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Podcast: How to empower Diversity and Inclusion through Internal Comms

Podcast: How to empower Diversity and Inclusion through Internal Comms

Jonathan Davies


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49 mins read

Thu, Oct 1, '20  

Managing diverse talents, driving organizational change, supporting and including communities worldwide and in the workplace – SAP SuccessFactors’ head of Global Field Communications Tyrone Webb Jr. is here today to tell us all about it! 

Click play to watch or listen to the podcast, or scroll down to read the transcript. Don’t forget to rate us if you enjoyed tuning in!

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Jonathan Davies: Alright, welcome! We're here. We're back with another episode of the Internal Communications podcast. 

Today I have a very special guest – Tyrone Webb Jr., who works at SAP SuccessFactors and does Internal Comms there, but also wears the hats of Diversity and Inclusion. Tyrone and I met each other throughout the wonderful medium of the interwebs and it was actually really fun because I had a podcast before that we ran with Vessy, where we talked about Diversity and Inclusion, and what Internal Comms can do for it. I consulted Tyrone because I wanted to know, in his expert opinion, what kind of questions would he want to ask and what does he want to find more about. Tyrone was kind enough to contribute and ask such a high level question that I figured that this is a great opportunity to just invite him over on our podcast and have a talk. 

Tyrone, welcome. Please introduce yourself to our audience, and then we can kickstart this.

Tyrone Webb Jr.: Good day, everybody. Thank you so much, Jonathan, for having me. I'm excited to be here, it’s an exciting day. So, what do I do at SAP? I do quite a lot now, but to narrow it down: one, I live in Atlanta, Georgia. I relocated here eight years ago for SAP and I had various different roles, and my role today is head of global field communications.

What that means exactly is SAP? We are a business-to-business type of operation enterprise software company, the majority of our people are customer facing, and I manage communications for our customer facing teams within SAP SuccessFactors. We have something new on the price list. If we have to let them know about new products, if there's any type of executive messaging that's coming from the board down, I'm responsible for writing those pieces as well as managing the executive communications for two C level executives. Although that's fun – getting into a little bit more of a fun, fun stuff, right? I wear many different hats within Diversity and Inclusion, especially being an intersectionality. I'm Black and I'm gay, and what I'm able to do is for one late last year, I was appointed the coli for pride of SAP North America. What that means is, we have probably 14 different chapters throughout the nation, including the US and Canada. Then me and my two other colleagues manage those other groups as well as really drive the change that we're trying to see across the company at a higher level. We're able to bridge that gap between what the chapters are doing, what our main chapter is doing.


Bringing Diversity and Inclusion to the workplace

Then taking that over to the D&I folks. As well as within SAP SuccessFactors, I am the Diversity and Inclusion ambassador, where I am working to bring change to the business on how we can diversify of color, of gender, LGBT, you name it. Veterans. Everyone is included within Diversity and Inclusion. Right now we are working on a really cool internship program where we're going to hire five diverse interns within SAP SuccessFactors to sit in the office of the president. One of the things for the Diversity and Inclusion council that I am working on, and that I'm leading is our first kickoff call block, kick off call.

We're trying to now get to SAP SuccessFactors of the global business, and we want to get into other areas. It's not just America that has diversity problems. There's issues in Europe, there's issues in APJ, there's issues in Latin America. Then we can get a core group together to say, “Okay, we're going to have you by focusing on Latin America because you live there. You can tell us what the issues are and then report back to us on how the business can help support you. Then I can take that back and go to leaders and say, “Hey, this is an issue that we're having in Brazil.”, for example. “What can we do as we continue to plan out for next year? What can we do to integrate into our business model? Make sure that we're having our employees safe and then to keep them very diverse.”

Jonathan Davies: That's an amazing and kind of intimidating task list right there, which is really cool. I guess first and foremost, you kind of have that Internal Comms hat, and then you've got the D&I thing that you're doing. You're making sure that the Internal Communications side is also aligned with commercial goals, which is always a very cool thing to hear. Then with the D&I side of things, trying to better the business.

Now I want to dive into the Internal Comms aspect a little bit in a second, but I think my first question for you is, what sparks the need for a living, breathing D&I movement within SAP and how did it come into existence? When did you get roped in? 

