March 29, 2018
Monica: I can answer that question in two ways. First of all, I like to think of my role as being a builder and a challenger. I’m here to help Campbell build the most diverse and inclusive organization possible. I believe that’s extremely important for the work that we do every day, because at the end of the day, we want to make sure that our people and our products reflect the likes and the tastes of different cultures, and the different people that we make food for. This is a food company and building an organization that understands and relates to the preferences of our consumers is really important. Sometimes that requires some challenging too, so I encourage people to think differently about things.
The other way of answering this question is the way my son would answer it. My eight year old son would say, “Mommy, you just talk to people all day and they actually pay you for it.”
Monica: Companies these days have been challenged with trying to understand and relate to a world that is constantly changing, and changing at a pace that is faster than any other time in history. With the advent of technology and the fact that people in any corner of the world can express their opinion, it’s extremely important to have different perspectives so that we can not only understand but anticipate what consumers want. What does it mean for people to be well-nourished? What would people like to eat?
But it was really a four hour flight from Puerto Rico to New Jersey that sealed my fate in diversity and inclusion. I was a female leader on a senior executive team in Puerto Rico and took a role at the same company, but at the headquarters in New Jersey. As soon as I stepped off the flight, I was no longer just a female leader, I was a Hispanic female leader. So what does that mean? I understood the term, but I didn’t understand what it meant in its totality. I underestimated what it would mean in the eyes of others and how it would lead them to anticipate how I would behave or how I would speak, and the way I would think. I had never experienced it in that way. I started observing how many labels we give people before we actually get to know them and that got me tremendously curious about giving a voice and understanding to the perspectives of people who would otherwise not have a voice in the organization.
Monica: Yes. Fortunately, this function is not new anymore, it’s just that it has evolved significantly these past few years. When we started talking about diversity and inclusion people still associated it with the civil rights movement; in the United States that is. However, I started my career outside the U.S., so I think about this topic in a slightly different way. Some of the lenses we use to understand people’s concerns are historic. What disenfranchises people is different from one country to another, however. Where do these biases or tensions come from? There are so many more layers to people, and you have to dig deep to truly understand these differences.
In the past, when you joined a company, you adjust your behavior to the company culture and what was expected. Now, people in almost every generation are taking more ownership of who they are, they want to share their unique perspective and be heard. That creates an opportunity for the organization to engage with their people in a very different way.
Monica: I would say we have to start by understanding that this is not easy work. This is not something that organically happens. People actually don’t like to talk about their differences. People connect on their similarities. Either it’s their kids, their families, their sports affiliations; no matter what, people tend to look for commonalities.
If you and I start a conversation about how we are the same, it connects us. But in reality, talking about our differences is where we learn the most. It is important, but it can be very uncomfortable.
So if you are leading an organization, you have to be very intentional. It starts with a decision. Becoming an inclusive and diverse organization is a decision that has to be made. After the decision is made, we have to be relentless in our commitment to making it happen. To create the kind of environment where differences are encouraged and where disruption is deep.
Monica: Businesses are very grounded in data. We have data for sales, we have data for markets, we have data for hiring, we have data for many things. The metrics around this area shouldn’t be any different. Clearly we need to be concerned about measuring our return and understanding what behaviors people actually recognize as more inclusive. It comes back to commitment and being relentless about measurement. You can measure it through numbers and you can measure it through qualitative data – there’s many ways in which that can be done, but it requires commitment to the work.
Monica: I think it starts with a few basic things, but we have to do them intentionally and relentlessly. You have to start by asking questions at every level of the organization: How are we doing? What are the barriers? And it cannot happen inconsistently, because people are not going to feel comfortable being open if you only ask the question every once in a blue moon. You have to create a habit of asking questions and becoming a fish in a fishbowl so people can trust you.
They need to trust you with information about how they really feel without worrying about negative repercussions. It’s built on a practice of asking questions, listening attentively, and suspending judgment. Because sometimes we ask a question and we’re immediately thinking about the answer we’re going to give to somebody—that’s not listening, it’s waiting to respond.
Many years ago I learned that we should hold our opinions gently. If we hold them too hard we might hurt a person, and prevent ourselves from getting influenced by others. You want to have an opinion, of course, but you need to be open to different influences and perspectives from people who think differently than you do. I think that’s how you create a healthy corporate culture.
Monica: Absolutely. It’s a challenge. What I learned through the years is that we cannot negotiate who we are. You cannot come to work every day covering up certain areas of who you are, or the way you talk. That’s what happened to me.
We try to adapt, to tone, and to fix. In the work environment, I think we have to come to terms with what is really core to ourselves: What is the core of what I believe, what do I stand for, and what is non-negotiable for me? Who I am as a woman, I don’t want to have to hide. I don’t want to behave like someone else; I love being a woman. Some women might say, well, I’m more of a tomboy, or I’m more girly –whoever you are, that’s who you are. It’s non-negotiable. I think that’s important to recognize and it requires some self-reflection.
Monica: Probably a little bit later than I would have wished. It took me a few years and several conversations and experiences to be assertive about who I wanted to be. But what got me there was that every time I was changing to a new job – whether it was a new company or a promotion – I asked my previous leader: as I move along up the ladder to a new experience, what are your recommendations?
Again, it’s all about asking questions. And I discovered a trend. Leaders would have specific guidance on certain things, but there was a common thread: people continued to say “just be who you are and you will be successful.” That never occurred to me. It’s so simple and I always felt tempted to follow up and ask “but what about me or myself did you like most?” Their answer was typically something related to the passion I bring to the table, and that fact that I am devoted to my work. So that was who I was.
Once you learn that about yourself, you don’t just move on, you dwell on it. You ask yourself, what does that mean to me? Is this something I want to preserve about myself and make part of my personal brand? Because in certain instances there were things I heard that I didn’t want to be part of myself. In those instances, I set out to change that, but it was a personal choice. Who I am is what I choose to be.
Monica: I would say that what has helped me is going to the usual suspects and out-of-the-box thinkers. This is your tribe. Sometimes you go to people that are closer to you like parents or your spouse or your children and they will have a tremendous amount of insight into how you show up in the world, what they value most about you, and what you might want to tweak a little bit. Sometimes, however, it’s those people who you interact with every once in a blue moon that you may not know you left an impact on.
Monica: All are important. I would say in my career, all have been important and all have been essential at different times. Sponsors gave me opportunities and opened doors for me for things that I didn’t even have the capacity to dream of myself. They could see a bigger picture for my career, future, and life than I could; at least at that time.
Mentors have guided me through navigating corporate America. Coaches have given me the privilege of being a partner and standing alongside me through this journey. This is extremely important. You do have to be okay with being vulnerable and trusting that somebody can really help you.
Monica: Probably when I wasn’t feeling like myself, or not as successful as I wanted to be. When I was feeling stuck at pivotal transition points. Coaches have been tremendously helpful when I felt I was not being as effective or successful as I wanted to be.
Monica: One that is important to me is start small, dream big. I say start small because when you are starting in your career, we have a tendency to want to conquer the world. That’s what that stage of our lives is all about. But it’s important to have the opportunity to start really small, discover whatever you love to do, and learn every aspect of it. Become an expert of your craft. Whatever you love, learn how to do it well, and learn to connect the dots. Take your craft and ask yourself what you can do with it. Only when you know the small, can you actually lead the present into the future.
Why rush it? Enjoy the ride. Enjoy every moment because the only thing we can control is the present.