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Transcript: Corporate Activism, Social Responsibility, and Inclusivity in the Corporate Sector (EP118)


Brendan: But what I'd like to know first of all is what is this term? Corporate social activism? What does it mean?

Eric: You know, it probably means different things, the different organizations of different people. I think for us that Genesys it is how we Navigate social events that happen around the globe that may or may not directly impact the workplace. Right, and what I mean by may or may not is, you know, it could be an event that has an impact on a segment of our employee base, may not have anything to do with how we produce, product or generate revenue or go to market to our customers, but it has an impact on how our employees show up day to day and their, their mental space and their peace, and and so Navigating around these various social events and how you choose to respond or, in some cases, not respond is probably how I would define Corporate activism.

Brendan: Can you give us an example of what a an event might be that needs to be taken into account?

Eric: Well, I mean we've had several. Unfortunately, the most recent one was the Supreme Court of the US decision around affirmative action. It's an event that Was, you know, unique to the US, but it definitely is going to be one of those shots that Historically gets hurt around the world. And you know it was a scenario where the highest courts in the land Determined that affirmative action basically is illegal and you can no longer. Institutions of higher academia can no longer consider race or gender or those types of factors as a part of their admissions process, and it has a lot of historical precedent and meaning to it and and so, as a result, you know there's an expected ripple effect from that decision. Even though the decision was unique to higher academia, there's an expectation of how it's going to, an anticipation of how it's going to bleed over into the corporate space. And Because it was such a significant decision, you know it was one of those scenarios where we made a decision to speak out and and to to Take us, make a statement or take a stand on how, on how we viewed it through the Genesys lens, and you know a lot of times when we do that, there's a, there's a framework that we leverage Internally, it's a decision rubric, if you will, that allows us to look at one event to the next and and go through kind of this decision tree of the termini. Is this a scenario where we want to Speak out or remain silent or take an action?

Sometimes it's not just about speaking, sometimes it's, it can be an action oriented type thing, and the rubric itself allows us to go through a series of questions that determine things like, hey, it does this align With our corporate volumes? Because that's kind of number one. Everything is really centered around that. We also ask ourselves questions around credibility. Is our house in the word? Do we have the credibility to speak out against or for whatever the event may be?

And Then we assess, you know what could be the impact or our employees. You know, is this something that we have? We said a precedent, have we spoken against or spoken for something like this in the past? And have we said expectations among our employees about? You know whether or not, in this scenario, we should be vocal here? And you know, is there a reputational risk? What does it? What does it mean to our to our customers, to our partners? And so we go through those series of questions and, depending on the event itself, will determine what committee comes together. Sometimes it's just myself and the chief communications officer, sometimes I, head of HR, is involved and in some cases legal and even our CEO may weigh in on it. And and we use that, that you know, that rubric, if you will, to determine, you know, what action we take or don't take.

Brendan: And I definitely do want to unpack that in a little bit more detail the the framework that you've got for that. But is that more of an internal decision-making process and what you do internally, or does it also involve what you put out into the marketplace externally?

Eric: Well, the process itself is an internal process, of course, but it but it will dictate whether or not we make a statement, you know, both internally or and or externally, or both. Yeah, it determines the channel of how we communicate and the targeted audience.

Brendan: Why do you think this whole I guess even getting to a decision around this sort of stuff is important? I guess where I'm coming to from that, when I was living in the corporate world, it was very. I don't even think I remember any example where organizations were Getting involved in, I guess, political situations and those sorts, at least not from an outward, external perspective. What, why is this taken on such a level of importance, or seems to have taken on such a level of importance, amongst, amongst organizations?

Eric: You know that's a great question and there, you know, there are a number of theories out there. What one theory is? You know a lot of this. Like you, I myself has not. You know, having spent 25 years kind of navigating a corporate landscape.

I don't remember seeing a lot of leaders, ceos and other you know corporate leaders Taking a position on social events outside the workplace, right, and it seems like the catalyst for a lot of it was the George Floyd murder back in in May of 2020. You saw this. It was almost like there was this playbook that everyone was operating from right. There was this Major statement that was made and you saw this ripple across all the industries. You know leaders coming out and you know you know leaders coming out and taking a stance against hate, taking a stance against violence. And then there was this Internal set of conversations authentic conversations, or, you know, conversations around race relations in the workplace, which to me at that point, was also unheard of. Right it Genesys. We leveraged it as an opportunity to, to demonstrate empathy and action, right, and then, you know, depending on where companies were in their DEI journey, you saw this onslaught of the EI officer appointments and and then you saw, maybe some type of commitment To some type of dollars being donated to social justice causes. I mean it was. It was like this playbook that a lot of companies were working their way through, working their way through, and I think what happened, you know, so goes.

The theory is that it was almost like, once you did that, any event that happened after that you had to be prepared to determine If you were going to be public about or not, because it was, it was, it was no more. You couldn't put the genie back in the bottle at that point. And for us, you know, it was a top-down decision to make a public statement about the George Floyd murder and what we all witnessed, you know, in our homes or, you know, on camera during during the pandemic, when we're also included and everyone was, you know, kind of had a firsthand view. It was a top-down decision and and to me, it kind of set a precedent and and I, you know, I would, you know, I've told other when advising other Companies on their DEI efforts, particularly around corporate social activism.

