Why We Do the Work: The DEI Leadership Experience

In this episode, AGS Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) Marketplace Manager Brooke Stovall sits down with I&D leaders Jasmine Guy and Franklin Reed to discuss their shared and individual experiences as I&D leaders – from how they came into their roles to their day-to-day challenges to what they’re most proud of today and excited for in the weeks and months ahead. We hope you enjoy the conversation.

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Frank Edge: Thank you for joining us on this episode of Subject To Talent. I’m your host, Frank Edge.

April is Celebrate Diversity Month. So today, I’ll be passing the microphone over to my colleague, Brooke Stovall. She’s theinclusion and diversity marketplace manager for Allegis Global Solutions. 

Brooke has over 15 years of experience in the staffing industry, and in her current role she partners with clients to develop inclusion and diversity roadmaps for their contingent workforce.

She’ll be leading a conversation around diversity and inclusion leadership with two of her peers in the space, Jasmine Guy and Franklin Reed

Jasmine Guy is the Diversity & Inclusion and Corporate Social Responsibility Program Manager for Major, Lindsey & Africa, a premier global legal executive search firm; and Allegis Partners, a global executive search firm specializing in identifying diverse and top talent for Human Resources and senior executive-level roles. Jasmine develops strategic initiatives and programs that support the organizations’ overall D&I goals. 

Franklin Reed is the Executive Director of Inclusion and Diversity for TEKsystems, an industry leader in full-stack technology services, talent services and real-world application. Franklin is the driving force behind TEKsystems’ inclusion and diversity strategy. 

Together, they’ll share their experiences as organizational inclusion and diversity leaders and discuss how they’re driving their organizations forward in creating safe and inclusive workplaces and engaging allies in conversation and action around diversity, equity and inclusion.

Let’s listen in. 

Brooke Stovall: Hi, I'm Brooke Stovall, inclusion and diversity marketplace manager for Allegis Global Solutions (AGS), and I'm very excited today to lead the conversation on inclusion and diversity (I&D) leadership on our Subject to Talent podcast. April is Celebrate Diversity month. So I've asked my peers from within the Allegis Group family of companies to join me in a discussion about our roles as organizational leaders of inclusion and diversity, what we've experienced and learned and where we're putting our focus in the months and years to come. Jasmine Guy is the diversity and inclusion and corporate social responsibility program manager for Major, Lindsey & Africa and Allegis Partners. Franklin Reed is the executive director for inclusion and diversity at TEKsystems. Welcome, and thank you guys for joining me.

Jasmine Guy: Thanks for having us.

Franklin Reed: Thanks for having us.

BS: Perfect! Today is going to be very conversational, where each of us will be sharing our shared experiences and thoughts on diversity. But first something we'd like to start off all of our Subject to Talent podcast episodes is with learning how our guests got into the talent industry. Jasmine, would you be able to share with us how you came into the industry and also how you came into your current role leading inclusion and diversity?

JG: Sure. So I have a master's degree in human resources and I took a very unconventional way into really getting into human resources because I entered into the profession during the economic downturn. And so I was blessed to work with a leader in human resources that allowed me to learn about the various different facets of human resources. And so, because I got a chance to really understand how organizations work, really understanding how to communicate with leaders in theC-suite. It really prepared me for my current role. And so actually it's funny. I didn't even realize that people were able to get paid for advertising and working in diversity and inclusion. And it was one of my girlfriends who worked at a Am Law 100 law firm, who told me about opportunities such as this. And she says, you're doing such a great job helping me with some of the obstacles that I face at my own law firm. I think you will be great doing this professionally. And so that's actually how I joined in doing diversity and inclusion for law firms.

BS: Wow. What an interesting story, Franklin, how about you?

FR: Yeah, my story is a little different in that I am an accidental salesperson that found my way to TEKsystems after working in sales for a number of different companies. And I landed at TEKsystemsas a technical recruiter. And so my entry into human capital management was this overlapping roles of technology recruiting meets sales / inside sales, and it was a perfect match for me because I love the idea of selling a service. I love the idea of connecting the people, and I love the idea of creating opportunity for individuals. And in this case, employment opportunities.

