It’s Still a Pandemic Outside (w/ Wema Hoover)

Zach sits down with global DEI thought leader Wema Hoover to chat a bit about her career journey, reflect on the perspective of DEI today, and discuss what she’s looking forward to in 2021.

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(00:58): Whats up yall at Zach from Living Corporate. Im really in a place of reflection. I wanna shout out Brittany Janay Harris because she and I have had several conversations about the importance of unlearning things. And its funny because I was also talking to my wife. I was talking to Candace about this season of panera, of [inaudible 00:01:31], pandemic yall. But this pandemic season and how, if you wouldve talked to 2019 Zach, as conscious and woke or whatever phrases or terms you want to use. I think Id be embarrassed by how much trust I had in governmental bodies and systems and structures to keep us safe or to make sure that our society could really be taken care of. I did not realize. And again, I say this to someone, Im continuously learning. I dont believe Ive arrived in any one particular area.

(02:13): This season continues to show me how much capitalism is killing us. And again, I would say that I wouldve said that a couple of years ago, but as you just look around and you just see like all the things. All the things happening. Its sobering, its depressing and its frustrating. And compounded by that is the fact that Im a father its to a toddler. And you just look around, you look around and you just see so many parents, everybody, first of all, struggling, just trying to do the best that they can. And you see companies continuing to fail, showing up in effective ways to actually support their employees. And its because these organizations are not designed to look at employees as people. Theyre designed to look at employees as means of production. And thats why were fighting for basic things around like childcare and like liveable wages. And wages that also are adjusting to inflation. You know what I mean?

(03:30): Were fighting for basic things for us just to survive, healthcare, COVID tests, just basic stuff. In the light of us being in a pandemic anyway. And its just depressing yall, as I think about what does this mean for me? Like what does this mean for me as an individual, as a parent, as a husband, as an employee, as a leader, as someone who manages other people, and whos called to demonstrate and be a leader in some regard, and model the right behaviors, what does it look like for me to reject internalized capitalism. I want yall to know, this whole pressure that we have to always be busy and to produce, and the shame that we associate with not working on something or making something, or creating something all the time. Thats a byproduct of internalized capitalism. That is a consequence of us being conditioned to think that we always need to be producing.

(04:34): And frankly, as we think about how capitalism is white supremacy in action. How we also pair that pressure to be producing with also the pressure or expectation to keep white people comfortable is also, again, its a consequence of that. The idea that in this season, that you would think that I would prioritise anyone elses comfort besides my own, and my familys is insulting, but some folks are so trenched mentally and spiritually, emotionally, mentally, n capitalism, that they dont even understand how harmfully exploitative that it is. And so, for me, I ask myself, what does it look like for me as a black man to reject capitalism, to reject it in terms of how it relates to me treating other people with respect and honor and dignity?

(05:40): We dont live in this binary world where your career is in one place and your wellness is another place. But again, capitalism would tell you that you exist to work, you exist to produce. And frankly you exist to produce for an entity that is going to benefit from the fruits of your labor significantly more than you will. And capitalism also tells us that theres honor somehow, in exploiting yourself or being open to being exploited. Capitalism tells us that its okay to step on someone else or neglect someone else. Capitalism tells us that it is the right thing to do to neglect your own wellbeing. Your mental health be damned, your physical health be damned, your social health and just exposure and personal development and growth be damned. I mean, yes, you can grow. Yes, you can do stuff, but it needs to be in service of production to this entity. Thats going to actually benefit from your labor more than you do.

(06:56): And so, for me, I dont know the answer, but just know that were gonna be having more and more conversations about rejecting internalized capitalism, rejecting internalized white supremacy because thats really what it comes down to. Im really excited about todays conversation. But I want it to just slow down a little bit and talk about where were at, because irrespective of how people may be acting, we are very much so still in a pandemic. Its still a whole pandemic outside. Theres new COVID surging as we speak. Were struggling, and its depressing to see folks having to need to still be reminded over and over and over again that theres a pandemic outside.

