August 02, 2022

#031: Showcasing Your DEI Plan Is A Must With Pam Benson Owens

Hosted by George Randle

Diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging. What do they mean to us as an individual and as an organization? Today, Pam Benson Owens, the Founder and CEO of Edge of Your Seat Consulting shares valuable insights on how society interprets inclusivity. She also discusses her personal views and strategic approach to consulting, educating, and creating awareness about diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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Showcasing Your DEI Plan Is A Must With Pam Benson Owens

Welcome to the show. We are here with Pamela Benson Owens. It took forever for us to connect. Before she starts talking about her career, what I did include in the intro is in my twenty-plus years in talent acquisition, I’ve worked with a lot of people that are thought leaders, and people that care about driving leaders and their perspective on talent to a whole new level.

I’m grateful that you came on because as we were talking about before we started to record, a number of people who came in are consultants and they drive me crazy. It is nuts. I remember the first time you came in, I have to admit the bias. I was like, “We’ve got another consultant that’s going to tell us about something.For everybody here, this is truly one of the rare times that I had a consultant come in and I walked out of that room a far better leader. With that, we have the great Pamela. Tell us how you got into talent. Walk us into how and what you’re doing. I think they’re going to get so much from you. This is going to be one of our best episodes ever.

I love that. Thanks for having me. You’re one of my faves in the talent game. I never heard that story so I’m stunned because you never know. I fell into this work in HR and such as we all do, which is by mistake. Nobody wakes up and says, “I’m going to be an HR professional.” You just get into it. I ended up in my first job in an HR department as a generalist. The CEO at the time, as respectfully as he could say it, said, “You don’t filter your responses on what we need to be doing.” That wasn’t necessarily a compliment at the time, but we are still in touch and now it is. He talks about the path to being direct in the work that we’re doing.

I started on the DEI path. I got a certification in college. I thought, “I probably need this.” I never knew how I would use it. I’m now in year 28 in the merging of this work. I would say that at the end of the day, there are no experts in DEI at all. If you’re in an organization and you’re getting ready to think you’re hiring a DEI consultant, if they call themselves an expert, run for the hills. There are no experts. There are practitioners. Those who are proficient are too complex, multifaceted, people-based, and organizational culture-based to ever say they’re an expert. When I hear that, I think to myself, “That’s ego-driven, not outcome-driven,” and I’m tapping out.

My career has been on this path. I went from working in corporations to working in nonprofits to then working in faith-based communities, and all along the way, owning my own consulting firm. I dual CEO at a company called Edge of Your Seat Consulting that I started. I am also a CEO by way of being voluntold by the elders in this community that I would run the black cultural arts district on the east side of town. I’m in my fourth year of doing that, and that has been a PhD. Everything that I thought I knew, I was not particularly correct. That’s where I am now.

I’ve told this story before. When I was growing up and I was 17 or 18, I thought my dad was an idiot. To the comment you made, the older I get the more I know I don’t know.

You have to first retire completely from the work because we know too much, but we should co-author a book called Whatever We Thought It Was, That’s Not It.

Exactly. I had an idea. We’re going to do this. If anybody steals this idea, I’ve copyrighted it already. This is so off-topic, but one of the funniest books I ever read, and it had to have been many years ago, there were two flight attendants that got together and wrote a book on the funniest moments that happen in the airline industry. They disguised all their names. I will laugh so hard and I cry in a good movie, but not in a book. This one had me going. If you and I disguise names and companies, we could write a book that would shock the world about what is HR really like.

I know we’re time-limited, but I wanted to jump into something. You met me. I’m like you. I speak my mind. We ended up later down the road hiring a director of DEI and he got dizzy running in circles chasing the spotlight. I have always had a different perspective on diversity from most people because I was so fortunate. The co-author of my book, Mike Sarraille, and the people that work at the Talent War Group, we all grew up in the Military. It was either you’re a stud or you’re a dud. You got my back. You could shoot straight. You’re fit. I can count on you. You’re loyal. We might not go to the same clubs. We may not eat the same food. We may not go to the same church. We don’t care, but you either got my back or you don’t.

