Zach has the pleasure of speaking with storyteller and strategist Deidre Wright about effectively building a leadership profile. Deidre shares what her leadership journey is looking like so far and talks about how staying true to her values helped her become the leader she is today. She also offers her thoughts about what some black and brown folks are doing that could be hindering them in their leadership development journey.
Check out her website!
Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate. Now, look, you know what we do, okay? We come on the show and we have real talk about real things. These real things are actually fairly benign on their face, right? But we take these fairly real topics, and they’re real, or rather we make them real, ’cause we’re centering black and brown experiences. So today we’re talking about building a leadership profile. Now, in building a leadership profile–you know what? I’m not even gonna do that. I’m just gonna go ahead and get into it with our guest, Deidre Wright.
Deidre: Yes, that’s right. [laughs] Hi.
Zach: All right, come on now. Welcome to the show. How are you doing?
Deidre: [laughing] I’m good, Zach. Thank you for having me. I’m really happy to be here. I’ve lived a corporate life for most of my career, so it’s exciting to talk to you.
Zach: No, thank you very much. I’m excited to have you on the show. And see, you know what I did is–those are bars, Deidre. So I said, “Deidre Wright,” and you said, “That’s right.” See, I knew–
Zach: Right? So I’m like–anyway, it’s wordplay is all I’m saying. Okay, so for those of us who don’t know you, would you mind sharing a little bit about yourself?
Deidre: Yeah. So everyone, I’m Deidre Wright. I’m a Bay Area native, and I call myself a storyteller and a strategist because I worked across industries, but mostly what I do is empower clients to effectively tell their stories and create strategies, execute goals, and so I say this because I worked in public health, marketing, and risk management, and with all of those fields I can kind of used that skill set and my–that’s my passion. So I graduated from Spelman College with a sociology and anthropology degree with the goal to make the world a better place. Graduated during the recession. It was a little challenging, but I was able to help kind of do that. And so I worked for Kaiser Permanente in public health research, working on a study, learning why girls start childhood puberty earlier. So why puberty is starting earlier and long-term [who?] gets breast cancer, and communicating findings with the public, and then I transitioned to marketing because I found that without a clear call to action people don’t really make changes. So I was doing internal marketing for McKesson, helping employees sell their services, and then I landed on insurance, really at first advising [?] companies on their risk management and how to improve that for their companies and later now be, you know, an award-winning director of diversity and inclusion helping companies in insurance promote and advance diversity and inclusion.
Zach: You know what? You just had so many just Flex bomb moments in there. First of all, you talked about the fact that you graduated from Spelman. Shout-out to all the Spelmanites, the Spelman Women.
Zach: Come on, now. Don’t–like, let’s not play. [ow sfx] Okay? We gotta shout y’all out. [laughs] And then you had some big names in there. McKesson, Kaiser Permanente. That’s incredible. So, you know, you talked about–you’re talking a little about just kind of your journey. Again, you named some huge brands in there. I’m looking at your profile, and I’m just gonna look at, like, just the last year and a half, okay? So 2018 you got the NAAIA Emerging Leaders co-chair, your 2018 Dive In Festival San Francisco co-chair, and then you were the 2018 Water Street Club Insurance Rising Star and then the 2019 Insurance Careers Month Emerging Leader. Okay? And that’s just, again, the last year and change, but it’s relevant because like I said, today we’re talking about building your leadership profile. I have a theory, right? And I could be–I could be crazy, ’cause I’m–I’m just looking at the field, Deidre. I don’t–you know, I’m not a sociologist or any type of scientist. I’m just kind of looking at the space, right? And I have a theory that black and brown folks in corporate America spend a lot of time trying to make sure that we’re just strong individual contributors because, you know, we’re conditioned and taught to just do that and for a lot of us, like, the first generation of our families being in corporate America, right? But I believe as time continues forward and the millennial workforce increases and, like, its representation increases within the workplace and we age up in the workplace that there’s gonna be a continued demand and opportunity for us to continue to really take on leadership positions. So can you talk a little bit about your journey in becoming a leader and, like, what has that looked like for you?
Deidre: Yes, mm-hmm. And I’ll have to have a little bit more Flex bomb. So, like I said, I work in the risk management and insurance field, but using my platform and my leader standpoint I’ve done a lot of fun things, including speaking at events where Barack Obama, Colin Powell, and America [Ferrera?] were on the line-up.
Zach: Whoa, whoa, whoa–
Deidre: Yeah. [laughs, record scratch sfx]
Zach: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on. Let me just pause you so I can do this. [Flex bomb sfx] Okay, continue.
