Jackie: Today, I'm speaking with Chelsea C. Williams. Chelsea is the founder and CEO of College Code, a fast-growing consultancy and training firm, providing the critical link between the development and retention of early-stage professionals and helping organizations build equitable and inclusive workplaces.
Chelsea, thank you so much for being on the show.
Chelsea: Jackie. It's so great to be with you. I'm so excited to connect.
Jackie: Yes, me too. Well, Chelsea, I always like to start with a question about who you are, right? So tell us whatever you'd like to, about your background, your family, your identity.
Chelsea: Yes, yes. So I was born in Raleigh, North Carolina to immigrant parents, who came to the United States at 18 years old from Freetown Sierra Leon. So my parents are West African and they came to the United States for education, to pursue college. And so I always say that that was my, that was my foundation, really, in terms of being able to dream and think about opportunity and access through my parents.
I grew up in Raleigh, as I mentioned, and I know there's a connection to, you know, certainly to Raleigh. And that was a really great experience for me as well, being from a city like Raleigh, I think looking back now, I realized, how much history is in the city and how much I was able to kind of consider as we kind of think about my career pathway, just because of the proximity of colleges and universities.
I mean, I grew up being able to go to North Carolina State, to Chapel Hill, and just to really be surrounded by really great nonprofits, supporting youth which I think is special in, in upbringing. I navigated through high school and when it came time to decide about college, I always tell people, I knew from middle school, that Spelman College was a college that I wanted to attend.
But it was all in my mind. It was all kind of I guess, a fantasy until I stepped in on Spellman's Campus, and that's where the magic happens. That's where the butterflies and all of the things happen during a tour, a tour during my high school years. I toured Spelman and some other colleges and universities, a lot of them in North Carolina, because North Carolina has such great schools.
That visit to Spellman, really birthed something in me that I had never experienced. And so, you know, I often say that my parents and my parents' vision and desire for more, this concept and focus of education and opportunity, I got to be able to see in my own light and journey through Spellman.
Jackie: I love that. And you know, Chelsea, one of the threads throughout this conversation is going to be around parents or adults pouring into children so I love that. And gosh, you know, college is scary enough, right, at 18 years old, going to a new school, not living at home, but I can't imagine. Like the difference in moving to a whole different continent.
Right, and having that experience so far away from the things that you know, and love. So that's such an amazing thing. There's so many amazing courageous people in the world that do things for their futures and the futures of their children. So I love hearing that story. Thank you for sharing.
So let's dig into Spelman a little bit. You said you felt a sense of belonging in our first conversation, the first time you stepped on that campus, but also you began to really understand diversity. And that's an interesting statement for, you know, an HBCU, right? So let's talk about that.
Chelsea: Oh, my goodness, Jackie. It is, I remember when I was exploring colleges and when I finally decided on Spelman, so many of the air quotes were, is Spelman actually a place where you are going to be able to experience diversity because everyone is Black or everyone is a woman.
And I remember, and I'm very, I'm very thankful that I had the visit and the opportunity to engage with students at alumni because that noise, Jackie, to be honest with you originally was playing an impact on my deciding factor about college. I heard it so often.
Chelsea: From people across racial lines, gender lines, et cetera.
And, you know, attending Spelman is where, and I told you this, where I started to understand and explore what diversity equity inclusion, and belonging means, because when you're at an institution that is primarily Black, it's not all Black, primarily Black, primarily women, you have to go beyond what you can see and you and I both know when it comes to diversity, we are often very shortsighted and we don't understand people's full identity because we stop at face value or perceived face value.
And it was at Spelman where I started to be able to explore nationality, regional differences. I mean, I remember we would have our convocations on Friday, which was our special time where we come together as students and, you know, we would do like kind of like a roll call. What city are you from?
And that's where, you know, you hear the South, we hear the Northeast, we hear Texas, Texas was its own situation. No, we would here Oregon, Montana, Arizona, Mexico. And literally that was the first time I had ever met or connected with someone deeply from some of these cities across the country and their stories and their experiences.
