45 Minute Watch

Becoming a Change Agent


Part Three of the Inclusive Leadership in Action Webinar Series

Change Agent hero


Level the playing field.

Being intentional about how inclusive your actions are can benefit you as a leader, and empower your team and your organization. If you’re unsure of where to begin or how to move forward, you’re not alone.

Becoming a Change Agent is the final session in our free, three-part webinar series Inclusive Leadership in Action. Our panelists offer concrete steps you can take to sponsor people from underrepresented groups and make changes in how work gets done so that everyone has equal access to opportunities.

Three Key Takeaways

How to set yourself up for sponsorship: 

  1. Deliver on what you say you’re going to do. Being great at your job and meeting your commitments are “table stakes” for anyone who wants to be sponsored.
  2. Be clear on your strengths, your contributions, and what you want. You need to be able to clearly articulate your value and your goals to potential sponsors.
  3. Build your network. Developing meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships is the best way to increase the likelihood that someone will act as a sponsor for you.

Watch the recording below and keep scrolling for moderator Elisa van Dam’s insights from Becoming a Change Agent, including actions that can help YOU become a more inclusive leader today.


Moderator Insights

Sponsorship – A Key Step in Making Change for Equity

From Elisa van Dam, Vice President, Allyship & Inclusion

Our final session in the Inclusive Leadership in Action Webinar series focused on making change, and especially on sponsorship. It’s clear from our discussion and the great questions asked by the audience that sponsorship is a key driver of change, and one that many people want to know more about.

Full Transcript

Announcer (00:08):

Live from Boston, Massachusetts, please welcome your host Vice President of Allyship and Inclusion for the Simmons University Institute for Inclusive leadership. Elisa van Dam…

Elisa van Dam (00:30):

Our first two webinars, I am so excited to be having a conversation today about becoming a change agent. The course of our time together is going to look like this. First, I’m going to do a quick overview of our Model of The Work of the Inclusive Leader, really, as a way to set the context of why this is such an important part of what we do every day. Then, I’m going to bring on our fabulous panelists who are going to talk with us. As they come onto the stage, I will be asking you a question about your sponsorship over the last few weeks. We’re going to have a really in-depth conversation about their experiences as change agents, as sponsors. And then I’m going to turn to you for your questions. At the end, I’m going to ask each of you to do a little bit of work and think about something that you can do in the next 10 days.

Elisa van Dam (01:24):

And as always, my commitment is that we’ll end a few minutes before the top of the hour, because I think giving ourselves time to transition is really critical. So with that, I want to talk about The Work of the Inclusive Leader. We have developed this model because we know that lots of people want to be more inclusive, but they’re really looking for action. What do I do? What does this look like? And so we think about it in three levels. The first level is what we talked about in September. And you can go back and watch the replay of that webinar. If you weren’t able to join us. And that’s about becoming aware. How do I understand my own social identities, the biases that I don’t even realize might be affecting my decisions and how I show up in the world? And how do I think about the systems, the air that we breathe, the world that we live in in a way that advantages some people and disadvantages other people, not because of merit, ethnicity, age, gender, education level, all of those things that make up who we are.

Elisa van Dam (02:35):

So that’s the first level of activity over the work of the Inclusive Leader. The second level is about becoming an ally and upstander. And this is what we talked about last month. Again, the webinar recording is available to you at inclusiveleadership.com. And in that space, we’re really looking at how do I support other people to make sure their voices are heard to make sure that they feel uniquely seen uniquely valued. They have the sense of belonging in the organization. I’m actually really excited about some research that you may have participated in around belonging. So look for that early in 2022. Today, though, we’re going to talk about the third level of action and that’s becoming a change agent. And this is about both sponsoring folks from underrepresented populations. And that’s because we know that that’s a really important way of diversifying our leadership ranks and about changing systems.

Elisa van Dam (03:32):

So when you think back to the first level of becoming aware of what those systems are. Now, we have to look at how do we level the playing field? How do we provide equal access? What are the systems behind all of the work that we do, whether that’s, who speaks up in a meeting or how we decide who’s going to get promoted and who’s going to get access to opportunities? So as you’ll hear in our conversation with our panelists, making change can happen at a very small level, at a very large level, and all of the stages in between. So no matter where you sit in the organization or how new you are into a role, or even into the world of work, you do have the opportunity to be a change agent. One thing that I want to note about all of this is that the real importance of learning and self-reflection. So like building any other leadership skill, we think of this as a muscle and something that you have to practice.

Elisa van Dam (04:28):

So you’re going to try something. You’re going to get it wrong. You’re going to fall down. You’re going to pick yourself back up. You’re going to apologize for the things that didn’t go well, you’re going to learn from it. You’re going to try something new. And you’re going to spend some time thinking about how you can continue to increase your effectiveness. So all of that is expected. And part of the work that we do. I really like to think of this in terms of both giving myself grace, when I mess up, which I inevitably do, and really trying to expect the best of myself, and to push myself to do this more and more. And I invite you to kind of hold both of those ideas as well. One more thing I want to say about, about the model and that is that we have shown this as sort of a linear thing.