(07:51): I read an article about just how parents, especially parents of children under five, theyre at the end of their rope, yall. You know what Im saying? I dont come on here crying about my own challenges and my own frustrations as a parent of a toddler, but its challenging for us. And everyone isnt privileged to have a nanny or to have even their in-laws around the corner, or to be like the only grandchildren of their grandparents, or to even have grandparents that their children can go with. People are out here like on islands. And its just important in this season that we individually check ourselves and remember that were still in a pandemic. Remind yourself that were still in a pandemic. Stop shaming and pressuring yourself to produce and be some cog in a machine.

(08:51): Yes, we have to do what we have to do to survive. I dont believe that means that we have to continue to devalue ourselves and sacrifice our wellness in the process. And I believe that if theres ever been a season where we have a voice to speak up, and advocate for ourselves, its this season. Because even the things that Im talking about as we talk through how the pandemic has stripped bare a lot of the things that have already been there. These challenges have been present. Im late to the game, but there are activists whove been talking, maybe shoot, Kwame [inaudible 00:09:27], MLK, folks have been talking about this for 50, 60 years, 70 years. But its just interesting. I want everyone to really pause and remember that were still in a pandemic. Its still a whole pandemic outside.

(09:39): Anyway, like I said, Im really excited about todays conversation with Wema Hoover. Wema Hoover is a DEI executive. She is international experience and leadership with some incredible brands. And we talk about her journey in and out of tech. And now shes having her own shingle with her own consulting firm, really positive conversation. Im just really excited for us to get to it. And Im thankful that she was so gracious to be on Living Corporate., Before we do that, were gonna tap in with Tristan and then were gonna get to the conversation. So Ill see you in a second.

Zach (13:09): Wema, welcome to the show. How you doing?

Wema (13:11): I’m doing great. And thank you so much for having me.

Zach (13:14): Yo its a pleasure. I know, first of all, happy new year.

Wema (13:19): Thank you. Yes.

Zach (13:20): Its been a while.

Wema (13:22): Yes. And weve come to a new year, right? Weve put 2021 in the past, and now open to all that 2022 will give us. And I am encouraged that it will be a fantastic year.

Zach (13:36): Absolutely. Now, youve been in this space for some time. Can you walk me through just your journey, how you got into DEI and what your journey has looked like?

Wema (13:46): Absolutely, certainly. So, my journey has been more like a scavenger hunt, kind of going around and not direct. Which, I think, its really allowed me to really pick up necessary skills to be effective in this space today. So, I started off in management consulting at Arthur Anderson. I did that for many years. And then went over to Pricewaterhouse Coopers, after the cessation of Arthur Anderson and Anderson Consulting. I am dating myself. And thereafter, thats when I started getting into more of the culture work. More of the work around representation, diversity, ensuring that there were equal opportunities. And then, when I went over to Bristol-Meyers Squibb, I took a job in-house when I was working across all different companies across the financial services industry. I was able to get a job in-house at Bristol-Meyers Squibb working in organizational development.

(14:51): And thats really was my foray into diversity inclusion because one of my first assignments was working with our research and development center, and helping facilitate the build and operate and alliance partnership with our contract research organization in Bangalore India. And as just necessity to do the work, I was focused on global leadership, cultural competency, team effectiveness and more on that kind of learning agility from a cultural standpoint, from a different time zone, different relationship to management, and thats where I really got into diversity equity inclusion. And it was tremendous because, we were operating in a research center off the shores of the United States. The first time a big pharma had did that, and realizing that one of the biggest business challenges was around cultural understanding, the relationship to management, the hierarchy of communication. Something as simple as trust and what you share, how you share it when you share it.

(16:03): And so that became the Genesis of my work. And I work with universities in India to build relationships and figure out how to get postdocs there. And we had to send our employees there. So it was a real big kind of wonderful opening and clamshell of different skills, different strategies. But what was most rewarding to me is that the business stood behind it. The business recognized because we knew the necessity to not only do the work today, but build these common practices, these conditions and these ways of working, collaborating, interacting. And looking at, driving performance and assessing performance in a different way that we hadnt done before. And so, thats kind of how I got in diversity. I then went on to a role leading diversity at Bristol Meyers Squibb from that, because they saw the success, and me doing it in the business. Then I went over and did it as a corporate function. And that is really my entry way in.

