The WE Mission is to enhance the future, develop talent across generations and advance health and wellness.
WE recognize that change starts with asking questions, educating ourselves and continuing the conversation. This has prompted us to lead a four-part live video panel series called, “WE Move Forward.”
WE Move Forward Panel Series is focused on championing representation and providing mentorship and support for African American women, our greater community at large, and all women and men who want to stand as allies for racial justice and equity.
This first panel is hosted by Wendy Liebmann, CEO/Founder of WSL Strategic Retail and the following panelists:
- April Mills, Marketing Director, Global Brand Development & Licensing, i-Health, Inc.
- Esi Eggleston Bracey, EVP & COO NA Beauty and Personal Care, Unilever
- Latriece Watkins, EVP, Consumables, Walmart
- Kathleen Wilson-Thompson, EVP and Global Chief Human Resources Officer, Walgreens Boots Alliance
Good afternoon, and welcome to the WE move forward panel series.
My name is Michelle Muhammad. I’m the chief Sales and Marketing Officer for DSE healthcare. And I’m a board member of WE.
WE is a community of women leaders within the consumer packaged goods industry, including retailers, suppliers, and supporting the ecosystem of agency partners within health and wellness.
Our overriding mission is to empower women to advance wellness. And we try to do this in a few ways. We enable diversity, inclusion, and engagement to expand women’s voices within the industry. We create environments that encourage mentorship, access and networking. And we amplify and encourage innovation that supports the future of health. I’m so honored to introduce this webinar, which importantly attempts to connect our mission to the current calls for the end to systemic racism and injustice.
That’s a tall task for a problem that’s been building for over 400 years. But I’m encouraged by a quote I heard recently, which goes something like this. “If you’re working on a problem that you think can be solved in your lifetime, you’re thinking too small.” I’ll say that, again, if you’re working on a problem that you think can be solved in your lifetime, you’re thinking too small. And what that means is it’s not that we can’t solve the problem in our lifetime, just that we need to make sure that the problems we’re looking at are big enough to have a significant impact.
So that asks the question, how can we the collective we play a role? How can we the collective we promote progress? Well, in our industry and corporate leadership overall, there’s a dearth of women in general and African American women in particular, in positions of executive leadership. Only two black women have ever led a fortune 500 company as the CEO, and one of them was interim.
A friend of mine, Sandra rice at the Center for talent innovation, developed a piece called being black in corporate America and intersectional exploration. It was a groundbreaking study about how African Americans feel in the workplace and sort of set the stage for all the statistics around what’s happening in the workplace and how we’re being represented. So I’d like to share a couple of slides that relate to this topic.
There we go. So on the right side of the chart, you can see that the representation of African Americans within corporate America at different levels, from fortune 500 CEOs 1.8% to college degree holders at 10%. African Americans are underrepresented among represented and leadership positions.
We represent approximately 12 to 15% of the population depending on how you quantify it. So you can see there is definitely some ground that needs to be made up.
And additionally, from the left side of the slide is that black people lost ground when “of color” became the popular thing to say. And what we’re saying here is just recognition that if there’s always a limit on the amount of diverse people that can be in corporate leadership, then we’ll always be, you know, trying to look for pieces of a small pie. I think what we’re trying to do overall is to really make sure the pie gets bigger, and that the best talent gets up to the top and should be represented from every group.
So this is the first of four panels that we move forward. We’ll be hosting in the next few months. The other panels are how to be an ally, next generation for the next chapter and support
African American entrepreneurship. I do hope you’ll join us for as many as you can attend.
Without further ado, I’d like to introduce my fellow board member of WE and our favorite moderator Wendy Liebman of WSL strategic retail. Wendy is the CEO of this great global consultancy that helps clients anticipate and activate change through innovative shopper led retail strategies. As one of the world’s leading retailers says, We trust WSL to help us look at our business through a different lens. Their insights help us anticipate the changing competitive environment where shoppers are headed and the opportunities that arise. They’ve helped us develop new businesses as a result. And Wendy is never afraid to tell us when we’re not being bold enough.
She’s on various esteemed boards in the industry, but we’re lucky enough to call her one of our own. So, Wendy, I’d like you to take it away.
Thank you, Michelle.
Hello, everyone. It’s a pleasure and really an incredible honor to be here today with you all. We have an amazing panel, and I’ll introduce them in a second, I just wanted to walk you through a little bit of the technical approach we’re going to take today. I’m going to introduce our panelists, we’re going to spend about 40 minutes chatting about these incredibly important issues. Then we’ll have an opportunity to do some q&a at the bottom of your screen, you will see a q&a box, please feel free to type in questions. And Michelle will come back at the end. She’ll even show us what she looks like, but she was hiding behind those slides. Michelle, anyway.