Elisa van Dam (05:15):

You start at one and go to six. The reality is that although these skills build on each other, and it’s really important to have that basis of understanding before you start to take action. You’re going to float through the model, depending on the day, depending on where you are, depending on which social identity it is that we’re talking about. So I’ve been in the field of gender equity for more than a decade. I feel pretty good about my understanding. Although of course, there’s always more to learn, but I’m much earlier in my journey when it comes to other social identities. And that might very likely be true for you as well. And of course, none of these social identities exist in a vacuum. So all of them interconnect. All of them intersect, and all of them show up when each of us walks into the room. All right. So that’s the model overview. And now in a minute, I’m going to ask our panelists to come on. But first I want to launch our first poll. And this is specific to sponsorship. So if you can take just a minute, find that poll, tell us, have you sponsored someone from an underrepresented population in the last 10 days? I’m going to get you the results of that a little bit later on, but right now I want to bring on our panelists.

Elisa van Dam (06:29):

All right. So I’m going to ask each of our panelists to introduce themselves and to tell us a little bit about how they think of their work as a change agent. And I’m going to start with a fabulous Asha George. Asha…

Asha George (06:42):

Hi Elisa. It is great to see you again. Hello, everyone. I’m Asha George. I am the Chief Diversity Officer at Electronic Arts. Those that know what Electronics Arts. You might know it as EA. It’s a video gaming company. And I would tell you, you know I started off, you know, with the company thinking I wasn’t a video gamer. I quickly learned that I am. If you have games on your phones, you have games, you’re a gamer. And one of the things as I think about, you know, why I joined the company and how I play that role as a change agent, one of the things I work really closely with is looking at games and how we show up to our audiences. Games is one of the fastest growing entertainment mediums, especially in the pandemic. It’s been incredible, the amount of interactive entertainment that we’ve been able to engage with people and create this community of connection.

Asha George (07:32):

And when you think about that, and the fact that I get to work with our marketing teams, our designers, our positive playgroup, our community group, all the different functions across our organization. They really, what I think about when I think about a change agent, they really think about their legacy and their role, how they can be a change agent. And what I love is they show up with that diversity, equity, inclusion lens and create an experience and interactive experience where people can feel like their characters represent their authentic self. So they can, you know, they’ll see, you know, the curly hair, the different skin tones, the badges that show their value, the different body shapes. And I just think that’s just an incredible way of showing up. Is leveraging what you do in your day to day. And just putting that lens on and thinking about that work in that way, if that helps.

Elisa van Dam (08:26):

Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. You know, my kid is a gamer and a sometime game designer and we have a long conversations about representation of all kinds of social identities in gaming, and it’s absolutely critical. So I’m really excited to hear more about your work. But first I’m going to turn to my amazing boss, Susan Brady, everybody.

Susan Mackenty Brady (08:48):

Thanks, Elisa. And welcome. Thank you for joining us today. My name is Susan Mackenty Brady, and I am honored to hold the Deloitte Ellen Gabriel Chair for Women in Leadership at Simmons University, and serve as the inaugural CEO of the Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership. How do I think about acting as a change agent for equity? Is first and foremost, I need to model the behavior we need for change to work. You know, there’s our cultural ambassadors. So to the extent that I can genuinely model capacity, transparency, be humble in my own learning, stand in respect for all. And also expect this from the people around me. That will create spaces where there’s psychological safety, and it’s safe to speak up, and change is even possible. So, you know, I try to look for ways to be an ally, sponsor, upstander. You know, additionally, I would say because, you know, Asha talked a little bit about the, the world gaming. My world and my expertise is the world of inclusion and equity.

Susan Mackenty Brady (09:54):

And so, you know, what I advise leaders about how to foster equity. Questions, I think that are most helpful or have been most helpful to them include – how engaged, how engaged and knowledgeable is your leadership team in fostering equity? Do you talk about it at the most senior levels? Is there intentional sponsorship happening in the organization and for whom? Are there policies or processes that might impede equity for all?When’s the last time you looked at that? Are we developing members of underrepresented groups who may not have been afforded the kinds of mentorship and sponsorship that those in majority groups were able to access? And where is there opportunity for further development for those in underrepresented groups? And then, you know, how has your culture? Which leads me back to my first point it’s incumbent upon leaders to model the way around culture. So that’s just a little bit about how I think about change.

Elisa van Dam (10:52):

Thank you. And I have certainly benefited from your role modeling and your thinking around this. So I’m excited to share that with our audience as well. But first I want to turn to Dan Helfrich. Dan, would you introduce yourself?

Dan Helfrich (11:04):

Absolutely. Hello, everyone. And first Elisa, Susan, and the Simmons team. Thank you for the treasure of the investment that you all have made and are making in this incredibly important topic. And it’s such an honor to be with the two of you, and with a leader like Asha today. So I’m Dan Helfrich. I am joining you from just outside Washington, DC. Father of four, two boys and two girls. I’m the oldest of seven kids in a multi-racial family, six boys and a girl, which has certainly influenced my life. As the CEO of Deloitte consulting, and we’re a 70,000 plus person team, I feel like I have this cool role to be a change agent inside our organization. So how do we try to live up to our ideals of equity? And how do I get to help change the world because of all the clients we serve in every industry from high tech, where Asha sits, to government? And we take that and I take that role incredibly seriously. And by the way, I take it perhaps even more seriously, because I know as a white male in a position of power, the criticality of making this not lip service, but a true passion, a true organizational priority can make the difference in whether the cultural change that we seek will happen. And I live with that and frankly love the responsibility and privilege that comes with that every day.

Elisa van Dam (12:46):

Thank you. I really appreciate that. And I know Deloitte has led the way on so many initiatives around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. What I’m wondering Dan is if you tell us a little bit about how sponsorship has had an impact in your life?

