Leading Systemic Change with Former Diversity Officer Rohini Anand

Jennifer Brown | |

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Dr. Rohini Anand, Founder and CEO of Rohini Anand LLC, joins the program to discuss her new book, Leading Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: A Guide for Systemic Change in Multinational Organizations and what it takes for organizations to ensure that their cultures are diverse, inclusive and equitable in a sustained way. Rohini also reveals how individuals in organizations who may be limited by organizational structures and positional power can still work to create positive change.

Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:

ROHINI ANAND: Leaders need to prioritize DEI as they would with any other business imperative. But I do think that one of the key competencies that diversity professionals need is the ability to meet leaders where they are and be strategic in how they influence leaders and move them along on that continuum, to shift their mindsets, give them experiences that broadens their perspective so that they can be these transformative leaders and lead with purpose and passion.

JENNIFER BROWN: Why do we struggle so much to change and with change? Because we are living in this VUCA world, volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous. We are unmoored from so much that was familiar and comfortable. And we know deep down, and we may be in denial about this, that the change is permanent. What got us here won’t get us there. What we’ve leaned on, what has worked for us somehow no longer resonates or feels like enough. It’s time for wholesale change. And it starts with each of us. We have been shown over and over, especially these past few years that there is so much we haven’t known or explored or prioritized in terms of our own lived experiences and those of others. We’ve been shown that the workplace like so many of our other systems was never built by and for so many of us on the margins.

This has caused widespread trauma and loss of human potential, and we could never, and cannot now let this continue. We all have a once in a lifetime opportunity to address it and change it for good. This means moving forward without answers, painstakingly and with great care, writing a new script every day, we must become students again, humbling ourselves to the pace and complexity of change. Acknowledging the overwhelm of it and talk about our journey, lead from that place with empathy, grace, kindness, and openness. This is what will resonate. We have what we need if we pull from these sources. The one thing I know about this audience is that we want to evolve and accelerate. We want to transform and enable the transformation of others. We want and need our systems, organizations, communities, families, to transform too. And we believe we can be agents of change, which is not just about the skills, but the will to do so, hence, the will to change. Let’s accelerate our evolution together.

DOUG FORESTA: The Will to Change is hosted by Jennifer Brown. Jennifer is an award-winning entrepreneur, dynamic speaker, bestselling author and leadership expert on how organizations must evolve their cultures towards a new, more inclusive workplace reality. She’s a passionate inclusion and equity advocate committed to helping leaders foster healthier and therefore more productive workplaces, ultimately driving innovation and business results informed by nearly two decades of consulting the Fortune 500 companies. She and her team advise top companies on building cultures of belonging in times of great upheaval and uncertainty. And now onto the episode. Hello, and welcome back to The Will to Change. This is Doug Foresta.

Before we talk about today’s episode, I want to make sure, if you have not already, head over to nonobviousdiversity.com, that’s nonobviousdiversity.com, where you can find out how to get the eBook, the audiobook, or copy of the book, Beyond Diversity with Jennifer Brown and Rohit Bhargava. Also at nonobviousdiversity.com you will be able to access the information from the Non-obvious Beyond Diversity Summit, over 50 hours of insights. So again, head over to nonobviousdiversity.com. Today’s episode features a conversation between Jennifer and Dr. Rohini Anand, who is the CEO of Rohini Anand LLC. She provides diversity, equity and inclusion advisory services to clients in the public and private sectors. Formally, she was SVP of Corporate Responsibility and global chief diversity officer for Sodexo.

She is also the author of the, her recent book is, Leading Global Diversity Equity and Inclusion, A Guide for Systemic Change in Multinational Organizations. And in this episode, Rohini discusses why she decided to write her most recent book, how organizations can ensure that their cultures are diverse, inclusive, and equitable in a sustainable way. She also discusses some of the biggest challenges in localizing global DEI work and how change agents and organizations who may be limited by organizational structures or positional power can still affect change. All this and more, and now onto the episode.

JENNIFER BROWN: Rohini, welcome to The Will to Change.

ROHINI ANAND: Thanks, Jennifer. I’m really excited about being here and looking forward to our conversation.

JENNIFER BROWN: Me too. And congratulations on the new book, November 30th.

ROHINI ANAND: Yeah, that’s right.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, good job. It’s called Leading Global Diversity Equity and Inclusion, A Guide for Systemic Change in Multinational Organizations. So I want to invite you to acquaint our Will to Change audience with your story in a moment, but I just want to cavel for a moment, to use one of my favorite words, which means to gush over someone. For all of you that are listening, I’m a relative newbie. I often feel like a newbie in the space and I certainly was never a chief diversity officer for years and years and years at a global, giant company. And Rohini is somebody who has always, Rohini, I have heard so many compliments about you and your work and your impact over the years. And it just has always stood out to me.

