Brave Conversations with LCW Podcast
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LCW is collaborating with experts across industries to share stories and insights that shine a light on the many ways organizations are building the mindsets, skills, and systems to succeed in a culturally diverse world.
Meet Your Host: Larry Baker
Decoded: Unpacking Coded Language in the Workplace
“You’re too bossy,” “you’re lacking professionalism,” “you’re just not a cultural fit”—when left unchecked, sometimes language has a much larger impact than intended. But what’s motivating this behavior, and how should you respond?
“Coded language” refers to phrases that could be potentially masking bias and often signal cultural dissonance. Join LCW Lead Facilitator Larry Baker (he/him) and experts from the cross-cultural and DEI space as they break down what coded language really means. Each episode, we’ll unpack a new phrase by sharing personal stories and lessons learned, how it relates to larger systemic issues, and tips to help you navigate unconscious bias in your communities and workplace.
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Culture Moments Podcast: Pride After the Pandemic
Published on: November 24, 2021
In this episode of the Culture Moments podcast, LCW Consultant and host Larry Baker has a brave conversation about what a post-pandemic “return to normal” might look like for the LGBTQ+ community, how organizational leaders can support their LGBTQ+ staff members, and what authentic change looks like in practice.
Indigo Avisov (Sr. Diversity & Inclusion Business Partner, Uber) and Dr. Joel A. Brown (Chief Visionary Officer, Pneumos) share their insights and perspectives on the pandemic, Pride Month, and what it means to challenge organizations to make meaningful and lasting change.
Show Notes & Highlights
4:03: Joel spotlights how the COVID-19 pandemic is not the first epidemic the LGBTQ+ community has faced
16:05: Both Joel and Indigo share their thoughts on Pride Month, what progress it represents, and what needs to continue to happen year-round
25:06: Indigo issues a challenge to organizational leadership across the globe; make support for LGBTQ+ workers an every-day commitment
26:30: Joel discusses what it means to push past cisgender fragility
Larry Baker: Hello everyone. And welcome to the Culture Moments podcast. I’m your host, Larry Baker. And I’m thrilled to have you join us for our second season called Brave Conversations with LCW. In these episodes, you’ll hear from a panel of guests, from specific communities offering a range of perspectives on the past year. We’ll hear about their own experiences as well as their insights on what’s changed and more importantly, what needs to change to move equity forward. As we all know so much has shifted and changed over the past year and a half. And for many of us, we’re still in recovery from a very rough 2020.
In this episode, LGBTQ+ leaders have shared with us what return to normal might look like for them and how we can begin to support this community. Joining us for this conversation are Indigo Avisov and Joel Brown. Welcome to you both. And let’s begin by having a brief introduction of both of you before we get started.
Indigo, I will ask that you go first. Thank you.
Indigo Avisov: Thanks so much, Larry. And thanks for having me. Hey folks, my name is Indigo. My pronouns are they/them/theirs. I’m really glad to be here. I’m a senior diversity and inclusion business partner at Uber technologies where I’ve been working and developing practices and programs around equity and inclusion for the last almost five years.
I’m also a certified purpose guide. I’m a former political science major someone who is really passionate about political social systems as well as cultural development. And that’s a little bit about me.
Larry Baker: Awesome. Thank you so much, Indigo. And now, without further ado, we will have Joel Brown, give us an introduction of himself. So, Joel…
Dr. Joel A. Brown: Got you. Boy first of all, thank you all for the opportunity. It’s always good to be among old friends and new friends. My pronouns are he/him/his. So who am I? First thing I would say is I’m a poet and I’m a storyteller. So that’s my first passion.
I am the Chief Visionary Officer of Pneumos LLC. We are a management consulting and coaching firm based in San Francisco and Nairobi. And we do a lot of work around organizational culture and strategy as well as global inclusion. And we do focus quite a bit on LGBTQ+ inclusion.
I’m also a professor. So I teach overseas at the IÉSEG School of Management in Paris, in Lille France. And I’m just glad to be here. Happy pride. And looking forward to this dialogue.
Larry Baker: Thank you both so much for that fantastic introduction. And I’m going to just jump right in and start our conversation over this extremely important topic. So the first question, and I will ask Joel, you can respond to this question first. What are some of your personal thoughts, some stories, some reactions to the changes that have occurred in the LGBTQ+ community from the beginning of COVID to the current moment?
Dr. Joel A. Brown: Changes… I think in many ways, it’s too early to tell what those changes are because we’re still emerging from it. And I think it takes time for us to examine and to be present with where we are, who we are and what we aspire to be in this moment. What I will share though, is that for our community, this isn’t the first pandemic we’ve been through. We’ve lived through a pandemic known as the HIV and aids epidemic in, the last 50 years.
And so what I think I’ve noticed at least in my circle is number one, people revisiting the history, people recognizing that the same tools that have allowed us to be where we are now are tools that we can revisit. And I hope what is helping us do is to focus more on how we can continue to build community and how we can see all the community.
One of the things I always say is that we’re many peoples, but one community. And I think if anything, hopefully this gives us opportunity to actually focus on, and to recognize who are the people who have not been fully seen, who are the people who have not been fully honored, whether we’re talking about trans members of our communities, the BI community, whether we’re talking about women or whether we’re talking about the QPOC community, the queer people of color community.
There’s so many pockets that I think don’t get visibility whose stories do not get told and whose narratives gets assumed into something that’s more palatable for the mainstream. Typically, what is, geared towards or speaks to cisgender rich white men, able-bodied white men. And I think we need to do more to uncover that.
So that’s what I’m seeing. And I’m seeing, frankly, in some respects, a lot of the LGBTQ community being able to deal with this pandemic in some ways, a little bit better, or maybe differently than perhaps our cisgender and heterosexual counterparts, because we’ve lived it, we’ve dealt with being ostracized, we’ve dealt with a mysterious illness or illnesses in the world.
We’ve had to, be reliant on our own resources and our own communities and structures in order to survive. But I’m still processing that myself. And so I’m hoping that this helps us to once again, return to the things that have made us strong and the things that have helped us to be where we are as of today.
Larry Baker: Yeah. Thank you so much for that insight, Joel. Indigo, I’m going to pass the same question over to you. Give me some of your personal thoughts and some reactions to the changes.
Indigo Avisov: Yeah, thanks so much. Joel, I really loved the points that you brought up and I think, we are still emerging from a global pandemic and in some ways we’re trying to move through in all the ways possible how we can emerge from this.
As well as in a year of not only facing COVID-19, but we were faced with the true reality of the very real inherent and systemic racism that still exists, not just in the United States, but in other regions and countries around the world. And I feel like in a lot of circles that I’ve been a part of the thing that I’ve seen most of is people really trying to rise to the occasion of building community. But really trying to do that in a way that not just surfaces and holds up communities that have been historically overlooked within the LGBTQIA community. But really trying to take an honest look at how we can create and sustain community over the long-term.
And supporting not just the people who have the most visibility or most access, but folks who get overlooked in our community. And my hope is that we continue to process everything that’s happened in the last year and a half. I think that we owe it to ourselves, and to society to really do due diligence in terms of continuing to not only process what’s happened, but what’s to come.
And yeah, I think what’s given me a lot of hope is the fact that we’ve been able to rely on that community, that I’ve been able to rely on that community in the last year. Because it’s been a really tough year. And my hope is that we can continue to do that and we continue to have that reflection and have difficult conversations.
And then we continue to activate on holding up parts of the community that our trans brothers and sisters and our nonbinary family, that we continue holding up and raising those voices up as we move forward..
Larry Baker: Awesome. Thank you so much, Indigo, for that insight. And Indigo you actually said something in your comment that is going to allow me to pivot to our next question.
And I’d like you to take the lead on it. And then Joel, you can respond to this question as you see fit as well. So when you talk about the global view, what courageous conversations have you been a part of that people in the US should know more about specifically when it comes to your community in regards to inclusion, that’s going on in other parts of the world?
So Indigo, I’ll ask you to kick it off and we’ll pass it over to Joel.
Indigo Avisov: Yeah, thanks so much. This is really an interesting question and I think, I’ll just share that, as a person who was born and raised in the United States who was born and raised in California to be exact it’s really easy for people to have a limited kind of scope in terms of how they view what’s going on in the community.
You have to really consistently be reaching out and expanding yourself and expanding your understanding and expanding your perspective. And the thing that I’ve continuously tried to encourage and cultivate in terms of courageous conversations related to the issues faced by people in my community, outside of the US is that people outside of the United States and in a lot of countries around the world, do not have even remotely close to the same access to being who they are simply. And that spans from trans people not having access to gender confirmation surgery is in some countries, or it spans to people, not even being able to hold the hand of the person that they love on the street.
The spectrum is broad, in terms of what’s limiting to folks just being who they are and being an expression around that. And for me, like what’s been happening a lot lately is especially in the context of the work that I do is trying to understand what those challenges are and build and create awareness around it, but also build and create systemic resources or resources on the ground for folks who have such drastically different realities than I do here, living freely, in, in the United States. Some of that’s been really challenging but it is really important to continue. Not just raising up those experiences and then shining a light on them, but then addressing how we might be able to on a whole address, those disparities I think is really critical as we move forward to supporting the rights of LGBTQIA people around the world.
Larry Baker: Thank you so much for that, Indigo. Joel, I’m going to ask you the same question. I want you to take that global view and talk to me about what people in the US should know or what people in the US should be talking about.
Dr. Joel A. Brown: I think what people in the US should be thinking about is the fact that the ways in which we even talk about sexuality, the ways that we talk about gender identity are going to be different across the world.
There’s language that we use in the U S and in the global north and in the west that doesn’t necessarily always translate neatly to other parts of the world. I think we have to be aware that particularly in the U S context we have, or the country has exported a lot of the homophobia that you see in other parts of the world.
So what do I mean by that? So when we go to look at, for example, what’s happening in Uganda and we look at what’s happening in parts of, east Africa, what we look at in terms of what’s happened in India, we look at what happens in southeast Asia. A lot of that has been promulgated supported by us and European foreign policy.
So for example, when former president George Herbert Walker Bush was supporting or leading campaigns into Africa and this, and they were supposed to be philanthropic and humanitarian. A lot of the people who were supporting those efforts also very much exported their homophobia and transphobia, which led and sow the seeds for what you see now in terms of the kill, the gay laws that had been on the books and some of that stuff has been repealed. Some of that stuff is very much so in tact though however, and so it’s very easy for people in the US to say, oh my god, what’s happening in Uganda?
What’s happening in, different parts of the world where our foreign policy helped to support that. So when I was in Kenya two years ago and talking to some activists there. They’re polite words to me were, cause I asked them, what’s your advice for us? And they said, please deal with your blank in your country so that it doesn’t poison the rest of the world.
And I told them that’s easier said than done, but we will certainly try our best. So those are things that I think about. And I think to Indigo’s well-stated point, the struggle is not over. It’s very easy for us to think that we’ve won the battle. Victory has been won. And even in parts of the US, there’s still a lot more work that needs to be done outside of the quote unquote queer metropolises of San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Miami, and other places in between.
So the work still continues. And the thing that I get concerned about it. Pride of course is a very celebratory thing, but it also carries with it the responsibility and I want us just to be able to hold both of those at the same time while we’re having a good time. And I think many people know this.
I don’t want to pretend like this is just me speaking. I think many people in the community share this view, but recognizing there’s still a lot more work that we need to be doing that everybody can be free. So that’s what I would say is the lesson that I would share, or the reminder, I would say.
Indigo Avisov: Can I just underscore something you said? I really love that you brought it back home. And I think that there’s a massive global view and like underscoring that there’s still many, much work to be done, but also reiterating the fact that there’s definitely still work to do here.
We see a lot of anti LGBTQ legislation surfacing all across the country, specifically, in places like Texas, where there’s anti-trans bills that are going to affect children, and anti trans bills surfacing in other parts of the country.
There’s some legislation beginning to surface around access to voting. And I know that a lot of that is centered around socioeconomic or even racial access to voting. But a lot of that legislation also impacts communities like the trans community. And it’s really critical for us to unpack maybe some of our own barriers to understanding difference as it relates to gender identity, sexual orientation and things like that. Because when we see these things happening outside of the United States, it’s not so much of a shock. It isn’t shocking, right? Don’t twist words there, but it becomes this idea of this notion of what we see is a subset of a broader global movement around unpacking, internalized ideologies around difference being bad or difference being weird or what have you. And so I think, we’ve made a lot of progress here in the United States.
Don’t get me wrong. But I think that we still have work to do here and we also still have a lot of work to do to support basic rights for LGBTQIA people outside of the United States. So I really love that you brought it back home. They always say, right? Like you gotta have your house in order first. And I fully support that messaging.
Larry Baker: So you both have mentioned some concepts that I want to pivot on to bring our conversation to the next topic.
And Joel, you mentioned Pride Month. My question is how much progress do you think companies have actually made to expand true inclusion and belonging of the LGBTQ+ community, especially, and Indigo, this kind of gets to your point, especially from this intersectional lens.
Joel, I’ll ask you to kick us off with that question as well.
Dr. Joel A. Brown: That’s a very in-depth question. You’re asking very Oprah-esque questions.
Larry Baker: Well, in my future life, I want to be Oprah.. I just do.
Dr. Joel A. Brown: I think you’re already there. So, there’s a lot to unpack there. What do I think, or what do I think of companies’ efforts?
And this is actually I’m writing on this now. So hopefully by this time next year not hopefully by this time, actually I should have my book done. I think part of the challenge and the frustration that I have is that when we talk about the benefit that communities bring to or different underrepresented groups bring to the workplace… I’m just gonna use Black people, because I know Black people, I think a little bit.
What you’ll hear a lot is, Black people make this contribution or, they bring resilience and grit. They bring a sort of awareness. And I still think in certain pockets of the business community, when you ask them and I’ve asked a number of CEOs, why is LGBTQ inclusion important for you?
And they’ll say, it’s just the right thing to do. And I say, yes, I agree. But can you actually do understand why it’s important beyond just the fact that, queer people are cool and we’re colorful and whatnot, but do you understand the value proposition of what we bring into companies?
And I think that’s the thing that needs to be clearer. And I don’t know if many people actually understand it and I sometimes find senior leaders, not really being clear as to why they’re supporting something and not understanding the beauty of our community, the diversity of our community, the complexity of our community.
And that’s one thing that I think, we can do a better job of is saying actually, when you bring in, for example, LGBTQ people, and this was part of my research I did, we do contribute in ways, whether it’s around, inclusion, whether it’s around creativity and ingenuity, whether it’s around, getting out of binary, thinking those are some tangible things, that impact, how people work, how you impact the bottom line, how you engage with clients in the community.
So there’s that. Now to the second Oprah-esque question that you asked about, the intersectional piece. I still think there’s an opportunity for us to recognize and to decolonize how we look at LGBTQ+ issues, because in my mind, they can still be very white centered, very cisgender centered. And I remember, so once again, I’m here in San Francisco, so I’ve gone and done, speaking engagements with youth.
And I remember I was here in San Francisco with a group. And most of them were of color. And I remember one of the guys saying to me and to the panel why can’t we ever see people of color who are queer? And I was like, that’s a really good question, but they were really pressing us. And we had to say to them, the same forces that operate, in the world, such as, racism and patriarchy obviously are still part of the fabric of the community.
So we have to make sure that we are addressing those. I would also say too, in the final point, that, although there has been a lot of pride washing, so June comes around and corporations have a lot of colorful floats and they make their flashy campaigns and everything is draped in a rainbow flag.
We have to look at the statistics. You still have a very high number, disproportionate number of people who are closeted at work. Who don’t feel comfortable at work. Leaders, who as they make their way up the corporate chain, like they have to go back in the closet. There’s not a lot of mentorship. There’s not a lot of professional development.
And so that, to me, signals that people recognize the money that our community has, but they still don’t recognize the humanity and the human value that we contribute. And so back to your original question there’s still a ton of work to do. And of course, on a case by case basis, you could look at different companies and say maybe some are doing better, someone doing worse, but to me, all it comes back to is our psychological safety.
Larry Baker: Yeah.
Dr. Joel A. Brown: And there’s opportunity and there’s a lot of work to be done. Particularly if you’re talking about global or multinational corporations who have offices and satellite locations in parts of the world, where there are laws in the books that make it illegal to quote unquote, even talk about these things or to quote unquote, be LGBTQ+.
It’s 2021 and we still have a lot more to do.
Larry Baker: Absolutely. Definitely appreciate that insight, specifically I relate to that concept of valuing our money, but not valuing the community. So, Indigo, I’m going to ask you to dig in and do the exact same. How much progress do you think these companies are actually making when it comes to truly expanding inclusion and belonging in the LGBTQ+ community?
Indigo Avisov: Yeah, thanks so much. And Joel provided such a comprehensive thought process around this. As it relates to the progress that’s been made, I think that progress is small, but incremental in the grand scheme of things.
To that point that was just made about caring about the money, but not necessarily about the inclusion aspect, There are some studies that indicate that the LGBTQ community is one of the fastest growing economic demographics in the globe. And as that continues to be the case, many researchers might indicate it’s going to be really important that we are leveraging, not just the pocketbooks of these communities, but all of the diversity of thought and talent and experience that they bring to our products, to our solutions, to our to the societies across the globe.
A lot of the growth has been, again, like I said, it’s been small and incremental. I think that if you notice advertising campaigns, just as an example, Since the nineties, the first advertising campaigns that showcased any LGBTQIA person, there were usually white cisgender gay men.
And as we’ve continued to see and watch evolve marketing and this is just as an example we see that much of that is still very much skewed, more towards highlighting the normative or what society deems as the appropriate versions of the LGBTQIA community. And so my challenge to corporations and to organizations is to continue to lean into all of the spaces that we occupy and to utilize and put LGBTQIA people in leadership positions and to make sure that their voices are being leveraged and generated and not just for your yearly pride campaign.
You know, are they in the room when business decisions are being made? Cause at the end of the day, and I’ll say this a million times over is that diversity, the power of diversity is it drives creative solutioning and innovation, right? Like you have diversity as a business case for that reason. And for a lot of other reasons, frankly, but that is definitely one of them. And if if the full scope and full spectrum of this community, isn’t being leveraged for that to solution, not just for the employees, but for the products and services that they’re building or for the customer populations that they serve then we’re not even close to being done.