Dan Helfrich (13:03):

Well, sponsorship’s been essential in my life, and I will tell you I would probably argue that I’ve gotten more out of being a sponsor than being sponsored. And that’s not to take anything away from the incredible people who have created pathways for me and my career. And there have been many of them, including Janet Foutty, who’s our current chair of Deloitte who is very involved with Simmons, whose has been instrumental in so many things about my development as a leader. But the, the benefit I get from active sponsorship of people that don’t look like me is immense. And I, and you know, Susan kind of hit on this. I always say to our team, I am a leader in training. I may have some fancy title right now, but I am a leader in training. And one of the ways you learn is through spending time and listening to people who have different perspectives, different social identities, different lived experiences than you do.

Dan Helfrich (14:13):

And so are those people that I sponsor. And by the way, I’ve been pretty public about the fact that within the firm, that the people I choose to formally sponsor are essentially only women and racially and ethically diverse individuals. Do they get benefit from my positional authority? Yes, because I have access to opportunities that I can help shepherd them to, that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. So did they get benefit from that? Sure. Do they get benefit from my caring and investment in them and their families and their lives? I hope so, but I’ll tell you one thing. I get incredible treasure from being able to see the world through different eyes. See the world through the eyes of someone who unlike me is the first in their family to go to college. Someone unlike me, who is the first in their family to live in the United States, someone unlike me who has faced harassment in a very explicit way as a woman in work. I get to feel those experiences as a sponsor that then I hope I can take the role of responsibility I have as our CEO right now, and create some of the change that needs to happen. So that those experiences don’t happen to this and future generations.

Asha George (15:47):

Yeah. It’s funny. It’s funny, Dan, you were talking about when I first started my career I was the first to go to college in my family. I was also my parents were immigrants. They had no idea how to navigate the system. I think the SAT I just showed up and took a test. I didn’t even know how important it was. Right. And so when I first started my career, I had no idea what, what is a mentor, a coach, or a sponsor. Like no one ever talked to me about what that was or what that looked like. And so I love that you share that because you know, on the receiver end what, what I thought was the formula, which I think most people do that don’t know is you think, okay, you work hard, you get the good results and then you get recognized and then you get promoted.

Asha George (16:34):

And that’s what most people believe. And that was happening really early on in my career. I was getting the results. I was getting promoted, getting promoted, getting promoted, but somewhere as, as I got to be a little bit more senior in my career, the formula kind of changed. And I think what you’re describing really kind of spoke to me. Because all of a sudden, without even realizing it, and I didn’t go recruit someone or go ask someone and all of a sudden, there’s this leader, these leaders in my life, unbeknownst to me, are sitting in a room talking about me and what my capabilities are and what my potential is and what I’m capable of doing. And so when I think about that one, but I loved about what Dan shared was the fact that, you know, he benefits at the same time, but it also, for me personally catapulted my career.

Asha George (17:23):

And when I look back at the people that have really poured into my career, maybe it was 20 years ago. It’s 10 years ago. It, they have a special place for me. And even today, even if I don’t talk to them every day, the one time I do talk to them, it’s they, they still speak life into my career, still speak life into my life. They’re relationships that I cherished. And so I love that he shared that because it really kind of talks about, you know, both ends of the experience, whether you’re sponsoring someone or you’re one that’s receiving sponsorship.

Elisa van Dam (17:59):

Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s really critical. And Susan, I’m actually wondering if you would share your thoughts on the person who hopes to be sponsored. What advice do you have for that person? What thoughts do you have?

Susan Mackenty Brady (18:14):

So I, I’m still thinking Dan. Your answer. The question really was astounding to me because of course I thought about this as well. And I was thinking of the names and the faces of the people who I felt sponsored through my career. And, you know, I have a theory that no one winds up in a position of authority or significance or leadership by mistake. Somebody believed in you along the way and helped you back there. Right. So but gosh, thinking, thinking about who I have learned from, by sponsoring has me sort of just in a nice moment of reflection here, live on a webinar. Okay. So here’s, here’s the thing, it’s the number one question I get next to – from women in professional life – The number one question I get is how do I get sponsored? The only rival question is what do I do about the men – in general?

Susan Mackenty Brady (19:04):

Right? Like how do I engage the man? How do I get the men to care about women, all that. But the number one question is usually how do I ready for sponsorship? And I just want to say before I answer this. I have a strong opinion, that it’s not up to any individual who is a member of an underrepresented group to lobby to those in positions of power and privilege for attention sponsorship and access to power. I think that’s what our responsibility is as leaders and as those who have been afforded the position of opportunity, just because maybe we woke up late or woke up male or woke up white female. Right. So that aside, do I think women have work to do to ready themselves for sponsorship? Yes. I’ve written my last book was about this and it’s a little controversial to say that, because it’s not about fixing the women.

Susan Mackenty Brady (19:59):

But let me tell you, if you run into Dan, anybody at Deloitte who’s with us today, and Dan says, Hey, we’ve never met. Tell me about you. What are your strengths? And you can’t answer him. How is he supposed to carry, you know, your reputation, your contribution into a room, you know? And so what I would say is it falls down to really two categories first and foremost is performance, right? Do your job, do it well, deliver you know have a high say, do access, right? Deliver on what you say you’re going to do, earn the reputation of being somebody who’s countonnable for high performance. That’s number one, I don’t care how you identify. Number two is build your relationship network. And what that means is, especially for women, we have to look up from our to-do list. We have to look up from our second and third shift, right. Those shifts that we don’t get paid for. And and actually take the time to do the thing that we say, oh, I really don’t have time for that.