And I’m so honored to have this conversation with you and to bring your expertise to this audience. And we have a lot of aspiring DEI practitioners that listen into this and also just very passionate advocates who do this side of the desk, as we say, and who knows, might end up going into the work. And then we also have lots of people who are leading the function too. So everybody, it’s a real treat. Rohini is somebody who has left a big legacy at one of the world’s biggest companies. And your book captures that and encapsulates it beautifully, and in such a personal way, in such a vulnerable way, honestly, which I think is something that makes it so readable and accessible. So Rohini, I just want to say you’re a big deal in our world. And-

ROHINI ANAND: Thanks for that, Jennifer, really, really appreciate it.

JENNIFER BROWN: Absolutely.

ROHINI ANAND: And I would say, as we talked before, I mean, you are a role model. You’re just so incredibly prolific. So I want to be you.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh gosh.

ROHINI ANAND: When I grow up, in terms of the books that you’ve written, so well, thanks for that blog, appreciate it.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, well, you know what, if you were in my shoes and in your career you had, there would probably be, I hate to say it, probably multiple books expected of you maybe. But I think you have the best scenario. The capstone of your career, your studies, putting it all together in this package that is a piece of your legacy is so powerful. And I know that you’re going to enjoy the coming months and years as you hear what a difference this is really making for people. So I know what you have to look forward to because I’ve been there and there’s no feeling like the appreciation that people have for your work truly. And I know you’ve already gotten a ton of love, but it’s just going to increase exponentially. So-

ROHINI ANAND: Thank you.

JENNIFER BROWN: Lots to look forward to. So let’s about your personal story, your origin story, however you’d like to introduce yourself and bring our audience up to speed on how this work was awakened in you, I know at a young age, and then you continued to pursue it through your studies, through moving around the world. So whatever you’d like to share about what shaped you in your early days and into your early adulthood, and then we’ll go into a little bit of your years at Sodexo.

ROHINI ANAND: Wonderful. Thank you Jennifer. I think that was a terrific introduction, and I’m looking forward to getting feedback. It’s been well-received. The book’s been well-received so far, so excited about it. I mean my origin story, Jennifer, for those that are involved in DEI, diversity, equity and inclusion, it’s very personal for every single individual as it is for me. And my story is so integral to who I am. I grew in Mumbai, and growing up in Mumbai India, almost everyone looked like me. I belonged to the majority religion, Hinduism. And surrounded by others like me, I actually had the privilege of not having to think about my identity. Now, growing up, my fathers, I grew up in a… We spoke English at home, went to an international school.

And my father in the 1940s had actually gone to the US on a scholarship to study cinema and he says, he said, “I went to study cinema, but I’d never handled a camera in my entire life.” Till he got to California. And he studied there and then went on to with the likes of Cary Grant, et cetera, came back to India and encouraged me to pursue my master’s degree in North America. He never really shared his experience of having been discriminated against, particularly in the US South. And I appreciate that because he allowed me to shape my own narrative, my own journey. But my move to the United States as a single, 19-year-old, young immigrant woman, was really my inflection point, both literally and metaphorically in my journey.

My identity basically shifted from being a person who saw herself as the center of the world to being a minority, to being an immigrant, to being a foreigner. And I was recognized as such and basically responded by recognizing myself as such. And I was really totally unprepared for that. So it was only when I was identified as a minority did I realize the privileges that come with being part of a majority. And I was part of the majority growing up in India, but hadn’t recognized my privilege in that way. And I was really unable to, until I was perceived is a minority and I experienced things very differently. So this was my journey to the work that I do and the realization that identity is situational, that it’s fluid, basically inform my research and it continues to inform the work that I do.

So this work is very personal for me, and understanding what it means to be perceived as an outsider, to be perceived as a minority is at the heart of DEI work. And clearly my work was about leveling the playing field so everyone could succeed. So my vocation and my application are perfectly aligned. I went on to work, as you said, as a chief diversity officer for Sodexo and continued after I left Sodexo and “rewired” from there in 2020, I decided to basically hunker down and write about my lived experience and to give back what I had acquired from this work to those who do the difficult, heavy lifting of DEI culture change every day. So this book is an act of reflection for me, it’s an act of closure, it’s an act of giving back, it’s an act of sharing the hard lessons that I learned in doing this work.

And to be honest, the timing in writing this book was also prompted by the fact that progress has been just so painfully slow. I think CEOs have made these performative statements, they’ve given $200 billion, they’ve hired chief diversity officers, made board appointments. It’s important, but it’s certainly not enough. And I just think that we have a moment now to be more ambitious and to unfreeze how we’ve been doing things, particularly after the murder of George Floyd and other African American men and women and the videos going viral globally. I think this is an opportunity for us. And in doing this work, as you said, for a lot large organization, I yearned for a practical book on global DEI. When I present, Jennifer, at conferences and meetings, et cetera, global DEI draws the most interest and definitely the most frustration, and cry for guidance.