Tyrone Webb Jr.: I've been at SAP for eight years. When I first started, there was always a diversity goal each year. In a corporation there's always changes. Leaders change all the time. Sometimes they stay, sometimes they don't. But with each leader, there's always been a progression with diversity because in tech, as you can see in America, and although SAP is not a Silicon Valley tech company, we're still in that enterprise software world. Silicon Valley for example, has been having tons of issues when it comes to diversity, and I'm going to circle back to that. You leave that in that box. Then for SAP, being a European company, where they actually have offices all around the world, they see the need to keep it very diverse, to retain talent, to help increase revenue profits and to be able to share that success story, because it's really important. 

As I recall, as I was coming to the office, I do remember our Black employee network has started. I joined that. Then slowly, I started to get more involved with pride and I was a lead for the chapter in Atlanta for pride, where we reported our prior events, we supported the human rights campaign. We actually had someone come in from the city to talk to us about our rights and what a hate crime is, what it means to be mistreated as an LGBTQ+ person. It sort of just unraveled where I've just gotten more and more involved, and I sat on boards externally outside of SAP.

I started to see what the city of Atlanta was doing. I started to join different things. I started to be more active, more vocal, and everything really started to marry. An SAP success factor is the HR collapsed solution, where we really focus on people. If we're helping our customers focus on our people, we have to be the catalyst for change and that's when I really start to get involved. But this year, because of COVID and the social injustice that was happening in America, it was a prime time opportunity for me to speak up and really call out some of the things that just weren't happening, where I didn't feel supported, or even our other Black employees didn't feel supported within the company.

I sent a direct message to the president of SuccessFactors, just basically asking her, “How can I help you support us? Because all the time leaders have so much going on and they're just running from one meeting to the next. For something that was happening this year on top of COVID, parents were homeschooling, our leadership in government, everything. I just had to be that voice and other Black employees spoke up. I spoke up, the president of all of North America spoke up. We had a panel session that I spoke on, and at the speech with the president of SuccessFactors, we brainstormed some ideas on what we can do.

The ideas just started to flow where we came up with the diversity council. We came up with the internship program. We were talking about pay equity and that's something that SAP has always done – it’s been a pay equity scale for maybe the past three to four years where they look at the pay disparity between people of color and gender. That's really important. I have to say it just sort of unraveled over time and my external work and my internal work at SAP really started to come together where it made sense, and providing me opportunities like this, to speak to you around these topics, to speak with leaders, and then to really have a seat at the table to where I can really be that catalyst for change.

Jonathan Davies: First and foremost, it's awesome to hear how passionate you are about this, because it's pretty clear that this came, sort of rolled. It sounds like there was this snowball effect that was happening with you, and that was driven by that deep passion that you have, which is awesome to hear. I think a crucial aspect for something like this, it needs to be genuine. It needs to be authentic for true change to happen. 

Tyrone Webb Jr.: Thank you. Yes, absolutely. 

Jonathan Davies: When it comes to that, I guess that you're maybe in a bit of an advantageous position, knowing that you're actually a professional communicator. That must have helped with things. Were there some specific things that you immediately got roped in on where they said “We need Tyrone to help us execute this properly“?

Tyrone Webb Jr.: Well, two things. One, I started writing a lot more on LinkedIn. It was something that I've done before in the past, or usually around events or just regular blogs, but this year I wrote an open letter on what it was like to what it is like to be Black and gay in America. I wrote an open letter on the Black Lives Matter movement. I wrote an open letter on pride and what we're doing. We actually added the Black and brown colors on our new pride flag at SAP to support diversity and intersectionality within the LGBTQ community. My profile just blew up. It was just the perfect storm, and I'm also known as a really good interviewer.


Creating awareness on D&I

Late last year, we had a few people join our team and had the opportunity to interview some good talent. We actually hired a good talent that I recommend for us to hire. With that it was like “Let’s bring Tyrone in for the interview of some interns.” Then me being Black, I have a strong Black network to where I can actually nominate young, Black talent for this internship program. I'm able to look at the job description to say, “No, we shouldn't say that, we should say this.” or sometimes in some of the communications that we might put out, the word might be “African American” and then it takes me to say “No, let’s say “Black”” because not everyone who is Black identifies as “African American”. I don’t say it in a rude way at all and no one takes offence. It's really trying to go in and tweak. That's where my communications background and expertise come in – when it comes to the language and how we're trying to talk to certain communities, even for the LGBTQ community.

