DEI Leaders: Lee Jourdan

Kicking off our new DEI Leaders series, Pulsely interviews Lee Jourdan, member of Pulsely's Advisory Board, former CDIO at Chevron and Independent Corporate Board Director at PROS Holdings. In this interview, Lee shares his knowledge about DEI and talks about important topics such as privilege, leadership accountability and the importance of DEI data for the success of DEI initiatives.

Kicking off our new DEI Leaders series, Pulsely interviews  Lee Jourdan, member of Pulsely's Advisory Board, former CDIO at Chevron and Independent Corporate Board Director at PROS Holdings.

Q: You have a powerful family background: both your parents have incredible stories and you wrote a memoir with your father about his life. Can you tell us more about how this has impacted your passion for DEI? 

My father was born in 1928 and grew up during the Great Depression. He was a shoeshine boy for a few years and finished his career working on Ronald Reagan's nuclear defense Star Wars program, ergo the title of my father’s memoir From Shoeshine to Star Wars. We had a lot of fun with the book. My dad unfortunately passed away in 2017, about six months after we finished the book, but he had a fantastic memory and could really remember details. 

One of the things he recalled was the ten mile path he walked every day looking for shoeshine customers as a young boy. I had an opportunity to learn a lot of things about him that I didn't know before, because we just never sat down and talked about those things. One thing was the neighborhood he grew up in, and how naturally diverse it was. His best friends were from Mexico, the Philippines, Japan, the U.S. and all over. He grew up in this natural melting pot of diversity, and it really helped to shape who he was - and I think me, too.

One of the stories he tells is that WWII broke out when he was in junior high, and after Pearl Harbor was bombed, people started to turn on the few Japanese American students, including some of his best friends. He became the defender of and advocate for many of them. I think a lot of that advocacy gene has rubbed off on me. Some of the most rewarding work that I do is being able to advocate for others outside of my own community. I think a lot of what my dad experienced growing up has impacted me throughout my life as well. 

Q: You’ve publicly expressed your own privilege as a “straight black able-bodied man” - as a way of getting others to consider their own. Could you say more about why you choose to take this approach and why it’s powerful?

When I came into the Chief Diversity Inclusion Officer role at Chevron in 2018, 'privilege' was a word that was just coming into the mix in the D&I space. Unfortunately, it brought with it a connotation of being born with a silver spoon in your mouth, old money, and having everything at your feet. So when we started using privilege as we talk about diversity & inclusion, people were automatically very defensive. But it really meant something very different, and because of that (defensiveness), we never got to why having a discussion around privilege was important.


It was important for people to understand, first of all, what privilege meant in the DEI context, and secondly, why is it important to talk about privilege? I thought the best way to do that would be to talk about my own. If I could admit that I had privileges growing up, then it would allow others to sit back and say: Now I understand what it means. Let me think about my privileges and how that may create an unfair playing field for others, because others may not have an opportunity to speak, share, grow, add value and contribute wholly to the conversation and to the growth of our organization, community or society in a way that I do. 

So those are four of my personas: I'm straight, black and an able-bodied man. With each of those things come certain privileges.

Even being black, which may be the one that people question the most: how does that give you privilege? In the context of today, what I think about is advocacy. I think about my Asian American friends that are subject to a lot of anti-Asian hate these days, simply because they are Asian and certain politicians have attached that to the coronavirus, and there's a lot of unwarranted hate against them. Being a black man, I don't have to worry about that. There are other things I have to be concerned about, but the anti-Asian hate is not one of them. 

Being a man gives me privileges, even being a black man gives me privileges that women don't have. I'm given the benefit of the doubt and opportunities. I'm invited to discussions and sporting events where I have an opportunity to make connections that women are automatically left out of. As I'm able to talk about that, then I can talk about how privilege creates opportunity for me that it doesn't for others. 

When I wrote an article on ‘privilege’ at Chevron, I received feedback from a white male colleague that admitted he was at first put off by the title (here we go again, I'm the bad guy), but reading it, he came to understand where the conversation was coming from, his own privilege, and his responsibility to those who don’t have the same. It's been a powerful way to lower defenses.

Q: During your time as CDIO at Chevron, you were ahead of the curve in getting the company to publicly share diversity data, catalyzing others to do the same. Can you say more about your passion around data and accountability in DEI? 