Susan Mackenty Brady (21:03):

Like call, call Asha for coffee, you know. Can you, can we just have a virtual coffee for 20 minutes? Right. Even though it’s just the purpose of meeting Asha, she is someone in position of power who can make change for you. You know? So it’s putting yourself out there. The great Carla Harris calls it, building relationship capital. And you know, your, your net worth is your network. Your network is your net worth, who you know is how you build agency for yourself. But before you call Dan or Asha, you know, think about the questions they might have for you about you and know some answers. What is it that you’re, that fires you up? Where do you shine? Where do you feel engaged in your life and at work? What are you great at? You know, those are helpful for people who are busy, who want to, you know, bring you to places that you’re not currently at. So that’s what I have to say about that.

Dan Helfrich (22:02):

By the way, Susan, the question – the people that would run into me, they won’t get the, what are your strengths question? They’ll get something that sounds like, tell me what matters to you. That’s to me an opening, like, because you actually learn a lot about someone by asking them what matters to them. And you, you might naturally get someone who starts talking about their family. You might naturally get someone that starts talking about their very specific career ambitions. You might get someone to start talking about the balance. They’re trying to find in some aspect of their life, but by asking someone what matters to them, I find it unlocks a conversation. But to your point, if the would be sponsoree, isn’t willing to answer that kind of prompt, then it’s harder for the would be sponsor to find an angle to help. And you’re, we’re not going to have five or six bites at the apple to try to find that angle to help. And so I think that’s an important thing to remember.

Susan Mackenty Brady (23:16):

Asha. What do you think of the, what matters to me? I mean, I’m, I’m of two minds about this, Dan, right? So I’m picturing women answering primarily personally and men answering primarily professionally. And I’m wondering if you’ve seen that trend, but Asha you’re the, you’re the DEI expert among us.

Asha George (23:33):

It’s funny because in the corporate world you find that at least what people tend to do is go straight to business and everything. And, and, and I, and I’ve found at least in, in the last year and a half stepping into this space, people’s desire to know me on a personal level. And what’s really funny is even in the midst of the pandemic, it’s even become even more stronger that, you know, they want to find a way to get to know you to connect. Hey, you know, I, I work every day and there is a desk right in front of me with my kid, who’s online learning and Dan will be like, oh my gosh, I’m doing the same thing. And I think part of these, really these connections of sponsorship is creating that relationship. So yes, you know, I think that men will probably sometimes do it differently than women.

Asha George (24:20):

I’m sure it happens, but I think the result needs to be a connection that people can feel connected because at the end of the day, folks like Dan, aren’t putting their personal currency on the line and they need to trust their gut about who they’re putting their currency on the line for. And if they feel like this person lines up with my value system, I think that’s the, you know, to me, that’s the most important because if Dan feels like, Hey, Asha lines up with my value system, regardless of what we talk about, I can put, he can feel, he feels very much more confident about putting me out there because he knows what he’s putting out there as far as a quality per candidate. Right. And I think there’s a little bit of that.

Susan Mackenty Brady (25:04):

It’s really about being seen. It’s such a generous question. What matters to you? It’s such a generous question. What I want Dan is for women to come, in the answer of what matters is to have confidence to say, what also matters for me is that I make impact that I have professional livelihood, that I have independent livelihood, right. That I’m financially capable of those kinds of things. And I, I think those are a little more rare.

Dan Helfrich (25:31):

Well, it’s interesting. So I probably, I probably get pretty balanced gender answers to what matters to you. And I think part of the reason is, is that as a – look people at Deloitte see me all the time, so someone needs me and they’ve, they’ve lived in this office that you’re seeing me in for the last two years. And they see me all over the place. And so those of us who have a platform to be seen we have a responsibility to let people see an entire person. And so the people who I’m asking what matters to you, they actually feel like they know me. They know that I, my family and I foster dogs, they know that soccer’s the most important thing in the world. To me, they know that I’m the oldest of seven kids and you know, multiracial family. They know that I do sports broadcasting as a hobby, which is weird. I know, but, but I do. And so the likelihood that I’m going to get authenticity in a first interaction to a, what matters to you question is higher than if that wasn’t the case.

Elisa van Dam (26:39):

Yeah. That’s such a great point to make sure that you’re also modeling behavior to go back to what Susan was saying earlier. So we have had a question from the audience about the difference between sponsorship and mentorship. And so I’m going to just quickly knock that one out and see if anyone has things they want to add, Essentially your sponsor and your mentor maybe one in the same person, but the way that people sort of differentiate the two is that mentorship is around social support. And by helping you think through problems. The sponsorship activity is really about speaking up for you when you are not in the room and as Asha so beautifully said, it’s about putting your capital on the line, standing up and saying, I know Asha is terrific. I believe she’s right for this. When Asha is not in the room, what else would you add? Susan? You look like you want to jump in. So…

Susan Mackenty Brady (27:32):

I think it’s, I think it’s about who drives the relationship. So I, because there’s confusion and sometimes, you know, well-intended leaders use them interchangeably. When I think of mentorship and I’m the mentee, it is incumbent upon me to, you know, ask for help in whatever ways, maybe it’s advice, maybe it’s do you have recommended readings, maybe, you know, but I’m the, I’m the driver of the learning experience. When I think of sponsorship, I would like to think that it’s incumbent upon the sponsor to take action on behalf of, and also seek out sponsees, which means without you asking me, oh, a woman, you know, four, four levels down in the organization to, you know, pay attention to you. I see you, I see your contribution. I see who you are and I’m going to, I’m going to actually carry you into rooms that you don’t have access to.

