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  • Kim Meninger

How We Make Inclusion a Reality

Updated: May 12, 2023

How We Make Inclusion a Reality

In this episode of the Impostor Syndrome Files, we explore the many benefits of inclusion in the workplace, as well as the costs to organizations of not prioritizing this business imperative. So much of our confidence, creativity and collaboration stem from our sense of belonging and inclusion in the workplace. When we create inclusive environments, we empower individuals and businesses to thrive. My guest, Virnitia Hendricks, Chief Diversity Officer of Santander US, shares her experience and perspective on what it takes to become a more inclusive workplace.

About Virnitia Hendricks:

As the Chief Diversity Officer of Santander Consumer USA, Virnitia provides strategic leadership to help advance the commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and social innovation. Her team works hard to boldly listen and develop approaches that facilitate sustainable change. Throughout her career, her passion for transforming institutional culture has allowed her to motivate people to authentically show up, creatively lead, and leave organizations better than they found them.

With over 25 years of corporate experience, she has learned how important building an inclusive culture is to being competitive. Inclusion yields equity which results in diversity. Prior to joining Santander Consumer, she proudly served as a Principal Consultant and Executive Coach with Quotidian Group, where she used energy leadership and pursuit of passion concepts to help her clients raise awareness and develop realistic plans to achieve their goals. Her pragmatic approach to transformation also helped to bring success in her roles as Corporate Vice President of Strategy for New York Life Insurance Company and as Vice President of Operations for Travelers Property Casualty Company. The National Diversity Council recognized her as one of Connecticut’s Most Powerful & Influential Women and she’s been featured in marketing campaigns in Fortune, Forbes, Working Mother, and Black Enterprise magazines but her greatest honor is the many talented people who, through her work, have found the courage to live their true potential.


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Kim Meninger Welcome, Virnitia. I am so excited for us to continue this conversation. You and I started this conversation a while ago when we first met. And I am so thrilled to bring it now to a listening audience, so you can hear us talk about some of these important themes. And so I’d love to start by inviting you to introduce yourself.

Virnitia Hendricks Fantastic. Thank you so much, Kim. It’s just an honor for me to be here with you. And I enjoyed our conversation last time so much that to your point, I’m hoping that others will have some value in our dialogue today. So I’m Virnitia Hendricks. I’m the Chief Diversity Officer for Santander US. And part of my mission is to really help people on this journey of inclusion by helping to sponsor and spark human connection amongst people.

Kim Meninger And I know that you have an interesting background as well. So I’d love it if you’d be open to sharing a little bit about the twists and turns your career has taken as you’ve gotten to where you are today.

