64 : Diversity & Inclusion (w/ Chris Moreland)

We have the pleasure of speaking with Chris Moreland, the chief diversity and inclusion advocate at Vizient. He explains why he puts inclusion first and talks about the top three things most companies are getting wrong when it comes to D&I.

Connect with Chris on LinkedIn!


Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach.


Ade: It’s Ade.


Zach: So listen, y’all, we gonna get straight to it this time, ’cause we have a really special guest. I’m really excited. Today we have the opportunity–we had the opportunity rather to sit down and speak with Chris Moreland. He’s the chief inclusion and diversity advocate at Vizient Incorporated, based out of Dallas, Texas, and I’m just gonna read a little bit of his profile so we can kind of talk about what we’re talking about today. Known for possessing a contagious regard for winning, a bias for action and a healthy disrespect for insurmountable challenges. A street-smart C-level leader with a diverse industry background, an indispensable partner for innovative organizations, people development, and building teams. Chris is best known for leading organizations through change, developing innovative solutions, and deciphering ambiguity. He established a track record of performance and execution at Fortune 500 icons like Vizient, Microsoft, Expedia, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Pepsi, and Mobil, okay? So this person that we got to speak to today, he and I had an amazing conversation about inclusion and diversity, and in the conversation that you’re gonna hear, you’ll hear why he puts inclusion first, but we’re really excited and want y’all to hear the whole interview, and so we don’t want to make it too long by, you know, adding to it, so–


Ade: We’re gonna keep it short and sweet.

Zach: That’s right, we’re gonna keep it short and sweet. So unfortunately, Ade, no Favorite Things this week.


Ade: Nope, but we have an amazing, amazing, amazing interview, so it’s good.


Zach: It’s dope. And after the interview, you know, we’ll wrap from there, but the next week we’ve got a B-Side, and it’s me and Ade talking about the interview, talking about D&I, and, you know, having fun. Hopefully y’all laugh. Maybe y’all will cry. Maybe you’ll laugh and cry at the same time. I don’t know. We’ll see. Maybe. [strange noise]


Ade: What was that noise? [laughs]


Zach: It was like a [strange noise]. It was a shrug. That’s, like, a shrug if I was to put a noise to it. [again]


Ade: I’m gonna pass on your sound effects skills once again.


Zach: Man, my sound effects skills are fire, but that’s okay. In fact, you know what? Hold on. JJ, go ahead and give me some air horns, one time for ya head top, for Chris Moreland, ’cause he gave us a fire interview. [imitating air horns] Let’s go. [JJ drops ’em] I’m giving him the air horns before we even get to the interview. That’s how fire the interview was. What’s up?


Ade: Look, I don’t disagree. Shout-out to Chris. Amazing conversation.


Zach: Shout-out to Chris.


Ade: You on the other hand are a walking dad joke store.


Zach: Yo, I really feel like–so watching that movie Us, I really feel as if that character that ya mans was playing was really just me in, like, five years with no beard, but that’s me.


Ade: Like, Winston Duke’s character?


Zach: Yes, I feel like that’s me.


Ade: I have not heard great reviews, so you probably should not–


Zach: No, first of all, Us is fire, and we can talk about that later.


Ade: Well, not–you know what? Yes, let’s close this out.


Zach: So shout-out to Chris, shout-out to Vizient, and yo, shout-out to him being the chief storyteller at Storyteller’s Consulting. He’s gonna talk a little bit about that in the interview as well, and we’ll make sure we have all of this information in the podcast notes, but look, until next week, it’s been Zach.


Ade: And this has been Ade.


Zach: Y’all check out this interview. Peace.


Ade: Peace.


Zach: And we’re back. And so as we shared before the break, we have Chris Moreland on the show. Chris, welcome to the show, man. How are you doing?


Chris: I’m fantastic. Thanks so much, Zach.


Zach: For those of us who don’t know you, would you mind sharing a bit about yourself and how you got into your field?


Chris: Absolutely. Well, my name is Chris Moreland. I reside in Dallas, Texas, and I am now the chief inclusion and diversity advocate at Vizient. Vizient is basically a supply chain company that does GPO for health care systems. We do about 100–maybe 105, 110 billion dollars worth of hospital spend on an annual basis.


Zach: That’s awesome. You know, I guess for me–so let me just say as a quick aside, and this isn’t even in my questions, but I just wanted to say it–it’s really inspiring to see a person of color, and frankly a black man, in such a position of influence, and I’m just really excited to have you here. So I probably should’ve said that at the beginning. I don’t really care. This is our show. I just want to tell you that I’m happy that you’re here.