I caution them, you know to, you know, if you haven't been vocal, if that hasn't been part of your approach, think very long and hard about Making it a party approach, because once you do that, you know there's there's no going back. You got to consider reputational risk. You got to consider trust among your employees. There's an expectation that once you taking a position on one event, you know If something of a similar nature surfaces then you there's almost. If you don't say something, then there's a questioning of, or maybe even a little bit of a credibility hit that you may take with you, particularly with your employees. And and I'm quite honestly, I think the George Floyd murder was a catalyst for a lot of it, because prior to that I don't know that I saw a lot of leaders being very vocal about socially events.

Brendan: Yeah, it's interesting, isn't? I mean talk about catalyst for change. That can be good and not so good. What's, what was your driver, mate? Because even in your, your history again, you you've had various and ongoing involvement in sort of social Enterprises, let's say, and and really helping people and giving. So that's obviously in your nature. But as far as Genesys, you weren't involved in this D I space. So what happened there? What was the? What was the driver for you to, to move into it? Is there some sort of passion burning in the background that you've now had the opportunity to, to light up?

Eric: For me personally, or are you about?

You know, I think, Brendan, my lived experiences. The passion was always there, even if I didn't understand in the moment how to contextualize it right. I can remember, you know, going early, early in my career. It probably was less than six months out of college and the first job I had I went to work for a company that was a sales oriented, sales cultured company and very conservative White shirt tie every day, no colored shirts. You had to drive a four-door American car. It was an American company, clean, shaven policy, you know, and you you know, I don't think I would have gone. Well, there might well. Well, look, I mean.

So here I am coming out of college as a, you know, 21 year old kid and I've never really had to shave because, hey, I've never really been just a really hairy person, but I had whiskers, you know. So I didn't know how to shave and you know, now I'm having to shave every day to come to work and I end up developing this skin Condition called pseudo poly colitis and as a condition that's very common among African-American men, primarily because the majority of us are skin. Our hair is very, very curly. Mine is very curly, that's very coarse, and so when I shave very close to my skin. When the hair attempts to grow back, it doesn't grow through the follicle like straight hair does, it curls underneath and it creates all these skin irritations and bumps and you know. So I had to go to for the first time to see a dermatologist to see what was going on, to get it treated and, quite frankly, I look worst clean-shaven than I did with the whiskers because of the, the agitation. Long story short, I found out that I had a condition called, you know, pseudo poly colitis. I take the doctor's note to my boss and I sit down and this wasn't some type of, you know, radical activists like move, like it wasn't. I wasn't going in making demands, I was just explaining to him. Hey, man, like I don't have the same experience with shaving that some of my colleagues have, my skin has a different reaction. I'm like, look at me, like I actually look worse dealing with the Condition that I do when I have the few whiskers. So so they change the policy. They change the clean-shaven policy, because prior to that I don't think they had had, because the majority of the company, I think.

When I joined, you know, I walked into an office of 60 Individuals and I was the only African American in the office and I've never been two women. This was in 1996, so you know it was a majority white, male dominated culture and so the definition of professionalism was architected by the majority, the dominant majority. I Didn't fit the dominant majority but I was actually able to affect change as early as you know, less than a year out of college. Just do a personal experience and I've had a number of other experiences like that throughout my career where it has challenged the status quo of the definition of professionalism and has forced the environment of the culture around me To be more inclusive of what doesn't fit that status quo.

I can remember my third job out of college, you know, having been a founding member of their first African American employee resource group.

I didn't even know what an employee resource group was, I just knew that there were very few of us in the office and oftentimes we wouldn't get invited to the weekend picnics at at different feakville's houses, or we weren't getting invited to they had the hour. So we started kind of just assembling ourselves and kind of creating our own social Environment and that took form and to something a bit more formal which evolved into an ERG and through relationships that I had with leadership. You know we'd have conversations with them again, not the mandatory thing, just say putting things on the table and asking them to think about things a little bit differently when it came to the black contingent in the experience that we were having in the company. So you know, I guess when I look back, even though I didn't Becoming a Chief Diversity Officer wasn't necessarily in my career path by design, it's almost like it has been there really from the moment I started my professional career.

Brendan: Given that you've now, I guess, formally, officially, got that opportunity since 2020 in Genesys. What are you loving about the opportunity, compared to other roles that you've had that haven't been in this space?

Eric: Oh man, there are a few things that come to mind Personally. First, I feel like I am a much better leader my ability to be more empathetic to my environment, to be more inclusive to those around me that may not fit a certain prototype that I've become accustomed to. Knowing what my own biases are I have a proximity bias and I have a similarity bias that I suffer from. So being aware of those and being able to understand how to show up differently as a leader to make sure that they don't marginalize anyone in my team and then, more importantly, they don't keep anyone from my team from being able to kind of perform at their best, it's something I have to be conscious of as a leader. I think it's made me, quite frankly, it's made me a better leader Personally.

Now being immersed in the space and having really to be able to understand what the EI is in practice the terms, the definitions, the vernacular. It's helped me to kind of go back and recontextualize some earlier lived experiences and helped me kind of process them in a way that I wasn't able to process them before. It's kind of some old scars that you can now heal from, because now I have the definition of to understand what that is and I have the mindset of understanding. Something happens, you go am I crazy? Did that just happen? And now I can go. No, I wasn't crazy, that did happen.

And then I think, professionally, this is the first opportunity I've had to lead a corporate wide or enterprise wide initiative. Every other role executive role I've had has been leading a business line running a P&L, delivering on a P&L for a line of business. This extends across the enterprise. I'm interacting with PR and marketing as an example, legal HR finance, and so it gives me a much broader view of how the company is run in the end, which is needed if I'm going to successfully quarterback our efforts of evolving our culture to be a more inclusive type of culture.

Brendan: It sounds like to me. First of all, it's been a wonderful opportunity for self reflection, and even bringing some language into that self reflection through this sort of journey. Would that be fair to say? Absolutely?

