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In this episode originally recorded as a DEI Community Call, guest moderator Elfi Martinez, Senior Director at Jennifer Brown Consulting, spoke with Martina Winston, Vice President & Senior HR Partner at Protective Life Corporation, and Wendy Evesque, Executive Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer at Protective Life Corporation, about the ways in which executive leadership and allyship intersect. Elfi Martinez succinctly captured one of the key takeaways from this discussion: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. When it comes to DEI, the more allies we have on our side, the more impactful change we can enact.

Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:

Wendy Evesque: We went from saying, here are the broad things we’ve got to do as an organization, kind of those foundational things we need in place, to now we’re at a point where we’re almost tailoring what we do for each individual organization. So we have the broad things in place, but now each leader, we’re working with them to look at their own data for their organization specifically, and we’re kind of peeling back those layers and saying, what does that mean for your organization? Where is that broken rung in your organization, how do we focus on that? How do we build the pipeline of talent? Is that developing people internally? Are we recruiting externally? What are we doing, how are we measuring it? And how are we having the right conversations in your organization? How are you leading those conversations?

Speaker 2: Everyone has a diversity story, even those you don’t expect. Welcome to the Will to Change, with Jennifer Brown. Get ready to hear from leading CEOs, best-selling authors and entrepreneurs, as we uncover their true stories of diversity and inclusion. Now here’s your host, Jennifer Brown.

Doug Foresta: Hello, and welcome back to the Will to Change. This is Doug Foresta. Today’s episode was originally recorded as a DEI call and was guest-moderated by Elfi Martinez, senior director at Jennifer Brown Consulting, as he spoke with Martina Winston, vice president and senior HR partner at Protective Life Corporation, as well as Wendy Evesque, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Protective Life Corporation, about the ways in which executive leadership and allyship intersect. And as Elfi succinctly said in one of his key take-aways from this discussion, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” And when it comes to DEI, the more allies we have on our side, the more impactful change we can enact. You’ll hear about all of this and more in the conversation. And now, on to the episode.

Elfi Martinez: Martina’s a returning guest, right? She was so amazing the first time, so nice we had to do it twice, right? We had to get Martina back to talk to us again about what’s going on with diversity, equity, and inclusion at Protective Life. She talked a little bit about the roadmap and the initial journey into this conversation, so we’re going to talk a bit more, about that, right? We’re going to talk about this idea about people and process. Right? We’re going to talk about how do we make sure that we’ve got a good roadmap so that people know where to go, but also make sure that people on on board, right, that everyone is excited and moving forward in this same direction. And we’re going to talk about allyship and executive partnership, because we have the wonderful Wendy from Protective Life here as well, and Wendy’s going to talk about the executive engagement piece of this important journey. How do we get executives excited, right, and looking at diversity, equity and inclusion as an opportunity rather than an obligation, which is kind of the original mindset with diversity and inclusion back in the sixties and seventies, when it came from kind of legal side of things and EEOC.

Elfi Martinez: All that stuff is still important, but in 2021, we really talk about it more as an opportunity and wonderful ways for us to attract diverse talent, get them really, put them in places where they can thrive and create really wonderful spaces for people in our environment. And we’re also going to be talking about the dilemma between going fast and going far. And so Martina’s going to talk about, because Protective went warp speed on getting the DEI roadmap together. So we’re going to talk a little bit more about that, right? We’re going to talk about what are some of the things that worked and some of the things to be aware of when you go fast, and how do you effectively slow down without losing momentum. These are all going to be things that we’re going to be chatting about for the next bit of time.

Elfi Martinez: Let’s just start with some introductions. My name’s Elfi Martinez, I am a senior director here at Jennifer Brown Consulting. Been involved in diversity, equity, and inclusion work for about 16 years. In previous life, I was a Wall Street exec and a TV writer. So if any of that comes into the conversation, we’ll talk about it, but otherwise, I want to introduce my wonderful friends today, Wendy and Martina. If you will regale folks with quick little bios about yourselves, would love to hear a bit more about you.

Wendy Evesque: Yeah, nothing particularly interesting to tell here, nothing like being a TV writer. I mean, that’s pretty interesting, Elfi, I’m going to have to hear more about that. So Wendy Evesque, I am the executive vice president and head of HR here at Protective Life. So our company, kind of mid-sized company, we’ve got about 3,500 employees, located across the U.S. We’re actually a part of a global organization called Dai-Ichi Life, who is headquartered in Tokyo with a lot companies in the Asia Pacific area. So that’s who we are. I’ve been with Protective about 15 years, and I’ve been in this role for I guess about three years now.

Elfi Martinez: Fantastic.

Martina Winston: So glad to be back with the JBC community. Happy hands, hey, everybody. This is one of my favorite things that I did in Q4 of 2020 was spending time with all of my community friends and partners. I think the coolest thing is that the amount of connections that I made after the call was just super crazy. I was telling Jennifer and Elfi about that the other day, how many people I was able to connect with, and I love watching you all on your journeys. We’ve linked, we’ve tweeted, we’ve insta-storied and instagrammed. I just enjoy connecting with all of you.

Martina Winston: For those of you that don’t know who I am, I’m Martina Winston, vice president, senior HR partner, and diversity and inclusion leader for the organization. Been with Protective for almost seven years, I’ll celebrate my seventh year anniversary in May, and really have enjoyed the opportunity and pleasure to lead the organization around our renewed focus around diversity, equity, and inclusion. I also help to support close to a thousand of our employees when I put my HR partner hat on. Our protection division, which is our life side of the house and also our investments team and our actuarial teams. I also provide support from a global talent perspective, and lead all of our global talent programs in partnership with our parent, Dai-Ichi Life, that Wendy mentioned. Again, pleasure to be here and and happy to speak with you all this morning.

