Culture Moments Podcast: Around the World in 20 Years with Kimberly Williams of Stanley Black & Decker

Kimberly Williams“Unless we can change some of the things that are happening around us, the problems will keep coming in. No matter how much strategy we build, no matter how much training we do, no matter how much we link something to compensation, what’s happening outside always happens inside.”
– Kimberly Williams, Global Diversity & Inclusion Program Director, Stanley Black & Decker. 

Today, we continue our Around the World in 20 Years journey with Kimberly Williams. Kim is Stanley Black & Decker’s first Global Diversity & Inclusion Program Director. With 20+ years of HR experience, she has supported and led D&I initiatives in several organizations across industries; including, investment banking, health care, nonprofit, aerospace manufacturing and higher education. She is a lifetime member of the National Black MBA Association and Links Incorporated and has taught at Holyoke Community College, Westfield State University, Springfield College, and Bay Path University.

We’ve been with Kim since her earliest days at Stanley Black & Decker, so we talk a little bit about our work together there. However, it’s Kim’s depth of experience in DEI that really lights up this conversation. Her advice for the future of DEI is nuanced and so spot-on, so you don’t want to miss this conversation.

Listen to the conversation below (Run time – 18:08) or scroll down for the full transcript. 

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Show Notes & Highlights

8:53: SBD’s gender parity initiative.

12:23: DEI needs an outside-in perspective

14:16: Moving from “neutrality” to advocacy


Show Transcript

Tanya Stanfield:

Kim, thank you so much for joining us for this conversation today.

Kimberly Williams:

You’re welcome. Thank you for the invitation.

Tanya Stanfield:

Our pleasure. So, first things first, I think we would just like to know about your career and your journey into the DEI field.

Kimberly Williams:

Yeah, it’s, it’s interesting. In business school, ‘93, ’94, I had a mentor there who was actually the only black female faculty member in the business school program.

And I had a conversation with her. I knew that I wanted to pursue HR and she said, ‘don’t take any jobs in affirmative action and EEO; that’s where they send all of the black people, all the people of color and in HR’, and ironically, that I did my first summer internship with Bristol Myers Squibb, and a chunk of my internship program was helping them to roll out a diversity and inclusion training, offered by Roosevelt Thomas, who’s kind of like the godfather, I think, of diversity, equity, and inclusion training, and I just loved it. It was fascinating to me. It was interesting. I really enjoyed learning from him and being a part of this whole process around diversity.

So, fast forward, I finished my business school program and ended up going to work at JP Morgan and their HR rotational program. And I wanted to start early, before the actual training program, and it just so happened that they had a need for somebody to lead their student of color internship program.

And I, the advice of my mentor, in my head, this sounds like it could be affirmative action EEO, but I had this really amazing experience the summer before. I spent the summer managing this program, went into the training, formal training program, and at the end of the program, they said, “so what would you like, what would you like to do? If we’ve got three or four choices here, where would you like to start your rotation?” And I said, “Diversity recruiting, please”.

So, that was back in ’94, and I have been doing work in diversity and inclusion with an emphasis on learning and development, leadership development in some capacity since then. So, I’ve, I’ve always found the work to be very gratifying, frustrating, sometimes challenging, but very gratifying.

Tanya Stanfield:

Thank you for sharing that story. I think that that is a similar story for a lot of people, and just hearing how you sort of ended up here after you were told not to do it and how you sort of just made it your own and created this great career that’s really great.

Kimberly Williams:

And one other thing about that.

Tanya Stanfield:

Of course!

Kimberly Williams:

I think in that time, in the early/mid-nineties, things were beginning to evolve, right? And so, but prior to that, in a lot of corporate settings, the only thing that people did talk about, regarding inclusion or equity, was affirmative action. So, what really, kind of, I think, at least in, in financial services, I know there were other organizations who had been at the work much longer. but I think that with the timeframe when the work around diversity and inclusion started to become more compelling and strategic across the board.

Tanya Stanfield:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s really important, and thank you for sharing that reminder, because I think it’s really, you talked earlier about how sometimes it feels like things move a little slowly, but I think it’s important for people to see the evolution of this field and, sort of, how it’s changed over time and how it continues to change, especially this year, which we’ll get into a little later.

So, let’s switch gears just a little bit and talk about how you, sort of, became a partner to LCW in that entire story.