Eric: Absolutely, and it's ongoing, by the way, I'm learning something every day, right, and it's interesting because, being in the role, your intent is up and a much more acute sense than they've ever been before, and I have two young adult children my daughter's 25 and my son's 23. So they're in that generation and they challenged some of my conventional thinking as a 50 year old man. They challenged some of their thinking and now I'm open more so to listening to their challenges and their perspectives, because I'm recognizing that you don't always have all the answers and that a lot of work around DEI is unlearning what you've been programmed and conditioned to understand over the course of time in order for you to cognitively be open to learning new things. And so, absolutely, it's been a phenomenal experience.

Brendan: Have you got an example, eric, where those challenges that the kids are coming to you with Like give us some context around that?

Eric: You know it's. One of them is getting my head around the nuances of properly supporting our LGBTQ plus community, right, whether it's understanding the pure definitions around pronouns and the importance of acknowledging different individuals' pronouns and how they prefer to see themselves and want to be seen, or if it's you know, understanding the pure definitions between you know distinguishing between sexual orientation versus sexual identity or gender identity. I mean, there's a lot to unpack just in that space alone. And I remember having a conversation with my daughter, you know around the topic and she's a PhD psychology study and so this is kind of a space of her, is that she is an expert in, if you will.

Brendan: She's in her fourth year of a five year program and you know, it's like he's an expert at messing with your head, mate Right.

Eric: That's true, but you know, I mean she's super sharp and you know, any misstep or miscue on my end, like she's ready, like that, that's not it Right and we talk it out and so. But yeah, I mean it's, that's just a perfect example of how you have to keep an open mind and a growth mindset around this work, because there's so much, I think, to learn, so much to unlearn first and to make room to learn.

Brendan: I have to ask you you, we haven't known each other long, we've been talking for 20 minutes or so and you come across pretty cool, calm and sensible. And I've spoken not necessarily on this podcast, because I don't have people on the podcast that take a combative approach with this sort of stuff. You definitely don't seem to be that sort of guy. You seem to be sensible. I read in some of your background where you like to take the approach of where you were proving people wrong, but in a good way, like just being better and trying to change the stereotype of the narrative or the bias. I'm interested to understand where do you think that's come from so many and why. I say that and I know this is a big general generalization but so many people seem to come at this stuff from a combative approach. You don't seem like that sort of guy.

Eric: You know, I'll tell you that this work I'll say it this way, brendan this work is highly experimental and highly experiential, meaning that one of the permissions I asked for for my leadership when launching this space was permission to fail, permission to try a few things until we understand what will stick, what will our workforce embrace, what will our leadership get their heads around and what will our employee contingent feel good about and feel proud to be a part of. Because this is a collective responsibility. This work is not I'm one person with a very small team who is responsible for shepherding these efforts across the company, but you have to do it in a way where you bring along the collective and they feel a responsibility to affect change and to achieve the targeted outcomes that we've laid out for ourselves. And I think when I first started this journey, there was a lot of Eric and Eric's personal lived experiences that came to the table, that had a lot of that proven you wrong type. Having been the subject of microaggressions for a long part of my career, having been stereotyped, having been then capped because of other people's perceptions of you. It had put me, quite frankly, on the defense and my goal was always to prove people wrong.

If you think that I can't do something, I'm going to show you that I can. If you view me as a certain way, you've kind of personified me in your own mind through your own biases I'm going to show you, with the results of my work and what we get done, a different thing, and so it kind of creates this desire to want to prove folk wrong. And the other thing is you recognize in a lot of the spaces that you walk in as a black male, particularly in the US and the corporate space you often are the only one in that space and so, whether it's true or not, you carry this sense of responsibility for the entire population. So if you feel then there's this view that you think that your colleagues are going to view black folk in general as failures, if you're successful, then maybe it creates space for someone else to come through the door and that's just that. We call it the black tax. It's something that you carry when you operate in those only spaces. And I don't think I necessarily came. I don't know that. I wouldn't say that I brought that up, that thinking to Our initial approach to Genesys with this work.

I will tell you that Over the course of the last 3 years, particularly when it comes to how we, how we facilitate inclusion across the company. There's I see no value in being combative. I see no value in arguing political ideologies. You use the term politics earlier.

We're talking about corporate social activism and I think it's very easy For things to be politicized, but 1 of the things that we're very intentional about Is, if you see us make a statement about any incident or any social event, it will not be about the politics of the scenario. It will be about the human elements of it. From Roe v way to the January 6th, you know situation happened and I think was in 2021 when that occurred To some of the mass shootings that we've seen that are targeted to kill certain demographics or hate crimes. You know we don't speak to the politics of what. We speak to the impact that it has on the human element, and I think that's the approach that I try to lead and shepherd with when it comes to this work, because I have a full appreciation that 70% of our workforce still identifies as about US workforce identifies as white and 70% of our global workforce identifies as men. That is still the large majority of who we are in a company and alienating that group does no good for us pushing inclusion across the company.

Brendan: I love what you said in regards to human element. I don't think you can find anyone that should argue with Focusing on the human element. When have you seen Public statements made, and I guess I'm sort of I don't want you to throw companies under the bus, but I'm sort of asking you to throw companies under the bus for an example is when you'd seen something that you don't feel like is the better way to approach it. Maybe it's been more ideological, political versus the human element.