You grew up in that environment. You got used to meeting people of different cultures, different ethnicities, different backgrounds, and experiences, but at the end of the day, you had this joint mission. I know the civilian world doesn’t have that luxury. All of that to say diversity was an education for me. I’ve watched people hop on the DEI bandwagon because they think they have to have it. You can correct me if I’m wrong. I remember you said that diversity is always like a thread that has to run through all you’re doing in life. I was like, “Yes.” It is front and center, but when you look at the DEI industry and consultants, are we doing it right? Are we doing it wrong? Is it a mix? What are you seeing when you talk to people?

First of all, I got to roll back to the time we were in that room together. Once you gave me enough of your background, here’s why I think you were sitting in that space like, “Here we go again. It’s another consultant.” By way of your background and conditioning, you were exposed very differently. It was automatic for you. You’re like, “Why is it now a thing?” With the way you grew up in the Military, which is one of the best teachers of how to do it, you could not figure out why are we making this a thing. For you, it was part of the ethos of who you are.

Now, we got to sit in a room and name this thing that I do automatically in my work? The answer is not everybody is exposed to conditions like you are, George, so yes. That’s why you struggled with it so much that you were like, “Okay.” It was so automatic for you that you didn’t feel like it needed a plan and a deliverable. You’re like, “Of course, that’s how we operate.” Unfortunately, that’s not how we always operate. When you talk about DEI consultants, I don’t like many, to be honest. The reason why is because it has become an opportunity to create performative behaviors around certain aspects of diversity.

I always look at people’s statements. When somebody says, “How do you know if we’re doing it right?” First of all, the only right there is what fits your organization, the culture you already have, the core values, the mission and vision, and the rules of engagement of how you behave and operate. If you are in a company and you’re like, “We’re going to use their definitions of what equity, inclusion and diversity are,” you’re already messing up. The first thing is you got to do an identity check like, “Who are we?” It then becomes, “These pieces are important. How do we lay those over who we are so that we still resemble ourselves when we get to the other side of it?”

In the last couple of years since the George Floyd incident bubbling up, I would get calls almost every week. Organizations would say, “Pam, can you make us anti-racist by Friday?” I will be like, “I am not your consultant.” That is dumb as heck to me. There are at least 45 things to do before we talk about that. Who are you as an organization? What is your approach to hiring? What’s your approach to promoting? How do you create engagement? What’s morale like? I’ve got 50 questions before we ever talk about that. If you don’t anchor that, your DEI plan is crap. It’s not going to work. It’s not going to take hold in the organization.

Don’t feel like you have to sugarcoat things. You can give them to us straight here. You’re right. I remember later on after our meeting and how it developed at that company. The guy that came in, I would never ever question his intent. His intent and the results and change that he wanted to bring about were admirable and something that garnered my 100% support no matter how he did it. Many people are jumping into it. I would imagine they think that you’re carrying some kind of magic wand where you could make it happen.

Diversity is about differences. Equity is about fairness. Inclusion is all voices being heard. Belonging means we hired you, so we must like you. Click To Tweet

I’m going to back up a minute. I want to get some definitions straight. Educate our audience because it’s been D&I, DE&I, and now we’re seeing DEI&B. Could you give us the basic definitions? It has evolved. What are we talking about when we say diversity? What are we talking about when we say inclusion, equity and belonging? What does that mean to our audience?

My general answer is it depends on how your organization defines it. I will tell you the thing that has been driving people crazy in my organization. If I look at your definitions of EDI, DEI, DEIB, and DEIBJ because we’re adding justice, if I get to two sentences, I’m tapping out. It’s very simple. Diversity is about differences. Equity is about fairness. Inclusion is all voices being heard. Belonging means we hired you, so we must like you. That’s it. That’s all we’re doing here. Anything other than that, it’s like you’re having to prove to yourself. Nobody is subscribing to that.

I always say to people that you have to define it for your organization, but if you get into paragraph two, you have an organizational culture issue. If you have to spin silk to define it, you’ve got bigger issues. You either got a leadership issue or some incongruence with mission, vision and values. There’s something else happening in the muck in an organization if you can’t anchor it easily.

