Zach and Kanarys co-founder Star Carter chat with James Fripp, the chief diversity and inclusion officer at Yum! Brands, in this bonus Friday pod! This episode was adapted from our latest episode of Dare to Share, a limited, live web series powered by Kanarys and Living Corporate where we profile inclusion and equity thought leaders such as James. Check the links in the show notes to learn more about the work Kanarys is doing and to connect with James and Yum! Brands!
Click here to learn more about the work Kanarys is doing in the diversity, equity and inclusion space.
You can learn more about Yum! Brands on their website.
Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate, and whoa. You’re probably listening to this like, “Wait a second, it’s not Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday. What is this?” Y’all, this is a bonus pod. Now, look, y’all should know if you keep up with Living Corporate, you know, for the real fans, but also shout-out to the new people coming in. You know, we’re seeing the numbers. They’re popping. They’re growing. We’re doing what we’re doing. Shout-out to all of y’all, new fans and old, first time and last time listeners, long time listeners. Shout-out to the entrepreneurs. Shout-out to the side hustlers. Shout-out to the 9-to-5ers, the consultants, the financial analysts, the lawyers, you know what I’m saying? Just the people working everywhere. Shout-out to the fast food workers. Speaking of fast food workers, shout-out to those over there under Yum! Brands. Today’s bonus pod is actually a conversation that we had as a part of our Dare to Share series co-powered by, sponsored by, supported by, tolerated by Kanarys, and we were able to have a conversation as a part of this series where we’re talking about dare to share–Dare to Share is about daring to have the real conversations that we need to be having around diversity, equity and inclusion and really talking to those within the Kanarys network, clients and those who have the privilege of projecting with Kanarys, and so we were able to sit down and have a conversation–myself and Star Carter, one of the co-founders of Kanarys, with James Fripp, the chief inclusion and diversity officer of Yum! Brands. We had a conversation about the work that Yum! Brands is doing in really all things equity and inclusion. So look, we don’t have a TAP In with Tristan in this episode. This is a bonus episode. We just want to get y’all to the content, baby. We just want to make sure y’all keeping up, you know what I mean? So the next thing you’re gonna hear is our conversation with James Fripp. See you in a second.
Zach: Welcome to Dare to Share. My name is Zach Nunn. I’m the CEO and founder of Living Corporate. Really excited to be here in partnership with Kanarys. Shout-out to the entire Kanarys team, you know what I’m saying? If you’re thinking about data analysis, you’re talking about trying to really understand and listen to that canary in the coal mine, you gotta check out Kanarys. And this is not even an ad. You didn’t even give me anything to read, Star. This is just off the dome. I just love y’all.
Star: I’m like, “You want to join our marketing team?”
Zach: It’s just love, you know? This is just a little bit of extra on top. I really am excited. Anybody who’s looking in the news and is catching up with, like, startups in this space of, like, entrepreneurs and founders, Kanarys is all about it. Y’all are all in the news. Y’all are breaking all types of records for funding. I want to shout out Jared Fitzpatrick, who is also in the audience, thank him for connecting me with Kanarys. And then of course shout-out to Lisa and then to Mandy of course as well. Now, I did my little introduction about how we’re coming together, but I want to give some space to Star Carter to also spit her stuff as well.
Star: All right. Well, thank you. Wow. I mean, I don’t need to say much more about Kanarys. You got that covered. So Star Carter, excited to be co-hosting with Zach. Check out Living Corporate. I’m glad you guys are here. Zach’s making it happen. He’s putting it down for Living Corporate. He’s exploding. I get a sense by this time next year you’re gonna have all kinds of sponsorships and partnerships going on, so thank you, Zach. We are equally excited to be working with you. I’m the CEO and co-founder of Kanarys. We are a company that puts data and analytics first, assessments first, and then we build informed strategy and deliver training and other tools in order to help company partners really focus and prioritize their DEI efforts. So I’m excited to be here and excited to talk to Mr. James Fripp about his journey and where he’s at today, being a DEI expert. So I’ll kick it back to you, Zach, to get us started. Can’t wait to mine the knowledge that you have, Mr. Fripp, on the show.
Zach: So yeah, I started off by talking about the fact that, you know, my first job was not unfortunately under the Yum! Brands empire. It was Whataburger. Whataburger did not go well, right? You know, it was too–a lot of different reasons, you know? I’m not trying to mess up the Whataburger bag. Y’all might have something for me in the future so I’ll be quiet, but the point is I really built my long-term career from a fast food and, you know, quick cuisine perspective in Yum! Brands at KFC, and it’s funny because I’ve actually observed James a little bit from afar and been like, “I really want to talk to this dude,” so I’m thankful and excited to welcome you to the show. And happy Black History Month, man. Let’s talk a little bit about your journey at Yum! Brands and how you got into diversity, equity and inclusion work.
James: Well, thank you all for having me. I truly appreciate the invite and love to have the opportunity to chat with you all this evening and to share a little bit. So yeah, and I too share the love of Kanarys and the team. You know, we’re having a great journey with them right now, and we’re off and running, so I can’t wait to talk about that a little bit later, but again, thank you all for having me. All right, so in terms of background, you know, I earned it. I started where you were. I wasn’t at Whataburger, but I started in the business, out in the restaurants where we make the money, and literally I ran restaurants for us about 15 years. I spent all of my operations career at the Taco Bell brand. So I was doing what I was doing there, running restaurants, you know, growing the business and things like that. The reality of it was I wanted to go into the military. My father was in the military. I’m one of eight kids. We were in the Air Force, bounced around the country and the world and that kind of thing, and I’m like, “Hey, look, just get me through high school. I’m going into the military anyway. I’m going to follow my dad.” And so that’s what I did. I started working at Taco Bell because my sister worked there. You know how you gotta know somebody to get there, right?