One of my best friends from Portland, Oregon, it just changed my life being able to get proximate to people like that and hear their stories of the migration and landing in some of these cities. So, you know, but that's a short list, but again, it was at Spelman where this concept of diversity broadly, and then really this focus of how do we create inclusive spaces, even inter with an interculture, started to be explored.
Jackie: This question was one I had to ask because so often when people think about diversity, they're thinking about race and gender and that's where it stops. But in, in exploring that question with you, it allows people to think about wow, there's so much more, right. There's personality, there's regionality. There's all kinds of experiences that lead to, you know, developing the person that you are. And that is all part of the diversity conversation. So I love that you shared that, thank you so much.
So Chelsea, during college, you studied abroad, you were in Bangladesh. Tell us what that experience was like.
Chelsea: Oh, my Jackie. Oh my. So I went to Spelman as an economics major. I often tell people when you are interested in business, that you attend a liberal arts college, you find your way in econ. That's what, that's what we had. There was no business major. So economics was the closest thing to business. So I studied economics.
And when it came time for senior thesis and independent study, I was trying to bridge together, all my passions, you know, business economy, women, this concept of diversity and inclusion that I was exploring, entrepreneurship, and I didn't even realize Jackie, that my research would allow me to start to touch some of these different areas that I now get to sit in.
But, you know, I thought about a research project and I said, how can I study women business owners in developing economies. And I remember talking to my professors about this and, you know, if anyone knows microcredit microfinance, Bangladesh is one of the birthplaces of that that practice.
And so, you know, went on Google and I searched in steady, because we didn't have like a formal program at Spelman. So it actually was something that I did in partnership with some institutions in the Northeast, it was like a conglomerate of colleges that were taking students to Bangladesh. So I went alongside another Spelman student.
And so that was already a big step because it wasn't necessarily my home community. I was getting to meet other students across the country. It was about 15 of us who went to Dhaka, which is the capital, Chittagong and Cox's Bazar, and we studied through Muhammad Yunus of the Grameen bank, micro-finance. And we were doing not just the research, but we were doing the practical application.
We were going to the villages. We were meeting with governmental officials. We were going to, and at the time Bangladesh was creating schools for women. We went in 2007 and they were starting to create Places where women could be educated. And we did all of that so that we weren't just getting the theory and the textbook micro-finance and microcredit, but we're getting to see, and women were telling us. We talk about the benefit of microcredit microfinance.
We were seeing some of the challenges, the pressure. When we talk about women coming together to kind of fund businesses, the pressure, if you're not, if you're not feeling as though you're bringing your own share to the group and how that was literally leading to suicide for some women, the village and the community pressures.
And so it was eye-opening. and I think it was one of the final, the first places where I understood equity. Just the equity connection, this access, this opportunity. And so, yeah, it was a game changer experience, but again, I didn't know, throughout my research, how I was being expanded to understand some of the lanes of work that I'm in right now, it's really powerful.
Jackie: And Chelsea, let's talk about micro-finance for those people who don't know what that is. Can we describe that a little bit and talk just a bit about that?
Chelsea: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. In theory, individuals are loaned or they're given a certain sum of money to be able to use towards some type of venture. And the whole concept is that eventually it is paid back in some way. And so, you know, it really is, if the equity conversation about providing access and opportunity to where people don't have you know, financial means. Being able to see, to say, you've got a vision, we believe that you can accomplish this vision, here is a good measure provided to you, and, and hopefully to be able to have some returns. And so you can imagine in developing countries, these are market, you know, producing own where, or even garments that people were. So small businesses, small business owners and their community.
And the powerful thing about micro finance and micro credit is, you know, it really shows the power of women to support development, uplift their families, because you know, a lot of research has showed us when women have access to capital, it ends up being invested back into their families and their children. and so that, you know, that's a summary.
Jackie: I love that. And then it's, you know, and then you're benefiting more generations, right? As they invest back into their homes and enter their families, that benefit or that business can be passed on to the children. And I love that. I love that. So Chelsea, tell us about your early career on wall street What was appealing to you about that job or lifestyle?
