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The Rungs of Learning with Founder and Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer Eddie Pate

Updated: Feb 28, 2022

Prepare to be inspired. Eddie Pate's twenty plus years of experience working in and with organizations to build inclusive cultures which has been no easy task. But his commitment to continuous learning about himself and others has paved the way toward being sought after as a speaker, consultant and coach for organizations that want to up their inclusion game.

Enjoy this month's Rungs of Learning with Eddie!

Thanks for joining me today Eddie! Before we get into how you climbed the rungs of learning in your corporate life, I noticed you got your BA in Wildlife Management before getting your Masters and PhD in Sociology. I have to ask - is there anything from your wildlife management education that you brought into the corporate world with you?

Absolutely! The Wildlife Management program was very hands on and focused on group learning. I learned to be a good project-mate, to lead, and the importance of doing what you said you would do. I also got my first taste of statistics and the importance they have for making your case, identifying trends, etc. That was huge for my career. If I could suddenly go back and do it all over, I wouldn’t for an instant consider majoring in anything other than Wildlife Management. I loved it and still use it. I’ll show you my wildlife photos someday.

You've pivoted between working in corporate America to working for yourself a couple of times. What have you learned about yourself in this process?

I’ve learned that I really love to interact with a team and groups of people driving towards a common goal. I missed that during my first transition into consulting and this was a key “push” factor for me agreeing to join Avanade.

This time around, however, it is a bit different since I’m “soft-retired” and not looking to jump back into a full time gig in corporate. I’m managing to get some good group experience via my current consulting work. I also learned that I’m not very good at all of the logistics stuff that comes with owning your own business. The first time around I really didn’t put the time and organization necessary to stay on top of it. This time around I hired a bookkeeper to manage what I know are gaps for me. I’ve also learned that regardless of whether I’m working in corporate or as an individual pushing corporations to do ID&E work right from the outside, I have the same burning passion to have an impact. It wasn’t just about a paycheck then and it isn’t about that now.

How did you get into the DEI space as a career? What led you here?

It might seem cliché’-ish but this started for me when I was growing up as the product of a mixed-race marriage. My dad is black from New Market Tennessee and my mom was a white, blonde and blue-eyed woman from Niederfischbach, Germany. They met when my dad was stationed there in the US Army. At the time they were married and had kids it was still illegal in some states and/or definitely not acceptable for a lot of America. I remember having “weird” experiences that I didn’t understand then but came to understand them later as the racist and ugly experiences they were. We didn’t talk a lot about race and racism as a family so it always felt like something was missing. I grew up with a very strong “fairness bug” and felt that unwarranted hurdles or barriers were wrong. It just really bothered me. I was drawn to the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and horrified by the racist actions and inactions I saw as I grew up.

Fast forward, I followed my heart and studied Wildlife Management as an undergrad but shifted gears away from pursuing this as a career when I was “forced” to make a decision about what I wanted to do following a brief, injury shortened NFL career. I decided to go back to Humboldt, work, and get a Master’s degree in Sociology looking at comparative race and ethnic relations. I felt it was time to follow my gut.

I got my MA from Humboldt in Sociology and my wife, Val, and I decided to move to Seattle, attend the University of Washington in enter doctoral programs. I earned my Ph.D. in 2000 in Sociology (Comparative Race and Ethnic Relations and Social Psychology) and chose to turn down an academic offer and pursue a career in corporate.

I was introduced to my first and most impact mentor at Microsoft, Charles Stevens. He was looking to hire his own Diversity Manager and not rely on HR. He took a chance on me and hired me. I thrived in an environment where I could bring research abilities, a huge passion for diversity, resources, and leadership that was, honestly, 100% on board. My time with Charles cemented my foundation for how to do this work, what to hope to get from leadership, and locked in my absolute passion for making a difference for groups who weren’t given the same access, opportunities, and definitely not a fair shot at equitable outcomes. The rest is history.

You've worked at some big, well-known companies, each with a unique culture (Amazon, Starbucks and Microsoft). What did you learn from each of these organizations that further shaped your work as a DEI leader?

I’ll start by saying I would add Avanade to the list of companies I worked for because it had a significant impact on me as well.

I learned both encouraging and disappointing lessons from all of them. I learned, from each of them, that even if there is an overall goal of doing very strong, robust ID&E work, there were critical players who you could count on 100% to be on board and there were critical players who could care less or just didn’t get it, making your job that much more difficult. I never let this latter piece influence my drive, but it was a stark reality I ran up against everywhere I went.

I learned to value a global framework and perspective from each of the companies I worked for. This shaped how I created ID&E strategy, learning & development mechanisms, and how I thought about this topic all up.