Susan Mackenty Brady (28:25):

When I think about opportunities, that’s sponsorships. So she’s not doing that. The sponsor is doing that. This happens informally by the way, and has for years for men, with men. But the act of formal sponsorship, manifestation and organizational life feels a little funky when it’s a sponsor program, because what we’re doing is we’re having to make something overt and explicit, which has been covert and implicit, but only for a few. Right? So it’s important. This distinction, I’m glad it came up. I’m interested in what Asha and Dan have to say about the differences.

Asha George (28:59):

Yeah. I, I think of, you know, it’s funny, I think of like as a spectrum, right? And you may have relationships with people that are, you know, when you talk about it organically, Susan, like when you talked about organically, a lot of times you may get to know someone as your boss or as someone in a field that you want to learn more from and you kind of get to know them. And as you’re saying, Susan, like you as an individual are driving that relationship, but I wanna learn more from you about leadership. I want to learn more for you about X, right. And sponsorship doesn’t always happen as a result of that, because sponsorship is something the leader decides they’re going to choose to do for you. And so they, I think the big piece, so as the relationship grows often what happens is sometimes the leader will decide I’m going to be a sponsor for them, you know, organically or inorganically. But I think it it’s it’s, but you’re right about the drivers, but it’s sometimes a lot of times it grows out of mentorship or a relationship that’s already existing is what I would just add.

Elisa van Dam (30:04):

Yeah, I would agree. And I think the last point that I want to make about this is that you may not know someone sponsored you. You know, you may, but very often you have no idea who got you access to that opportunity. And that’s okay. And that’s part of why to Susan’s point, we are seeing official sponsorship programs, because again, this has all been sort of it happened, but it wasn’t formal and it wasn’t equitably distributed. And so by making this a more formal program, we hope that, or the organizations that do that hope that they are creating more equity in the process. But you may not know. All right. So I want to pivot us to talking about making change for equity. And before I ask my first question about that, I am going to ask for the poll results and to put up the next poll. So I have a poll for you about to what extent you think your organization is committed to making change. And I’m curious what people think about that. And meanwhile, you can see the results from our first poll. So while you’re doing that, I’m going to ask Asha, if you would share with us an example of a time when you made a change for equity, small or large, or in-between, what’s a story you can tell us.

Asha George (31:23):

So I joined EA and it’s only been about six months. And when I joined, you know, we have what we call a diversity council, which exist of our CEO and our top executives across the company. We had seven executives that were deeply involved with kind of the DEI initiatives on the ground floor, all the way up, which is an incredible commitment that, you know, I’m incredibly proud of and what brought me to EA. But one of the things when I got here is I had really a lot of dialogue and conversation about how we start to cascade change across an organization and how we deepen the roots and get the roots deeper in the organization so that everyone feels it in the everyday. And one of the changes we made was we doubled the number of people on the diversity council. We went deeper in our leadership and essentially said, we wanted to go after more, we needed more hands and feet and the everyday and the leaders in these conversations.

Asha George (32:22):

So we doubled the diversity council. But what that also meant was there was two objectives here in my mind at the time. As one, I wanted to make sure that employees saw themselves. And what that meant is they saw, you know, their gender or their ethnicity or someone from their communities. And so we really looked at our leadership to say, okay, we wanted people that had similar experiences, so they can, the people could see that, you know, they say, if you see it, you can be it right. And we wanted to make sure we did that. So that was one big goal. The second one was really was it kinda came, happened organically. You know, when you’re the Chief Diversity Officer, you get asked a lot of hard, hard questions. And a lot of times you’re representing the entire population of the company that you, that you support.

Asha George (33:10):

And, and sometimes it feels very daunting and taxing to make these really hard decisions on your own. And by having this diversity council, what has happened, which has just been a really big blessing for me on a personal level, is when I’m having to tackle with a problem, I am now going to a diverse group of leaders and saying, I’m struggling with this. I’m thinking this is the right route, but here’s the pitfalls. If I go down that route, what do you think? And what I end up getting is a very diverse perspective. And then I feel more confident then in my decision making as we start to go out to the company. But what also happens organically is also the buy-in from all of those communities happen faster because I have the credibility and the currency of all these leaders from these different communities already saying, Hey, we said this and I’m in with her. I agree. And then we start to see change happen deeper. So a small change when you talk about leadership and the tone at the top by doubling that you thought, okay, that can’t be a big change, but it has had had ripple effects across the company. That that would be the example I would share.

Elisa van Dam (34:21):

Thank you. I think that idea of, you know, if you have a small group, especially in hierarchical organizations that, you know, you have to wait for someone to essentially retire before you can change the diversity of that small population, the idea of, well, let’s make the council bigger so that we can have more representation is so powerful. Did you get pushback from people in terms of no, it’s going to be too big or any concerns there?

Asha George (34:49):

No. I think it was really interesting because I thought actually I was more concerned with us being in this pandemic life that people would say they didn’t have the bandwidth. That was honest. It’s an honest problem we all have right now. Right. And when you think about our most marginalized communities, they’re carrying a lot more weight. And so when I’m going to these leaders, I was really concerned about it. And so what I made sure is I created a safe space and that dialogue and conversation to say, here’s, what’s going to be required. Here’s and I had an honest dialogue and said, if at any point it’s too much, and you say you want out, it’s a safe space, no one needs to know. And I’ll be able to kind of maneuver that for you, because I understand that sometimes the tax of work is a lot, but that giving people that out was almost like their way in, because they knew that if they needed the flex, I give them, but at the decision-making table, it was almost, it was almost welcome and almost exciting. And it felt like the burden didn’t all sit within one central group, but it was dispersed. And so I didn’t get a lot of pushback. I, it all, it was almost an exciting time for us and it, and it has felt like an exciting time because they see that they don’t have to be everything for everyone that there’s others who were willing to step in and collectively help us make change and impact.

