Implementing a Diversity and Inclusion Plan, with D&I Consultant Donald Thompson
We wrap up Season 2 by talking about a topic that all professional leaders need to have knowledge of and take action on if they want employees to be happy, if they want to have the best ideas, and if they want their companies to grow the right way; diversity and inclusion.
Hosted today by Jason Gillikin with guest (and normal host) Donald Thompson is extremely passionate about Diversity and Inclusion. He is the CEO of Walk West, which is the fastest growing marketing agency in North Carolina, but he is also an angel investor involved in several companies in the Triangle area. More importantly for this conversation, he’s a a diversity and inclusion consultant, identifying how companies can start or change their diversity and inclusion initiatives. And he’s working on a diversity and inclusion online course PLUS a podcast which will both by launching in the Spring of 2020.
On the show today, we talk about why it’s so important to him, what inclusivity means, we talk about the diversity you can’t see, and how Don implements D&I in the companies he’s working with.
Hustle Unlimited is (usually) hosted by Walk West CEO, mentor, investor, and hustler himself, Donald Thompson.
Music for this episode provided by Jensen Reed from his song, “You Can’t Stop Me”.
Jason Gillikin, Producer of Hustle Unlimited and Host Today: Welcome to the Hustle Unlimited Podcast with serial entrepreneur Donald Thompson! You are listening to episode 11 of season 2, and this will be the final episode of the season. And what an awesome season it was, as we interviewed leaders in the community who are hustling to make their communities a better place.
Today, we wrap up the season by talking about a topic that all professional leaders need to have knowledge of and take action on if they want employees to be happy, if they want to have the best ideas, and if they want their companies to grow the right way; diversity and inclusion. I’m Jason Gillikin, producer of Hustle Unlimited and CEO of the Earfluence Podcast Network, and I’ll actually be hosting today and Donald will be the guest.
About Donald, he is the CEO of Walk West, which is the fastest growing marketing agency in North Carolina, but he is also an angel investor involved in several companies in the Triangle area. And he ALSO is a diversity and inclusion consultant – he’ll will come into companies to identify how they need to start or change their diversity and inclusion initiatives. And he’s working on a diversity and inclusion online course PLUS a podcast which will both by launching in the Spring of 2020. So D&I is something that he’s extremely passionate about.
On the show today, we talk about why it’s so important to him, what inclusivity means, we talk about the diversity you can’t see, and how Don implements D&I in the companies he’s working with.
Alright, and if you haven’t already, make sure you subscribe to this show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen, so that when we come back next year, you will be the first to know.
So let’s get started. Here’s Walk West CEO, investor, speaker, mentor, advisor, and all around hustler himself, host of the Hustle Unlimited Podcast, Donald Thompson.
Jason Gillikin: So Don, we’ve talked about Diversity and Inclusion on previous episodes of Hustle Unlimited. And you wrote the book diversity inclusion in the workplace. And on Hustle Unlimited, we’ve had a diverse set of guests, and that’s important to you. What have you done recently with the conversation in the panels you’ve been on and the people that you’ve talked to about diversity and inclusion?
Donald Thompson, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant, CEO of Walk West, Usual Host of Hustle Unlimited: So one of the things that I believe is an individual, and then I’ll go back to the topic of diversity inclusion, is we should all provide to our environment, the access to the talents that we have and the experiences that we’ve had. And being an African American CEO that’s grown up in the technology space, I’ve had some experiences that I feel like I can lend to others that can help them grow in the area of, how do we look at people that are different than we are?
And it’s not necessarily because I have an amazing HR pedigree in diversity and inclusion, but I’ve lived it. And the companies that I’ve built and that I work with have a very diverse environment. And it’s not just ethnicity. It is age, it is education, it is sexual orientation. And really the one phrase that I like to tell people is if you can do the job, you get the job.