Chris: It’s good to be here. It’s good to be here.


Zach: Absolutely. So look, let’s get into it. So I’m on this app, right, called Fishbowl, and it’s an anonymous posting app for consultants. Every now and then diversity and inclusion comes up, and most are disillusioned by the topic because it’s being seen as a lot of talk and very little walk. So what do you think are some of the top three things most companies are getting wrong when they talk about diversity and inclusion?


Chris: Right. That’s a really good question, Zach, and it’s not a simple answer, but I’ll try to simplify the answer. There are several things that companies are not getting right, and if you–if you look at the most recent research, I think it points to some very important things that I think, going forward, we really need to focus on. The first thing is that most companies tend to put diversity and inclusion into the bucket of human resources as though it is part of a function which is different than the function of marketing, which is different than the function of, you know, research and development, which would be different than the function of sales. I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes, by putting it specifically in a function. The second thing that I think goes wrong often times with the way companies approach diversity and inclusion is around–they use education as a way of changing behaviors, and we can talk about this a lot more later, but education has been proven now as being the least credible way of changing a human being’s behavior, okay? And then the third piece, which I think a lot of people get wrong as far as diversity and inclusion, is how they think about diversity and inclusion relative to accountability. It’s one thing to talk about it, but it’s a whole ‘nother thing when no one ultimately is accountable for the changes that they would like to make relative to diversity and inclusion.


Zach: Expound upon that a bit more if you could.


Chris: Absolutely. So the first piece around which function generally owns diversity and inclusion, and that being human resources. The reason why that normally doesn’t vet out very well for companies is that the organization then feels like their [?] human resource officer is ultimately responsible for diversity and inclusion, and that’s an error. Diversity and inclusion should be part of every function. It should be part of the culture of the organization. It should not be quarantined off into a specific function, because it should flow just like values, just like goals, just like culture. It should be part of the way we do business. It should be used as an enabler, not as a functionally-constrained part of an organization. You know, the second piece, which points education–education, as you know, is something that people try to use to make different decisions and result in different behaviors, but as you know if you’ve ever gone to church, if you’ve ever seen students in school, education doesn’t necessarily mean that once a person knows what they should do, knows the right thing to do, understands the impact of certain actions, that they are going to then adopt those habits, those practices. Each of us go to church every Sunday, and we–depending upon what denomination you may be part of, but you can see the same church crowd that sits in the pews on Sunday, they go out and cut each other off in traffic immediately following the service in some cases, and so it’s–you know, it’s a bad way of thinking that “I’m going to change the behavior by telling you the right thing to do.” And in the last piece, which is what I call just accountability, is that, you know, again, if it’s in HR, a lot of times HR feels accountable solely, but no one else in the organization feels as though they have any accountability. They feel as though it has been quarantined off and thus there is a function that is accountable for it, but that is the only function that ultimately becomes accountable for it in that instance, so yeah.


Zach: Man, that’s incredible. When you and I first met, we talked about diversity and inclusion, and you told me–you said, “Zach, you know, a lot of times people get those letters–the order of those letters wrong, and they should be putting inclusion first.” So let me ask you this – what does inclusion really mean practically, and how can companies actualize inclusion in the workplace?


Chris: Right. So inclusion, in my title and at least at Vizient, we actually put that word in front of diversity, because inclusion has more to do with the actions that you are taking. Inclusion has to do with “Who’s in the conversation? Is the conversation being had? Does everyone’s perspective, opinions, and backgrounds matter? Is there value seen in my difference?” Not “Am I different?” Diversity, which really comes from a Latin root word meaning “divertere,” or “to divert, to separate.” It’s the differences between us. It’s pretty much meaningless in any organization unless you have the inclusion part first, and the inclusion means that I see you, I see your differences, and I see the value in those differences, and ultimately I don’t want to move forward with any decision, with any strategy, with any proposal, until I get all different sides of this idea understood and heard, because understanding that when I am inclusive I actually get a much better outcome. It should always precede diversity. Diversity by itself is pretty meaningless unless it is preceded by inclusion.


Zach: Yeah. No, absolutely, and so I’m curious – what methods have you seen that are effective when it comes to organizations really leaning into the inclusion piece of their I&D strategy?


