131 : Cognizant Leadership (w/ Maureen Greene James)

Zach welcomes Cognizant‘s Maureen Greene James to the show, and she shares what she thinks are the biggest frustrations in the diversity and inclusion space today. In addition to speaking about her unique role as an inclusion leader who’s jointly focused on leadership development, she also offers up three points of advice for executives looking to create an inclusive workforce.

Connect with Maureen on LinkedIn and Twitter!

Check out Cognizant’s websiteTwitter, and Instagram!


Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate. Now, look, you know what we do, right? I come on here, I say, “What’s up, y’all?” And I say it in this smooth way, right? And then I say we’re a platform that amplifies the voices of black and brown people at work, but just for those of you who don’t know, we are a platform that amplifies the voices of black and brown people at work. Now, if you’re new to the space you may say, “Well, how do you actually do that?” Let me tell you how we do that. We do that by having pointed, accessible, and real, authentic interviews with black and brown executives, leaders, movers and shakers, influencers, public servants, educators, activists, creatives, artists, you know what I’m saying? With everybody. And we also interview non-black and brown folks too, for those who are fragile and feel not involved. We got y’all too. You’re welcome as long as you are an advocate for black and brown people. And so, look, we do this, and today is no different. We actually have a great guest like we do every episode, but I’m saying this episode really for real. ‘Cause sometimes I have a guest and y’all send me messages like, “Okay,” but no, but really, this time a super, super dope guest. Our guest is Maureen Greene James. What’s up? Sound Man, give me some air horns right here. [air horns sfx] Okay, thank you. Now, look, Maureen, she is an HR professional whose background, experiences and expertise include HR leadership, talent development, diversity & inclusion, employee engagement, communications AND change management. Maureen serves by bringing expertise and experiences in HR leadership, diversity & inclusion, talent and leadership development, employee engagement and change management to Cognizant, serving as the leader–y’all, check it out. Whoa, whoa, whoa. The leader of Diversity & Leadership Development for North America. So all of the states, right? Including the little states on the side. For those of y’all who weren’t too good at geography, Alaska and Hawaii. Those spots too, right? She is in charge of all of that, right? Now, to further enhance Cognizant’s commitment to diversity, she plays a key role in the company’s efforts around executive talent & leadership development while staying focused on building a diverse, high performing pipeline of strong women leaders. Maureen has been recognized for her professional accomplishments in Black Enterprise magazine–come on, Black Enterprise–and in 2014 received the “Most Powerful and Influential Woman Award” by the National Diversity Council. I mean, come on. I mean, what can we really say here? I gotta drop at least one Flex bomb. [Flex bomb sfx] Maureen, welcome to the show. How are you doing?

Maureen: I am great, Zachary. How are you?

Zach: I am really, really well. So, you know, a little bit of behind-the-scenes tea, I’m really glad we’re able to sit down. We’ve been so busy.

Maureen: We have. There’s been a lot of stuff going on. I’ve been doing some travel for work. But, you know, it’s all good. I’m staying busy, staying focused on all things inclusion and diversity within my organization, as well as, you know, within other organizations that I have the opportunity to be in front of and share my knowledge and expertise [with].

Zach: Okay. Well, hold on. So you say you’ve been traveling, you know, and again, you said your organization as well as, you know, other organizations, so… [“ow” sfx] You know, can you talk a little bit about some of the other organizations that you’ve been able to share your knowledge and expertise with?

Maureen: Sure. So I often have the opportunity to really utilize my platform and my voice to speak with other organizations at conferences and inclusion summits. I’ve had the opportunity to be in front of MetLife as an organization just to talk about diversity and inclusion. I actually hosted a panel around inclusion not too long ago. I also had the opportunity to work with PwC, which is an organization that obviously I’m familiar with because that’s where I was for the past I would say about 11.5 years. So I do spend a lot of time really focusing on diversity and inclusion, obviously within Cognizant, but also making sure that I am sharing the knowledge and expertise as well as learning from other organizations too around what we’re doing, what we’re all doing in this space to really build an inclusive work environment.