Simplicity is one of those things that we talk about as a leadership principle. If you can’t make something simple, it’s rarely going to get from the top to the bottom. To your point, the more words you put into any of those statements or the more words you put into the values and mission statement that you hang on the wall, the higher the likelihood it isn’t happening.

We have this mantra on our TA team. It’s called teamwork, ownership and humility. They can remember that. That was it. I’m like, “If we do those three things, we’re solid. We’re good.” I’m going to jump all the way around because I’m always curious about this. I hate blanket statements but for our audience, if you were to say, “These are the top three things that I’m seeing that take people down the wrong path,” what are the three things you think that get people off on the wrong foot or three general directions or mistakes that people need to avoid doing to start out?

Right off the bat, it’s reactive versus responsive stance. If something happens, “We need a statement. We put it out yesterday. Everyone has got to agree.” No, you don’t. Who told you that? Nobody has to put out a statement. As a matter of fact, don’t. Why do we need a statement? When all that bubbled up, I must have had 500 calls saying, “We need a statement. Can you edit the statement? Ben & Jerry’s did a statement.” I was like, “Why are you doing a statement? If you can’t answer that, don’t do it.”

First, it’s reactive. Everything is reactive. You mess up when you’re in a reactive state. Stand back and check who you are. What is your organizational identity? What are your organizational values? Based on that, do we need to make a statement? If we do, what is it? Why? Because when you’re in a reactive stance, every corporation thinks they’re a social justice organization. They can’t figure out why they keep having to do mediation between employees. You’re not a social justice organization. Back up. You’re a high-tech company that values diversity. Do that, not this other piece. My first thing would be the reactive stance versus the responses stance.

The next thing for me would be, at the end of the day, one of the things that keep onboarding is you’ve called it a program or an initiative. You’ve got 65 affinity groups. To me, that’s from a scarcity mentality. We’re not doing it right. We haven’t even defined what right is in these other places. In order for us to feel better about our egos by way of our conflict avoidance, we’re going to throw all this stuff out there and have 75 affinity groups that are not effective.

Because we don’t want to leave anybody out, it is now Merry Christmakwanzakah. We’re going to celebrate Merry Christmakwanzakah at the company. I’m making a joke but I’ve seen it like, “What are we doing?” “We’re going throw a fiesta for Cinco de Mayo.” Stop. Hold up. Who are we? I see that as a big piece of it too. We don’t know what to do so we’re going to do anything.

The third is nobody stops and says, “What’s our current culture?” We step right over culture. Culture is large and expansive. It encompasses a lot of things. There’s a lot in organizational culture. If I slip into an organization, I don’t know the organizational culture. There’s the HR handbook that tells me all the things, but then there’s this other handbook that says stuff like you better put the right coffee in the coffee machine. There’s stuff that you learn along the way.

We don’t ever take the time to figure out what are the positives of that and then build on that as a stepping stone. We act like that’s not there. We create stumbling blocks for ourselves. You then got to call the consultant to have facilitated conversations because we’ve gone off-roading on the EDI, DEI, DEIB or DEIBJ plan. It’s all avoidable. We don’t do it.

How you are speaking cracks me up. The laughter that I’m having is the joy of relieving. Hearing you was such a breath of fresh air. Who are we? Do we know? I remember I was giving a speech to this large group. The CEO was talking about hiring and diversity. He said, “Go ahead. Ask me a hard question.” I said, “Why should I work for you?” He was a CEO and it stumped him. CEOs don’t even know why somebody should work for them. It must be apparent that a lot of the companies that you come to may not know who they are, so how do they figure that out? How do you recommend the company figure out who they are? How do you go about doing that?

You’re going to hate this answer or you’ll probably love it. I make companies walk through who they are not first. Here’s why. In the spirit of leadership and humanity, regardless of how strong we are, we want to make sure that we are likable and that people can respond to us. Those pieces are important but when they are over-indexed, they become a weakness. It creates this identity crisis versus, “Who are we no? What am I not first?” That backs you into who you are as an organization. You got to be comfortable saying, “I know that you brought that to me but we don’t do that. That’s not who we are.” We need to get our muscle memory around saying, “That’s not who we are.”