After spending some time as a technical recruiter, I moved into the sales side of our business, which involved business development and selling our services and capabilities to our customers. But I always maintained an orientation of wanting to do everything that I could to ensure that TEKsystemswas an environment for other individuals who came from similar backgrounds that I came from, who looked like me. And so I was always involved in the recruiting efforts at local colleges, at community colleges, at diverse organizations that we recruited from. And that created this passion, if you will, around diversity and inclusion.Although, I didn't know what it was called at the time. And as we started to build out our intentional efforts around inclusion and diversity, we launched our employee resource groups (ERGs)

Now at that time, I was 14 years into the company.I had seen a tremendous amount of success, but I was looking to have a different kind of impact. Also, I was still unsure if I had developed some of the skills that I knew I needed on my journey, such as leading by influence, really communicating at some of the executive levels and what have you, and being a part of our ERG gave me that opportunity. And so it was my own personal development platform that put me, on the radar, if you will, with our director of diversity and inclusion at the time. And as she began to build out the team, she began to open up additional roles for the team. I saw it as my opportunity to pivot my career in this space. And I started as a national diversity recruiter andnow have the incredible privilege of leading the strategy for the organization as well as an incredible team.

BS: Wow. What an awesome journey. That's very interesting. I got into this space where I always say, coming into staffing and you kind of fall into it. No one ever really says I'm going to school to get into staffing or become a recruiter. And somehow you find yourself in it and that's same thing happened to me. And I always had this plight of wanting to see women succeed. And I remember being at my past role before joining AGS and I believe I started the unofficial women's ERG group and not knowing that that's what it was, but I just knew it was necessary space for women in the organization to come together and share our experiences. And I remember saying, "Hey, you know what? this isn't enough." There has to be more and going to the president of the company and saying, we need more, we need something bigger.We need to have a full-on inclusion and diversity initiative here at our company. And surprisingly, he said, "you're absolutely right, and you're going to lead it and develop it," and that's how I find myself in this space and now continue to grow, taking on the marketplace side here with AGS. 

So it's been a very exciting journey over these years. What has been interesting is we've all had different paths to getting into an inclusion and diversity, and today I want to talk about what has been the experience of you as a leader in this space while dealing with the realities of being Black in America. Cause I, I know each of you, and I know that you do both identify as Blackman and Blackwoman. So what has been that experience by being a DEI practitioner and being Black?Franklin, I guess you've been in this space for 20-plus years. So we'll start with you.

FR: You know, it's an interesting dichotomy of feelings doing this work because I know for sure that I am effecting change in a positive way for people and for an organization. I know that I am doing extremely noble work, but I also know that I'm not just doing it for my partners at TEKsystems and at Allegis Group, but I'm doing it for my family. I'm doing this work for my girls, my two daughters. And so I have this tremendous amount of love and happiness and peace about this work, but it's also not lost on me that I'm doing this work for myself because I experience the impact of living in a racialized society, a society that stigmatizes individuals based on features that they were born with, like more melatonin in their skin. So I know for sure that I was built for this kind of work. And the way I described the work is I feel like I am shepherding people to become better. And so that's really how I described sort of this space between the work and the realities of being Black in America. Great question though.

BS: I liked that the idea of shepherding people to be better. I like that. I might have to use that one, Franklin.

FR:That's a great question. So I want to throw that question at you, Jasmine as well. You know, what has it been like for you, being a practitioner in this space, but also acknowledging that you identify as a Black woman too.

JG:It has been tiring and mentally exhausting having to serve as a strategic business partner to leaders across the company and support them in reacting to the aftermath of incidences, such as the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and unfortunately the list goes on. Supporting and hearing the concerns of employee resource group members and well-intentioned allies and dealing with everyday instances I experience of discrimination and injustice, both inside and outside of the workplace. What makes me most exhausted and frustrated is seeing people finally waking up and realizing that systemic racism and injustice has been taking place for centuries. Yet, because I am a leader, I must hold composure and help bring my colleagues along in their diversityinclusion and belonging journey, by being patientexercising empathy, compassion; educating them; providing them inclusion tools; and illustrating to them that they can ask me questions and engage in dialogue.

The role of a diversity professional is rewarding when you see the company and colleagues make progress, yet draining, when you also have to deal with external events yourself. 