Elfi Martinez: So cool. Welcome to you both, so happy to have you here. I think we have some really juicy topics to talk about. Things that practically, I think practitioners struggle with, right? When it comes to launching and sustaining their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. One of the things I want check in with you, because I know this is something that I hear about all the time in the field, when it comes to creating something sustainable for diversity, equity, and inclusion over time is, how do we get executives involved, right? How do we get them excited, how do we get them to join the effort, not just in terms of kind of supporting it from a distance, but being kind of front and center and helping us steer the ship. So Martina, I want to check in with you around, when you were thinking about how to structure your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, what were you thinking about initially when it comes to involving executives? What role did you foresee for them and how did you want them to partner with you to make sure diversity, equity, and inclusion was vibrant at Protective Life?

Martina Winston: Elfi, I think this is a great topic for us to start on. You know, when we first started, actually this was, and I believe I mentioned this a little bit the first time. When our CEO stepped into his role now a little over three, almost three, four years, this was one of the first things on his to-do list. I mean, what better way for us as an organization to think about our commitment. When you have the highest person at the top of the chart say, as he’s stepping into his new role as chief executive officer of this organization, to say, “I want us to be engaged in diversity and inclusion in this organization, I want us to figure it out.” And most importantly, he says this almost daily. Wendy, you can correct me if I’m wrong.

Wendy Evesque: You’re right.

Martina Winston: He says, “I want us to ensure that we are creating opportunity for all of our employees to thrive, and I want us to figure it out.” And then Wendy came to her team of HR management leaders and said, “We’ve got to help the organization figure this out [inaudible 00:08:56]. We are the curators of culture, we help support our people, and I want us to figure this out.” I’ve got to tell a quick story here, this is one of my favorite memories of Wendy and I. She invited me, for those of you I know that might not know me personally, I’m not really good in the mornings. Now late nights, you can catch me anytime. Wendy said, “Hey, I want you to invite you to join me for breakfast.” Wendy is a morning person, so that means her breakfast is starting at 7:00 a.m., and me, I’m barely moving at 7:00 a.m. She said, “Join me at breakfast and I really want to talk, I want to pick your brain.” [crosstalk 00:09:32]

Wendy Evesque: [crosstalk 00:09:32] not me being very inclusive at that time. I wasn’t really recognizing …

Martina Winston: But it was great, it was great. You know, at that time, I really saw, Elfi, the true connection and the true commitment and really just the true opportunity for us to learn from each other and really see where Wendy was in her journey as an executive within this organization. And not just as an HR leader, but as an executive, you know, within this organization to say, “You know, I don’t have all the answers, I don’t have all of the, okay, step one, step two, step three. I really want us to go into this together as partners. Will you join me? What does that mean for you? What concerns do you have? Help me understand.” Let me tell you something. That was huge, for someone at Wendy’s level to say, “I don’t have all the answers. I need help.” And most importantly, the thing that Wendy said is, “I want to learn. I want to develop and I want to grow as a leader, so I’m showing up.” That was really the fuel to my fire to say, “We’re going to lock arms and we’re going to do this together.”

Martina Winston: The journey that Wendy and I have been on, and again, she’s my boss, so it is important of course that I’m showing up well, but our partnership and our relationship has just been so great, because we’re vulnerable with each other. I’m able to share with her things that are concerning to me. I’m able to challenge her, she’s able to challenge me. We get in a room, well, now virtually we’re in a room, and we just start throwing things up on the virtual wall. Sometimes things stick, sometimes we think we’re further along than we really are, but that partnership, I think, has really helped us be able to move forward in the work that we’re doing, and I believe that our executive leaders have seen that as well. So their partnership along this journey has been great. Then our president and CEO, Rich Bielen, his commitment from day one has really been the guiding light for us, because it starts and stops with our leaders. Wendy, I would love for you to tell your version of the story because it could be a little different.

Wendy Evesque: Yeah. Starting without me being very sensitive to your preferences about time of day, sorry about that. But part of what I recall in that initial conversation, Martina, when we were thinking about this, was, I mean, you weren’t like a hundred percent in to start with. We really, it wasn’t like I threw that on the table and it just happened. We really had to get into some conversations, because you had had some experiences before, if I remember correctly, that you kind of, you had some sort of, some things you wanted to put on the table that must be true in order for us to successfully do this work. I think I might be helpful for the group if you would share kind of what must be true from your perspective for us to do this work. I think one of them, one of the things was, and it was from my perspective and you mentioned it, is this has got to be a journey, and we all have to recognize where we are and appreciate where we are, which is part of what I love about Jennifer Brown’s ally continuum, is you kind of find where you are in that space and think about where you go next. I think that was an important component for us, too.

Martina Winston: Yeah, Wendy, I would love to share, so in a prior life, prior to me coming to Protective, I actually led diversity and inclusion with another organization. I was the VP of affirmative action and diversity recruiting programs. As Elfi mentioned in his intro, there was a time where companies, and don’t get me wrong, I know that there are a lot of companies that are still very compliance-focused on diversity and inclusion, which is not, I know there’s some things we got to check the box on, but if we’re leading with that compliance lens, then we’re doing it all wrong. Quite frankly, that’s really where that organization was at the time. This was 10 years ago, by the way. It really burnt me, it really put me in a really bad place. I told myself that I would never get in this work ever again. That’s how Wendy and I started this breakfast off, by the way. Little bit of bacon, a little bit of grits, a biscuit, and “I’m never doing this again.”

Wendy Evesque: Yeah, that’s what I recall.

