Mo: Hello, hello, hello, welcome to this week’s everyday inclusion and belonging I am fired up to have Troy McIntosh from US Cellular joining me.

Troy and I have known each other for a couple months and it’s pretty fun because every single time he and I have a conversation… super excited to have you on this.

If you want, let’s just start with a little bit of your background and how you ended up doing inclusion and belonging diversity work, and then let’s dig in to some of the best practices you have happening at US Cellular.

Troy: Yeah so thanks, thanks a lot Maureen and that’s exactly right, I think I’ve enjoyed kind of getting to know you and learning about what you’re interested in and it’s been it’s been fun.

I came to this work, I kind of have a circular journey because years ago, like I hate even, hate even saying how long ago it was but I used to be a social worker. So, I used to work in the city of Chicago, I did everything from counseling with folks in inner city environments and then started doing work with state and federal that was mainly focused on issues of poverty and education reform.

And I did a lot of training, I was doing training with principals and superintendents of schools like I said once again around how to improve the outcomes of poor and disadvantaged people either in rural, actually sometimes in rural areas other times in urban areas. I did that work for about five years and got really interested in leadership development and actually transitioned from that role to do leaders leadership development work and took a number of roles and leadership development.

I worked at United Airlines for a while, Johnson Controls, and Abbott Laboratories but all work around developing leaders. And you know, I kind of say jokingly but I think it’s true, for some reason at all these companies for some reason I don’t know why, maybe it’s because I’m a black man I always got asked to work on diversity stuff.

D&I Roles

So, I ended up doing and you know, kind of leading a number of diversity project sometimes it was compliance, other times it was diversity related to talent management. And you know over about 15 years sort of learned a lot about D&I as a field but never had D&I in my title and then started to get approached about D&I roles.

And so, I came to the work through a background and leadership development and talent but interestingly enough, I kind of reason, I say it’s circular, it is really aligning with the values that you know brought me into social work, right. So, all the work that I did in the in the very beginning around you know Civil Rights Act and welfare I mean there’s a connection right to kind of understanding how systems work and how power is dispersed in the country.

And sort of this belief to do what’s right that came back around and so I didn’t even know I think when I started doing that work, I didn’t even know you could do work that focused on equity at a business. As a matter of fact a couple of months ago, I met with some of my old colleagues that still work in nonprofits right, and they were like so you know in business do people really care about doing the right thing, isn’t it all about money? And I was I was like that’s a great conversation. But they were, they were fascinated.

I always kind of had this set of beliefs around equity and fairness and a sincere care for people but I think you know 25 to 30 years ago I didn’t realize that I could do this kind of work in a corporate environment so.

Mo: Yeah well, and I think that you know, I’ve talked about this because back in the day leadership development like you know when you’re doing that work it’s like yeah, everybody is so excited to see you coming. Just like this is we both said this is the hardest work we have ever done right. And it can be exhausting and exhilarating and when you’re trying to get to those systems level changes that actually do change and an create inclusion and belonging.

D&I Pillars

I think that’s one of the things that I’ve love learning about your approach at US cellular is how you are taking a very, very strategic approach to DNI and have a couple of different pillars that you focused on. Tell us about those.

Troy: Yeah, yeah so you know, to kind of piggyback on what you said I think we’ve been really supported by leaders that believe in really trying to do the work the right way. I’m not trying to attack any other companies but it’s the hardest work I’ve ever been involved with.

It’s very difficult and so we have tried to be comprehensive in the terms of the way that we think about it. So, we have different pillars that focus on different parts of the system that we’re trying to address and each of those pillars is led by a person you know on the on the team right.

I have no idea how people do this work with like, I don’t think they really can do it with like one person on it. I don’t have, I don’t have any idea, it’s impossible it’s impossible. You know that, so we have a person who leads our focus on inclusion which really emphasizes our culture helping leaders to be more inclusive in the way they work. That work is led by person on our team, her name is Raheem Dillard.

She’s actually finishing up her PhD in leadership excellent expert in that area. And you know, we’ve been on this journey of helping people to understand, OK leaders have a role and an in being more inclusive whether it’s at a meeting how they kick off a project the way they think about developing their folks. And so, she is she is developed our own our own like a US cellular model that focuses on what inclusion looks like with a set of behavioral anchors right.