I Have this session that I host called, Learn From My Experience, and it’s actually tomorrow morning. And over a hundred people sign up for it and the numbers of questions around how to do this work. So this book is a response to that, if you will, the question is, how do we go from these situational actions to sustainable progress. And this is not an academic book, it’s not a theoretical book. It’s really a view from the trenches, it’s about my lived experience, pioneering a way forward without a real map. Although I don’t think there’s any real map anymore for doing this work. But this was the inspiration. The inspiration was a need for a more practical book on global DEI. So that’s been my journey and I’ve been very fortunate to have had these experiences that led me to the work that I do today.

JENNIFER BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative). You just said so much. I have so many questions. Let me pick one. Did the book evolve as you wrote it and you realized what it needed to be and who it needed to be for? Was there a small change, big change, where you ended up?

ROHINI ANAND: Yeah, I think that’s a fabulous question, Jennifer. I think you’ve written so many books and I think that where we end up very often, it’s quite different from where we start. So initially, I just wanted to write, as I said, my lived experience and make it into a how-to story. And as I wrote, I realized what was more important was to learn about the story behind the story. You talk about how I write about my own missteps, et cetera. So the book really evolved to have, yes, it has somehow tools and how to do this work, et cetera. But what’s important is the two meta stories. So one is the missteps and the lessons that I learned, because honestly, Jennifer, is the challenges. It really brought me the greatest insight, and ultimately the most lasting change, because it was frustrating, it was rewarding, it was eyeopening. I opened with a story, if you don’t mind my sharing that of-

JENNIFER BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ROHINI ANAND: … my going back to India. So I had lived here for my any years, went back to India at least once a year. And I went back with Sodexo to do global DEI work in India. And I was in the Sodexo offices, sitting with a room full of entry to mid-level women managers, we were talking about career progression. And I was rattling on and on about the things that we need to do to advance their careers, mentoring, leadership development, sponsorship, et cetera. And there was just absolutely blank stares in that room, just no response. And so I tried a couple of words of Hindi, signaling to them that I was one of them, still no response. So then I just sat back and I said, “We’d like to help you with advancing your careers. What is it that Sodexo can do? How can we support that?” And it was amazing. It was like the flood gates had been open.

And one of the women said to me, “We want to stay late and work on special projects. We’d like to work on these are the development initiatives, but we have to go home and we have to cook the evening meal, we have to take care of the house. And our mother-in-law’s been home all day expects us to take care of the meals, et cetera.” And I had completely forgotten, completely, about the multi-generational joint family dynamic in India, where the women live with their husband’s extended family, and they’re expected to do all the housework in addition to doing their jobs, et cetera. And I had completely forgotten the role of the Indian woman as a mother, as a wife, but also as a daughter-in-law. So I had basically forgotten my own limitations as this multidimensional being, because I was so focused on one aspect of my shared identity with them, and I just completely overlooked the many differences.

So I mean, this was a misstep that I share and it taught me one of my earliest lessons, that it’s not useful to export initiatives that have worked in one part of the world to other parts of the world. And I really taught me early on in this global work that I need to check my presumptions. So ultimately, DEI work, as you know, is about disrupting our own worldviews in order to bring about transformation in others. So we have to really examine our own assumptions and raise our own awareness if we are going to bring about transformation in others. And the second meta story is a candid window into my own journey, my own growth on the DEI continue as I did this work. We are all a work in progress and I certainly had a lot to learn.

So yeah, the book did evolve, it did take shape, it did change, and it has elements of all three of these stories woven together in the book. And I’ve been very candid about my learnings and my missteps and my own journey in the hopes that’ll help others, and that they don’t have to make the same mistakes.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. And I want to highlight that you are spending a lot of time these days coaching diversity leaders in organizations, and probably trying to figure it out yourself, but also imparting and encouraging that openness, vulnerability, and yet helping this next generation of chief diversity officers grow and shape around this new and evolving and chaotic world that they have to lead this work in, which probably feels pretty different from the landscape you were navigating throughout your years in diversity roles, as you got promoted in the same company, but the company itself is like a world unto itself, as you say. Sodexo is this, I mean, how many countries is the company in, and how many employees did it have over the course?

ROHINI ANAND: Sorry, Jennifer. Yeah, that’s a great question. So at its peak it was about 465 employees in over 80 countries.

JENNIFER BROWN: 465,000?

ROHINI ANAND: Sorry. 465,000. Yes. Yes. Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: Okay. That’s a lot. How in the world do you chief diversity officer for nearly half a million people? Oh my goodness. What was the biggest your team ever was, managing all that?

