Jason Gillikin: You’re listening to the Diversity Beyond the Checkbox Podcast, where we bring you conversations on diversity and inclusion that push the envelope and make you think about diversity in the corporate setting. In this podcast, you’ll hear from leaders in the D&I space on why D&I is not only the right thing to do, it’s imperative to the success of your business. Essentially, why diversity is beyond the checkbox.
I’m your host for today’s episode, Jason Gillikin. I’m the executive producer of the Diversity Beyond the Checkbox Podcast and CEO of Earfluence.
Over the first 5 episodes, Donald Thompson – who you’ll hear more from in a second - talked to some of the most influential leaders in the D&I space – Dee McDougal from Pacific Western Bank, John Samuel from LCI Tech, Bri Hart and Delisha Hinton from NC State University, Carlos Alva from Deloitte, and Manpreet Dhillon from Veza Strategy.
But today you’re going to hear something completely different. It’s our first episode in our “Ask a” series, where I get to ask some of uncomfortable questions about race, gender, sexual orientation, lifestyle, and more. And today we have “Ask a Black Guy and Ask a White Guy”. And this episode will make you laugh, will make you think, and you might even squirm in your seat a little bit too.
Before we get to that, if you like this podcast, make sure you subscribe, rate, review, and share on social media.
And to see more diversity initiatives including an online course on Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace, visit TheDiversityMovement.com.
With that, let’s jump right into the show.
All right. You're listening to the Diversity Beyond the Checkbox podcast, and we're doing something a little bit different this time. This is the first of our "Ask A" series, and we've got a black guy, Donald Thompson.
Donald Thompson: Hello.
Jason Gillikin: And a white guy, Grant Williard.
Grant Williard: That's me.
Jason Gillikin: And I'm your host, Jason Gillikin, and I'm going to try not to get fired.
Grant Williard: I'm going to try not to get hit.
Jason Gillikin: All right. Well, Grant, let's start with you. So how did you and Donald meet? You've known each other for a long time, what was your first interaction?
Grant Williard: I had started a company a few years earlier and sold a few copies of software myself and was having some success, and we were looking for a sales guy. And then the story before that is we had hired two other sales guys. We were selling to IBM, competing against IBM. So my thought was, why not go hire an IBM sales guy? And we did. He looked a lot like me, talked a lot like me, and then he was thrusted to compete against IBM. He was kind of a soft spoken- not a self spoken guy, but he was- he wasn't one of those guys that wouldn't take no for an answer. He took no for an answer pretty quickly. That one didn't last. It didn't last at all. So I then, instead of hiring somebody that was just like me, I went and hired a young guy. I went hired a Duke MBA, just a newly minted Duke MBA, you know, really smart and talked a really good game. And, that lasted for two or three months. So I was, I was looking for a sales guy, was desperate, and met Donald. And when we met, I could not have been more surprised at who was sitting across from me. And Donald wasn't anything like what I was expecting. But. Donald—when we shook hands—Donald's hand wrapped around mine, and it's- he squeezed it. And I didn't know what was gonna happen. You know, Donald's a big guy, big, big tough guy. And I looked at him and I—to this day—I've never seen a bigger smile. And so, you can't spend a long time meeting with Donald without feeling good. So, Good things that since happened, you know.
Jason Gillikin: Wow, that's great. What do you remember from that first interaction, Donald?
Donald Thompson: You know, one of the things that, you know, I was chasing an opportunity. I'd left school—and wanted to be an entrepreneur, wanted to make lots of money, wanted to learn— but I didn't know or have anybody to mentor me in business. I'd always been coached in football. I grew up with a strong father figure. My mom and dad were amazing in terms of raising me and the things they taught me, but they weren't business people. And I wanted to be a business person, right? And so I was hunting opportunity and the way that I got introduced to Grant is I was working in a company called Alphatronics that was acquired, and I was doing dialing for dollars and the sales team was getting let go. They didn't even want to interview us, the new company. They didn't care what we did, they didn't care for met our quota, they already had a sales team—they didn't need us. And Grant's partner, Ned, was looking in one of the trade rags and found out that we had gotten acquired and were going to let some folks go, so he called my sales manager, Curtis Hamilton, and said, "do you guys have any good people that are just getting let go, but they're good folks?" And my sales manager recommended me, and so it's a good point of you never know who's interviewing you, you never know who is- can look out for you, so you should bring your best every day. And then that's how I met Ned and then ultimately Grant because Ned was doing the interviewing. And I remember meeting Grant and after, to kind of fast forward it to the process of where he was making a decision to make me an offer and I was making a decision to come on board, and, I remember the one thing he said that I will never forget. He said "listen, I'm going to create an opportunity for you where you can be more than a sales guy. And if you'll work hard, if you'll be what you've described that you'll be, I'll teach you and I'll let you have an opportunity to learn the software business." And nobody else was offering an opportunity. Everybody else was offering me a job.
