Honest HR

Stephen Frost on How Effective Leaders Harness Diversity

Episode Summary

<p>What does inclusion and leadership look like today? Stephen Frost, a globally recognized diversity, inclusion and leadership expert shares his answers in a candid discussion with host Gloria Sinclair Miller on systemic discrimination and how he’s arrived at a truer understanding of DE & I. This episode is Part 1 of a Global and Cultural Effectiveness mini-series.<br />---<br />EARN SHRM RECERTIFICATION PDCs FOR LISTENING</p><p>Honest HR podcast episodes will help you build your competencies while earning professional development credits (PDCs) toward your SHRM-CP/SHRM-SCP recertification! All you have to do is listen to a full mini-series to earn PDCs! All relevant details, including the Activity IDs, are provided during the podcast recording itself.</p>

Episode Notes

What does inclusion and leadership look like today? Stephen Frost, a globally recognized diversity, inclusion and leadership expert shares his answers in a candid discussion with host Gloria Sinclair Miller on systemic discrimination and how he’s arrived at a truer understanding of DE & I. This episode is Part 1 of a Global and Cultural Effectiveness mini-series.

Honest HR podcast episodes will help you build your competencies while earning professional development credits (PDCs) toward your SHRM-CP/SHRM-SCP recertification! All you have to do is listen to a full mini-series to earn PDCs! All relevant details, including the Activity IDs, are provided during the podcast recording itself.

Episode Transcription

Gloria Sinclair Miller:

Welcome to the Honest HR podcast: the show that explores the uncomfortable, complicated, and sometimes wonderful truths of the workplace.

Wendy Fong:

We're here to have honest conversations, giving you the good, the bad and the ugly side of HR, nothing is off the table. This is a SHRM podcast approved to provide SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP re-certification PDCs details will be provided inside each qualifying episode. I'm Wendy Fong.

Amber Clayton:

I'm Amber Clayton.

Gloria Sinclair Miller:

And I'm Gloria Sinclair Miller, and we are your three hosts.

Hello everyone and welcome back. I am your host, Gloria Sinclair Miller, SHRM Field Services Director. Our episode today is going to start part one of our mini series on global and cultural effectiveness. This podcast is approved to provide re-certification PDCs, but only if you listen to the full miniseries.

Like many of us the last few months have been, well, they've had me on an emotional rollercoaster: happy, sad, frustrated, and that for most of us is a normal day in HR, but this year has been like no other year. One of the main discussions this past few months that has occupied my time has been around diversity, equity, and inclusion and the systemic racism that we've been seeing not only in the US, but around the world. We're all dealing with this, and that's in addition to the global health pandemic. This conversation about DE&I and racism, well, it's not new, the spotlight is just a lot brighter this time. Today, I am so excited to be joined by Stephen Frost. Steve is a global expert in the space of inclusion and leadership. In addition to working in and with many large companies, he's also the author of three books now on inclusion. Steve, welcome to Honest HR.

Stephen Frost:

Thanks Gloria. It's great to be here.

Gloria Sinclair Miller:

Again, we're so excited to have you so let's just jump right into this conversation. You have had such an exciting career thus far as it relates to the DE&I space. Tell our listeners about your background and why you chose to focus on this for your career?.

Stephen Frost:

Yeah. Thanks, Gloria. I think for me, the background is very commercial, right? It's management consultancy, it's advertising. And what it is, is that post that I felt there was a conversation that needed to be had that wasn't really being had. And so, actually I came to the States, and I did my undergrad at Oxford in the UK. And then I had my postgrad at Harvard in the States. And I got involved in the gay marriage campaign in 2002-2003, and also got involved in a lot of race equality work. And so, when I came back to the UK in 2004-2005, I was determined to continue with this. But actually, I got a job in it. And I joined Stonewall, the LGBTI+ rights organization. The biggest one in Europe, actually, named after the '69 Stonewall Riots in New York, and did the consultancy work for them.

