Jackie - 00:00:10:
You're listening to the Diversity Beyond the Checkbox podcast. I'm your host, Jackie Ferguson, certified Diversity Executive, writer, human rights advocate, and Co-Founder of the Diversity Movement. On this podcast, I'm talking to trailblazers, game changers and glass ceiling breakers who share their inspiring stories, lessons learned, and insights on business, inclusion, and personal development. Thanks for listening to the Diversity Beyond the Checkbox podcast. I'm so glad you're here. My guest today is Kai Weidie. Kai is Dentsu's first Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Kai previously served as a Diversity and Inclusion Client Partner at Bloomberg and Director of Diversity and Engagement at McCann New York. Kai, thank you so much for joining me today. I'm so glad to spend some time with you.
Kai - 00:01:06:
Yeah, absolutely, likewise. I really appreciate you having me on the show today, Jackie.
Jackie - 00:01:10:
Of course. Kai, will you tell us a little about yourself, your background, your family, your identity, whatever you'd like to share.
Kai - 00:01:18:
Yeah, I was born to two African-American parents who met in college in the late 1960s, which I think very much shaped my upbringing to be very proud of being black and very educated and well-versed on black history in the United States. And I'm grateful for it, especially since I grew up in a suburb, a suburb called Columbia, Maryland, which is for as suburban as it is actually pretty, has some representation, I think it could be pretty proud of. That being said, still predominantly white space. I was able to my closest circle, I think was and remains of varying backgrounds, but again, mostly surrounded by white kids growing up. And I was a competitive synchronized swimmer growing up and all the way through college. So I just made my experience a little bit wider doing that, but it was something I loved. But I think a lot of that really informed the work that I do today. Right. So navigating spaces where I'm one of only or one of few and successfully building relationships, sort of climbing and hopefully showing folks coming up behind me that they can do that as well. And I take that obviously into the work that I do every day and use it, I think, on both sides of it. Right. So communicating and building those relationships with the people who maybe this is their first time being the only or one of few, but then also working with people who obviously this is most often white people who don't have as much experience with people who are not like them. So helping them when they have good intentions to show up as their best and challenge themselves.
Jackie - 00:03:21:
For sure. Thanks for sharing that. Kai, let's talk more about your role at Dentsu. What is the mission of the organization? And tell us about your role. What are your goals and what are your challenges being the first in your role there?
Kai - 00:03:37:
So our mission at Dentsu is to be a champion for meaningful progress and a force for good and that's with our people, for our people, for our clients, for our industry and then also for society. We're really committed to long-term sustainable change and within Dentsu to ensure a culture of equity, inclusion and belonging. We put our people at the center and we really work hard to create a space for growth and for thriving and we do that with our four pillars. So transparency and accountability that's really making ourselves vulnerable and transparent and accountable for our actions. You've likely seen our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion report that we put out each year sharing density's, best practices around talent, recruitment, retention, growth, social impact and more. It includes population data that's scary stuff and our goals for the future as well. And we were one of the first holding companies to put that out, to put a report like that out and we're incredibly proud of that next pillar representation and sponsorship that's building a diverse and inclusive and accessible workforce and creating a more equal workplace for all. So how are we making that house a home for our people once we bring them in? Education and continuous learning. So really making sure we're making cultural fluency our new business currency and then client and community impact. So that's really committing to being that force for good within our industry, our communities and our societies. And my remit is focused on our media service line and I'm really proud to be a part of an organization that really recognizes the nuance that DEI takes within each different types of disciplines. So we have kind of a unique structure that I think we're going to talk a little bit more later. But we have our Chief Equity Officer of the Americas. That's Christena Pyle, our fearless leader there at the center, who really earn her team arm us to lead the change and to address both the broader challenges that you see across all of our industry, but then also the specific ones that pop up. So I have counterparts in Dentsu creative and then our merkel business as well.