In the energy industry, particularly in oil and gas, we weren’t moving towards sharing data as quickly as some other industries were. Chevron, in many ways, has very much been a leader in D&I over decades. We talked about representation of women and minorities, and for years in our corporate responsibility report, we were public about sharing those demographics and representation. But what I found, when I got into the role, was that blacks weren't increasing in representation as some of the other minorities were. Because we were just showing minorities all lumped together, that wasn't evident. We had a simple conversation internally with legal and communications: we need to disaggregate this data and show each minority individually and how they're progressing, so we can see where we have issues and where we need to focus. So Chevron became the first oil and gas major company to publicly share that data and continues to be a leader in transparency, and others are now doing it across the board.

Metrics help us to establish one version of the truth. Some people think the sky is falling. Some people think everything is wonderful. The truth is typically somewhere in the middle, and it's important that once you're able to get there and share that information, then you can have a conversation about what it really is. I think the next iteration of sharing you’ll see organizations stepping into is around promotions - such as Adobe is doing now. Ultimately, I think we’ll all get there, but some have some work to do before they're ready to share that information because that can be a bit risky and challenging. But data is how you establish one version of the truth and then know where to focus.

Q: What's the difference it makes to accountability when a company comes out and publicly shares DEI data? 

Automatically, it increases the number of folks that are looking at you and holding you accountable for making progress. Because if you're not progressing, then everyone sees it. It really steps up focus. If the numbers are hidden, you just don't feel as accountable towards making that progress. Not only with demographic base level metrics, but how are you increasing at different levels? What is your representation in your C-Suite or senior level management or in different functions?

It also encourages those at the business unit level to understand their own demographics and run metrics on where they need to focus their efforts as well. It can really change the conversation by sharing metrics, and I think a lot of organizations are beginning to lean into that more readily now. Something Pulsely focuses on is sharing data and sharing outcomes from sentiment surveys, as well as overall demographics, to help organizations understand where they can focus now and where they need to focus going forward. 

Q: You speak on ‘cracking the code’ in creating a more diverse and inclusive culture. What, in your opinion, are the three critical factors that matter the most?

Over the last few years, I focused on a few things I think are really important. The first, and most important, is why we need to have a more diverse and inclusive culture and society. 

What I found is there are three reasons why organizations lean into this space. The first is altruism and it's doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do. Organizations that have been advancing diversity and inclusion in their cultures for a long time have done it simply because they recognize it's the right thing to do. Unfortunately, that doesn't resonate with everyone because some people feel they're coming to work just to work.

The second reason is around compliance. Today, in particular, more companies are leaning into it because they're being required to - by NASDAQ or by investors like Black Rock. Unfortunately, that can drive the wrong behavior and create a situation where you're looking to just check the box or to meet the minimum threshold without understanding the value of diversity and inclusion. If you’re just avoiding trouble, you're not going to do something as well as if you really see the value in doing it. If you have that ‘a-ha moment’ - I’m doing this because it's good for me, my organization, my family - you're going to do it a lot better.

The third reason is the business case and it's around the value of diversity and inclusion, and understanding what it brings to your organization: from creating a broader group of potential candidates to draw from, to making sure that the folks in the organization all have an opportunity to advance and add value to the organization, to opening up the aperture around creative solutions and getting different ideas. If you're all looking in the same direction, you're not going to see something that's coming from your blind spot. So all of those business case reasons are the reasons why people need to lean into this space.

So, when I talk about cracking the code, the first and most important thing is understanding why it's important to advance this culture, because if you don't do that, then it just becomes a burden to people you’re talking to- as opposed to understanding this is something that's good for me, my organization, my team, and everybody.

The second thing, and it's attached to the why, is getting leadership - from the CEO down, or the top person in your organization or business unit -  to be able to articulate the why in a meaningful, authentic way. It can’t just be something they're repeating or feel like they have to do again.

The third thing is metrics. It's getting everyone grounded around where you are and understanding what's important and what's next. 

So the why, leadership articulation and metrics are probably the three most important things. 

