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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 101

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 101

As seen in Harvard Business Review

DOUG MELVILLE: Diversity and inclusion is like an operating system. Everyone’s brain is their hard drive, but we have a new patch update. And in this example, it’s the language of diversity and inclusion, so people are comfortable speaking and communicating about it. Because that’s the big barrier is, where people can see it and know it and be able to talk and communicate about it at the office and not be worried that someone’s going to jump up and go, “Oh, you said the wrong thing. Oh my gosh.”

PORTER BRASWELL: From HBR Presents, this is Race at Work, the show where we explore how race affects our careers and lives. I’m Porter Braswell. I left a Wall Street career to start a company called Jopwell because I wanted to help corporate America build a more diverse workforce. Each week, we talk to a different leader about their journey with race, equity, and inclusion. These are the conversations we don’t usually have at work. But this show is a safe place to share and learn from each other.

PORTER BRASWELL: Do you know the difference between the term “Hispanic” and “Latinx” or “Latinx”? Or what BIPOC actually means? What about diversity – is it still OK to use that word? In this episode, we’ll get into D-E-I 101 – answering questions you might not be comfortable asking about diversity, equity, and inclusion. We’ll break down the terms that we hear so often and uncover some common misconceptions about how diversity and inclusion play out at work. Here to guide this conversation is Doug Melville, a longtime diversity leader and a good friend of mine. Doug is the Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Richemont, a holding company of luxury brands. Before that, Doug was the Chief Diversity Officer of TBWA, a top global ad agency. One of the things I most admire about Doug is that he does the work to push the narrative and make real change.

PORTER BRASWELL: So, Doug, when you were at TBWA, you played a large role in retiring the Aunt Jemima brand. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

DOUG MELVILLE: At the time we were PepsiCo’s overall creative partners, and one of the brands that we didn’t work on at all, but I knew was in the PepsiCo portfolio, was the brand of Aunt Jemima. And it was something that I brought up to a group of executives about, “Is there anything I could do behind the scenes” to help push the conversation forward to see if we could eliminate the woman, Aunt Jemima, from the packaging?. And it was a long process. Other people were involved as well, but it started the narrative through, “Let’s look at the history of Aunt Jemima.” Not everybody knew the full history of the origin story. And I think that’s some of the things that happen over generations is stories get Disney-fied or decalcified and you don’t necessarily know, but ultimately you have to start the process somewhere.

PORTER BRASWELL: That’s awesome, Doug. That’s going to be a part of the American history moving forward. Congratulations on that.

DOUG MELVILLE: Thank you so much.

PORTER BRASWELL: Why don’t you describe the work that you do and why you’re passionate about it.

DOUG MELVILLE: I’ve been working as a chief diversity officer for 10 years. I’m a fifth-generation diversity and inclusion champion. My dad, he was in law. He was a judge, one of the first black judges in Connecticut. He really wanted me to go into law. He was raised by General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. and Sr., who were the only two black officers in the military at the start of World War II. Senior, he helped draft Executive Order 9981 with President Truman to integrate the army. And Junior, was the first Black graduate this century of West Point and was the creator and commander of the Tuskegee Airmen. I’ve been really working more across the FAME industries, is what I refer to them as – fashion, advertising, music, and entertainment. It’s funny, because when I first started, people would say, “Why do you want to head up a diversity and inclusion department? Why don’t you want to be a president? Or why don’t you want to be a head of business development or chief marketing officer?” And I was like, “Yeah, that’s great.” But a diversity officer, for me, that was the best that I felt I could give to a company and also provided a new platform for people that were coming up to help evolve these institutions.

PORTER BRASWELL: So this past summer, we saw a flurry of new chief diversity officers be in the spotlight and get hired at corporations across America. And we saw attention get placed on chief diversity officers with the spotlight that we’ve never seen before. Do you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing?

DOUG MELVILLE: I think it was a good thing because it brought awareness to the subject, but I think the challenge is, do you have the tools to execute against the play? The way I looked at it was, it was really like a sport’s moment. It was this summer, a lot of companies looked at the chief diversity officer and go, “This is your play.” And a lot of chief diversity officers looked at the sidelines and their coaches and said, “I’m going to run the ball.” But the difference was, did they run the play towards the chief diversity officer? Some companies were like, “I know it’s your play, but hold on a second, we have to go over here and we have to fix this. And we don’t want anybody to see this.” Or some said, “You know what? I’m going to trust you.” And at that time, I’m at TBWA in the ad industry and they let me run with the play. And what we were able to do from that was really integrate in every aspect of our organization, diversity and inclusion, across all of our creative industries, across all of our hiring, across all of our belonging, matching community donations. And the biggest turning point for me was in #OscarsSoWhite in 2015. Because what that was, is you needed cultural moments to drive the overall narrative because companies are really a by-product of society. When that happened, the awareness level was unstoppable. No one could say they didn’t know what was going on. And now we have George Floyd who, when you talk to a lot of executives or a lot of diversity officers, they’ll tell you that that may be in some sense our Emmett Till moment. Not to compare the moments, but to say, when we saw the photos of Emmett Till, people had heard the stories, but they didn’t have a visual. And when we saw that video of George Floyd, everyone was home for the pandemic. So the awareness was there. Now, is the education part. Now that we have awareness, how do we have effective education that people can talk about the subject matter freely and openly without always being concerned that they’re saying the wrong thing?