ROHINI ANAND: So I managed the corporate responsibility, wellness and DEI team. It varied through about 30 direct reports, but then I had dotted line reports in the different regions. But I have to say it evolved. I mean, I started with one employee. When I started Sodexo, it was myself and one employee and we had a major client action lawsuit at the time at Sodexo. So I like to say we went from class action to best in class, but I did grow the team in order to do what needed to be done.

JENNIFER BROWN: Excellent. Oh my goodness. I mean, as you evolved and grew the interest in the topic and the commitment grew, you got so much traction. And I would love to hear, I think of you as so successful, and you had the partnership, which wasn’t by chance, but I’m sure that if I could tear into your world, you had the partnership of leaders in your organization that was not just financial, to support the budget for that team, but also the buy-in and the willingness to lead and challenge the culture to be better. And I wonder, in your conversations with chief diversity officers, if you’re hearing that people have partners like that in their executive team, or whether they’re experiencing more than anything, a frustration of, I’m out here trying to push the organization, but I’m not, and so spending a lot of energy pushing because I’m not, there’s no pull.

ROHINI ANAND: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: It feels to me like you had this wonderful balance and you were able to accomplish so much. And maybe you disagree with that, I’d love to hear too. But I do wonder what you’re hearing, because you cannot be a chief diversity officer without great partners in leadership, you just can’t. It’s one of the most critical factors, but it varies so much and it can make our lives much easier and much harder.

ROHINI ANAND: Yeah, no, I think you’re absolutely right. And I think what I’m hearing is, as you know, there’s a flurry of activity to a point chief diversity officers or diversity professionals, there’s a flurry of activity to give to racial justice causes. And I think I mentioned $200 billion, dozens, and dozens and dozens of diversity jobs, which is all wonderful, but many of them are basically just figureheads. So these are performative statements that have been made. And they don’t don’t have budgets, they don’t have teams, they don’t have influence, they’re not positioned in the organization. So I think we’ve just really got to go, move from these performative actions to more sustainable progress, because I think the approach very often is a check-the-box approach. So that’s what I am hearing.

And to the other part of your question about, yeah, I think partnership is absolutely so critical, but I will say Jennifer, that it’s not like I had that at the outset. It didn’t come automatically. Commitment to inclusive leadership by senior leaders, absolutely fundamental, to ensuring that DEI sustains. So you’re absolutely right. And I also think that when leaders embrace DEI with authentic purpose and passion, the organization does go from that performative action to sustainable progress. But in order to do that, leaders really need to internalize the benefit of DEI. And very often this requires a disruption of their worldview of change that often happens with the painful work of introspection. So I did have to guide a lot of leaders along in that spectrum.

I started off with data and facts and things, but I realized very quickly that it’s not the data, but it’s the experiences and the stories that really shift perspectives. So I actually have a chapter in the book that speaks to influencing leaders. I’ll give you just a very quick example. So the former CEO of Sodexo, we had a global gender strategy and one time he met me and he said, “Why are you diluting the focus on global gender by bringing in other variables like race and ethnicity?” Now this was a French man. He was based in Paris and he was right. Race does not translate globally. It’s not manifested in the same way as it is in the US. It is very local in how it’s expressed. And oftentimes it’s tangled up with other identities, like religion, or cast, or ethnicity, et cetera. So he was right.

But I also realized that I really had to expand his worldview and get him to realize the centrality of race, particularly in the US context. So I invited him to a meeting by the African American Leadership Forum, the ERG, the African American ERG, in the US. And he spent the entire day there. He did these breakout sessions where they had black men basically talking and sharing their lived experiences. They actually simulated a barber shop and a beauty parlor. So he went to the barber shop where a lot of these stories are exchanged. And he had been one of two actually French men in that room, one of the only white men in that room. And he listened very attentively and it was that experience, A, of being a minority, and B of listening to lived experiences and stories that shifted his perspective.

So I didn’t come with all, and I have many examples in there of how I shifted leaders’ perspectives, their world views. So it doesn’t happen automatically. But what I will say is that leaders need to be mindful of the tool that it takes for people to share their lived experiences. And we really need to maximize each story’s impact and obviously have it be voluntary. But leaders also need to take ownership of their own learning. And to his credit, he did, he used that as an opportunity to take ownership of his own learning. I mean, I think that having these transformative inclusive leader who combine their inclusive mindsets and their behaviors with concrete actions, I think is very important because personal behavior demonstrates a conviction and taking action signals a commitment to DEI. So we need that.

And then he went on to basically intentionally prioritize DEI because again leaders need to prioritize DEI as they would with any other business imperative. So book has many strategies for influencing leaders because I think that partnership is critical, but I do think that one of the key competencies that diversity professionals need is the ability to meet leaders where they are and be strategic in how they influence leaders and move them along on that continuum to shift their mindsets, give them experiences that broadens their perspective so that they can be these transformative leaders and lead with purpose and passion.