Chris: Right. That’s a great question, because there is a–there is a huge difference. It’s like night and day when it comes to organizations and effectiveness of those organizations when you do lead with inclusion. A couple of practices. One, there is–there are very few human beings that I’ve met thus far who are openly and consciously biased. In other words, open and conscious bias means that I see you, I see your differences, and I am absolutely just going to deliberately exclude those differences from my decisions, from my thoughts, from my practices, from my campaigns and everything else. When I lead with inclusion, what it does is it says I understand that I have this subconscious, this subliminal, this unconscious ability or need or desire to assimilate with those things that look similar to me, and we all have this in our personalities. We all want to assimilate with like things. We want to be around people who look like us, act like us, talk like us, have the same backgrounds as us, because it makes us more comfortable, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but in order to actively have an inclusive culture, you have to understand that it’s an uphill battle. It goes against our natural tendencies, and so when organizations actually adopt a truly inclusive culture, it doesn’t start with just education, making people aware of the subconscious knack to go away from things that are not like you. It actually does more than that. It goes to creating an understanding of what those differences are and why and how those differences can and should be used to create greater value. I’m not talking about, in this case, educating you on unconscious bias. I think you may remember more recently in the news Starbucks had a situation with one of their restaurants, and they shut their stores down for an entire half-day, and what they did was they focused on educating people on unconscious bias. So there was a training that was done around unconscious bias, and the net effect of that training based on all research is that it had a shelf life of about 90 minutes.


Zach: 90 min–an hour and a half?!


Chris: 90–an hour and a half. It had a shelf life of 90 minutes, but then our natural, innate tendencies go back to exactly the way we were before we were exposed to that education and training. And so the good thing is that they at least acknowledged that there needed to be something done. The bad thing is that they’re using the same tools that we used in 1962, in this country, in order to make civil rights the rights of everyone, and you can see, you know, 50 some odd years later, the outcomes are the same. It’s because the techniques and the practices are the same. A lot of it is education, and then the second piece to that is legislation. So when you educate and legislate, you believe that, “Oh, things are going to change.” They don’t change. These are behavioral tendencies that we have to tap into in order to try and counteract things and make people’s behaviors actually change.


Zach: Well, see, it’s interesting that you say that because–in terms of the historical lens by which you’re looking through to discuss inclusion and diversity and facilitating change, because I don’t necessarily know if I–if I see a lot of the historical narrative being engaged when we talk about effective methods and approaches to really driving inclusion and diversity, and often times, in my experience, these programs rarely even engage the subject of race explicitly, even to the point where they may create, like, different points of diversity. Like, diversity of thought, diversity of education, and yes, I’m not saying that those points don’t exist, Chris, but historically, like, those points, they’re strongly interwoven with the intersection of gender and ethnicity, right? But I don’t know if I necessarily 1. see a lot of invoking of history when we talk about education and effective methods moving forward in the future, and I don’t know if I see a lot of–in fact, sometimes I hear diversity of thought or diversity of education or diversity of background really used as replacements for diversity of race and intersection between–intersectionality of gender and race. Have you seen that? And if you kind of see where I’m coming from, why do you think that is?


Chris: Yeah. So let me answer both questions pretty quickly, and then I’ll get into a little detail. So the answer is yes and yes. Yes, I have seen it happen. Yes, it is very, very frustrating, and yes, I do understand why it is happening the way that it is happening, because–first let’s go back to the terms of diversity and inclusion and why most people tend to use the word diversity preceding the word inclusion. It is because it is a lot easier for me to point out all of the differences between, you know, the 7.5 billion people that are in this world. I can tell you there are differences for all of us, and we should all be aware of and appreciative of all of those differences, but let’s think about that at a neurological level, because that’s where change happens. It happens at a neurological level. So Zach, if you walk into a room, and a person who walks into a room–and you’re originally from where, Texas?


Zach: Yes.


Chris: Okay, so you’re originally from Texas. So you walk into a room, and then right next to you a straight Caucasian male walks into the room, and his background just happens to not be from Texas. Let’s say he’s from L.A., okay? So he has diversity of experience. You have diversity of race. You both walk into the same room, and you’re both seen by a group of executives that are sitting around the table that you’re about to engage. Sitting around that table, what do you physically think the reaction will be of your presence versus your male straight white counterpart’s presence who just happens to be from L.A.? Both having diversity, you know, based on just them walking into the room. And again, the audience–let’s say the audience is full of Texans, okay? So if you–go ahead. Please answer that question, and then I can go on.