Jason Gillikin: That's great. Yeah, and this was over 25 years ago now.
Grant Williard: It's been awhile.
Jason Gillikin: It's been awhile. And You both have risen up. Grant, you're the CEO of JouleBug. Don, your're the CEO of Walk West. And Grant, you've been Don's mentor and in my conversations with Don, he brings you up a lot as "my mentor Grant Williard", and I've gotten to know you without even getting to know you, so it's really cool, but hey-
Grant Williard: Let me just kind of interrupt here. Yeah, that's my way. You're right.
Donald Thompson: It's your moment, man. You're the white guy, we're here to talk about white privilege. Do whatever you want.
Grant Williard: Donald has said that I gave him the opportunity to learn about business and I taught Donald- maybe I taught Donald something, a thing or two about business. So I grew up in a business family, learned about business from a very early age. My father was in accounting, worked for Wake Forest for 35 years. But I've the luxury of learning from Donald how to be a better person. Because some of the life skills that Donald had that I never had, I was able to be a student of his. So, so from a very early time in relationship, yeah, I was mentor, but also I was the mentee. I was learning. We just did a tremendous amount of sharing from an early, early age or, or early in our career.
Donald Thompson: Yep.
Grant Williard: And so, I've always wondered, you know- the question of college dropout, black guy so on and so forth, why did I do that? My question is, why'd you trust an old white guy with your career? I mean, Donald is risen. I mean, Donald's risen. He knows he's got game. Why did you trust your career with me?
Donald Thompson: Man, I- one of the things that I respect about people is when they take risks that they don't have to, and Grant—master's degree, engineer— could be successful in, kind of, the traditional paradigm of success. But he took the opportunity and had the courage to—what I like to call the founder's courage—to start something from the absolute ground up. And I totally respected that because I didn't know from experience, but I knew just from reading and just from living even enough life at a young age, people that took more risks than others. And I was looking for somebody to follow that was a little bit of a maverick. One of our favorite movies together is Top Gun. And I liked the story—that David and Goliath story—and I was employee number seven, but the companies that iCubed was selling to were some of the largest, most prestigious companies in the world. And we would talk about the John Deeres of the world, the Raytheons of the world, the Boeings of the world that were using products that Grant and his team created. So when he described that in the interview process, it was, "man, we're building software, but we're helping people have a better way." And one example of that that I'll then I'll share before we get into the other questions, is we were doing some data migration for Canadian Pacific rail and we were migrating all of their data and information in terms of their engineers and how they would place the tracks and the movement of the tracks and different things, and I remember Grant talking to our team at a little prep meeting before we were going into an engagement with a customer. "If we get this data migration wrong, people could die. What we're doing is really important, and that's why being excellent matters." And I remember that it was, it was part pep talk, it was part education, it was part reminding us that this could go really bad if we don't do our best as a team, but it made working at this little bitty company, more of a mission and a cause and a calling than just selling software. And then the second thing that I would say is Grant used to talk a lot about creating jobs and he would say, "if we grow this thing - and when we get to employee number 10 and employee number 15, employee number 16, then we're creating jobs in North Carolina. And that's what entrepreneurs do is we help grow the economy one dream at a time. And I remember those things and they stick with me, and that's what was different about Grant. And I was raised to follow leaders and people that kind of wanted to take the hill. And I didn't find that- if I'm playing people that wanted to make money, and I wanted that, too, that's fine, but I also wanted to be a part of something too,
Jason Gillikin: Amazing. All right, well let's get uncomfortable. All right, we'll start with the white guy, Grant. Grant, what are your thoughts-
Donald Thompson: Why does the white guy gotta go first?
Jason Gillikin: It's the white privilege.
Grant Williard: It's always been that way. It's always been that way.
Jason Gillikin: It's like we're playing chess, right? White goes first. Grant, what are your thoughts on NFL athletes kneeling?
