Melyssa Barrett: Welcome to the Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around diversity, inclusion and equity. Each week, I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share, or is actively part of building solutions in this space. Let’s get started.
Cordero Davis, author, coach, diversity, equity and inclusion architect, also the founder and Chief Equity Officer for Cordero Davis International LLC. Through his international consulting work, Cordero has impacted thousands of employees and students globally, has assisted top Silicon Valley tech companies like Airbnb, Facebook, and indeed.com, to rapidly scale their workforces resulting in hundreds of diverse hires. After his in-house experiences, Cordero created his own Black enterprise by launching the consulting firm, Codero Davis International and Diversity Studios. Diversity Studios focuses on assisting Black and Brown individuals with navigating their careers in corporate America, while also assisting tech companies with the infrastructure to design and deploy inclusive workplaces for Black and Brown talent. He has years of experience and dedication to education, organizational leadership, and diversity and inclusion. He is a frequent speaker on the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion, and I’m pleased to have Cordero Davis join me.
All right. Today, I am joined by Cordero Davis. I am so excited to have you here this week, and you have so many things going on. We’re going to get to, I talked a little bit about your introduction, but that seems like that’s just scratching the surface of some of the things that you have done. So, I am excited that you are joining me, and I figured we would just start by talking a little bit about your journey, and how you even got into diversity and inclusion now that you’ve traveled the world and are consulting internationally. How did you get here?
Cordero Davis: Wow. Wow. Thank you so much for the introduction. And honestly, just being your amazing self. I usually like to tell people that the D&I journey started very young for me. Growing up in a segregated town in Mississippi, where still to this day, whites live on one side of the track and blacks live on the other. I’ve never had the opportunity to not think about what does diversity, equity, inclusion mean? I’ve been thinking about it since day one. Growing up in this small divided town, where our school district did not become desegregated until 2017. This is 10 years after me graduating high school.
So, you can imagine the level of trauma, and yes, yes, yes. 2017, the Supreme Court had to step in… [Crosstalk].
Melyssa Barrett: Wow! I am just, shocking.
Cordero Davis: You research it. Yes. Yes. If you research Cleveland, Mississippi, it comes up that until 2017, the school districts were integrated, and still to this day, they are dealing with, shall I say the backlash of that from, you can say, white supremacists, people who feel like being white is superior. Then the importance of your child being around a diverse community, around diverse mindsets and different perspectives. And so since a very young boy, I have been integrated into this work, which is my upcoming book that’s talking about the good slave story, which is when I was 16.
I was called a good slave by an older white woman in my first job. She called me a good slave and she thought it was a compliment. And in that moment is when I realized the true meaning of ally and advocacy. And my teacher, another older white woman came up to the job, the same day and basically straightened her out and talked to the manager. The manager would not do anything to, shall I say, reprimand this lady. And so she decided to remove me from that job. And that was the first time I’ve got to see someone in a seat of not being underrepresented and for me and understand that I am valuable. My worth and what I bring to the world is not meant to be diminished in the workplace. And so I have had a journeyed experience when it comes to race relations, discrimination, and bias.
And when I say the stories go on and on, going into Silicon Valley, living in China. I’ve had to experience, all of these different things and so many different layers from workplace discrimination to being called a rapper just because I’m Black and I’m living in China. And then the opportunities that I’ve had to truly influence and educate people around the world has definitely shifted, not only my mindset, my perspective, but hundreds and thousands of people that I’ve met. I’m just truly grateful to be here today, to have this conversation with you and to talk about my experiences of being in Asia, being sometimes the only Black man in Asia. One of the first, in many cities across China, I was usually the only Black man. And then starting my career in Silicon Valley, in 2014, when I was likely the only Black man on my teams at places like Airbnb and Facebook, et cetera. It’s definitely been a journey experience, but I’m happy to be here to shed light, to be a voice and to provide access and opportunity for our communities specifically, Black and Latinx.
Melyssa Barrett: That’s awesome. And I mean, it’s so interesting because you know, there’s so many stories like yours, to some degree. So like get me from, you grew up in this little town in Mississippi, and then you went to an HBCU and then you went to China. How does that happen?
