BONUS | Linda Devonish-Mills and Derek Fuzzell - D&I in the Workplace

July 02, 2020 | 38 Minutes

Linda Devonish-Mills, IMA's Director of Diversity & Inclusion, and Derek Fuzzell, CFO at PAHO/WHO Federal Credit Union and the Chair of IMA's Diversity & Inclusion Committee, sat down with Count Me In's Adam Larson to talk about D&I in the workplace during these recent trying times. In this conversation, they all discuss current events, the feelings and emotions brought out in employees following these events, and what organizations can do to support their employees and cultivate an inclusive work environment. To conclude, Derek and Linda explain the Diversity & Inclusion Toolkit recently released by IMA.

Contact Linda Devonish-Mills:
Contact Derek Fuzzell:

IMA's D&I Toolkit:

Mitch: (00:04)
Welcome back to Count Me In IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host, Mitch Roshong, and today we have another special bonus episode relating to diversity and inclusion in the workplace during these challenging times. My cohost Adam spoke with IMA's Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Linda Devonish-Mills, and Derek Fuzzell CFO at a Federal Credit Union and Chair of IMA's Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Linda and Derek share their perspectives on recent tragedies. What that means to organizational leaders and its employees, and what IMA is doing to support these initiatives. For genuine and informative dialogue keep listening as we head over to the group's conversation now.

Adam: (00:52)
The killing of George Floyd has shaken the US and many communities around the world. We are sickened by this tragedy and many peaceful process, as well as riots have happened as a result. Can you share a little of your feelings and how this has affected you? 

Linda: (01:12)
Sure. It's affected me, in so many ways where I shared some thoughts a couple of weeks ago with my, teammate and, you know, I was surprised in terms of how my emotions got the best of me. So, as to say time heals all wounds, so at least I can talk about it now without a whole lot of emotion, but what really upsets me about it is that, you know, when I think about it bad enough that, my parents, as I was growing up would talk to me about their struggles, their personal struggles with racial injustice. And it was like if it was a preparation for what they thought I would go through, and then unfortunately I have my own theories, experiences and yet, no, I think the saving grace for whatever it's worth that, you know, as I've gotten older, you know, to a certain degree, with certain things still, you know, coming into play with personal interactions, I may have with people I have gotten unfortunately accustomed to certain interactions that I've had with people I've gotten, you know, to the point where I've gotten numb over it, where it just doesn't affect me anymore. And just to position that as long as it's just affected me and not my daughters and their generation in  general, I'm good. Whereas when my daughters were growing up, they could not understand since they grew up in a diverse population, in the town of Teaneck, New Jersey and went to schools that have diverse student populations, they could not understand why I seem to be so racially conscious. You know, I was always talking about, racial issueswith them and they just could not understand that. So now what really hurts me is that they're grown young, successful women I may add, and it seems like it's like they're playing catch up now in terms of how it's affecting them. And with my oldest daughter now being the mother of my grandson for her to say to me one time that she is frightened to raise an African American boy in this world. So it just provokes, you know, anger side of me that now is affecting my family and, you know, us to have conversations that we shouldn't even feel the need to have conversations about. So, you know, so that is where it really comes to the core of hurt for me for anger, but again, you know, time does heal all wounds and, you know, the way I'm trying to look at these thing now is what can I do personally to contribute, towards part of a solution and just have the mindset every single day, more so than ever of being hopeful, instead of relying on hopelessness. 