We can’t do all things. This is my scenario when I walk into an organization. It’s like the time that I pulled up in Dallas, Texas to speak. I pull up at this restaurant and it says, “Donuts, Italian food, Chinese food, Thai food, and Greek food.” I looked at the building and went, “You’re not going to do all those things well. I see the intention but the impact is going to be bad.” We then do this long list of all the things that we have to be versus the things that we don’t do and be firm in those. That informs us of who we are as an organization, as a leader, as HR professionals, and as talent cultivators. We need to get more comfortable with that space.

We think that if we say what we’re not, we’re claiming that we can’t do something. That’s a position of strength to say, “I don’t do those things.” I might like one in every sixteen DEI professionals. Why? You walk into a company and they’re like, “I can do all of that.” Whereas I’ll walk into a company and go, “I don’t do that. That is not congruent with what I believe. I can do this for you but I’m not doing that.”

Why are you doing a statement? If you can’t answer that, don’t do it. Click To Tweet

In the company that we met in, one of my biggest things was when they brought on somebody. I was interacting with that person for some time. He was a great person. He started getting the pressure of rolling out all these deliverables. I said, “You have jumped the shark. You don’t know them well enough to roll anything out. Have you had 75 conversations with George? You don’t know George yet. Have you talked to the executive team? Have you had three meetings? You’re not ready.”

It then became this carousel of language about what to do when nobody stopped and said, “What are we already doing well? What are we expanding on?” versus, “We got to start from scratch. We got to build this whole thing and hire an army.” What we are doing well and what we need to expand on as the launching pad of what we’re doing well. We look at the data. We’re not idiots. We see that we need to strengthen some things, but when you do it too prematurely, you roll into this Noah’s Ark of DEI. You’re like, “I need two of this and two of this,” and call it. That is not authentic. It’s disingenuous and insulting.

I have to admit one thing. That was my take on a lot of those things. When I would be at different companies and the DEI would be a program, I’m like, “We’re being disingenuous here,” but I don’t know if other people thought that way, people of color or people of different backgrounds. Being an old White male, which is what I am, I didn’t have a choice in that. That was mom and dad. I always thought it was disingenuous. It’s hard enough to find good talent as it is and then lay some preconceived notion bias on top of it. It always drove me nuts. I’m going to be all over the map with questions and I know you can handle whatever I throw. Do you find yourself building, constructing and educating, or do you find yourself unwinding pad programs more? It’s just curiosity.

It’s about 50/50. I’m still in the building and educating. It’s still hot. I started in the ‘90s. When people are like, “Have you heard of unconscious bias?” I’m like, “Yeah. It’s not new.” It’s like my kids when they’re like, “Mom, have you heard of Van Halen?” I’m like, “Before you. That’s not new,” but I try to support. I’m 50% building, educating and convincing. What I did decide to do is to no longer convince and persuade. I don’t do that work anymore. I simply sit in the building, educating and creating awareness, and then the other half is undoing, reworking, reframing and resetting. Mostly, those are my organizations.

I have one organization that was like, “You told us not to do a statement. Instead, we put out Black Lives Matter shirts to all of our employees with matching water bottles.” I’m like, “Did you? That’s a great idea. Who came up with that? Was the whole executive team in on that?” They’re like, “Yes. We wanted to show our solidarity” I’m like, “It’s a bad move. It’s going to cause all kinds of stink in the organization.”

My point is those are the organizations that felt like they had to do something. They didn’t know what to do. They felt like it was better to do something. They have created a swell of another layer of performative, disingenuous and authentic in an organization that was doing well in their surveys on all the things regarding engagement and retention. It literally undid it because they didn’t start by way of what the culture already was.

This is a long way around the bar end of the question. I went out and met with this client. He said, “George, I want to hire you.” I said, “We need to talk some more before we figure out if we’re going to work together.” I won’t name the firm. It will give it away because too many people know of this person. He has a very high ego. It’s off the charts. In the field, it’s almost a prerequisite. He says, “I’ll pay you whatever to pay you. What are you looking for?” I said, “If I figure out that you’re an asshole, I’m not working with you.” He was shocked by that. That’s exactly what I told him and he could handle that level of firmness and a little bit of vulgarity.