And Michelle will come back and moderate the questions and then and then wrap up. So you’ll know how all of this goes. We’ll try to get as many as we can. We’re recording this session so that you’ll be able to share it later through the WE website or through our LinkedIn
sighs so that you can share it with your teams and have what we call conversations within conversations, which is really the important part. So as I said, it is a great honor to be here. I’m going to introduce our panelists, excuse me while I look because they’ve got this illustrious background. I’m going to keep it quite short and sharp, but they will come on the screen, and then we will begin our chat today. We have first of all, and this is in alphabetical order by first name.
April Mills is the Marketing Director in Charge of global brand development and licensing with eye health, a division of DSM nutritional products. Welcome, April. Could you unmute yourself?
Esi Eggleston, Esi is the CEO and executive vice president of beauty and personal care at Unilever North America Hey, AC.
Kathleen Wilson Thompson is the Executive Vice president and Global Chief Human Resources officer with WBA, Walgreens boots Alliance. Welcome, Kathleen.
And last but not least, Latriece Watkins, who is the Executive Vice president of consumables for Walmart. Welcome, welcome to you all. Just so the audience knows this is an extraordinary group. We have marketers, we have lawyers, we have people who’ve worked their way up through organizations and had very extraordinary and inspirational careers. So they will be able to give us a very good insight into what we can do right now to build African American talent in our industry.
So let me begin. I’m going to direct this first question to you, Kathleen. If I may, and then please, Everybody jump in.
How do you feel at this moment? What is it about this moment in time with the killing of George George Floyd? That has changed the opportunity that is different now, both personally and from a leadership standpoint. Kathleen, can you just start us on there?
Sure, Wendy. Thank you. And thanks for having me.
I am pleased to be able to answer questions such as this to a wide audience of not only leaders but people who can influence change because the unfortunate and untimely death of Mr. Floyd changed. Most of us I’ll speak my own perspective changed my life completely. In terms of an African American woman, who has a father had a son, I have a husband, and we all watched his terrific death unfold on camera, and that said, it became an awakening light. And let me tell you, why, say from a personal and professional perspective in the workplace, and I was an employment lawyer prior to becoming head of HR, both here at a prior company and CPG at Kellogg, race, religion and politics are something that all of us have been taught you stay away from you steer clear up. This awakening light has had all of us across corporate America from boards. I sit on a publicly-traded board from the boards I sit on to the board. I serve that WPA to our CEO through the executive ranks. And actually sparking this conversation that locally, nationally and internationally we will all have the conversation but also move to action. Young folks have said you know if you’re woke, show me the receipts, older people are asking help educate me. It’s changed all of our lives and not just with respect to police reform. But the inequities that black people have suffered across a multitude of socio-economic dynamics, from employment to education, health care, which is my industry to housing to food and I’d like to close with even having clean water. I was on a panel recently, and I’ll close with this. And one of the panelists mentioned Flint, Michigan is close to me because I grew up in Saginaw, just 30 miles away small town, but he said, I’m on a PETA board. And I asked that board if you saw a dog drinking water with lead, what would you do?
And the answer was we would criminalize we would ensure that the person who had that dog be
So there is an awakening light that’s like no other and I think we will see real change.
And how did the others please feel free to jump in and comment on this because this was certainly for all of us, including those of us in the white communities, a very powerful moment.
I think Wendy that point that you just made is really important. Being a black woman and a black person in America, watching George Floyd senseless death was not the first time. So we have learned and have seen the impact of racism on our men. And brutality that happens what was different about this time, there are a number of things that were different. One is the world got to see how senseless the murder was of an innocent man, saying that he couldn’t breathe. And we all got to see and got to name that the only driver of that was racism. So we started calling racism what it is, is racism and that makes a huge difference. The other thing is we got to see this as a human issue. Not an issue for black and brown people but an issue for us all for us to watch the taking away any innocent life. And because of that the call to action has
been so unequivocal. And it’s been so diverse in it being unequivocal of people black, brown, white, young, old, really saying that black lives matter. And what it provides in that context is an opportunity for us all to seize this moment. And all look at ourselves and where we are.
And we can all say not good enough in where we are if it is represented in our companies, or systemic policies to help eradicate the oppression that has existed for centuries, we can all look together and be willing to be vulnerable to say, not good enough and declare where we want to be and be in it together. And I’ve never seen as Kathleen said a time like now because of that. So we all have the opportunity in this audience to stand in that and say, where are we and where do we want to be and then create the change that we all make happen together, not those of just black and brown people, but all of us and society together to change this, you know, for centuries of oppression that have has existed.