Chelsea: Yeah, yeah. Okay Jackie, it goes back to the whole conversation on economics major at liberal arts college. There's two pathways. Okay. It's, go be an economist, go get your PhD in economics. And a lot of the Spelman professors were like, be an economist, go get your PhD. And then there was the other side of the camp, which is go work on wall street.
Literally all of the banks were coming to Spelman and Morehouse, and so a lot of us were like, okay, this is, you know, this sounds like a great place to start for a lot of us. I also think, I'm going to be very honest, the financial opportunity, especially for many people who may not have, or have not been exposed to those industries and sectors being in New York city, like all of the things were very appealing.
So I think for me, all of that played a role and, you know, I was looking to be able to connect together financial services and again, this passion for people and culture. And so I still remember my former bank came to campus. I was a freshmen student and, you know, I was trying to go to some of these employer visitation programs where they would come and talk about their banking, try to reel us in.
And I remember going to one as a sophomore and didn't actually think that I could land an internship as a sophomore. I really went just to start exposing myself to career pathways. And, you know, at the end of the session I go and I walked up there. The head of human resources, human capital was there at the session.
And we were walking up to her after the session. And I said, hi, I'm Chelsea Williams. I'm a sophomore economics major. And I said, I don't know if this is possible, but I'm interested in HR, like the people side of business. And she looked at me and she said, very few people come and ask about this career pathway at universities.
And she was just, you know, I think there was an intriguing and just like a moment of connection we had cause she was leading the function of the bank and she said, I want you to stay in touch with me. I can't make any promises because this really is for juniors and, and, and full-time hires for seniors, but let's stay connected. Jackie, two weeks later, I have an offer letter in my email and an offer letter that's mailed to me. And they're like, we want to bring you on to be a part of our Generation Next sophomore program. It’s the first time they were launching a program to see how they could start the pipeline into financial services earlier. And they were trying to pilot with sophomores.
And so that takes me back when I'm speaking to young people and I'm telling them that story, it takes me back to the power of the ask. And the never cancel yourself out of any opportunity, let other people do that. And so that was one of those life defining moments where I realized, you got to take your shots in life. You have to value the importance of connections with people.
Jackie: Absolutely. I love that, the power of the ask is so important because, you know, you, you can't get a yes if you don't ask the question, right, and you just never know so often we are just afraid of rejection when rejection is really just part of the process, right. So thank you for sharing that.
We're going to get into that confidence building piece a little bit later, but I wanted to ask you, how did you make the move from wall street to founding College Code? What was that path of awareness? So you started, you know, as you said, New York City, wall street and all the, the glitz of that, right. And, and the way that that's viewed outwardly. It's an exclusive lifestyle. How did you move from that into College Code?
Chelsea: Yeah, well, you know, what's funny. I agree with you that there is a, when you say wall street, there's a, Ooh aah, some people it's, oh, no. You know, it depends on person, Jackie, but
Jackie: That's right.
Chelsea: in general role, I will tell you. My experience because of the timeframe that I was there, 2010 is, to 2018, we were dealing with the aftermath of the economic crisis.
Chelsea: I was at banks that were, were going through mergers and acquisitions, Lehman into Barclays. So I'll be honest with you, my experience wasn't, it was the best learning experience, but it was not glitz and glam.
Jackie: Got it.
Chelsea: It was large corporate global organizations navigating through change, uncertainty, leadership and the like, and again, outside wise, chaos from a learning perspective, particularly Jackie being in a people function role. my gosh, I could not do what I'm doing now, the change management aspect of DEI, without that foundation that was built in the work that we were doing, the work that we were doing on wall street. So I just want to start by just saying that, like, that was really, really pivotal. That was pivotal for me.
And then I think, you know, I was in a rotational program. I started in a rotational program and by the time I finished my eight, almost nine years on wall street, I had touched almost every function of the people process.
Chelsea: Recruitment, performance, compensation, workforce strategy development, diversity and inclusion, leadership promotion, literally every single function piece.