(17:09): And ended up working at Bristol Meyers Squibb and going to Pfizer. I did a lot of homework on diversity driving the business and looking at the different disease states and how do you really get patients who are under utilized for a therapy, but really needed the medicines. Because that was prevalent in that community, in that that environment with that community group. And had a fantastic time, did different things, did like telenovella, integrations, did work with comedians [inaudible 00:17:45], for black patients and populations. And then ended up going over to Sanofi, got recruited to go to Sanofi. And I lived in Paris, was asked to relocate and actually take on the chief diversity officer and head of culture officer for a non-US company.

(18:03): So I had to actually live out there. And I questioned it at first and said, okay, this is a big move. However, if Im legitimately going to be a steward of my craft, I need to be my own case study. I need to be the one that is put out of her comfort zone. I need to be the one that needs to figure out how to connect. What are the practices? What are the conditions, what are the internal policies that either help or hinder people of difference? So I use that as an opportunity to learn and grow as a practitioner, but also, at the same time, helping create these practices and processes for the organization I was working for.

Zach (18:43): You were in Paris for over three years, Id love to hear more about, what are some of the main things you learned even in just kind of transitioning from New Jersey to Paris?

Wema (18:59): What I learned is that you have to take your American hat off and suspend all creature comforts. And also suspend the way that you look at and view success. One of my earliest learnings was when I very ambitiously came into a meeting with one of our CEO at the time, and said, Im gonna have you meet all my direct reports. And I met one of the direct reports there, the general council. And I said, heres my 90-day plan, this is what I planned to do. And I ended up getting met with a lot of nodding heads, very tight lipped faces. And then one day, the general council was a woman, gave me a recommendation. Shes like, you probably will fear better if you just listen. Dont talk about doing things in 90 days, because in this culture, they have more deference to learning and understanding the ways of operating the culture, the influences, than on action. Thats a very American way.

(20:05): And so, I literally shifted, changed my style. I went into those meetings and my goal was to listen, listen, and listen some more, and barely said anything outside of hello. And at the end of the meetings, I was told, this is the best meeting ever. Youre fantastic. Youre the American that we knew we could have. It was quite funny, but it was also a great learning experience because I realized that, wherever you go, every environment you are in, you need to go to seek, to learn first. Seek to understand. And that is a Genesis of equity inclusion. How are you connecting with those in your environment; with those that you are working closely with, living next to? So that you truly have a sincere and genuine effort to get to know them on their space, in their life and then, bring your own self and your own identity in. And thats what I had to do. And again, being a case study of my own work, I quickly took note and shifted gears, and was able to apply that. And I think that that gave me my momentum to really drive a very strong agenda.

Zach (21:20): Well, lets talk about the past year or so, because were walking through your resume here. Youre now at Wema Hoover Advisors, your own consulting firm. But before that you had a brief stop at Google. Can we talk a little bit about what informed or empowered your decision to hang your own shingle after about 20 years or so of being in this space and this work?

Wema (21:48): Yes, absolutely. Google was a great ride. It was a great opportunity. I was supposed to be in Paris longer, but the pandemic as with many other people, presented a lot of personal and family dynamics that I just needed to be back state side. So I came back with my job at Sanofi and then got approached by Google. And that was a great opportunity. However I needed to remain on the east coast and remain close to my family. Bring my daughter, who I was in Paris by myself with, a support network back, and couldnt relocate. Just could not relocate. And so, I had to make a decision, do I move again, having been back for five months or, do I rethink what is Wema Hoovers contribution to this space? And I had to really take a decision and really take a stance to say, I wanna own my voice. At this moment, with everything thats going on, with Black Lives Matter, with the violence against blacks, with Asian hate crime, xenophobia, LGBT exclusion. I wanna own my voice and I wanna contribute in a meaningful way to change the world, change the society. And along the way, help organizations see how they can harness and maximize the value of diversity.

(23:09): And so, I ended up taking a decision to go on my own and I quickly got clients. Because I had always get kind of poached to help and assist and drive this. And I just opened myself up to the opportunities that were there. And it spiralled into speaking engagements, sign with the Speakers Bureau, having a lot of momentum there, having messages that were open, provocative, but honest. And allow there not to be judgment and to be learning, and there to be an opportunity to not only share what you know, but the awkwardness of what you dont know and what you may miss out. But in a way that is in a safe space. And thats why I think Ive been able to keep the momentum and keep the work that Im doing now, which is, diversity, equity, and inclusion, consulting. Ive got a lot of work on leading in times of uncertainty, wellbeing, mental health. I just published an article last week with the National Association of Mental Illness around remote work. And how we need to center mental health and wellbeing if we to work in the new, the new model because theres no going back.

