Arthur Woods, Co-Founder of Mathison, a venture-backed technology platform equipping employers with everything they need to manage their diversity hiring efforts, joins the program to share his own diversity story and the lessons that he has learned over the last year when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Discover how and why we need to rethink our outlook and how leaders have been showing up differently since the pandemic. Arthur also shares his thoughts on how to create a workforce that is truly representative of society.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Arthur’s journey and why he founded Mathison (10:30)
- The silver linings in the pandemic (14:30)
- Why hiring for diversity is not just a sourcing issue (18:00)
- An important diversity dimension we need to focus on (27:30)
- Ageism in the tech community (29:00)
- Why organizations can’t operate in isolation (34:00)
- The need for mission-driven leadership (36:00)
- Why the perfect playbook for diversity doesn’t exist (38:00)
- How large organizations can take an experimental approach (40:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
ARTHUR WOODS: One of the terms we believe wholeheartedly that we need to stricken from our vocabulary is the term diverse hire. This term gets thrown around and many leaders are thinking of it really as the aspects of diversity that you can see or that they you think that you can see. And that term fails to recognize that diversity is so much more than what you can see. Diversity is intersectional, that we’re not just one thing. And so we’ve really tried to, first and foremost, before we even get to tactics, to talk about framing, what do we mean by diversity, how do we start to acknowledge multiple vulnerable communities.
DOUG FORESTA: Everyone has a diversity story even those you don’t expect. Welcome to the Will to Change with Jennifer Brown. Get ready to hear from leading CEOs, bestselling authors and entrepreneurs as we uncover their true stories of diversity and inclusion. And now here’s your host, Jennifer Brown. Hello, and welcome back to the Will to Change. This is Doug Foresta and this episode features a conversation between Jennifer Brown and Arthur Woods who is the cofounder of Mathison, a venture-backed technology platform, equipping employers with everything they need to manage their diversity hiring efforts. I’ll say a little bit more about Arthur here. He is the creator of the first Equal Hiring Index to assess and benchmark inclusive hiring practices.
DOUG FORESTA: Arthur came from Google where he led operations for YouTube’s Education Division and oversaw YouTube for Schools. And he is also the author of the new book, Hiring for Diversity: The Guide to Building an Inclusive and Equitable Organization. The book releases on August 10th of 2021. You can preorder the book now. And if you go to arthurwwoods.com, that’s arthurwwoods.com, you’ll find the link there to preorder or if you’re listening to this after August 10th to order the book. And now onto the conversation.
JENNIFER BROWN: Arthur, welcome to the Will to Change.
ARTHUR WOODS: Thanks for having me, Jen.
JENNIFER BROWN: We’ve been friends for a very long time.
ARTHUR WOODS: We have. Boy, I can’t even count the years.
JENNIFER BROWN: And we’ve been in the LGBTQ+ community for all of those obviously years, of swinging as advocates and voices and as people who were both very out as long as I’ve known you and I think as long as you’ve known me. We’ve both been very young, we’ve been really forward about how we identify and are also very connected into the workplace advocacy and supplier diversity community too. So those are some tight connections, whether it’s the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which we both are deeply involved with and then you have now … Your work previous to Mathison was all around purpose orientation, which was so, I love that and I do and I always will love the role of purpose at work, but your latest iteration is with Mathison, which you cofounded, which focuses on diversity recruiting and you have a new book out and there’s all kinds of things to explore there.
JENNIFER BROWN: So before I go any further with lots of spoiler alerts, would you tell us anything you’d like to share to familiarize our audience with who you are, who you love, how you identify, anything about your journey you’d like to share about your diversity story?
ARTHUR WOODS: Well, thank you, Jen. And I’ll just tell everyone, it goes without saying Jen is just one of my favorite people in the world. So having time to spend with you and geek out and just dive into important topics, we just end up always getting into our multiple hour long conversation.
JENNIFER BROWN: I know, I know. It’s true.
ARTHUR WOODS: The short story is I grew up as an evangelical Christian in a very rural town in Northern California, a single parent, poor family with an abundance of love and not a lot of money. Despite the amazing embrace of this community, it was a highly judgmental community that had taught me being gay is a sin, along with many other things. And I was able to travel across the nation to go to school and the school of my dreams. And halfway through that experience, I discovered I was gay. And it was actually somewhat of a surprising experience. It wasn’t a situation where I had known all along. I had really not come to terms with it until the day that I kissed a guy.
