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Most of us don’t have just a single face. We have many different faces for different people and different environments.
But when we talk about diversity and inclusion in the corporate space, a common sentiment goes something like this: Bring your authentic self to work.
But really, who does that?
Nobody — at least not in those simplistic terms — argues UPS Executive Communications Manager Janet Stovall, chief speechwriter for CEO David Abney.
Stovall moderated a recent panel discussion at UPS’s headquarters on the topic of authenticity and duality and how the concepts overlap.
She chatted with UPS Chief Human Resources Officer Charlene Thomas, a leading figure in the company’s efforts to build a diverse workforce around the world in which employees reflect the communities they serve.
Stovall also spoke with Valerie Rainford, national diversity expert and author. As former head of JPMorgan Chase’s Advancing Black Leaders strategy, she oversaw a nearly 50-percent increase in black senior executives during her tenure.
In their wide-ranging conversation, the panel explores the nature of authenticity, common misconceptions about it and how the corporate world can incorporate duality to improve not just business but society at large.
Authenticity thrives in organizations truly committed to unlocking the power of diversity — a commitment, the corporate leaders remind us, evidenced by inclusion across every level of the organization.
Ultimately, the panel says, authenticity comes down to how you exhibit and communicate your duality to the world. They each speak to the all-too-common experience of being the only person who looks like them in a meeting, whether with colleagues or C-suite leaders.
But how do you leverage that experience to bring something to the room that nobody else can? How do you tap into your authentic self to create value for your company — and actually recognize and champion what makes you unique?
Listen above to find out.
Artwork by: Elliot Hubbard
Show Open (00:01):
(Music and intro)
Brian Hughes (00:39):
Hey there longitudes listeners, this is Brian Hughes with the Longitudes team. I'm very excited today. I have a special guest with us. This is Janet Stovall. She's an Executive Communications Manager at UPS, but really what she is is the voice of CEO David Abney. She's his chief speech writer. Janet, thanks for being with us today.
Janet Stovall (01:02):
I'm glad to be here.
Brian Hughes (01:03):
And, in addition to doing all that, I would argue even if Janet wouldn't lay claim to this, I would say she is one of the chief most influential voices about the need for diversity inclusion in the corporate space. She, if you haven't seen it as an amazing Ted talk, go Google it. Janet Stovall. Ted. That's a good start. But we just completed a great panel. Janet, why don't you tell us who you brought to UPS and what it was you talked about this morning?
Janet Stovall (01:31):
Well, there were two amazing women that I had a conversation with. One of them actually didn't have to bring her here. She is part of us. That's Charlene Thomas and she is our Chief Human Resources officer. The other one was a woman named Valerie Rainford. Valerie is an author and a national diversity expert who was formally with JP Morgan Chase where she built an amazing program of differentiated diversity that actually increased their representation in senior leadership of black people by 50% in like three years. So the topic was authenticity. It was about the fact that no matter who we are, we are never one face. Whether it's dual, whether it's three-dimensional whether it's four dimensional, the things that define us, race, gender, ability, preference make us naturally difficult, it makes it difficult for us to function in corporate America in a lot of ways because we have to balance all those differences. And this panel was about how we do that and then how we take those differences and leverage them to actually affect the bottom line in corporate America.
Brian Hughes (02:39):
So if I'm hearing you correctly, this idea you hear a lot of times it kinda in the self help space, right? Where it says bring your true self to work. All you just do that, you're saying actually it's a lot more complicated.
Janet Stovall (02:55):
Yeah, who does that? Nobody does that.
Brian Hughes (02:56):
And what I really appreciate about the conversation is, whether you sit in the C suite or whether you're just getting started, you'll find tangible and practical advice that I quite frankly think can help anyone in their careers. Let's get straight to it. (music outro).
Janet Stovall (03:15):
The concept of duality. No matter what color you are, what religion you are, what gender, what preference you have or whatever. Most of us do not have a single face. Some of us have many faces. The issue is when we talk about diversity and inclusion in corporate America, the standard statement is "bring your authentic self," but really who does that? Who does it? So the question we're going to discuss today is how is it that you manage the duality and there's a word for triple-ality, whatever it is, the myriad faces, how do you manage that? And at the same time in the corporate environment, use that to bring value to the bottom line. And we've got two amazing people here to help us with that. So, let's just dive right in. The first question I'd like to ask, and I will start with you Valerie, is tell me a little bit about your authentic self. What are the forces and key people, events, challenges that shaped you into who you are today?
