Anna Ehrhardt on the value of intellectual diversity
Every Friday afternoon Anna Ehrhardt gathers her team and her customers in a no-notes-allowed meeting where members freely discuss ideas, perspectives, and practically anything.
“It's a laid-back environment that helps us build connections. People get to know each other. They feel included and appreciated, and they want to be involved," Anna says. She adds that this weekly tradition helps everyone see one another as whole people. They learn about each person's home life, approach to work, and personal interests, naturally fostering a culture of transparency and respect.
“Connecting with each other like this builds an understanding that helps us create trust and work together cohesively," Anna says.
Breaking down barriers and forging connections
By 25, Anna was an IT project manager leading a $40 million project.
“I was the only woman at the table and the youngest person by 20 years, so I had to earn everyone's respect," she says. Fortunately, she was prepared. Throughout Anna's childhood, her father took her along while he worked, and she soaked up every lesson. His example taught her two important things: That persistence is essential to success and to treat everyone with respect, from the CEO to the intern.
In late 2020, Anna took on the role of chief information security officer (CISO) of the Leidos Partnership Defense Health group at Leidos. Soon after, they achieved record-breaking metrics, surpassing Department of Defense standards.
While she started as one of only two women in the group, Anna now has six other women on her 25-person team. She says the key to breaking barriers and building bridges is to work with people rather than against them. Her team's reputation for great work and a positive, transparent culture that values every person's contribution has become a magnet for talent.
“We know that people won't get along every day and we won't love every idea we hear, but we always remember that each person brings unique skills and insights are worth listening to and using," Anna says.
Harnessing diversity's potential
“Intellectual diversity truly matters if you want innovation," Anna says. That's why she works to understand and value each person on her team. By identifying their skills and weaknesses, she places them where they're best suited to make the most impact. Below are more ways Anna encourages the type of openness that inspires everyone in her team to do their part in achieving the same mission, regardless of their background and how they identify:
- Set clear and high expectations. As a leader, make sure you meet them yourself.
- Promote the concept that no idea is a bad idea, so all feel safe sharing their thoughts.
- When conflict arises, don't be quick to assume the issue relates to people's identity-based labels. The problem could stem from differing work styles or outside stressors. Approach the issue collaboratively so people don't start from a defensive standpoint.
- Give everyone a seat at the table. Endorse direct, transparent communication, listen and lead by example.
- Learn where people's interests lie and be open to cross-training to build confidence and foster engagement.
- Encourage people to share details about their lives outside of work—and be willing to share yourself. When the balance between work and life tips toward work, acknowledge your team's extra efforts and look for ways to show appreciation.
Have questions for Anna? She'll be a panelist at our virtual Leidos Collaboration and Career Event on July 19 from 12:00–2:00 p.m. EST. Register to attend, and if you're interested in a cybersecurity career and maybe even joining Anna's team, check out our open jobs today.