Deidre: Thank you. Then having viral LinkedIn, you know, posts, where I have one that has 23,000 views and the other one has 37,000 views, and I say this because no matter what industry or skill set, you can be a leader and use your influence to call attention to the cause that you care about. So what’s my leadership journey looking like? I guess no matter what I always focus on setting goals, investing in myself, and taking strategic risks. And, you know, you heard my kind of bio. I’ve done a lot of different things in different fields, but I always stay true to my values, which was, you know, being strategic and storytelling. And so I say that because what happened was I was, like I said, a contractor for McKesson, and so my contract ended and I had my son the month afterwards. So my vision was take a couple months off, go back to McKesson, do my thing, but they had laid off a bunch of marketing people so I had no job to go back to, and that’s when I was like, “Okay, I have a baby. I need to make money. Let me figure this out,” and so that’s when I kind of got back to my values and my goals, and I was like, “Okay, let me check out insurance and risk management–my mom was in the field, she is doing great–and really think, like, what do I want out of a career and start attacking that.” So I started with informational interviews with leaders in the space, because I want to say, like, if you have the secret sauce, I want that recipe, and figuring that out for me. And then taking strategic risks to start and break in myself in the industry of taking jobs, and then once I got the position making the position my own and being a thought leader. The key thing to being a leader I would say that everyone is–figure out your craft and promote it on different channels to help people, whether it’s, like, Living Corporate, you know, having this experience and teach people skills, but mostly make strategic moves to always figure out how to promote your expertise and level up by seeing or asking, “What experience in my career is gonna give me the highest ROI for career time?” So if I’m spending three years of my time on this project or 30 minutes speaking on a stage, what is the ROI for this? And that’s kind of helped me navigate these different changes in marketing to, you know, insurance, being a broker, from a broker to diversity and inclusion. Having those key processes of assessing goals, being strategic, and, you know, seeing what’s worth my time or not.
Zach: Let’s take a step back though, right? So everything you’re saying, 100%. I get it. It makes sense to me. But what would you say to the person who’s like, “Look, I don’t really know what my focus or passion is. I’m just here. I’m just happy to be here.” Like, what advice would you give to that person?
Deidre: I would tell them to shift their mindset. Just being happy to be here is–I mean, what are you living a life of, scarcity or abundance? Like, yes, I understand–like I told you, I had a baby and no money. I was thinking like, “Dang,” but I had to–I don’t know if it was just my maternal instincts or just my hustle, I mean, I was like, “I’ve got to figure out how to make this work,” and so I would just say level up your mindset and think about “Okay, if I’m here, yeah, I’m happy for the situation, but what do I want to do with it? Where do I want to be in three years? How much money do I want to make then? What kind of impact do I want to leave on this platform?” For example, when I was a broker, I always wanted to empower my clients and, like–let me be clear on what I mean by risk management. My clients were Airbnb and Lyft and Starbucks and UPS. Like, big, you know, global clients, and I say that because just like you and me, we want to protect ourselves, [and] we also want to reach goals. And so I would say manage your career like you’re managing your risk in yourself and think about, “Okay, if I invest X amount of time in this place, what’s the return gonna be for me in reaching my goals?” So I guess I would just say change your mindset to just be more than just happy to be there. Like, think “How am I gonna make this work to be happy and earn my worth?”
Zach: I love that. You’re absolutely right. You know, it’s scary though, and I say this as someone who–I’m trying to put myself in, like, the other person’s shoes, ’cause you and I, we vibe on that level because we both are like, “Look, I gotta go get it.” I don’t have any kids yet, but–[both laugh]–but I get it, right? I am married. It’s like, “Okay, look, I gotta–” Like, this can’t stop. Like, I gotta keep going, right? At the same time, I ask myself, “Okay, so for the folks who are not necessarily naturally as industrious,” right, like, what are some of the, like, just kind of starting steps? And I hear you, right? What I’m hearing is it’s about identifying “Okay, what do I want the next 18 months to look like? What do I want the next three years to look like?” And then, like, thinking with the end in mind, then kind of working backwards from there and then asking yourself and kind of asking perhaps a scary question of “Okay, well, then is what I’m doing getting me to that point? Yes or no?”
Zach: Okay. No, that’s great. So, you know, it’s interesting, what are some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned in becoming a leader? And then if I could kind of take a step, like, a little bit below that, as you’ve been continuing to grow and navigate these spaces, what are things that you see, you know, our black and brown folks doing out there that can hinder them in their leadership development journey?
