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.

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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: Around the World in 20 Years with Stephen Cornejo Garcia of Allstate
Published on: February 16, 2021

Today, we’re continuing our Around the World in 20 Years journey with Stephen Cornejo Garcia, Director of Inclusive Diversity and Organizational Effectiveness at Allstate. Stephen executes the enterprise strategy around diversity and inclusion and oversees the organizational effectiveness solutions designed to impact the people side of change and transformation.  LCW has worked with Stephen and his colleagues for several years to support some of these strategies and solutions, which we discuss in this episode

Prior to his role, Stephen held other leadership positions within Allstate across Talent & Leadership Effectiveness, Technology & Operations, and Agency Sales. Prior to his career at Allstate, Stephen held leadership roles at Bank of America and Arthur Andersen. He serves on the boards of Mujeres Latinas en Accion, DisabilityIn in Chicago, and he’s also a Fellow of Leadership Greater Chicago.

This conversation is great because we not only talk about some of the newer Changemaker programs we’ve released across the enterprise, but Stephen also brings up a really critical component of this DEI work – continuous self-reflection and examination.

After tuning in to the conversation, we encourage you to share your takeaways on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Show Notes & Highlights

(2:07) Stephen’s DEI journey.

(5:03) Introducing the Changemaker Series at Allstate

(9:07) A time for self-reflection in the DEI field.

(13:00) The journey shifts toward measurable progress.

(14:19) The hope for a more DEI-integrated future.

(15:50) Valuable advice for new DEI practitioners & champions

Show Transcript

Tanya Stanfield:

I like to start these conversations just by getting to know you a little better, and specifically, learning more about your journey into the DEI field.

Stephen Cornejo Garcia:

I’ve always been involved in work related to diversity, equity, and inclusion – going back to when I was in high school and then also in college and student organizations. It wasn’t until recently, about seven years ago, where I took on a formal role with a specific focus around diversity, equity, and inclusion. That was at Allstate Insurance Company, which is where I am currently.

For me, it was a great intersection of my personal and professional interests coming together in a way that was different, because it was in a professional setting and ignited a lot of energy and creativity and a whole new chapter in my career. It changed things substantially, because my background is in organizational development. DEI is culture change work. It’s systems transformation. It fit nicely with my skills and background.

Tanya Stanfield:

What is the nature of your work right now at Allstate? I know we work with several people over there on the great team, so tell us a little bit about that.

Stephen Cornejo Garcia:

I have overall accountability for Inclusive Diversity at Allstate, a team of people that focus on championing the cultivation of a diverse workforce and the creation of an inclusive environment. I also currently serve as the Director of the Organizational Effectiveness Group. Actually, both my worlds are combined right now in a real way. I’m serving as the interim Director of that team as well. I’ve been doing that the last year and a half or so in addition to my ID responsibilities.

Tanya Stanfield:

So, when did you first start working with LCW?

Stephen Cornejo Garcia:

It coincided with when I started working in Allstate’s Inclusive Diversity Department, so about seven years ago. Yeah, I’d say about seven years ago. That’s about how far back it goes.

Tanya Stanfield:

Are there any stories or any unique highlights that come to mind when you think about LCW? What really stands out for you?

Stephen Cornejo Garcia:

LCW has been a partner and an advisor in the truest sense. They’ve helped us grow, have grown with us, and have been a part of our diversity and inclusion story. They’ve helped us lay some foundational elements at Allstate and leverage their expertise and thought leadership in a way that helped us integrate with where Allstate was in terms of our journey around the DEI space. They have guided us in that journey.

Monica I’ve known a long time, ever since we started working together with LCW, and Jeffrey as well. There are always small anecdotes from different sessions we’ve been on, because they’ve done all kinds of learning solutions, certifications, train-the trainers, and things of that nature.

I’ve always enjoyed working with everyone. Not just because of your expertise, but also because you get the journey, that not everybody is in the same place. Everybody has their own starting point. I think the key thing is that you always want to be growing. You always want to be learning and doing that without judgment, without making people feel like there’s something wrong with them because of the way they have been brought up or the way they think or the way they learn. I think that’s been a healthy partnership and a philosophy that I think we live into at Allstate, that it’s very compatible with what LCW does in their work with companies.

Tanya Stanfield:

I was just thinking about all the projects that you’ve done in the past several years. What are some of the most exciting or the ones that you think have just been more, the most moving, whether it’s moving the needle or just making a big impact over at Allstate?

Stephen Cornejo Garcia:

We’ve instituted a change maker series that Monica and Jeffrey have participated in. Those have been really powerful. We recently did a session talking about racism, inequity, and social justice at the kitchen table that was very well-received and very powerful. Monica and Chuck did a great job. I couldn’t stop taking notes – I was learning so much from them! I think that’s another real benefit. They bring so much expertise to the table and so many powerful examples, having worked with so many different organizations. It’s so easy to learn from them and their experience.

Tanya Stanfield:

The title of that one is quite a mouthful, but it was “Unpacking Racism at the Kitchen Table: Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s and Cream of Wheat.”

Stephen Cornejo Garcia:

It was a powerful session. I even participated in one of the sessions they had at another organization. They allowed us to sit in, which I think was great. They’re always willing to share their network with us, which we find really beneficial.

Tanya Stanfield:

This is a great segue into talking about this past year and getting your perspective on a year where we’ve seen so much change. How do you think the DEI world has shifted or changed since you entered the field seven, eight years ago?

Stephen Cornejo Garcia:

Well, overnight we’ve become the most popular department. I’m sure other professionals in the field have now suddenly seen the interest in their support and services magnified tenfold, easily. I’m sure LCW has experienced that as well. The way I describe it to my team is that everything we ever wanted in terms of engagement, interest, and the need for our work has suddenly happened at the highest levels of the organization – the Board, the CEO, and senior executives. It almost happened overnight! There’s been a huge shift in the desire, need, and interest in getting support on very critical issues that, frankly, for us have always been critical. We’ve always been focused on these things. I would say just not as overtly pointed at systemic racism, inequity, and injustice.

Now, there’s just a laser beam focused on those areas, which I would say definitely has been a part of the journey, but not anywhere near as focused for us at Allstate in the specific areas of systemic racism, inequity, and injustice. That definitely has been a big shift. I know everyone’s experiencing that. Everyone in our field is going through that.

We’re also feeling the weight and the magnitude of that too, in terms of holding the space, having conversations, creating a brave space for people to share personal experiences and stories, which is really hard. It’s not only hard for those individuals, because they’re reliving those experiences as they tell the stories of what they’ve gone through. But also realizing for yourself, for myself even, where I’ve actually contributed to this situation because of the systemic nature of racism and inequity.

In some ways we’ve all participated in it, maybe unknowingly, at least that’s what I feel for myself, but I have. So, coming to grips with that reality in a real way and saying, “Wow, I, even me, the Director of the area, needs to take a step back and reflect on how I’m contributing, how I could be doing things differently, and helping to encourage others to get on that journey.” Before, the journey seemed optional, like if you to do it, that’s great. But during your performance review, no one’s going to change your compensation, your incentive plan. And now, we’re actually looking at that. We’re putting that on the table. It’s going to affect people’s performance reviews. It could affect their compensation. Those were big, big issues that certainly we have talked about in theory here at Allstate.

Tanya Stanfield:

I think a lot of organizations are heading in that direction. Under Armour is an organization that recently came out with some pretty aggressive standards very similar to what you’re talking about.

Stephen Cornejo Garcia:

And JP Morgan Chase. They’re effecting executive comp. So a lot of organizations are heading in that direction. For me, the journey has shifted from, “These are things that we think are important, these are things we should be focused on,” to, “How are we actually progressing? How good are we actually doing? What are the actual objectives we’re trying to achieve? How do we know it? Do we have any evidence to support that?”  We were asking those questions before, but now it’s well, what are the targets? What are the objectives? How are we progressing? There’s much more of a focus on, are you getting lift with the things that you’re doing? It’s great that you’re training people, but is that changing the culture? Is it changing behaviors? Is it making a difference in a way that you can speak to with evidence, not just anecdotal feedback? That’s not to minimize the importance of having anecdotal feedback, but what else? What else can we say that demonstrates real progress? Leaders are going to be held accountable to that. That’s very different than what the conversation was even back in January, February, March. It wasn’t until the murder of George Floyd, where the conversation pivoted immensely.

