Navigating Crisis and Opportunity with Hearst’s Chief Talent Officer, Keesha Jean-Baptiste

Jennifer Brown | | , ,

You can also listen on iTunesStitcher, and Google Play.

In this episode, previously recorded as a community call, JBC senior consultant Chelsea C. Williams interviews Keesha Jean-Baptiste, Senior Vice President, Chief Talent Officer, for Hearst Magazine, as Keesha provides an inside look at the challenges and opportunities of being a senior talent executive for a global media company. Discover how institutions can avoid performative allyship, how to encourage allyship within organizations, and the ingredients of successful partnerships. 

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • Keesha’s journey towards becoming a Chief Talent Officer for Hearst (17:30)
  • How to help employees cope in difficult times (30:00)
  • How Keesha communicates in an authentic and vulnerable way with employees (38:00)
  • How to connect with employees in times of crisis (40:00)
  • An example of allyship within organizations (45:00)
  • How to balance ally affinity groups with other groups (48:00)
  • Global challenges and opportunities (52:00) 
  • How to drive structural/systemic change (53:00)
  • Why leaders need to take responsibility for creating change (57:00)

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

CHELSEA C WILLIAMS: Yes. Jen, thank you so much for the warm introduction. Everyone, it’s so amazing to be here, this is like highlight of the week, it’s always so exciting to see familiar faces that are part of the community. And we’re in for a treat, we have Keesha Jean-Baptiste from Hearst here today, she is an exceptional leader, exceptional advocate for DE&I.

And we always say as consultants, it’s such an awesome opportunity when we get to partner with people who you just click with, kindred spirits. And I would say Keesha has been one of those people for us and so it is such a joy to have her on today. And so I’m just going to, again just reiterate.

Keesha serves as the chief talent officer of Hearst Magazines, a division of Hearst Corporation and she reports directly into the president. In addition to Hearst Magazines… Hearst is a client of JBC so we work in partnership to administer their active allyship training sessions and really just to help them forward movement with their talent strategy.

So today we’re going to hear her perspective, she’s going to talk a little bit about her background and then we’re really going to get into the weeds of what they are doing at Hearst. So Keesha, we would love for you just to start and tell us a little bit about your career journey because I think that’s going to help get us into the questions.

KEESHA JEAN-BAPTISTE: Sure, sure. Well, thank you so much for the warm welcome, I hope I live up to the adjectives you used. And I just feel so already connected to the space and just seeing so many people here it’s a treat, so I’ll tell you a little bit about my background. I went to school for broadcast journalism, my undergraduate degree was in that. I decided that I wanted to focus on advertising and the business side of media and so I got a master’s degree in integrated marketing communications.

And so when I was going through the master’s program, I understood very much that I need to get an internship in order to break into the field that I had to do heavy amount of networking, and this is in the late ’90s. And so I was at a school that had an advertising agency, a student-run advertising agency and that agency actually… that student-run agency had all these connections to advertising agencies in New York City.

And one relationship they also had was to an organization called the American Association of Advertising Agencies. So how I got my start is that I applied to a program called the Multicultural Advertising Internship Program. I was placed at an agency in Philadelphia, the internship was paid for, the housing was covered and all I had to do was show up to work to get the learning experience that would actually set me up to get my first job and so that’s what I did.

And then after I completed my master’s program, I went to work at an agency in a marketing role, and the first seven years of my career were… I was an account management person servicing clients, interacting on behalf of their marketing needs and delivering assets, I did direct marketing back in the day and then I did digital marketing.

In 2005, I decided after about seven years of that career, I was searching for something more and I had a mentor that actually had said to me in a couple of occasions that I should go into HR. I did not know or understand the body of work in HR by any means, I also was pretty like, “I just spent a lot of money going to school, why would I do this?” So I was really not happy about that guidance that I received.

But what I did was I actually went home and talked to my husband about it and talked to my mother and they both immediately had this reaction like, “That’s you, you have to do this.” And so I listened and I decided like, “Look, what’s the harm in trying?” So I basically in 2005 began my journey into a career that I am now incredibly fulfilled by and I did not understand what work fulfillment was until I made that switch.

Since 2005, I became the head of HR for a digital agency out of New York. I then moved to Portland, Oregon for seven years and worked at Wieden+Kennedy, I see someone from OSHU in the chat in Portland. So I was the head of HR and talent for Wieden+Kennedy and then I moved back to New York in 2017 and became at this trade organization. The organization actually that sponsored and created the internship program where I got my start in the early part of my career is the job that I actually went and took as the SVP of talent, and I had the ability to run their foundation while I was there, which included that program.

And so I’ve had many different types of experiences, mostly profit, but while I was at the trade organization it was non-profit and running a foundation, it was all about equity, student programming as well as advancing the industry in all things related to talent and specifically around DE&I. And my current role, the umbrella of what I do is like all things related to talent attraction, learning and development, DE&I as well as core HR, so that’s my journey.