Zach: You do. That’s true.
Star: Uh-huh. [laughs]
James: My sister got me a job, you know, and this kind of thing, and I started working there, and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m done with you people as soon as I graduate. Let me graduate and I’m out of here,” and I graduated and I went to a military entrance processing station, or MEPS, to go in the military. Took my little physical and knew I was on my way out, and I got done with the physical and they said, “You need to go see the flight surgeon.” I’m like, “Okay, sure. What you got?” He’s like, “You’re PDQ’d.” I’m like, “Okay, when do I go?” He’s like, “You’re PDQ’d.” I’m like, “What is that?” “You’re permanently disqualified.” I’m like, “For… for what?” And I kid you not, he says, “Because you have eczema.”
James: So I said–yeah, you know, I had that, you know, and I washed dishes at Taco Bell, so my skin was a little dry or whatever. He said, “You are permanently disqualified.” So that was it. My dream was to go in the military and follow my dad, and they said, “No, you can’t do that,” and so I was at a crossroads. “What do I want to do?” So I started–so I work at a global company. We talk about “it’s not college, it’s university.” So I was going to university. Started going to university and still working at Taco Bell and doing all that kind of thing, and I kept working there. Long story short, ended up continuing to work there. Worked there in the restaurants, grew in the business and things like that. Spent 15 years in operations and transitioned to HR, talent acquisition, went out and was hiring people, all that kind of thing. Stayed on the HR side, became an HR generalist, started running–doing some HR generalist work and associate work, learned all that, got my skills up in that, and then I got promoted and took over a third of the country running our Taco Bell field HR, employee relations, talent acquisition, things like that. Couple years doing that, took over half the country. Couple years there, took over the whole country, and just before coming into this role I was running all of the United States from field HR, employee relations, all that kind of stuff for Taco Bell. So I was speaking at an event actually here in Dallas, and my predecessor whose name is [Terry Ann Barnes?]. Great young lady. She’s still in Louisville, Kentucky doing what she does. And she saw me speaking and she said, “Have you thought about doing this work?” And I said, “I don’t know.” And she said, “Well, what do you mean you don’t know?” I said, “I don’t know what you do.” She said, “I do diversity, equity and inclusion.” I said, “Well, what does that look like?” And we had a good conversation, and she said, you know, “Why don’t you interview?” And I interviewed and talked with the CEO and said, “I’m interested if we’re serious,” and he said, “We’re serious,” and poof, I’m in the job, and I’ve been doing it now for about six, seven, eight years now. Somewhere in there. And man, oh, man, there’s never a dull moment, but I’ve got to be honest with you, it’s one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever in a company, and I’ve done a lot of things.
Star: Yeah, wow. I mean, thank you for sharing. I love that. Hearing your journey from years ago and how you got into DEI. And I too–my co-founders Mandy Price and [?], we keep talking about our initial in-way into work. My first job was at McDonald’s, by the way, so I was a fry girl back at McDonald’s. Loved the [?] restaurant. That’s how I got in. That was my first introduction to the working world. But I loved hearing what you said, James, and I’d love to talk about kind of some lessons learned over the past year, right? We’ve gone through a crazy, crazy year. 2020 was crazy. Tumultuous, to say the least. 2021, we’re still early, but gosh, we’re already having a rocky start with the insurrection, these crazy power outages, COVID to be continued, so we’ve seen a lot. I’d love to hear from you about 2020, about COVID, the disparities that were made very clear, from George Floyd and beyond, well beyond, as we talk about these two pandemics that we’ve seen – the racial pandemic and the viral pandemic. What’s been made clearer for you? Let’s say a year ago, February, before COVID hit the U.S. in full stride. Between then and now with respect to DEI, the future of DEI, and with respect to workplace equity. I’d love to hear your kind of “then and now” in your learnings.
