WHAT: 45-minute webinar recorded on September 23rd, 2020
WHO: Melissa Jezior, Eagle Hill Consulting’s President and CEO, and
Jeff Perkins, Managing Director and Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Stanton Chase North America
Good afternoon. Thank you all so much for joining Eagle Hill Consulting for a webinar, conversations about race and bias in the workplace. We’re so happy to have you with us and we are going to just go over quick logistics and then we’ll dive right into the conversation. We’ve got everyone on the session today in listen only mode but it’s not because we don’t want your questions. It’s of course because we’re just trying to block out a little bit of the background noise. If you do have questions throughout the session just go ahead and type those into your control panel on the question box. After our presentations we will read those questions out loud and will respond. We are very excited to have with us two speakers. The first is Melissa Jezior. She is CEO of Eagle Hill Consulting and we are just delighted to have joining us today Jeff Perkins. Jeff is a seasoned HR and diversity and inclusion expert.
He’s currently at Stanton Chase and he’s a Managing Director there and also kind of diversity and inclusion for North America. He’s been in senior roles at major companies across the U.S. including SpaceX, NPR, and Time-Warner, so he’s got a lot of experience and thoughts that he can share with us. And with that I am going to turn the session over to Jeff and to Melissa for a nice conversation this afternoon. Thank you.
Well first off thank you so much for being with us here today Jeff.
Thank you. It’s good to be here.
Great. And congratulations on your new role at Stanton Chase heading up diversity and inclusion for North America. Very exciting.
Yep. I’m excited about it.
Awesome. So as we talked about Eagle Hill is on a journey to do better as it relates to both diversity and inclusion and we are so grateful to have experts like you to share your wisdom and experience with us to help us get better.
You are an expert in human capital and organizational culture and I’m truly thankful for you joining us on this journey today. So I also want to welcome our attendees who are also joining us on this journey today. I think recent months have been a trying time for everyone in our community and in our country and beyond. I think both our country I think for a lot of us and as individuals as well it’s been an interesting time. I mean who could have foreseen the stress of a global pandemic, forest fires, the election year, and amiss all of this systematic racism in our country taking center stage. And I think both on a personal and professional level watching the videos and hearing the stories of the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and the senseless shooting of Jacob Blake have caused me to really pause and rethink and reflect about the world around me and my role in it.
So I think my role as a leader at Eagle Hill I’m seeing the realities of diversity and inclusion in the workplace in a much different way than I did six months ago or a year ago, and I think this is a journey that we’ve been on for a couple of years, but the difference is now I feel like I am uncovering some biases and blind spots that I have as a person and that we have as an organization. And I firmly believe that we can do better and we have to do better, but in order to do better we’ve got to learn and grow in a different way than we’ve ever done before. So with that said let’s dive in and pick Jeff’s brain and learn a little bit more about his perspectives on this. So 2020 has been a painful year as we just started talking about, right. Everyone is talking about how they can’t wait for 2020 to be over. I’m interested in your perspective on this moment. How is it different and how are you hopeful that when we finally look back on 2020 it will be a year that was a turning point for meaningful and lasting change in diversity and inclusion in the workplace? Tell us your thoughts.
Sure. So thanks Melissa and thanks very much for having me here. I think when I was reflecting on and getting ready for this conversation today, realizing that just moments ago the Grand Jury issued their first decision in Louisville related to Breonna Taylor. And I think if you look back five years ago or ten years ago we in the same circumstance would have happened we would not know the name of Breonna Taylor. And so if you look at today and police brutality and other things related to race and gender and ethnicity in our country and in the world you realize that this is probably more of a movement than it is a moment.
Where I live I can see protests go by here in Washington periodically and I see people of all ages, all walks, all shapes and sizes and persuasions and I realize wow, we are starting to care about this potentially more as a country and a world than we have in my lifetime. I guess some have looked back to the 60s as probably the most dramatic look at this particular topic, but in my lifetime probably this movement that I’m beginning to feel a part of and as you say it starts in our workplace, in our neighborhood, in our daily lives because you know a lot of these things get sensationalized which is really why we are where we are today so it’s super necessary. Technology has really brought into our homes and into our lives and into our hearts things that are happening that bring inequality and issues of race forward, both in our workplaces.