And I think I think there are certainly organizations that have made a lot of progress. I don’t want to undercut that because I think cultural change and progress happens over long periods of time. Right? So, Yeah. A little bit, but we still have a while ago.
Larry Baker: What I am appreciating so much about this conversation specifically, is that being a member of a underrepresented or marginalized group, I can see so many of the things that are transferrable to all of our pursuits for this race towards diversity, equity and inclusion.
And one of the themes that I see that’s common from our conversation right now is that there does tend to be this whitewashing of our perspectives. So even though we are striving for things that may not seem to relate, one-to-one with each other, we do have a common denominator that we’re both in these groups that are being perceived by definitions that are not given from our culture, if that makes sense.
So when we think about our leaders, and again, I want to just get some more insight beyond Pride Month. So if you could speak to, and I know that you probably have access to CEOs in various organizations, and Indigo, I know you have access to your CEO group at your organization, but what is one ask that you have of your leaders to go beyond Pride Month or what should be their next step when it comes to their journey of being a true ally to your community? So, Indigo, I’m going to ask you to start and then Joel, I’ll ask you to follow.
Indigo Avisov: Thanks so much, Larry. Yeah, it’s, that’s an interesting question. I loved the point that Joel brought up about not always seeing things from a binary perspective. And for me, I think the biggest challenge that I would have to folks in leadership as we move forward is how do we continue normalizing the LGBTQIA experience in every room, in every office? How do we normalize gender non-conformity? How do we normalize being trans in the workplace? How do we normalize and create the least amount of barriers for those people to not only show up to work as themselves, but to be successful in bringing all of their uniqueness into their jobs on a day-to-day basis.
So identifying those specific systems or policies or practices, or even as simple as creating gender neutral bathrooms, right? What are the things that are that are creating barriers for the LGBTQ experience for those folks to bring their full selves and not only bring their full selves, but activate on that uniqueness to impact their day to day.
That would be my challenge is to continue leaning into those spaces and understanding what those opportunities are.
Larry Baker: Awesome. Thank you so much, Indigo. And Joel, same question. What is your ask of leaders beyond Pride Month and what types of things should they be doing for their allyship going forward?
Dr. Joel A. Brown: I had to really think about this and I’m still processing. And, in this new era I’m resisting, putting out, trite answers and really trying to be thoughtful. I love what Indigo said. Indigo, if you didn’t know you’re gonna be my new homie so, uh, we’re going to be fast friends. So I’m claiming you now.
I’m going to cheat and say there are a couple of things. Number one, courage. In this political climate, I know there are risks that people have to take in order to stand up for these things that seem pretty straightforward to me, no pun intended.
But I would like to see leaders show courage and to show some grit and some resilience. Which means that even when you get beyond June, even when you get beyond the period where things are trendy, that you’re still bringing these things up and not falling into this trap of cisgender or heterosexual fragility… where it’s oh my god, I’m so tired and this is so exhausting.
Because guess what? Every single day you have a queer person somewhere around the world, who’s fighting some invisible, discreet battle and no one’s there to applaud and no, one’s there to give them encouragement and they’re still able to push forward and they’re contributing to the world. So if they can do that, then guess what? You can do that too.
I would love to see more empathy. And this is one of the things I actually teach on. And it’s the whole idea that you don’t have to have the same lived experience to understand the core emotions of how people feel. People misunderstand me, but, so they think if I didn’t live as you have, then therefore I can’t understand. No, you can understand because you can get to the core emotion.
If you’ve ever felt lonely, sad, confused. Proud different whatever that might, because so much of our experience is actually wonderful and positive. I don’t, I want to make sure I highlight that, but really empathize with the core emotion, which will allow you to make the human connection.
And I think that final thing I would say too, is making sure that when we talk about building inclusion, that’s actually built into the fibers of the organization. So people know on a day-to-day basis, what does that look like? It means, not making statements like what’s your sexual preference? Or, what are your preferred pronouns?
It means questioning your own biases. It means also creating intentionally inclusive space so that people feel seen, heard, and respected, and being able to handle feedback and to go back and address it..
And I can say, as someone who’s done this work for quite some time, I don’t have any qualms and telling people I mess up. I commit what I call cultural full pause. I commit errors. I sometimes step in it, but you got to recover and you got to move on. And it doesn’t mean that you’re a horrible person. If you do. It’s how you respond to that, if it does happen.
And I would also say too, just recognizing that once again, we bring a lot to the table. Indigo already talked about this in terms of our growing influence… the world would not be what it is without us. And in the most positive sense. I don’t mean that in the negative sense, but in the most positive sense, the beauty that you see in the world, a lot of us have been inspired, created by and built by LGBTQ+ people.
Recognize that and recognize that it’s not just doing us a favor by furthering these initiatives it is also by sustaining the world and sustaining humanity that you should focus on and create more inclusive space for queer people. So that’s the thing I will finish with.
Larry Baker: Yeah. So thank you so much for that insight, Joel, thank you so much for your insight, Indigo.
I just really appreciate the transparency that everyone that we’ve talked to, they bring to these podcasts. You can tell that it is true. It is real. It is genuine. And there’s this desire for individuals to get these concepts on the table and something that you’ve mentioned earlier, Joel, about what are you looking for organizations to have…
And that’s that courage, right? That’s really, what we are trying to do with this season is to create that space where people come in and. Have courageous conversations, right? So we can give them some talking points and some ideas from each of these communities that are real and transparent, that individuals that are listening to them, they can actually take it and go and do something with it.
So I absolutely appreciate both of you, incredible guests. I absolutely am so encouraged. I feel like. I cheated a little bit, because I know both of you from work experiences. So it really added to just the genuine conversation. So I appreciate you both so much for your engagement and your willingness to share this topic.
So, thank you. Thank you. Thank you, so much.
And to all of you that are listening, we want to know what were your biggest takeaways from this conversation? Please share them with us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn at Language and Culture Worldwide or LCW. Once again. Thank you for joining us in Courageous Conversations with LCW.
Culture Moments Podcast: What “Return to Work” Means for Women
Published on: November 10, 2021
LCW is pleased to announce the launch of the Culture Moments podcast’s second season, “Brave Conversations” with LCW. Throughout the season, we will put our own approach into practice as LCW Consultant Larry Baker hosts panel-style discussions with guests from specific communities, so they can share their own perspectives on the last year, their insights on what’s changed, and what needs to change to continue to move towards more equitable outcomes.
Season two begins with a Brave Conversation discussing what a potencial “return to work” could mean for women. In February 2021, women’s labor force participation hit a 33-year low, proving the pandemic, remote work, and lay-offs have disproportionately impacted women workers. As organizations and workers plan for a “return to the office,” we discuss what this means for the swaths of women cut out of the workforce and what organizations must do to bring them back.
This episode features industry experts Perika Sampson (Global Head of Inclusion & Diversity at Gilead Sciences), Jessica Gilbert (Head, Inclusion, & Collaboration at Cisco Meraki), and Ebony Travis (Director, Global HR & EEO Policy, Programs & Audit at Boston Scientific).
Show Notes & Highlights
5:54: Ebony highlights the broad range of impacts the pandemic has had on women
21:22: Perika shares a metaphor describing the impacts of the pandemic on women from an intersectional perspective
37:44: Jessica reminds us of how increased use of technology during the pandemic has given voice to people in organizations that were previously neglected or unheard
Larry Baker: Hello everyone and welcome to the Culture Moments podcast. I’m your host, Larry Baker. And I am thrilled to have you join us for our second season called Brave Conversations with LCW. In these episodes, you’ll hear from a panel of guests from specific communities, offering a range of perspectives on the past year. We’ll hear about their own experiences as well as their insights on what’s changed and, more importantly, what needs to change to move equity forward. And as we all know, so much has shifted and changed over the past year and a half. And for many of us, we’re still in recovery from a very rough 2020.
And today we’re going to be having a brave conversation on what recovery looks like for women. In February of 2021 women’s labor force participation hit a 33 year record low. Proving that the pandemic, remote work, and layoffs have disproportionately impacted women workers. And as organizations and workers plan for a return to office, we discuss what this means for the swath of women that have been cut out of the workforce and what organizations must do to bring them back. Joining us for our conversation today, we have Ebony Travis, Jessica Gilbert, and Perika Sampson.
Welcome to you all. And what I’d like to do is to kick off the program by having you give us a brief introduction before we begin. So I’m going to start with Jessica, if you would please, and thank you.
Jessica Gilbert: Thanks, Larry, and it’s wonderful to be here. So I am Jessica Gilbert and I am responsible for leading diversity and inclusion at Cisco Meraki, which is Cisco’s cloud networking organization. Our mission is really around connecting passionate people to their mission by simplifying the digital workplace and in doing so deliver on Cisco’s purpose of powering an inclusive future for all. And I am just so thrilled to be part of an organization that really lives for its purpose and really makes a difference in the world.
Larry Baker: Awesome. Thank you so much, Jessica, for that and welcome. And now I’m going to move to Perika Sampson, if you would do me that honor to give us your introduction.
Perika Sampson: Sure. Thank you, Larry. It’s great to be here. I’m Perika Sampson, I’m senior regional diversity officer for Morgan Stanley* and its wealth management division. I am based on the west coast and cover the eight states, including Alaska and Hawaii, but I also have a national purview of what’s going on in our company and actually sit on one of our return to the office process committees. So I look forward to discussion.
*Show note: Perika has changed positions since this episode was recorded. Perika now works as the Global Head of Inclusion & Diversity at Gilead Sciences
Larry Baker: Thank you so much Perika and last but never least, Ebony Travis.
Ebony Travis (Tichenor): Hey everyone. Ebony Travis. And I work for Boston Scientific where we advance science for life. We save lives. You know, we help our patients our doctors. It’s a feel good. It’s working for a company where you just really feel good about the work that you do. And I’m currently a director of global HR policy and equal employment opportunity training and programs – recently promoted into this position from my diversity equity and inclusion space, where I now get to put more diversity equity and inclusion in our policies. So I’m really excited to be here with all of you.
Larry Baker: Fantastic. Thank you so much. And welcome, welcome, welcome. And I love the variety that we have represented from the different industries that we’re going to attack. So thank you so much for your participation. So let’s just get right into the heart of the matter.
And my first question, that I will ask Perika to engage us on first, is… I want you to share with me some of your personal thoughts and reactions to what women workers have experienced during the pandemic.
Perika Sampson: Sure. So, you know, all of the obvious things, right. Moving from office to home, managing typically school-age children, sometimes senior parents.
If you think about, and a lot of people haven’t been, I think, focused on that. But if you think about those in the sandwich generation, you have women who moved back into the home and trying to manage a corporate responsibility while also taking children through homeschooling on Zoom. And a lot of our senior communities those community centers were no longer available because of the pandemic.
And so trying to engage senior parents and keep them healthy while you’re also managing probably for many, a very stressful time, but also high powered careers, many people. And it doesn’t matter if you’re an executive. Or if you are, you know, an executive assistant, your responsibilities are critical to the organization. And many of us work really hard to put our best foot forward. So imagine doing that plus 25% or 30% more stress.
Larry Baker: Absolutely. Absolutely. Thank you for that perspective Perika. Ebony, same question… share some of those personal thoughts.
Ebony Travis (Tichenor): Well, what I love, what Perika shared is, you know, she thought of the broad range of, you know, the people that it’s not necessarily, you know, just executive women, but women at all levels, as someone who started as an admin back in 1997, I can appreciate because it doesn’t matter what level of the organization, these women, were impacted in some form or fashion.
I think another thing that we you know, research has shown us is that. The other thing that is a, that has risen because of all, this is even domestic violence, mental health. You think about those women who you’re isolated in your home with that individual and where do you go? Cause you can’t go anywhere. Right? And the burden of everything that you’re taking on, or if you’re alone and you’re isolated and you have no one. Those things have, have impacted so many of us. And, and I love that she shared about, caregiving. I’m a caregiver to my mom and I’m really fortunate that she’s lived with me for the past 14 years. And so I’ve been able to care for her, but I’ve had to even care for her even more so because of everything that has happened. So it’s taking that time to balance, you know, work, being a wife and heck I’m even gonna throw out being a mother to two fur babies.
Women don’t don’t care for themselves until they cared for everyone else. So by the time we care for ourselves, Sometimes it’s too late. And those are the things that are happening, the experiences that are happening. I’d love to hear what Jessica has to say.
Larry Baker: Absolutely. We’re going to ask Jessica for her response, but it’s something that you just said, Ebony, that has triggered a concern or a question that I have is: women are typically the ones that give to everyone else. So I’d be interested to know from each of you a little bit later, after Jessica responds, how do you put into feeling your voice? How do you get that rest? How do you get that refreshment? Because, you know, I know from experience being married for 31 years to the same woman that, you know, she gives everything to this family and I have to encourage her. I need you to sharpen your ax because I need you to keep doing what you do. So I’m going to be asking that question a little bit later, but I need Jessica to respond. Give me some personal thoughts and your experience.
Jessica Gilbert: Thanks, Larry. And I think, you know, Ebony and Perika, you you’ve hit the nail on the head. We’ve got women who are expected to deliver outstanding results while managing the preponderance of household responsibilities, being the chief medical officers of their family. And then of course, juggling kids, schools, aging as well. And then you layer on top of this, that working from home has also blurred the start and stop times. We are going from sunup to sundown and back to back meetings. And we are not taking that time to reset for ourselves so that we are actually able to give the best in the workplace. And then the other disturbing statistic that I’ve seen is that incidence of sexual harassment have actually been increasing while we’ve been working from home.
And it may seem counterintuitive, but it seems like the boundaries that perhaps have that were in existence in the workplace have been removed. And so that’s become an increasing issue as well. So I won’t belabor the points that, that Ebony and Perika made, but it’s really a question of how are we as organizations really supporting and leading with empathy as we look at, both the situation of our women, but also across the board, especially as we start navigating the return to office.
Larry Baker: Fantastic points, Jessica. And again, it takes me back to that question that I wanted to address, because this is essential. I would, like I said, I want to make sure that our listeners get tools that they can actually use. So in your experience, What have you been doing to refresh yourselves? And I’ll start with Jessica on that particular statement.
Jessica Gilbert: So I’m, in some ways, fortunate because it is me and my fur babies. Ebony, I can relate. So I don’t have the parental responsibilities that many other women have, but for me, it’s about being very disciplined about that self-care.
I specifically blocked time on my calendar, where I am committed to my Pilates practice. I’ve maintained my physical and mental health that way. I’m also very disciplined about my start and my stop time. Now between my start and my stop time, I’m back to back and crazed and trying to get work done in between meetings, et cetera. But it’s by building in those breaks that provide that physical and mental recharge, and also making sure that I’m practicing gratitude for the fact that I do work for an organization in Cisco and Cisco Meraki that really truly care deeply about all of their employees.
Larry Baker: That’s fantastic. Jessica, what I loved about your statement was how you said you have to be disciplined with that stop time, because for women, again, that nurturing instinct, it’s always about second guessing. Am I leaving something on the table that I should be addressing? So I definitely appreciate that comment about being disciplined on your stop time, because again, the lines have been blurred so much and that nurturing nature that women have innately, it can really lead them to being exhausted and having all these other issues. So that’s an excellent point.
Jessica Gilbert: You know, not only are we dealing with the pandemic, but as somebody who’s leading diversity and inclusion in an organization and having to help the organization and help our employees and my colleagues really navigate the structural racism conversations and dealing with what’s been going on in society. It takes a mental toll on you. And when you’re passionate about this topic, you want to do everything. And I think it, especially for those of your listeners that are diversity and inclusion practitioners, it’s how are you creating the space for you to heal and process so that you are better able to help your leaders in your organizations across the board?
Larry Baker: Absolutely. Thank you so much for that Jessica. Ebony, same thing. What do you do? I mean, and I, and I follow you on LinkedIn. So I see a lot of the things that you do. I want you to just chime in to that and, maybe even parallel it, how, because now you have the influence on policy within your organization. How are you incorporating or encouraging individuals to do some of those awesome things that you do?
Ebony Travis (Tichenor): So, you know, my motto is be fit, be healthy, be happy. And what does that mean? And how do I apply that is I wake up with purpose every single day. And my family knows that, that is something that I have to have that time for myself, if it means getting up at five and just getting that hour and 45 minutes to just do what I love to do, which is be healthy and be happy. And I take time to really focus on myself, get what I need to get done for me so that I can do what I need to do for my family, my friends, my community. And everyone that I work with at Boston Scientific.
I am very intentional, I’m driven, and I am disciplined in saying that if you have to even make a to-do list, it’s all in my head. But if you have to make a to-do list that says, this is what I’m going to do, I’m going to jump out of bed and I’m going to be happy and I’m going to get all this stuff done for me, and then I’m going to go make sure everybody else is good.
That’s how I make sure that I don’t lose sight because if you don’t take care of you. How are you going to take care of everybody? And that is so important. It’s mentally, it’s physically, it’s emotionally and spiritually, and you just have to, you just have to have purpose. What is your purpose for the day? I jump out of bed, I hear the birds chirp and I’m like, oh, my purpose is to be so happy. It just makes sure I’m, I’m, I’m bringing sunshine to everything and everyone that I do.
And with policies, I love policies, because we have an opportunity to really alter these policies in a way to where they’re less legalistic, they reflect more of what our employees are given us feedback on, they help to guide us and make sure we’re doing all the right things, and it’s showing that we are creating a culture of equity and inclusion. And so that’s why I’m so excited about the work and still very much passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion. So that’s what I do Larry.
Larry Baker: I can attest to that. I, like I said, I’ve known you for gosh, maybe four years now. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a frown on your face ever. Like regardless of the situation, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one. So thank you so much for that Ebony.
Perika, I know you have some great things. As a matter of fact, you’re joining us from, you know, a wonderful location, right? So tell us what you do to get that recharge.
Perika Sampson: So interestingly enough, during the midst of the pandemic, I decided to move closer to family. For the first time in three decades, I’m living not only within the same state, but within the same sort of time zone and area code as my family. So that’s pretty cool. But I’ve found a couple of things. One thing that I’ve done and I’ve never been much of a joiner, but I joined a women’s virtual retreat. It’s been going for six months and the title is embody love and it sounds so esoteric. Right? What does that really mean? But it really is all about self-care and self-love.