JENNIFER BROWN: Wonderful. You said a lot around disrupting the worldview. I’m sure that you also, knowing you approached it to meet them where they’re at, creating that psychological safety for that difficult look at self, and you nurture people that you care about through their own journey, their own paths, and you help them navigate and not give up or not get frustrated or not check out or box-check, but to stay in it and to get comfortable being uncomfortable, as we always say days. Because there’s such learning on the other side of that. And the creative ways, I love that you just talked about that. It reminds me a little bit of, there used to be theater companies, I don’t know if they’re still around, that would stage, literally write a script. And are they still around Rohini?

ROHINI ANAND: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. They do some great work. Yep.

JENNIFER BROWN: They do. They do some great work and they bring in actor and they write an original script based on scenarios that they are given by the client, and then the actors come and act them out and enable the audience to interact with them, ask questions and reflect on the characters and their motivations and what they observe. So it is a very powerful learning modality because it can be at the same time really playful, but also profound-

ROHINI ANAND: And safe.

JENNIFER BROWN: And safe. Yes. And safe. But then you-

ROHINI ANAND: Sorry, go ahead, finish-

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, no, you go ahead Rohini.

ROHINI ANAND: I was going to say, the other thing that you mentioned was how the role has evolved. Right?

JENNIFER BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes.

ROHINI ANAND: For diversity professionals. And you’re absolutely right. I mean, there’s no script anymore, there’s no, these are the 10 competencies you need. And it’s evolving every day. But I do think there’s certain things that really are critical. And I think one is absolutely doing your own work, making yourself vulnerable, but really doing your own work constantly to expand your worldview as you work to transform others. I think the other piece is, stakeholders have expanded tremendously, and there’s so many proliferation of stakeholders, understanding who all the stakeholders are, internally, externally in the community, customers and social media. I mean, these are all stakeholders that really need to be attended to, which I think is great key. And you mentioned resilience.

It really does take resilience to not take this work personally, not let it push your buttons, to keep at it for the long haul it takes… And it can be both daunting and tiresome and wear you down, because I think the expect patients are just so huge. It’s interesting, Dorothy Height, who was the head of the National Council of Negro Women presented, I heard her present one time. She was in her nineties and she was in a wheelchair, wore her beautiful, elegant hat, didn’t wear glasses, didn’t have a shred of paper where she had written her notes or stripped down. And one of the things she said was, leaders are dreamers with shovels in their hands. And I think that’s what chief diversity offices have to be, leaders with shovels in their hands.

Think big, keep an eye on the vision, but then chunk it out for the organization, in bite sizes, so you are advancing and getting some of those small wins. So I think those are consistent things, but being able to connect the dots across globally because the influences are so many, knowing the business, being strategic, being able to influence. I mean, it’s all of that. You know?

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, just that?

ROHINI ANAND: Yeah. Right.

JENNIFER BROWN: All that with no team and no budget.

ROHINI ANAND: Yeah. Right.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, it is so tough. And I like how you said, stakeholder, not just shareholder. I was just doing another interview and I love this concept of stakeholder capitalism. I mean, we’re in capitalist society and we have a lot of feelings about that and it’s got its huge, enormous inequities in it, but at least the expansion and the commitment to this group of stakeholders and expanding that and realizing that we exist in a complex system and we have to create change and include, meaningfully involve stakeholders in a different way. And I think we’ve learned that so much in the last couple of years, who’s been missing from the table? Who’s been not consulted or included in the process of redesigning and reimagining? And therefore we have this workplace that it feels behind, it feels overdue for pretty big change. And I don’t envy, they are all of our clients now.

Trying to navigate and develop the script. And I wonder what you see as the future of DEI and what you think, how you think the work is going to shift fundamentally, or need to shift, to take advantage of this opening that we have for change, which is really unique. And how is it going to look different? And I wondered if you were starting to feel that as you were retiring in the early months of 2020, I wondered if you’d already started to see a shift? But what do you predict? What are we going to go through, Rohini, crystal ball moment? Because I have to go and I got to get my shovel and start to tunnel into something depending on what you say. I love that image because it does feel like simultaneously you own the macro vision and then you just have to roll up your sleeves and everything in between. But what do you see ahead?

ROHINI ANAND: Yeah. So I think in order to look ahead, I have to look at some of the context, where we’ve come from. And I think we both said that despite the best lead efforts, organizations are really flailing to sustain DEI. So it’s a flash in the pan, big glitzy announcements, and words are cheap, but our organization’s going to be able to sustain. And I think that’s where they’re falling off. And I think the reason they’re falling off is for a couple of reasons. One is that organizations have just not been ambitious enough. Some of them have approached the work as this a checklist of discrete linear activities rather than infusing it into everything the organization does. And the five principles that I have in my book really lay that out.

