Inclusive Conversations: Talk about Diversity to Foster Belongingness and Authenticity


Wei Zheng: It’s my great pleasure today to introduce our fabulous panelists. The first one is Lisa Mascolo. She’s a Trustee of Steven’s Institute of Technology, Advisory Board Member of AArete, and former executive at IBM United Health Optimal and Accenture. Second is Bryon Wornson. He’s the Vice President of Global Health and Value at Pfizer Oncology. Third is Michael Salas. He’s the Chief Information and Digital Officer at SUEZ. Last but not least is Jason Thompson, Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Western Governors University.

Let’s start with this question to get us warmed up. It seems like diversity and inclusion is no longer a small group of people’s responsibilities, but it is everybody’s business. So could we start by talking about what inclusion is in your context? How do we know whether people feel included or not?

Lisa Mascolo: For me, inclusion is about the extent to which people feel supported and respected. Ultimately, I think the true test of inclusion is whether somebody feels celebrated. I think the differences that we have are to be celebrated and when you’re in an environment where the differences are celebrated, I think that’s truly an inclusive environment.

I think the second part of the question about how you know if somebody feels included is trickier. Sometimes this topic can be complicated because you can’t just say “Hey do you feel included?” because you won’t always get the answer and it may make somebody feel uncomfortable. I think the leader’s job is to observe and work to make certain that everybody has a voice, everybody gets to talk, and when somebody talks, their point of view is respected.

Wei Zheng: Thank you, for sharing that. Bryon, would you like to go next? What does inclusion mean in your context?

Bryon Wornson: I agree with a lot of what Lisa said in terms of creating a culture where people feel like they can speak up and be themselves. When the pandemic started, we had regular calls and with George Floyd, the topic came up and it was very clear that it was bothering people, so we set up a series of conversations about those types about racial discrimination and microaggressions and what became clear to me on my personal journey is when you work at Pfizer you have really, really high achievers and smart people that delivered, time and time again. So from an inclusion perspective, it’s making sure that people feel like they can be as much of their whole selves whether that’s race, gender identity, a parent, whatever it is that they can be as much of themselves that they are outside of work as they are inside of work.

Wei Zheng: Thank you. Michael, would you like to talk about what inclusion means in your context?

Michael Salas: Yeah, there is that analogy where diversity has been invited to the party and inclusion has been asked to dance, but I think inclusion is being able to choose the music, the different types of foods, different cultures and things like that, and to exactly what Lisa said, yes, there will be differences, but it’s celebrating those differences and putting yourself into the other person’s shoes in terms of what their upbringing has been and what their value systems. So really I think to that point it’s about celebrating those differences.

One of the best things we do is we have these multicultural days where we ask everyone just to bring some food from their cultural background and it’s one of the best events we have. There is so much conversation because so many people are willing to learn and understand the roots of the different foods and cultures, so it’s celebrating those differences and being open to understanding those differences.

Wei Zheng: Wonderful, thank you. Jason?

Jason Thompson: I always say inclusion means I can disagree, but it doesn’t mean I can be disagreeable. We want somebody who can speak up and say I disagree with what’s being said, and what I found is when questions are asked, you hear a lot of silence. Something’s wrong there, you don’t have inclusion. It’s a simple measure because people have learned that we don’t speak up here and that silence is how they voice it.

Michael made a good point. I love the analogy about being asked to dance and I always say equity is being able to say I don’t want to dance with you and not have to suffer retribution. We all know when we’re in that environment where I have to dance with you. But, when I have full inclusion and equity I can say no, I don’t want to do that and know that I won’t be punished, I will still get the next promotion, and I’ll still be valued as an employee here even when I disagree. I think that’s the piece that many times it’s easy to actually assess, but most people don’t have that conversation of how silence is telling you something when you’re in a room and ask questions, but no one responds. There’s no inclusion there and everyone’s learned that there is retribution in this environment, so that’s usually what I tell people: silence is not a good thing.

Wei Zheng: Wonderful, thank you for the insights. So it’s really interesting we talked about feeling celebrated, people speaking up, rather than keeping silence, and being themselves and authentic. So those are really things that all of us want, but sometimes conversations about diversity can be really uncomfortable especially like what you mentioned, Bryon. There could be racial injustice inequities and all sorts of inequalities across the organization or in society and when we have conversations about that it’s uncomfortable. How do you deal with that? What do good conversations look like? What do bad conversations look like? Jason, would you like to go first this time?

Jason Thompson: Sure. I always tell people get uncomfortable and you will be uncomfortable, that’s the reality. So we have stopped moving towards trying to make people comfortable and that’s really how you learn. There’s always that when you go to a party, don’t talk about politics and race, right? We know this. So, by definition, we’ve already taught you from before you even have a conversation and that you shouldn’t have it so that’s why you’re uncomfortable.