Cordero Davis: I will say God or Buddha, definitely God. I believe that being a first-generation grad, I was actually raised by my grandparents who had a 5th and 2nd grade education. My grandfather was a World War II vet, and my grandmother was a stay at home mom. And she had raised me. Of course, my mom had me very young, so they put their heart and soul into building me up to be the man who I am today, and I never wanted to let them down. And so I continued the journey, even when it got tough, I continued to be the master of my fate and the captain of my soul and continued to complete my collegiate degree. But the only way that I could do that was by having mentors and sponsors and advocates to stand with me and be on that journey with me.
And I will say to this day, I have a mentor Ms. Sharon Smith Banks, who basically gave me my chance, my second chance. Let’s say that, and I didn’t enough resources or the funds to pay, to go to college or to pay for my own books. But Ms. Sharon Smith Banks always found funding for me, no matter what. And I repay her back in threefold, I feel by now, by always having a high GPA every semester that I got back into school, graduating, and then having an opportunity to take my first job in Shanghai, China.
And when I talk about China, people always say, well, how’d you end up there? Like I won it. I did so much from a student leadership perspective in my undergraduate years where I resurrected my social fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi. I was the founding father of my business fraternity, Alpha Kappa PSI.
And then, I also was Mister HBCU, Mr. West Virginia State University while being in college as well. So, having these three roles, these three titles where I sat in a leadership position, really showed me that I can do anything, and what I wanted beyond anything else was to be in a sea of learning and cultural exchange when I took my first career outside of college. And wow, I ended up with my first gig in Shanghai, and it was not an easy feat. I’m telling you, we were some of the first Americans to be a part of this cohort program that they had created. And we actually got there and they told us that they didn’t have jobs for us.
So I had to wait three weeks to find out if I was going to get a job or not. After completing my certification, after begging my family for money, all I had was a hundred dollars. I’m like a new college grad. I don’t have any money. I’m just going to China with a hundred dollars and making it work, you know?
Melyssa Barrett: Wow.
Cordero Davis: And I did that. The first week they told us, they didn’t have jobs. Okay. The second week, they told us they couldn’t pay for our food anymore. Okay. The third week, they told us they couldn’t pay for our hotel and lodging anymore. Okay.
Melyssa Barrett: So, now you are homeless in China!
Cordero Davis: I’m homeless in China!
Melyssa Barrett: There’s no food. [crosstalk].
Cordero Davis: With no food!
Melyssa Barrett: A starving student. That’s a different definition of a starving student.
Cordero Davis: Yes. Yes. And wow, I actually ended up tapping into my, shall I say, my survival skills in this place because I never knew what it meant to fully be homeless or without, until I got way to China.
Melyssa Barrett: And now you’re in a place where you can’t speak the language and you can’t read the signs.
Cordero Davis: Nope. None of it. I ended up packing up my bags when they said they could no longer pay for the hotel anymore. I packed up my bags, and I went over to the most international place that I could think of, which was the shopping mall. Went into the shopping mall, went down to the food court. I had maybe about 50 bucks left at this point. And I went over to KFC to get some of those egg tarts and some of those fried chicken wings. Those were their staples for KFC in China. Wow! I turn around and there is, you won’t believe what’s happening on the other side of the food court…a career fair. There is a career fair for international talent. I get my food and I march on over with my three bags, holding them, these big bags now, because I had brought my whole life with me from college and Mississippi and West Virginia.
And I get over to the career fair and everyone’s watching me. They see I’m dressed nice because see, I’m still a student [inaudible] I’m thinking that I have to show up as this government employee. So, I have this buttoned down shirt on, that’s nice. I have slacks. I have a belt on. I have very nice dress shoes on and I’m just like today is going to be my lucky day. And in five seconds, a headmaster of a school pulls me over to their table and say, “Hey, are you looking for work?” They translated it the best way they could. You want work? And I translated it myself and said, yes, I need work. What can we do? You know?
And a lot of the time when you are communicating in a culture like that, you have to use like sign language and [inaudible] and everything, just anything that you can use….