So, it was really taking the rights issues, but taking them to a very corporate context. And so, I set up a good practice program, benchmarking programs, and leadership programs, and did that for three years, and then ended up going to the Olympics and Paralympics, the Olympic games, and worked for the organizing committee of London 2012. And did some really exciting work there, I think with a wonderful team of people to truly embed inclusion in the world's biggest event.

And then, I worked at KPNG and I did more kind of corporate stuff. But ultimately, I set up my own company, Frost Included, because I wanted to capture all the learnings that we've had that were in many senses unconventional, and apply them to organizations that really needed it. And so, that's what I've been doing with the team the last seven years. And I teach at a few business schools. So, I still teach at HBS in the States, and [inaudible 00:04:16] in Paris, S&U Singapore, and try and actually get students to think of inclusion as simply inherent part of good leadership before they become big, bad CEOs. And as you said, I've written a few books, and I work with a team trying to embed inclusion in decision making in wonderful organizations all around the world.

Gloria Sinclair Miller:

That's awesome. And every time we have the great opportunity to connect, I always remember the 2012 Olympics and that's, quite frankly, one of the reasons why we connected because you were a speaker for SHRM, and I remember hearing that story and thinking back on my experience watching the Olympics in 2012, and thinking, "This is so different than any other Olympics I have had the opportunity to watch." And it was because it truly looked like the world and the community that was being represented, and it was just an awesome experience. And then just the other pieces of your career, which is actually how you and I really got together was around your consulting. Yeah, and just for our listeners: so I had this great opportunity to work in a global company, and have DE&I as part of my accountability. And I was super excited. I was a generalist and was going into the specialist role and was like, "Yes, DE&I, global company, I'm going to change the world, supporting the US business."

And I remember getting congrats and condolences all at the same time as I went into this job. I remember that senior leader going, "We're good with diversity. We need a few things. We've got some women," white women, quite frankly, "And we could develop and promote them more. The end," and that's when I quickly realized that we had a little bit of work to do. We needed to level set on the definition of diversity, but we also really needed to have a real conversation about inclusion, and maybe quite frankly, some of the biases that existed within that group individually and collectively. And I remember you being the voice of reason when we met as I was struggling with this.

Stephen Frost:

Well, yeah. That's very kind Gloria, but it was my recollection is it was a team effort, right? You are the person at the forefront there in the organization. And I guess it's partnering to keep a really important issue alive in a way that the people who need to hear it can hear it most effectively. And you've articulated it. A lot of people thought they'd already got this down. And as events of 2020 have clearly shown, they haven't. And so, it's really around holding up the mirror to people to get them to understand that they've got work to do, but then actually partnering with them in an empathetic, effective way so they can truly lead on it in a way that's authentic to them and right for them. And then ultimately, holding them accountable for delivery, right?

Gloria Sinclair Miller:


Stephen Frost:

But it was a team effort, right? Because people respond to different people, and people respond to different messages, and I think one of the hardest things in this work, if I think when all my colleagues in DE&I roles in house is, the message becomes synonymous with the messenger. And actually, how do we get people to realize this is not somebody else's problem, this is your work? And yeah, it was great working with you on that.

Gloria Sinclair Miller:

Right. And I think you highlighted it perfectly, which is, it was really the real work. Inclusion is the real work. You've say that over and over again. And it took having some real conversations, and really thinking about our words, and our actions. So, you're in a position where you're talking to groups and leaders... Well, first off, let's start with, I think Americans think this is just an American problem, it's just happening in the US, but I think people don't realize that these are global conversations. And that was loud and clear to me when I was in the role a few years ago, but talk to our listeners about... Because you're sitting outside the US, you're working in the US as well, but you're working with a lot of companies. What does this conversation around the world look like?

Stephen Frost:

I've got many privileges, and I guess one of them is knowing the US, and US is part of my life through my education, through my friends, and colleagues, and clients, and spent a lot of time there, and still hopefully will do, but also being based in the UK, and Europe, and traveling around the world from a different perspective, which is very different to the US, for sure. And so I think it's one, helping folks realize that you are right, that this is not just about the US, right? This is a global conversation. Bias is not an American invention. In-groups and out-groups work in multiple cultures. We all can think in system one or system two fashion. So, there's some universal concepts, which quite frankly, culture might be an excuse for not engaging with, right?