Being a woman in corporate America comes with its fair share of challenges, often facing gender discrimination and bias in the workplace.But if you're a Black woman or a woman of color, these gender-based challenges are often compounded by obstacles of racism, making it even harder to navigate your way to the top. In the words of the great Malcolm X, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman. And unfortunately, even though Malcolm X said these words in the 1960s, they are still relevant today. And so when looking at the obstacles that Black women face at work, there are several different ways in which racism and sexism play out.

One of the ways is in the form of microaggressions and insensitive comments made by peers that make Black women feel like outsiders. For example, I love wearing bright colors because it gives me and others around me energy and a smile. Yet often I hear comments from white colleagues, such as "Black people surely love wearing bright colors." It is offensive and it hurts. I felt like for a long time, I couldn't say anything in fear of being labeled as a stereotypical angry Black woman or accused of taking it the wrong way. So I remained silent until I advanced in my career. And now I feel empowered to address these microaggressions and make them teachable moments for my colleagues.

Unfortunately, at an early age, I silenced myself when it came to race and gender, and it was at the expense of my own wellbeing. Brooke, as you can relate, it is an emotional tax in which Black women are always on guard to protect against bias, discrimination and unfair treatment. Meditation, exercise, breathing exercises, good music, hot tea, remembering what my ancestors endured and chatting with Black professionals like yourself is how I have survived. So thank you both for being instrumental to my survival. Brooke, is there anything that you would like to add?

BS: Jasmine, I feel like you took the words out of my mouth with that because you're absolutely right. The work of this being a practitioner and being a Black woman is done with great difficulty, because it is a balancing act of navigating all of the different things that you mentioned, those microaggressions, the bias, the sexism, the racism, like all of that. That is real. So, you couldn't have said it better and I don't want to continue to belabor it, but Jasmine, you hit the nail right on the head with that. And we continue to do the work. And I think one of the things, if there's an aspect for me personally in my professional side of this is having to think about this from even a global lens because the work of women in the workplace is not all the same.

We don't all need the same thing. It's just women as a category. But when you think about what a Black woman needs, and then translating that globally, and to my, to my clients and to my colleagues, what their needs are, being considerate of that. So it is a lot to have to think about, to handle and to try to deliver. So I agree. I agree wholeheartedly with you there.

JG: Well one of our responsibilities as diversity and inclusion professionals is to create a safe and inclusive workplace where our colleagues feel like they can be their true, authentic selves. And I know recently there's just been this term that's been thrown around, it's being called allyship and different people are starting to define what it means to be an ally. So Franklin, how do you involve allies in the diversity, equity and inclusion conversation and action?

FR: Great question. I first want to say, I wrote down meditation, good music and hot tea.

JG: Yes.

FR: I am going to try that as soon as we're done here. Thank you for that. So how do I involve allies into the DEI conversation? And I think you said that the last words you use in that question and action is really the most important part of this question. First of all, driving change for communities and individuals whose voice may not be as prevalent, or they may not have a seat at the table or their perspectives may not be represented to the degree that they need to, when decisions are being made. Having individuals who are in the room, who have the power, who have the equity, it is important that they recognize that, that's what they have, but then that they're also recognizing the responsibility that they have to also leverage that access, leverage the power and leverage the equity to create a more equitable organization and a more equitable society.

And so the way I have involved allies at TEKsystems has been one, to cast a vision that this work requires the involvement of every single individual. It's not just work to support. Obviously, we identify as Black individuals, but this, we're involved in supporting the work across differences, which is a spectrum.

And so it involves everyone, as there's a scripture that says, having their hands on the plow, if you will, and being involved in the work. But more importantly for me, the way that I have involved allies, is to model it by engaging our leaders. Because if our leaders model what it means to be involved in the work, if our most senior leaders are actually rolling up their sleeves and they're allowing themselves to be in what may be perceived an uncomfortable situation, because the topic might be somewhat sensitive or they're investing additional time, effort, and energy and resources to support a particular work. The way that I've driven allyship is to ensure that they are at the forefront of modeling this behavior that we expect to show up and to be seen across the organization. We launched an Executive Inclusion Council that involves some of our most senior leaders, and it's chaired by our president and myself.

