Season One of the Culture Moments Podcast begins with Tyronne Stoudemire, Global Vice President of Diversity Equity & Inclusion for Hyatt Hotels Corporation. Tyronne has worked with LCW in many capacities, dating back to his early DEI years at Hewitt Associates. It was there that he learned the DEI ropes and helped Hewitt make big inroads on groundbreaking DEI initiatives – like improving 401k participation rates among Black and Latinx employees. He also worked with LCW to develop and deliver a signature training program called The Power of Worldviews, which helped Hewitt clients across the globe improve their understanding of culture and the role it plays in how they – and their colleagues – perceive, work, and communicate with each other.
Tyronne not only shares his stories, but also his fank assessment and advice on what needs to be done to build a more equitable world. As Mellody Hobson, Co-CEO & President of Ariel Investments, says, “Everyone needs truth-tellers in their lives. Tyronne is someone I find to be elegant about the truth, but not willing to have the truth be squashed.”
Listen in and check out the show notes below for a high-level overview of this lively conversation, along with a few LCW staff favorites from this episode.
Show Notes & Highlights
(3:33) From basement potlucks to choral performances – Tyronne’s accidental entrée into DEI at Hewitt (“Tyronne’s journey models the courage, curiosity, and challenge to the status quo, which he offers as advice in his closing. An individual contributor in an organization that navigated his way through an unknown, untested situation/position to come out in a place where he is making a difference in real ways.” – Jose Guardado)
(11:77) A meeting with Ariel Investments nets a strategy to improve 401k participation across cultural difference
(16:12) Challenging worldviews on a global stage (“Tyronne mentions training white engineers who felt they didn’t need to diversify. Coming from a tech background, I understand the issues with getting minorities and women in power positions. If they’re not there to make decisions, they will continue to be underrepresented.” – Kendall Washington)
(18:28) Why the shift from charity to equity is so critical to DEI work. (“This is a bit of a mic drop moment!” – Zoe Allerding)
(24:00) The final word: “Have courage. Be courageous. Be curious.” (“Starting a new career is always intimidating in the beginning because you are still learning. Speaking up can be challenging because you want to make sure you don’t say the wrong thing and look dumb or say the wrong thing and offend someone. – Briza Cardenas)
Hello everyone, glad to have you here with us. And today, we begin our new series: Around the World in 20 Years, Global Lessons in DEI. Now, in case you missed our short trailer, over the course of the next several weeks, this podcast will feature guests who have played a huge role in LCW’s 20-year business journey. We’re excited to share not only our story through their eyes, but also their wisdom and insights to help guide us all in the years to come on this DEI journey. And today, we’re thrilled to start it off with longtime LCW friend, Tyronne Stoudemire.
We first met Tyronne in 2003 when we were engaged by Hewitt Associates, now known as Aon Hewitt, to refresh their enterprise-wide D&I learning curriculum, using cultural competence systems as a baseline. Back then, Tyronne was a leader in Hewitt’s D&I program, but today he serves as the global vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion for Hyatt Hotels Corporation, where he collaborates with the senior leadership team to implement culture, talent, and marketplace strategies that leverage diversity and inclusion globally.
His team and internal corporate stakeholders implement diversity initiatives that include resource groups, mentoring programs for high potential women and people of color, a communications and public relations strategy to drive internal engagement and external brand recognition, and enhanced brand and marketing efforts to further focus on multicultural and LGBT audiences. He is the co-chair of Hyatt’s Global Diversity Equity and Inclusion Council, and he also consults with numerous Fortune 100 companies and is a much sought after speaker.
Tyronne has received many, many accolades and awards, including Black Enterprise Magazine’s Top Executives in Diversity, Diversity Woman Magazine’s 50 Diversity Champions, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund of Excellence Award, the Push For Excellence Award, and recognition by President Obama during National African-American History Month. We could say so much more about Tyronne’s service to the community, his tireless support of arts organizations in Chicago, et cetera. So please head on over to languageandculture.com/insights for a full bio on Tyronne.
For now, let’s turn to the conversation here, how Tyronne pretty much stumbled into this DEI career, how that journey converged with ours, and most importantly, his critical insights and thoughts on the path forward for DEI leaders and champions into the new year, especially after such an eventful year as 2020. Let’s get started.
Hi Tyronne, thank you so much for joining us today for this conversation.
Hi, thank you for inviting me. I’m glad to be here. This is a great opportunity to celebrate a great organization and a real good friend.