By the end, I was co-leading that nationally and I had some particular areas that I was leading globally. And so I say this to say, while I was doing the work, there were experiences, observations and realities that became clear to me. One of them being, which led the College Code, this concept around how do we build a pipeline for the next generation into these high performing, high function roles we were going to all the colleges and universities Jackie forming all the partnerships with the nonprofits, you and I know that are doing, you know, career and college access. the initiative was, was strong and, and our intention was right, but the output and the measurement over time, there was some, some issues there.
And so, I remember I was on a recruitment trip at Penn. We were engaging some students there for our investment roles. And one thing I found myself in the lobby of a hotel, just kind of reflecting on my experience personally, in the space in this seat. And then my vision for some of the things that I was just like, I don't know how this is going to happen.
If I'm going to take a step out or if there's going to be a role that's going to allow me to really dive into this because there's so much to do. But I started just writing, and that writing turned into a business plan. Over time, over time, but that was where it started. I remember that trip vividly, and Jackie, I'm a person of faith. So, you know, I was having a conversation with God at the moment and I was, you know, Lord, I'm feeling something here. There's something here and, you know, a year later, cause it didn't happen overnight.
Chelsea: I felt that I had built enough of the relationships, connections, and I had the business need identified, which I know we're going to talk about shortly to be able to take this step to start what is now College Code. And so that really is the life cycle and the journey.
Jackie: Wow. You know, it's so interesting because very often people think they have to have it figured out so early in life, right. But there are these moments of awareness or these moments of reflection that can lead us down a different path and get us closer to our real purpose. And so I always love to hear those stories, because it's okay not to have it all figured out. But be mindful and present with yourself and go where you're being led.
So let's talk about College Code. What's the mission of College Code and what are you looking to accomplish through that organization?
Chelsea: College Code was started to provide the critical link between the development and retention of diverse early-stage professionals. So in a nutshell, there's a lot of organizations doing workforce development, skill development, mentorship connection to help the next generation young people prepare for a career.
There are also like diversity movement organizations that are focused on talent development, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and helping organizations and individuals. We thought to ourselves, what's the bridge? What's the connect between the two? We do all this work in developing the next generation, but it means nothing Jackie, if these young people go into organizations where they don't experience belonging, there don't have access and opportunity to more viable outcomes.
And in the same breath, if we're only focused on the individuals within our organizations now, and we're not thinking about the pipeline, I.E. This next generation and we're not understanding Jackie, their preferences, their ideals, the differences in their experiences. A lot of what we are building and organizations will not be sustainable because the next generation is expecting something different.
And so our work, literally we have two camps in our organization. We have this workforce development piece that is focused on supporting education institutions and nonprofits that focus on college access and or career.
Think about any, you know, school districts. We work with New York City department of education. We work with Chicago public schools as well. And Non-profits like big brothers and sisters, et cetera, that helps students. And then on the employer side, it's every organization that is focused on developing, engaging their people, particularly those who have some type of early career internship program.
And so, you know, that that's, that's in a nutshell, what we do and what our vision is. For one we want to re-imagine career and work. How we've been doing career, how we've been supporting young people in thinking about career. You know, it's, it's expired. We've got to think about some more innovative ways to help them understand.
Career is more than a resume and a cover letter. In terms of preparation. And especially students from diverse backgrounds, racial, ethnicity, gender sexual orientation in the light, a few examples. We need to be able to have those students understand some of these socio-emotional impact that careers have. Exposing them to career pathways that maybe they never heard of before, but if they're exposed to it early on, we changed the trajectory of the choices that they make as one example. So it's that type of work, Jackie, that we're, we're really into.
And I think my final point would be on the talent development and retention side. I'm working with employers. I am very passionate in focusing in on manager capacity and capabilities. How do we start building knowledgeable confident, competent managers, leaders of people, in organizations because I'm continuously seeing that that is the area of opportunity, no matter what sector or industry, to make sure we're building safe, healthy, innovative, and collaborative workplaces?
Jackie: Chelsea you're spot on with that, you know, in the work that I'm doing. A couple of things, right, so if we think about the great resignation, which is occurring right now, it's because people are changing the way they're thinking about work and what's important to them. And that's every generation, right?
This is across, you know, our employment industry altogether. You know, people are thinking, what’s important to me, what are my passions? How is this aligning with that? How do the values of this organization align with my values, right? And they're asking themselves these questions and making decisions based on whether they've got right answers at that organization or not.
