Our “Around the World in 20 Years” series continues in Canada, where we’re chatting with Cathy Gallagher-Louisy, Principal at CGL Consulting.
Cathy is a globally-connected DEI and Corporate Social Responsibility professional with over 15 years of experience across a wide range of organizations. She is a Professor at the Centennial College Certificate in Leadership and Inclusion, and a faculty member at the University of Toronto’s Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainability Graduate Diploma.
You may also recognize her byline as the co-editor of The Centre for Global Inclusion newsletter as well as one of the Expert Panelists who create the centre’s Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks (GDIB).
It was a treat to catch up with Cathy and reminisce a bit about our time working on Aon Hewitt’s Global Cultures project, but the real highlight of this conversation is her critical perspectives on the future of DEI. As a practitioner, a leader, and a teacher, she has a lot to say about what DEI professionals need, at both an organizational and a personal level, to continue progress and momentum beyond the explosion in interest in 2020. Let’s get started.
Listen to the conversation below (Run time – 23:51) or scroll down for the full transcript.
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Show Notes & Highlights
(1:30) The family dynamics that had a long-term effect on Cathy’s work
(5:25) LCW’s Global Cultures program at Hewitt
(9:30) What organizations and DEI teams need to be successful in 2021
(18:45) Understanding and approaching DEI as an organizational change agent.
Tanya Stanfield: Well, Cathy, thank you so much for joining us today.
Cathy Gallagher-Louisy: Thank you. I’m delighted to be here. It’s great to meet you, and I’m always happy to talk about LCW.
Tanya Stanfield: Well, we’re happy to talk with you. So, let’s just begin with basics here. How about telling us a little bit about your background and your journey into the DEI space?
Cathy Gallagher-Louisy: Sure. Okay, so, my name is Kathy Gallagher-Louisy, and I live just North of Toronto in Ontario, Canada. I have been involved in the DEI space since I was a kid, really, to be honest. My mother used to teach anti-racism training when I was a child and a teenager, and she was involved in the union movement and used to take me to protest marches and things like that.
So, I was actually on the cover of a major newspaper at a protest march when I was 15. So, I’ve been kind of steeped in this for a long time. Although I grew up in a, at the time, a predominantly white town North of Toronto, and didn’t really feel like I had a culture and didn’t really understand my place as a white person in the system of whiteness and white supremacy.
But I had some exposure through my parents’ friends. They had friends who lived in the city. My dad worked in the city, and my mom was involved in the union movement in the city. And so, we would go down to the city a lot, and they had friends of different cultures and races, and my sister and I, we’d go to friends, go to parties at one of my parent’s friend’s place, and we’d be only white people there.
And so that was, it was a good experience for us, but when I went to university, I met my ex-husband, who’s black, and at that point I realized I had a theoretical understanding of racism in that I knew it existed, but I had never seen it operate in a day-to-day behavior of people around you.
And so, I started to see a lot of things that were happening to my then-boyfriend, and I think I just saw a lot of things that a lot of white people never see. I think a lot of white people never see the extent to which microaggressions and disrespect and all these little, like little kind of snubs and death by a thousand cuts happens to racialize people all the time.
And so, examples of rude service in restaurants and being followed around stores and getting pulled over by the police and all these things that just kept happening over and over and over again, and then when I would try and explain it to my family, they would question what was happening, which is, sort of, a typical response from white people.
So, I had a lot of experience of being exposed to, I think, things that are, that a lot of white people are never exposed to. I’ve been involved in every job that I’ve had, and I worked at a lot of nonprofits that were cause-driven, but in every job that I’ve had, I’ve always got involved in community involvement and investment.
And then, it was when I started working for Hewitt that I got – Hewitt Associates, which was a client of LCW, and I got more involved in diversity, equity, and inclusion work and cultural competence development, and so I thought I understood a lot about diversity and racism. And then, when I discovered cultural competence, I was like, ‘whoa, mind blown’.
There’s like so much that I didn’t get, and so that was a really amazing learning journey. And so, now, I have been focused exclusively on diversity, equity, and inclusion and corporate social responsibility for the last 15 years, in my professional life. So, several years at Hewitt where I was the lead for corporate social responsibility and diversity for Canada and then seven and a half years at the Canadian Center for Diversity and Inclusion, where I led the consulting portfolios, cultural competence portfolio, and the research portfolio over the years.
So, I’ve done a lot of research and assessments of organizations’ inclusivity and helping organizations develop diversity strategy and just a ton of training and coaching, which I really love to do.
Tanya Stanfield: Excellent. Thanks for sharing all that. So, you talked a little bit about you’ve worked with LCW, but maybe you can share a little bit more about how you worked with LCW in the past and what that project entailed.