Zach: Well, I mean, I just think it’s incredible, and that’s why we’re so excited to have you on the show today. So, you know, I gave a bit of an introduction and we talked about–and just now you talked about some of the speaking you’ve been doing. I talked about your professional background. But for those of us who don’t know you, is there anything else you think you’d like to share about yourself?

Maureen: Yeah. So for anyone that doesn’t know me, [know] that I’m a really passionate–I don’t like to say HR leader, even though that’s probably what it says in my bio, but I’m a people leader, you know? Like, I like to get in touch with the people. I like to know what’s going on with the people within an organization and what makes them tick, what makes them get engaged with the organization that they work for, and what allows them to feel like they are working within an organization that has a very strong culture of belonging? So those are the things that are, you know, really important to me and the things that I’m passionate about professionally. I recently had the opportunity to speak at an inclusion summit for an organization called ATG – Advanced Technology Group – and, you know, one of the questions that they asked me was around, you know, “So what are the things that people don’t know about you?” And I said, “Well, you know, there’s some things you don’t know about me. I like to kayak. I like to read. I like to learn. I like to hang with my family.” And of course my favorite thing in the world is I like to spend time on the beach. But I try to mix all of that, the business and the pleasure together, so taht I have what I like to call work-life–like, some kind of work-life equality. Not necessarily balance, because there’s no such thing as work-life balance.

Zach: Listen. Now, we could have a whole ‘nother podcast about that. I sometimes–[both laugh]–’cause it’s not true, right? I think–ugh, anyway… no, no, I’m gonna go ahead and say it! [both laugh] So I sometimes talk about, like, work-life blend, right? And I’ve even had, like–this was back when I was, like, 23, 23 or 24. I wrote an article on LinkedIn about–I said work-life balance is a myth, ’cause it is, right? Like, we live in a capitalistic society, and the rate of pay has not gone up with the rate of work. So whether you want to accept it or not, right, like, you are–people are now working more than they ever have before and not getting paid commensurate with just the hours. Not even talking about, like, the thought leadership or the quality, just the hours of work that you put in. People at large are not getting paid for/in direct with that, right? So this idea of work-life balance, like, I know the workforce of the future is this whole new topic around, like, just how people are gonna be working differently, because this cannot continue at the rate that it is, and so this whole idea of work-life balance, like you said, I just–I don’t think it’s real either. So that’s awesome though.

Maureen: It doesn’t exist. Yeah, doesn’t exist.

Zach: It doesn’t exist. And, you know, people will call you pessimistic or whatever, but it’s not. It’s like, it doesn’t–that’s not necessarily good or bad, it’s just like–but you want to be honest, that way you can actually start creating some boundaries and kind of, like, just start determining what your atmosphere is gonna be.

Maureen: Exactly.

Zach: Yes, ma’am. So look, let’s just get into it, okay? Now, with Trump as president, I’d say we have a stronger focus on diversity and inclusion than ever before, but I’d argue that we’ve seen a sort of colonization of space where discussions around race are dismissed as elementary, right? Like, gender is amplified and diversity of thought is a north star. So what, if anything, do you think can be done to include more black and brown folks, particularly black and brown women, in these spaces?