How do we speak to the allies? How do we speak to the trans community? I'm able to go in and really take care of those languages and those language barriers that some of the leaders might have. 

Jonathan Davies: Actually you bring up a really, really interesting point that I've been meaning to touch on and I'm just going to go for it now. Because language is obviously a very big thing within Diversity and Inclusion, and inclusive language I found is something people need to learn about. It's certainly been a case with me – I found a lot of people that would say that their language is just completely not inclusive. In my experience, from my direct environment a lot of it came from clumsiness, not being aware, kind of being ignorant towards those situations. Now I'm wondering first off, what are your findings on that? Second, how do you kind of help people change their language? Because it's a pretty big behavior change. I'm just wondering if you've got tips for that.

Tyrone Webb Jr.: I would say the findings for not knowing the language barrier comes. It just comes as the world continues to change. There's not a particular time where you're sitting down and you may hear it. But for example, this year there was a ruling that the supreme court had passed for the LGBT community. Then our president did something else to offset that. When we were talking about this at work, or when you’re talking about this to your friends who might be allies, they may use inappropriate or offensive words, and they might just not understand why it's offensive. That's when you have to take that time to speak up.

When I spoke up to my president, she was very open. We have a very open president, who’s  always willing to learn. Very friendly, genuinely cares about everyone and everything. When I was able to come to her with some of the ideas or even tailor some of the language and her messaging, it was just all very open kind feedback, explaining why, and she was able to receive it, and say “lesson learned”.

Now I can move on to the next event or the next communication that we need to write to get out there. She personally had asked me, “Please, call me out anytime you see that I'm saying something incorrectly or doing something wrong where it might offend other employees when it comes to Diversity and Inclusion.”

Again, she's not doing it intentionally. Yes, even I make mistakes in the LGBT community. I may say something that isn’t  necessarily appropriate to say, or I may not know that it's okay to say “queer”. This is a perfect example of that. For years, “queer” was not a word that we were allowed to use, but it came back within the past couple of years.

A great way to educate yourself on this is to really have a diverse group of friends, which is why it's really important. If you just have friends who look like you, who are very similar to you, and they're not diverse, you're never going to learn and grow from each other. How would you know what fits it, because no one in the room will know or understand. It just takes one person to have a diverse group of friends to educate everyone else around them. 

Jonathan Davies: I totally agree and those are some really strong points. I think that when it comes to language, you named the example of having a conversation with your CEO, which I think is a really great example.

Now, obviously it's always a little bit difficult to bring up the subject. Not because people don't want to speak up or maybe people don't want to learn, but because it's a very sensitive issue, especially right now. People who are confronted with the mistakes they make, tend to feel like they're doing something wrong when they weren't aware of it, so their defence automatically kind of raises a little bit, and people that point these things out to them can also do so with a lot of passion. I've never heard examples of actual animosity, but just a lot of passion, which makes a lot of sense, I suppose. Approaching those conversations in a constructive way - how do you do that? Because your CEO is really open to it already, but what about other people that are maybe neutral?

Tyrone Webb Jr.: You can educate people all day and they might not be receptive, and that's on them. You can't take that on. For example, I can't take that on. If they want to continue to say disrespectful things or offensive language, that's on them. I did my part, but I have to let it go. I can't hold onto that. That's just my belief. There might be some people out there that disagree with me. That might just want to believe in hammering, but you can't force anyone to change and you can't force anyone to change their beliefs. If it's something that they solely believe in and believe it to their core. That's not my responsibility. My responsibility is to speak up, to educate, engage and inspire you. It's up to you to drink the water, right? You can lead a horse to water, but it's up to the horse to drink it.