Grant Williard: I never bought a pair of air Jordans. Never did. Not because he's black, because he went to Carolina.
Donald Thompson: Yeah, I got it.
Grant Williard: I've never been a fan of Nike. I've always been the little guy. I bought New Balance or something like that. When Nike made Colin Kaepernick—when they put bull billboards up, when they used their brand, their resource, the brightness of amplifying that man's brave behavior. I become a Nike fanboy. It's just incredible how a few individuals in a few companies use their celebrity, use their brand, their money to get in front of all of us, there's some things you need to be looking at. There's some things you need to be listening to. And the fact that they take a knee, it's not even civil disobedience. It's just taking a knee just to draw attention to it, of something that's a problem in this country. Hats off to them. Go Nike, go Colin. I just- I can't say enough about what those men, those leaders are doing to help educate us that have just been naive. Or worse, have our head in the sand about real issues. There's stuff going on we need to pay attention to. Thank goodness we got leaders and brave people like that who continue to be victimized by a game or owners that continue to perpetuate exactly what they're trying to try to help. So, yeah.
Jason Gillikin: Yeah. It was peaceful protest and some people felt like it was disrespectful to military. Don, did you feel that way at all?
Donald Thompson: So, I've not served in the military, but I have people in my family that have over the years. I have friends and colleagues and people that I've worked for and with and partnered with that have, and so, I certainly was sensitive to that perspective. But my thought process was actually very simple, right? There are certain freedoms that the flag is supposed to represent and I thought it was pretty hypocritical how upset people were about how someone exercised their freedom just because they disagreed with it. And a way that I would equate— to be not so much uncomfortable, but to be crystal clear—if somebody is a member of the KKK, I fundamentally disagree with what they stand for. But, if they're having a peaceful protest, if they get a permit to do their march, if they are not, victimizing or vilifying or creating weapons, then I believe in the United States of America that they have the right—as egregious as I might feel about who they are and what they do—the fact that my grandfather was a part of the Deacons of Defense in Bogalusa, Louisiana, that stayed up all night after working to fight the Klan and risk his life, I still think that the Klan should be able to march and do whatever it is they do as long as they're not infringing on the rights of others. So I thought it was the height of hypocrisy, how people viewed a peaceful representation of their rights as American. And I think that then the media got involved, and politicians got involved, and tried to make it a whole other thing, but as an individual, I'm pretty pragmatic actually, and so I really seized on the height of hypocrisy that was involved in it.
Jason Gillikin: It was really interesting how the narrative shifted from that peaceful protest to have a better understanding of police brutality, and that shifted towards a, some sort of disrespect to the military. And that was- people had their agenda in doing that.
Donald Thompson: Yup. I think, you know, the thing, the thing I would say is that, you know, there are a lot of people of color that have been mistreated over the years for a lot of different reasons, but for those that have not experienced the blue lights behind you as an African American. For those who've not experienced having to talk to your 16 year old son when he gets his license about how to behave when police come behind you so that you increase your odds of living and surviving, it's a little hard for me to stomach your full perspective of something you've not experienced in the least. That you have the luxury of never having to have that conversation with your son or never having had it with you. The flip side is I know plenty of police officers, and most of the ones that I've ever come in contact with have been amazing. And the goal of any kind of protest is not to vilify those that are amazing, it is to shine a spotlight on those that are not, and how to create and make that change.
Jason Gillikin: Yeah.
Grant Williard: So we're, we're on the NC State campus. I was educated here, Donald mentioned earlier. Donald and I walk this campus a lot and we both love what this campus does. This campus has educated a lot of people and it educated me, but I still remember when I was explained for the first time that conversation that every single black dad has with his son on how to live when there are blue light's behind you . It's the first It's the first I'd ever heard, when it came out of Donald's mouth. And it's like, you know, the first time you hear it, it's like 'it can't really be, ' and then you hear that story over and over and over, it's just saying- this is where Donald's schooled me to be a better person because he exposed me to things that I never seen in my life before. Most of us white dads, all of us white dads have never had that conversation. Never.
Jason Gillikin: No.
Grant Williard: And we've got friends and we got- and every black man just does that for safet y , and that's the way America is. That's where Donald schooled me to be a better person.
Jason Gillikin: Yeah. Well, let's talk about other conversations with your kids.