If you’re working with a Donald Thomson led company, and that openness gives people the opportunity to be their best self based on their production. Not based on their pedigree or things that they can’t control. The other thing that I think is really important now recently is as I’m working on different panels and speaking events and different things, I’m getting to meet some amazing folks.
I’m getting to meet people from all different walks of life, and then I as a student in this D&I process of growing and evolving myself. Can ask questions of people that have a lot different backgrounds and experiences than me and every panel, every speaking engagement that I do. I’m getting smarter.
I’m getting sharper.
Jason Gillikin: Yeah. Okay. So what are the challenges then that they’re seeing? It’s one thing to talk about it. It’s another thing to implement it on a day to day basis. When you’re talking on these panels, when we, you’re talking to these people, what are you hearing about their challenges on a day to day basis?
Donald Thompson: Absolutely. Uh, now it’s very hard to find people that would say out loud that diversity is not good. Right? Everybody’s down with the fact that it’s something we should pay attention to. How do we implement it? How do we implement it in a way that it actually produces measurable results? That’s where most people are struggling and falling down.
And one of the things that we talk about, both on the panels and some of the things that we’re writing about these days is as a team, is how do you get that CEO buy in? How do you get that leadership team to understand that diversity can drive the bottom line. In a very powerful and a very measurable way that diversity is not just good because it’s the right thing to do.
It’s good and it’s the right thing to do for the business. And so in implementing these programs, we’ve found very clearly that it can’t be an HR led initiative. It has to be an executive C-suite led initiative. When things come from the CEO of the company, from the founder of a company, those are things that can have lasting impact because people will change based on that leadership at the top.
Jason Gillikin: Yeah. So back up just a little bit and talk about the fundamentals of it. So why is diversity inclusion so important then? And one thing that you mentioned in your book was the ideas.
Donald Thompson: Yeah. Really, if you think about most businesses, you’re chasing the next great idea. And how can you have all of the best ideas if your team is comprised of middle aged white men, if your team is comprised of all women, if your team is comprised of all people that are from the Midwest. When you’re chasing ideas, what you want to be able to do is have a blend of different experiences that can all focus together on creating a great product, creating a great campaign, creating a great house if you’re in the home building business, if you’re a teacher and you’re on staff with other teachers. Guess what? If you’ve never lived in the inner city and your first teaching job is a group of African American kids, how do you relate to that? But if you’ve got mentors and friends and associates that can give you a different broader perspective, then your openness and your ability to achieve rises exponentially.
So the bottom line is we need each other to bring the best ideas out of each other. But more important than that diversity is inclusivity. You’ve got to give people the space to be involved. You can have a diverse team and not listen to them. Yeah, I have women on my leadership team, but if I don’t listen to them, how do I get their point of view?
Inclusivity is a seat at the table, an active engagement component and the leadership decisions of an organization, and that’s what makes Walk West different. And that’s what we’re trying to encourage other people to really take the mantle on. Diversity is creating an environment where everybody can be on the team.
Inclusivity is, people can actually be in the game. And that’s something that we really want to promote and help people achieve.
Jason Gillikin: Okay. So what have you done then in the investments that you’ve made to promote diversity?
Donald Thompson: So one of the things that’s really cool about what I’m doing from an investment standpoint is like any other capitalist, right?
You want a return on your investment. So therefore I want the best person for the job at that moment. And it makes me no difference whether that’s a man, a woman, African American woman, and because of that mindset, it’s very, very open. And so Creative Allies, one of the companies that I’m on the board, we’ve just hired an African American CEO, SpokeHub is another technology company here locally that I’m the executive chairman.
We just hired a female African American CEO. So basically what we found – Gryppers another company that I’m on the board is an African American male that’s the CEO. And then I’m also invested in companies that have white CEOs then white women CEOs. I don’t really care. And that openness to results, that focus on winning allows me to be pretty open with finding the best people for the right job.