I’d like to add to that, just to both Kathleen and Esi’s comments. I totally agree that the whole sensible death killing of George Floyd has been different than, you know, whether it was Ahmaud Arbery or Breonna Taylor, you know, Emmett Till in the 60s and be many,
you know, pass senseless killings that have happened historically. But to me,
there’s been an awakening, as he said, and as a leader, I think we have to take the opportunity now to have those really tough discussions on ratio and inequalities, both in and out of the workplace. And I will just give you an example. Right, this is WE so we’re all about advancing wellness. I think as leaders, we have to take the opportunity now to do what I would call a wellness check with our associates, really to see how they’re doing with what’s going on, because it’s affecting us, personally, professionally. And we need to be aware of that. And I’ll give you two examples for both a positive experience and an actual positive experience. So I give kudos to my direct manager. We had a meeting for our regular weekly status, and I was ready to go right into my project lists and where I am on the projects, what help I needed, you know what barriers there are? And she goes, wait, wait, wait, before we get into all of that. How are you doing? I’m watching the news, seeing the riots, my daughter is participating in some of the protests in the marches. And she is a Caucasian woman, she’s of Italian descent. And she said, I know it’s not easy right now with everything that’s going on, especially when you couple it with COVID. How are you doing? Really, I want you to know that I care and that I’m concerned about your well being. That was groundbreaking for me because it said, hey, there’s an awareness here. It says, um, I want to understand from you what you’re feeling, it gave me permission to engage. And ultimately it says, I care. And that’s what you want from your leadership. That’s what you want from managers. And that enables us to have this really frank discussion that we hadn’t had in the past. And then on the flip side, I’m one of my close girlfriends who lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, in her company. There was such they didn’t have any conversations about it whatsoever until she convinced a colleague of hers to bring it up at a senior leadership meeting. And once they did, and the floor kind of became hers, I said, Well, what do you think we should do? And she was like, I’m glad you asked. And she recommends a town hall, you know, hosted and moderated by a third party to have these really frank racial discussions, because in her company, only 9% are of African American descent. Um, and so I think we have to seize the moment, as Esi said, really do a self check and audit of ourselves but then as leaders check in on our colleagues and fellow counterparts and be brave, be bold and have the conversation.
That’s, you know that that just gives us that moment of recognition when we not just see each other right or see you but have to raise our hands and say, okay, together, we have to be open and honest. And you said Esi, about this to think about these issues.
Let me see if I can,
One thing too, that I had the exact same emotion that all of the ladies had, and a lot of similar experiences. I think those emotions ranged from the beginning until now. And some of them come back more strongly than others. But I think the thing, the place that I am now is considering everything, the emotion that we’ve had, the interest that we’ve seen the lack of interest that we’ve seen, I think the point that I feel is different is you can’t put up and shut up anymore. You can’t commit to action and then do nothing. And that goes for leaders that goes for companies. And so you see the interest you see the commitment, and I think what I’d want people in this group to understand as well.
When you commit, you got to go all in. You can’t waver back and forth and decide you want to be a part of the change. And when it’s convenient for you to be part of the change, and then move in and out of the situation that most of us live with every day. And so I think that’s the place I’m in now, that’s where I feel very strongly is if you’re going to commit, if you’re, if you’re in, then it’s going to be hard, and you need to know that up front. But you don’t get to change with the wind because you can’t build the trust that you need with people we can’t meet, make the changes that we need to make as a country and as a people and as companies because I do think, you know, at the forefront of this change are businesses.
People like us who are leading and companies and people like us who are influencing companies to be different and act differently, but you can’t put up and shut up. That’s where I am today. And I think it’s really important with all the commitments that
People in companies are making to know that the expectations and the urgent expectations are high. And there’s a lot of urgency to the need. So that’s the only thing I’d add is, yeah.
So you’ve now you know, clearly defined need from the emotional and moment.
The kinds of parameters that we really all need to be thinking about from what seems like the simplest what you just said April of somebody recognizing you and saying, Are you okay to what you’re saying Latriece about how do I now as an organization, think about an act upon this moment. So I guess the question I would ask is, this is this question about in each of your companies to some degree or too much degree, you have a structure for diversity and inclusion?
How has not only has this come to play now, but what needs to be done within your organization over the next three months, six months with this urgency to drive this change, who needs to own it? How does it need to? How do we need to think about it within companies?
I think I’m happy to take a start. And then hear everyone else’s perspective. I think a lot we know what to do, we just haven’t done it. So I go back to seize this moment. The second thing we need to do is not try to fix it immediately, and worry about looking good. We need to focus on the system. Because as we mentioned, this has been happening for centuries. So there are systemic issues that need to be eradicated and dismantled. And the third thing when I say we know what to do, I want to provide I am an engineer by training. So I always think in frameworks. And there are two frameworks that I think are really important that people can remember.