Jonathan Davies: I love that. Definitely. Maybe it’s tough for people to realize that you've done your part, that you feel responsible for you've given that passion and outlets. Now it is indeed up to the person who received that message, to change, I guess. Actually we started off this conversation before our listeners were even here where we were talking a little bit about how to bring in these programs into companies and how to make sure that there's generally a bit of awareness here. One of the core things you said is you need to have a seat at the table. Also, definitely from that Internal Comms perspective. I want to pick your brain on that. How do you go about getting there?

How do you stay there? Maybe also a very interesting topic. How has it helped you to execute your passion for Diversity and Inclusion and also Internal Communications a bit more?

Tyrone Webb Jr.: Absolutely. You have to speak up and you cannot be afraid to speak up. You must speak up, say it gently, say it kindly. When you speak up, provide recommendations and provide ideas because we're all brilliant, and you should never underestimate the value that you bring to a table. I don't care if it's something that is this tiny, because sometimes something this tiny can make an idea this big. It took me a long time to learn that.

One of my mentors told me to never underestimate the value that you bring to a table. I will say, “All I did was dot the iron cross, the T.” He said, “You know how big that is? If we would have missed that piece, this whole thing would have fallen apart, and we would have looked really bad, but the fact that you came in and you saw that and no one else did, that's a value add that you brought.”. Have a seat at the table by speaking up, providing ideas, and you stay there by delivering and showing results. For example, for the internship program, not only am I helping with the process, but I'm also providing talent. How else can you support a talent if you don’t know it? Maybe there's something you can do to help with the onboarding. Maybe there's something you can help by being a mentor, so deliver and really show your value, your impact that you have within the business.


Managing diverse talent

Jonathan Davies: I think that internship program is an amazing initiative and a great example of implementing a more diverse and inclusive workspace. When it comes to that program, when you start evaluating it, when do you call it a success? I guess a secondary question to that would be, are your interns also going to be doing some Internal Communications themselves and communicating with the company to speak about their experiences, especially on this subject?

Tyrone Webb Jr.: There's two birds right there. It's my version of success for the program because I have very high expectations, and then there's also the realistic success, which is being able to hire five diverse talents. All five of them need to be diverse, that's the goal. That's what we're trying to find and figure out. My version of success of the program is once the internship has finished, they all transitioned to full time roles. An internship is absolutely great but we already know it’s the end goal of the students that are graduating. They want to work full time and they deserve to work full time. They deserve to work for a great company. How can we help them transition and retain them? That's the other part of my success – transition them to full time roles and to retain them. After so many years, they're still working at SAP, just like myself. I've been there for eight years. They've retained me by having groups like the Black employee network, by allowing me to have a seat at the table with the leadership team within SuccessFactors, as well as working with pride.

Will they be in the communications? No. Yes and no. Each intern is going to report into someone that reports into the president. My manager who runs communications is one of those people. But then you have someone who does strategic programs, someone who does strategy, so there's different buckets, someone who focuses only on the customer. It's going to be a nasty, diverse piece of it, not just the birth of people and color, and gender, but it's also diversity of projects, diversity topics. It's communication strategy, strategic initiatives. There’s going to be the customer, there's going to be something around leadership, probably.

How can we bring them all together? Now we're thinking about a project that they could work on. They have all five of these interns that are in five different buckets. How can they all come together? Almost like the Power Rangers or Captain Planet and do like these really big projects, because then one person can own communications.

One person can own the strategy and they can learn from each other. That's how that just grows and builds into an even bigger diversity aspect of this type of program. 

Jonathan Davies: That's brilliant. I love the idea of a Captain Planet composed. That's really a brilliant metaphor right there. I'm also wondering from a practical perspective, I've had a lot of Internal Communicators reach out to me over the past six weeks.


Managing D&I as Internal Communicators

They say “Look, I'm passionate about this. I know that we can do more for Diversity and Inclusion. I know that as an Internal Communicator, I'm in an ideal position to get something started both bottom-up and top-down, get leadership involved, but also get people to do something first, which is great. People are in a position. They have the will to be there. Then the other thing I hear is now, especially with COVID, there is much to do. Internal Communicators are becoming overloaded when it comes to their tasks. Right now, maybe we're in a little bit of a slope, but some companies or some countries are going back into lockdown. We're not entirely sure what the workload is going to be like globally. I will also differ. How do you balance having the workload of communications, specifically executive communications, and then also activities within enriching Diversity and Inclusion within SAP?