Tanya Stanfield:

What do you think or hope this field will look like 10 or 20 years from now?

Stephen Cornejo Garcia:

My hope is that there wouldn’t be a need to have a separate field. My hope is that in our humanity, we could find a way that everyone would be treated equally and there wouldn’t be a need to have to intervene systemically. That is a long-term hope, but I think what I envision for us in the future is being so intertwined with business objectives that you cannot separate it. There won’t be a separate thing. It will be more integrated and consequential to the business results that we’re trying to achieve. Again, all these are things that we have aspired to for a long time. I think that will become more of the reality versus the exception. That’s what I envision for our future.

Tanya Stanfield:

To close things out, what’s one piece of advice you would like to share with any DEI practitioners, whether they’re new people getting into this work or DEI champions? I think we have a lot of new people who want to do this work well.

Stephen Cornejo Garcia:

No doubt. With any career I think you must think about the “why” for yourself. What is the real motivation for you? In the DEI space, that is table stakes. You must be clear on what it is and  why you’re going after it.

And I would say, have a long-term perspective because this is not work that you in one year and you get better, and it’s all great and you just keep getting better. There’s lots of ups and downs. I think that you have to be prepared for that. Part of it, the preparation, is that “why” being clear to you that will carry you through those days when you’re down more than up.

Because there are things that I think as practitioners, you must be willing to face about yourself – your perspective, your mindset, your behaviors – that you’re held to a different standard. You need to be able to face that reality head on. Sometimes that’s not easy. Some of this work is very exciting in terms of getting to know different people and the differences that we all bring to the table. That’s all energizing and exciting. But also, the shadow of that is that difference creates tension and requires confrontation and productive resolution. That’s not easy. That’s hard work. You have to be up for that. So I think all of those elements need to be in place if you want to be successful in this field and make a difference.

Tanya Stanfield:

Perfect advice. Well, Stephen, this has been an excellent conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time today. And, of course, thank you for your partnership to LCW. We really appreciate working with you and your team and wish you the best in the new year, 2021.


Culture Moments Podcast: Around the World in 20 Years with Carol Watson of BCW Global
Published on: February 5, 2021

Today, we’re continuing our Around the World in 20 Years journey with Carol Watson, the Chief Inclusion Officer at global communications agency BCW.

We began working with Carol through our partnership with Diversity Best Practices and Working Mother Media, where she was at the time a Senior Director of Global Advisory and Consulting. There she was responsible for advising and consulting 200+ mid- to large-sized organizational leaders at all levels on how to best leverage proven and innovative diversity initiatives and sustainable culture change strategies. Carol also co-founded the marketing and media industry initiative Inclusive100 with She Runs It, which brings together the advertising, media, and marketing ecosystem to benchmark workforce, workplace, and inclusive culture progress and share best practices with 30+ marketing organizations participating quarterly.

Carol Watson has a deep understanding of the business approach to embedding inclusion and the metrics-driven practices of building and nurturing a truly inclusive organization. We talk quite a bit about this in our conversation, how DEI is both an art and science and how in this innovative DEI landscape, having a baseline understanding of the art and science is still critical.

After tuning in to the conversation, we encourage you to share your takeaways on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Show Notes & Highlights

(2:25) Carol’s journey through marketing & media and into the DEI field

(5:39) How the DBP & LCW partnership came to life.

(8:45) Unilever & Cultural Immersions Story

(10:58) The pivots in DEI that came as a result of COVID

(15:42) “I’m not of the belief we’ll work our way out of this work.”

(23:29) “Passion isn’t enough. DEI is both an art & a science.”


Show Transcript

Tanya Stanfield:

So first I want to start things off by learning a little bit about you. I know you’ve been in the DEI space for quite a while, so tell us a little bit about your journey into this field?

Carol Watson:

So my journey is a bit non-straight. It’s very crooked and circuitous! My journey began as a marketer passionate about consumer behavior where I had a career in media on the marketing side, and then shifted to really focus on executive search and multicultural talent in the marketing industry because I saw the shifts in the demographics very clearly and quickly, and was surprised that people weren’t paying as much attention to it in 2008, 2009. And then the census that came out in 2010. I knew something was coming down between the tsunami of how people consume media shifted while the demographics changed quite quickly.

So, went from doing unconscious bias training and IDI certification to really trying to figure out why things had not changed. What I heard from senior leaders is, “You know what, we don’t know what to do.” So that’s what sent me on a journey to get a Master’s in organizational development late in my life – to really get a sense of what do we need to do? What’s the science of organizational behavior, and change, and design, and why are we getting this wrong as organizations? So that’s the short of the long story.

Tanya Stanfield:

And once you received that degree and you were inspired to change the trajectory of your path and solve this problem, what was the next step in your path after that?

Carol Watson:

So I went from being a business owner, doing this as a consultant…and I wanted to dig in and see what the landscape looked like for other companies. So I joined Diversity Best Practices as an advisor and a consultant to really see the best practices and what other companies are doing. So I was the beneficiary of an opportunity to go from working with 120 companies to 200-plus companies across every industry from small, thousand people-sized companies up to millions –  the Walmart’s of the world, the Bank of America’s of the world – to really see what they’re challenged with and who’s doing this well, which is the question everyone always wants to know. And what are some of the things that are still tripping us up?

So it was a great experience over there for three or four years to really dig in deep, trying to solve all of those challenges big and small across the landscape. But then I wanted to kind of play in my own sandbox. So I joined BCW, which is a global integrated communications firm with offices globally. I joined in January 2020, and it has been an incredible, unbelievable ride. Especially for people that do this work, 2020 will go down in history as one that both challenged all of us that do this work as well as really required a lot of pivoting and creative solution/problem solving – but also really raised awareness for the importance and the value of this work.

Tanya Stanfield:

We’re going to definitely dig into that a little bit later. So you talked a little bit about this, but tell me where you started crossing paths with LCW and the nature of your partnership with them.

Carol Watson:

While I was at Diversity Best Practices, people called us for everything. It’s a membership-based system and they’d call us for solutions. Not only best practices, but how can you help us get that done? And so one of the things that I dug into was a service that we offered called DBP Solutions. We’d work with different vendors and suppliers that dig in deep for companies that we can make recommendations for. And we’re very particular about who we choose as a partner, because our reputation and our name is on the line and people trust us to have vetted those organizations in a very powerful way.

So my introduction to LCW was that they were already a partner (to DBP), one that was one of our most popular. We were able to incorporate them in many of our member conferences to share not only solutions, but the best practices, case studies and examples that companies were craving.

Tanya Stanfield:

When you think about this partnership that you had with LCW, are there any unique highlights or stories that come to mind?

Carol Watson:

There were so many different companies that leveraged LCW in a very positive way. Some really, really great stories. I guess the ones that come to mind for me are two different things. The member conferences were very powerful, and the one that is a gift that kept on giving was one on talent and the talent lifecycle. People wanted to know, “Where in the talent life cycle are we getting it wrong? How do we do this right?” And one of the highlights for me was having Monica come and share and give people a really good sense of where bias is showing up in the talent life cycle, and walking people through where they are on the maturity path and where they can get tripped up in all of the talent life cycle processes.

And it was so illuminating and a go-to Bible of a process that we would always take companies through, because there is not one single company that is not challenged in the talent life cycle somewhere along the way. Whether it’s recruiting, sourcing, hiring or developing and advancing, it’s something that you need to really dissect, unpack, and re-engineer through training and development and structural changes to make sustainable progress. So really being able to hand hold companies in a very powerful way was a gift that keeps giving, one that people continued to ask for that was incredibly valuable in their point of view.