Well, we consider you a great friend as well, and we always appreciate your support and your consideration. So the feeling is mutual. Let’s start this conversation just by learning a little bit about you and your journey into this DEI field.
Wow, this might take a long time, but I’ll make it brief. So Tanya, I actually began my professional career at a company called Hewitt Associates. It was based in Lincolnshire, Illinois. Actually, that’s where I met Monica and LCW, and I’ll get to that in a moment. But, I was in the operations group running a call center and I was working with Juanita Robinson-Brown, who was the executive business leader for our diversity business resource group called BAHA, Black Associates at Hewitt and Associates. That was the affinity group. And I…born and raised in Detroit… my parents always taught me never to assimilate with more than one or two Blacks because when you do, it’s like you’re going to overthrow the government or incite a riot. So, you just want to go to work, keep your head down, do a good job, and just go home because it is a workplace, it isn’t for networking and playing.
So I’m a product of the late Sixties, and that was kind of the message during that era in time. And so Juanita was like, “Hey, I need you to come and meet with our DVRGs to celebrate black history. You need to come, no one knows you. You need to connect, you’re a leader of the organization.” And she wore me down. I finally showed up.
We went downstairs to the basement and went to this room. When we got in there, there was just… Everything was stereotypical. We had fried chicken, watermelon, orange pop. And they were doing some dancing. I was like, “Oh my God, this is just not a good representation of who we are as a race, as a culture. And people certainly can’t really identify with who we really are.”
So I was really concerned. “So I’m going to help you next year.” I said, “If we really want other cultures to understand who we are, we have to celebrate in a different way, but we have to educate, we have to inform, and we have to create what I call mutual adaptation. We’re learning this together.”
“So what would you do?” I say, “Well, music calms the savage beast. And when you bring people together, music changes lives.” So I said, “Let’s start a Hewitt chorus.” And so we started a chorus. We put communications out and asked people who wanted to sing and who could play instruments. We had over a hundred people who would either play instruments or could sing or wanted to sing. They volunteer, we got this name, and the Black affinity group says, “We cannot have a Black History program with an all-White choir.” Because all the participants were at one point White.
And my response was, “Sure you can. Because if someone’s going to; after working eight, nine, maybe 10 hours a day; come and volunteer to learn how to sing gospels and anthems and spirituals? They’re all right with me. And they’re going to do it in front of their peers. I think it will be okay.” So we had the rehearsals. It was great! We learned three or four different songs. We then invited Ruby Bridges as our keynote speaker. Ruby Bridges was the first African-American female to integrate schools in New Orleans, and most recently with the election of (Kamala Harris), that photo of Ruby Bridges being escorted by federal marshals has resurfaced in many social media outlets and forums.
And so Ruby was our speaker. We converted our cafeteria into theater-style with about 800 seats. We video-conferenced in several markets. It was packed. It was an amazing show. And the choir sang, and Ruby spoke. And the CEO gets up and says, “Whoever put this program on needs to be a part of my executive committee.” I was like, “Wow, it’s that easy?”
So we had lunch and we talked. He says, “Hey, I got this thing called Diversity. We would love you to consider to come and work in Diversity.”
And my response was, “Oh, no.” I had an Oprah Winfrey moment from The Color Purple, when the mayor’s wife asked her to be her maid. I said, “Oh, hell no!” I didn’t know anything about diversity. “And for many years you guys thought I was from India. You didn’t think I was black. So I’m not sure that I want to be the poster child for diversity.”
He says, “Understood. I’m going to reserve the right to come back. Some things are going on that I can’t share with you right now, but we really need somebody to lead this.” So he went away, I went away, had some conversations with different people about diversity and what it meant. It was a mixed bag. Some of my mentors and sponsors said, “I wouldn’t do it.” Some said, “Yeah, go for it. You can make a difference, you can make a change. Get involved. Do something different.”
So we met the second time and he was persistent. “I can’t take no for an answer. We want to put you in this role. You can do it for two years. If you don’t like it, we’ll put you back in the business. But we need somebody to focus on this for about two years or 18 months. We have a Chief Diversity Officer. His name was Andrés Tapia. So we need someone to come and operationalize the diversity strategies.”
I say, “I got a couple of things I want to ask you.”
He says, “What?”
I say, “One, what types of resources will we have?”
He says, “What do you need?”
I just made the number up. I said, “$2.8 billion.”
He said, “Well…”
I said, “And then we need your support.”
He says, “You got my support. What else do you need?”
And I say, “Well, as Andrés was talking about the work in the private sessions – if we can embed diversity and inclusion into our offerings to the existing client, we can make a difference.”