Maureen: Yeah. So that’s a great question, Zachary, and one of the things I see is that when we’re talking about diversity and inclusion, we have to really be thinking more broadly around “What does the diversity lens look like?” Right? So there was a point in time when the diversity lens looked like it was all about race and ethnicity, right? And so now women are a bigger and much larger part of the conversation, as it should be, but then there’s also the opportunity for us to really be thinking more broadly around, like you say, black and brown folks and black and brown women. So we know that at leadership levels within organizations we don’t see enough of us, but there are some things I think that can be done to ensure that we really have a bigger seat at that table. For example, I’d love to see black and brown women really put themselves in positions to be front and center, to be leaders, and that sometimes means for us stepping a little bit out of our comfort zone, right, and putting ourselves in places and in opportunities and on projects where we may not necessarily have every single requirement that let’s say is in the quote-unquote job description, but we have a good percentage of it, and so then why wouldn’t we go for it? And that’s typically something that women on a whole don’t necessarily do. And so just think about it from a black and brown perspective. We do it even less because we feel like we shouldn’t be doing that, we shouldn’t put ourselves front and center for some of those things. So I think that we need to make sure that we’re putting ourselves front and center. I also think that we need to be seeking out mentors and sponsors, and the reason I mention both is because there’s a difference, right? So a mentor is somebody who’s going–you’re going to go to for advice and counsel on your career and is it going the right direction and that kind of thing, and people need that. Everybody needs that, especially if you’re an emerging manager within an organization, but then if you’re at a higher–a little bit of a higher level but not necessarily at that C-Suite level, then you need a sponsor. You need somebody who is going to talk about you when you leave the room in a really good way. You know, not dishing all your business, but talk about you in a really good way to say, “I know that Maureen can do this because I have seen her do XYZ. I know that she can win that client over because she has the skills to do this based on the work that she’s done with a similar client, and I have been privy to that.” So you really need to have that sponsor who’s going to pound the table for you and say, “Hey, this is the woman that you need front and center.” So I don’t want to spend a ton of time on it, I mean, ’cause I could go on for days, but those are some of the things that I think are really critical for black and brown women to focus on.

Zach: So let’s do this then, right? And it’s interesting ’cause I was just–you know, you see a lot of these thinkpieces out lately, but I was just actually listening in on Dr. Janice, right, and she was talking about how leaning in doesn’t always work, right, because, like, what do you do–so, like, we just had you, Maureen Greene James, inclusion and diversity extraordinaire, leader of people, speaker, snatcher of edges, you know what I’m saying? You out here. You just gave us great wisdom and insight on what should happen and what we should do, but what happens when–first of all, how do we do that? How do we have those conversations and put ourselves out there? And then what advice then would you give to the people who are in power, right, which is basically white men and women, on how they can be effective sponsors. Like, how does that happen?

Maureen: That’s a really good question. So advice I would give to people who are looking for sponsors, what I would say is that you look for someone who doesn’t even remotely look like you or sound like you, walk or talk like you, and that’s a hard thing to say, right? That’s a hard thing for somebody to get their mind wrapped around. So I’ll give you a quick story. So when I was working for PwC, there was a point in time where I was looking for someone to really–I wasn’t looking for a mentor. I was truly looking for a sponsor, right? Somebody that I knew was going to give it to me straight, that was gonna tell me “Yeah, Maureen, you’re not doing a really good job at this,” or “Yeah, you’re doing great at this, and here’s what else you can do to improve in that particular area.” And I was also looking for somebody to talk about me behind closed doors when I wasn’t in the room. And so I really decided to put myself completely outside of my comfort zone, and I went and had a conversation with somebody who I previously did not necessarily get along with, and I had the conversation for two reasons: one, I wanted to understand what it was about this individual that, for whatever reason, we just rubbed edges. So I needed to understand that just for my own personal understanding, and two, I wanted to understand it from the standpoint of saying, “Okay, so now that I have an understanding of what that is, is this the person that could really be my sponsor?” And so I invited him out to lunch, and we had a great conversation. We talked about that one moment where we bumped heads. It was a few years before, but he remembered it very well and I definitely did not forget it, and at the end of that conversation I simply said to him, “Here’s what I’m looking for, and I would like you to be this person to help move me along in my career, to be that person who is going to step in and really be that person pounding the table for me,” and he was completely taken aback and surprised but elated at the same time that I asked. And when I tell you, Zachary, that he was probably one of the best individuals that I have had work with me in my career. He was straightforward with me when he needed to be, and he was at the table, you know, singing my praises one, but two really talking about what it was that I could do, how I deliver, how he’s seen me deliver. So I really think it’s important that we step outside of our comfort zones and we don’t look for people who look like us or think like us or who have worked in the same organizations or even in the same industry and sector. This person didn’t work in HR. Did work for the company, but didn’t work in HR, didn’t have an HR understanding, didn’t necessarily want it, and that’s why they were so critical, because they can give you a different perspective, something that you don’t yourself necessarily see because you’re in that space all of the time. So that’s one of the things I would definitely say is critical. Step outside your comfort zone and look for somebody different.