CHELSEA C WILLIAMS: Yeah. No, that’s helpful, Keesha. And you started kind of getting us into telling us about your current role at Hearst, but the chief talent officer role is one that might be very new to people on the call, we haven’t had folks with that background on before. So can you tell us about the breadth and depth of the CTO role, literally what that means at Hearst?

KEESHA JEAN-BAPTISTE: Yeah. So it’s actually a role that has evolved and they haven’t had someone with this exact title in this exact seat befor. So what I can tell you is that if you think of all things around HR which include employee benefits, include employee relations, compliance, payroll, things of that nature. There’s a core part of HR that is part of my team which I would refer to as the operational side of what we do, reporting and all of that.

But in addition to all that, and this is where I feel I think my skill set really is a match from my marketing background to what I’ve done over the years in the HR space, is this lens and perspective I have around talent and really looking at it as an interconnected set of activities and programs and a strategy that runs through the organization.

So everything from how we onboard, how we hire, where we’re going to attract talent to how we onboard, how we integrate people on to teams regardless of role and level, the types of programming we provide to prepare people for their next role or to help them stabilize in their current role. And then culture, and for CTO, culture is, at least how I define it, culture is like the centerpiece of what we do.

While there may be a set of tactical, a lot of tactical things that go on behind the scenes in HR, where it all shows up for employees is in the culture. And so a large part of my role is to shape things in a way that helps them land and hopefully stick in terms of culture.

CHELSEA C WILLIAMS: Yeah, that’s great. And I think Jen was alluding to this in the chat, but it would be awesome for you to talk about the partnerships that you have as a CTO that really help you to advance the culture and the people agenda. So can you tell us what your stakeholder relationships look like and most importantly, what’s most effective for this CTO relationship to thrive?

KEESHA JEAN-BAPTISTE: Gosh. It’s probably no different, but yet somewhat different than many of you who are in DE&I seats. And this is where I would say for most of us who are doing any kind of work in this space, it gets really challenging because there are so many stakeholders, so if I think about from the… Oh, someone’s phone is not muted. If I think about it from the perspective of stakeholders that I’m accountable to and stakeholders that I need to work with in order to produce or initiate, it’s very different.

So stakeholders that I’m accountable to, I report into the president and so ultimately have that level of accountability where whatever he’s driving toward as far as the business strategy and the way the company needs to function, there is a parallel to a talent strategy and agenda that needs to run alongside that. So if I know the business is going to be growing in another area geographically or they’re developing a new strategy for or acquiring a business, the talent agenda needs to shift with that. So my primary stakeholder is the president.

Then I have a set of stakeholders that I would say are sort of my peers, which are the people who report into the president. And those are people who run the business functions, the CFO is a big one in this equation and that’s a relationship I’m sure many of us are trying, either if you’ve perfected it let me know, but if you’re like me it’s constantly evolving and it’s constantly challenged because we usually come from the place where we have our hand out to ask for money and they want people to not reach in the pockets so deep.

So CFOs, COO, and then the other business leaders. My stakeholders outside of that based on the way my company is structured include the equivalent of a person in my role who runs Hearst Television and the person who runs Hearst Magazines which is a broad network, I’m sorry, Hearst Newspapers. And so the three of us represent the consumer media businesses for our corporation, and while we are in different media we have a lot of similarities in what we do and so we tend to partner a lot. And so those just in my area would be my primary stakeholders.

What we don’t have at our organization is a chief diversity officer, some of the business groups have a DE&I person within their business group that reports into the head of HR, but we don’t have that role at our organization.

CHELSEA C WILLIAMS: Okay. Before we move on to the next question, everyone, if we could just ask you to mute that would be awesome and so we can have an enriched conversation. Keesha, you brought up culture, you told us about the span and scope of your role. Let’s talk about 2020 because we’ve had our offline conversations about this year, but I think it would be very powerful for us to start from COVID.

When COVID hit, how did you think about your role and how you needed to be supportive to your employees in the moment? What was Hearst’s kind of initial response, and how might that have changed as we’ve moved through the months that have proceeded?

KEESHA JEAN-BAPTISTE: Yeah. Well, let me first just say this. If you’ve been in HR or DE&I for I don’t know, probably at this point more than 20 years, the only thing that I have in my experience that’s close to this is 9/11. And then if you lived in New York, there was a blackout in 2015 I want to say, and so that was the second closest thing that I had in my experience to even draw upon and to deal with this.

And then other than that, it was just like, “Oh my God, this is the biggest crisis that I think we all have experienced in our lifetime.” And there are no rules, no one had any answers, there was no place to go except for here and there finding information as you could find it through the CDC or WHO.