Melyssa Barrett: Facial expressions.
Cordero Davis: To help them understand what you are saying. Facial inspirations. Look, no job, pulling out my wallet, no money. I need both. The headmaster translates to the Chinese English Assistant, who can translate to me and says, “if he’s certified” which I’m certified at this point, “let him know that we will cover his room and board. And we want him to work for our brand new boarding school. And, if he doesn’t like it in two weeks, we’re going to help him get back to America.” What?! “Here’s your train ticket.”
Melyssa Barrett: Wow.
Cordero Davis: I get the train ticket and this is me just believing in the universe, believing in God, believing in my faith, believing that opportunity. Mind you, 90 new graduates of this program went to China, from America, thinking that they had a brand new job. 50% of that group returned to America. About 30, 40 of us remained there and found our place. I was one of those people that found their place. And when I say getting on that train and going 30 minutes outside of Shanghai to work for these international boarding school was definitely life changing. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I think the struggle to get there and to land the opportunity was tough. But, at the end of every struggle, there’s a rainbow. And throughout that experience, I got a better job, a higher salary, I got the travel to over 15 countries for the first time in my life.
I got the opportunity to not only build a school just in Shanghai, but also in Hong Kong and Singapore. So to have those rewards, those achievements come out of that space and being the first Black American to do it for this international boarding school was mind blowing. I knew in that moment that I can do anything in the world.
And that’s when I said, the pollution is bad here. I really, the food was tough to eat and I needed a place that was similar, but more Americanized. So, I decided that I would leave China and build my career in Silicon Valley, a place for high achievers and believers and dreamers. And I would fit right into the cusp of that community. That’s what I did. I ended up moving to California within like six months of my contract ending in China, banked like 200 bucks. And a suitcase again, but this time with some experience, with some exposure, more part of the world, more culture. I ended up with my first job in tech at Airbnb, within a week.
Melyssa Barrett: Wow. That is a story. That is something else. Well, and no wonder you have so many accolades on your resume so far. Because I mean, that’s a lot of living in a short period of time.
Cordero Davis: Yes.
Melyssa Barrett: So now, and I know it was funny that you mentioned just being able to overcome all those things because I think one of the things that I was listening to in your podcast, you have a podcast, tell people all about rising above COVID-19.
Cordero Davis: Yes.
Melyssa Barrett: But it was about a kind of the inclusion living, if I remember correctly.
Cordero Davis: Inclusive living. Yes.
Melyssa Barrett: So, I thought that was so interesting because I think a lot of times people don’t think about inclusive living. We just live…
Cordero Davis: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Melyssa Barrett: We don’t necessarily have the awareness of what that means.
Cordero Davis: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melyssa Barrett: And some of the things that you talked about in that podcast were really about coming through darkness, into light and being able, it’s like, I think one of your guests says something like you have to have a little darkness in order to see the light.
Cordero Davis: Yes, yes.
Melyssa Barrett: Which I thought was just so profound because a lot of times we hate being in the darkness. We hate going through those tough times, but yet we always seem to come out of them with so much more. And the experience that you created there, I mean the cultural aspects of it are amazing. So to see you now, as what you call a cultural coach. Let’s talk about what does that mean to you and how you’re living your life now and not anymore in Silicon Valley, but what has that brought?
Cordero Davis: Yes, definitely. I would say like the first time that I touched the land of Asia and being in China, I felt like I had already become a connoisseur of cultural experiences. Just by standing in a store, people were following me around to see what I buy. They would video me when I go into certain restaurants to eat. They would, when I shop, they go into the same stores and buy the same things that I buy. If they have a baby, I’ve named like 100 Asian babies. I gave them all my cousins’ names, Loqueesha, Shawanda. I named them after my siblings, like I’ve given them all of the experiences that I had growing up as a Black boy in America. I shared that I was able to spread that Black boy joy amongst this land, and even during my most humblest days of trying to figure out my career, what I’m great at, what I’m doing, in the midst of that, I always saw the light.
