Transcript:

Mo: Hello, hello, hello and welcome to this week’s everyday inclusion and belonging where we talk about everything, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging related under the sun. I’m really excited this week to be joined by Michelle Gadsden-Williams. We actually even talked about pronunciation of names and how important they are.

Michelle, it’s fantastic to have you here. Please introduce yourself and let everybody know what you’re up to in the world of DEI and then we’re going to dig in on something that I think is going to be a fabulous topic.

Michelle: Hello, hello and thank you so much for inviting me to be here, it’s a pleasure to be here with all of you. I’m Michelle Gaston Williams, I am a lifer in this work of diversity, equity and inclusion. I’ve been a diversity practitioner for just shy of 30 years.

I started my career in marketing and product development and then I transitioned to strategic planning and organizational development shortly thereafter. I’ve lead DEI for a number of multinational organizations around the world and industries from consumer goods to Big Pharma, financial services, professional services.

I also owned my own consultancy practice based here in New York City, specializing in all of the disciplines related to diversity around multicultural marketing, OD, and executive coaching. So, the work that I do in diversity really supersedes a lot of the work that I do for the companies that I work for. I’m on several boards, not for profit.

I have had the pleasure of presenting in front of Congress on all things related to diversity over the years. I’m an advisory board member for gender equity for the World Economic Forum, and I’m also one of the founding members of the Women’s March in 2016, I was delighted to be invited to be a part of that.

So literally, this work has taken me around the world and back again. I’ve lived in three different countries from Istanbul, Turkey, Hong Kong, I lived in Switzerland for 10 years. It’s really a full circle moment for me to be back in financial services with BlackRock and delighted to be here.

Mo: I’m so glad to be here and you all can see why I’m excited to have this conversation with Michelle and I’m going to be really interested to link common threads right, in all those different industries, all those different experiences.

Michelle, I wanted to start us off by let’s just talk particularly in the last 15-16 months, about the arc over all of this evolving role of the Chief Diversity Officer. Having done this work for as long as you have, you know it feels like iteration about 40 and then for some organizations, they’re just getting started.

So, what have you seen that evolution look like?

DEI Work Evolution

Michelle: Wow, uhm, you know diversity of yesteryear as I call it, was really and when I say yesteryear, I mean 30 years ago, it was really around affirmative action. There was a large emphasis on representation, so how many of this, how many of that in terms of the dimensions of diversity and less about the business imperative that it is.

Less about culture initiatives than it’s all about. So, I’d say it’s really changed quite a bit with the convergence of societal injustices, a global pandemic, the discourse and the conversation and the engagement of DEI really has changed. Issues around racial and social justice in the workplace has heightened and that was not really discussed years ago.

We were not talking much about race and or discrimination in the workplace. At least not openly, so with the issues that have taken place over the past couple of years, George Floyd, being one of them, that in my opinion was the real inflection point for a lot of individuals, for a lot of companies.

Issues around race are now a corporate issue and, in some cases, it’s really impacting the bottom line for a lot of organizations. Most organizations are now playing a bit of catch up, but indifference is no longer an option, and so I think there’s been a real shift in terms of the conversation around DEI.

In past years, leaders who don’t make progress as it pertains to DEI, you know that was acceptable, today it’s not. There was a real consequence for not making progress, so I’ve seen a real shift in the conversation, in the trajectory, in terms of how people talk about it, I see a real alignment to the business strategy and so you know everyone treating it like it’s a real business imperative.

And that’s exactly what it is. So, we need to hold ourselves and DEI practice to a high standard like we do any other business imperative and so that’s where the tide is now changing too, at least in my opinion.

So like Mellody Hobson says, you know, in most organizations we need less lip service and more elbow grease, and I certainly would agree with that. So, employees are asking, prospective candidates are asking, board members are asking, they’re demanding, and our clients are inquiring. Regulators are talking, so there’s no escaping this work and the need to do it incredibly well.

Mo: Yeah, I’ll often say, there’s nowhere to hide anymore.

I think one of the arcs that I’m really glad to see as well is you sort of talked about this affirmative action basis many years ago, and then there was a shift to OK, diversity looks like gender, so let’s put all these programs together that benefit white women.

I feel like we keep getting it homed in, and actually getting to a place where we’re looking at it strategically, there are budgets, there are you know, we’re measuring against it.

You know, all of the things that are really making it again, strategic imperative, strategic competitive advantage and you know, I don’t care what gets people to the table frankly. As long as long as we get people to the table. So now seeing organizations budgeting for this, measuring against it, I’m thrilled.

Michelle: Exactly, and I’m actually loving, and I think it’s a terrific time to be a Chief Diversity Officer. And I’ve seen many organizations really evolve over the years. Everyone