It's a visible group of individuals, but then we also poll our leaders who aren't a part of this council, but are leaders across the organization. And we're rolling out an expectation around accountability, for them to be involved in, to drive the change in behaviors, as well as the change in outcomes that we're looking for. And so this is one of the principal ways that we are leveraging our allies. 

Something else that we're investigating and really getting clear about is what are the actions of allies? What does it mean to be an ally? What does it mean to be one, then we talk about concept of even accomplices? But what does that mean and how does that show up in an organization on a consistent basis?

And this is part of the conversation that we're having a great time with. Great, great question, Jasmine. I do want to boomerang this question back at you, because I know that you all have also gone down a similar path and that you not only launched your D&I council and that's evolved into even the work around the allyship journey. Can you talk a little bit about what MLA is doing around allies?

JG: Sure. So at Major, Lindsey & Africa and Allegis Partners, leaders committed to a five-year diversity, inclusion and belonging strategic plan. And currently we are in year two of the implementation process. This requires continuous attention to all aspects of what it means to support everyone in being their true, authentic self in the workplace. For us, we define allyship as an ongoing commitment that takes courage and as you mentioned earlier, Franklin, action. Serving as an ally is a journey that requires us to check our privilege, lead with empathy, have a listening ear, be respectfully inquisitive, be an upstander, and be open to continuous learning, including receiving feedback from underrepresented employees. 

Allies create work cultures that attract and retain the best and the brightest employees. They commit to diversity inclusion, equity and belonging in a meaningful and lasting way to support the advancement of underrepresented employees. To support well-intentioned colleagues prepare to become allies, we are implementing an Allies for Inclusion and Belonging initiative in Q2.

Our executive management team is working with our diversity, inclusion and belonging leadership council to roll out the initiative. It will include interactive training with scenarios, quick tips that will be both shared internally, as well as externally, videos, resource guides and like a TED Talk platform, we will have Inclusion Talk to name a few of the aspects to our initiative. And as you can hear in my voice, I am excited to embed this initiative in our firm culture, and feel confident that this initiative will help each participant be seen as a better colleague, a better trusted client advisor, a better family member and friend, and overall a better global citizen. So if you want to follow us on our diversity, inclusion and belonging journey, starting in Q3, go ahead, follow us on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. There, we'll share with everyone what our diversity, inclusion and belonging journey is. I'm particularly focusing in on allyship.

BS: I love that from both of you all. Those are some amazing things that you all have going on at the companies and your personal views on it, and very similar at AGS as well. Like you said, Franklin, having the executive inclusion councils and having the leadership that are involved and very much a part of the messaging cascading things down. And if there will be one point to ask overall and the idea of allies and how do you bring them in and moving it forward is turning allies into advocates as well. When they're actually putting forth risk for, of their own selves, for the sake of others. Speaking up on behalf, actually putting it all out there. And that's how you show solidarity. That's how you operate in bravery when you risk something of yourself for the sake of others.

So really moving from just being an ally to actually being an advocate of underrepresented groups or populations within our company. So, that's all amazing work that all of the companies are doing. So it makes it very exciting to be a part of the organization.

FR: Absolutely.

BSPerfect. Well with this job, as we've discussed there, we have certainly had our fair share of challenges that come along with doing this work, but there's also been a lot of opportunity. And I want to talk about what keeps me going, what keeps me excited about this work. And one of the most proudest moments that I've experienced so far in my career doing this work is I remember being one of the featured speakers at a company summit event to talk about our I and D initiatives and goals for the upcoming year. And I remember after stepping off stage and during one of the breaks, a young Black woman came up to me and she just mentioned how proud she was to see someone that looked like her, up on stage, speaking at a company event.

And that's me and, my natural hair, my Black, my bright colors, Jasmine, as you mentioned, like just truly be myself up on stage speaking at our company event. And it gave her optimism that she can continue to strive to achieve all the goals that she had for herself. And that really solidified when we talk about representation, like, it matters. She saw someone that looked like her up on the stage, for the company speaking, and she thought that could be me one day too. So that was definitely one of my proudest moments that I've had, that keeps me going. This work is important and we have to keep pushing forward, even through the challenges. I'm interested to know, Jasmine, what about you? What has been one of your proudest moments you've had in this work?