So we bought off on that, we started the work. And our strategy was very simple. That one, we would increase representation; that two, we attract a certain type of investor because the reason why you wanted to start this practice because we were going public. As a public organization, we need to make sure that would be inevitable. Because if it’s a private organization, you can get by with certain things. But with EEOC and Affirmative Action and community involvement, you had to have someone focusing on that work.
And so we thought that we would attract a certain type of investor, that we would increase representation at leadership levels of the organization, and that we would be able to create a solution to go to the marketplace. Within that first year, we actually did extremely well. We created solutions that went to the marketplace as well as the existing clients. We then increased representation at different levels, to the director level and above. And we attracted an investor.
This is unique because I remember after we went public, a friend of mine, John Rogers, CEO of Ariel Investments, and Mellody Hobson, his co-CEO, said, “Tyronne, we bought a significant amount of Hewitt stock, and we want to meet with your CEO. Can you make it happen?”
“Sure I can.” I go to the office, I meet with our CEO. I said, “Do you remember my friend John I was telling you about and the things he’s doing? He’s bought a significant amount of Hewitt stock. He would like to meet with you.”
He says, “Well, Tyronne. My life is not my own. I’m running the meetings. It’s crazy. Invite him to a shareholders’ meeting and I’ll go over and say hello and make sure that he’ll know I sent you.”
I say, “Well, that’s not good enough. I think you need to really understand who he is and what he represented. He’s a hero and she’s a heroine in the Black communities. I think that’s someone that you should know.”
He says, “Well, I really can’t and you need to go away because I’m running late for my next meeting.” So I says, “Well, just do this. Humor me. I want you to verify a significant amount of Hewitt stock and then make your decision whether you meet with him or not.”
I go to my desk, before I could sit down, his assistant instant messages me and says, “Dale wants you to come back immediately.” So I come back and he says, “Come in and close the door.” I say, “Well, no. If you’re going to fire me, I think I need to go stop paying for that car that my wife is trying to buy today!”
And he says, “No, I owe you an apology. And I also need you to understand, this is a product of my diversity of learning. Nowhere in my mind could I have ever thought that a Black firm would be our number one stockholder at 180 million shares. I need to meet with John right away.”
That really changed the whole paradigm of what we were actually doing: From selling to clients to reach representation, and now you have this Black organization that’s your number one stockholder. Headlines: The largest HR outsourcing consulting firm, the number one stockholder is a Black firm! It just speaks volumes.
So we set up a meeting. We went down, met with John and Mellody, and had conversations with them. Some of our other leaders joined him in that meeting.
Mellody says, “We’ve been doing this study on 401(k) African-American participation rates and outstanding loans. We would love for you to join that process.”
And we say, “Sure, but we’d have to also look at race and gender. And we could look at orientation, but why don’t you look at a sample of Latinos, Asians, African-Americans versus white men versus women?” So we got the data of 56 of our largest clients. We sourced the data only to find out that to their point – even though we were studying only Blacks – Latinos were saving at a much lower rate than Whites as well.
And then we looked at the data and also discovered that women were actually taking more loans out because their husbands were either unemployed or they were trying to pay for their children’s education. We saw that Latinos would say, “If I were to save money for my future, and I wasn’t saving any money to send over to my Mom in Mexico, I would be a bad son or daughter.” So it was all driven by culture. And Blacks would say, “The key to success is education. If I educate my children, when they graduate college, they will care for me in my retirement.” So those are the cultural norms that are playing out that are prohibiting people from saving. So now we were able to go through and have conversations with those clients.
We met with McDonald’s. At the time, Don Thompson was the president and CEO of McDonald’s. He gave his Black operating owners a dollar raise and a dollar match. Increased participation rates by 80%. So he saw that giving this opportunity really would help. Mellody Hobson went to Congress and was able to persuade them to encourage companies to do automatic enrollment point of hire.
It was life-changing. Those stories grew and grew and grew. And then we were acquired by Aon. I’m sorry, let me go back! That’s when we met LCW. We began to look at our learning, began to look at how we are working with LCW to really help us to understand culture, and looking at this from a global perspective because we were a global organization. We began to use a survey (the Individual Development Inventory). We began to do training with LCW. We were then able to take that training to the marketplace with customers.