We also teach you if something makes you uncomfortable, move away from it. Culturally in the US, we teach you not to do the very things we need you to do. This desire to be comfortable many times and our desire to make you comfortable prevents us from having the conversations that we need to have, and so we have to take the position that you will get used to it, that’s how this works, and there’s nothing wrong with being uncomfortable. You can be uncomfortable and safe.

For example, I love high school sports. It’s uncomfortable there because you’re in the gym, it’s hot, it’s miserable. I’m not unsafe, but I am very uncomfortable. So the reality is that the only way to become comfortable is to stay in that space and so typically we will say stay in that space, but we’re going to have to have uncomfortable conversations.

Wei Zheng: That’s really interesting, so differentiate between safety and discomfort. How do you foster safety, rather than comfort?

Jason Thompson: I think it’s important that the emphasis should be on having a very open conversation about what’s implied if we keep using the word “safe” in the context of people of color. It’s reasserting that and I think that conversation is really important because one of the things I also tell people is you can’t fix most issues around race, LGBTQ, and disabilities in one conversation. The fact that most people keep pushing for this solution is why they’re frustrated because they constantly want to move away from it so that’s why we say stay uncomfortable. It’s going to take more than one session because just as I can’t make you racist in 45 minutes, we can’t undo it in a 45-minute session, it’s just not going to happen. Even if you are completely racist, I can respect it in the sense of it is one of your tightly held views, so in the conversation that’s what we have to understand is this may take several conversations for us to get through this and it will be uncomfortable. We just have to say you can be uncomfortable and still be safe, it doesn’t mean you are unsafe.

Lisa Mascolo: So I do think one of the really important things in uncomfortable conversations is having a guy like Jason right, I think people need to be trained because I do think that you can sometimes be incredibly well intentioned and end up doing more harm than good. And one of the things that I think we have to do a much better job of is training leaders to understand when the conversation might become uncomfortable and what to do, because if they’re not trained to handle that I think it can sometimes cause a lot more harm than good. I’ve always encouraged people if ahead of time you think that the conversation’s going to get kind of squishy and uncomfortable to have a trained professional with you, or at least seek some counsel first.

Jason Thompson: That’s such a good point. I would like to add, please tell people there’s actually a kind of a simple tool that I use in these conversations and it’s remember, address, and fix. Can what’s been said be fixed? Most of the time when someone says something that’s completely homophobic or racist, you’re not going to fix them in that moment, but their statements can be addressed, and so, if you’re the most senior person in that room and you feel like this conversation is getting out of hand, what you can do is just call that out. Remember you’re not going to fix that person, but it’s going to be addressed for the other people in the room because what you don’t want is people leaving and saying wow Jason was the most senior person in the room, he’s our diversity expert, and someone said something completely racist and he said nothing.

So I always try to remind myself can I really fix this in the moment, or does it need to be addressed, and then I address it in the sense of okay you have a right to that view, but we can’t have that kind of horrible statement. At least then it’s been addressed because nine times out of ten, you’re not going to fix that person, and then the reason the conversation spirals is because we try to fix that person and they become more defensive and we get into this conversation of trying to fix them and it’s just not going to happen in a 45 minute session or even a two hour session, whatever it might be.

Wei Zheng: Thank you. Michael, would you like to go ahead? Have you had an uncomfortable conversation and how did you navigate that discomfort?

Michael Salas: Yeah, definitely I think Jason has given some great insights and Lisa as well, I’ll give you a bit of an international view. Coming from Australia to the US six years ago, I literally had one woman on my leadership team and I kind of had that conversation with the team and I said hey there’s something wrong with our leadership team, there’s only one woman on these leadership team and that is a problem if we’re going to be successful as an IT organization. It was almost like I’d said something really bad. I said look I’m just stating a fact, I’m not saying it’s anyone’s fault, I’m just saying that’s the situation we’re in, and we need to fix that.

Where I came from in Australia discussions around race discussions around politics and stuff like that were actually more common and coming here it is just like oh you don’t talk about that. And I completely agree with Jason that I think we’ve got to challenge that norm, have some of those difficult conversations, and also get to the point of understanding of why someone has that particular view. Is it because of an experience in their life, upbringing, or a mentor or family member or something that in their experiences have caused them to have that view which could be completely different from what yours is.

Even with my family, my parents were from Greece and emigrated to Australia, so they have certain views based on their upbringing and the education, but I have a very different view because of the education and upbringing I had in Australia. But like Jason said you’re not going to solve it in 45 minutes, it’s just continued discussions and creating more awareness of things that they don’t know and that might help them change their views or change their mind.

Wei Zheng: Interesting, thank you for sharing that story, Michael. So I have a follow up question for you, let’s stay with that incident and let’s say that happens again, or maybe you’re on a different team and people feel uncomfortable because you pointed out there’s only one woman on the team, how would you approach that conversation differently this time?

Michael Salas: I mean it was the kind of the first day on the job right, so it was one of those things where, how would I approach that differently is maybe kind of understanding that up front and having ideas of what are we going to do differently to change that because as I was coming in, I was coming to transform the department and the team which meant sort of turning it on its head and really looking at it from the ground up.