And I'm going to add a fourth - perspective. One of the things we're often missing in society and organizations is understanding someone else's perspective, which can be very difficult to do if you've grown up with a certain lens in a certain way. We all do it. I do it - there’s things I don't understand until I sit down with someone and hear their journey, their story, their challenges. Understanding other people's perspectives is difficult, and it takes effort. It doesn't just happen. You have to want to do that. But it's going through that process that really opens up the opportunity to advance the culture.

Q: What supports leaders to be able to articulate DEI in a compelling, authentic way?

They have to get it themselves first, because a lot don't. It always amazes me how many leaders still don't get the why themselves. They haven't sat down to understand, themselves, that this isn't something being forced on you. 

There are different ways to approach this. It's getting people to understand that if you only have 7 out of 10 people on your team engaged, you're only getting seventy percent of the resources that you've brought on board. People talk about increasing ROI. The best and easiest way to do that is to leverage all of your team and all of your workforce. That concept seems so obvious to me that I'm always surprised when leaders are stepping into D&I because they feel like they have to and they don't really get it. 

They have to find a way to really internalize the importance themselves and then they can articulate it authentically. If they never internalize it themselves, people see through that and they know it's just an add-on and they're just speaking words. Not everybody gets to that ‘aha moment’ the same way and at the same time, and so sometimes it takes different approaches to get leaders to understand that.

Q: You also speak on braving courageous conversations. What is the most courageous conversation that organizations could be having right now?

There's not a single courageous conversation because every individual and every organization is in a different place in the journey. The courageous conversation is whatever is going to make you uncomfortable and whatever is next in your journey. For some organizations and some people, it may be one thing and for others, it may mean something completely different. 

For example, if you’re just stepping into the space where you're comfortable with people of different sexual orientations, the next step might be to step into the space of the transsexual community. So it's really what's the next conversation? How do you push that envelope and begin to understand the next perspective, and then the next perspective. It’s about understanding where you are, and then how do you move to the next level? 

One of the things that really attracted me to what Pulsely does is it helps people understand where they are and how they think about things, and understand what's next. Because it's difficult to internalize, to see yourself in a mirror and really understand where you are in the journey and what's next. And when you do, you can step into what’s the next courageous conversation that you should have. 

Q: Do you see collectively any conversations that organizations are currently shying away from that they need to have, or could be having? 

We talked about metrics earlier, and I think that's a barrier. It allows people to focus on the right issues, but the challenge with metrics is they can be risky for organizations who aren't doing well. I've talked to other CDIOs who are there and can't get their organizations to share data, because they're afraid of the reaction. 

What I've found, when we shared at Chevron, is that people already know. Organizations and people in those communities already know if you're underrepresented. So the reaction at Chevron when we did it was: Look, we knew that. We're glad that you're admitting that and we're going to focus on the right things now. People weren't upset when they actually saw the data. They were relieved - thankfully, they recognize where we are. 

When I advise organizations, I tell them I think the reaction you're going to get is people already know and they want to know that you know, and that leadership is acting. So if I were to say there's probably one area, it would be around getting comfortable with sharing metrics and moving forward. Then, stepping into looking at promotion data and whatever else we can begin to share, so we know where we stand and what we need to focus on.

Q: You’ve spoken about creating psychological safety in the workplace, a foundational element of inclusion, and your acronym: F.L.A.V. What do you think is most important to psychological safety?

First of all, you're trying to create a psychologically safe environment, and the reason is so that people can give leaders feedback, participate and bring their authentic selves to work. It's important to do that. So, what I try to share with people are steps they can take to create a psychologically safe environment, because it doesn't come naturally to everyone. 

F.L.A.V. is for psychological safety.

The F is for feedback. I focus on feedback because studies show that people that are from marginalized groups don't get the feedback that those in the majority do. White men, for example, in the US or the West in general, where they are the majority, will get more feedback than, say, a Hispanic woman. There are reasons, such as a comfort level (or lack of) around giving particularly critical or constructive feedback to someone (they might cry, I might be accused of being racist). Whatever the reasons are, they're not giving that feedback. But if you don't get feedback, you don't grow. Both constructive feedback and reinforcing feedback are important, and that's a big part of creating a psychologically safe environment.

The L is for listening, and it's about active listening. It's not listening to debate or rebut, but to let that person know they're being heard. The simplest thing you can do to demonstrate that you value someone is to listen to them. If you know you're being heard, you feel so much better. If you're talking to someone and they reinforce what you've said, or say ‘I get that’ - that's the easiest way to just create that space for them and allow them to feel like they're included in participating and feel psychologically safe. So listen without judgment and listen to learn. I like to say I've never learned anything while I'm talking.