Donald Thompson: Yeah sure.
Jason Gillikin: So Don, your son, your daughters, would you let them marry outside of your race?
Donald Thompson: I don't know if this is a plant or not, but I'm ready to get down. So, one of the things about race relations is that we all are a little bit racist. We're all a little bit prejudice. We're all a little bit biased, right? It's really a function of do you allow any of those feelings that aren't quite right or those thoughts to dominate your daily behavior, right? Can you bifurcate between what you may think because of what you heard or what's unknown to you and how you behave. Right? And then learning to be better each and every day. But my daughter Mariah is recently married and she married a white guy, and so it's a part of my experience that I have a multiracial family right in my kind of immediate family unit. But I'll take it back just a little bit, but quickly. I remember when Mariah first started dating. And she was telling me about a young guy that she was dating—I forget his name, it was a little while ago now—but she came into my office and she said, "dad, I've got something to tell you." She said, "I want to go on my first date and I want to talk to you about the guy." And I said, well, you know, "what's his name? What does he do?" And she was like, "Oh, he's an honor student and he wants to go to Princeton or Harvard one day." I'm like, "super cool." And "he plays soccer and this, that, and the other" I'm like, 'OK, wait a minute.' I'm starting to kind of put together this picture as a dad, even as good as he looks—and not becuase his black guys can't go to Harvard—but I'm like, he wants to go to Harvard. Cool. Maybe Princeton. OK, cool. Also plays soccer, and this is like- this was a lot of years ago, so there wasn't as many black guys playing soccer as maybe today, and so then she's like, "I got something to tell you about it, and I don't want you to get mad." And I was like, "OK, what is it?"
And so I remember looking at Mariah and telling her to sit down, I said "let me talk to you for a minute." And she was a little nervous, and I said, "Mariah, do you know that I love you?" And she said, "yeah."
"And do you know that I want your happiness in all the things you do?" She said, "yeah." I said, "as long as he treats you right, what color he is just doesn't matter. Because I'm not a hypocrite, and I want what's best for you. Now, what I will tell you is that, by making that choice, you're adopting a set of challenges when you date outside your race, because everybody doesn't think like we've raised you guys to think. And so you've got to know that there are those challenges there. That's not a decision without consequence. And so we talked about it a little bit. I said, "but if anybody gives you guys challenge, tell them to come see me and I'll take care of it."
Jason Gillikin: What about 30 something years ago. What about with your parents? What would they have said?
Donald Thompson: Again, I have an example. I dated a lot of different folks, a lot of different types of races, but I lived in— and I chose to date a white girl when I lived in Kentucky. Like, I'm a trendsetter. And I lost a lot of so-called friends that— black and white—but she liked tennis. She liked to do good in school. I like tennis. She liked to do good in school. I liked football. She liked to come watch me play football and say that I did a good thing, and we started to date and my dad didn't care so much. My mom, a little more problem with it if I reflect, and if you really think about their experiences in the 60s, and then growing up in Bogalusa, Louisiana, it had nothing to do with the young lady. Her name was Eco. It had to do with the danger my mom thought I was putting myself into out hanging out at the mall in an interracial relationship in Kentucky during that period of time and that scared her. That was the problem, right? It's she didn't want me to go to the movies and do regular high school things and be in a situation because of who I choose to be with.
Jason Gillikin: Yeah. Grant, have you had those conversations with your kids?
Grant Williard: No, I mean, and it's kind of a different, I mean, the question becomes not applicable, but my kids were raised "it's better to ask for forgiveness then permission." I raised two mavericks. They're not going to ask dad what he thinks about what they do. So they're just going to go do it, and they might- they'll ask forgiveness later. And it's- kind of similarly, my kids are- Laura and I took a trip across the country two or three years ago, and we were looking for podcasts and Maggie our daughter said, "you need to listen to this." She gave us a podcast on how to raise a girl. The story is that a woman, single mom, had her firstborn birth certificate said it was a male, a boy. And when the child was three to four years old, told her mom, "I think I'm a girl." And it tells the story of raising a child who was born different than everybody thinks they are. They are raising this child as a girl because this child is a girl. And so this is the kind of thinking that our kid, my kids are educating me on this stuff, and feel comfortable doing it. So, yeah. We, we would've been cool with it, but we never really talked about it before it happened.
Jason Gillikin: Right.
Grant Williard: Yup.
