Your Brain at Work

Stop Using D&I to ‘Fix’ Employees with Mastercard CIO Randall Tucker & Khalil Smith

Episode Summary

No one wants to be told they need fixing, and yet this is the impression so many diversity and inclusion programs leave on employees. According to Randall Tucker, Chief Inclusion Officer at Mastercard, the smarter way to gain people’s buy-in is to frame D&I as an extension of an organization’s business goals. That way, Randall says, leaders can help people see D&I as a tool for building their skills, not correcting their flaws.

Episode Transcription

Chris Weller: 00:06 When you heard the word bias, what comes to mind? To brain scientists, a bias is merely a mental shortcut we take to make faster decisions. It can be helpful like when we repeat what's worked in the past, or hurtful like when we rush to conclusions. Yet many of us still believe bias is inherently a dirty word, a character flaw that needs fixing. It's no wonder workplace diversity and inclusion programs are such a hard sell. Can you really blame someone who's well-liked in a diverse office for not seeing the need for anti-bias training?

Chris Weller: 00:37 Randall Tucker has a whole different plan. As the Chief Inclusion Officer at MasterCard, Randall puts strategy before everything else. Before he asks about representation, he wants to hear about your business goals. The rest, he says, naturally falls into place. In today's episode, I'm joined by Randall Tucker, Chief Inclusion Officer at MasterCard, and Khalil Smith, Vice President of Consulting at the NeuroLeadership Institute. We'll hear personal stories from Randall about his journey in diversity and inclusion and his wisdom on how to creatively marry science, data, and strategy.

Chris Weller: 01:11 Khalil and Randall, thanks a lot for joining me.

Randall Tucker: 01:13 Hey.

Khalil Smith: 01:14 Thanks for having me.

Chris Weller: 01:16 We have a lot of interesting things to talk about when it comes to diversity, inclusion, and bias. I wanted to start with bias. I wanted to define our terms a little bit. Maybe I could start with you, Randall. What's your 90 second definition of bias?

Randall Tucker: 01:31 Well, it's the hot topic for me. The way that I would define bias is the filter in which you make decisions. Sometimes those filters are very narrow because you're just one person. I think when you make decisions, you have to have many different perspectives and that bias, your lens on life, it's very myopic and it's something organizations really need to focus on.

Chris Weller: 01:59 Excellent. Khalil, what's your 90 second definition of bias?

Khalil Smith: 02:03 Yeah. As Randall said, I couldn't agree more that this is a hot topic and something that a lot of us are paying attention to. I think the 90 second for me is the way that we see the world that we are not even fully aware of, just the things that are going on behind the scenes in our minds that we may think we sometimes have a lot of control over, but in reality they are largely hidden to us.

Chris Weller: 02:28 The timer said that you were right at 90, so good job Khalil. I'm just kidding.

Khalil Smith: 02:32 I had my own timer going on over here.

Chris Weller: 02:35 With this understanding, maybe we can kind of broaden the discussion a little bit. Why should people, this is to the both of you, so take it away, why should people even care about bias in the workplace? People say, "It doesn't apply to me. I have friends who are a different race, a different gender. They respect me, I respect them. We got our work done." Why should people care about bias despite all those things?

Randall Tucker: 02:56 When we think about inclusion and diversity at MasterCard, I'd like to think of it as inclusive leadership skills because I think the term bias sometimes is seen as a deficit, quite honestly, where someone has to dig their self out of something. I just don't like the way that's positioned. I think each of us, I don't care what color you are or where you come from, we all have an opportunity to be more inclusive leaders.

Khalil Smith: 03:22 Randall, I love that idea. I think part of what I try to do is almost de-stigmatize this idea of bias. I think to your point, it is either do we get away from it as a whole and just talk about what it is that we're trying to accomplish or do we really take a step back and help people understand that actually bias, it's inherent in the way that we make decisions and in the things that we do, and just kind of the shortcuts that we take, just very non-maliciously.

Randall Tucker: 03:53 I believe that some of the content around bias or bias trainings is validated and it's completely correct. My stance is it's more of how it is interpreted by the end user. If you're going into a meeting, and I've had this in many instances where leaders will behind closed doors tell me, "I can't believe, and I don't want to go to this punitive course." But if you position it as all of us have another learning tool from a leadership perspective, and it's how do you make sure that you're able to build diverse teams and keep them? For me, that's the definition of inclusion. That applies to all of us. It's just one more tool in your tool belt to allow us to better enable those two things to happen.