The A is for authenticity. First, it's creating a space where people can bring their authenticity to work, but bringing your own as well. As a leader, the more authentic you are and the more you can demonstrate that, the more it allows others to let their guard down and be their authentic selves at work.

The V is for vulnerability, and this again takes active effort. Some people think being a vulnerable leader is a weakness. It is absolutely the opposite of that. It is a strength and it's hard. It takes courage to be vulnerable, let your guard down and let people know that you're not perfect. One example: I opened up to a manager who reported to me, a doer on a steep trajectory. He asked how ‘I was doing,’ and this time, I admitted I was toast. It was my 20th meeting in two days. Then, he confessed to me that he was overwhelmed with delivering three projects with similar deadlines to the exceptional level both he and I expected. We were able to set him up, provide resources and give him the time he needed to get those things done when they really needed to be done. He was able to share with me because I was vulnerable first, so that's where vulnerability really helps to create a psychologically safe environment.

Q: Something you went to battle for at Chevron was a formal sponsorship program for all demographics. Tell us more about the importance of sponsorship in creating equitable opportunities. 

Sponsorship is something that people frankly don't know a lot about, because they don't know how important and necessary it is. I didn't for a long time: I didn't know I had a sponsor. I didn't know what my sponsor had done for me. I didn't know it was important for me to be a sponsor. 

People talk a lot about mentorship, but they don't talk as much about sponsorship. A simple difference I use to explain them is that a mentor talks to you and a sponsor talks about you. A sponsor talks to you and about you: they advocate for you. 

Most organizations have informal sponsorship. Unfortunately, because we tend to gravitate to people that are like us, and because most of the organizations in the west have a majority of white males at senior levels, it would make sense that mostly white males are the ones being sponsored. They have informal sponsorship where they're being talked about, and unless you peel back the onion and see that's going on, you don't know. And those on the fringes - women, minorities - are being left behind. So you have to have a formal program. 

There are more of these coming: that’s the forefront now. When I first approached our executive leadership team about a formal sponsorship program at Chevron, they responded that sponsorship was important, it was happening often, and we didn't need a formal program. As I left the meeting, I thought, I screwed that up because I didn’t explain why. I went right to ‘we need one’ without really talking about why. We talked earlier about the importance of why, and I failed to do that. 

It was simply a matter of walking down the hall to the CFO's office and saying, ‘Hey, let me tell you why we need this program.’ It took me 15 minutes to explain why, no time at all. At the end, he wanted to be the pilot organization for a formalized sponsorship program. The ELT got on board too. So the lesson was to make sure you always explain the why, no matter where people are, and don’t assume they understand as much as you do.

At Chevron, all walks are represented, and if you're in a sponsorship program, you know that you're in a sponsorship program. That's how formalized it is and that was a conscious decision. Some organizations won't let people know they're being sponsored. People need to know that they're being sponsored because it tells them that they're important and they're valued. You have to make sure you have a pool of high performers that is demographically diverse, and representative of your organization, and that all of them are being sponsored.

Q: At Chevron, you dealt with meeting resistance, and you gave a great example of overcoming it by going back in and talking about the why. What else have you learned about navigating resistance around DEI and breaking through when you can’t be heard? 

Most people want to do the right thing, and most people think they're doing the right thing. Nobody goes to work saying, ‘I'm gonna do the wrong thing today.’ They all think that they're advancing the culture and contributing, so it really goes back to perspectives and finding a way to change their perspective. It begins with understanding that everybody is in a different place in the journey - and having the grace to meet them where they are and share some things that they may not know. They may not agree with you initially, with what you want to do and why, so sometimes you have to go back and do something a different way. 

One of the things we did at Chevron was a reverse mentoring program. Just after George Floyd had been murdered, our members of the Black Employee Network met with members of the Executive Leadership Team one-on-one, and shared their perspectives on the headwinds they had faced both in the organization and in the community that the Executive Leadership Team wasn't aware of. It opened up a whole new and broadened perspective. The ELT were more open to approaches that maybe got some pushback before. Sometimes, it just takes whittling away at perspectives so someone can see things from a different angle and then embrace where you're trying to go with things.