Jason Gillikin: Yeah. And do you feel like that it’s going to change, the conversation is changing now and that they’re starting to have more opportunities. People that have been historically put down, let’s say, and not included. Is that changing or do you still have a long way to go? Like what’s your perspective on how,
Donald Thompson: I’ll use an analogy of football and sports for a minute. There was many, many years ago where Doug Williams won the MVP in the Super Bowl for the Washington Redskins, and he was one of the first African American quarterbacks in the NFL. And the first to win an MVP and a Super Bowl title. Now let’s fast forward to 2019 and then we look at the Russell Wilson’s of the world, right?
We look at Mahomes in Kansas City, and now all of a sudden being an African American quarterback is based on your ability. Not based on your skin color because there’s seven to eight African-American QBs in the NFL that are doing well.
Jason Gillikin: It’s not really a conversation anymore. It’s not as big a conversation.
Donald Thompson: Yeah. It’s still a conversation, but the opportunity is not restricted to a very select few. So that means that young kids playing the position of quarterback can dream that they can do that job at the highest level. Yeah. So now let’s switch back to business. What we’re seeing is that we’ve got a number of examples of African American entrepreneurs, of people that are ladies that are winning in the marketplace.
And now when you look at the landscape of business, young people with their new idea can now see themselves. As a CEO of a venture backed company, they can now see themselves on the cover of Fortune Magazine. And so I believe we’re in a much better place, but we have a long way to go. Right. But I think the attitudes are open, but now we’ve got to make sure that the access between the entrepreneur and the people that are the funders, that they know each other.
Yeah. There’s not actually a barrier that’s based on race. There’s a barrier based on familiarity. There’s a barrier based on where you went to school. And so if we can get these folks together to get to know each other, you kind of break down that unconscious bias and we start looking at what we can all do for and with each other.
Jason Gillikin: Yeah. I love that analogy because I can’t remember the last time I heard the black quarterback conversation on ESPN. So talk about the diversity that you can’t see.
Donald Thompson: That’s a very great question and I appreciate it. There’s all kinds of things that people are dealing with. Let’s say you’ve got somebody that’s just transitioning out of the military.
And served our country honorably, and now they’re trying to transition into the workforce. They may have the skill, they may have the will, but it’s a totally different environment and they’ve become accustomed to what are we doing to help those veterans make a better way and to entrepreneurship into being a great employee for a company.
If you think about accessibility and you think about people that are blind and digital equity, diversity has so many different layers, and one of the things that I’m learning and want to continue to share with others is that diversity is not just the things that we see. It’s all of those things that make us as individuals unique and special.
And as long as we give ourselves space, even though we don’t know all the right answers to say, when I talked to my friend John Samuel, who’s a business leader, who’s blind. He says, Don, he said, I appreciate you asking the question. He never judges me for the perfect way. Ask the question. He compliments me because I want to learn about a situation so I can be a business benefit to help grow people, to lead people and create environments for people that have accessibility issues.
Jason Gillikin: Yeah. Oh, that’s, that’s a great point. And just ask them, the questions can go a long way. Like for me as a white male, I’m not going to always say the right things, but as long as we’re starting to have the conversations about things, that’s going to be important.
Donald Thompson: That’s exact. Right. And creating the space to where, if you think about our time, and this is like a little bit of a soapbox thing, but our politics today are so divisive that you can’t really have as open a conversation with people as you used to even five years ago, even 10 years ago. It’s almost like every conversation is us versus them in the media.
We don’t want diversity issues to go anywhere near that landmine. We’re making progress to where most people are very open about the conversation and dialogue. And then those of us that are from underserved communities need to not walk into every conversation with a historical chip on our shoulder so that we can just talk with each other.
And that’s a two way street to have a powerful conversation.
Jason Gillikin: Right. So as CEO of Walk West, I imagine it’s very challenging to bring people in from totally diverse backgrounds, especially the diversity that you can’t see. Like, how do you, how do you do that?