I feel, you know, I’m a happy person. There’s a whole lot of self love that usually happens around retail therapy for me, but it really helped to kind of helped me help me be more centered and intentional around, you know, what I do for myself. You know, how much of myself I hold back, you know, and not giving everything to family, friends and our corporate lives.
And so that’s been part of it. So that’s been really helpful. 18 women, that I don’t know, and they’re all over the country. So everybody shares freely because there’s no hang-ups there.
Larry Baker: Exactly.
Perika Sampson: So, that’s been really, that’s been really cool. And the other thing is I’m really excited about working out and I keep buying all this equipment and saving videos, hasn’t happened. But I have, I picked up gardening when I moved to Southern California and I am the crazy garden lady. I’m out talking to my plants every day, harvesting tomatoes and peppers and things that I don’t necessarily eat, but I love the process of growing. So it’s been really cool to spend time. Outdoors, enjoying the butterflies and hummingbirds and all these things that we miss when we’re in our corporate structure for 8, 10, 12 hours a day.
Larry Baker: What I love about the theme of all of your answers is that you are letting other women know that it is vitally important to take care of yourself first. And there’s no shame in putting your needs before the needs of others. I appreciate that theme within all of your answers
Perika Sampson: I just want to tack onto something that Jessica mentioned, because I am, you know, obviously a DE&I professional, and we have dealt with everything from the onset of the pandemic to social and cultural unrest and it keeps coming. And our goal of course, is to hear our employees, to help our managers help them help their teams. And then also just addressing, you know, from our client’s perspective, making sure that our clients are aware of our commitment and our commitment, isn’t new. But it’s important to voice that that commitment.
And the other thing I think it was Ebony who mentioned, the mental stress, right? So that stress is on adults and children. And at our firm, we actually made a specific commitment to mental health support for children. And then there has been a special carve out for children of color because of all of the challenges that are happening, but for our employees as well, there are two additional benefits that were introduced last year, all around mental health that they can either use for themselves and then there’s one offering that can be leveraged for their families. Just making it okay to not be okay until someone that’s really the, that has been most helpful for everyone, I think.
Larry Baker: Yeah. That’s such a wonderful segue that you were talking about in regards to, the impacts on those communities of color. When you think about those impacts of the pandemic on women from an intersectional perspective, if you will, what do you think companies should keep in mind in terms of the disparate impact on women of color? I’m going to have Ebony kick us off with that question.
Ebony Travis (Tichenor): What I’m recognizing is it’s always the result of obvious discrimination, that’s typically what it is. And, you know, even if it’s unintentional, you know, it happens, especially in our hiring practices. Right? And so it’s important for us to understand as an organization, you know, are we doing all the right things when it comes to unintentional, disparate treatment. Are we making sure that the biases is left out when we’re, looking at these diverse and qualified applicants? Cause like you all said earlier, the current events have shown that obviously we’re still far from achieving equality. And so, behaving differently with different job candidates such as our, let’s just say our Black female candidates, it leaves room open for discrimination.
I’ll share an example that I was told of when two Black women were interviewed. And this was a friend of a friend who told me this at another company. And she came to me to ask for advice because she said, when she met with the hiring manager, he had said, yeah, you know, they were both great. They were very articulate, very well spoken. And I told her, did you, did you say anything to him?
Did you kind of go back and give him feedback? And she’s like, well, that’s what I’m coming to you for. So, you know, obviously, you know, we as organizations all around we’ve got to do a better job of how we are interviewing how we’re giving feedback to these candidates that is causing all of these not so great hiring practices for our, you know, again, Black women I’ll use as an example. So, you know, that’s a little bit of my, of how I, you know, I I’m looking at it, but truly welcome other thoughts.
Larry Baker: Perika, if you would, I’d like for you to hop in on that question as well.
Perika Sampson: Yeah. So, when we start in the game, we’re all at the starting block and I’m horrible at sports analogy. So I’ll do my best. So we’re on the track, right. And we’re all just starting block and men are there too. Right. And we think we’re at the same starting block and we are not. So, in general, women that stay take a couple steps back just as women, right? And then when you’re Black and Brown and there’re other levels of diversity, you take a couple more steps back. And when you think about that from an economic standpoint, that means salary wise, you’re not as well compensated clearly as male or others. And especially if you are you know, dealing with the intersection of race and gender.
And so when the pandemic hit, you had people who yes, they had childcare covered. Generally public, right, through their public schools or some other form that was maybe not as financially onerous as it could be. And so now you say, well, perhaps I don’t have a nanny or a shared situation. How do I do this?
You don’t have those same resources, right? So all of those things shutting down adds the additional pressure for women, generally women who have suffered some other challenges, right? Pay equity and some of those other things. So that’s the perspective that, that I took on it. And I think we also have to remember, we’re lucky enough to have maintained employment during this period. And there are a number of women who have been able to maintain employment, but if you’re a two income household and one party has lost income, sometimes you’re looking at relocation.
They’re looking for other jobs. So then you become again a trailing spouse and it doesn’t matter what level, cause we’ve seen that too. You know, very talented managers. Who’ve had to step back and become a trailing spouse again, which you know, can put a hiccup in your career.
Larry Baker: Thank you so much for that Perika. Jessica definitely want to hear your insights in regards to, you know, what do you think companies should be keeping in mind when it comes to those impacts?
Jessica Gilbert: So one of the things I love about this as I’m listening to Ebony and Perika is that we’ve, all come at this question from a little bit of a different perspective. As a, as a tech company, if you will, when I’m looking at what Cisco, what Meraki, what we’ve been really doing is thinking about how our purpose of powering an inclusive future for all can help address some of the disparate impacts that have been happening, because we know that so much of our frontline workforce in, a variety of industries are really women of color. And how are we as organizations investing in ways that are providing opportunity for women in terms of building skills and becoming part of the tech economy?
Cisco has our biggest CSR effort is our net academy, which is really around providing technical education to individuals. And when you think about that 18% of computer science degrees go to students who are female. Our CSR efforts around the net academy, 26% of the students that participate in those courses are female, and this is bringing them into a new industry, into a new level of economic prosperity, if you will.
And so how are we then also thinking about who makes up our workforce and how can we challenge the status quo where we look for talent? Because talent isn’t specific to a certain school. It isn’t specific to a certain zip code. And as we, as organizations now especially in a more remote or a hybrid work environment, we can get to talent in different geographies in different locations, such an opportunity to challenge the status quo.
Larry Baker: This is perfect. As a moderator, I always try to figure out how do we transition into the next question, but Jessica, you gave me a fantastic transition statement because of so much emphasis on the last question about what your organization is doing. So that’s going to take me into this next question.
As we begin this return to office, if you will, and our economy, it starts to recover. Do you think that companies are doing enough to ensure that women have a place at their organization? Jessica, you’ve already gone down that road. So I’m going to ask you to keep that momentum to kick us off with that question.
Jessica Gilbert: Absolutely. And this is something that’s so intriguing and I actually want to challenge a little bit of how you ask that question, because you’re talking about it from a return to office. Like we are going back to business as usual what we were pre pandemic, and that is not the case. The reality is that the future of work is hybrid. It is hybrid, and that is a different challenge than managing a workforce or the culture that we created pre-pandemic. As well as different from the culture that we’ve created during the pandemic, when everybody was remote. We are going to require different skill sets, but I think what we, we need to ensure in order to make sure that women have their place in the organization and we’re building an organization that works for everybody is to remember some of the lessons that we’ve learned from the pandemic, where the importance of leading with empathy providing mental health support because we can’t go back to the way things used to be. We have got this amazing opportunity to rethink. What work is like, what our culture is, because we’ve learned that culture is not about the office. Culture is created by our daily interactions, no matter whether they are virtual or not.
Larry Baker: I definitely appreciate that because I agree with that statement a hundred percent. I always felt that once we’ve gone down this road, or once we’ve opened, Pandora’s box is going to be hard to close it and go back. So I agree with that statement 100%. And I appreciate you redirecting that because that’s something that I always preach. We need to get to a new sense of normal because all of that in the past was exactly that it’s the past. If you cannot create business models that include some form of this hybrid lifestyle, then you’re behind the eight ball, right. Because we’ve shown that we can be productive in that type of environment. So thank you for keeping me honest. Perika. I want to have you jump in and talk about, you know, do you think that companies are doing enough?
Perika Sampson: I mean, obviously we’re in an interesting time and I think corporate leaders get it right. This has been an enormous impact on the entire workforce. And it’s easy for us to sit in our seats as corporate executive women and talk about returning to the office. It may be a little easier for us to do that, but when you think about those who are more dependent upon being in the office nine to five, you know, our assistants, our client service associates, those people who have been tethered to a computer, even during the pandemic, how do we bring them back? How do we allow them some level of a hybrid in a role that traditionally doesn’t offer that level of flexibility. And so I think that’s, the empathy piece is really, really important. Helping people to understand you have to see it from their, their perspective, but then there’s also the grace piece. Right? So we’re all. For lack of a better phrase flying by the seat of our pants here, right. Where, you know, we’re trying to make it happen. And I think where we ask employees to show corporate leaders, some grace, we ask corporate leaders to ask their employees what they want. Right. And what they need, and then let’s be more creative about those solutions. And that’s, I think that’s more critical than anything. And I’m familiar with some of Cisco’s work. I sit on an advisory committee for entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship and innovation, and a state, another state. And I know those programs are being offered.
And particularly we know that women, generally, are the ones who are creating more businesses. And so we have to make opportunities available for them. We have to make space for people to be more creative. I chuckle at this whole return to the office and hybrid, like, you know, we were doing this back in 1998. And so the fact that we’re scratching our head about it now it’s a little tickling to me. It was like, this works, it’s been working. What is wrong with you? So we still have to figure out a way to make it, make it work, but, you know, empathy certainly for our employees, especially those who may not have as many options around the creative workspace. And then a little bit of grace from the employees because you know, your leaders are doing a, I think an amazing job. We are hearing some of the well we’re going back to normal. Normal doesn’t exist anymore. I think that’s why the universe brought us to where we are today to break the normal and create something new.
Larry Baker: I agree. I agree. 100%. Thank you so much for that Perika. Okay, Ebony.
Ebony Travis (Tichenor): Oh, yes, I’m excited. Yes. There’s a lot of great information that really, you know, made me proud of why I’ve been with Boston Scientific for 24 years. During everything that happened in 2020, that as you all said, it really kind of shifted us, right.
Our mindset, the way we work, the way we. Go about our day, every day. Right. And so with Boston scientific, you know, it, it’s kind of like Brita said, you know, it’s, it’s asking your employees and they did just that. They asked the employees, you know, what, what do you think 2021 is going to look like? What can we do to make sure that we support you?
And we got that feedback back. And from that feedback, you know, teams were put together to enhance and update our benefits. Our life work, flexibility policy, creating a global workplace policy that has those hybrids in remote workers to show. And we even categorize it inside of our systems so that when we hire people on, we put, if they’re hybrid remote or they’re onsite, and we updated our systems like our calendar management, so that you can choose the option.
To work elsewhere, work home, or be on site so that when you’re scheduling meetings with individuals that may be. Onsite our hybrid or, you know, just remote, I’m a remote employee because I’ve never worked in the office. And so you can see those options when you’re scheduling meetings. And we even reached out to our nine ERG, you know, our global chief diversity officer.
She. When really wide and far with this and listening to all of our nine ERG is to ensure that we didn’t forget anyone. We didn’t forget our veterans, our disability, you know, our Black and Brown communities are women, you know, making sure that everyone had a voice so that we could put together a methodical and holistic approach.
And then, you know, also with our policies again, you know, we made sure that we updated them to reflect. This new normalcy, right? This new norm that we’re living in because it’s not the old norm, it’s a new one. Right. And you know, it just makes me proud. And we provided tools and resources constantly emailing, you know, even with the mental health that was mentioned earlier, we did the same thing, extending and expanding our business.
And providing these resources, not just to the employees, but to the families as well. And you know, when we went through everything we went through last year, we did listen to our employees. We had listening sessions. I let a lot of them. And I got to tell you. Yeah, I love what you know, previous said about, you know, just the grace and, you know, really having to have empathy.
No, those, those are all the things that we as an organization really truly try to make sure we remind our employees about. And we live through our core values, right. And diversity being one of them. And so I feel like, you know, we are doing everything we need to do to make sure that we help our women, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to help everyone because that’s what inclusion is all about.
Larry Baker: So. Absolutely. So thank you so much for that Ebony and, and one of the things that I want to do, and as we get closer to wrapping up our time today is I’m going to give each of you an opportunity to give some words of encouragement and advice to organizations as they move to this new, normal and welcoming individuals back to work, whether it’s, you know, remote or hybrid or physically back in the workspace, but really focus it around women. Right. Because I really want us to have those last words to give women that encouragement, that empowerment, and then a piece of advice for the organization as they welcomed them back.
Because what I really love about this panel that we have today, if you think about the pandemic, the three areas that we have come into very close contact with is technology, our finances and health. Right. And I see that parallel with this panel. So it’s going to be excellent for this last piece of advice that you can give from your organization’s perspective, but first and foremost, being women so I’m going to have Ebony, I want you to kick us off. Think about that piece of advice that you want to give to your organization or to any organization about coming back.
Ebony Travis (Tichenor): Well, you know, I love it. Thank you for starting me off because I just get really energized. So if I’m going to give this positive message, you know, first for women is never forget who you are. Never forget that you are fabulous. Okay? And you got this. And what I would say is that, you know, for our organizations that we just, I still think about what Perika said. It’s like that grace, like we have to be able to be okay. With not being okay. If you want a high-performing team, then you have to be able to have that flexibility. You know, you have to be able to allow that room, that grace, for people to be able to work the way they’re working, because if it’s been working so far for the last year, I don’t see how we could change.
Was there something wrong? Was there something broken? Cause you, we have time to fix it, but it’s been working. So why change that? Allow women to be able to feel like they can still be all in who they are without feeling like the extra pressure of them having to physically go all the way back to work and still trying to manage everything else on the personal side. You know, there’s that work, that life work, right. And again, if we did it all last year, then what’s wrong? So let’s be okay with it. So that’s, that’s what I have to say.
Larry Baker: That’s great. I love it. Thank you. I definitely appreciate that, Jessica. I want you to chime in there again, that piece of advice for organizations generally, but women specifically. So Jessica, go ahead.
Jessica Gilbert: Thanks, Larry and Ebony. I don’t know that I can say it much better than you, but I mean, it is don’t let your fear dictate your possibilities. We have to really be willing to be ourselves and know that we’ve got this. If we survived the past year we’re going to be able, to flourish, and do anything, we set our minds to do it. But, for organizations what I will say to, to build on what you were saying, Ebony, we’ve literally been able to see ,everybody in the same size box. And this is something that our chief people policy and purpose officer says all the time. So everybody’s been, you know, in the same size box, we’ve been able to see everybody.
And now that we are moving into whatever the future holds, how do we continue to see everybody and hear everybody? And listen to everybody and learn from everybody because that is what is going to create the possibilities for the future. And what an amazing future it can be. So use this as an opportunity. Don’t forget to continue that habit of listening of empathy, and really using technology as a way to foster connection. But keep the humanity in it. And, you know, WebEx is coming out with some amazing partnerships and technologies. We just announced some work with thrive, gold global, where we’re building in some of those mental resets into the technology that will help us create connection, but also that, that mental space so that we can bring our best to the workforce.
Larry Baker: Awesome. Thank you so much, Jessica. And last but not least Perika, your comments in regards to that. Thank you.
Perika Sampson: Sure. Thank you. So I’ll start with our leaders, cause you know, we can talk about the organizations, but let’s call them who they are. Let’s talk about our leaders. And so certainly this is a perfect opportunity and has been a perfect opportunity for our leaders to really practice what they learned and what we expose and that is that, you know, diversity and inclusion is one of our core values as it is for many of our organizations. And so this is the opportunity to be that inclusive leader, here people out, again, lean on your internal partners, be they diversity or HR to manage some of the challenges that people will have.
And then for the women this is, you know, my final word, remember to leverage the resources in your internal networks. So if you’re having a challenge reach out to your manager. If you need a little more assistance, reach out to your, you know, your D&I partners or your HR partners, but you know, express yourself and help them help you. Allow them to help you.
We talked a little bit earlier about trailing spouses and hearing that someone’s leaving the company. It’s like, wait a minute. We have offices everywhere. Have you leveraged all of the resources? Don’t leave without leveraging those resources. Don’t close the door without speaking to the people who valued your engagement and service all along. We want to see people come back. We want to see them be able to perform at a very high level and we want to see them excel. The pandemic should not stop your career. It should be, you know, a great opportunity for everyone to hit the refresh button and move on to that next level. But leverage those internal resources, mentors, advisors, and managers.
Larry Baker: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you all so very much. I am super excited that we decided to start our second season of the podcast focusing in on women’s needs, because I think that far too often, you sacrifice so much and you need to have these messages that encourage you that it’s okay to take time to focus on you. So I thank you so much, Ebony and Jessica and Perika for your engagement and the wealth of knowledge that you share with individuals that will be listening in, on this podcast.
And to all of you that are listening, we want to know from you, what were some of your biggest takeaways from this conversation? And if you are willing to please share them with us on LinkedIn and Facebook, and then of course share this episode. with a friend, a colleague or a family member who might need it. So once again, thank you. Thank you so much on behalf of LCW to Ebony Perika and Jessica, this was a fantastic conversation and dialogue and it was much needed. So thank you for your time.
Culture Moments Podcast: Around the World in 20 Years with Patricia Glasel of TransPerfect
Published on: June 30, 2021
Today, we continue our Around the World in 20 Years journey with Patricia Glasel, Global Training Director at TransPerfect. Born in Africa with roots in France and the West Indies, Patricia’s career has spanned 11 countries. When she came to the US to study at Northwestern University, she met LCW’s founders and began working with them on some critical projects for companies like Danon, Schneider, and Airbus – learning the ropes of cross-cultural management and training along the way.
It’s interesting to hear Patricia describe how global cross-cultural management and DEI have shifted in her experience working in Europe. If you want to build greater global competency into your work, you’ll really appreciate Patricia’s insights in this conversation.
Show Notes & Highlights
3:47: How Patricia’s global career brought her to LCW and cross-cultural management
6:00: Challenging European perceptions about cross-cultural training
9:11: The positive impacts of virtual training.