ARTHUR WOODS: And it truly transformed my entire outlook on the world in that very moment. And caused me to rethink what success looks like and rethink what a professional career looks like. And what was interesting is as I got into the corporate world, I did not know how to really reconcile this personal identity with a professional one. And after observing homophobia in my first job, I was convinced that I had to be a different person at work than I was at home. And so work all the sudden was this thing that I conform to, I didn’t feel a sense of safety in. And it meant that it really felt like a means to an end. And I left my company and went to a new one and was embraced immediately in the hiring process and had a manager who was actually also out and I felt really celebrated for who I was working there and was empowered to come out.
ARTHUR WOODS: And it not only radically changed my outlook on work and the way that I brought my full self every day, but it also caused me to be loyal and to want to innovate. And I found myself actually a completely different person in the way that I showed up. And just that personal transformation for me was emblematic of a transformation that I think we all wish so many people could undergo at work of being in a place where you are celebrated, where you truly bring your full self. And it’s actually that experience that inspired me to start to get into the field of HR technology because I realized, “Wow, we spend the majority of our lives at work. And if work isn’t working for people, that is one of the greatest gaps our world witnesses each day. The fact that so many people don’t feel themselves at work and don’t feel celebrated at work and don’t believe and feel inspired by the work that they do, these are all extraordinary opportunities for change.”
ARTHUR WOODS: So Jen, that’s when we met and I’ve had a chance to start a couple of different social enterprises and companies in the advocacy world and in the HR technology world and really reading your books and getting to know you and seeing the way that you really just pioneered this sector before it was even really called the sector. I heard, firsthand, as I know you did, Jen, that diversity and inclusion was the thing that no one had figured out, that everyone was struggling with and that most organizations thought they just could never figure out. And I was convinced that we can start to use technology to address this exciting challenge. In the last year and two, we’ve seen, of course, the urgency for it exponentially grow. So that’s really what led me to Mathison and to this body of work and intersects with you.
JENNIFER BROWN: So great, so many things. I would say our coming-out story is very similar. I was not really super aware either and there was this just moment. So that’s another thing we have in common. When did you make that switch from, “Here, now I understand my identity and now I feel called to build a technology that enables all underrepresented identities to have a fairer shot when it comes to the recruitment process”? What was the aha moment where you were like, “I want to go after this because it really matters”?
ARTHUR WOODS: Well, what it actually was, very interesting, when we first met, Jen, I think it must have been, what? Eight or nine years ago at this point.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
ARTHUR WOODS: And my last company, Imperative, we were doing work in intrinsic motivation and purpose in this great company became a peer-to-peer coaching software. And one of the greatest blessings of this work for me was that we tapped into this network of nonprofit agencies supporting people with disabilities who were going to work. And I learned firsthand, first of all, just that when we talk about diversity, we’re going to talk about this later I know, that we have to dimensionalize the idea of diversity in so many different ways. And for me, learning that there are so many different lenses through which we can look at that word itself was really awakening.
ARTHUR WOODS: And so I felt just so incredibly blessed to be entering the disability community and getting a chance to travel around the nation and work with these nonprofits whose sole purpose was to basically empower people with disabilities to come to work every day and knowing that there’s a 70% unemployment rate in the disability community and that work plays a vital role in the lives of so many people with disabilities. I just witnessed firsthand that there is such an extraordinary opportunity there. And I was astonished to see, despite how many corporations make these huge commitments to be inclusive in their hiring. There was still such a gap if we just looked at that community alone, “How many people were not employed? How many people actually couldn’t physically travel to work or weren’t empowered in the hiring process to even apply in the first place?”
ARTHUR WOODS: And so taking that vantage point alone, as I was exiting my last company, I felt that this would be a really noble and meaty thing to really try and tackle, “How do we bridge the gap between underrepresented, vulnerable, marginalized communities and the employers that are committed to hiring them?” And so that really was what inspired it.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s so cool. So you founded Mathison two years ago and changed, but we met before the pandemic. So I wonder, we’ve seen a worsening in terms of recruitment challenges in a way with more than 40% of the workforce expected to leave their jobs in the next year. And to me and to you, I’m sure we look at that and we think, “Oh, my goodness, what a chance, what an opening for change, right?” What a sea of change in terms of the urgency that employers, I hope, are feeling in terms of not just hiring great talent, but opening the door with the partnership of companies like Mathison to source talent from different communities, different places and also to examine the biases inherent in their whole recruitment process, which I know you help them to look at because that’s necessary too. You can’t undertake, “No, I can’t have a goal without seeding the ground and preparing the ground for this talent to be successful.”