Virnitia Hendricks Fantastic. I, you know, I grew up in Augusta, Georgia. I actually grew up on a military base. And as you can imagine, growing up in that environment, you’re sort of taught to be all you can be, you’re taught that, you know, where there’s a mission, no matter what you need to make sure that you’re following through on that mission. So I always carried that to me, you know, in terms of my career choices. And as I thought about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I started in insurance. Interestingly enough, in the financial services industry. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer early on. But there was something about business. You know, for me, I remember being a child and pretending to have clients in my bedroom and making phone calls. And there’s just something about the way in which businesses operate and function that was always intriguing to me. So I made the decision after college to start working for Travelers Property Casualty. And I was so privileged to be amongst some people who were fantastic mentors and advocates, and saw potential in me. And so with that, I really felt as though I didn’t have to, you know, pick a spot, that I could learn the entire business whether that was underwriting or claims or technology. I really just wanted to show that I could add value to the organization. And so that’s where I started my career. And I remember talking to one of my mentors, and I had done, you know, a couple of different things at that point in time. And she said, what’s the common thread? You know, you’ve got all this varied background, but what is the thing that connects all of these different roles together? And it was organizational leadership, it was really about culture, and people and potential. And so that’s when I decided to go back to school to get my doctorate in organizational leadership to really study it, to understand how organizations came together, how people, you know, actually lived their full potential so that companies could be competitive. And so with that, I learned that one of the most important things when we talk about culture, is having a diverse set of people. And when I say diverse, I don’t just mean you know, race, ethnicity, gender, I really mean different perspectives, different backgrounds, communication styles, and personality types. And so at that point, in time I left Travelers. I struck out on my own to be a consultant. And so as you can imagine, Kim, at that point, I’d never been a consultant, didn’t know anything about it. So I decided to take on a chief of staff position at New York Life in a management consulting, internal consulting function that taught me the chops of consulting. And after doing that for a while, I decided to leave the organization, strike out on my own start my own business, being an executive coach and consultant. I’m getting to the Chief Diversity Officer part, I promise. But one of my clients when I was doing that work, was actually Santander. I really was so impressed with Santander’s is commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. And at that time, many of my clients were asking me, What is this? You know, how do we make progress? What is this DEI all about? And, you know, we’ve been running this race for years, we’ve been investing millions of dollars, but we’re not seeing the progress that we really want. So can you help me with that? That’s when I went back to study diversity, equity and inclusion and really understand that space. So as I was consulting with Santander, part of the recommendation was to hire a chief diversity officer to truly invest internally and externally in advancing DEI. And the CEO at the time said, Great, that’s you, you should be our CDO. And I said, really? I don’t know. Because I had retired, have my own company at that time. But I gotta tell you, this is the right organization, the right time, so much support from our senior leaders. And we’ve just been able to do some fantastic things in the 18 months that I’ve been with the company. So obviously, I said, Yes, and here we are today, leading the charge for Santander.

Kim Meninger Well, congratulations on that particular role. And just all the great work. It feels to me. And you can tell me if you agree that things are a little bit different now that you know whether it was the pandemic, whether it was the George Floyd murder, well it feels like a culmination of different forces have come together to create more space for the conversation around DEI themes. And I wonder if that’s been your experience, too?

Virnitia Hendricks Absolutely. I think people have a heightened sense of awareness of their own personal lives, and also the importance of human connection. There’s a lot going on in the world today, whether that’s, you know, war, weather, mass shootings, you name it, the pandemic, that have really caused people to think about their own mortality, but also their legacy. And what type of a human are they? Are they showing up every day, you know, as the human that they want to be? Are they teaching their kids how to be good humans on this planet? And so that has sparked and open the door for the conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion. And I think in a lot of spaces, unfortunately, there’s been a lot of rhetoric that’s kind of come into this space that’s gotten in the way of the true conversation, which is about human connection. It’s my philosophy that human connection breeds trust, right, and when you have trust, then you can appreciate the differences in people. you can value that. If you build trust, you know what women bring to the table as a benefit. And so it’s no longer about the deficiencies that women have. And so therefore, we need to help women with those deficiencies. There’s a recognition of the value that women bring to the table, and every organization should want to tap into that value. So I’m, a part of my mission is to help change that dialogue. Now, to your point, that we have an open door where people are interested, and really sort of aware of their own views, we have a real opportunity right now to help people really connect and see the value, you know, in different types of people other than themselves.

Kim Meninger And you used the word human several times when you were talking, which really stands out to me, because I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but I don’t feel like it was that long ago that, and it still exists today, this attitude of, you know, we don’t have time for this stuff, just get down to work. They’re really the, the absence of humanity, and really recognizing that those elements of trust and connection that you’re describing, have been a big theme within traditional corporate workplaces for so long. I feel like for so long, they’ve been seen as more of a distraction or more of, you know, fluff and not really tied to business goals. And so I’m curious how you navigate the conversation these days with people who might still be skeptical about why inclusion matters and why we aren’t, why we aren’t spending time on quote, unquote, more important things.