Jason Gillikin: So Grant, let's talk about white privilege. You had the first question, it was white privilege there, besides that, do you believe that white privilege exists?
Grant Williard: Oh my gosh. Yeah. I am the child of white privilege. I grew up, around nothing but white people working for a, mostly white university with rich people. Went to college, never had any student debt. There was a while where I bought into, when, you know- I started the company and put in a few thousand dollars to start the company and it became profitable. It was profitable from the beginning and early on, I just believed I was that self made man. I really did. I mean, I did. And looked at my dad, who started from a really poor family. Single mom was a school teacher, who went to Carolina, graduated from Carolina. Again, my father went to Carolina in the early fifties. Graduated debt-free, because we had property, the family, right? And then the property generated money, you know, it was a farm and so from that point forward, we'd been able to do things that others have not been able to do. There's no such thing as self-made. We're all on the shoulders of others. And we built our lives because of the help of others.
Donald Thompson: That's right.
Grant Williard: And doors were open to me that we're closed to others, and I thought I'd opened those doors myself. I mean, I graduated in mechanical engineering with a class of three women. What that means is my job would've been twice as hard if we'd had an equal number of women. My job would've been twice as hard. Half the doors that were open to me automatically would have been closed. Just the, the comment, whether it's white privilege, male privilege, old white men. Yeah. Yeah. I've had it. I've had it very, very easy compared, very much easier than it would have been otherwise. That's not to say that I've not worked hard.
Donald Thompson: That's right.
Grant Williard: Not to say that I'm not accomplishing things. Do I feel guilty about it? Yeah, I do. I do. Do I lose sleep about it? Not much. But I think about it. And I'm looking- I'm trying to figure out, OK, now that I've, now that I've made mine, what can I do to help others? And that, I don't know what we should do, but absolutely white privilege exists.
Jason Gillikin: Yeah.
Grant Williard: And we need to do something to help it. I don't know that there's a switch, that we can do anything quickly.
Donald Thompson: Reparations!
Grant Williard: Donald schooled me in a lot of things walking around this campus and putting those letters together into a word. I don't that I'd ever heard it before when Donald mentioned it and I, you know, I heard the story of black men raising boys. And, but when, when reparations came out, I just looked at him like, you're nuts.
Right? This doesn't make sense. But my education has continued and that is something we as a society, we've got to talk about it.
Jason Gillikin: Yeah, I think you were joking around. I don't know, like are you for reparations?
Donald Thompson: I'll come back to that a minute.
Cause I wanna talk about white privilege.
Jason Gillikin: Yeah.
Donald Thompson: One of the things, and I had a lengthy - sometimes Facebook is just ridiculous.
Grant Williard: Sometimes?
Donald Thompson: Like most times, but a lot of times, so that's the fun platform I'm on. But I had a couple of friends that have done really well. They've worked really hard for what they've done, and they were going back and forth on white privilege and they came across, they were really negative about the term, but I understood how they felt.
They were like, "well, where was the white privilege when I started my company in my bedroom? Where's the white privilege when I worked 12 hours a day?" And their thought process, and I jumped into this because I know them very well and feel like they could understand a pragmatic perspective, but my point to them that I'll share with you is that privilege is just that. Don't worry about the word white, right?
Let's actually look at my life. So both of my parents are college educated. Now they grew up in the Deep South. They left. Bogalusa, Louisiana to move to Connecticut, my dad on athletic scholarship and try to build a better life for me and my sister. So I have privilege of being raised by two parents, not a single parent situation.
That's a privilege. I am privileged to have been born in the United States of America. Right? We talk a lot about our Founding Fathers and how unbelievable America is, how awesome we are, and like that's like a lottery that we were born in America. Right? Like you didn't earn that. That's a privilege.
You didn't do anything to be born in the United States of America. It's a privilege. And so what I talked to those guys about on Facebook, and I do when it comes up, is the phrase white privilege can put people on the defensive because it can make a white person feel like you're trying to take away the things that I did that were hard, that I worked hard and earned.
And that's not actually the point. The point is we all have different ways in our life that we had a headstart over others. And what we're attempting to do with the work in diversity and inclusion is to create a more reasonable playing field, a more equitable playing field for the masses. Not to take away from the hard work you did as an entrepreneur.
The risks that you took instead of getting a regular job to starting a company. No one's trying to denigrate the success that you've had, but take the privilege that you've had, And what's your give back? What's your responsibility to reach out and lift other people up a little bit?
