H&M, #BlackLivesMatter, & 2021 (w/ Ezinne (Kwubiri) Okoro)

Zach sits down with Ezinne (Kwubiri) Okoro, who was at the time of this recording the head of D&I North America for H&M. Hear her story of how H&M weathered the storm of controversy surrounding their monkey hoodie incident and what the organization is focused on in this new season.

You can connect with Ezinne on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

Click here to check out her personal website.


SPEAKER 1 0:00

Hey, what’s up, y’all? This is Zack, we live in corporate. And, look, it seems to be here, right. Now, I know a lot of the podcasts y’all listen to, you know, they take a break, right? But we don’t stop. Okay, no days off. I no sleep. That’s super toxic. That’s not true. We’re actually taking a break right now. But we want to make sure that we’re still giving you content that centers and amplifies black and brown folks at work. And so what we decided to do was do something called 12 days of podcasts. So we’re dropping a podcast every day from content that we recorded discussions that we had earlier this year, that we’re really excited about, but we couldn’t air early in the year because of just the chaos of 2020. But we want to make sure that you get this content that you hear what’s going on. So we’re really excited about what we’re about to share with you. Before we get on tap in with Tristan, see on a second.

SPEAKER 2 1:09

What’s going on live in corporate FAM its Tristan of lay field resume consulting, and I’ve teamed up with living corporate to bring you all a weekly career tip. This week, let’s talk about why tailoring your resume is so important. Let me tell you a quick story. When I got fired from my first job out of college in 2011, I was frantically looking for employment. I created a resume had someone look it over and I went to work. I mean, I sent that same resume to well over 250 employers, I probably only heard back from about 30 of them 25 of which were like nah, FAM, we’re good on you. I didn’t disclose that I had been fired. So I knew it wasn’t because of that. But at the time I couldn’t pin down the reason why. Looking back on it, I realized that it more than likely was because I was sending the same generic resume to every company no matter what industry or role it was for. Had I known what I known today, I would have been more strategic but we all know hindsight is 2020? Before your resume is ever seen by human eyes, it is more than likely scanned by what the industry calls and ATMs or applicant tracking software. This software scans your resume for keywords and phrases then assigns you a percentage. If that percentage isn’t higher than the threshold set by the employer, then you’re automatically thrown into the no pile no matter how qualified you may actually be. To take it a step further study shows that recruiters look at your resume for about six seconds kind of above six seconds. Before deciding if you’re moving on to the next step in the hiring process. You have to increase your chances by giving them the information they want to see. The way you do that is by tailoring your resume for each job that you apply for. So here are some general rules, do a quick review of your resume and take out any expired licenses and certifications, jobs with no transferable skills to the role you’re seeking skills and duties that don’t apply to the position that you’re trying to land and trainings that have no role in this job. Then you want to work on replacing them with new and relevant experience that you gained keywords that you identify from the job description, transferable skills and expertise that will be useful in any industry, and applicable trainings, licenses and certifications. Tailoring your resume helps to ensure that you at least have a fighting chance to make it past that applicant tracking software and be seen by a recruiter. After that you have to make sure that your resume is selling you appropriately to make it to that next step. This tip was brought to you by Tristan of lay field resume consulting check us out on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook at Lakefield resume or connect with me Tristan lay field on LinkedIn.

SPEAKER 1 3:43

We have a query is a change agent diversity leader, innovator and ally. She’s alumni of Howard University shout at school of business where she majored in accounting and business strategy. It was here that has an ace passion for project management and cultural development was ignited Okay, recently named top 50 diversity inclusion professionals by diversity mavens essence magazine’s black women in fashion to watch 2019 as an a proven track record for executing with excellence driving innovative results in championing for progressive change, speak for themselves. Okay. And with that being said, Ezinne welcome to the show. How are you feeling?