You know, LGBTI people exist in every country in the world, but on the other hand, it is a think about the nuance and the sensitivity to the cultural competence, to the nuances of individual locale. And whilst there are these universal truths, there's also local realities. And so for example, the black experience in the US is very different to the black experience in the UK, or the LGBT experience is very different in France to it is in Nigeria.

So, I think it's that combination of how do we have conversations to recognize a lot of the basic concepts that are playing out in the US right now, like systemic racism, like bias, are indeed evident around the world. But the context is definitely different. The unique histories in the United States with regards to race... Whenever I lecture in the US or have a platform in the US, I always try to make the point that look big, right? That there are these issues around the world that are going on and they actually could inform and help what people are trying to do in the US.

Gloria Sinclair Miller:

Absolutely. And you're absolutely correct. I think we're spending a lot of time on the race conversation. And quite frankly, we're spending a lot of time talking about people of color, and specifically black Americans right now, but there's so many other facets that could get overlooked this year, and that would be, quite frankly, an injustice to do that, whether it is the LGBTQI community or the gender bias that still exists in our world, they could get overshadowed, and we can't do that. And I think that's a big part of this inclusion conversation, but it's also hard work. And I think about our HR colleagues who are having to have these conversations, quite frankly, lead their leaders to have some of these conversations across the workplace, because while some of this, and I hear this often is, "Well, these are conversations that are happening at home."

It's blurred at this point. These conversations are happening everywhere, and if you think someone's going to come through the door or in this case, since we're all working from home, turn on their computer and turn it off, and not have these conversations, that's just not even being realistic at this point. As we think about this and how we help our managers have these conversations, I think back to our time working together, what are some of the steps or tips or tricks if you would, that you would share to help start these conversations? Because it starts with a conversation and it starts with listening.

Stephen Frost:

Yeah. I agree. I think it's just one thing before we get into that-

Gloria Sinclair Miller:


Stephen Frost:

... because that's what I was going to interrupt you before with, you're right when you talk about race and black in particular, or... But I think we've got to be really careful that we don't reduce diversity to a series of competing interests. And one thing I worry about which kind of leads into this framing of, how do we have these conversations, is that we might be sleepwalking into a kind of confrontation, right? That it's, "Oh, now we've moved off the gender agenda. Now it's race. Oh, what about disability? Oh, what about me as a poor white guy?" And for me, when we reduce them to competing interests, we miss the point. What we're really dealing with here is systemic discrimination and collective opportunity.

When I think back to discrimination I faced as a gay guy, not being able to get into the military in the UK before 2000, when it was forbidden, workplace discrimination in the early part of the last decade, and that was real, that was real issues. But right now, I'm a very privileged white guy. And the issue of the day right now is clearly systemic racism. And there's a window opportunity to address that. So, I don't see LGBTI and race as competing. I see them as mutually reinforcing, right? We've made tremendous progress in LGBTI, and we need to keep making that progress, but right now I think we need to come together and really advance some issues of racism, which quite frankly, are long overdue being addressed. And of course, with the wonderful work of Kimberly Crenshaw and others, and intersectionality, we have tools and mechanisms to have this conversation. That it's not about, "Oh, Gloria's issue," or, "Steve's issue," or, "Whoever's issue," it's our collective issue, right?

Black people that are being murdered, discriminated against, just having injustices, are male and female. And quite frankly, we're talking about black guys, we don't talk as much about black women. They are disabled non-disabled. They are gay and straight. Black pride, we just focus on that. So for me, the framing of this is really important, that it's about us, not them. And that might sound really basic, but I think it's a really important foundation and starting place to have this conversation. Then, when we have the conversation, I think you're absolutely right: it's about listening. But it's also, I think, about kind of guiding, coaching people along a journey. And as you know, the framework I've often used has been what we developed at the Olympics and Paralympics way back when, which was understand, lead and deliver.