Derek: (04:45)
You know, I would just say my perspective on this, on this question is a bit different. You know, I'm approaching this as a Caucasian male, you know, living in the United States. I understand from experiences of my friends and even some experiences where I've been in situations where I've seen quite frankly, police treat people who are Black or Latino or other race, other ethnicity very differently than they've treated me in that same situation. You know, I'll say it really, it really upset me. I thought we had come a lot further as a country. I had hoped, you know, this reminds me of a lot of the Rodney King issue in the early nineties in LA. And one would hope that we had progressed a little bit from the nineties, and I'll be honest, this and several of the other incidents that have led up to this over the last decade have really told me, no, we haven't progressed as far as I would hope. You know, I think that what I can see and where I do have hope in this situation is that people's response is very different than the Rodney King situation. Rodney King seemed to be very isolated to the Los Angeles area that people seem to pick up the banner and while news coverage picked up what was going on in LA. It wasn't the mass protest that you've seen throughout the United States and elsewhere for that matter. You know, what, what gives me hope in this situation is that there seems to be a shift in mindset of people, both Bllack and White and Latino and Asian who are willing to step in and finally stand up for creating a system of equity within our, in our criminal justice system, which wasn't there before. In the nineties, you didn't see that even six years ago, you didn't see that as events, you know, foiled, out in Ferguson, Missouri, you just didn't see that same kind of response, and so I think I am happy to see that people are taking this a lot  more seriously, but it does disappoint me that we are still having this conversation about police brutality, especially with the African American community in the United States here 30 years later. 

Adam: (07:04)
Thank you both for being open and honest with us, and I'm sure that many people listening to this conversation have very similar feelings and many of them may be even leaders. And if you look at an organization, what can leaders of organizations do at this time to support their workforce and be mindful that people are going through the same, having the same feelings that you guys are feeling even themselves are going through those feelings, what can they do to support their workforce during this time? 

Derek: (07:34)
I think it's important as, as we consider our workforce, you know, not every organization is going to be as racially diverse as others. I happen to work for a very racially diverse organization that has a huge tie to the Hispanic  community, but even within the Hispanic community, you, you do have a Black, Hispanic community and that White Hispanic community. And we have made it a point within our organization to reach out and listen to every single employee. Give them the opportunity to speak to us, to come to us, to talk with us about their frustrations, to understand what may be impacting them. I'll say one point of personal reflection on this was as DC started to impose curfews, and some of the curfews happened pretty early in the evening, and they lasted until pretty late in the morning, comparatively, I was often concerned about, can I get my employees out of the office and back home in time to avoid curfew, to avoid interaction with the police to be, to be blunt. One of my employees is a gentleman from the Dominican Republic who is Black, and my concern really was what will the police interaction be if he's caught out before or after curfew has expired? How, how will this be? How will this play out for him? How do I help support him in this situation? And so I sat down and had a frank conversation with him to say, I'm concerned, I'm happy to hear your perspective, but please, you know, for me, at least I would like for you to get home before curfew begins, I would like for you to come in after work and not even chance, it don't be a minute early, don't be 10 minutes early. Let's not play that game, and I think that that, that in and of itself is a little concerning that I have to have these thoughts or this conversation at this point in time. I think the things that organizations can do is truly commit themselves to, to diversity and inclusion initiatives and equity initiatives for that matter. And not just say that they're going to do something, but actually put their money where their mouth is, put their public face forward. That says, this is what we are doing, and act in a way that really resembles the words that they're putting forward. 