Deidre: Yes. What I learned as a leader–which, it’s funny, you know? It’s probably like you, Zach. It’s like you just do your job and you do it well, and I say that because I consider myself, like, a mentor or a helper, and it’s great that I’m a leader, and I’ll say that. You know, I take that role, but I just think ultimately it’s figuring out what your purpose is and how you can live to that higher calling, but, you know, the real thing is 1. invest in yourself, whether that is taking the time to do the work–for example, like, when I was a broker, I would spend time, hours, reading insurance policies. Now, I don’t know, Zach, if that’s what you do for fun, but most people don’t do that. But I was taking the time so I knew what the heck I was talking about, and I had that confidence in front of my client when I am the only millennial, only black person, only woman in the room. And so you’ve gotta take time to invest yourself. You know, I had an executive coach who was helping me, you know, through the program and to really figure out what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do and when I was investing that time. Going to conferences, meeting people, networking. You have to do these things if you want to get far, and for us, you know, black and brown people, two things I would kind of say is 1. be strategic and understand no one is gonna invest time in you as much as you. So if you’re waiting for your company to tap you on the shoulder saying, “I know you’re gonna be a leader,” yeah, that might happen passively, but only you can really give all of your effort into doing that. And then two, part of my job is that I organize events and plan them for the industry to I guess really just bond people and give them tools and resources for D&I through events and stuff. So for example, I’m planning a national diversity and inclusion conference that’s coming up, and I say that because I look for speakers. I want speakers. I also judge a national woman in insurance award, [?], and so I assess and judge women leaders and their profiles to see who are worthy of these awards. Now, rarely do I see at our events people volunteering who are people of color or whoever to be speakers at events from a technical standpoint, you know? And rarely do I see people nominate themselves for awards. So the biggest thing is advocate for yourself and put yourself out there, because if you don’t do that, then who will? So I think that’s the biggest missed opportunity. Working hard’s not enough. You’ve got to really advocate and promote your brand, because people want to help you. People want diverse leaders more than ever. I will tell you right now. Companies are investing in diversity and inclusion, and they want leaders. We just had a diversity survey, my company Business Insurance, studying diversity in our industry. We had over 800 people do it, and one fo the questions were what is the biggest barrier to increasing diversity in our industry, and for the second time around it was “we can’t find minorities with the right skill set.” And I don’t necessarily believe that is my case. I just think it’s perception. If people don’t perceive there are leaders there, then they’re not gonna tap you in for opportunities. So speak out and promote yourself to be that leader they see.
Zach: No, 100%, and let me double-click on one thing you just said. I’m not gonna lie to you. What a huge pet peeve is, like, the whole “we don’t have the pipeline, we don’t see [them].” Like, so much of that is, like… if you just open your eyes, like, in today’s era, right? So some of it is perception, how you present yourself, and there’s a certain level of accountability that we have to take in terms of how we show up. At the same time–and I don’t want to speak to insurance, ’cause that is a space that I’m not wholly familiar with, but I will speak to, like, technology, right? So okay, like, Facebook and other, like, larger technology firms will say, “Well, we have this diversity problem because we don’t really have the pipeline,” but the reality is there are tons of pockets of people, like Black Girls Who Code, Black Code Collective. There’s all types of, like, groups out there and pockets, and there’s black folks at these PWIs and HBCUs. There’s organizations out there that do have the talent. I think the challenge is that what I’m not seeing, like, across the board is, like, a truly, like, intersectional and inclusive talent sourcing strategy when it comes to actually identifying that talent and then making sure that those folks are actually represented in terms of what does it look like for you to go out to those schools or engage these different groups or partner with these various organizations. Like, if you look in the same places for this diverse talent, then yeah, you may not find it, but if you actually just kind of broaden your scope a bit you may actually find the folks you’re looking for, you know?
