S2 E7: The Courage of Inclusion with John Regan and Juliette Mayers

October 24, 2022

What does it mean to be inclusive? A 2018 Pew Research Center report says that nearly half of post-Millennials or Gen-Zers are non-white. We know a diverse organization leads to diversity of thought and insight, but for HR pros? If you’re not thinking about diversity and inclusion in your recruiting and retention efforts, you’re missing critical talent across younger generations. Success starts with leaders at all levels and this week we’re starting at the top as we highlight what it takes to be an inclusive leader and HR’s role in the process.
Our guests this week are CEOs who have rolled up their sleeves to do the work of transformation as inclusive leaders.

 

Juliette Mayers is founder and CEO of Inspiration Zone, a strategic consulting firm specializing in diversity and inclusion strategy and has spent the last 30 years with Fortune 500 companies and large not-for-profits helping to create diverse and inclusive environments with built-in accountability.

 

John Regan is President and Chief Executive Officer of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM). Among his accomplishments at AIM, John led a coalition of Massachusetts business groups in calling for significant change around racial equity in the workplace, and he spearheaded an effort to recommend businesses alter their policies to effectively address equity for female employees who suffered disproportionately during the COVID pandemic.  John was named by Boston Magazine to the 2021 list of 100 Most Influential Bostonians.

 

Inclusive leadership is critical for today’s leaders, allowing organizations to attract diverse talent, customers, and ideas. We’re lucky to have Juliette Mayers and John Regan with us today to explore what it takes to be an inclusive leader.

 

Links & Notes

Pete Wright:
Welcome to Human Solutions. Simplifying HR for people who love HR, from AIM HR Solutions, I’m Pete Wright.
What does it mean to be inclusive? A 2018 Pew Research Center report says that nearly half of post-millennials or Gen-Zers are non-white. We know a diverse organization leads to diversity of thought and insight, but for HR pros, if you’re not thinking about diversity and inclusion in your recruiting and retention efforts, you are missing critical talent across younger generation. Success starts with leaders at all levels, but today we are starting at the top as we highlight what it takes to be an inclusive leader and HRs role in the process. Let me tell you briefly who we have on deck.
Juliette Mayers is founder and CEO of Inspiration Zone, a strategic consulting firm specializing in diversity and inclusion, and has spent her last 30 year with Fortune 500 companies and large not-for-profits, helping to create diverse and inclusive environments with built in accountability.
And John Regan is president and chief executive officer of Associated Industries of Massachusetts. Among his accomplishments at AIM, John led a coalition of Massachusetts business groups in calling for significant change around racial equity in the workplace. And he spearheaded an effort to recommend businesses alter their policies to effectively address equity for female employees who suffered disproportionately during the COVID pandemic. John was named by Boston Magazine to the 2021 list of 100 most influential Bostonian. Inclusive leadership is critical for today’s leaders, allowing organizations to attract diverse talent, customers and ideas. We are lucky to have Juliette and John with us today to explore what it takes to be an inclusive leader. John, Juliette, welcome to the show.

John Regan:
Thanks Pete.

Juliette Mayers:
Thank you.

Pete Wright:
Juliette, I want to start with you. In no small part, the inspiration for this particular episode started with a seed in the form of a piece you wrote, entitled Are You an Inclusive Leader? We’re going to drill down on the details in a bit, but to kick us off to sort of set the table for the conversation, what is an inclusive leader?

Juliette Mayers:
An inclusive leader, is someone who has an appreciation for diversity, equity, and inclusion. And I do believe it’s very important to have diversity in order to truly be inclusive. And that means all of us. So diversity, as I define it and most practitioners define it, it’s really about everyone. When you look in all of the various dimensions of diversity. An inclusive leader knows how to harness the best of all people in the workplace and to do so in such a way where people feel valued, respected, and their contributions matter. So it’s really about harnessing what’s already there, that mix in the workplace to bring out the best so that people feel like they are a part of something bigger and truly feel a sense of belonging.

Pete Wright:
I want to just add a footnote to that and we have been using the term diversity, and for decades now, diversity has meant race, and now it means more than that. So diversity, equity, inclusion, you said something very important. It’s about all people in the organization, right?

Juliette Mayers:
Exactly.

Pete Wright:
Okay, John, why is it that it is important for inclusive leadership to be modeled starting at the top, as CEO?