I am a collector of marketing missteps for companies, and the one that stands out for was the Unilever Dove campaign, where the Black girl turned into a White girl. I think everybody remembers and knows about that one. It was one that really resonated globally, and it really was meaningful for anyone that either touches the work of marketing or is a customer and consumer and wants to know. “How does that happen? How do we get that wrong? And how does that even show up?”

One of our favorite clients at the time at Unilever, Mita Mallick, who was a really smart marketer, came in and really wanted to work through what’s getting in the way. How do we really think about this from a marketing perspective and really tackle that issue?

(We introduced) Mita to LCW to really think about that key group of marketers and the ecosystem of marketing, and walk them through the Black experience, walk them through not only how bias can get in the way, but where we need to interrupt that. What does creative look like that needs to be shifted and needs to be fixed? I was excited to be able to introduce LCW and really rave about the thoughtfulness, the intelligence and professionalism of dissecting that unique challenge; and how they could customize and create something that can have so much power around the world to so many different people. So I was particularly proud of how that relationship evolved, how they continued to dig into different demographic groups and really expand their relationship, not only in North America, but around the globe, to educate everyone that touches the work.

Tanya Stanfield:

Thank you for sharing that story. Unilever and Mita Mallick have been such amazing partners to us so that’s one of our favorite stories too. Let’s shift gears a little bit. You started talking about this a little earlier in the conversation, but let’s talk about this year and talk about someone like yourself who has been in this field for such a long time. How have you perceived or reacted to these major shifts that have happened in 2020 in the DEI field? What’s your perspective on all of that?

Carol Watson:

Yeah, it’s been an incredible year. A part of my role is to advise clients on this work – we do crisis management, transformation and employee engagement in terms of communications. So we spent a lot of time talking to companies about how to navigate a lot of the crisis and disruption of 2020. What we knew for sure before was that this work has been evolving and is being pushed to move from being programmatic initiatives to really thinking about what’s sustainable.

The other thing that had already been a push was Orlando Pulse three or four years ago. There were events that were happening that led up to where we are today in the role that companies and organizations play. The identity that customers and employees feel for companies and the heightened expectation that people have for private sector and publicly traded companies – and the role that they play and the expectations that they have not only on social media, but as an employer of choice and how do they support the communities and how do they support vendors and suppliers.

So, there’s been a confluence of that this year. There is more care in some communities because of COVID. And because of COVID, inequities have been raised to the surface. It really has called for us to think about how we’re taking care of each other. So that’s been a shift in how people think about it.

People didn’t really understand equity versus equality prior to COVID. And my example to bring it to life in a way that everyone can understand is to think about parents and caregivers, and what we need to do to support that community when we’re all expected to shelter in – and how the request to shelter in impacts different groups in different ways. And so that’s been an unexpected gift, to be able to really bring to light in a way that everyone can connect to around what does equity mean and what does it feel like to have inequality? And so that’s been really super.

And of course we all went through Black Lives Matter through George Floyd and the other senseless murders, which has had an impact around the globe. So it’s not just a US conversation, it’s a global conversation. That’s been hugely transformative in every way imaginable. It’s required something different of us as D&I professionals. But in the midst of that greater need, greater expectation for fast and swift changes is the reality of the business recession. As D&I professionals, we’re used to having the luxury of time and space to do research, interviews, listening sessions and focus groups; and building a strategy; and walking leadership through it; and leveraging and asking for budgets for trainings and all the other components… But it has really challenged us to step up and find creative solutions in the midst of business recessions, layoffs and contractions that have been seismic. The expectation and the need to do everything virtually is another stretch that we were not prepared for.

And then there’s our own self-care. People that do this work have a lot of passion for it – a passion for people and unity. So it’s taken a toll on all of us in terms of how we’ve had to be agile to work with all different emotions in this space, and different ways of showing up to keep things alive and present, and to manage the expectation that everything will be changed immediately where you can snap your fingers and we’re all inclusive and diverse and everything is done. So there’s a lot of push and pull this year for sure.

Tanya Stanfield:

Absolutely. Thinking about the next 20 years, what do you hope DEI looks like? We’re going through this major shift right now, what are the outcomes that you hope you’ll see in the next 10 or 20 years with all this work that we’ve been doing so far?

Carol Watson:

My focus is really on what can we do next year and what can we add on in the year after? I am not of the camp that believes that you’ll work your way out of this work. I don’t believe that at all. I think change is inevitable – demographic change. What’s needed, what’s coming around the corner, is something we can’t predict. You really do need that practice and expertise to really think about what’s sustainable. I’m a big believer in embedding things into systems so that they’re sustainable. So I expect us to get into some regularity of checking how we think about all of the talent systems. Does this make the most sense? What do we need to tweak? What do we need to adjust again?

If we can get into that habit…assuming that we’re better managing bias in a much more sophisticated way. Not just in technology. I think there’s an expectation that AI is going to fix everything. And those that are nerdy about that topic know that that can be tricky, and we need to pay attention to that as well. Not just as data experts, but just be very conscious about who is putting information in. Yes, we’re going to be a lot more technologically astute around these topics, but human nature is human nature. We have to keep our head focused on what changes humans are getting used to and what we need to tweak to get used to the idea that change is the constant.

Tanya Stanfield:

I think those are all really important points. We’re sensing a shift this year has made a lot of people realize that while programs are important, (I think we’ve known this for a while), but I think now it’s just this hard realization that it’s going to take a lot more than programs, and we’re willing to start looking at the systems, processes and the cultures that are in place. As you said, you can’t work your way out of this work. It’s a long-term process.

Carol Watson:

One of the things that comes up when we think about really mirroring the marketplace demographically is the education system, which is a big challenge. My hope is that we’re really focusing on what education is necessary, and how do we provide better access to that? The bad of COVID is working virtually for the learning systems. The good of it is that it’s really putting pressure on access to technology and taking down the walls of what is access and who can we reach on a virtual level and on a global level. And so my hope is that 20 years from now, we’re creating more equity and access to education and opening it up more, so that the educational barriers that have prevented equity when it comes to recruiting and keeping talent will be brought down even just a foot, just a little bit.

Tanya Stanfield:

Thank you for bringing that up. We had a conversation with one of our consultants months ago and she brought up the same issue – how it’s time for companies to not just think about the changes they need to make internally, but also what role do they play in making these changes to institutions, which is exactly what you’re talking about. I do think that is the next horizon for a lot of companies and organizations.

What advice can you give to anyone who’s brand new to this field or is thinking about entering this field – our future DEI practitioners or champions?

Carol Watson:

There’s a lot of passion around this work and that has been turned up exponentially this year, for sure. And passion is kind of a table stakes baseline. Yes, passion is critical because it takes a lot of energy to overcome a lot of the obstacles. But passion is nowhere near enough. 10% of the work needed requires that passion, the other 90% as being a practitioner is understanding both the science and the art of it. The art of it is really understanding the behavioral psychology of leaders of organizational systems. Because they’re living, breathing changing systems with subsystems, different departments and different offices; and understanding the psychology of change and really getting your head wrapped around that aspect of it.

One of the things I loved about LCW is their passionate understanding of intercultural development continuum. That was one of the best investments that I made – getting certified in that – because it helped me navigate all the different personality types from an organization, to a team, to a leader along that spectrum. We’re all somewhere along there and we think we do better than we really do. So that’s one of the key things, (along with) the master’s in organizational development, that was a gift that continues to keep giving. Understanding organizational behavior is critical.

There are great places to get certifications and learning the basics of inclusion and diversity, which you have to do. Passion is not enough, but understanding the front line of the business –  what the business needs, what the business strategy is, how CEOs think, how CFOs think – is critical. Just as important as supporting that entry level talent that just came in, but really understanding it as a business and the psychology of what you’re working with and just the baseline,  what works, what are the ingredients that you need? Because it is a formula. It’s not a thing. It’s really a formula that has to bend and move with the nature of that particular culture. There’s a lot of sophistication that people don’t think about. They think, “I care about this. Something happened to me so I’m going to enter this space…” But it’s a science and an art that needs some rigor added to it for sure.

