e008. Grounding Principles w/ Jen Mahone-Rightler

Jen Mahone-Rightler is the Global Chief Diversity Officer and Senior Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility and Wellness at Epsilon. Epsilon is a global advertising and marketing technology company with 8,000 associates in over 40 countries around the world. In this episode, Jen explains how a grounding in core principles helps Epsilon’s diversity initiatives thrive.


Full Episode

Full Episode Transcript

[00:00:46] Amy: Welcome back to including you. My name is Amy C. Waninger and I am the host of the show. I’m also the founder and CEO of lead at any level. My guest today is Jen Mahone-Rightler. Jen Mahome Reichler is the global chief diversity officer and senior vice president of corporate social responsibility and wellness at Epsilon.

[00:01:05] Amy: Epsilon is a global advertising and marketing technology company with 8,000 associates in over 40 countries around the world. Jen, welcome to the show.

[00:01:16] Jen: Thanks, Amy.. Thanks for having me here today.

[00:01:18] Amy: I am really excited to talk to you because marketing is one of those industries that touches everything and everybody, frankly, whether they wanna be touched by it or not, I think, we’re all affected by marketing in some way.

[00:01:32] Amy: And I’m curious as to what the drivers have been for Epsilon in creating the role that you have and in investing so heavily in diversity and inclusion for the firm.

[00:01:48] Jen: Yeah. So, it’s a great question. I think I think when you think about Epsilon and you think about what we’re doing it’s really critical, right?

[00:01:59] Jen: I think when you think about Epsilon specifically, and we think about data as a whole, and you think about where we were at two years ago, my role didn’t exist and then the world blew up, and so in 2020 after everything happened with the social unrest and all these employers started to be

[00:02:23] Jen: responsive and they were reacting, Epsilon didn’t do that. Epsilon kind of took its time to decide what was really important for them and what they wanted the role to really focus on and then they created the job description and based on what they felt was really important for them and what they really could stand behind

[00:02:47] Jen: and they wanted to find, the right person that could align to what their values were, and when you think about our values of accountability, passion, and inclusion, that was critical to find someone that could align to those as a foundation to get grounded in how to then build the role around those three components

[00:03:11] Jen: and then when you think about what we do as an organization, we, when we talk about data then how do we protect that? And then how do we make sure that when we think about data and data privacy, how does that really impact only, not only our customers, but then what does that really mean in the space of diversity equity inclusion?

[00:03:33] Jen: So, it was really important for me coming into this role to understand not only as an individual, but as a minority and a consumer. What does that really mean for me? And I had to come in with fresh eyes and think about it a little bit differently. I didn’t have experience in data marketing but I did have experience as a consumer and what it meant for me,

[00:03:56] Jen: and then what does it really mean for the communities that I represent coming into this space and having to apply that and really having a conversation. With my leaders around what that really means when we go into really building out what our strategies needed to look like for Epsilon.

[00:04:15] Amy: Imagine that there’s a level of trust there that needs to be earned beyond what a normal, a normal company, public interaction is required, right? Because we’re talking about people’s private data, we’re talking about their public data, we’re talking about the ways that they interact in ways that they don’t always know that they’re being monitored or that their data’s not, not always being collected in a very upfront way.

[00:04:40] Amy: And I don’t wanna get too deep into this part because this is what we’re here to talk about. But thinking about that level of trust and then adding all of the different communities that you serve, that you market to, that you work with around the world, that’s a lot of complexity. And I would imagine that the commitment from the company has to be pretty strong to navigate that level of complexity and that level of nuance on a sustained basis over the last few years.

[00:05:07] Jen: Absolutely. When you think about just data as a whole and the data privacy piece, that’s what it is. It is about trust, and then when you take the complexity of diversity and you overlay that well, that’s what it is. It’s about trust, and then you add another layer to that. It’s about accountability.

[00:05:33] Jen: Which I have to be honest when I interviewed with our COO and he mapped out what our values were and he talked about accountability and he layered that with what we do. I was bought in from day one, like I was bought in when he talked about data privacy, when he talked about the importance of this role, when he talked about the importance of how to build trust and what he looks for in leaders, and then what he expects when you walk through the doors of Epsilon, and when you took the components of how he was mapping it out, it’s why we’re successful.

[00:06:28] Jen: And it’s because we are accountable for what we do, and one of the things that we’re grounded in, is that we do speak our truth and, and when you take that and you map that then to passion, and then you map that then to inclusion, you have the recipe for magic as far as I’m concerned.