Valerie Rainford (04:18):
Um, so that the answer to that question, we would probably take all hour of the session, but I would summarize it to say, ah, here's sits before you a young, shy, woman from the inner city of New York, originally born in South Carolina, who joined corporate America with no role models for corporate leader, much less corporate success, um, who did not have a voice in corporate America, I would say for the first five years or so, to the person that sits before you today, who is unapologetically focused on the skill that I've developed over time. And I've developed my authentic- authenticity, um, along the way over 33 years. Right? So from no voice, um, to complete voice.
Janet Stovall (05:06):
Total voice. Thank you. Charlene.
Charlene Thomas (05:11):
Same question. Uh, I would say from the time I was a child, my mother has always been a very, uh, probably the most outspoken person I've known. And she always told me that you bring a special gift to wherever you go. And I think as a young child and coming into corporate America, uh, there's a reason why an organization brings you in. Uh, they bring you here or they bring you into their space to make sure that they can help improve their bottom line and improve their trajectory. So, I remember when I came to corporate America, my mother told me I was coming to UPS and uh, she told me that I was going to go there and be representative of her as well as my family. So I, I think that that was something that highly influenced me coming into and making sure that I understood really why I was here. And more importantly, what I represented.
Janet Stovall (06:02):
When we talk about duality, um, you're both women, both African American black, and I'm sure that probably if we dig deeper, we'll find even more identities that you may have that just don't show. Talk to us a little bit about the first time, if you can remember it, that you actually felt sorta your twoness, your duality. Do you remember that?
Valerie Rainford (06:24):
The first time in corporate America? Well, let's start there because by the way, twoness shows up every day twoness showed up today for me. Right? I walk into UPS. I've never been in UPS before. More, more often than not, I'm rarely sitting on a stage with two other people who look like me. Usually I'm the only black woman in the room, right? So twoness showed- so it shows up every day. I would say the first time it showed up in corporate America was the day that I walked into the Federal Reserve off the campuses of Fordham University. And, I was yet again the only person who looked like me, even the same age range, right? Coming out of college, I was introduced to a team that were all white men, old enough to be my father. And it smacked me because I didn't know how to operate in that space at all. So that's why I talk about sort of starting in corporate America with no example, um, no way of knowing how to succeed, right? Cause companies hire you because they want you. But we don't often realize that folks need help to navigate new culture. So that was really the first time for me.
Janet Stovall (07:36):
Both of you are talking about things that, issues of authenticity, but you know, we assume that we know what that word means because, I would guess that it means different things to different people. What does authenticity the term, what does that look like to you and how do you think it translates into corporate America?
Valerie Rainford (07:56):
So first of all, I think, um, the word authenticity is overused and misunderstood, right? I think people, I had this young lady walk up to me once, I had never seen her before. You know, "Mrs. Rainford, I want you to, can you tell me, give me advice on how to bring my authentic self to work?" (laughter) And I said, "Is your authenticity like wrapped up in your neck?" But, to her, it meant that she could be exactly who she was before she walked into the organization as being there. And I don't believe that that's what authenticity is. I think authenticity is different things to different people. If you start on one end of the spectrum, you know, the normal we think is: white, male, heterosexual. But, as you add difference to that continuum, it adds a different level of authenticity and understanding what it is. Right?
Valerie Rainford (08:56):
So on the other end of the spectrum, imagine the difference between a black, gay, disabled, veteran, female, right? That's a lot of, that's what Kimberle Crenshaw would call intersectionality, right? But just think about the experience of that, you know, that two-dimensional to the six-dimensional person, that's their authenticity. And for some it's confidence. For others it's a voice. For others it might be appearance. For me, it's voice. So you may not, um, understand my authenticity passing me on the train. But, the minute you get in a conversation with me, you're going to see, ah, like that's where like bring the ability to come from that young girl who could not find her voice to these 50 some odd years later. Being able to say what I think and how I think it and not being worried about how I say what's going on in my head, right? Authenticity, so a lack of authenticity is I'm entering the room and I'm trying to figure out like how do I actually tell them what I think? Authenticity is: I don't actually think about it because you know what, I know that my, my authenticity is in my difference and my competitive advantage is all of that. So when you walk into the room, you're always gonna feel the twoness, right? If you're different. But when you understand that you bring something to the room that nobody else in the room can bring because of the difference in the authenticity, that's when you actually achieve your authentic self. Does that make sense?
Janet Stovall (10:44):
Charlene you, when we talked before this, you, this conference and this topic came up and you had some interesting thoughts about um, the authenticity that a lot of us perceive. And I think Valerie hit on that at the beginning. What we perceive, what we think authenticity is and that maybe it's not exactly is superficial as some of us think it is. Talk about that a little bit.