Cathy Gallagher-Louisy: Sure, I’ve had a number of times that I was involved with LCW projects because LCW was instrumental in helping Hewitt develop a four-stage, four-stage cross-cultural competence curriculum which was one of the most advanced corporate curriculum we knew of in any organization for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and cultural competence development, specifically.
And so, there’s a couple of training programs that I went through the training, and then, I was trained as a trainer. So, folks from LCW came and trained us, and that’s when I first met Monica. And then, I was involved subsequently with another project that was led by LCW and involved people from around the world at Hewitt, and it was a program called Global Cultures.
And so, it was an online training program. It was just – I have found that the way LCW runs these projects is very professional, very organized, but also, very good at taking the input from the folks in the company that you’re developing that training for to make sure that it’s really relevant and responsive to what that company needs.
So, it was a really amazing process that we went through with, working with folks from, on that global culture project, we had folks from South America, from the UK, Poland, US, India, and Canada, and I think there was probably other countries represented there that I can’t remember, and it was really amazing to bring everybody’s ideas together and try and create a series of learning modules that would be relevant to everybody, no matter where they sat in the world, but bring in case studies that would help them hone in on the specifics of the different cultures of the different countries that we were trying to adapt to.
So, really enjoyed those projects with LCW, and I learned so much from the folks at LCW, and I think that has served me really well going forward with doing this work.
Tanya Stanfield: What a journey. Are there any highlights or stories you can share, sort of going down, you know, memory lane about that time spent working alongside LCW?
Cathy Gallagher-Louisy: Yeah, there was, this comes from the global cultures course, and I remember there was some conversations that were facilitated by the LCW folks, and they had provided us with questionnaires about what it’s like to work in your different countries. Right? And then, everyone shared their questionnaires back.
So, we all got to review each other’s, and then, LCW facilitated a conversation around like, just us all, kind of, responding to the differences, but also, then, how do we incorporate that into the course? And that conversation really stands out for me as one that I learned so much from in, in understanding the different, the nuances of how people work in different countries and the expectations and assumptions that we all bring, especially when we’re dealing with colleagues that are in another cultural context, but we’re usually coming at it from our own cultural context. And then, when we hear about things that are happening in their context, we might have responses like, ‘oh, that’s weird’ or whatever judgmental responses, and it was just, it was such a very, very eye-opening activity and conversation that really led some depth into the program that we were developing.
Tanya Stanfield: That’s really awesome. So, sort of switching gears a little bit from the past and thank you for sharing those stories, let’s talk about the present. In a year of so much change and so much has happened in 2020, how do you think the DEI world has shifted or changed since you sort of entered the field?
Cathy Gallagher-Louisy: Wow. In some ways, it’s changed a lot, and some ways, it just hasn’t changed enough. There’s a lot more discussion. I think there’s a lot more awareness. There’s not enough work happening and, it’s so – we’re still making the business case and it’s frustrating and tiring because we’re kind of like, ‘why do you folks not get this yet’, and we’re still having to convince people of the need for this work, and it, so that’s, that’s a bit frustrating. And I think certainly folks who have been experiencing harassment and discrimination for decades are frustrated at the very, very slow pace of change. So, I think, I think there’s been some progress made in awareness and discussion, and more organizations have, even before this year, more organizations were seeing the need for it and sort of admitting they don’t know what they don’t know, and they need some help and doing more assessments and beginning work.
I’ve seen a lot more beginning works, in the last five years. What has happened this year, with the murder of George Floyd, and the Amy Cooper incident in New York city, and all of these things hitting the media very strongly in June, is we’ve seen a lot of organizations forced to, kind of, advance lest they be accused of not being supportive of this, this moment in history, and it’s a pivotal moment in a lot of ways, but one of the things that has happened is a lot of these organizations, their CEO, or their corporate communications folks, or somebody put out a nice pithy statement about the organization support for Black Lives Matter and condemning anti-black racism and things like that, and yet, then, they heard from their employees of color that, well, ‘what are you doing about the racism we’re experiencing here in your organization’?
And I actually just read an article that was produced by an organization called Color Lines in the United States, and they did an assessment of these corporate statements and found that most of the, they actually put the statements through a program that, that does an algorithmic assessment of language used, and they found that most of these statements didn’t, they used the basic corporate jargon around diversity and inclusion and none of the corporate statements acknowledged that they had equity issues to address in their own organizations.
And so what’s happened is a lot of organizations have put out these, these public statements about their support for the movement while not actually doing the work internally, and then, many of them have now heard from their employees about the fact that they’re experiencing racism in their organizations and they’re shocked, and they’re struggling on what to do.