Also very often, and you know this, when there are other competing business priorities, it becomes very convenient to dilute the focus on DEI. And we know that that can be the very thing that lifts organizations out of these challenges. The study done by BCG found that the S&P 500 over a two-year time period declined by more than 35%, but the stocks of inclusive companies actually increased by 14%. So this can really pull organizations out. The other thing that I found is that when leaders believe that DEI is sufficiently infused with the culture, they say that it’s time to not be intentional to merge it with a broader agenda. We want it to be embedded, but we still have to be intentional because the external ecosystem with its incomplete social justice journey is still operating against these efforts.

So I think that when it’s viewed, when DEI viewed as a series of incremental activities or initiatives that are dispensable during crisis, that’s when we get into this danger zone. And this was very true in the COVID pandemic. During the economic downturn, DEI budgets were slashed, people were laid off and then organizations had to deal with the disparate impact of the pandemic on women and marginalized communities. And then you had systemic racism further magnified by the murder of George Floyd and other African American men and women. And now there was an accelerated need for organizations who double down on their focus on DEI. So I think that we need new approaches to DEI, we just don’t need more of the same. And we know that this is possible.

Think about COVID and how organizations pivoted overnight, telehealth for healthcare, curbside pickup for organizations that had been experimenting with curbside pickup for over two years. Remote work in organizations and countries where it was previously considered an [00:37:38]. So it can be done. I don’t think we’ve done that kind of a pivot in DEI, in response to systemic racism in particular. We’ve done incremental things like donations, appointments with DEI, board appointments, et cetera. But I personally think that it’s just not enough. These are just performative. And I think we will change when disruption of the status quo becomes a normalized part of our conversations and organizations, not just when it’s breaking news. I think that’s what needs to happen.

And I think we can impact that at three levels. So one is at the individual level. We’ve got to really expand and look at new ways of understanding inequity, of understanding identity, and one of the things we are increasingly talking about, intersection identities. I think it’s time to really talk about social class, particularly in the United States, add it to our DEI discourse. At the organizational level, leaders really need to be audacious in how they eliminate the harmful practices that have favored some and have disadvantaged others. And it’s time to really disrupt those systems that have supported the success of leaders. What makes the systems oppressive is that they’re very tenacious and leaders don’t really acknowledge what got them to their positions.

The whole story that I talked about, my own identity and being part of the majority. You don’t realize what got you to those positions. I think when leaders start making it part of the normalized conversation, when they disrupt those very systems that got them to their place, to their position, I think that’s when we’ll see change. And then I would say, organizations are linked to this broader society. And we talked about lots of stakeholders and stakeholders that are calling for organizations to take daring and unequivocal stance on injustice in their communities. I think that organizations have to step up and there are many organizations that are doing that. I mean, I think one great example is General Motors.

The example that I cite in the book is the North Carolina Bathroom Bill which required transgender people to use bathrooms and state-run buildings that corresponded to the sex in their birth certificate rather than on their gender identity. And organizational boycotts cost a state millions of dollars, and they’re risking the bill. So it’s time for organizations to basically step up and take this unequivocal stance on injustice in the communities. At the end of the day, basically transformation happens at the intersection of the personal and the systemic, and it’s work that’s ongoing. And I think that this has to be a personal and a professional journey for each of us. We have to disrupt systems, but we also have to disrupt ourselves and examine our own self-awareness and inclusive behaviors and actions and use ourself as instruments of change.

I see a lot more work to be done in the DEI space, into the future, but a lot bolder work that needs to be done with individuals and organizations stepping up.

JENNIFER BROWN: A lot bolder. I could not agree more. Rohini, if I had a nickel for every time I’m asked the question, why the slow progress? Why does leadership seem to still be in performative? Why are people resisting change? Why are we not taking more bold action? And people are voting with their feet also with this great resignation. And there’s lots of reasons for that. But if one of those reasons is the frustration with that day-to-day experience of how my identity is regarded in that system, and is there accountability within that system for what is broken and what is causing harm and where does that accountability lie? And with whom? And you just said, do leaders have the courage to dismantle something that worked for them? That is such an interesting question.

You acknowledge the invisible moving sidewalk that speeded you somewhere and made it easier for you or more smooth to accomplish something and get somewhere. And then to look backwards and say, “It worked for me, but it doesn’t work for many people.” And I know the nature of that moving sidewalk that gets some of us forward and isn’t available to others. I understand it because usually it’s our culture, usually it’s our community of identity, that we’re either ins in a community that speeds along or were not. But the courage to step outside of your community identity and be critical of it and be critical of what the tools and the processes were and are in that community.