When I started in 2016, we had 9% women in the IT department and now we’re up to about 28% of 29%, so that’s not a hockey stick move but it’s moving the needle a little bit. The point there is these things do take time, but especially I’m in an industry where it’s very hard to find a sort of women talent so I’m pushing our recruitment team. I need resumes that are women right because I don’t want the best person for the job, I want the best person that’s going to fit in with the team to create the best team, so that’s how I would approach it a little bit differently rather than just dropping a grenade in the middle of the room.

Wei Zheng: If I’m understanding you correctly, one way is approaching it from a systems perspective, rather than just one instance where we’re going to have one woman represented and the other is to get other people’s input in terms of how to do that. Thank you. Bryon, do you have any experience of an uncomfortable conversation? How did you navigate it?

Bryon Wornson: Yeah so we decided that we wanted to have some of these topics around racial discrimination, social justice, and we framed it up in a way where we said, like Jason said, lean into being uncomfortable, but we also did something else. Pfizer has done a phenomenal job and continues to do a phenomenal job about our hiring practices in pursuing a diverse slate of candidates, a diverse slate of interview panels, all those things. We switched for a little bit and said we want to become better people, so this isn’t about us as work colleagues, this is about us as people, and so we purposely kind of set the work aside and leaned into some of the heavy topics for discussion but we wanted people to feel comfortable.

Now Jason I do have a question for you, we did use safe, but we did it because we wanted to create a learning environment where people felt like they could ask questions back and forth and search for an understanding of something that maybe they didn’t experience themselves and do it in such a way where they didn’t have to be afraid to do so.  So that was the context, and you framed it completely different and that was not the intent of using the word, so I am kind of curious about creating an environment where to have true understanding, true learning, true empathy right, you want that back and forth from people, you want them to ask the question like okay I’m not sure if I should ask this question, but I kind of want you to help me understand this, what does this mean to you. And I wonder what recommendations you have to create that type of environment, because for me what really opened my eyes was everyone started telling personal stories and so now it’s not hypothetical, it’s not at a societal level, it’s personal stories of things that they have experienced and it was really eye opening. I’d like to continue those conversations because that’s how I think we become better and have more empathy for people and get past some of these differences, but Jason how would you recommend framing that if that’s the intent right, how would you recommend creating that type of framework?

Jason Thompson: Yeah, so I think we need to have inclusive conversations and that’s a simple way to frame it. We’re going to have inclusive conversations and because there’s another dynamic here that I kind of touched on, I think it’s very important for people to feel like they can share with you whatever story they have.

I think the other piece to think about, though, is the way it makes me feel as a person of color that you have to be safe to have a conversation implies what you think about me. And to me, we also have to have that conversation, because to me there’s a subtlety here that’s kind of offensive actually that how you can talk about race and your experiences is somehow unsafe and are you implying that somehow, I’m going to lose control of who I am because you said something that might be racist or you’re not sure about and it and I understand the premise, but there’s a certain amount of privilege that actually comes in that framing and of course I’m an academic, so I love these kinds of academic conversations, but that’s why I push back on it because we should also question why the only way I could have this conversation is to feel safe. Are you also making an equation that people of color make you feel unsafe or that people disabilities make you feel unsafe?

So I don’t think safe is the word you want, I see what you’re saying and I don’t know that I have a better word, but I understand the premise of safe. It’s just what’s implied in this term that I think we should push back on and begin thinking about because it does frame it in an in a power dynamic that makes people of color or people from underrepresented groups appear like somehow issues that impact me personally are unsafe for other people to talk about.

Lisa Mascolo: For me, if the situation is chaotic and you’re the leader, you better actually know the answer and give the directives. But most of the time leaders aren’t in that situation and when leaders can demonstrate that they don’t have to know it all, that they’re not infallible, that they themselves can ask questions, I think you create a sense of trust in a community and encourage people to participate. I’m completely aligned with Jason on getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and when I spent some time in IBM, which is a very old white male environment, we spent a lot of time working hard to make people uncomfortable. We changed some serious minds and it takes time, it is not the 45-minute conversation.

One of my fondest memories was at the end of a one two-day seminar where we put people together to break the ice and there were two white gay guys who didn’t know each other and it just happened to end up that at the same table was an older African American gentleman at the table. So they all had a conversation and actually my HR team said we shouldn’t even be doing this and it’s all going to go to hell.

My fondest memory is at the end of the second day, I saw the back of these three guys walking out of the hotel arm in arm and they spent two days learning about each other as people, as humans, and when you give people the opportunity to be uncomfortable and to really be truthful about the questions, they are curious about, I think it builds relationships and trust, and that’s how we move the needle.

Wei Zheng: Great, thank you for sharing that story. So we talked about this discomfort of leaning into what the outcomes are that we expect how when we would say, well, this is a great conversation, you talked about the three guys walking out arm in arm and that is a testimony that it has been a good conversation. What else can we strive for in conversations that can be uncomfortable? Go ahead, Lisa.