And so I will tell you like personally, I’ve never felt more challenged, I’ve never felt more scared, never felt more anxious and also never felt more like, “Now’s the time to give it up to me.” And a large part of that was because just the immense… When you’re in a seat where you’re responsible for people and this is a health crisis and benefits is reporting as part of my remit and people are asking you, “When are we closing?”

No, I’m sorry, “Are we going to close our offices? When are we going to tell people it’s time to go home? What is the company going to do about this? Can’t you have any pull? Does our insurance company have any pull to get us a test? We’re a big company, can’t we do that? What happens if I get? What happens if someone on my floor gets it?”

So I would say the very beginning stages of this were, I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced that level of stress and I don’t want to ever have to go there again. I should also just give some context, we’re an international organization so in January we were… And I didn’t have to deal with this directly, but I was on the receiving end of seeing how our offices in Asia were responding amd what they were going through.

And then what happened is this, this was the turning point for us. We have magazines in the fashion space, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Marie Claire, and our teams go to fashion week in every city. And so the teams had been in London and then they were going from London to Milan. The weekend that the news came out in Italy about what was going on in Milan was our wake up call.

And I remember on a Sunday I got a call from the chief content officer, she said, “Did you see the news?” And I hadn’t at that point, I was just watching a movie, it was like 6:00 and I was watching a movie with my family. And then immediately she said, “What do we do?” And I remember that conversation so well because the advice I gave was not the advice that the person wanted to hear at the time.

And the advice I gave was, “We need to be very cautious because we’re dealing with health that any step that we make from this point moving forward is critical.” We never want to risk health because we made the wrong decision, so it’s better for us to be super conservative in this moment, ask for people to come home and quarantine rather than regret it if we didn’t ask, if we didn’t follow this step, you don’t want to be on the other side of that because we’re talking about health and an unknown disease, a lot of unknown factors around the disease.

And at the time this was, “I don’t know, they’re going to think we’re crazy, I don’t think we should do this.” Well anyway, 48 hours later we had people come back as they were coming back and some people showed up in the office, the office wasn’t closed. Some people showed up in the office and guess what happened? Of course, people are sitting there like, “I know you were in Milan, you’re back in the office at a team meeting.”

People were writing privately to HR asking all kinds of questions because they just didn’t understand what’s going on here, I’m getting nervous. And so 48 hours later we sent everybody who went to Milan, we sent them home and then those people they were in contact with we said, “Okay, 14-day quarantine.” From there though I will tell, because this was the end of February going into the beginning of March.

So it really was about how we make sure we limit exposure and contact and all we knew at the moment was, “You got to quarantine.” And then once we made the decision to close the office in mid-March things settled down and then we could actually really focus on what is the plan. And so as we got into planning I’ll tell you a couple of things that made a difference for our people, one is that the corporation made a stance very early on.

We’re privately owned independent company, it’s a family run business for those of you who don’t know the Hearst family, but the Hearst family and the board of trustees said, “We are not going to let people go in this economy, we are not going to have layoffs, we’re not going to do furloughs.” And so that certainly calmed, of course, so many people down from the what ifs, “What if I lose my job? What if I don’t have insurance?” Blah, blah, blah. So that was I think a significant move.

The second thing is that there was a lot of conversation about how do we help people in this moment considering schools were closing, like there were so many other needs that were popping up in homes. So the other thing that the corporation did is provide us some relief for childcare sort of like a backup program for childcare, it’s actually called crisis care. And it wasn’t just for children, it’s also elderly care if you were taking care of a family member who’s older so we provided that.

We also had extended or created really I should say, a program for parents to have more time off and it was sort of again, a little bit of a relief because if you remember, so many people were going through this like, “Oh my God, my kids now aren’t going to school, I don’t know how I’m going to take care of them and do my job.” And so we had some immediate things that we put in place to just bring a sense of relief and help people cope and that gave our employees, I think it just shows, they were so proud. And it also helped even though I’m an HR, like I needed all that too because I had children and I’m in a dual income household, my husband works and has a demanding job. So those things were well received.

The other part is that we had to acknowledge and ask our leaders to acknowledge and really reach out to their people to understand, “What is it you need right now and how can we help you?” At the same time is trying to be as productive as possible because we have a business to run and our business just like many others were completely challenged in Q2. And so it took a lot of gut and grit and a lot of empathy to get through I think what was the hardest part in Q2, the beginning of Q2.

CHELSEA C WILLIAMS: Wow. You gave us so much, you gave us so much. Health first, immediate response, listening to employees, empathy, just some powerful words and conversations that have been happening on the community call. But the way that you summarized really how you’ve been able, alongside your colleagues, to really drive immediate impact is definitely inspiring for us. And so now we’d like to kind of turn gears a little bit and get into the part of the work where Jennifer and I have really stepped into support.

What I’ll say is the allyship education and awareness that we are now doing with Hearst, we actually have started having these conversations earlier in the year. And so it’s not as though Hearst said, “Oh, we’re going to throw in some training now just because it’s the hot topic, you were committed to this before the COVID conversation started, before the racial injustices really came to light.”