SPEAKER 3 4:19

Well, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

SPEAKER 1 4:23

I’m excited and thankful to for you to be here. Um, so look, you know, there’s this ongoing, like, ancestral descendant of slavery versus non ADLs debate. I’m curious considering your position with an h&m and as a Nigerian, American, do you believe that needs to be more work, even during this time around anti-blackness within the larger African community?

SPEAKER 3 4:45

Yeah, you know, that question is really interesting and that debate and to be honest, I try not to indulge in it. Because of the fact that you know, I it taught me when in the black community, we find different ways that causes additional divide amongst us. And it really breaks my heart to see that because I think that if we look at our white counterparts or other parts, you know, what you see black people, they just see the black many people of color. And there’s no distinction whether I am from Nigeria, or from Haiti or from Jamaica, or from anywhere else. So I think personally, you know, my story is when we migrated here, I was five years old. So I’m coming to a new country, no decision by the mind. And I’ve done all of my education and my schooling, lest I hold a US passport. I’m a registered voter, I give back to my community financially at my volunteer time. So it’s like what additional things that one needs to do to the American? You know, I think that the argument when it comes to reparations is a valid one. Because I think that if there was a time where the country decided to pay the dude reparation, I do think is warranted, I think that it’s long overdue. And as someone that my ancestors did not come to the US and slave, I wouldn’t be seeking any, and would encourage other people that does not have that, that history, to also not seek it either. But you know, I think it’s one of those conversations where, when we get to that part, let’s talk about it. But the divide that is, that is causing publicly, pretty unfortunate. And I think, in my career, if I can just add on, I never really experienced it publicly, until I think I got my role at h&m. And I think I was one of those that was victimized and targeted, and trolled and negative comments said about me. And simply because I interviewed and was offered an opportunity, you know, and there’s nothing that other than the fact that I am well aware of American history, like I learned all of my education was here. So I think for someone to say that I’m incapable of managing that I was born in Nigeria is completely false. You know, and I think it’s unfortunate that we do that to other people to power that is really looking out for the black community as a whole. So I think, you know, I always tell people to like words, or words are very powerful, and we really need to be more responsible off of information that we’re putting out there publicly.

SPEAKER 1 7:41

No, I hear that I, it’s an interesting point. I do believe that, like, you know, when we are navigating these spaces as a larger, like larger diaspora, like, we’re black, right? Like, I think there’s a way to like respect, like different cultures and backgrounds and like, celebrate those things without at the same time, like pitting one against the other, because like, we just don’t have the luxury and privilege to like to be disjointed. Right?

SPEAKER 3 8:06

Yeah. And unfortunately, that’s how I think as much as some of the points are valid, that’s how it ends up being received, or as a receipt, as a true divide. And then what happens, the other group where, let’s say, your family, like, it’s like my future children that will be born here, you know, where did where do they fit into this. And I think, again, we’re finding unnecessarily exclude when those that are truly in the front lines of activism is trying to activate and to support and to fight for all of us as a community. You know, so I don’t think that we’re in a position where we can create, like, we don’t, we don’t have that luxury and that privilege, we really no need to be as excited as possible at this point.

SPEAKER 1 8:57

I agree. And, you know, speaking of that, I want to get right to it and talk about, you know, seeming like you saw like what, like four or five years ago, Black Lives Matter was, was seen as something very radical, right, like it was seen as taboo to say, and things of that nature, especially in a majority whitespaces considering your current role with h&m, how do you view this phenomenon that we’re in right now?