One, I think of this one concept called grasp. And you think about grasp G is for goals set goals. So for Unilever, we want to have a workplace that is representative of the consumers that we serve. And that’s not just for altruistic reasons, it makes business sense. And of course, we want to have a business that’s inclusive. So set goals. The second for R is recognition.
recognize your black talent, you need a culture of inclusivity that recognizes the strengths and contributions of diverse talent. And this is a place that companies often fail. The culture does not allow that they try to solve it with recruiting alone and the recruiting does not lead to retention. So while the recruiting is important, the R that’s really important is recognizing and cultivating a culture where black talent can be successful. Next, for A in grasp are advocates, yeah, we often have mentors, which is helpful, but more helpful are advocates, advocates that can champion for your success. And that is in the workplace. It’s also outside of the workplace, as I say, for Black Lives Matter, you know, want advocates not just allies, I want advocates for antI racist policies and advocates for the black talent. And then S, it is sponsors. It’s a type of an advocate, but not it’s more than that. It’s a sponsor that says, I want this person on this business. And I have the influence to do that. And we can talk a lot about how to get those sponsors. And then P, I think is really deep planning to address the systemic issues that include succession planning, that includes understanding in your culture, what are the barriers to having black talent, excel, and there’s some quote cultural nuances and its plan around those. So I think
Like, what can we do? It’s thinks to seize this moment, think systemically and think about at least those elements in grasps. The second thing that I would say second framework that I use is, as you coach black talent and advocate for black talent, I use another framework called PIE, P for performance, I for image and E for exposure. Performance for all of us in our companies, you know, it’s about the results that we deliver. I image is being known for something and be able to articulate what the black talent is known for and can contribute. Anyone can use this model. It’s not just for black talent, but often we miss out on this. And then E is exposure. This is often a place we fall short, is being exposed to get the advocates and the sponsors through that performance in the image. So if I summarize what can we do, we can do a lot. And those frameworks can help you think through how you can make the change in your organization. Yeah, that’s helpful.
Kathleen, I think with your role today in a global organization around human resources and obviously, talent development. How do you see that both sort of vertically, horizontally? What are the things that you’re looking at that are really important now?
Yeah, I appreciate that. Wendy. Let me say that the interesting thing with respect to vertical and looking at career trajectories is if we would remove the systemic barriers and do the same things for all of our talent, we would create an even playing field, the kinds of things that were just discussed by Esi, all of your companies, I’m sure and I’m keen to hear. We have the processes in place. We have the policies as a former employment lawyer, I can tell you we spend tons of time through a whole legal department ensuring that our company as I’m sure our fellow panelists, as well do that we adhere to employment laws. Then why have we not seen any change. It’s very interesting that we can defend the company on all of our ELC
processes, all of our numbers essentially will stack up we’ll make them right. But at the same time, we don’t see the same kind of career trajectories. That’s because we do have systemic barriers in place. So my view was don’t create special programs. Black women, black men, African Americans, people call it don’t need special programs. We have amazing talent throughout the organization and outside that we can recruit. But unless we remove those barriers and create the same opportunities, such as sponsorships such as advocacy, such as special projects being exposed to the board, that’s what happens for a majority people. So we need to ensure that we are treating our talent the same way. I’m advocating that we not create anything special, but that we open the door and let people in and let them shine the way we do everyone else. There are ways that we can do this. Yeah, it begins with the awareness that that’s what’s happening. And that’s what’s really difficult sometimes when you hold the mirror up, and that’s frankly, what we’ve been doing through listening tours.
Yeah, it’s interesting that you’ve both said that, that the process sees, you know, we know what to do and things are in place. I was thinking Latriece you know, you’ve had a really interesting background at Walmart, the Walmart companies, you know, I think you were an intern in real estate, if that’s right, and then you’ve moved through merchandising and HR and store ops and, and the different you know, Sam’s and Walmart, I mean, that journey through the organization.
What made you so successful? And what were the barriers there that you comfortably can talk about? I don’t want to put you out in the limb here, but it just it you know, I look at the range of your experiences.
I’d say, I’ll start with the things that I’d say, barriers and I’ll talk about the self-imposed ones because I think those are the things that we can control.
And they are barriers like, not asking for what you want. They are barriers, like being afraid.
There are barriers like doubting, guilt. Those are the things that I have learned that in all of the other barriers, there are things I can control. There are things I can’t control. Those are the other barriers. So I tend to focus on it because I think we can all have experiences with things within our own control. And too often those things limit how other people see us and create additional barriers for us. So I try to focus more on the What can I control
So one of the things that I do every year is I write down a lesson every year, I have to choose one thing, don’t get to choose more than one. And I have to say what’s going to be different next year. So every year, I have the same piece of paper. It’s right here that I’ve written them down every single year and the very first year, I said, I have to have confidence after my first year of working at Walmart, I’d been an intern, I came back, I started a full time role. The first thing I ever wrote down is I had to have confidence in my decisions. I might be wrong, but I will be wrong in that moment. I might have to go do some research and come back. But I’m going to make sure that I show up confident or I don’t show up at all. So for me, I think the self-imposed barriers can be as critical as any other barrier that people can place on you. How do I get the opportunities as I said, Yes. So I might not have asked for what I wanted. But when to ask to do something I said yes. I also said I don’t know how and I also said when I make choices to say, Yes, I need to work for people I trust so that when I don’t know how I can say that, and I can get the support I need, and that’s not perfect. It doesn’t always happen or work out perfectly.