Zach: I love that. And so then on the other side, right, so when you put yourself out there, what advice would you give to your non-melanated, right, counterparts, on how they can make themselves available to be sponsors?

Maureen: [laughs] I love “non-melanated.” [both laugh]

Zach: You like that, huh?

Maureen: I love that. I love that. So one of the things I would say is–so I’m going to, you know, really try and step into their shoes for a second, even though that’s not necessarily an easy thing to do. I would say it’s very difficult for them to feel as though they can put themselves out there. And so the one piece of advice I would give them is just get to know someone. At the end of the day, Zachary, we’re all human beings, you know what I’m saying? I mean, we do a lot of stuff alike, okay? We’re really not that different, and I really think it’s important that we are encouraging our non-melanated counterparts to feel like they can have a conversation with us, but to make them feel like that we have to treat them the way we want to be treated. So in other words, we can’t necessarily roll up on them with any kind of, you know, negative thinking around how we think they’re going to treat us or how we think they’re going to approach us. Just have a conversation with them like you would anybody else. And honestly, you’d be surprised at how open and willing they are to really working with you, but sometimes they feel like they need to be given permission to know you. And I want to go back to something that you said earlier with Trump as president. I think that has created a lot of friction in terms of the way that people just approach each other on a daily basis, right? You know, non-melanated people may think that they can’t approach black and brown people, right, or that they shouldn’t, but before Trump did we really think that? Did we really have that going on, or were we comfortable just kind of saying, you know, “What’s up? Can we talk?”

Zach: I wasn’t, but, you know, I do believe that it’s definitely been more heightened now, right? Like, I think it all depends, right, on your background, right, on your story, kind of where you came from. I know just based on–so my family, coming from the South and, like, horrific experiences that they had, you know, they’ve really been comfortable, like, in certain situations, and in experiences I’ve had as well and just in my life. Not even just singing my parents’ song. There’s always been a bit of hesitation. I definitely believe though–to your point I believe is that it’s definitely been–like, it’s way more pointed now than it’s been in a while, yeah.

Maureen: Yeah, which is very unfortunate, because I think people–you know, most people are inherently good and really want to help and want to engage, you know, but I think that, you know, they don’t necessarily feel like they can or they should, and so they don’t, and so it’s almost like they want permission from us. And I think we, black and brown people, need to give a little permission. And it’s hard. In this day and time, that’s a really hard thing to do.

Zach: It is, right? ‘Cause, like, there’s so much emotional labor, and I think–I know that you know this, but I think it’s a huge blind spot, and I think it actually goes into our next question, which is around, like, D&I programs and organizations when they think about diversity and inclusion. I don’t think that organizations are effectively factoring in, like, just the emotional labor that goes into being other in majority-white spaces, nor do I think that people really understand–so, like, just black tax, right? Like, we’re recording this on the day of Amber Guyger’s sentencing, right? And, like, black and brown folks who have been looking at the trials, specifically black people, looking at the trial and, like, seeing this person who was convicted of murder, so… so okay, she did murder this person. [She was] crying, like, crying fake tears–crying what many people felt were fake tears, and, like, that could be triggering to a lot of different folks, the body cam footage being released and, like–so, like, just dealing with all of that and the PTSD-like symptoms that just seeing black death or constant coversage of black death causes. Like, those people still have to go to work, right? Those people still have to interact with people who may shrug their shoulders at that stuff. So I just think, like–to your point about it being hard, I think that it’s really easy to undermine or dismiss–I don’t think that you can overstate how hard it is to make yourself available. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t or that you can’t, but I’m just saying, like, I wish that–for me, right, so I know I’m interviewing you, but this is me just talking to you as someone who is in a position, right, as an executive, I wish that organizations would be more thoughtful to that, right? And I think there’s just so much work to do. I’m curious to know though what you believe organizations could still be–are still missing when they talk about diversity and inclusion and you have these conversations on the big stages and also in the smaller rooms. Like, what are some themes that you’re seeing around organizations and kind of what they still could be developing when it comes to their programming?