Eric: Well, you know, I, sometimes it's just how things are free. I remember a lot of the reaction companies were having Another US issue with Roe v Wade when that decision was overturned and, you know, women lost their protections around how to make choices about their bodies under under Family planning and reproduction scenarios, and it's a. It's a. It's a topic that it's very easy to get Emotional about, highly charged right, very passionate about, and I think some of the statements that I saw released. You know it was easy.

It was easy to go in on the conservative nature of the court system that made the decision that leans it towards some type of political ideology or a shift in a judiciary that leans it towards a A political ideology, and I think I saw some of that and I just, I don't know, I felt like that philosophically, our approach didn't go there. We are approached, looked at it and we took a stand and support of women's rights to choose, to make choices for their bodies. And that is not up for me as an individual, no matter what my belief system is. Without pro life, pro choice, another political term, whatever it may be, I don't feel like I have the right to decide that for you. You should. As a human being, you should be able to determine what's best for you in your situation, and that's the approach we took.

Brendan: It makes a lot of sense again. I just want to ask a question because I'm not clear on the difference, even if there is a difference Back when I was in corporate seems like a while back now, but there was a term corporate social responsibility, and now we have corporate social activism as a term. Is it just a variation of the same thing or are they? Are they very different?

Eric: You know, I guess it depends on how companies are approaching it. You know, I to me, what I've seen, like you, the traditional sense of corporate social responsibility is a company's focus on, you know, the surrounding community philanthropy work. You know, are there causes that we can get behind and support monetarily or with resources from the company through volunteer hours or volunteerism? You know, social corporate activism seems to take on a different philosophy. That says that, similar to kind of what I was saying at the onset of our podcast, which is when various events happen.

Brendan: You know what is our view?

Eric: Around that event and and and, and we're going to take an unconventional approach to either speaking or acting. I get out on that right and I think that's how I what I seem to come to appreciate the difference between CSR versus corporate social activism. The other thing I'll tell you is that for some folk the word activism is a big triggering because it it's almost a way to label something in a negative connotation without directly calling it something negative. So if you get labeled a corporate social activist, you know that's probably not the best label, depending on how you're in health, right, exactly, and and and you know you could be simply just just raising awareness around something that is an injustice or that is just unfair and the fact that you are challenging the status quo. You know you get the activist label and you know and the rest of it kind of flows how people interpret it. I guess it's an interesting phenomenon.

I see the same thing happening with the term woke in the US, how it's been hijacked to be something negative. As to where. When I was younger, the term woke was a positive meaning. It meant that you were aware of social injustices that you were aware and educated on. You know how things, how different institutions may not always take a fair approach for certain folks versus, you know, ignoring it and only kind of getting in where you get in and if things are going well in your space and that's you know, forget what's going on around me. I'm blind to what's going on around me, that kind of how. That was how the term woke was used, when you know, when I was familiar with it some, you know, some decades ago. Now it's in the US, it is. You might as well be calling someone a communist.

Brendan: Yeah, I have. There's a lot of weaponizing around different words and it's it's fascinating. There's all the curiosity attached to it as to why these things happen and I guess, the background of them absolutely With the let's just move into the framework side. Where this is super interesting to me, mate, is that back to the point. Before that, I feel and again this may be a bias I have is that there's organizations out there and you leading the show in this Genesys and from what I'm learning about you, but it doesn't seem that you guys are taking this approach at all.

But there seems to be almost a level of fashionability around these things amongst companies. They're not, they're not really believing in it, but they think they need to do it, like make statements or things like that, because it's the thing to do and what, what has to happen in a company like what are you guys doing in Genesys to say, well, this is just who we are. I know you're focusing on the human element, but it's not, it's not a fashion statement for Genesys. This is what we are, this is what we live, as opposed to others, organizations that seem to jump on the bean wagging.

Eric: Yeah, you know. There, there are three things that come to mind immediately when I think about the actions that we've taken at Genesys to make sure that our approach towards his space isn't performative in nature that it, you know, it is something that is truly who we are. Number one, it's ingrained in our value system. Right, our empathy is the cornerstone of our corporate values and alongside empathy is fostering inclusive environments where everyone, every employee, no matter how you identify, what part of the world you're from, who you love, this is a place where you can come and feel a sense of belonging and a safe space, psychologically safe space. So it's in our corporate values and we we overhauled our corporate values at the end of 2020 as part of the cultural evolution, to cement it as part of it.

The other thing we did is we made the EI, or inclusion, a true business imperative. It is a key part of our corporate scorecard. We have very specific metrics that we encame EIs, that we track alongside our financials and we report on them quarterly to all employees. We just had an all hands call this past week where we were talking about the first half of the year and Q2, and alongside our financial numbers are our EI numbers, we report them out to the board and we report them out to the analysts. You'll see a press release that's probably going to release to the next couple of days talking about this first half of the year, and embedded, peppered in that RREI metric. So that's the second thing we've done.

And then the third thing, which is the most important part in my opinion and where myself and my team spent a considerable amount of our time, is embedding inclusion into the structure of how we do things across the company.

Our goal, when I sat down with our CEO and we talked about a vision for this work, the goal was to build a sustainable set of inclusion practices that would outlive me and would outlive him, and what that means is that it has to be and how you do things. And so we look at our practices, we look at our policies and, in a lot of cases, our procedures how we recruit, how we source talent, how we conduct talent development, how we grow talent inside the company. We've overhauled our survey annual employee survey and engagement survey to now include an inclusion score, which is the methodology that allows us to look at, to disaggregate the numbers by demographics and look for parity or disparities, if you will, and so it has to be ingrained in the structure, and I think if you're doing those things, then no one can question whether the nature of your work is performative or if it's genuine, because it's embedded into how you operate as a company.