And so I think that the way we term privilege is we start out talking about white privilege. And I think the way to broach that subject is really to talk about the privileges that we all share. And then people can understand the term. And then we look at something at a macroeconomic level that's white privilege that our society is really run by one group, of our electrorate, if you will, of our population. And why is that? And if you start it around race, it always goes squirly. If you started out in a different talk track, but then you bring it back to race, you can at least get people to stay in the conversation a little bit longer.
Reparations? I don't know. I might be more conservative than Grant on that. I don't know if I want reparations. I just don't want you to cheat me now. I'm not as focused on what happened in the past, but don't cheat me now. Don't make it harder for me now. Take your foot off my throat now. And take your winnings from the past and let's go, because my, the way that I was raised is that the world's not fair anyway, right? Just don't create unnecessary barriers and I'll figure it out.
And that's the opportunity I was given, and that's why I feel privileged actually.
Grant Williard: But my thinking take is that the amount of privilege I had, the amount of privilege you had, there's not a lot of difference.
But there are a lot of folks that did not have the privilege that either of us had because we came from two families that raised us objectively. Not everybody had that. And it's again, white shouldn't be the significant modifier. It's privilege. And there are a lot of people that have been raised without privilege.
It started way back when and the conversation of what do we do about that? I'm not advocating that I know that we should do anything monetary, but we need to be aware that there are people that have privileges, things they didn't earn, and we just need to be aware of that.
That's a conversation that's gotta be had.
Donald Thompson: I agree with that. I think a lot of people have what I like to term an unearned swagger, and I love negotiating with people with unearned swagger, right? Paper tigers. People that you know, a lot of moxy and no real backbone, right? Those are my favorite opponents in business and in life.
But that comes from things that your mom and dad did, not what you did.
Jason Gillikin: Yeah. Tough question Grant. So have there been any times in your life that you can think of where you saw racism going on and tolerated it? Or what did you do about it?
Grant Williard: Yeah, I mean, if I... the nice thing about getting older, you start forgetting some of these old things that happened when you were young. And then I think that Donald and I, as we got to know each other, Donald and I used to just agree that we're both prejudiced.
And I think as we continue to get a little more mature with, I think the word that we would probably now use is bias. And there's confirmation bias. I mean, there, there are all kinds of, there are all flavors of bias, selection of biases. And I think we're all biased. And I think it starts if bias is kind of what you do every day and you're, you're kind of.
You're, you don't even know it and you're comfortable with it. It starts to become prejudiced and then it starts to become racism. To me, we just need to observe biases and try to move people away from their biases, educate people with their biases, let them know that that's what the way they're behaving.
I don't see a lot of racism, pure racism these days.
I'm not an, I don't run with that crowd. Yeah. Early on in high school I was, I was around it a lot. I was in high school when busing started as a way to kind of level the playing field. And that's when some of the privileges were made level, and people reacted adversely.
And I, I don't think that I wasn't a part of it, but it's. I think we just all need to grow every day to reduce our biases and become and realize that we're really the same things. We're good people, everybody.
Donald Thompson: Yup.
Jason Gillikin: Don, what do you see in racism today? I mean, obviously. From, you know, middle school to now things have changed quite a bit.
Now running a company and being involved in the D&I community and everything, do you still experience any racism?
Donald Thompson: So when I think back, and I get this question, not a lot, but reasonably, early on, let's just say as a young kid. But when somebody would slight me, when somebody would call me the N-word, when somebody would say, Hey Blackie, I was much more aggressive and, prone to, you know, fights and school trouble and stuff like that.
As I got a little bit older, I wanted to win the big battle more than any one situation and I wanted my revenge to be being so successful that somebody that looked down on me because of my color, could not do anything but look at the scoreboard of what I had accomplished and different things like that.
So my mindset started to change a little bit. Right now, I see racism, but I got to tell you, I'm really searching for the good in people so much more that it doesn't slow me enough. Because I'm trying to help entrepreneurs of color. I'm putting my money where my mouth is there. I'm trying to build, like we are at Walk West, a diverse team that has women in leadership, African Americans in leadership.
Like I'm trying so hard to find other partners that want to do right things. I'm really not spending as much time on the racist piece.
And I gotta tell ya not having that chip on my shoulder in business has actually made me more approachable to people of all different backgrounds to do things and make positive change.
