Cultural Competency: Enhancing Organizational Ownership of Diversity & Inclusion - (Ep 2)

An interview with Lisa Z Fain of the Center for Mentoring Excellence

By David Worley


0:55 & 3:00 Lisa’s bio.

7:15 What is cultural competency?

8:30 What is the value of cultural competency to an organization?

11:15 How do you encourage ownership of diversity and inclusion in an organization?

14:15 Advice in coaching leaders on how to work with team members related to diversity, inclusion, and cultural competency.

18:00 Advice for organizations who are struggling with these issues.

22:30 The importance of listening.

Resources mentioned:
The Center for Mentoring Excellence:
Mindset by Carol S. Dweck; 2007
Inclusion by Jennifer Brown; 2017


David:              00:01          Hi everybody, welcome to the podcast. This is David Worley. It's clear that the world is becoming more multicultural and that difference pops up in organizations everyday. On this episode we tackle the topic of cultural competency.

David:              00:35          On this episode of the Groler podcast. We're pleased to welcome Lisa Fain. Lisa is the CEO of the Center for Mentoring Excellence and the founder of Vista Coaching. Lisa, thanks for being with us. Oh, thrilled to be here. David. Thanks for having me. So can you tell us a little bit about the center and about your life and work?

Lisa:               00:55          Yes. So I'll start with the Center. The Center for Mentoring Excellence is a 25 year old organization started by Dr Louis Zachary, who happens to be my mother, which is an extra honor. And we motivate, inspire and grow future leaders through mentoring. So we do that by working with organizations, working with mentoring cohorts and, making sure that they understand what effective mentoring is, that they have structures to stay accountable and that they're able to measure results so that they really can make mentoring work for themselves and for the organization. So that's the Center for Mentoring Excellence, we work with all different kinds of organizations from educational to corporate to international agencies, and so forth. So really excited about the breadth of our clients and we love coming back and continuing to help our clients and see them grow and we've been doing that for quite a long time and really enjoyed doing that and seeing people develop and organization's development and cultures. Our work, my work is really just to do that. We'll find out what is the need of the organization. We customize all of our work with all of our clients. So, I think I said if it's facilitation, it's training, it's coaching, and, we make sure that the mentoring programs and the mentoring structures that they put in place really jive with what it is the organization is trying to accomplish and who the organization is. So it's not a one size fits all approach, but what our solutions always have in common is that it's a structured mentoring approach that has accountability. It is based on a mentoring model that really takes the time to build trust between the mentors and the mentees, and ensures that the structures are in place in the organization to support mentoring and a developmental culture.

David:              02:58        Can you tell us a little bit about your background before working for the center?

Lisa:               03:04         That's funny. I laughed, chuckled a little bit because it's a bit circuitous and maybe unusual for other learning and development professionals, but I, started my professional career actually my postgraduate professional career as a management side, employment attorney, at a large law firm in Chicago and I loved, counseling clients and helping them create more fair and equitable workplaces. I did not love litigation, which was much more reactive but also an important part of the job and something that was expected of me. The good news is what I learned through litigation was how to solve problems, how to argue constructively, how to negotiate and how to work with teams of people. I moved into, once my children were young, I moved in house to help a growing company that was poising for an IPO, at the time set fair and equitable work practices as their employment attorney and in doing that really realized a need in that organization for more diversity and inclusion. I raised that to my boss who was the general counsel at the time and he said, "fantastic idea. Go do go do that." And I said, well, that's great. I have a full time job, you know, being an employment attorney too, but I really am a learner. And I dove in and I learned all I could about it. I hired really bright people who are experts to help and eventually moved into the role of the senior director of diversity and inclusion in that organization, building a community of business resource groups and people who are really dedicated to forming an inclusive workplace. And in the course of that (this may be more deep than you wanted me to go, David's but so feel free to stop me at any point), but in the course of that got my coaching certification so that I could coach executives and coworkers and how to create a more inclusive workplace and fell in love with coaching. I love coaching leaders and executives, and really helping them create their own authentic leadership and then moved into work with my mother, who was the leader of the Center for Mentoring Excellence; she had come in to help me set up a mentoring program for the women's group at my organization. And in doing that I sort of had this moment of where I should shut my eyes and opened it and realized that what she did to create mentoring cultures and help create mentoring competency, and what I love to do to create inclusive workplaces and help people bridge difference, was incredibly complimentary and, in fact, so needed. And so, in 2016 joined the Center for Mentoring Excellence and at the beginning of this year, 2018, I became the organization's CEO.