Linda: (09:57)
Yeah, actually it's times like this at this point in my life in general, I like to embrace, younger generations, as my role models. Getting to their, you know, mindset in terms of, you know, what excites them in general, even before these series of events happen, you know, what appeals to them when they are considering, employment, at future prospective employers. So, you know, even amongst, IMA’s Diversity and Inclusion, you know, community, it has been talks about, how we can make, IMA, as an organization that will be attractive to young professionals in terms of what we could have on our website, in terms of, positions, as it relates to diversity and inclusion, and probably will have to eventually refer to it as diversity, equity and inclusion. We've had those, you know, conversations as well. So based on conversations that I've had with people from a younger generations specifically, you know, what they're looking for is empathy, you know, from their employees, as it relates to these, you know, unfortunate series of events. You know, a refused to work for not only employers, but, you know, direct supervisors that come across as if not only they don't care about what's going on, they're not trying to even educate themselves in terms of how they support their subordinates. You know, that is like the absolutely first red flag that would come across to young professionals now. And they just have no tolerance for it where, my, daughter-in-law actually informed me about one of her friends personally felt had to make a decision recently take the dust off of her resume to get back on the job market, because she just has not seen the support, not only from her employer, but her direct supervisor where her direct supervisor pretty much told her that these issues, she just cannot relate to. You know, so that was unfortunate that she had that experience, that particular young lady and, you know, she just could not work, someone under those circumstances with the lack of empathy. So I say all that to say is that I think organizations have to do whatever they can, whether it's, formal training, which quite frankly, I have a biased opinion on that. I think, you know, formal training may be good in the long run, but right now, and I'm glad IMA, is allowing staff to conduct such a informal farm next week that, you know, I think organizations needs to set up their environment where employees can talk very openly about their raw emotions. And definitely when you're working for a global organization, yes, first and foremost, you need to hear from the African American community, but I do see this in a lot of respects as a global issue as well, because, if I was travel right now to international countries, I would expect, even from those countries, some type of concern as how the US is dealing with these issues and how they can help. So, you know, as I tell people in preparation for, the conversation that we're going to have among staff next week, is that just important for those that have reached out to me and said that they just want to sit back and listen, because I think part of the solution is doing just that By just sitting back and listening and hearing firsthand what some of your colleagues are going through in order for you to play an integral role with, a solution. 

Adam: (14:29)
So I was reading an article the other day and, it was, it had been interviewing some of the people who had been, on the front lines, part of the peaceful protests, they, and they were expressing just frustration and just burn out, you know, this is very taxing as you consume everything that's happening, you know, and another, another aspect of being a manager is, you know, how do you address the accessibility and even mental health of your employees as they deal with these issues? 

Linda: (15:00)
Yes. So I can say that I can speak to that personally and want to give an opportunity to  applaud my, supervisor at this time where she really has appreciated what I did with her, online, offline, and, and appreciated her honesty that, prior to me sharing some of my thoughts with her and with our group as a team, that she did not know how to approach me. You know, I think some people, also hung up on being more sensitive and not knowing how to approach the subject, thinking that would be more upsetting to talk about it, but not realizing that for some, it's important to talk about it. When I share my feelings, I experienced emotions that come out of nowhere that day. That obviously was being built up, even way beyond and series of events occurred, you know? I felt like, all the frustrations that again my parents experienced, I experienced and now my daughters are facing it, all overwhelmed me that the day that I opened up with my feelings and, you know, even under normal circumstances, I'm probably the worst with, not takingin advantage of our generous, you know, package and even, you know, if I need the services, you know, not really taking advantage of it. And you know, when I am on vacation, I am the typle that will still  check emails, not respond to them, but I always feel like I need to know what's going on. And I would say the first time in many years, I really took a mental health break from work. And I was proud of myself where, I literally shut down my laptop. I did not check emails that whole day. You know, I had gotten some text messages about work related stuff, and I just kindly told those people, I'm off today, you know, do the best you can to resolve the issue. I'll talk to you tomorrow about it. And I still, and that was over a week ago, and I feel like, you know, just like most of us, we have, feelings of being overwhelmed with work. I'm handling it because I took that day off. So, I think that's the best gift, that, employers can do their employees right now to remind them and just assure them that if they do decide to take the date off. They will not be penalized. It will not be looked at differently. They won't be looked at as being less productive because in the long run, any smart employer would know that you want a certain level of productivity from their employees, they need to encourage them to take time off. 