Virnitia Hendricks Yeah, what a fantastic question. And again, you know, thinking about the fact that we view diversity, equity and inclusion as a business imperative. And so I sit on the US leadership team, I have alignment to the HR organization, but we really view it not just as an HR necessity, but as a business imperative. So within our organization, we have goals that are tied to the business, and we view it that way. And so those that might be skeptical and thinking about you know, is DEI just something that you have to do, is sort of a people centric, you know, thing that has no true business value. If you think about the fact that when we have diverse opinions at the table, how much more innovative we are. When we truly understand our customer base and our client base, and how they think and behave and their cultures and norms and values, how we’re able to gain market share because we resonate with those audiences, how we’re able to really represent a brand that resonates with people, when we understand that. I won’t even get into the changing demographics of our country and of the world. I think that’s well known. But everything around us is changing. And so if we don’t view it as a business imperative, we will be left behind, we will not be competitive. And so I think there is a recognition of that. However, I don’t think people really understand the challenge that it takes to transform a culture. You and I were talking last time about learning and unlearning, right? So people come in with this mindset that I understand based on my own values, beliefs, certain things, which is great. But we also have to be open to casting some of that aside, unlearning the things that we think we know, and really embracing all of this change that’s happening around us. And I think when we do that, that paves the path to human connection, which leads to inclusion. And when you have an inclusive culture, you’re going to get diversity as the outcome. It just happens organically. So you know, there still is a lot of skepticism. And I think part of it comes because we still have a lot of discussions that are more in the traditional vein of how people view diversity, equity and inclusion. And just as everything around us has changed, we need to also begin to change the dialogue, and really start talking about what is going to have an impact at the end of the day, not just here’s a bunch of activities that we can do, here’s a bunch of programs that we can roll out, but how are we really going after the hearts and minds of people?

Kim Meninger That’s so, so important. There’s so much, so many different paths I want to go down from what you just said, I want to, I want to start with this idea of, I think a lot about the fact that we can’t really measure the absence of something. And so while there have been lots of studies that have shown the financial or business benefits to diversity and inclusion, there are still I think, for some organizations, or some individuals, in particular, a belief that we’re doing fine. And not necessarily recognizing that the absence of inclusion or the absence of psychological safety, in many ways, is undermining the potential of the people in the workplace. And so I think about this a lot in connection to impostor syndrome, and just the confidence levels that we bring to our organization. And if I personally don’t feel like I fit in, if I don’t feel like I belong, or that I’m welcome there, I’m not going to be innovative, I’m not going to share my ideas because I’m going to be afraid that I’m going to be humiliated or my mind is so focused on self preservation, that I’m not being creative and thinking collaboratively. And so I think part of the challenge that I see is, how do you get people to realize that even if they feel like things are going well today, there is so much more where that came from, if we shift the focus to this foundational level of inclusion and psychological safety that you and I are talking about?