And so I put that as background to say, “Okay, we go through COVID, you have an immediate response to your employees and then the racial injustices happen across the country. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and many others in between that and thereafter.” So can you talk a little bit about managing COVID going on and then these racial injustices, what was that process like for you and then what immediate steps in that moment did you help to drive forth?

KEESHA JEAN-BAPTISTE: Yeah. Okay, so this is another point where again, I’ll be honest, if I hadn’t already thought about giving it up during COVID when this all happened, I’m like, “Oh my God.” And on so many levels, so many levels. I already thought about leaving just like giving it up then and pre-COVID or sorry, during COVID and then when this hit I was just like, “Here we are, we’ve been here before.” In 2014 and 2016 we had the shooting in a bar in Florida, you had other incidents, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner.

And so what I was actually feeling and thinking initially is, “What makes this different? Can I even trust the response that I’m starting to see?” This sounds bad, but seriously I was like, “Why are so many people paying attention right now? It’s not new.” And so I had these feelings of, “Can I trust?” I know how I’m feeling and responding personally, I understand what I need to do for my organization.

But as I’m seeing so many people who are deciding to engage in this moment but for the first time in the conversation and showing up with sort of an ally mantle, can I trust? Can I trust? Are you going to sit with me through the darkest moments of this? Are you going to sit with me through the brightest, so to speak moments, the things that we want to accomplish and that we find some successing together? Are you going to ride on all sides of this with me? And if you’re not, I don’t want to engage.

So I had a moment and the reason I had that is because in 2016 at a former company, in 2016 when we went through this at my former company, with the leadership team I worked with then they were incredible to me as a human, incredible to other people of color at the company. And we were able to make, I think, some good decisions, but controversial decisions that were not well-received within the company and even externally even though it was the right one, right decision to make.

So at Wieden+Kennedy in 2016 we were one of few companies that actually said black lives matter and posted that on our website. And again, both sides were like, “Oh my God, that’s too much.” And, “Oh my God, you’re so right on.” But what does that mean? That was the, but what does it really mean? And so if anyone knew me then I’d describe my relationship with that management team, I would say they would stand beside me, in front of me and behind me at any point.

And so when this came up, being newer to the organization and this is the first time or second time in a short period of dealing with the crisis, we talked about diversity, we set a plan. Part of that plan is how we engage with Jennifer Brown Consulting, but we hadn’t lived through anything together, we hadn’t done anything hard, it was all theoretical and somewhat aspirational, goals.

And so I had to figure out one my voice with this company, the way that I express my point of view in this space because I have a very distinct point of view. I had to just sit with that for a minute, but also I wanted to see the way that the immediate leadership team would respond to me because I understand how… Like I have a relationship with my manager, Troy, and that wasn’t something that was unknown to me, but the rest of these individuals that I’m new to working with I really wanted to see and understand that first.

And I’ll tell you, one thing I didn’t mention during COVID I started writing a weekly piece, it’s a weekly newsletter which gave me an opportunity to create a moment where I can pull people together. As a culture builder I felt very disconnected not seeing people walking through the halls, so I created this weekly newsletter that has like a little point of view or a story for me and then it goes into other things about people.

And so what I’d already written about was that I jogged two miles in honor of Ahmaud, I wrote about that, the week after that I said, “I’m still struggling with the racial injustices in this country.” And I talked about my feelings, I’m very open, vulnerable just like I’ll tell you what’s up. And so when I had to experience this with a leadership team I was unsure and I remember being asked, “What is the right thing for us to do in response to our employees right now?”

And I said, “Reach out, don’t waste the moment, don’t ignore it because this is the thing that people will recall and remember far beyond anything else that we say about DE&I.” And they’re like, some people said, “I’m afraid, I don’t know what to say.” “Say that too.” I was really clear, but you reaching out lets them know they are seen for their identity. I don’t want you to miss that I’m a black woman, I don’t want you to miss that… And so they took that advice and then we had this conversation, I’ll be very transparent with you about like, “We really need to fix hiring, we got to get…”

And I said, “You know what? I actually think that if we’ve rushed to hire without checking in on our climate, our culture, what is the environment like right now for people of color or for people of any other difference? Do we know? Can we articulate that? Why don’t we focus on readying the environment? And so that way when we do business circumstances, all that considering, when we are in a place where we’re hiring more, we know we’re in a place where people will want to stay.”

KEESHA JEAN-BAPTISTE: I heard from a few people on the leadership team and they said that that really hit them and that the initial outreach although might’ve been awkward on one end and somewhat maybe awkward to be the receiver, that it just taught them a lesson of how you can approach someone with humility but also compassion. So I’m sorry, I’m like, I went on and on, Chelsea.