Tyrone Webb Jr.: Really, really strong organizational skills. Look, you can't do everything. You're one person and you really have to be smart about what's priority and what's not. You cannot be afraid of the word “No”. In times like this, it's really important to understand the word “No” and I don't just mean “No”, if you hear a “No”, but you saying “No”.

In America we live to work and Europeans work to live. Here people start calls at 6:00 AM and they may not finish their calls until 8:00 PM and then they work until midnight. There's no time for you in that process, so you really have to A) know yourself and say “No” when you have too much and be able to speak up and B) This is where you can really teach someone else. There are interns currently at SAP and I'm working on a project now, and it's a pretty massive project. I have an intern, who’s like “I want to schedule this. I want to do this. I want to do this.” This is where I have to let go and say “Do it! own it, do it. I trust you.” This is how you build trust. This is how you grow the next generation of leaders. Because you can't do everything and no one's going to be here forever. How else will your interns or people behind you learn? If you don't let go and delegate some things to other people. I'm not saying that you should delegate everything. I'm not saying to delegate the things that you don't like. That's still wrong, but delegate something meaty that's going to take up a lot of your time to where you can coach someone to do these things. They might actually do it better than you, which is completely okay. I have one week during the program and my intern might have a different way of doing the program, and that's completely fine because now I'm learning from my intern, and vice versa. 

Jonathan Davies: Do you think that for the listeners out there, that maybe don't right now have the capacity to bring on a lot of interns, something like a D&I ambassadorship program, that you and I could help, because essentially you're hopefully recruiting really passionate people? The will is already there. They don't mind taking that part on their plate because they're very passionate about it. It's up to them to organize it, not your responsibility, but you trust them to do it. Do you think that there are parts in that you could delegate to them to do as well? Maybe even because it creates some authenticity because it's not just you to communicate or is doing things.

Tyrone Webb Jr.: That's exactly what we're doing with the council. We have a council. We actually made a call for people that want to join the council. We're asking them to come to the table, to the call next week, with ideas that we can execute on right away in their regions and territory. It's not just us – not just myself and HR, and the chief of staff, and the president. This is how you open the doors up for everyone because there's things happening right now. In Singapore, where I don't live and I don't have that much knowledge about the diversity, I know that it's illegal to be gay, but what else is going on there? Once we hear those ideas, how can we take that back to the leadership, let them know what's happening? Then how can we start supporting our LGBT employees in that area? Do we create a group there? Do we create some type of empowerment? Do we bring people in to educate the office? What do we do? Those are just ideas. I don't know. There might be something happening today in Singapore where a law was passed to make it legal. How can we get our ear closer to the ground for the government piece of it, the working piece of it, and really trying to understand how we can help from this part of the world.

Jonathan Davies: Awesome. That’s definitely a great way to build out your global understanding because you can't have that overview if you work in a massive company like SAP, which has locations throughout the entire world. I'm sure that a lot of people listening to this podcast feel the same. You can’t just sit everywhere and especially now that you can’t travel, that's especially the case.

There's one more specific thing that I wanted to pick your brain about, because you said within the power of saying “No”, that you also need to decide on what your priorities are. I've always found that if you have clear priorities, it's much easier to confront people with “these are my priorities and anything that falls outside of it, I'll figure out when to do it, but not right now.” When it comes to those priorities, you've managed to get D&I on the agenda even further than I think. Maybe you could do yourself just by all of the outreach that you've done, your profile blowing up. Do you think that you have a lot of buy in first off to put D&I high in your list of priorities and second, how can people make that more of a priority, and how can they get buy in for those priorities? Do you approach leadership first and ask them, “Hey, listen, I want to make this a priority. Is that okay?” Because I imagine that that's a pretty handy tool and saying “No” to other tasks.

Tyrone Webb Jr.: I would say SAP is a different company because D&I has always been a priority. It's always been part of the strategy, it’s always been part of the numbers. For example, we've always had an eternal goal of having a certain amount of women in leadership and what that looks like, and having a diverse board – what does that even look like? 

