Conference on Diversity in International Affairs 2020: Leading Organizational Change in a COVID-19 World

Wednesday, May 20, 2020
Ryan Brown/UN Women

President, Chicago Community Trust

Managing Director, Business Intelligence and Investigations, Kroll, a division of Duff & Phelps

Cofounder and Chief Executive Officer,


Host, Weekend Edition Sunday, NPR

Speakers discuss how leaders from different sectors are spearheading organizational change in their respective fields, both through their experiences championing diversity at high-value levels and navigating the current COVID-19 crisis. This virtual event replaces the in-person 2020 Conference on Diversity in International Affairs, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

LINDSAY: Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Jim Lindsay, senior vice president and director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. It is my pleasure to welcome you to the virtual webinar on diversity in international affairs. This meeting is jointly presented by the Council on Foreign Relations, the Global Access Pipeline, and the International Career Advancement Program.

Now, the pandemic has made it impossible for us to meet in person, as we have for the past seven years, to discuss diversity issues. We’re very glad we can get everyone together virtually. Now, we hold this annual event for one reason, and that is that the ethnic and racial makeup of America’s foreign policy community does not mirror what America looks like. That gap robs the foreign policy debate of talented voices, it diminishes the chances that U.S. policy will reflect the broad array of perspectives its citizens hold. Our goal with today’s event is to advance the effort to diversify America’s foreign policy community. We hope that you will find today’s talk informative and inspiring. Even more so, we urge you to follow up by learning more about how you can play a role in international affairs.

Two organizations that can help you do that are the organizations that have joined with CFR to put on today’s event. That is the Global Access Pipeline, or GAP, and the International Career Advancement Program, otherwise known as ICAP. For those of you unfamiliar with GAP, it is a collaborative network of organizations forming a pipeline for underrepresented groups in the United States, from elementary school to senior leadership positions. ICAP is a professional development and leadership program for highly promising mid-career professionals in international affairs in the United States. I want to thank GAP and ICAP’s leadership teams for their work on this event and in the broader field of international affairs. Particularly want to thank Maria Theresa Alzura, Wida Amir, Erin Brown, Lily Lopez-McGee, Amber Whittington, and Zarina Durrani. A special thanks goes out to Tom Rowe, who oversees both organizations, and has been a leading voice in the field. I also want to thank CFR’s meetings program and events team in their work in planning this important virtual event.

Without further ado, I’ll turn things over to Lulu Garcia-Navarro, who will moderate today’s discussion. I hope you enjoy it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hi, everybody. Welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations virtual meeting on leading organizational change in a post-COVID-19 world with Helene Gayle, Nicole Lamb-Hale, and Raj Shah. I’m Lulu Garcia-Navarro. I’m the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and the podcast Up First on NPR. And I will, as they have discussed, be presiding over today’s discussion from my beautiful guest bedroom. (Laughter.) And we are all joining you from our respective places of either work or home, I’m assuming.

This is a very unusual event. So we should just acknowledge that. We are all kind of in the throes of dealing with this pandemic. And I’m going to introduce our panelists first. Helene Gayle has been president and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust, and that is one of the nation’s oldest and largest community foundations, since October 2017. Dr. Gayle spent twenty years at the CDC and has also worked with the Gates Foundation, CARE, among other philanthropic and humanitarian organizations. She was also named one of Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women. Welcome, Dr. Gayle, to you.

Nicole Lamb-Hale is managing director at Kroll. Before that, she had a long history of public service, serving as assistant secretary for manufacturing and services in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, taking part in many high-level negotiations. She was also the deputy general counsel for the U.S. Department of Commerce and has sat on too many boards to mention. She is also a past holder of the Gwendolyn and Colby King endowed chair for public policy at Howard University, which is very close to where I am. Welcome to you.

LAMB-HALE: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Raj Shah is an entrepreneur and leader in the national security community, currently serving as the executive chairman of Before that, he was the managing partner of the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, reporting directly to the secretary of defense. He serves as an F-16 pilot in the Air National Guard, and he has completed multiple combat tours. Welcome to you.

SHAH: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Helene, I’m going to start with you because, as we’ve seen, when we’re talking about diversity at this moment I think we have to start with an acknowledgment of how this pandemic is impacting people of color. Here in D.C. Latinos are more than seven times more likely to become infected than whites. African Americans represent 70 percent of all deaths. We’re seeing something similar in Chicago. So this is affecting communities of color disproportionately. But America’s not alone in this. We’re seeing similar issues in Sweden among the migrant populations, in the U.K. among Black and brown communities. What does that tell you about the challenges ahead?

GAYLE: Well, you know, I think—and thank you very much. Great to be here with you and the other panelists to discuss this issue. And it is multifold. And as somebody who has zig-zagged between the global world and domestic issues, I think COVID is one of those situations that, you know, I think we are all in this, and so we are hopefully all learning together as we face these different challenges. And as you said, you know, in many ways some of the things that we’re starting to see in this pandemic should not have been a surprise to us. It should not have been a surprise that here in the United States that it would disproportionately impact communities that were already very vulnerable both for health challenges as well as the economic impact of this pandemic.

And I constantly am highlighting the fact that this is one of those few times where we have had an economic crisis that is caused by a public health issue. And that for communities that are at risk both health as well as economically this is kind of a double whammy in many ways. And I think we’re seeing the same things both in the domestic situations in other nations around the world—as you mentioned Sweden and, you know, other places that are seeing vulnerable communities most hard hit—we’re also seeing this between countries. And, you know, it’s been interesting to kind of look at the map, if you will, of this pandemic and how it is affecting different parts of the world differently. And, you know, I think it does continue to show that this double whammy of health and economic means that we are seeing things unfold that we should have, and could have, been more prepared for.