Jackie - 00:06:00:
I love Kai that you talked about these pillars, right? Because sometimes leaders dig into one of those aspects and not the others, right? And transparency and accountability. I love that you said that. I love that you started with that because that is scary for a lot of leaders. Being a Gen Xer, I started my career where the leader had the answer. The leader was always right, don't question the leader, right? And so now moving into this space of being honest about the things that are going right, the things that are not the things that you need to improve on admitting when you get it wrong, right? That's a new paradigm for a lot of leaders but something that's so important because that's what employees are looking for when they look for a place that they want to be and work and I think that's so important. So thanks for sharing those and yes, we are going to get into those a little bit more. I'd love to talk about Dentsu's 50 micro-actions that we can take to inspire equity, inclusion in the workplace. I'm certainly not going to make you go through all 50.
Kai - 00:07:13:
Jackie - 00:07:17:
Can you share a couple of those that we can implement immediately?
Kai - 00:07:22:
Yeah, absolutely. So we challenged our leaders to think about how they can bring inclusion to life within their own teams in a really sort of accessible way. Right? Like, what are some actions, micro-actions that they can take themselves, that they can then perforate throughout the organization, top to bottom. And they came up with the 50 micro-actions for day-to-day inclusion to aspire equity and inclusion in the workplace. And they're broken down, we broke them down into five categories general communications, team meetings, outings and offsites project delegation, and one on ones. So these are really as simple as taking into account accessibility at an off site location, being mindful of all holidays that people on your team might be observing, and making people prioritize feel prioritized in check in. So hey, Jackie, before we get into business, I remember you mentioned that your mother was having some back problems, like, how's she doing? Really micro-actions? Like micro is a really important part of that. It's stuff that I think a lot of us were raised to do, but sometimes gets lost right, in the rigor of work. And this is just really, again, accessible ways to make people feel included. And I think a lot of folks would be surprised how long away that it goes to create that space and to create that feeling. There's really just no barrier to entry when it comes to fostering inclusion. It's as tangible as it is accessible. And while DEI budgets are addressing the really critical needs like staffing and resources, micro-actions are an effort that don't impact that budget. And introducing inclusive practices to the workplace in the form of microactions really does a great job of ensuing that DEI is built into the DNA of the organization from the ground up. And not just the organization, your team. Right. I think we've heard time and time again in some of our employee surveys how important the team culture really is. It's one thing to sort of see something at an organizational level, but if you're not feeling that every day, day-to-day, to the people that you're closest with, you're going to notice that. And that's why it's so powerful when it's there at the team level.
Jackie - 00:09:45:
Absolutely. I'm so in love with these micro-actions because sometimes when you think about all of the things that are required for diversity, equity and inclusion in a workplace, it feels overwhelming. And so these micro-actions, these things that we can do as individuals immediately, right. There's no prep. It's really just about thinking through how to make people feel and sure that they feel included and valued in the workplace. And I think that's so great. Thanks for sharing those. Kai, you've been in DEI for a number of years. From your perspective, how has it evolved?
Kai - 00:10:29:
Yeah, I mean, it's been great to see it evolve from being just a part of one person's job. My very first DEI role was actually with the American Advertising Federation as a program manager for their Mosaic Center, which is where all of their DEI-focused programming sits. And I got to work with folks who some of those early pioneers who had the diversity word in their job title, but also just a lot of leaders who just had taken it upon themselves to extend the work that they do, to extend the budget that they have to include this really important work. So I feel like that was sort of early days. Now I think from there, it kind of moved on. And this is still the case for some folks where you got one person who's doing the work. And again, that's not something that doesn't still happen. But I think Dentsu's approach is something that really attracted me to the organization. And like I mentioned before, we have disciplinary leads. We also have regional leads across the globe because DEI means something different in every market and then the structure in the US. Like I mentioned, we have our Chief Equity Officer, Christena Pyle. They're at the center with her team, and they empower and arm each one of us, us being the leads across the service lines. Like myself, I'm in Dentsu Media. I have counterparts in Dentsu Creative and Merkel, and each one of us have small teams that get to bring this work to life within each parts of the business.