John Regan:
Well, clearly I think every corporate culture is primarily influenced by the CEO. However, it’s not the CEO alone who determines culture. It is the tone that comes from the corner office and then is reflected throughout the organization. One of the things I’m proudest of, is we’ve been recognized by people outside of the organization as a company that has changed. You go back to my early days and the company was largely a white man’s organization, a lot of white board members, and pursuing very deliberate strategies.
We’ve tried to reflect the diversity of the Massachusetts economy, not just in our board, but in our membership and in our staff. And I think for me, when I hear people who are not associated with AIM saying, “Boy, this group has changed.” I think that’s a measure of success and something that I think I’m very proud of. And by the way, I want to make sure that I get this on the record, helped and guided and sometimes prompted by Juliette, who we’ve been working with since 2018, Juliette?

Juliette Mayers:
No, 2019.

John Regan:
2019. Okay,

Juliette Mayers:
Feels like ’18.

Pete Wright:
Who’s counting? A question really for you both, as you both work with many organizations. You work with leadership who says, “Why do we need to think about DEI? Why is that important to us? We don’t actively discriminate. We hire the best people who come in through the door. What does all this matter to us? We’re doing fine.” How do you respond to that?

Juliette Mayers:
In this day and age, any leader who is paying attention to what’s happening in the world, both in terms of demographics, in terms of talent, you highlighted some stats at the beginning of the show. And today’s employees, let’s even take a race out of it for a moment, which is still a major issue. So let me be clear, I am not minimizing that. The fact of the matter is the youth of today require, they’re looking for organizations that are diverse, organizations that value their different perspectives. Organizations that value race and other dimensions of diversity such as LGBTQ, veteran status. And so, in this day and age, if people are still struggling with, is this something that I should be doing or not sure if I should be doing this, I think companies are going to be at a huge disadvantage if they don’t get on board.
There’s a McKinsey study that’s pretty well known in the marketplace that basically researched and took a look at how company performance relative to those who are embracing and moving ahead with diversity, equity, and inclusion, and those that aren’t. And there is a significant difference in terms of performance from that aspect, but for a lot of other reasons, many of which we don’t have time to go into here today. It’s no longer should I do this, it’s an imperative in order to continue to cultivate and attract talent, which is by the way, 50% of the people who are being born now are people of color, are diverse. So it’s really important that organizations get on board and leaders also connected to the work that they’re doing in their workforce.

John Regan:
And I would respond very quickly, that if I heard a business leader say, “We’re okay, we don’t need to do this.” I think that’s a very naive and outdated attitude for all the reasons that Juliette just put on the table. And there’s one more that I would put on the table, which is, the minute you think that you have cornered the market on intelligence, brains, insight, whatever word you want to use, then you’ve already demonstrated that you have a lot to learn. And the contributions that a diverse workforce makes to the success of the company has been so well documented, it’s almost a joke to even talk about it anymore. And I know from my own employees and from my board, those different perspectives make me a better leader, a more prepared and intelligent leader. And to ignore that, is to really leave out a key component of ongoing success. And again, I think the insights that are gained from a diverse workforce or a diverse board of directors are critical for keeping the company positioned for success.

Pete Wright:
So many questions come out of that. I want to dive into some anchor points from Juliette’s article, just again to get them into the conversation before we dive into some specifics. So Juliette, you have the big Cs, I’m calling them the big Cs in your article, and I think they’re important when you address and so clearly assess the traits of an inclusive leader. Can you run us through the big Cs briefly?

Juliette Mayers:
Yeah. Well first I want to clarify, I did write an article and the one you’re referencing is, Are You An Inclusive Leader? And in that article, I’ve referenced several other articles. So the Cs that you’re referring to are actually Deloitte’s framework [inaudible 00:09:42].

Pete Wright:
Okay, Deloitte’s Cs as refined and interpreted by and republished by [inaudible 00:09:50].

Juliette Mayers:
And those are, and people can go to my website and look up the article, It’s inspirationzonellc.com, under the Get Inspired section articles, you’ll see there.

Pete Wright:
The link will of course be in our show notes here.