Elisa van Dam (36:07):

Yeah. So powerful to have more boots on the ground, more people actually engaged in the conversation and in the work. And I think that it’s one of the ideas that’s really come through all of our conversations in this series, This idea of providing that out, and providing the context so that somebody can say, you know, I, I love this. I wish I could support you, but now is not the right time for me or whatever the reasoning is and for that to be completely okay. I think that’s really important. So it’s. Thank you for sharing that, that idea with us. I’m going to pivot now to the other side of making change, which says that it can be challenging. And there are folks who may not be immediately on board with the idea of needing to make change or prioritizing change around equity. And I know Dan, when we had our preparatory call for this, you had some thoughts on the subject. I’m wondering if you would share those with us

Dan Helfrich (37:10):

Happy to. By the way, I want to pick up on one thing Asha said. Choose the expression tone at the top. And I think tone at the top is incredibly important, but I actually think that that expression is a little dangerous because tone connotes, audible tone. And, and I actually think in general, across corporate America, we don’t have a tone at the top problem anymore. We used to, but if you read the average remarks on matters of inclusion from an average leader, they’re pretty on point, particularly in a non improvisational environment, but one that they’re prepped for. It’s actually the combination of tone and action that I think is critical. And I do think there’s too many leaders who are self-congratulatory because they get the messaging, right. As it relates to the topic of change and the discomfort that many people in an organization have when you talk about equity.

Dan Helfrich (38:21):

I absolutely face that all the time. And part of the reason you face it is a couple of things. First people tend to believe that they, as individuals are good and seek to do good. And so an insinuation that the environment isn’t equitable, a lot of people don’t see themselves in that because they, when they self-assess, see a values centric, inclusive leader. And so when you talk about diversity objectives, when you talk about inequity, there’s people that get uncomfortable because it gets to this place where – Is what they’re saying, is what Dan is saying, that we need to have different standards for different social identity groups in order to create quote unquote balance. And the answer is absolutely not. Equity is about identifying those opportunities, that as you said in your opening, Elisa, they don’t happen necessarily because of the will or intent of anyone, they happen inside our society and inside the walls of our organizations because of long held, deeply ingrained cultural norms and beliefs.

Dan Helfrich (39:49):

And so what I have found is that calling that out, acknowledging in very public ways, the kinds of platforms that people like Asha and I have by virtue of our roles, calling it out and saying, I hear those who have discomfort with this. And here’s why we look at it differently is incredibly important. And then I hear, I want to paint for people the picture of the words I’ve heard from those who are in less represented groups, so that the entire group can hear those words coming out of the mouth of a white male. So a good example that we’ve been dealing with, I think it’s, it’s totally under-discussed topic in the United States, which is DEI related to accents. And non-traditional sorta anglican English accents. And I’ve had a bunch of people talk to me about the difficulties they feel relative to their own career progression advancement, or the way people look at them because of the way they talk. And putting voice to that and letting people sit in and reflect on, wow, I never thought of that. I never thought maybe about how I might need an interact with this female leader from Eastern Europe, Eastern European heritage, who is an immigrant that speaks with you know, a certain accent. That’s really powerful. And the more times you do that, the more I think people get more comfortable with the idea that, you know, you’re right there. This isn’t about different standards for different people. It’s about creating equity. Cause there’s a lot of inequity that’s built into our systems, our biases and our culture.

Elisa van Dam (41:51):

Yeah. That’s a really great point. Thank you, Dan, Susan, I’m looking at you and I’m wondering what are your reactions to that and what other sort of ideas would you share about managing some of the challenges around making change?

Susan Mackenty Brady (42:06):

So, you know, as I, as I thought about an example of, you know, even a time that a smaller, large change has been, that I’ve been part of a smaller, large chain change in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. I keep coming back to something that’s a prerequisite that I don’t think we talk about, not enough. And it’s, it’s actually Dan’s example of accents is a perfect example of how, what I’m talking about can be applied. And it’s what goes on between our ears before we speak. When we get triggered either into feeling not good enough or feeling better than another and where and then we speak from that place. We run the risk in any room of being suboptimal in our impact, either hurting or offending or kind of shying away, because we don’t feel like we are good enough to have a voice in that room.

Susan Mackenty Brady (43:01):

And so when I think about the body of work that I, I feel is, is, is essential for belonging to even be possible for hard conversations like Asha and Dan are talking about even be safe enough to have. There’s gotta be an understanding of, how do I return to a place of respect for myself and respect for another person so that I can show up and be genuine, genuinely curious about this? And I think what’s happening underneath all of the good actions is we are sub optimally addressing the conversation between people’s ears. And you know, a lot of leadership conversation talks about what we say and do, not what we think and feel. And I am interested in talking about what we think and feel, and then modeling that. So, you know, I get triggered. I’m human. I practice this imperfectly. Elisa, you know, this, we work together, you’ve seen it.