I learned some hard lessons when I was too US-centric in my approach. This is my strong belief, but I learned also that doing ID&E works more impactfully and practically if you attack it like Debra Meyerson’s Tempered Radical. In other words, be willing to rock the boat hard but keep yourself and others in the boat. You can’t effect change if you aren’t in the boat. Secondly, it is the aggregation of lots of small wins that leads to systemic change. As Deborah says, “drop a pebble that causes a ripple, which in turn, causes someone to drop another pebble which makes a ripple and so on. I’ve learned over the years, again my opinion, that when someone says to me, “give me 2 or 3 big nuggets that we should go after to have an impact, “ I know we won’t see eye-to-eye on how this work should be done. To me that does not work. Culture shifts slowly and most effectively when constantly influenced by many, many pebbles and ripples.

I also learned that the best way to approach ID&E is through a complete employee lifecycle framework. You can’t piecemeal your strategy even if it ends up feeling like you are trying to boil the ocean. It is hard work. It is a challenge, though, I strongly recommend you take on. An example is unless you worry and strategize about talent management/retention efforts all of the wonderful diverse talent you bring in will disproportionately end up in a big ol’ attrition sinkhole. You have got to worry about creating an inclusive workplace environment in which to land this talent. It also can’t just focus on giving that diversity talent the skills to succeed, you need to prepare the leaders there to manage difference, the teammates to understand the value of diversity, and create the understanding that a culture that isn't evolving is stagnate. Teach people that the power of diversity, inclusion and equity is the innovation tsunami that can happen when you get this work right.

Because of the nature of each of these companies, I learned quite clearly the power of data to influence, pinpoint the correct issues to address, and to confirm strategic direction. Over time I learned what excellence looks like and I laugh at early data analysis, assessment, and visualizing I did.

I also learned overtime also just how important it was to not just identify issues but to always include next steps and solutions. Along this same line, I learned from each of the companies that highlighting the good along with the bad was the way to go. I guess the lesson is to not ignore either and to authentically highlight both when and if present.

Finally, I learned, and progressively got better at, being able to push back and be very direct but in my own style—calling people in vs. calling people out. Don’t get me wrong, I can be very direct and call someone out if they deserved it but typically my style is softer and create learning in the approach. It is funny in some senses and frustrating in others that over the course of my career I’ve gotten the feedback that I should be “meaner.” I never learned that lesson nor embraced it. So, it is still somewhere on my feedback and evaluation forms…..learn to be meaner. I’m glad I failed at that. LOL.

If a leader wants to deepen their learning on how to create a more inclusive work culture, what are your top 2-3 learning resources?

Take a robust Inclusive leadership training! Hands down one of the best methods. (I have an excellent one if folks are interested—shamelessly self-plugging). [You can find more info about Eddie's business at the end of this blog].

READ, WATCH, EXPERIENCE! Own the topic and read stuff like: Tempered Radicals, The Inclusion Breakthrough, & White Fragility (to name very few); go to online resources like DiversityInc., Catalyst, NCWIT, and the Conference Board; Use Cultural Competence tools like GlobeSmart and go out and experience difference. Spend time on Youtube & other video sources and watch super impactful videos like Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story,” “That Little Voice,” “Speak up for Inclusion,” “Silent Beats,” and “Redraw the balance.” What I’ve listed barely scratches the surface so own it, find stuff, and watch it.

Connect with companies, leaders, and organizations that have a story to tell and have had some success. Go learn about “Best Practices” but don’t just overlay them as if one-size-fits-all. Take the best of the best practice that would fit your organizations readiness, stage of development, and openness to change, etc.

If a BIPOC leader wants to get their voice and ideas heard in the organization, what advice do you usually give them?

Wow, this is an entire article by itself. I would say everything from…

  1. Start or actively participate in an Employee Resource Group (ERG) and leverage that membership for change.

  2. Find a champion with clout in your organization that really gets it and is willing to authentically help you disrupt the status quo. This can be, e.g., a business executive, senior HR employee, or ID&E leader.

  3. Be a tempered radical when you can. Rock the boat hard but don’t rock so hard you knock yourself out of the boat. You need to be in the boat to effect change. HOWEVER, sometimes the best way to be heard is to rock the boat seriously hard and knock people out. This takes courage but is definitely necessary sometimes.

  4. Don’t try to use your voice all of the time by yourself. Help create knowledgeable allies, and champions. Help them find the courage to use their voices right along side of yours.

  5. Use data both qualitative and quantitative to make sure your voice is legitimately heard. This takes a partnership with ID&E or HR and can be really difficult but ultimately impactful. Use qualitative data in the form of direct employee quotes, feedback from focus groups, etc. Verbatims have huge impact.

  6. Be courageous, intentional, authentic, and real. Having a voice is hard but necessary and important for organizations to take notice. Be prepared. Be strong. Be persistent.

What are you focusing your learning on these days?

I'm thinking about and implementing equity strategies. I’m really into being more globally culturally competent. I’m traveling soon to Portugal with my wife, so I’m reading about Portuguese history at the moment. I love to experience difference and different cultures. I’m pushing myself to learn more and more about gender identity, White supremacy, Privilege, and power. I feel like those are gaps in my SME.

Eddie Pate would love to help your organization's inclusion and diversity efforts. Go to his website to find more about what he's up to and his different services offered.

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