And I think with the pandemic some of us have been home more than we ever have been so it’s allowed us to a pay a little bit more attention to the world and to ourselves. And so I think we’re beginning to realize that you know black lives matter not just in the street but in the boardroom, on Zoom calls, in elections, in healthcare, in neighborhoods. And so I think these are the things that are beginning the national, and I would say global dialogue around race.
Yeah, I agree. I feel certainly different than it has I agree in my lifetime as well and I am very helpful that the momentum continues, because it’s exciting to see some momentum behind this. I am hopeful it continues.
Okay next question. Last month we convened our webinar and we focused on why it’s critically important to have uncomfortable conversations at work about racism, biases, diversity, and inclusion.
I would love to get your perspective on the value of uncomfortable conversation as a means just for a change. Like in other words can you even have change without uncomfortable conversations?
Um, I think that’s the beginning and I think uncomfortable conversations are necessary. As I was reflecting I think when Eagle Hill asked me to first do this that same week I was kind of wondering whether I should, but I was having a contractor come and do some work here in my home and she was white and brought her husband. The conversation quickly turned to what they were doing that weekend which was getting their son the SAT and the ACT for college admissions and they had to drive to Virginia to do that because it wasn’t available here with COVID.
And then came the punchline which was you know you really have to do everything you can around college admissions, after all who wants a white boy from Bethesda, and Bethesda is kind of a wealthy neighborhood I think in the area. So my thought around that was shall I stop her here on this or do I go on like this never happened? So using your parallel Melissa it’s like she’s in her workplace which also happens to be my living room, right? Here I am a gay black man having to own the decision as to whether that’s a discussion or not, because for her I’m sure that story was told in Bethesda many times over to an all-white audience and no one bothered to if they were [woke] no one bothered to say, “Hey you know for about the last 200 years that’s who they have wanted on college campuses.”
So you know and I think there’s deeper conversations to be had about that but I think the door initiative to bring conversations to both Eagle Hill and to your clients and to your own home and your own life is a bold one and it’s a one by one kind of thing and it’s a one size fits all kind of an opportunity. I don’t know if that anecdote helps a bit.
What did you do? What was the outcome of the story?
You know what, there were so many things to discuss and she was here, and by the way this happened a couple of weeks ago so I still owe her a conversation you know, and that’s horrible, right, because we all avoid these things, myself included.
I think generically and it’s all different for all of us, but generally I would say in her role she avoids it because she doesn’t even know it’s a conversation, or and if she did she would be scared to like have it so there’s… And then on my side it’s like is it worth having this conversation? Should I even keep her as a vendor and does that damage the relationship of what I’m trying to accomplish in my home? I think the jury is still out on that one because I feel like we are early in our relationship and I feel like I will pick my moment and I think the conversations they are important. They are difficult to navigate and I would also say the oneness is often on the person of difference and isn’t that a shame.
And so I think the person of difference, me in this case, you know we haven’t decided do we want to invest our time and energy in something like that or do we want to move on and carry on.
And we all pick our moments. You know I’m protesting in the streets myself and I’ve had other conversations that I feel are more important and I pick that very moment to have them so I think that’s the crux of it.
You know at Eagle Hill we are definitely doubling down on the concept of uncomfortable conversations and it’s certainly a muscle that regardless of what skin color you are it’s hard, it’s hard. And I think you bring that up right. It’s hard and it’s a new muscle for an organization in particular. Like up until now organizations don’t talk about things like this so it’s an interesting dynamic to start introducing the concept even in a workplace setting.
So with that how does an organization even start? Should executives and HR professionals act as a catalyst to set the tone to encourage conversations about racism, diversity, and inclusion?
Well I think the broad answer is yes but in preparation for this webinar I kind of did some googling and looked around at SHRM and some to her sites and I found some interesting things that I didn’t know, which were you know 45% of black Americans say that their workplace actually discourages conversations. And to think that that’s where you show up at work whether it’s virtually or in-person 38% of black American workers don’t feel emotionally safe sharing how they feel about protests or things of racial injustice in the workplace. 33% of black American workers do not feel respected and valued in the workplace. And again this is SHRM data. You can really find it on their site.
I think right now more than any time organizations, and I know our organization is looking at these things both with our clients and among ourselves is how do you approach racial injustice and kind of foster communications and take steps to adjust, to address societal issues like this. And I think the real answer is it kind of starts at home, so that’s what we decided at Stanton Chase much like you’ve decided is you know anyone can write a press release about oh Eagle Hill is doing XYZ, but really the proof is in the pudding. Like what are you doing? Are you hiring? Do people feel comfortable in the workplace? Do people feel like they can have the conversation and encouraging authentic and [00:13:52 oz] conversations that go beyond kind of just a statement, a mission statement, or values of the organizations.