It feels to me there is some perceived or real risk in stepping apart and saying, “This needs to change.” But however, we can’t let it continue on the way it is because it’s broken for so many people. And organizations are suffering, not just individuals are suffering, but organizational bottom lines are suffering because we’re not getting the best in most creative products and services. We’re missing the opportunity to understand the diversity of our audience and our customers and our stakeholders. Like you’ve said, there’s so much we’re missing when we can’t hold on to the talent that we bring in the door because of our workplace cultures. Those misses are dangerous. Those are destructive to business value, to really relationships, to the bottom line.

So I see that very clearly, but I have a hard time communicating that when people have heard over and over again that diversity is about other things, and not about that. I feel like if we could just say, can we agree that what we’re fundamentally talking about is the fuel of an organization to serve the world, to exist into market, to those customers, and that we need the most creativity from the most diverse group of stakeholders, that we can marshal in order to not just respond to, but anticipate that and build from there. It feels very urgent to me, it’s a business imperative, but boy does DEI get stuck in the way that it’s been talked about for so many years and how it’s been dismissed as the nice-to-have. And I know all of these things, but I hope people are listening and just saying, “Okay, it’s not just me.”

ROHINI ANAND: Yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: Because it’s a constant struggle. Sometimes I feel like it’s a rebrand that’s needed. And sometimes I even challenge myself to not use the words DEI and describe it in a different way, because I don’t want the eye rolls. I don’t want to trigger, “Oh, here it comes again.” Because I want to have a different conversation that’s… I want to talk about these concepts, but I want it to reach the audience that it needs to reach and I want it to hit people on a deep level to say, this is my transformation, this is a business imperative, this is necessary for our talent, this is what’s going to enable us to thrive in the future. And it is literally threads in the fabric of how we operate, nothing less than that. But boy, do we have to get creative in how we describe this work?

ROHINI ANAND: Yeah. Yeah-

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s a lot. But anyway, Rohini, I know you had so much probably joy in your career. I know you had regrets. What is the most joy that you ever felt in doing the work and what was the moment, I’m curious if there’s a moment or more of an accomplishment. What felt to you like, “I’ve done my work here”?

ROHINI ANAND: That’s great. So I think the most joy, I’ve said a couple of times. The transformation happens at the intersection of systems and people. And honestly, it’s the people that I impacted that gives me the most joy, either those whose careers were advanced or those whose mindsets I changed. There’s one CEO that I talk about in the book who was a resistor, who didn’t believe in this, who dismissed DEI. And fast-forward to when he retired from Sodexo, the only thing he chose to do was to be on diversity equity and inclusion advisory boards.

JENNIFER BROWN: Wow.

ROHINI ANAND: I mean, it’s those stories that fuel me, it’s careers. When I interviewed people for the book, they talked about how they wouldn’t be in the position they’re in if the culture had not been changed so dramatically. The name plaintiff for this lawsuit that I talked about at Sodexo chose to remain at Sodexo because she saw her opportunities grow and the culture had changed. So it’s those things that give me the greatest joy. And then I think the second piece is this book. I mean, I think this has been, it’s settling in now as I’m hearing the reactions. It was a lonely experience. Right? Writing the book.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah.

ROHINI ANAND: I did interview people and stuff. I interviewed, whatever, 65-plus people, but now that I’m getting these reactions to it, I think that’s giving me a lot of joy. And what I’m hearing again and again, Jennifer, is that the book and the principle that I share in the book are really resonating for people. So if I can just really quickly talk about the principles, if that’s okay with you. So-

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, let’s do it.

ROHINI ANAND: So the principles that I share, I mean, basically we’ve talked about how complex and dynamic this work is, and that there’s no real checklist, or playbook, or best practice for doing this work, particularly global work. But each time that I did this work, there were five key elements that I recognized. And these are the principles that provide a through-line in this work. And each principle’s a very simple statement, but it includes my experience and anecdotes and successes of many colleagues. And they’re disruptive, they’re simple but disruptive, but they’re not standards or plug-in play templates based on what’s worked in the US, because I think that’s been a foundational mistake, that we replicate what’s worked in one part of the world with, in another part of the world.

But these principles can be applied with sensitivity to any culture, and they empower global leaders to develop their own solutions, not mimic any one experience. So there are five of them and just really quickly, the first is, make it local. I talk about the fact that global DEI change has to be anchored in an understanding of the local context, informed by the history, the culture, the language, and really consider how identity is defined and expressed and perceived as well as power structures and dominance and subordinate groups in the different cultural context. And with that understanding, that understanding is the first step in finding strategies to advance underrepresented groups locally in different parts of the world. So it doesn’t mean accepting the status quo. And I think that outside influencers can be catalyst for change, but they have to raise those issues in a way that sometimes insiders cannot raise them because of power dynamics, et cetera.