And that's why people are making different decisions for themselves. And then this up-and-coming generation. In my work, I'm always talking about, you've got to be ready for this generation. Cause I'm, I'm a gen X-er right. We look to get into a company, you know, work hard, keep our head down, you know, rise up the ladder in the appropriate time.
Right. And, that's how we worked. Right, and stay at a company a long time. And this generation. Gen Z is really thinking about, okay, what do I want to do? Right, how do I want to contribute? How does this organization that I'm interviewing with and, and just to be clear the way they're, they're interviewing those companies, just as hard, if not harder than those companies are interviewing them?
And then it's like, you know, there’s So much to consider. And if you're not aware of that as an organization, if you're not ready for that as an organization, you're going to miss out on the best up and coming talent. And that's, that's just the fact. So I love that you're working with organizations as well, because they need to understand that and understand the imperative of that in the sustainability of their organization.
And then the manager capacity, right, you know, this is something that's, that's so missed when organizations are looking at DEI or looking at training at the very, very top, right. It's the C-suite right. And that's so important in an understanding, you know, and, and building a culture for an organization. They, at the C-suite level can create the desire for a certain type of culture, but it's the managers that are interacting with those employees on a day-to-day basis. And that's, that's just so important. I love the work that you're doing. It's so important and creating workplaces where people want to be in the future. So I just love that.
Chelsea: Thank you, Jackie.
Jackie: Yeah. Well, let's talk about, you know, some of the challenges that you find in doing this work.
Chelsea: Oh, goodness. You know, on the workforce development piece, I go back to what I had briefly stated. When we say career development, career guidance, that means a lot of things across this country in different school districts, in different organisms. I also would say we are just now starting to see education institutions invest in career professionals and practitioners. Those who've had industry experience who can actually bring this into their organizations and create strategy programs, policies, and practices that help this next generation, young people.
So a part of it, Jackie, that I'm seeing is a little bit of out with the old, in, with the new and really kind of restructuring, reframing curriculum for career development. In a lot of these organizations have had their career development curriculum from the eighties and nineties, which times have changed. You and I both know that there are some experiences that are taking place in the workplace.
There is some competencies and skills that we've all had to build thinking about last year into now that young people need to be prepared and equipped to be able to identify and leverage, to be successful. And so I think there's a part of it that I'll just say that I'm seeing more heightened conversations around career development and what it means.
Plug, ACT the test prep organization, is going to be leading a workforce development summit at the end of the month. I will share in the show notes for you, that, that conference information for people who are interested in just hearing the national workforce development conversation, it's a great conference.
Um, and then I think on the, as another example on the talent development and retention side of the house, wow. I think one of the big things is around how do we go from DEI vision or mission or commitments that we have shared externally and even internally to actually change within our organizations and our teams. Sounds good.
Maybe it feels good, but on a, on a day-to-day on a quarter to quarter are, are people able to say what we have shared, we feel and experience within our teams and within the organization. So, you know, whether we want to call it theory to practice practical application, whatever we want to call it. I, I feel like I'm starting to see that because to your point, Jackie candidate. And employees are starting to call it out.
Jackie: Yeah. Absolutely.
Chelsea: you know? And so I think, you know, for leaders, certainly for HR, people, partners, you know, it's going to become really, really important that what we have said. We start to be able to drive progress on it's, not going to be overnight, but let's be authentic and transparent about what it's going to take for us to move things forward, and make sure that we're setting in a cadence and a measurement to be able to, point towards success in the future.
Jackie: That's, you know, that's such good advice and it's so important for people to understand, what those challenges are so that they can start to mitigate them and understand what they need to be thinking about as they start to work through those. Chelsea, you talk about building career confidence. What does that mean? And how do we begin to build that?
Chelsea: Career confidence. we originally started to dive into career competence when we were thinking about this next generation, our workforce development programs, when we were building our curriculum. And we said, we don't just want to offer young people skills and help them to build and identify the skills and the relationships necessary for the future.