Of course, employees, who’ve been experiencing racism and sexism and homophobia and abelist discrimination and all this kind of stuff for years, are just kind of like ‘really, you’re just waking up now’, and I understand the frustration that a lot of people are experiencing. The interesting thing is the way the conversation has been shaped this year gives us a bit of an ability to push farther with some of the executive teams that I’m working with, at least in in my consulting practice, that it’s giving us the ability to have bolder conversations. It’s giving us the ability to talk more openly about racism and anti-racism and systemic racism and white supremacy and colonialism and all of these things that we tended to keep out of the corporate discussion before. It’s raised the awareness amongst people about these issues and has given us the ability to push a bit harder. So, in that sense, I’m pleased to see that there’s more organizations who are like waking up and trying to do something. I think a lot of these organizations are in for a rude awakening on what it actually means. So, we’ve seen tons and tons of jobs posted for diversity people, right? And organizations, and in many cases, I think they’re putting too much pressure on one person without enough resources to completely change an organizational culture that was built over decades, and that one person, it’s far too much to put on one person’s shoulders.
So, I think a lot of organizations are dedicated and actually trying to make change, and I’m working with a few of them that are really dedicating significant resources and making it a strategic priority, which is wonderful to see that; there’s still a lot of long work to go.
But, I think, some of these organizations want a quick fix – A silver bullet – so that this issue goes away, and it’s not going to go away, and if that’s their approach, they’re going to further exacerbate the feelings of disengagement that some of their employees, especially employees of color, have been experiencing as a result of the organization not addressing the issues that they’re experiencing on a daily basis.
So, I think a lot of folks are not prepared for the actual work. And the actual work is really, truly assessing your organization and what are your issues and being transparent and honest and accountable to correct those things. And then, actually putting the resources toward correcting it, and we know in every organization, whatever is a strategic priority, it gets properly resourced.
So, if this area is not being properly resourced, it’s not that much of a priority, and you can’t make organizational change with one person leading the charge. So, that’s, that’s one of the things that I’m seeing that’s, that’s a little bit different right now in the conversation is I think the ability to push a little bit harder, but I do think that there’s going to be a lot of frustrated people who’ve been hired into these new diversity roles who, when they try to make the change that needs to be made, are going to experience pushback and leaders who are uncomfortable at best or resistant at worst, and, and their efforts are going to be thwarted.
And so, I expect in 2021, we’re going to see a lot of disengaged people who are in diversity roles. I think we’re probably going to see a lot of movement because the folks that were hired into these roles are going to get discouraged by the lack of willingness of some of these organizations to actually make the change that needs to happen. Sorry, that was a long answer.
Tanya Stanfield: No, that was great, and you’re, this is the second conversation I’ve had today and the same answer to the same question, I’m hearing the same refrain a lot.
So, that sort of moves into my next question. What do you think needs to happen so DEI looks different, even 20 years from now, looking into the future, what do you hope this field accomplishes or it looks like?
Cathy Gallagher-Louisy: Sadly, I think there’s still gonna be need for the work in 20 years. Folks who work in this area like to joke that we’re trying to work ourselves out of a job because eventually every organization will be equitable and inclusive when we won’t need this anymore.
I don’t think that that’s going to happen. This work has been going on for 50 years, and it – more than 50 years since the civil rights and before, and it hasn’t; we haven’t moved the needle nearly enough. The pace of change is glacial, and in almost every metric that we look at. And so, I think there’s still going to be a need to focus on systemic inequities and people’s biases, and because those aren’t going away, and the current crisis we’re in right now actually exacerbates systemic inequities. We have found that the COVID crisis, those of us who have the privilege to work from home, aren’t being impacted that much, but it tends to be marginalized folks who are either of different lower socioeconomic status, racialized people, people with disabilities, indigenous people, et cetera, who are experiencing the worst of the impacts of this, and many of them don’t have the ability to work from home. Many of the jobs have been lost, have been those types of jobs that, and so, I’ve seen this phrase that’s been going around that, ‘we’re all in the same boat’.
We’re not ‘all in the same boat’; we’re in the same storm, but we’re in different boats and some of us are in yachts and some of us are hanging on to a piece of wood and some of us are drowning. So, it’s every crisis impacts the marginalized groups the most. And so, the need for DEI work is even greater right now.
And I’ve just been reading a number of articles that have been talking about how businesses need to still center this work, even through this recovery, and it’s, so I’m not, I’m not that hopeful that the work is going to go away, that there won’t be a need for it, because I think whenever we’re going to get rid of people’s biases and unfortunately some of the solutions that organizations and societies and governments come up with continue to exacerbate the systemic inequities that exist rather than actually addressing them.