JENNIFER BROWN: So I love too that you have taken a holistic approach of this, not just bringing people in and rebalancing those representation numbers, but you’re also taking a close look at what enables those numbers once they enter the system to thrive, to not be harmed by unconscious bias in the process or conscious bias and to do better as employers. So I love that you, on one side, you’re advocating and you’re giving, you’re enabling that channel for great people to find their next opportunity which is so important, but you’re also making sure that the system holds those candidates in the most respectful way possible.
JENNIFER BROWN: I just love that and it’s the two sides of the coin. And I think it’s like when we talk about diversity versus inclusion, one without the other, they’re each going to fail if they’re not in a complementary state, in a balanced state.
ARTHUR WOODS: I could not agree more. That’s so well said, Jen.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you. So let’s talk about then how much the world has changed. What have you learned over the last year that has either told you, “Yes, we are going in the right direction. We totally built the right thing. This is exactly where we need to go,” and/or have you tweaked or added to or shifted the approach? How has it affected the way that you think this problem of underrepresentation is going to be solved or did it just validate everything and just pour gasoline on the fire?
ARTHUR WOODS: Wow, and honestly, Jen, I’m reevaluating that question on a daily basis right now. I’ll tell you my last hour of pontification on it. I think we all know that the pandemic basically shed light on the chasms that exists in terms of inequity in the workforce and in society. And sadly, the pandemic widened those chasms and marginalized and vulnerable communities were the hardest hit by the pandemic, right? So we had that at play. Also, along with that this extraordinary wake-up call that we can never say that anything is fixed, right? So the idea that so many people for the longest time said there’s no way someone can work virtually, we knew that that just simply wasn’t true anymore. And we were taught that we are constantly writing a new playbook on work. And if the moment we think anything is fixed and finite, we have to really rethink our outlook altogether, right?
ARTHUR WOODS: So there was some real beautiful silver linings to what happened, but indeed, marginalized and vulnerable communities were the hardest hit. And when you then add into that the extraordinary racial inequity that we all witnessed, and by the way, we witnessed close to our televisions often socially isolated during the pandemic, so that exacerbated so much and I think at a time when the world really needed to see that. It was a reckoning that we all, I think, needed to witness to really wake up because I think the resounding sentiment from the communities where we work is that these have always been the truths. These have always been the situations. I think people just finally noticed that. And so one of the first things we wrote in the book was it took us a pandemic, and extraordinary racial atrocity to see what we always had known to be true, right?
ARTHUR WOODS: So what happened in our space, and Jen, I know, JDC also really saw this as well for so many folks that we had been trying to convince for years that this all is a priority, they were all of a sudden calling us all and they were saying, “This is a priority. We need to do something.” And we were like, “Yeah.” Jen, I know you especially saying that. I’ve said it for 15 years. And so that’s exciting, but what it also led to was this extraordinary frenetic energy, “We need to do something quickly. We need to make a statement. Post a black tile. Go set some goals. Go make a donation.” And instead of taking a deep breath to try and do so thoughtfully, there was this urgency and rush.
ARTHUR WOODS: And for many, what that meant was we need to … So to put it bluntly, many leaders basically said, “We just need to hire more women. We need to hire more people of color. We need to just source. There’s no other issue here. Make sure that everyone, it’s very visible what we’re doing.” And so for many leaders, there was a posturing that was happening. There was performative activism that was occurring and there wasn’t always a very, in our mind, thoughtful consideration of, “What systemically needs to change?” First of all, how do we get here in the first place? It wasn’t simply because we weren’t prioritizing diversity. It’s because our systems, in many cases, were inequitable
ARTHUR WOODS: It might have actually been because we were looking at diversity through a very narrow lens. And we weren’t even acknowledging it. So many marginalized and vulnerable communities weren’t even on our radar, right? And much less the fact that one of the big trends that we saw was that we weren’t sharing responsibility for this need in many cases. Organizations were saying, “This is not a leadership imperative. This is not a team member imperative. This is HR and recruiting. They need to go figure this out. And so we saw three really challenging trends that we’re working against the grain of everything, everything I think we’ve always all been trying to achieve, but especially what we’ve all been trying to achieve this last year.