It’s kind of like is Stanton Chase or Eagle Hill or wherever you work is it a place where diversity can actually live and thrive, right? And so that’s what really matters and sometimes that does mean having meaningful conversations. You know I think oftentimes it’s find a friend or a neighbor or someone of difference that you feel comfortable where there’s not as much risk to have that conversation before you bring it to work. Sometimes that’s the case, or to get a different perspective. I think that those are things that you can do to begin having conversations like this.
So what about at the manager level, what are ways to convene a conversation there? Are there conversation starters or rules of the road to help managers start uncomfortable conversations to keep the discussions honest and productive and professional?
You mentioned fear earlier right, so how do you help those managers kind of get over that fear?
Sure. I think as I looked at this I look at really three areas. One is listening is important, is just as important as [out bounding] someone. It’s listening and listening from someone else’s perspective and attempting to understand. It is not being defensive, you know, kind of not drawing conclusions early or even ever necessarily about it is important. The second thing is I think the tone particularly in the United States now is one of [viteral] debate, hatred, anger, and those things kind of inhibit progress.
So as long as we can keep this loud, you know, back and forth debate going and picking one little piece of something out of a broader picture and showcasing it as the brick someone brought to a rally or otherwise, I think it’s don’t debate, really try to have an exchange, you know a real exchange, an exchange of ideas. And then I would say organizationally you know setting goals, looking at the big picture, you know what do you want to eliminate racism within your organization or your team, establish forums for conversation to say it’s okay. I think many, you know if you are a leader in an organization or a manager your people are going to turn to you to say is this something we can discuss? Is this something that is [00:16:56] us?
And I think particularly in these times where we are in the middle of a pandemic, we are in the middle of a bit of a political upheaval, we’re in the middle of I would say a lot of tension and people needing care and needing some kind of understanding, you know, that it’s important that people feel like they are in a place that this is something that can be said and this is something that can be said safely. You know the thing I look at here is no one wants to put their job on the line to talk about race or gender or age or whatever, deafness, size, shape of a person. So I think all of our tendency in a workplace unless we are in a real intimate kind of work setting is to just avoid, because we don’t want to walk in there and say, “Wow, that’s a neat white sweater you have on,” because whoa, what is that going to mean, right?
And let alone, “Hey, what’s your background?” as I hear people say. You know it’s like where are you from? No one wants to do any of this. No one wants to do any of this in a workplace and I think people need to know that it’s a safe thing that they aren’t going to be criticized or lose their job over having a discussion as long as it’s not like you know something that’s way out there.
You know one of the points that you brought up that I know we really try to enforce at Eagle Hill is the discuss, don’t debate point. I think really trying to encourage dialogue is a way for everyone to grow and learn different perspectives. And I think if we don’t get beyond the debating we won’t ever learn. We won’t ever get the value from the uncomfortable conversation.
Right. Right. I think that’s for sure.
I think one uncomfortable conversation like as we’ve been talking about is fear. So some people are fearful of conversations that dig down deep into the core of their belief systems, or some people see the value of having uncomfortable conversations but they are afraid of inadvertently choosing the wrong word or saying something unintentionally offense that to your point could harm their job or maybe a professional relationship or maybe their reputations. So what advice do you have for kind of handling that head-on?
I would say you know start easy, you know, start with the easier conversations and also but at the same time if you see something that you should really lean into then by all means lean into it.
What I see you know fear-wise, you see the companies that are out there and when all this happened a couple of months ago and the recent months it’s kind of interesting to watch all the social media and like LinkedIn, of course having known people and you see on LinkedIn it’s like all of a sudden everybody is an expert on race and they’ve always lived their life the right way and all of that. I guess I’m a little bit hesitant because none of us are perfect and we are all in this trying to make our lives work and to have a profession and a career and a livelihood while the world on some days seems to be falling apart. So I think there’s a lot to be fearful of but there’s also a lot to be optimistic about.