JG: So supporting employee resource groups mature and their development process is one of my proudest moments as a DEI practitioner. It brings a smile to my face when I can help them develop business goals and work together to implement them. At this point, these groups are seen as a business add who can help me shape the company culture and take us further on our journey to inclusion and belonging. So they’re no longer seen as the group of Black people all getting together or the group of LGBTQ individuals all getting together, or all the parents wanting to get together. But now they're being seen as, these are actual innovation teams getting together to help leadership think about ways in which we can be more inclusive. And so now that we're getting out of the mindset of just seeing these as just social groups, and now they're actually being seen as business partners, that simply excites me.

FR: I could not agree more.

BS: Absolutely. Franklin, what about you? I'm pretty sure you've had some mighty moments in your 20-year time span of your career in this space, but what's been the proudest?

FR: So it's going to sound simple. I actually was thinking about this and there's maybe two things. If I had to just boil it down to the two things that really, really make me smile and, probably the two things that I would default when I talk to people about my job. First of all, let me just say, I absolutely love, love, love what I do. And so seeing the outcomes of what I do and the change and the embrace of people is really the thing that I'm most proud of. Seeing people starting to value difference when I'm not in the room or hearing stories of people feeling seen, feeling heard, supported, and it didn't require me prompting or someone on my team prompting or a known ally or champion prompting the individual to do that. To me, that is, that's one of my most proudest moments.

The other thing that I'm really proud of is our ability as an organization to align our business objectives with our CSR efforts.Where historically our CSR efforts have been that we provide resources and donations and our time in support of organizations throughout the community. And that is absolutely critical. And we're still doing that. One of the things that we did several years ago in partnership with our Vice President of HR Faith Johnson, is the two of us came together, where we brought not just our CSR efforts, which she leads, but we brought together our inclusion and diversity efforts, which I lead. And we were intentional about creating opportunity for technology careers for individuals who are underrepresented in this space and within communities that are often overlooked. And in doing that, we also recognize that not only are we creating this equity of opportunity, but we're also creating this equity of income, as individuals find their way into some of our partners like a Per Scholas or Creating IT Futures. They obtain technology skills, and then we come alongside them to help them find meaningful and long-term employment.

We're changing, not just that family, but we're changing the next generation of that family. And then we know we're changing that community because that income and the dollars are going back to the community. And so we know we're impacting the community. And so that convergence, if you will, of our CSR efforts and our business objectives, along with diversity, equity and inclusion to me, is absolutely remarkable and powerful, and really, really excites me.

BS: I love that. It's so much bigger than us and it's withstandingthe efforts and things that you're doing now, or have experienced now will have a lasting impact way beyond us. And so I agree. I love that.

JGAnd that's why we do the work.


JG: With good music and hot tea. And don't forget meditation.

BS: Don't forget the meditation.

JG: Absolutely. So I know that we are all optimistic individuals because to be a diversity, equity and inclusion professional, you have to be optimistic. You have to see the best in people. And I think that our work, when we see that our work is really helping people, it excites us. So, Brooke, I'm wondering, where are you most excited about for 2021?

BS: Yes. I'm on a new journey in the I&D space for 2021, which is strategizing and helping our clients integrate anI&D strategy for their contingent labor force. It's a new move, something new and exciting. And I cannot be more proud to be able to take my clients on this journey to know and recognize that not only for your internal business as having strong I&D goals and initiatives, important for you as a company, but also that contingent labor force piece. So that is what I'm most excited about implementing and integrating new strategies for them.

JG: Sounds great. I'm excited for you.

BS: Yes. I'll keep you updated on how that's going. Perfect. Well as we come to an end on our podcast today, I don't want to leave without us getting some insider information on our guests and myself as well. So it's always fun to get some insight onto what you have going on in your world. And so I've got a couple of questions that I just want to throw out that are help our listeners get to know us a little bit more on an intimate level, because we're always talking about being inclusive. So all those things that help us through our day and just navigate our space. So I'm going to start with you, Franklin, what podcast are you listening to right now?

FR: Oh, that's an easy one. And I've got a lot that I listen to, but I rarely ever miss an episode of NPR's Code Switch.