James: I’d love to go back to February and pre- all this stuff. We had a plan. We literally, in our organization, had a plan around equity and inclusion and belonging. We had committed–you know, we added some people to my team and were serious about that, brought some folks on, and in the fall of ’19 I was talking with Tracy [?], our chief transformation and people officer and now just named our chief operating officer, and we were talking just, like, “How do we go further faster in this space? What do we need to do?” You know, “It can’t just be you, James, and it can’t just be you and a couple people. What do we need to do?” And so we talked about equity and inclusion and belonging is not my job. Equity and inclusion and belonging is everybody’s responsibility. And so we were talking about, “What do you do about that?” So we were just like, “What if? What if we had everybody in the entire organization have a commitment, make a commitment to how they’re going to positively impact equity, inclusion and belonging in Yum?” And then we went, “Nah, nah, that ain’t gonna work,” and we said, “You know what? What if we did?” So that’s what we did. Coming in ’20, October, November of ’19, we rolled out to the organization that we were going to have an equity and inclusion commitment from everybody in the organization, and it’s gonna be personal, and it’s gonna be–we gave out a document that talked about what it was, some of the things that you can do, and people had to put it down with–if you literally pull up our performance appraisals, there’s a line on there that talks about your equity and inclusion commitment for every single corporate individual in the organization. So that’s coming into ’20. So we’re excited, we’re gonna do that, I’ve got people on my team now in Jessica and Christina, we’re gonna go out there and we’re gonna do this thing… and then COVID hit, and to be honest with you, it was “How do we just keep the restaurants open? How do we make sure that we keep our people, our front line, our people who make it happen for us, how do we keep those folks employed?” And so from an equity and inclusion perspective, in fact from a lot of things across the business, it was “How do we keep this business running and make sure we keep folks employed and keep them safe?” And so equity and inclusion, we kind of slowed down on that and we went full into “How do we keep the stores open?” And then as we all know, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and those things took place, and all hell broke loose. Everybody’s like, “So what now? A month and a half ago, two months ago, we were trying to figure out how to keep the stores open. Now we’re trying to figure out how to keep the wheels on everything in this country,” and specifically the organization. “How do we navigate COVID and what’s going on from a social unrest perspective and the things that are taking place?” So it was flipped on its head. So out of that, all of that tragedy, all of that ugliness, came discussions that we never, ever would have had in our organization. All across the organization we had town hall calls where we had all types of people on the screen talking about their experiences and what they’re feeling and what they’re thinking and how things are going, from the most senior levels of the organization down to our people in the restaurants talking about the things that they were dealing with, and when customers came in and said things and how do they navigate that and how do we handle all that. It literally–again, out of all the tragedy, it got us myopically focused on “How do we take care of our people? Our people of color? Our employees as a whole? How do we bring everybody on this journey with us?” And arguably the job got harder because we were more divided than we’ve ever been. So how do we do that in the context of the work that we’re doing and the space that we’re working in? When we’ve got all of these things going on outside of our four walls, you can’t just leave that out there and come to work and be okay, especially when we’re in a virtual environment. So we had to navigate that, and it all came down to what I believe is a differentiator in what we ended up building, which is the art. The science is people say, you know, “You don’t have enough of those people. You need to get some more of those people,” things like that. That’s all fine and dandy. What we know over time is that the science hasn’t necessarily paid off for us. We’ve got to do something different. My focus is how do we get the art, because if we get the art, then the science will come. The ART is authenticity that leads to relationships that leads to trust, and what we were trying to do over time was build the art so that the science would come, build the art so that the relationships were there. It’s hard to hate up close. So how do we build that, even in a virtual environment? So that’s what we pivoted to and spent the rest of our year continuing to do, is build authentic relationships that lead to trust and building the science for the numbers on the backside and learning more and more and more on where we should focus and continue to build that by virtue of leveraging Kanarys and their assessment to help guide us and focus in on “Okay, we know what you’re trying to do. Is it gonna be effective?” And so that’s the partnership that we have with Kanarys, and we’re looking forward to those outcomes and seeing what we do, but that’s kind of, you know, from then to now, kind of what happened. And again, I’ll say we have more people, more allies and more folks leaning into this conversation than we’ve ever had, and it’s very, very positive. Do we have the naysayers? Do we have folks that, you know, “What about me?” And the answer is absolutely we have those, but that’s not gonna dissuade us. We’re gonna continue to move forward, and we’re gonna try to bring those folks with us.
Zach: That’s incredible. You know, as you’re sharing this and some of the work that you’ve done and you’ve been doing this past year, James, I’m curious, part of this journey, what I’ve seen is that, you know, there’s a lot of hesitancy and I’m gonna say sensitivity when it comes to this space and this work, especially in dealing with majority-white populations and, you know, you’re having this conversations, especially when you think about George Floyd and the fact that it was all pushed to the forefront in such a visceral, violent, and frankly inescapable way. What have you been most proud about from Yum! Brands as it pertains to this work and the intention you’ve set behind it over the past year?
James: Yeah. I’ve been most proud–and this is gonna sound crazy, but we have some amazing employee resource groups in the organization, and one of the things that we did was–you know, in a lot of organizations, including ours, where we have one brand where we have African-American, we have Asian, we have Latinx and this kind of thing, but what I’ve opted to do in the large part of the organization is go with a multicultural employee resource group, and the reason is what our people of color say and what women say is “I don’t feel like I get the coaching, training, guidance, and feedback that my majority male peers get,” and this kind of thing. And that’s not just our company, that’s a lot of companies. So the goal is, with the multicultural ERG, to have people learn how to engage and solve for each other’s issues cross-culturally as they’re coming up in the organization so that when they get to leadership they already have that skill set. But what is happening in our multicultural ERG, as we go through all tha was going on during that time, we had more allies–and still have today more allies–than we know what to do with. People are leaning in. In that multicultural ERG, there’s leadership roles [?], and our majority members are like, “Sign me up!” And our people of color are like, “Hey, I thought this was–” And the answer is, “This is for everybody. And oh, by the way, did you sign up?” “Well, no, I didn’t sign up to lead.” “Well, then you can’t say nothing.” [laughs] So to your point, you know, what are we most proud of? We’re proud of how everybody stepped up to the table to help support our people. So that’s number one. Secondarily is money talks, right? And so we said, you know, we’re gonna commit $100 million to what we call our “Unlocking Opportunities” initiative, and in that initiative we’re focused on three pillars. The first is equity and inclusion. The second is education, and the third is entrepreneurship, and out of that came a brand new function of our franchise recruitment team that is going to be fully and solely focused. It’s led by a woman by the name of Wanda Williams. She’s an amazing individual. She’s actually based here in Dallas, and she put together a team that is gonna be very focused on making sure we add more representation of people of color, specifically for us it’s underrepresented people of color, and we see that as Latinx and African-American/Black, and so they’re very focused on going out and finding franchisees who are going to be representative of that, and then internally we’re going to be focused on increasing our representation across all levels of leadership. So we’ve doubled down. We’ve got leaders–my CEO, David Gibbs, he is on fire about this topic, and so we feel like we’ve got some great momentum. So those are the things that I’m proud of. We’re putting our money where our mouth is. We’re going out and making it happen. We’re bringing things to life. Internally our people–you know, they’re like, “Hey, James, what about–you know, there’s a lot of allies…” There is. That’s not a bad thing. So we’re working through that, but those are just a few of the things that we’re proud of.