ARTHUR WOODS: One of those is that we need to be inclusive and holistic about how we think about diversity. One of the terms we believe wholeheartedly that we need to stricken from our vocabulary is the term diverse hire. This term gets thrown around and many leaders are thinking of it really as the aspects of diversity that you can see or that you think that you can see. And that term fails to recognize that diversity is so much more than what you can see, that diversity is intersectional, that we’re not just one thing and so we’ve really tried to … First and foremost, before we even get to tactics, to talk about framing, what do we mean by diversity? How do we start to acknowledge multiple vulnerable communities?
ARTHUR WOODS: The second piece is we have to figure out this work systemically. Every organization that called us up, typically the first thing that they would ask is, “Can you just get us more diverse candidates?” It’s just a sourcing issue. If we can just find these folks, they’re hiding under a rock somewhere, if we just find them, all of our problems are solved. And we worked with the bank and we talked about this in the book. There was this bank that we worked with. They had this effort to hire people with disabilities years ago. They sourced 600 people with disabilities, not a single one of them ended up getting hired. And the reason is there was so much systemic bias in the hiring process. There was no cultural competency work done for team members.
ARTHUR WOODS: Parts of the hiring process were completely inaccessible for some communities. So it really was a testament to the fact that we have to think about the actual experiences and systems that we create. And our most successful sourcing efforts will fail if we don’t address the actual process that we’re leading every day, right? And a third piece for me that I think is the most exciting is we have to think about the fact that everyone plays a role. Gone is the day that we delegate this work to HR or to our new head of DEI who’s going to come in and fix everything. We have to think about the fact that every single person who shows up to the hiring process, every single person who has their own network that they’re plugged into, plays a vital role.
ARTHUR WOODS: And the strength of our chain, this effort, is only as strong as the weakest link. And the moment that every single leader, whether you have real organizational authority or not, I think truly does play a role. And the moment that everyone in the organization feels empowered to play a role, I think we start to see this movement really shift within our organizations.
JENNIFER BROWN: I think what you’re describing is going to provide, accelerate this whole process, not just for recruiting, but where we focus is, Arthur, on more of retention, the advancements and promotions and slates and sponsorship and mentorship. I think the participation piece and who’s been leading this, who’s been carrying the water, who’s been delegated the responsibility for change appropriately or inappropriately. I think we’ll look back at these times and say, “Why did we structure our strategy that way? Why did we leave the work and the burden of education, have changed to these many or few or many, depending on where in an organization we’re looking, but folks who are already struggling mightily to stay in a system that’s not built by and for them?” And then to also add on to that the labor of, “Oh, and by the way, if you don’t bring your voice to the company, your voice is not going to be brought to the company.”
ARTHUR WOODS: That’s right.
JENNIFER BROWN: Effectively, that is what has been the approach, is very hands off. And it’s hands off ironically by the people with the most institutional power.
ARTHUR WOODS: That’s right.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right? And so it’s just so backwards.
ARTHUR WOODS: It is. It is.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right? I think I just zoom ahead and then like, “Oh,” just going to realize like, “Why would we not make progress?”
ARTHUR WOODS: Well, yeah. And one of the one of the sentiments that I know you and I have discussed many times in our long walks, long breakfast is this idea that if the system wasn’t working for someone, it wouldn’t exist today, right? That is really true. These systems that we have today that to your point that had been designed by mostly white older men, if we’re going to be brutally honest, had been working for people. And it’s not as though they’re broken, it’s that they’ve been optimized for a certain set of values. And so just as much as we have a chance to really rethink these systems altogether, I think it involves this whole process of unlearning.
ARTHUR WOODS: And I think probably what’s been so exciting for me and I know, Jen, you work with so many leaders where you’ve seen a pretty amazing philosophical transformation occur for many this last year, I think leaders are starting to come with this degree of vulnerability. They’ve been taught for years, “You have to be right. You have to be in control. You have to never admit weakness.” We see leaders all the sudden showing up and listening and admitting that they don’t know and being willing to learn. And I think that’s a radical shift from even just what we were witnessing two years ago.