We’re not going to say you’re an expert at it, but you are truly the best practitioner I have known and have seen. Do you ever walk in with negotiables and non-negotiables? As an example, the C-Suite is not onboard or some department brought you in. Are there negotiables or non-negotiables for you to be working with somebody? I know there have been. Your time is extremely valuable and there’s a ton of demand. How do you handle that?

I always tell people that you need a few non-negotiables. I won’t work with people that have a lot of them. That says something to me. If you have five pages of non-negotiables, that means you’re easily offended, which means you’re easily manipulated. I won’t take you. I will say that I don’t have many. I don’t scare easily. It’s important to have the C-Suite understand the importance of it. Most in that space know the what but don’t know the how, so I like to help with the palatable ways in which you onboard the how.

My biggest non-negotiable that I’m going to tell you has been the past couple of years for me. I am done working with White male executives who have gotten in the fetal position on this subject matter and act like they have no general sense about anything. I do fire that. I’m like, “I get it. You’re worried about whatever that is, but you cannot then decide that you’ve had to abandon all your good common sense. You have some foundational pieces. You’re in an executive position.”

What scares me about the work is I get that we’re conditioned and exposed differently. You might not have worked in the DEI space specifically, but that doesn’t mean you have some general good sense about how things should go. You might need a tweak. What I have found is they’re like, “I’m going to be over here in the fetal position and hope it works out.” I won’t work with them because I need you to be your White male self in this space doing this work alongside me and not void of your good sense.

It’s like nails in the road. They’re like, “I’ll defer to you.” I’m like, “Why are you deferring to me? You’re the CEO. Lead something.” If you go off-roading, I will politely pull you aside and go, “Here’s a perception on that.” It’s not that I should change you, but I want you to be aware of how that could be perceived. That’s it. You don’t need a total rework because you’re a White dude. You know something. That irks me. When you talk about a non-negotiable, that’s it.

I could see that. I love when you said, “I need you to be your old White self.” I haven’t mentioned it on the show, but my significant other is a C-Suite executive. She is going to eventually do this book that helps women ask for what they deserve. She’s a tiny bit older than me. Hopefully, she doesn’t hear me say that on a show. She looks younger than me. That’s my saving grace.

She made a statement to me that I thought was good and I wanted to run it by you. When we have people instructing or facilitating meetings about diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, it’s a person of color and it’s usually a female. She said, “I hate that. I want the old White male that’s chief revenue office or head of sales standing up there telling us about how we’re going to do it and why we’re doing it.” She was very blunt. She was like, “It looks like tokenism. It looks more programmatic and not thoughtful, but if you have that old White male standing up there saying, This is who we are, do it, it carries more weight.” Does that make sense?

I hear that. I would love to be in a room having that discussion with her. I bet we would get along. What I say to people is it’s not an either-or. It’s a both-and. I need to model the old White male and the woman of color, a male of color, BIPOC, LGBT or whatever doing it together. Wouldn’t that be an interesting model? Let’s do that.” What happens in that space though is because we’re so worried about what might be perceived, we think we define DEI by way of the race only. We’re like, “The next DEI consultant we’re going to have has to be a Black female with short hair.” We get real prescriptive. I’m like, “What is that?” We miss out on opportunities.

In the spirit of leadership and humanity, regardless of how strong we are, we want to make sure that we are likable and that people can respond to us. Those pieces are important, but when they are over-indexed, they become a… Click To Tweet

To her point and to your point, part of that piece that we are doing brings in bias. The stuff that we’re trying to combat in the organization brings in bias. We moved on this street and we were warned that we should not go and talk to Lot 14 because that family was mean. They were this and that. They got a big political sign up on their fence. Don’t talk to them. When we moved in, my husband and I went to Lot 14 first because we were warned about Lot 14. We spent four hours with them and we liked them probably the best.