So, I'm talking to an exec. They've got to believe that I've got their interests at heart, and I want to help them understand, right? This is for their benefit. So, "Ask me what you don't know. You're not sure about the terminology. Okay, we can talk language. You're not sure about, is there really a case for this stuff? Okay. Let's talk about... Let's get you to a place where you really feel that you understand." And of course, for a lot of people, they can never truly understand the lived experience of somebody else. They can sure as heck talk, listen, educate, read, empathize, and definitely increase their level of understanding. Then, I think it's about framing this as a leadership issue. Like I said before about the work I do with MBAs and students, this is not something you can outsource.

This is not, "Oh, Gloria's taking care of that." No. This is your leadership. And so, if you want to be an effective leader, you've got to think how you're going to include this diversity in your midst. And one of the ways that I... Seem to work quite well with a lot of execs, particularly white men, has been to try and get them to be a little vulnerable, which is often a rare thing. And so, "How are you feeling now? Really tell me, how are you feeling?" And often, they're full up, they're stressed, they're tired, they're overworked, they're struggling to multitask. They know they've got demands at home, and they're not being a good father, or good dad, or good husband. They know they've got to pay their mortgage. They know they've got all these fees. And they're full up.

And then, along comes a diversity inclusion person and says, "Oh, you got to do this work," and they see it as an opportunity cost on their day job. They see it as an additional work. They see it actually potentially as a threat to what they've actually got to get done, but they won't admit that. They won't be vulnerable. They won't share that. So then, "Okay, right. Look, I empathize. You've got a lot on your plate," and hit the basics. If you've got a high cognitive load, you've got less room for empathy. You've got less room for taking in new stuff. So, I don't want to push that box too hard. What I want to do is to say, "Look, the amount of information you have to process is increasing exponentially. The world's actually getting tougher. Doing your job is tougher than it was 10 years ago, but your cognitive capacity to match that increased information and that increased expectation is not there. The gap between what you're expected to do and what you're able to do is getting bigger and bigger."

So, what do you do? Get another assistant, pay more money. What do you do? Well, part of the answer is already in your midst, which is to reach out to as much diversity as you can handle, and the more diverse you can handle, the more perspectives, the more blind spots you cover, the more you calibrate your decisions, the more you educate yourself, the more you actually improve the accuracy of your decisions that you alone are accountable for. And so, how we can move from position of empathy to actualization around, "Look: with respect, my friend, you've been getting this wrong. Diversity is not an extra thing to do. It's a methodology to help you do what you've already got to get done," and I think when you can get that, and if it's their work, and in their enlightened self-interest to do this, then you can get onto the conversation about, "Okay, what are you going to do? What are the practical things you're going to do?"

From changing the way you run a meeting, to who you mentor, who you sponsor, who you give work to, how you acknowledge your privilege, how you talk, how you show up, right? And that, for me that understand, lead then deliver, has been a framework that's been effective and has worked. And particularly this time, I think it's so important to breathe and to pause and to think, "How do we actually effectively move forwards at this juncture and actually get everyone to realize it's in all of our interests to do this work?"

Gloria Sinclair Miller:

And the one big thing that you mentioned, which we hear today over and over again, is empathy. And I think leaders still struggle with this. I think HR leaders still struggle. As much as most of us have gone into HR, even though I hate to say it, because we like people, the reality is that, when you're in it for a long time, you start to not like people, but you have to continue to have empathy, and have the desire to want to see people develop, and evolve, and get to a point where they're able to be stronger in their positions.

But it's tough. It's hard work. And I've heard over the last few months, probably more than I've heard during the course of my career, how paralyzed people feel right now. And part of that is, I think, just given that we're dealing with this, but we're also dealing with a world we didn't expect when we woke up on January 1st to be dealing with a global health pandemic at the same time. So, it's really testing us as humans, quite frankly, to be able to deal with empathy with some of these very challenging situations that are facing us, not only in our person lives, but in the world. And I think that's critical that we give people the opportunity to pause.