Lisa Mascolo: When you get participation that is a hallmark of people feeling included, and again I agree with Jason when you get to the place where people are willing to dissent, then you’ve really created an environment where people feel like their points of view are going to be heard and they won’t be punished for them. Dissent is a great barometer of the extent to which people feel like you’ve created an inclusive environment.

Jason Thompson: One of the things I always try to help people with is the goal should be you don’t have to be perfect, but you have to be present, and I think as a leader we should mind ourselves and really anybody in the room that perfectionism isn’t the goal when it comes around talking about race. It’s to be present and by me being present, you have the conversation, you stay uncomfortable. If it makes you uncomfortable and you ask questions. I want people to share their authentic selves.

There are things about myself that I’m not comfortable with. If you met me in my early 20s, I was completely homophobic and I’m not proud of that, but it didn’t end in one day. The way it ended is I stayed present in the conversation so yeah, these things make you uncomfortable, I grew up with all these homophobic slurs that I felt so comfortable using, so it doesn’t go away in 45-minute session, but it does go away if I stay present, if I realize I’m not going to be perfect, that I’m going to make mistakes.

Regardless, you have to ask questions and try to learn and stay present in the moment. If you work on being perfect and you’re afraid to say anything, it’s hard for us to work through issues. We’re all going to make mistakes so if we stay in the moment, we can work through them.

Michael Salas: Just to add to that, I would say in terms of when I came to the US and chaired the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council, it wasn’t until I showed some vulnerability that that people started opening up. That vulnerability had been telling my story about how my parents emigrated to Australia, me experiencing racism growing up, being married to an indigenous Australian, having two girls, and seeing what the challenges were in the IT industry in the early 2000s and things like that.

People will open up so if you show some vulnerability as well and maybe offer something up first in that conversation could definitely become more meaningful that to the point around outcomes, I did see when I when I did start there were a lot of discussions, but not a lot of action. And we would spend hours having those conversations, and those conversations are really important don’t get me wrong, but I think we also got to complement that with what actions and initiatives we are going to put together to actually change things.

Wei Zheng: Bryon, would you like to add anything?

Bryon Wornson: You’ve got the outcomes like Michael mentioned in terms of goals around diversity in your leadership teams at various levels. All of those things from a corporate standpoint I think are very measurable, very actionable, and literature shows that if you look at that, pay attention to, and track your progress, you can absolutely make an impact on that. I think inclusion is a cultural phenomenon, meaning how does the manager and that environment articulate and implement what comes from the top down right and that’s how it manifests. So you need to measure whether the leaders are walking the talk. You need feedback to make sure that the local culture of the team is rolling up to the point where you want it to be. From an inclusion perspective, it takes time, it takes management wanting to make sure that that’s actually happening, and it’s a combination of satisfaction surveys, annual reviews, those types of things.

Lisa Mascolo: At the end of the day, the simplest measure of culture is what people do and it starts at the top, and if the top of the very top of the organization is about the lip service around inclusion and diversity, you’re not going to have a culture that is inclusive. I think it’s critically important regardless of the size of the organization that the core values around this topic are not only articulated by the leaders, but they’re actually lived by the leaders and when the top of the food chain behind closed doors is operating in a different way, that’s a real problem and that’s when you get organizations that are dysfunctional.

The Special Olympics had a great tagline a couple of years ago. The tagline was inclusion is the revolution and I think we spend too much time talking about diversity. I think, to Michael’s point, diversity is the statistic, it’s the outcome, it’s the measure of whether or not you created an inclusive environment, and the inclusive environment has to start at the top, so the extent that the leaders model the behavior truly will determine if you have an inclusive environment.

Wei Zheng: Excellent, thank you. Jason, do you have anything to add? I know you worked on the previous Olympic Committee. What does inclusion look like in that kind of context?

Jason Thompson: Yeah so the use of the team is unique and you have to share some of this and I apologize, it might be a laborious, but if you’re a sports fan it’s probably more fun for you, but every sport in the US is a nonprofit that participates in the Olympic Games and the US Olympic team is also a nonprofit.

So when I was there, doing diversity, the question became how are we going to measure this thing and how do we know racquetball is diverse versus volleyball. And so I was able to identify some metrics and come up with a scorecard that we could use to measure the sports against each other in such a way that validated their differences without exacerbating those who had more resources. So, for instance, USA basketball is loaded, versus a handball team which had one person, but we were able to identify what the pipeline looked like and if the pipeline looked like the leadership team.

A good example is actually USA volleyball. At that time, we did one of the first measures. Women make up 80% of those athletes who play volleyball in the US, yet at that time, basically, the number one, number two women’s team in the world, team USA didn’t have a woman coaching, like that’s mathematically impossible. And so just by pointing that out, it helps them identify what a good use of our time is, like maybe we should look at some gender diversity within our coaching staff. This kind of outcome has to be intentional. And you know they had like five or six coaches and a trainer, not one woman, so part of what I was able to do there is just identify what the data points are available to further measure inclusion.