Martina Winston: Yes. I think that was, talk about that vulnerability. As leaders, we never, number one, want our leaders to see us sweat, but for Wendy at her level to really stop and say, “Tell me a little bit more about that and help me understand some of that journey that you went through. And also help me understand what does it mean for you to consider getting back into this work?” By the way, there was never any pressure, and I told her that in order for me to do this work and do this well, I must have the support of our executive leaders, and I need to have a conversation with them, on my own, on my turf, so I can understand what I’m stepping into. I didn’t want to hear it from Wendy, I didn’t want to hear, I wanted to be able to go in and have that conversation, so I knew what I was getting myself into. Because quite frankly, 10 years ago, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, and I was constantly battling and hitting a lot of walls and barriers. Not that I’m afraid of those things, but it was tough.

Martina Winston: It was really, really tough, and so I loved some of our executive leaders say, “You know what, Martina? I know that we need to do this, but I don’t know what to do. I need your help.” I also had a few leaders say, “I know I need to show up differently and I haven’t done my part, and I need help.” That was huge, instead of everyone nodding their heads and saying, “Yes, we support,” I needed to hear it from them. And Wendy was super important, Wendy was super supportive to know that that was a very important journey for me, to be able to say yes, that I wanted to be able to lead, that I would be capable of leading this organization, not only here, but also here. Because as you all know, as DE&I practitioners and consultants, this work can be hard, it’s taxing, it’s emotional, it’s frustrating, it draining. I needed to know that I had the support of not just my boss, not just our CEO, but all of our executive leaders.

Elfi Martinez: I love that. And a couple things that both of you mentioned that I wanted to jump in a bit deeper on, is one this idea of again, we talk about balancing process and people. When it comes to people, right, it’s incredibly important that we do ask the questions to ensure that we have buy-in, that we do have people that are committed to converting intentions into actions. Because the reality is, is that we’re just writing things down on a piece of paper doesn’t make them true. Right? So how are we going to make this real, who’s going to be involved, how are you going to provide support and resources. So I’m really excited about what you’re saying, Martina, about setting that stage first, right? If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this for real, and I want to make sure I hear it from you, that we’ve got that buy-in, before we jump down into the rabbit hole. So I think that’s incredibly important for us as practitioners to hear, that it makes sense, a lot of sense at the beginning, to check and see if you do have that buy-in.

Elfi Martinez: Because if you don’t, you can, you know, there’s this old saying, right? If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together. Right? Who is our together? Who are the people that are going to make it happen? Going to that point, going to you, Wendy, this is where I think a really important point for us to hear, is that when it comes to executive engagement, a lot of times we get executives that are just overwhelmed at the beginning, right? They’re like, this is such a big topic, such a big deal. I don’t know where to start, or I don’t know if I’m the person to be having this conversation. So I want to check in with you about those two things. What were some of the fears and reservations you had about getting involved with diversity and equity and inclusion, and how did you start? How did you dip your toe in, how did you get into the space of, “I’m just going to get started with this, and this is where I’m going to get my journey going.”

Wendy Evesque: Yeah, great question. I’m going to try to give a little bit of color around that. And I’ll go back to this original conversation Martina and I had. I think for me as a female executive in a predominantly male environment, predominantly male executive team, looking back on my career, and in this conversation with Martina, I believe I told her that if we do this and we do it right, it’ll be the most important thing we accomplish in our career. It’ll be game-changing for the organization, it’ll be completely different, and it’ll be good. It’ll be the foundation of our success going forward. We know at Protective at this point in time, we had put a stake in the ground that said, “We must grow. Our parent company is expecting it. They want to see us get bigger, they want to see us serve more customers. We can’t grow doing the same things we’ve always done.” That was a good entry way, along with Rich becoming our CEO, to start the conversation. What’s it going to take for us to grow? What, we need more talent. We can’t rely on all the talent that we’ve had in the past to get us there. We have to have new, more, different perspectives in the room to be able to achieve what we want to do.

Wendy Evesque: Through some of those conversations, then, in the beginning, as we sort of developed this journey, it was about thinking and helping those leaders determine, what is their story? Why is this work important to them? Why do they believe this is important to the organization? I want to say it was less about Martina and I beating the drum and saying, “Hey, we need to go on this diversity and inclusion journey. Here’s your goals, here’s the roadmap, let’s get going. Come on.” It was more about breaking that down individually, talking to those leaders and understanding what’s important to you, where are you, do you have a diversity story, what is your story, how do you connect to this work? And then even breaking down, what does diversity mean, what does inclusion mean? We didn’t really know at the start of this journey in our organization what that meant. We all knew definitions that we’ve read, we all had been part of other organizations that had programs, but for us at Protective, if we were going to do this right and achieve our ultimate goal, it wasn’t going to be a program.

Wendy Evesque: You heard Martina talk about in the beginning all the different roles she plays on our team, from international to diversity and inclusion, to HR business partner support. That’s intentional. The work needs to be part of what we do every day. It cannot be a stand-alone something that operates in a silo with one person running it. We all have to own it, it has to be incorporated in everything we do. It can’t just be its own stand-alone thing. So that was, Elfi, I don’t know if I answered your question, but that’s kind of where we started and the space we’ve been working in from an executive standpoint.

Elfi Martinez: No, I love that, and I think this is really an important, kind of a peek into how this really works in the real world. So one of the questions we got on the chat a moment ago, was what are some of the roadblocks engaging your executives? I want us to hear from the two of you, with your hats on, right? So Martina, as a practitioner/executive, and Wendy as an executive that jumped into the work, what are some of the do’s and don’ts that you’ve encountered, right? What are some of the things that compel you to lean in versus kind of make you lean out a bit, when it comes to engaging executives in the work?