PORTER BRASWELL: Okay. So to that point, how do you, as a chief diversity officer, advise CEOs and other senior leaders to allow that conversation to take place at work?

DOUG MELVILLE: Diversity and inclusion is like an operating system. Everyone’s brain is their hard drive, but we have a new patch update. And in this example, it’s the language of diversity, or how do we increase the diversity and inclusion IQ of leadership and of all the people in the company so people are comfortable speaking and communicating about it? Because that’s the big barrier is, let’s explain how this affects the company. Now let’s transition that into something actionable where people can see it and know it and be able to talk and communicate about it at the office and not be worried that someone’s going to jump up and go, “Oh, you said the wrong thing. Oh my gosh.” We don’t want to do that. We don’t want to criticize, we want to teach. So that’s the first step in really bridging that conversation.

PORTER BRASWELL: Okay. The people within an organization, what if they don’t feel comfortable talking about the topic of race or they don’t want to have a conversation about George Floyd? Should they be forced to?

DOUG MELVILLE: No, I don’t think anybody should be forced to, but I think the most important question that you ask on this podcast is, should you talk about race at work? And my answer to that question –

PORTER BRASWELL: We will get there. We will get there.

DOUG MELVILLE: I’m cheating. The key to that question and I can answer it later, or right now is –

PORTER BRASWELL: We are going to go right now. Should race be discussed at work?

DOUG MELVILLE: Race should be discussed at work only if work provides the environment for the discussion of race at work. And that means, did you talk to the staff about it? Did you educate them on the words to use? Do you address race by asking someone, “how do you identify?” so both people feel included in the conversation? It’s a language, Porter, and you have to know how to use it and understand how to implement it in the day-to-day.

PORTER BRASWELL: Let’s move into some diversity, equity and inclusion 101 –

DOUG MELVILLE: Yeah. Let’s do it.

PORTER BRASWELL: I think the important –

DOUG MELVILLE: If you don’t pass this class, Porter! If you don’t pass –

PORTER BRASWELL: Doug, if you don’t pass this class, I don’t know! Let’s start with the very top. Diversity is a complex word. How do you define diversity and how has that definition evolved over the years?

DOUG MELVILLE: I like to define diversity as everyone. The way I look at it is, we have to make sure that we add voices to the table until everyone’s included. I like to do something called the jury test. Does your department, does your office look like and feel like when you go down to jury duty, ethnically and visually? The next part of that is, how can we ensure, when we bring new people onto the team, that we’re constantly adding voices, not amplifying voices? So who is not in this circle or executive team whose opinion would help shape and reflect a new point of view or a new way of thinking? Now with that, you have diversity as it’s defined in the United States of America, which is typically cultural first, then you have gender, then you have women equality, and then after that you may have ageism, you may have disability, you have religion. But there’s kind of a hierarchy that’s been formed, just if you look at press mentions or how much budget or how much point of view that particular group has in the conversation. When you go internationally, diversity is defined by gender equality first, LGBT second. But most importantly, when you go to Europe, it’s country of origin. The definition is really different all over the world, but the important thing is localizing it and agreeing from your company’s point of view what the definition is and starting there with the first part of the conversation, which is how do you define diversity at your company.

PORTER BRASWELL: I think you raised a lot of really interesting points. And what I have found in my work is that oftentimes, companies think it’s easier to say “diversity” or “being diverse,” rather than be very specific about what they’re actually referring to because they’re not ready to have that conversation. And so they revert to the umbrella term of, “we have a diversity challenge” or “we’re going to focus on diversity efforts.” And at times it’s really hard to move the needle, if you can’t be very specific about what you’re referring to and then align the organization around the why behind that group, so then you can see the progress being made. And that why and that group might change throughout the world, to your point, but I think it is important at the company level to define what diversity means to you in that given area. So I fully align. So good, we’re both passing DEI 101 so far.

DOUG MELVILLE: Done. We did it. I got a certificate for it.

PORTER BRASWELL: Okay. Onto number two. How do you define inclusion and how is that related to diversity?

DOUG MELVILLE: Well my biggest way to define inclusion is that people vote with their feet. If they don’t feel included at a company over a course of time and it’s consistent and ongoing, they will voluntarily choose to leave the company. So, I look at inclusion as, are we providing the platform to ensure that people’s voices become votes and are included in the overall DNA of the evolution of the company?

PORTER BRASWELL: Okay. So people say the word “inclusion,” people also say the word “belonging.” What’s the difference? And why is that difference important?