Zach: [laughs] Yeah, I think–I think that if it’s all Texans and they are, let’s say, all white men, I think they’re gonna gravitate and presume that the white–my white counterpart is the more senior, more competent authority in the space.


Chris: Exactly. There are a certain set of assumptions that go into your brain, in other people’s brains, the second you or I walk into a room. The second you or I walk into a bus, the second you or I walk into an elevator. And again, I do not blame the neuroscience behind the minds of the individuals who make assumptions as soon as you or I walk into a room, but it is very different when I used the word diversity talking about race versus when I use the word diversity and I talk about a person’s background or a person’s education, because certain people have certain assumptions that are attributed to their physical being. They can’t help it. You can’t help what I think about when I look at you as you walk into a room. You have no control over that. It’s just like the white straight male from L.A. cannot help what I may think about him when he walks into the room, but some of these assumptions, some of these thoughts, some of these implicit biases are nothing–they have nothing to do with who’s standing in front of you, okay? So I think–going back to your question, I think a lot of times–in the field of diversity and inclusion we’ve now migrated away from the cornerstone of diversity and inclusion, which had everything to do with gender and race, and we’ve migrated now to diversity of thought, diversity of background, diversity of experience, diversity of a lot of different things, and I’m not saying any of those things are wrong, but I am saying that neurologically, when I think about the word diversity, the reason why I believe we have to go back to the cornerstone of diversity, which has everything to do with gender and race, because of that reaction when you walked into the room with your white male counterpart. Until I can get this country and individuals in corporate America past the fact that they have no control over that implicit bias associated with that initial impression, then I cannot move forward and start thinking about other forms of diversity because there is an implicit association associated with just your physical presence that, quite frankly, has a stereotype associated with it, and it has a whole set of thoughts and assumptions associated with just your physical presence, which is where I think the work needs to be done, which is where I think we need to start building from.


Zach: So you’ve made mention about making authentic connections and those neuropathic pathways. I’d love to hear more about that. When we first spoke, like, you talked about that. I’d love to hear more about that, because as you and I know, the real change happens at the executive level. So one, please expound a little bit about those pathways and those genuine, like, connections, and then what methods have you seen be effective in driving that sort of openness to be connected outside of one’s comfort zone at, like, the top and highest of levels?


Chris: Wow. So big question. [both laugh] I’m gonna start with three words, and then I’m gonna dive into each of those words just briefly so I can uncover some of what you’ve asked. The first word I want to talk about is a word called covering. The second word, or words, I want to talk about is safe place, and then the third word that I want to talk to you about is change and change management, okay? And these are all different, but they’re all connected. So covering, let’s start off with that. The reason why men and women who look like you and I, who work in corporate America, spend a large percentage of their time covering is because we understand that there are certain stigmas associated with our physical presence and there’s no getting around it. The reason why you or I might not necessarily be as open to talk about some of our childhood experiences in the corporate setting is because we do not feel as though they are appropriate, and so we hide them, we cover them. Covering is an actual term that was coined back in the mid-’60s by a sociologist who talked about stigmas associated with all different types of people, and we all have them, you know? Straight white men also have the habits of covering, but they are a lot deeper when it comes to some of the underrepresented races in this country. So if you’re either foreign background or of a heritage that puts you into a category as far as being called brown of some sort or shade in this country, you spend a lot of your physical energy covering, covering up who you authentically are, because you do not feel as though it’s appropriate. You do not feel that you will have a good opportunity to assimilate unless you cover. And covering goes across the board. It’s everything from how you groom yourself to, you know, as you’re getting older, some of us, you know, color the gray hairs that may be popping out of our heads, and others of us cover even things like our bodies. Our bodies are a lot of times covered. There’s a–the first billionaire female in this country made a billion dollars by covering women. It’s the woman who started the SPANX brand in this country. The first billionaire woman under 40, I believe it is. SPANX. SPANX is nothing more than us having an openly bias toward a thinner physical person, and thus SPANX helps us do that, and so we like to cover the fact that we are not necessarily of a certain physicality, and we hide that through things like SPANX. So covering is where a lot of this starts. Go ahead. You have a question.


Zach: I was gonna say–you were talking about SPANX. You know, it kind of reminds me of the first black–the first black female billionaire, Madam C.J. Walker, right?


Chris: Absolutely, absolutely.


Zach: Right? With selling perms and relaxers, right? Like, that was–I think that kind of falls into the bucket of covering. Please continue though. This is amazing.