There are actually a few things that I’ve also identified that I kind of suggest, one is turnover. Turnover’s an indicator that something’s going on. When the turnover has a high rate, there’s a data point telling you something about your inclusion like if people of color are leaving at a high rate compared their white peers, that tells us something.

We also realized there are certain behaviors we see in in a meeting that typically make people want to leave such as people talking over the top of me, not letting me finish my sentences, right they take my ideas. And the data shows that people of color and women are disproportionately targeted as that happens and you don’t get to finish your senses, so we came away to measure that in meetings. We thought what lot of times people realize is well my environment’s not inclusive, but I don’t know what to do. And if I said when you go to a meeting, stop talking over women when they speak up, stop taking their ideas, allow them to finish their senses, that’s concrete. Now that I know what to do, how do we know if a person is doing it?

We just came with a simple way to start measuring and tracking it so that we could change behaviors and because what I find sometimes is people don’t know what they’re doing that’s what we call it unconscious, so if you can just bring that to their consciousness, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it means well if I know I was doing it, I’m happy to change, I didn’t know I was doing this, right so that’s how I stay present in the moment. So, there are some things we can do to measure inclusion that are simple tools to track behaviors and meetings and things like that. I just think it’s important for people to understand their behaviors because inclusion is hard right, because I don’t know what behaviors I’m doing, but just by a simple way of identifying it, you can change behavior, you can track it, and people then know what they are being held accountable to.

Wei Zheng: Great, okay so let’s move on just a little bit, but stay with the conversation about discomfort or skepticism. So sometimes we face audiences who are skeptical, maybe they have experienced some diversity efforts in the past which failed or didn’t lead anywhere or become just lips paying lip service, so if we are faced with a skeptical audience, how would you jumpstart conversations in a different way about diversity and inclusion? Have you had any experience trying to persuade a skeptical?

Jason Thompson: There’s some data that shows the average diversity officer lasts about 16 months and this is why people become skeptical. When you’re there for a year and a half, what’s going on in the place looks the same. And I think one of the challenges is you have to set realistic expectations.

For example, there are some dynamics that really set you up to fail, one being if you’re committed to diversity, wouldn’t the leadership team be more diverse, right it makes sense, but it’s mathematically impossible to do that in one year. Why? Because it’s hard to get a VP job, it’s hard to get the CEO job, and so, once you get it, you don’t leave quickly. And if they did leave quickly, that’s indicative of a company that’s failing. If you have good retention, which is what’s supposed to have, the CEO’s task is to keep good leaders. If they’re really good at keeping good leaders and not diverse, it isn’t going to look different in 16 months, but everyone’s looking at you as a diversity officer as here we go no commitment and so it’s important to set realistic expectations of what can actually be achieved and help people understand why we have these conversations because I think a good point is we’ve had a lot of conversations, but nothing’s changed.

I was in a company recently, very religious, and they were very uncomfortable with LGBTQ rights, but within the first year, we were able to add pronouns to titles and things like that. Those things are indicative of a culture that is changing. Sure they’re simple, but that’s how cultures change. They change through repetition and we’re going to keep having this conversation because we’re going to move the organization and so you have to have realistic expectations. A lot of that skepticism is because their assumption of what you can do as well beyond what can be done in the time period that you’ve been tasked with. High turnover leadership team is not a good thing. I can’t make it more diverse in 16 months, it’s just not going to happen. So you have to always remind people what we’ve been able to achieve, where we are on this process, and realize like I said I can’t undo racism in 45 minutes, so you can’t assume the company’s going to turn in 45 minutes, but if we set a realistic expectation and build the conversation around organizational change, people can understand this is how we’re going to redirect the organization.

It’ll take a little while, and there are some markers along the way. The conversations are actually one of the markers along the way, the repetition of these conversations is a marker, and this was a good point that was made by Michael, and that was have we changed our hiring practices because I might not be able to quickly change the leadership team, but I could at least point to how we’ve changed how we recruit people of color and women and we’ve done things to make sure if an opportunity presents itself, we can activate in that moment. So we are thinking about it, and we are anticipating what we could do in the future, and those are things you have to do to signal that you can make change, and you can validate the fact that I can resend the skepticism, but these are the things we put in place.

Michael Salas: I completely agree with Jason saying that. Sometimes we focus a lot on the diversity matrix right and like Jason said they’re not going to change drastically over a one-year period and as I mentioned my team was 9% women when I started and is now 29%, but that’s over a four-year period and the team has probably doubled in size right, so you need to get out of the mindset that these numbers are going to change really quickly and really focus on having those challenging conversations and people feeling that they can open up.