So as an example, you know, those of us who have spent a lot of time in Africa know that, you know, in some ways perhaps Africa might have been more prepared from a public health standpoint because of having gone through Ebola, and HIV, and other crises. On the other hand, the very measures that have been put in place so quickly to stem the health spread and the health impact means that the economic impact is even greater. So as populations that would be out taking care of agriculture are not able to grow food, we know that there’s going to be a huge issue of drought—of famine that evolves from this. The fact that people have been sheltering at home means that there are a large swaths of population who aren’t able to get out and get food. And so, you know, I think it is this double bind of a public health issue that has such a huge—that the very measures have created an economic crisis is continuing to show our vulnerability both within countries but also between countries.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When we look at that and take that perspective, I’m going to ask you, Nicole, you know, we have to acknowledge that this is a dire moment. But can it also present opportunities to sort of reimagine things so that the very problems that we are seeing in this country on the ground, but also, you know, in the international sphere about who is representing us at the table, how we engage with other countries. As someone who’s been a part of government and worked in the international arena, I want you to just set the table here. Why is diversity important? And give us an example from your own experience. Why when we face a post-COVID-19 world is it going to be important to see who is seated at the table and who is going to be representing the United States?

LAMB-HALE: Well, thanks, Lulu, and to the panelists—my fellow panelists. It’s great to be here with you today, and all that are out there in the virtual CFR world. Happy to be a part of this discussion, which is very important.

And I think that one of the things that this crisis has reinforced—I mean, it’s not new news, as Helene said—is that, you know, there are disparities that exist. That, you know, when things are normal and, you know, we don’t have a crisis like this, it’s easy to overlook or easy to, you know, justify or—you know, maybe not address with the urgency that we need to address now—address it now. And so I think this is an opportunity—I love the thought, and I’ve heard this thought consistently, about reimagining. You know, this is an opportunity for us to step back—as we try to work our way through this crisis—to step back and look at, you know, what systems need to be put I place. You know, what perspectives need to be brought to bear so that people around the world can work together to avoid or minimize crises like this.

When you mentioned, you know, who needs to be at the table, I mean, I think that what this crisis has taught us—and we should have known it; it was always true—is that we are all in it together. You know, the virus knows no borders. You know, borders are porous to the virus. And so what happens in a country that we may not think about as much in the third world, because it, you know, maybe doesn’t impact us in the same way economically here in the U.S., really matters because if people travel from the U.S. to those countries in and out, all through Europe or wherever they are going, the issues in terms of health care disparities, et cetera, that sometimes we’ve overlooked can have an impact here on our shores.

So, you know, there’s the saying: Never let a good crisis go to waste. I mean, I think that we certainly have in this time an opportunity to reimagine how we engage with each other globally, how resources are allocated, and to really ensure that all of the perspectives that can influence outcomes are at the table. And that’s why diversity is so important, I think.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Raj Shah, I make a joke sometimes when I look at how this is playing out in this pandemic that we can either end up—because I’m a science fiction fan—sort of Star Trek—we can—we can reinvent things and make them better—or we can maybe end up Blade Runner. And I’m wondering, what do you see when you look at your career? Have you seen things change? And do you see this moment as a gamechanger, where things potentially could move in a different direction?

SHAH: Yeah, thank you. And Lulu, as, you know, we enjoy hearing your voice every weekend in this house. It’s a great pleasure to be here with you today, and with the other panelists, so thank you.

You know, I do think that as Nicole said, right, that there is an opportunity to take this difficult situation that the U.S. and the whole world is going through and try to see how we can find certain advantages that come out of it. So I’ll give you one specific one, right? So I’m out here in California, in San Francisco. I’ve been involved in the startup world for a while. And it’s very much a war for talent, right? The best startups are the ones that can attract the best engineers and the best executives. And it’s really, really hard. And you know, many times the limiting factor for a lot of companies is the ability to get great engineering and great computer science talent.

And you couple that with the fact that for San Francisco, New York, and many of our population centers, right, the cost of living has gone through the roof, and making it much more difficult for folks from unique backgrounds or disadvantaged backgrounds, candidly, to participate. So I think one of the things that we’ll see after all of this is that companies have been forced to do remote work. They’ve been forced to learn how to be productive. And particularly companies that have been sort of slow in the digital transformation—and I would put the U.S. government, and I would put some large investor industries square in that. But they’ve been forced to work remotely and they’ve found that, hey, we can actually do it. We can figure out how to conduct business over Zoom.

So I think—I hope what we’ll see at the backend of this is just sort of a broader playing field in that war for talent. That there’ll be the ability for a much greater part of the workforce both in the U.S. and worldwide to participate in these high-end knowledge jobs, and will make these companies more efficient, and bring new people into that work.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nicole, I see you nodding. I mean, if you had to prognosticate, how you could change something. How maybe something beneficial could come out of this. What do you see? Do you think that this will maybe level the playing field, as Raj Shah is suggesting?

LAMB-HALE: I think it will go a long way towards doing that. I mean, everyone is kind of—we all have a little bit of a disadvantage. There’s no home field advantage right now, right? (Laughs.) As we’re working, as we compete. You know, businesses compete, you know, nations are competing. It’s just—were all, as I said before, and we heard this quite a bit, but it bears repeating, we’re in it together. And so it’s going to be interesting to see how on the other side of COVID-19 things change in the way that we do business. And some of that change is, sadly, going to create some winners and losers, right? So when you talk about the advantage of technology during this time, you know, there is—I would predict that commercial real estate is going to suffer post-COVID-19 because many companies are looking at the fact that, and this is around the world, you don’t need as much office space. We can be more efficient having people work from home.

So you know, that creates to some extent maybe a loser, you know, maybe an industry that may suffer as a result of this. And they’ll have to be more creative. You know, the upside, the other thing that we’ve seen that’s beautiful, and it’s certainly something of note in the context of climate change, is around the world the air is a little bit clearer, isn’t it? You know, there are animals showing up, and fish showing up—(laughs)—in bodies of water that people haven’t seen for a while. And why is that? Because there is less—you know, less carbon impact because people are at home. And I think that over time people will get used to that, and like to see, you know, blue sky. And maybe that will motivate discussions on a global level to move faster on climate change.

