Season 1 highlights – Ep.58

Celebration of Freedom – Ep.57
June 23, 2022
Artistic Activism – Ep.59
July 9, 2022

This episode contains some highlights from interviews Melyssa has had with four awesome people: Monique Nelson, Rodeshia Ransom, Caltha Seymour, Dee Miller,

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.

This episode includes some highlights from interviews I have had with four awesome people. I’m just going to give you little snippets. If you haven’t listened to the entire episode, I would encourage you to do so, but these are some phenomenal folks. And I just wanted to reemphasize some of the things that they were saying.

Monique Nelson, chair and chief executive officer at UWG. She is one powerful woman who has demonstrated her expertise in the industry, marketing and advertising, but also focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. Very socially conscious and a strong business professional, amongst other things. She has a whirlwind of other things that she’s doing, but I just wanted you to hear from her.

Monique Nelson:  Yeah. So, then came back stateside and worked on Rocker, which was the first cell phone with music in it. It was really kind of the first iPhone, in so many iterations, and that was an awesome experience. And then, point in my life where it was just like, “Hey, you got to go home at some point.” I’m an only child. To move back to the city, Motorola did not have a facility [inaudible 00:02:03] here that was hosting marketing or otherwise, so it was time to move to something else.

I spent probably a little under a year looking for an opportunity in New York and ended up interviewing at UniWorld in the fall of 2006, and fell in love with Byron Lewis, the founder. I joined them in February, 2007, and I worked at UniWorld in different departments. Joined as kind of integrated marketing and brand entertainment, as well as being an account director and just did a bunch of things within the agency, but most importantly, wanting to make sure that they were digital first. Because of course, having come from this world, I’m like, “You know what? Having seen the rest of the world, marketing is no longer going to live in these three places; TV, radio and print.”

This little thing that are getting smaller and smaller and smaller, and more powerful, is really where this industry’s going. Thankfully, Byron really valued that, valued my vision around that. I started to get more and more departments that I was working in. In 2010, we had a real conversation about what my future would be with the organization. In that conversation, it came up that I want to succeed him. And in order to succeed him, that means I had to buy the controlling stake of UniWorld Group.

I made two phone calls. I called my parents and I asked them, “What do you think about us buying an advertising agency?” And they were like, “Sure, why not?” And I made another phone call, which was to my boyfriend who is now my husband. And I said, “Hey, what do you think about buying an advertising?” He said, “Sounds good to me.” And I was like, “Oh, okay.”

Went back to Byron [inaudible 00:04:09] said, “All right. Let’s do it.” Took the better part of a year and a half to figure out how to do that, because I had no idea how to buy an advertising agency. Crash course in acquisition, investments, talking to no less than 300 meetings, right? Just, what do I do? Who do I talk to? How do I get this done? I mean, it was just consultants and bankers and lawyers. It was quite a journey, but by May of 2012, we closed and I have now been the chair and CEO of UniWorld since May of 2012.

Melyssa Barrett:  Wow. What a great story. That is phenomenal.

Monique Nelson:  Oh, I should. But yeah, I mean, allyship is critical and part of the safe space is to kind of continue that open dialogue and allowing people to express themselves as we go through this uncomfortable transition. This is stuff we’ve never talked about at work. We are now all of a sudden telling Black people, gay people, Hispanic, Asian, whatever you are, to now be vulnerable in a place that you were told forever to never show your emotions.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Monique Nelson:  And now we have to create a space where that has to stay. Right? You can’t tell people to come out of their shell and then go “Psych!” Right? Like, we can’t.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Monique Nelson:  We just told every person of color to pour their heart out.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Monique Nelson:  Right? Most places, at least the places that I’ve worked with.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Monique Nelson:  So you can’t stop now. You can’t.

Melyssa Barrett:  But I think there’s that level of trust, right?

Monique Nelson:  Yes. That it has to be there. And I am finding that more and more allies are so engaged in that part because that’s where the community’s going to build. Because that’s where you’re going to hear the truth.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Monique Nelson:  The truth is so important in this moment and it doesn’t mean an indictment, but it is a truth about, this is still a challenge. No, it’s not fixed yet. No, this is what I need from you. And that’s really important, and we have to keep that part going. That’s what’s going to carry us through this, is the fact that people will continue to be able to be honest and express themselves. I mean, not everywhere all the time. That’s why it’s called a safe space. [inaudible 00:06:34].