Khalil Smith: 04:45 Agreed. Couldn't agree more. I think part of the way that I've talked about it with people or the way that we've talked about it, is it's about making better decisions. If we said that there was a resource that you could use that, hey, there's these things at times that are getting in the way that maybe that all of us are making decisions that are not as optimal. To your point, Randall, around, hey, do you want to make better financial decisions? Heck yes. I'm responsible for this. I make million dollar decisions or multimillion dollar decisions. I'm constantly looking for that little bit of an edge or that little bit of a thing that I can do better. I think to your point, like the language and the history of around some of these things has gotten so messy and so challenging that sometimes we need to take a big step back. At times, depending on the organization, some organizations have said, "You know what? I really want to lean into this because I need people to view it differently."

Randall Tucker: 05:38 That's right. I kind of net it out as at MasterCard, we're this organization that just cannot help from being a diverse company. It's just the nature of who we are. It's just part of our DNA. We have people in every part of the world just from different perspectives and different ethnic and religious experiences. All of those have millions of different perspectives. I don't even try to use the word diversity. I quite honestly don't. Many times when I'm having strategy sessions with a leadership team, no matter where I am around the world, my first question is around what's your business strategy? How can we leverage this work that I do, inclusion, I don't even try to say diversity, inclusion, how do you make sure that we are getting all those perspectives that you need in order to make sure that you're able to achieve your business goals and objectives?

Khalil Smith: 06:34 Randall, I was just going to ask, because I think one of the things that I and others have struggled with is so what do you do when you're having that conversation with a leader and they say, "Oh, we're totally diverse because Jack went to a school on the West Coast, and John went to a school on the East Coast, and Frank grew up in the South, and Anthony grew up in the North, and so we've got all the diversity of perspectives that we need," but they all kind of follow what would largely be considered similar backgrounds and they're not looking at what some folks would say kind of the bigger picture of what has traditionally been referred to as diversity?

Randall Tucker: 07:08 What you do is couple it with data. What I do is say based on the population of wherever where we are, I could be in Asia, or I can be in the US, or in Europe, I kind of look at the census of where should we be pulling based on the representation, based on just making sure that we have a full view and leveraging all of the great talent that's in that location? Because talent, the best talent, does not come in one wrapping. When you ask the question around, "What's the diversity look like?" and they give you an answer, but then you couple it with the facts of, "Help me understand. What you're saying is diverse, but I don't see any women at your leadership team, or I don't see any African American, or Hispanic people, or LGBT people on your leadership team. Could it be that we have this perspective that we need to fill?"

Khalil Smith: 08:00 I love that it feels like a more holistic approach, as opposed to just saying, "You need more diversity," which I think is kind of the stick of it others have hit people over the head with, which is why they're so concerned about the words and the language. This is, "Tell me what your strategy is, and I will tell you how these additional perspectives are going to support you, and let's come together to figure out." Really, this is your business to drive, and if you want to be successful, bring the best perspectives.

Randall Tucker: 08:28 Here's the thing. Quite honestly, I wasn't going to even do this work. Probably about 11 years ago, I was going to just get out of it because I didn't see any value. I didn't see the return or the impact that the work was having until I had this pivotal moment with a CEO, had me in his office on a Friday at 3:00 when I'm trying to go to the beach, because it was a half day Friday, he said, "This work that you're doing, you're going to all these conferences, you're going to these events, you're going to give these sponsorships, you're doing these things, you're blah, blah, blah. But what is this doing for my company? I need someone to blow this up. Don't even call it inclusion and diversity. Just blow it up and pull it back together again because I want to make sure that I have the perspectives that are going to help me to get my goals and objectives accomplished."

Randall Tucker: 09:18 Then I start loving my job because I could take away everything that I had learned in the past and wipe the slate clean and say, "Let's build this thing again." That's the only reason I'm doing this work now because I have a Six Sigma background, I have a project management background in sales, all of those things which I could have easily gone back to, but it didn't become real to me until a leader, a CEO said, "This work has more value than us just getting an award. What's the impact that this work could have on my business?" That's when it gave me the energy to do this work for almost now 20 years.