I would say some of the key things that I've done to make diversity more of a priority is having to be able to be more strategic with everything that's going on. For example, I live here in Atlanta. When everything was going on all around the world with all the protests, that was the time you couldn’t go to someone now and say “I think we need to have a Diversity and Inclusion strategy” because in my mind, it's already happened in May and June. It's over. People are focused on 2021. You have to be strategic on when to ask, when to talk about it. When is it a hot topic? I don't mean a hot topic of set it and forget it. But you got to go when it's at the top of the mind of everybody, because right now it is on top of the minds of everyone - the ones who spoke up and the ones who brought light to the dark. But if you're trying to bring light to the dark now, even for next month, it's going to be difficult because there's so much other things that are happening now, everything's back to COVID. How are we going to keep all of our other employees safe or mentally sane? You have parents out there that are working from home as well as online schooling.

What does that look like for them? How do you make more flexible hours? You have people who haven't even taken one vacation this year and they’re stressed and they’re overworked. I'm not saying that's more important than Diversity and Inclusion, but now there are other things on the table that are really taking more of a priority for some of these companies and school is starting back up. That's a very big issue in America right now with the government saying “Put the kids back in school”, but then parents don't feel comfortable. Some schools are starting online but then there are families that can't even afford computers. How can a company like SAP support employees from that standpoint?

You have to be strategic and you have to be smart about when to speak up, how to speak up, and you have to come to the table with your facts and be ready to deliver. 

Jonathan Davies: That’s amazing. I suppose when you bring those facts, measures of success, a proper plan on how this is going to be executed, which business objectives will it help to approach, this is generally how you would construct such a plan, and then approach people with it, and they'll be wowed?

Tyrone Webb Jr. It's not necessarily always a plan at first. It's a conversation, it's “Hey, I just want to talk to you about what's going on. I had some ideas. I want to run some ideas about you.” One of my key things that I told leadership was that this has to come from the top down.

I can talk all day and say that we need to have more diversity here and there, but right now I don’t have the budget to open up the headcount and say “Hey, let me hire three trans employees and two Black employees. I don't have the power to do that and leadership does. You need to  address this and you bring this to leadership in a very sincere, smart way. With a really cool idea, and even talk about how this could be a benefit for the company and even a benefit for the line of business. They start to see it in a different way, especially if you have a leader that cares as much as the leaders that we do at SAP.

Jonathan Davies: This is the last question that I'm going to poke you with, because I'm sure I've put you under fire already a lot. When it comes to the benefit of things, I still feel that this is a very under-appreciated aspect of Diversity and Inclusion. There are a lot of studies out there that have shown that more diverse teams perform better. There are a lot more benefits to a business than just the moral aspect of it, I suppose. How have you clarified those types of benefits within SAP or how have others done that together with you?

Tyrone Webb Jr.: It speaks for itself. I had just asked the same question to someone the other day. I think it was to our D&I leader. I said “If all of these studies are out here, if you have a diverse team, it increases profits, it increases ideas and increases innovation. Why aren't we doing it?” The response was “We are, but there's a lot of people who believe that there's a myth in those numbers, so you have to let those numbers speak for themselves. When you have a diverse team and you’re really intuitive, you hire a diverse team, and you start calculating all the wins that that team has done from numbers to engagements that just everything compares to when it wasn't a diverse team, that's your proof. That's your facts. Unfortunately, which I don't know why, but this is still a new, old topic. I don't know if that makes any sense, but it's like the piece of how it can improve the numbers and the innovation. That's new because, I guess for some of the people out there, that's just not enough evidence, but it's old because we've been hearing it for so long.

What is everyone going to get out of that bandwagon? When is everyone going to finally understand and see that the better your diversity, the better your outcomes. 

Jonathan Davies: I think that that is a question, but also a statement that we should end this podcast with – the better your diversity, the better your outcome is going to be. Uncertainly, among employees being able to learn more from each other in a business, being able to get more out of its people, and people get the business. 

Tyrone, thank you so much for your time! This has been a wonderful podcast! I've learned a lot from you, which is my sign of success – when I feel like I've learned a lot. I really appreciate it. I would love to have you back sometime. This was amazing! Thank you very much. 

Tyrone Webb Jr.: Thank you for having me. Bye everybody. 

Jonathan Davies: Bye everyone.