JENNIFER BROWN: That is enormous, I think, that empathy, vulnerability, transparency. The truth telling of the last year and a half has been, like you said, that difficult blessing that we’ve received, which is, “Okay, now, it’s out in the open more than it ever has.” Not to say it’s not risky to be our full selves in the workplace, it still is unfortunately, but we’re getting somewhere with being more honest, building more healthy organizations addressing what’s not healthy in them and according to whom. I love that you said that it’s not about whose fault it is, but you use the word, it was optimized for a narrow group of people, right? That is a true statement. I’m not sure anybody could really take issue with that.
ARTHUR WOODS: Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: And so as such though, it is not prepared for the modern era and we’ve been slow to change because of all the reasons that we are resistant to change. We are creatures of habit. We’re afraid, “What about me? If I open the door to this, will there be enough left for me?” which is a total scarcity mentality, but gosh, I know that haunts me every single day, scarcity mentality.
ARTHUR WOODS: Sure. Anyone who’s an entrepreneur, let’s face it.
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s tough. Can I just take a little bit of a turn? I know that you so … You have all nailed down 13 under represented jobseeker communities. That’s a lot and I want to hear what those are. And then Arthur, I would love to know, what was your learning curve in coming to terms with all of this in the limits of your own lens, in your own lived experience? And then, what can you share with us about how your mind and heart has been expanded about all the talent we’re missing, right? The communities that don’t even get on … They don’t get their own ERG or their own affinity group, right? We haven’t even gotten there yet, and yet, wow, there’s so … And I know a few of these because I’ve been studying some of the ones that I know that are on your list, but you definitely are not on the list of workplaces yet. And I’m really excited to hasten that. So tell us about the 13 and what your learning curve has been.
ARTHUR WOODS: Absolutely, and I think what’s been so humbling about this work, Jen is, and I know you always speak to this as well, that there’s always a new lens and there always is a new community where we believe we each can build greater cultural competency. So if I follow the inclusive leader model, in the inclusion model of really going from this idea of being unaware to really being an advocate, I think what’s fascinating is, first of all, if we start to dimensionalize diversity beyond the aspect we believe we can see, one of the key drivers for me in doing this book was to really get into detail and to nuance around each vulnerable marginalized community that we could begin to better understand.
ARTHUR WOODS: And rather than try to paint diversity in broad strokes, to really actually sit with leaders from each community and understand the barriers that each face, the state of the community today and even to the tactical nature of the terminology that’s considered exclusionary, for that community that many of us might have been persisting based on our current level of awareness. So for me, this was really special because what we did and the model that we’ve really taken with Mathison has been to build partnerships with social sector groups. I wholeheartedly believe in the diversity recruiting realm there aren’t any experts. I think there are experts in the DEI world. That’s Jennifer Brown.
ARTHUR WOODS: I think in the diversity recruiting world, the work is so emerging and it’s so experimental. I believe we’ve spent probably more time on this particular subject than anyone that we know, but I wouldn’t call us experts. And I’m just going to be very direct about that, but what I can tell you is it’s our mission on a daily basis at Mathison to surround ourselves with leaders and individuals from communities that we really try to empower, to hear their stories, to better understand the barriers that they face and translate those insights to employers who are wholeheartedly committed to bringing individuals in and advancing them.
ARTHUR WOODS: So for us, this work, for example, really included the formerly incarcerated community. And when I speak to many employers about the formerly incarcerated community, many recoil. They speak about their commitment to diversity and they say, “Oh, well, we have a policy that’s against anyone with a criminal background.” And so you start to see, first of all, right out of the gate, not every underrepresented group is treated equally and is seen by employers in an equal way. You do see that employers have many groups that aren’t on the radar at all and many that they have built policies against, right? This was extremely disheartening to learn.
ARTHUR WOODS: So the communities that we studied, we did work on a disability community to really understand the rich diversity that exists within the disability community alone. We focused on working parents. We focused on actually the older experienced worker community. I had a chance to do some really cool work with AARP and some of the team there. This is a great example of a community that’s about to be a quarter of the workforce in the United States and yet is only on 9% of the radar of employers.
JENNIFER BROWN: Whoa.