And so, there’s still a long way to go, and I would like to think we’ll achieve equality in 20 years, but I’m realistic. I don’t think that’s going to happen. So, it’s interesting. There was a, there was a gathering that was put on by the Center for Global Inclusion in 2018 that was called the DEI futures event, and it was looking at diversity, equity, inclusion work to 2030. What is the work gonna look like then? So, even 10 years from now, and what’s the world of work going to look like then, and how does this work fit there? So, there’s some really interesting research happening in this realm, but I think that we’re still going to be working on people who don’t get it, and we’re still going to be working on people’s biases and the systemic issues that are in all of our organizations.
Tanya Stanfield: So, what advice do you have, then, when we think about some of these new roles that have opened up and maybe newer people who are entering the space for the first time in these organizations that are fired up about the cause but maybe they’re a little newer to it? As you mentioned, they have a hard road ahead of them. Is there any advice that you can share with some of these emerging practitioners?
Cathy Gallagher-Louisy: Absolutely. So, I actually teach the emerging practitioners through my, I’m teaching at the Centennial College Certificate in Leadership and Inclusion, as well as at University of Toronto, where I teach about diversity, equity, and inclusion as part of corporate social responsibility and sustainability, and I think what’s really important is for practitioners to be very knowledgeable about the field. I would suggest that it’s very important for practitioners to, in addition to understanding DEI issues and systemic inequalities and all of the issues that exist, but to also bone up on understanding organizational change, and this is a really great approach and it’s something that I, I did a few years ago. I got certified in ADKAR, which is a sort of formalized organizational change methodology, and ADKAR stands for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement. So, these are the outcomes that you’re trying to achieve when you’re using organizational change.
And when I was with CCDI, and we did a series of events across the country on organizational change, we found that this was the methodology that most of the organizations were using if they were using a formalized methodology. Understanding your role as a DEI practitioner, that your, your role is actually organizational change, puts a really different spin on how you approach the work and also can help you make that case for the, for it to be more systemic and to have executive or senior leadership support and have there been driving, championing the cause, right?
And so, it’s a really good tool and an area of skill to, to bone up on. If you’re trying to advance DEI in an organization, it’s organizational change. So, understanding how organizational change works and what are the points that make it more effective and the points that make it less effective and what’s the areas of resistance that you have to deal with is very helpful in this work and can help us in creating organizational DEI strategies.
Tanya Stanfield: Yeah, that’s great advice. I couldn’t agree more.
Cathy Gallagher-Louisy: Can I add one more thing?
Tanya Stanfield: Of course.
Cathy Gallagher-Louisy: So, another piece of advice for future DEI practitioners is every single one of us has some areas where we’re privileged and some areas where we’re disadvantaged, right?
And so, in those areas where we’re privileged, we’re an ally to others. I strongly, strongly, strongly suggest a few things in allies. So, one is to educate yourself about the experiences of others, as opposed to turning to, especially for white allies. Please, do not turn to your colleagues of color and ask them to explain racism to you.
You’re putting a really unfair burden of emotional labor on them to recount painful, oppressive experiences for you, and then, unfortunately, the sad thing that often happens is white people then question what the people are telling us and say, ‘Oh, maybe you’re being too sensitive’ or ‘maybe they’re having a bad day’, or ‘are you sure that was racism’?
And so, we need to educate ourselves instead of putting the burden on people who are already oppressed to further educate us. As allies, it’s extremely important just to listen to the lived experiences of the people that we’re trying to be allies to, rather than trying to center ourselves in the conversation.
And also, we have to really avoid expressing our guilt in these kinds of conversations, because the, what happens when we express our, our guilt about, ‘Oh, I’ve just learned that your people are oppressed by my people; I’m so sorry. I feel so guilty about that’. You’re then re-centering the conversation on yourself and your feelings, as opposed to focusing the conversation on the issue that you’re apparently trying to be an ally to.
So, you’re actually undermining your own cause when you recenter the conversation on yourself in whatever way that you do. So as an ally, it’s important to educate ourselves, and it’s important to listen to others, and it’s important to just be quiet and let the others express what is happening, and also, let the others that we’re trying to support, let us know what we need to do to support the cause.
And it’s a challenge for a lot of allies to, kind of, step back and let someone else take the center stage, but it’s absolutely necessary for all of us who call ourselves allies in this work.
Tanya Stanfield: That’s excellent advice. Well, this has been an excellent conversation. You shared so much, you know, insight and wisdom with us, especially as we look ahead to the future.
So, I wanna thank you again, Kathy, for spending time with us and being such a good friend and partner to LCW for all these years.
Cathy Gallagher-Louisy: Thank you, Tanya, and I look forward to being a good friend and partner to LCW for many years to come. So, thank, thank you very much. I really appreciate this opportunity.
Tanya Stanfield: Thank you.
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