DOUG MELVILLE: Well, belonging is like the next level of inclusion, but I know some companies like to use the term diversity, inclusion and belonging. And I think this word for me brings up a debate I like to have, do you want someone to bring their best self to work or do you want someone to bring their whole self to work? Because there’s a lot of people we work with that we really just want the best self. I’m not sure we want the whole self, but then some people will say, “Well, it’s not truly where you work if you can’t bring your whole self.” And I think that’s what belonging is about. And I think that’s like the master’s degree of diversity. If we start talking about, “Do you belong here?” I think most companies aren’t really there at the belonging stage. I think most companies, not to make huge generalizations, are either past awareness, now it’s into education. Now it’s into understanding the challenge. Now it’s into inclusion. But I think belonging is [when] you’re really seasoned in the game.

PORTER BRASWELL: Okay. I’m going to assume that most of the listeners know what unconscious bias means. My question to you, though, is how do you spot unconscious bias when it’s happening and what do you do about that?

DOUG MELVILLE: Yeah. I think unconscious bias lives in very practical things in an office environment, like microaggressions. Talking to an employee who worked at a different company, but said, “Doug, I was at the office today and someone said, ‘You know, the summer’s coming and I hope I can get as tan as you.’” And these are things that are unconscious bias, but they live in really practical terms. Or you’re going to heat up your food, and someone says, “Hey, ethnic lunch today?” Also, mansplaining, huge. And talking over a woman before she’s finished. That’s another form of unconscious bias. They’re really hard to spot, but the important thing is that we don’t live in an environment where we just allow it to happen because that didn’t affect me. That key point right there, Porter, is the difference between anti-racist and not racist because you involve yourself in a third-party conversation. That’s the difference between knowing the language, so you can intercept the conversation and say, “Hey, that’s not right. I don’t like what you did.” But you have the freedom and the space to talk about it. All those things. That’s why, if you can’t interrupt someone, you can’t stop it if you see it because you don’t feel comfortable saying anything. You’ll say something after the meeting, like, “That guy really shouldn’t have talked over her, but I didn’t really want to say anything in there.” But, meanwhile, the person who had that happened to them feels horrible. These are the types of things that go back to the inclusion, which go back to the belonging, which goes back to voting with your feet. And that’s why this is such a hard subject matter to crack because everybody has to be on the same page.

PORTER BRASWELL: I’m sure this happens to you. It happens to many people that I’m friends with, and it’s a common occurrence, especially amongst professionals of color. I’ll say something and somebody says, “Oh, wow, that’s a really good question.” Or I will wrap up a conversation, and somebody will say to me, “You’re so articulate.” Is that unconscious bias or is that a microaggression?

DOUG MELVILLE: Oh, look at that detail! Can it be an unconscious microaggression?

PORTER BRASWELL: But you know, let me further explain because some people may not understand why it can be offensive to say, “Wow, you’re really good with words.” And the presumption is that I’m not, when you say that. And so, that digs away at somebody. When you tell somebody, especially a person of color, when they’re likely “the only” in the room, “Wow, you asked a really good question or you sound so intelligent.” While you may be trying to give me a compliment, that’s insulting to me. And that’s the thing that I know a lot of my Black friends talk about all the time, but I don’t know if the majority culture understands that necessarily. So A, has that happened to you? And, B, can you unpack that, from a chief diversity officer perspective, why conversations like that can be problematic?

DOUG MELVILLE: Those types of things I address head-on because that’s my role and I feel like if I personally don’t address those when they happen to me, then they will just continue. My whole take is just talk to people about it, because they’re trying to compliment you and they’re trying to find a way to break their own bias. But I look at it and say, “That was good that you complimented it, but just so you know, that could be looked at because there’s a difference between optics and intent.”

PORTER BRASWELL: Yeah. I think another thing, and this is something that we’ve heard from our guests, again, around the importance of language. How do you advise the majority culture to address somebody that is African-American? Should they use the term “Black”? Should they use the term “African-American”?

DOUG MELVILLE: Well, I think the first thing there is, the best way to start a conversation is ask someone, “How would you like to be identified?” That is the number one way because I like to consider myself Doug. But if the money’s on the line, I consider myself Black. But if there’s someone standing right next to me, they may consider themselves African-American. Or you have some people that grew up in South Africa, where there was a class called Colored, and that wasn’t a negative thing. So everyone is looking at these terms through their own lens.

PORTER BRASWELL: Yeah. Okay. What about Latinx versus Latino, Latina?

DOUG MELVILLE: Well, this one really is complex, and there’s videos on it, but the breakdown and the cliff notes is this. The word Hispanic was created for the 1970 census. Latina, Latino, and then Latinx is just a gender-neutral version of that, but it goes back to how do you want to be identified? A lot of people that are from Latin America have never heard the word Latinx, and that’s because, again, it’s an American-made word. And you know, part of the language of diversity is, do you know geography? So first we should start with, when you say Asia, there’s 48 countries in Asia. When you say Africa, there’s 54 countries in Africa, with 54 governments, 54 leaders, 54 cultures. We have to start to stop getting people to generalize diversity and inclusion because that’s the first misstep that everybody does. This is diverse. This is diversity without looking at the individual cultures that it provides. I just want to talk about one more word that comes up all the time, and that is the use of the word “minority”.

PORTER BRASWELL: Please go in on this one.

DOUG MELVILLE: The thing is, when you call people a “minority,” you’re introducing them as less than.


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