But I know that part of why I’ve gotten opportunities that I’ve gotten is because I’ve said yes to them, whether I believe I could do them or not, because I’ve got all these other self imposed barriers. And, and I think sometimes, you know, they’re 252 people watching. And they think that the people that they’re watching and the people that they’re talking don’t have the same or haven’t had the same experiences that they have. And so the reason I talk about barriers that are self-imposed is because I want you to know they’re real. We all experience them. We experienced them at every level. If you can imagine what it’s like to try to run an essential business during COVID you have some doubts from time to time.
But what is also true is you find the reasons that you say yes. You not only work for people you trust, you build teams of people that you can trust so that you can go get the hard work done. So for me, I think those things have been good for me. I think the last thing I’d say that could have been a barrier, I had a friend 10 years ago, I was getting ready to do a speaking event at Walmart. And I was talking about all these reasons why things happen. And she told me, I gave all the credit away. And she said, I acted like I didn’t do anything. So I think the only other thing that I would credit to the success I’ve had, and understanding the barriers that could keep me from doing it is having good girlfriends who call you out when you say something that’s not right about yourself and not give yourself the credit for for having the courage to take the opportunities and for doing the assessments that help you to be better.
That’s really helpful because when I think about that, I was going to ask you a question April, unless you want to jump right in.
I just want to say, you know, thank you to Latriece for bringing up the self imposed barriers because they’re real. And I think oftentimes, African American professionals are concerned about to Esi’s point image and you know whether they ask a question or they’re going to be perceived a certain way. And so they don’t speak out when they need to or ask for help when they need to, because they’re thinking it’s going to be seen as a negative. But I think in addition to those, it really is about those systemic barriers that Kathleen was talking about a few minutes ago. And I’d like to offer another option. I agree that companies should definitely work within the frameworks that they have today. But that only works for companies that have frameworks today. There are some that anything you know, my company, we definitely have diversity and inclusion training, they’ve done sessions on unconscious bias that I think have been very effective. But, my parent company is based in the Netherlands. And I think their focus on diversity has been more about gender diversity, because that is the largest, I think opportunity. So I think companies have to create what is the business case for them. If we’re a wellness company, we’re a health care company, like our company’s philanthropic efforts is based on sustainability. So there’s a component on there, people sustainability. So to me, Black Lives, Black Lives Matter, these type of initiatives fit right under people sustainability. So I think you have to first create the framework, and what is the business case for your organization. And if you have tools, advocacy programs that sort of that you can use great, but I’m going to give you extra credit. If you do go be above and beyond that and create specific programs.
for African Americans, I had the pleasure of being recruited out of undergrad school for a program, a combination of Gillette and the National Urban League specifically for minority associates. And this was very popular in the 80s and 90s. And I can tell you, at least 95% of us are currently in senior leadership positions today, whether it’s HR, whether it’s engineering, whether it’s marketing, whether it’s in operations, and we have gone on to be very successful. And we’ve gone on to be advocates of each other, both professionally and personally. So, you know, I think we should definitely work within the frameworks we have. But if there is an opportunity to create unique ones and partner with other organizations like the National Urban League, like some of the National Black, like the National Black MBA conference, for example. I think there are unique needs of African American professionals that you can go to
Deep, that creates a safe place for them to be honest and open and transparent, and then collectively can start to address some of those systemic barriers that it’s difficult to do as an individual.
Yeah, may I make a point of clarification? Wendy, please. Thank you for having heard that. I really appreciate it. April, I want to clarify that I don’t mean in any way that the National Urban League nor the NAACP, I sit on the board of the NAACP, also a member of the Executive Leadership Council, they all have amazing programs. My point would be within the framework of companies for which we work. I have asked the CEO and the board to recognize there are ways our majority counterparts are already being promoted. Why are not we as African Americans considered in those same processes? So it’s not that special programs don’t work, but unfortunately, sometimes they are construed as remedial. I can tell you in HR, when I’m out recruiting, I have never gotten a question whether the panel or the slate is qualified, if it’s all white males. Let me tell you what I get asked when I say I wanted, we’re ensuring we have diverse panels. Are you sure you got to bring somebody qualified?
And I just asked my teams, and it’s a part of our educational process to recognize that that in itself creates a system of inequity, to believe we need something special or I have to go out and find someone who’s qualified. You all are going to meet the slate, if you’re on a slate, you’re all qualified. And so I’m trying to create that new language and that new way of thinking about our talent, and that’s why I mentioned we don’t need special programs, we don’t need remedial measures. The other programs of which you spoke April, I totally agree with I was an intern. I was a member of different organizations that have helped me as well. So I don’t mean, let’s not have those.