I’m a big believer in terms of authentic leadership, so walking the talk right and showing as a leader that you believe in what you’re saying and you follow those practices. We have kind of a leadership team in terms of recruitment, in particular for senior roles and me sort of being in that meeting and saying hey we’ve seen 10 resumes and not one woman right, so maybe the requirements are the cause but with cyber security it’s very difficult so we’re going to try harder and we’re just going to go and find them on LinkedIn and just try to approach them. Maybe we just need to try harder. It’s not going to happen by itself, we’re actually going to change our practices and push ourselves into those uncomfortable areas to try and make progress in this space, so it completely agrees with Jason saying that it’s very difficult coming in and being a Chief Diversity Officer, or something like that, and having maybe a CEO saying okay, I want to see these supplier diversity numbers change in a year right, I mean it’s an evolution and it takes time to get.

Lisa Mascolo: Incremental progress and the incremental commitments are really important. The extent to which the organization articulates the milestones, not just in the leadership team room, they are more likely to hold themselves accountable and I think recruiting is a great area.

One of the things that we did at IBM was as the managers wanted to hire, I refuse to validate their hiring requisition unless they presented a diverse slate of candidates. They all complained that this is going to take a lot longer, but it’s not my problem, right, go figure out how to get it done. And it really did change the hiring practices, and you can point to that, you can say hey here’s what we’ve said to the organization, we’re not going to entertain hiring somebody unless there’s a diverse slate of candidates so don’t bother bringing the slate unless it’s diverse. And you can demonstrate those progress points. It’s not going to be turning over the leadership team in 16 months, but there are progress points that you can articulate and demonstrate.

Bryon Wornson: Just to build on what Lisa’s talking about, I think there’s almost a social compact between leadership and employees, about how we’re going to move this forward, and I think what Jason said about addressing and fixing it at an individual meeting level is also something that you could probably apply at a corporate level. I mean we’re going to address these things and we are going to have conversations, but we will be transparent about what our short, medium, and long term goals are share them with you so you can hold us accountable if we’re not making progress.

So I think part of this is storytelling around your plan to bring people along with you to make sure that the way progress is measured is something that is uniformly accepted. Then it’s like this is what we’re going to do, hold us accountable if we don’t do it and come back at us. That’s how this needs to work to show progress, but I mean Jason’s point about the diversity officers has to do with expectation storytelling and how you can take people along on a journey if the organization has the challenges it has for years and it doesn’t get fixed in that amount of time. So that’s a social compact that you have to have with your organization to explain how you’re going to walk them through the journey.

Wei Zheng: I’d like to have a follow up question on this in terms of storytelling which is a great way of framing how we can move the needle forward when we’re faced with a skeptical audience and how much you use the business case of diversity while having more women, maybe the IT space can help us do this or do you tell other stories? What are some other stories you can tell to address the concerns of skeptical audiences who may be saying well everything’s going fine, why do we need to change, what’s the reason for change, so what’s your experience like in terms of motivating people who are not motivated to go more toward elevating diversity and inclusion?

Bryon Wornson: I have found the most powerful examples have been the personal ones. So when I’ve had people on my team talk about what it was like growing up as a Muslim in New York after 9/11, the microaggressions African American women have had to do deal with on a regular basis when they when they start, a colleague from Italy that came over that was yelled at about his accent on the streets, right like these types of things aren’t academic anymore. This is happening to people that you know and that you care about, that you know are high performing colleagues, but also our people. So it really changed and I have found those very powerful anecdotes to be just as important as the overall literature around the business case and making it very personal.

Michael Salas: Yeah, making it personal is probably the most powerful aspect to it. We have a great woman who is an operator and they’re running one of the biggest plants and so we’re always celebrating what she has done there in terms of challenging the norms in the water industry which is tends to be more male-dominated, especially running plants and distribution networks. So I think it’s really communicating and celebrating the successes where you have people with diverse backgrounds really pushing the business forward and growing the business.

Jason Thompson: The only thing I would add is I would say over the last year it’s been less of an issue trying to convince people diversity and inclusion is important. I have found that for most people that isn’t a major piece of the conversation. There is a story that’s driving this and I think we all saw this with how George Floyd was murdered and the conversation has moved. I think most people want to see change and so if anything good came out of that I’m telling you the conversation became a lot easier to have.

Lisa Mascolo: I still think that the business is imperative, not enough people understand it. I think people really get the societal imperative, I’m still not sure in certain business settings that people actually truly understand the business imperative of having a diverse organization. We know what the statistics are with respect to boards that are in the top quartile of diversity. Leadership teams that are in the top quartile of diversity are 40% more likely to be above average profitability, so I think we do need to tell the business imperative. We need to tell the personal stories as well and I encourage leaders who think they can tell their own story in two minutes don’t actually probably know their own story and one of the things I find really helpful with leadership development is helping leaders construct their journey, understand their own story, how they became who they are, and what are the things that influence and impact them. In order to be able to tell a story, you actually have to know your own story. And I do think we still need to do a better job with the business in being an inclusive organization.