Brendan: Here once again. I like what you're saying. We had a previous guest on the podcast, a guy out of the UK called Jonathan Ashong Langley and he's PhD in the whole DEI space and stuff and he just says for businesses to really own this stuff, it's got to be part of your business strategy, like this whole collective, which is to me, really the three points you're saying embedding in the values that behaves the organisation, what your value, the business imperative, the scorecard and measuring and having those things in place. And then the embedding it within the company, within the structure of the company. So it's really it's part of your fabric, isn't it? It's not just a. This is something we're doing because there's other people out there and it seems to be cool. We're actually making specific business decisions on this and we're living and breathing it every day and it's part of who we are.

Eric: Well, and the other thing I'll tell you and this is something I get from interacting with peers across the industry and having watched that peer group navigate these spaces over the past two and a half years your CEO sets the tone and I'll tell you that Tony Bates A he was a reason why I accepted this role, because I felt he was genuine about making this a key part of who we are, making, inclusion a key part of who Genesys is, and he continues to set the tone.

And even in some of the toughest times and we were all challenged with a lot of tech companies were challenged and some of the economic headwinds you saw companies basically eliminating their DEI budgets. I saw several of my friends that were peers in this space, you know, walked out the door and we were not immune to those challenges. We had to make some very tough decisions, mostly around go to market and jettisoning off legacy product lines and those types of things. But Tony's commitment to this space was unwavering and that also has to be a part of it. I mean, I don't think there's any. There's no magic to that. I mean the CEO sets the tone.

Brendan: Yeah, absolutely, it reminds me of. I spent a lot of time in the over the years of business improvement and what you're explaining to me it sort of rings bells in that you've got you're able to get across the organization and to help embed and support leaders to get it into the fabric. There's a lot of influence required in that because you don't necessarily have direct responsibility reporting lines over a lot of people. But organizations love it when the money is rolling. But then business improvement or training of people maybe DEI they're first on the cutting block when problems arise, aren't they.

Eric: Yeah, yeah I mean, but again I think it goes back and it speaks to who you are and who your corporate values are and how rooted you are in them, I guess.

Brendan: Mate, let's just let's go back to unpacking. You started unpacking a little bit of the framework a while back. If there's a situation, and maybe let's take the George Floyd situation I'm confessing I'm by no means an expert I've obviously got a just an understanding of events. But what are these questions and this sort of framework that a company should start to ask themselves internally about how they're going to approach a matter like that?

Eric: Well, if I was advising a company who, let's say, they've never taken a public or even internal position on a social event, I would first caution you to whether or not this is a path you want to go down, because once you set that precedent, the pendulum swings both ways. What we've witnessed is this groundswell of enthusiasm and sense of pride from our employee base. Right, and they were very vocal about it when they see your CEO or your CDO or the right executive sending out a company-wide message, taking a position to get something that the majority of them feel a similar way about, there's a sense of pride that, okay, this is a place where I know I belong. But once you do that, as social events continue to occur you want to try to be mindful of. You can't speak out on everything. Not everything probably aligns with every situation, may not align with who you are. And then, if you are, you know message out the message, then you have to question the potency of each message. Does it begin to dilute the power behind them? If you, every time something surfaces, here comes a candidate, you know standard message, and that's where the framework came in, that's when the, where the rubric came in, and you know it's. It's a process again where you know we various key stakeholders Across the company, depending on what the social event is we'll come together and weigh in and sometimes it's a very spirited discussion.

You know, I remember the Robey Wade discussion and how you know I was taking a certain position around yes, we need to speak. Someone else was saying you know, well, you know they were pro life and they didn't feel like that. This was something that everyone could identify with. You know, around the company and I remember having a conversation saying I'm also pro life If you want to get down, to get down to it, I say but my personal belief should not impact how we dictate how someone else moves and their right to make decisions for themselves. And so it was through that conversation and that type of those types of spirited discussions that we work our way through the questions and we come out on the other end with a collective hey, what do we do here? And if there's a, there's still a question around it, then Tony will weigh in and ultimately he's the final arbiter.

But again, we look at have we spoken on something like this before? Is there a precedent here? If we don't, what do we think is going to be the reaction among our employee base. 1 of our chief concerns is going to be always going to be with our 6,000 employees and how they are looking at us as leaders, their confidence in us as leaders, not just to lead the business and the business strategy but to sustain the culture and the identity that we tout every day, that who we say we are, and we have some very vocal employees right. They'll let you know if they don't feel like you're living up to or measuring up to what you, what you've said.

And then, of course, you can't ignore industry and reputational risk. All that comes into play and I would advise companies you know, before you ever make that 1st step, know kind of what you're walking into and make sure you have something similar that you can defend in the moment or the event when you decide this is not something for us to speak out against and you get a swath of your employees scratching their head and wondering why.

Brendan: Do you as Genesys? Are you communicating Internally, even when you've made a decision not to Make a statement, a public statement around the human element of something? What happens there?

Eric: Typically we don't. If we're quiet about, uh a situation, you know there may be a few employees that might ask and in those scenarios I'm very transparent with them, as transparent as I'm being with you. I'm very transparent with them about the situation and oftentimes what I see is is that you know they just want to be heard and they've had the opportunity to be heard and their perspective shared and you've you've listened and you've been empathetic. Even though it doesn't change, may not change, the decision you've made, you know it still falls. Is that environment around empathy and the safe space for folk to be able to speak their mind? Even if this, if there's a dissenting voice, right, and I think that, along with the fact that we've been mostly consistent With our decisions, there's a level of credibility and trust among our employees. So when we don't say anything, a lot of folks will say I may not totally understand why, but I trust there's a reason why we're silent here.