Jackie - 00:12:11:
Awesome. And you have spent a number of years in media, so you're no doubt aware of the many missteps that have been made and messages that have marginalized and made many of us feel invisible. What are some of the best practices for listeners in the media space on getting their messaging right?
Kai - 00:12:33:
Yeah, you absolutely have to prioritize investment in minority owned media. At Dentsu, we do this with a practice we call Economic Impairment. And Dentsu's Economic Impairment practice is taking a client-by-client approach to reshaping investment strategies to include more diverse owned media. And it really allows us and our clients to invest in and partner with these organizations who have the audience and know how to authentically connect. We know how important it is to be listening and working with these partners to guide clients in engaging with diverse audiences correctly and authentically, because we know what it looks like, right? When that doesn't happen. And when we're thinking about building relationships with diverse owned media companies, we're doing that from the ground up in order to offer our clients a first look at some of the best investment opportunities in the space. It allows our clients to invest at scale and placing an emphasis on education and future-focused equity. And it also combats long term inequities as part of our larger mission for being a leader in good. I'd love to cite an example, our Gia Peppers series. It's really a prime example of elevating diverse voices through this. It's an award winning series that we have now, now in Season 3. I'm really excited to say we created in collaboration with One Solution, a division of Urban One, and it's really a first of its kind audio series. It's born out of a desire to not only respond to the inequities we see in the advertising supply chain, but also provide an opportunity for Dentsu clients to leverage a new consumer engagement model, one that really avoids the intrusiveness of traditional advertising by co-creating and supporting content that people care about. The National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, as well as several other CEOs lent their support in providing guidance to ensure everything about the series was authentic and meaningful for sustained impact. So that's something we're just we're really proud of and was a way that we were sort of able to take this intention and really bring it to life.
Jackie - 00:15:03:
Wow, that's wonderful. That's very exciting. It's so important to amplify voices of more people. So often you don't get to hear those perspectives, especially if you're in environments that are not diverse. And so being able to hear those perspectives is so important. That's really fantastic. Really fantastic. A lot of organizations are quietly disinvesting in their previous DEI commitments for various reasons. One, the economy is starting to shift, right? And so people are getting tighter on their budgets. Another is it feels like to some that we're moving through the racial injustice portion of this whole pandemic and issues with systemic racism, which we're not. But it feels like, because it's not in the news every day like it was in mid 2020, that there's a shift in what employees are expecting. Although that's not true. Why should organizations be renewing their commitments to DEI and not reducing them?
Kai - 00:16:26:
Yeah, we're all contending with economic volatility, conservative weaponizing of DEI, and an election year which can all all of this can stifle momentum and take us back where we started if we don't stay vigilant. We've had some good years and made some strides, but we know from just recent history I won't even say history like recent history, that that progress can disappear before we know it, we've got a larger looming sense of economic uncertainty and what we're seeing, even with our tech partners, is a cautionary tale. In the past DEI has been funded in good times, but in challenging times is when we really need to be investing in it the most. McKinsey also just released some startling research just this past fall that women and women leaders are switching jobs at the highest rates ever seen. They're looking for flexibility, they're looking for recognition, balance, and they're not as accepting of the ways of working that we accepted as the norms just a few years ago. So including institutionalized practices that have kept them from reaching the top roles. We're excited to be partnering with Google this year on a Women in Media summit to bring a lot of that to light and to tackle these headwinds and explore how we as an industry can really lead the change we need to enact.
Jackie - 00:17:55:
That's fantastic. Thanks for sharing that. That is one of the things that's so true. It's when things start to get tight, DEI is one of the first things that people look at reducing that budget. And you shouldn't, because the way that your employees and prospective employees are thinking about culture, you need to make sure that you have that right culture so that you can retain your employees. Because if they start moving away, jumping ship, you're going to find your business is going to suffer.
Kai - 00:18:30:
Yeah. And you'll find that the client demand for representation diversity on their teams is not changing.