Derek: (18:18)
I think to add to that is for an employer from the employer side, what you have at your disposal is your managers, your managers on a day in and day out basis should be getting to know your employees. You should get to understand where they're coming from, what their perspectives are. I think that if you've done that research already, if you've done that work and getting to know your employees, you know, who may be a little bit more vulnerable in this time, and it doesn't hurt to reach out to them and check in to make sure that they're okay, that they're processing everything in a healthy way. You know, quite frankly, this situation along with the Coronavirus situation is giving a lot of people, grief and anxiety and loneliness. And just having that conversation, you know, maybe in a virtual capacity, but having that conversation with your employee is a huge advantage of how to deal with this from an emotional and mental standpoint. You know, it's important to look at things like taking a day off, or maybe it's taking a couple of days off. Maybe it is looking at your employee assistance program and referring them to call someone that there are people there to help. I think from the employee side, the things that we have to do for ourselves is if we are in facing that challenge, it may be difficult to ask for time off. It may be difficult to ask your boss for leeway on something, but maybe to delay a project or delay a deadline. But I think that in the long run, we are better off if we actually identify where, when we're at our breaking point, whatever that may be, you know. This situation, I think compounded with, again, the pandemic that is going on has created this multitude of emotions. You know, I I'll say personally, there have been times when I'm at home watching a movie that I think is, you know, just it's fluff, it's, it's easy going and it's not going to affect me emotionally. Then about halfway through the movie, I find myself almost in tears and I'm like, well, why am I having this response? And I think it really is because of everything else that's going on in our lives. So finding ways to process that in healthy ways, you know, I, I can say that there are people out there who may, go to eating too much  to binge eating into food, but let's not do that necessarily. There, there are healthy ways to deal with any these situations. And I think first and foremost is finding that support network that, that circle of trust, those people that you can talk to.You know, it may be your parents, it may be your siblings  it may be your children, or it may be just friends who've had similar shared experiences. You know, what I have found to be helpful for me is to reach out to that support network. And I'll say I've even expanded my support networks through this pandemic, just because of the social distancing, where I would normally get those social interactions, otherwise. I've expanded that support network. And a lot of that support network has also been just me listening. Let me reconnect with friends from high school, who quite frankly, are having a very different experience. You know, that they're personalizing this a lot more. I had a couple of friends from college who moved to Minneapolis, and I just checked in with them to say, how were you dealing with this? This is happening in your backyard. You know, for them, they are White Americans. They're experiencing this in a very different mindset, but having something like this happen so close to home for them was troubling. And I think just hearing how they were processing, it was healthy for me. It helped me to process my emotions and what I was feeling about this as well. 

Adam: (22:02)
So as we try to find our way forward as people, as organizations, I think one of the best ways for us is to find ways to hire, to make sure your workforce is diverse. Do you guys have some tips that the hiring managers can and managers can have, and when they're trying to go this route? 

Derek: (22:22)
Absolutely. I would say first and foremost is if you see in your, in your application pool, that you are not getting a diversity of candidates, maybe even diversity of experience, you should ask yourself why. There's probably something that's underlying there. That really is the root cause. For some businesses, it may be that they have a bad track record. There are businesses in the country who have had bad track records with either the African American community or the LGBTQ community or others. And so people in those communities do not want to work for those companies. And I think it's on those companies that they really need to rebrand to re-focus their attentions, to help actually make a difference in those areas. You know, I think a great example of that is if you take Cracker Barrel from the late 1990s, they had issues with LGBTQ community, but in the early two thousands they actually took proactive steps to challenge their, their perception in that community. They went out and hired a lot of LGBT consultants as well as managers to help manage their shops. And I think that that's important for them to make that change because it's only once they made that change, that they started to actually get traction from that community. And I think the same is probably true of the Asian American community, the African American community, the Hispanic community and others. What I think is also important though, is as a hiring manager, sometimes you need to find out where those diverse candidates are looking for jobs. One thing that I was very proud of in my prior employment, I was hiring for a Senior Financial Analyst and it wasn't just posting on LinkedIn and calling you today. I wanted to ensure that I had the most diverse pool of candidates that I could find. So I approached organizations like the National Association of Black Accountants. I approach Ascend, The Asian American Business Professional Organization and Alpha, The Association for Latino Professionals for America and posted on their job boards so that I could get more diverse candidates in my pool. And I think that is part of it. We, as hiring managers have to take proactive steps. I think the second part of it though, is we really have to look at our own biases when we look at resumes, when we look at applications, when we look at whatever it may be, whatever data is in front of this, or even in the interview, you know. There was a study done by Harvard University Professors who said that if you have four candidates on an interview and three of them are male, and one of them is female. The female only has a 5% chance of being hired. Statistically she should have a 25% chance, but the fact that you do not have a diverse pool of candidates that you're interviewing plays negatively against that female candidate. And I think that as we think about building our applicant pool and building our candidate pool and interviews, we really have to start considering, is this a diverse cross section of the applicants that are there? And again, if you're not getting diverse candidates, you need to ask yourself why. And some organizations, it may be history, but some organizations that maybe they're just not advertising in the right space. Maybe they're not getting that word of mouth from their employees. And so they should reach out to them and ask them what they could do to better, you know, get candidates from those communities, whatever those communities may be. 