Maureen: Yeah. So that’s a great question. I think some organizations are doing a fairly good job, and then there’s some organizations that are, you know–they’re trying to get there. They’re doing–I’ll say they’re doing the best they can, right? So one of the things I think is very commendable and courageous is having those bold and courageous conversations, right? I think that that is something that is innovative, it’s fresh. It invites everyone to the table to have the deep discussion. At times, they can get really real and dig deeper than anyone wants to go, and they can create emotions out of people that no one expected, but that’s necessary to have an understanding of what everyone on all sides of the coin across the entire spectrum of diversity is thinking and feeling. I think where organizations fail–so organizations that do that, I think they’re doing great, but I think where those same organizations fail is that after they do that work, what happens next? So what are you supposed to do with those conversations? What are the expectations for the people that are sitting in as a part of those conversations? “Okay, great. We got it.” “Okay, I understand how you feel,” because this woman was just, you know, convicted of murder. She’s gotten 10 years. And yeah, I understand that, but what am I supposed to do with this? There needs to be an afterwards. There needs to be an understanding of “Okay, so here’s the way I feel, but here’s the reason why I feel this way.” And then there should be opportunities for people to bring that into the thinking around how we work, how we hire people in organizations, right? So are we thinking about talent of all colors, or are we thinking about talent of just one color? So in other words, you have to take the conversation from just, you know, engaging people and saying, “Yeah, here’s what we did. We brought everybody together. We had a really good conversation, and now the organization is better for it.” The organization is okay, but it’s not better for it unless the people–unless everybody in that conversation walks away with, “Okay, what can we do next?” And that’s the thing I think is missing.

Zach: No, I agree with that, right? And I think–so when you talk about D&I programming as a whole, like, it’s just not restorative. It’s not restorative, and it’s also not policy-driven. It’s not data-driven, and it’s not results-oriented by means of policies being updated. So, like, all of the things you just said–so okay, we had the conversation. Cool. “This is how we feel.” Okay. “Now this is what we’re gonna do about it, and this is how we, as an organization, are gonna change, and this is what accountability is gonna look like, in light of the conversation and the insights that we gathered.” Like, that then makes the emotional labor worth something, but, like, if you’re putting in emotional labor and not getting anything in return, like, not only is that, like, exhausting on the inset, but then it’s defeating on the outset, right? So that’s huge, and again, it really leads us into the next question. Okay, so you’re the first–so we’ve interviewed some folks, right? I’m not a name-dropper. You can go on Living Corporate’s podcast–ow–y’all check it out. Y’all can see the people that we’ve talked to. And we’ve talked to folks who have been in, like, these global or national positions around inclusion and diversity, but I think that you’re the first person we’ve spoken too who is, like, in their title integrating inclusion with leadership. And so can we talk about–yeah, so that’s pretty cool, and I believe that’s, like, the next–I really believe that’s the next level or the next phase when you talk about kind of reclaiming D&I. I do see, like, more black women and black and brown people being in these positions of inclusion and diversity much more than I have in the past, I don’t know, seven or eight years, right? I’ve seen an uptick. So when I was talking about, like, kind of decolonizing D&I and [I] talked about, like, reclaiming the space, that’s part of what I mean. So can we talk a little bit about how you’ve led the strategy for Cognizant to drive the intersection of those two spaces, and then also what you’re continuing to do?