Deidre: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. I truly believe it, and that’s one of the things I help, you know, my clients with is figure out where do you find this diverse talent. And diversity means so many different things to so many different people, and I know all industries are different, but I will say for us it’s typically–they go to the same colleges because they typically want someone with a risk management degree. Risk management degrees are very–you know, they’re not that often you find them. There’s only a certain amount of schools, and those schools are not necessarily diverse. And mind you, the majority of people that come into our industry don’t have interest in insurance or a risk management background. Like, I had sociology, right? But I did my job really well. So I’m like, knowing the statistics that the majority of people come in without this, I’m like, “Why would you narrow the focus?” So I think the first thing is find transferrable skills, companies, you know, and then people, be open to other industries besides your own that could be promising, because insurance is a couple trillion dollar industry. There’s really a lot of interesting things going on right now. There’s InsureTech, which is infusing technology with insurance. There’s all these new risks out there, like with Bitcoin, and, you know, you have, you know, a shared economy and all kinds of fun stuff. So it’s a lot of great things. So whether you’re a company, find people with transferrable skills. Go to professional organizations, whether it is, like, you know, Ascent, Prospanica, National Black [?], and find people with the skill sets who obviously are leaders in their space but might not be leaders in your space. Also, look and see where else people are at, because–I don’t know, maybe technology is a better judge [?] of this, but I’m like, “Are companies really leveraging social media and new forms of communication to find people?” A lot of times no, so that’s what you gotta do.
Zach: No, straight up. In fact, let me just go ahead and [straight up sfx, both laugh]. Yeah, I agree. Straight up. Man, that’s a wonderful soundbite. So you talk a lot about inclusion and diversity within the context of leadership, and these are my questions, right? Can you 1. explain why I&D is important to you and then practical ways you reinforce and you would encourage other leaders to reinforce inclusive behaviors?
Deidre: Yes. Why does it matter to me? Straight up I will just say it’s because [both laughing] I was working in the industry, and my [?] a generation, so I quote-unquote belong here. We’re very–I would say the industry typically is a lot of second-generation or multi-generation people in the industry, but I didn’t actually feel like I belonged because, like I said, I didn’t really see many people who looked like me. So just having that self-awareness, I’m like–and I was complaining, and someone was like, “Deidre, stop complaining.” Like, “Do something.” I got really involved in diversity and inclusion work, whether it was from volunteering or being part of organizations. So that was kind of–I had skin in the game, and I had to be the change I wanted to see, and I spoke at a lot of events about that. That’s actually how I got my job, because I was on stage speaking at this event for my current company, and the CEO saw me and was like, “Deidre, I like your ideas,” and that’s why I promote people. If you have great ideas and solutions, go and speak and do that so you can find the right opportunities to be poached for those opportunities. But what are practical and tactical ways to be more inclusive? I would say diversify your network to the point you said of poaching talent or finding talent, but also who you mentor and who mentors you. So think about this. Yes, it is really important to have a person of color as your mentor in this space, but also it’s good to have people who don’t look like you. I try to, as much as possible, find mentors or colleagues who have different backgrounds, whether it’s from they were in the military or they’re male or they’re white or whatever, but just different people. They give me perspective on things, and I find that very, very helpful, and also feedback on what they’re receiving from me and my brand. Also I would say as a leader, if you’re a manager or just anybody on a team, learn people’s learning styles and how they communicate and bring out the best in them, because not everyone’s extroverted, so they’re not always gonna communicate how they feel, but maybe they’re better in smaller groups or maybe they’re great with projects and running with things, but don’t assume that your way of communicating and doing things are the best. But I would just ask people, like, “Hey, what’s the best to bring out your best so that we can get your A game at the office and that we can make sure you’re satisfied?” And then lastly is speak up and speak out. If you’re in a place of privilege in any aspect, I would address things, whether at a meeting and a woman’s trying to talk and you’re a man and someone’s interrupting her–call that out, you know? Like, “Hey,” you know, “I think Sheena wants to talk,” or if you’re a person in corporate–like, for me it’s like, “Hey, I’ve been getting a lot of opportunities. How do I make sure I teach other women of color, people who are underrepresented, how to get speaking engagements so that they can have–I can see more diversity on this stage when I’m at events and not be the only one?” So I would just say speak out, diversify your network, and learn people’s learning styles.