Tanya Stanfield:

That’s excellent advice. Well, thank you so much, Carol, for sitting down and chatting with us and sharing all of your insights, stories and advice. It’s super helpful. And thank you for your continued partnership with LCW. We’re so glad to continue working with you and working side by side with you.

Carol Watson:

My pleasure. Just in time is another gift that keeps giving. So I’m always happy to recommend all of the resources from LCW because they’re critical to our progress.



Culture Moments Podcast: Around the World in 20 Years with Geetha Rajagopal, Phebus HR Advisory
Published on: January 29, 2021

In a fitting continuation from our last episode with Tyronne Stoudemire,  Episode 2 of the Around the World in 20 Years series on the Culture Moments Podcast features Geetha Rajagopal, another colleague and friend we worked with closely at Hewitt & Associates.

When LCW began working with Hewitt on expanding their D&I and cultural competence training outside of the US, Geetha was tapped as an internal resource to be a part of the instructor pool. A perfect fit for this work, since the roots of her worldview stretch beyond her native India to experiences across the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, South Africa and Latin America.

With two decades of experience leading Human Capital and Workforce Management projects around the world for many Fortune 500s across Healthcare, Banking, Automotive, Telecommunications, IT, Aerospace, and Engineering, today she is the founder of Phebus HR Advisory.

In this episode, Geetha shares how she entered the D&I and intercultural competence field as an LCW-trained facilitator during her time at Hewitt, and the impact that experience had on her career and her global mindset. She also shares openly and from a global perspective what we need to do as practitioners to move the D&I field forward and fully integrate into our business functions and cultures.

After tuning in to the conversation, we encourage you to share your takeaways on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Show Notes & Highlights

(L-R): Geetha Rajagopal in Shanghai with LCW’s Rebecca Parrilla, Monica Marcel Francois, & Randall Stieghorst

(2:14) From India to Lincolnshire, IL: Geetha’s global DEI journey

(7:09) How balancing integrity and generosity generated the best outcomes

(8:33) D&I has become more integrated…but there’s still a long way to go. 

(11:10) “You can mandate diversity, but you can’t mandate inclusion.”

(12:13) “Stop focusing on programs and activities and start focusing on outcomes.” 

(15:09) It’s time to groom leaders to develop a global and inclusive mindset. 



Show Transcript 


Good evening, Geetha. How are you?

Geetha Rajagopal:

Very well. Thank you so much, Tanya, for having me here.


Well, thank you for joining us. It’s a real privilege. I guess we can just begin by learning a little bit about your background and your journey into the D&I field.

Geetha Rajagopal:

Sure. I’ve been in the industry for roughly 20 years, and I do a variety of things. I dabble in business/management consulting. I do a lot of HR work both as an internal HR consultant, as well as an HR business partner. And very recently, almost a year and a half ago, I set up my own boutique HR consulting firm called Phebus HR Advisory, in which we do a variety of projects including office structuring, diversity and inclusion and a bunch of other things. That’s a little bit about my background.

My journey in the diversity and inclusion field actually started, I would say, way back in 2005, when I was a part of an organization called Hewitt, now Aon. Hewitt was investing extensively in the space of diversity, inclusion, and cross-cultural competence. We were expanding this work outside of the US into India and the rest of Asia Pacific.

I was one of the few people who was tapped into being part of the instructor pool to teach these courses outside of the US. And that’s where I met Monica and LCW and many of her colleagues, and had a chance to understand the concept and the field firsthand. My education began there.

Then later in 2006, I had an opportunity to further my education by coming into the US. I was based in Hewitt’s headquarters in Lincolnshire, where amongst many other things that I did, I was responsible for the cross-cultural learning for Hewitt across the enterprise. And so the partnership with LCW became very, very strong.

During this time, I taught the concepts and the courses to a variety of audiences across the USA. I had a chance to work with employee resource groups, or ERGs as they were known then. I participated in my first Pride Parade in Chicago – obviously, a bit of flavor of the city in the summer – the Summer Festival, the dances, the theater, the Air Show… And then [I got] to travel across the country – Times Square and all of those wonderful things.

I think just the classroom teaching, the partnership with Monica and Randy, and just the exposure to a brand new culture, first hand, was a big part of the diversity education that I got.


That’s amazing. Let’s dig deeper into this work with LCW. Tell us a little bit about this educational journey that you were on with them when you were with Hewitt. And any highlights or stories you want to share about that time, this would be a wonderful time to do that.

Monica & Geetha in Toronto.

Geetha Rajagopal:

Wonderful. Yeah, absolutely. I think I started at ground zero. I literally learned the concept for the first time, because I had no clue. I mean, I did have exposure to global clients, but I did not know what cross- cultural meant and the impact it has on the way we conduct our business.

So literally, I learned the ABCs and started putting the words together. Part of that was just understanding the concepts. And Monica, Randy, and everybody else they had trained as master trainers played a big role in being the experts and so generously sharing their expertise with me.

The second [area] was just as we were expanding these curriculums to outside of the US – to the rest of India, Latin America, Southeast Asia – just the sheer work that we did with LCW in adapting the curriculum. Sometimes with the help of the experts and sometimes by ourselves, but leaning on their expertise and to be able to make that possible.

The third area of partnership was when we were developing our own instructor pool. It was very hard for us to work with a partner and do it all by ourselves. We needed our army, so to speak, in other parts of the world. We worked with them extensively in creating our instructor pool.

And that’s where I have two stories I want to share. One is just the sheer attention to detail. I work with a lot of partners, and I’ve never seen this before anywhere else, whether in the US or in India. Just the sheer attention to detail. Something as simple as when you say, “Hey, we need to develop an instructor curriculum,” it would be so detailed. You’ll never get that sort of stuff from any other partner.

I think the second thing that comes to my mind is integrity. It’s not just, “If the client wants something, we’ll deliver it!” Even if it means educating the client to make sure they get the right thing out of the curriculum and the right learning outcomes. And it means that sometimes the client is not at the same wavelength.

You have to work with a client and educate the person and make sure that if they say they want to build something around unconscious bias, let’s make sure that they understand what unconscious bias is all about, and the kind of outcomes they want to deliver. So often it’s not like the client has said, “Yes,” and we will do “Yes!” At LCW, [they] partner with them to educate them to make sure they get the best bang for their buck.

I think the third [story] is personally, what I’ve experienced is just sheer generosity. They’re not looking at you as like, “Okay, this could be a potential competition.” No, they’re just so selfless with sharing the expertise, their intelligence, their connections and network.

I could pick up a phone in the middle of the night and say, “Hey, I have a client who might be interested in something like this,” and I know somebody is going to be on the other end of the phone helping me out. I think those are the things that really makes LCW stand out.


Thank you so much for sharing those great stories. Sort of segueing into the present now, let’s talk a little bit about how the cultural competency in the D&I world has shifted or changed. I think specifically this past year, which has seen so much change…how do you think this field has changed or shifted since you started 15 years ago?

Geetha Rajagopal:

Brutally, if I’m very honest, I would say the space has shifted, but not as much as I would’ve liked it to. It has tried to be much broader than just affirmative action, diversity, cross-cultural learning, to become more about, “Okay, let’s talk about inclusion.” It’s more the focus on the “I” as opposed to the “D”. It’s more focus on, “Okay, how do I ensure people understand unconscious bias?”

The space also has become much more integrated. Earlier, I would say cross-cultural or D&I was more of a separate discipline. And today the focus is on how to merge that into every single thing that’s happening. So if I’m hiring, how do I make sure that I have a diverse candidate slate? How do I make sure there’s equality of opportunities? It’s not about D&I, it’s also about workplace equality, so that no one group feels left out of the opportunities. Integrating it into performance management, coaching, and everything that you do. There’s far more integration of disciplines now.

But what I feel specifically on the backdrop of what happened this year, both with the events in the US and other events in the rest of the world, the recently concluded United States elections… I just sometimes feel that we take two steps forward in totality, and then we end up two steps backwards.