That is critical. That's important, that's necessary, but if they don't walk away, more confident, more empowered, having more belief in their ability and the table that is available for them to be able to sit at in whatever career path they desire, we're missing it. You can have, you can go through the coding camp.
You can go through the data science camp. You can have the awesome mentor who works at named that company. But if you inside of yourself still don't feel worthy and worth it, which a lot of underrepresented individuals have felt and are feeling it's going to show up on the job. And so we're doing work through our coaching, through our programs, just to demystify and empower young people to know that there is a place in a space for them. And so career confidence really is the belief that you can pursue and Excel at whatever career path you desire, and now there, there might be places in spaces where you need that additional mentorship or relationships or credentials, but it is the it's the personal belief that no one can take away from you that says, yeah, maybe it's going to take me a little bit longer than my peer or my colleague or my classmate, but I can do this.
Jackie: That's such a good point because the narratives of our society create for us questions in our ability. That's the insidious part of these narratives. You know, they're not just telling outside people who we are, but it dares right to tell us who we are. And it creates these, these stories that we tell ourselves that we shouldn't be sitting at that table, that we may not have what it takes that we shouldn't apply for that job that we shouldn't, as you talked about earlier, ask right. The power to ask, right? The power of the ask. We need people and organizations like you like College Code to be able to counter those narratives.
Right. So that we can step in the room with the confidence that we need and that's such important work. So I just wanted to share that as well.
Chelsea: Yes. And Jackie, if I can add on just, I want to be transparent with this group because I believe in transparency, you know, this concept of career confidence I am navigating through. I think about the first time that in 2018, when I had first started the business, LLC, ready to go, had my first client.
Jackie, I struggled the first year to call myself a founder and CEO. I was saying I'm a strategist, couldn't sit with the title that honestly, I had worked for. I had earned that. I was, I was performing in that space in place anyway, it took me a year. And so this is really a conversation that we have to have, and yes, other people can help you to get there.
But at the end of the day, you me and others have to sit down and believe it for ourselves, despite what we see and what we hear because you and I both know when you say entrepreneur in this country, there is an image.
Jackie: Yes. That's right.
Chelsea: There is a narrative. And I just want, for anyone who's listening to this, who has any type of powerful idea or desire to know that you were worth that if it hit your brain and it's something that you thought about, and the concept is something that you birth, it belongs to you, you have the ability to act on it. You have the ability to partner with someone else and make it a reality, but it really does start with self.
Jackie: Yes, absolutely. You know, and that's an ongoing journey, right. Being able to, to pour into ourselves. Right. We, we often talk about, and my next question is about pouring into others, but we have to be able to first pour into ourselves to talk to ourselves and tell each other, you know, tell ourselves. What we need to hear, right.
To empower us, to make us more courageous, to give ourselves the confidence that we need. And that can be challenging. So, you know, again, organizations like yours are so important into, you know, disrupting that narrative. And I love that. I love that. So how can we, Chelsea, as parents, right? I'm a parent. And I have a college student, you know, how do we contribute to helping young people build this career readiness, career competence?
Chelsea: I love it. I think about a few things that are really, really important and I'll share some stories to make, to bring it to life. I'll share a story with you. I remember when I was deciding on college and as I told you, I knew I wanted to go to Spelman. I had gotten it at this point, signed, sealed, delivered, got the scholarship dollars.
It was time to go. And then the conversation was on majors with my family, that this was beyond my parent. This was, I remember I had some aunts and uncles a part of the conversation, et cetera. And I remember telling them, I'm going to do psychology.
Chelsea: want to do psychology and I want to focus on social psychology. Now, you know where this is going to go. And I remember I said, I said, I'm going to do social psychology. I feel like I am meant to be working with people, studying dynamics of people. Like I knew this in high school and I remember they were like, but you can't get a job in that. They're like, oh, Chelsea, you need to think about lucrative job roles.
Everybody does psychology. Unless you go and get a master's or PhD, it's not going to be lucrative for you. You know, let's figure out something else that's going to make you more competitive. And so I did economics, as I mentioned to you before. Here's the thing I did economics, I ended up where I ended up, but Jackie, if I had done psychology, I would have ended up where I needed to end up.