Chris: Yeah. No, you’ve hit something that is extremely important. I wasn’t gonna talk about it because a lot of us suffer from this, but the reason why weaves, the reasons why straight hair, the reason why the European look for African-Americans in this country has been such a phenomenon and has made so many millionaires and billionaires in this country, is because of this thing called covering. When we view something as being the way that we need to better assimilate, we spend our entire lives trying to fit that image, trying to mold ourselves into the image of what we want to assimilate into. We bleach our skin. We straighten our hair. We change the way our body is shaped, all with an effort to cover who we actually are. So a lot of this starts with the idea of [or phenomenon?] called covering. Let me move to the second piece, which is safe space. Safe space is what your executive leaders at every major corporation in this country need to create in order for other people not to feel the need to cover. A safe space is basically an environment or a culture where inclusion is part of what they just do. Inclusion means that I am going to allow you to show up and be your authentic self because I think there is so much value in that. “Chris, I want you to come to work. I want you to dress, act like, be like, you know, fashion yourself after who you really are versus who you believe we want you to be, because we see value in that. We see and understand the value of your differences. We want to know who you are really, and through that story we’re actually going to use it to create a better organization, a better company, a better culture.” So the idea of creating a safe space can only be done when senior leaders see and understand the influence that they have on an organization and in a culture. If you’ve ever been in an organization where you felt like there were certain things you can’t do, you can’t say, certain ways that you just can’t act–and not because they’re inappropriate, but just because the leader, who creates the culture, has already deemed certain things as being inappropriate, and if you’ve been in any corporation in this country you know, depending upon which company you’re a part of, there’s certain things that are just not allowed, and those certain things often times are usually authentic parts of who you are. They’re not abusive. They’re not distasteful. They’re just part of who you naturally are. One key example is my administrative assistant, who for the longest time had been wearing hair pieces and weaves and wigs and everything else, and she had been working for me for about two years, and she called me one weekend in almost a panic, and I answered the phone and I said, “What’s going on? What’s happening?” And she just happens to be African-American, and she said, “Chris, I’m going to text you a picture of me, and I want you to let me know if it’s okay.” I said, “Okay,” and I thought it was–I thought it had more to do with clothing that she was wearing. She texted me a picture of her wearing her natural hair.


Zach: Oh, wow.


Chris: Wearing her natural hair, and she said, “Is it okay if I show up to work on Monday without my wigs?” And I said to her–and I’m not gonna use her name ’cause I don’t want to embarrass her on this podcast, but I said, “Oh, my God.” I said, “You look beautiful.” I said, “You look like my sister. You look like my daughter. You look like my mother. You look like my friend. You look like the person who is my partner at work, and I love your authentic self.” I said, “Do not ever feel like you have to cover who you are to show up at work.” She says, “Well, I just wasn’t sure if it was appropriate,” and I told her–I said, “You are beautiful as you are. Please show up just like the picture has you,” and again, all she did was allow her hair to be natural, and it was just curly, a little kinky, but it was the cutest, most beautiful picture I have ever seen, and since time she has worn her natural hair every day of the week.


Zach: That’s beautiful, yeah.


Chris: Exactly. I could not make this story up. So as a senior leader, your job, your accountability, is to create a safe space so that people who are different can actually show up as themselves. The third piece that I would talk to you a little bit about is called accountability or change management, and when I say change management/accountability, what that to me says is that’s, again, the job of the senior leaders in the organization, and that has more to do with if they show up as what I call Pepsi perfect, then they have already set the standard. If they do not or are not willing to show any humility or vulnerability, then no one else will feel like they can make mistakes or be vulnerable. They set the stage, the culture, for the organization and how the organization is going to evolve, and when they believe that they have to be perfect or show up perfect or set requirements such that there can be no mistakes, then you get very unauthentic, unengaged people showing up. The last piece of your question was methodology, and “Chris, how do you think we can use–what methodology have you used to try to create this environment of safety, this culture of inclusion and the ability for people to show up authentically?” And I’ll tell you, it starts at the neurological level, and that is it has everything to do with your ability to articulate who you really are, and I call that story-telling. And the reason why I call it story-telling is because there is actually a neuroscience change that happens in your brain when you hear a person’s story. When you take the time to understand a person’s background, when you take the time to understand what has gotten a person to where they are in life, you change yourself. The reason why you change is for two things actually. One, the reason you change is because your brain doesn’t know the difference between an experience and a story. So if I tell you a–if I tell you about a story, it is the same thing as if you were to experience it yourself. If I talked to you about my story of growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, and basically having to take two buses and a train to get to school every day and some of the experiences that I had going through, you know, high school and college, after I finished my story, Zach, you will neurologically change, because your body–your brain doesn’t know the difference between my story and you actually experiencing some of that yourself, and so you get this flood of hormones that go through your body which actually change the neuro-receptors in your brain and make–because your brain has this thing called plasticity, you actually change. You feel different about me, and the reason why you feel different about me is because you see a part of you in me. Because it may be a completely different experience that I had in high school or college or even in the work environment, but as I tell you my story, you see yourself in me, and it brings you and I together. And it’s not just you and I, it’s me and the CEO. It’s me and the chief marketing officer. It’s me and the chief operating officer. So as opposed to that person or those people relying heavily on what they physically see when I walk into the room, when I tell them my story and I learn their stories, they can no longer look at me the same way because they have neurologically changed. We have created relationship where was none before.