11:08: Why intercultural competence is a critical component of DEI, especially for the younger generation
Well, Patricia, thank you so much for joining us today.
My pleasure, Tanya.
I love starting out these conversations by just learning a little bit more about you and your journey into this field.
Okay. I was born in the cross-cultural environment because, actually, I was born in Africa with a dad from France and a mother from West Indies, and I lived there the first 15 years of my life in many different countries. And then I was passionate about, moving from a place to another understanding people, but at that time, I didn’t know that it was all about cultures.
But I could see that there were so many changes, different perspectives, different ways of living, of envisioning your life and your goals, that I became pretty sensitive to that. Actually, first, when I came back to my country, which is France, and when I realized that there was such a big gap with the African life in a way that I have lived as an expatriate. So, that’s where I began to have a few questions in my mind, wondering why that was so different. And then after studying a MBA, I spent one year in Asia, and this was, again, a new discovery, and at the end, lived in 11 countries. So, that’s where I realized that there were many things to be said about living, working, interacting with different cultures.
But I must say that it is when I arrived in the US that joining Northwestern University for studying more in-depth, psychology and organizational behaviors that my teachers actually told me, ‘you should study cross-cultural management, and that’s where I discovered that field, and I became immediately passionate about it.
That’s wonderful. So, when did you first begin working with LCW on your journey?
So, it was at that time, actually, because while studying at Northwestern, I really wanted to discover what was done with the industrial environment and the business, and that’s when I met Monica and Randy for the first time. At that time, they were just launching their business.
It was only the two of them, and they really welcomed me. The thing which is coming back to my mind is two people, bright people, eager to open their mind, eager to understand better the global environment. I love the way that they wanted to think out of the box and were brave in a way, because at that time it was not a very common field.
And they were brave enough to welcome me too as a trainee in a way. So, that’s when I first met LCW.
Are there any stories or highlights from your time working with them that you would like to share?
They gave me that opportunity that I still have in my mind to conduct a survey for a pharmaceutical company and understand why there was such a different turnover in the way American MD will offer medicine to the people who were visiting them, and they were eager to have the latest medicine. Whereas European or Indian MD working in the US would not prescribe the latest medicine.
So, I still have that in my mind, and you can imagine, with the current situation and the COVID, this, I keep having that in my mind, and it was a fascinating study and survey and a little bit of a challenge for me, but very interesting. And I keep having it in my mind.
Sounds very interesting. So, let’s shift gears a little bit to this year 2020, where there’s been so much change. How do you think this field has shifted or changed even since you entered it, a couple of decades ago?
Yes. It is a kind of different story because it has really changed since I entered the field. I cannot speak about the US, but after a few years, I came back to France. It was, so, I first met LCW in 2000, then came back in France in 2003. At that time, I still remember when I would speak to any organization, HR team, a leadership executive, and I would speak to them about cross-cultural environment, cross-cultural training, they would tell me, ‘what, we don’t need it. It is good for the American people because they don’t get out of their country, and they don’t understand what it is to be culturally sensitive, but we understand it’. And I was like, “Hmm,” so the big victory was to see that in a few years. Most of the bigger companies like Schneider, Dannon, Airbus, became extremely sensitive to that field, and I had the opportunity to sign a huge contract with those companies. So, this was a big, big shift, and which is still going on. And after cultural training, we implemented a diversity and inclusion global leadership, and they really took it very seriously, and it became part of their leadership training and international executive and so on.
Now, you are speaking of the current situation. I would say that I believe and that what has really changed now is the way we deliver the training. Most of the people before it would say, ‘I need to be face to face’, ‘I need to meet the trainer’, or even for the trainer, ‘I need to feel my trainees’.
Now, it has really changed, and I believe myself that even I feared it because I remember having – I’m still, today, delivering courses for MBA. And I had those, 30-45 people in a classroom, and I was just wondering how I would manage it because I’m used to doing play role case studies.
Everybody has to share their own experience, and I was just wondering how it would work. I am proud to say that it works so well, and I see the shift in that support, actually, how we deliver, which will allow us to deliver much more training and everywhere, actually.
That’s, that’s spot on, and I think LCW had that same experience. We did so much of our training on site. We have been doing some virtual training for many years, but we had to make that shift, and we are finding that you have to tweak things a little bit. You have to make some adjustments, but the learning is just as impactful.
Absolutely, and actually, I even found that you concentrate more on each of your trainees. You have all those tools that you can use, polls and so-on, which allow everybody to feel that they are part of what is delivered. I actually wrote an article about it because I love it. I love it. I’m not saying that I’m not looking for having people around me again, but I think having those – opening our way of delivering and having to do it with no choice was actually a blessing.
Yeah, I agree 100%. So, what do you think or hope this field will look like? We just talked about the past 20 years. What do you think or hope this field will look like even 20 years from now?
I have noticed that the shift that we implement in the people’s mind when we deliver a training is crucial. Crucial for understanding other ways of envisioning the worlds of working, and for me, that field should be applied, not only among different culture, but if we consider also that each person has its own culture, I would, I would say I would love cross-cultural training to be taught at school for the young people so that they could understand that the unique way of perceiving the world of believing that we are the one being right or wrong or whatever is an illusion.
And we need to work all together in the same direction but learning to add diversity and definitely values. I don’t want to become a full relativist. I mean, there are things which are wrong. There are things which are definitely right, perception which are wrong, but working together to open our mind and beginning much sooner than the age where we are dealing with that. Where they are already managers. So, that’s the reason why I’m pretty excited of delivering courses for students, but I would love to deliver it in a different way, maybe for much younger people. So, it should impact our society as a whole. Our societies as a whole.
I agree 100%. So, the final question, is there any advice that you would give to any future practitioners in this field for them to be successful and fulfilled?
That’s a hard one. To be successful, I believe that we need to understand who we are, and that’s where leadership makes sense before delivering those training experience, coaching experience, whatever we call it. Being extremely open-minded that’s for sure. Curious, adaptable, and I would say always keeping in mind also the subtility of guiding without imposing, which is sometimes difficult to maintain.
Yeah, I think that’s something that’s difficult for many of us. We’re so used to sort of instructing and telling what to do instead of that guidance as a more gentle process. So, I think that’s great advice.
Well, Patricia, this was a wonderful conversation.
Thank you so much for taking the time. I know it’s a busy time of year, and I know LCW really appreciates your friendship all these years. So, thank you.
Thank you so much, and I’m, I’m very, very happy to be part, and thank you very much to the whole team and also to you, Tanya, and all my best and warmest regards to Monica and Randy.
Culture Moments Podcast: Around the World in 20 Years with Kimberly Williams of Stanley Black & Decker
Published on: April 22, 2021
“Unless we can change some of the things that are happening around us, the problems will keep coming in. No matter how much strategy we build, no matter how much training we do, no matter how much we link something to compensation, what’s happening outside always happens inside.”
– Kimberly Williams, Global Diversity & Inclusion Program Director, Stanley Black & Decker.
Today, we continue our Around the World in 20 Years journey with Kimberly Williams. Kim is Stanley Black & Decker’s first Global Diversity & Inclusion Program Director. With 20+ years of HR experience, she has supported and led D&I initiatives in several organizations across industries; including, investment banking, health care, nonprofit, aerospace manufacturing and higher education. She is a lifetime member of the National Black MBA Association and Links Incorporated and has taught at Holyoke Community College, Westfield State University, Springfield College, and Bay Path University.
We’ve been with Kim since her earliest days at Stanley Black & Decker, so we talk a little bit about our work together there. However, it’s Kim’s depth of experience in DEI that really lights up this conversation. Her advice for the future of DEI is nuanced and so spot-on, so you don’t want to miss this conversation.
Show Notes & Highlights
8:53: SBD’s gender parity initiative.
12:23: DEI needs an outside-in perspective
14:16: Moving from “neutrality” to advocacy
Kim, thank you so much for joining us for this conversation today.
You’re welcome. Thank you for the invitation.
Our pleasure. So, first things first, I think we would just like to know about your career and your journey into the DEI field.
Yeah, it’s, it’s interesting. In business school, ‘93, ’94, I had a mentor there who was actually the only black female faculty member in the business school program.
And I had a conversation with her. I knew that I wanted to pursue HR and she said, ‘don’t take any jobs in affirmative action and EEO; that’s where they send all of the black people, all the people of color and in HR’, and ironically, that I did my first summer internship with Bristol Myers Squibb, and a chunk of my internship program was helping them to roll out a diversity and inclusion training, offered by Roosevelt Thomas, who’s kind of like the godfather, I think, of diversity, equity, and inclusion training, and I just loved it. It was fascinating to me. It was interesting. I really enjoyed learning from him and being a part of this whole process around diversity.
So, fast forward, I finished my business school program and ended up going to work at JP Morgan and their HR rotational program. And I wanted to start early, before the actual training program, and it just so happened that they had a need for somebody to lead their student of color internship program.
And I, the advice of my mentor, in my head, this sounds like it could be affirmative action EEO, but I had this really amazing experience the summer before. I spent the summer managing this program, went into the training, formal training program, and at the end of the program, they said, “so what would you like, what would you like to do? If we’ve got three or four choices here, where would you like to start your rotation?” And I said, “Diversity recruiting, please”.
So, that was back in ’94, and I have been doing work in diversity and inclusion with an emphasis on learning and development, leadership development in some capacity since then. So, I’ve, I’ve always found the work to be very gratifying, frustrating, sometimes challenging, but very gratifying.
Thank you for sharing that story. I think that that is a similar story for a lot of people, and just hearing how you sort of ended up here after you were told not to do it and how you sort of just made it your own and created this great career that’s really great.
And one other thing about that.
I think in that time, in the early/mid-nineties, things were beginning to evolve, right? And so, but prior to that, in a lot of corporate settings, the only thing that people did talk about, regarding inclusion or equity, was affirmative action. So, what really, kind of, I think, at least in, in financial services, I know there were other organizations who had been at the work much longer. but I think that with the timeframe when the work around diversity and inclusion started to become more compelling and strategic across the board.
Yeah. Yeah. That’s really important, and thank you for sharing that reminder, because I think it’s really, you talked earlier about how sometimes it feels like things move a little slowly, but I think it’s important for people to see the evolution of this field and, sort of, how it’s changed over time and how it continues to change, especially this year, which we’ll get into a little later.
So, let’s switch gears just a little bit and talk about how you, sort of, became a partner to LCW in that entire story.
Yeah. Another very funny story. So, I took on the role of Diversity and Inclusion Leader at Stanley Black and Decker at the end of 2017, I think, November. I started in October or November, and our CEO, Jim Laurie, had been in his role for about a year before I started. And so, we have Facebook Workplace, much is Facebook for work as, as one of our communication vehicle. So, as I started in, started to get up to speed, I found a post that Jim Laurie made earlier in the year, maybe summer, and he’s, in his message was saying, ‘we are committing to getting all employees managing unconscious bias training in 2018’ and so, as I read, I said, “Is that me? Is that my job?”, and of course it was. And so, I began to just look for vendors, organizations that had robust, multifaceted, easily-absorbed content around unconscious bias, and LCW came highly recommended to me by folks at Diversity Best Practice, and I had a chance to do a pilot. So, brought one of your founders in and, and she wowed the organization, and that’s pretty much all she wrote. So, we had the opportunity to meet with a couple of others and do a few other pilots as well, but just felt like LCW had the most well-documented research, but very absorbable, I guess, I’m sure there’s a better word, content and delivery.
I love that. That’s great to hear. Any stories or highlights during this time, as you’ve been working side-by-side with LCW on these initiatives?
Well, I will say that I think. One of the things that I hear consistently from people who participate in the training is the fact that the awareness of things that they were doing that demonstrated bias that they had no idea lived in that category.
So, we have two, kind of, ways of approaching management of conscious bias at Stanley Black and Decker, and one is a required e-learning the online learning program for about 20-25 minutes. So, every employee is required to take that programming just to lay the groundwork, and I know that there’s a lot of question about whether you should require training, whether you shouldn’t.
We landed in on the side, in this particular case, let’s make it a mandatory thing because we want for people to have a very clear understanding of what it is that we are not wanting to do. And so, we have that element. And then, every one of our people leaders is required to take the three-and-a-half or so hour instructor led sessions, and I’ve had the opportunity to facilitate a lot of those conversations.
And so again, hearing some of the “a-ha” moments that people have in the room where they just had no idea that, again, that what they were doing was exacerbating unconscious bias. And then there were also kind of on the same coin, things that people were doing. Great best practices that they had adopted as leaders that they said, “Oh wow. That’s I had no idea that that also mitigated unconscious bias. I just thought I was being a good leader.” So, I think those “a-ha” moments for me are, are some of the best, some of the most meaningful.
That’s wonderful. So, sort of shifting gears to the here and now, this year has been something else and there’s been so much change, and, not just with the broader pandemic, but with the events of this past summer, the murder of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, et cetera. In a year such as this, how do you think the DEI world has shifted or changed, especially compared to when you entered it, you know, a few years ago?
Yeah. I have to tell you in, in ways that are unimaginable, to be perfectly honest with you. So, a lot of work in my experience around DE&I in the corporate environment has been very incremental, right? I, as a D&I practitioner, have always tried to begin to prime the organization by doing this and pushing the organization a step, a little bit out of their comfort zone to do this, but it’s been very incremental, right? We’re going to do this, and then we’ll do that, and then we’ll get ready for that. So, a lot of the shifts that happened, what felt like overnight, in June, just kicked a lot of that incremental movement, just out of the way. And I won’t even say since June, I think because it was also our response as an organization and many organizations to the pandemic around having people work flexibly. And I’ll give you one example.
So, we launched a gender parody initiative at the beginning of this year, and one of the pillars is around having leaders model flexibility and inclusivity, right? So, flexibility, and inclusivity. And so, as I worked with the two pillar leads, one of, one of them being CHRO, we had this incremental plan, again, like, “we’re going to help get people on aware, like we’re going to sell the business case for this. We’re going to do all these things”, and then, March comes around and it happens for us right? It’s kind of like, well, we’re going to check that box, but what that meant though was now, because we were really pushed very quickly into this, now we have to take a step back around our new normal and make sure that we are not disadvantaging, disconnecting people who may be lost because they’re not front and center for whatever reason.
And so again, an idea of we were going to get to this incrementally and bam, we were there as well. And then, I’ll say related to, kind of, our efforts around racial equity, again, incremental; Our CEO’s always been very supportive having conversations, listening, understanding, but June 1st was the beginning of a very rapid movement in our organization around having conversations about race, right?
We talked about diversity. We talked about inclusion. We talk a lot about full spectrum diversity because we want everybody to know, “Hey, diversity, isn’t just the things about you that, that are visible.” But that, this singular moment, changed forever, I believe, how conversations about race happened in our organization.
I was amazed in within the first week or two of June to hear our leaders talk about and to say “black lives matter”, to include that in communications that we did externally for social as well as conversations internally. So, I, in attending probably a hundred DEI meetings and listening sessions and panels since that time, I see this, a similar pattern, right? So, if organizations were doing great things, but the global and visceral view of seeing a man’s life taken and understanding the experience in a different way, I think has just created a level of urgency in doing this work that did not exist.
I think that’s probably, if I could sum it up and put a bumper sticker on it, the pandemic, and partnered with this focus on racial justice, has really created this opportunity that we’re seeing, a real sense of urgency around equity. So, not just the D&I, but a real urgency around what do we need to do differently for different communities of people to ensure that they have a positive experience in the workplace and outside of the workplace.
So, a sense of urgency.
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. We’re hearing that a lot. So, what do you think looking forward now, and to the future, what do you think or hope the DI field will look like 10, 20 years from now?
What do I hope it’ll look like? So, one of the things that I say a lot, because I, I do think that there are often very high expectations put on DEI practitioners to make change, to change behaviors and attitudes in organizations, and I truly believe, and my experience tells me, that what’s happening outside the organization is going to happen inside the organization, and unless we can change what, some of the things that are happening around us the problems will keep coming in, no matter how much strategy we build, no matter how much training we do, no matter how much we link something to compensation, what’s happening outside always happens inside.
So, what I hope is that as this field of work continues to mature that there’s greater alignment, partnership, even maybe ownership, and accountability to how we are building community and how we are building support in the community that change the world, our organizations kind of from the outside in.
So, that’s one expectation. I see more and more people, who are operational leaders, taking either long-term moves into DE&I or short-term stints through it. So, I believe that this work will continue to be done by a broader and broader group of people in terms of experience and what they’re bringing to the table outside of kind of HR expertise.
So, I suspect that will continue to happen, and I think back to the sense of urgency, I think the genie’s out of the bottle there. And so, I will find it very difficult to see organizations kind of putting the brakes on some of the urgency, some of the initiatives, and action, and commitments that they’ve made in this time.
So, I feel like I went for probably 15 or so years without seeing a whole lot of shift around the work that we’re doing in D&I. I suspect that just like everything else that what we will get in 15 or 20 years will be something that we had no idea was coming because the change will begin to happen, I think, much more rapidly, based on the force of urgency, and I keep saying ‘urgency’ because I feel like that’s making a huge difference.
Yeah. That’s the term. That’s the term, I think, of the year. So, in conclusion, what’s one piece of advice that you would give or share with any future practitioners in this field?
To understand when to be an advocate and when to be a tactician, and I don’t know if those are the right words. So, there are times when, I think, as DE&I practitioners, we have to operate within a certain level of neutrality, right? So, when I talk about equity and inclusion, I want to talk about, actually, I won’t even say equity, but when I talk about inclusion, I want to include everybody, right? When I worked at Bay State Health and our definition of diversity was ‘all of those things that make us different from one another’, right? So, diversity includes everybody so there’s a need for us to have this level of neutrality, but there’s also a need, and, I think, more of a license, to have advocacy than that we’ve had in previous iterations of this work.
So, now it’s not only possible, but important for you to have a voice, for you to have an opinion, for you to voice that opinion that you have, so not always being neutral. And so, I think that that would be my piece of advice to DE&I practitioners of the future; know which lane you’re in at which time, and be really, really intentional about the lane that you’re going to be in.
So, I think that’s probably the best advice that I could give at this point.
That’s great. That’s really, really good advice. Well, Kim, is there anything else you want to add or anything, any ground you want to cover that we haven’t covered here?