Martina Winston: Yeah, I’ll go ahead and kick off, so I want to piggyback on some of the things that Wendy mentioned. I love that point, and I think we’re seeing some comments in the chat, too, they’re saying, “Yes, Wendy, say it again.” I think that this was so important. In the beginning of our journey, we had lot of leaders, again, this is full transparency, we had a lot of leaders that were saying, “Hey, well, Martina, if you’ll come and just talk to my team about what we’re doing and then that’ll be great, we’ll check the box.” That answer was no. Wendy and I were very intentional about, we’re not going on this diversity and inclusion road show, we’re not going to say, okay, we’re going to have a whole list of our leaders and we’re going to check a box. No, we didn’t want to do that. We really have been focusing on building this as a capability across the organization. One of our goals is to ensure that we’re creating not only an inclusive environment that’s going to drive business performance, that’s going to of course ensure that all of our employees have the opportunity to thrive, but our number one goal is to really focus on developing leaders that are inclusive. And we’ve really focused on that, with help of Jennifer Brown and her team.

Martina Winston: But that building the capability around inclusion has been so important, and that’s been a huge roadblock for us, where our leaders was just saying, “Hey, if you could give me a checklist, I’m good at executing.” At Protective, we are the kings and queens of execution. Give us a list, and we’ll do it. And I was very directive to say, “This work isn’t a checklist. You can’t check these boxes and move on. You’ve got to be in it every single day.” And we’ve been, along our journey, we’re getting better every day. As I’m hearing, and I was just telling this to Wendy, I think here in our one-on-one this week, “Wendy, I’m seeing the shift. I’m seeing leaders talk about diversity and equity and inclusion much different than where they were two years ago.” Wendy actually came to one of our team meetings a few weeks ago to talk about some leadership stuff, and the leaders took over the conversation and started talking about diversity and inclusion.

Wendy Evesque: It was great to hear.

Martina Winston: It was great. I didn’t plant any seeds, I didn’t slide any twenties, but it was really good, because I think our leaders, and they said it, they said, “We see the commitment in this organization. We see that this is a priority. And speaking of priority, our CEO shares every year at the beginning of the year, he gives us his top five priorities. For the last three consecutive years, his first priority has been, investing in our people and our culture. And under that first priority is our commitment to diversity and inclusion. Again, it doesn’t get any better than that. I also think from a barrier perspective, you know, we’re also on this journey of, and Wendy spoke about this a little bit, everyone is in a different space. We can’t assume that everyone’s diversity journey or their story is the same.

Martina Winston: And so there has been a lot of one-on-one conversations with leaders. When we went through our inclusive leadership training with Jennifer Brown, with Jennifer Brown’s team, we spent a lot of time unpacking some vulnerability for our leaders that they really had never been engaged in before. We allowed them to have a voice, and in full transparency, some of the leaders, it was hard for them to connect. Thy had really never let their hair down or loosened their ties, you know, in this space, and so we’ve had a lot of leaders come back and say, “Now what? What do I do with all this stuff?” So Elfi, that goes back to that action piece. We recognize as we move into 2021, we’re being very focused on action and how can we get our leaders engaged and go deeper in their organizations. So there’s other things that we’ve also created to ensure our leaders and also our employees can get more engaged around the work that we’re doing.

Wendy Evesque: Yeah, and I would just say to add onto that, Martina, we did start slow. It was about people finding their place, and understanding where we were as an organization, understanding where they were. So we did a lot of, here’s what the data looks like, so you can understand it. But then, Martina’s right. We did have a group of people who just wanted to check the box and we have seen improvement in that. But I would say that we are still on that journey. We still have some leaders who are still wanting to know, what’s next? Just tell me what I need to do, I’m happy to do it. I’m very supportive. And we’re continuing to work with those leaders to understand, no, you’ve got, part of this is a journey of self-discovery. Where are you on that journey of self-discovery? Can you be vulnerable with your people? What questions and how can you engage with your teams on this topic and understand your teams better and connect with them better? That is still a journey for us, just in full transparency, but I agree, we are making process. We’re better than we were.

Elfi Martinez: Fantastic. Well, thank you both. We’re getting some questions in the chat, right, around that mindset shift. That mindset shift, because this is an important one, right? It’s important for us to go beyond seeing diversity and inclusion as, again, the old compliance mindset. First thing we want to say that if you are in this space at the beginning of this, you’re not alone. A lot of people start in compliance, because that’s what’s legally obligated, and so that’s what people are used to. So shifting from that kind of compliance mindset to an opportunity mindset takes some time and effort. So I want to check in with you, Martina, about how you started to kind of … Both you and Wendy, how you started to kind of focus this, right? When it comes to incorporating this as a priority, kind of going into the roadmap that you put together. I think it’s really important to kind of think about those beginning steps, because we all start in the same place. It’s a program, it’s check the box, it’s somebody else’s responsibility. So you know, I will sign off in saying this is important, but it’s not something that I personally am connected to.

Elfi Martinez: So I wanted to check in with you, when it came to putting together the roadmap piece, how did you embed kind of the inclusive leadership mindset into this? How did you embed the idea that this is something that we all have to do together or we’re not going to get anywhere? What were some of the things that you did that worked, and what were some of the pushbacks that you got from folks in saying, “Oh, wait a minute. I thought this was your job. Why are you asking me to get personally involved?”

Martina Winston: Yeah, I’ve had that a time or two, where folks have said, and leaders have said, “Well, Martina, I didn’t know that was going on.” And I said, “Well, gosh, you must have been under a rock, because we’ve been doing so many things, you know, around this space.” I think one of the things that really helped us in the beginning part of our journey, specifically around our roadmap creation, is we were very focused. A lot of times in this work, there’s just so much, so many things to focus on, and here’s the other thing. So talk about a barrier, and Wendy, please chime in here. We had so many people coming at us, especially those folks that are really passionate about this. “Well, we should be doing this, and we should be partnering with this group, and we should be …”

Wendy Evesque: Yeah.