CHELSEA C WILLIAMS: No, it was perfect. It was perfect, it was perfect. And what we’ll do everyone, because I know questions are coming in and Jen’s probably seeing them. I have one more question I want to pose and then we’ll pause and allow Jen to tell us what’s in the chat. But I’d love for you to talk a little bit, I remember when we had our first call before we started doing the allyship virtual sessions with your staff, I think now we’ve done 10 across your organization

And next week we’re wrapping things up and reached over 500 people to date and Jen obviously did the keynote firm-wide, but can you tell us a little bit? Because I remember the first call you were talking about employee resource groups and how they came in and really played an instrumental role particularly in the racial injustices.

Your black affinity group and your ally affinity group, which totally just blew my mind that you had an ally affinity group. Can you talk a little bit about those two particular groups, their impact and how they’ve been able to really drive monumental change in the moment?

KEESHA JEAN-BAPTISTE: Yeah. I’m so proud of them and this is work I just want to share with all of you if you have affinity groups, ERGs, this is I think one of the best sides of what you can potentially see is when they lead and they contribute, and so this is what I think the examples will show you. So we started affinity groups in 2019 and they were grassroots, people who came forward to say, “Hey, I want to create a community for people like me or people of this particular affinity.”

And we structured those with having those leads complete a charter, and we figured out ways to round out the structure of the group, including an executive sponsor, and then multiple group leads so that there was a diverse representation of people leading the group depending on what the category was. And so our Hearst Black Culture group and our ally group were among two of the initial affinity groups that we established.

And what happened, I reached out to Hearst Black Culture the week that everything came out about George Floyd, I needed the community myself personally, but it also could tell in their Slack room they were struggling and trying to find the strength in ways to get through every day. So I said, “I’d love to have a meeting, can we reserve some time and just talk, nothing more than talk?” So we did that

And I remember saying to them, they’re like, “What can we do? What does the org doing?” And I said, “You know what? Why don’t we think about this from the perspective of you and all of you are leaders, what would you like to do? Let’s use our voice and let’s add to this and not wait for someone else to define a path for us or for you.”

And so honestly within about two days they came back, they’re like, “We’re going to do a fundraising effort, here are the organizations we’ve researched that we think are reputable and we’ve identified their needs.” So they started a fundraising effort on their own just through Slack, people began contributing. That effort got noticed by the corporation and here’s the part that makes me just proud of them because they did it all on their own.

On their own I think we raised about $225,000, the corporation had said before that, that it would match up to $500,000 and then add another $500,000 on top of it and to a select group of organizations. And so at the end of the day it ended up being $1.2 million that, I mean… and this was over a two week period and grassroots. So second, and I should also just add that the corporate level is the CEO of the corporation is who noticed and recognized and acknowledged the power of what was going on and said, “I want to add to this.” So it was beautiful.

Our allied affinity group and this goes to show you sort of what we probably all experienced in bringing up things that are typically taboo to talk about, which is race and at work and super uncomfortable for people to talk about this. But in 2019, there is a woman and I’ll just identify her so you guys understand, a cisgender white woman who came forward to me and said, “I want to start a group about allyship.” I think that’s what she called it.

And she said, “I see what’s happening to people of color at the company and particularly black people and I want to do something to make it better.” And she is so far on the continuum spectrum referring to this work by JBC, she’s an advocate, she’s a more like an accomplice quite frankly. Her language had worked like I understood everything she was saying, but I knew most people if they weren’t there wouldn’t. And so I helped her devise like a structure for that group and the group was called ally, very specifically and singularly focused for white people to learn how to support and work with as advocates and allies, people of color.

And so what happened is that when this moment hit and when we started to message and say what the company is standing for and what we want to do and Troy Young is the president of our division, made a note to call out the great work from Hearst Black Culture and also said, “If you want to learn more and contribute, you can join these other affinity groups.” Well, overnight or maybe within 48 hours the allied affinity group went from a little over 100 people in the Slack room to six… nearly 700 people.

And so what that’s showing us is that there’s a desire, a hunger, a yearning to learn more, to advance the work in whatever way, shape or form people want to at work but also in their personal lives. And that’s really meaningful because I believe then that the work that my team and I do as we organize activities as we propel our talent agenda and our equity agenda that we can get further because these groups are very active.

CHELSEA C WILLIAMS: That’s powerful. And I think about when you talk about black culture affinity group and your ally affinity group, “leadership” to me is like the key term that’s really buzzing because the black culture group, you empowered them to think about how to certainly manage their emotions in a moment of trauma but also be leaders for themselves in the space.

And then the allyship teams, someone who didn’t have a leadership role per se by title came to you and said, “I want to lead this charge.” And really was the force behind what now is 700 plus employees banning together, that’s powerful. So thank you, Keesha, for sharing that for sure. Jen, I want to go over to you, I know the chat has been buzzing. Is there anything you want to bring into the conversation? 

