa Baird.”