Linda: (25:50)
And, I don't know if I can add so much to that, because that was a great overview in terms of what organizations can do. But, what I would say is that more than ever, I think organizations in general need to reach out to young professionals and I would say budding young professionals. And that is to start with, you know, doing conducting more outreach, you know, having conversation while, you know, budding young professionals are students in college. I think part of the problem is that, you know, young budding professionals, they're not really sure what career path they want to pursue. Some professions may look more appealing than others. And that may be just lack of information in terms of how some professions can be more appealing than they actually are aware of in terms of what options they can pursue. So I think a lot of these employers need to make their presence known at college campuses and have, you know, multiple touch points with both faculty and students, realizing that, faculty are the ambassadors for students, it's just like, you know, whatever, you know, students are hearing from their professors, in terms of career paths, more than likely that's what you're going to go with. So yeah, so I feel like organizations just have to make more of a connection with, you know, college campuses in general, both to faculty and students. 

Adam: (27:37)
So regardless of how diverse an organization is, the reality is, is that there are going to be people who are bigoted are, have racist thoughts and, and are just, are just straight, straight up mean to people, to others. What should someone do, an employee do, if they experienced that at their organization? 

Linda: (27:59)
Yeah. And, again you know, I defer to the theory one size doesn't fit all. I think it depends on, you know, what you're actually witnessing. And I would say in terms of, you know, how you would handle it based on your personal background, where, as an African American female, and unfortunately I've seen firsthand how racism and bigotry, you know, plays out. I think if I was to see it right in front of my face, I would probably try to have a situation at hand, and inform the vendor directly, you know, how they are aggressive, but the average person probably wouldn't be comfortable with that, worried about the repercussions from a human resources perspective. So, I think, you know, as part of a training for all employees, you know, there should be some type of guidelines that, you know, we would get from, human resources in terms of how we would handle such situations. So this way, if it has to be addressed, employees won't feel like they're violating any rules or regulations because they are bringing it to the attention, whether it's human resources, professionals or us confronting, the offender directly. So it probably has to, you know, be set up in terms of training sessions in terms of how to you know deal with those types of very sensitive situations. 

