Published On: May 13, 2022

How to Create a More Diverse and Inclusive Workplace with DE&I Champion Wema Hoover

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Episode Summary:
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are important values in the workplace because they foster a work environment that is fair and inclusive. They also benefit employees by making them feel valued and appreciated. Studies have shown that workplaces with greater diversity, equity, and inclusion have lower turnover rates, better communication among employees, and stronger morale. In recent years, as the world becomes ever more interconnected, there seems to have been an increased focus on DE&I. In this episode, I talk with Wema Hoover, a DE&I champion.

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About the Interviewee:
Wema Hoover has dedicated her career to being a culture change agent advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion across global markets through a systems thinking approach driving organizational change and development in people, processes, and products. Her deep experience spans multinational enterprises such as Google, Pfizer, Sanofi, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and PwC, with a high degree of cultural awareness after living in Europe and working across the US, Asia, Middle East, and Latin America. As a DE&I champion and thought leader, Wema served as a member of the Coqual (Center for Talent Innovation) Hidden Brain Drain Task Force and is a sought-after speaker on culture and DE&I topics for organizations including The Conference Board, Working Mother, and Diversity Best Practices. Wema holds a Master of Science in human resource management and a master’s-level certificate in organizational change management, both from New School University. She also earned her Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Rutgers University and a certification as a global professional in human resources (GPHR).

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Host/Producer: Richard Dodds @Doddsism
Show Music: @IAmTheDjBlue

Episode Transcript

Richard Dodds 0:00
Coming up later in the episode,

Wema Hoover 0:02
Making sure that the organization you’re going into is not a pyramid where you have this wonderful diversity at the bottom of the organization. But you look up and you see a very homogenous demographic of leaders. Those are the three things that the more progressive companies not only get, but actually they know that that has to be core and parcel for their diversity, equity inclusion efforts to really have legitimacy and impact.

Richard Dodds 0:33
This is still talking about a show about different perspectives to issues that black people face every day. I’m your host, Richard Dodds.

Richard Dodds 0:41
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion or DNI are important values in the workplace because they foster a workplace that is fair and inclusive. They also benefit employees by making them feel valued and appreciated. Studies have shown that workplaces with greater diversity, equity and inclusion have lower turnover rates, better communication among employees, and stronger morale. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer. 2020 to 65% of workers say that CEOs speak on prejudice and discrimination, while 42% of those surveyed say that businesses are not doing enough to address systemic and justices. In recent years, as the world becomes even more interconnected. There seems to have been an increased focus on DNI I know, for me, it is very important for me to work for a company that I feel, hears and understands me. But it’s also a place where I feel like I can continue to grow my career, I want to be in a place where I feel like my career isn’t limited because of the color of my skin, or the way I wear my hair. I want to be at a place where my skills on my performance are the determining factors of whether or not I move up. So how do we create a workplace that is more inclusive, or find a job that has an established culture of equity. After the break, I talked to Waymo Hoover, de and I champion and thought leader that has worked across the world. And her experience has spanned multi international enterprises such as Google, Pfizer, and PwC, to name a few.

Richard Dodds 2:17
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Wema Hoover 2:45
Hi, this is Wema Hoover, I am the principal and CEO of Wema Hoover advisors and be limitless consulting, and I am a global diversity, equity inclusion and culture executive passionate about helping people and employees reach their full potential and utilize all of their gifts and talents.

Richard Dodds 3:08
Is sounds like a lot of responsibility to me. So how did they? How did you get to this point? What brought you to what what in your path brought you to this point that you are at now? Yeah, it

Wema Hoover 3:22
was, you know, like, I’m sure many other people’s journey, not my intent, but had been working within human resources and doing organizational development work. And I was working at a pharmaceutical company and had one of my jobs really supporting our research and development center and creating helping build a r&d center off the shores of the US. And so spent a lot of time in Bangalore, India, and about two years on that project. And for, you know, the necessity of creating working teams and really trying to kind of move asset from discovery to development, I had to focus on global leadership, cultural competency, team effectiveness work, and that really was my foray into diversity, equity inclusion, because that was such the core of how to allow teams that cross cultures, cross continents, cross countries, and hierarchies. Find a way to not only work together, but utilize the best from each culture to drive work forward. And that and as I say, the rest was history.

Richard Dodds 4:38
I’ve never thought of it in that manner. Like just bringing people together from different continents and different cultures. When I think about it now I think of it as being relatively new, but I’m guessing it’s not really even that new. But I think of it more as like race relations, especially like cuz I’m coming from an American mindset and you know, like we have a lot of inequality when it comes to women when it comes to minorities. So I only think of it in that manner. I’ve never thought about it in the way you just described it.

Wema Hoover 5:08
Yeah, and that, and that’s really, I think a lot of people that kind of think about it, but it is around that because you think, think about the work that you’re doing with cultural competency, the work that you’re doing with global leadership, it is around equity, it’s around making sure that every person has a voice at the table, and that no voice is suppressed. No voice is marginalized, and recognizing the value in each one of those voices. So you think about from a racial justice from an equality is the same thing, right, making sure everyone has access, everyone has opportunity. And everyone quite frankly, is really able to live a life that they are not up against barriers or obstacles, and making interventions to eliminate those. But if you kind of take it down to the brass tacks and an organization’s, that’s how it comes through. But it is really the same genre, if you will, hmm.