Chris Weller: 09:58 After the break, we'll hear more from Randall about MasterCard's work to bring employees together around shared interests and the challenges that come with it. We'll be right back.

Speaker 4: 10:07 If you're enjoying Your Brain at Work so far, we bet you'll really love NLI's annual conference, the NeuroLeadership Summit, where the most progressive business leaders and researchers come together for two days to share their strategies and the latest science of leadership. Sign up at and use the promo code, podcast10, to receive a 10% discount.

Khalil Smith: 10:29 Yeah. Randall, I love that idea because I think sometimes, and I catch myself doing it, is getting really insular in my thinking as I talk to other folks that are doing this type of work. But there are also leaders that I've come across and I've probably been that leader myself where comfort almost becomes more important than reaching the apex of my career.

Khalil Smith: 10:52 What I mean by that is that it's like, well, yeah, I could bring in different people and bring in different perspectives, but that's a lot of work because I have to find those people, and then they disagree with me, and then I have to convince them, and then it takes longer. If I can get 80% of the way there, and everything feels amazing, and it feels like a locker room, and everybody agrees with me, and they think I'm the smartest person in the room, or I can get 99% of the way there, but I have to like scratch and claw, and debate, and do all of that for every piece, I'm kind of okay with the 80. Is there work that you have done around that or is that something where just at MasterCard you say like, "Actually 80 isn't good enough. You've got to get to the 99."

Randall Tucker: 11:36 Let me give you a personal story. When I was 27, I came out to my parents, and I will remember that until the day I die. It was literally on my birthday, the candle was about to be blown out. They said, "What do you got to say?" I told them I was gay. That was kind of dramatic, of course. But I say this because for 10 years I didn't really have a good relationship with them. We would be in touch with each other and things like that, but we were on our own journey, and they were their own journey of how do you accept a son that's gay, black guy from the South, married to a white guy? There was a lot going on.

Randall Tucker: 12:18 I connect it to this that you have to meet people where they are. I love my parents, that was unconditional, but we still had a journey that we had to be on in order to get to a place where we are now, when I'm literally going to their house tomorrow with my husband. They ask for him more than me.

Khalil Smith: 12:37 [crosstalk 00:12:37].

Randall Tucker: 12:38 Seriously. They do that. But what I say is, is until they saw other people and it was okay for them to love this gay black son, until they had the encouragement from others to do so and knew that they weren't the outlier, that's when they became to come around. I mean, that's one thing, but there was other instances. When you connect it to business, that person that's saying, "I don't want to do this," or "I'm just comfortable being me," you get this work through the head or the heart. When it shows up on your doorstep, you have to kind of respond to it. If you choose not to, sometimes you need the help and encouragement from others to push you on. If a leader doesn't want to do this work or just wants to be comfortable maybe in one part of the world, but I have everyone else in the organization doing this work, and sharing their progress, and showing their accomplishments, that person will actually start to do some of the work even more than what they wanted to do because they don't want to seem like they're being left behind.

Chris Weller: 13:40 There's a lot of things come up. I want to go in certain directions. [crosstalk 00:13:43].

Randall Tucker: 13:44 I'm kind of excited that I just said all of that.

Chris Weller: 13:46 I mean, the biggest thing that at least is immediate to me is the strategy of kind of creating this positive social pressure. It's something that we [inaudible 00:13:54] talk a lot about and that it's you're creating these shared habits that people just naturally want to engage with as opposed to being coercive because that doesn't get anything done.

Randall Tucker: 14:03 No leader wants to be told what to do that has a P and L of millions of dollars. You must do this. Why? It's like, I don't have to do anything. But you just give them, "Here's how we can be better at this. Here's some stats that will help you to make a more informed decision. If you want my support, I'm here." When you couch it that way, it puts them in the driver's seat and they can dictate when they want you in the game.

Chris Weller: 14:33 Can you talk a little bit about some of these other efforts that either you've spearheaded or in tandem with leadership that have helped spark more inclusion or just more of the things you're trying to cultivate?

Randall Tucker: 14:42 One of the things that before I even came on board that was a huge hit within the organization were our business resource groups. Those groups were put in place ... There are nine business resource groups in our organization and they are the lifeblood and the passion around inclusion, and diversity, and culture in our company. Over 60% of our employees belong to one of these groups. They are the foot soldiers for inclusion and diversity. I think business resource groups have been a tremendous value. I would love to see them evolve over time.