David:              05:44          It's wonderful that you get to work with your mom and kind of carry forward both her work and dovetail with your own. I don't think very many people get that opportunity. I was privileged to meet Lisa at a conference at the University of New Mexico. It was a mentoring conference there that is from the Institute of Mentoring at UNM, and she did a wonderful job speaking about cultural competency. And Lisa, one of the things that I kind of chuckle about is one of my all time favorite comedies is The Office and I think in one of the very first episodes in the entire series, they engage "diversity day." And basically listeners will remember Michael Scott, you know, having the office staff have a certain identity on a post-it note stuck to their forehead and they went around the room and were supposed to interact with one another. And it was hilarious comedy, in my opinion, around the often sort of shallow and unsatisfying way that many organizations try to get at the issue of diversity. And getting at the issue of diversity is in part predicated on this notion of cultural competency that you spoke so brilliantly about. And so as a lead off, would you tell us, or would you say to the listeners kind of what you think cultural competency is? And how it functions in the most generic sense?

Lisa:               07:30          Yeah, I will. Absolutely. And thanks for those kind words. I think in order to understand cultural competency, you need to understand what diversity is and what inclusion is. And so let me start there. Diversity is who is in the room, it is the mix of people. And inclusion is what you seek to achieve by having diversity. So, whether that is more innovation; whether that is more engagement; retention of employees; attracting the best talent; more diversity in leadership; additional perspectives; connecting better with customers; those are all results. That's all inclusion. What you get from leveraging diversity. Cultural competency is how you do that. So a lot of times people stop the conversation and saying, you know, we want diversity and we want inclusion. Fantastic. It's a great thing to do and it's a great thing to have, and there's no doubt that there's individual organizational and developmental benefits from having an inclusive environment. But too often we don't talk about how to get that inclusive environment and that skill of cultural competency is how we make sense of difference so that we can create an inclusive work environment.

David:              08:48         That's very interesting because I think you're right on point in terms of the diversity question. I think anybody that's paying attention realizes that we live in a multicultural and highly complicated culture right now that requires ever greater competency in engaging difference. And you hear a lot of discussion about diversity, but I think where we are underserved is conversation around why people should care about diversity and competency. And you spoke about it a little bit there and your open, but would you say a little bit more about what you see as the value of cultural competency for organizations? What do they stand to benefit, and how do they stand to benefit, by growing more competent in their actual engagement of one another.

Lisa:               09:49          Yeah. Gosh, you know, how much time you got? There are so many benefits. In all seriousness, I think it's really what I love about cultural competency and what I love about coming to this area, I really focus on it in the mentoring sense, is what cultural competency helps you bridge differences in your relationships with people. And so as wonderful and as important and as essential as a diversity and inclusion strategy is for an organization. You can't make it come to life. You can't even bridge difference or understand other people without cultural competency; so you end up with diversity in the room and no idea of how to leverage it. And it's really about understanding where there may be differences. It's about understanding yourself first, and the lenses that you see the world through. It's about understanding that those lenses may be different in various ways. In fact, they necessarily, by definition, are different than how your mentoring partner, your coworker or your boss, your somebody on your team, views the world and about getting curious about what those differences are and then asking about them and getting information so that you can really be much more expansive.

David:              11:16        That makes a lot of sense. In terms of the leveraging and in terms of of how to move the diversity discussion forward into actual actionable results, how do you encourage the ownership of difference in an organization?

Lisa:               11:34          Well, I mean the first, there's really two essential pieces to ownership. And I think one of the things you're referring to is one of the things that I spoke about when you heard me speak is that I really view three elements, towards achieving cultural competency. And the first is ownership. And ownership means recognizing the ability, the need to be curious. Again, self awareness is huge in that. And then this idea of a growth mindset, right? Because a lot of times people will say, you know, I just don't get it. I don't get "them." Whatever them is. And so if you can help foster, first of all, if you can own a growth mindset. Now, a growth mindset is something that I'm really passionate about. It's based on the work of Carol Dweck, a book called Mindset. And the idea is you can have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. I'm sure many of you listeners have heard of this because a lot, it's been widely cited in the last several years, but a fixed mindset is sort of, I know what I know and I am who I am. And that's where you stop, right? And so you view the world through this lens of, something that is very static. A growth mindset is, yeah, I am who I am and I know what I know, but I can also grow and develop into something more. I can learn more, I can be more, I can come to new understandings. I can achieve things beyond what I saw possible. I can understand things beyond the place that I see them. And so ownership is, a growth mindset is so essential in achieving ownership, which is an essential piece of cultural competency because, you know, there's a, I don't even know where it comes from, but I can remember growing up in my house, there was a, like a poster on the wall of a quote that said, "if you always do what you always do, you always get what you always get." And that's a fixed mindset. A growth mindset makes you realize, gosh, if I do something different, then I can learn something different and maybe the way they, whatever the "they" is, view the world, can teach me something. Maybe it can be creative to or add to my view and compliment my view. Maybe I can think bigger and broader. And there's all sorts of data that really shows how powerful having cultural competency and an inclusive workplace is, to having better business results.