Martina Winston: And that intentionality around us saying, “No, we’re going to focus here.” We looked at data, as Wendy mentioned, to see that at Protective right now, and for those of you that didn’t catch our call back in October, we created a three-year strategic roadmap, I’m proud to say. Excuse me. We are in year three here in 2021 of executing on our roadmap. We hit 87% of our roadmap initiatives and work in 2019, we hit 82% of our initiatives in 2020. Remember, we had two pandemics in 2020. So we are, and by the way, the things that didn’t get done were right. We sometimes shifted those to another year, or some things might have changed, and as you all know, the world has changed so fast, so we’ve been very intentional about making sure that we’re doing the right things at the right time.

Martina Winston: But that roadmap was a really good accountability piece for us, so that we could stay honest, and then when we had all that noise in the background of “we should be doing this, we should be doing that,” we always went back to our roadmap, because that was really important. And that was a huge barrier, because it doesn’t feel good to tell someone no, especially when they have some energy around the topic. And we didn’t want to lost them …

Wendy Evesque: Especially when that’s your CEO.

Martina Winston: Oh, yes, that’s right. Thank you. We had to tell Rich “no” a lot.

Wendy Evesque: Yeah, we still do.

Martina Winston: Yes, or pull him back when he gets super excited. We’re like, “Hold on, hold on one second.” But that goes back to that going slow to some of the things, you know, we’ve just been really intentional about our pace. But Wendy, would love to hear kind of your thoughts, too.

Wendy Evesque: Yeah, I’ll kind of piggyback on that, Martina, a little bit. Yeah, Martina’s right. We did have to slow people down a little bit in this process, because when we first started the work and you all now have met Martina. She’s contagious, it’s hard not to get excited around Martina. Which is wonderful. And you kind of need that spark in this work that she certainly brings to it and that passion. But with that, it’s almost a snowball effect. Out comes everybody’s list. Here you come forwarding all the articles and the videos. “This company’s doing that, this company’s doing this. Why aren’t we doing this? Hey, what about these three things? Can we get recruiters off at these four universities, because that’s going to solve it?” You get all of that, which turned out to be noise for us.

Wendy Evesque: You know, and so really leveraging our advisory committee and I know Martina talked about this before, setting out three goals, so just three. Creating a set of four from-to statements, so we could acknowledge were we are today and imagine where we want to be in the future, and then intentionally tying each one of those initiatives so one of those from-to statements. That gave us a way to almost parking lot some of the noise that was coming in from our leaders. We were able to say, “We’re going to do these foundational things. That’s why we need a three-year roadmap. In year one, we’re going to do more foundational types of items.” That gave us a place then to parking lot some of the other items. We could revisit those, bring them back in, pull them in the roadmap as we matured and as the organization could accept and kind of get there with us. As they can come along in the journey, we can layer in more actions. To Martina’s point, I think we’ve completed 28 actions in two years on our roadmap, which we think it’s incredible.

Martina Winston: Yes [crosstalk 00:33:54].

Wendy Evesque: But we’re a little biased.

Elfi Martinez: No, that is fantastic. And I think there’s a really important dilemma here that I want to ask the two of you about, right? Because we’re hearing a lot of questions in the chat around, “Well, what data do we look at? And where do we started? What happens when all these people want to do all these things?” I heard you say very clearly a big part of the process is focus, right? Trying to make it about a few things that you could do well, rather than a million things that you cannot. Right? So I want to check in with the two of you, when you were starting at this, we’re winding the tape back to the beginning, how did the two of you talk about for Protective Life, what diversity and inclusion is, and what it isn’t, to help you gain traction and focus on where you were going to start this journey?

Martina Winston: Yeah, that’s a good one. You know, we’ve leveraged, I think I’ve seen a few comments as well about the committee that we’re speaking of, but our advisory committee is a group of diverse leaders and individual contributors across the organization. In the beginning of our journey, they were handpicked to do something very specific. We picked this group of about 12 to 15 people, and we said, “We are here to create our strategy and to deliver on a three-year roadmap.” It was tough, because again [crosstalk 00:35:09].

Wendy Evesque: Well, and to be clear, Martina, we had Rich commission the advisory committee.

Martina Winston: That’s right.

Wendy Evesque: I think that gave it weight in the organization, and he personally contacted each of these advisory committee members to invite them to become a part of this. So just …

Martina Winston: That’s right.

Wendy Evesque: Sorry. Didn’t mean to interrupt, but I wanted to layer in that piece.

Martina Winston: No, that was a huge, because it’s not every day the CEO calls, you know, someone in the organization to say, “I need your help.” That was huge. “I need your help, I want your voice at the table, and I want you to help us create our strategy around how we’re going to approach diversity and inclusion. So, no, Wendy, that was a huge point, thank you. And it’s hard to tell the CEO no.

Wendy Evesque: That’s right.

Martina Winston: So that was an easy one. We were really again intentional about coming together and hearing different experiences. So the first things we did for this group was to go through some continuous learning and education before we went into solving the problem. We wanted to understand, what’s your story, what have you been through, what’s your experiences, inside the organization and outside of the organization? That was really where we were able to bring together everyone’s different experiences, and then say, “At Protective, we define diversity as this. At Protective, we define inclusion as this.” We just didn’t open up Webster’s Dictionary and say copy and paste. It was important for how we were defining that at Protective.