But outsiders can raise these issues, but it’s best when they work with local change agents who are empowered to find the right entry points and ensure relevance. The second principle is, leaders change to lead change. And I’ve talked about that in terms of leaders leading with purpose and passion, and oftentimes, and they have to internalize the benefit of DEI as we just talked about, and that often takes a disruption of their worldview. The third is, and it’s good business too, where, it’s quite clear that without a compelling reason for change, a change narrative, 70% of change efforts fail. So DEI cannot be siloed or bolted on, it has to be congruent with the organization’s purpose and how business is done as well as the macro context, the regional trends. And the rationale can be anything.

It can be the business case and financial outcomes, but it could also be something else depending on where you are in the world, legal reasons, or social justice, whatever it is. The fourth is, go deep, wide and inside-out. And that’s speaking about infusing DEI into systems and processes because organizations are comprised of these interconnected systems that work in concert with each other. And DEI needs to be infused into all of the policies, processes, and structures. So you have to take a systems approach. So I talk about embedding DEI wide through scaling governance and strategy frameworks deep by seeding the organization with local allies and change agents and inside-out by integrating DEI within systems.

And there are detailed lists of where DEI can be embedded in the talent life cycle, et cetera, to address bias. And then last, the fifth principle is, know what matters and count it. And that’s about, metrics provide a global framework and a cohesive narrative, but they prompt problem areas and also possible solutions. And really metrics are a instrument for change, but they’re most effective when they align with the local context and people are held accountable. And there’s a lot here about how you translate metrics in different parts of the world. So for instance, in France and other parts of Europe, you’re forbidden to gather race and ethnicity data, and there are historical reasons for that.

So really providing lots of examples of that. So those are the five principles in the book. And in terms of joy, yeah, it’s about the people that I impacted, the mindsets I’ve changed, the careers I impacted, and this lasting legacy through the book and the responses I’m getting. So thanks for that question.

JENNIFER BROWN: Rohini that was a quick TED talk in a way on DEI impact globally. Make it local, I’m just going to read these back for everybody. Make it local, leaders change to lead change, I love that, and it’s good business too. And I love that you pointed out that financial outcomes aren’t the only ROI, “good business”. Go deep, wide and inside-out. So the interconnectedness, the depth of the local experience and context, weaving things into working in concert with each other and systems and processes. And then finally, know what matters and count it, otherwise known as, what gets measured gets done, and excellent to remember that it can’t just be measurements because then that can drive empty compliance, if you will. But you couple that with your second point, which is, leaders change to lead change, that personal evolution that we need to go through.

Because if we want change to be sustainable in the organization, the individual has to embark on a journey, but then there has to be also the accountability for that change and for the results of that change. And so we’re working at all these different levels at once, and that’s what I always loved. You and I, it sounds like we have studied the same in school. Organizational change is so fascinating, or design, and looking at systems and thinking about, how do we get this massive, complex organism to change and what are the levers that we need to pull and the best diversity leaders like yourself have their hands on all these levers. And you’ve figured out how to shift hearts and minds and scale that, which is just tremendous.

So anyway, this book is full of wisdom. I’m sure everybody listening here is going to run out and buy this because the hunger is there for this kind of wisdom and practical, not academic advice about how to tackle organizations, large and small, and everything in between, US-based, global. It’s all in this book. Rohini, thank you so much. I celebrate what you’ve accomplished and what you represent for us and your body of work. And I imagine, we were joking, I thought, maybe there’s another book or two ahead for you, and you said, “No. No. No. No. That’s not happening.” But I’m sure there’s even more that you will wish that you had written in the book. That’s another thing that happens with authors and probably the reason why you returned to writing.

But I hope we continue to hear from you. And particularly as you get all of this feedback about what is really resonating when people want more of, I’m sure that you won’t be able to stay away. I’m sure that you will continue to be a voice and people will want to continue to connect with you as well. So everybody, the book is called, Leading Global Diversity Equity and Inclusion, A Guide for Systemic Change in Multinational Organizations by Berrett-Koehler Publishers, which is also the publisher of my second book, How to Be an Inclusive Leader. And Rohini, where can people follow you? Where would you point them to make sure that they’re staying in touch with your latest and greatest?

ROHINI ANAND: Yeah. So I’m on LinkedIn, I’m on Twitter, I have a website, rohinianand.com. And of course, you can order the book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble’s, your local book seller, et cetera. And please do write a review. And thank you, Jennifer. This was a wonderful conversation. Really appreciate it.

JENNIFER BROWN: I really appreciate it too. And you, Rohini, thank you so much for joining me. 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 up episode, please subscribe to the podcast on 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.