Chris Weller: 15:20 What are some of these resource groups? What are like-

Randall Tucker: 15:23 We have one for African American, we have one for people with disabilities, we have one for LGBT, Hispanic. It goes on and on. People that have been in the military. It's quite a few. My concern is that as we evolve, I'm always thinking about are we leaving out anyone? I think we could have a hundred different business resource groups, but we would still have left out someone. I would rather us in the future as we evolve as a company, as I evolve as an inclusion leader, and we get to a place where this is normal, where we talk about topics versus siloing ourselves in groups. They're already partnering with each other and leveraging each other's thinking across BRGs, and that's what we want to emulate in business. We want to be able to look at a problem, hold it up in the air, look at a product or service that we're trying to create, look at it from different angles, and say, "This is my angle on this," which comes out with a better outcome.

Khalil Smith: 16:26 It's interesting to hear you speak to that because you use the term evolution and one of the things we've talked about a little bit is, is a maturity model that we've kind of built and played around with from time to time. These different levels, and kind of the highest level, level four, is exactly what you're describing, which is kind of optimal decision making.

Randall Tucker: 16:42 Right.

Khalil Smith: 16:43 A level below that, what you tend to find is folks segmenting into groups because we feel like we need to kind of be with people that understand our experiences. That's an amazing way to bring people together because one of the unintentional side effects at times, especially in some organizations that are not quite there yet, is that the employee resource groups, exactly what you described, wind up becoming an echo chamber.

Randall Tucker: 17:08 Right.

Khalil Smith: 17:08 It's almost a safe space inside of an organization where we don't feel safe, and that's the exact opposite of what so many companies want. It sounds like you all are maturing in that direction already and that you're thinking about it. I love hearing kind of your vision for what these evolve into.

Randall Tucker: 17:24 It's a process because when people are tribal and we like to be around people that look like us, but I challenge the organization to say, well, when do we get to the next level of deeper learning around how do we understand other persons or people's perspectives?

Chris Weller: 17:42 Hey, I love where this has gone because it kind of comes back to how we started in the beginning of digging people out of a deficit, I believe was the word. Because if you're able to unite people and hear people, I think you take them away from this position of feeling like they need to get fixed for whatever belief they have or however they see the world, those filters. It's no longer a position of fixing another person through conversation. It's just a position of hearing rightfully where you stand and working from there.

Randall Tucker: 18:13 It's both. It's both having an understanding that it's okay for you to feel your opinion, but at the end of the day, we want to create an environment where we're inclusive, where your opinions don't hurt someone else. There are some case studies that we would have as a part of our leadership training that evolve around inclusion, around what are those things that keep coming up in the organization that's hurting other folks. Every day, you're either a headwind or a tailwind to someone being or feeling included. It's that person that's walking down the hallway, are they acknowledging you? That could be from the CEO to someone that has a low rank in the organization, to are we tasking people with an authentic understanding of the business when we're going out for new projects and ventures. It runs the gamut. When I talk about leadership, it's for everyone, there are some baseline things and expectations or capabilities that each and every level of the company, that are expected, but what we don't do is have something that's an outlier where I'm going to inclusion diversity training. What we do is make sure that whatever experiences that we're creating for employees to be better employees, we involve or inoculate inclusion and diversity content within the context of that broader experience.

Chris Weller: 19:40 We have a million thoughts, I'm sure. We are at time. Not to throw cold water on the discussion, but the-

Khalil Smith: 19:47 We'll save the rest of it for the next episode.

Chris Weller: 19:49 Yes. Yes. Khalil, I'm sure you have a lot to say. I do, too. Randall and Khalil, thank you so much. I hope to do it again sometime.

Randall Tucker: 19:56 Thank you.

Khalil Smith: 19:56 Thank you.

Chris Weller: 20:02 Your Brain at Work is produced by the NeuroLeadership Institute. You can help us in making organizations more human by rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you get your podcasts. Our executive producer for Your Brain at Work is Noah Gelb; Danielle Kirshenblat is our editor; Gabriel Berezin, our associate producer; and Brian Crimmins, our sound mixer. Original music is by Grant Zubritzky and logo design is by Ketch Wehr. A special thanks to Randall Tucker and Khalil Smith, and to you for listening.