Richard Dodds 6:02
Yeah, it just just, you just opened my mind up. I mean, really, like BNI is something that I really just recently, I’d say, like recently, maybe the last few years, I’ve really just been introduced to, and it’s something that I’m very interested in, just because in order to effectively have people work for you, you got to be able to communicate to them. And you got to be able to understand that the way the way that they communicate with you. And especially as teams get more global, and cultures get more diverse, it’s more and more important to have somebody who can kind of translate and teach people how to talk to each other. So

Wema Hoover 6:40
yes, and that is perfect explanation. And, and in doing so, helping people understand and recognizing that there is inherent bias that exist if bias or that we don’t even know, that is happening and occurring, you know, by us to us, that we have been conditioned by society, by tradition. And that’s where the interruption and really the focus efforts around diversity, equity inclusion, as you see today, with racial justice, you know, systemic inequalities is really coming to make sure you address and actually drive progress. Right, it was exacerbated, I think, because during the pandemic, you had the whole world on pause. So everything we felt, we felt it, it was magnified, because we were in our own homes or in our living rooms. And so we didn’t have any excuse to not feel it, or to recognize it as a pattern, or to see that there was, you know, huge injustice and disparities, you know, in the support, the violence, and kind of the policing of communities. And I think that time because we just happened to be in pandemic and people happen to be over, it was felt in a much more concentrated and collective sense, if you will, and the kind of efforts around diversity, equity inclusion, within supercharged,

Richard Dodds 8:01
that’s a, that’s a interesting thing, because the thing that I think about is that after George floor was murdered, that was the first time that I really seen organizations start to really speak out. And not only that, that was the first time that I seen saying nothing was just as bad as saying the wrong thing. So it’s like you had to say something, you had to say something that was on point and on brand and on message. And it really made a difference to the bottom line, if you came in correctly, or if you and everybody took note, especially minorities, especially black people, we took note of those companies and those people, those individuals, those entertainers, who didn’t say anything that’s supposed to be attached to us that they didn’t say anything.

Wema Hoover 8:46
Absolutely. And now, what you’re seeing is those companies, those people, you know, those entertainers, if you will, that are representative of our culture and our people, you know, you said you did say something, but now, where’s your progress? Where’s your proof points? Where are the things that you committed to doing and have such aspirational goals? What is what does that look like today? You know, night, and I think what you’re seeing is, you know, the society, and our community is really having a litmus test, right? It’s saying, Okay, are you, you know, real or fake? You said, You were gonna do it, you had so much passion, it was a great platform, you know, not for nothing for people to jump on, and to hope to get to your point beyond brand beyond message. But what has subsequently has happened that it has in terms of effective change, that you use your platform, your energy, your influence to change, and that’s where we’re seeing today, right, the litmus test around how have you impacted in a positive way? And really, what is the sincerity and authenticity when you did speak up and have that very emotional and strong support three years

Richard Dodds 10:00
ago? Yeah, that’s a that’s a very valid thing you really think about that now, it’s not just talk is cheap, you really got to cash it in. So me show me what you’re gonna do. Show me where the changes are happening. And and what other ways have you seen corporations start to change since that point,

Wema Hoover 10:19
I definitely see that diversity, equity inclusion has really transitioned from a kind of window dressing, if you will, like a nice to have, it’s going to go out with our marketing, we’re going to be able to put it on the color and have, you know, black and Latin x and, you know, LGBT in our marketing materials to really taking a diagnostic and internal inventory of wow, we now are hit with these systemic inequalities from representation from who we hire, who we have around the table, but also economic inequalities, who’s getting paid what are we have placed in the same value and the same experience and not perpetuating this to our systems and problems that you’re seeing on a state level. That’s why you have a lot of laws around, no longer do you have to disclose your pay when you are going for a jobs or positions because that was a process that kept those oppressed continue to press because they will have a job organization will have a job. And they would say, you know, we’re going to hire X, Y and Z, right. So if you are coming from a place of affluence, right, you were able to negotiate because you had all of the counsel, the coaching, your your daddy, your granddaddy, everybody who’ve been in the same role, same position will tell you how to advocate for yourself, and really position yourself to negotiate, and you’re coming from someone who this You’re the first person who worked in corporate, you may be the first person who even graduated from college and your family, you don’t have these tools. So you may go into just grateful and thankful to be in the space. And the organizations may know that, and may say, Wow, if we have a salary range, you know, of 100,000 to 150, but they’re willing to take 60,000, we’re gonna give them we’re gonna hire, so then you come in with huge inequalities. And that perpetuates basically for the rest of your working life. Because it only gets more significant and more greater. And so now you have laws and the state level and organizations that have made commitments and saying, We are not going to ask you for your salary, we’re going to pay you within range and pay you what you’re worth. And although it’s not solving the inequalities, and what you may have missed out on, at least is giving you a footing to have you know, more of a competitive wage with other with peers. And also you have a lot of organizations looking at the representation and specifically, you know, on their executive leadership teams, and on the boards of directors recognizing that if you want to make progress, you have to have people who are of the community hold you accountable, you have to have people of the community to to help you understand and interpret the feelings, the climate, the energy, and what may be happening and your internal employees of those communities are feeling, how they are responding, how do you get connected to them, make sure they have a safe space and have psychological safety, and also how your customer base is, you know, who have experienced this and may have suffered trauma as well. So they’re recognizing that it is essential to have the representation of your customer and your client page. In addition to ensuring that you give voice you give space, and you get the opportunity to hear from your internal diverse employees to help shape the culture that will quite frankly, you know, reflect the values and the mission of the organization.