Martina Winston: I also just saw a question come through real quick, so I think that this will align really nicely. Someone was asking, what was the role of our CEO with that advisory committee? I think that’s so important. Rich is the executive sponsor of our advisory committee. Rich and Wendy share that role together. In the beginning, when we brought that group in its initial stage, Rich was there for every meeting to help share a little bit of where he was in his journey, and he really wanted us to focus. So that was really good, because we heard it from the top, and it was very clear. And we also wanted this to be a good development opportunity for those folks that were hand-picked. So we did some social, this was of course pre-COVID, but usually in each session, because we were flying people in from across our footprint, but Rich would spend some very intentional time with smaller groups to be able to learn and know more about them.

Martina Winston: So this group kind of started to get a little bit of prestige around, I’m a member of the Protective Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee. I’m charged to help set the strategy for the organization. Which then migrated into, this August, we wanted to open up more opportunity for employees to get involved. We were hearing, in all of our town hall sessions that our CEO hosted, our employees were raising their hand to say, “We want to get involved and we want to share.” So we opened up almost like a job posting, and we called it, who wants to be part of the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee? Who wants to be a champion for this work? We had over 65 employees apply for that opportunity, and then we did kind of a change of guard with our advisory. So we see this as a rotational opportunity for members across the organization, and it’s been great. Our second cohort of advisory committee members, they are on fire. We can’t end any meeting on time, we can’t start any meeting on time, because they’re just, “Where can I help? What can I do? I want to do this, I want to do that.” And so the engagement, because they raised their hand, has been, I mean, just 100%. It’s been great.

Wendy Evesque: Yeah, and also in part of that, too, in addition to the advisory committee and Rich and I being a part of that committee, we also knew that we, how do we bring the rest of the executive team along in that work? So we started an executive leadership team, is what we called it. In our terminology, that’s kind of a governance structure that we put in place over significant things that we’re doing in the organization, so we would have an executive leadership team over an acquisition or over a big growth strategy. So this is elevating DE&I to the same level as all other significant strategic objectives in the organization. So we created that executive leadership team. Then Martina meets with that team on a regular basis. So once a quarter, we’re meeting with that group to go through, where are we on the roadmap, what progress are we making, what are the issues we’ve uncovered? And also being able to share, “Here’s some things we need for you to do, here’s some things we need you to go read and think about,” and bringing meaty topics to that group for discussion. So if we want to talk about something, or think about something as an organization, that’s where we do it. So we’re able to move the work along, keep everybody engaged, and ensure that the strategic significance has as heavy of a weight as anything else we’re working on as a company.

Elfi Martinez: Fantastic. I think an important component to this that can get murky for folks that are not in executive ranks, right? So Wendy, you might be able to help us with this, is the whole socialization piece of all this work. Right? The fact that you have to normalize it and make it seem like it’s something that’s digestible and we can do it. So I’m [inaudible 00:40:51] super curious how important it is to have someone in the senior ranks kind of bless this with their attention, right? And say, “Hey, this is important, this is why we’re doing it, this is why it matters.” But once you get that initial seed going, what were some of the things that you were hearing from your peers, right? They were like, “Okay, this is really important, because Rich says it’s important.” So like, Wendy, you’re kind of in the mix. How do I get involved? How can I be helpful? How can we break this down into something that’s bite-sized that I can do, that I can kind of jump in without kind of overextending myself? What were some of the things you were hearing from folks that maybe wanted to get involved, but didn’t quite know how to get into the mix.

Wendy Evesque: Yeah, great question. And it was interesting, right? Because people were in all different places. We had some folks at the time that were like, yeah, here are the things we need to do as an organization, so they were thinking more enterprise. We had others who were thinking, “Does this really apply to my department? Yeah, I’d love for it to be more diverse, but we’re a group of X, and you can’t find that talent.” It’s like, yeah, sure. The socialization was important, the individual conversations were important. What I think Martina did a really nice job of, and our other HR partners, frankly, was being able to meet with each of those executives and talk about what this means in their own organizations. We’ve gotten better at this over the last couple of years, but really, as we think about what is the people and talent strategy for each executive leader and their organizations, diversity, equity and inclusion has got to be a foundation for that. It’s got to be a part of how we think about our overall people strategy. So we went from saying, “Here are the broad things we’ve got to do as an organization, kind of those foundational things we need in place,” to now we’re at a point where we’re almost tailoring what we do for each individual organization.

Wendy Evesque: So we have the broad things in place, but now each leader we’re working with them just to look at their own data for their organization specifically, and we’re kind of peeling back those layers and saying, “What does that mean for your organization? Where is that broken rung in your organization? How do we focus on that? How do we build the pipeline of talent? Is that developing people internally, are we recruiting externally? What are we doing, how are we measuring it, and how are we having the right conversations in your organization, how are you leading those conversations?” Again, it’s gotten very tailored now, I would say probably over the last six months, Martina? [crosstalk 00:43:46]

Martina Winston: Yeah, Wendy, that’s [crosstalk 00:43:48] right. Yeah, that’s right, and I love that you mentioned that, because right now, and I think that this is the thing that sometimes is one of those myths within this work. It’s not cookie-cutter. It’s not just a plug-and-play, and copy and paste, you’ve really got to get dialed in, but we could not have done that until we created our structure. The one thing that, I know I’ve said the word intentional a lot, because that’s just so important. The other thing, as you said, how do you and Wendy, and your advisory committee, and your other teams think about this. We always said whatever we do, we want to make sure it’s sustainable. We didn’t want one-hit-wonders. That was something that was not, and we know, we’ve been there before, and we were also, there’s been some things that we’ve tried that didn’t work. We were like, “Oh, all right, well, that didn’t work.” But we’ve been really quick to fail, fail fast, get back on the horse, try something different.