David:              14:13        So when you're thinking about an organization and envision an organization that is explicitly struggling with questions of how to leverage diversity, and how to provide an inclusive environment, and you encounter somebody who clearly does not have a growth mindset, they are fixed in their thinking and in their perspective, if you were counseling a supervisor or a leader in how to deal with that team member, what tips might you give them in engaging that person?

Lisa:               14:51          Hmmm, that's an excellent question. It's a little bit of an "it depends." But I think the first thing is really helping them create this awareness. You know, we often, when I'm, when I'm coaching people, just draw a simple iceberg on a piece of paper and if you think about an iceberg, two thirds of the iceberg is below the waterline meaning, invisible. And one third, maybe less is above the waterline. Things you can see and understand. And I like to view each person as a, you know, your cultural identity, your identity, the way you view the world and things that shape who you are as a metaphor. So really getting people to say, all right, what helps you, what shapes your iceberg, what's on your iceberg? And maybe it's things you know, above the waterline, like, you know, skin color, gender, height, you know, that those kinds of things. Maybe and then below the waterline are things like motivation and values and race and sexual orientation and socioeconomic status and all of these things. And so the self awareness piece is big. And then asking the question, okay, how do these things affect how you show up? Right? And maybe I'm somebody is not going to want to talk about that with their supervisor, but the supervisor asking the question, "I want you to think about how all these things affect how you show up in the world?" And then "I want you to think about how other's icebergs might be different?" And just the recognition, the acknowledgement of difference. You'd be surprised, David it's, you know, it's amazing how few people think that there really are differences that affect how you show up in the world. So recognizing that there might be differences is really an essential first step.

David:              16:44         That's a great point there Lisa and as the only white guy on this call, I feel like I have license to say that that white men, in the prime of their life, tend to be the most oblivious to that very point. They tend to not recognize difference of perspective, difference of experience, and I'm talking cultural experience, not like work experience there. And they tend to, at least they communicate as if we're all just kind of on the same playing field with the same status and in the same privileges and same kind of social standing. And I know that that is a hot potato topic in our current political and cultural climate, but it is a hot potato precisely because it is an issue. And, so thanks for that tip. That's a really good one. I think it's easy to overlook team members not realizing that, you know, we all come to the table with a different perspective and different status and privilege. So if you were to talk to a leader who is running an organization, and they are really experiencing deep problems with diversity and inclusion and are having breakdowns on a, let's say, weekly basis. What might be the first thing that that leader should do to begin to address that?

Lisa:               18:30          Well, first look at their own behavior biases. I mean, it's very hard to lead inclusively without behaving inclusively. Sort of sounds a bit, you know, "it is what it is;" Yogi Berra. Yogi Berra there for ya. But, it's very hard to lead inclusively without behaving inclusively. So the first is to look at that? The second is to look at their own relationships in the workplace. And outside of the workplace setting, right? Is how are they, as a leader, interacting with people of difference? It's funny that you mentioned white, the comment about white males, David, because most often when I'm coaching white male mentors, and I asked them why, you know, we work in organizations that bring us in for diversity mentoring programs as well as other mentoring programs. But they'll often say, you know, "I'm really passionate about this, you know, this being diversity, inclusion." And I say, "why?" And what do you think the number one most common reason is that white men say that they're passionate about diversity and inclusion?

David:              19:40         Wow, that's a good question. I'm not sure what is it?

Lisa:               19:43          Either they have a daughter, or they have a child who is multiracial, or of a different race or who's been adopted from another country. They have a child who identifies and some key element of difference and they want the world to be better for them. And their first "aha" that there is some disparity in access and exposure and that the path may be different for people who are not straight white men is having a relationship, of some kind, with somebody who is not a straight white man in a work setting; or who will be exposed to a work setting. And so the relationship piece is really, really important. I call it, you know, they say DIY, do it yourself. I call it the DNIY. Meaning the biggest link for a leader to create inclusively is to link with their DNIY. What is their own diversity story? There's a woman named Jennifer Brown who wrote a book called Inclusion, who is also a friend of mine who talks about the fact that everybody has a diversity story. So linking that diversity story is really, really important. That's thing one, and I know a long answer to a short question. But the second answer to the short question is what's happening at the top of the organization? So not just that leader, but what else is happening and what are the messages, what are the messages that are being sent about how the organization values difference. The third is to really look at some of the numbers, not just who's in the organization from a diversity perspective. Who's getting promoted, who's getting opportunities, who is getting invited to lunch. You know, success for an employee is about performance, image and exposure. And unfortunately, if you aren't in a majority, often your image and exposure in the organization is, limited by bias, limited by access, limited, sort of defacto by, institutional and systemic inequity. And so, I'm looking at those three things and saying where are we, where are we missing? And sometimes the solution is something that's programmatic and I think that it is important to acknowledge that and to to put in those fixes. More often, not more often, as often the solution is also behavioral and on an individual level. And the more leaders can create authentic relationships across difference, the more that they'll build their cultural competency and create an inclusive environment.