Richard Dodds 13:48
I love the way that you describe the when you when you initially started talking about it, you didn’t say anything about race or culture. You said it was more about a place of affluence or not maybe become a formal place where because I mean black people, we can come from a place of affluence. And this is advantages that we will have that we might not even recognize because a lot of times somebody I was talking to somebody and they said that we have, everybody has privileges. No matter where you are, we have certain privileges like me, I have male privilege, but I don’t have white privilege, you know what I mean? Those different privileges that we have, but we don’t always recognize those privileges that we have. So it was great as you pointed that out, because I think that’s really important. Like it’s stuff that you learn, depending on where you’re at. Absolutely, absolutely. So for for a company on a corporation side, are if are just saying I’m an employee looking for an employer, what are some things that we can spot from companies that genuinely want to promote DNI?

Wema Hoover 14:48
Yeah, that’s a great question. And I do think that a lot of employees are not only looking but they want evidence of it, which is a great thing. The biggest thing is just see themselves, you know, one of the things that I hold through and has been such a motivator for me to do the thing that I have not seen others do. And also, I may not want to do, as I saying, you cannot be what you don’t see. So if you don’t show, like you have people, diverse, you know, a diverse employee base, you have people of the black community of Hispanic community, and you’re seeking them, there’s going to be a question, How committed are you, if you don’t have the representation already? In addition, it’s also going to be an indicator. Okay? If there’s no one there that looks like me, what am I chances to grow? Right? What isn’t going to be my opportunities to connect and have advocacy? Am I going to be in a hostile work environment, because you’re faced with people who don’t understand, you know, my cultural background influences, sensitivities. And so having that representation at a foundation level is, is critical and essential. And the second thing I would say is, once you do have employees in recognize that all things are not equal, right. So if you do bring in black employees and and those from marginalized community, when they come in, and I see you see this more, and then the very progressive companies, they create intentional efforts to address those things that people who are of an underrepresented community don’t have, they will have them have met mentors, as soon as they come in the door, because they understand if you are coming into an organization and you are a minority, then it’s going to be very, it may be very difficult for you to understand how to navigate how to be successful, what does good look like how what are the folk the you know, the things that you should not be doing. So coming in with mentoring having employee resource groups, so you have a community that will understand you that you can talk to, that you can help educate and shape the culture in the organization. And then lastly, I would say, ensuring that there are pathways for growth. So making sure that the organization you’re going into is not like a pyramid, where you have this wonderful diversity at the bottom of the organization. But you look up and you see very kind of all white faces and a very homogenous demographic of leaders. So I think that those are the three things that the more progressive companies not only get, but actually they know that that has to be core and parcel for their diversity, equity inclusion efforts to really have legitimacy and impact.

Richard Dodds 17:42
Wow. Thinking Thinking about that thing that you said it was two things that you said they were kind of related, you said one of the things is push you is doing things that you haven’t seen people do. And then also the pyramid thing, seeing leaders at the top all look the same, and they don’t look anything like you? How important would you say that it is to have representation, and places of real control and a real that can really make an impact?

Wema Hoover 18:09
I think it’s critical and essential, because when you have that representation, and you are able to show that you are giving opportunities giving access, it sends two messages, it sends to the one I say again, you know, you can’t be what you don’t see you now are inspired to say that is something I can achieve. Look at what just happened with the awesome and amazing appointment of Supreme Court Justice I’m so proud to say this to has contended brown Jackson, I mean, the affirmations that me as a black woman that I have, and also you you may not be women, but as a black man to seeing that and having someone who has dreadlocks, who comes in who is so authentically herself, yet had that opportunity appointment. Now, the process we’re not going to talk about right. So there’s some things in the process, but I’m gonna just focus on the and an end result, which is that she did get appointment. But to your question, having that representation internally in organizations is so critical, because it gives your diverse employee and underrepresented groups really that engine and that motivation to see that they can grow. They will have a belief you will have greater connectivity, greater retention, and then also more discerning discretionary effort. Because they’re like I see myself I know that there’s a possibility if you go into a place where you don’t see anyone like you and or you see everyone like you at the same level, you look up and there’s no one in leadership, no one and executive no one that has power and influence. You’re not going to be as motivated. And you may be subconsciously already receiving the messages that they don’t see me or people like me at that level. So therefore, I’m one going to bid my time and get what I need out of the organization or to, you know, use it for what it’s worth for this time, and then move on to somewhere else. And I can tell you that’s the ladder is usually for professionals and organization is true, because they are figuring I don’t see here, I can build the experience and things are going as well. So it is definitely critical and essential. And it also has to be one of the things that organizations are able to take a really, really in depth look at themselves, right, and on their behaviors and things that they either accept or reject as they are cultivating leaders because it should happen naturally. If you have representation at the bottom, there should be a natural kind of growth and pull through of people from all backgrounds, races, genders, but the fact that there’s there may be bottlenecks. That means there’s something inherent act, you know, being promoted, or being kept as a secret sauce that they’re not really admitting. And those obstacles and biases and challenges are the one things that they have to address, make sure that they mitigate