Charlene Thomas (11:04):
Yeah. I think when you touch authenticity and to, to Valerie's earlier point, many people categorize it based off of I call what is common right now. It's not about your dress. It's not about your hairstyle. It's not this visual mask or a persona you put on. It's about how you go in and make a difference and the impression that you leave. And how do I want to impression going in the room? What significance will I have by being there? And I think by having an intentional way of showing up and making sure that that's never compromised because of your beliefs, because of where you work or who you work for, is really how you maintain your authent- authenticity. It's not compromising something that absolutely core to who you are, not what you're about. You can be a member of something and not have to have membership from everyone else, and it's important that people will appreciate you in the room when you show up and have the ability to make that statement without being overpowering and trying to take over the room with that particular presence. It's the presence of your difference it's the presence of your perspective that is most appreciated and that's how you have to differentiate between authentic dress and authentic being.
Valerie Rainford (12:28):
Can I maybe throw another angle on this too? Excellence earns you rights to authenticity. When you focus on what you can deliver to the company first, right? Don't worry about your authenticity first because you can be as authentic as you want, but if you're not hitting the bottom line, your authenticity, authenticity won't matter. But if you come every day, focus on bringing your best, excellent, results-driven, self, the authen- authenticity comes along with it, whatever that may mean to you.
Janet Stovall (13:05):
Well then let me just throw this question right here that I'm sure a bunch of folks in the audience are thinking and just haven't said yet. It's probably pretty easy on the surface to think that either of you could talk about authenticity given where you are in the hierarchy. But, if I'm not there yet, if I maybe here or here or not even in the room yet, how authentic can I really be? And you talked about excellence being a part of that, but that assumes that your excellence is seen and recognized by somebody. Let's say you're in a place where people don't see you?
Charlene Thomas (13:40):
Janet Stovall (13:40):
I mean, what does authenticity mean then? And maybe you can even speak to when you first came in before you got to where you are, what does it mean?
Charlene Thomas (13:50):
So, I think as you, as you rise to the ranks, it's important to understand what your particular role is, whether you're an individual contributor or you're actually working on a team, is to really figure out what special can I bring? And how can I get my results to help out my overall objective of what my boss expects of me? And it's important for you to be very forthright to your boss as to what's expected of you and to have that dialogue as to how you are expected to perform. Because to be authentic is always a matter of how does the, what's the overall objective look like and what's our journey to get there. So I think that as you rise, it's more important to understand what the objective is. How can I perform to my best excellence and to get feedback on how it is that I am performing. Because it is a journey. It's not a race. And you don't become authentically result driven day one, but you do have to definitely give yourself some guideposts and to make sure you're getting feedback from your boss and other folks who you may confide in or you might find important. Uh, that would give you honest feedback because I think the hardest thing to do when you're rising through the ranks is to get honest feedback and to be able to apply it and to see that that actual application has improved your overall condition and/or has led to you being acknowledged for what you are looking to get done when you were giving that result or you were performing in that particular group. I think those to me have been things that I've had to to seek out and it definitely comes from you taking an active role in making sure you get that because that's not something that just happens no matter what color you are. Getting good feedback and be able to apply it and to make sure that that's what's expected is something that you have to take ownership of.
Janet Stovall (15:41):
Great. Let me ask a little bit on that and then come back to you Valerie. What happens when you're being authentic and that feedback is not a function of your value, but the feedback has to do with your authenticity because your authenticity means you're different.
Valerie Rainford (15:59):
Can I first say that this twoness, authenticity thing never stops as a challenge. So, don't make an assumption that just because of our level that we don't deal with those issues every day - it is just different. We might have more confidence and more track record, you know, we've gotten to this place, but it's hard every day to bring all of this. The second thing I would say is relationships still matter. When most of the situations that I have seen in my career where there was a breakdown in something around diverse talent, it was a lack of communication and a lack of a relationship.
Janet Stovall (16:41):
What are some of the things that a company can do to build the kind of environments where authenticity is first, recognized, second, appreciated and valued, and then third, actually leveraged so that we can do what diversity is supposed to do in the workplace?