Kimberly Williams:

Yeah. Another very funny story. So, I took on the role of Diversity and Inclusion Leader at Stanley Black and Decker at the end of 2017, I think, November. I started in October or November, and our CEO, Jim Laurie, had been in his role for about a year before I started. And so, we have Facebook Workplace, much is Facebook for work as, as one of our communication vehicle. So, as I started in, started to get up to speed, I found a post that Jim Laurie made earlier in the year, maybe summer, and he’s, in his message was saying, ‘we are committing to getting all employees managing unconscious bias training in 2018’ and so, as I read, I said, “Is that me? Is that my job?”, and of course it was. And so, I began to just look for vendors, organizations that had robust, multifaceted, easily-absorbed content around unconscious bias, and LCW came highly recommended to me by folks at Diversity Best Practice, and I had a chance to do a pilot. So, brought one of your founders in and, and she wowed the organization, and that’s pretty much all she wrote. So, we had the opportunity to meet with a couple of others and do a few other pilots as well, but just felt like LCW had the most well-documented research, but very absorbable, I guess, I’m sure there’s a better word, content and delivery.

Tanya Stanfield:

I love that. That’s great to hear. Any stories or highlights during this time, as you’ve been working side-by-side with LCW on these initiatives?

Kimberly Williams:

Well, I will say that I think. One of the things that I hear consistently from people who participate in the training is the fact that the awareness of things that they were doing that demonstrated bias that they had no idea lived in that category.

So, we have two, kind of, ways of approaching management of conscious bias at Stanley Black and Decker, and one is a required e-learning the online learning program for about 20-25 minutes. So, every employee is required to take that programming just to lay the groundwork, and I know that there’s a lot of question about whether you should require training, whether you shouldn’t.

We landed in on the side, in this particular case, let’s make it a mandatory thing because we want for people to have a very clear understanding of what it is that we are not wanting to do. And so, we have that element. And then, every one of our people leaders is required to take the three-and-a-half or so hour instructor led sessions, and I’ve had the opportunity to facilitate a lot of those conversations.

And so again, hearing some of the “a-ha” moments that people have in the room where they just had no idea that, again, that what they were doing was exacerbating unconscious bias. And then there were also kind of on the same coin, things that people were doing. Great best practices that they had adopted as leaders that they said, “Oh wow. That’s I had no idea that that also mitigated unconscious bias. I just thought I was being a good leader.” So, I think those “a-ha” moments for me are, are some of the best, some of the most meaningful.

Tanya Stanfield:

That’s wonderful. So, sort of shifting gears to the here and now, this year has been something else and there’s been so much change, and, not just with the broader pandemic, but with the events of this past summer, the murder of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, et cetera. In a year such as this, how do you think the DEI world has shifted or changed, especially compared to when you entered it, you know, a few years ago?

Kimberly Williams:

Yeah. I have to tell you in, in ways that are unimaginable, to be perfectly honest with you. So, a lot of work in my experience around DE&I in the corporate environment has been very incremental, right? I, as a D&I practitioner, have always tried to begin to prime the organization by doing this and pushing the organization a step, a little bit out of their comfort zone to do this, but it’s been very incremental, right? We’re going to do this, and then we’ll do that, and then we’ll get ready for that. So, a lot of the shifts that happened, what felt like overnight, in June, just kicked a lot of that incremental movement, just out of the way. And I won’t even say since June, I think because it was also our response as an organization and many organizations to the pandemic around having people work flexibly. And I’ll give you one example.

So, we launched a gender parody initiative at the beginning of this year, and one of the pillars is around having leaders model flexibility and inclusivity, right? So, flexibility, and inclusivity. And so, as I worked with the two pillar leads, one of, one of them being CHRO, we had this incremental plan, again, like, “we’re going to help get people on aware, like we’re going to sell the business case for this. We’re going to do all these things”, and then, March comes around and it happens for us right? It’s kind of like, well, we’re going to check that box, but what that meant though was now, because we were really pushed very quickly into this, now we have to take a step back around our new normal and make sure that we are not disadvantaging, disconnecting people who may be lost because they’re not front and center for whatever reason.

And so again, an idea of we were going to get to this incrementally and bam, we were there as well. And then, I’ll say related to, kind of, our efforts around racial equity, again, incremental; Our CEO’s always been very supportive having conversations, listening, understanding, but June 1st was the beginning of a very rapid movement in our organization around having conversations about race, right?