So, we’ve really tried to focus on what do leaders do, what sorts of policies and procedures and approaches support a more inclusive approach in the workplace. What do we expect from our systems right? I mean our talent systems, are compensate, like all that work and so she leads that work. We have a person who leads diverse talent I think we’re probably rare that we have a person who’s dedicated to diverse talent.

Everything across the talent hierarchy her name is Evelin Yaghmour and she has a background in talent management, she works with our talent acquisition team. I think one of the issues I think is that many companies assume that it’s all about talent acquisition. Maybe that’s the case at some companies, for us actually, the issue is talent movement. It’s who gets promoted and who gets retained. So, you need somebody who understands succession planning who understands you know how decisions get made right.

Mo: How development opportunities are the things that typically are just sort of left to chance like who’s going to go to the conference, who’s getting clients responsibility in the pipeline.

Troy: Right all that discussion but who’s in the pipeline and functionally how those decisions get made. Like who actually gets the opportunity to get to get promoted and you know, we’re trying to take promotion out of the leader’s head and put it into more observable process.

You know because when people have to defend their decisions, they are more likely to be less biased. So you know, the extent to which we can put more observers in that process really calibrate that across the organization. And you know, let others in the organization know hey, you know you’re trying to develop managers, but you don’t have any women or people of color in your pipeline you know and trying to exert that pressure.

Resource Groups

That’s the only way you can kind of you know build that system. We have a person who leads diverse and inclusion project management she leads all of our ERG’s works, all of our outreach. You know there’s intersections between our internal we actually call ERG’s associate resource groups, so we have 8 resource groups that are fully funded so they have a number of activities, but we want to make sure that the work that they do is align with our overall D&I strategy an align with other parts.

So, with our inclusion work in our talent work so Terence Smith O’Neill leads that practice for us. I also lead our compliance work so we have a compliance backup.

8 Employee Resource Groups

Mo: Back up one second, I’d love to hear what your eight ERG’s are.

Troy: Off the top of my head so let me see. So, this is a great question, valor veterans’ group, pride which is our LGBTQ group, next gen which it’s sort of a career transitions group with a generational spin to it so issues of career development but cross generational movement. We have a group called LAN which is our Latin next group, AA African American group, A and M which is our Asian American group WIA, women’s group I think I already mentioned valor, have I mentioned all of them?

Mo: You got 7, I’m curious do you have any about disabilities?

Troy:  Yes, yes right so CAN which is our capable ability group. So those are the groups, the most recent ones we just recently added are AAN and the next gen group last year. But yeah so there’s a lot of work that gets driven by those groups and I will say we really leverage their insights and their opinions to you know frankly, I mean my team supports and manages the work but there are really independent groups right that deliver unique insights to the organization. So, we want to kind of have a sense of independence right like we’d like for them to be align with what we’re doing but sometimes they raise issues that we didn’t anticipate, and we like that.

Like we want them to say hey, have you thought about this? No, we haven’t, great. Yeah right, so Taren leads that work I have a person on my team who leads compliance, but I will say its really compliance with the D&I spin right?

So, we really you know, kind of see these things as linked together right so our person who leads compliance is very often very involved, like when we look at right now, we’re looking at a new talent acquisition system or the way that we think about talent acquisition. Like she’s very much involved with that, she’s really more like an HR athlete right. So she is working on affirmative action plans and all the things that were required to do FCC I know all that stuff but really with a D&I lens to make sure that we can translate that work to our HR partners and into our leadership so they can understand that you know compliance risk management really is an important part of our work as a D&I team.

And then I have a person on my team who leads our supplier diversity work, who works very closely with at procurement team. We’re building, we actually are just starting to build out a Tier 2 program and his name is Gerardo Rodriguez. So, the thing I would say that’s kind of cool about the team is that we work in very close proximity, we sit with each other we have great conversations and I would say it’s a it’s a team of people that are dedicated to D&I but they’re also HR and talent athletes right.

D&I in Business

People that are really able to flow right across different parts of the of the business right because I think it’s hard to get credibility in D&I if you can’t speak the language at the business.