Maureen: Sure. So at Cognizant I’ve had the opportunity to, as you’ve mentioned, be on both sides, right? So diversity and inclusion as well as leadership development. So within Cognizant, the global leadership development team is really focused on growing leaders at the director and above level, and within doing that it’s also focused on making sure that our people at those levels are very diverse across the board. What I would say, Zachary, is that we have a long way to go, right? I don’t think we’re different from many other organizations out there. We do have a very long way to go in terms of “How do we continue to build this inclusive strategy specifically for our directors and above?” And so while I am focused on everybody across the organization regardless of level, obviously, my leadership development role is only focused on our directors and above, but I make sure to keep a diversity and inclusion lens on that population of people because when individuals see diversity at the higher levels of the organization, it attracts more people, it allows us to retain more diverse people, because now they’re able to see levels and opportunities and projects and roles that they can aspire to, and it helps us to grow and develop that population. So it helps to grow the diversity that we do have at the manager and below level into those leadership levels. So it’s–we like to say it’s a cyclical win-win, right? The attract, retain, and develop pillars, but what I will say to you is that our focus, primarily for the past year and a half or since I’ve been there, has been around gender diversity. And so I bring a different lens to it, because I’m not thinking about just, you know, “Let’s just bring any women in.” I’m thinking about “What do the women look like? Where do they come from? Where have they been? What industries? What sectors?” All of those things, but I’m really also making sure that we’re building into this diverse lens. So we have some black and brown people, you know, at the higher levels, so we make sure that we’re incorporating individuals with disabilities at those levels, right? All of those things. So we’re incorporating our LGBTQ+ community. We need to be able to have people at those levels who are going to be th epeople that other individuals in the organization aspire to or other individuals outside of the organization see and now say to themselves “Well, if So-and-so can be a leader in this organization, there’s an opportunity for me here. There’s an opportunity for me to start somewhere.” So that’s what the strategy has really been built around, you know? Making sure that 1. we’re focused on gender diversity, but we’re looking at it across a lens of all of the components of inclusion.

Zach: You’re bringing intersectionality to the table.

Maureen: Absolutely. All day every day. All day every day.

Zach: And I think, Maureen, like, for me–everything you said, of course, 100% spot on – I think what organizations don’t realize is, for me anyways, right–when I come into organizations, and I’ve been in a few different places, so I’ve seen a lot. Like, I’ve seen a variety of cultures, but I always–when I come in–I consider myself about, like, an A- employee, okay? I feel like I’m great. I’m not, like, the best, but I’m very, very, very good. ‘Cause I have other things going on. I’ve got Living Corporate. I ain’t got time… like, I got other stuff, but with all that being said–[both laugh]

Maureen: I hear you.

Zach: You know what I’m saying. You know, I’ma keep that extra plus for me, but my point is I’m a very strong employee, so when I come into organizations, you know, I have aspirations, I have goals. I typically, without even, like, actively trying to do it, I just end up kind of zooming in on, like, the senior-most black people, and I look and see how they’re treated, and I use that as a gauge to feel like “Okay, let me just think. Okay, so this person has a doctorate and an MBA, international experience, interned with the UN, can speak three languages, two more than me, and they’re still being treated like this.” So what does that then mean for my prospects as someone who’s looking to build a five, six, seven-year roadmap here, right? So 100% right in that the treatment–how you treat… I mean, people see those things, right? So let’s pause for a second though, ’cause I want to go back to something you said. You talked about the director level, director and up. Have you noticed a pattern of black and brown folks kind of, like, climbing a ladder and getting to the director level or, like, senior manager level even, and just kind of stalling out?

Maureen: Yes.

Zach: What’s the reason behind that?

Maureen: Yeah, I wouldn’t say–and that’s an every organization thing. It’s definitely not, you know, a Cognizant thing or–

Zach: Exclusive, yeah.

Maureen: Yeah, yeah. No, definitely not. What I would say the issue behind that is that people in those roles tend to stall out because the higher you go within the organization, a lot of times you don’t see people who look like you, so the people who have the power–

Zach: And social capital.