Charlene Thomas (17:00):
I think the first thing when you're looking to build that is making sure that there's openness and trust and transparency. I think that it has to start with the front line management. It can't be something that's only preached from a top level, uh, and it has to be taught. I mean this isn't something that intrinsically people are going to know how to do. It is to make sure that they are aware of what biases they have, aware of how people can get caught up into group think, or people in the room never have anybody different than who's in the room. And there has to be an understanding of why it is a business imperative that we want to have inclusion at every level. It just doesn't happen in management, but it happens throughout every level of an organization. And then making sure that there is absolute awareness of what the expectations are for support and maintaining that individual as well as a diverse environment throughout the structure. Because it can't be something that becomes a flavor. Uh, and there has to be an understanding of really the business imperative as to why this has to be a part of business as you continue to evolve your, your diversity inclusion programs. It has to be something that everybody can participate in. It's not just for a group or a business resource group to own and then champion. It has to be important and it has to be something that people value to the point inclusive of evaluations and appraisals that that's really a part of how we do business. And we are rating and viewing ourselves on that on a consistent basis.
Janet Stovall (18:34):
Valerie Rainford (18:35):
Oh my, there's a laundry list. There's a laundry list. I mean, you know, there's so many thoughts going through. My head first is, um, I'm giving a speech next week and these are some of the points that I want to make to companies and one is: the world is moving on an inclusion train, right? And I say, uh, inclusion is a peanut butter practice, right? It's where we take peanut butter and we spread it all over everybody as if everybody is intended to be equal. And that is, that's the Holy Grail, right? Like that's a place we're trying to get to. We're trying to get to a truly inclusive culture. But, you can't get to inclusion without a focus on diversity. And you can't get to inclusion while populations of people feel left out, feel like they can't be themselves, feel like they can't bring their best selves to work, right. So, I'm on a mission to get companies to go back to talking about diversity, equity and inclusion. Where populations of people won't get left out and then I think anything that a company can do to connect the leaders with their people. I think leaders are too busy now and they don't actually get out on the field as much as they need to. Right? Like on the field, this is where the people are. I've heard a lot of great examples about how you all do that well. Yeah, I was in a company last week where they have business resource groups and the leaders are never there. Everything that the business resource group should do is, should be in line with the company's strategy. And if the company strategy is about diversity and inclusion and authenticity have that conversations across your BRGs, right. So there's- and then we are losing in on the inclusion train. I think that there, there's a challenge at the top of corporations where they're just not enough black and Latino black and Latin X talent. And I think programs need to be specifically targeted to fill some of those gaps. Whether it's development or hiring, um, to bring in the talent. I think four out of 11 UPS is pretty doggone good. Woohoo! Uh, but there's never enough work that can be done to make sure all groups are included and if one group is left behind, I encourage companies to get very convicted and intentional about what to do in those spaces.
Janet Stovall (20:55):
Well, you both talked about things that are really concrete. Charlene, you were talking about people understanding, which to me translates to training. And Valerie, you're talking about sort of differentiated diversity programs. How important is it to have actual diversity structures in place? I mean, I'm a firm believer that diversity and inclusion do not happen organically.
Valerie Rainford (21:19):
Janet Stovall (21:19):
They just absolutely don't. We can, we can wish that and we can kumbaya that moment all day. It's not going to happen. There have to be things in places. What are some of the structures, the actual structural elements that you've seen or dealt with that have been particularly successful?
Valerie Rainford (21:33):
I mean, now I'm in and out of companies doing this work all day and hands down the companies that are making the best progress are where the senior leaders are driving it. Not where they're delegating it to or depending upon the folks who sit in diversity roles in HR, right? Those are the folks that are there to support execution of the mission. But where the C suite is actively engaged and probing and asking them the questions around diversity, that's where the best progress is made.
Charlene Thomas (22:05):
So, so to comment on that. We have, uh, just from this particular, uh, vantage point, you have to have a structural, both horizontal and vertical, meaning you have to have a diversity inclusion office that kind of has the perspective. And then you have to have verticals that cross all employee groups. So resource groups, and we also have a Diversity Inclusion Council, which includes our leadership throughout all of our different business units to make sure that we have a diversity inclusion office and we also have our BRG resource groups that kind of foundationally support it. And then you layer that with the diversity inclusion council that meets on a quarterly basis and really gives us a perspective as to how diversity inclusion is working outside of a corporate structure. Because it's easier to potentially look at something in a contained environment to where you have the workforce under one roof than it is in a dynamic and a less structured process. So, really if an organization and I think that's what's working well for us, still not where we need to be, definitely is a dynamic and a very rigorous process to make sure we are staying true to this, but it's making sure that we have a visible face that are the senior leaders in our workforce and in our different business units to make sure that diversity inclusion comes from them and they're embodying that with their entire staff. And that diversity inclusion doesn't happen by an office declaration. It has to happen by a leader understanding what are my availabilities, who is at the table, who is not and why, why am I losing people and what do I need to do differently?