ARTHUR WOODS: And the number of people especially in the tech community that I’ve spent a lot of time in that face ageism every day and whose applications are completely glossed over the moment someone sees the year that someone graduated, it’s disheartening, right? So that’s a great example of a community that represents … Look in a time when we have a labor shortage, look at the older experienced worker community. What a rich opportunity to bring folks in with amazing experience. And it was great to just see. This is a great example, and my mother who’s a jobseeker in the older experienced worker community, to see firsthand just where ageism comes into play. And so many misconceptions completely debunked in a lot of the great research that’s already been done.
ARTHUR WOODS: Honestly, Jen, for me, I just realized in this whole process there’s so much more to continue learning as someone who is a permanent student like you are of this work. I think to realize there’s always a new story to hear, a new person to speak to, a new systemic barrier that we weren’t aware of someone was facing, to me, that is just such an extraordinary opportunity. For anyone that’s innovating in this work, to just constantly be getting these inputs because this is what informs systemic change that we all are trying to create, right?
JENNIFER BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s right. Yes, that’s absolutely right. I have a question about the classic question I get and I want to know how you answer it, but I believe and I feel like a radical for saying this and I’m careful, I guess about how I answered the question, but I feel safe with you and we’re on the pod and-
ARTHUR WOODS: Why not?
JENNIFER BROWN: Why not?
ARTHUR WOODS: It’s Friday afternoon?
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. I don’t have a cocktail but, right, soon. So the question of, “What do you mean, Jennifer, I have to hire to correct for our representation imbalances?” S you’re in the middle of this equation between recruiters and managers, who are the recruiters’ clients if you will and everyone in it equation needs a whole lot of education. And then you’re sourcing, you’re building the bridges to source from different communities and also endeavoring to ensure that the process is respectful like once a candidate enters that process, which is super important, but I know that there’s always this tension. And the radical part for me, the answer I want to give is we are so woefully out of balance that to correct it slowly and it’s whether when you feel like it is just not enough. It’s not going to shift things. It’s not going to create the massive shift that we need, even to bring things to appropriate representation.
JENNIFER BROWN: So I just wonder, because you specialize in this and I would love to get some language from you about how to have those conversations because it’s a tricky thing when you come up against the individualism of the American manager mindset. I’m sure which goes back, I don’t even know how many decades but, “I control the destiny. I know all things. I get to make decisions. I don’t fall in line. You’re asking me to do something that I can’t guarantee the results, that I’m being held accountable for.” It’s the resistance and the denial of the problem and then the lack of responsibility for what we have let happen. We literally have not held anybody’s feet to the fire around, “We must look like the world that we do business in, like yesterday, like 10 years ago.”
JENNIFER BROWN: And I’m really getting concerned because so that’s where we were pre-pandemic. Now we have further complexities around working virtually and my concern of all kinds of nontraditional talent literally falling off the radar screen, literally out of sight, out of mind, literally not perhaps the people that are in office, that are still working virtually because we’re challenged by intersectional dynamics, right?
ARTHUR WOODS: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: So it feels a bit like a little bit of a perfect storm in a bad way for the future of underrepresented talent to get a toehold in this system, where these are all the sort of gates that we have to clear.
ARTHUR WOODS: It’s so true, Jen, that in many cases, there is a an even more perfect storm of challenge and complexity than we’ve seen before as if we thought that were possible, right? Because it felt pretty-
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s so hard before.
ARTHUR WOODS: It’s so hard before. Two years ago, it felt really complex. And look, already dealing with a complex subject of deep emotion and identity and behavior and mindset change, it just could not get more complex, right? And that’s why I think for us … First of all, the clarifying pathway ahead is it really is about leadership. And this is why I always love everything you write and speak about is because it is really about leadership. We can talk about change management efforts and organizational behavior and teen engagement as much as we want, but at the end of the day, this comes down to some pretty significant decisions for leaders and leaders have to find a way to personally bring themselves to this conversation.
ARTHUR WOODS: No longer can we operate in isolation of our organizations and think about our organizations as empty vessels in a vacuum. We have to really take responsibility as leaders to say, how we define success and what we really are trying to achieve, the essence of what we’re trying to achieve is a workforce that, you’re right, represents society. Not just because we want to have market share and we want customers who we can empathize with, it’s because we want a workforce where people feel celebrated for who they are, that actually really can innovate and be relevant to the needs of society because that’s the purpose of organization, is to actually be relevant to what society needs, right?