Wei Zheng: Thank you. Let me shift just a little bit to talk about more micro practices. So we talked about having conversations about diversity and developing measures and that sort of thing. Let’s say you are practicing inclusive practices in your daily business and workplace lives, what are some other things you do that demonstrate that you are being inclusive of others in addition to having conversations? What else do you do?

Bryon Wornson: For me it’s continually repeating that I want to hear from everybody, you know what are your thoughts on the topic. A B plan with 100% buy in is going to be much more effective than an A plan that no one really supports, so just trying to acknowledge that type of discretionary effort is really important to business success and creating an environment where people feel like they can as Jay said descent.

I as a leader always kind of asked myself if I heard from everyone, and I think the one thing that I wanted was information when I was with Pfizer. I was going through this program and they had a personality trait of everyone that went through it and so it was like 85% are type A’s, so you need to ask yourselves, what about the introverts, what about the folks that aren’t the type A’s that are extraordinarily smart and talented, are you getting the best out of them? And so you know I try to put in practice just continually acknowledging people that have not spoken and I try to create a point where it’s absolutely encouraged. You want them to be encouraged for there to be a disagreement, it’s a sign of a healthy team, and that that type of is how we’re going to get to the right answer as long as you can create a situation where people feel like they’re on the same team, you can disagree, while still, as these are not being disagreeable, but you’re still on a team, so you’re still helping us towards a goal and so I try to do that on a regular basis with my team.

Wei Zheng: Any additional insights?

Michael Salas: I would just go back to what we mentioned earlier, which is celebrate differences and not be silent about it. It might be an example where, in my team, we sent three women on IT leadership training specific for women in IT and they’ve got women that have mentors and stuff like that and I’m vocal about that because I want to try and develop the next generation of leaders in IT that are women because there’s obviously a gender imbalance.

I think in the in the IT arena that is one of the big challenges that we need to try and try and solve whether it’s celebrating your different diversity days for different cultures and being vocal about that because if there’s people from all around the world that are working on the team, it’s good for others to understand what those different cultures are, what people celebrate, and why they celebrate it. I think that really goes to the point we said earlier, which is about walking the talk in terms of showing that that you want to learn more and you want to have that growth mindset.

Wei Zheng: Thank you. Jason and Lisa, do you have anything to add?

Jason Thompson: I think there’s something to be said, look at the systemic things that are put in place. You know, often in hiring, one of the things I see is people focus on if have you done it before. And if you’re in an industry where women and people of color are underrepresented, they probably haven’t done it before. So you need to hire on potential, but systemically we put this criterion our job descriptions that say four years’ experience of this or four years of that, and if you haven’t done that exact thing we won’t consider you is what systemically removes people of color and women. Because we’re underrepresented in engineering, rarely would you have that skill set, but the question should be, can you do it if given the opportunity.

And so we need to begin looking systemically. We’ve created these barriers unnecessarily. Many times, people have the potential even if they don’t have the experience, but you just systematically remove people and basically reproduce the bias that already exists in the system, so we do really need to look at how we hire people, what the criteria is and we can still get great candidates. It doesn’t mean we don’t get good candidates; it means that we just need to look at the system and whether or not it is reproducing this disparity that already exists.

Wei Zheng: Well then, let’s move on to the next question. How did you learn your diversity and inclusion practice? Where did you learn it from? Were there any particular turning points, important events, or periods of time that you did a lot of intense learning on this front?

Lisa Mascolo: For me it’s a combination of experience, both good and bad, and we tend to learn a lot more from bad experiences. I love to study failure and why things fail. My experience as a woman in IT, you know 40 years ago I started when I was 12 and it was a terrible time to grow up as a female in that industry. I lucked out and had a couple of really good mentors and coaches and I learned equally from both of them.

I was at an event and you many of you may know the story with Condoleezza Rice so she went to the University of Colorado to study classical piano and that was what she was going to do, and she met a professor and as a result of the interaction that she had with the professor, the professor said to her geez you might consider diplomacy as a career or a calling and the rest is history. The reason she tells the story is because the professor was a short, white, Jewish guy and her message to the audience is you can’t always look for role models that look like you, you need to seek out a bunch of role models, some of them will be great and some of them won’t, and I think that’s a really important point.

We won’t look up, even today women won’t look up, people of color won’t look up and see a leadership team, or even enough leaders that look like them. And it’s important to not turn down coaching and mentoring from people who don’t just look like you. You’ll have some good experience and some bad and a lot of what I’ve learned was their experience and there’s no substitute for actually learning, reading, and talking. There’s real work to be done to develop yourself as an inclusive leader.

Bryon Wornson: I have been with Pfizer for about 16 years and I had many female bosses with the diversity intent like it really never entered my mind when I came into the corporate world. But what really struck me was with the George Floyd murder and how we are having these conversations because everyone’s remote, people don’t know what’s happening with the pandemic, and just we’re on a call to touch base and see how’s everybody doing, but you were able see there was a real need to have a conversation and an outlet to talk about it, so we we’ve done that, and I’m not trying to toot my own horn, but it was just very eye opening to me to see all of my professional colleagues dealing with all of this personal angst and issues that I never have had to deal with. I knew some of it was there, I naively thought well it’s 2020, we’ve moved past this in a lot of case, but really, we haven’t.