Every time a life-changing event happens, we seem to fall back into somewhat of a defense position. I’m not saying one group, I’m just saying in general individuals’ defense position. And that came to bear very significantly, whether it’s, as I see in India, individuals become very wedded to our opinions. It can [only] be one way or the other. There’s no middle ground.

Often, that came in the middle of relationships. I’m now getting forwards and messages saying, “Hey, don’t worry if you’re Red or Blue! Please, don’t spoil your friendship because you are Red or Blue, just try and see the policy and the ethos behind it.” So now I think the conversation should be, “Okay, how do I have this conversation without someone mandating it? How do we have this conversation without being told that this is what needs to be done?”

Because you could mandate diversity, but you can’t necessarily mandate inclusion. Inclusion is about truly changing your behavior, changing your relationships, changing the way you think about it, changing your heart. I wish the discipline would go there, and I wish the people would start thinking about it like that.

Especially after the George Floyd tragedy, it was very hard. And for a lot of leaders, people expected us to talk about it. And not just talk, but do something about it. But how do you do it in a way that seems inclusive and does not seem, “Okay, we are favoring one group versus the other?” I’m not so close to what’s happening in the US, but from where I sit and also in the context of what’s happening in India right now, with our recent government, that’s how I feel. It has to start with changing the hearts of the people.


Yeah. That’s super critical. What do you think it’s going to take? If we’re looking down the road, whether it’s five years, 10 years, 20 years from now, what do you think it’s going to take for us to get to that place? What do professionals, specifically in our field, have to do? What steps do we have to take to get there?

Geetha Rajagopal:

Stop focusing on programs and activities, and start focusing on outcomes. When a client approaches you, you need to start saying, “Okay, what would success look like? What do you want your leaders and employees in the hallways talking about? How do you want them to react?” Not just one group in your organization, but every single individual in the organization.

Some may say, “Hey, you’re trying to minimize it.” I’m not trying to minimize. But part of moving forward is to be able to take everyone along in the process. Some may need more nurturing than others, but we definitely have to start looking and saying, “Okay, what’s the outcome? What do I want people to say? What would success look like?”

I think I said this earlier, but focus on diversity and inclusion but also focus on workplace equity or equality. Because you do not want the group to start feeling left out. That is a reason why events have unraveled the way they have, especially in the US. Maybe some groups are feeling here, “I’m not getting enough and other groups are probably replacing me.” So how do you continue to focus on equity and merit and performance, while you are supporting some groups to come forward?

The third is, as a practitioner, you have to continuously learn the discipline and not be wedded to one set of frameworks or models. When we study culture,  study  [Fons] Trompenaars, we study [Geert] Hofstede; but often when you’re going into a client conversation, culture is just one lens to look at it. End of the day, it’s time to start exploring the world from other lenses as well.

So how do you bring that integrated thinking to your clients as a practitioner? I think it’s very important, and it is no one way or the other. You have to be open to all possible interpretations and help your colleagues [and] your clients understand that there is a possibility of variety of interpretations.

From a leadership standpoint, make sure that your conversations are authentic. I often say, if you don’t believe in it, I would rather you stay silent rather than mouthing the right spiel because it’s the right thing to do. But make sure your conversations are authentic because people see through everything. Even if you don’t have all the answers, just say, “Hey, I’m with you, and I’m trying to figure it out as much as you’re trying to figure it out.” It’s okay to be that honest and authentic and say you don’t have all the answers. Because when people listen to you, they are looking for that authenticity. And I think that it’s more crucial than ever, to have that authenticity displayed in the way you talk about diversity and inclusion.


What do you hope this field looks like, in the next 20 years? You talked a little bit about that, about this integration. Anything else to add to that?

Geetha Rajagopal:

Integration is one thing, definitely. For example, now, when I go into clients, I don’t just talk about D&I, I talk about just overall human capital strategy or business strategy, and how does D&I get woven into it? How does that become a part of the cornerstone of the key business metrics and not a separate discipline with its own set of metrics? Which is part of your balanced scorecard?

I would also say as a field, the content, the theory, and the training have to be much more deliberate. I like what we used to do at LCW 15 years ago – you didn’t let just anyone become a practitioner or become a trainer. We made sure that from their own personal journey and personal education standpoint, they were at a certain level; more accepting and more appreciative of what needs to be done. So we used to put them in front of our clients because you know that if you are slightly ahead in your journey, you’re able to help your clients get there.

That deliberateness has to come back. It’s not like HR gets trained on a program and then charged with delivering the training. People who are in these roles, especially leaders, have to be groomed to develop that global mindset, that conversation towards D&I. I think that has to become very integral part of the leadership journey. Whether they’re going into a leadership role in HR or business, or IT… Leaders have to start developing whatever word you use – “inclusive mindset”, “global mindset” – having that lens. I think we just need to develop that far more. I think we have to be much more deliberate about it.


So to wrap everything up, what’s one piece of advice you have for up and coming or emerging practitioners in the field? One piece of advice, one call to action, to sort of wrap all this up?

Geetha Rajagopal:

I’d say, learn, learn, learn! Keep up the learning curve because this field is ever changing. I think if you want your clients to think of it in a more integrated manner, in your [own] mind you have to start thinking in a much more integrated manner. It is no “us versus them” in this field. It’s all open to interpretation, so let’s remember that. I would just say, learn, learn, learn, and be open to interpretation.


Excellent. I couldn’t agree more. This has been a great conversation, Geetha. You’ve shared so much great advice and wisdom with us. Thank you so much for giving your time to us and for your continued partnership.

Geetha Rajagopal:

No, it’s my pleasure. Thank you so much. It’s been a great partnership with the LCW, especially with Monica, Rachel, Randy, Rebecca, over the last so many years. Thank you so much.




Introducing the Culture Moments Podcast!
Published on: January 8, 2021

As we enter this new year, LCW is pleased to launch our newest project, the Culture Moments Podcast! We’re kicking it all off with our first season, Around the World in 20 Years: Global Lessons in DEI.

Last year, LCW happened to wrap up 20 years in business during what can only be described as the most tumultuous year in recent memory. As a result of critical events like COVID-19 and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, we found ourselves not only reflecting upon the past 20 years but also discussing what’s needed to create a more equitable world in the next 20 to come.

That’s why we decided to invite practitioners and experts from across the globe that have been a part of our 20-year intercultural and DEI journey to share their stories from the last 20 years and also their deep perspective on our industry – where it’s been and where it is going. We’re excited to bring you their unique insights – especially as organizations and DEI experts around the world continue to grapple with new challenges in 2021.

Each episode, we’ll feature show notes here along with a full transcript. Listen to the trailer to learn more about this upcoming season, or read the full transcript below. Be sure to subscribe and stay tuned for our first official episode (with a special guest) launching this week!

Show Transcript 

Hi everyone, my name is Tanya Stanfield and welcome to the launch of LCW’s new podcast! This is something that the LCW team has wanted to do for a long time, and we’re proud to launch it with our new series, Around the World in 20 Years: Global Lessons in DEI.

20 years ago, Randall Stieghorst and Monica Marcel returned from the Peace Corps in Latvia with a vision to inspire professionals to connect across cultures and continents. From there, LCW was born, and they began offering translation services and cultural competence training across the globe for organizations ranging from NGOs to Fortune 500s, and everything in between.

But we couldn’t have done all that alone. That’s why late last year and earlier this year, we started having conversations with friends, clients, and teammates about what we should do to celebrate this milestone. By Q1, we decided that we wanted to do a video montage of all of our clients and friends who have been a part of our story. Our Multimedia Director travel to record leaders all over the country, or said leaders would use their own high-quality production studios to share stories from LCW.

But then March happened, and COVID interrupted so many lives. Needless to say, our global video production plans kind of sputtered. Besides, like many of you, we were adjusting to the new normal.  We had been doing virtual training for several years, but for many of our client partners, this was a whole new world.  And we were focused on helping them continue to deliver training and solutions in whatever capacity possible.