That's the work that I'm doing right now. You know what I mean? You get the connection here. I'm doing the work. This is the psychology actually is closer to what I'm doing than economics.
Chelsea: and so I just, for parents who are listening, try when your children, when your mentors, mentees, nieces, and nephews share what they're interested in, try to take a step back and understand that where they're meant to be will happen.
And if they're saying something as an interest, it's because there's something that's been birthed inside of them to say that, and I get the point of parenting where you're trying to help prepare your, your young person. Plus if you're the one paying for the loans, you're like, you need to get a job, I get it, but I've talked to a lot of people who talk to a few girlfriends now, economics majors, its film, and they're now pursuing degrees in psychology degrees. They want to be therapists. They said, we were talking the other day, they said, yeah, if I could go back, I would have chosen this major, chosen this miserable.
So my point is parents. I think if we can listen in and give our young people the benefit of the doubt as they're exploring and kind of thinking about their future, there's something there
Jackie: That's great advice, Chelsea. Thank you so much. So Chelsea, you're also a public speaker and a professional trainer. Let's talk about your definition of equity. We talked about this a little bit. When we were talking about the micro finance micro loans, your definition of equity and practical steps for achieving equity. How do we begin to do that?
Chelsea: Well, first I want to say. We've been talking about diversity and inclusion in this country in particular for decades, for as long back as we've been talking about affirmative action. There's a concept of that, that is diversity and inclusion. Now equity is the newer term, newer acronym in the broader piece that we're discussing today. Last year, I believe was a banner year, certainly for those beyond the Black community and the Asian community to start to understand when we say equity, what we mean even beyond our workplaces.
And so in short term, I believe equity defined is providing access and opportunity to marginalized, historically marginalized communities or individuals. Breaking it down very simply and shortly. Access, opportunity, marginalized groups. Those are the buzzwords and the keywords. Some people will say opportunity and access, but they don't have marginalized communities involved in the definition that I think we're missing it if we're not talking about people who historically not receive the same amount of, resources, et cetera.
Chelsea: So that's how I look at it. And so when we're talking about organizations, Jackie, I do think this is difficult for organizations to comprehend. Diversity, they can figure out. Inclusion, they can figure out, there's work to do, but they can figure it out.
Equity is almost like access opportunity. How do I navigate through this? What does this look like? And so I think about a few things that I think are important when we're talking about equity. One thing that I remember was a transformative experience when I was working on wall street was, we were doing compensation equity analysis for our people.
Three years, I had the chance to co-lead compensation. We would go through each and every person's proposed salary and bonus. And I had the pleasure honor and privilege. It didn't feel like it at the time, but if going through our colleagues on the basis of gender and race, because we have the data looking through teams and being able to say, why is this person receiving this amount?
Why is this person receiving this amount, and going to the managers and not forcing an outcome? Some people think, are we forcing an outcome? It's not about forcing an outcome. It's about asking questions that make sure that we are operating under appropriate legal standards and that we're being inclusive. And we're really thinking about our people in a way that keeps them engaged because we are rewarding them for their efforts.
So that's one thing, everyone who is a people manager and or a leader or in the HR function has the ability to, even if it's just inquire, how can we make sure that our compensation processes are equitable,
okay. That's what I say. But my second example, just to bring it to life for people. And this one is around the workforce development, the student development piece. Lot of organizations who want to start internship programs, that's a lot of the places where I've seen a lot of organizations say, hey, we want an intern program.
Fine, the challenge becomes not forming the intern program, but thinking about where we're going to source our interns from. A lot of organizations will have school teams with their preferred schools where they go to recruit. And usually that list of schools is determined by where did the leaders go?
They went to Vassar, or they went to Columbia. Let's go to Vassar and Columbia. It's our Alma mater. We love it. Let's go, affinity. When we're talking about. We do have to take a step back again and think about access opportunity. Where are these places where there are brilliant students who are not often considered because of the school they go to?