I always saw the light at the end of the tunnel. And that pushed me to create what I’ve created today, which is, Cordero Davis International and Diversity Studios, which is a space that focuses on truly accelerate the Black and Brown experience in corporate America, specifically tech companies, providing tech organizations with the infrastructure to retain and develop technical talent around the world. And with my experience of going back to Asia, after years of being away and consulting in Singapore, it really showed me that there were so many gaps and opportunities for us to bridge the gap between Asia and America. The inclusion that we have here is not the same that they have in Asia. The inclusion that we have in America is not the same inclusion that they have in Europe. So it’s imperative that we not only do the work for one, but we do the work for all because we’re not done until everyone has equity. Everyone feels equal.
So it’s been a really exciting journey to transition out of the corporate space and more into being that architect, that consultant, that advisor to organizations, small and big, or in a Fortune 500, that truly need the support. They need design thinking. They need someone with lived experience. They also need someone who is not afraid to shut things down a little bit. And so with all of those experiences, if they have prepared me to be the antidote to be, to create a seamless experience that truly focuses on inclusion, holistically. And that’s exactly why the podcast came about inclusivism because I want people to think about inclusion in everything that they do. Diversity is great, but it’s past time that we think about creating inclusive spaces, so that diversity is not something that we have to worry about.
What we have to worry about is an overflow of so many people being interested in an organization that because they’re so great. That should be the problem. Not necessarily that, the culture is not good or the employees’ voices aren’t heard or women are discriminated against and there no space for LGBTQ+ people. We have to move past that conversation to, Hey, we are inclusive from our core. We are inclusive from our DNA and this is how we live, inclusive living.
Melyssa Barrett: So tell me a little bit about, because I know you have some eBooks coming out and you talked a little bit about your other book. So maybe tell me a little bit about some of the things you’re doing today, and then I’ll get back into some of the questions I have for you on the consulting side.
Cordero Davis: Yes, of course, of course. So, this has been a really exciting year for people in business, people who, let’s not say people, Black people who are driven and [inaudible] Oh my goodness. Like I can’t even put into words, the amount of intention and love and courage that it has taken so many people these past couple of months to put their idea out there, to make their dream bigger. So we expand all the things that they have been working on for so long and to feel accepted and appreciated and like they’ve arrived.
And I will say, I have reaped some of those rewards. It has been so important for me to focus, like I said earlier, not necessarily on diversity, but inclusion and a piece of that inclusion is products. Products, putting ourselves in spaces where representation for Black and Brown people is not even close to being equal. We’re at that 2%, that 1%, that 3%, which is why I created Diversity Studios, a space where representation in all areas can become more accessible for people like myself and you. And so in the midst of that, I’ve decided to create, expand on just speaking at events or sitting on a panel or having the opportunity to work one-on-one with companies. I decided to create a product and it’s something very short, sweet, and straight to the point that gives people the opportunity to leverage the work that it takes to move forward in life, to heal through the trauma that we have experienced in the workplace.
And therefore I have called this series of eBooks, Workplace Inclusion, Volume One and Two. Workplace Inclusion Series One focuses on the healing mechanisms that it truly takes for us to move forward, past workplace trauma. We have had this, shall I say, it’s this Black space in the workplace for over 400 years where Black people have not had an opportunity to vocalize how they feel or if they have rights or if they are being heard, or if they have a seat at the table. Black people have not had the opportunity to be promoted and advanced and developed in organizations without having to speak up for themselves. But this particular e-book gives people the power, the opportunity to learn cross culturally, what it truly means to be traumatized in a workplace and the powerful steps towards healing past that trauma, so that we can continue to break generational curses.
And we can this dismantle, systemic racism and injustices and bias within work systems. Book two is a follow-up of that, that basically kind of breaks down the story of me being a 16 year old boy called a good slave and how exactly does that affect and impact someone in the workplace and why it’s important to have allies and advocates that are active. And so what this group provides is the essential tips and tools, and actually best practices for active allies to move themselves from being passive for being in the opposition seat, to actually being an advocate, to actually being an accomplice.
