“As a country, we are 80 years away from gender equality.” That statistic, which was shared during the World Economic Forum, caught Mike Jones’ attention, because as he says, “If that’s true, I won’t live to see it.”
Jones is CEO of Core Consulting, a technology and management consulting firm. His personal mission is reflected in the company motto: “Have a positive impact on the lives of others – do that and you’ll be ok.”
Jones’ varied career spans from his early years in banking to a stint in IT for an international insurance company to eight years with a large consumer electronics retailer. Along the way, he has had numerous career-defining moments that have underscored the importance of increasing gender equality.
He recalls an incident in the early 1980s when the bank president took a female loan officer to a customer lunch. The customer later called and said “If you replace my current loan officer with the woman you introduced me to, I am leaving the bank.” In Jones’ eyes, the customer was wrong, but the bank president wouldn’t stand up for his female loan officer. Jones recalls that he said that it was the customer’s choice, and the male colleague remained as the loan officer, even though the female had excellent credentials.
“Life might not be fair, but I realized that some of us could play referee and arrange the game so it’s a better playing field,” Jones said.
He sees gender inequality heightened by the lack of role models. At the electronics retailer, Jones said that only one of the 16 decision makers were women. “When she left, we became an all-male society, and we all knew we needed more balance.” He knows that the problem can be self-fulfilling. “How do we give our female middle managers someone to aspire to be and learn from? Who will they turn to for mentoring opportunities and to discuss the issues with which they are wrestling?”
A Strong Commitment to Giving Back
As a seasoned volunteer, Jones has spent ample time in the non-profit world, which he finds to be more balanced with women in key positions.
As part of his work on the board for the United Way, their Women’s Leadership Initiative held a breakfast attended by 600 women leaders. He said it was empowering to see how people will flock to support something when you establish the support mechanism.
He has also been supportive of Women in Technology, a subgroup within RichTech (Richmond Technology), which regularly meets to tackle relevant issues facing women in leadership. His company also organizes a dinner every other month that helps support and encourage women executives in technology.
Diversity in all areas is important to Jones. As he says, he wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. In 1990, he began working with Partnership for the Future, a non-profit that pairs CEOS with potential interns from the inner city. “We work with them to help them rise above the hand they were dealt, and give them a lift. We provide interviewing skills; match what they save dollar for dollar; help them get scholarships and essentially give them the tools they need. Many in this group would be lost if we didn’t lend a helping hand.”
Jones says he was inspired by his boss at the time to become involved. “He taught me you have to stand up for things that aren’t fair and give people a chance they otherwise wouldn’t have.”
Promoting the Best Person
At the boutique firm he leads, he tries not to draw a distinction between men and women, but always hires the best person for the job. The controller and the vice president of recruiting and staffing are women, but he says that he can only draw from the pool that he is offered, which is why he knows that women need to be reached earlier.
He sees that the problem starts young, noting that there’s a point in middle schools where boys continue to pursue STEM endeavors and girls drop out. “I believe we have to reach young women earlier in their school career if they want to be ready for the boardroom,” he says. We are seeing that young girls are lacking confidence and don’t have seat at the table. We have to start earlier, to find ways to increase and maintain their interest at a young age and in the tech and science industries and then help they see how they can be leaders like Carly Fiorina.”
A Lifelong Mentor
Mentoring is part of the fabric of Jones’ life. He is part of an organized group at the
Virginia Commonwealth University’s graduate school, where he mentors one or two students a year.
He also lends a hand to anyone who asks or with whom he interacts, particularly helping those who need an injection of confidence. “My goal is to ‘encourage greatness,’ he says, adding that he mentors anyone who transitions through his life who needs encouragement. He even compiled his advice into a book, called “Hello Old Friend,” designed as a resource for career development.
“My mentoring is mostly not part of a formal program; I just live it. People have to care,” he says.
His mantra is to exceed the Golden Rule with what he calls the “Platinum Rule,” which focuses on paying it forward.
“I have never turned away someone who wanted to network or needed a hand, because we’re all one step away from needing that help.”
Advice for other Leaders
He firmly believes that promoting diversity is everyone’s job, and that you can’t be caught up in your own myopic world. “You have to engage and listen and recognize the need and then do something about it. Be the change agenda, and have the courage to stand up for what you believe in.”
In his view, a career is composed of two halves – the first half, which is when you’re taking and learning and building, and the second, when you find out what you’re called to do.
“Everyone should have their own personal ‘why,’ and mine is to inspire others to find what inspires them. We can be both a student and a teacher at every level of our career.”
By Cathie Ericson