Zach: Super dope.
Star: Yeah, that’s awesome. You know, I think–hearing you talk, it becomes very clear, hopefully for those listening that aren’t eating, living and breathing DEI every day, that DEI is complicated, right? It’s a long-term strategy. It’s funny because I think some people think there’s some short-term solutions. You come in, you do a training and BAM! People’s behaviors change, and that’s not it at all, and as I’ve become an expert in my own right in DEI over the past few years with Kanarys, I certainly have learned that it is about building a foundation, building a strategy, and knowing that you’re not gonna get change overnight. You’re not gonna wake up tomorrow and everybody is different or has different behavior. And so I ask all that because you alluded to it earlier, a lot of companies, their primary focus is the diversity. So what do they do? They run and they look at the numbers. “We have five Black people. We need to get to ten. Go get them.” “We have two Hispanic people. Go ahead and fill in the Latinx population.” And it’s that kind of approach which we all know by now–hopefully, at least on this call–that that doesn’t lead to long-term change. Matter of fact, you get them there, you spend all of this time and money recruiting them, and then they leave after you train them up because they don’t feel like they belong if you don’t focus on the retention part, the equity and the inclusion part. So I’d love to hear from you. I think you’ve talked a little bit about it, but a little bit more detail–it sounds like you guys are focused on–and it’s great–going out and doing that talent acquisition, focusing on the historically marginalized talent that’s hard to hire up for companies and specifically for specific industries. So I’d love to hear about your top priorities on that, but not only recruiting them, also retaining them. You know, what are you guys doing in order to ensure that those folks stick around and they actually get promoted from within versus you bring them in in droves and then they’re off to the next one after two years?
James: That last comment that you made about, like, “You bring them in in droves and then they leave,” that’s actually the kiss of death, right, because now you have a group of people out there that are sharing amongst their network, you know, what you said you were you’re really not, you know, and your place is not to go. So that’s what happens, but what we’re doing is–man, we’ve got the ERGs. They’re really there to support our team, and the ERGs are doing all kinds of great work. They are actively engaged in doing things like helping us with onboarding of talent, and so they play an active role in bringing folks in and welcoming them into the organization and creating that commitment. They help with professional and personal development. We have what we call “Grow Yourself,” things where people have an opportunity to develop themselves and things like that. Our ERGs literally sponsor these sessions, one where you get feedback from some of the leaders. You don’t work for that leader, but you get feedback around, you know, your career and things like that. So we end up building those–trying to build the art, getting the leaders to engage and things like that. There’s great tools out there, things like something called the HOGAN, and it’s a leadership assessment, and a lot of companies will save those for the very top leadership. What we’re doing is we’re leveraging the HOGAN at junior levels in the organization so our folks can learn about the things that they’re great at and their opportunities before they get up to these leadership roles, and indeed it helps them get up to those leadership roles, and so we’re leveraging that much earlier in their careers. We have something called Leadership Excel where we bring leaders to the table. And then a couple of things that I’m most proud of in this area is we’re doing reverse mentorships, and so I’ll give you a really quick example. We set up a reverse mentorship just before the holidays started. The chief legal officer, a majority male, head of all legal for all of Yum, you know, big, big job and all that kind of thing, got him on the call and said, “Okay, Scott, here’s your mentor.” His mentor–it was just for fun, you know, everybody’s got levels in their organization. This guy is a leadership team member. I mean, like, multiple, multiple levels. This junior guy is, like, a level 9, and I got him on the call, introduced Scott, the chief legal officer, to his mentor, Joe, who was this junior leader, African-American leader in the organization, and Joe’s job is to help Scott what it’s like to be a person of color in this organization, what he’s experiencing, how it’s going for him, what is he looking for, what is he not getting, how does he get those things. Scott’s job is to learn from him but then also mentor him, and we had a–we call it a “Chat with David,” and it’s basically a CEO call to the globe. We’re 50,000 plus restaurants large. We’re in 150 plus countries, and these are calls with the CEO, typically around 17 to 2,000 people on the call, and Scott gets on the call as a member of the leadership team, and this voice who does the intro is usually one of our folks from communications. This time it’s Joe. It’s his mentor. He does, for the entire organization, the intro for the call, and then Scott goes on to say, “Hey, look, that intro that you had, that was from my mentor, Joe. He’s a DJ outside of this work, and so he did the intro, but what you need to know about Joe is Joe has been working with our ERGs. Not only with the multicultural ERG, but he’s been working in the women’s ERG and has been doing this now for years, and this guy is a [qualitative?] individual that we want to be a leader in our organization.” He said that in front of almost 2,000 people. Well, that’s what the reverse mentorship did. Scott didn’t know Joe before October, November. Now Joe ends up in front of the world, on the world stage, getting praise and recognition from the chief legal officer. These are the kinds of things that we’re doing, and