Zach: Wow.


Chris: Yeah.


Zach: [both laugh] Hold on. You know what I like about you, Chris? Well, I like a lot of things about you, but I like the way that you be–you be hitting, like–you be hitting [?] bars, and then you’ll be like, “Yeah.” Like, “That was fire and I know it. React to that.” [both laugh] No, no, no. There’s so much there, and I think–first of all, we’re probably gonna–we’re definitely gonna have to have a part two to this podcast because I want to get deeper. At the same time I don’t want us to go have a two-hour podcast, but I do want to follow-up on something. So then when you’re talking about creating these–like, sharing these stories and making these connections, you know, what are ways that black and brown professionals coming into an organization can facilitate that in a way that manages up? Like, what are ways that they could do that and help move the needle forward in their favor? What are ways that they could–they could share their stories and create those connections that would support and help them in their careers?


Chris: God, that’s a great question. So I’m gonna use a term which is based on education, which I told you at first that education does not necessarily change you, but I want to use this term from education ’cause you can start using it and applying it in your day-to-day. And it’s a whole study and science around this thing called emotional intelligence, okay? So emotional intelligence, a quick definition of what it is – it’s just your ability to take everything that’s going on today in your life, Zach, everything that happened, you know, this morning–you know, you, you know, getting out of bed at a certain time, having to, you know, get certain things done, worrying about certain other things that probably lingered from the weekend–your ability to take all of those things that are just clawing and drawing at your attention and put them to the background and focus on Chris during this podcast. Your ability to do that is the quick definition of what emotional intelligence is. It’s all of our ability to take everything that’s going on in our lives and put it as a backdrop and to be present and able to listen to and serve the person who is sitting in front of us. So taking ourselves and putting ourselves secondary to another human being, but how does emotional intelligence actually help us as we’re trying to create these inclusive organizations, to your point or your question, “How do we manage up?” We do it by being emotionally intelligent, and I’ll give you a little bit more definition about how that application actually works at work. First of all and foremost, emotional intelligence is the best-correlated skill set to career advancement that there is. Let me pause and say that one more time. Emotional intelligence has the greatest correlation to career advancement than anything else. It is higher than IQ. You may get a job because of a high IQ. You get promoted because of a high EQ, and in this case EQ is emotional intelligence. And so how does that show up and how does that work? It works like this. As you get into an organization–and let’s just say that you are different from an ethnicity or from a race-based perspective–first of all, all eyes are on you, and you probably know that if you’ve been employed by any of the major Fortune 1500 companies in this country, and because all eyes are on you, you get a lot of exposure that you had not even really anticipated or asked for, but the way you manage that from an emotional intelligence perspective is that you spend all of your time trying to find out and figure out what is going on with other individuals and people around you. One of the first things I did when I came to Vizient seven years ago–this is the truth–is that I went up to the CEO–first of all, I didn’t take the job until I got a chance to meet the CEO, and I made that a prerequisite before I even came to the organization because I knew that the CEO creates the culture, and I wanted to figure out exactly what type of culture he had created. The first meeting that I had with him, the first thing that we talked about was his dress, the way he dressed, and the reason why we talked about the way he dressed is because he dressed the way I had always wanted to dress. It was very colorful. He had–you know, custom jeans on. He had designer shoes on. I mean, even to this day I can’t afford everything that he wore, but it was so well put together that our first conversation was around his dress. I then wanted to understand how did he progress through the organization, so we had a really long conversation about the fact that he started out as an analyst, you know, 30 something odd years ago and then eventually was promoted up through the ranks of CEO. I found out about his wife and her background and the fact that she started out as a CPA. I also had many, many conversations with him about his son. He only has one son, and his son at the time was just about to enter college, and he had an incredible attraction to African art. I also found out that he spent a lot of time in New Mexico, and the reason why he spent a lot of time in New Mexico is because 1. it gave him a chance to get away from Texas, and 2. he was able to basically walk down the street and people really not know who he was or what he did. So he could kind of not have to be a CEO for those periods of time where he got a chance to get away. The reason why I tell you this story is because I immersed myself in understanding who he is, how he thought, how he worked, what was important to him, what his likes were and what his dislikes were, and as I did that, as I immersed in his life, he then paid the same respect to me. He paid the same respect to me, because he began asking questions about me and my story and what brought me to where I was in my career, in my life, in my work and everything else, and we built a very strong relationship. I’m gonna pause on that word relationship, because a lot of times the things that hold us back in corporate America, especially if we show up either from a gender difference or from an ethnicity difference, is that we don’t take the time to form those relationships, and they have to be formed very selflessly. Very purposefully but very selflessly. You cannot walk into a relationship and expect a person to just automatically, you know, ask you about your family or your spouse or your education or anything else like that, even though that’s a big part of your story. You have to first start out by asking them about themselves. I always tell people when they’re about to go to an interview or if they’re about to, you know, have a first conversation with another human being, and I tell them, “Use the 80/20 rule,” and the 80/20 rule says that you should only talk 20% of the time, because when you’re talking, you’re not listening. When you’re talking, you’re not able to hear the story of the other person who is in front of you, who emotional intelligence tells you should be the center of your attention for that interaction. Does that make sense?