JENNIFER BROWN: I want to invite, Chris Pope had some really good questions that I think are right on point with this topic. Chris, would you mind unmuting yourself and sharing verbally?

CHRIS POPE: Sure. So I’m going to go back to them, so I actually had a two-parter, and I’ll just read them because I put them in chat. And I said, “I love the idea of providing structure to an ally group, I think that’s awesome because I think it allows for people that don’t really know where they would fit to come into the group.” But I was wondering if you had any concerns about how you balance an ally affinity group with the other affinity groups because the point of the affinity groups is to center those who are not normally represented.

And so that ally piece in some ways, it’s not the same thing but I know that in my old organization people requested to have men’s affinity groups or religious affinity groups, people that were already in the majority and so I just have some concerns about where that could go.

And then the second piece was, what’s the benefit of having an ally group that separate when I know in other organizations we’ve had allyship built into the other affinity groups where we had an ally chair where their goal was how do we bring in people who aren’t a part of this affinity group that want to join? And how do we help them continue to center the marginalized group and give them a place where they can respect that space but still help support and move that movement forward. Does that make sense?

KEESHA JEAN-BAPTISTE: Yes, that’s an excellent question, Chris, and definitely something I think particularly as we think about how we create inclusivity for wherever you are with your company’s journey to always consider. So the way, I wouldn’t say we solve for, this is certainly a work in progress but one of the ways that we’re dealing with that dynamic is that I described that we have an executive sponsor and then generally we have about three people who are group leads that manage the activities.

What I’ve looked for in either recommending or hearing from the group as far as who they want to nominate, I look for that group, the four to be a cross-section of people. So our allied affinity group for instance, there is a white cisgender male who is the executive sponsor, one of the leads is a white cisgender female, one of the leads is a black gay male, the other lead is… I’m blanking on that person’s identity.

But we try to have a cross-section so that multiple perspectives are coming into the equation even though the charter and the mission of the group may be focused in another area, so that’s how allied is set up. The other affinity groups, if they’re around a particular culture the way that that works is also a balance in terms of gender and gender identity across the top, but anyone is able to join those affinity groups and we try to create community.

When we were in the building it was easier so the events aren’t closed, so there are times, moments in time where it feels more like an open house and the invitations to any of the events that are taking place whether it’s speakers, whether it’s talks, there is an effort to make sure that all people are invited and can feel comfortable coming to the forum.

So we try to accomplish two things, one is that you want to protect the affinity space as being a safe space for conversations and community building that people may need and at the same time, use it as a way to also create an invitation and a bridge to others who want to be allies or committed to being allies to a particular group. Our LGBTQ group for instance is called queers and allies.

And so that’s how we’ve done that one or the team that created that one did that one very intentionally from the start, whereas the other one ally has a very distinct focus on people of color. I hope that helps.

CHRIS POPE: It does, thank you.

JENNIFER BROWN: Excellent. We have another question here, we have so many questions, they’re so good. There’s questions about global on here and I do want to alert us to that like with Hearst, Keesha, how is this conversation translating or not translating globally?

I always find our frameworks are very different and yet I’m surprised and delighted to see that the Black Lives Matter movement has translated across the board. So how is this trickling down to actual sort of day-to-day tactics for different global audiences and what you’re talking about right now?

KEESHA JEAN-BAPTISTE: Yeah, I can tell you only from the perspective of our offices in Europe which are run by a different leader and there’s my counterpart there, but what we’ve been doing in Europe is connecting on just I would say goals and mission. And then with our affinity spaces, particularly because now we’re all virtual and we have Slack, our colleagues in our European offices and primarily London I would say, is mostly the audience that’s coming to that space.

But we’ve just taken the lines down and just said, “Join us.” Even though the time zone differences may not work to attend an event but the dialogue, the type, the challenges quite frankly and the opportunity is still very similar. So we’re connecting mostly that way. I would say we have a ways to go and I’m not sure what shape or form it will take for us to connect across the globe, but at least starting off with our partners in Europe I think it’s a good step forward for now.

JENNIFER BROWN: Totally agree. And there’s another question about systemic work, I think there was an earlier comment about, ERGs can’t just be driving all the change that we need. And so Keesha, I wonder how the structural changes you might be considering making or in the midst of making that are in response to what we’re learning right now and what the organization has the appetite for, because I think that’s something that’s also shifted.

We all might sit here and know we need to make these changes, but now we have like a readiness and a willingness that I feel is unprecedented. And so how are you pushing into that to get sort of actual systemic changes through that are going to materially change the organization in a sustainable more long-term way?

KEESHA JEAN-BAPTISTE: Yeah. Well, this is a timely question because we’re finding our plan as we speak. So one way that I’m thinking about doing that because we always hear, “You need buy in from the top and leaders need to be involved.” Well, we have executive sponsors for the affinity groups, I’m looking for our executive sponsors for specific pillars of our plan. So there are five pillars in our plan, one is education and awareness, the second is talent pipeline and sourcing, the third I’ll refer to it as talent management but it’s like all the cultures stuff. The fourth is strategic partnerships and the fifth is the supplier chain.