And I think that's been one of the things that I've done right. It doesn't mean that my feelings about being the only one in a meeting don't change. And I don't look around and it's a little awkward when I don't see anybody that looks like me at a board meeting or to a thing that I'm going to. But what I've found is that most people that are successful, it's not racism.
It's lack of proximity to people that are different than them. And when given an opportunity to help and do better and think different, they want to. And so my perspective is changing because I've got a lot of partners that are helping me in business that are like Grant. And because of Grant's example, I started to seek out more people that look different than me because I didn't have maybe the same negative view that I did before we partnered up.
I wasn't as leery because, you know, I just really took what I learned from my spiritual walk, that there's good in everyone. And sometimes it's hard to find, but that there is good in everyone if you look for it. And if you treat everybody like there's good in them, they'll reciprocate the way you've treated them.
But if you're approaching them
Grant Williard: That it pulls it out,
Donald Thompson: Yeah that pulls it out, like you can pull the good, or you can pull the negative out of any of us. And that doesn't mean I'm better than most, that doesn't mean I don't have hot headed things to say. That doesn't mean that. It just means I choose to seek the goodness first.
And I'm not your enemy unless you choose to be mine first.
Grant Williard: That's one thing that we've always had in common is that we generally trust people until they prove they're not trustworthy.
Donald Thompson: Yeah.
Grant Williard: And that way you see a lot of things that you might not otherwise.
Donald Thompson: That you might miss.
Jason Gillikin: But how do you handle the conversation with your kids though about racism if they were the victims of racism?
Donald Thompson: You talk about the real situation, right? I have kids, like, let me give you an example. My oldest daughter, Mariah, is dark skin. My son David is about my complexion, kind of in the middle. My daughter Sierra is light-skinned. My daughter Diana is mid tone. So there's a lot of racism that my oldest daughter experienced because she's darker skinned, both from people of color, from white people, et cetera. And so we had to have those conversations. The reality of those conversations is everything's not equal. Everything's not right. But you've got to think about things the way that me and your mom see you, the way that God sees you. And those are real dialogues that we had to have. And you know, when my mom and dad would talk to me about racist things and, and you know, one of the big things for me is why my dad was never able to be a head football coach in college, even though he was more than uniquely qualified. I experienced racism through my mom and dad not getting promotions that they deserved, that they were significantly more qualified than other people that got promoted in those positions. I mean, by no. Not, not even close in some instances.
And that's just something that we had to deal with. And I remember my dad talking to me one day cause I had more of a chip on my shoulder than he did at one point. And he had to slow me down and he said, that might not be my journey. Maybe I'm setting you up to where you can run a company one day and you're the head coach, or you're the CEO or you're the business owner and you're supposed to take the ball ahead.
So I need you to focus on you being excellent. But we had those conversations real time and the orientation and my family was always, win in spite of what's in front of you. Like that's the conversation because you can't change society all at once. But this was really important, and I've seen this in my life, but winners matter.
People listen to winters. And so if you want to make change, there's a couple ways to do it. You can hold a picket sign and that's great. And Martin Luther, you can have marches and people did that so that I could have advantages and I don't have to do it that way. I'm very appreciative and respectful that, but winning matters and can get you into doors where you can have influence and you can make powerful change.
Jason Gillikin: Yeah. All right. Let's shift to politics and get really uncomfortable.
Donald Thompson: We're good. How you doing?
Jason Gillikin: Great. I'm not answering anything. In the 2020 presidential election for the democratic nomination, a white man in the seventies is going up against a white man in his seventies for the chance to face off against a white man in his seventies.
From a diversity perspective, what is going on here?
Grant Williard: You can't make this shit up. You really can't. It's like, I don't know what to say.
Donald Thompson: Three old white guys. A position of power. We've made progress in a lot of years, a lot of ways in our country, but in a lot of ways, things are the same. And. This voting scenario is, is somewhat indicative of that, right?
It's hard to change what people are used to and accustomed to. And Barack Obama independent of whether you like his politics or not, was a transformational figure. So he was able to capture the imagination of people in a way that is kind of a once in a life, twice in a lifetime thing. And so now that he's moved on in terms of the presidency, it kind of revered back to some old habits and some exposures that weren't as strong as maybe we thought that we took things for granted, kind of how far we came.