Melyssa Barrett:  Not at every meeting.

Monique Nelson:  Not every meeting, right? But it’s the meeting that you can actually go and say, “This is still a little messed up,” or, “Somebody still hurt my feelings this week,” or whatever. And how can I become a better version of myself? I’m finding organizations doing great work. Super proud of my partner at WPP, who’s really been putting these micro-learning sessions together. We’ve been happy to participate and put anti-racism training together and a place to talk about race and people learning a bit about where this all came from and that we can dismantle something that was a figment, a myth.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Monique Nelson:  This is all built on a myth. We have to go in and deconstruct that myth, but we got to know where it came from. But it’s, most of the time, seeing more allies showing up in that space, willing to lean in, which is the part that, again, I think was probably missing on so many levels the last go round, or it was there, but then it was lost somewhere in between, but we’re in together and it’s important that we all understand where we from so that we can do a real, comprehensive fix.

Melyssa Barrett:  Rodeshia Ransom, another amazing individual. At the time I interviewed her, she was running for county supervisor. And you know sometimes when you think you want a position and you realize there’s something bigger out there for you? She is now working in Congressman Harder’s office and doing amazing work in everything she does. I’m excited to bring some snippets from her interview as well.

Rodeshia Ransom:  Absolutely. Yes. There’s so much happening since the George Floyd killing. I really feel like it’s given people an opportunity to breathe and a freedom to really just say, “Look, this is what we’ve been dealing with for a long time when it comes to racism and injustice.” And it’s not that we’ve never seen it before. It’s not that we’ve never seen a film. We’ve seen films before, but you’ve never seen one quite like that.

You never seen one that just kind of hits you in a place where you’re just saying, “You know what? I cannot be silent about things. I cannot ignore certain things. I cannot allow people to make comments and we just can’t leave people in their ignorance anymore.” What I appreciate about this moment in time is, it’s not just Black people representing, “Hey, we want justice.” It’s not just brown people, but it’s everyone.

It’s very reminiscent of the civil rights movement. When you look at pictures of Martin Luther King, Jr. and that movement, it was not just Black people in that fight for civil rights. It really takes people to come together to say, “We’re done. Enough is enough,” and I really think that this is a moment in time that… I feel like every generation has a moment in time. I don’t even feel like this moment belongs to my generation. I feel like this moment belongs to my children’s generation, as they have been-

They’ve been at the forefront of different protests. When you look at a community such as Tracy, where things are relatively peaceful, but we know that there are stories here. There are stories… We live here. We’ve heard some of the stories. We’ve seen, there was a play once called Being Black in Tracy, and it was very educational. We know that there was the National Socialist White People’s Party that was here in Tracy at one point. We know that people have had some experiences.

So, this moment in time, once this happened and 600 people show up at a protest. There were at least five protests that I know of that I participated in to go and just, my kids went and just to see people talk about their different experiences, and it’s not okay. We need to one, give them an opportunity and a platform to express what they’ve been through, but then as people of governance who are charged with setting the rules, making the policy and honestly, quality of life, this is a big quality of life thing. When you have young people saying, “This happened to me in school,” in the city that you are a leader in-

We were at one, and they said, “Well, who’s in charge of the police?” And I said, “Well, actually, I’m in charge of the police, so what’s your concern? What’s your problem?”

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Rodeshia Ransom:  I think we are very fortunate that our police department has done very well as far as going out and engaging the community. But that did mean that to some other folks, they were saying, “Well, yes, that’s your experience, but don’t discount my experience,” and we cannot do that.

One of the things that has come out of this, in addition to us really trying to give not just young people, but anyone a platform to express what they were feeling and what their needs are. My question is always like, what is your demands? If you’re going to protest, you’re going to need to… what are your demands? I need to know what they are. At the end of the day-

Melyssa Barrett:  Right. Because we need to hold you accountable, right?