Derek: (29:54)
I think that individually, I think you should try to use the resources that are available to you. If that's going through the human resources pipeline, maybe there's a hotline that you have that you can give an anonymous tip, maybe talking to your manager or to the manager of that person. I think that those are the formal processes because you want to, quite frankly, you want to document this in the best way possible. The reason why is their actions violate Title Seven. I mean, just plainly. They violates Title Seven. It is against federal law based on race, and I think that first and foremost though, is creating that paper trail. You want that paper trail, as in my role, I also see oversee human resources. So it's not just, you know, the finance and accounting side that I have to put on. I also have to put on the HR hat and I need that paper trail, because if I'm going to take action, I need statements from employees who are impacted by a situation. I need the evidence, whether that's emails and, you know, quite frankly, the bigotry takes a lot of forms. It's not just racism, it's not just misogyny or homophobia. It takes a lot of forms in the even, I'll say there's a lot of things that happen that people say, oh, well, that wasn't that big of a deal, or they didn't mean it that way. Even those things need to be documented in the process. And I think that you, as an individual who either sees this bigotry or experiences this bigotry in any way, shape, form, fashion, you have a, an obligation for your company to document it and helping that process. I think from the company perspective, though, you have to create a culture that does not accept misogyny or homophobia, racism, or bigotry in any form. You know, it's, it, it has to be set from the top level of the organization. If your C-suite does not agree that this is a problem, then quite frankly, you're never going to get further down than that. People are going to start crafting their own opinions. And I think as a CEO, you have to craft your organization around this mindset that this is not acceptable and ensure that your senior leadership team, your C-suite buys into that and they need to ensure their managers buy into that. And you need to, when situations arise, you need to make examples of those individuals who are creating a hostile work environment for other people around you. And it could be harassment. It can be any number of topics that we're talking about here, but I think that it is an imperative for companies to address this and say, this is not acceptable behavior. I think as part of that, though, again, it is management's responsibility to have those open channels of conversation with people throughout the organization. You know, in my role, I have skip level meetings with my indirect subordinates. And I think that that's important. I hope that they would feel comfortable bringing these kinds of issues to me. But I also like to periodically set up meetings, informal meetings with people who aren't even in my reporting chain, so that I can have conversations with people outside of that group, who may be willing to say, well, you know, I heard this is going on, or really confront situations for some people, it may be very uncomfortable to confront racism or misogyny or whatever kind of bigotry is being portrayed. It may be very difficult for them as a bystander. Maybe they feel vulnerable. Maybe they don't feel empowered to speak up, because they're concerned about where their manager might be on this topic. But by creating these informal channels where people can come to you and say, I saw something, this doesn't seem right. You actually create the opportunity for a conversation and you can move those people, those kinds of people, those people with racist mindsets out of your company, because you don't want them interacting with your customers. You don't want them interacting with your other stakeholders, maybe your vendors or other employees, quite frankly. And it's more important for you as a manager of an organization with fiduciary responsibility to take care of the organization, allowing those people to stay in your organization does not help your organization succeed in the long run. 

Adam: (34:18)
So speaking of tools for organizations, can you just share a little bit about the new D&I toolkit that IMA is released? 

Derek: (34:24)
Absolutely. And, you know, thank you for asking about it. I think that it has been something that both Linda and I are very proud of and the accomplishment of it. This D&I toolkit is really designed for companies who are either just beginning their D&I journey or for companies who are already on a D&I journey, who need to assess where they are. It really provides some key practices, some best practices that are out there, including the use of KPIs to really understand how you should be managing your business from a diversity and inclusion perspective. I think that what is wonderful about this toolkit is that the primary author of the toolkit is a D&I professional, who is also a person with an accounting and finance background. this person transitioned from an accounting and finance background to this D&I role that they're currently under their company, her name's Carmen Bailey. And she absolutely understands where accountants mindsets are. And this is a great tool, not just for HR professionals or for diversity officers, but it's really a tool that's designed for business stakeholders, wherever they are in the organization. Again, when you, when you have an accountant or finance professional who is writing something, they're going to take a very different approach. And I think that that's what really has made this toolkit so successful is that it is a multifaceted approach that is all encompassing and quite frankly, can be used by any size organization. Organizations, as small as 10 people can pick this up tomorrow, or 20,000, 30,000 employees can pick this up tomorrow and they can find value on it. 

Linda: (36:03)
I feel that IMA is slowly but surely becoming a thought leader in the area of diversity and inclusion. And the reason being is because of the release of the D&I toolkit  where I participated  in a media interview earlier today, where I was describing the fact that I struggle with a lot of, you know, people that are appointed and become diversity and inclusion offices or professionals, is that you don't know where to start. And if you worked, the third of outlines for that employee can embrace, for how to start a D&I  initiative. You're not going to find something out there, you know, beyond maybe formal courses, as it relates to diversity and inclusion, but actually, you know, start the diversity and inclusion initiative, maybe beyond a formal checklist, there's not much out there. So the fact that I am a not only is offering such a resource, but offering it as a free resource, not only to, members within the management account profession, and as Derek said, you know, this is a toolkit that everybody in business appreciate as going through the journey with the organization, to develop initiatives. 

Closing: (37:35)
This has been Count Me In IMA's podcast, providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like, what you heard, and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at