Martina Winston: And that’s really worked for us, but that sustainability piece has been something that, I hope that one day, I can move on to do other things within the organization, and not have to be, well, Martina can’t go anywhere, because then diversity and inclusion is going to die. Wendy can’t do anything else because … We really don’t want that, and we’re starting to see leaders within our organization reach out to say, “Martina, I’m so excited to tell you about the thing …” Actually, before this call, I was on a call within our retirement division. They’ve created their own committee to start focusing on engagement around diversity and inclusion, and they wanted to tell me. I said, “Go forth and [crosstalk 00:45:28].”

Wendy Evesque: That’s great.

Martina Winston: Wendy, this is news to you. They just …

Wendy Evesque: I know, I’m just hearing this. I love it. That’s fantastic.

Elfi Martinez: I do, I love it. And here’s the thing I’m curious for, because I think this is another thing that we’re hearing in the chats, but it kind of, we trace it back to the foundation, right? There is I think a couple of core questions that people have. One, when you’re [inaudible 00:45:47] a roadmap, at the beginning, one of the dilemmas about diversity, equity, and inclusion is how do we convert it from a nice-to-have to a need-to-have? Right? How do we make it something that’s urgent, something that we have to do right now? I would love to get a bit more from the two of you about how you decided what seeds, what are going to be the most important to plant at the beginning. It’s like a rocket ship taking off. You have to have a big booster rocket, and lots of fuel to get off the ground. Right? Once you’re up in orbit, you’re fine. But getting from here to there takes a lot. So I would really like to find out a bit more about your seeds, and then we’ll pivot to one year later, what you decided, how you decided what to keep and how you decided what to let go.

Elfi Martinez: Let’s start at the beginning, you know, at the beginning, when you were thinking about how do we create urgency, what are the seeds that are going to matter the most for Protective to help us get off of the ground and kind of break through into orbit? How did you decide what the seeds were and what were they? What were the essential things that you said, “We have to bake this in at the beginning if we want to get people excited.”

Martina Winston: Yeah, so again, going back to that focus, this was a huge exercise around focus. We really wanted to make sure that we kind of put our energy in the areas where we knew that we would get, I’m going to say, kind of the biggest bang for our buck. Wendy mentioned this earlier, we created four from-to statements, and those are kind of assigned and aligned by buckets. So the first thing that we focus on is business value. How are the things that we’re doing connecting within, with our employees, connecting with our leaders? We measured communications internally and externally. Are our employees reading the things that we’re putting out there. What are those clicks? What are we putting out externally, are our external audiences looking at those things? If we put something out there that we thought was gold and we didn’t get any clicks, then that means we struck out. So it’s a really measurement for us, and we also have a very strong foundation with and partnership with our Protective Foundation.

Martina Winston: Our Protective Foundation does a really good job of connecting throughout our footprint in the community, not only financial resources, but also resources to help those nonprofit organizations, help underrepresented and underserved communities, to help move them forward. So that could be some of our executives and leaders and other employees sitting on boards and helping with some of that change within those communities. Again, we do provide some financial support, but it’s not all about, “Hey, Protective Foundation, can you give me a check?” It’s deeper than that, and we’ve made that very important for us.

Martina Winston: The other thing, the other area of focus for us is continuous learning. That is one of our values as an organization. We want to ensure that we’re creating space for our employees to continue to grow, to learn, and develop. And so we look at a lot of our learning opportunities that we have for our employees, we’re measuring the penetration and the success of those. How are our employees, once they get that learning, how are they able to take that back out into their organizations? And are they living and demonstrating by example some of the things that they learned? So continuous learning is something that we also focus on.

Martina Winston: The other is data and accountability. We recognize that data helps us make smarter, more intentional decisions of the work that we’re doing, so it’s really important that we move in that space of looking at our data. This is probably the most beautiful thing. I’m not a data person, so talk about continuous learning for us. I have grown in this space, and Wendy and I both said, if I can get deep in data, then anybody in the company can get deep in data, because I’m not a data girl. But it’s been really good, because it’s helped to educate us on, is this really where we need to focus? Because it really helps, instead of us just assuming and making decisions on assumptions, our decisions are now educated by the data. And we’re also, we have a lot of actuaries in our organization, so if we’re coming to them with something, we better have our data right. And then there’s the accountability piece, so that’s where Wendy mentioned, we really created this governance structure. We have a dashboard that we created very early, that was one of our initiatives that we wanted to get done very early in our roadmap. So again, that dashboard really not only helps to tell the story, but it also helps to hold us accountable.

Martina Winston: Lastly, recruiting. Recruiting, we’ve recognized, we have an opportunity to really grow our representation with women and people of color, and so we wanted to track some of the activities that we were doing, look at our processes. We did a couple of pilots within our area. We just wrapped up our diverse slate pilot. We’ve learned a lot. Talk about failing fast and then getting back on the horse. When we originally started with our diverse slate pilot, it didn’t go well. But then we said, “You know what? Let’s look at our data, let’s look at our survey results, and let’s get back on it.” We pretty much saw, gosh, almost 40% increase in engagement around our diverse slate pilot, once we took a step back and look at the things that we learned.

Wendy Evesque: Yeah, and I would just say, Martina, that diverse slate pilot is a great example also for we had to push back on the organization. So we said when we looked at recruiting, having a diverse slate of candidates at our targeted area of the organization, to try it, let’s see how it goes. Can we successfully deliver? What’s the outcome, what did we learn? As Martina noted, we learned a lot. We learned a lot of things we needed to have in place for that to work. But we had leaders on the other side saying, “Well, why don’t we just do this for the entire organization? Let’s just mandate it, at this level and above, where we will have diverse slates.” Oddly enough, that put Martina and I in the position of saying, “No, we don’t think that’s the right decision.” And what diversity, equity, and inclusion person thinks they’re going to say that? Right? But really, we wanted it to be successful, and we know from the pilot, here are the things we need to have in place for it to work. So we’d much rather be, I’ll use Martina’s word again, intentional about the way that we grow this across the organization, so that we’re having success. Success breeds success, and we will eventually get to it being broad across the entire organization.