SPEAKER 3 9:18

Yes, I’d like to start just to talk first, just as a black woman, and what does that mean to me and seeing the recent awakening, if you want to call it that of the rest of America, understanding and now, I guess, trying to be in the sight of black men, I think for me, is, you know, I’m all about ally ship. Like I want to see the Allies there. I want people outside of our community to be able to speak to say, Black Lives Matter and to understand why we as all lives matter, because it’s still a form of inclusion. So as a black woman, I appreciate the recent awareness and I Look forward to our peers and others being able to truly, to really try to drive that and really do your part, like do your research, and do your part and be vocal because I do think that we’re more powerful when we have the diverse voices. Because my networks regardless of how, and you know, I think I’m so open minded and diverse majority of my network is probably in black. So I can’t keep preaching to the choir, I need to get and have white allies and have Asian allies and have Hispanic allies to deal with to be my voice and to amplify it to say Black Lives Matter. Now, I think in the corporate space, what we really need to pay attention to is what happens after, you know, when you make such an impression, and you are essentially riding the wave and you’re in it, and you are paying attention to social media, and maybe you’re getting called out, maybe you’re not, what are you really going to do about that, and I really look forward to seeing what to do. And when they stand on this one. Another big topic may come in, take over in the media space, Black Lives Matter movement, we’ve been talking about it forever, regardless of what the media starts to shift on something else. How genuine are they going to be and, and, and being vocal to say black lives matter when I was in my community, just driving around the neighbourhood. And I’m seeing all of these businesses that have it on their windows and have this bulletin boards where I’m like, wow, like everyone is really paying attention. But you know, I think that actions speak much louder than words, and the black community will hold them accountable. And I think this is a time where we have the attention of the world leaders in the bucket may have the attention on the left, I think we really need to be very strategic, and declare what our demands are, and how we are planning to push forward and hold other people. So I welcome the awareness of it. But I want to make sure people understand like we’re talking about real live, there’s nothing trendy about this. There’s nothing fun about it. There’s nothing cute about it. We’re talking about real people that have been directly impacted by police brutality and discrimination in America.

SPEAKER 1 12:21

Well, you know, speaking to your point around, like, companies taking this beyond just this moment, can we talk a bit about what h&m is doing internally and externally? Especially post? The 2018 monkey hoodie incident?