So I think that there are going to be ups and downs as we come out of this. I think there are a lot of lessons learned. And I just think that it’s going to require resilience and creativity. And that’s something that I think is—can be furthered even better when you have sort of diverse voices, diversity at the table that’s helping to move the world in that direction.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Helene how are you imagining helping your community in Chicago, because obviously that is at the center of your mandate. And you know, at a certain point one things, you know, you’re only as strong as your internet connection these days. (Laughs.) I mean however, you know, you can communicate to the outside world, however you can participate, I mean, it is very dependent on your access to technology and other things. So what are you thinking about in Chicago?

GAYLE: Yeah. So before we went into this COVID world, we had recently revised our strategy and with a focus on what we could do to close the racial and wealth gap in Chicago, because if we look at what the economic future was for our city, and we recognize that when you’re holding two-third of the population back, and, you know, I could go through all the statistics, but suffice it to say if you look at earning capacity, wealth, and assets, et cetera, for African Americans and Latinx community, way below. And if you look at any indicator, whether it’s health, education, et cetera, all of those things show that real gap. And recognizing that economic, and wealth, and access to wealth is a huge barrier for all other sorts of things.

So if we look at our issues around public safety, and health, education, et cetera, the wealth inequity is a huge driver for that. So just six months into this strategy COVID hit, that was unmasking many of these inequities that existed in our community that people weren’t—and, I think, Nicole, you mentioned earlier—you know, people kind of knew but weren’t really paying attention. And I think this really revealed kind of those deep inequities that already existed, and in some ways give an opening to being even more focused on these issues, because if we’re going to—as we, you know, used to say in the emergency response world, build back better, we also have to build back equal. And we got to really take care of some of some of these existing structural inequities that we have in our society because it will be—it’s COVID today, but it will be something else tomorrow.

And I think it’s a—you know, we do need to take this, quote, “opportunity,” if you will, to think about the fault lines in our society, the weaknesses in our society. And, you know, I often look at some of the things that we’re doing as a result of this crisis and I wonder why we couldn’t really think about these long term. So broadband access. You know, every child is now having to do learning—you know, distance learning. Many kids may have laptops, but they may not have access to broadband. We’re working on that as a result of this emergency situation. Why can’t we do that long term and really close this digital divide once and for all? You know, we’re handing out cash to people who are financially insecure. We’ve had debates forever about whether giving people cash in some sort of a basic income makes sense or not. Why not look at that as a pilot and see if that makes sense as a way of bridging some of those gaps long term?

Worker protection, et cetera. I mean, all the things that we’re doing now because of the crisis situation, which essentially is shoring up our safety net that we just haven’t had, couldn’t we do some of these things in a more long-term fashion so that we are going into whatever the next crisis is much more resilient as a society, much more equal as a society, and addressing some of these long-term structural barriers that we know are impeding our progress as a nation and continuing to be able to move ourselves forward. So I think we have some real opportunities to take lessons from what we’re doing during this and really think about how do we create a different world, a more resilient work, and a more equal world coming out of this?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to bring up something that a friend of mine at #NatSecGirlSquad sent me, which was the results of a study they just completed which saw a few statistics about the national security environment and the international relations environment. And they said that 87 percent of respondents wish that there were more opportunities made available to women and people of color. Forty-seven percent said that they had experiences of discrimination as a leader in those spheres. So bringing it back to the world in which you all operate, this is obviously an issue where people feel that it is not only hard to get into these fields, but also hard for minorities to stay in these fields. So I would like to ask all of you about how you recruit, mentor, and retain diverse talent at a time when there are all these incredible pressures.

And I’m going to start with you, Raj, and then Nicole, and then Helene.

SHAH: Sure. Thank you. And it’s an important question. I guess I’ll look at it from maybe the viewpoint of someone that served in uniform, and that was sort of my first real professional job. So I guess I’ll make two points. One is, certainly from a pipeline and intake standpoint, the—you know, the national security entities—so the Department of Defense, the intelligence community, the State Department, you know, are trying to increase the diversity of the types of folks that come in, that are attracted to that and that pipeline. And I think there’s still some work to be had there.

But I guess I’d make a counterpoint about once you’re in that system how one gets treated. And from my own, I guess, personal experience, I would say at the junior levels of the military, it is one of the world’s greatest meritocracies. Not perfect, but it is, you know, unbelievably focused on results. And that is because in those worlds, the Department of Defense, the intelligence community, the decisions that are being made are ultimately life and death, and very tangibly like and death. And so because of that, everyone around you wants the highest performance. They care less about skin color or background because, you know, they have their own personal interest of surviving the situation.

You know, so from my own story, right, I entered flight school in December of 2001. And I’d actually packed up my apartment in Midtown Manhattan and moved to northwest Oklahoma to start flight school in the U.S. Air Force. And, you know, it certainly was the only person, you know, of brown persuasion in my class. That said, and that being close to 9/11 and the attacks, you know, I personally did not face any negative reaction because of color. And it was, again, how did you perform every day. It wasn’t that—no one was given—no one was given a break. It was rack and stack. And I think as you get more senior in an organization, things naturally become political and more difficult.

But I guess what I would encourage—I know many of the listeners on the call today are either college students or recent graduates kind of thinking about their first steps into the world of national security and foreign policy, is that I would—I would encourage folks to go into it and to work hard, and do their best, because I think, again, there are—three are good cultures and metrics, especially at the junior levels around that. Again, I think there’s work to be done on increasing the pipeline and the funnel. But, anyway, I just—I wanted to share that perspective.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nicole, I mean, I really struck me what Helene was saying previously, is this idea that we are going to be facing a lot of challenges that are going to require a lot of creative solutions. And some of those solutions are just actually identifying what those problems are because you’re familiar with them because you come from communities that are going to be impacted. So the question to you is the same: How do you encourage people to come in in your own organization and help them to stay?