No, I don’t think so.
All right. Well, this has been a pleasure and a great conversation. So, thank you again for taking the time today, and, as always, thank you so much for your partnership with LCW. We really appreciate it and appreciate you.
Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate you all too.
Culture Moments Podcast: Around the World in 20 Years with Cathy Gallagher-Louisy of CGL Consulting
Published on: April 15, 2021
Our “Around the World in 20 Years” series continues in Canada, where we’re chatting with Cathy Gallagher-Louisy, Principal at CGL Consulting.
Cathy is a globally-connected DEI and Corporate Social Responsibility professional with over 15 years of experience across a wide range of organizations. She is a Professor at the Centennial College Certificate in Leadership and Inclusion, and a faculty member at the University of Toronto’s Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainability Graduate Diploma.
You may also recognize her byline as the co-editor of The Centre for Global Inclusion newsletter as well as one of the Expert Panelists who create the centre’s Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks (GDIB).
It was a treat to catch up with Cathy and reminisce a bit about our time working on Aon Hewitt’s Global Cultures project, but the real highlight of this conversation is her critical perspectives on the future of DEI. As a practitioner, a leader, and a teacher, she has a lot to say about what DEI professionals need, at both an organizational and a personal level, to continue progress and momentum beyond the explosion in interest in 2020. Let’s get started.
Show Notes & Highlights
(1:30) The family dynamics that had a long-term effect on Cathy’s work
(5:25) LCW’s Global Cultures program at Hewitt
(9:30) What organizations and DEI teams need to be successful in 2021
(18:45) Understanding and approaching DEI as an organizational change agent.
Tanya Stanfield: Well, Cathy, thank you so much for joining us today.
Cathy Gallagher-Louisy: Thank you. I’m delighted to be here. It’s great to meet you, and I’m always happy to talk about LCW.
Tanya Stanfield: Well, we’re happy to talk with you. So, let’s just begin with basics here. How about telling us a little bit about your background and your journey into the DEI space?
Cathy Gallagher-Louisy: Sure. Okay, so, my name is Kathy Gallagher-Louisy, and I live just North of Toronto in Ontario, Canada. I have been involved in the DEI space since I was a kid, really, to be honest. My mother used to teach anti-racism training when I was a child and a teenager, and she was involved in the union movement and used to take me to protest marches and things like that.
So, I was actually on the cover of a major newspaper at a protest march when I was 15. So, I’ve been kind of steeped in this for a long time. Although I grew up in a, at the time, a predominantly white town North of Toronto, and didn’t really feel like I had a culture and didn’t really understand my place as a white person in the system of whiteness and white supremacy.
But I had some exposure through my parents’ friends. They had friends who lived in the city. My dad worked in the city, and my mom was involved in the union movement in the city. And so, we would go down to the city a lot, and they had friends of different cultures and races, and my sister and I, we’d go to friends, go to parties at one of my parent’s friend’s place, and we’d be only white people there.
And so that was, it was a good experience for us, but when I went to university, I met my ex-husband, who’s black, and at that point I realized I had a theoretical understanding of racism in that I knew it existed, but I had never seen it operate in a day-to-day behavior of people around you.
And so, I started to see a lot of things that were happening to my then-boyfriend, and I think I just saw a lot of things that a lot of white people never see. I think a lot of white people never see the extent to which microaggressions and disrespect and all these little, like little kind of snubs and death by a thousand cuts happens to racialize people all the time.
And so, examples of rude service in restaurants and being followed around stores and getting pulled over by the police and all these things that just kept happening over and over and over again, and then when I would try and explain it to my family, they would question what was happening, which is, sort of, a typical response from white people.
So, I had a lot of experience of being exposed to, I think, things that are, that a lot of white people are never exposed to. I’ve been involved in every job that I’ve had, and I worked at a lot of nonprofits that were cause-driven, but in every job that I’ve had, I’ve always got involved in community involvement and investment.
And then, it was when I started working for Hewitt that I got – Hewitt Associates, which was a client of LCW, and I got more involved in diversity, equity, and inclusion work and cultural competence development, and so I thought I understood a lot about diversity and racism. And then, when I discovered cultural competence, I was like, ‘whoa, mind blown’.
There’s like so much that I didn’t get, and so that was a really amazing learning journey. And so, now, I have been focused exclusively on diversity, equity, and inclusion and corporate social responsibility for the last 15 years, in my professional life. So, several years at Hewitt where I was the lead for corporate social responsibility and diversity for Canada and then seven and a half years at the Canadian Center for Diversity and Inclusion, where I led the consulting portfolios, cultural competence portfolio, and the research portfolio over the years.
So, I’ve done a lot of research and assessments of organizations’ inclusivity and helping organizations develop diversity strategy and just a ton of training and coaching, which I really love to do.
Tanya Stanfield: Excellent. Thanks for sharing all that. So, you talked a little bit about you’ve worked with LCW, but maybe you can share a little bit more about how you worked with LCW in the past and what that project entailed.
Cathy Gallagher-Louisy: Sure, I’ve had a number of times that I was involved with LCW projects because LCW was instrumental in helping Hewitt develop a four-stage, four-stage cross-cultural competence curriculum which was one of the most advanced corporate curriculum we knew of in any organization for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and cultural competence development, specifically.
And so, there’s a couple of training programs that I went through the training, and then, I was trained as a trainer. So, folks from LCW came and trained us, and that’s when I first met Monica. And then, I was involved subsequently with another project that was led by LCW and involved people from around the world at Hewitt, and it was a program called Global Cultures.
And so, it was an online training program. It was just – I have found that the way LCW runs these projects is very professional, very organized, but also, very good at taking the input from the folks in the company that you’re developing that training for to make sure that it’s really relevant and responsive to what that company needs.
So, it was a really amazing process that we went through with, working with folks from, on that global culture project, we had folks from South America, from the UK, Poland, US, India, and Canada, and I think there was probably other countries represented there that I can’t remember, and it was really amazing to bring everybody’s ideas together and try and create a series of learning modules that would be relevant to everybody, no matter where they sat in the world, but bring in case studies that would help them hone in on the specifics of the different cultures of the different countries that we were trying to adapt to.
So, really enjoyed those projects with LCW, and I learned so much from the folks at LCW, and I think that has served me really well going forward with doing this work.
Tanya Stanfield: What a journey. Are there any highlights or stories you can share, sort of going down, you know, memory lane about that time spent working alongside LCW?
Cathy Gallagher-Louisy: Yeah, there was, this comes from the global cultures course, and I remember there was some conversations that were facilitated by the LCW folks, and they had provided us with questionnaires about what it’s like to work in your different countries. Right? And then, everyone shared their questionnaires back.
So, we all got to review each other’s, and then, LCW facilitated a conversation around like, just us all, kind of, responding to the differences, but also, then, how do we incorporate that into the course? And that conversation really stands out for me as one that I learned so much from in, in understanding the different, the nuances of how people work in different countries and the expectations and assumptions that we all bring, especially when we’re dealing with colleagues that are in another cultural context, but we’re usually coming at it from our own cultural context. And then, when we hear about things that are happening in their context, we might have responses like, ‘oh, that’s weird’ or whatever judgmental responses, and it was just, it was such a very, very eye-opening activity and conversation that really led some depth into the program that we were developing.
Tanya Stanfield: That’s really awesome. So, sort of switching gears a little bit from the past and thank you for sharing those stories, let’s talk about the present. In a year of so much change and so much has happened in 2020, how do you think the DEI world has shifted or changed since you sort of entered the field?
Cathy Gallagher-Louisy: Wow. In some ways, it’s changed a lot, and some ways, it just hasn’t changed enough. There’s a lot more discussion. I think there’s a lot more awareness. There’s not enough work happening and, it’s so – we’re still making the business case and it’s frustrating and tiring because we’re kind of like, ‘why do you folks not get this yet’, and we’re still having to convince people of the need for this work, and it, so that’s, that’s a bit frustrating. And I think certainly folks who have been experiencing harassment and discrimination for decades are frustrated at the very, very slow pace of change. So, I think, I think there’s been some progress made in awareness and discussion, and more organizations have, even before this year, more organizations were seeing the need for it and sort of admitting they don’t know what they don’t know, and they need some help and doing more assessments and beginning work.
I’ve seen a lot more beginning works, in the last five years. What has happened this year, with the murder of George Floyd, and the Amy Cooper incident in New York city, and all of these things hitting the media very strongly in June, is we’ve seen a lot of organizations forced to, kind of, advance lest they be accused of not being supportive of this, this moment in history, and it’s a pivotal moment in a lot of ways, but one of the things that has happened is a lot of these organizations, their CEO, or their corporate communications folks, or somebody put out a nice pithy statement about the organization support for Black Lives Matter and condemning anti-black racism and things like that, and yet, then, they heard from their employees of color that, well, ‘what are you doing about the racism we’re experiencing here in your organization’?
And I actually just read an article that was produced by an organization called Color Lines in the United States, and they did an assessment of these corporate statements and found that most of the, they actually put the statements through a program that, that does an algorithmic assessment of language used, and they found that most of these statements didn’t, they used the basic corporate jargon around diversity and inclusion and none of the corporate statements acknowledged that they had equity issues to address in their own organizations.
And so what’s happened is a lot of organizations have put out these, these public statements about their support for the movement while not actually doing the work internally, and then, many of them have now heard from their employees about the fact that they’re experiencing racism in their organizations and they’re shocked, and they’re struggling on what to do.
Of course, employees, who’ve been experiencing racism and sexism and homophobia and abelist discrimination and all this kind of stuff for years, are just kind of like ‘really, you’re just waking up now’, and I understand the frustration that a lot of people are experiencing. The interesting thing is the way the conversation has been shaped this year gives us a bit of an ability to push farther with some of the executive teams that I’m working with, at least in in my consulting practice, that it’s giving us the ability to have bolder conversations. It’s giving us the ability to talk more openly about racism and anti-racism and systemic racism and white supremacy and colonialism and all of these things that we tended to keep out of the corporate discussion before. It’s raised the awareness amongst people about these issues and has given us the ability to push a bit harder. So, in that sense, I’m pleased to see that there’s more organizations who are like waking up and trying to do something. I think a lot of these organizations are in for a rude awakening on what it actually means. So, we’ve seen tons and tons of jobs posted for diversity people, right? And organizations, and in many cases, I think they’re putting too much pressure on one person without enough resources to completely change an organizational culture that was built over decades, and that one person, it’s far too much to put on one person’s shoulders.
So, I think a lot of organizations are dedicated and actually trying to make change, and I’m working with a few of them that are really dedicating significant resources and making it a strategic priority, which is wonderful to see that; there’s still a lot of long work to go.
But, I think, some of these organizations want a quick fix – A silver bullet – so that this issue goes away, and it’s not going to go away, and if that’s their approach, they’re going to further exacerbate the feelings of disengagement that some of their employees, especially employees of color, have been experiencing as a result of the organization not addressing the issues that they’re experiencing on a daily basis.
So, I think a lot of folks are not prepared for the actual work. And the actual work is really, truly assessing your organization and what are your issues and being transparent and honest and accountable to correct those things. And then, actually putting the resources toward correcting it, and we know in every organization, whatever is a strategic priority, it gets properly resourced.
So, if this area is not being properly resourced, it’s not that much of a priority, and you can’t make organizational change with one person leading the charge. So, that’s, that’s one of the things that I’m seeing that’s, that’s a little bit different right now in the conversation is I think the ability to push a little bit harder, but I do think that there’s going to be a lot of frustrated people who’ve been hired into these new diversity roles who, when they try to make the change that needs to be made, are going to experience pushback and leaders who are uncomfortable at best or resistant at worst, and, and their efforts are going to be thwarted.
And so, I expect in 2021, we’re going to see a lot of disengaged people who are in diversity roles. I think we’re probably going to see a lot of movement because the folks that were hired into these roles are going to get discouraged by the lack of willingness of some of these organizations to actually make the change that needs to happen. Sorry, that was a long answer.
Tanya Stanfield: No, that was great, and you’re, this is the second conversation I’ve had today and the same answer to the same question, I’m hearing the same refrain a lot.
So, that sort of moves into my next question. What do you think needs to happen so DEI looks different, even 20 years from now, looking into the future, what do you hope this field accomplishes or it looks like?
Cathy Gallagher-Louisy: Sadly, I think there’s still gonna be need for the work in 20 years. Folks who work in this area like to joke that we’re trying to work ourselves out of a job because eventually every organization will be equitable and inclusive when we won’t need this anymore.
I don’t think that that’s going to happen. This work has been going on for 50 years, and it – more than 50 years since the civil rights and before, and it hasn’t; we haven’t moved the needle nearly enough. The pace of change is glacial, and in almost every metric that we look at. And so, I think there’s still going to be a need to focus on systemic inequities and people’s biases, and because those aren’t going away, and the current crisis we’re in right now actually exacerbates systemic inequities. We have found that the COVID crisis, those of us who have the privilege to work from home, aren’t being impacted that much, but it tends to be marginalized folks who are either of different lower socioeconomic status, racialized people, people with disabilities, indigenous people, et cetera, who are experiencing the worst of the impacts of this, and many of them don’t have the ability to work from home. Many of the jobs have been lost, have been those types of jobs that, and so, I’ve seen this phrase that’s been going around that, ‘we’re all in the same boat’.
We’re not ‘all in the same boat’; we’re in the same storm, but we’re in different boats and some of us are in yachts and some of us are hanging on to a piece of wood and some of us are drowning. So, it’s every crisis impacts the marginalized groups the most. And so, the need for DEI work is even greater right now.
And I’ve just been reading a number of articles that have been talking about how businesses need to still center this work, even through this recovery, and it’s, so I’m not, I’m not that hopeful that the work is going to go away, that there won’t be a need for it, because I think whenever we’re going to get rid of people’s biases and unfortunately some of the solutions that organizations and societies and governments come up with continue to exacerbate the systemic inequities that exist rather than actually addressing them.
And so, there’s still a long way to go, and I would like to think we’ll achieve equality in 20 years, but I’m realistic. I don’t think that’s going to happen. So, it’s interesting. There was a, there was a gathering that was put on by the Center for Global Inclusion in 2018 that was called the DEI futures event, and it was looking at diversity, equity, inclusion work to 2030. What is the work gonna look like then? So, even 10 years from now, and what’s the world of work going to look like then, and how does this work fit there? So, there’s some really interesting research happening in this realm, but I think that we’re still going to be working on people who don’t get it, and we’re still going to be working on people’s biases and the systemic issues that are in all of our organizations.
Tanya Stanfield: So, what advice do you have, then, when we think about some of these new roles that have opened up and maybe newer people who are entering the space for the first time in these organizations that are fired up about the cause but maybe they’re a little newer to it? As you mentioned, they have a hard road ahead of them. Is there any advice that you can share with some of these emerging practitioners?
Cathy Gallagher-Louisy: Absolutely. So, I actually teach the emerging practitioners through my, I’m teaching at the Centennial College Certificate in Leadership and Inclusion, as well as at University of Toronto, where I teach about diversity, equity, and inclusion as part of corporate social responsibility and sustainability, and I think what’s really important is for practitioners to be very knowledgeable about the field. I would suggest that it’s very important for practitioners to, in addition to understanding DEI issues and systemic inequalities and all of the issues that exist, but to also bone up on understanding organizational change, and this is a really great approach and it’s something that I, I did a few years ago. I got certified in ADKAR, which is a sort of formalized organizational change methodology, and ADKAR stands for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement. So, these are the outcomes that you’re trying to achieve when you’re using organizational change.
And when I was with CCDI, and we did a series of events across the country on organizational change, we found that this was the methodology that most of the organizations were using if they were using a formalized methodology. Understanding your role as a DEI practitioner, that your, your role is actually organizational change, puts a really different spin on how you approach the work and also can help you make that case for the, for it to be more systemic and to have executive or senior leadership support and have there been driving, championing the cause, right?
And so, it’s a really good tool and an area of skill to, to bone up on. If you’re trying to advance DEI in an organization, it’s organizational change. So, understanding how organizational change works and what are the points that make it more effective and the points that make it less effective and what’s the areas of resistance that you have to deal with is very helpful in this work and can help us in creating organizational DEI strategies.
Tanya Stanfield: Yeah, that’s great advice. I couldn’t agree more.
Cathy Gallagher-Louisy: Can I add one more thing?
Tanya Stanfield: Of course.
Cathy Gallagher-Louisy: So, another piece of advice for future DEI practitioners is every single one of us has some areas where we’re privileged and some areas where we’re disadvantaged, right?
And so, in those areas where we’re privileged, we’re an ally to others. I strongly, strongly, strongly suggest a few things in allies. So, one is to educate yourself about the experiences of others, as opposed to turning to, especially for white allies. Please, do not turn to your colleagues of color and ask them to explain racism to you.
You’re putting a really unfair burden of emotional labor on them to recount painful, oppressive experiences for you, and then, unfortunately, the sad thing that often happens is white people then question what the people are telling us and say, ‘Oh, maybe you’re being too sensitive’ or ‘maybe they’re having a bad day’, or ‘are you sure that was racism’?
And so, we need to educate ourselves instead of putting the burden on people who are already oppressed to further educate us. As allies, it’s extremely important just to listen to the lived experiences of the people that we’re trying to be allies to, rather than trying to center ourselves in the conversation.
And also, we have to really avoid expressing our guilt in these kinds of conversations, because the, what happens when we express our, our guilt about, ‘Oh, I’ve just learned that your people are oppressed by my people; I’m so sorry. I feel so guilty about that’. You’re then re-centering the conversation on yourself and your feelings, as opposed to focusing the conversation on the issue that you’re apparently trying to be an ally to.
So, you’re actually undermining your own cause when you recenter the conversation on yourself in whatever way that you do. So as an ally, it’s important to educate ourselves, and it’s important to listen to others, and it’s important to just be quiet and let the others express what is happening, and also, let the others that we’re trying to support, let us know what we need to do to support the cause.
And it’s a challenge for a lot of allies to, kind of, step back and let someone else take the center stage, but it’s absolutely necessary for all of us who call ourselves allies in this work.
Tanya Stanfield: That’s excellent advice. Well, this has been an excellent conversation. You shared so much, you know, insight and wisdom with us, especially as we look ahead to the future.