Zach: I love that. And you’re absolutely right, like, in terms of diversifying your network. So what I’ve learned–what I’ve been learning in my career is to have–as a black man–to have some white men in my network, right? And, like, I love it because–so I’m not trying to brag on myself. I’m just saying I really do like, enjoy, building authentic relationships, and I’m not gonna put–I’m not gonna make the block too hot for my friend so I’m not gonna drop his name, but I have a very good friend. He’s a dear friend of mine, and we met at work. White guy, and, you know, a fairly conservative background, and I would just say, like, across the board, like, fairly conservative white man, and at the same time he and I met because he saw that I was being treated inequitably on a project, and he advocated for me, and that’s how we became friends, and we’ve been friends for years now through that. But what’s interesting is as I kind of talk to him about challenges I’m having or, like, “Man, I don’t know how I would handle this,” and I’m thinking about, like, all of these fairly, like, referential ways to do something or just, I don’t know, kind of–like I’m choosing certain binaries because of–I don’t want to say classically conditioned, but the way that I’ve been raised, I just think “Well, this is the way to do things.” He’s coming at it from, like, a different perspective. He’s coming at it from a perspective of a privileged white man. So he’s like, “Well, Zach, you don’t have to do that. Just do this,” and it’s like, “Oh, my gosh. I would never even think to try that,” right? And so it’s, like, opening your eyes a bit. Something else you said now. I know you talked about, like, in meetings, right, when you said, like, if there’s a woman talking, you as a man saying, “Hey, you know, I think she has something to say.” Like, “Please, if you could give it a listen.” I would also challenge that, if you’re a white woman in those positions and you have, like, a black man or a [?] of color, use that privilege too, Cassandra. Becky. Charlotte. You know, just help us out, please, because we need it as well. I think there’s some intersectionality that should be considered–Karen. There’s another name. I was just trying to think of some other names. Anyway, so as we continue forward, right, and we talk a little bit about, like, relationships and networking, can we talk about, like, coalition building? You kind of alluded to it already, but its role in developing a leadership profile. So you talked about building this network, but, like, what does it look like for you historically to build mutually beneficial relationships? And do you have any examples of when those relationships have come into play to benefit you?
Deidre: Yeah, that’s a great question. I would say I always wanted to make things mutually beneficial. I just come from a standpoint–I don’t like moochers, and I don’t want to be a moocher. I just–I just think that it’s kind of tacky, honestly.
Zach: It is tacky.
Deidre: It just turns me off, and it’s bad for my brain to be like, “She’s always asking for something but not returning it.” So I’ve always kind of been that way. I will say my trick is–and it’s not even a trick, it’s really just what I do–I always end a conversation, meeting or whatever, asking people how can I be of service to them, because 1. it helps me know, like, how I can actually help them, and 2. it makes me think of who in my network can also help them. So I’ve connected a lot of people for business opportunities, job opportunities, just personal opportunities through having this network. “Oh, you want A? I know someone over there who can connect you with that,” or “You want this,” and so I would just say ask the question. It doesn’t cost you a thing, but you might make an impact in how–it’s always come back to help me. Like, I’ve never had a situation where it hasn’t. 1. Either I made a new friend or had goodwill or 2. people reached out to me–like, I get a lot of referrals for business, whether it’s for my job or for speaking opportunities or just leadership opportunities. I got an award for I guess being myself and being helpful to people and always leveling them up. I find that I’m stronger when I have a stronger circle around me, so I’m always trying to find who those people are, so I build it by–[coin sfx, Deidre laughs]–by, you know, being out there and publicly speaking. A lot of people I meet through Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, you know, just the interwebs, because I put myself out there or I comment on what they’re saying because it’s compelling to me. And so there’s different ways to have mutually beneficial relationships. I just think 1. you gotta be open to them, 2. you actually gotta follow up and do what you say you’re gonna do, but when it comes to–like, I come from an abundance mindset. I don’t ever think that it can’t be more than one leader. It can’t be more than one of us. So I think we all have to get out of the mindset of that “I can’t help somebody else because I lose something.” [and i oop sfx] You only have something to gain by helping somebody else out.
Zach: Come on, now. I 100% agree. And you know what? And that’s another point–you’re absolutely right, like, about following up. Look, [both laugh] people send–
Deidre: You know.
Zach: I do know. Listen, look, I look at my little emails, and thank God–you know what? This is not an ad. Shout-out to y’all, Gmail, ’cause y’all do the whole thing. “You received this three days ago. Follow up?” That has helped me so much. I be in that inbox–I’m in that inbox like [bratbratbrat sfx]. I’m like–[both laugh].
Deidre: Yeah, you’re in there.
Zach: I be following up. Like, “Hey, we had this conversation. I just wanted to circle back and make sure we’re good.” Deidre, you did that with me!
Deidre: Yeah. [laughs]
Zach: You gotta. Hey, you gotta do it. Life is crazy. Life is just so busy. It’s important. Okay, so let’s pivot a little bit. In your article “Why Strategic Companies Must Manage Diversity & Inclusion As A Business Risk”–it was recently published in Savoy Magazine–can we talk a little bit about the piece and what inspired that?