Richard Dodds 21:11
as funny because you can I’m sure like a lot of people probably listening to you can think back at times in your career where that might have been the case. And I think now more than ever it is it is something that most people are increasingly aware of, especially people that are diverse. Say, Hey, do two people look at like me? Alright, where are people at that look like me? Oh, it’s nobody out there that looks like me, huh? How long can I stay here? Some of the companies like that where you might not want to leave? What are some ways that you can start to advocate and hopefully start to increase diversity on all levels from the bottom up?

Wema Hoover 21:50
Yeah, that’s a great question. I think one of the ways you know, and I’m always a firm believer on kind of collectivism, right, when you can come together through things like employee resource groups, through affinity groups, where you’re able, as an organization to the organization provides an opportunity for you to come together around your community, and do things and they may give you funding, or they may give you the space, whether it’s doors during, you know, Black History Month, or other heritage, or MLK, but use those platforms to share your experience, use those platforms to be very open, honest and candid about the aspirations of the community, what they’re experiencing, but also what are the roadblocks? What are the obstacles? What are the assumptions that are held, because people are experiencing and sharing because you know, as well as I do, in our community, especially in the black community, we talk, we share, we know the managers that are open, supportive, and will help lift you up. And we also know the ones that may not have, you know, the How should I put it skills matters, ability to connect with us in a way that will help us grow. And so where you have a platform to share that and then influence, you know, the organization through partnerships with executive sponsors, to really address that by education, and then by intervention, whether it be you know, through talent development programs, whether it be you know, through getting high potential programs and getting the opportunity to do cross the comments or special work assignments. That is, I think, one of the effective way, and I say do it as a collective group, because then you are not isolating or the organization can say it’s just one person’s experience, or one person’s perception, or this particular leader or manager, but you’re able to really come together and call out themes and practices that quite frankly, the organization you may not know exists, may not truly know that exists that may be perpetuated at a local level or within a particular department of function. But use that I think that that’s one way. The second way is, you know, really look for opportunities where you can use your skills in different ways or capacity, you know, support, do a project cross fertilization, look for an opportunity to work with another team or function. So that there’s people talking about you when you’re not even in the room, that you are seen as someone who’s, you know, not only willing to contribute, but willing to learn while doing so now I’m not advocating for people to take on two jobs but where you can really in your development, as you know, you go through your annual review, and work with your managers identify that as an opportunity. You know, I’m all for training and going to courses and everything. However, I do believe in the 7020 rule 2010 rule that 70% is on the job. So when you can have the opportunity to work in different area, even maybe even take a three month assignment to grow yourself. That may gives you a readiness that gives you a readiness for promotion that gives you readiness while you’re showing the organization that you’re able to learn and contribute in different ways, and then you will also be fulfilled, right so that there’s not kind of this plateau and not feeling challenged.

Richard Dodds 25:12
Yeah, the thing that I’ve really been on lately, and my mindset is, is being intentional, something I’ve talked about on the show before, I, especially when it comes to a lot of the black people that I’ve been around and including myself, we’re not always as intentional with our careers as some of our counterparts. And that ends up harming us in the long run, because we end up floating in a career instead of carving a path.

Wema Hoover 25:41
That’s well said. I absolutely agree. Absolutely. Well said. But I think part of that, again, is going back to what we talked about earlier, having a blueprint, having, you know, people in our network in our families helping us understand that this is critical. Like, literally, there’s so many people that these are the first and that they’re happy to be an embedded organization, but they don’t know that this should be something that is priority, and actually really done on a consistent basis. You know, so I think that one of the reasons not that we don’t want to, we don’t get the message to very much later in our career, right. And so as that time comes, that message comes, we’re then scrambling, right, and trying to kind of do these things and build these connections and have this intention, as you said,

Richard Dodds 26:35
it’s just so important. And it’s something like I said, it took me a while to figure it out. But once I did your mindset flips, and you have a goal. And then everything that you do is trying to move you closer to that goal.

Wema Hoover 26:48
Yes, yes, everything. And to your point, I love the word intention, you have intention. And so every decision conversation opportunity is with purpose, right with purpose for carving out, you know, your growth, your career, and also discovering your talents.

Richard Dodds 27:07
Yeah, I don’t know if it’s because of my previous podcast, where I talked about relationships or what, but I think about like a job job is like relationship as well. And you and you can think about it when you’re young you date and you don’t have any intentions, and you’re just out to have fun. So that’s like your entry level job. But unless you’re looking for something more serious, you date with intention, you don’t just look for a job that that gives you money. But it also gives you skills and benefits and the things that you need to advance your career. So that you can move on to that next level, you don’t want to be married to something that’s not going to be good for you.