And so really excited about both editions that are coming out because they add layers. They add familiarity with stories, with international scope talking to not only about the Black experience or just the American experience, but also my experiences of living in Singapore, working with those types of companies, as well as with communities in places like Taiwan and the Philippines and Australia. It gives a whole synopsis of how exactly D&I is defined in different places, how different places have different levels of scrutiny and discrimination that they have to work through in the workplace to truly be a successful business because no business is successful if its culture is broken.
Melyssa Barrett: It’s a great point, especially now that we think about these conversations. Every company has the ability to go global, fairly easily these days with digitizing their products. So you talked a little bit about product inclusion and the ability, because I spend a lot of time just talking about the fact that inclusion is in everything we do. And there’s so many times that we have companies creating products and the use cases for those products don’t include specific populations of people merely because maybe they’re not participating in some way. I know in the financial system, we have folks that don’t put their money in a bank, they don’t cash their check at a bank. So there is a lack of participation in how those products are created and they really miss and overlook a lot of opportunities to really re-engineer banking in general.
Can you talk a little bit about product inclusion? I know we’ve worked on some things together in terms of just trying to help people envision a real strategy on bringing product technology, social impact kind of all together.
Cordero Davis: Yes, yes, yes. One of my favorite spaces. So you hear me talk about it so much and it’s mostly because it is a fine time for businesses to align their core mission and their core values to diversity, equity and inclusion. If your business is not aligned to it, you do not make sales. There is a trillion dollar investment into consumers, consumers for Black people, for Latinx communities as well. And when you think about the ratio for people with disabilities and people with veteran status, that is also millions of dollars as well, that is invested into the consumer space for products. Specifically, if your products are not inclusive enough to include those communities, then you miss out on, you miss out on that dollar. You miss out on great business. You miss out on your tools and resources being available to people.
Also, people who are a part of the intersectionality there of, of being Black with a disability, black, with a veteran status or someone that is, or a woman that has LGBTQ+, like we want to ensure that it’s very imperative that your products actually sell. Your product, actually meet the needs of communities, specifically communities that you’re not reaching.
And so in some of the work that we did, it was imperative that we researched that. People always ask what are the steps that you take to actually understand if a product is inclusive? Well, first of all, did you have inclusive voices and inclusive backgrounds in the ideology phase of the product? Because if you’re not having it in the ideation phase of product inclusion, of any specific product that you’re creating, then you are slowly but surely becoming a consumer that only serves the same consumer. And you want to be in the seat of, hey, what if I was buying this for my company? And who knows what type of diversity you have in your own household? It is important to put ourselves in those shoes, but also to not make assumptions, to have voices and experiences and backgrounds in the room that come from those communities as well. So that within those focus groups, you can have the right influence so that you can create products that serve the world. Not just products that serve… [Crosstalk].
Melyssa Barrett: Yeah.
Cordero Davis: This specific community or that specific community. But you want to serve all communities.
Melyssa Barrett: I don’t know that a lot of companies, intentionally, go out there and say, I only want to make this product for this population of people. So usually it’s like, you do it in a way and all of a sudden, you look, you launch a product and you go, oh, this doesn’t work for some.
I mean, I had a conversation with Dr. D. Miller. She is phenomenal. She spent a lot of time talking about inclusive design. And she was talking about how her grandmother who was diabetic at the time, couldn’t use the tool that she was supposed to use, to measure her sugar and how that kind of built momentum for her and saying, wow, nobody thought that they’re using different language or they can’t do the same things. And so she talked about the iterative design process in order to make sure that you’re pulling that information in.
Can you talk a little bit about any tips you want to provide for say small business in this space because I think a lot of the questions I get are I don’t have a massive employee base, so how can I tap into diversity, equity and inclusion if I don’t have a big workforce?
Cordero Davis: Of course, of course. And I think that’s really key when you are building the inclusive thinking and inclusive living into the DNA of your organization. It doesn’t matter what size the organization is. You’re going to celebrate people. You’re going to recognize people. You’re going to recognize culture. You’re going to celebrate culture and you’re going to be invested in culture. You’re going to also, if you have interns, you want to ensure that those interns come from underserved communities. You want to be the beacon for how does a small business create inclusive living into its DNA of the organization of any type of co-organization. You start with those basics. I think the first thing is asking your employees what they want, asking your employees, what’s missing, asking your employees what they need. A lot of times, it’s not about salary.