Juliette Mayers:
So the Cs that were identified by Deloitte, which I agree to and have added to, because I think all of us have given the work that we do are exposed to things that work well in best practices. Commitment is the first one, and that’s really around leadership commitment. And so, people who are leaders who are committed to DEI specifically, that’s one of the traits of an inclusive leader. The second one, is courage. And that courage is really more about people speaking up and speaking out. So when you see something that’s not correct, an inclusive leader will be sure to not let it slide, but have the courage to speak up, to correct it and to intervene. Cognizance of bias is the third, and that’s really around understanding bias and recognizing it and realizing that people are biased, all of us are biased and having the emotional intelligence and also the skillset to be able to be self-aware and recognize it.
Curiosity is the fourth. And curiosity is really about being open minded. So you can’t be an inclusive leader if you’re coming to the party with your mind made up and not being willing and open to change and to reflect and to consider other people’s experiences. Fifth is culturally intelligent. So what does it really mean for a leader to be culturally intelligent? They are confident, they’re effective, they’re self aware. And so that, is the fifth one. And number six is collaborative. A leader who recognizes that you really are going to get more out of people by having a collaborative approach. And so, those are the six from that particular aspect. And I always like to highlight that there’s another component that I really believe is critical, particularly when people think of inclusion, they often think of, okay, in the workforce and also in terms of attracting people and getting people who are already working there to work together.
There’s another element of this that is really around what I refer to as economic inclusion. And that means it’s around more equity and economics, because internally it’s about making sure the budgets are allocated fairly and all of that. And then externally, it’s about making sure that people of color, LGBTQ, women and veterans and other people who are traditionally marginalized or left out of the economic pie have a fair opportunity to participate in that pie. And so that’s, where the supplier diversity piece comes in. And we’ve been working with AIM to do a lot of work around that. So those are really the traits that I think leaders need to lean into.

Pete Wright:
And it sounds like Juliette just tossed to you. You’ve been doing a lot of work around this issue. Please lean in.

John Regan:
So the project and the program that she’s referring to, and thanks for the plug Juliette, and the assistance in creating this opportunity, is called AIM Business Connect. And what we’re trying to do, is we’re trying to get our members to increase their supplier spend with more diverse companies. And we’re working with companies that are on the smaller side, and we’ve designed the program to reflect the strength of the AIM membership, which is, we have members where either I or a member of the staff, we know the owner, we know the CEO, we know people who are in decision making roles, and once we discover that they’re committed to a diverse procurement process, we will then introduce them to the women owned, minority owned, LGBTQ owned, veteran owned, disabled owned.
We will introduce them to those companies with the hope of the buyer and the seller coming together in some sort of a contract arrangement. And we’re at the beginning, we did a soft launch of this at the end of last year. We did a public launch in March of this year. And slowly but surely building both the buyer side and the seller side to try to accelerate this and make it a component of what AIM offers to its membership in addition to all the other things that we do. I don’t consider myself an impatient person, and I can see Juliette smiling in terms of what I’m about to say. I wish we were making more progress, but I also know that this is a marathon, it’s not a sprint.

Juliette Mayers:
Absolutely. And if I can just jump right in there, I think it’s important for people to understand that this is significant, that AIM as a convener and having a base of corporations and businesses that every single business is in the procurement business. If you’re in business, you are buying things. And I think the fact that these opportunities are being curated for the buyers and sellers to meet, to come together, to get to know each other, to build that relationship is significant. And it is a long term process. So I was laughing, because John I know is impatient and you’re at the beginning of the journey. And so, I think it’s important that as things evolve, as people get to know each other, as people do business with people they know, people they like and people they trust, and in order to get there, you have to cultivate the relationship. You have to make the introductions, and you have to be in a position where you’re ready to procure those services. So congratulations, John. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

John Regan:
Thank you.

Pete Wright:
This is an intervention John, you didn’t know you were coming for this. Actually it’s a fantastic sort of part of a pivot that I wanted to make here. You’ve already sort of introduced this next angle I wanted to take. Which is you’ve just economically incented diversity in these business relationships, which is terrific. I think there’s this other piece, if I’m coming to this, if I’m listening to this as an HR professional, being able to speak both up to leadership that DEI is important, and speaking down to the entire organization at large, that not only is DEI important, but we have to work together to create a safe space, both to learn and reduce reactionary sort of emotional stance.
And to teach one another, how to treat one another, is enormously difficult. That is a mountain. And we talk about, John, you said something a minute ago, that we know the value of diverse organization, that it’s almost a joke to mention it, and yet there are organizations that haven’t gotten the punchline yet. So I’m curious how you would like to take on educating, let’s say me a little bit on teaching up and teaching down.

John Regan:
Let me try that, because I spent most of my career managing up until recently. And I guess now I’ve replaced a couple of direct managers with 60 plus bosses now on my board of directors. And the good news for me as a CEO, is they come to this issue a pre [inaudible 00:18:11], so I’m not doing a lot of managing up. And I’d also say that I’m fortunate in that from the very beginning AIM throughout the organization, I didn’t sense any resistance to this journey of diversity, equity, and inclusion. And so, it hasn’t been a challenge. However, I’m aware, and I’ve talked to one member who expressed concern that we had invested so much time, effort, and attention to the diversity efforts, and it’s the one member that actually resigned from the association, because they didn’t think we were going in the right direction.
And at the time, I communicated that to the board of directors and I said, they had been members for a long, long time back to the fifties and just didn’t support the direction that we were going in, that didn’t change anybody’s mind, that didn’t change any of the direction, that particular company, good luck, I think you’re making a mistake, but there you have it. The challenge I think, is being courageous and being committed to this effort. If you’re not the CEO and you’re trying to move somebody into a better spot, you have to be patient and consistent in explaining why this is the direction that the company should go in. And I think it’s one of those things where you have to gently bring people along if they’re not already there and hope that those efforts pay off over time.