Mo: 100%, and see it as a business driver, understand it’s in the larger strategy of the business. And I really loved that you’ve got this this team that are dedicated to different pieces and I think about talent in any way shape or form in an organization you’ve got eyes on it. Even before you bring folks in all the way you know all the way through life cycle.

And an I you know I appreciate that you’ve got you know there’s that clear there’s funding, you got the strategy around it.

Troy: It’s still incredibly hard, even with all that, it’s still the hardest work I’ve ever done. Not to interrupt you but it’s still really hard work.

Mo: It is hard work and it’s so charged too. We’ve politicized things that are that are not political it’s in our environment. What do you see as next? Right, where you are has not happened overnight, what’s next? Or what can be continued?

I have folks that have followed the series and you know I always say that inclusion is, it is everyday sets, choices and behaviors and you’re never done. On the journey, what’s next?

Troy: Yeah I mean so what’s next is really, I was talking to our head of HR about what’s next  year and you know one of the things that I said to her is most of the things that are fairly easy to do we’ve sort of we’ve started doing those things. Now, we are trying to impact issues in the business.

Like we have this saying on the team we say when we get pushed back from a senior leader right, we say well this is the work right. Like the nature of the work so we fully expect to continue to get pushback when we put our finger on a policy on a practice right.

There this ongoing dialogue about how should I wear my hair and I wear my hair this way will I be accepted? Like that that sort of conversation which underneath it is all these things around power and privilege and just feeling comfortable are just conversations we’ve never had.

But I’ll give you an example of how that kind of conversation can touch the business. So, I was teaching a class couple of weeks ago and somebody mentioned that somebody received a comment that when they started work it was about their purple hair. It was a subtle negative comment and the person went from being visibly excited about work to like this is not what I expected and a couple of weeks later quit.

And this leader was like you know that was that was bad, like we just spent a bunch of money and time if we just make it about money that would be fine right. But we spent a bunch of money and time recruiting somebody that we thought was great, and then somebody says something stupid and they don’t want to be here anymore. Yeah like that’s not only an issue of inequity or micro-aggression, that not only affects another human being, but it also is really bad business.

Conversational Approach

So, you know how to further those dialogues and coach people to be comfortable with those dialogues is really the thing that we’re trying to continue to have conversation on. Last year we rolled out a tactic on social media that was a tactic that connected internal diversity with things that we were doing as an organization with a number of hashtags. Like black girl magic as an example right and you know there were some reaction from some leaders around that right.

And I’m actually like OK yeah, they were reactions I’m actually I’m glad that they brought the reactions up because we can’t talk about it until you bring it up.

Mo: Yes!

Troy: You know our role as being provocative and raising, 1st first you have to make it safe enough for everybody to have the conversation before you can have a conversation about whether this was bias or was aggressive or leveraging power. First make it OK for everybody to have the conversation.

So, whether it’s in the area policy or the way that we dialogue in the organization we’re looking for those opportunities to continue to press people to have those conversations. We feel like we can’t really move beyond right, this surface level D&I so we have those conversations.

Mo: Like that that whole idea until like you know that you are actually creating a place where everybody can bring authentic selves when they start to get uncomfortable. Right everybody, like engaging in those conversations, like if we stay at the surface level polite, you’re not getting anywhere.

So, I love that their put next is creating this first a psychological safety, and then going there. I’m glad that leader brought that to us right. Before I forget, just shadow to hair love, if people have not seen that short, I think that’s something that I’m showing all the time.

Troy:  It was dope. I went and actually showed it to my wife like when I saw it, and I was like I was watching it like it’s interesting how sometimes as I’m just going to speak from it as an as an African American, you see something and so many things came up in that in that short it just touch things within me that I almost didn’t realize were part of my blackness. And just it brought them it brought them to my own you know consciousness, right and I watched it me my wife my daughter like we watched it together and it was it was super it was just a really powerful piece.

Mo: I knew we were going to go all over the place. That’s another great entry point and how to have the conversation in the day to day one of the things that you know right now elections happening right like how you get real and have conversations around politics, how do you bring stability back because people are talking about that.

Coronavirus right, and some of the racism that we’re seeing. And so, there’s outright racism happening but there’s also the microaggressions around you know what we are doing like this is where the inclusion part where all things can be happening or really in your face things. If we’re really doing the work, we have got to go there.