A lot of times, it’s not about more days off, it is not about shorter hours, et cetera. It’s all about recognition. It’s all about investment. And it’s all about access and awareness. You are ensuring that your employees understand what their performance eval looks like. You are ensuring that when it’s time to be promoted, that they are communicated with effectively about the promotion process. You are ensuring that women have rights in the workplace such as maternity leave, et cetera. They’re able to take days off because in some places, women can’t take days off. And that is something that is truly crippling for the world, not just that specific country. And then it’s important for you to educate yourself, to listen, to learn and to love.
Melyssa Barrett: I love that and it’s funny because I do think that we have…And I’ll just ask you the question, because I think it’s an interesting one. Do you think people are listening?
Cordero Davis: I would say people are listening, but they’re listening, not to learn and to love. I think people are listening just because it’s a hot topic right now. Yes. Would this be something that was, like I said, building DEI into the core of your DNA takes you taking a full enterprise wide assessment of everything that you’re working on, from how you attract talent, from the way that you retain talent, from the way that you develop an advanced talent. Those three areas are crippling to organizations. Those are just the beginning building blocks of DEI in a workplace. There’s so many other areas to look into. Where, if you don’t have equity there, it’s time to change up some things, how people are promoted, what level people actually sit at, salary bands, pay equity, maternity leave, paternity leave. So many areas to look into, policies and procedures. All of the legacy, grandfathered, shall I say, doorkeeper activity needs to stop. It needs to stop. It has to be holistic 360 equity across an organization. So reach, shall I say, the class of being an equitable, diverse and inclusive organization.
Melyssa Barrett: Yeah, so well put. Because it’s interesting, I think a lot of times when the CEO says, “Yes, I support DEI and I’m all in”, they don’t necessarily realize all those door keeping blockades in the middle that people are dealing with. And so sometimes you have to be open to really understanding how people in your organization can hinder the actual cultural integration and inclusion that you’re trying to get to. So.
Cordero Davis: Yes. Yes. When I talked about my hometown and our school district, they have been working for two decades to integrate that school district. Two decades. The Supreme Court had to step in. You know why it took over two decades? That is because door keepers, systemic racism, bias, microaggressions. You know, the list goes on and on. The systems that are in place to continue to keep us from growing and developing is not hindering us, per se, it’s hindering our kids. We have to understand that the children are the future and that if they don’t really understand what being human is, what humanity is, then we’ll never live in a world that’s inclusive and diverse.
Melyssa Barrett: Wow. So well said, Cordero. Any last thoughts you want to leave with? There’s so much there and tell people how they can access your e-book.
Cordero Davis: Yes, of course. So my ebook is right now on Amazon Kindle, for pre-order. We fight together, the journey for allies and advocates for inclusion and belonging. And I will send that link out as well. You can also follow me on Instagram. My link is, my hashtag is I am Codero Davis. That’s, iamcorderoadavis. And then, LinkedIn, Codero Davis, PCC. You should see me there. Please feel free to add me as well.
And then yeah, I will have a brand new website launch, as well as, my book launch on this upcoming Sunday. So right now you may not be able to access my website, but you will be able to in the coming days. So truly excited to have had this conversation with you. I just want to tell everyone that equality is a journey, and we must travel it together. Throughout all my travel experiences that I’ve had, I want to be able to shed that light on you because who knows who you will decide on the plane next, or on a bus or on a train or on a boat. Just know that we’re all on a journey together, and we have to travel it together in order for us to win.
Melyssa Barrett: It has been such a pleasure talking with you, Cordero. You are doing so many wonderful things that I just appreciate all that you bring when you come. So if there’s anything I can do, you know how to reach me. I’m looking forward to more conversations and I know people will be watching you as you grow as well. So, thank you for all you do, and thank you for being here and joining me for the podcast.
Cordero Davis: Yes, thank you Mel. It was such a pleasure.
Melyssa Barrett: Thanks for joining me on the Jolly Podcast. Please subscribe. So you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.