So, I wanna thank you again, Kathy, for spending time with us and being such a good friend and partner to LCW for all these years.
Cathy Gallagher-Louisy: Thank you, Tanya, and I look forward to being a good friend and partner to LCW for many years to come. So, thank, thank you very much. I really appreciate this opportunity.
Tanya Stanfield: Thank you.
Culture Moments Podcast: Around the World in 20 Years with Akberet Boykin-Farr of Emerson
Published on: April 7, 2021
“If you want to make progress, you just have to move!”
Today, we continue our Around the World in 20 Years journey with Akberet Boykin-Farr. Akberet is VP of Diversity and Social Responsibility at Emerson out of St. Louis, Missouri. She’s responsible for the executive leadership and management of the company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, management of the Emerson Charitable Trust, oversight of the company’s corporate social responsibility reporting, and serves as its community liaison in St. Louis – quite fitting as she currently serves on the boards of directors for the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis and City Academy in St. Louis.
At Emerson, we worked with Akberet on the development and rollout of the company’s unconscious bias training globally, which was the beginning of their D&I training. We talk a little bit about the broader and more robust D&I initiatives brought about by that training, and how leadership is taking more of an initiative to promote inclusion on their teams. But what is particularly valuable about this conversation is Akberet’s key advice to practitioners on avoiding perfectionism.
Show Notes & Highlights
(1:35) How unconscious bias opened the doors to more diversity training at Emerson
(3:53) How leaders are shifting from “tell me what to do” to “what can I do”
(6:00) If you want to make progress, you just have to move!
Akberet, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We really appreciate your time.
It’s a pleasure. I’m looking forward to our discussion.
I am too. So, maybe, we’ll just start off by learning a little bit more about you and your journey into the DEI field.
Yeah, absolutely. I have been in diversity for the last three years, and prior to that, my career was in human resources, in a variety of roles, in a variety of businesses, mostly as a generalist, and most recently as a leader of one of our larger businesses.
So, when did you first begin working with LCW?
I would say right when I took the diversity role, I’d reached out to LCW to talk about the Managing Unconscious Program that they had put together for us as an organization. It was our first time doing diversity training, and I felt like they were a key partner of ours, and I needed to understand their perspective for the organization, as well as, I was also trying to formulate our go forward plan. Where do I go from here? This is the first time we’ve had someone that was dedicated in the role of diversity, and I really wanted LCW’s perspective and understanding of our organization.
That’s wonderful. So, what type of training was it? The live Unconscious Bias Training or was it e-learning or how did that unfold?
Yeah, so the Unconscious Bias Training was the live session, about two-and-a-half-hour course, that we originally started with our leadership team. Our goal was to train all of our top leaders in unconscious bias. We really hadn’t done any type of diversity training prior to that. There may have been a few modules in some small sessions, some of our leadership sessions, but nothing significant. So, this was an in-house training, in-person training. And then from there, we worked with LCW to launch a Introduction of Managing Unconscious Bias, which was for individual contributors. So, less about how to approach this from a management standpoint, but just how it impacts day to day.
Can you share a little bit with this partnership with LCW? What were some of the highlights or the impact that you saw from these programs?
Yeah, I always call Managing Unconscious Bias at Emerson, I always call it our permission slip to talk about diversity, and it gives people the language, the narrative, to share about diversity in the organization, when prior to that we really had been somewhat silent on the topic. So, I think it gave people an opportunity to share their experiences, to learn, to understand other perspectives, and it was really a springboard to other things that we were going to do in the organization. So, it led to expanding employee resource groups, diversity committees that we created. We began to create that at various locations. We’re a global multinational, and a lot of our organizations have their own culture and having these diversity committees was really important for us. So, I think it was really the start of more opportunity for diversity.
So, let’s switch gears a little bit from this programming to here and now, and considering your background in the DEI field and contrasting what you’ve seen in the past couple of years compared to this year where so much has changed. How do you think the DEI world has shifted or changed, particularly since you entered the field?
I think when I took the role, I felt like I was doing more canvassing, of recommending to leaders and business leaders that this is where you need to go, and these are some ideas, and you should try this or try that, and a lot of times I was willing for them to do anything, whatever it took; there was no prescription in my mind, but I will say, with the events of the last year, there’s more of that pull. What can I do? Before it used to be ‘tell me what I need to be doing’. If diversity is important, tell me exactly what I need to do, and now they’re willing to try any and everything, which was our goal all along is grow some things organically that are unique to your location and to your business that are important. So, I think I’m starting to see that more individualized interest and how they can make a difference.
Wow. That’s really something else, quite a shift indeed. So, what do you think or hope this field will look like as we’re looking ahead to the next 20 years even?
Right. I don’t know if it’s a cliche or what, but you almost want the field to go away, and that it be just a part of everything that we do. I always try to say, we don’t want diversity to be a bolt on in the organization. We want it to run through every piece of it. We want it to run through all the values, our purpose, our goals. That’s ideal, but I don’t think 20 years is enough time for that, to be quite honest. But I do hope that it continues to be a necessary element in running a business. It’s not an afterthought, but it is something that is thought of alongside of everything that is done, in all the decision-making.
Agreed. So what’s one piece of advice you’d share with any early stage or future DEI practitioners?
I was trying to, I think, come into the role and wanted to make sure everything was perfect. Make sure that I had every question that could potentially be answered, every potential outcome already addressed, and I quickly realized that you can’t just sit and wait till you have everything perfect in this space because you won’t, and the world will change, as we’ve seen, and things will evolve, and leadership will change, but you just always have to be in a constant state. So, you’ve got to be moving and you’ve got to be progressing. So, sitting and waiting for the right time or the stars to align or everyone to accept what you’re recommending really just impedes progress, and if you want to make progress, you just have to move. So, I think in my prior work experience, if you rolled out a new program, you had all the pieces together, you had every question that anybody could ask, and in this area, it’s not possible to have that; it just can’t be done that way. I don’t know if that’s the best advice, but that’s what comes to my mind.
No, that’s great advice. I think, especially with everything moving so fast right now, it’s perfect advice. Like you said, you can’t always wait around to have the perfect plan or the perfect… If you did that this year, you were set back quite a bit. So, I think that’s perfect advice. So, anything else you want to add or talk about in this conversation or any parting words at all?
I think I would just say that I have been grateful for LCW’s work in the space. It’s been great to have a third party come in that’s not my voice, because when people hear me, I think it’s almost sounds like a broken record, but it’s great to have someone outside the organization who has credible experience and background with companies that we respect and as an organization to hear their perspective has been good. And I would even add that, in addition to that, having someone you could say it… Most of it is things you’re trying to navigate, and you’re just like, ‘I just experienced this, is this reasonable? What do you think? I know you’re here to do a train the trainer session, but hey, let me run this by you’, and so that’s been a nice thing to have, because certainly in this area you almost need that outside of the organization. Sure, you have those individual and champions within the organization that you can go to, but I think it’s also really beneficial to have that outside the organization. So, that’s been quite helpful.
Yeah, and I would imagine, especially being a global organization, it’s pretty critical to have some sort of external advice or perspective. You certainly can’t figure it all out on your own with all the cultural complexities and everything.
Well, thank you so much for talking with us today and for your partnership with LCW. We really, really appreciate it and look forward to another 20 years.
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.
Culture Moments Podcast: Around the World in 20 Years with Lukeisha Paul of GroupM
Published on: March 22, 2021
Today, we continue our Around the World in 20 Years journey with Lukeisha Paul, the head of diversity, equity and inclusion for GroupM US. Before taking on her current role, Lukeisha had been with Mindshare, MAXUS and GroupM for 15 years overseeing print media for a vast array of accounts in pharma, retail, CPG, QSR, and finance. She also serves as GroupM’s representative on WPP’s Collective Inclusion & Diversity leads across their network.
Lukeisha’s passion for her work has garnered her industry recognition such as Adweek Executive Mentor, Ad Club of New York President’s Award, and a multitude of other awards and honors in the advertising space. We only began working with GroupM and Lukeisha in 2019 but wow, what a journey it’s been! Our conversation, which took place at the tail end of 2020, covers the shifts we had to make from in-person to virtual training, and from unconscious bias to discussions about George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. We also talk about all of this within a global context, as GroupM serves clients and employees all over the world. And finally, Lukeisha, who is fairly new to this work herself, shares some great advice for new DEI practitioners. Let’s begin.
Show Notes & Highlights
(2:22) The journey from DEI Champion to DEI Leader in advertising
(9:18) Creating “Courageous Conversations” at GroupM
(18:22) Shifting the internal DEI conversation to clients and vendors
(23:00) The inclusion gaps in the advertising industry, and what needs to change to close them
(25:25) Advice from a newer DEI practitioner
Tanya Stanfield: Well, Lukeisha, thank you so much for joining us for this conversation today. We really appreciate your partnership over the past couple of years, and we’re really excited to really dig into this conversation with you.
Lukeisha Paul: Thank you so much for having me, Tanya.
Tanya Stanfield: Great. Well, I’ll just sort of dive right in here. Tell us a little bit about your journey into the DEI space, as a DEI professional.
Lukeisha Paul: Sure. So, I currently work in the advertising industry, and I’ve been in the advertising industry for now 20 years. I would say, 15 of those years I’ve been with my current company in a media planning and buying space. And in that space, over the years, I’ve been working with the Advertising Club of New York to help diversify the industry. And I would usually go to our HR departments and say, ‘the ad club is having an event and we’d need to sponsor some people’, and in 2018, this is where my journey began. This is where my journey began officially.
I went into my HR group and I said, ‘we’re usually having these conversations across the board and our clients are there as well as some of our competitors. And they’re speaking about what their companies are doing from a DEI perspective’. If they were to ask me what is GroupM’s action currently in that space, what would my response be? And at the time my HR leads said, ‘we really aren’t doing a lot, at all’, and I quickly responded. That’s not a good enough response, and with that, they had mentioned, she had mentioned, that they were currently looking at maybe having someone take on the role of doing DEI across all of our companies.
Just one single person, and before I could think about my response, I automatically just said, ‘here I am’. And I, and I say this to this day, before I can think about it, I said it, and that’s because my passion led me to respond, ‘here I am to do this’. But I didn’t think about what it would actually take to get this done knowing I’ve been with this company for a long, for a long time, and I’m seeing some of the voids and the gaps that I definitely wanted to be a part of filling because I love the company that I work for, and I knew that once we got this piece in place, we would be a dynamic company on a holistic view.
That said, it took us a few months, well, to get this position started, but I officially took on the role in January of 2019 as the Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for GroupM US. This entails, me heading up all DEI across our operating companies, which is about nine of them and across the US markets.
It has been such a great journey since then. I have always worked in the space of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I mean, just from being a person from an underrepresented group and undergoing certain things like microaggressions or seeing opportunities where individuals from underrepresented groups weren’t given the same career path alignment as others were given.
And once I was able to affect change in terms of how, I progressed in my career. I, definitely, made sure that something on my to-do list was to create inclusivity with all the teams that I had and bring in more diverse backgrounds. So, it’s kind of been in the pipeline for me. It’s been in the work that I’ve been doing, but officially January 2019 is when I assumed this role.
Tanya Stanfield: That’s great. Thanks for sharing that journey. So, when did you and GroupM first begin working with LCW?
Lukeisha Paul: Yeah. So, that’s a great story, and you would hear to today that I would say Monica Marcel, who works for your company, is my best friend, literally, my best friend. In 2018, when I assumed this role, I reached out to some people in the industry that I had, that I had known, particularly, Mita Mallik, who was at Unilever, as well as Diversity Best Practices, and I utilized them to help build the foundation, and they recommended LCW as a company that I would like to, that I should investigate for our unconscious bias programming that we were going to do. That was one of the first things that I wanted to implement at our company because I knew that once people were aware of their biases, it would help mitigate the microaggressions and then be able to cause more inclusivity.
So, I contacted LCW, and I was put in a partnership with Monica. So, this was before I officially filled this role, and Monica really helped to act as a partner since then in how I can visualize and then implement what unconscious bias is going to look like for our company and put together a very strong program for building the foundation of this office.
I remember saying to Monica all the time, ‘I’m so very grateful for all your guidance and your consultancy as a partner. I just want to let that once I get a budget, once I assume this role, officially, you are going to be the absolute first person that I call to make sure that our company is investing with your company and putting into practice the great things that you’ve already shown me’.
And ‘so said, so done’. Monica was the number one person that I called, as soon as I officially filled in this role, and we’ve been with LCW since January 2019 up until now. We have done such great work together. One thing I really love about Monica, about LCW, that I understood very, from the onset, was customization to our company.
I had done research into other companies that do unconscious bias programs. I had done research across our companies in terms of who we have utilized in prior years, and I’ve gotten a few names, and for the most part, I’ve heard they’ve been kind of cookie cutter programs. I knew that I didn’t want to have a cookie cutter program because I want it to be unique to our company.
Our company, in itself, is a unique company, and we’re a leader in this space. I wanted us to have that authoritative stance in this industry from a DEI perspective, and so, I believe that what really solidified my partnership with LCW was being able to customize a four-phase program, that started out with focus groups and pulse surveys, to understand where our company currently was and where we want it to be.
What were the goals? What are some of the key points that came out of those focus groups and those surveys? And then, we then decided to share that information with our company to say, ‘this is, these are the things that we’re going through. This is where LCW is going to come in to help really steer our company in the right direction for diversity, equity and inclusion’, and from there, we’ve been rolling out program after program out of this, and with the changes that we’ve been encountering, on a whole, our country in a whole. Especially throughout the heightened emotional stages and awareness within 2020, LCW has been there with us re-customizing, reviewing, re-imagining what we’re going to do, evaluating what we’ve had in place and how we can help increase awareness across the board based on current activity. So, so grateful for that first day and that first conversation with Monica at LCW to see where we are today, and I continue to recommend the services of LCW to any client, to any company that I come in contact with that asks for, anyone that asks for a recommendation around a company that does unconscious bias programming.
Tanya Stanfield: Are there any stories that you can share through this journey, and thank you for describing it, so, so thoroughly, because it feels like it’s been longer than since 2019, but we’ve really been on a journey together. So, are there any stories, I think, especially in the past several months alone, that really, sort of, highlight the impact that’s been made through these programs? Even if it’s just an individual impact or on a team level or an organizational level.
Lukeisha Paul: Yep. Absolutely. So, I would say right after the murder of George Floyd, companies across the board were really trying to figure out how they can be of assistance to their employees. I’ve witnessed a huge emotional surge across the board. Within the black community, within the people of color community, as well as the non-people of color community, every employee wanted to know ‘where are we going to go from here’. We had our people of color communities that were looking for a place where they can have a voice and be heard.
We had the non-people of color community that wanted to know how can we help? What can we do to help make a difference? Well, I contacted LCW and said, ‘I really need you in this moment to help me provide a program and event something that can help out with this ask’, and so, we created a courageous conversation event.
Our company has 5,000 plus employees; almost 3000 employees attended this event where LCW educated on the history of racism in America, behind the global context as well, and then ended with tools and resources of how individuals can also have these types of conversations on their teams to help this moment where people really just needed to have a voice.
And so, that’s one thing that’s significantly stood out to me because after that event, we had received such positive remarks of how effective that courageous conversation event was, how life-changing it was, and people actually said it wasn’t just from a professional perspective, but from a personal perspective, and that means so much more to me because now we know that we’re impacting the lives of people and not just how they’re dealing with their teams at work.
So, that’s one thing that I would say. There are so many moments with LCW. I really feel like they are a true friend, not, not even just the partner, but a true friend in times of need. Because we often come up with these, I often call on LCW and say, ‘I need your help’, and they’re right there, and they say, ‘okay, well, Lukeisha, let’s have a brainstorming on what we can do’.
I want to talk about our unconscious bias program that we have. We started this program to be an in-person facilitated program. We rolled this out across two of our markets, or we started to roll it out across two of our markets. We were successful in Chicago, and then we were just about to start LA when COVID-19 hit.
And when COVID-19 hit everyone, including our own company, went to virtual. So, how are we going to make this effective without having the in-person facilitated sessions that we were having? And that was crucial to me. I did not want this to be a program where it was just digital, and employees would just clicking really quickly on the, on the “yes” buttons that they can fast forward through everything and say that they’ve completed it and then check the box. That is not my intention for any of the work that I do, and certainly what I was getting from LCW. I believe that they were intentional as well. And so, in putting our heads together, we then transferred our in-person facilitated program to being virtual online facilitated program.
And to this date, we have successfully been able to usher the program into a number of our employees. Now, this is a required program that all 5,000 plus of our employees have to go through. We have gotten nothing but positive remarks about Larry. He’s the one that has been doing the facilitating of the sessions.
People are talking about how engaging he is, how personable he makes it. People are learning more. I mean, we thought that going virtual was going to take something away from the program, but it absolutely did not do that. In fact, people were able to, to really bond with this, with the education that they were getting, with the information that Larry was putting out, and with Larry himself through these online programs.
And so, thankfully, LCW quickly came up with a solution, and they’ve been using Adobe Connect to do so, and it’s been working well with our groups, with our company, and so again, that’s another moment in time that I’m thinking of how our partnership between LCW and GroupM just continues to be strengthened along the way, and especially during such a fragile time within our country.
Tanya Stanfield: That’s so great to hear. I’m curious, I know that your unconscious bias program is highly customized, you know, with the events that have happened in the past several months, whether it’s COVID, whether it’s the murder of George Floyd, the ignition of the Black Lives Matter movement, has any of that content shifted or changed at all within that program itself or has it pretty much stayed the same?
Lukeisha Paul: So, I would say the unconscious bias program that we put in place, because that was customized to inputs from the company, that pretty much stayed the same, but what we were able to do was then look into the race matters workshop sessions that LCW does, and the race matters session when we looked at it together, though, it was relevant, it wasn’t as timely. And so, we decided together, again, in customization, which to me always translates to intentional. We were able to update the information to be more current, taking into account the death of George Floyd. Taking into account the fact that we were now virtual because of COVID, and there was so many heavy, there was such heaviness with COVID itself, that, compiled with the racial disparities that’s happening in our country, we were able to tweak the program to offer up something that can allow our employees to be equipped with the tools, to have the common conversations that were happening. To be able to answer some uncomfortable conversations, and to be able to have these conversations in their team dynamics.