Maureen: Yes, to make the decisions to therefore promote a black or brown person into those high level roles aren’t necessarily there, so they’re looking through one lens, and their lens is typically people they know, people they’ve worked on projects with before, people they went to school with, people that they’re in the same social circles with, those kinds of things, and black and brown people aren’t necessarily always in those places. And so I think that that is part of the problem. I think the other problem is we, as black and brown people, sometimes tend to hurt ourselves because we don’t necessarily put ourselves in those positions. I can speak from experience. I did it to myself and, you know, almost derailed my career years ago when I decided I didn’t want to attend an event that I was invited too. But I responded and said I would, and then at the last minute [I] said, “You know what? No one is going to notice if I don’t show up,” and so I declined it at the last minute, and sure enough next day I walk into the office and the person who invited me says, “Maureen, we missed you last night.” Now, this was not someone who looked me. It was somebody who I thought really wasn’t even paying attention to me, but obviously he was, and I made the really poor executive decision to not go because, and you heard me say it, I thought I was not going to be missed. “No one is going to notice if I’m not there.” And this man–I don’t even know if he even remembers this story, and I always say one of these days I need to remind him, but this individual, when he invited me, he invited me for a reason. So that’s why I say we can derail ourselves. You know, if you get an invitation like that–and this was a senior leader–take advantage of that, you know? Absolutely. Don’t ever think–and that’s the other thing. Don’t ever think that people aren’t paying attention to you. They are. They are, especially if you are doing great work. Like you said about yourself, you’re an A- employee, which I’m sure you’re an A++. Even if you remotely think you’re an A- player, somebody is paying attention to you, you know? So I think we need to do a better job of putting ourselves in places where we can be seen, but that all goes back to the point of being on those high-visibiliity projects and how do we get there. There has to be somebody at the top that’s pounding the table for us to get there. So it’s kind of cyclical. It’s kind of like you’re almost, like, stuck in a…

Zach: A loop.

Maureen: Yes. Yeah. It’s a challenge.

Zach: No, it is. It is. Now, you know, we’ve talked a little bit about programming. We kind of had a meta discussion about D&I, but then, like, I’m curious, right, from a leadership perspective, if you were to give, like, five key traits of inclusive leaders, like, five key behaviors, like, what would they be?

Maureen: That’s a good question. I would say definitely someone who–an inclusive leader is someone who’s a good listener, and I don’t mean someone who’s just gonna kind of listen and say, “Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh. Okay, next,” but someone who’s really going to listen to what you have to say, someone who’s able to replay that back to you, right? Recap that and say, “Okay, I understand. So tell me, what would you like me to do next? How would you like me to proceed?” So not just listen, but then understand. Get to understand what needs to happen next. Second thing is be a great giver of feedback. It’s really, really important to give feedback, because feedback really, truly is a gift, but it’s also important to get feedback. So I always encourage leaders that I work with not to feel like they’re–because they’re in a quote-unquote “leadership role” that they’re just supposed to be the people that give feedback. No, it has to be reciprocal, and they have to not only ask for feedback, but then they have to ask follow-up questions so that they can understand what is it that they’re doing well or not doing so well so that they themselves can change and evolve their own behaviors. The third thing I would say is an inclusive leader should be somebody who’s able to pay it forward. So be able to reach back, reach to the sides, reach wherever and pull somebody along, take somebody along for the journey that they’re on, because it helps that individual learn and grow in their own respect, and, you know, I always tell leaders, “You didn’t get here by yourself.” Let’s just be real about some things. You took the same journey that now this individual behind you is also trying to take. So do the right thing, and if you’ve got somebody that you know wants to move in the same career path or maybe they want to do something different but could use your guidance and expertise, pull them along with you. The fourth thing I would say is an inclusive leader should be somebody who is able to truly bring a team together, and, you know, bring them together–I’m not saying bring them together for lunch. I’m talking about bring them together so that they have a good understanding of who they are as a team, what are the team goals, what are they striving for, and most importantly, as a team, understand what each of them individually are able to contribute and bring to the table, because it is the individual nuances that we all bring to an organization or a team that helps us to be a successful team. That’s how we create inclusive products, inclusive services for our clients, is by bringing those innovative and inclusive voices to the table. So an inclusive leader should definitely be somebody who is able to bring a team together. And then the last thing I would say is that an inclusive leader needs to be very mindful of the fact that they are the ones who have the ear of the C-Suite, and so they need to be individuals who can listen and hear what’s going on on the ground–so across their teams and other teams–and be able to articulate that and bubble that up to the top so that any issues or concerns that may be rising are things that they’re able to squash before it becomes a bigger issue. They’ve got to listen in on what’s happening at the ground level and be able to help manage, to help do some kind of change management or navigate the conversation so that it doesn’t become a bigger issue. But if it’s getting there, they should be the ones who are able to bubble it up to the top and then say, “Okay, so what can we do to mitigate this?” I think that’s really it.