Wema Hoover 27:40
I love that analogy. And that makes perfect sense. It does, right? Because when you’re you know, earlier in your life, you’re like, Okay, these are just great experiences, I’m just gonna float and then you’re like, Well, wait a minute, me floating is wasting time. You know how you know, like, Now time is precious. How do I make this worth my time? So I think that that’s a excellent analogy.

Richard Dodds 28:02
Thank you. Well, you kind of talked, you brought it up a little bit earlier, you were talking about different holidays and being able to do different things around like Black History Month and MLK Day. So thinking about MLK Day, for instance, isn’t that it’s a federal holiday? Yep. But a lot of the places that I’ve seen a lot of the corporations that I’ve seen many companies, they do not observe it from your point of view, from your perspective. What would you say the lack of recognition of holidays like MLK Day and now Juneteenth and it was one, what what kind of message does that send to black people?

Wema Hoover 28:37
Yeah, I definitely think it does send a message. Because in this day and age, not understanding and recognizing the significance of those days, and the significance of those days to the black community, given what we have gone through over the last two years. It’s just want to say a blind spot, but I have a blind spot, but also, you know, kind of a conscious avoidance, if you will. And I think companies that are doing it, and even with the federal government that now recognizing Juneteenth, they’re doing it because you are acknowledging, one, the systemic and inequalities, you know, to the atrocities that we have suffered, obviously, with the you know, hate crime, get black and three, the ability for there to be education and awareness to all the other communities outside the black community we know, but to have cause for the white community, you know, the Latinx community other to learn, understand the significance and understanding our journey and path and history and why you know, we are focused on the equity inclusion. So I think in those instances, employees do work in those organizations. Really try to get an opportunity to communicate and advocate for those through education through bringing in thought leaders if they have an opportunity through the or employee resource groups to educate and or working within their cities or communities and supporting those activities outside. So if you’re living in a city and they’re doing Juneteenth activities had advocate for your, it doesn’t have to be your company, it can be your team going to your manager and said, Hey, can we participate in this, and we do a volunteer activity for MLK, start that so that it can be kind of organic and small, but actually show the impact and intention of the efforts and why it’s important to do. And quite frankly, I think doing that it kind of transitions from being for the black community to, you know, for all communities, because, again, they’re learning and understanding the significance, not only of those dates, but of the black path and journey in America.

Richard Dodds 30:50
Yeah, and wherever I’m at wherever I’m working, I always try to make sure that I take MLK day off. But the thing that still gives me is that I’m taking it off. But even if someone is not white, are not black, I want them to take it off as well, you know, I want them to have that day off to either sit and reflect, like, if we’re gonna be there, let’s like, let’s reflect, let’s go volunteer, let’s actually do service and the name of him. Okay, but not acknowledging it or saying Happy MLK Day. And it just being just a passing thought. For me, like a lot of times that kind of feels like a smack in the face, especially, and especially if you’re not that represented in the corporation already.

Wema Hoover 31:33
Agree 100%. And that’s why I think companies and organizations that don’t do it, it’s one of those kind of conscious, like, how would you not lean into it? These two years have you been in a in a box in two years, but honestly, if they don’t do it, you know, don’t do it, then they are the ones that are have to really stand up and communicate how this is or is not a part of their values or mission. Right. And good luck with that.

Richard Dodds 32:05
That’s a tough thing to say it’s one thing to have it but it’s one thing to state it. And I think more than ever, like since the pandemic, people pay attention to actions way more than they used to, like, it’s always people would have paid attention to actions. But now, I think everybody is looking, and it kind of forces your hand. And you can force it in a bad way. Because you cannot say anything. But you’re saying a lot.

Wema Hoover 32:29
Yes. I mean, that we feel that. I mean, when, you know President Biden said in the beginning of his taking office that he wanted to appoint a black female to the Supreme Court justice. I mean, you remember, they were everybody was, Wow, how can you say that? But it goes back to what you said its intention, he said it because he said we need the representation. We need to make sure that we represent our country, much of the communities and things we do. And that’s what I think organizations should be doing be doing as well. being thoughtful be intention, because that’s the only way that you’re going to even have a any type of tangible progress and actions. And it always escapes me and and like really kind of perplexes me when I hear organizations Oh, we don’t need to have goals or make you know, diversity, equity inclusion. have metrics around it. I’m like, Okay, well, on your strategic plan, you know, every for profit company, they have a strategy, they have goals, they talk about how they’re going to get those goals, they set targets, because they want to make progress. And what gets measured, gets done. Everyone knows that. So hence doing it on the DEI side, if you have committed and if you have stated that that was your intention, you have to you have to have the goals and metrics and accountability built in.

Richard Dodds 33:57
thing thinking more about like the workforce and the people that you work around. I know that there are people that are not racist, but sometimes they are willfully ignorant to their privileges, and the injustice is towards minorities. How can we start to reach those people who might want to stay in that, that fog and not acknowledge that? You know, sometimes, minorities have a harder time, I can think of a story that I told on the first episode, I was working with two of my co workers and they were white. And we were talking about if we got pulled over when we left. I was like if I got if you got pulled over, you guys will be pissed. And you guys won’t be worried. But you’d be like, I don’t want to get a ticket. That would be your main concern for me. I was like, I don’t want to be hashtag I don’t want to die. I don’t know why I’m getting pulled over. Completely different thing. And I think, you know, looking into their eyes, I can really tell that that was the first time that they ever had to think in that way and it just did not compute and And just the looks on their face like we were laughing. And then it’s kind of like their faces fell, you could tell that it kind of hit. So how can we start to reach those people who are kind of like, just not racist, but they’re like willfully ignorant?