Valerie Rainford (23:40):
I think that's right in a company this size, absolutely you need a structure. I think that last point was the point that I was trying to make, no matter what your structure is, there are companies that don't have that much structure. In a company this size, you need to have the structure. But, it's the senior leaders that govern how much progress you make because they drive it. And I would say to you, by the way, the diversity belongs to everybody in the company, right? Looking for things that impede the ability to move forward and having a culture where people can raise those issues that belongs to all 400,000 plus people who work for UPS.
Janet Stovall (24:15):
With that point. Let's think about, so it's important the senior leaders lead it, but how do I, no matter where I am in this organization, no matter where I am on the chart, how do I in any position leverage my diversity, whatever that diversity may be?
Valerie Rainford (24:32):
In every position, I don't care what you do. You have the opportunity to make relationships with someone, to see your value when you're excellent, it shows, and by the way, you can be excellent all day, but if nobody knows it, what value is that to you?
Charlene Thomas (24:46):
I think that also you can definitely leverage value by making sure when you're in the room and you're the only one, never be the only one, and what I mean by that is make sure that once you see that you are the only person there, I think you have to make space and make it a point that the group needs to know that there's something missing in the room and any business that does not have a diverse workforce or doesn't have an inclusive way of doing business is definitely missing out on large opportunities.
Janet Stovall (25:15):
Why do you strike that balance between providing that diverse voice that, for example, can keep those mistakes from being hap- from happening and being the loud, black person, gay person, woman, whatever you are in the room, you're that the definitive voice. How do you balance that so that people don't say, "Oh, here she comes again," "He comes again" you know with that? How do you do that?
Valerie Rainford (25:47):
Well, sometimes you've got to make a mistake.
Janet Stovall (25:47):
Mistakes must be made.
Valerie Rainford (25:47):
Sometimes you got to go there and make a mistake and realize that that doesn't get you anywhere?
Janet Stovall (25:50):
Valerie Rainford (25:50):
Charlene Thomas (25:52):
So I don't think they, you know, it's, it's not about having the attitude that is distracting. It's about the intention to, to bring value. I think that the key thing is when you're talking about having a diverse presence in any room, in any space, it's really about making sure that those who you work with respect the results you bring and that when you come in, no matter what your, you know, potential other aspects are, you can continue to add to that. And it's really continuing the voice and continuing to allow those to sit there. Because if I can bring value, who else do I know that can bring value? And that's really about paying it forward is to make sure that as we look at organizations, if you're paying it forward, you're making sure that there's five or six or seven behind you that are even more talented than you and getting them right in front of of everyone else and not being afraid or not being selfish to say, "Hey, look, the organization is going to benefit threefold by me bringing in three or four people, even more talented than myself to get X, to get exposure, to bring results and to add even more value than what I can bring as a sole contributor."
Valerie Rainford (27:04):
So the, the same principles, right, apply to this question. I can remember the day when I brought that angry person into work. All of her. I said, I pulled the Bronx girl out of my back pocket and later square in the middle of a table and if it were not for, a reputation of excellence and a very, very strong relationship with my CEO who caught me and said, you know, you just fed into the theory of the angry black woman, right? You knew you just took on the challenge in the room. The challenge was a challenge for me too. But you took on a challenge in the room. Don't ever do that again because you took something personal that no one else in the room took personal.
Janet Stovall (27:59):
Valerie Rainford (27:59):
So that's what I mean. That's right. So that's what I mean by sometimes you got to make a mistake, right? But the only thing that saved my career, because by the way, that room was right next to the chairman's office. I was the only black woman in the room. I was the only woman in the room. And I literally threw her in the middle of the table and walked out. Excellence, relationships, feedback. I have never lost my temper again in corporate America. So that question about like how do you balance, there's never ever a place in corporate America for anger. You can get whatever you want with that same calm voice. And by the way, sometimes you get a little bit more. So the teachings are, you know who, who are those people that you count on to make sure that you're learning along the way? Because oftentimes those people will become sponsors to you as well.
Janet Stovall (28:54):
We are actually out of time and I appreciate everybody coming and I want to say first thank you to Charlene. Thank you Valerie for joining us, and now I charge every one of us is just go out there and be your authentic self. Thank you.
Brian Hughes (29:10):
If you like what you heard today check us out on iTunes, Stitcher, or right on our website at ups.com.
James Rowe (29:20):
Yeah, and after you've signed up for the podcast, please drop us a review. We'd love to hear from you.
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