Virnitia Hendricks You know, you are spot on. Absolutely, you are 100% spot on. How am I bringing my whole self, my talents, the true potential that I have, when there is this tax, if you will, that I have to pay, because I’m different than the culture may be that I’m trying to be a part of. And so I think we’ve all faced that I know, in my career journey, I have certainly faced that, sitting at the table, that whole feeling of being the only and I think part of it is understanding that being the only is a privilege. Right? There is a responsibility comes with that. But there is, you are representing if you will, all of whatever the only is for you. So, so owning that, understanding that there is a tax that comes along with that, but recognizing the great honor that you have a great responsibility that you have, which can create pressure. I know it did for me, right? In our organization, the best way we get underneath all of that because you’re, when you talk about not just looking at the surface and feeling as though everything’s great, we’re fine. It depends on what you’re measuring. So if we think about representation only, and we think about representation only in the context of gender, race and ethnicity, we can look and say, Great, we have three women. And we’ve got four African Americans and two Hispanics and check the box, and we’re done. But to your point, are they thriving? How do they feel? Are they able to bring their true unique skills and perspectives to the table in the environment and culture that you’ve created? And so what we do is we go beyond engagement surveys, we do listening sessions and focus groups, and we have dialogues and conversations in small groups that allow us to have more of a back and forth, asking open-ended questions, asking follow up questions, to get to the true sentiment, what someone will say to you that they don’t necessarily feel comfortable writing or putting in a survey. And we have uncovered some of those issues that you’ve described, like impostor syndrome, like feeling as though my voice isn’t heard, or that I’m not fully appreciated and valued. And we began to systematically tackle those things. We go after whatever that root cause is. What is challenging that employee’s sense of belonging in our organization? Once we’ve identified that, now, what can we do to help with that? White male population, right, as you and I were talking about again, last time, there’s a feeling as though I’m getting left behind. Everyone else is sort of in the spotlight, there’s focus on all these groups, and diversity is all for all of them, but not for me. And so our ability to actually go after that, understand it, get the true sentiment and address those issues, rather than saying, you know, you’re the majority, your voice doesn’t. Right? What we measure matters. And so all employees, inclusion is for everyone. Equity, right, which is the fair access to information and opportunities, tells us that not everyone has the same need, they don’t have the same access to information and opportunities. And we have to challenge that. If women were not at senior levels in the banking industry, 30, 40 years ago, and we’re looking for senior women today to be in those roles. What are we doing to foster that, what are we doing to go further down into the pipeline into high schools and even middle schools to begin to groom and grow talent for our future, rather than just saying we can’t find them, they’re not out there, or they’re with some other organization? So, the action that comes behind, you know, what we find in the data, that’s really going to have an impact for the long term is what we try to go after.

Kim Meninger That point about what you measure is so powerful, too, because I do think that unfortunately, a lot of DEI work has been checkbox work. And so just like you said, being able to state the demographics statistically, and then move on, but what you’re describing as really getting inside the minds of people who are living this journey every day, and where they’re feeling like their experience isn’t optimal, is so important. It feels probably a little bit more daunting because it’s a harder thing to measure. It’s a conversation that’s probably a lot less comfortable to have. But it’s so important to really understanding what’s at play and how to go about finding the right solutions.

Virnitia Hendricks That’s exactly it. And so there’s this duality that I often see in my role, because we are living in the current environment where representation metrics and other things that we measure today in order for us to compare in how we’re doing, even some of the federal and regulatory things that we have to do right almost counter, what we’re going after, which is human connection, the personal connection that every leader, every employee should have to inclusion. And so we have to walk in this duality where we understand the current environment, we count those numbers too. I can tell you exactly what we have in terms of representation. But we’re beginning to shift the dialogue less and less about that and more and more about how do people feel in our culture and in our environment. What is impeding them from saying, I feel like I belong in this place? A couple of things. I don’t see anyone who looks like me. Right? So we talk about representation, but we talk about it differently. If I, if I don’t see anyone who looks like me, the likelihood of me rising in this organization or having the same opportunities seems less to me, seems daunting to me. Because I don’t see it possible. So we want to create those possibilities. It also creates the modeling, right, you’re able to see how someone has progressed their career, and you can model certain behaviors, certain things within a culture to get there, what is it about this person and how were they successful, we can all learn from that. The other part of it is psychological safety, which you mentioned, and the components around that — being able to speak up, right to build trust, to be vulnerable, to be authentic, to have a space to do all those things. That’s what we have to challenge in order to truly get inclusion, which leads to diversity at the end of the day. So right now we’re sort of in this dual state of trying to transform and begin to talk less about true representation, the way it’s thought of today, and more about personal connection, human connection, no one is left behind in the discussion. Because everybody has a stake in it, including the business, because you can see what the outcomes gonna be for the business at the end of the day, if we all put our hands together and create a culture that’s going to be inclusive. There’s some, some organizations that are doing really, really well. There are organizations that are on the journey. And then there are those that are being left behind right now because they’re just reacting if you will, to the current dialogue, the current rhetoric and really stuff. So I’m happy to say that we’re sort of in that middle, we’re evolving and emerging, and I’m very proud of the work that we’re doing in this organization to get us there.