Susan Mackenty Brady (44:02):

And what’s important is that you feel, you can say, Hey, Susan, I know you intended to come across this way, but I think your impact was this. And for me to be able to hear it, not defend it, okay. Come back to center because I usually don’t mean to, you know, and then make amends or connect with the people who I might’ve offended or maybe show up in a different way. And that’s how I model my learning and create psychological safety for the people that work with me. The other thing I would say, and I’d love for Asha and Dan to, to, to address this too, is I, I’m pretty intolerant of disrespect at work. And you know, I’ve got I’ve got advocacy for coaching. So I think a lot of people, I assume, good intention. I don’t think people wake up in the morning to be jerks to other people.

Susan Mackenty Brady (44:52):

I do think we have a lot of lacking of awareness about sometimes, especially if we don’t get feedback, you know. And I remind leaders all the time that the more powerful you are, the harder people laugh at your jokes and the less people tell you the truth. So it’s incumbent on you to say, Hey, how did I come across? But I, I do think that this that, that, that, that some bullying behaviors, some some even snickering or any comments, if that, if I get wind of that, either directly or indirectly, I address it. I have to, because that poisons any possibility for there to be safety, to achieve equity and inclusion and belonging. So the thoughts from Dan and Asha, I’d love to hear what you think about sort of how people show up. Right. Asha, what do you say?

Asha George (45:46):

One of the things that I think about is, you know, sometimes, you know, toxicity comes in big and bold ways. And some days they come in like everyday microaggressions and we don’t even realize it. And that impacts people, right? It’s like, they call it death by a thousand paper cuts. Right. it hits people in different ways. And one of the things I think when you talk about change and being daunting, is the fear of making a mistake or saying something that is unintentional. I didn’t, I didn’t mean it like that, but someone took it like that. Right. And so when you talk about triggering moments, you know, I’ve been in conversations where I had a dialogue and someone completely misunderstood what my intention was. I mean, it happens to us as leaders every day. If there’s any leader out there that says it doesn’t happen to them, that’s probably not true.

Asha George (46:37):

We all are human. We make mistakes every day in our communications, or even maybe even having given a fuller picture than we should have. And so sometimes people will come and say, Hey, you know, that made me feel X. And you have a choice in that moment to get really defensive, or just look at the situation and say, I’m sorry that that’s, that’s the way you felt. That was clearly not my intention. You know, if I made an error in my communication to you, you know, I apologize, but this is what I really was trying to get to. And that’s a very different starting point than the defense, because the defense only just creates this tension that you can’t get past. And, and so, you know, that would be what, you know, I think about what happens in the everyday, what happens right now, sometimes it’s an uncomfortable situation. So I don’t say anything. And when I choose not to say anything, it feels from the audience perspective that I’m complicit. And that’s the last thing you want is to be sometimes complicit. Sometimes you need to speak up, but the fear of speaking up is kind of getting in the way of, you know, making sure that what I want to convey is conveyed in the way it’s intended to be conveyed. Does that.

Elisa van Dam (47:56):

Absolutely. Yes. And I think that that both assuming positive intent and being really focused on impact. So ultimately impact is what matters. And if it’s not the impact you intended, then how do you make the repair is really critical in all this work. I’m just looking at. Yeah. Go ahead, Susan.

Susan Mackenty Brady (48:16):

Let’s also add that there’s a fearlessness that needs to. I mean, you know that. In order to make change, let’s just talk about women. There used to be a time when there just wasn’t enough women at work. So it makes sense while there’s more men in leadership, that’s not true anymore. We have plenty of women who are in the professional realms. And then we look at the disparity still in our upper echelons of leadership. And you think, well, there must be a different reason because it’s not because there’s not enough of us. Right. And so that’s where it just takes boldness and leadership to say, I’m going to look at, I’m going to examine where the barriers are and where the enablers are. And I’m going to expect the people who lead in my organization to do the same, because what’s happening here is not okay. I, I think that, that, you know, and doing it from a place of real curiosity, I think matters, but it takes a lot of bravery, I think, to do it, you know.

Asha George (49:10):

A lot of courage for sure.

Dan Helfrich (49:11):

One, one other Elisa. I know you want to move on, but one, one quick thing that I’ll just tell you, I, I continue to struggle with is when to call out moments of ignorance and sort of make an example of it, perhaps in a public, perhaps in a private setting and when to give an individual, the grace of that, their ignorance is from a place of goodness. And that’s a really hard moment that often takes place in real time. And example that popped into my head is I remember sometime last summer we were having some conversations and someone mentioned the recognition or holiday of Juneteenth. Okay. And someone made an offhanded comment. Gosh, we’re coming up with holidays for seemingly everything these days. And the person had, no, I had never heard of Juneteenth had no idea the significance of Juneteenth and what happened in Galveston, Texas that we’re commemorating and it’s a really tricky one. Am I admonishing that person for the insensitivity or ignorance? Or am I giving them the grace to say, you know what, maybe they have truly never been exposed to the meaning of this. And it’s a teaching moment versus a moment to say, Hey, you can’t do this. And like, there’s no right answer, which is why I bring it up. These are judgment calls we make in the moment, but with the DEI landscape and the vocabulary and language of inclusion, changing as fast as it is now, I think we need to be really careful about when we admonish.

Susan Mackenty Brady (51:07):

I couldn’t agree with you more, Dan, I, I, I think shaming and blaming has frankly, when it comes to men being advocates for women, it’s driven men away from the table, right. The shaming and blaming. And so I agree with you wholeheartedly being careful about this. And we learn every day, I have, haphazardly said something recently about a friend having instead of saying a daughter who has special needs, I said a special needs daughter. And she was brave enough to say, that’s, you know, there’s a, there’s a subtlety in your language. I had to be able to hear it. And it was so helpful because I know people say that and don’t even think twice about it. Right. So I didn’t feel blamed or shamed. So, so much is about how we talk about this. So how we can learn together. Yeah.