So what’s what’s what’s really interesting about this conversation is this opportunity and necessity to both think structurally within an organization about a commitment. Right. And inclusiveness but not just I think Esi you’ve talked about or you and I’ve talked about not just a number, but rather, seeing the breadth of opportunity and the talent available, supporting them, supporting us in these organizations and providing that sort of systemic change. It also seems to me there’s this whole sort of horizontal, I mean, we all touch other people, whether it’s vendors who supply us whether it’s, you know, manufacturers, people who make our boxes and cartons and whatever’s people who knock on the door every day. So it does seem to me and am I correct that there’s an opportunity horizontally as well as vertically to reach out, actually has made an impact the people that we touch to change this, but it can’t just be top down. It’s got to be throughout. I think you talked about Esi systemic.
Yeah, I agree 100% that, you know, I talk about get our house in order. And it’s what we do internally, and its impacts the community and the ecosystem. So for a company like Unilever, we can have expectations for our suppliers in terms of diversity. We can bring that expectation into advertising agencies, and we have the ability as many people in this audience do to impact change beyond get your house in order. I’m also noticing in the chat one of the questions and comments is about DNI initiatives over inclusivity and why I stand that we know what to do what I’ve seen waver. And what I’ve seen work is when we have a level of intentionality and consistency against our ambition. I’ve watched DNI initiatives, peak and plunge, peak and plunge depending on what the latest diversity initiative is. If it’s globalization, if it’s female, if it’s, or other things take priority. So I think what really matters and in your question as well, Wendy, on managing through the whole ecosystem, its intentionality, and resilience and staying with it. The same way we do our business goals and objectives. We have a clear intentionality. We create milestones and metrics to progress against them, we don’t let up. And so a big part of the point around culture, we’re talking again, a lot about some of the initiatives, It is what that intentionality is creating a culture that truly does value differences and is willing to acknowledge, if there’s what we often call there’s a microaggression that someone might say or share that has the black talent feel undervalued, willing to be responsible for that, learn from that and make a different take on a different approach. So the culture is one of inclusivity. So you know, I summarize answering the question, yes, it’s, it’s internal, and it’s external. And all of that has an impact. And we’ll get there through the level of intentionality to make that work. And in the three companies that I’ve worked for, the thread that makes a difference is the consistency and that intentionality.
I think, for a call for change for diversity offices today is that it has to be a place that seeks the truth. And that tells the truth. And that is believed as serving as that truth. It’s, it’s the conscience of the organization. And I think that’s a shift from policies and procedures and metrics to somebody gotta serve as the heart of the organization and somebody and I think I don’t want to suggest that those diversity organizations haven’t been that. But I think there’s a point in time and at this moment, where companies have to have a heart and they have to be able to show that someplace. And the heart and conscience at this point, can’t be separate. Like they’ve got to be you’ve got to be able to feel for people, and you’ve got to be able to challenge organizations. And so for me, that’s when you get to the place where you’re getting what people expect from companies because you are pushing the organization to explore things that they haven’t explored before.
You are holding people accountable, you’re expected to deliver certain results to your point Esi, just like the businesses. And when all of those things are in place, then the diversity office in partnership with the CEO can help the organization move forward and can be a place and a brand that people love and appreciate in different ways. I heard a quote one time, once that said, you know, customers won’t love a company until their employees do. And so you’ve got to do something that draws the people who work for you into a place that feels safe, where they can be heard, and where they see people trying to understand them. And from my perspective, what I see in our company is our Office of Diversity. Shifting is probably the wrong word because maybe it’s heard differently now than maybe in the past. And I think that’s necessary. In addition to everything else we’ve said about you’ve got to have the policies in place. You’ve got to have the training. You’ve got to show support for initiative someplace. You’ve got to have a heart and a conscience for an organization that helps connect the people to your brand. And I think in this case, that’s where some of the diversity work and inclusion. Excuse me, inclusion works.
Yeah just if I could I would echo that Latriece I think it’s very well said we are seeing that in our organization I think that since I have arrived at least for it’s 11 and a half years ago we started the office of diversity inclusion and quite frankly it’s done well but it hasn’t done nearly what we’ve done in just the past few months. And I think to your point it’s a result of now diversity inclusion truly being part of the business and not something that was a special team within hr. Everyone in the organization now wants to become a part of it holistically they understand this awakening I think and it’s given us a license to have those discussions that otherwise we had not had as openly as we’re having now through the listening sessions through town halls through people asking for change and I’m really proud of external and internal customers and patients people who’ve written us and said we don’t just want the words on your corporate web page we want to see action.
I think I would add I love what they both said I love what Latriece is bringing to the discussion. It’s the humanity and the heart and it’s critical because what you have is a lack of trust in the organizations right now and the lack of trust of black employees because of goals and intentions we’ve set that have been under-delivered and just tired and fatigue for many of the black employees of trying to make progress and not seeing it. And so to rebuild that trust and to have the numbers and the frameworks work the heart needs to be there and genuine care and as April was talking about you know what i’ll call these courageous difficult conversations and one that show humanity, humility, and vulnerability as a part of that are all important to the process of building trust. So it’s the head and the heart I love what Latriece said about the heart so we have to have the heart and I also believe we have to have the head because you feel it and you need to work your plan. Because we keep learning and relearning the same thing so it’s with the heart and the head together that we will I believe will drive the systemic change that we can.