Kim Meninger Well, I love, just the way that you’re thinking about it is so powerful, because it is such a change from how we’ve traditionally heard the conversations in this space. And I’m curious, because when it comes to inclusion, you mentioned the, the challenge of not seeing anyone who looks like you, or that you look up, and you don’t see anybody who looks like you. And that’s obviously going to be a work in progress. And we talked about how diversity will be an effect of inclusion. But as that continues, I’m often coaching the individual on how to penetrate some of the systems and networks that exists within organizations. But there’s a very real sense of anxiety that comes from I don’t know what I have in common with somebody else, I don’t know that I have enough value to reach out to somebody else. Do you think about inclusion from a systemic level as really generating more opportunities for that human connection? Like, what could that look like? Or what does it look like so that it’s not just about how people feel in their, in their everyday work environment, but the access, they feel like they have to other people around them.

Virnitia Hendricks This is the heart of the work. The work should be about bridging and creating those opportunities for human connection. I’ll tell you a really quick exercise that I do when I’m when I’m giving speeches or doing workshops, which is I ask people in the room to find someone they don’t know, find another person that you do not know. And spend five minutes finding something that you have in common just through conversation. And not something easy, like we’re both women or we both live in Texas or wherever, right? Not something like that, and the, in five minutes, the connections that are formed, you should see the energy that happens in a room when people begin to do that. Oh my goodness, you like to fish? I never knew that. I like to fish. Oh, my goodness, you know. And so you just see these connections began to form in five minutes. And that’s just creating an environment, a safe space, in a very non-threatening way for people to open up and be vulnerable. I always say when it comes to like cultural curiosity, there are two spaces where people usually will dive in and that’s food and music. We tend to say, I’m gonna try that. But I love Thai food or oh my goodness, I love country, you know, and go outside of our norm and just be curious and be open to really enjoying something outside of what we’re normally used to. And that’s what happens in those five minutes. We take those five minutes where people have now just built this much trust because we have something in common. We like fishing, right? And then we begin to move the conversation to something that might be a little bit more challenging. And then we find out, we’re the same here, but we’re different here. But I can respect that and I can appreciate that. And then eventually I get to the point where I actually value that, I know that society is better, my company is better, I’m better because you are different. You’re bringing something to the table that I hadn’t thought of, even if I don’t agree, I hadn’t thought of it. Right. And you’re, you’re creating this, this awareness in me, this opening in me. And so having these forums, these ways, these platforms where people can connect is truly the key to it all. And when you give people the safe space to do that, it happens organically. And that’s what we’re trying to accomplish. And you’re right, there’s a lot of anxiety around simply just walking up to someone and saying, Hi, Kim, I’m Virnitia. Nice to meet you. And there are people who are introverted, like myself, who, you know, really, really fear, just that type of interaction. But at the same point in time, if you and I are both passionate about the same thing, these topics that we’re talking about today, we know that we have that in common, and that creates this connection. And when organizations do that, and they create opportunities to do that, more people want to become a part of that organization. And you get all of their experiences and their qualifications and your thinking that comes right along with them. That makes you a better company, a better organization.

Kim Meninger That is so powerful. And it’s making me think too about, I often think about the, when you, when you have more inclusion, you have diversity of opinion in a room, you’re naturally going to have more friction, right? Because it’s a lot easier for people who all think the same way and who all have the same backgrounds to have a conversation and make a quick decision and move on. Right. But obviously, we know what gets lost when that happens. And so inclusion means things slow down, the conversations are more complicated. It’s not the same path. But what you’re describing, of really, intentionally establishing these opportunities to understand and respect difference and value that so it’s not just oh, you’re getting in my way, but you actually are helping me think differently than I might otherwise think, is so important to recognizing the value.