Martina Winston: Yes, we will.

Elfi Martinez: Absolutely. We’re coming up on time, so I think we have time for one more question. But I think this is a goodie, right? Because again, this is about how things work in the real world versus how they work on paper. You folks had a roadmap, this is what we’re going to do. And then a year goes by, right? So now you’re in year two of the roadmap. I want to check in with you about how the roadmap has evolved. How did you decide what to keep? How did you decide what to let go? How does the roadmap look different today than it did when you started?

Martina Winston: Oh, it looks completely different. We’ve learned a lot. Wendy’s laughing because she knows, it looks so different. I think that we’ve been, again, it’s been really important for us to, at the end of each year, we kind of go through a strategy session with our advisory committee members, and we go through a retrospective. What have we learned, what worked well, what didn’t work well, and still what must be true? How do we want to go into the next year again? We’re in that, and I saw someone put it in the chat, 2021 is the year for action. Absolutely. And so this past year, we actually went through a maturity assessment in partnership with a consulting firm called Gartner. That maturity assessment was a really big eye-opener for us, not only to celebrate the things that we’ve done well, and there was a couple of things where Wendy and I were like, are we really sure we’re mature there? But it really helped set the stage for us to see, we’re here today, but we want to be here. It really helped us get really dialed into our roadmap initiatives for 2021, to say, “In order for us to mature and to be at this level, we are going to need to go here.”

Martina Winston: And so that maturity assessment was really good. I think where we are in our journey, but we also recognize that we’re going to have to take time to go back and assess where we are, talk about the things that worked and didn’t, and then go back and revise that. I actually look at the roadmap along with my Center of Excellence, so that’s a team of other HR folks across, within our team to help me execute on some of these things, because we’re a small team. But we look at that every quarter, every quarter. Just, I think Wendy, it was two weeks ago, I went to her and our executive leadership team to say, “As I think about what we have going on across the organization, I’m concerned about what we put out as initiatives for Q2, I’m concerned that we won’t be able to deliver.” So I let our executive team know, and Wendy, as a committee, we’ve gone back to assess some of those things, and we’ve adjusted our timelines. But we’re really transparent about that. And we think that that’s important.

Elfi Martinez: Love it. Fantastic. So I see we’re about at time, so I wanted to give everyone a chance to do some kind of closing remarks as we wrap up today. One thing that I’ll add, just kind of seeing some of the things that emerged in the comments, is [inaudible 00:55:22] the idea of creating sustainability, I also saw someone asked the question about, where does the heart come into this equation, right? This would be my parting thoughts, and then I’ll go over to Wendy and Martina for any last thoughts you have for the community. Organizations that tend to do the best with diversity, equity and inclusion over time are the ones that can balance the head and the heart. So I mentioned, I was a Wall Street executive, and some people care about the numbers. They want to know about bottom line impacts and how does this make us better, and how does this, what’s our return on investment, right? You want to have that conversation. But some people don’t care about the numbers. Some people care about creating environments where they feel like they belong, where they feel like they can be authentic, where they feel welcomed [inaudible 00:56:01] respected and heard.

Elfi Martinez: So you want to make sure that your messaging addresses both the head and the heart. That’s how you get the most people on board and the most people excited about this going forward. That would kind of be my parting thought as we conclude this conversation. Wendy and Martina, if you have any last little nuggets of wisdom that you want to partake in before we conclude, that’d be fantastic.

Wendy Evesque: Yeah, Elfi, you’re spot on in that last comment, and just to illustrate that, I’m actually getting ready to go make a presentation to our board of directors on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and talk a little bit about where we are in our progress. Those are the two components of the presentation. We will be talking about the numbers and what that looks like, but we are also showing some information from our latest poll survey that talks about how we’ve moved the dial in our culture as well. It is both components. I do agree, you can’t have one without the other. It’s about finding the right balance between the two and recognizing when you need to leverage one over the other.

Elfi Martinez: Love it. Martina, any last thoughts before we conclude?

Martina Winston: Yeah. First, good luck to Wendy in the presentation today [crosstalk 00:57:09] the board. I can’t wait.

Wendy Evesque: Thank you.

Martina Winston: I can’t wait to hear the feedback from the group. The advice that I have for everyone on this call is we are all in this together. Let’s continue to share with each other the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is a journey for all of us, and I’m just thankful that there are opportunities like this community call for us to share and come together and collaborate. I loved all the back and forth and collaboration on the chat, but we will get through this, and we are all making change and doing better within our organizations, even if we don’t feel like we’re going as fast as we should. Just know that you are making an impact, and tomorrow is a new day for you to make another impact and do something great. Thank you.

Wendy Evesque: Absolutely.

Elfi Martinez: Love it. Thank you, I want to thank again, want to thank Wendy and Martina for sharing all their wonderful wisdom and time today. You were both fantastic. As we say, adieu to everyone. Until next time. It’s been a pleasure, and thank you both for being here, Wendy and Martina. Thank you, community, for your wonderful conversation. We’ll see each other soon.

Jennifer Brown: Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com? You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion, and the future of work, and discover how we can all be champions of change, by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.

Speaker 2: You’ve been listening to The Will to Change: Uncovering True Stories of Diversity and Inclusion, with Jennifer Brown. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com. Thank you for listening, and we’ll be back next time with a new episode.