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