So, what we’ve found is that there was such a need and a demand for, “Tell us, what can we do? What are we missing here? What’s happening in this community?” That, for some they weren’t privy to before, until it became broadcasted globally. Right? So, and that, with the race matters session, we’re able to have those conversations, and we purposely do our unconscious bias, as well as our race matters session, in small groups to make sure that there is a lot of engagement happening. We want people to ask questions, and we want to be there to respond to them. So, LCW has been doing a great job in terms of making sure that the programs that we’re moving forward with are more timely and are result of the, right now in this moment, here’s what you need.
Tanya Stanfield: Shifting away a little bit from sort of the current work that’s going on with GroupM and LCW, let’s talk about the DEI space in general, and knowing that you’ve been in this space for a long time, but you’ve been in this leadership position, in the span of what probably feels like a decade with so much that has gone on.
How do you think the DEI world has shifted or changed since you’ve entered the field? And does it need to shift and change even more? What are you thinking about right now?
[00:15:00] Lukeisha Paul: Yeah. So, I would say absolutely. I’ve seen a definite shift and change. I see that companies are more willing to work together with one another to help the progression of diversity, equity, and inclusion, whereas in the past, it has been in siloed. So, you’d have companies doing their own work and almost really resembled a competitiveness between one another, like who’s doing a greater job, as opposed to really recognizing that there is no competitiveness in who has more underrepresented individuals than another, but really an action item to help all underrepresented groups, to listen and hear from all underrepresented groups.
What I’ve also seen is DEI is now touching all aspects of the business, whereas historically it hadn’t been. Historically, it’s kind of sat within HR. It really defaulted to a lot of talent acquisition and recruitment of underrepresented groups. I see companies of being more intentional in terms of ‘let’s get to the root of diversity, equity and inclusion’.
What are some of the areas and the growth opportunities that we have, saying outwardly and very clearly, ‘we are working this year’. Not that we are downplaying any need that is out there, but we are placing an emphasis on the black, African-American community and the Latin X community. One. Two in terms of it touching the business, I work in advertising. So, we’re not just talking to our employees internally within our agency. We’re also having conversations with our clients. We’re also having conversations with our vendor partners about what we can do holistically. I’ve been, now, my role has been expanded to having a consultative arm for our clients in terms of what can they do better, one, at their companies internally, but also, with their target audiences, with their consumers. So now, we’re not just speaking to them from a media perspective for all of a general market, but we’re really honing in on target audiences of the multicultural background and helping to shape what that now looks like.
How do you have those conversations that remain relevant, especially in this time? So, that’s definitely a shift that I’ve seen. Also, I’ve been asked to speak globally in some markets, like the UK, around giving them context to what’s happening in the US, because we are seeing people protesting the same way they are in the UK in the US, in the UK, and in other countries as well. Around the world, you have individuals that are holding up signs that say ‘Black Lives Matter’, and you have countries who have never had that conversation before, who have never seen that before. So, they’re reaching out to their US counterparts to ask, ‘what is the context here? Help us the better understand this’, and then to better be able to relate to our employees that are asking these questions, not just outside on the streets, but are bringing their concerns into the business.
So, there’s so much that I have witnessed, in terms of changing, from a DEI perspective within the industry, and I intend to see so much more continue to change because this isn’t just a ‘Black Lives Matter’ moment. This is a moment for all underrepresented groups to have a voice and to let their voice be heard.
You are now witnessing, and if you’ve seen any of the marches and the protests, you’ll see that there is every color, creed, race, size, gender, so forth, and so on that are locking arms together to make sure that we are all heard, and so, I don’t believe that this is going to be something that is going to go away.
That’s another big shift that I’m seeing. Historically, we’ve been here before, but somewhere we’ve forgotten it, and then we’ve gotten back to the norms, but not the case anymore. Citizens aren’t allowing people to let this go. Our countrymen are not allowing, and women, are not allowing anyone to let this go.
This is going to be a continued conversation that we have, from today and onward, and we also have a togetherness of seeing other groups rise to the top, as well. So, this is something, also, that I’ve seen as a shift. We’re not just making movements for our individual wants, desires, and needs; we’re making movements for ourselves and for those behind this, no matter who those people represent.
Tanya Stanfield: Wow, that’s really powerful. Thank you for sharing all that. I’m sensing this unity theme. First, you touched on the fact that companies aren’t being as competitive anymore. I’ve definitely noticed that but noticing that’s how this has become a global movement, as well.
I think all that is so spot on, so, thank you for sharing that. I think this is a good point to segue to talking about the future of DEI. As LCW is sort of wrapping up its first 20 years in business, we’re definitely looking to the future of what the DEI cultural competence looks like.
What are you hoping for that will sort of take place or shift in this industry or in this field in the next 20 years?
Lukeisha Paul: Yeah, I am looking for us no longer having to say ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’. I am looking for, it to just be embedded into everything that we do, that it is the norm. That we are no longer saying ‘the percentages of black representation in our industry remain at 4% within a manager and above levels as it has historically been’, but that we truly see a shift in the actions that we are putting forth today.
No longer do I want to see we’re doing great from a female perspective. One, when we’re talking about gender, so, we’re not including other genders, but to say that we’re doing well from a female perspective and not looking at females or women, I’m sorry, on a whole, not including women of color in that. No longer am I thinking that we’re going to be in a place where observances like LGBTQ plus community only happens in June for pride month, but that we weave in awareness and cultural immersions throughout the entire year because of these individuals within our country, within our companies, are part of the fabric of what brings us all together and the work that we do.
And so, what I’m hoping to see is that we start to get to a place of humanity, of seeing one another for human beings, and it’s interesting, when I have this conversation now with anyone, but including our senior leads, and they’re usually cautioned by saying anything because they’re afraid of what to say in this moment.
I say, when you look at the murder of George Floyd, try not to look at it from a race perspective, because that’s what blocks you, but if you look at it from a humanity perspective, no human being should be treated that way, and I think that that’s at least my desire for DEI in the future is that we start becoming more inclusive, truly inclusive, truly.
This is often something that I’d say as well. We talk about bringing your ‘whole self’ to work. Well, within our society, all of these ‘isms’ currently exists: ableism, racism, genderism, and so forth, and so on. Truly, if we can bring those things awareness into the workplace, they happen, they’re there. They already exist, but historically, we’ve been sweeping this under the rug and not really having these conversations. Historically, we’ve been told they can’t talk about religion and politics or any of those things at work. Currently, politics, religion, all of that has to do with diversity, equity, and inclusion, and by the way, within politics, we’re seeing conversations of DEI.
So, right now, we’re in a moment of everything getting blurred, and the future is the vision would be very clear on the fact that we need to be more holistic and inclusive in this industry of diversity, equity, inclusion and stop looking at it as an afterthought or an add on.
Tanya Stanfield: That’s excellent. So, as someone who is a relatively new leader in the space, but has so quickly become, not just an expert, but a business partner, to people internally at GroupM and to clients as you’re consulting with them as well, I can think of no better person to give advice to any future DEI practitioners. What advice would you give them for someone who’s thinking of going in this field, for someone who’s very early in this field, for someone who next year or in the next 10 years might decide to go into this field? What are some pieces of advice that you could share with them?
Lukeisha Paul: So, I would say when I first came into this field, the advice that I was given at the time was ‘take some time to yourself in this. The work is very hard’, and I got full warned about burnout, and I came in here with my passion, leading everything, and so my motivation, my energy, is spurred by my passion.
I would say ‘don’t let that passion fade’, know that what you’re getting into. You’re going to receive opposition because we are trying to change thought patterns that have been ingrained for so many years. Once you know that, then you’ll be able to push on to see the progress that you want to be made. I, personally, try my best not to take things personal, and that’s the key because when I came into the industry, as a black woman heading up DEI, I wanted to make sure that everyone still saw me able to speak to all underrepresented groups and be a voice for all of the voiceless and to not just be seen as a black woman who has an agenda for the black community.
I have an agenda for every single community, and where the disparities are greater, those are the places that we’re going to focus on in the here and now. So, I would say don’t worry about it. I’ve spoken to counterparts who are part of the LGBTQ plus community that have also said they have tried to downplay that community and really speak for the rest.
No, we need to speak for everyone, including our own community. So, don’t put anyone on the back burner for any reason at all. I would also say, one thing I tell everyone, and I lead by this, as well: everyone is at different levels of understanding and awareness. That helps me be able to speak to many different people with different insights across the board.
There are some people that absolutely a hundred percent get it. There are some people that get it but are afraid to admit that, and there are some people who are just oblivious. And all three categories are okay: they’re okay. You have to meet people where they are. Don’t try to, let’s not judge. Let’s take the time, and let’s teach.
Tanya Stanfield: That’s perfect advice to end on. Lukeisha, thank you so much for this incredible conversation. I’ve really enjoyed it, and I know others in the field and outside of the field as well. We’ll really appreciate all the insights that you provided here. So, thank you, and thank you for your partnership, you and GroupM for your partnership to LCW all this time, we really appreciate it.
Lukeisha Paul: Yeah, thank you so much for having me, Tanya, and thank you so much to LCW. Really, I don’t think that I could have done it on my own without LCW helping me from the very, very beginning before we even had signed a contract. So, I applaud businesses like that, that look at the future of building a relationship because truly it has been a successful and impactful one between GroupM and LCW.
So, thank you.
Tanya Stanfield: Thank you. Thank you so much for those kind words.
Culture Moments Podcast: Around the World in 20 Years with Mita Mallick of Carta
Published on: March 10, 2021
Today, we continue our Around the World in 20 Years journey with Mita Mallick. When we had this conversation at the tail end of 2020, Mita had just started her new role as the Head of Inclusion, Equity and Impact at Carta.
A corporate change-maker with a track record of transforming businesses and cultures, Mita is a passionate storyteller who believes in the power of diversity to spur creative strategic thinking to ultimately transform brands.
We began working with her when she was the Head of Diversity & Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Marketing at Unilever. Under her leadership, Unilever was gender-balanced at manager level and above and also received accolades as the #1 Company for Working Mothers by Working Mother Media and #2 Employer for Women by Forbes. Mita also co-created with us the Cultural Immersions series, which we touched upon briefly in episode #5 with her former colleague, Kamillah Knight.
We could talk all day about Mita’s extensive list of accomplishments, so make sure to check the show notes for her LinkedIn profile to get her full career story. In the meantime, listen in with us as we dig into the details a bit about how the Cultural Immersions, a program that went beyond unconscious bias and into the heart and soul of the experience of underrepresented communities, was created. Mita also touches a bit on the topic of inclusive representation and inclusive design along with her future-forward insights on how we can all become our own Chief Diversity Officers – in our own way.
Show Notes & Highlights
(1:00) Entering DEI as a marketer and a storyteller
(4:25) The Cultural Immersions Story
(9:00) How leaders are shifting their role in the DEI journey
(10:35) Acting as our own Chief Diversity Officers
(12:25) What gets measured gets done (start with something)
Tanya Stanfield: Well, hi Mita! Thank you so much for joining us for this conversation today.
Mita Mallick: Thanks for having me. I’m super excited.
Tanya Stanfield: I am too. So, you’ve been a partner of LCW’s for quite a few years now, but before we dig into that partnership, I would just like to learn more about you and your journey into the DEI field and career.
Mita Mallick: I think the journey starts at a pretty young age. I’m the proud daughter of Indian immigrant parents. My younger brother and I were born and raised in the US, and I felt like I grew up in a world where I didn’t belong. We were a handful of families of color outside of Boston. I certainly didn’t belong in that community.
People let me know that every single day with the actions and things that happened to me then, and then, I also was being raised in a world that didn’t speak to me – products and services, whether it was representation in TV shows or in magazines or in media – I didn’t see myself reflected. I remember being obsessed with Tatyana Ali and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and TLC, and so, while I didn’t, and I don’t, identify as Black, I did identify with the Black community. And so, I was always looking for role models. So, if I’m going to be honest, I think that’s, if I go back to ‘why’ – the ‘why’ is my experiences growing up and not ever wanting anyone else to feel like they weren’t included and they didn’t belong.
And so, when my CEO at Unilever, four and a half years ago, asked me to take on the assignment, after some thinking about it, and talking to my brother and others, it made sense that I would go into this space.
Tanya Stanfield: And before that, you were pretty solidly in the marketing career, correct?
Mita Mallick: Correct. Yeah, I was, and if, if you go back to the stories I shared earlier about my childhood, I didn’t feel like I was represented in storytelling.
My voice didn’t matter, or voices of people who look like me didn’t matter, and so, I wanted to change that, and so, that’s when I went into marketing storytelling and, I had the opportunity to lead lots of great brands. And when I was given this opportunity, I did pause because I had my own biases about what it meant to be in inclusion, and I was going to be a marketer, but as I reflected on the change I wanted to make in the world, I thought this was an important move to make.
Tanya Stanfield: That’s great; Thanks for sharing that. Such a great story. So, let’s move a little bit into how you and LCW sort of formed a super-strong partnership that still exists today.
Mita Mallick: I have. I consider LCW friends now, not just a partner, but close friends, and I actually had the good fortune of meeting them through Diversity Best Practices. And they had recommended LCW as a potential partner when we were going through an RFP process to look for someone who could help us with unconscious bias training.
And I came into this work, and someone handed me some unconscious bias training materials that existed, and I went through it, and I was really hesitant and scared to say, actually, there’s not one person who looks like me in this training or these materials. So, I’m not really sure how we can talk about unconscious bias if I don’t see myself reflected or any stories or any connection – again, back to representation.
And so, we did an RFP; We were pretty extensive about it. This was ‘wow’ – now, you’re taking me back – four and a half years ago, and LCW rose to the top, and so, that’s where our partnership started from that moment.
Tanya Stanfield: So, share a few highlights. I know there are a lot. We’ve been on this journey with you for four years now, but what are some highlights or stories that when you think of LCW, you just want people to know, and you want to share?
Mita Mallick: I would say, first, LCW has such deep experience and expertise, and the exciting part about inclusion right now, if I’m going to be optimistic and half glass full, I know progress is slow, but so many people are engaged. It’s really exciting.
There were a lot of people entering this field. I’m only five years into it. And so, finding somebody who has deep experience and expertise, when they’re teaching training, facilitating, and they can draw on things they’ve seen in other organizations and other experiences, it was really important – very strong bias for action.
There’s been a lot of times where I’ve needed something, and LCW has turned it around within a very short period of time, especially if it was in a moment where we really needed them. And, I think the final pieces, they’re always ready, LCW, to meet people where they are in their journey. Because as we know, some people are further along in their inclusion journey.
Others are just starting, and that’s okay, but it’s not a one size fits all approach, and that’s really important. And probably my best, best memory in partnership is with Language Culture Worldwide is when we co-created the cultural immersion series, which I just helped start at Unilever and fund, and we worked on that together to really think about how to go beyond unconscious bias training, and to think about a marketer’s job being that I know you so well, that I can surprise and delight you with the product and service you didn’t expect, but the question we have to ask ourselves is, ‘do I know you and the history of our community’, especially as so many people want to do the right thing and say, ‘I want to reach the African-American black community’.
‘I want to reach the Latin X community’. ‘I want to reach the Muslim community, but do I have the insights to do that’? And that cultural immersion series is groundbreaking and breakthrough. We brought thousands of people through it at Unilever, and I know many other companies and organizations have approached LCW about taking their organizations and their employees through that really critical experience.
Tanya Stanfield: Now, the cultural immersions that was pretty groundbreaking for D&I training; are you able to share a little bit how people sort of reacted to that initially and how they grew or their competence grew through that process?
Mita Mallick: We were really intentional about how we designed it and rolled it out.
So, I worked really closely with Language Culture Worldwide. As you think about the understanding the experience of being black in America today, that cultural immersion. The first part is really understanding that community and the history of that community and how the institution of slavery still has modern day repercussions and why it does.
And you start to look at the themes of body integrity, dehumanization of blacks for centuries, colorism, and then it starts to weave into the second part, which is all the content, which I came in to say, here’s all the content unfortunately, we’re seeing out there. So, we worked together for a while to, sort of, create that module – that four and a half hour, at the time, live experience which, now, is virtual – really thinking about as the user, what would you want to see and how would you want to experience it, and then we worked with our business resource groups. So, we had a small pilot. I remember LCW flying in. We had a small pilot. We had 35 people.
We had individuals from business resource groups or employee resource groups, as many people call it, marketers, HR, influencers. We went through it, had lunch, and ripped it apart. And then, rebuilt and reiterated, and then, we start started to pilot – took that pilot and rolled it out – and the people who were co-created with us and sat in that session, they went and told all their friends, and they told all their friends, and so it just, it was also that we hit on an insight that this was something people needed and wanted in terms of building their cultural competency.
So, to be honest, it was not a hard lift. People showed up, and they showed up in droves. We had agency partners; we had other companies calling us, and so, I think it’s because we took that approach of building, taking people along the journey, that it was so successful.
Tanya Stanfield: Yeah, and I just want to, I want to reiterate and remind anyone who’s listening that this all happened before this year. So, when you’re talking about the appetite for this type of content, it’s before all of the very newsworthy and very difficult events of this year.
Mita Mallick: It’s December 2017, and then when we started rolling out at the beginning of 18, but we had the RFP at the end of that year, and we started to build the curriculum at the end of that year.
Tanya Stanfield: Yeah, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect because, of course, with everything that’s happened this year, that program has really become critical for a lot of other client partners as well. So, sort of shifting gears a little bit into the ‘here and now’, and this year, as someone who’s been so deep in this industry for as long as you have, what’s the shift that you’ve seen – the big change that you’ve seen in 2020 that has sort of taken things to the next level – in your perspective?
Mita Mallick: The big shift I’ve seen, and I choose to do this work, and because I choose to do it, I have to be half glass full. I try to see the positivity because it is – progress has been slow, and the data will show us that. The difference I see is so many white leaders who are on their journey – I would say to be advocates – who are stepping up and asking the questions, and it was the killing of George Floyd that happened this year. It was the flame that had always been ignited in this country that just exploded, and there’s lots of different reasons and theories as to why it was that moment when there were so many other deaths of unarmed black Americans that have occurred. And it has been a moment where, I feel , that more leaders want to take individual responsibility for their learning and not just for themselves, but to say, my organization needs this; My team needs this. How can I be an advocate in my community if I have children, and what are my children learning, and what’s the school curriculum like? It’s just fascinating. [00:10:00] So, something I feel has tipped, and that is just the level of conversation, questions, requests, and help I’m getting asked for, makes me really positive and optimistic that we’re going to start to make more change.