And I would say you know think about how to start the conversation. Think about the timing of it. Think about who’s around when it happens. Think about the framing of it. Think about whether you’ve seen it once or twice or many many times over and that makes it easier when it’s like oh, well this is really something I would like to have a conversation about. So those are the things, I really think you know to go from all of these pronouncements that you see for corporations or famous individual, I’m giving up my board seat. I want a black person to be in it. I used to sing country music and wave this flag and now I don’t believe in that anymore. You know NASCAR is going to stop flying the confederate flag. How do you go from all these big broad pronouncements which is what everyone puts in front of our face every day to a day to day dialogue that is more about practical living?
And to me those are related but they are two different things. You know it’s easy for a corporation to hang a banner in the minute when the wind is at their racial back, you know. Whether they will be still doing that a year from now has yet to be seen. I think that’s important. I also think this whole notion, and that’s why you said I am an expert, I kind of like…I’m not really an expert in this because I feel like you know I had a CHRO colleague send me a recent article that another head of HR wrote, and she was writing about her opinion on these things. And she was like I would love to get your perspective on this article. And I read about half of it and I wrote my client back and I said I could only read half. She won’t be writing about this in a year.
And why did you think that?
Because it’s trendy. Everybody is pitching in. Everybody is an expert. You look at it, everybody has got an article on it at this very moment in time and so it’s like the proof is in the pudding and that’s why I say the practical living of it, right? That’s the hard part.
I’m curious to hear your thought, is I found that when you talk to people about all of the big things that are going on in the new cycle it is much harder to find that common ground. I find when you take it down to a real life it’s much easier to find the common ground and make it more relatable and easier to kind of tackle. It makes the issue kind of more manageable in a way.
Sure, sure. I think that’s true as well.
So I’m curious, are there any companies you’ve seen that you think are especially adept at fostering uncomfortable conversations in diversity and inclusion?
Um, yeah. I would say Public Media does a nice job. They are a client of ours in various forms, helping the dialogue around race, gender, anything of difference. The other one that comes to mind is Apple. I know that Apple has recently equipped all of their employees with the Wave to talk to not just one another but also to be able to address issues of race, gender, or difference in the workplace.
They are now saying it wouldn’t be uncommon for someone to walk in and say, “I don’t want to be waited on by that person,” and I think Apple’s philosophy is you know one genius is as genius as the other, right? So you know pick your genius. You get the genius that pops up next on the iPhone and when those kinds of circumstances arrive they are enabling their workforce to address issues of race, gender, and difference. But again, one size fits one because what if a deaf person arrives in an Apple store and asks to deal with another deaf person or another person that is signing, right, and is that acceptable? And so you really have to tune yourself into like it’s not the policy it’s the practice. How do you do it and how do you do it elegantly and how do you have it make a difference and be accommodating for all and inclusive?
So I think that’s another, but it’s interesting that like not a bunch of companies come to mind, right?
Well I guess we wouldn’t be here in the world we are in today if this was easy right, or if everyone had it figured out.
Finally one thing I think that is really important to follow-up on a conversation and create opportunities for future conversations, right. Like having a conversation isn’t just like a one and done, like we talked about racism first, great. Check it off our list. Because there’s so much work to do, right. Like you said there aren’t very many model companies out there and it’s such a dynamic and continuous path. Do you have any thoughts on either immediate follow-up strategies or any ways to kind of keep the conversation and dialogue moving forward?
I think you’re right it’s not a one and done thing. I think tuning in to what’s happening on the national level is important but I think it also matters on a day to day basis. You know this is a long-term sustained effort and it doesn’t happen overnight or even in a series of months. It takes time to transform. We realize that, but I think also I would say we’ve been very patient. I mean as a country we’ve wasted a good amount of time related to these matters and so you know ask your colleagues, your team, your employees what they think and what needs to happen in your workplace you know. I think that’s really critical.
And then what I loved is what you said at the beginning Melissa. You own it for yourself and for your company and I think that’s an honorable and a good starting point and you’re doing something about it, and I think that’s up to each one of us to lean in in that similar way. Just a closing thought I had is I wanted to share with everyone if you haven’t heard or listened to Clint Smith he was a teacher in Prince George’s County and he teaches writing in a Central Detention Facility here in D.C. You can pull him up. He’s got plenty of [TED] talks and he really talks about, and this is more U.S.-specific, how young our country is relative to other places and he challenges the notion that you know silence is golden and that we should speak out and speak up for ourselves and for others and send the right signals.
I heard him again this past week, he spoke at my college virtually of course and I listened in, just always impressed with him and his work and I think he’s a good starting point and a person that I look up to around this.