He and I fished together. The neighbors don’t know what to do as we walked down the street in our waders going down to the end to fish. We were like, “We can’t imagine what that’s like.” What would it look like if we got to know each other in the organization? If we decided who George is without George telling us who George is, that’s unloading unconscious bias. The very thing we’re trying to not do, we’ve decided that it has to look a certain way and then we do it. Nobody likes my answer on that, but that is my answer.

I’ve learned so much from you. I want to tackle something because I know we’ll be up against time. This is a hard one, especially for human capital leaders and leaders in general. It is the equity piece. I don’t want to say diversity is easier than equity. I don’t want to rank orders to rack and stack, but the equity piece has got to be hard to do. When you start factoring in performance, years of experience, background and role, there’s a lot outside of that that has nothing to do with who that person is. If you were to give best practices, best approaches or advice to tackle the equity piece, what are you sharing with people?

Let’s say an organization does an assessment and they realize they have had some missteps in equity for whatever reason. I could talk about how that happens by way of history and industry. I could talk about that from a variety of angles. Let’s say we’re sitting at the table and we’re on a team together. We’re seeing a trend that there’s an equity issue among whatever pieces those are like pay and promotion. The way to right-size that is not in one fell swoop. It’s like, “We’re going to right-size equity. We’re going to level that.” People are thinking it works like that. It does not work like that. There are a variety of factors that we have to look at, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t get to that.

What happens then is the reason why I think people misstep in that and where the pressure comes on is like, “We’ve got an equity issue. It should be this.” I always tell organizations, “Don’t crap on yourselves. You’re going to mess up. Back up and say, “What is it that we currently have?” They’re like, “I have to deal with what is.” I would say, “Let’s look at what is, and let’s build steps to what should be.” What companies do is like, “It should be this. Let’s fix it reactively.” They don’t look at the churn of what that creates.

When I hear people say, “When you get ready to hire this next person, it should be this.” You set the leader up for a hot mess. They can’t even listen in interviews well because you’ve laid over them this pressure of like, “You’re going to right-size equity. The missteps in equity in this company that had been going on forever, you’re going to right it in two hires.” You’re not. As a matter of fact, you’re going to do something counter to that. I say to organizations, “Anchor culture and value first and determine what you are not. Sit down with your team on the ways in which you can sure up consistency in interviews, questions and approaches. Get those pieces first and back into those pieces, and then let us test for equity.”

Are there ways in which we might have done some unconscious bias? Maybe. Are there ways in which we went about this position differently than this position? Yes. Why? Because that’s a sales position, that’s forward-facing, and that’s internal. It’s okay as long as we can name it. We get scared to name it. We’re not willing to sit in the nuance of that. It doesn’t serve us well when we don’t, but we never hash it out.

“George, why did you take that approach?” If you asked George, he probably has a perfectly good reason. If George is leveraging some unconscious bias, then as his colleague, I have the courage to say, “I got to ask you a couple of questions on that one. I see that you judged that person’s bookshelf in that Zoom interview. Can I ask you what that brought on for you?” He’s like, “It’s this and this.” George might be able to back up himself, but we just decide. There are opportunities for us to look at it in totality versus one aspect.

I’m all over the map here. I had this philosophy. Diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and the blurring of the political and social place in the business, I’ve never seen anything like it. I don’t know if that pendulum will ever swing back. Disney’s getting hammered. My personal view is every single news outlet is clickbait at this point. I don’t even go down that path. I remember your point about making a statement. Many people feel like they need to make statements.

I was coaching a leader. I don’t know that I necessarily did the right thing, but to your point, he wanted everything. He was like, “We got to get this message out. We’ve got to support this group.” I said, “How are you supporting the people in your firm? Before we look outside, before we get into politics, and before we get into supporting this group, that charitable organization, this social cause, or this social justice cause, what are you doing for the people that you’re in charge of leading?” That has been my advice to some of the people that I’m coaching. I’m not near to having your expertise, but when you get talent in that inclusion part, are those voices being heard? Are you taking care of them? Are people being more heard or less heard now? What do you think?