Grant Williard: So Donald and I talk, not every week, but we talk a lot, and we spend more time talking about the strong woman we were married to and our children than we do about our businesses. That's how we measure our success. We've done good there.
My daughter is a newly - is on tenure track as a physics professor. She has started a new lab. She has some seed money that she has to spend wisely. It's a new lab. It's all about, it's only about ideas. She needs to hire students or she needs to attract students. She's encouraged to give internships for any student that will do it for free. There are a lot of students that show up on her door to say, I'll work for you for free, and her department encourages that. She will not do that because only the people that show up on her door are white. They're coming from privilege, so she's paying students $17 an hour so that she gets the best and the brightest and they don't all look like we do.
Sometimes you just have to do things out of your comfort zone, out of your comfort zone, where you may have to spend money to do things to get the best and brightest ideas and you're swimming upstream. And so if I look at her lab, it doesn't look anything like me. It looks like it looks like a company that Donald Thompson runs.
It's got a lot of diversity.
Donald Thompson: So I want to, I want to say one of the things we talked about, and I want to compliment Grant, and one of the things I remember is we talked about learning from each other. And I do talk about quite a bit when I'm mentoring new entrepreneurs, my experiences with Grant and my dad and my, my parents, my mom, because that's what shaped me.
And then other people help take it to the next level, right? They shaped me. But then I had some great mentors take me to the next level. Grant would take me into meetings for exposure, not because he couldn't do it without me. And I remember meeting a phenomenal lawyer that we both continue to use and a good friend named Fred Hutchison.
But Grant would take me to Fred's office with him when they would have a meeting on something and let me listen in. And then I got to meet Fred. And then over the years, Fred and I developed a relationship. So that means because of Grant, and because Grant took me with him, then I met one of the top tech lawyers in the Southeast.
And then that helped me when I had questions or different things that I was doing, but Grant opened that door. Fred and I would've never met each other. If Grant hadn't made that introduction, that relationship with our company would have stopped right there. Grant would take me on sales calls that he was more than equipped to handle that, like higher level negotiating meetings and let me listen in, let me help with the prep, let me research some things, and then he give me like one or two questions would be my question.
And I would chime in and participate. Then over time, as the business got bigger, I was more prepared, not prepared, but more prepared for bigger responsibility as we grew. So that benefited the company, but it benefited me longterm because he helped foster some relationships that I might've been scared to pursue, that those people might not have taken me as seriously without looking at me through Grant.
And then my job, once he opened the door was to be a high performer, somebody good to deal with, somebody that was trustworthy and loyal. So his recommendation was strong and it didn't do anything to tarnish his name and what he did, but that's a powerful thing to be able to give people that exposure power.
Grant loaned me that exposure power.
Grant Williard: Donald, we call that off-white privilege.
Donald Thompson: Off-white privilege?
Jason Gillikin: Amazing.
Donald Thompson: Amazing. Yeah that's right. But highly impactful off-white privilege.
Jason Gillikin: All right, well that's a great place to end. Thank you white privileged Grant Williard and off-white privileged Donald Thompson. This has been Diversity Beyond the Checkbox in the Ask a White Guy and Black Guy series.
Grant Williard: Thanks Jason.
Donald Thompson: Thanks Jason. Man. Good fun. Thanks. Grant.
Grant Williard: It was good. It was fun.
Donald Thompson: That was fun.
Jason Gillikin: Alright thanks for listening everyone, we hope you enjoyed that, and we hope it made you think a little bit too.
For more information on all diversity and inclusion initiatives that we’re working on, head on over to TheDiversityMovement.com.
You can find more on Donald Thompson at DonaldThompson.com and more on Grant Williard at JouleBug.com, and that’s J O U L E bug.com.
And as a reminder, if you like this show, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen, and give us a rating and review as well.
Until next time or until I get fired for this, I’m Jason Gillikin, and you’ve been listening to Diversity Beyond the Checkbox.
In our “Ask A…” series, we ask uncomfortable questions around all types of diversity and initiate courageous conversations that allow us to break down barriers and find aspects of connectivity as people. Here, we have “Ask a Black Guy (Donald Thompson, CEO of Walk West) and Ask a White Guy (Grant Williard, CEO of JouleBug)”. This episode will make you laugh, will make you think, and you might even squirm in your seat a little bit too.
Find Donald and Grant on LinkedIn.
Find this podcast on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.