Inclusivity needs to be an end-to-end element of every brand, of every customer experience. For example, when building a new voice-activated device, tech companies should ensure that a diverse marketing team is at the table with the engineers designing the device. Otherwise, based on the oftentimes homogenous make-up of the engineering teams (another inclusivity challenge), the potential target audience is narrowed by the perspective from which the device was designed.
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Detria Williamson.
An internationally recognized digital marketer, Detria Williamson helps category-leading companies become experience-led and content-driven. Informed by her experiences living and working from the U.S., London, Singapore and the Middle East, she created the ICX (inclusive customer experience) approach, enabling visionary leaders to embrace inclusivity as an end-to-end element of their business ecosystem. Throughout her cross-disciplined career, Detria has a proven record for developing high value, high impact brand experiences; as of 2020, she has grown over 5B dollars in brand equity for clients across a variety of industries and categories, including Google, Capital Group, Discovery, AT&T and Emirates Airlines.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Growing up in a U.S. military family established me as a global citizen early on; my parents almost always chose to live outside of the base, so I grew up in the local communities instead of within the American “bubble.” I’m grateful for their decision, because I was able to truly experience life in Germany, Argentina and Paraguay and by so doing, develop the global perspective that informs my work today as a radically inclusive leader.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, was my first introduction to the history of slavery in the U.S. and to the language of American racism. After my childhood abroad, my family moved back to the U.S. when I was about 14 years old, and this book was part of the “classic” literature taught in the school I attended. It was my first encounter with the “n-word,” as I’d not been exposed to it in the societies in which I’d been raised.
Huckleberry Finn wound up being an influence on my incorporation of inclusivity into my career DNA; I realized that the history of hatred it depicted wasn’t built into me. I thought then, as I think now, that sometimes we have to acknowledge history while remaining optimistic about society’s evolution in order to move forward into inclusivity.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
My grandmother would say “the bumps are what we climb.”
I once had the privilege of attending a presentation by the first African-American female astronaut to enter outer space, Dr. Mae C Jemison, who said (and I paraphrase): “whenever there’s a problem, I’d rather have a lot of people help me solve it than solve it by myself.” She said this in the context of how in space, what matters in your team isn’t gender or color, it’s who can help you solve problems. To me, this is at the heart of the concept of diversity and inclusion, in the value of everyone having a seat at the table.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
The main attribute of an effective leader is the ability to create a sense of belonging within the team while driving growth and performance that is to the benefit of all. For example, the “global bonus” policy, meaning if the company achieves their financial goals, then everyone in the company gets the same percentage of their salary as a bonus. Also, a true leader champions innovation, a sign of a growth mindset.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
Usually if there’s a way to walk outside before a big meeting or a momentous conversation I try to do so; while I do I’ll listen to one of several curated classical or world music playlists on my iPhone. That’s my zone, it takes my mind off of what I am about to present or discuss, as it helps me settle down and to trust that what’s needed in me is already there. And, I always text my two children with, “I love you — we got this.”
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
I think the U.S. has tried to engineer inclusion by throwing the wrong metrics, i.e. diversity, at the issue while the real metric for me is creating a sense of belonging — after all, inclusion means feeling included. American companies have been measuring success the wrong way, over-engineering inclusion when ultimately it’s a mindset, a consciousness on the part of leaders.
This is where having the right leaders and having businesses understand their cultural and societal contribution comes into play. Inclusivity is rooted in creating the sense of belonging as a metric and it’s up to each business to figure out what that means for them. Leaders need to take a holistic view of inclusion throughout their company ecosystem instead of just ticking off boxes. For example, 30% of a company’s employees may be women, but if the vast majority of those women are at the most junior levels, that’s not really inclusion.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
While working in a country that had historically not permitted local women to work outside the home, I created the first working mothers’ business organization in the region, a leadership forum for working moms from two communities: those who were native to the region, and those who were “expats,” from North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.
The goal for both groups was to help moms to create a sense of belonging in their workplace, while maintaining their contribution to their family as mothers. The expatriate women, who were fairly fluent in asking for equitable pay for example, saw the group as a cohort of safety in which to share ideas and concerns. The local women were able to use the group as a vehicle to essentially understand and learn from the experiences of the expatriate women while sharing and providing much needed context on the local culture, expectations and sometimes stigma associated with working moms. This exchange of experiences and journeys created an active, safe forum for women of different backgrounds to learn and ultimately grow from. An example activity; during the COVID-19 pandemic, in lieu of meeting in-person, we held a monthly series of virtual meetings that included a “Mommy Monthly Hack.” These sessions featured a different mom each month, who would share a breakthrough they had specific to working while balancing family demands.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
The importance is in having what I would call a cross cultural team; ultimately, executives are sitting at the helm of solving huge problems, of driving growth while ensuring equity for employees throughout the company. If every member of that team looks the same and comes from the same place, 9 times out of 10, they’ll get the same answer — and that’s not always what’s best for the company or for the society in which it operates. When the executive team is inclusive, its members will have diverse points of view based on a diversity of experience. I’ve seen first-hand how this commitment to inclusivity ultimately ends up driving innovation and crystallizes the best business approach.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
Step 1: Inclusivity needs to be an end-to-end element of every brand, of every customer experience. For example, when building a new voice-activated device, tech companies should ensure that a diverse marketing team is at the table with the engineers designing the device. Otherwise, based on the oftentimes homogenous make-up of the engineering teams (another inclusivity challenge), the potential target audience is narrowed by the perspective from which the device was designed.
Step 2: Companies, especially the biggest corporations with the most societal impact, must hire radically inclusive leaders with proven inclusive track records. Inclusivity should become a measurement built into every interview, every Board decision regarding a leadership hire from the C-level down. When a potential leadership hire is describing their accomplishments over the past 10+ years, they should have examples of driving inclusivity. Most leadership interviews don’t include even basic questions regarding inclusivity, such as whether their past teams were diverse, and that needs to change. Leaders should be curious about all types of people, especially those who are underserved in any way — people with different points of view.
Step 3: Companies should adjust their metrics for success regarding diversity, to move into inclusivity. Currently, when considering their “blueprint” for diversity, leaders often stop looking once they’ve determined the percentages of minority (most often race and gender) groups. They need to look further; a metric of the future would mean, for example, that not only do BIPOC and female employees have a presence within the company, but that they and other communities such as LGBTQ and people with disabilities feel heard throughout the company. To be specific: it is one thing to add a woman to an all-male Board; it is another to empower her with substantial responsibilities and the support to succeed, to ensure she feels a sense of belonging.
Step 4. This one’s for tech companies in particular: use your product to innovate communities versus just innovating your product. The end result will be a more equitable society and the outcome will be growth and profit for the company willing to do this. A good example of this is the success of Microsoft in designing affordable advertising search experiences for small businesses. By expanding their focus beyond the giant companies to consider the needs of this market, Microsoft earned the long-term loyalty of many communities that when added up, provide MS with a competitive advantage.
Step 5: Corporate leaders need to first overcome their fear of admitting the need to evolve their outlook on diversity and then to seek out people who can help them achieve steps 1–4.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I am actually very optimistic, because I see first-hand a lot of companies taking big steps towards inclusivity, which hadn’t been happening as much previously. The current sad situation has cornered poor leadership, in a public setting, so that they don’t really have a choice now but to face up to the reality of the state of inclusivity within their companies.
The situation is not dissimilar to how game-changing innovation at one company drives innovation at its competitors in order for them to survive. A groundbreaking mobile device inevitably leads to another from a rival company, for example. As more companies embrace inclusivity and thrive because of it, others will follow in order to stay competitive. Worth noting is that those companies’ employees then bring their experience with inclusivity home with them, influencing the communities in which they live so that in the end, society becomes more inclusive.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Jack Dorsey, because he is leading a company with a tremendous societal and cultural trajectory. These are the types of companies whose leaders must be held accountable for inclusion and Jack strikes me as committed to inclusivity.
At Twitter, he has created a platform connecting diverse people and communities. He doesn’t seem to subscribe to tokenism and possesses humility, which I think is missing in some of our most successful leaders. A key attribute for radically inclusive leaders is humility — to say you’ve gotten it wrong, to fail forward and fast. This drives authentic and open discussions.
At that lunch, I’d really like to ask the big question of HOW? How do we drive an inclusive economy? I have some ideas to share, Jack!
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!