David:              22:24          That's really helpful. So there are so many deeply insightful elements of that comment there. Thank you for that Lisa. On a little bit more simpletons level, one of the things that I observe that people can do is to actually listen and to let there be a little bit of space between things that are said and comments after one speaks. Especially, particularly, when you're in an organizational setting in which really serious and deep things are being shared. I mean, it's interesting to me to watch how people are often uncomfortable with letting there be silence in a room and letting, you know, a really serious comment just linger for a bit. That's one thing that I observed. Frankly, older employees may have a hard time with this. They're not well trained, I think generationally, to allow there to be an acknowledgement of difference. I think many older baby boomers, and I know I'm stereotyping here, but in my observation, many older baby boomers, we're brought up in an era in which, you know, "we're all the same and we're all on the same team and we need to work together" and it seems to me that when you compare your average 25 year old with your average 65 year old in an organization, there's a pretty stark difference in awareness between the younger and the older in terms of what you're talking about, like the multicultural, multi-perspective element. And so ironically some of our most seasoned and experienced leaders tend to be the worst listeners in the organization regardless of where they're actually positioned. But that's just something that I've observed. That is a very simple, tangible thing tied to what you're saying is the actual mechanics of just letting there be space and listening more than you talk.

Lisa:               24:47          Yeah, you're exactly right. Listening is a really important skill. Ironically, you know, listening more helps people feel seen and heard more. Not even ironically, but it certainly makes sense. It helps them feel seen and heard and that helps people feel valued and after the listening is instead of "yeah, and here's how it was in my day" right? Is I'm asking questions. What is that like for you? Right. How did you experience it? Right. It's interesting because I think it's a fair characterization that many baby boomers feel that way. I would argue that many Xers feel that way too. And many millennials who grew up in homogenous environments feel that way. We're really taught as a society, as a whole, that you know, people are the same wherever we go. And, you know, that [is] a very well intentioned effort, to say we are all the same, right? We are all human. We have the shared humanity to say. I don't see you as, you know, insert elements of identity here. And I often like to say, and I'll use myself as an example if you don't see me as a woman then you don't see me because I am a woman and it's very much a part of who I am. And if I don't feel seen, I don't feel heard. And if I don't feel heard I don't feel valued. And so it's about not seeing me despite the fact that I am a woman, but seeing me because I am a woman. And knowing that it means that I bring the perspective of a woman to the table, or the board room, or the meeting room or the organization or the stage or whatever it is. And I think that there's some value in that. Just as there's value in bringing the perspective of a man. And recognizing that being a man is a certain lens as well. And so in that way I think it's really exciting and it's promising and that we can all sort of bring our difference out, and not spend time covering it, but really spend time figuring out how can I take that perspective and be who I am, show up fully and perform and innovate and think and collaborate and, you know, develop. I think that's really inspiring and exciting.

David:              27:11         That is, I think, a great visionary pep talk to end the interview on! A wonderful plenary address in terms of being able to say, "hey, here's a vision of what could be." So, Lisa, thank you so much for your time today. Thanks for being on the podcast and for sharing your wisdom and insight. It's been a pleasure to talk with you.

Lisa:               27:38          Thanks so much for the opportunity, David. Enjoyed our conversation very much.

David:              27:45         That concludes our interview with Lisa Z Fain of the Center for Mentoring Excellence. I don't know about you but I learned a ton about cultural competency, about the value of diversity and inclusion, and about encouraging ownership of an organizational culture. If you enjoyed this episode, please visit us at the Groler website. That's There you will find a full transcript of this interview, show notes, and a few other goodies you may enjoy. You also may want to consider subscribing to this podcast. You can do so through the iTunes store. Feel free to reach out to us on the website and ask any further questions or suggest future show topics. Groler exists to help you continue to learn and grow as a leader. So keep learning, keep growing, keep leading. Until next time, I'm David Worley.
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