Donald Thompson: So here’s the thing, I don’t find it that hard.
And here’s why. One, when we’re hiring people, we let people know the standard of what we expect to do the job. But number two, we’re super open about how can we help you get there? And as long as we create an environment where employees can talk to HR, it’s not necessarily talk to the CEO, it’s not necessarily talk to their manager, but they can talk to somebody within the leadership if they need a little extra help and give us the opportunity to demonstrate that we’re there for you. That’s really the rub. It’s not actually so much us as a company. It’s actually the employee trusting enough that they’re not going to be thought less of because they have a challenge that they need help overcoming, and we got to work every day to be good stewards of that trust.
When employees give us the opportunity.
Jason Gillikin: Yeah, I bet it means a lot to them. Well, Don, this has been amazing. Let me give you a platform to talk about anything else that you want to on diversity and inclusion.
Donald Thompson: One of the big things with diversity for me is that we’re not going to win in this arena without doing it together.
I’ll look at Barack Obama and again, it doesn’t matter your politics, but he was the first African American president and the most powerful country in the world, but he was not going to get elected if it was only African Americans. He was elected by a broad group of people from all different backgrounds.
This diversity initiative that we’re looking at in terms of what we’re doing at Walk West and the teaching and training that we’re doing is going to include middle aged white guys, right? We need their help, right? Because a lot of times in the power structure of our community’s power structure of our government power structure, our companies, there’s a profile.
For people that are holding that power, and so they need to be at the table as partners with us that are looking for change in the manner that also helps them run their business. Just because a company is not diverse, doesn’t mean the CEO doesn’t want to be. It means they don’t know how. It means they’ve not been provided with the opportunity training or education that they can run their business, meet their bottom line goals for the shareholders, and also in spite of not knowing, people being open to showing them the way. Most of the people I talk to are down with change, down with growing, and are willing to help.
And I’ve been very, very fortunate to have a phenomenal network of people of all different backgrounds, ethnicity, sexual orientation, what have you, but you know what? We’re all trying to grow great businesses. We’re all trying to help our families. We’re all trying to be better fathers and husbands and all those different things and move to the next level.
And it’s pretty exciting.
Jason Gillikin: Yeah. And this is why you’re valuable as a speaker and consultant, and as CEO of Walk West.
Donald Thompson: I appreciate it.
Jason Gillikin: That of course was Diversity and Inclusion Consultant Donald Thompson. Look out for the upcoming podcast and online course coming in Spring of next year, Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox. And if you’d like information NOW on diversity and inclusion, or if you’re interested in Don’s consulting services, head on over to DonaldThompson.com and fill out the contact form. And there you can also read the eBook he wrote, Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace.
Well, thank you everyone for listening to season 2 of Hustle Unlimited, what an amazing journey. Thank you to all of our guests:
- Heather Chandler former senior producer of Fortnite and now small business owner at Whole Brain Escape
- Javier Leiva producer of the Pretend Podcast who has a new show coming out soon that’s going to knock your socks off
- Pete McEntegart from Grepbeat.com
- Molly Demarest from American Underground
- Amie Thompson from Creative Allies
- Katie Gailes from Wake Tech Community College and the LaunchWakeCounty initiative
- John Luckett from the Raleigh Rescue Mission
- Tim McLoughlin from Cofounders Capital
- And Jennifer Martin of ShopLocalRaleigh
Special thanks to Meghan Hockaday for providing guest social media content, and to Jackie Ferguson for all the production, writing, and scheduling support.
This episode was edited and produced by me, Jason Gillikin, for Earfluence. For more on the Earfluence Podcast Network, visit Earfluence.com or check us out on social media, we’re AT EarfluenceMedia.
Intro and outro music for this episode is “You Can’t Stop Me” from Jensen Reed. You can find more of his music at JensenReed.com.
Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you when we’re back next year for season 3 of Hustle Unlimited.