Zach: It does make sense. For sure, for sure. So let me ask you this, because I’d like to get, you know, your prediction. Based on your expertise as an I&D subject matter expert, like, what is the future of I&D if it stays its current course?


Chris: Yeah. I will tell you if it stays its current course–we’ve seen the current course trajectory for inclusion and diversity over the last 50+ years. We still have the same representation of minorities in CEO positions and board director positions and females in CEO positions and board director positions that we’ve had for the last, you know, 30+ years. That course has not changed. We have the same make-up as far as individuals who are moving into C-level jobs. We’ve got the same make-up that we’ve had, you know, for the last 35, 40+ years. That trajectory has already been put in place, and it continues to be there even though the demographics of this country have completely changed. As a matter of fact, if you’re under the age of 18 right now, the majority in this country have actually become the minority and the minority have become the majority, but it doesn’t mean–because the numbers are there, it doesn’t mean that there will be change in organizations and corporations and boards of directors and people making key decisions. If you look across the world, we see where that phenomena has happened in other countries, where the minorities in a country are actually still in powerful positions over the majority of people who actually happen to be part of the organization or the countries, because they have not changed. They have not understood how to change the mindsets and really tap into the value of the vast majority of people who actually inhabit the place that they’re at geographically. So the current trajectory has already proven out that it will remain the way it is, and the bad side, the down side of that trajectory, is that we don’t have the ability to tap into one of our greatest resources, which is the true, rich diversity of people that walk into organizations every day, that walk into churches every day, that walk past you down the streets every day.


Zach: Hm. That’s a heavy–that’s heavy, but this has been a great discussion, Chris, and, you know, before we wrap up, I’d like to know – are there any other projects that you’re working on?