LAMB-HALE: Right. You know, I think that what’s in some ways more important than recruitment is retention, because I think that in the beginning and to the point that Raj made, you know, people are coming in, you’re at the level where you are, and, you know, you have to work to earn the right to move up and to be promoted, et cetera. And so looking at ways to, number one, and I agree with Raj, the pipeline needs to be worked on so that there are people that you can draw from or draw on to be in these roles.

But I think it’s also important that when they arrive, identifying mentor opportunities, mentorship and sponsorship probably is more important—sponsorship opportunities for those individuals is important because it’s often easy to hire someone into those roles, but not really working with them and kind of helping them to navigate, particularly if they’re coming from a background where maybe they didn’t grow up at the knee of someone who was an ambassador to a certain country or, you know, who served at a high level in the military. You know, they’re not going to have that advantage. So having someone sponsor them, help them move through the system, if there’s a real commitment to that, I think will go a long way towards increasing diversity in these fields.

And there are many different—

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did you have that?

LAMB-HALE: Pardon me?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did you have that?

LAMB-HALE: I have had mentors. I’ve been very fortunate to have mentors, and a few sponsors, throughout my career. You know, I kind of come at—I come to this space in maybe a little bit of a nontraditional way, because I practiced law, was kind of a business restructuring lawyer for eighteen years, and then kind of found myself with an opportunity to be in a field that I truly enjoy in terms of national security and foreign affairs. But, you know, I draw from the lessons that I learned, even in the context of practicing law, from sponsors and mentors around how to navigate complex organizations. You know, what are the things to do to be noticed in the organizations?

You know, often people from diverse backgrounds, you know, follow the rules. And they think, well, why am I not moving along? Well, there are written rules and there are unwritten rules. And the only way to know the unwritten rule is to have a mentor or a sponsor to help you discover those. And I did benefit from that very early on. And, you know, that sponsor doesn’t have to be, you know, of color. They don’t have to be a minority. It’s just someone who cares and is paying attention and is sensitive to some of the structural impediments that may be faced by the mentee that may put in them in a position where they are at a big of a disadvantage, even on a level playing field. It’s not always level. It may appear to be, but it’s not always level just based on life experiences. So I think that is—that will go a long ways towards increasing diversity in this field.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Helene, do you have any thoughts?

GAYLE: Yeah, I would—I would comment and echo many things that others have said. You know, I think the pipeline issue is very important, but I think we put a lot of focus on pipeline for many years and probably not as much on how do you build strategies for retention and career mobility within organizations? And, you know, there’s a project that we have here in Chicago called the financial services pipeline. It’s really looking at how to diversify the financial services industry, which is a big industry here in Chicago, and obviously in many places. And you know, I’ve jokingly said: Let’s take pipeline out of the name, because I think we put so much focus on getting people in, but not keeping them in.

And then I think these issues of how you have mentorship, how you have role models, and how do you really work on the structural barriers, which include implicit bias and all these other things that we know really do end up meaning that people don’t always get an equal shot at staying and advancing within organizations? So I really think we need to focus a lot more on the middle and above, because that’s where we start seeing the glass ceiling. And that’s diversity, whether it’s gender, race, ethnicity. But I think that is where I would like to see more focus.

And I think in this world of foreign policy, I think having role models—that’s why I like having—you know, this panel is so great, because I think, you know, foreign policy has not, one, always been welcoming, or always been seen for people of diverse backgrounds, and particularly people of color, as a career that’s open to them. And I think that, you know, we’re seeing a lot more young people who are seeing this as a career pathway, and a lot of it is because there have been people who have had those careers, who come out and speak about it.

And I think that a lot could be said for how do we make sure that people—as I say, you can’t be it if you can’t see it. You know, how do we make sure that we have role models that look like—you know, who share that diversity and look like the cross-section of America, because we know how important it is? But then again, how do we just have mentors within systems anyway who are looking—who are deliberately looking out for diverse candidates within their organization to clear those obstacles and those hurdles?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We’re going to go to questions soon. But I just want to bring up something before we do, in these last few minutes, money. Because we know that when there’s a big economic downturn like the one that we are experiencing right now, often, you know, as you’ve mentioned, Black and brown people are disproportionately bearing the brunt of it. But beyond that companies, if they’re going to make cuts, might make cuts in unconscious bias training. They might make cuts in their diversity programs. They might make cuts in things that they see as expendable. So how do you not lose the ground on the work that’s already been done? And we’ll go around again—you know, Raj, then, you know, Nicole, then Helene.

SHAH: No, I think it’s an important consideration, and a lot of companies kind of faced it, right? In the economic downturn they’re going to have to reduce their discretionary spend. And we’re going to see that across the board, from both employment levels and programs. I mean, I think it comes back down to being able to—and I think panels like this are very helpful—articulate the business need for why diversity’s important, right? It’s not diversity for diversity’s sake, right? It’s nice that, of course, if you look like a cross-section of America. But if you, you know, put the real reason before a company and its board, is that a company that really understands its diverse customers and diverse motivations is going to be a better company with the leadership and the employees who reflect that. So I think making that case, showing the data behind that, will show that, hey, these diversity programs are actually not nice-to-haves but needed.


LAMB-HALE: So I would agree completely. It’s really making the business case for diversity. It’s not really—in our world now, our globalized world, it’s not really optional. I think that, you know, there is a lot of data that’s out there that shows that, and you see it—it bears itself out in advertisements. Lately I’ve noticed there’s more diversity in promoting products. You know, the people who promote products. It’s not, you know, a social program. This is a business program. It’s a business imperative that the data does bear out. And so I think keeping it at that level is important.

GAYLE: Honestly, I don’t have much to add. I mean, you don’t cut what you think is essential. If you think it’s essential, it’s not the first thing that you’re going to cut. So I think continuing to demonstrate that—and there’s lots of data that suggests that, in fact, you do better when you have greater diversity of all sorts.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Have you seen that change, though, over the course of your career? I mean, do you think that we’re in a better position now than we have been?