Zach: Wow. Yeah, no, absolutely. Thank you so much. You know, you’re just dropping bombs, dropping coins, as it were.

Maureen: [laughs] Coins, yep. Mm-hmm.

Zach: It’s really helpful. I was trying not to cut you off ’cause I had, like, a couple of these… [Mario coin sfx] But I was like, “Let me just let her finish.” [both laugh]

Maureen: I’m sorry, I’m just going on forever.

Zach: No, no, no. It’s great. No, it’s absolutely great. This has been a wonderful conversation, and thank you so much for hanging out with us. I know we went a little bit long. Before we let you go, any parting words, shout-outs?

Maureen: Parting words and shout-outs? Parting words are, you know, just be the best human being that you can truly be, you know? Never take for granted where you are, because again, you didn’t get here on your own. Really, really important to reach back and help others. And then any shout-outs I would give are simply to all of the people who are in the position, as you are, Zachary, to help get these kinds of messages out. Kudos to you, because this is not easy, you know? Doing what you do is not easy. Having these kinds of deep and courageous conversations isn’t easy, so kudos to you, and then shout-outs to all of the people who are driving diversity and inclusion within their organizations, because, you know, we’ve got some work to do. People love to say to me, you know, “Well, you know, in your role, you’re gonna have a job forever. It’s job security.” Here’s the thing – I’m not sure I want to live in a world where the need to have a diversity and inclusion leader is job security, because that means that we are–that means two things. One, the world’s continuing to evolve and, you know, the components of diversity continue to change. That’s good. But two, it means that we’re not doing everything that we could and should be doing to make this a more inclusive and global environment, and so I don’t know if I want that job security. I want it to be where it’s just very organic, you know? That we’re not thinking about, “Well, you know, how do we hire black and brown people? Where do we go to get them?” No! It shouldn’t be that way, and I know I’ve probably gone on way too long, but shout-outs to you, shout-outs to my peeps who are doing this day in and day out and are leading the charge right along with me, so.

Zach: Come on, now. Let me get these air horns right here for that. [air horns sfx, both laugh]

Maureen: Love that. Love it.

Zach: Man, this has just been great, Maureen. Thank you so much. And listen, y’all, that does it for us on the Living Corporate podcast. You make sure you check us out on Twitter at @LivingCorp_Pod, Instagram at @LivingCorporate, and then, you know, you’ve got our website living-corporate–please say the dash–dot com. We also have livingcorporate.co, livingcorporate.org, livingcorporate.tv, livingcorporate.net. Maureen, we have all of the Living Corporates except livingcorporate.com. We have all of ’em, you know? You know, it’s market dissemination. We’re really out here. We’re trying to make sure we get them SEO clicks.

Maureen: Do your thing.

Zach: Come on, now. We’re trying to. Now, listen, y’all, y’all hear these conversations that we have. If y’all ever have questions y’all want to send in and, like, have us, us being the hosts or our guests, answer them, just send ’em on in. YOu know, DM us, email us at livingcorporatepodcast@gmail.com, you know, and we can just get it poppin’ like that. Now, look, if you can’t remember all of the different places I just said or where we are and where we’re at and what we’re doing, just Google Living Corporate. We out here like that. It’s been, like, 130 something odd episodes, so we’re now at the point where if you just Google Living Corporate, we’ll pop up, okay? So you check us out, and until next time, this has been Zach, and you’ve been listening to Maureen Greene James, D&I leader for North America at Cognizant. Until next time, y’all. Peace.

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