And with the racial reawakening that happened with the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many others, we turned our focus to supporting them and creating new training programs and innovative solutions – just as we’ve done for the past 20 years. To be blunt, we’ve been keeping busy.

But still, we couldn’t let the opportunity to celebrate 20 years pass us by, which is why we’re taking this opportunity to launch our podcast with a series that highlights and celebrates all of those thought leaders who have helped shape us over the years. We’re excited to share not only our story through their eyes,  but also their immense wisdom and insights to help guide us all in the years to come.

And of course, once the series ends, the podcast will continue. We’ll continue to follow a similar format of engaging DEI practitioners and champions across the globe to share their work and insights. While this podcast will be distributed across all the major platforms, we welcome you to add your own thoughts and insights to the conversation at, where we will also be posting these sessions along with the transcripts.

We hope you continue to follow and enjoy the conversations that unfold over the coming weeks!

Culture Moments Podcast: Around the World in 20 Years with Tyronne Stoudemire, Hyatt Hotels Corporation
Published on: January 4, 2021

Season One of the Culture Moments Podcast begins with Tyronne Stoudemire,  Global Vice President of Diversity Equity & Inclusion for Hyatt Hotels Corporation.  Tyronne has worked with LCW in many capacities, dating back to his early DEI years at Hewitt Associates.  It was there that he learned the DEI ropes and helped Hewitt make big inroads on groundbreaking DEI initiatives – like improving 401k participation rates among Black and Latinx employees. He also worked with LCW to develop and deliver a signature training program called The Power of Worldviews, which helped Hewitt clients across the globe improve their understanding of culture and the role it plays in how they – and their colleagues – perceive, work, and communicate with each other.

Tyronne not only shares his stories, but also his fank assessment and advice on what needs to be done to build a more equitable world.  As Mellody Hobson, Co-CEO & President of Ariel Investments, says, “Everyone needs truth-tellers in their lives. Tyronne is someone I find to be elegant about the truth, but not willing to have the truth be squashed.”

Listen in and check out the show notes below for a high-level overview of this lively conversation, along with a few LCW staff favorites from this episode.

After tuning in to the conversation, we encourage you to share your takeaways on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.


Show Notes & Highlights

(3:33) From basement potlucks to choral performances – Tyronne’s accidental entrée into DEI at Hewitt (“Tyronne’s journey models the courage, curiosity, and challenge to the status quo, which he offers as advice in his closing. An individual contributor in an organization that navigated his way through an unknown, untested situation/position to come out in a place where he is making a difference in real ways.” – Jose Guardado)

(11:77) A meeting with Ariel Investments nets a strategy to improve 401k participation across cultural difference 

(16:12)  Challenging worldviews on a global stage (“Tyronne mentions training white engineers who felt they didn’t need to diversify. Coming from a tech background, I understand the issues with getting minorities and women in power positions. If they’re not there to make decisions, they will continue to be underrepresented.” – Kendall Washington)

(18:28) Why the shift from charity to equity is so critical to DEI work. (“This is a bit of a mic drop moment!” – Zoe Allerding)

(24:00) The final word: “Have courage. Be courageous. Be curious.” (“Starting a new career is always intimidating in the beginning because you are still learning. Speaking up can be challenging because you want to make sure you don’t say the wrong thing and look dumb or say the wrong thing and offend someone. – Briza Cardenas)

Show Transcript 

Tanya Stanfield:

Hello everyone, glad to have you here with us. And today, we begin our new series: Around the World in 20 Years, Global Lessons in DEI. Now, in case you missed our short trailer, over the course of the next several weeks, this podcast will feature guests who have played a huge role in LCW’s 20-year business journey. We’re excited to share not only our story through their eyes, but also their wisdom and insights to help guide us all in the years to come on this DEI journey. And today, we’re thrilled to start it off with longtime LCW friend, Tyronne Stoudemire.

We first met Tyronne in 2003 when we were engaged by Hewitt Associates, now known as Aon Hewitt, to refresh their enterprise-wide D&I learning curriculum, using cultural competence systems as a baseline. Back then, Tyronne was a leader in Hewitt’s D&I program, but today he serves as the global vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion for Hyatt Hotels Corporation, where he collaborates with the senior leadership team to implement culture, talent, and marketplace strategies that leverage diversity and inclusion globally.

His team and internal corporate stakeholders implement diversity initiatives that include resource groups, mentoring programs for high potential women and people of color, a communications and public relations strategy to drive internal engagement and external brand recognition, and enhanced brand and marketing efforts to further focus on multicultural and LGBT audiences. He is the co-chair of Hyatt’s Global Diversity Equity and Inclusion Council, and he also consults with numerous Fortune 100 companies and is a much sought after speaker.

Tyronne has received many, many accolades and awards, including Black Enterprise Magazine’s Top Executives in Diversity, Diversity Woman Magazine’s 50 Diversity Champions, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund of Excellence Award, the Push For Excellence Award, and recognition by President Obama during National African-American History Month. We could say so much more about Tyronne’s service to the community, his tireless support of arts organizations in Chicago, et cetera. So please head on over to for a full bio on Tyronne.

For now, let’s turn to the conversation here, how Tyronne pretty much stumbled into this DEI career, how that journey converged with ours, and most importantly, his critical insights and thoughts on the path forward for DEI leaders and champions into the new year, especially after such an eventful year as 2020. Let’s get started.

Hi Tyronne, thank you so much for joining us today for this conversation.

Tyronne Stoudemire:

Hi, thank you for inviting me. I’m glad to be here. This is a great opportunity to celebrate a great organization and a real good friend.

Tanya Stanfield:

Well, we consider you a great friend as well, and we always appreciate your support and your consideration. So the feeling is mutual. Let’s start this conversation just by learning a little bit about you and your journey into this DEI field.

Tyronne Stoudemire:

Wow, this might take a long time, but I’ll make it brief. So Tanya, I actually began my professional career at a company called Hewitt Associates. It was based in Lincolnshire, Illinois. Actually, that’s where I met Monica and LCW, and I’ll get to that in a moment. But, I was in the operations group running a call center and I was working with Juanita Robinson-Brown, who was the executive business leader for our diversity business resource group called BAHA, Black Associates at Hewitt and Associates. That was the affinity group. And I…born and raised in Detroit… my parents always taught me never to assimilate with more than one or two Blacks because when you do, it’s like you’re going to overthrow the government or incite a riot. So, you just want to go to work, keep your head down, do a good job, and just go home because it is a workplace, it isn’t for networking and playing.

So I’m a product of the late Sixties, and that was kind of the message during that era in time. And so Juanita was like, “Hey, I need you to come and meet with our DVRGs to celebrate black history. You need to come, no one knows you. You need to connect, you’re a leader of the organization.”  And she wore me down. I finally showed up.

We went downstairs to the basement and went to this room. When we got in there, there was just… Everything was stereotypical. We had fried chicken, watermelon, orange pop. And they were doing some dancing. I was like, “Oh my God, this is just not a good representation of who we are as a race, as a culture. And people certainly can’t really identify with who we really are.”

So I was really concerned. “So I’m going to help you next year.” I said, “If we really want other cultures to understand who we are, we have to celebrate in a different way, but we have to educate, we have to inform, and we have to create what I call mutual adaptation. We’re learning this together.”

“So what would you do?” I say, “Well, music calms the savage beast. And when you bring people together, music changes lives.” So I said, “Let’s start a Hewitt chorus.” And so we started a chorus. We put communications out and asked people who wanted to sing and who could play instruments. We had over a hundred people who would either play instruments or could sing or wanted to sing. They volunteer, we got this name, and the Black affinity group says, “We cannot have a Black History program with an all-White choir.” Because all the participants were at one point White.