SPEAKER 3 12:36

Yeah, you know, I think that was the thing the action was that my robot needed because of it, you know, I think that the company was looking to take a stand and truly make a change. And, and one of the action item on their to do list was to bring someone in this role. And that’s why I’m here. And since being here, we’ve done a tremendous lift and tremendous change. And the way it was prior to I think, I always say this, I when I say that people are like, oh, Ma, I’m not sure, you know, a lot of these companies is not that they’re raised, like we really truly look up the definition of racism. They’re not the white supremacist that are like, No, we don’t care about Black Lives, black talents, like in most of the corporate boardrooms I’ve been in, that’s my door is really the majority of the conversation is complete lack of knowledge, like, complete, clueless, just unaware of what some of the conversation is, or not really paying attention to the fact that your rooms don’t look diverse. And it’s because things is abnormal. No one is challenging the conversation, no one is challenging the fact that you don’t have the diversity in the room, everyone is just going and worried about their own role. And what’s going to happen next for that no one is challenging. And that was my goal from the very beginning. Because I’ve been in other organizations before. I know what these boardrooms always look like, regardless of how hard you fight, and understand that it is long lasting and systematic issues that are creating the norm culture that go way beyond me, way beyond you, and maybe we are most of the people that we’re listening to. We’re organizations that have been founded 101 150 plus years ago, this is their normal, this is their culture coming there. I wanted to shift the culture. And I wanted to shift the culture one what we have to do internally is acknowledge the fact that we have a true problem. And not a problem as in Oh no, the public is upset about the fact that we created the pain with a little beautiful black boy and a sweater that they’re cool with monkey jungle, but to understand the reason truly behind it. So what I did was we did a lot of listening sessions, and a lot of knowledge sharing opportunities in the company from middle management to upper management, kind of given them historical content at to black history. H&m is also Founded in Sweden, I think a lot of people also forget that part two. So you’d have to think about the cultural nuances play with that as well. So then after that created unconscious bias training, which I believe is a true foundation to starting your movement and diversity, inclusion and equality need to understand their biases, and exactly what does that mean, and how that shows up in these spaces. And then started working in creating strategies without talent acquisition, with how do we recruit, how do we promote transparency, and these type of movements as well, I think externally, my goal was to get the tumble. So again, if you think about the sweetest culture, and comparing it to the American culture, I wanted the company to get more comfortable, and expressing different things that they were doing, they h&m actually does a lot of amazing things in the community and the number of dollars that they give back to various communities. But no one really talks about that. So we need to start talking about that, if you know something was to happen, at least a brand has a little bit of credibility to fall back on. So in doing that, what we created was a strategy to be more visible in the community. And that took place as far as land partnerships, community sponsorship, and inviting the community to law offices as well. So prior to me arriving there, it actually was not a kosher to bring experts or community members into the office, which I thought was very shocking. So now it’s kind of like Black History Month, we’re not judging and not only acknowledging it, but we’re also creating programming behind it for our staff. So I think that that was very important. And I and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t the sole voice of it. So created to bring in black creative black agency and black talent, in order to create an experience for our employees was really important to me, as well as establishing recruitment levels or partnerships with different universities. I’m a graduate of Howard University. So I think HBCU is very important to me, and giving back to them, so was able to create a career fair with them that h&m didn’t have before. So I think to also I want the younger generation or just anyone that’s really looking for employment, it’s to think about the different opportunities you can have in retail, like sometimes we think that retail is about designing or the babina. Store. And there’s so much more in between that, you know, and I think another big piece two that I like to mention is the partnership that I do have with our headquarters in Sweden, I think is that we keep the lines of communication and awareness open. So we created a training program called layer that I’m really proud of, and has really taken a deeper dive into what we mean about inclusion and why it’s important to us and why it should be important to everyone. And then in this training, it’s really about like reflection. So they go into a series of reflective moments and thinking about scenarios where maybe they missed the voice and didn’t go well. And why didn’t it go? Well. So I wanted to make it really real and tangible, where we’re resume to the different positions that we have in the building. So I so I think it’s such a long road, I think everyone wants to see like immediate change. But again, if we’re breaking something that has been a cultural norm, the good and the bad of it for years, decades, it’s not going to happen, you’re not going to change it. But the dedication is there. And we can continue to challenge the leadership team, to think bigger to be bolder. And I always encouraged employees that I mean, especially in our stores, which are predominantly black to be vocal, you know, you have to be vocal, you have to be able to say, No, my leadership team does not represent the community that we’re in, we need to give more I’ve applied for roles, I have not get it, what are you going to do? Again, it’s not just coming out as an as voice as an A speaking on behalf of your team. And this is what your team is saying about this thing. So I think that that has also been able to champion the work even more, because they don’t want to do bad. I mean, they generally want to do well, but I think it’s the priorities and just trying to navigate through that at the end the challenge.

SPEAKER 1 19:46

Loneliness fear, I think, I think also is like, the reality is people have been having challenges in their workplaces for like mad years. It just so happened that there’s a certain confluence of events that are like now suddenly perhaps causing Some type of awakening, but like, you know, I refuse to believe that I mean, I know for a fact, black and brown folks have been, you know, trying to raise issues about discrimination and stuff. But 70 years like both in and outside of work. I mean, for me, my question is like, is corporate leadership across the board, right? Like, not just to h&m not just like God, but like, when you think about, like, the culture of senior leaders? Are they images, like today? Because we’ve seen like, when organizations want to change they want even when they want to do something, they just change, like, it’s not like this, like slow erosion of behaviours. It’s like, no, we’re just going to just change like, so I think for me, yeah. For me, I’m like, I’m thinking about like, okay, so. So right now, like, we’re still kind of in this, like Kumbaya phase, right? Like, like, under, okay, yeah, Black Lives Matter. Yeah, we can. But like, when I’m really curious about is like, in the next, you know, six months from now, as more and more black people continue to die and be murdered. I mean, people that saw just online, like, this is just some logic that I just saw today, three other black folks have been killed in some way related to Belize. And so it’s like, as these things continue to happen, like, I don’t think black people are going to, I don’t think black and brown people are going to just get taught are going to just stop. But the question is, as leaders, like, what happens when they fatigue, but then like, the oppressed voices are like, No, we still can’t. That’s what I’m most curious. Like, what’s this going to look like in January?