let me give you one more, and this one was real powerful and we’re continuing to do it, just virtually now. I was talking with our CEO when he came in at the beginning of ’20–so you can imagine what his first year was like. So he comes in. It’s January. He says, “James, what do you need from me?” I said, “I need you to get to know our people, our underrepresented people of color. I need you to get to know them.” He says, “Okay. You know, what do you want to do?” I said, “I’ll pick the place for dinner, I just need you to come.” He says, “What’s the agenda?” I said, “I’ll give you the agenda, but we’re not gonna talk about what level they are, what their job [?], we’re gonna talk about cats, dogs, birds, kids, bucket list. We’re gonna talk about all that. We’re gonna get to know people.” And he said, “Okay.” I said, “I’ll pick the restaurant.” He said, “Hang on, hang on. What if I have it at my house?” I’m like, “Have you asked your wife about this?” And he said, “No, I haven’t, but I will,” and he reached back out and he said, “James, let’s have it at my house,” and I said, “You need me to take care of anything?” And he said, “We’ll take care of everything.” And I gotta tell y’all, you know–he lives in a very nice community. Gated, and in the guard area there was an African-American female manning the gate. Next thing you know you’ve got, you know, 10, 15, 17 cars of people with color coming up to the gate. At first she was looking like, “What is going on here?” By the end of the line, she was smiling. She was like, “Yep, yep. Absolutely.” So we pull up, and there’s no cars on the side of the road. You could have parked anywhere. But when you pull up, he’s got a valet so that when our people come up in front of his house, they get out of their car–now, mind you, the valet drove my car, like, 10 feet, right, but the point being our people got into the gated community that they probably–many of them would have never gotten into, they pulled up, and they’re getting valet service, walk down the driveway, they walk in the house, we are standing in his dining room, in his family room, eating dinner at his table, talking to he and his wife about, you know, who we are. We stood there. We were there for about three, four hours, and we went around the table and the room talking about what our dreams were, what our families were about, what was important to us, what was on our bucket list, and the feedback from our people was great. The feedback from he and his wife was equally as good if not better, and the relationship has been different ever since, and when we think about authentic relationships that lead to trust, I’m proud of that because that’s how you do it and role model. He didn’t have to have it at his house, but he chose that, and then he treated our people like the leaders that they are and with the respect that they deserve.
Zach: That’s just such a beautiful story, and it reminds me, James, of the fact that, like, what I’ve been learning–not just from a DEI perspective, but just as a professional, is that when it comes to the folks that are really fast tracked, those are the types of things that happen but that the average employee doesn’t know about, right? Like, yeah, there’s a happy hour and yeah, there’s company-sponsored events, but the folks that are really being seen and being groomed for that next level, they’re a part of that those verbal-only invites and those closed-door meetings and things that happen, again, behind the scenes, and so that’s a beautiful thing. It also reminds me, frankly–have y’all seen One Night in Miami? It essentially explores, like, this literal one night between Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, and Jim Brown, and they’re all in Miami celebrating. Muhammad Ali just knocked out ya man, so he’sr eady to go, and it’s exploring the generational and religious and socioeconomic and just cultural points of dissonance between these three incredible pillars. But anyway, the point is at the beginning of the movie Jim Brown is talking to this man in Georgia, and this man is gushing over Jim Brown and, like, very respectful, talking about, like, “Look, anything you need we got you. We love you. We respect you. You’re Jim Brown. You just led the league in rushing yards and touchdowns. You’re the greatest athlete in the world,” and you’re looking at–I mean, I’m 31 years old, so of course I don’t remember Jim Brown when Jim Brown was, like, the LeBron of sports, but I can imagine the enormity of this figure, right? So anyway, he’s talking, and at one point I’m thinking this guy–I mean, this man is talking to him like he is a son, like he is–a lot of love, and so then what happens is though that his daughter has something happen where she needs to move an armoire or something, and Jim Brown goes, “Hey, I can help you with that,” and the white man said, “Come on, Jim. You know we don’t let niggas in the house.” And it gutted me when he said that. I was like, “Oh,” and that hit home. So when I hear this story about–like, there’s something so personal about letting people in, right, like, letting people into your home and really welcoming them. It’s seeing them as equal, as human, and so that’s just a beautiful, beautiful thing, and so when you shared that story it reminded me about that scene, ’cause I was like–it speaks so many volumes of, like, we can go through the corporate niceties of, you know, “Hey, we belong,” but until we really break bread together, until I actually give up myself and I show that I actually see you as an equal, we’re not going to get to that level of sponsorship and real inclusion and belonging that we ideate about, you know what I mean? Okay, with that being said, you’ve alluded to it a few times, we’ve talked a little bit. I’m here really as the cheerleader. I’m shaking the pom-poms about Kanarys and the work that they’re doing across a variety of industries. Let’s talk a little bit about data and its function in DE&I work. What are you excited about when it comes to your relationship with Kanarys and the work that they’re doing in partnership with Yum! Brands?