Virnitia Hendricks Thank you for using the word intentional, because it takes that, it takes intentionality to really focus on this and understand that it is a journey. It’s the learning and unlearning. It’s the transformation that has to happen. It’s the connection that doesn’t happen overnight. Right that you have to build upon, to get to a space where you can have healthy conflict in a professional respectful way we can value and appreciate the differences truly, to get to a better outcome. And that’s, we have that in common. We all want to get to a better outcome. And so what’s the best way to do that? I think exposure also, if you’re not used to being around someone who’s different than you, to your point, it takes time to get used to being around someone who’s not like you. If you, if your team is made up of a lot of analytical thinkers, who are a little bit more on the quiet side and you have this extroverted dreamer that comes into the room and is just, you know, so excited and passionate and talking about… Those people could sit back and go, Whoa, I don’t know what to do with that. So being able to introduce differences, and then getting to the point to where you can appreciate them and then getting to the point where you value them truly is the way to go. And to your point, that takes time. And that’s why I think there’s an underestimation of really what it takes to build an inclusive culture. Because to your point, it takes time. It’s a process that you have to go through for people to get comfortable and to truly see the value. And it starts with awareness, creating those opportunities to connect, being vulnerable, being curious, and then getting to appreciating and valuing the differences. And when you have those proof points, you can look back and you can say wow, that was a much better outcome. Wow, we really crushed the competition, you know, in this space because we got to a better outcome. Then you want to do it again, and you want to do it again. And it just becomes a part of your DNA.

Kim Meninger Well, and it’s interesting because I’ve been having conversations recently with some friends and with some groups that I’ve been leading about the individual responsibility that each of us has, if we want to reach the, the full vision of inclusion because I think we often think about it as something that needs to happen at this very macro level. But what do I personally do that contributes to or undermines the inclusive experience? And I often give the example and it just reminded me when you were talking about that, I’m a big picture thinker, I’m somebody who doesn’t like a lot of process, and I get slowed down by that. And it would be very easy for me to sit in a room with somebody who’s process-oriented and, and get annoyed, or to get frustrated, to feel like they’re slowing me down. And so I often challenge people to think about what’s the benefit of having that person in the room, because I know for me, I may not think the way they do. But if I don’t have that person in the room, nothing I dream up is ever going to translate into reality. And so I think that if we sort of think in our own little worlds of where am I considering someone difficult who’s maybe just different from me? And how is it actually to my benefit to have people who maybe are annoying me, but are helping me to think in ways that I wouldn’t naturally think right? And so I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to really try to shift our mindset, even if we think we’re people who inherently value inclusion.

Virnitia Hendricks That’s right, it’s exactly right. And I think, you know, not to bring in a sports analogy, but I will. You think about the players on a team — pick any sport — and each player plays a position. They’re really good at a position, they’re an expert, sort of, in that position. It takes everyone to play their position to win the game. And that’s, if we can think of it that way, that it takes everyone for us to win this game of a whole healthier, you know, more kind, more respectful society, and a more profitable, more competitive, more innovative, more inclusive organization or culture. It takes everyone. And so you can’t be the pitcher and the catcher, right, in baseball. So when to your point, if you can sit back and think of it that way, that it’s going to take all of these different perspectives and views. And particularly again, you know, my husband, and I always talk about, you know, what women bring to the table, what men bring to the table and how those are needed in terms of the perspective. He’s not going to see things the way that I see things, I’m not going to see things the way that he sees things. You know, my daughter is not gonna see things, the way that I see things, because it was, you know, to be able to be open, have those rich dialogues, about, you know, my sons want to see a certain perspective that is completely different than mine. But if I have a conversation with them, and I’m willing to be open and say, you know, I never thought about it that was, I just grow, you know, I just grew because of this conversation. So there’s a benefit to me, there’s a benefit to them. And that’s what this is all about. If we’re truly trying to develop and grow and be better as individuals and society, you got to be open. We have to listen to these perspectives of other people. So I mean, it sounds as though it’s oversimplified. I can, I can say it. And you know, the word sounds really easy. It just isn’t. Because we’re talking about human behavior. We’re talking about ingrained values. We’re talking about experiences that people had, in their past, bring all of that to the table. But the willingness to unlearn, the willingness just to let some of that go, and be open. What is Kim going to share with me right now? How am I going to receive that? How are we going to connect? That’s the key and that first part of letting go is the most challenging part. Once you get that, then you’re able to really connect and move on down the path. So I don’t want to oversimplify it. I don’t want to you know, sound as though it’s like, here’s, here’s the formula, go do these things and you’ll be fine. It really isn’t that, we’re talking about human beings and we are complex, multi-dimensional people who have a whole bunch of things going on with us. So it’s not simple by any stretch of the imagination.