Wema Hoover 35:15
Yeah, I think that that’s a great question, Richard. And I think this is where organizations really have to be direct, and set expectations during these things that has happened, which, unfortunately, has been significant a lot is hold space, making sure and I did my consulting practice. And when I was internal leading Dei, that was one thing that did whole space, have those listening sessions and have leaders lead them and make it mandatory for your employees to attend. So have the forums where people have the black community, even with the Asian hate crimes, right, people of Asian community can come and really share the impact of what they have experienced through the trauma of what’s going on in society. Because to say that those attitudes, beliefs, and values don’t transition into the workplace. It’s just naive, right? It’s just naive to think that, and also, in doing so, create the expectations and that safe zone, so that in those experience, you can have your white colleagues or people from other communities ask questions and saying, how was that because truly, to your point, perhaps those white colleagues actually legitimately did not have any knowledge or experience because they don’t have anybody in their social circles, family of friends that are black that even had to consider that. So maybe that was a moment that met them that they’re like, oh, wow, this is what they’re talking about in terms of the inequities and having someone who’s close to them experiencing that, that shock, but that should be the, you know, the accountability of the organization on a one on one side, I would say, as much as you can connect, and have conversations with colleagues with friends. And allow them to ask those questions, allow them to your you know, that naivety saying, Hey, you look confused, you know, you look perplexed, you look shocked right? Now, tell me why? Tell me how you feeling like put them on, let let let them be the ones that say, I never thought about it, or I’ve never had, like, get a dialog. And also, while having that exchange, you know, being willing and able to hear them in a way that they don’t feel judged. And that it could be a shared learning, right, that it could be shared learning and opportunity to, to grow on both sides. And I think that because of everything that’s happened in the last two years, a lot of people’s sensitivities are high, they don’t want to offend everyone. So they become overly cautious. So that their reaction is to not say anything. But I think to your point to what you’re saying is that one thing that they realize not saying anything and acknowledging it’s actually has even a more harsh effect, because if she it makes it makes you feel, or I remember talking about me makes me it makes me feel that you don’t care. So you do know me, you may not have any social circles even know me and the fact that you’re not acknowledging or saying anything, that hurts me deeply. So giving that opportunity to share to exchange and grow in those moments, whether on a personal level, and from an organizational level holding space. So you would have those listening sessions and those learning session with everyone, not just people, but the community so that there can be you know, true understanding is critically important.

Richard Dodds 38:45
Yeah, when when thinking about those kinds of exchanges, too. One thing that I think about like now, at this stage of my career, my hair is locked. So wherever I go, I don’t want to have to worry about being judged for the parents of my hair. Because even being where I was, when I first liked my hair took a lot for me to even do it. So once I did it, and whenever I thought about like maybe like maybe it’s time for me to find another place, you know, when we’re thinking about going to the next place, it’s like, do I need to cut my hair? That’s even painful to think you know what I mean? And it’s, it’s just, it was so uncomfortable walking into the builder for the first time with my hair lock, just because as a minority, we always carry we carry weights with us. Things that we are always constantly thinking about other people thinking about us. And sometimes they don’t even think about us that way. But sometimes they do. So you really feel seen you feel like everybody’s looking at you. So I never want to go to a place. I don’t know whether whether I’m working with the company whether I’m working for a company or a company is coming to work for me. I never want to go to a place where hair is it thing, and hair is such a big thing for the black community, like for. Not until I got my hair long, I really started to understand black woman’s plight of haften to do stuff with their hair. Because when it’s long, it takes a lot more when my hair was short, I could just roll out a bit. I don’t even have to brush it all the time. I was good to go. So my question is, how can we start to change the narrative around black hairstyles, and having it be more accepted in the workplace?