Stephen Frost:

Gloria, I couldn't have put it better myself. I think that the need to pause, We're going to look back on 2020 and think, "Wow, this is something people are going to tell that grandkids about, right?" So, it is worth just pausing and acknowledging this because this is definitely a marathon, not a sprint, right?

It might feel like we're in the middle of the action right now, but actually what we are seeing here is the intersection of a real long term shift, right? How long have we been talking about flexible working and remote working, and boom, it's happened overnight. How long have we been talking about systemic racism? And finally, boom, a lot of white people now are like, "Okay, we need to deal with this," so I think what we are seeing happen at 90 miles an hour right now is actually in the context of bigger changes that have been standing on the shoulders of giants and before, and will affect people many years into the future. And therefore, it's okay to pause, to take stock. We don't need to add to the pressure that's already there that we need to fix this today. We've got to fix it in terms of realizing what's going to endure. And I just think that's something for us to think about in the heat of the battle right now.

Gloria Sinclair Miller:

Absolutely. So, I think about at this point in my career, I'm probably mentoring more younger leaders than I have at any other point in my career. And I'm looking at these, our emerging leaders, our HR students, our business students that are coming out of colleges and universities, or just getting that first job, and their perception of the world is a little bit different than you and I when we started our careers, and they're used to being in a very connected, diverse world.

I look at my nephew who plays games with people around the world, and he's not phased by if someone looks different than he does, or gender, or sexual preference or any of that. None of that phases our future leaders that are coming into the workplace. I guess, thoughts, as you're thinking about the leaders that are coming. You're coaching obviously senior leaders, but you're coaching at all levels. What's the difference that we see and what advice could we give to these younger leaders that are coming in, who could probably teach us a few things about being more open in our thinking?

Stephen Frost:

And that's a brilliant thought, Gloria. I think... A couple of things: one is, let's make a couple of assumptions, which is always dangerous, right? But let's make the assumptions that the, quote unquote, leaders at the moment are more Gen X, Baby Boomer, running organizations, and the people you're referring to are more Gen Z, coming in, as you just described. Massive assumption, but let's just roll with that for a minute. When I talk to the current leaders of an organization, it's worth pointing out that they are minorities because the majority of their workforce are millennials. And so, actually, they're making decisions that they think are perfectly normal and rational, and that they are the benchmark, but they're actually making the decisions from a minority perspective. And so, the notion that we are normal, and we need to incorporate diversity needs to be rotated 180 degrees.

That we are not leading from a position of normality, we are leading from a position of blind spots, and particular perspective on the world. And therefore, we need to calibrate urgently, if we are not only to make good decisions, but to guide our organizations in a way that makes them relevant and they can survive. So, then you get to the, quote unquote, millennials, or new folks coming in, and you say, "Well, look, you need to understand this dynamic that you might have frustration that you might feel blockage." You might look around and have a lack of role models. You might have a multiple level of frustrations, and I'm not going to justify that, or try and argue you're wrong, not at all. But what I'm going to say is that there are certain tools you can have that might help you navigate that world to make you and that world better. So, if you think about the most simple: I was brought up of an age where I was taught the golden rule, which is treat others as you wish to be treated.

In fact, we now need the platinum rule, which is treat others as they wish to be treated. And so, here you come full of your views, maybe righteousness, and you are facing what you see as just ignorance, but actually that's not the issue. The issue is, how do you treat them like they want to be treated so that you actually advance the issue you most care about? So, if you meet someone who appears racist or who appears homophobic, or who appears sexist, they may well be, but in order to deal with homophobia, or sexism, or racism, you've got to engage them in a way that they understand, and that they can see actually the issues, and the work, and that their response, to understand lead, deliver.

Because every day, I'm dealing with people who have got incredibly problematic views on race, and if my reaction was to just run away from them all because they're ignorant, then we wouldn't get any work done. And don't get me wrong, it's exhausting. It's hard as you say, but it's actually, how can we use that tool, or the platinum rule, to actually engage people, to get the work done? It's not excusing behavior, but it's just trying to work with the place they're at, where they're starting from.