Deidre: Yeah. So, you know, risk management is my background. It’s always on my brain, whether it’s from personal risk management to, like, company, and I say that because people think of risk always as a bad thing, but risk is–you know, based on the [?]–it talks about, you know, the possibility of a loss, no gain, or a gain. So you can have different levels of risk, and so with diversity and inclusion, it can–if you do it right, it can help you gain [?]. If you do it wrong, it can be harmful. And let’s be clear, we see all of these things in the news, all of these headlines, and people are failing with diversity and inclusion, and I just want to help educate the consumer and companies and people about why this has to be a strategic risk and opportunity. So let’s look at, you know, the news. So Papa John’s, he’s going over here saying the N word, you know, during conference calls, had to step down as a leader, and from that incident, you know, within a month their store sales fell 10%. You know, Dolce and Gabbana, they had a situation where they had a model, you know, who was Asian looking like she was eating, like, pizza with chopsticks, and, like, it was inappropriate, and then calling, like–and then what happened was they had to cancel a fashion show. Consumers were, like, destroying their products, and then their products were removed from different platforms in China. Like, Chinese magazines, Alibaba, whatever, and then another case is, you know, the Conrad Miami, a hotel out there, they discriminated–a manager discriminated against a woman. She asked to have Sundays off when she started the job because of her religious reasons. They ended up having to pay her punitive damages of $21 million, you know, and others for lost wages because she was fired as a retaliation for wanting to go to church, and she asked for tha ttime off. And so I say this because when it goes wrong, it costs companies money.
Zach: You’re 100% right, right? Like, you think about, like, Angry Orchard. So they just recently had a situation where they interrupted this couple trying to get married. This man was trying to propose to his girlfriend. They accused them of stealing merchandise and eventually kicked them out of there. So no, I’m 100% with you. So of course that then draws boycotts and all types of negative press [?]. Now, look, I don’t personally drink Angry Orchard. This also is not an ad, but, you know–
Deidre: That’s some Angry Orchard right there. [laughs]
Zach: [?]. People angry at the Orchard, okay? For the wrong and right reasons, mm-hmm. Okay, please continue though.
Deidre: No, but that’s where I’m coming from. Obviously I know–so when I say I’m hosting and organizing a diversity and inclusion conference, we are concentrating as a risk management community, talking about how we can help the risk management community get a hold on this from a strategic standpoint of either making insurance companies money or saving them through talent acquisition and getting the right talent, because we know if you lose employees you lose a certain amount of money trying to rehire people. We know what these–so think about this. When these companies have lawsuits, how are they getting paid? Typically through insurance. When it’s a lawsuit and a claim. Unless it’s–
Zach: That’s right.
Deidre: Yeah, so it’s really important to my industry strategically, from whether it’s their internal practices or what they’re paying out, especially if they’re million-dollar claims or lawsuits, what’s going on. So it’s a strategic risk to think about how do we leverage it to grow our revenue and our brands, and also how do we minimize issues so that we’re not losing money or losing top talent?
Zach: I love it. I think that, you know, it’s just interesting because–and I keep saying it’s interesting, right? So you know–you know, Deidre, how when you talk to people you have certain things that you say as your pivot word? “It’s interesting” is, like, my pivot word slash phrase, but I’m going to work on that. I’m gonna work on that after this interview, because I won’t stop right now, but–
Deidre: Can’t stop, won’t stop.
Zach: Well, I will stop eventually.
Deidre: [laughs] Not today, but you will tomorrow.
Zach: Not today. It’s about being introspective in the moment. I think that, you know, live introspection can help you actually move forward as opposed to–’cause you may not think about it again, so I’m calling it out right now in the middle of this interview awkwardly. So as I get older and I just pay attention, you know–and I’m bringing this up based off what you just talked about with the business imperative and the strategic imperative of inclusion and diversity–I realize though how much of the world I navigate is catered to white experiences, expectations, and comfort, and that doesn’t really–that’s not exclusive to–it’s inclusive of corporate America as well, and when I think about the work that you’re doing, in some way or another simply even bringing up otherness pushes up against some of those levels of comfort. So how do you navigate the fragility that comes with discussing non-whiteness in majority-white spaces?