We talked about diversity. We talked about inclusion. We talk a lot about full spectrum diversity because we want everybody to know, “Hey, diversity, isn’t just the things about you that, that are visible.” But that, this singular moment, changed forever, I believe, how conversations about race happened in our organization.

I was amazed in within the first week or two of June to hear our leaders talk about and to say “black lives matter”, to include that in communications that we did externally for social as well as conversations internally. So, I, in attending probably a hundred DEI meetings and listening sessions and panels since that time, I see this, a similar pattern, right? So, if organizations were doing great things, but the global and visceral view of seeing a man’s life taken and understanding the experience in a different way, I think has just created a level of urgency in doing this work that did not exist.

I think that’s probably, if I could sum it up and put a bumper sticker on it, the pandemic, and partnered with this focus on racial justice, has really created this opportunity that we’re seeing, a real sense of urgency around equity. So, not just the D&I, but a real urgency around what do we need to do differently for different communities of people to ensure that they have a positive experience in the workplace and outside of the workplace.

So, a sense of urgency.

Tanya Stanfield:

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. We’re hearing that a lot. So, what do you think looking forward now, and to the future, what do you think or hope the DI field will look like 10, 20 years from now?

Kimberly Williams:

What do I hope it’ll look like? So, one of the things that I say a lot, because I, I do think that there are often very high expectations put on DEI practitioners to make change, to change behaviors and attitudes in organizations, and I truly believe, and my experience tells me, that what’s happening outside the organization is going to happen inside the organization, and unless we can change what, some of the things that are happening around us the problems will keep coming in, no matter how much strategy we build, no matter how much training we do, no matter how much we link something to compensation, what’s happening outside always happens inside.

So, what I hope is that as this field of work continues to mature that there’s greater alignment, partnership, even maybe ownership, and accountability to how we are building community and how we are building support in the community that change the world, our organizations kind of from the outside in.

So, that’s one expectation. I see more and more people, who are operational leaders, taking either long-term moves into DE&I or short-term stints through it. So, I believe that this work will continue to be done by a broader and broader group of people in terms of experience and what they’re bringing to the table outside of kind of HR expertise.

So, I suspect that will continue to happen, and I think back to the sense of urgency, I think the genie’s out of the bottle there. And so, I will find it very difficult to see organizations kind of putting the brakes on some of the urgency, some of the initiatives, and action, and commitments that they’ve made in this time.

So, I feel like I went for probably 15 or so years without seeing a whole lot of shift around the work that we’re doing in D&I. I suspect that just like everything else that what we will get in 15 or 20 years will be something that we had no idea was coming because the change will begin to happen, I think, much more rapidly, based on the force of urgency, and I keep saying ‘urgency’ because I feel like that’s making a huge difference.

Tanya Stanfield:

Yeah. That’s the term. That’s the term, I think, of the year. So, in conclusion, what’s one piece of advice that you would give or share with any future practitioners in this field?

Kimberly Williams:

To understand when to be an advocate and when to be a tactician, and I don’t know if those are the right words. So, there are times when, I think, as DE&I practitioners, we have to operate within a certain level of neutrality, right? So, when I talk about equity and inclusion, I want to talk about, actually, I won’t even say equity, but when I talk about inclusion, I want to include everybody, right? When I worked at Bay State Health and our definition of diversity was ‘all of those things that make us different from one another’, right? So, diversity includes everybody so there’s a need for us to have this level of neutrality, but there’s also a need, and, I think, more of a license, to have advocacy than that we’ve had in previous iterations of this work.

So, now it’s not only possible, but important for you to have a voice, for you to have an opinion, for you to voice that opinion that you have, so not always being neutral. And so, I think that that would be my piece of advice to DE&I practitioners of the future; know which lane you’re in at which time, and be really, really intentional about the lane that you’re going to be in.

So, I think that’s probably the best advice that I could give at this point.

Tanya Stanfield:

That’s great. That’s really, really good advice. Well, Kim, is there anything else you want to add or anything, any ground you want to cover that we haven’t covered here?

Kimberly Williams:

No, I don’t think so.

Tanya Stanfield:

All right. Well, this has been a pleasure and a great conversation. So, thank you again for taking the time today, and, as always, thank you so much for your partnership with LCW. We really appreciate it and appreciate you.

Kimberly Williams:

Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate you all too.

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