Brendan: You mentioned before also mate that again, these subjects, these incidents, incidences, matters, very emotive. A lot of motion wrapped up in these sort of things, the motion. Let's understand Eric, a bit more. That see you're in this role. It feels like you'd be living in emotion so much. What are you do? What skills have you developed to? You must have a very, very good level of emotional intelligence about you To be able to strip the emotion out at the right time and to focus on what is the best approach here, Maybe taking a bit more logic into the, into the view.

Eric: Yeah, I, you know, I, honestly, I go back and I think about my lived experiences, the number of times when someone had said something to me off color or offensive or just outright racist, and I've had to maintain my cool because, at the end of the day, I lose if I react to my emotions. And I think it builds those experiences, you know, builds a sense of resiliency, you know, and the ability to compartmentalize when these scenarios happen. I can remember I think it was the end of 2020 and hit me, after having served in a role for about a few months and having so many different employees reach out to me and share their perspectives and share their experiences and Basically share their desires of where they want to see us go, I want to play a role and these are some things I'm hoping that we can address, you know, through the lens. I think it hit me for the 1st time is that, hey, for the last 2 decades I have been navigating my own Experience, lived experience as a black male and a majority white environment. Now I've just kind of accepted everyone else's and I've got a strapped the ball and now I'm carrying those as well, right, and but with the realization of that Comes a process that says, hey, if I'm going to be individually sustainable in this role, like I can't carry all of that.

I got to figure out how to compartmentalize and be objective and make sure that, no matter how I may feel personally about a particular situation, that I can maintain some objectivity to ensure that I'm making the right decision or either recommending the right decision to the leadership ProGenesys and it's a practice. You know. It was something that over time and I continue to practice it, you know I. You know what scenarios that rise that make it home, close to home, for me. I got to be mindful of you know, my own emotion and stripping it and saying, okay, we're also high fill about this. What is the best situation for Genesys?

Brendan: Now, I also have never met the perfect person, and I know that they don't exist, so tell us when you've let yourself down. As far as that goes, the emotion has maybe got the better of you.

Eric: Oh man, um, hmm, it's a good question. Yeah, there's been more than one scenario. I'm just trying to think through, you know, a situation that that's this meeting for the talk about. You know, I'll say the recent decision around affirmative action. My initial reaction was I took a very conservative perspective. We're one of the few companies I think it's less than 14 or 15 percent of corporate 500 companies, torture 500 companies that actually have publicly stated aspirations, diversity aspirations. We're one of the few in the more privately held. So you know you have a privately held company, you don't really have to make that, those public declarations, and we've done that.

And after kind of learning about the affirmative action decision and kind of looking, reading the TVs of what was coming down the pike, you know I felt like that we might have had some exposure and I probably over indexed on that and one to go down a path of making these.

You know, probably some pretty radical changes of how we approach to space and I had a few people in my corner, confidence that I'd go to and talk to about these things.

That kind of reminded me this is for the course, like. This is the nature of Anytime you're doing good work or you're stirring up good trouble, there's always going to be an organized opposition to try to shut it down and you can't always cave to that. And I think that was probably a scenario where I look back on it and I was a little disappointed in my own initial reaction and how I was initially responding to the situation, because I can look back now, after Selling through a few thought patterns and thinking through it, that we should be doubling down and actually this is an opportunity For us to pick things in gear and leverage some of what's happening to our, to our advantage, right, and so that's probably 1 in a scenario that I would say that I can look back on and I wish I had a different approach, but I'm glad I've gotten to the point to where I am now, with continuing to be focused on on doubling down in the work.

Brendan: I know that crystal balls don't exist, mate, but why is it important that organizations need to be potentially on the front foot with what things may be coming and what might impact their employees? And I asked this question with the pretense or the context of in Australia, I'm not sure if you're aware of the upcoming referendum around the voice and the indigenous voice to Parliament. Do you know? Are you aware of any of that? I'm coming up the speed on it, OK so I probably use that in the back of my mind as to where I'm getting this question from, that there's either way, yes or no. Whatever this plays out, there's going to be an impact in organizations. So what should organizations be considering taking, being proactive in their approach of maybe the the eventual scenarios that will play out? I think even today, as we're recording this interview, the Prime Minister is going to announce the actual date of the referendum as well.

Eric: Yeah, you know, I think that I think it's, it's universal to me. I believe that, regardless of what you're, you know, what parts of the world we're in, what societal challenges that you're, you're, you're facing, I think there has to be real realization that, even on a global scale, that there's been Demographics and groups of courts of people that over the course of time have been systematically marginalized, and that there's generational impacts of that. And if you've never intentionally atoned, intentionally atoned, for that marginalization and you've never intentionally put things in place to reverse course, then I think there has to be an intellectual acceptance of the fact that that is still in grade in the system. And for me it's about course correcting with those systems and whether you are trying to rebuild old systems and retool them or if you're building new systems, starting with the most marginalized group in mind Is the most inclusive way to do it. Because if you, if you've accounted for the experiences of the most marginalized, then the system most likely will accommodate everyone in a very fair and inclusive way.

And I sometimes wonder, in this narrative that you're describing and in other events that happen around the world, where Courts are making decisions or, you know, institutions are making decisions that impact people?