Wema Hoover 40:32
Yeah, that’s a great question. And one that I think we need to not only focus on, but really challenge the establishment in a major way. I mean, one of the things that has happened is now the crown act, and that is legislation that was started by the dub company was asking different states and companies to sign on to really focus on the protection of natural hairstyles, and to make punishable any discrimination because of natural hairstyles. I mean, we’ve seen, you know, like heart wrenching, and I say, heart wrenching, because it really does hurt my heart, where you have athletes who have had to shave their head to participate, or some made up rule that never existed, because it’s a very, you know, kind of homogenous and community, but that they can pay to participate in a sport or they can go to a prom. And we also see where, you know, individuals are in a workplace have been told that they lack executive presence or gravitas because of their hairstyle. Right, and and what that has to do with intellect or competence. I don’t know. But I think that that has been, you know, one of the greatest things now has been through, it’s passed in 18 states, and now the House has passed it. So we’ll we’ll go through the Senate to see if it’s a federal law, but if not, at least, there’s local, you know, there are states that have adopted it. But I do think that we have to continue to challenge this as much. And we also have to continue to show an uplift those that have done it and being secure. I mean, even my personal journey. I lived in France for many years recently, in my previous role, and I had a horrible experience where I was like, the only you know, I won’t say I’m one of many very homogenous living in and you know, I’m, I’m a female, I’m black, I’m American, and I had a white gentleman, literally touch, stop what he was doing in a cafeteria, stop talking to his team to touch my hair, and then asked me how long it take took me to do it, I then felt like I was a spectacle, I felt so incredibly violated. And like I was like an animal in a zoo, because everyone not only everyone in his team stopped, but everyone around them because I’m the only black person there. And in that moment, I show grace and composure because I needed to I was an executive role. And I said just as long to take to do your your your hair, but I did pull them up after and explain to him how I felt about violated and as the head of diversity, equity inclusion, which was the irony of it, how his actions made me feel and put me as as as a marginalized employee you have now have me see my difference, and you amplify it to everyone else to look at different, you never do that I have no problem with you asked me in private, even, you know, we didn’t have a person relationship. But even if it was in private over coffee, I have no problem. But when you choose to do it in public, and do it in such a way that now everyone’s looking on, like, I’m bad, 30 different, and then start using that as judgment is wrong. It’s unfortunate what we working over. And I think we have to have the courage of sharing those experiences, and also to your story, sharing how it made you feel. Because unlike, you know, other communities when we go into environments, you know, we don’t get a second chance. You know, we know that first impressions is the only impression that matters. It’s the only one. So we are hyper focused and hyper aware that how we show up, but why should we have to conform? Why should we have to straighten hair? Why should we have to have hair, different texture, then that is natural that God gave us? You know, you think about it now it’s like incredulous. And that’s why, you know, bringing my wonderful Supreme Court justice.

Wema Hoover 44:31
I love when I saw that you had dreads and showed up I was like, I’m here for it. I love it. Let’s celebrate it. And let’s put it at the forefront for our community to see and embrace. I’m not saying it’s easy. You know, Richard, this is something that someone has to have the courage to do and I think you were seeing more of it and we’re seeing more communication and celebration of it. Which I love. Like you’re seeing more celebration and saying this is who I am. It does not define what I do or how I do it. But I do think it’s healthy, it’s healthy for our workplaces. It’s healthy for society. And it’s healthy for relationships. Because there could not, there’s no stigmas that will be assigned or placed on us because of someone’s unconscious bias or thought of what people with dreads or people, you know, women with natural hair, or afro, should act, look or behave. So I think it’s a great thing. And we’re going to continue to do work, I’m not saying everything is solved. But I think having legislation like the crown and having organization states take on and also having courageous people like yourself, myself, because I’m here to show up as our authentic self, and be who we are, you are forcing their paradigm to shift you are ensuring that their frame of reference expands to whom and what success competence and skill looks like.

Richard Dodds 45:55
That’s very beautifully said the thing, the thing that made me laugh a little bit when I was thinking about the whole hair journey, and everything was thinking about how when Black Panther came out. And I know it might be like the silliest thing ever, but media has such an impact on the way that the world sees individuals. Black Panther was a movie that had all shades of skin, all different shades of black, and all different kinds of natural hairstyles. It was like, you know, one of the main characters, female characters was bald, you know, so and like they were handling, it wasn’t what you would normally see from Hollywood, it was actually you see, people portraying kings and queens, and they looking very regal, but their hair is very natural and African it was, it was a beautiful thing. And that really made me feel comfortable. And I am really glad that we are starting to get legislation to help combat that. But kind of just like other legislation, it is ways that people tend to find to get around that it might be your hair, but there’s Ooh, you just, you don’t have the right experience. And they find other ways around it. So I think it’s just something that we’re gonna have to continue to work on personal by person and company by company, and just continue to push and more, more. So the more of us who do it and embrace it, the more normalized it is because psychologically, it’s so hard for us to change the schemas that we have for certain people, for certain groups of people and our mind. So now we have to combine come together, as a group, change everybody’s mind on a way that we can look and the way that we can act because of the way that we looked.

Wema Hoover 47:38
Yeah. And to your point, like change the paradigm and normalize it by stepping into that and not conforming, right, because, you know, part of that is making sure that as you go into those those places in those spaces that you stay and maintain. Right, and don’t I mean, you mentioned earlier that you had thoughts of like, should I shave my hair? Right? That could have been a moment that you did you know that you said you could have answered yourself, yes, it’s going to this is going to fare better for me. But thank goodness that you said no. Thereby shifting the paradigm. Now expanding what is seen as Common Core and consistent and norm, you know, for the folks that you work with. And that’s a powerful thing. And these needs to be done on a regular basis.

Richard Dodds 48:25
Agree, you make me feel strong?

Wema Hoover 48:28
You are at that you are absolutely yeah, I

Richard Dodds 48:31
will admit it. It’s like it took a lot. It really did. And like you know, for non-minority, they might not understand how strong and how much courage it actually legitimately takes to change your hair to a hairstyle that is not popular. in corporate America. It takes a lot. It takes so much. It really does. Because we’re always a marketing minds. We’re thinking like, how are we going to be perceived? What extra obstacles are we going to face because of the way that we look? So we already have to get past our skin color. I had somebody on the show, they said they didn’t want their hair to speak for them before they got to speak. Wow. And that’s a very valid statement. And a lot of us like, it takes a lot because you when you do it, it’s not just like, oh, I want to change the way that I look. It’s like, oh, I want to change the way that I look. And by doing so, I’m picking up a steak and I’m planting it in the ground and say that I’m willing to fight for the way that I look. Because it’s not just a hairstyle for us. It’s a statement.