James: Yeah. You know, at the end of the day, data is a language of business, right? And we think about–you know, I call it the ultimate misnomer in the equity, inclusion and belonging space, right, because a lot of times the first question you get is, you know, “Why is that important to the business?” or “What is the business imperative there?” And these kinds of things, you know? That’s the misnomer, because what people are really saying is “I’m a little bit uncomfortable with that. I’m not sure what to do with that, so let me try to dispel it away with business.” But data is a language of business, so we need to speak that language. But the difference between Kanarys and others is Kanarys is not just about the number or the number in and of itself. Kanarys is about “What does the number say?” “What is the number saying to you? The number is this.” I mean, literally, we were on a call today with the team and [?], my partner in crime, she was talking about–[Star laughs] Yeah, you know, right? [laughs]
Star: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I know. I know [?], yes. [laughs]
James: [laughs] You know the deal, right? So [?] and she’s like, “James, but here’s what that’s gonna do,” because we were talking about “What if somebody doesn’t answer the question or what if someone chooses to skip?” And some folks would be like, “Well, you know, if they skip, then that’s not gonna be statistically relevant,” and all this kind of thing. [?] and the Kanarys team are like, “There’s a message there for Yum!. If they skip or if they choose not to answer, there’s a message there. You need to pay attention to that,” right? So the Kanarys team is really going a step further than just giving you the numbers. A lot of people can give you the numbers, but the numbers don’t talk to you in terms of “What does it mean?” And the Kanarys team is focused around that. So it’s “Yes, we’ll do the assessment,” and then once you get done with the assessment it’s the “Okay, now how do we action against that? And what are the very specific things we can do to make sure we get the desired outcome, that we do get the art and not just the science?” So anyway, that’s what my Kanarys partners are, and I’ll just be honest with you, I have a team call every Wednesday at noon, and since we’ve begun our partnership, shortly after we began our partnership, the Kanarys team is on every one of my team calls, and not for the 10 minutes that–you know, “Kanarys team, can you give an update? Thank you. Have a great day,” the Kanarys team is on my call for the entire hour, hour and 15 minutes, whatever that is. They’re learning who we are. They’re learning what we’re about. They’re learning how we act and react to things. My belief is if you’re a partner, be a partner, and they’re really being a partner with us, and by hearing what we’re thinking and dreaming and scheming about and how we’re addressing things and hearing about our culture and things like that, when they get the data back it will better help them guide us to where we need to be. So, you know, I know I’m taking up a lot of their time, but I’m telling you I appreciate [?]. I appreciate Lisa and the work that they’re doing with me and my team and our organization here at Yum!.
Star: Thank you so much for that, James. We really appreciate that. I mean, I talk to [?] all the time, and she will tell me, “Oh, my gosh. Yum! Brands is a dream client. I love listening to them. It’s informing my knowledge,” right? “I’m understanding how they think. It’s opening up my mind to a new way of thinking.” You know, because not all clients are created equal, but she really enjoys working with you all, so thank you for all that. I appreciate that. I think, you know, we’re getting up close to time. This is gonna be our last question, and then we can open it up to folks that are listening to the web show and questions they may have. It’s super easy to look at 2021–hopefully we’re moving on past 2020. We’ve got a new president in place. We have a COVID rollout, and hopefully COVID will die down some over the next few months or we’ll get people vaccinated. You know, what is your advice? I speak at a lot of things, and people say, “Do you think this change in DEI is lasting?” And I always say it’s too early to tell, you know? I don’t know. We’ll see. I’m cautiously optimistic, right? And so as we think through this, and some people are seeing 2021 and thinking, “Okay, improvement? We’re past this,” and may go back and settle into their old ways, right? What advice would you give people, [?] either step down on the gas more and speed up and make sure they’re keeping up a strong pace and not letting off the gas pedal, or what advice would you give to those who are seeing all this happen and still haven’t even put their car in reverse or out of park, right? So I’m really wanting to get at how do we keep people motivated in this change, this seemingly quick call to change that we’ve seen over the past year or so since COVID started and really being accelerated by George Floyd. What advice would you have for those people?
James: Yeah. My advice would be, first and foremost, just look at your organization, right? Just look at your organization. There was a time a few years back where I literally did 8 1/2 x 11 pictures of all of our leadership across all of our division. I put ’em out on my table in my office, just so I could see it every day and when people walk by my door they would see. They’re like, “James, what is that?” And I’m like, “Just looking at our leaders,” right? Just keeping top of mind what the landscape looks like. If the landscape doesn’t look like your customer base or at least the customers you want to get, then you still got work to do. We still have a lot of work to do. Our business is to try to make sure that we are representative of all people in this organization at all levels of the organization in order for us to be RED, and what that means is in order for us to be Relevant, in order for us to be Easy, and in order for us to be Distinctive, for all customers. Not some customers, but for all customers. The other thing people–look at demographics. See how the world is changing. If you’re not relevant to those demographics, if you’re not speaking to them the way they need to be spoken to or the way they want to be spoken to, you will become irrelevant, and if you become irrelevant, we’re watching companies go by the wayside all the time. So definitely do that, and then finally what I would say is, in this notion of “Just look at your organization,” regardless of what administration there is, our people aren’t looking at whatever administration it is. Our people are looking at us to see what we’re doing as leaders to create an inclusive environment and what we’re gonna do about that, ’cause they’re looking for–a lot of people, including us, have said a lot of things since last summer. The question is, and what people are watching to see, is “Who’s gonna walk the talk?” Because that’s gonna be the differentiator. So I would say just look at your organization, because that, still today, tells a story and informs us around the work that we still have to do, and that’s kind of the feedback I would give them. Just look at your organization. Put your pictures out on your desk so you can see it every single day, and that’ll inform you enough to know.