GAYLE: I think we have a ways to go. I think the data are there. And so the fact that people have been paying attention to it and are starting to make the business case, which I think is a big shift from an equity, social justice, all of which I believe deeply in. But I think it is when you are able to make a business case that people start listening, and paying attention to it, and seeing it as essential. So in the sense that it has migrated, and we have a better database, I think we are doing better. Now I think we need to really take that and continue to beat the drum on why this really matters. So we’re not there yet, but I think we have moved.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And, Raj, just quickly, I mean, what do you think you brought to the table? When you’re sitting—when you say you’re the only brown person, you know, what is it that you feel that you’re bringing to that group of people?

SHAH: In a context of—

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, in the context of when—you know, you’re giving that anecdote about, you know, being the only brown person in flight school. You know.

SHAH: You know, I think it—diversity can do a lot of things to improve a group, right, because if in my case an immigrant family, right? So the experiences I may have had, the experiences of being able to compare and contrast things we take for granted if you just grew up in the U.S., or if you had family that immigrated from somewhere else. I think, you know, those perspectives can make a group stronger, it can help people understand motivations. So some of this stuff, and I’m glad there are some data and studies, is it’s sometimes hard to quantify, but I think very important when you’re trying to strengthen the cohesion of a group and its ability to accomplish its mission.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. So I think at this point we’re going to invite the audience members to join our conversation with their questions. And the operator will remind you how to join the question queue now.

STAFF: (Gives queuing instructions.)

We will take our first question from Emily Couch from the National Endowment for Democracy. And she submitted a question written. And the question to all the panelists is: The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the strong, yet long ignored, undercurrents of racist attitudes towards East Asians in America. We have seen this on a local level and through statements from the Trump administration. How can we counteract these prejudices on an organizational level?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Who wants to take that?

GAYLE: Well, yeah, I guess—I’ll just start. You know, that is one of those questions that is, you know, hard to give an exact answer. I think first and foremost recognizing it. I think squelching nonfactual information is important. But I think, you know, it’s like so many other forms of racism. You know, unless you name it and then deal with it, it’s hard to actually make that change. So I just think it is an issue that all of us who are interested in building an anti-racist society, that we challenge it when we see racist ideas being promulgated.

LAMB-HALE: You know, I would agree with what Helene said. It’s really kind of naming it and shaming it. It’s important that it not be, you know, kept kind of in the shadows. It needs to be called out for what it is. And I think that it’s incumbent upon, you know, all of us to be vigilant in ensuring that that happens.

SHAH: I agree with that. I think the statement I would—or, the perspective I would have is that it’s easier to be racist against or have prejudice against, you know, sort of faceless groups or broad groups. It’s much harder when it’s particular individuals. And I think that’s one of the challenges of this COVID situation, is it’s preventing that human-to-human interaction. And that is people really get to know one another and their motivations and intent, it cuts through a lot of that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. Next question.

STAFF: Our next question will be from Irvey Thomas (sp).

Q: Thank you very much. Thank you so much, Dr. Gayle, Ms. Lamb-Hale, Mr. Shah, for enlightening to the various lessons you’ve observed since COVID-19 has hit our society. You have all discussed the many ways COVID-19 has impacted our environment and ways of working, from reduced global emissions to increased opportunities for diverse talents unable to live in important tech hubs like San Francisco. I was wondering, in terms of policy responses what can those of us in the policymaking sphere do to help bridge these gaps you discuss, especially when people tend to listen better when we make a business case, as Dr. Gayle mentioned earlier? For instance, what would long-term safety nets seeing to build resiliency and address long-term structural barriers look like?


GAYLE: You know, I think one of the things that we’re trying to do, and I think lots of others, is, you know, first of all, having the data. And I tend to be a data-driven person. I know that policy is not totally made based on data, but I think it is a foundation for, you know, how you build support for policy change. And so I think, you know, this situation does allow us to learn lessons from some of the things that we’re doing differently as a result of this crisis. And so I think that actually analyzing, learning from them, really looking at what are the impacts, what are the results of some of the things that we are doing—you know, whether it’s greater access to broadband, worker protections, et cetera—that access to cash in ways that people didn’t have before.

You know, what are some of the safety net things that we are doing now, different lending to small businesses that are much more flexible and often businesses of color weren’t able to give capital, ideally, through some of the federal dollars should be able to have more flexible lending, et cetera. So there’s lots of different ways in which we are being more flexible as a result of this crisis. And I think we should collect data, learn from it, and then use that to base some of our public policy development, some of our advocacy, so that we can build some of the systems that we think can make longer-term difference.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because, Raj Shah, I mean, at the end of the day, this is sort of a vast experiment that we’re undergoing right now, in certain ways.

SHAH: I agree. I think I’d add—so I agree totally with Helene and Nicole certainly too about broadband, so everyone has equal access. And I think there’s one other area that from a public policy standpoint I would highlight that would allow broader parts of the nation to take advantage of, I think, how the world’s going to look. So Nicole and I had the pleasure of serving on a CFR taskforce earlier this year, I guess it was last year, on American competitiveness. And one of the key recommendations that the group made was around increasing STEM education, right? So if we are going to see an acceleration of digital transformation across companies and the government, folks that are native—digital natives and that have these core STEM skills will be most likely to be take advantage of. And so I think from a public policy standpoint, advocating STEM, advocating access to these types of programs earlier in students’ careers is just an immense opportunity for us all.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nicole, do you have anything to add?

LAMB-HALE: Nothing to add. Everything’s been said.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. All right. (Laughs.) Next question.

STAFF: Our next question comes from Tom Rowe. And he asks: The difficulty with the early pipeline argument is that there are major obstacles to people of color at the mid-career level. We currently have talented folks of color at the middle levels. We could have diverse leadership if we wanted such diversity. Why don’t we?

LAMB-HALE: That is a great question. (Laughs.)