Meeting with Monica, having conversations about language worldwide and culture, really distinguished us in the marketplace from a recruiting perspective, a retention perspective, and certainly from a marketplace perspective. So we learned and grew together. And we ended up doing training together. We created a course called The Power of Worldviews, navigating through cultural differences, built on the IDI. Monica and I had the privilege of actually doing training together because you also wanted to make sure that you have perspectives of Blacks, White, Latinos…
Monica had really deep knowledge in the technical pieces of culture. I brought the practical application of what happens and how it plays out in corporations. So we were able to do that work and do it globally. It was a really amazing opportunity.
And then I left and went to Mercer. I began to work with Orlando Ashford on evidence-based diversity strategy, leading with analytics and predictive analytics. And again, all that played out in culture. So then we again partnered with LCW to help build training to get people to understand how people made decisions, and how people resolved conflict was based upon their worldview and based upon their cultures.
Coupled with the IDI, it gave people language, it gave the definition, and it gave a starting point to understand where they were and where they needed to be over time, providing they were going to do the work. And the work really was around training, development, creating experiences, that ah-ha moment, and getting feedback, self-correcting, influencing others, and influencing systems.
Two years later, I got a call and it says “Hyatt wants you to come work for them.” In every step, LCW has been a part of my strategy in helping to educate, to bring around awareness, give people tools and techniques, and embed it into leadership profiles. So that’s really my story.
I do appreciate the detail that you went into, because I think so often we see these huge global organizations. We don’t know everything that went into building these strategies over time. So I really appreciate all that detail.
Absolutely. And many didn’t know Monica and her team because they were part of our team. And so they were helping us with the strategies, helping us with the tactics, helping us define goals and how we measure those goals. There was a lot of one-on-one hand-holding. Because remember, I wasn’t a diversity practitioner, nor was I an HR professional. I was in operations. So actually, my own learning was happening at the same time. Having Monica and her team to confide in, to coach… And it was mutual. There were things that LCW had to test, so we were able to test those things and share. It was a real significant partnership we created.
Thinking back to your long partnership with LCW, are there any highlights or stories you’d love to share with people who might be strangers to LCW or new to LCW?
I think traveling was really unique. We would meet at the airport and we would travel with different clients. And we would debrief on the culture and the lack of diversity, the stories that we got from them. And we challenged each other to think differently and think outside the box. I recall a time we were training one particular company, which was a company with a lot of White male engineers – and hearing the stories of why these White men didn’t feel it was necessary to diversify. And while Monica could look at it from a gender perspective, I could look at it from a race perspective. Sharing those stories – I think we had a lot of stories to tell. We oftentimes got away from the content and then lead through to storytelling. And so Monica would say, “We’ve got to get back to the content! We’ve got to get back to the tools.”
And the stories would go on and on. And people would be on the edge of their chairs hearing all these stories because they never heard about the racial divide, they never understood about civil rights. It wasn’t taught in schools for them. And so looking at how cultures were being sub-optimized, and through storytelling really was a great way to see that. So we used to laugh and joke about how she had the technical and I would have the stories, and the stories would overtake the technical and the technical overtake the stories. So it was a lot of fun partnering when we delivered the training. I thought it was interesting.
And then we would do webinars together and we would go to conferences and be able to build on each other and support each other and share best practices and challenge each other: “She’s out of the ballpark with unconscious bias! You’ve got to go back to culture.” We would have those types of conversations as well. And then we were able to refer LCW on to other companies who were lacking that cultural context, which we all need in order to be successful.
Switching gears a little bit, given that you’ve been doing this work for such a long time and we’re in a year where it seems like there’s just been wave after wave of change, how do you think the DEI world has shifted or changed since you first entered the field? How does it look different today than it did then?
So then I think it was really all about civil rights, and a lot of people thought it was more about charitable giving. “Let’s give money to the NAACP, let’s give it to HACE and League of Black Women…” All these organizations we were giving money to…but it wasn’t sustainable. We were not making the progress that we needed to make. And so, moving from the Civil Rights Movement to now, it’s about equity. It’s about equality. It’s about diversity, equity, and inclusion. There’s a difference between equity and a difference between equality. Equality says everybody gets treated the same – “We’re fair.” Equity is meeting people where they are and closing the gap.
I use the illustration of four individuals on a bicycle. And the bicycles are all the same size. But if someone that’s actually small in stature, someone is tall, someone is in a wheelchair, that’s not really equitable. So meeting them where they are, providing them with the right tools – that’s where we need to really be.
When communities and cultures have been sub-optimized and have been held back, how do we bring them forward in a new decade? Quite frankly, when doing consulting years ago, I would have conversations with White men and White women, and they’d say, “When are we going to stop having this conversation about gender and about race? When will it be all be over?” And my perspective was, “Until there’s a point in time that we’re all on the same page, when we’re all experiencing the same difference.”