BS: Jasmine, what about you?

JG: I am listening to three podcasts right now regularly. I am listening to I Choose the Ladder,my Morehouse brothers podcast, Bakari SellersViewpointand Don Lemon's Silence is Not an Option.

BS: Oh, those are good. I'm going to have to check out the one by your Morehouse brother. My husband's a Morehouse graduate, so I better get on it. Right now, I'm listening to Urban Girl Corporate World, which is in its third season. And it's a podcast that celebrates the triumphs of modern professionals, navigating corporate spaces and entrepreneurship. And it's one of my friends, very close to me. So I'm always excited about supporting her and it's a great show. So definitely catch that when you can.

FR: Will do.

BS: All right, next question. Are we ready?Okay, Jasmine, I'll start with you this time. What book are you reading?

JG: What books am I reading and rereading? So, that's important. So I am rereading How to be an Anti-Racist. And one of my former colleagues let me know that there is a companion that goes along with it. That's a workbook journal, which is like, awesome. So now I have a companion as I'm rereading it. And then I'm also rereading How to be an Inclusive Leader. So now that I'm rolling out this ally program, it's like, okay, let me go back and read some of what Jennifer Brown is providing on how to be an inclusive leader.

BS: I love those. Those are both excellent books. Franklin, what's on your bookshelf that you're pulling down?

FR: So I am like Jasmine, except I always have like four or five books going.

JG: Absolutely.

FR: So I am currently reading [Culture Renovation]. We're involved in some pretty significant change efforts. And it's a book that is providing some insight for us as leaders within the organization, so I'm reading that. But I keep Reinventing Diversity by Howard Ross on my desk because I constantly refer to that book and the work that I'm doing as a reminder, to not be so myopic in how I go about doing this work, to just think outside the box. And so it's a fantastic book on driving change through the lens of inclusion, equity and diversity.

BS: Perfect. I like those. Right now I am again, rereading The Memo. I am in the process of reading Allies and Advocates: Creating an Inclusive and Equitable Culture. And then I also have The First 90 Days, being fairly new to my role. It is so important that I get up and running very quickly. The clients can't wait and this work keeps moving. So I'm always looking for ways to be more strategic in my efforts and in my day. So that's a book that I'm reading now as well. 

And then last but not least, the question that I have for you all. And I know we've had a very different 2020, that none of us could have expected. So when the world fully opens back up, what's going to be the first vacation spot you look forward to going to the most, Franklin?

FR: Costa Rica.

BS: Oh, you were ready.

FR: I was ready because I am ready.

JG: Zip lining

FR: My wife and I, we were planning to go to Italy for her birthday last year that we didn't get a chance to go to. So that is number two on the list as well.

BS: Oh my goodness. I had to cancel a trip to Italy too, for my five-year anniversary. So, that is number one on my list.

JG: So we all have something in common because I to, had to cancel a trip to Italy. And I was now missing like the great wine and the shopping. Oh my goodness. I didn't realize we all had that in common.

BS: Yes. So maybe we'll have to plan a group trip. We'll all go together.

JG: It can be a D&I meeting conference. I love it.

BS: Yes. I love that. I love that.

JG: And then we can have the tea together and we can meditate together.

BS: Oh, on the sunset. I can't wait.

JG: On the sunset.

BS: Perfect. Well, I want to thank each of you, Franklin and Jasmine for joining us today and sharing your experiences and expertise with our audience on diversity, inclusion and leadership. It has been very insightful, very enjoyable. And I look forward to all the great things that you both will be doing in your company for the year.

JG: Thank you.

FR: Thanks for having us.

BS: Thanks, great. Have a good day.

FE: Thank you for joining us today. A special thank you to Jasmine, Franklin and Brooke for sharing their experiences as inclusion and diversity leaders and the impact that open conversations and intentional actions around inclusion and diversity is having on their organizations. 

If you would like to learn more about Allegis Global Solutions please check us out at Allegisglobalsolutions.com. If you have any questions for Steve feel free to tweet us @allegisglobal with the #SubjectToTalent. Also, you can email us at SubjectToTalent@allegisglobalsolutions.com If you enjoyed our podcast today please subscribe, rate us, and leave a review. Until next time! Cheers!