Tanya Stanfield: Do you have any perspective or insights or opinions on what you think DEI will look like, over the next 10 or 20 years, or is that sort of, kind of, up in the air?
Mita Mallick: Well, I think if I was to be super optimistic, I would say we don’t need this function in 20 years because each of us should be acting like our own Chief Diversity Officer, Head of Inclusion, pick your title, but that should just be something that’s ingrained into how I need to show up as an inclusive leader every day at work.
And we’re human beings; we’re flawed. So, that’s likely not going to happen because we’re all learning and growing. What I would say is, and I fundamentally think this idea of diversity of thought that doesn’t happen without diversity of representation, how you build psychologically safe workforces, and how you get those ideas into market.
Those ideas into market you can’t separate those two things anymore. You have to be thinking about how your brands and products and services show up in the marketplace. So, you can be talking about what’s your representation of black, African-American talent. The other question I would ask is how are you growing your business with that community?
And that is also in terms of thinking about inclusive design in terms of products and services – I go back to my childhood and not having products that worked on my skin or my hair – and so I think more and more diversity, equity, and inclusion is going to be part of the frontline of the business, that anyone who’s leading this work also has to have influence on the business side as well.
Tanya Stanfield: Yeah, excellent point. We’ve seen the growth of this industry this year due to some of the events that we just talked about, and one conversation we’ve been having with thought leaders is ‘What’s any advice you can share with people who might be newer to this industry, or just, entering D&I for the first time? They’re passionate about it. They want to be advocates. They want this to be their work. Is there any advice that you would share? So, they can help, guide this future that you’re hoping for.
Mita Mallick: I would say a few things. I would say, first, I believe what gets measured gets done, and I always joke when I was selling Vaseline back in the day, no one would ever say ‘sell some Vaseline to Walmart and see what happens’.
That’s not how it works in business. And so, we’re on different journeys. You don’t have to be measuring everything all at once, but you can start. So that might be, you start an ERG. What’s the engagement? How many members? It might be that you just start looking at who has self-reported and what representation looks like.
I think you have to start with something, and that something, over time, will [00:13:00] grow. I think be very curious and ask questions and learn about other’s experiences. I remember when I first started this work, I did not know a veteran in my life, and I was embarrassed to admit that, but I went to the, then, head of our veterans’ business resource group, and I, I confessed and said, I don’t actually know anyone who’s a veteran. Like, what do I do? And, quickly, they paired me with American Corporate Partners, which is a fantastic nonprofit that help transition veterans into corporate, and so, you have to be a little vulnerable and curious to say ‘I need to understand these life experiences’, and I would say, just be bold and go for it – in the choices that you’re making, in the strategies and recommendations that you have. Just don’t hold back because now’s the time. Now’s the time to make a change.
Tanya Stanfield: Yeah, that’s so helpful. I can’t think of a better way to end this, but is there anything else you want to add onto this [00:14:00] conversation?
Anything you think people absolutely should know or need to know in this moment?
Mita Mallick: I would just end by saying LCW has been such an important part of my diversity, equity, and inclusion journey and my learning. They have been amazing partners, mentors, and have become friends. And so, thank you LCW for everything you’ve accomplished, all of your hard work and help, and for everything that I know the future holds for all of us.
Tanya Stanfield: Well, we feel the same about you. You’re, you’re a friend of ours as well, and we so appreciate your partnership and your friendship. So, thank you for having this conversation with me today.
Mita Mallick: Thank you.
Culture Moments Podcast: Around the World in 20 Years with Kamillah Knight of Ferrero
Published on: March 1, 2021
We continue our Around the World in 20 Years journey with Kamillah Knight, Director of Diversity & Inclusion at Ferrero North America. Yes, Nutella, Kinder…that Ferrero! At Ferrero, Kamillah is responsible for advancing the company’s global efforts on diversity in North America and helping to shape its inclusion strategy across the region.
Prior to this, we worked closely with Kamillah and her colleagues when she was at Unilever. She began her Unilever career in Procurement before eventually becoming the Diversity and Inclusion Lead there. She was one of the many who worked hand-in-hand with us to develop and deliver inclusivity training, and she also managed events and partnerships that supported Unilever’s diversity plans. Her colleagues, family, friends, and fellow proud Cornell alumni know Kamillah as a change superhero with a passion to change the way that people look at and interact with the environment.
This conversation, which was conducted right before Kamillah began her new role at Ferrero, covers a lot of ground. We talk about Kamillah’s own experience and the impact of the Cultural Immersions training that exposed employees at Unilever to the Black, Latinx, Muslim, and LGBTQ experience. Kamillah also shares why relationships are so critical to our work in DEI.
Show Notes & Highlights
(2:10) Kamillah’s DEI journey from Cornell and then through supply chain and sales at Unilever
(5:27) Going beyond unconscious bias and into Cultural Immersion
(7:14) The personal impact of the Cultural Immersions
(13:45) Big shifts in DEI – going from “check the box” to a more embedded approach throughout the system
(15:16) Big expectations and big hopes for DEI in the next 5 (not 20!) years.
Tanya Stanfield: Well Kamillah, thank you so much for joining us today. How are you doing?
Kamillah Knight: I’m doing well. How about yourself?
Tanya Stanfield: I’m doing great. Thank you for being a part of LCW’s Around the World in 20 Years Series. You’ve been a partner to LCW for a few years now, and we’re thrilled to have you here to share some of your stories, and your insights and experience at a time when the DEI and cultural competence fields are really evolving at a fast pace. So to start things off, I think it would just be great to know a little bit more about you and your journey into the DEI space.
Kamillah Knight: Absolutely. First, let me just say thank you for having me. It has been quite a pleasure and an honor to work with LCW. I have learned a tremendous amount in my engagement with the different consultants and different folks over at LCW. So thank you.
As far as my D&I journey, this was not always the path for me. It’s something that I kind of figured out over time. I would even credit it all the way back to my undergraduate studies. Prior to starting my career at Unilever, I was an undergrad and then a grad student at Cornell University. As an undergrad, I studied sociology and economics and specifically focused on business networks and institutions. It was my goal to understand how people made the decisions that they made, what influenced those decisions, but then in turn, how do businesses play a role in influencing that?
I didn’t know it then, but it very much had everything to do with diversity and inclusion. Even in my Master’s, I took the same approach from more of a sustainability perspective because I started to look at corporate social responsibility and how businesses were starting to formulate that message and those ideals. And again, not realizing how much that had to do with diversity and inclusion. Today I understand that you can’t solve anything that has to do with sustainability or understand anything about what influences anybody’s decisions or how they got there without thinking about it from a D&I, or diversity and inclusion lens.
So I came to Unilever really and truly for the sustainability aspect of it. I started in supply chain procurement, and then moved to sales before making the transition into HR and D&I. Completely different than the diversity and inclusion space, but I still did a lot of work that had to do with it, whether it was being on the leadership team for different business resource groups, or starting a new business resource group. At one point, I even started a program called the Leadership Development Institute at Unilever, which really looked at how could we engage and start to build a pipeline for minority students who are in high school? How can we prepare and equip them with tools and help them understand the different roles that they could take on within a business? So over a six week period, over 24 students from six different high schools would come into our office during the summer and meet with different EVPs and VPs, take on different trainings about developing their purpose or how to have proper business etiquette at dinners and things like that, as well as work on a real case study.
And of course, again, with the idea of equipping them with the tools to apply to our internships, apply to the UFLP Program and so much more. And it was with all of this that I started to realize that what really drove me was centered on diversity and inclusion. I even started to hone in on what my purpose was as an individual. I believe my purpose is to be what I call a change superhero, which means I want to change the way that people interact with their environment, whether that’s their physical environment or with other people. And so it was with that that I started to really lean into the diversity and inclusion team that much more at Unilever, and offering help when it came to attending different conferences and understanding how we could benchmark ourselves against other corporations or to learn from what other corporations were doing and bring those insights back to the company. Also just becoming again, more involved with our business resource groups and making sure that certain employee’s voices were being heard and advocated for. And more or less, I ended up coming on to the D&I team.
Tanya Stanfield: Amazing, thank you for sharing that story. That journey is not what I expected to hear, coming from that sustainability viewpoint, and sort of seeing how it all sort of blended together and hearing about that program that you helped really put spark at Unilever. And that’s really encouraging, so thank you for sharing that. In your work at Unilever, when did your work start to overlap with the work that LCW was doing with the organization?
Kamillah Knight: Immediately. It was one of the first things that I got involved with, and really looking at how could we better serve black employees at Unilever. So looking at bringing LCW in, at the time we were really just kind of jump-starting the journey with the Cultural Immersions, for instance. So being a part of that journey and making sure that employees were taking part in it, getting what they needed to get from it, and also making sure that LCW had the real insights and understanding of what the corporate landscape within Unilever really looks like so that they could actually build those components into the training and really help people to lean in more. Also, another big initiative that I took part in that I worked closely with LCW was, when we conducted interviews, anonymous interviews with black employees across the business to really just gain some insights on what was their experience?
Kamillah Knight: And if they had worked at another company, what was that experience like? To really help us understand internally, what could we do differently to make sure that we were not only recruiting the best black talent, but also retaining that talent? And with that, I was able to build out so many things as a result of the insights LCW provided, whether that was things like building a sponsorship program for our black employees, or really starting to lean in more with professional development, whether it was coaching, which I’ve used LCW for quite a bit, or really looking at functional, specific programming, whether that’s having conversations around race or managing inclusively. All types of things. I think that alone, when I started on the team helped to jumpstart many things.
Tanya Stanfield: Can you talk a little bit about the Cultural Emergence Program, because it’s such a huge part of the partnership that LCW and Unilever had together? Unilever co-created that with LCW. So do you want to just share with the audience a little bit more about that, for those who don’t know what it is or what that experience is like?
Kamillah Knight: Absolutely. So we developed four Cultural Immersions: One is the Black Experience, one is Latinx, one is the LGBTQ Experience, and the fourth is the Muslim Experience. And each of them walk you through the historical context associated with someone who identifies with that group, and then takes it to the next step or level to then look at, what are some of the biases that exist that are associated with this group, and especially with regards to the historical context? And it helps people to actually do some sort of introspective look at how are you contributing towards those biases? What can you do a little bit differently to help make a shift away from that, despite what has happened in history? And then even further, which I think helped a lot with just the type of company that Unilever is, especially being very marketing forward in a sense, is really looking at how marketers market to those specific groups, looking at companies that have done it well versus companies that have not done it well.
And I can tell you, being a black woman and sitting through the black Cultural Immersion, it was very powerful in the sense that I felt like it definitely highlighted some very key things that people needed to understand, while at the same time, it also kind of brought some things full circle to me to help make it click, if you will, for myself. And then I know that when talking to other employees throughout the business, they felt the same when attending those that they identify with the group. And then just attending those that I did not identify with, again, a huge learning curve, even as a quote unquote D&I expert, if you will. It was so impactful and really changed how I approached people, how I thought about things, the questions that I asked and how I developed relationships.
Tanya Stanfield: Yeah. And I think it might be helpful to understand … And thank you for sharing that, that’s such a great encapsulation. And immersions wasn’t the beginning of your D&I training journey. Unilever had done some unconscious bias training. How did you determine that this was the next step? Because I think a lot of people, a lot of organizations start unconscious bias, and unfortunately some organizations stop there. How did you determine that this was the next step and that Unilever as an organization was ready for that next step?
Kamillah Knight: Yeah. So I’ll be very honest with you. I came in when we were already transitioning over into the Cultural Immersions. But my understanding about it, and especially being there for quite some time, is it was all about this idea of going beyond unconscious bias. Unconscious bias to myself means that’s the starting point. That’s where you’re establishing a common language, if you will. A way for everybody to have the same key terms and know how to talk about it, know what someone else means when they’re approaching you with the conversation versus going beyond that. Now that you’ve been equipped with this language, now let’s put it into action. Let’s actually start associating that language with some key things, especially that you see going around you. Because otherwise, what do you do with it? How do you actually change what’s happening? How do you change the culture?
Kamillah Knight: And to me, that’s what the Cultural Immersions do or did. Versus the second part of your question, how it was determined that that was the next step. I think that the company Unilever is very, very good at being at the forefront and challenging the norms for things. So taking some risks when it comes to, okay, nobody else is doing this in this way. Let’s try it. Or maybe one or two other companies that we know are doing this, but let’s try it because we know that this is important. Let’s take the risk, let’s see how it works and then we’ll bounce back from it. So I think it was also one of those types of things that we were looking for, okay, how do we really push this conversation forward? How do we continue to lead in this space? And this was definitely a way to do that, and LCW was an amazing partner to make that happen.
Tanya Stanfield: And what was the impact? I know impact can’t be really measured when it comes to something like this, but what’s the impact that you saw or felt after teams or groups go through this training.
Kamillah Knight: So, I think the impact is still being had. I’m not there anymore, but I know even over two years ago, almost three years ago when it really started, the impact was had in that people were like, wow, first off, I didn’t know these things existed in this capacity. I definitely didn’t know this historical context, but I now can connect it to things that I actually do that might be wrong. And now I know that I need to change that. That was one of the biggest impacts that it had. It brought people closer. It helped people understand some of the people that they interact with every day. It also brought people closer to the consumers that we were serving, which you can’t truly expect to connect with consumers and have them buy our products if we, as the people making the products and marketing the products to them are not actually connecting and understanding what it is that they’re experiencing.
Kamillah Knight: Whereas the Cultural Immersions kind of helps to bridge some of that gap. I’m not going to say that it bridged the gap completely because there’s definitely a lot of work to be done, but it helped to really put at least the pillars in place that hold the bridge up. So I think that that was one of the greatest impacts, and it’s still being had. I know people who have taken all four of the Cultural Immersions because they’re like, I want to know more. And once they did one, they couldn’t stop. And even building off the cultural emergence to do other things, people can’t get enough because it really does help you to kind of put yourself in check, if you will, and be a better person.
Tanya Stanfield: That’s great. Excellent. I know that’s probably a huge highlight or story that you have working with LCW. Are there any other stories, or highlights, or themes in your work with LCW? You talked a little bit about some of the other projects, but is there anything that really comes to mind, anything from more mundane interactions with the team to any of the bigger projects?
Kamillah Knight: Absolutely. I don’t say this lightly. I really do think that by far LCW was amongst the greatest partners that I worked with in my time at Unilever. And I’m talking about across all my functions that I worked in, as well as all of the external partners that I had. By far one of the greatest, because it wasn’t just like we were a client, it was really like a family. They cared not just about making money and getting their content out there and making LCW look good, it was about what was best for us, what was best for the people, what was actually going to make a difference? I actually looked forward to the conversations that we would have. Towards the end of my Unilever career we would have weekly conversations. I looked forward to connecting with them, just to hear some of the pushback, hear what’s going on, provide some new suggestions, because it really was like a family. That’s one of the things that I would highlight, is I truly do feel like LCW cares about the content that they’re delivering and how it’s impacting the people that they’re delivering it to.
Tanya Stanfield: How do you think the DI world has shifted or changed since you entered the fields? And what are some of these big themes or these big shifts that you’re feeling and seeing right now?
Kamillah Knight: I think that’s a big question. But what I will say is I’ve always clearly thought that this work was very important, but I’m not sure that everybody else has always thought that this work was important. And it’s unfortunate, but it’s also fortunate that some of the things have transpired, especially in our country, that has truly shown a light on diversity and inclusion and just how important that really is to make sure that your employees and people in general feel safe, feel supported, feel protected and can actually bring their full selves to whatever the situation is. And so, as a result, so much more value is placed in it now than when I first joined the team. It’s not just this thing to check the box. It’s something that needs to be ingrained across the business, and I think more people are actually getting that.
Kamillah Knight: People are seeing how things big and small can actually make all that much more of a difference, not just in the people and the qualitative side, but also on the quantitative side, the numbers. How when you bring that diversity and inclusion and truly put it at the center of your business, how you can hit the bottom line and create more innovation across the business as well. So to me, that is one of the biggest shifts that I have seen and how it’s just so much more valued.
Tanya Stanfield: We’re speaking to people who in the past 20 years have been such a big part of LCW’s growth, and we’re absolutely looking towards the next 20 years and who knows what can happen. But in your mind, how do you hope this field changes and grows in the next 20 years?
Kamillah Knight: In the next 20 years, I hope that … I’m not going to say I hope that it’s not even a topic of discussion anymore, I hope that it’s the topic of discussion. To me, the head of D&I should be working hand in hand with the CEO of all organizations. That’s what I’m hoping when I say that how ingrained it needs to be in the business. D&I teams need to be just as big as some of these supply chain teams. You need to have a D&I person that’s dedicated to all of the things to make sure you’re doing all of them right. You’re complying by all standards, you’re meeting the needs of people, and that people really do feel like it’s an equitable and inclusive environment. To me, that’s what I’m looking for. Not even over the next 20 years, I want to see it in five years.
Tanya Stanfield: I think that’s reasonable. I think when you get there, and I think just speaking to the changes that you talked about, how this industry has really transformed just in the past year or two alone, I think that’s a reasonable expectation. So thank you for sharing that and putting that out there. Any advice for any practitioners who are new or thinking of entering this field?
Kamillah Knight: So my one piece of advice, and I don’t even know if I would call it advice, it’s just a way of thinking about it. People want to call me a D&I expert all the time, and I am the first to say, no I’m not, because I think that D&I is a journey. We are all on this journey together. Nobody has the answer correct, and we’re not all wrong. It’s based on your own experience, and it’s just about unlocking different doors and helping people to connect and see things a little bit differently. And it’s about building relationships. So I think that if you’re looking to enter this space or you’re new to this space, as long as you keep that in mind, you will be successful in the things that you do.
Tanya Stanfield: Excellent. Well, thank you so much, Kamillah, for sharing. You shared a lot with us in such a short period of time with the stories, and your experience and your advice. And we really appreciate you taking the time to do that. And thank you for being an LCW partner. And I know that you’re moving on to other things, but I’m certain this is not goodbye and that we’ll be partners for a long time.
Kamillah Knight: Absolutely. I’m looking forward to it.