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.