Oh I will definitely check him out. Wonderful. Well thank you so much for taking the time with us to share some thoughts on how to get these uncomfortable conversations going.
Sure. Thank you.
I will turn it back over to Kelly.
Thank you Jeff and Melissa. Just as a reminder to everyone on this session, if you have a question just go ahead and type those into your question box on the control panel. We will read those aloud and Jeff and Melissa can take a shot at it. Here’s one that looks like it might be a good one for you Jeff. Since you’re in recruiting do you have any ideas on hiring candidates that will be a good fit for your culture and that value sort of the movement toward moving the ball forward on racial issues and diversity and inclusion?
Yeah, I suppose, I mean everyone, right now we have a lot of requests for whether it’s chief diversity officer roles or people want a very diverse slate. You’ve all heard that if you’re in HR or otherwise. What we’re always looking for is going back to this notion of is this a place where diversity can actually live and thrive. We have clients who, we had one D&I, diversity and inclusion task force from a company recently contact us and they were looking for diversity and I partnered with our Nashville office and our New York office on putting a proposal together. After a couple of conversations with the committee from that organization we determined that didn’t really need to just make a hire because the chance of that person succeeding in the environment of what we heard was like wow, they are going to hire a person of color in this job and the organization is not really ready.
So I think you know looking at the cultural assessment, things like that which you at Eagle Hill are quite adept at doing and it’s making sure the environment is ready and that you care. Maybe you start with a culture, you don’t start with that hire, you start with you know maybe a cultural study or a diversity survey or things like that to let you know where you stand and get yourself a benchmark before you decide oh, the answer is hiring a diverse person. That is the answer. And I think you’ve got to look at the broader picture to assess that and I think that’s what a lot of HR professionals help do is whispering in the ear of the CEO or speaking up themselves to make sure that you are socializing and supporting the hires that you’re making as well with your [00:32:13 verse.]
Here’s a comment I will read aloud, kind of builds on what you were talking about Jeff in terms of starting small and sort of picking your moments. I’m a woman of color and I will only have an in-depth conversation on race with people who I have a relationship with, otherwise it’s just a very surface level conversation. Timing is a really important factor for all of these conversations.
That’s just a general comment. It’s not to react to for Melissa or myself? I agree.
I have found myself in situations where I’ve messed up and said the wrong things and of course I’ve been horrified. What I did was I apologized for my misstep. Was that the right thing to do? Is there anything else I should have done?
Do you want to take it Melissa?
Sure, I can start and then maybe you can chime in. I feel like you are going to mess up. Like we are all going to mess up, right? Like you just almost have to get…that’s part of having an uncomfortable conversation. I think it’s owning when you mess up, owning and learning from it and knowing that it’s probably going to happen again and all you can do is grow from the last time there was a bump in the road. That’s what I would say.
I would say that too, owning it, learning more, growing from it I think are all important parts to it.
Not lingering on it and obsessing about it. Living in the real world is really important and I would say reaching out to others that are different is really an important point. I also think that each of us whether we are at work or we are at a rally or we are voting or we are in our neighborhood or our church or wherever you go we are always encountering opportunities to show the world that we are becoming better people.
I like that. Thanks so much. Our next question here is I’m finding with my clients that mindfulness, that is understanding the conscious and maybe less conscious thoughts and attitudes that you bring to any interaction is really helpful in difficult conversations. I’m wondering if this might also be your experience, if you have any thoughts on mindfulness in the context of recent diversity conversations.
Jeff do you want to take that?
Uh, I’m not a mindfulness expert by any stretch but I do think tuning yourself into who you are and what’s happening in the world is super important. You know having a spiritual side of why are we here? What are were doing? What are all these interactions about? I think we’re all trying to figure that out and some of us are further on that journey than others. I have notes here on my desk which carry me through the day. First it says breathe and then it says ‘calm, genuine, and friendly.
If you can accomplish, I mean those are kind of like my aspirational goals. When I’m having a hard moment or a moment I’m trying to think about those things and incorporate them into what we’re doing. I think exercise. For me bike riding gives some sanity to all of this madness that we’re immersed in today.
Great. Well thanks so much for those comments. It looks like we have run through all of our questions. We thank everyone so much for those questions. They were really helpful and definitely added to the conversation and we thank all of you for joining us today, and we thank both Melissa and Jeff for their insights and conversations. This will conclude our session so we hope you all have a nice afternoon and thank you again for joining us.