ARTHUR WOODS: And I think if we start at that essence and it’s like, “How do we actually want to feel as human beings at work? How do we want our colleagues to feel? And do we want an environment where people conform to a specific culture that’s monolithic or do we want to actually bring out a rich set of different perspectives that are responsive to the needs of society?” And we start to just even think about holistically how different that is than the traditional organization we learned about in textbooks over the last 50 years, right? It’s a drastic shift. And so probably, it’s no surprise some of the organizations that I see that we work with that have made the most significant change are 100 people strong with a very interesting, mission-driven leadership team that has a lot of mobility and autonomy and build some of these ideals in the very groundwork of their organizations.
ARTHUR WOODS: Part of the intentional move that we really tried to make starting the company was to make the work accessible to the high growth early company. Part of that is because the cycles of innovation are so fast and there wasn’t this need to change organizations fundamentally when they could begin, they could really be born with these ideals. So first of all, I am really excited about the next generation of organizations that are starting right now because similar to the way we look at Gen Z and how extraordinarily accepting Gen Z is, you’re going to see the same breed of company. The new company is rooted in the ideals of diversity. It’s not like something that needs to be convinced. It’s like, “No, we started with that. We were trying to figure out how to bring it to life. That’s where we need tools and systems,” but I think you’re going to see a whole different type of organization begin in this next decade that can be the new model for what organizations like large organizations can shift to.
ARTHUR WOODS: And I think that’s going to be really exciting. It’s the similar level of optimism I have about the next generation and how the idea of acceptance has just been so embedded in the mindset of so many young people who are now about to enter the workforce too, right? So we’re seeing everything change in that direction, but I think you’re right, Jen, that we have our work cut out for us. It’s a complex topic. Organizational change is complicated to begin with and it’s only getting harder as these mediums of work have become more differentiated as well. But I also believe that if we step back and say, “Look, we know that what we’re working on is complicated, but we’re all signed up for change, for iterative change that’s a learning journey.”
ARTHUR WOODS: Every organization we work with, I think, our mindset is, “We’re not going to have the perfect playbook. In fact, the perfect playbook for the organization sitting next to you could be drastically different than it is for you because it’s a different organization, with different constraints and a different culture and a different set of needs.” But if every organization signed up for iterative change that is on this learning journey that’s rooted in inclusive leadership, and hopefully, with folks that have read your books, then I think we’re onto something and I think we can do this together.
ARTHUR WOODS: And that, to me, is the best part about this is I know with the folks that join your weekly calls and with the organizations that we’re also seeing, this generous sharing and cocreation that’s happening, the fact that none of this work has to be proprietary anymore. We don’t have to hide and nothing has to be secretive. It’s like if something works, let’s share it, right? I think that is what gives me also tremendous hope about where we’re going.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love how optimistic you are and you energize me too and I think we share that because it would be hard not to be and tackle this difficult stuff, but I do think the tsunami, I agree with you, the tsunami of Gen Z coming into the workplace and just saying, “What do you mean you’re working on your strategy?” it’s not good enough. They are going to accelerate and put pressure on. And I hope that’s going to lift the work you and I are trying to do and the tougher, I guess, change work that we have to be applying to those of us in our own generation, right? We are part of that generation. We know this animal, right? Ut is us. And so I think as we advocate with some of the less likely to change community and trading to prepare them, it will be fueled by this huge change in expectations and the pressure that’s going to come.
JENNIFER BROWN: So I do think, I am very hopeful about the planets lining up in this way at this moment that finally things are going to start to move and we’re going to start to see real progress. So I share that, but yes, we have our work cut out for you, as you say.
ARTHUR WOODS: Well, we all do, but luckily, we love what we do and I guess this is … I don’t think we’d rather be working on anything else but this, right?
JENNIFER BROWN: No, that’s so true. That is so true. So the book is … Thank you for inviting me to write one of the foreword for the book.
ARTHUR WOODS: Oh, my God-
JENNIFER BROWN: So thank you, Arthur.
ARTHUR WOODS: No one else I could have possibly asked.
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m so honored.