Jackie - 00:18:38:
Kai - 00:18:38:
It's still there. So that has to be kept front of mind.
Jackie - 00:18:42:
Absolutely. Kai, what do leaders often get wrong about DEI and what advice can you offer?
Kai - 00:18:51:
I would say this work can't be done by only one lead or someone splitting their time or by volunteers. It's a job that to be done successfully requires a seat at your leadership table and a team to support that person. Don't rely on your business resource groups or your employee resource groups to get this work done. These folks, they join BRGs or ERGs as volunteers. They have a whole other jobs with clients demanding their time. So we don't want real critical DEI work to be an afterthought or a volunteer side job. Don't treat it like that. DEI requires a full time commitment to power this work and it requires subject matter expertise.
Jackie - 00:19:42:
Kai - 00:19:43:
So it probably has to be treated with that respect.
Jackie - 00:19:46:
That makes sense. And you're right that's one of the things that people very often get wrong is making it a part of someone's job or making it a volunteer committee or having it roll deep into the HR function rather than having a direct line to that C-suite. And that's so important in order to ensure that there is buy in across the whole organization and that you have the resources that you need to successfully shift that culture. And that's so important. Absolutely. Kai, flipping that coin, what advice would you give to practitioners in the space for the upcoming year? How do they continue to move forward even though those budgets are constrained and people leaders, rather, are focusing on other initiatives and the bottom line of their organization?
Kai - 00:20:42:
Don't pull back in the tough times. You're only going to be making up for it again. And my mentors, who've been at this for longer, will support me on that and hear here and amen that because they've been through it themselves. And like I mentioned, the client demand for diverse teams isn't going to change. Remind your leaders of that. Hold yourself accountable with transparency. Share your progress, share the setbacks with your people and beyond. Publicly report and commit to that work and then think about the top of your organization. I think there's so many great resources and programs that help us focus on junior talent, but I think it's just so incredibly important and it's more work. I get it. But to put in the time and investment, to hire leaders of color at every opportunity?
Jackie - 00:21:40:
Absolutely. When we first started our conversation, you talked about being the only or one of a few. Talk a little about what that experience is like, navigating a career and what advice do you give for others who are the only or one of a few?
Kai - 00:22:00:
I love that. I mean, I think when you find yourself in that room, don't get lost in being that only or one of few. Right. I think it's so important to make it about being in that room and using that voice. I think it can feel intimidating. You can get in your own way sometimes. You can get mad, and that's also getting in your own way. But what can you do in this moment? And maybe it's a moment, maybe it's a monthly meeting to create the change that you want to see. How can you you've been led into this room and that's meaningful. There's trust there, there's faith there. So how are you going to use this platform, this opportunity, this moment, these ears to create the change that is so integral and necessary to make that room look different?
Jackie - 00:22:56:
Absolutely. And then I always like to ask the flip side of the question, right? So how can leaders who are prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion, but maybe only have that one diverse person in that room, or maybe a couple, how do they create environments of inclusion and environments where those individuals feel like they can contribute and feel valued and feel safe?
Kai - 00:23:26:
Yeah, I mean, that makes me want to go back to the micro-actions, right. The micro-actions of inclusion. How are you relationship building, right? Like, how are you creating that connection and that trust? And I think things as small as micro-actions, remembering what someone's working on or is going on in their life that maybe they shared or putting their name in for a new project or stretch opportunity, those are ways that you can demonstrate that commitment to support and growth for that person. That can lead to so much more for when that person, who's the only one in that room who feels like, who's going to follow me? Like, who believes in me, you'd be surprised some time demonstrating that intention of inclusion. I believe in you. I value you, and I want to work with you is incredibly powerful. And again, that's why we call them micro-actions. It doesn't have to be scary.
Jackie - 00:24:34:
Absolutely. And then let's talk a little Kai about mentorship. So when you find that you're one of the only right? Or one of a few, how do you look at finding a mentor either within the organization or externally? And what is your advice there for how to cultivate that relationship?