Wema Hoover 49:33
It is and it’s being our authentic selves is allowing us to be in our skin and bring all that who we are to us. And also a statement that I’m not prescribing to your form of beauty, to your standards of beauty. It’s also very much an act of defiance, and doing so and so it does take courage, but it also takes competent and self esteem and And that is I think we need to hold on to, and celebrate and acknowledge when we do it, and have those not only discussions, but those ways that we encourage each other to do that and be our own support system. So your point you’re going in there, wouldn’t it be a beautiful thing is that you have a network of folks that you’re saying, Hey, this is gonna this is I’m doing this that will be on the other side, being there. Yep. I love your hair, bro. That is beautiful. I mean, to have that, so that those affirmations can go with you with what you know, you’re going to be saved as well. Right? The the second glances, and the one is, what is what is you know what’s going on, but how we can support each other and really lift each other up, to continue to stand and who we are and what we are. And you know, and sometimes that act of defiance for not conforming, not prescribing or falling into those standards of beauty. So kudos to you and everyone else that is able to do it and no shame to those who choose otherwise, either, you know, everyone’s there on their own path. But I think celebrating it and continue to doing that will help. There will be conditions and a normalize havior of what it looks like and the separation between competence, skill, or talent.

Richard Dodds 51:25
Yeah, I definitely think that it has made an impact probably all know, people around me, I think I can see it more like when you think of when you actually think about it. I think overall thinking about DNI I think a lot of the companies that I’ve seen that that I study, I feel like they’ve done a good job of, you know, starting to incorporate DNI take it more serious, and a lot of them had to some of it was out of survival. But overall, do you feel like there are any glaring places that need to be addressed in the upcoming years and companies when it comes to DNI

Wema Hoover 52:01
I think continuing to put practice and have evidence and measuring is critical. I also think about having awareness and knowledge of your community and your customers and making sure that you connect your representation of your employee base and your workforce to that. So not allowing there to be, you know, that pyramid that we talked about earlier, setting that as a goal to have the pull to the development and, and the representation at the manager level, the director level, executive level, but vice president level, and seeing that as a minimum and seeing that as necessary, right, not only for your talent, place to produce talent for talent and workforce to grow, but also for you to have that insight, this insights and perspectives and experiences of your customer, your customer base as well. So those I think are the critical things that needs to be at the forefront for organizations,

Richard Dodds 53:01
that’s very well said, what five tips would you give someone looking to find a company that they can work for, that will be accepting of them, where they can find a culture that is inclusive and truly inclusive?

Wema Hoover 53:15
I don’t know if we have I have five things, but I think that there are core things, one to really look at their leadership representation. Right. So what I have my experience, I’ve seen a lot of companies have efforts on hiring at the entry level, even, you know, at the analyst level, like you know, just below manager level, making sure they inquire tap into and understand, you know, what is the pathway for growth and opportunity to what we talked about earlier, ensuring that there is development inherent within the role they go in. So not just looking at going into company for a job, but making sure that the job offers and the opportunity to have a career and to grow or themselves to have them skills. Three, ask about the culture and ask about the behaviors. As we talk about the representation. You also want to understand, you know, what is the strongest piece and value of the culture asked about that, you’ll get a sense of what is tolerated, expected and what are the values and the principles that the company is standing on. And if you don’t hear inclusion, diversity, integration, a different perspective, something you want to lean into and find out. And then lastly, I would absolutely one of the most the most significant ones. And I think this goes back to we said earlier about the progressiveness as What will my support network be when I get in the organization be explicit and if I cannot emphasize this enough, what is there what is the support or network that I can tap into if employed here, so hopefully they’ll say affinity groups employee resource group, hopefully they’ll offer mentorship programs. Hopefully they’ll you know, talk about opportunities to grow and take different assignments. But you want to position yourself to come into the organization. And you know, as you’re working in corporate when you come in, it’s not only what you do, but it’s how you do it and how you get what you do, seeing how you actually get it recognized. And so asking that upfront because then it will also lean into their kind of understanding and their savviness around ensuring inclusion is at the forefront especially for those underrepresented communities and black the black community in their organizations. So those are the core things I recommend and and why

Richard Dodds 55:47
I can really talk to you about this all day. You have such a wealth of knowledge. I really appreciate you coming and talking to me today.

Wema Hoover 55:54
That’s it. Well, thank you so much. And and you know, Rich, I just say continue doing what you’re doing. It’s been like really great. I love your perspective. And I love that you are really centering us because we need it.

Richard Dodds 56:09
So thank you everyone for listening. If you enjoyed the content, please be sure to share it with a friend and leave us a review on Apple podcasts or Spotify. Still talking black because a crown culture media LLC production is produced by me. Richard Dodds and our music was created by the DJ blue. You can follow us on Instagram at still talking black and you can follow my personal account at dances. So again, thanks for listening, and until next time, keep talking

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