ARTHUR WOODS: And as I’ve shared with Jen and I’ll share with everyone here, I think Jen has created the umbrella or the on ramp or the launch pad. Everything’s rooted in the ideals of inclusion and how to be an inclusive leader. It is truly the foundation of everything we talked about, the hiring. Nothing in hiring could be effective in inclusive hiring without inclusive leadership. So I appreciate, Jen, you paving the way and launching and also your guidance in this work because I think the exciting part of this journey now and where the movement is that we’re now able to start getting into really specific tactical aspects of the work that I think hopefully are creating some of the bridge for a specific change that needs to happen in our strategies too. It’s going to be exciting to see this whole new ecosystem that’s just beginning to emerge around this work, right?
JENNIFER BROWN: Right. That’s right. And I love your point about the next generation of companies. And I don’t blame you for pointing your efforts towards them. It does occur to me a lot at JBC, thinking about the large companies that we do work with and how change feels like sometimes so difficult, so incremental, so a bolt on and so much more difficult I think to run change through a massive entrenched or bureaucratic or a very tenured culture. So I’m really glad that you’re pointing some of your efforts to that next generation of companies. And maybe where we’re going to see the models and then those models ideally can be followed and emulated by some of the larger companies.
JENNIFER BROWN: Just because the company is large doesn’t mean is that the culture that’s going to last at all.
ARTHUR WOODS: Completely.
JENNIFER BROWN: And we’ve seen the obsolescence, right? I love that. I remember Good to Great the book, so many of those companies are no longer with us. And I remember just reading some of those books years ago and I started to study leadership and just thinking, “Wow, if I could only work at a company like that,” and then many of them fail to innovate and to grasp this and to flex. There is something to be said starting from scratch with a blank slate, building it into the DNA, weaving it throughout the culture and then building from there is a beautiful example of what’s possible. So I’m so glad that you’re partnering in these early days with some of these companies and that this is going to become the standard that everything else needs to follow the ecosystem. And it has to be, because otherwise, I’m not sure the biggies are going to be able to come along to the extent, but it’s always changing.
ARTHUR WOODS: It is. And what I think is exciting though is that we see large organizations taking an experimental approach as well and saying, “Maybe that department can try this out,” or, “Maybe we can look at a specific stakeholder group and we don’t have to boil the ocean.” And I think that’s also how great change can happen. So I think you’re absolutely right. The greatest part about this work is that everyone is invited to it and we need everyone truly. And when we look at the sheer number of people that large organizations employ, we definitely need them. We see some awesome bright spots emerging for large organizations committed to iterative change too.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s such a good point, Arthur. Really good. Oh, this has been so fun. I know we have to wrap up, but-
ARTHUR WOODS: It always is.
JENNIFER BROWN: I know, I know. Thank you so much for elaborating and I just so love how we’ve grown together and we’ll continue to. And the book is Hiring for Diversity. I want to let everybody know it’s out now to preorder. And then the launch date is August 10th and there’s some things planned. If folks are interested in this topic and liked this conversation and want to learn more about Arthur’s work and Mathison’s tools and things like that, please consider participating on August 10th and supporting Arthur with the book and his testimony and all that fun stuff. But what should we know about, Arthur, to support this?
ARTHUR WOODS: Thank you, Jen. And thank you all just for your advocacy in this process. So the website to learn about the book is hiringfordiversity.com and we’re launching it on August 10th. Jen will be actually with us for our virtual launch event on the 10th at 3:00 PM Eastern. We’d love to have you there. It will be a wonderful celebration of all of this work together and we are excited about just the ideas and folks committed to this journey. I think it is just such an amazing community that is learning together every day. And Jen, you’re really leading the way in it, so we appreciate your leadership.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you so much, Arthur. I’m feeling very full from our conversations so thank you for …
ARTHUR WOODS: Same here.
JENNIFER BROWN: … all the acknowledgments and you too and we’re tackling this together. It’s going to take the village that we always talk about and the strength of that open community. You mentioned that trust each other a lot and it’s very open because we all want this so much. So thanks for your work and thanks for joining me today.
ARTHUR WOODS: Thank you, Jen.
JENNIFER BROWN: All right, talk to you soon.
ARTHUR WOODS: Bye.
JENNIFER BROWN: Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com? You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion and the future of work. And discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.
DOUG FORESTA: You’ve been listening to the Will to Change, uncovering true stories of diversity and inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com. Thank you for listening and we’ll be back next time with a new episode.
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