(24:29): Times have changed and the only norm that were going to have is change. And so, that has been the pull, for me. And in addition, Im an executive coach. So, this time is also we are at the need for a lot of leaders to kind of look up and say, how am I showing up these dynamic times? Am I able to make meaning for myself before I make meaning for the organization and my team? How do I navigate in an authentic and genuine way that I can have discussions that will allow people to share their feelings, allow us to reset and really cultivate operating norms, but at this same time, show the value of their contributions and treat them as individuals? And so, that has been a huge part of work that Ive been doing, as well as the coaching along the way. And its been fun. I can tell you unexpected, but doing this stuff, Im having fun.

Zach (25:25): So, its interesting, you talk about this time and this moment, and leveraging your own voice. Can we talk a little bit, Id love to hear your perspective on just the diversity, equity, and inclusion landscape today? As we think about trends that you might be noticing, or behaviors that youre seeing, and even maybe predictions as we look at like the next five years or so.

Wema (25:49): Yeah. No, thats a great question. What Im saying today is that there are more organizations even more governments, local governments, state governments, our federal government, our current president are leaning into having a platform to address it, to talk about it and to address it. Im not even gonna go into the latest voter registration debacle that we were in. But what it shows me is that this is really center for all of us. To try to figure out how do we create not only the understanding, but the necessity to be able to have exchange and dialogue and know what each other are feeling and to make sure that it doesnt paralyze us, but that it pushes us through to greater connectivity, stronger relationship and more truth. And so, I see that now, what I also see is that there is a struggle.

(26:49): There is a struggle in the corporate and organizational level around doing this in a very pragmatic way. That you allow there to be discussion and exchange, but the dont let it go into a rat hole of just negativity, or venting or, having therapy, unhealthy discussions around intent when everyone is trying to do their best and trying to come to an element of change. And what I think needs to happen is there needs to be a co-creation. There needs to not just be a top down and the desire to have a spoken, a written speech and something that is developed by a comms person and spoke by a leader because people feel that, that may not be sincere. They feel it. And especially when they hear it and what theyre experiencing is different.

(27:50): So I think the struggle is around the accountability piece where, and how it shows up and the expectation that employees will now feel it and know that this is the company I [inaudible 00:28:03]. These are values. This is their ambition to diversity, equity, and inclusion and these are the behaviors that are associated with it. So thats why I think that there is a trend, and there is a work being done in the organizational level. And you can even say, see it at the state levels that are changing laws, really trying to push forward a lot of the areas that we regress tremendously under former administration. And youre seeing that. And my optimism for the future is that there will be some anchoring. And anchoring in a way that is very relevant, unique for industries in relation to their customers, their clients, their patients, so that it truly reflects their mission and vision, but that is expanding. Their mission and vision is expanding. You hear about conscious capitalism and thats a buzzword, but how are companies and organizations making that real? How are they setting the agenda for diversity, equity, inclusion, gender equality, corporate social responsibility, and making it a part of how they view their success metrics? So that is what I see as a bright future and makes me excited and gives me optimism.

Zach (29:22): Thats wonderful. I think you said a word that didnt trigger me to ask a follow up question around [inaudible 00:29:28] accountability. I think about the future of work, I think about Gen Z and my siblings are a part of that generation. And they, even more than millennials, seem to have like a shorter wick for nonsense. Theyre gonna go to social media, theyre gonna call you out. Theyre gonna blast you. Theyre gonna activate, theyre going to protest in a much quicker way. And theyre also use technology to scale their dissident in a way that is notable. And so, Im curious with that in mind, do you believe that corporate America, as it exists today, is prepared for Gen Zers at large?

Wema (30:16): Short answer? No, but they should and they will. I mean, honestly, this is how the evolution of the workforce is gonna transcend Gen Z and even some of the other generations Gen X, Gen Y they have an expectation of going into a job and not just getting a paycheck. They want to go to a job and feel purpose. They want to go to a job and feel a shared mission that is meaningful for them. That is defining in their life outside of what they do nine to five. And so, what were seeing now is a significant rise on activism, and specifically, employee activism. And theyre doing that is because that need right to make meaning in their lives to work and drive something with purpose, not only in their private lives, but in their full-time employment life, is not going to close.