Are they considering the fact that and in a lot of cases, you know, starting with the most marginalized group in mind and making decisions around how it impacts those groups Is the most inclusive way to path to go right? And so I'd be curious, I want to learn more about the situation you're describing. But you know, we did a course for our, we curated a set of courses for our leadership team here when we first launched our diversity initiatives, and 1 of the things I liked about it it took a global lens at how, in different parts of the world, you've had, you know, colonization, you've had some group always trying to dominate another group and, with a course of history, there's this residual effect of generational, systemic, you know, oppression that in a lot of cases, never been a tone for, and that's what a lot of this work is is trying to bring balance to some of the, the long standing and balances.

Brendan: Yeah, it's almost like every 1 of us and obviously I'm a white male, so coming from a different side of the fence, I suppose but it's almost like we've each and every 1 of us have to in order to move forward. We've actually got to make peace with the past, and if we can't make peace with the past, it's actually very difficult to look forward, and that that's the feeling, that's the sense I get in conversations with people around this process in Australia. Now it's, it's there's so much angst and anger and all that stuff from the past which can't be changed. It's like looking to the future and I guess there's many ways to skin a cat Right. We just don't. It's like well, let me ask you this Is it? Is there ever a time where you need to be divisive in order to be, in order to get inclusiveness?

Eric: I don't know if, if I would choose the word divisive, I will say that there are times when you need to have uncomfortable conversations. There are times when certain groups, depending on the topic, there's going to be A degree of discomfort right, and I don't think there's any way around it. And and and you know, in the in the course of the 3 years we've been at this work, 1 of the things that I've tried to be Acutely aware of is the language we use and how we approach Educating our workforce In this space. Unless you choose privilege as an example, right, there's all types of privileges, you know, and there's, you can. You can dream up different statistics and data that'll tell you that Tall people have an advantage over shorter people in certain areas, right? Uh, folk whose face are a bit more, you know, considered symmetrical and you know, maybe you, you, that, maybe that gives you a good looking appeal that has an advantage over other folk. Able body people have advantages over folk who grapple with different types of disabilities, and in the US and in a lot of countries, this thing called white privilege is a real thing. But to talk about white privilege Makes people uncomfortable.

There's a degree of discomfort as a degree of, of, of, of, of, maybe shame To have to come to grips with the fact that someone is giving me something that I haven't earned just because of the color of my skin, and.

And so we, you know, we've jostled with back and forth with how do we approach this in a way that we don't alienate any, any group, because we want to bring everyone to the table for the sake of the conversation, and I think the conclusion I've come to is that, you know, no matter how tame the language is, someone's going to be uncomfortable. Uncomfortable, Excuse me, and it's, it's, it's the Nate is. In a lot of ways, it's the nature of a lot of the work. And if I put my business had on the, you know, you still hear people say it all the time If you're growing a business, there's no, there's no growth in the comfort zone. That happened that way, and it's the same way in this space. So I don't know that I would use the word divisive, but I will say the other times, when we do use language, that Will cause a lot of discomfort with certain groups.

Brendan: Yeah, back to a point you made earlier. It's sort of the healthy conflict and I think you use the term spirited debate or something like that which needs to happen to get good results in anything you want people to be passionate about. Whatever the issue is, whether it's something we're talking about today or some other business problem People can give their best, but their best foot, their best foot forward and have the right conversations. But underpinning all of that, there has to be trust there, Otherwise it's not a good space to play, Is it?

Eric: No, no, I think there has to be trust and trust is something that Obviously it comes over time and something that's earned, and you know it's something that's always front of mind to me anytime I approach. I mentioned that the onset of the call here, that we've got a new sales leader, and you know there's trust has to be established with with that individual in order for him to understand what my motives are and collaborating with him and trying to facilitate inclusion and this initiatives across his award. It's not about shaming him, it's not about 20 blame. It's about looking at the data, understanding the disposition of his teams and and some challenges that would that the data says we have and putting forth a set of initiatives that can help us overcome those challenges. And to me it's objectively, it really is that. That that's straightforward, and so I try to be mindful of that in the conversations, because small words can be very triggering, you know, very triggering.

Brendan: Yeah, absolutely, I just want to. I want to start to wrap this up for you, mate. And what are the consequences of not speaking up? And let's look through the lens of Genesys. You've, as an organization, put a stake in the ground and made a decision that we will speak up from a human element around various things, but we'll have some very good spirited debates about internal conversation to decide about what that looks like. What are the consequences if you make the decision of not speaking up?

Eric: I think one of the probably more, one of the more significant consequences is is Having your workforce or your employee base question your sincerity to the work. Right, and you know, if you have set a tone or precedent Of speaking out on various events and something happens and it, you know, looks similar to some of the other scenarios that have surfaced and you're quiet. I think you're focusing on a wonder why you're quiet, and you know, and if that quietness happens to come during a period Like we're facing now, where you're starting to see people, the commitments in the level of excitement that was around the space that existed 3 years ago, start to normalize a bit, that it makes folk even more suspicious and I think that's probably 1 of the biggest risks that you run Is is for questioning particularly your employees, questioning your commitment to the space and your, your, your authenticity to the work.

Brendan: Yeah, it's a great point. And again, I can't help think, but I feel that again I'm saying feel a lot when we're trying to be not too emotive around these things, which is probably not ideal. But I sense that companies that are speaking up a little bit in Australia about this upcoming referendum that's what it sort of seems to be like They've been sort of quiet around lots of different things which would have an impact on their own employee base. Now, all of a sudden they're on. They're on this let's call it bandwagon, but they're on this roller coaster and they've decided to do it now. It just seems like a funny, a funny place to start in a very, very emotive place to start as well. What? What's your hope for the future in your role and the impact of your role and your team in Genesys?