Rodeshia Ransom: Tell me what you were hoping. What are you asking from me? And what I found is, really, people just want to know that they can trust… They can feel safe. They can feel safe when their kids go out. The young people want to feel like they can be treated equal. After what? A few protests, 500, 300, I think the smallest one was like a hundred people at a candlelight vigil. Really, what we had to do was go back and myself and other council members, myself, and one council member, Ariola and I, we wrote a policy proposal that was just recently adopted, called the Equity and Empowerment Initiative.

The purpose of that was to do an assessment of our community. One, we need to acknowledge that everyone’s experience in our community is not the same. Acknowledge some past things that have happened, and then make a commitment, a value statement that says, “We value equity and diversity here in our community.” Our staff did an awesome job. We said, “You need to come back with a value statement, a resolution,” and we gave them the key points, and they actually came back with a very comprehensive resolution for Black Lives Matter, which a year ago, you could never get anyone to say that in the city council chambers, let alone get five people to vote yes on adopting that policy. And it was important, especially after listening to a lot of the Hispanic community here to include them in this initiative.

We put that in there, and then myself and Councilman Ariola, we wrote the Empowerment Initiative to look at our budget and how we’re spending money and how we can actually make sure that when our police are out there doing work, they’ve already told us, “Hey, it’s not my job to solve homelessness. I am not a social worker. Don’t make me go and arrest homeless people and violate their rights.” Right?

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Rodeshia Ransom:  We looked at this initiative as a way to not just make a value statement, but to make sure that when it comes to race, sex, gender, sexual orientation… We have women working in our city and they need to be able to know that, hey, they have the same opportunities as men, and Black people need to know they have the same opportunities as white people.

We need to make sure that our departments, not just the city departments, but people we give money to, through MOUs and contracts and vendors, if you’re going to work with our city, you’re going to value equity and diversity because it’s required before we are going to work with you. But basically, my point is, is that we don’t want to just talk about equity and empowerment. We want to make sure that when it comes to the policies in our community, the systems, that people can know that we mean business when we say that we’re a place that values equity and that we value justice, and that you can be safe with us.

Our police department, they actually agreed. Even before we even had the conversation, our police chief was on top of it. He’d already made some moves to take out one of the choke holds. I can’t pronounce that choke hold, but he’d already making a move to take it out. We talked about, they’re going to increase their training to make sure that there is a professional courage. There’s already a duty to intercede for a police department, but we want to give them the support in the proper training, in knowing that this is how you intervene with your coworker and they should feel safe doing that with one another.

So, there’s training that they’re going to go through. There’s actually a history of policing that new recruits are going to learn, about like the history of policing and where it started and where it should go, at least in our city. That’s how…

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s a lot of work. That’s great. That’s fabulous.

Rodeshia Ransom:  That is a lot of work in a short amount of time. I’ll be honest with you, I’m probably making it sound really easy, but believe it or not, there are people who are opposed and they just don’t see that you can value justice. You can be anti-racist, and you can still support and work with your police department. For some reason, and I think it’s very divisive, people want to pretend, or they articulate that the two don’t go together. They’re not mutually exclusive concepts.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right, right. Exactly.

Dee Miller, talk about an expert in product inclusion. This is a woman who has so much more to give when it comes to innovation and helping companies reach the potential that they have to deliver equity in the marketplace as they’re developing new products. Dee Miller currently works at Visa, and has just been doing amazing things as well. So, here’s some snippets from her interview.

Dee Miller:  I think users should be giving feedback on a continuous basis and asking for the ability to have that a mechanism to provide feedback. I think that’s where it becomes… I mean, for consumers, consumers like to talk, right? They like to give feedback. They like to give reviews.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, usually it’s like, you either like it, or you hate, right? If you’re in the middle, you’re probably not going to give a review.

Dee Miller:  That’s fair. You won’t intentionally give a review. However, if companies and people and consumers together, like if a consumer says, “I want a forum to talk in,” I think that is what needs to happen, right? You need to be looking at… I think one of the examples I like so far is, I’m on the app Clubhouse. And it’s the app that’s what I call a audio podcast, pretty much. That’s what I mean, everybody can participate. That’s the thing. What I like about it, I don’t know if it’s every Friday, but the founders have a town hall where all the users have the opportunity to give feedback on what features they like, what they didn’t like, ask questions, why this worked this way. Why did you do? And I just marveled at it. I’m like, “Oh, my goodness.” And they address it at that time.