(31:15): And so, thats where you see now, a lot of organizations taking a stance, being more vocal, even changing laws. I mean, look, what happened with Dove? Dove was the architect of the Crown Act. They went and got a lot of other corporate organizations then went to the state levels. And now you have what 19 states that passed legislation to say, companies that operate here cannot discriminate over natural hair. You saw the same thing with the Amicus Brief with the marriage equality. That was started by organizations signing an Amicus Brief and saying, this is against our values. We are not going to allow, and were not going to sit silent when these things are happening. And so, its going to increase. I know that there is probably some area that is unclear and uncharted for organizations. And maybe even not feel right.

Wema (32:11): Because theyre also thinking about profits and marginalizing some of their customers or patients. But at the end of the day, not only will employees from an activism standpoint expect it, but the states they operate, the countries they operate in, the regions they operate are gonna demand it. Because this is the population of people that live here. And if you are gonna be in a community and not serve, understand, and care for the needs of the constituents there, you may not have a customer base there. So thats just the reality.

Zach (32:46): You know, were recording this at the top of the new year in 2022. Look, talk to me about the things that youre excited about as you look at your consulting agency, as you talk to me about the landscape as you see it, the optimism you have, what are you personally looking forward to this year?

Wema (33:04): So Im, overall in life, Im looking forward to connecting with people, and in a much more heart to heart manner. What I think the pandemic has done is allowed people to stop, pause, and reflect on whats the most important thing to them. And so the conversations Im having, even with clients, colleagues are different, our neighbor, theyre just different. Because you have the unknown, the dynamics of changing, are we gonna be in quarantine again? Is this variant gonna…? Its really making people really take stock of their lives and say, Im going to live in this moment and in this way, and this is what [inaudible 00:33:54]. So that excites me. And excites me from a work perspective, because this means that theres more community to reach the head and the heart with people in doing the equity inclusion work.

(34:06): Theres more opportunity for people to get past that facade and that kind of talking mask on what they should say and what they ought to present themselves as, because its corporate speak, or its what is expected. But its forcing them to really say, before I do that, let me look at the mirror myself. Let me kind of do a checks and balance on how do I feel about this? What are my thoughts? And then, how can I go through this journey together in an effective way, so I can lead by example? And at least show the honesty, the humanity of the struggle that Im going with, but use that as a unifying force. So excites me, the realness, the authenticity, the time of pause and reflection that has allowed people to resurface with more candor and more sincerity.

Zach (35:05): Well, wait a minute. Ill tell you. I really appreciate the fact that you were able to come on Living Corporate. Consider you a friend of the show, youre welcome back anytime. Really thankful for your time, the experience, expertise that you have shared. And honestly, just like the breadth of your journey. You talked about so many things, and as we look at even the brands that youve been a leader at, or that youve led, I believe there is multiple opportunity for several more conversations. So I hope that we can have you back. Before I let you go, any partying words or shoutouts?

Wema (35:39): I just want to shout out to you, and for doing what you do, because this is necessary. It is amazing, and you are touching and changing people in ways that you dont know. So thank you for having me. And I just want to shout out to all your listeners and just tell em stay encouraged, stay passionate, and just keep the faith, and lets all just bring positive vibes into the world. Thats it!

Zach (36:06): Let’s go. All right, great. Well talk to you soon.

Wema (36:10): Okay. Thank you so much. Talk to you soon.

Zach (36:12): Peace.

(36:21): Yall again, I wanna shout out Wema Hoover, thank you, Tristan Layfield of Layfield Resume. Shout out to the entire squad. Hey, shout out to Madison Butler, all the work that youre doing. Shout out to Aubrey, Blanche. Yo, Im just really appreciative of all of the contributors and members of Living Corporates community, our team. Its just an incredible season. Theres more coming this year. Im so excited to share in the coming months, as we continue to build what were building behind the scenes. In the meantime, make sure you give us five stars and Apple Podcast. If you give us four stars, Im gonna call you a hater, for real. Make sure you check out the website. And well catch yall soon. All right. This has been Zach. Peace.

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