And my response was, “Sure you can. Because if someone’s going to; after working eight, nine, maybe 10 hours a day; come and volunteer to learn how to sing gospels and anthems and spirituals? They’re all right with me. And they’re going to do it in front of their peers. I think it will be okay.” So we had the rehearsals. It was great! We learned three or four different songs. We then invited Ruby Bridges as our keynote speaker. Ruby Bridges was the first African-American female to integrate schools in New Orleans, and most recently with the election of (Kamala Harris), that photo of Ruby Bridges being escorted by federal marshals has resurfaced in many social media outlets and forums.

And so Ruby was our speaker. We converted our cafeteria into theater-style with about 800 seats. We video-conferenced in several markets. It was packed. It was an amazing show. And the choir sang, and Ruby spoke. And the CEO gets up and says, “Whoever put this program on needs to be a part of my executive committee.” I was like, “Wow, it’s that easy?”

So we had lunch and we talked. He says, “Hey, I got this thing called Diversity. We would love you to consider to come and work in Diversity.”

And my response was, “Oh, no.”  I had an Oprah Winfrey moment from The Color Purple, when the mayor’s wife asked her to be her maid. I said, “Oh, hell no!” I didn’t know anything about diversity. “And for many years you guys thought I was from India. You didn’t think I was black. So I’m not sure that I want to be the poster child for diversity.”

He says, “Understood. I’m going to reserve the right to come back. Some things are going on that I can’t share with you right now, but we really need somebody to lead this.” So he went away, I went away, had some conversations with different people about diversity and what it meant. It was a mixed bag. Some of my mentors and sponsors said, “I wouldn’t do it.” Some said, “Yeah, go for it. You can make a difference, you can make a change. Get involved. Do something different.”

So we met the second time and he was persistent. “I can’t take no for an answer. We want to put you in this role. You can do it for two years. If you don’t like it, we’ll put you back in the business. But we need somebody to focus on this for about two years or 18 months. We have a Chief Diversity Officer. His name was Andrés Tapia. So we need someone to come and operationalize the diversity strategies.”

I say, “I got a couple of things I want to ask you.”

He says, “What?”

I say, “One, what types of resources will we have?”

He says, “What do you need?”

I just made the number up. I said, “$2.8 billion.”

He said, “Well…”

I said, “And then we need your support.”

He says, “You got my support. What else do you need?”

And I say, “Well, as Andrés was talking about the work in the private sessions – if we can embed diversity and inclusion into our offerings to the existing client, we can make a difference.”

So we bought off on that, we started the work. And our strategy was very simple. That one, we would increase representation; that two, we attract a certain type of investor because the reason why you wanted to start this practice because we were going public. As a public organization, we need to make sure that would be inevitable. Because if it’s a private organization, you can get by with certain things.  But with EEOC and Affirmative Action and community involvement, you had to have someone focusing on that work.

And so we thought that we would attract a certain type of investor, that we would increase representation at leadership levels of the organization, and that we would be able to create a solution to go to the marketplace. Within that first year, we actually did extremely well. We created solutions that went to the marketplace as well as the existing clients. We then increased representation at different levels, to the director level and above. And we attracted an investor.

This is unique because I remember after we went public,  a friend of mine, John Rogers, CEO of Ariel Investments, and Mellody Hobson, his co-CEO, said, “Tyronne, we bought a significant amount of Hewitt stock, and we want to meet with your CEO. Can you make it happen?”

“Sure I can.” I go to the office, I meet with our CEO. I said, “Do you remember my friend John I was telling you about and the things he’s doing? He’s bought a significant amount of Hewitt stock. He would like to meet with you.”

He says, “Well, Tyronne. My life is not my own. I’m running the meetings. It’s crazy. Invite him to a shareholders’ meeting and I’ll go over and say hello and make sure that he’ll know I sent you.”

I say, “Well, that’s not good enough. I think you need to really understand who he is and what he represented. He’s a hero and she’s a heroine in the Black communities. I think that’s someone that you should know.”

He says, “Well, I really can’t and you need to go away because I’m running late for my next meeting.” So I says, “Well, just do this. Humor me. I want you to verify a significant amount of Hewitt stock and then make your decision whether you meet with him or not.”

I go to my desk, before I could sit down, his assistant instant messages me and says, “Dale wants you to come back immediately.” So I come back and he says, “Come in and close the door.” I say, “Well, no. If you’re going to fire me, I think I need to go stop paying for that car that my wife is trying to buy today!”

And he says, “No, I owe you an apology. And I also need you to understand, this is a product of my diversity of learning. Nowhere in my mind could I have ever thought that a Black firm would be our number one stockholder at 180 million shares. I need to meet with John right away.”

That really changed the whole paradigm of what we were actually doing: From selling to clients to reach representation, and now you have this Black organization that’s your number one stockholder. Headlines: The largest HR outsourcing consulting firm, the number one stockholder is a Black firm! It just speaks volumes.

So we set up a meeting. We went down, met with John and Mellody, and had conversations with them. Some of our other leaders joined him in that meeting.

Mellody says, “We’ve been doing this study on 401(k)  African-American participation rates and outstanding loans. We would love for you to join that process.”

And we say, “Sure, but we’d have to also look at race and gender. And we could look at orientation, but why don’t you look at a sample of Latinos, Asians, African-Americans versus white men versus women?” So we got the data of 56 of our largest clients. We sourced the data only to find out that to their point –  even though we were studying only Blacks – Latinos were saving at a much lower rate than Whites as well.

And then we looked at the data and also discovered that women were actually taking more loans out because their husbands were either unemployed or they were trying to pay for their children’s education. We saw that Latinos would say, “If I were to save money for my future, and I wasn’t saving any money to send over to my Mom in Mexico, I would be a bad son or daughter.” So it was all driven by culture. And Blacks would say, “The key to success is education. If I educate my children, when they graduate college, they will care for me in my retirement.” So those are the cultural norms that are playing out that are prohibiting people from saving. So now we were able to go through and have conversations with those clients.

We met with McDonald’s. At the time, Don Thompson was the president and CEO of McDonald’s. He gave his Black operating owners a dollar raise and a dollar match. Increased participation rates by 80%. So he saw that giving this opportunity really would help. Mellody Hobson went to Congress and was able to persuade them to encourage companies to do automatic enrollment point of hire.

It was life-changing. Those stories grew and grew and grew. And then we were acquired by Aon. I’m sorry, let me go back! That’s when we met LCW. We began to look at our learning, began to look at how we are working with LCW to really help us to understand culture, and looking at this from a global perspective because we were a global organization. We began to use a survey (the Individual Development Inventory). We began to do training with LCW. We were then able to take that training to the marketplace with customers.

Meeting with Monica, having conversations about language worldwide and culture, really distinguished us in the marketplace from a recruiting perspective, a retention perspective, and certainly from a marketplace perspective. So we learned and grew together. And we ended up doing training together. We created a course called The Power of Worldviews, navigating through cultural differences, built on the IDI.  Monica and I had the privilege of actually doing training together because you also wanted to make sure that you have perspectives of Blacks, White, Latinos…

Monica had really deep knowledge in the technical pieces of culture. I brought the practical application of what happens and how it plays out in corporations. So we were able to do that work and do it globally.  It was a really amazing opportunity.

And then I left and went to Mercer. I began to work with Orlando Ashford on evidence-based diversity strategy, leading with analytics and predictive analytics. And again, all that played out in culture. So then we again partnered with LCW to help build training to get people to understand how people made decisions, and how people resolved conflict was based upon their worldview and based upon their cultures.

Coupled with the IDI, it gave people language, it gave the definition, and it gave a starting point to understand where they were and where they needed to be over time, providing they were going to do the work. And the work really was around training, development, creating experiences, that ah-ha moment, and getting feedback, self-correcting, influencing others, and influencing systems.

Two years later, I got a call and it says “Hyatt wants you to come work for them.” In every step, LCW has been a part of my strategy in helping to educate, to bring around awareness, give people tools and techniques, and embed it into leadership profiles. So that’s really my story.

Tanya Stanfield:

I do appreciate the detail that you went into, because I think so often we see these huge global organizations. We don’t know everything that went into building these strategies over time. So I really appreciate all that detail.