Deidre: You know… maybe that’s my pivot word, “you know.” [Zach laughs] I’ve been trained for this job and position–all my life I’ve been trained for this, because growing up, you know, from kindergarten to half of college I was in majority-white spaces. Like, my elementary school K through 8, my sister and I and maybe three other kids were black. Like, it was just mostly white. So I guess to me–the thing about this is with any idea or concept you’re selling people on, you’ve gotta tell ’em what’s in it for them, and I think that’s a clear thing. And also don’t make people feel ashamed for learning and uncovering bad habits. Like, for ex–and I don’t know, think about this. If somebody, you know, for example, like you said, if you’re saying a trigger word to pivot things, right? “Oh, you know, Zach, like, every time you transition you keep on saying “interesting.” That’s horrible.” You’re gonna be like, “Dang, that hurt me,” right? It’s just the same thing as saying, “Hey, you know, you always interrupt women.” Like, “Why are you doing that?” That would not be my tactic when it, you know, comes to whether it’s women issues, people of color, or whatever. So I always try to think of, you know, how to come out of a situation, whether it’s for a person or a company or whatever, of how to tell them what’s in it for them. So for example, “Hey, Acme Company, you’re doing great when it comes to business practices, when it comes to just, like, in general.” Like, “You’re making money. Have you thought about the strategic risk of not having diverse talent and not really investing that?” “Oh, we have diverse talent.” “Yeah, yeah, but do you understand the demographics are changing?” And companies are having either corporate social responsibility plans or diversity and inclusion initiatives that require or ask for diversity and what you’re strategically doing. “Let me help you with that. Let me help you formulate a plan, ’cause I want you to succeed,” or “Hey, I want you to be a good leader. Do you know about, you know, people are being evaluated now on how they are inclusive leaders? I have tools and resources if you want my help,” and then they gotta ask for the help or say, “Yes, I want the help,” you know? But at least make people aware of things in a way that you’re helping them and less from a point of accusation or you’re doing something wrong, because we all make mistakes, but until we’re made aware of in a way that’s safe and safe to admit–I have people tell me, “Deidre, like, you know, you put these things out there with diversity and inclusion that makes me rethink things, and you say it in a safe way so I don’t feel threatened,” and I’m like, “Thank you for saying that, because that is very uncomfortable, to say that you feel uncomfortable and threatened by things because you don’t know what you’re doing, so I’m happy to help you.” Now, everyone doesn’t have to be that. It doesn’t have to be the burden of a minority to educate the majority on their pain or frustration. That is a lot of–it’s just a lot of work, but I’m choosing this work, so I’m using my power and my platform to do that. So it’s a choice involved, but you’ve gotta either step up and be open to changing and pivoting your messaging to make real impact.
Zach: I love that, and you’re absolutely right that it is a choice, and there are different methods to do that. I do love the fact that you said, you know, black and brown folks and just non-white cisgendered folks, non-white male cisgendered folks, we’re not obligated to carry the burden of educating people, so I’ma just go ahead and give you this right here. [applause sfx] Just so people–’cause, you know, there’s also this narrative of like, “Well, how can they know if you don’t teach ’em?” Like, ’cause they got Google. Like, people learn how to code.
Deidre: That is what I–I’m like, “You can Google or YouTube anything.”
Zach: [laughing] You can Google so much.
Deidre: Now, Zach, the thing about–I won’t deal with ignorance to the point where people, like, trolls and stuff like that, like, I don’t have time for Trolls. I’m not a troll collector. I don’t really like those dolls or people, so I don’t play with them. I don’t play with Trolls. Okay, but people who are really open to learning, yeah.
Zach: Right, that’s the qualifier. They gotta be open to learning, but I like the fact that from the jump you said, you know, you’ve been–basically you’ve been molded for this, you know what I’m saying? Like, you’ve been, you know what I’m saying, like–[to this day sfx]–right? Like, you’re doing it, right? [both laugh]
Deidre: And I don’t know about your background. For me, I also–that’s why I strategically chose to go to Spelman College. I went to Atlanta. I visited out there for homecoming. My cousin went to Clark and I was like, “This is poppin’.” I transferred in the middle of my college experience. And so I–1. I wanted the experience, but I’ve never been a majority in an all mostly black woman environment, and it was kind of a reality shock. So I also say on the flip side, if you’ve always been other, you might want to try to be in the majority because it really is a way to reframe your identity, because on one side, yeah, it’s a lot of issues and stress being other and always trying to, like, reinforce what you’re doing, but sometimes it’s also a platform to make you stick out and people look up to you and whatever versus you blend in. I mean, no one realized I was new for a while. I had to tell people, “Hey, I’m a new girl. I don’t know where I’m going,” because I was camouflaged. And so I say that because, you know, there’s no real perfect spectrum on this and what you can do, so I would just say use your platform no matter what you’re doing to help things out. And I also say this because I had a mentor, and she was like, “Deidre–” I was young, this was my first job. She said, “You are a young, attractive black woman in this space, and no one looks like you. You’re gonna get people’s attention no matter what. Make sure when you do it’s for a reason.” So minorities people, you stand out, you know, whatever it is that you–if you stand out in your space, actually leverage that as a tool to stand out for a reason and get your agenda across or, you know, use your thought leadership, because, I mean, it is a gift and a curse, so why not use it to your benefit?