[00:06:51] Amy: That’s, I love this notion of grounding, and that’s what I really wanna talk to you about today because I think a lot of times people feel like diversity and inclusion work is lofty or intangible. And the two words that you keep using are data, three words, really data, accountability and grounding, and there’s nothing

[00:07:11] Amy: fluffy or intangible about data, accountability or grounding, and I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit more about how being grounded, not just in these values, but I know that there are six tenants at Epsilon that that you focus your work around. Can you talk a little bit about what those are and how that’s driven, the work that you’re doing and your priorities?

[00:07:32] Jen: Yeah, absolutely. I think when you, so when we think about data in the DNI world, it is what you have to honestly, in my world and how I look at it, and this is just based on Jen Mahone-Rightler’s perspective, right? So, it’s not about anybody else’s, it’s just how I’ve done my work over the course of the last 20 plus years in this world.

[00:08:04] Jen: But without the data, I don’t have anything else. I don’t have any way else to show people how we make progress without data. The data tells me from point a to point B, how we’ve made progress. The data tells me if I’m moving in the right direction or if I’m moving in the wrong direction. I don’t believe in lofty goals.

[00:08:31] Jen: I don’t believe in pie in the sky dreams, I don’t, that’s not what DEI is all about. I don’t believe corporate America was set up for diversity and inclusion. It’s just not what it was set up to do. Wasn’t made for us to be successful, and so the only way for us to really get stake in the game is to be grounded in the data,

[00:08:58] Jen: and so when you think about how you get stakeholders engaged, it’s no different than any other business system, you’ve gotta show the data, you’ve gotta show people how it works and how it aligns to real, tangible business results, and if you cannot connect it to the business, as far as your business leaders are concerned, they are lofty goals.

[00:09:27] Jen: It doesn’t mean anything. So, when we started thinking about our strategies, we needed to connect it to things that we knew could move the needle, and so we have these six tenants and the six tenants are what we call the Epsilon way, and so it’s we start with a talent first mindset and then the talent first mindset,

[00:09:54] Jen: It’s all about our people. So, our people are our biggest asset, and so without our people, we don’t have anything, and so we build that talent first mindset by building an inclusive experience from hire to retire, that allows us to create a, a culture to foster a sense of belonging, so that’s our second tenant.

[00:10:16] Jen: So, we foster a culture of belonging, and then from there, it allows us to create meaningful opportunities, which is our third tenant, and when you think about creating meaningful opportunities, that allows people to understand the sense of value that they bring to the culture, and so when they’re grounded in that, that they can see how we then help grow in the market, which is our fourth tenant

[00:10:44] Jen: and so when we’re growing in the market that generates market growth and results, which takes us to the fifth tenant that allows us to have data driven decisions, okay? and then the last tenant leads us to accountability, so we start with our people, which is our first tenant, which is our most critical tenant,

[00:11:10] Jen: and it ends with accountability, which is one of our values. So that’s our six tenants.

[00:11:20] Amy: What I love about this approach is, as you said, it’s grounded in what is the business here to accomplish and how are we furthering that mission rather than how are we furthering a mission alongside the business, it’s within, and it’s an extract inextractable, is that the word? I don’t think that’s the right word. It can’t be decoupled from the mission is what I’m trying to say, and I’ve lost my words today guys sorry, and, but this notion of meaningful opportunities and growing in the market really are a vircous cycle, right?

[00:11:54] Amy: Because the more market, the more market you are in, right? The bigger, your wheel, right? The more opportunities for everyone involved, and that’s what I think a lot of employers miss about, about tying DEI to their business strategy is, look, you’re not carving up, an existing pie, right?

[00:12:15] Amy: You are really just bringing it up. It’s like a potluck, everybody brings something to the table and now there’s more right. And when there’s more, we all do better.

[00:12:25] Jen: That’s it, that’s it, and I think the one thing to note for us is that while we have these six tenants, one of the things that I have said publicly, I will say it here, but inclusion will be our growth strategy.

[00:12:40] Jen: So, we will become an inclusive organization, and by doing that, it will help us drive that growth strategy that we need. A lot of people don’t understand that when I don’t understand what that means when I say that, and what I try to explain to people is that it’s not about the diversity, but if you build inclusion, the diversity will come,

[00:13:09] Jen: and once the diversity comes, that just allows you to cast a wider net that allows your growth opportunities to soar, and if you have a strong strategy to begin. All that inclusion does is just helps you expand more, and so if you understand what inclusion actually means, and you understand the importance of it to any business strategy you can’t do anything, but go up from there.

[00:13:42] Amy: Does Epsilon specifically define inclusion, diversity and belonging, because these are three words, I think that get thrown around a lot by different companies and I think they mean different things at different companies, contextual to the organization. Can you elaborate on those definitions from your company’s perspective?

[00:13:59] Jen: What’s interesting is that I don’t really give a definition of any of those. We allow our associates to define them themselves. The reason that we do that is because everybody has a different definition of inclusion, everyone has a different definition of diversity and everyone has a different sense of what belonging means.