LAMB-HALE: Why don’t we? And I think that, you know, there are a combination of factors that are influencing that. Some of it is bias related. Some of it is not understanding the business imperative of having that kind of diversity in organizations. So I think that it’s just important for us to, you know, continue—and as I mentioned earlier, and I think Dr. Gayle did as well—focus more on the—what I would say—the kind of retention kind of imperative versus the recruiting imperative. I think that, you know, we often make ourselves feel better when we have more numbers of people coming in, but if you can’t keep them, then you really haven’t moved the needle.

So it’s really about, you know, working towards finding ways to level the playing field because many people from diverse backgrounds, and backgrounds generally, you know. It may not be that it’s ethnic diversity. It may be economic diversity, where there’s not as much exposure to some of the things and some of the skillsets that translate into success in organizations. So really working on that and being a sponsor of persons who are recruited who are from diverse backgrounds I think will go a long way towards solving the problem.

GAYLE: And I would just add, I mean, I would imagine all of us are where we are today because somebody recognized something in us and gave us a break. You know, once you get into an organization, it is about relationships and networks that get to and move you to the next stage. Yes, there’s objective information about how well you perform, but you know, again, there’s a lot of data that show, given equal performance, it is those networks and people looking out for you and those relationships that actually often make the difference in terms of career mobility and retention. And so you know, I’ve seen organizations and companies that have actually systematically made it a priority that managers had to come up with five people that they see as folks that they would want to, you know, mentor and help build their careers, and that no manager could have a pool of mentees that was not diverse.

And so I think, you know, there are ways in which you can get companies to actually think much more proactively about those relationships and the ways that you can help provide support. But you’ve got to—as we’ve all said—you got to believe that it’s actually in your benefit. And I think that’s part of it. You know, it’s both helping companies believe it and figuring out are there systems that you can put in place that kind of simulate what might take a lot longer to just happen on its own.

SHAH: I guess the only comment I would add is that I think retention of mid-career professionals in the, you know, national security agencies and the military is something they’re struggling across the board with, right? Both diverse and non-diverse candidates. And we could explore our diverse candidates impacted even more. But the lack of flexibility in human capital systems, you know, the promotion systems that perhaps haven’t changed for several decades, you know, again, I think it’s—the world is moving at a much higher speed. If you look how fast people will progress in technology businesses I think our human capital approach has to evolve in the national security organizations. And we’re going to lose all kinds of qualified people to opportunities on the outside if that doesn’t happen.

LAMB-HALE: I would add something just from my own experience, which is I think that it’s vital that you have leadership at every level say that this is an absolutely essential priority, and that it is unequivocal, and that there are metrics involved with that. Because if there is not someone at the very top who then enforces it at every level on the way down saying: This is absolutely important that we retain. You will be judged on that. You will—there will be—it’s part of the metrics of how we evaluate you and your performance. I think a lot of lip service can be paid to things that don’t actually end up happening. So I think that that is one of the sort of most important things.

 And then secondly, I think it is really important that when you are looking, especially at that middle level, it’s exactly what you said, Raj. It’s this idea of, how do we evolve? How do we meet the expectations of the talented people where they’re at? And how do we make sure that they’re feeling fulfilled, and that they’re feeling challenged, and that they’re not constrained by the systems that we’ve—and I mean, we, all of us—put in place, you know, to sort of make—to constrain them? So I think there’s a lot of different things that, especially at the middle level, need to be done to make sure that people who get into that position feel like they are valued and that they want to say.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Next, please.

STAFF: Our next question will be from Pastore Arroyo (ph).

Q: Hi. Can everyone hear me? Awesome. So good afternoon, everyone. And thank you for all the insights you’ve shared. As he said, my name is Pastore (ph), and I just got back from a Fulbright Scholarship, teaching English abroad. And so just a little context. After graduating from college I took a job as an entry-level assistant paralegal at a law firm, but I had no experience working at a law firm or being a paralegal. And so most of my training was on-the-job training, consisting, like, of a brief workshop and then asking my colleagues how to do this and that around the office. Do you believe that the transition to remote work could impact entry-level jobs, both in the work experience required to get the entry-levels and the experience of networking with colleagues and interacting with them in an office space?

GAYLE: I’ll start. It’s funny that you should mention that, Pastore (ph), because we just had a discussion about that today at my firm. (Laughs.) Be it on Zoom, just like we are now, about the tension around the remote connections and then culture, quite frankly, and the ability to mentor. And I think that the conclusion that we drew was that, you know, technology-enabled interaction is certainly important and, you know, fortunately we have it during this crisis, but that we really need to have a mix of both virtual connectivity and in person because it’s through those in-person interactions that a lot of the things that we’re talking around, you know, sponsorship and mentorship can really come to—you know, come into reality.

And so one of the suggestions that we’re kicking around that was made was just, you know, making sure that as we do this that, you know, as the crisis permit, as it abates, we ensure that there are in-person meetings. You know, maybe it’s—you know, you choose the cadence. It depends on the business. But that it’s important that there be actual in-person connectivity to get to know people, to understand their strengths and weaknesses better, and to just develop relationships, because the other thing that is important is that, you know, mentors and sponsors, you know, they should come about organically, I think. I think they’re most successful when that happens. I’ve been in organizations where it’s kind of been forced top-down, and it never worked that way. And the only way for it to be organic is for there to be real human-to-human interaction. And so I think that we need to, you know, take advantage of technology, certainly, but I don’t think it can ever replace human interaction.

SHAH: I agree with exactly what Nicole said. We are humans. You know, Pastore (ph), we’re social animals. And so we crave and need that interaction. And I think all of us are doing the best we can with technology to bridge the gap for now. But, you know, I’m optimistic that at some point the world will return to normalcy.

GAYLE: Yeah, I would agree with all that, with the one addition that we may be in this for a while, and I think we got to figure out how not to have this be an excuse for not doing some of the things that we know are important to do. So, you know, it is—it is definitely not—the intangible of in-person is missing but, you know, I also think it would be a moment where people could say, oh, well therefore we can’t keep anything moving that has to do with, you know, human resources, talent development, diversity, et cetera. And I think we just got to keep pushing while we’re in this moment. But all the other things, I totally agree.