Now most of those activities, most of those areas, HR is going to have, HR, talent, DE&I is involved, it’s kind of a given. But what I am looking for is in terms of being able to integrate this into the way we operate and into business strategy, our owners and leaders that can partner with different people in HR, but almost like you create a little cross functional team. And so that even when we’re talking about talent pipelining and sourcing, there are multiple organizations we’re going to partner with, there are multiple places we need to show up at in the community.

And I don’t want HR to operate in a box, I don’t want recruiters to operate with this vacuum and there’s these blinders on. So to have business partners running alongside each of these activities, hopefully one will create more accountability, also it will break up I think some of the… You hear these excuses often, “We can’t find enough talent.” Or, “I’m not sure who our partners should be or are. I don’t know who’s doing what in this space.”

So I’m also just very conscious of the fact that in order for that part of the narrative to change, they have to get involved, they got to be on the ground of the work and sort of like us. And so that’s the structure I’m proposing, I did it that way at a former company, the company was much smaller and so the transparency began to seep out once we started doing it that way. This company, Hearst Magazines, is bigger and we have multiple businesses and so many departments and so I’m trying to structure in a way that gives those leaders, quite frankly they need a seat at this table, that’s what that is.

Because I’m also like you can’t turn every question or every problem statement to me, or to my head of talent attraction, it’s not like the L&D person or, “Who’s the trainer on the outside?” Yeah, we can’t do that. So I’m going to try this and I’ll be happy to report out to see if it works, I’d be happy to take any other suggestions if you guys have other things that have worked.

JENNIFER BROWN: Tying to maybe open the floor up for some comments, we have like 10 minutes left. But any comments, questions on what we’ve talked about or something new? Feel free to come off mute.

MICHELE BROWN: I have a question.


MICHELE BROWN: Thanks, Jennifer. So this is to you Keesha, so the question that I posted in the chat are, there are a lot of organizations both domestically and even globally that are really enhancing their DEI strategic objectives. I think many had sort of checked the box, but now they’re recognizing we really have to establish a more sustainable one.

So with those that have had one, what is it that you would recommend that they need to do in order for it to really be not only sustainable systemic, but to have the impact that DEI is intended to have?

KEESHA JEAN-BAPTISTE: Oh my gosh, that’s such a big question, I wish I had a magic ball to answer that, I don’t. I would say this, I’m trying to figure that out is my honest answer. And I’ve thought about it because I’m in an organization that’s bigger than any that I’ve been in before. So I’ve thought about like, “What would I want to hear them say five years from now that would show proof that this is sticking?”

And a part of it for me, I guess because I only think this way it gets down to values and stuff and competency. So I think of things like baking in cultural competence as part of our hiring criteria with a set of firm questions that everyone is pulled around, but particularly people who are in leadership roles, DE&I roles and any HR or talent role.

Rate, if you have a performance-based system that’s like either ratings or rankings or incentives tying it back to things like that because those things stick. And then I would say because there’s a qualitative piece which is the cultural competence, but the monitoring piece is like, okay, they’re “fact” so to speak, right?

But then I would say the other piece is that we got to get into behavior. And I’m trying this like I said, I don’t have a firm answer but this is what I feel more compelled to right now in my role is to behavior monitor and to really look for when there’s a change in the number of occurrences we’re seeing and hearing whether it’s a formalized grievance or an informal like, “This didn’t quite feel right.”

But looking at that as like, “We need to track these things.” And you want that number to go down because you want to see better behaviors as a result, not just that people are silenced. And the other part that goes with this to me is that you need a third party to help you monitor behavior. I think it’s really risky for anyone internal to do that, we’re too close, we have our own interpersonal relationships, we also have our own fears.

And so if you’re able to do a culture assessment on a periodic basis checking for… it’s like everyone’s talking about microaggressions in a way like I’ve never seen before they’ve been around forever, we’ve all experienced them I’m sure on some level. But what if you monitored that? And what if there was a survey around just that?

I’m looking for behavior change and I’ll go back to the thing I was saying earlier which is that this moment, this year has really challenged me to say why am I doing what I do. I love it, don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, I don’t want you guys to walk away not thinking that. It’s just hard, this year’s been like breaking all the rules and records

Then I think like, “What will make it different for me to even consider another organization down the line or to think about what my daughter who’s 11, what she needs to think about when she is ready to go into the workplace?” And I’m like, “I want to make sure these behaviors have been checked.” And there are only so many ways that you can get to that.

And so if there’s anything that I think we could potentially do that hasn’t been done before or maybe that creates some sustainable growth in this space, it might be monitoring behavior. I don’t know, what are your thoughts on that?