It works absolutely both ways. For example, I'm trying to share my perspective with you, but I also need to understand where you're coming from and why you may see things differently. It doesn't mean that I'm right and you're wrong: it just means that we have different ways of looking at things. I like to call it mutual mentoring, where both sides learn where each other are. You find out they're not a bad person - they just see things differently, here’s why, and how you can address that. It’s about continuing to broaden perspectives and find where you have common ground. Then you can find ways towards agreement that work off the resistance.

Q: How does ‘mutual mentoring’ work, and in terms of partnering up? 

When I do consulting on the side, this is what I tell people to do: Find someone who is not like you. Which is literally everyone in the world, because no two people are alike, so you can go for some small degree of differentiation. Say I sat down, for example, with another black man, but that black man may have grown up in Nigeria or Florida, whereas I grew up in California. So we grew up differently with different perspectives. The idea is to sit down and share each other's journey: what kinds of things have you dealt with? where did you have headwinds?where did you have tailwinds? have you ever overcome those things? what's your perspective on this? Just have some conversations over time, maybe three or four weeks of one hour conversations. Start easy, simply by sharing where you were born and your process to get to where you are today, and that will lead to other conversations. 

Once you've done that, then you step out a little bit and meet with someone else, who is maybe a little bit more different than you. Maybe this time, I meet with a Hispanic woman and hear her journey and her perspective and I share mine. It's a very simple way of broadening your and others’ perspectives. As I talked about cracking the code earlier, I think mutual mentoring is the easiest way and fastest way to broaden perspectives for everyone in your organization quickly and easily. You can do it over lunch on a regular basis and you can record that as an effort you've made (at Chevron, every employee had personal DEI objectives and personal actions they needed to take to advance their own journeys each year).

Q: What do you think is the greatest myth or misunderstanding in the DEI realm - and how does it inhibit organizational progress? 

One of the biggest resistors is people think that advancing a diverse and inclusive culture is a zero-sum game: if you win, I lose. You're taking my opportunity if I create this opportunity for you. And it really means, like GDP generation, the more you lift up those in society, the more value they can bring in society and the bigger the pie actually becomes. 

If we're talking about profitable organizations, the more profit you can make, the more opportunities there are. So it's getting people to recognize that inclusive leaders are going to be better leaders. They are going to be better at what they do. The way to increase ROI is to make sure you're using all of your team: that’s automatically increasing value in your organization. So it's getting past the idea that it's a zero-sum game, that it's win or lose rather than win-win. That's one of the biggest myths with DEI.

The other myth is that it's an add-on or a burden, when it's really an enabler if you just make it a part of what you do and you think in terms of being inclusive all the time. Think about it: you step into a monthly meeting with your team. Today, you walk in with an inclusive mindset and think I’m going to make sure that my introverts in the room have space to participate. So all of a sudden, you're getting some ideas from people that you weren't getting before. You didn't take any more time in the meeting. You just allowed that person to have space to say something instead of hearing the same thing from the same people all the time. Now, you've added value.

Q: Looking back over the past two years, what has been the most beneficial change in the area of DEI? What do you think is the biggest opportunity as we move forward? 

Again, it's about perspective. What happened when George Floyd was killed was that a lot of people had that ‘aha moment,' because it wasn't just his death, it was the conversations that occurred and the stories that were shared. At Chevron, we gathered comments from people in the black community through our social media platform, took those comments and created a video with actors and actresses that did voiceovers of the things that were said. People were talking about where they faced headwinds both outside of Chevron, and sometimes inside Chevron, and it was so eye-opening. It was a very emotional conversation where leaders had no idea that people were facing some of the things, everywhere, mostly externally and at work. But Chevron was willing to give people an opportunity to talk and to hear those things. 

Across society, that moment allowed people to understand other perspectives they hadn't heard before. That was a critical juncture in society, but over time that begins to fade. So our opportunity is to make sure we don't lose that momentum of broadening perspectives, of bringing in those diverse perspectives no matter where they are from and sharing them across the board, of learning from each other. Our opportunity is to continue those conversations and momentum that started a couple years ago, and to create opportunities for people, which allows people to participate - and ultimately adds value to every organization and to society at large.

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