Chris: Yes. Yeah, so the one–the latest project that is just unfolding at the conclusion here of 2018 has been a small I’ll just call it boutique consulting firm that I just decided I’m going to create, because I don’t see the current trajectory changing, and I said, “You know what? At the end of the day, one person can make a difference if they just figure it out and start doing it in a very meaningful way,” and so I just started a small firm called Storytellers Consulting, and Storytellers Consulting has a lot to do with what we just discussed on this podcast, and that is teaching executives how to tell their stories and how to bring the stories out of the people who they work with and how to create inclusive cultures and how to create safe spaces and how to evolve organizations into becoming more inclusive. If there is nothing that is done at the neurological level, change will not happen, period. So here’s my final thought on how change happens and why I know for sure this is true. So January. January is the most important month of the year for a lot of people, because they make a lot of promises to themselves. Most of us–most of us make promises like, “I’m going to lose that 10, 15, 20 pounds that has burdening me for the last, you know, 15 years of my life.” That resolution lasts ’til about February 15th. I always give people right up ’til about Valentine’s Day, and then the behaviors go back to what they used to be, right? And the reason why the behaviors go back to what they used to be is because change management requires for people to actually change neurologically, and the only way that that happens–let’s call it for the sake of losing weight–the only way that you’re gonna physically be able to lose weight and keep it off is if something triggers you to know that my behavior has to change or else there’s either a consequence or else I see the benefit so much that I’m not gonna go back to my bad habits, and for a lot of people, those changes happen only when you get burdened with something like–something bad is gonna happen to you if you don’t lose weight. Like, you get a call from the doc and they tell you the consequence of you not losing the weight. So short of that–because most people are not faced with that–short of that, we’ve got to change neurologically, which means that in order for me to physically make sure that you’re going to stick to your commitments, I’ve got to explain to you in a way that makes so much sense that you are not gonna go back to your bad habits regardless of the temptation. The reason why this is so important is because, again, for most of us, we get off the diets by February 15th, and the reason being is because we’ve done nothing to convince ourselves that we have to be on that diet or we have to change our way of living. In diversity and inclusion, that neuroscience change starts with creating a relationship. The same exact thing would happen if you were to–as opposed to telling someone else that you’re gonna lose a whole bunch of weight, if you signed up and created, let’s say, a partnership with someone and said, “You know what? For the next year, you and I, three times a week, are gonna meet at the gym. We’re gonna go together. I’m gonna hold you accountable, you’re gonna hold me accountable, and we are going to change our lives together.” When there is that partnership, that relationship, that neurological change inside of your head, inside of your body, it has a lot better of an opportunity of sticking, and so that’s exactly what we want to do with Storytellers Consulting. That’s exactly what we want to do when it comes to change management just in general across the country.


Zach: This has been a phenomenal conversation. I just–I really appreciate it, Chris. Before we let you go–I know you just shared some–first of all, you’ve been dropping sauce this entire conversation, but do you have any final thoughts or shout-outs?


Chris: Yeah. I guess the final thought or shout-out I have is 1. I really want to just let people know that one, there is no criticism associated with, you know, where we are today in this–in this country relative to diversity and inclusion. I do not feel like it is anyone’s fault. I don’t want anyone to, you know, hear this podcast and believe that, Zach, you or I are saying that there are so many social injustices going on in this country that, you know, this is just a throwaway or there is someone to truly blame for everything. That is not the message whatsoever. The message is that most of our current existence, most of our decisions, most of our behaviors, they are so subconscious, unconscious, subliminal, that we’re not even aware of it a lot of times, and so all we’re doing, all we’re saying, all we’re advocating for is for people to actually do things that are more consciously driven, and when you do things that are more consciously driven and there’s a motivation and a methodology for you to do that, then we can actually make change, and that is exactly what we’re advocating for, is that we just really think about this from a historical perspective, realizing certain things have just not been that effective, you know? The legislation that we did back in the ’60s and, you know, all of the affirmative action pushes that we’ve done through the ’70s and ’80s, you know, as great as they’ve been, you know, to make people feel better, they really have not necessarily touched on the–on the real metrics associated with businesses and corporations in this country, and our organizations are missing out on an incredible opportunity to tap into what is now going to become the majority population in this country. And so again, my shout-out [?] to take a very introspective look and approach at what are we personally doing right now to build relationships that actually go beyond our racial differences, go beyond our gender differences and create true, meaningful, authentic relationships with other human beings by getting to know them at a neurological level. A lot of times, that is done through stories and through the art of storytelling.


Zach: Chris, we definitely appreciate you being on the Living Corporate podcast today, and we consider you a friend of the show, and we hope to have you back, man.


Chris: Thank you so much, man. It has been a pleasure and a gift and a blessing. Thank you.


Zach: Amen, man. Peace.


Chris: Amen. All righty, be well.

Support Our Mission of Amplifying Underrepresented Voices...

Living Corporate’s mission is singular in purpose, but diversified in approach. From our podcasting, to live events around the US, to our giveaways. 

Through Our Podcasts

Our podcast garners over 10K downloads a week and reaches black and brown executives, millennials, college students, creatives and influencers. 

Through Our Visual Media

We host a variety live, interactive web series for Black and brown early, mid, and late careerists that have a global reach. 

Through Our Resources

We connect our audience with valuable resources from resume services, certification prep materials, conference,  attendance sponsorship, and Living Corporate merchandise. Join our newsletter to learn more.


Select Payment Method
Personal Info


Donation Total: $10.00 One Time


Join Our Community

You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.

Living Corporate will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing.