A Movement, Not a Moment
Heather L. Mattisson ’97 of Intel and Tiffany R. Warren ’97 of Sony Music Group discuss creating diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the workplace.
What are approaches to DE&I that have worked well at your companies?
Heather (left): Leadership accountability and ownership is the number one element of successful DE&I. When we started conversations about DE&I, just before Intel’s Diversity 2020 initiative, we had direct buy-in and advocacy from the CEO. We then gathered data about where the company stands, first by holding focus groups and later at all levels of the organization. This allowed us to develop strategies for accountability in regard to tying performance reviews and business outcomes to DE&I. It also informed training so we could teach people about the “why” behind these initiatives.
Tiffany: There are four things I apply when I’m thinking about situations. First, people want to be seen, which equals diversity. Do the metrics of employee diversity within your company reflect U.S. demographics or the goals a company sets for itself? Second is value, which equals equity: opportunities, compensation and meaningful recognition. Third is respect — being included in conversations. Fourth, and most important, is protection: feeling psychologically safe in an environment where you are different from someone else.
What are the biggest challenges to creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace or society?
Heather: We know how to hire more women, people of color and people who have different gender identities or diverse abilities. The question before leadership and companies is, “Are we willing to do it?” Even further, are we willing to move people who don’t align with that vision into roles where they have less influence over our products and people? Because that’s what it’s going to take to impact the outcome.
Tiffany: A big hurdle is transitioning from sympathy to empathy. Sympathy makes people feel bad; empathy makes people act. The murder of George Floyd created empathy to work toward that goal of dismantling systemic inequity. Developing a strategy to do that doesn’t mean creating glossy DE&I initiatives; it means identifying the root cause of issues at your organization. As Heather mentioned, that could require removing people of power who aren’t willing to be an advocate or ally. I haven’t seen that type of sacrifice yet.
What inspired your racial justice work?
Heather: My interest started when I was about 7 years old and watching cartoons — Tom and Jerry. There was always just one Black character on the show, and her representation didn’t match my reality. “Mammy” was a maid with tattered slippers who didn’t use proper diction when she spoke, which made her sound uneducated. I remember watching Mammy and turning my head to look at my mother — and there was the split. My mother read books and went to college.
It was then that I realized there was someone crafting that message, those images, for me. I was awakened and started observing how the Black community talked about race, white people, people of other races, and even about ourselves when it came to race.
Tiffany: I remember, as a child, getting so excited if I saw a person of color on a commercial, which didn’t happen often. A lesson I learned really early on: If you can see it, you can be it.
My first touch with a DE&I program was when I was 3 years old, in Head Start, a program for inner-city kids because often pre-k was elusive. Since then my inspiration points are many: from the Winsor School to the Colonel Daniel Marr Boys & Girls Club to Bentley, where I had immediate leadership opportunities. In the midst of developing myself, an activism grew in me.
In the wake of media coverage and public acknowledgment of systemic racism, what needs to happen next?
Tiffany: It’s been a special and really hard time for those who are in DE&I work. When George Floyd was murdered, companies did not go to their heads of public relations. They went to their heads of DE&I to ask not only how to craft a message, but how to create a moment of healing in our company and make a statement to the world about how we feel about this very specific moment. It wasn’t a PR issue; it was a human issue.
Heather: It normally doesn’t happen that way.
Tiffany: It feels different, like we’re moving at a grander pace toward the finish line of equity. I want people to keep the same energy to approach this problem that has been centuries in the making. People want things fast, but racial equity work and antiracism work is hard. It’s not going to happen overnight.
Heather: To Tiffany’s point, we want a movement, not a moment. Let’s do as much as we can in this moment while we have attention, but use tough, eye-opening conversations to create a movement.
Also, the social contract between company and employee has shifted. There is now an acceptance and allowance to discuss issues of social equity, whereas before it was very common to say, “That’s politics; we don’t talk about that in the office,” to deflect away from uncomfortable topics about gender and race. After the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, that’s no longer acceptable.
Tiffany: Because of Black Lives Matter, because of this awakening, it feels that we’re in an era of action and accountability. That couldn’t have arrived at a better time.
HEATHER L. MATTISSON ’97 joined Intel in 2016, most recently serving as strategy manager for university partnerships, in Global Diversity, Inclusion and Social Impact. Her work has included expanding the career pipeline for Black students in STEM. In December she becomes chief of staff, People Team, at Gusto.
TIFFANY R. WARREN ’97 has more than two decades of experience championing diverse professionals, most recently at Sony Music Group. She is a Bentley trustee and founder of ADCOLOR, which celebrates and advocates for professionals of color in the creative and technology industries.