I’m like, “If everyone could do that.” What was interesting, what I’m bringing that up is that the users were in there to do that. It was like, “Provide me a forum and I’ll come.” And I don’t know if it’s because people can’t really see them other than their face, and then you just hear their voice, and so they’re great with that. That could be it, but they were able to get that.

From a user, you should be thinking about, does this work for me? Does this work for my kid? Does this work for my friend? If it doesn’t, you should be able to find a way to provide that feedback. I honestly think also, users, if they don’t pay for it, impact change no matter what. “I’m not going to buy this because it discriminates against me, or I’m not going to use this.” That in itself, you have to hit the bottom line. You got to hit that bottom number in some kind of way for sometimes… So, yes, private sector has the ability to impact, but in doing that, you sometimes have to impact private sector, and letting them know money is where it’s going to get hit if you don’t improve your [inaudible 00:19:52]-

Melyssa Barrett:  Absolutely. Yeah. Well, and it’s interesting…

Dee Miller:  I’m a lefty. I was into engineering. I went to this class called science, technology and society, and they talked about how technology actually excludes lefties. So, I’m a lefty with everyone in my family that’s right. My immediate family is right. My parents, I blame them on anything I do right, because… Like, with my hand, my right hand, because they are right-handers. Sport-wise, I probably lean towards the right, because they don’t know how to teach a lefty, but I was so interested in that piece in like, how do we design for all?

From there, my grandmother had diabetes. I finished school, went to work for the National Academies of Engineering, did some work there, and then I decided I wanted to go back to… And then went to National Science Foundation. Met a professor there, and that was for me to pretty much look at how we can improve our engineering curriculum, is why I was there. I was a science education analyst, and I met someone there, Dr. Wofford, and she was at Virginia Tech and she overheard me saying, “I want to go back to school.”

One of the reasons I wanted to go back to school is my grandmother had diabetes and she couldn’t use her blood glucose monitor. And I was like, “Okay, so first I had the lefty issue. Now it’s like technology, that’s supposed to help you and you can’t use it.” Dr. Walker said, “You get into Virginia Tech, I’ll pay for your masters.” I was like, “Well, I can do that. I think I can.” I applied and I got in and I worked under the advisement of Dr. Tanya Smith Jackson. I looked and I said, “Tanya, we need to look at the design of technology and look at it from an aging and ethnicity perspective.”

I ran a study where I had people who had diabetes come in and have them show me how they were using it. Did a product interactive focus group, tried to understand how they were using, what was their issues, what they thought certain letters were. I mean, in the Black community, they don’t say diabetes as much. They say, “I have sugar.” As you get older, they be like, “I have sugar.” And I’m like, these are the words and terminologies that differ by race, and we found that there was differences.

From there I said, “Okay, I want to take this to another level, and I want to really focus on… ” So, I decided to stay in health systems engineering. I got my masters in health systems engineering and I was there and I decided, okay, I want to stay for a PhD, but now what I want to do is talk about aging in place. I’ve always been about inclusiveness, right? And I’m like, now we’re moving to aging in place. What does that look like? How does the technology need to work? How do we help our older population stay in place and not have to go to a home and things, and really own.

For my dissertation, I focused on tech security and privacy as we’re moving technology into the home, and really understanding private and public areas in the home and what older people, how they collect information outside and within the home and what type of controls we have to design to maintain their privacy. So, I found these different things, but the entire time when I look back, I was like, I’ve always been on this track about inclusiveness.

Melyssa Barrett:  I’ve also included Caltha Seymour. At the time of the interview, she was the national channel manager in the industrial control division. Since then, she has become the chief diversity officer. So, we’re going to get her back and have her come and talk about some of the things she’s doing. However, I thought you might enjoy some snippets from her as well.

Caltha Seymour:  Yeah. Another great question. Eton, just as a company, right? Our mission is to improve the quality of life and the environment through the use of power management technology and services. We provide sustainable solutions that help our customers effectively manage electrical, hydraulic and mechanical power, and in a safe way and in efficient way, and also very reliably.