You asked about vertical and horizontal I giggled because going through the discussion guide I had written a framework as well Esi when I worked for Gillette there was this concept that we would put together for selling decks right for we want to launch new innovation and it was trade-in because you wanted to get consumers to trade into your brand there was a trade-up because once they were in the brand you wanted them to trade up to your more premium products and then trade across is when you start to cross out and you want them to not only buy the blade with five blades but then you want to buy the shave preps as well. And so when I’m thinking about I’m like it really does need to be a systemic a full ecosystem of activities to go from awareness to activation and so for me the trade-in part is the recruitment and I think most companies are doing okay on the recruitment side of things it’s similar to uh these grasp concept training and development to me that’s the trade-up when you start to give them the tools the assets the skill sets that they need to start to reach these leadership positions. And I think it’s training not only for African Americans but also for employees as a whole right it’s the diversity inclusions the unconscious bias.
One of my girlfriends found in her company that they had support from the highest levels of the organization at the bottom levels of the organization they live it and breathe it every day but the barrier the obstacle was middle management and that’s you know an issue because those are the ones on the front line doing the coaching and developing and training. That’s where they had to focus. Still trading up I think it’s the advocacy and sponsorship of senior leaders that Esi was talking about when I worked at Procter & Gamble I can’t tell you what it meant to me to see someone in Esi’s position as you know vice president head over a business unit that said okay I can envision myself in that role over time that gave me a goal that gave me someone to bounce ideas off of and someone that was hopefully championing for me and my advancement in the organization.
Then that trade across peace in the same study that was mentioned earlier on being black in corporate America they talked about this need for belongingness and the trust that Esi is talking about and that Latriece is talking about. So what are we doing to build that belongingness and having black professionals feel like they not only belong to the company but amongst their co-workers and their colleagues you know we had the black advertising leadership team in Proctor & Gamble we had the African origin network at Gillette, we have WIN (women inspired networks) at my current company at DSM. All of those things in those affiliate organization are important because they foster support and development and belongingness among associates but it also says as a corporation this is important to us I think you need you have specific and unique needs that I recognize and I want you to be able to come together and being able to support one another and here are resources to help as well.
It’s really interesting there’s a not a question, but a comment, that came up in the chat and then I’m gonna let Michelle come in and address some of these but it’s you are all amazing we’ve lost Kathleen for a minute but we’ll get her back but in these conversations, the power of and the clarity of the suggestions of what needs to be done but somebody raised a point here about we have to also ensure that I’m reading the chat that the burden is not on the black employees to cultivate the inclusive environment.
Yeah and you know sorry, I know I’m the white woman in the room, right? And it’s so clear to me that this is not your burden it is your burden because you’ve had to live with it. But this is a moment when the rest of us have to step up and support what needs to be done. So that was a really interesting comment I just saw I will because we’re running I we could go on this is an amazing panel I can’t thank you enough for this I’m quite emotional.
I do have to Wendy, just reinforce that if there’s one thing that you leave with it’s that it is not for your black employees to do. And if I look at what’s different now, we have the space for it to not be ours to do when I say as black employees but it is mine to do as the leader of my business I am the business leader so it stops with me to be accountable for that. And so many of us have that duality so we have to many of our black employees have been devastated by the events and there’s no emotional capacity for it. So we cannot as our organizations require we can invite for those who want to participate but if this is ours in society and ours as leaders to address with as much as black employees want to give.
So I’m gonna do my last question before I hand back over to Michelle and you know I ask I breathe for the moment because you know what is it that well what don’t well-meaning people like me, what are we missing here what don’t we understand is it what don’t we understand? Speak to me as you would speak to the community that you work with the community that you see every day what is it that what is it, what is holding us back here, what don’t we get?
It’s not different than what Esi just said. It imagines the times since all of this has happened that you’ve asked someone that’s black to explain it to you tell me everything tell me all your experiences tell me what to do. If I were a doctor, I read this in a book called white fragility, and I gave you a diagnosis and I told you exactly what it was you’d go research it anyway right? If I didn’t tell you what it was you’d research it, if I told you you’d research it and somehow really smart people don’t go do the work and try to understand and build their own knowledge of what is it? If you don’t understand don’t expect someone to explain it to you because everybody has an individual experience I don’t have the same experience Esi or April has and so my stories may not be as compelling as theirs but there certainly are some that are more compelling than all three of us. And there is more information readily available to all of us today than it’s probably always been there but it’s a lot easier to find. And so the moment you ask someone else to say tell me is the moment you miss an opportunity to get the genuine interaction the heart of a person because I’ll tell you a lot of things if I think you’ve done enough work to actually be interested versus have a moment. Because remember I said you don’t get to say like if you say I’m putting up and I’m in then you don’t get to be silent and you don’t get to opt out and you don’t get to take the easy route because it’s hard as it is to experience it for you know a white person to understand, imagine how hard it is to live it every day and to experience life every day. And so I’d say do the work if you’re interested enough to ask, be interested enough to learn. And people will then take you on a journey because they know that you’re interested in a way that you’re willing to invest time.