Kai - 00:24:58:
Yeah, no, that's great. I think a lot of organizations really work to have mentorship programs in place. I think the hallmark of really good ones are ones that help you sort of navigate your organization and talk to people and connect with people, like, way outside of your reporting lines. We launched a program in Dentsu Media called Dentsu Guys that does just that where we're connecting some of our bypock talent with leaders who are just in another part of the organization. Because I think one of the things that is common for people, really, as they start to approach sort of mid-career, is I'm not sure if what I'm doing right now is what I want to be doing right. And I think this is probably true of lots of large organizations where people feel siloed, and maybe the thing I want to do is here, but I don't know how to get there, and I don't know who those people are. So I think looking for whether it's existing programming or other opportunities to connect with mentors who, if you're looking in the organization, are in it, but elsewhere. And even if you're happy in your role, there's so much to be gained from another perspective, another career path that I think is really powerful and also start thinking about is this meant to someone who can also be a sponsor for me who's bringing my voice up or my name up in rooms that I'm not in yet and really advocating for me and putting me forward and singing my praise. And I think that's also something that's incredibly powerful if you're looking for a mentor outside the organization. And also, I'm not saying one or the other have as many mentors as you can get. I have a wonderful army behind me. I think there's a better term. I think it's like your board or something. And your board can be made up of people who are just mentors right. And not sponsors, or just sponsors and not necessarily mentors, but these are all people who are invested in you and also be ready to do the work. Chase these folks.
Jackie - 00:27:28:
Absolutely. That's so great. I love it. The board, right? We all need a board in our life. And I really liked, Kai, that you talked about finding a mentor in another part of the business because it allows for different perspectives. Right. And I agree with the term siloed, and certainly we can get siloed in our own departments with people who do the same type of work who think like us because they're doing that same type of work. Right. And getting that voice from outside of that department or even that part of the country. Right. To get an additional voice that can help you think about things differently, more holistically, I think is a great idea. So I love that. I love that.
Kai - 00:28:19:
Absolutely. And the other thing I would just add to that also is like, don't be afraid of mentors who and afraid is probably too strong a word, but who are not like you. Right. I shouldn't say still, there is so much value in your board being diverse and inclusive.
Jackie - 00:28:40:
Absolutely. Right. Because they push your thinking.
Kai - 00:28:44:
Jackie - 00:28:44:
And that's so important. That's such great advice. Great advice. Kai, tell me something that inspires you when you're pushing through a tough week or just trying to get through difficult time or an exhausting time, what are some of the things that inspire you?
Kai - 00:29:07:
I think, like, leaders who have like who have changed what leadership looks like. I think the way we work has changed so dramatically. But I have some mentors who really like and they're not I mean, some of them are mentors, actual mentors. Some of them are people I look up to and they don't know that they're my mentors. You might not even know each other. But people whose approach to leadership they've made all their own, they're not mimicking something that a boss that they've had in the past or a picture of what leadership is, right? Like, this is the way I command a room. This is the way I engage with people. This is what my output looks like. I think that as I've grown in my career, I've gotten really sort of stuck in that I don't really behave like a leader behaves and I'm not presenting in this certain way. And don't get me wrong, there are standards, right? Like executive presence is still very important. Like good writing. All of these things are not these long-term. I think set standards are not for nothing. But I still think that there is a way that you can bring yourself and do it your own way. And I think that when I find myself doubting myself a lot, it's because I'm not valuing my own approach. And I've had enough people tell me that the approach that I have is valuable, is meaningful, is impactful, that I just need to believe it, which I think we can all relate to.
Jackie - 00:30:47:
Absolutely. And then, Kai tell me when you're feeling that way. Right. Because you're right, we've all felt that. When you're feeling like you're undervaluing your own approach, what pulls you out of that?