We’re large corporation. I like to say, Eton’s like the undercover fortune 500 company you’ve never heard about, because our revenues were almost $22 billion last year and we’re in over 175 countries with over 90,000 employees. So, a very neat company that I had the privilege to get exposed to as I’m finishing up my MBA and one of the things that was really exciting for me to work for a company Eton is the commitment to diverse [inaudible 00:24:49] experiences and diversity of thought.

I was brought into the company through their global leadership development program for MBA graduates. I was one of six from the class of 2018, coming in, in ’16. It provided an opportunity to work in two different divisions of the company for one year. So, when you’re coming somewhere for one year, you’re an individual contributor, you’re leading [inaudible 00:25:12], you’ve got to get work done. I think if it wasn’t a culture where diverse experiences and the inclusiveness of working well with the people that you have on your team, it probably would be hard to have results in a year.

I even really surprised myself in this couple years of that program because I was just overly astonished at how well IMB is woven all through the DNA of the company. From the person that’s welding some of our products up into our CEO. You know, there’s a strong commitment, and that commitment really is around the aspirational goal that Eton has to be a model of inclusion and diversity in our industry. As we aspire to do that, it’s from the way we welcome people to the table, we include people by listening to what they have to offer.

We’ve created an environment where all employees have an opportunity to be their best. What I love about Eton is that when I come to work every day, I can be my whole self. I don’t have to be somebody else. I don’t have to change the way my thought process is. I don’t have to hide any interests that maybe I have that I’m worried that may not be accepted. It’s a place where you really can bring your whole self to work. Again, I just am so blessed to work for a company that sees our performance and our standards essential to our inclusion and diversity commitment.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s fantastic. I mean, I love that quote, you can…

Caltha Seymour:  … I volunteer with, and some of the boards that I sit on, but how do we go beyond the numbers? Because we can run our data about the women that we have, the LGBT folks that identify, people that are disabled, people that are Latino backgrounds. We can run the numbers, but we should really be challenging ourselves to dig a little bit deeper, right? Get even more transparent, so we know where the gaps are. And this is not just to Eton. This is really any organization and company, right? 

If you look at everything from your salary band. Are you losing women in the lower salary band? Are you losing women in the higher salary bands? There’s so much that we can look at, but we have to go a little bit deeper than just our race and gender numbers. So, it’s been neat to see, through the cultivation of IMD being in the DNA of the people that work at Eton, that’s starting to get better, but our division also said [inaudible 00:27:47] we can improve. He says, “We’ve made some great gains, but we have a long way to go.”

It’s nice know that your division, your company, is committed to the IMD mission. It’s not just a statement that’s on a website, but we’re actually doing the things to get there. It’s nice to be involved and to have those open conversations and to know, what are our goals and aspirations moving forward, especially knowing the statistics that we’ve been talking about over the last year and how are we going to get there and how do we continue to press on?

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, absolutely. I mean, just some great things going on at Eton, which is fantastic because…

Caltha Seymour:  If you haven’t been exposed to the different cultures and the different thought processes, and I think that’s what’s kind of neat about growing up internationally because you do have a little bit different of [inaudible 00:28:38] that’s what’s cultivated and encouraged, and you’re around that. When you’re not around that environment, you know what? You can put yourself in that environment. It’s all about learning.

I mean, I’m such a nerd, and I think if I wasn’t so curious, maybe I wouldn’t have traveled to places like Estonia, where people wanted to touch my hair and touch my skin because they’ve only seen Black people on TV.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, yeah.

Caltha Seymour:  But that was, I had an opportunity to be part of a learning and cultural experience. It wasn’t offensive to me at all, because I’m in an environment where the people I was with had never seen a live Black person, and that’s okay. Make it a learning experience, make it fun. So, I think there’s a way for us to… I’m a little bit of a disrupter, and I find when you disrupt, you get changed, right?

Melyssa Barrett:  Absolutely.

Caltha Seymour:  And I can move forward into the goals and the initiatives that you want.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, and I love that you talk about curious…

I hope you’re enjoying the podcast. If you are, I’m always looking for new followers. Please refer to your friends and hit subscribe. I really appreciate your support. Make it a great day. Choose diversity, create inclusion, and achieve excellence. Thanks for joining me on the Jolly Podcast. Please subscribe, so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.