Juliette Mayers:
I want to pick up on the bring people along. I like to say you have to meet people where they are and at the same time, if they continue persistently… After you’ve done the education. And I do think the education piece is important in terms of having the conversation as an HR professional, sharing the data, connecting it to the workplace, because I am a practitioner who truly believes that diversity is about the business. And I don’t say that in a way where a capitalistic kind of way, but at the end of the day, it’s about making businesses more effective as it relates to the workplace. And so, it’s really important that you connect those why’s to the workplace and to the business.
And at the same time, it’s about the leadership mindset. So if you’ve done everything you can do, you’ve provided the data, you have shared information, you’ve connected it to the workforce, you’ve connected it to business outcomes and so forth, and your leadership is still saying, “You know what? We’re not going there.” Perhaps you need to go somewhere else. Because, I think that that is more of an expression of values. And if you do not value diversity, equity, and inclusion, is that the place you want to be as a now, I’m looking at the employees side and the young people will talk with their feet. They won’t go work for companies like that. So it just exacerbates problems that are already exist such as recruiting and attracting and retaining a talented workforce.

John Regan:
And not to drive off on a radically different direction. But I’ve been speaking lately, and I’ve done a lot of research on the demographic challenges that we face here in Massachusetts. And I hear from members constantly about the challenges around attracting workforce and it’s only going to get more challenging in the future. We’re retiring faster, we’re not having children at a fast enough rate, immigration’s a mess and people leave the state. And so, the challenges around the demographics will only increase.
And the solve for that, and I’ll refer just to the company’s solve, the state has to do a solve too, but that’s a different show. The companies solve is you must become an employer of choice. You have to be an employer where somebody from the outside looking at the existing workforce, looking at what the company does, how the company behaves. You become a place where somebody wants to work, and that’s really the only way to solve this demographic problem. The competition is fierce. It’s going to become more fierce. And if you’re ignoring half the population or you’re not reflecting values that people hold in high regard, then you won’t be the employer of choice.

Pete Wright:
This gets to a question that has been plaguing me for the last half hour as we’ve been talking. I spoke with an association or an organization yesterday, and they have been given marching orders to double the number of practitioners that they have in the organization. What they do is irrelevant, but their HR folks came back and said, “We love that there is this new initiative, but the policies we have in place are not allowing us to retain the people we already have.”
Now, just last week we did a show on Quiet Quitting, this thing that has emerged now under the term quiet quitting. It’s been around a long time. People who are not invested in the organization as a complex organism, but just as a paycheck and are on their way out the door. This leads to organizations not thriving I think. If we are trying to create organizations that thrive, what are the policies and what does the day to day look like as an inclusive organization that encourages that sort of thriving mentality and keeps the people we don’t want to lose, knowing how hard it is to bring new good people in. Juliette, you want to pick that one around?

Juliette Mayers:
I mean, that just speaks to being an inclusive leader and being an inclusive organization and making sure that you’re putting in place not just the behaviors in leadership, but the policies and practices to make sure that the people who are there feel valued, respected, and their contributions matter. Because, if they don’t, they’re not going to put their full self into it. They’re not going to give that discretional effort that is required to be competitive, to drive innovation, and to really maintain and hopefully not just maintain, but lead in the future. So I see it as all being very connected. And so, this work for the HR department to do, but this work for every other part of the organization to do. I definitely subscribe to the holistic approach, and John knows this very well when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
And that means inclusive leadership has to be a part of that whole, you can bring in the diversity, you can have the work on equity and so forth. And if you’re not practicing inclusive leadership, you are not going to retain people, it’s just going to be walking out the door. And you’re also, even if they do stay what you described it, they will stay, but they’re not present, the body’s there, but they’re not giving you their full effort. And so, there’s definitely a business case for inclusion as well, in addition to all of the other things that we talked about.

John Regan:
Yeah, there’s not much I could add to that other than to say, I think the old adage in sales, it’s easier to keep an existing customer than it is to bring in a new one. And that applies to your team too. And you want your team fully engaged, you need their full effort, you need their brain power to make the organization successful. And if they’re walking out the door, you need to pay attention to why. What is prompting an employee to leave? And you should address it if you can get to the bottom of what the challenge is, because as I said a minute ago, it’s only going to get more fierce, the competition.