SPEAKER 3 21:23

Yeah, definitely. And I tell you, I think that he, you know, again, as, you know, how much power in the media as the as the media started to carry these stories more, the fatigue, for me had reached all time, Max, because now there’s a sense of the we’ve been talking about for years, and I’m like, oh, okay, so now he wants to be urgent. And I happily stand with you and create these strategies, but you need to show up. And then then I’ve been very vocal, right? You’re like, you’re not waiting, you’re not waiting for me. You’re not waiting for that. And you’re not waiting for any of these other black people. We’re waiting for you waiting. So whenever you decide that you’re ready to execute. I’ve been ready, you know, been ready, then have these strategies have these contacts to make the real change? So I don’t I’m with you in that. And what does this look like in six months. But I think that this is why we need to make sure that our voices are united and amplified, and do not let us die that you know, I think now that the power of social media where companies cannot escape this, and this is why they’re paying attention now. And this is why they’re trying to react. This is why you see these public statements. This is why you see these news, because no one wants to be in the fire on social media. You know, so I think we need to use that to our advantage and say, okay, no one wants to be part of this. So how do we, you know, I jokingly was telling people, I’m like, No, call your boss, email your boss, because I’m telling you, you’re not going to get fired. Trust me, they want to hear from you. You need to you need to pressure them. I tell them I’m on my because as vocal as I am, I cannot end the room. No, someone else needs to pick it up so that they can see the urgency of this. And then all I do is say, oh, I’ve been telling you this for the last two, three years. So you know, so now what are you going to do about it, but my commitment is to make sure that I’m playing my part. And whatever rooms I’m in and the spaces that I am, I’m in that these stories do not die and do not lay flat? And you know, I never be one with it to that. And even with your next promotion, your next big opportunity, your next contract? How are you making space for someone else that looks like you who now be right behind you? You know, so I think that that’s what we need to keep thinking about.

SPEAKER 1 23:49

Man, I’m right there with you. As an A, this has been a great conversation and you’ve been dropping jewels, this whole conversation. So I’m, you know, but before I let you before I let you go any parting words with shout outs?

SPEAKER 3 24:01

Oh, yeah, you know what I would actually I’ll take this time to shout out the people that have really been on the front line on social media gone down to protests and, and advocating in a larger sense. Like I was saying, like, I’ve been so tired, so I can only imagine how they have felt and gone into these conversations and working through all these things publicly, you know, I just their mental well-being as well. I mean, I think that what I would just say to people is to amplify your voice. I think that we need to be fearless when we are making demands. But we also need to be very strategic, to make sure that as we’re the demand that we’re making makes sense. And then we follow up then we’re ready to show up when the call is there. So I am devoted and dedicated to continue to do my job to bring as many people along with me as I can. So thank you Zack for applicant me.

SPEAKER 1 25:00

Thank you as I look here, y’all know we do this every single week. Okay. Until next time this has been Zach. You’ve been listening to Ezinne Kwubiri. Till next time, y’all. Peace. And we’re back. Listen, I want to thank you for real if you’re listening to this, thank you so much for engaging with live in corporate. It has been a hell of a year and a hellacious year at the very same time. But we’re thankful for just shoot being here. And we hope that you come back. Shout out to y’all. Make sure you share live in corporate with a friend or two with a relative as you do your socially distance Christmas gatherings. And we’ll catch you soon. All right, peace.

SPEAKER 4 25:54

Living corporate is a podcast living corporate LLC. Our logo was designed by David Dawkins and our theme music was produced by Ken Burns. Additional music production by Anton Franklin from musical elevation. Post production is handled by Jeremy Jackson. Got a topic suggestion. Email us at living corporate podcast@gmail.com. You can find us online on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and living dash corporate.com. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned.

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