Elisa van Dam (51:52):

We could have a whole long conversation about how do you make that judgment in the moment? What if you didn’t make the judgment in the moment, can you still go back answer? Yes. Six months later, a year later, you can always go back and say, I’ve been thinking about this. Sadly, we don’t have time for that. So one of the things that we committed to in this series of webinars is trying to give people ideas of things that they can do. And so what I am going to ask each of you to do now is to share one thing somebody can do in the next 10 days to help move the needle on either a sponsorship or changing systems for equity. And while you’re thinking about that, I do want to just share the results of the polls.

Elisa van Dam (52:33):

It was really lovely to see that 78% of the people on our webinar today think that their companies are truly committed to making change for equity, which is great to see. Another 18% said somewhat. So, you know, we’re all on a path. And that almost half of our participants say that they have actively sponsored someone or made a sponsorship action for someone in an underrepresented population in the last two weeks, which is also fabulous to see. All right. So with that, I’m going to turn to Asha and say, what’s one suggestion somebody could try at home.

Asha George (53:08):

Yeah. I always think of the fact that it’s in the everyday. Everyone on this call and this audience is a leader. And, and I mean that in the deepest way. If you help a child tie their shoes, if you are a volunteer in your community, if you lead in your decisions everyday, you’re a leader. And with that, you have privilege and everyone has privilege. If you can read and write, if you can, you know, write a resume or read a P and L statement or balance checkbook, you have skills that that need to be learned. And so when I think about what can you do in the next 10 days, I really would say. Hey, go find two people in your, you know, in your circle, whatever circle that is in your neighborhood, in your work life or in your community or in your church or wherever it is, I find two people, not like you.

Asha George (54:00):

And that could be different gender, different ethnicity, different experiences, whatever it is, and mentor them. Spend 30 minutes a month just mentoring them. And what you will find, I think is what I would, what I find is if we all collectively did this think about the amount of change, you know, if you had 3000 people go out and find two people at 6,000 people being touched in a real and authentic way. I just think that, that it could be a, it’s a very simple thing to do. And it’s an hour of your time a month, but it’s an incredibly beautiful legacy you’re creating across the globe.

Elisa van Dam (54:37):

Thank you. Yeah. That’s powerful. Susan Brady, what would you add?

Susan Mackenty Brady (54:42):

Oh, Elisa I was hoping you’d pick Dan first because I wanted to end with a very shameless plug. This here is The Inclusive Leaders Playbook. It happens to be authored by Elisa van Dam and Susan Mackenty Brady. We did it together. It’s easy. It’s quick. It’s available on Amazon for the low price of, I don’t know, something below $10. Buying this in the next 10 days, talking about it with someone you work with, bringing it home and talking about it with your kids or your family. Actually drinking in some of the simplicity and the complexity of this and just having conversations. That’s what I would say. The best thing you can do. How do, and I hope this is helpful. What is being a partner for success? What does that mean? But, but we created this as a simple guide for all of you and that also inspired this webinar. So Dan, I think you’re up next.

Dan Helfrich (55:28):

I would agree that was shameless. That plug Susan, that was, that was something. So I believe that broadening one’s cultural awareness is a huge part of preparing to be a great sponsor and for creating systematic change. One way to do it that I think everyone can do is to assess where you get your information and from whom. And I happened to, I happen to like Twitter not for it’s sort of the interaction, but as an aggregation of news and information that I can consume quickly. And some of you might like Twitter. Some of you might like Instagram, you, you, you get your information from a lot of different places. Do an assessment of the diversity of the people you follow. I had this really interesting – Megan, a woman on my team, point out, she said Dan, you’re a great leader in inclusion. I just happened to look at your, the people you follow on Twitter, and it couldn’t be whiter.

Dan Helfrich (56:42):

And it was a really interesting thing. There’s good gender diversity. It Is very white and very American. And I lead a team that’s global. I’ve got tens of thousands of employees in India. So we did this really systematic thing where you can almost go social identity by social identity and say, am I getting influence from the LGBTQ+ community? Am I getting influence from Africa? Am I getting influence from these types of folks? And when we did that, the enlightenment around my own cultural awareness went way up, and I believe that then positions me to create better change. And it positions me to be readier, to be a great sponsor for a broader set of people.

Elisa van Dam (57:32):

That’s a great tip. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts. Thank you all for being here on the webinar with us today. Inclusive leadership.com will have the recording from this session from our prior sessions and a lot of other good stuff, including a link to the playbook, thank you, Susan, for that.

Susan Mackenty Brady (57:49):

All proceeds go to our nonprofit educational institution, all, all the work that Simmons does, does that helps to create educational livelihood and independent livelihood for girls and women. So it’s a, it’s a, it’s a good spend. It’s a good space.

Elisa van Dam (58:04):

Yes. Thank you all for being here and go out and, and go do change, sponsor somebody and let us know how you do. Thanks so much, everybody. Thank you.


Asha George” width=

Asha George

Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, Electronic Arts (EA)

Dan Helfrich” width=

Dan Helfrich

Chairman and CEO, Deloitte Consulting


Susan MacKenty Brady

Deloitte Ellen Gabriel Chair for Women & Leadership, CEO, Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership

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