Juliette Mayers:
If I can add just one quick thing that I think we really have to touch upon, is that there’s still a lot of people who are working remotely right now and many of those remote workers are at home looking for jobs to go elsewhere. None of your employees of course, but the fact of the matter is that part of that inclusion needs to be how do we take care of, engage and value, same attributes that I mentioned remotely, how do we make sure that people who are not seeing each other all the time feel connected, or feel network well networked and are feeling like they too are contributing and valued. So I think that’s a very important part, I know that’s not the point of the show, but I think it’s very much an integral part of feeling included, not just when in front of you, but when I’m not in front of you.

Pete Wright:
As we get to wrapping up here, last question. How much of this is a big company, small company thing versus size of the company, that’s a myth. Small companies come and say, “Well, we don’t have budgets to do investment in diversity. We can’t afford to hire Juliette to come and tell us what to do. So I guess we’ll just have to keep on keeping on.”

John Regan:
Well, let me take a stab at that, because I think there is a misperception about the Massachusetts economy that, what is the typical size of company? And back in my days when I was doing economic development for the Commonwealth, the reality is that most companies in Massachusetts have fewer than 50 people. There’s another segment that’s fewer than a 100. And the number of companies that are a 1000 or 5,000 or 10,000 or more, are more of a rarity than the smaller companies.
So I have 50 employees and about a $9 million budget, but we would be considered a small company, and yet as an organization and because of who we represent and the work that we do, this has been a priority of the board and the senior leadership since I say 2018, but 2019, I don’t want to want it to sound like it started with me. It started before I became the CEO and I’ve really doubled down and committed to the work. But I think saying you’re a small company and therefore you’re exempt from having to think about these issues, I think there’s a bit of a cop out. That was a risky word to use right Juliette?

Pete Wright:
It was risky. [inaudible 00:29:53] our eyes just kind of opened up. There we go.

Juliette Mayers:
Courage, John. Courage. No, I have to agree with you in that, it’s not so much the size. Every single business has procurement. Every single business has investments. And it’s really a matter of is it a priority for you? Because, when something is a priority, IT is often a very big ticket item that most companies are like, “Oh my God, we can’t afford the IT system or whatever.” However, we need it to make sure that our infrastructure is secure and all the reasons. And so, just like anything that’s really important and critical to your business, you prioritize it and you also are creative about how you go about funding it. But I don’t think to say, “Well, I’m a small company, I don’t need to do it. Or I’m a small company, I’m not going to allocate the resources.” Is a reason.
That said, there are things that small companies, let’s say micro companies can do even, they can still live the inclusive leadership values and there’s a lot of free stuff right out there. Go to my website, I have a lot of articles on there that are free. I have podcasts on there, all of those resources are free and it’s a contribution to the ecosystem. But at the end of the day, you then still have to say, “Okay, how do I put this all together and how do I make it effective so that I’m moving my workplace forward?”

Pete Wright:
Well, I think what you’re getting at Juliette, what I really love is that this question is often reduced to a budgetary question. And you just said, “How are we living the inclusive sort of lifestyle in our organization?” Often, all you have to do is look at the workforce and you’ll see a commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and that’s aspirational. Both of you are fantastic. Thank you so much for coming on this show and talking about this topic courageously. So appreciate it. I hope if you’re listening, you’ve got something to walk away with and try something new, especially the big Cs. Deloitte’s Big Cs, as polished by Juliette Mayers. Juliet, you already started your own plug. Send people to where they need to go to learn more about you.

Juliette Mayers:
Inspirationzonellc.com is my website and you can also link with me on LinkedIn. I am an active user of LinkedIn.

Pete Wright:
Outstanding. John, do you have a plug John, as CEO of AIM, do you want to plug something? Favorite baseball team, what you got?

John Regan:
Well, listen, I think for me it’s all about increasing the members. So if there’s anybody listening to this who’s not a member of the association, come on in. We’d love to have you. We are proud of the work that we do. Business is a force for good in the Commonwealth, and if you’re not part of it, come on in.

Pete Wright:
Thank you everybody for downloading and listening to this show. We appreciate your time and your attention. As always, you can find links and notes about the show at aimhrsolutions.com. You can listen to the show right there on the website or subscribe to the show on Apple Podcast or Spotify or anywhere you’ll find your finer podcasts. On behalf of John Regan and Juliette Mayers, I’m Pete Wright. We’ll catch you back here next week on Human Solution, simplifying HR for people who love HR.