MICHELE BROWN: You’re asking me? No, no, no. I mean, I have an opinion but I don’t want to take it away from, because you’re right, we’re talking behavioral modification. All of the associates within an organization make up the organization, so the culture is not this static thing, it’s made up of people. And for a systemic DEI to really have an impact, it’s got to be a conscious and then sometimes unconscious behavioral shift in how we do what we do. But no, thank you for your answer, it was great.

KEESHA JEAN-BAPTISTE: Thank you, yeah.

CHELSEA C WILLIAMS: Yeah, and I’ll just add on really quickly. Keesha, I’m thinking about our time together and even just some of the work in this season and when we open up for Q&A in any type of training, most of the time people have a question, it’s behavior based, that’s what they’re seeking guidance on, “I’m having this challenge with my colleague or with my supervisor, how do I work forward?” So I think that’s powerful, really powerful.

JENNIFER BROWN: So good. Ah, I hate that we’re short on time. We’re running out, we’re running out, I don’t even know. I’m going to make a favorite point that I make too, which is the involvement of allies and then the tasking of allies with the ownership for behavior change and tracking is interesting. I’m reflecting on what Chris Pope sort of started talking about and then thinking about how do we make the unobservable observable, because this is part of the problem that we don’t see it happening. A microaggression is micro because it’s almost not observable and it’s like, blink and you miss it, or maybe only one person saw it happen and everybody else didn’t.

So I think that the thing that keeps me up at night is thinking about how do we equip aspiring allies with the ability to spot these things when they happen to raise them, to make them observable or talked about and then to address that and then there’s the tracking and the accountability we’re talking about so that people get that feedback and so that it’s given in a certain way that feels constructive, we want to stay away from the shaming.

And by the way, Brené Brown just did a wonderful episode on her podcast on the difference between shame and guilt. I really recommend you listen to it, it helped me kind of connect some dots, shame is, “I’m a bad person.” Guilt is, “I made a bad decision.” Or perhaps that bad decision was doing nothing or saying nothing. So that really kind of helped me identify like I think this dynamic where we’re in, where we’re encouraging people to step in but the potential for feeling shame is high and shame does not lead to social justice change.

It doesn’t lead to new behaviors, it’s a hard place to learn from, it’s a hard place to feel empowered from, I think we’d probably all agree. But yeah, making the invisible visible, tracking it, coaching to it and then building in accountability mechanisms so that the behavior change can go from that model I love of unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence. Conscious incompetence is, “Okay, now I know, now I see myself being incompetent.”

And then the next stage up is conscious competence which means I am trying on this new uncomfortable new behavior and it feels self-conscious, I have to always think about it, it’s the focus of noticing myself doing something and then sort of saying, “I need to build a different competency.” And then of course, unconscious competence, which is that we can do it as a matter of course and I love that model. If you haven’t revisited that model in a while, Google conscious incompetence, it’s a great, great model for this.

But anyway, are there any final thoughts that Chelsea, you and Keesha want to provide? This was incredible. And for those on the call, the recording will be sent out to you, you’ll probably get it tomorrow so no worries. Also of the chat, so if anyone would like to volunteer to go through the chat by the way and distill all the links that were shared for resources and articles, we’re always looking for volunteers that would do that, it’s a quick task and it really helps the community. But final thoughts over to Keesha and Chelsea, thank you so much, this has been really enlightening.

CHELSEA C WILLIAMS: Yeah. Keesha, why don’t you share and I’ll do the final word to end this out?

KEESHA JEAN-BAPTISTE: Okay. My going out thoughts since this is a DE&I community is to think of your work that you’re the drivers of organizational change. And that regardless of where your current company or your future company may be in their maturity model around DE&I that if you’re a change agent you can do it, we need you in it and I need people like you as partners and I’m in it too. And so I just want to encourage us, I’m sure many of us have different ways of thinking about our work but I prefer to think of it as organizational change in order to get to the systemic stuff, so that’s my going out thought. Chelsea?

CHELSEA C WILLIAMS: Yeah. Keesha, no, wonderful. And I think I can speak for the entire community what a rich conversation that was had today and just your leadership, very inspirational. I wrote down four key pillars that I think transcend the conversation today. First, this focus on culture transformation and how even in 18 months you can be a part of moving forth cultural transformation so that’s powerful.

Behaviors as a central part of really measuring culture, like what are the behaviors that we’re expecting and how are we monitoring them to make sure that they really are a part of the culture we’re trying to create? Health first I think stood out with a lot of us as you talk through COVID and just your thought process as a leader.

And then empowering people across the organization no matter of their title or role to get involved in driving change. So with that said, we thank you so much Keesha, for your time today. Jennifer, thank you for your partnership and everyone who tuned in, thank you. We hope that you enjoyed this power hour and we’ll see you next time. Bye.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you, everybody. Stay safe.