Zach: No, you’re absolutely right. And, you know, for me, ’cause I typically do stand out, right? So I’m a black man–I’m, like, 6’1″. I’m a pretty big dude, right? I’m, like, 270, 280. Like, I’m a big guy, right? And so, you know, I know that I’m gonna stick out, and then plus I have this weird, like, Southern/Connecticut accent because my mother was an English teacher, but I’m also very country at the same time, and so I have–it’s a unique profile, so when I show up I’m just–look, I’m trying to–I’m trying to make a show, right? And not, like, in a Bojangles kind of way, but I mean make an impact, you know what I mean? I show up like–I show up, I’m like [what it do baby sfx]. You know what I’m saying? Like, I’m out here, okay? And, like, you know, I’ll bring you in with the jokes and stuff, but then if you’re actually trying to challenge me, like, I actually have some–you know, I have some intellectual rigor behind what I’m saying, right? I might hit you with some multi-syllabic words, you know? Whatever. So I hear you is my point. Okay, this has been a great conversation. Any parting words or shout-outs before we let you go?
Deidre: Yeah, shout-out to myself. I’m Deidre Wright. I’m here–
Zach: Ayo, she said shout-out to myself. Oh, my gosh. Yo, wait a second. [air horns sfx, both laughing]
Deidre: Because if there’s nothing else you learn this session, it’s that you gotta advocate for yourself. You’ve gotta be your best cheerleader. Man, shout yourself out. There’s a way to do it, but do it, ’cause if we don’t do it, who will? And I say this because there are so many people I meet, young people, and they’re like, “I would never think you work in insurance. You don’t look like that,” and I give them a different alternative reality and role model. So by advocating for yourself–I tell people it’s selfish not to share your expertise. It’s selfish not to say who you are and what you’re doing, because you could be motivating so many different people by just sharing and promoting yourself and inspiring generations. [chaching sfx] So advocate for yourself, you know? Find me at DeidreWright.com. Also I’m on LinkedIn and Instagram. So at Instagram I’m @DeidreWrite, like I’m writing, you know, my life story, and just holler at me if I can help you with either personal branding, diversity and inclusion, and uplifting our people of all kinds to advance and promote diversity and inclusion.
Zach: My goodness, gracious. You know, over 100 episodes we have never had a guest say, “Shout-out to me, yo.” Not “shout-out to my mom,” not “shout-out to my people.” “Shout-out to me.” I love it. No, no, 100%, and Deidre, we’ll make sure we have all of your links and stuff in the show notes, so no pressure there. Okay. Well, thank y’all for joining the Living Corporate podcast. You know where we’re at. Look, just Google Living Corporate at this point. That’s right. It’s a slight flex, but it’s a true flex, okay? You Google–if you go to Google–shout-out to Google, ’cause this is not an ad–Google, Yahoo, Bing… what’s another search engine, Deidre?
Deidre: AskJeeves I guess is no longer here.
Zach: AskJeeves? Yo. [both laugh]
Deidre: Ask him. [both laugh]
Zach: What you gonna say next, BlackPlanet? Xanga? AskJeeves? [both laugh]
Deidre: MySpace. I mean, I still can’t get into my old MySpace page. Forgot my passwords, but you can probably find me there too.
Zach: My MySpace was fire back in the day. Anyway, the point is we’re out here, okay? And we’re really enjoying the fact that y’all are listening to this podcast, so shout-out to y’all. If you want to subscribe to the newsletter, again, just Google Living Corporate, you click the link, and there’s a subscribe button right there, right when you click on the website, okay? We have new content. Of course we got this dope content right here. We got new blogs. Make sure you just check us out, okay? This has been Zach, and you’ve been listening to Deidre Wright right now – right on time – she’s just right.
Deidre: You know that’s right.
Zach: You know it’s right. Not white, right?
Deidre: But Deidre’s right.
Zach: Deidre’s right. [both laugh]
Deidre: Thanks, Zach, man. I appreciate it, and let me know if I can ever be of service to you.
Zach: All right, we’ll talk soon. Peace.