Kai - 00:31:02:
I think my people I have a great network of friends at work, colleagues at work, friends at home, personal friends, my husband who are all always there to hype me. And that's so important. My friend and the personal network, the people that I choose to spend time with. I really trust them. I'm really proud that they all have they're a very diverse and inclusive board themselves, and I like to surround myself with people who have, like, experience and also have completely different experience and walks of life. And I think that also makes it so that when they are pulling me back on my feet, they all have different reasons for doing so. Right. I guess the commonality is that they all love me.
Jackie - 00:32:09:
Kai - 00:32:10:
But I really appreciate that they're coming from different places to do that. So that is what pulls me out, makes me feel good again.
Jackie - 00:32:18:
That's fantastic. And Kai, before we begin to wrap up, tell me a little about you outside. We've talked about all the amazing things that you're doing at Dentsu and DEI perspectives. Tell me about you outside of what you do professionally.
Kai - 00:32:35:
Well, I mentioned synchronized swimming is a huge part of my life now. Since moving to New York, there aren't quite as many pools, but I've found there's what you call, like, masters sports, which is just, like, what we all do when we get older. And we were never, like, Olympic or professional bound athletes, but we want to go back to that joy. I've swam with a number of masters programs just sort of to keep that in my life. The sport is actually now referred to as artistic swimming, and USA Artistic Swimming tasked me to be a part of a DEI committee that they were pulling together to see how can we get more people of different backgrounds into the sport, which I really commend and I think is really powerful. And it's been great to see the sport become more diverse and also more accessible as well for young disabled swimmers, because I think I learned so much of I'll call it poise coming into, again, like, coming into those rooms where you're one of few or one of only. And I sort of think of that as, like, all right, it's, like, time to compete. When you see, like, the gymnast, I think more people watch gymnastics than artistic swimming. So I'll compare to that. There's that moment where they roll their shoulders back and the chin pops up, and they just go and you're not really sure what they're feeling because you're just, like, ready. You're ready to present. You're ready to perform. I call back on that when I have those growth moments. Right. So anyway, that's that. Otherwise, I watch a lot of sports. My husband is a DC sports person. That's, you know, that's not an easy way to live. It's choice, and I try to support him in those endeavors, and I've started crocheting. Yeah. Just got to get to keep those hands busy, right? Yeah.
Jackie - 00:34:46:
I love that. That is fantastic. Thanks for sharing that guy.
Kai - 00:34:50:
Jackie - 00:34:50:
Kai, what's the message that you want to leave our listeners with today?
Kai - 00:34:55:
Yeah, I mean, I guess it's okay if. You feel like you're in a situation where there isn't manpower or you don't have the time to do the thing. And the thing in this case is diversity, equity and inclusion. There's other ways you can start right now. We talked about micro-actions, other ways that you can build an inclusive culture. Partnering with industry organizations on talent acquisition could be a great way to connect with more diverse talent, whether it's for that recruitment purpose or bringing new discussions into the organization.
Jackie - 00:35:35:
Kai - 00:35:36:
Jackie - 00:35:37:
And then how can people learn more about you Kai and more about your work? Yeah.
Kai - 00:35:42:
I would say LinkedIn is definitely the best place, so please feel free to catch me there.
Jackie - 00:35:49:
Awesome. Kai, thank you so much for spending some time with me today and for the amazing insights that you shared. I appreciate it and so excited to have this opportunity to get to talk to you.
Kai - 00:36:01:
Thank you, Jackie. Likewise. It was great.
Jackie - 00:36:13:
Thanks for joining me for this episode. Please take a moment to subscribe and review this podcast and share this episode with a friend. Become a part of our community on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter. This show was edited and produced by Earfluence. I'm Jackie Ferguson. Join us for our next episode of Diversity Beyond the Checkbox. Take care of yourself and each other.
In this episode, Jackie Ferguson interviews Kai Weidie, the first Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Dentsu Media US. They discuss Dentsu’s four pillars for guiding DEI work and the importance of transparency and accountability in leadership. Kai emphasizes the value of micro-actions in creating change, inspiring leaders to commit to diverse talent growth, and the critical role of C-suite buy-in. Tune in for valuable insights on advancing DEI efforts in the workplace.