Kim Meninger That’s a really important reminder too because I think that a lot of us in the workplace are high achievers, too, and we want to be right. We want to get things right. And I think that one of the things we have to acknowledge as part of this work is that it’s not going to always be right, we’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to do things, and we’re gonna have to dust ourselves off and get back up there again, and not be too afraid to try something new. And so I think that’s a really important observation about the complexity of humans is, how might we be standing in our own way? And how might, might we be letting fear keep us from moving forward?

Virnitia Hendricks Yes, I mean, it will. It’s a part of our human nature, right, to experience fear, which can lead to anxiety, all kinds of emotions that we all embrace, and have as a part of who we are. And I think it’s knowing how to capture those emotions and see them. How can you leverage them to your benefit? How can we turn that fear into anticipation into excitement? Again, very hard to do, but it’s perspective. How can you take an organization who’s doing well today, and make it better? Right up the game. And there’s ways to do that if you’re willing to your point, to take the time, to take on the challenge, to be committed, and resilient, and persevere, keeping your foot on the gas, you know, keeping that momentum going over time, it takes. And so you know, it’s hard, especially when you’re younger in your career, because to your point about wanting to be right, you have something to prove. You’re just trying to establish yourself and gain the credibility in your field or in your organization. And then you start thinking about this other stuff that you and I are talking about. It’s very daunting. But I think the, as I talked about going, you know, into middle school, the earlier we can get people to really think about it this way, what type of employee, what type of leader do I want to be? Right? How do I define myself in the work environment and in society? Then they have the opportunity to grow in that over time, the earlier you start the, you know, the better it will be. And so I I think it’s really important for us to share this as broadly and as deeply as we can so that more and more people adopt, you know, philosophies that are all about inclusion.

Kim Meninger You’re absolutely right. I’m always so inspired when I hear that my school system is teaching my second grader and my seventh grader, these very foundational human skills around empathy and inclusion and growth mindset. And I’m like, Oh, thank God, they’re learning it now.

Virnitia Hendricks Just think if we had learned it at that age, how much better we’d be.

Kim Meninger I have one more question for you that came up as you were talking, because this is a tough one, I don’t expect you to have all the answers. But I do think a lot about how certain kinds of behaviors or certain kinds of personality types can really poison the well when we’re trying to do this kind of work. And sometimes people are protected within their roles and within their organizations. And I wonder what responsibility do you think organizations have to address non-inclusive behaviors, especially ones that are coming from pretty influential places, to ensure that other people feel like this is safe, it’s safe to do this work?