If it's at a rural community, if it's a Hispanic serving institution, listen to this one, Jackie, if it's a historically black college beyond Howard, Hampton, Spelman and Morehouse, and I went to Spelman. So I can say that hundreds of other HBCU's and how are we considering the opportunity to support those students? Because they're brilliant. That's the equity conversation.
Jackie: Yes, absolutely. And you know, the thing about equity and where people get, I think get lost is they don't know what to do to achieve that. So I love that you said ask questions, right? It can be as simple as asking question about compensation and, you know, one of the ways that, that we get off track, you know, on that specifically is, you know, very often organizations will say, well, what's your salary expectation, right?
Which will be maybe a slight bump up from what they were making before, but if there's already that disparity in what they're being paid, what they're asking for is not what person over here is asking for the same role. Right? So that's one.
And then back to those narratives and the power of the ask, we don't negotiate salary for ourselves in the same way that other demographics do. And so it then becomes incumbent upon the organization to say, I'm going to create equity by understanding, right? Doing those evaluations like you did, and understanding where it needs to be. Salaries need to be bonuses, need to be based on the job that you're doing and the quality of work that you're doing. Right, not what you got paid at company X before you came here.
Chelsea: Exactly Jackie, here's a question. Cause I love that you just brought up a question for people. How can we reimagine what we always been doing and consider a new opportunity? No matter what function, role, tenure, how age, how are whoever we are, however long we've been in an organization, the opportunity is to say, okay, we've been doing this for years, for months for, for a long time, equity allows us to take a step back and say, but maybe there is a better way that is more inclusive to our people, to the broader, the broader community in which we live and work. That's the question, but it's an uncomfortable question.
And I think those who are truly Changemakers and those who are truly leading the leadership we need for 2021 into 2022 and beyond will require us to ask them.
Jackie: Chelsea. I always like to ask this question of guests because it creates that level of, you know, who you are as a, as a professional is one thing. And then who you are as a person, right. I I'd like to always bring that into the conversation. Tell us something about you, Chelsea, that not a lot of people know.
Chelsea: Ooh, this is fun. I love this question. So. When I was growing up, I did a lot. I was a singer. I did a lot of like national and in city competitions for singing and choral, et cetera. And so at the height of the American Idol Movement cause it was a movement back then. I was a backup singer for one of the American Idol winners for their holiday concert.
And I said, North Carolina, some of you all know American Idol so well, you know who I'm talking about, but I was, I was a singer. I honestly, Jackie, when I was younger, I wanted to sing professionally that wasn't the plan at the time. God ended up saying, I'm going to use your voice to speak and coach and educate, and I'm fine with that, but that's a fun fact that, you know, a lot of people don't actually know that.
Jackie: I love that. Oh, wow. I love to ask that question because sometimes I get these really amazing answers. That is so interesting. Chelsea, thank you for sharing that. Chelsea, what is the message that you want to leave with our listeners?
Chelsea: First of all, Jackie, I want to thank you and diversity movement for the honor and privilege to spend some time today. And I want listeners to remember equitable and inclusive spaces don't just happen. With intention, we create them.
Jackie: So well said, thank you. And then Chelsea, finally, how can people connect with you?
Chelsea: Yes, I'm huge on LinkedIn. So please find me at Chelsea C Williams. You'll see me there. I am also on Instagram at, iamchelseacwilliams. and of course you can check our website out, www.mycollegecode.com. If you're interested in partnering.
Jackie: Chelsea. Thank you so much for taking some time with me today. This has been such a great conversation. I learned a lot, and I appreciate your sharing your insights with our audience.
Chelsea: Thank you so much, Jackie. And I wish everyone the very best.
When Chelsea C. Williams first stepped foot on Spelman College’s campus, she started to understand diversity. Although Spelman’s study body may appear rather homogenous as a HBCU, Chelsea could see other types of diversity, such as regional differences and differences in upbringing. Her curiosity for how we can better understand differences in people led her to human resources and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Eventually, Chelsea founded College Code, a fast-growing consultancy and training firm, providing the critical link between the development and retention of early-stage professionals and helping organizations build equitable and inclusive workplaces. In this episode, she shares her best recommendations for developing and retaining diverse early-stage talent.
Listen to this episode on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.