Troy: Right and it’s um I mean it’s new for everybody right, I mean we just we just had a conversation yesterday I think I think I was just I think it was before we got on I was just sharing with you that we had you know a conversation on my team about this. We’re trying to and we’re still trying to figure out how do we how do we get people who are in the room already to almost think about the cultural implications of what is being discussed right.

Because something as simple as you know our travel policy about international, I mean there’s been number thing so there was there was actually there’s been a couple of things you know there’s a huge tech conference that was cancelled a couple of weeks ago.

Mo: I actually just heard about a conference that I was supposed to be at next week getting cancelled.

Troy: Right so I mean there was a conference in Barcelona got cancelled. And underneath or maybe not even all the time underneath there all these conversations about getting on a plane, and I’ll give you an example. These are the kind of things that we talk about at work right a conversation is about our about our travel policy right.

These sorts of questions come up you know should we be our company has actually banned international travel, but it’s actually been all international travel right it’s sort of, it’s kind of like OK well all international travel it wasn’t really focused on the areas of the world that are more affected. But that’s how we have decided to do it, so the question is underneath that what are the cultural messages right what the cultural implications of that are, you know how people are being treated.

Are there are there microaggressions that are flowing from that are there opportunities to educate people right around what good looks like so that you know it doesn’t reinforce the stereotype or reinforces bias but in are there opportunities to open up a dialogue right about difference at this time. Like how could we leverage this in a positive way to get a better understanding of you know how we’re different.

So, it’s something that we are still learning you know when that conversation happens in the business how do we ensure that issues of culture are infused in that conversation so that we get better business outcome. And I will say that something that we’re still figuring out I’m not sure we have an answer around that.

Add the Inclusion Lense

Mo: You know, and I think that’s a part of it too so even just thinking about OK here’s something that’s happening in the world, here’s business response, let’s make sure we’re throwing inclusion lens on that. We’ve made the business decision let’s just make sure we’re doing it in a way where we’re not leaving behind other people behind or not othering people and guess what, we might not get 100% right. But at least we’ve got eyes on it.

Troy: And there’s things that I think most companies look at things they could do at the executive level right I mean like making statements or providing guidance and I think that’s good, that’s good. And I would say how do you ensure that you know, like for us it would be how do you ensure though that you know the spirit of how you want people to communicate.

I mean how you can support communication in line with you know our company talks a lot about our values and diversity being one of our values. But how do we help people to embody those values at the more you know store level, local projects, add a care like it’s really those interactions how you figure out to ensure at that level of the organization people are having conversations that are not only safe.

Like safe sounds like the conversation is just about protecting people but how can you make those conversations actually supportive and you know and constructive right. Yeah so that they’re actually good right not just how do I avoid saying something wrong. That’s not really the spirit of inclusion right, it’s like how do we build the competency of being able to be reflective about the biases we might be coming to the to the business world with, so anyway.

Mo: Well and that’s, I think that’s a good place for us to wrap up because it takes full circle back to like how you got here to the work right, and then all it’s all so inner related it’s hard and it’s rewarding and I just appreciate you sharing all of the things that you and your team are up to.

Do you have kind of one last truth bomb?

Troy: This work has been very, very rewarding, I will say it’s really hard, but I would say its um it’s also very hard to walk away from because it’s it is it is the coolest the coolest thing I’ve ever, ever been a part of. Like I wish that when I were earlier in my career and I’ve actually thought about you know going like I wish I would have known that there’s something that I could get involved with that would be you know kind of both have a business impact and have like a real-world impact.

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining about it I mean the work is not for the faint of heart. So if you don’t like being challenged and you don’t like you know having people push back it’s not the right work. But I also love this stuff it connects both with my intellectual curiosity but also just my emotions, my faith, I mean there’s just so many ways that it connects with me as a person.

So, I love it as well right it’s just really hard.

Mo: Thank you for being a leader in the space because what’s harder is if we have a world where we continue to other each other right. So, thanks for doing the work.

Troy: That’s a really great way to put it that’s a really great way to put it.

Mo: Thanks Troy.

Troy: Thanks.


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