And that difference today was (witnessed with) the murder of George Floyd. It was really the young, digital native who stood on the corner with her iPhone and showed the entire world injustice, coupled with the pandemic, coupled with COVID-19, coupled with what’s going on in politics, and how we’ve taken COVID-19 and politicized it. I think that has since shown how Black people have not been treated well from a workplace perspective or from a healthcare perspective. And the judicial system was against us – worked against us in most cases. Black and Brown men being pulled over more than any other demographic. You have more women of color in prisons than you do have White women.
So the data just speaks volumes. That equity piece is what’s different today than it was 20 years ago. Even 10 years ago, to be totally honest. So it’s changing and evolving. We’re still getting people to understand who don’t really understand civil rights, don’t understand human rights, and who really didn’t understand slavery.
I was in a conversation the other day and someone said, “So if Blacks are so unhappy with being in America, why don’t you just go back to Africa?” My response was, “You can’t return stolen goods. So I’m going to leave that right there and you think about that. Would we say that about the Holocaust? Would we say that about any other demographic?” So again, we have to be conscious and educating people about systemic issues.
There’s a piece that we did in training, Monica and I, where we asked people to Google “cute baby” on their cell phones. And what you saw was all White babies and no babies of color. So, that would suggest that only White babies are cute. This is the worldwide web, and where the worldwide web is drawing from is images that corporations are putting out for advertising. So again, that’s another way to really look at it and say, “Here are the messages that we’re sending out.” And coupled with the 50-year anniversary a few years ago with the baby doll test where the psychologist had a conversation with Black and White children, and asked them (throughout) a series of colors of babies from light to dark, “Which is the cutest baby?” It was always the White baby. “Which is the ugly baby?” “The dark baby.”
So people who don’t see themselves in key roles or see themselves in society, that they make a difference – or they’re constantly told that they’re less than – will find themselves subjected to those types of feelings or emotions and will not see themselves as educated, not see themselves as pretty, not see themselves as smart. Society has to change that with the images that we put forward. And we just have to do that by promoting the best and brightest talent who just may happen to be a woman or someone of color.
So looking ahead, what do you think or hope this field will look like 20 years from now?
I think that our digital natives will challenge the workforce as never before. I think that they’re going to hold us accountable for what we do in the communities; they’re going to hold us accountable for where we spend our money and who we partner with. The protesting that’s happening now is for equality. With all due respect, it’s really for equity. (They) are going to be a little more demanding.
You will see more entrepreneurs. After every major catastrophe, from 9/11, you actually had Uber and Airbnb. Your LinkedIn, your Facebook – all the social was birthed out of 9/11. This generation will birth new ideas and new concepts. More innovation will come out of that generation than the generation before. And the difference is, there’s 80 million of them versus 40 million.
So I think just sheer numbers will create more opportunities for them to do things differently. Race will be with us for some time. But you will start seeing more multicultural families coming together. You’ll start seeing other blended races. Just as you’ve seen in the protests, there was every demographic representing Black Lives Matter. So I think you’ll see more unity coming about, and I think this current administration will drive and build its legacy on rebuilding America’s unity and us coming together and being very diverse and being more inclusive and feeling a sense of belonging.
To wrap things up, what’s one piece of advice that you’d share with any future or just starting out DEI practitioners?
Have courage. Be courageous. Be curious. Look for ways to challenge the status quo and ask the questions. When you ask questions, it brings about change. So don’t be afraid to ask the questions, and don’t be afraid of the response. We’ve got to stop reacting, but start responding in ways that make a difference for all mankind. To be open to new ideas, open to new suggestions, and not to minimize their contribution. And to continue to network and to continue to partner with the right partners to move the organizations further along the continuum. You can’t do all things, you can’t be all things to all people. But those who have labored in this space, such as LCW…and Cornell has a certificate. And Dr. Mary-Frances Winters just wrote several books recently, “Black Fatigue”, looking at white fragility. Being experts in those things that others may never even dream of, I think will be important to the work.
Well, this has all been great. Thank you so much for sharing all of your insights and your time with us. We really appreciate it. The stories were great, and we just appreciate your partnership so much. So thank you very much.
Well, thank you, Tanya. And happy anniversary, again, and give my best to Monica and the team. Keep doing what you’re doing, keep the good work going, and let’s change America.
Yes, let’s. Thank you so much.
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