I think people are being heard differently. It has been a cacophony of things and the co-mingling of that has not served as well. What it has brought on is people are then in this posture of shame, blame and guilt versus saying, “I heard what you said. My experience is different. I hold space for how you’ve been conditioned in yours, but the way you’ve been conditioned in yours does not make mine wrong. It makes mine different.”

Because we don’t do those things, people have shut down. People who have something to say are like, “I’ll pass. I’m not going to say it,” because the collateral damage on it has become career-shortening for people. It has altered their DNA in terms of how they show up in that space. When we start having more parking lot conversations, boardroom members in the room, and all hands on deck conversations, we are off-base.

The George Floyd incident happened while I was in the role. Somebody asked me, “What do you think about it?” I said, “First and foremost, we need to remember somebody lost a life. What is it that we’re doing as a group where we can be better to one another?” That’s what I can affect in my corner of the world. Knowing that we’re up against time, I have two good questions. We need to do this again because there’s so much more that we can get in.

We don’t discuss age, but we can say you’re over 21 footloose and fancy-free. You’ve got so much advice. If you were to go back to your 21-year-old self, what would you be telling yourself to be a better, more impactful and faster leader that’s making a difference on a broader scale? What things have you learned across your professional career that you wish you had gotten earlier?

It’s not everything I think I need to say. I learned that the hard way. To center what I know to be enough. There’s always this why can’t I be good and solid in what I know and contribute versus this push of performance. It’s like you got to learn all these things. I went back to school at Cornell because I started to be concerned that I wasn’t updated on all the nuances that had happened in the last couple of years around DEI. I was the oldest person in the class. I went there because I was checking myself and making sure that I had the expertise. I took four weeks on pronouns so I know what’s going on. I took six weeks on whatever so I could get another certification. I’m always about learning and growing, but why can’t the contributions I bring in my bucket be enough?

Organizations should anchor culture and value first and determine what they are not before testing for equity. Click To Tweet

I don’t think every HR person needs some rounding in DEI, but that has to be your total focus. It becomes hard to push people in that space. When I think about my twenty-year-old self and when I think about now, I’m good. I am not going to be pushed even in this space. I’ve been asked to be on a bunch of panels about critical race theory. I did two of them and tapped out. I’m not coming into that space in that way.

Somebody said in a panel, “I don’t understand how you could say that it’s not just about race and you’re a Black female.” I said, “It’s because I am a Black female that I’m saying it’s not just about race. What are you talking about? There’s more to it. I’m sorry you feel that way. Should we center race because it’s the one people don’t talk about? Sure, but is it only about race? You’re not going push me to say that because I don’t believe that. I’m not going to say it. It’s not my truth.”

I would like to do this again because I have a lot more questions. I don’t only want to say thank you for coming on. Your advice, insights and experiences have made me a better human capital leader, and we didn’t have that many interactions. I said this at the beginning of this episode, but as I get older, now my dad looked far wiser. Being a parent and a grandfather, there’s so much I don’t know.

I wanted to thank you personally for contributing to making me a better human capital leader. It wasn’t that my horizons expanded. It’s that I have perspectives that round out a lot of other common-sense thoughts. You’ve created more of a sponge. I’m like, “Now, I got to get a little bit smarter,” or there are some things out there that I thought I knew that I didn’t know, but now I’ve got the desire to explore. I wanted to thank you for that and for spending a little bit of time with me as well. You were great.

I appreciate that. I want you to know that when I left that first interaction, I was excited about the iron sharpens iron opportunity. Every time in your White older guy shell that you sat in that space, the synergy of that was your questions were insightful and spot on. You had a holistic approach to how we are measuring that and what are we measuring for. That was refreshing equally for me.

When I got in the car the first time, I thought, “I wonder how this is going to play out because one of the sharpest ones in the room is a White guy. Will it allow him or not to say it as somebody that understood the culture of this organization?” Likewise, George, I enjoyed and learned from you. We never know what’s to come. I look forward to what that could be in the future. You call on me anytime.

Thank you so much. I love that you took the time. This has been awesome. I hope you have a great rest of your week. We will be in touch soon.

You too.


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