STAFF: Our next question is from Stephanie Hanson (sp), who asks: What are best practices to address an inequitable promotion pace problem within an organization, especially when it might be largely caused by unconscious bias?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Who wants to take that?

GAYLE: Well, I guess I would just start by saying: attacking the unconscious bias. I mean, there’s so many ways now. And I think most workplaces these days are realizing that even if they don’t believe it, that they should do it. And I think sometimes in the doing it they start believing. And so I think, you know, attacking the unconscious bias first and foremost. But you know, as anything with, you know, HR, having documentation is also important. You know, if you think you’ve been passed up, or somebody thinks they’ve been passed up, being able to really have the data to demonstrate, you know, your case, and to be able to ask the questions: You know, what did go into the thinking about this? But, you know, I think as we’ve said a few times, I think attacking these things head-on is the way you really get to start at least chipping away at some of the issues.

LAMB-HALE: And I know it’s an uncomfortable conversation, asking people who much they earn and telling people how much they earn, but I personally have always been a big believer in sharing that information because I think that it is helpful to others to understand where you stand and where others stand, because it is almost impossible without the data to understand exactly if there is an actual problem or if there is, you know, just the perception of a problem. And that is something. Also pay equity studies are important, I think. Many companies are increasingly doing them so that there is, you know, a defense against any perception of systematic differences in pay, which we know exist obviously because we all see the data writ large. But that is also something that has happened in my company and has happened in others.

STAFF: Excellent. Our next question is from Taylor Jackson (sp).

Q: Hi. Thank you guys so much for being here. This has all been very informative. My question is for Dr. Gayle and Ms. Lamb-Hale. As a Black woman myself, I’m curious to know how you have seen your experiences as Black women working in international affairs different from some of your white counterparts. And how have those differences contributed to challenges throughout your careers?

GAYLE: Wow, that’s a big question. (Laughs.) You know, it’s funny. I’ll give you two anecdotes, both of which—I mean, I think they’re kind of funny. We’ll see what you guys think. But I think what I often try to do is to infuse a little bit of humor and kind of make it a little bit more light, so that—I think sometimes the question, or the issue is addressed better that way. So I’ll tell you something kind of early in my career that happened, and then something, you know, more recent that I really thought was funny. I think you will to. If I ever write a book, it will be about the second thing I tell you.

So the first thing. You know, I’m a young lawyer. You know, I used to be called kiddo all the time. Now I wish people would call me kiddo. You know, gosh, you finally grow up. But I remember, you know, I always looked very young and, you know, as a result, I would always be a little bit more formal than most of my colleagues because I wanted to look a little older so, you know, I would look like I was really a lawyer, right.

So I remember once getting into an elevator. I’m in my office. You know, I had started practicing law in Detroit, Michigan. So I’m in my office elevator and there’s this older white gentleman that walks into the elevator with me. We ride up, and he notices that I’m going to the law firm that I said that, you know, that he was familiar with in that tower. So he said, oh, are you a paralegal, and I said, no, I’m a Harvard-trained lawyer, and I just smiled at him. And he was so embarrassed, and I felt like, wow, I taught him something today, right.

So, you know, and I wasn’t angry about it. I smiled about it, and then I saw him later and, boy, did he want to avoid me. But over time, it got better. But, you know, it’s funny. That’s a story—I don’t know that, you know, one of my white counterparts, particularly one of my white male counterparts, would have received a question like that. I think there was some bias. I don’t think he could imagine that I could be a lawyer at this law firm.

And so I think over time, you know, things like that happening—you know, it’s one person at a time. I get it. But I think it helps to, you know, break down stereotypes.

So the more recent situation happened when I was in government. So I was an assistant secretary in the International Trade Administration at Commerce. So one of—the major part of my job was to take U.S. trade missions around the world.

So I took a trade mission to Algiers and Libya, which was interesting. It was twenty-five U.S. companies. While the members of the trade mission were meeting with potential business partners, I was negotiating market access challenges and issues with my government counterparts.

Well, there was one meeting where I was meeting with a minister from the Algerian government and I arrived a little bit early with my team. And, you know, it was a beautiful room, you know, mahogany tables. My flag and our flag was next to my chair. You know, the Algerian flag was next to the minister’s chair who I was going to meet with.

And one of the staff from the minister’s office saw me approach the chair and he said, ma’am, that chair is for the minister, and I said, I am the minister. And he was, again, very embarrassed. And so I guess I say all that to say that, you know, people make assumptions, certainly, and sometimes there are challenges because people can’t imagine that you could be the one in charge, you could be the assistant secretary, you could be the ambassador. But I think that the more that we do it and the more that we not let that kind of thing get us down, I think the more progress we’ll make.

GAYLE: And I have my own series of humorous stories of being taken for granted. I will maybe talk about the reverse, which is I think that sometimes being a woman and being African American has actually been an advantage for me in international settings. I feel I have often been accepted in ways that I think I might not have been accepted if I was a white male.

And so I actually think there are times when people actually value the diversity, value that you’re bringing something different, and I think in a lot of international contexts, as an African American people may not have some of the same hostility when you’re in situations where there is—there has been misunderstandings or tensions with America.

Sometimes I think people actually value seeing people of color because they feel like you’re not “bad American.” And so, you know, I think there’s actually sometimes been a real value and I think sometimes being a woman has been refreshing in some of these international contexts where they are used to seeing only men. So I think it cuts both ways.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And I’ll just add real quick so we can get to more questions, but to the point that Helene just made, one of the nicest things that was probably said to me on that very mission—this was now in Tripoli—there was a Libyan businessman who, you know, I was talking to at an event and he said, the United States should send more people like you, and I thought, wow. And that’s to the point that Helene is making. I mean, I think it was refreshing to him to see me.

GAYLE: Yeah. And I would—you know, just to say, you know, I think for those of us people of color oftentimes the Diaspora—the home countries or, you know, what have you actually value very much seeing that diversity and see it as a real strength to see those of us who may represent parts of the world that we all, you know, came from at some point in time.