Yeah, I appreciate that.
I think we’ve only got about five minutes left and I know we’ve had a really interesting chat people haven’t dropped so many questions in but there’s a very interesting chat going on so I appreciate that everybody uh I will hand over to Michelle in a second but I must say I cannot thank you all enough for this I’m sorry we lost Kathleen but I’m glad she was here for most of the discussion. I think both formally and informally you’ve created a process a way that we need to think about things not only say “oh I’m with you” but actually get on with it. Which I think is this is that moment. I appreciate your openness and your willingness to share your personal experiences, as well as you know, how you think corporately, structurally from a leadership position.
So I thank you all, Michelle, I will hand over to you to to look at questions chat or just you know whatever you’d like to do to wrap this up, thanks.
Sure, thank you so much, Wendy, and thank you to all of our panelists it was a very emotional heartwarming and constructive discussion so I appreciate what you’ve been able to say today. We have some questions here I have one the first one from Andrea which says:
What are the best strategies to attract African-American talent, what are some things that have worked for you in your places?
I will try that one I think the same, I will answer that question the way I think about building a business among different constituents. I find the best way is not just taking your usual recruiting tactics and hoping that black people will show up it’s going to where black people are and I would say the same for Latina, I would say the same for young people, going to where they are. Often we don’t do the work to figure out where they are and depending on your industry they’re different places. So, if it’s a National Black MBA Association, if it is a job fair at Howard or if it’s a network of black engineers. But knowing within your industry where black people show up if it’s a consortium conference is extremely important, that’s one.
Two is that relationships matter and credibility if a place is a good place to work so it’s often your current black employees who can be your advocates. So recruiting to retention are not mutually exclusive. So having your black employees as advocates and insights on where to again if we’re thinking about black recruiting where to recruit and credibility and endorsement of this is a great place to work those two things make a difference.
The third thing I would say is role models. You know the more again back to retention and advancement when black talent can see people that look like them in positions they want to be in that’s another help so those are three things I’d consider in approaching recruiting of uh black talent.
I think the only thing I would add I agree with those Esi. I would add bring your A-game when you go to get talented black people. Because they’re trying to do that for you. They’re looking at how you show up they’re looking at the role that you play in the community where their schools are. If I think about recruiting from HBCUs and you know what is you know if you’re a retailer what does your business look like around the school what are your associates like. Because I think young people when you’re trying to recruit at this point are looking at your report card and it is not your financial statement. So how you show up matters as you go to recruit talented people.
Yeah the other build that I would just add to is in terms of the roles themselves. You know there was a quote in the study that black millennials in particular are more likely to leave an organization to go start their own venture. their own business venture. And so if they feel like their talents and skillsets are not being utilized that they’re not being powered and being able to work on important projects and that they’re not being able to be in a position where they can make an impact in the organization. Then I think 38% of them are more likely to leave and then start their own. So I think it’s recruiting at those industry organizations going where they are as Esi mentioned I think having support systems and a development plan in place when they get there and making sure when they talk to other employees in your organization they hear from employees that look and sound like themselves and are authentic about why they like working in that organization. Then, providing some of these other outlets and increase what we used to call crucible roles and crucible projects for them to work on.
I should have added used black recruiters because. I talked about the perspective that I provided a lot for the entry-level. If you’re used to looking for seasoned talent, what I often have recruiters tell me is you know I couldn’t find the diverse talent. And so, I need to work with recruiters that have a track record in finding diverse talent I have found that they are typically black recruiters because they have a network so I would tap into that network to find the more senior experience talent. And again I’m speaking about this for black but I find that’s the same know if you’re thinking about hispanic talent as well.
Wonderful thank you so much ladies we are all at one o’clock and it was a wonderful discussion. I just want to end by saying we are just at the beginning and that’s what this conversation was about there is as we said a ton of work to do and as I mentioned at the beginning we do have three more panels that WE move forward and the WE group wants to introduce to continue the conversation. We expect and encourage that there will be conversations after this conversation we hope that this was just you know a piece of the top for you to go into your own organizations and have these discussions. So, I want to thank you so much if you want to reach out to WE you can find us on LinkedIn or you can find us at 4we.org and Wendy I’ll leave it to you to say any last words and then we’ll close.
Thanks, Michelle, and again thank you all so much I think very clearly here people understand not only the question we didn’t ask which is why do we want you in the room this is why we want you in the room we cannot let this extraordinary talent that you bring and your communities bring not to be part of this and it is up it is upon us to be doing this work now as you said Latriece. Not leaving it all in your hands you’ve fought a long hard battle we have to now give you the support you need so I thank you all so much. We are very proud, WE, to move forward with this and thank you to the audience for participating today.