I just had another conversation with a female colleague two days ago about some of the feedback she got about her career and how she needs to change her appearance and I was just angry because that’s where I want to continue my personal journey. I want to create an environment where people feel like they can bring this stuff up, but where it gets eradicated, because it has no place has yet it continues to be there.

Michael Salas: Yeah, I’ll add to what they are saying so it’s a lot around experience. My first boss was a woman and just seeing how challenging it was for her, and she was fantastic, she was confident, she knew her stuff really well and was very intelligent, but she had to fight so much harder than the guys to get her outcomes and initiatives, so that’s sort of where it started for me. And then you know I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to travel the world and work in different countries and just seeing those differences in terms of culture, backgrounds, beliefs and stuff just helped me. So for me it’s very much around experience and a bit of a growth mindset. I’m always reading and learning new things, but that would be my take on where I’ve learned to make this a priority and how important it is for me.

Wei Zheng: Thank you. Jason?

Jason Thompson: I’m a bit unusual in that I’ve done diversity for almost my entire career which is almost 30 years now. I flunked out of college. Actually, I’m dyslexic, so I was a terrible student and so there was this woman, actually the director of diversity, who pulled me under her wing and said, I think you have some potential, you should be graduating, and she gave me a job which I desperately needed and helped me to graduate and kind of launch my career in diversity, but one of the most poignant moments actually is something I learned from her daughter.

Her daughter was in high school I think, and so she would hang around the diversity office at the university and I remember one day they had this publication where students could submit their poetry and prose so I’m reading it and I’m making fun of it, this poetry was terrible. And finally, she just looked at me said Jason would you want the only view of the world to be yours. And I thought, no I wouldn’t, this is horrifying what I’m saying out loud. In that moment, it just helped me to have kind of this growth mindset which you just mentioned, like to realize that me making fun of this poetry says something about me that I didn’t like.

I was just so close minded and sure that I somehow could make or give an opinion about poetry, and someone else’s art. Art is really about appreciating it and it should be different, there should be different views, it shouldn’t just be what I like and not like. So that’s helped me in so many ways and that is one of the moments that I remember the most. Me being challenged in that simple way of thinking about the world and I was actually quite embarrassed by that especially she was in high school at the time and was pointing this out to me. And so it was very helpful and I always remind myself that sometimes when I disagree with things, there are other views of the world that are equally as valid as my own, and it was a good thing to actually happen to me early in my life it’s always helped me sometimes to pause for a minute and consider that there are other views. There are things that I can disagree with, but I shouldn’t have the only view and I wouldn’t want to live in a world where one person could dictate the only view of the world.

Wei Zheng: That’s a beautiful story, thank you for sharing that. Moving onto the last question, what would be your prediction of what’s going to happen or trends you hope would happen related to diversity and inclusion?

Lisa Mascolo: With the Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer frankly, I hope we drop the diversity part because it is just the statistic when the Chief Inclusion Officer or Equity and Inclusion Officer is a direct report to the CEO. To me that’s real progress. Too many times I see it as a bolt on to HR because it’s a people thing, it’s an HR thing and it’s not, it’s a business imperative. That to me would be at least in the corporate world the demonstration of some real progress when the officer is a direct report to the CEO provided the CEO’s articulating the proper set of values.

Michael Salas: I completely agree with that. I think it needs to show the sponsorship and ownership from a CEO level as well.

Bryon Wornson: I’m going to take a little bit of a different perspective. I think you’re going to continue to see companies and corporations take positions on these types of issues, right, coming out forcibly against these types of actions, making statements, not just focused on business operations, but an agent of change for good in this space more vocally than they have in the previous 10 years. I think you saw that a little bit more in the last two years and I think that’s going to continue to accelerate the expectations amongst their shareholders and amongst employees. We’re going to take stances because we think it’s the right thing to do.

Jason Thompson: I would only add to both those as a Chief Diversity Officer who’s had to report to HR, even for the day to day it makes it harder to do your job, and even resources because you’re also now competing with an HR for staff and people and then that conversation is filtered through the head of HR, and so they typically don’t make that a priority, so it does make it hard to execute on a daily basis.

As far as the future, what I’d like to see is companies make statements. And I would like to also see them being held accountable to that so a year from now, we go hey that’s great you made that statement, now where’s the proof. It would be great to see some more diversity on your board, it’d be great to see that you know when you’re spend that you’re spending with minority owned companies, that the commitment is to the community, that you’re active in the community so I’m hoping that that’s also what we see because we have to step up, take positions, and hold ourselves accountable. So I’m hoping what we see in the future is okay great you made this wonderful statement, now show us the proof.

Wei Zheng: Excellent. Well, thank you so very much to all of our panelists. Thank you for the time and such rich conversation, I really appreciate it.