Other things, self and role. So, certainly when I worked at Stonewall, in gay rights, the blurry line you refer to about remote working, and personal and private time versus work time is blurred in terms of my job and my personal life. When someone is homophobic, that's not just a professional issue. That's personal. And so actually, how then do we use a tool like self and role to try and draw some boundaries around when I'm going to let people in and when I'm not, right?

So this is my self, this is my sacrosanct area, which is non-negotiable. And then, this is my role. And in my role, I'm going to flex as much as I possibly can. I'm going to adapt as much as I possibly can. I'm going to deal with people of all kinds of views. That doesn't mean that I'm compromising myself, or who I am, or what I stand for. It just means I'm trying to be a professional, and try to flex and adapt my role as much as I can to get the work done. And I think if a lot of us could have these tools of self and role, or platinum rules and we all use them, wouldn't that be an easier conversation? And wouldn't we be able to actually engage in some of the work we're avoiding, and actually get some stuff done that's really important right now?

Gloria Sinclair Miller:

Absolutely. I was about to say, "Amen," because that's what we need to do in order to move things forward at this point. I could not have said it any better. So, I could talk to you all day as you know, and as we've often done, but I know that we need to start to bring our conversation to a close. Any final thoughts that you have that you'd want to share today?

Stephen Frost:

Oh, crikey, Gloria. Crikey being a very British word. I just think, when we think about the diversity equity inclusion work that you've introduced here, I think getting people to truly understand what that is, that is not a Friday afternoon conversation. That is a deep, profound understanding of how we affect every day of the week. If we don't think about diversity in the design process, then we'll continue to produce driverless cars that bump into black folks more than white folks. If we don't think about diversity in clinical trials, we're not going to produce effective drugs for all patients, particularly when it's disproportionately certain patients that are affected. This is not a [inaudible 00:30:45] activity. This is a fundamental, important issue of our time that we truly need to incorporate in our thinking, and that anybody who says they're a leader, this is a leadership responsibility. To truly understand this, to truly lead on it, and then do stuff, actually move to actions and things that you can be held accountable for.

And I think really reframing that whole conversation is so important, because then you get all these brilliant women and men, who are brilliant at what they do, and they can apply that brilliance to this issue. And to not only applying their brilliance to this issue, and taking it seriously with the seriousness with which deserves, but actually improving their day jobs because you have a whole new perspective, a whole new lens, it needs to better employ morale, better customer service, and better outcomes for of us. And I suppose that framework, that thinking, now of all times, is my sincere hope. I think we're seeing some positive signs, and I hope that the listeners of this podcast will reflect on that and think about what this means for them and their day jobs, and how that can help them too.

Gloria Sinclair Miller:

Great. Well, thank you so much, Steve. It has been an absolute pleasure to have you on the podcast today, and I am sure this will not be our last conversation, but thank you again for another honest conversation today.

Stephen Frost:

Thanks, Gloria.

Gloria Sinclair Miller:

We've come to the end of our show. If you want to connect and learn more about the work that Stephen Frost is doing, feel free to connect with Stephen by going to his website, Frost Included, or you can connect with him on Twitter @frostincluded, or you can also connect with Steve on LinkedIn at LinkedIn, Stephen, S-T-E-P-H-E-N James Frost.

Thank you again for listening. If you haven't already, please subscribe so you'll never miss an episode, and be sure to rate us. Review the show whenever you listen to the podcast. Feel free to reach out to me as well. You can find me on Twitter @SHRMGloria, S-H-R-M G-L-O-R-I-A, or on LinkedIn, at Gloria Sinclair Miller. If you'd like to learn even more about the Honest HR podcast, about myself and the other hosts, or to get additional information and resources on what we've discussed in today's episode, head over to shrm.org/honestHR. Thanks again for joining us on Honest HR.

Amber Clayton:

You don't have to solve all of your HR challenges on your own. SHRM is here to help. We have the critical resources you need to save time, stay compliant with federal state and local regulations, connect with peers, and get answers to your toughest HR questions. For less than a dollar a day, we have the HR resources you can rely on. Visit Shrm.org/honestHRjoin, to learn more.