Virnitia Hendricks Yeah, such a great question. You know, we know that culture is the worst behavior that you allow. W know that. If you think about it from that perspective, how are you setting a tone? What are the rewards, and the penalties for behavior? If you allow or tolerate certain behaviors, that becomes a part of your culture. So knowing what your organization values, holding people accountable to those values, is the start. Then there is the having the true pulse, going back to those listening sessions and focus groups, really understanding what’s happening truly in the organization, beyond the surveys, beyond the anecdotes and having real data that you can make decisions upon. So if you’re hearing anecdotal statements, that’s one thing. If you’re asking the source, and you’re hearing it sort of from, from that person’s mouth, and you’re able to understand why, why do you feel that way? Ask probing questions, what can we do? What’s the solution that we can have to make this better? Then you start addressing and attacking those, I’ll even go so far as to say tumors in the organization, right, that if you don’t address that you don’t deal with that will spread and that will counter whatever you’re trying to do to build an inclusive culture. So I think it’s first identifying. And, you know, the goal isn’t to win everyone over. That’s not the goal. I always say that I know that there are people who love me, right? And I can rest in that, that feels so good to me. And then there are some people who like me. Right? And that feels good too. Then there’s some people who pretend to like me, because there is some value that I bring. And so there’s sort of the quid pro quo and they pretend to like me. And Kim there are people who hate me. [Hmm.] But that doesn’t stop me from being me. That doesn’t stop me. And so I want everyone to feel that, to know that they belong, to know that you’re going to encounter people all along that spectrum. And that’s okay. So some of those people who are not bought into the journey, who are skeptics, who don’t believe in anything that we’re discussing today, that’s okay. They’re entitled to their perspective, I can be open and, and model that and value that as well. And quite frankly, I’m not going to spend as much time and energy there. I’m really going to spend the time and energy trying to continue to light the fire and start the movement and get people, more people to connect and connect and connect. And you have more of those people and less of those people. And, you know, again, that what, that’s what inclusion is all about. So they are there, they will always be there. And quite frankly, it’s sort of the yin and the yang, you kind of need a little bit of that, you need that healthy tension, you need that great debate, right to continue to build a society and organization where all have a place.

Kim Meninger That’s so inspiring. I hope for everyone listening, because I know I have a lot of people pleasers in this community, that they really take to heart what you just said, because I think there is a real fear of not being liked. And if you know who you are, you know what you stand for, there will be people who like you and people who don’t, but it doesn’t matter. Just keep doing what you know to be right.

Virnitia Hendricks Yeah, that’s so well said and, you know, again, it’s a part of who we are in, in particularly as women, right to give, to please, to nurture to step outside of ourselves, to be selfless. Right? It’s just a part of the nature for most women, not all but for most, and you do have to challenge that. You have to figure out how are you honoring yourself. And knowing that you are multi-dimensional, there are many parts of yourself. Which part of yourself do you want to share with the world today?

Kim Meninger Yeah. If you’re not feeling like you can share, then it’s time to think about, maybe it’s, you’re not in the right spot.

Virnitia Hendricks Exactly. I endorse that. I agree with that. Um, we all have to sort of do that landscape, that environmental scan, and really understand and sometimes, particularly within an organization, they’re on a journey and a path and they will get there. And you can see that they’re moving in the right direction. And for some people, that’s enough, I can see it, I’m gonna hang in here, we’re moving in the right direction. And for some people, it’s man, by the time they get to there, they’re four years out, by my estimation, I would rather go to an organization that’s a little bit further along than where they are today. And that’s okay, too. And then there are people such as yourself and me, who are like, I want to get in there and I’m going to paddle this boat up the stream and I’m gonna be a part of us getting there as fast as we can. And so everyone has to kind of make that assessment and are you gonna jump in and, and be a part of it, you know, making it happen? Are you going to wait and sort of engage but we’ll see what happens, or are you going to say I’d rather be somewhere else that more closely aligns with where I am right now, now, you know, in my personal journey, all of that’s perfectly fine.

Kim Meninger You’re right. And only you can decide, right? Yeah. Oh, my gosh, Virnitia, I could talk to you all day. I know we had the same, same message last time how we could have continued the whole afternoon together. I just love our conversations and so grateful to you for taking the time to do this with me. Any final thoughts before we wrap up for today?

Virnitia Hendricks You know, I will just say thank you to you. What you’re doing is so fantastic. And it is so needed. And you’re doing it in such a way that I think is resonating with so many people that I thank you for being a part of the movement, if you will, and really taking action and helping so many people find their power, find their voice and be a part of the human connection that we need to have and see more of in the world. So just thank you so much, Kim. It’s been my pleasure.

Kim Meninger Oh, thank you and it is wonderful to have people like you on the journey with, with me, so thank you.

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