Zach: You know, James, Lisa said that you’re a great speaker, man. You’re smooth, man. Buttery, man. You know what I’m saying? It’s cold. Okay, so question one, here we go. What makes DEI uniquely challenging in the food services industry?
James: Just holistically, DEI is challenging because when you think about sales, you sell this, you get that. When we’re talking about diversity, equity and inclusion or equity, inclusion and belonging, we’re talking about people’s beliefs, people’s upbringings, we’re talking about people’s biases. We’re talking about things that are innate. These things are innate. And then in a lot of cases, and this is through our own fault throughout our world of equity and inclusion and belonging, in a lot of cases people create an “us versus them” mentality in the space, right? So that’s what makes it uniquely difficult is it’s not like any other business challenge, because a lot of those things, “If you do this, this happens,” and you get a different outcome. Now, we’re getting all kinds of personal, and man, oh man, nothing is harder than trying to take something away from somebody who thinks they deserve it. Okay? So do that, and then the other part of it is, you know, this may be a little bit controversial and I hope nobody gets offended by it, but in some cases, from the seat that I sit in, what happens is the challenge is hard enough [that] when we start to gain a little momentum we have folks that want to, you know, really go aggressive and kick the table over and things like that and blame, and there’s plenty enough blame to go around, but the reality of it is as we sit here today, I ask myself every single day, “Do I want to be right or do I want to be effective?” I can be right. In fact, I know I’m right in a lot of cases. You know, “James, are we making progress on equity and inclusion?” Well, I don’t know. Take a look at the pictures on the table. You think we’re making progress? I know I’m right. But in order to be effective, I need to engage these folks in a way that is gonna help them help us move this forward. So I can prove to them that I’m right, but in proving that I’m right, am I really gonna help us move? I need to help us move, so I need to think and dream and scheme about “How do we do that?” This is a chess game. This isn’t checkers. So that’s what makes it uniquely–and then from a restaurant perspective, in restaurants we’re about 76% diverse between gender and ethnicity. We’re diverse all day long in the restaurants. In the corporate environment, we need to make sure that we bring that diversity all the way up through the corporate environment. So that’s what makes it uniquely different in that regard is that we have plenty of diversity in our restaurants. We need to bring all of that into the corporate environment.
Star: Yeah, we hear that a lot. I mean, when we talk to companies, we’ll start talking to prospective companies and they’ll tell us how good their diversity is. We say, “Okay, let’s talk through that a little bit,” and then we break it down a little bit, and their diversity is all here, whatever that entry level is, and it’s great that it’s there, but then when we actually talk through the numbers with them just on a preliminary–not getting into actual numbers, but, you know, “What does that percentage look like at the entry level? What does it look like at the very top?” And I mean the very top, at the board level and the executive team, and once we talk through that a little bit we get a lot of “Oh, well, yeah… you know…” Because a lot of times we talk to folks that aren’t in the DEI space, so they’re not really thinking through what that looks like from the beginning all the way to the top. They’re just looking at straight numbers, and we tell our prospects, you know, “Gender diversity is great, but let’s look at these other aspects of diversity,” because I will tell you, white women are the biggest beneficiaries of diversity programs and initiatives that have been put into place. It’s factual. But James, we’re getting a question from the audience. I know we can chat about all kinds of topics among ourselves. People are asking with respect to who influences your thoughts around DEI, your aspects of DEI, and this can be in the past. It could be a teacher. It might be a poet. It might be somebody in the DEI space, but we’re getting a question about your influences.
James: Yeah. At the risk of people going, “James, come on now. Everybody says that,” but I’ll give you the why. My father is one, and I’ll give you two, but my father is one, and my father is one because, you know, he wasn’t a college-educated man. He was an enlisted guy with 8 kids, which means you’re broke. That’s all that really means, right? But what he achieved–he went active duty Air Force in 1946. When he left the Air Force in 1980, he was the chief master sergeant, which is the highest-ranking enlisted man that you could be in the Air Force, and I say he influences me because what he had to do–remember, it’s 1946, right? So he had to navigate, figure out how to navigate his way through a system during those years when he had to, as a Black man, be aligned with the folks who he worked with and the folks that he had to lead, he had to be aligned with them, but he also had to lead white folks during this time of all that was going on from a racial perspective. And so the fact that he was able to navigate that, that inspires me. I take my cues–I think through “What did he have to do to navigate both?” Because as you know, in this space, if you seem like you’re too close to “those people,” then, you know, now you’re a sellout, and if you’re not close enough to those people, then “James, you know, you’re not helping us get as far as we need to by, you know,” this kind of thing. So you end up not fitting in any space, and so he had to somehow figure out how to navigate both spaces to make it in leadership, and so he was able to do that, and so what I learned from him and who influences me and my thinking is I think about what he all had to navigate to make that happen and to do that as one of the most well-respected, both by people of color as well as majority members, leaders in the military. So he inspires me. He passed away at a young age. He was 56. The message there is don’t smoke and whatnot. So that’s who inspired me there. There’s another gentleman. His name is Ralph De Chabert. He’s the chief diversity officer at Brown-Forman in Louisville, Kentucky, [?], and when I first came into the space I went to this event with a bunch of us there. A lot of people talking, a lot of things going on, a lot of things being said, but there was this guy sitting in the back who didn’t say much at all all day long, and then towards the end of the session somebody says, “Well, Ralph, what do you have to say?” And Ralph said, “No, I’m good,” and they said, “No, Ralph, what do you have to say?” Ralph stands up and just crushes the room with his–I mean, dude’s like E.F. Hutton. When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen. This man stood up in the most quiet, calm, eloquent way, checked all of us in that room to say, “You know what? Y’all in here talking about a lot of stuff and saying a lot of things, but what I’m concerned about is that you all are so focused on you getting yours that you’re not focused on doing what’s right by and for our people.” He said, “So what I’m gonna do is just sit down and continue to see how the rest of the day goes, but y’all asked for my perspective. That’s my perspective.” And he sat down, and the room was quiet for a long time because all of us knuckleheads in there talking about how great we are and all that kind of thing just got checked to say, “You know what? When you’re in this space, it ain’t about you.”