Tyronne Stoudemire:

Absolutely. And many didn’t know Monica and her team because they were part of our team. And so they were helping us with the strategies, helping us with the tactics, helping us define goals and how we measure those goals. There was a lot of one-on-one hand-holding. Because remember, I wasn’t a diversity practitioner, nor was I an HR professional. I was in operations. So actually, my own learning was happening at the same time. Having Monica and her team to confide in, to coach… And it was mutual. There were things that LCW had to test, so we were able to test those things and share. It was a real significant partnership we created.

Tanya Stanfield:

Thinking back to your long partnership with LCW, are there any highlights or stories you’d love to share with people who might be strangers to LCW or new to LCW?

Tyronne Stoudemire:

I think traveling was really unique. We would meet at the airport and we would travel with different clients. And we would debrief on the culture and the lack of diversity, the stories that we got from them. And we challenged each other to think differently and think outside the box. I recall a time we were training one particular company, which was a company with a lot of White male engineers – and hearing the stories of why these White men didn’t feel it was necessary to diversify. And while Monica could look at it from a gender perspective, I could look at it from a race perspective. Sharing those stories – I think we had a lot of stories to tell. We oftentimes got away from the content and then lead through to storytelling. And so Monica would say, “We’ve got to get back to the content! We’ve got  to get back to the tools.”

And the stories would go on and on. And people would be on the edge of their chairs hearing all these stories because they never heard about the racial divide, they never understood about civil rights. It wasn’t taught in schools for them. And so looking at how cultures were being sub-optimized, and through storytelling really was a great way to see that. So we used to laugh and joke about how she had the technical and I would have the stories, and the stories would overtake the technical and the technical overtake the stories. So it was a lot of fun partnering when we delivered the training. I thought it was interesting.

And then we would do webinars together and we would go to conferences and be able to build on each other and support each other and share best practices and challenge each other: “She’s out of the ballpark with unconscious bias! You’ve got to go back to culture.” We would have those types of conversations as well. And then we were able to refer LCW on to other companies who were lacking that cultural context, which we all need in order to be successful.

Tanya Stanfield:

Switching gears a little bit, given that you’ve been doing this work for such a long time and we’re in a year where it seems like there’s just been wave after wave of change, how do you think the DEI world has shifted or changed since you first entered the field? How does it look different today than it did then?

Tyronne Stoudemire:

So then I think it was really all about civil rights, and a lot of people thought it was more about charitable giving. “Let’s give money to the NAACP, let’s give it to HACE and League of Black Women…” All these organizations we were giving money to…but it wasn’t sustainable. We were not making the progress that we needed to make. And so, moving from the Civil Rights Movement to now, it’s about equity. It’s about equality. It’s about diversity, equity, and inclusion. There’s a difference between equity and a difference between equality. Equality says everybody gets treated the same – “We’re fair.” Equity is meeting people where they are and closing the gap.

I use the illustration of four individuals on a bicycle. And the bicycles are all the same size. But if someone that’s actually small in stature, someone is tall, someone is in a wheelchair, that’s not really equitable. So meeting them where they are, providing them with the right tools – that’s where we need to really be.

When communities and cultures have been sub-optimized and have been held back, how do we bring them forward in a new decade? Quite frankly, when doing consulting years ago, I would have conversations with White men and White women, and they’d say, “When are we going to stop having this conversation about gender and about race? When will it be all be over?” And my perspective was, “Until there’s a point in time that we’re all on the same page, when we’re all experiencing the same difference.”

And that difference today was (witnessed with) the murder of George Floyd. It was really the young, digital native who stood on the corner with her iPhone and showed the entire world injustice, coupled with the pandemic, coupled with COVID-19, coupled with what’s going on in politics, and how we’ve taken COVID-19 and politicized it.  I think that has since shown how Black people have not been treated well from a workplace perspective or from a healthcare perspective. And the judicial system was against us – worked against us in most cases. Black and Brown men being pulled over more than any other demographic. You have more women of color in prisons than you do have White women.

So the data just speaks volumes. That equity piece is what’s different today than it was 20 years ago. Even 10 years ago, to be totally honest. So it’s changing and evolving. We’re still getting people to understand who don’t really understand civil rights, don’t understand human rights, and who really didn’t understand slavery.

I was in a conversation the other day and someone said, “So if Blacks are so unhappy with being in America, why don’t you just go back to Africa?” My response was, “You can’t return stolen goods. So I’m going to leave that right there and you think about that. Would we say that about the Holocaust? Would we say that about any other demographic?” So again, we have to be conscious and educating people about systemic issues.

There’s a piece that we did in training, Monica and I, where we asked people to Google “cute baby” on their cell phones. And what you saw was all White babies and no babies of color. So, that would suggest that only White babies are cute. This is the worldwide web, and where the worldwide web is drawing from is images that corporations are putting out for advertising. So again, that’s another way to really look at it and say, “Here are the messages that we’re sending out.” And coupled with the 50-year anniversary a few years ago with the baby doll test where the psychologist had a conversation with Black and White children, and asked them (throughout) a series of colors of babies from light to dark, “Which is the cutest baby?” It was always the White baby. “Which is the ugly baby?” “The dark baby.”

So people who don’t see themselves in key roles or see themselves in society, that they make a difference –  or they’re constantly told that they’re less than – will find themselves subjected to those types of feelings or emotions and will not see themselves as educated, not see themselves as pretty, not see themselves as smart. Society has to change that with the images that we put forward. And we just have to do that by promoting the best and brightest talent who just may happen to be a woman or  someone of color.

Tanya Stanfield:

So looking ahead, what do you think or hope this field will look like 20 years from now?

Tyronne Stoudemire:

I think that our digital natives will challenge the workforce as never before. I think that they’re going to hold us accountable for what we do in the communities; they’re going to hold us accountable for where we spend our money and who we partner with. The protesting that’s happening now is for equality. With all due respect, it’s really for equity. (They) are going to be a little more demanding.

You will see more entrepreneurs. After every major catastrophe, from 9/11, you actually had Uber and  Airbnb. Your LinkedIn, your Facebook –  all the social was birthed out of 9/11. This generation will birth new ideas and new concepts. More innovation will come out of that generation than the generation before. And the difference is, there’s 80 million of them versus 40 million.

So I think just sheer numbers will create more opportunities for them to do things differently.  Race will be with us for some time. But you will start seeing more multicultural families coming together. You’ll start seeing other blended races. Just as you’ve seen in the protests, there was every demographic representing Black Lives Matter. So I think you’ll see more unity coming about, and I think this current administration will drive and build its legacy on rebuilding America’s unity and us coming together and being very diverse and being more inclusive and feeling a sense of belonging.

Tanya Stanfield:

To wrap things up, what’s one piece of advice  that you’d share with any future or just starting out DEI practitioners?

Tyronne Stoudemire:

Have courage. Be courageous. Be curious. Look for ways to challenge the status quo and ask the questions. When you ask questions, it brings about change. So don’t be afraid to ask the questions, and don’t be afraid of the response. We’ve got to stop reacting,  but start responding in ways that make a difference for all mankind. To be open to new ideas, open to new suggestions, and not to minimize their contribution. And to continue to network and to continue to partner with the right partners to move the organizations further along the continuum. You can’t do all things, you can’t be all things to all people. But those who have labored in this space, such as LCW…and Cornell has a certificate. And Dr. Mary-Frances Winters just wrote several books recently, “Black Fatigue”, looking at white fragility. Being experts in those things that others may never even dream of, I think will be important to the work.

Tanya Stanfield:

Well, this has all been great. Thank you so much for sharing all of your insights and your time with us. We really appreciate it. The stories were great, and we just appreciate your partnership so much. So thank you very much.

Tyronne Stoudemire:

Well, thank you, Tanya. And happy anniversary, again, and give my best to Monica and the team. Keep doing what you’re doing, keep the good work going, and let’s change America.

Tanya Stanfield:

Yes, let’s. Thank you so much.

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