Eric: Yeah, my, my hope is that you know the small team I have, that we are so successful in our efforts to facilitate this work across Genesys. Um, maybe we don't need a D I officer five years now. I think we'll always need 1, right? I think at the end of the day, you always need that expertise and house. You'll always need someone who is Thoroughly immersed in understanding the space and that can provide that type of a consultative Internal voice and that advisory voice internally.

But I guess what I mean when I say that is that, um, it's in green. And how we administer the employee experience from in the end, it's in green. And how we make decisions around product and solutions, um, how we deal with artificial intelligence, you know it's in green. And and how we make decisions on who we partner with in the industry, who we give business to in the industry, um, and then how we show up In our surrounding communities to address some of the inequities that Surface in the areas in which we have, where we have a presence, whether there's an office space there or we've got a contingent of employees or we're doing business in that area and that's the successful. Uh, you know, looking in the rear view mirror. That is what success is going to look like. Is that this is we've done? We've done our job of embedding inclusion Into the fabric of how we operate as a company.

Brendan: Sounds like a great road to success, mate. Like all good leaders, it's having that that really strong purpose and vision out there. That's not necessarily always possible, but you're working every day to move towards that. So good luck on that journey, mate. Final question, which we asked all about guests, is what has been the 1 thing that has helped you become a more confident leader? Uh, I think, and we often get that sort of response as well.

Eric: Well, you know, if I'm honest with myself, I think, Um, one of the things that this role has forced me to do Is become more aware of my blind spots. Right, and I think having that sense of understanding your blind spots Forces you to keep curious mind, it forces you to keep a growth mindset and it forces you to always want to be learning and growing, and you know I don't always have the right answer. I'm fortunate to have a small group, that I can get surrounded by a team of folk who oftentimes will share a perspective that's different from mine and um knowing that I suffer from proximity biases and similarity biases, I know that. So that means I'm forced to keep an open mind to other perspectives. Um, and I think having a? Um an understanding or a sense of my blind spots and being aware of them Um forces me to be a more objective leader.

Brendan: And I did lie. I didn't mean to lie, but you mentioned proximity and similarity biases. I actually don't know what they are. Can you tell me?

Eric: Oh sure. So Genesys, we, we rolled out what we call um the seeds model from the um Neuro Institute of learning, and it's it's. The seeds model is an acronym for the different types of biases that commonly surface, unconscious biases that commonly surfaces in all of us, right, and it's not a matter of your gender identity or your race or ethnicity. If you have a brain, you have a bias is kind of how we teach it, and so you go through this process Of kind of learning a different types of biases and you align them with your own personality, your own approach and similarity. Bias means that I have a bias towards individuals who approach things in a very similar way that I do. Right, priority coming to leading, uh, our diversity efforts at Genesys.

I worked in the professional services space and I cut my teeth as a project manager and my style of project management is the bulldog style.

Uh, in your face, uh, you know, holding folk accountable, escalating situations before they get out of hand, and I tend to like other bulldog type Project managers and I've had to learn that.

You know other project managers can be just as effective at the work If they're not as loud or as boisterous or, you know, maybe they take a more calming of uh approach to the work.

And then proximity vice says that, um, if you've got a global team, um, or in a virtual or whatnot the folks that are always around you, the ones that you spend the most time with that gets you get a lot of people, the ones that you spend the most time with, that gets you get the face time with Um, you tend to develop a stronger connection with them and you tend to be more biased towards them. Right, they're the ones that's getting the invite to happy hour, they're the one that's getting the invite to the things that are happening on the weekend and, quite frankly, it's unfair to those, because maybe the other ones on the team who may not live in the same city or the same area, uh, they're at a bit of a disadvantage. So you have to be aware of those and I can look back on my own leadership style and, if I'm honest with myself, I've I've suffered from both of those biases and it's just again being aware of your, of your blind spots.

Brendan: Yeah, mate, thanks for explaining and, uh, I can resonate with that Absolutely. There's certain things certainly in a similarity, perspective and a proximity, so out of things which, through my own career, those things have have played out I've never heard the reference like that, but, yeah, I really think as a leader and opportunities that people have had, I couldn't think of any situation where people wouldn't have those two. To be honest, they just maybe just don't know it.

Eric: Well and again they, a lot of times they, they, they are unconscious, they're not something that um, that's done maliciously or intentionally, right. But regardless of whether it's intentional or unintentionally impacted, it's the same and that's why it's important to understand stand them and and how to make sure that they don't play a role In key decision making, whether it's in hiring, promoting or just how you develop um and who you determine are the top performers and top talent in the company. And I think that's that's been. You know, those types of biases of what have perpetuated the different types of um discrimination and other things that we see with women and people of color around the world.

Brendan: Yeah, absolutely, mate.

Thank you very much for coming on our show.

I know it's it's been a while we I can't remember the background to it we had to postpone for different reasons, I think, but it's been a pleasure chatting with you today, learning a bit more about this very important topic and the work that you're doing.

I really sincerely hope that you do achieve that vision amongst Genesys, but probably, more to the point, I hope you achieve my interactions with DEI type people outside of this podcast, mind you have been varied, I have to say. My hope is that someone like you and your mentality, your sensibleness, your approach, your emotional intelligence around these things, you actually get a greater opportunity to influence more and more people in that space and people not even in that space, but just. It feels like to me that if people can take a sensible approach like what you seem to have, then the competitiveness reduces, people have less emotion around certain words and we can just start to focus on that human element, which is what you're doing and underpinning a Genesys. So, mate, it's been an absolute pleasure. Like I said, thank you for coming on being a guest on the cultural leadership podcast today.

Eric: Well, I've enjoyed it. I appreciate you having me. It's been a pleasure.