OPERATOR: Excellent. Our next question is from Anita Joshi (sp), who asks: The panelists have discussed the opportunity for permanent positive change as a result of COVID. Yet, many firms still discuss the COVID as a temporary situation. How can we ensure organizations will be open to permanently transforming how they operate rather than anxiously racing back to the normal, and how do we ensure the more inclusive changes necessitated by COVID stick?


SHAH: You know, I think many of these companies are just going to be forced to make these changes. So, for example, I talked a little bit about the remote work and I think what an advantage that will be to democratize access, particularly the high-tech jobs.

Well, you know, this COVID episode is going to take at least three months if not longer, and there will be a lot of data that will emerge, right. How many new recruits did you get? How much more efficient were your workforce by not having in a—not have them come to a physical space?

And so I think the answer, in my opinion, for maintaining some of these things is for the things that did work have the data, expose the data, and show those results. And so that’s, again, I think—the key advantage, I think, is, you know, especially when we talk about digital transformation, for a lot of businesses it’s a prospective thing, meaning if we transformed it sounds like it will be great. Now that you’re having this force transformation there’s actually data. It’s not, you know, prospective. It may be nice if we have it. But they can actually go back and see the results.

So I think some of these will actually stick and not go away.

GAYLE: Yeah, I would disagree. I think that anyone who feels like we’re going to go back to the same road we left is probably unrealistic. I think these changes, because they are going to be long term in terms of the way that we work, I think we are going to be thinking very differently and in innovative ways.

I think in terms of the issues of inclusivity, you know, some of that—I just think all of us who believe in it need to keep beating the drum about why it’s so important and I think, you know, if we look at the impact of COVID and what it has done disproportionately to some communities versus the other, there’s no way that we can hide from that. You know, I think the realities of the—both the health but particularly the economic impact is going to be very real.

So I think, you know, we’re going to have to face some of these challenges. This is not a, you know, we did this and we’re out of here. This is going to have long-term impact for our society and we’re going to have to adapt and be innovative if we really want to come out of this in a winning position.

OPERATOR: Excellent. Our next question is from Angana Shah.

Q: Hi. This is Angana Shah, ICAP 2013.

I am currently working in Michigan. Hi, Nicole. And I’ve been working with an NGO on COVID-19 response, and I read an article recently that made me realize that NGO leaders are still disproportionately white.

So I’ve moved away a little bit from the international sector. My story is I had a child and I don’t want to travel so much anymore and I’m transferring my skills. But most of these NGOs were trying to work with marginalized communities, but the person at the head is almost always a white man because, you know, we partner with others. And I like all the leaders. And I’m going back to when I was in law school, and every single person who was able to take a public interest job that paid, like, 20,000 (dollars)—this was in the ’90s but still—very hard to—they had rich parents, not middle class. I mean, you know, well off. And I feel like there’s a big—the whole free internship or the internship that doesn’t pay living expenses in D.C., I feel like that’s a huge barrier to some of the real policy-oriented public interest work entryways—gateways.

So maybe this isn’t the right forum. Some international work is better paid. But I think even in some international NGOs, you know, you got a kid volunteering to work for free and write a brief because, you know, someone can pay their rent. I feel like it might even start there where you kind of have to go corporate and you can’t follow some of those regular career paths because you’re really—well, you could have tons of loans or you could really—you just really can’t afford it if you don’t have someone who, as much as they want to, can give you that initial boost.

So is there something—I mean, in my opinion, I think jobs should pay more and should pay enough to live where they are, even internships. On the other hand, now that I’m switching careers, I want to be able to do free work. But I have a lot of seniority and I can pick up consulting work to pay my bills. A new kid out of college can’t.

LAMB-HALE: You know, I think there are more opportunities to find—to support these—(audio break). You know, interestingly, you know, there are more paid internships on the Hill than there used to be. I think there’s a recognition that, you know, there is that barrier for economic diversity.

But, you know, often there are grants that are available—you have to do some research to find them—that help support living expenses for entry-level jobs, you know, internships.

So I hear you. I mean, it is a very difficult issue and I think it does contribute to what we’re talking about, kind of a lack of diversity as you get more senior because of where everyone starts. If someone is starting on third base versus someone who’s starting, you know, on first or no base, it’s harder.

But I think that there are, increasingly, opportunities through foundations and other organizations to help to ease some of that, that financial disparity.

GAYLE: Yeah. And I think, you know, we have intentionally shifted a lot of our funding of the nonprofit sector to support organizations that are led by people of color, and so I think part of it is being very deliberate about that. And that doesn’t mean there are, you know, still really great NGOs that are headed by, you know, white leaders and, you know, if that’s the right organization that’s fine.

But we’ve been very explicit about really trying to support organizations and particularly if they’re working in communities of color to support organizations that are led by people of color. And, you know, there’s lots of them and there are a lot of people-of-color organizations who don’t get as well funded.

And there was just a couple of research studies out Bridgespan Consulting Group and an article in the Stanford Social Innovation publication that looked at this, how the disparity between funding for white-led organizations versus organizations of color with really good documentation about how organizations of color who went—led by people of color, if they went in for a grant application what—the paces that they were put through versus white colleagues.

And so, you know, it’s there. You know, one of my colleagues referred to it as philanthropic redlining because there is a real tendency to think that the caliber of leadership is different if it’s white-led versus people-of-color-led. So I think it’s another one of these issues where we’ve got to start demystify, breaking down the barriers, and getting this information out there, and then starting to make some deliberate choices to fund organizations that are led by people of color.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Any thoughts, Raj?

SHAH: No, I agree. I mean, I think exactly that they said.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. I think we’re coming to the end. We only have a couple of minutes left. So I’m just going to thank you all for joining today’s virtual meeting and thank you, of course, to our panelists for this very important discussion. And please note that the audio and video of today’s meeting will be posted on the CFR website.

Thanks again.

LAMB-HALE: Thank you. Bye-bye.

GAYLE: Thanks.



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