Zach: Mm-hmm. Ooh, thank you. That is real, and it’s encouraging to hear that be a story that you share, James, because, you know, in this capitalistic space, it’s easy–especially when you think about, like, you know, the mindset is scarcity, so there’s only so much of the pie to go around. “Well, I gotta get mine. I mean, I want to help you. I hope you get yours, but I’ma fasho get mine.” And it’s great that you see it as a point of value that that’s something that we’re focused on, right? It’s about serving and lifting as you climb. We’re never going to really grow and even achieve equity if we’re not collectively moving in that regard, and that also means Black and brown folks. If we get to the spaces when we climb there and we go, “All right, well, I got my cuff links, I got my Stacy Adams shoes. I’m making $60,000 a year.” I’m not trying to be shady to nobody. I’m just saying. Sometimes we get a little piece of something and we think we made something. So my point is we have to be service-oriented in the things that we’re doing.
Star: The other thing is not all DEI professionals are created equal. You know, I’ve seen a lot of DEI professionals that are comfortable. They don’t want to ruffle feathers. They just want to stay under the radar and keep things status quo, and I think they have a good heart and they want to make changes, but they’d just rather stay status quo, so kudos to you, James, for wanting to make some real change there, to be bold, right, and to come out and to really push for change and push for those policies and systemic changes to happen at Yum! Brands, because that’s so important, ’cause not all DEI professionals are pushing for that. A lot are comfortable and they just want to stay there and keep it as is. And I’m so happy that the silver lining with everything we’ve seen over the past 2020, 2021 is that we’re seeing more of these companies come out. We’re seeing CEOs come out and say and proclaim that they’re going to reprioritize diversity, equity and inclusion, because before that we were hearing from prospects saying, “Oh, DEI, yeah, it’s important, but we’ve got other things to worry about,” and now it’s become a top priority.
Zach: Nah, real talk. So James, what books, podcasts, newsletters are a must for you as a DEI executive and as DEI thought leader?
James: Yeah. I could just turn around. This is kind of what’s going on in my little world up here in terms of–Ibram Kendi, right? His whole notion of being an antiracist. What I think and dream and scheme about in terms of what I read, listen to and things like that, I want and need to recommend that, not to some people but to all people, right? So when you look at kind of what I’m doing, you know, “So You Want to Talk About Race” is up there. We’ve got [?] and whatnot, you know, “Four Days to Change.” So those are some of the books and things, you know, that I recommend that people read. And then I think, you know, in terms of–and this is a little bit controversial, and I get it, some people might say “James, why [?]–” But when you think about Ava DuVernay, right, and some of the things that she’s doing and saying and standing up for, I’m not saying you have to consume it, I’m just saying be aware and pay attention to those kinds of things. So that’s a little bit about kind of what I read, what I listen to, and of all things, on NPR, Code Switch. On NPR. “On NPR, James?” Yep, I said it. NPR. [laughs] You know? Code Switch is on there, and it’s just got a lot of information and insights on there. So those are just some of the things.
Zach: I love it. You know, James, the only thing I think you’re really missing out of that little suite, man, is Living Corporate. You know, we create content that centers and amplifies Black and brown folks every day.
James: Right. You know what? Well, let me jot that down and make sure I add that to my list of things.
Zach: This has been incredible. Look, I want to give Star the floor as we wrap up.
Star: Yes. Thank you, James. We appreciate it. I love that you shared some of these knowledgeable things. Everybody listening, I encourage everybody to become aware, educate yourself. Don’t go to the first person of color and expect them to educate you on everything. Take that first step yourself. Educate yourself, then go ask questions and show that you made that effort, okay? But we’re gonna wrap up today. We really appreciate it. James, we know you’re busy. You listed about 5 million things that you’re trying to balance at Yum! Brands. I don’t know how you do it, but we are so appreciative that you made the time tonight to talk with us, share your knowledge with us. We’re all leaving this web show with a lot more information and education. I feel smarter already in the DEI space. So James, thank you so much for your time, and that’s all from me. Peace.
Zach: And we’re back. I want to thank Kanarys again. I want to thank the entire Kanarys team. I want to thank James Fripp for being on the show, being a part and a friend of the Living Corporate network. It should be pretty obvious by now that I’ve got mad love for Kanarys. The work that they’re doing around DEI data analytics is bar none, and so you should do yourself a favor and click the link in the show notes to learn more about what they’re doing, so check that out. The other thing is that if you’re interested in Yum! Brands, want to learn more about James Fripp, click them links, all right? Check it out. Explore. Take your time. Have a good time, all right? ‘Til next time, see y’all tomorrow. Peace.