[00:14:18] Jen: So, who am I to tell a person what it means? Because I said so? because Jen Mahone-Rightler said, this is what inclusion means? and so therefore that’s what it means for Epsilon? That’s not right. So, I allow people to make that definition for themselves. That’s what makes us inclusive, and then I think when you think about diversity we have so many various dimensions of diversity.

[00:14:45] Jen: I’m not gonna give a definition of that because every day there’s new dimensions that people find themselves in, and I don’t think that’s fair either. And if I’m really trying to build an inclusive culture, doesn’t really matter what dimension that you’re in and I’m not gonna tell you that’s the definition of diversity.

[00:15:05] Jen: And then I think when you think about belonging, honestly, I think that whatever you need to have a sense of belonging, to have a sense of value, to be respected, seen, and supported, whatever that is. You just need to tell us what that. And we’ll make that happen so that you have that sense of belonging at Epsilon,

[00:15:28] Jen: and a lot of people would call me crazy I know people are like, Jen, that’s ridiculous. Is it though? Is it really? Because from where I sit, it changes every day, and I think that you have people that don’t understand what inclusion is sometimes, I think you have people that don’t understand what diversity is

[00:15:50] Jen: sometimes, I think that you have people that struggle with what belonging means when we have a world that is still very divisive. When we have a world where every other week, every other day, you have something horrific happening. So, I’m not gonna tell anyone what a definition of something is, or isn’t when it changes on the daily, I’m gonna let people make that decision for themselves.

[00:16:21] Jen: But what I will say is that when you walk into the doors of Epsilon, what we deem, what we need are inclusive leaders. Where people are treated with the utmost respect. We have a zero-tolerance policy for anything less than, and, we deal with things in a way that we need to, and I think it is it’s unique.

[00:16:52] Jen: It’s a unique organization. It’s one that I’ve never seen before, and, I am motivated every day knowing that when I get up every morning that I have made the right choice when I selected to come here.

[00:17:10] Amy: I think it’s fantastic how aligned you are personally with the company’s mission and how aligned your work is with your personal values and in your mission, and it sounds like you’re trying to create an environment where everybody has that same opportunity to work an alignment with. With their values and alignment with the work that they do best that fuel this virtual virtuous cycle of, company growth with employee growth. Is that accurate?

[00:17:38] Jen: Yeah. I think it’s, I think that when you look at diversity and inclusion, we have to start thinking a little bit differently. I think that if we didn’t learn anything over the last almost three years is that the world cried out the world cried out and we became very divided and we were divided not only as a country, but as a nation because of the one thing that

[00:18:17] Jen: our ancestors fought for, which was basic civility, and I’m often dumbfounded by the fact that we can’t just get along. We just can’t get along, and for what? and I come from an environment where I come from a family that is multiracial, and so I don’t, I don’t judge people based on what they look like, where they come from,

[00:18:47] Jen: and so, I struggle at times when people wanna put people in boxes, and so it’s not really about my personal values. It’s just about what is right, and I think that everyone has the right to walk into an organization and see themselves, and I think that Epsilon creates an environment where we get to do that,

[00:19:13] Jen: and I don’t think that it’s about one experience is more important than the other, I think everyone’s experiences matter, and I think that when you highlight one experience or the other, I think it undermines the very sanctity of the role that I serve, so when you wanna, when you wanna challenge me on me being African American and I don’t fight for certain rights for my experience, that’s not that I don’t fight for those rights.

[00:19:47] Jen: I do fight for those rights. But I also fight for the rights of everyone else’s experience, and just because you don’t see me fighting for those rights publicly does not mean that those experiences don’t matter to me, but I go about it differently, and so what I try to explain to people is that

[00:20:10] Jen: our environment is different, right? and so we’re not known as an organization for being the most diverse racially diverse. So, what I have to do internally to get us to that point of where we are bringing in that diversity, it looks differently, but don’t make any mistakes about it, at the end of the day, when I wake up every morning, I know who I am when I go to bed at night,

[00:20:41] Jen: I know that when I wake up in the morning, I am still an African American female waking up in the morning. I’m not confused by who I am. I know what I’m doing, but I also know who my constituents are, and I know that I have to go about this a little bit differently, but it doesn’t make me any different of what I’m trying to solve for.

[00:21:10] Amy: It’s important. I think it’s easy for people who are not in a role like yours to say there’s, this is missing or there’s this left to do, or what about, right? We, there’s always a thing to point to, to say that the work isn’t done or that it’s not moving fast enough or on what scale, who knows.

[00:21:29] Amy: And I will admit I have those nights where I sit up and I wonder oh gosh, first of all, why can’t we just get along? Drives me crazy, cause the amount of energy wasted on just trying to hold other people back, It could be so much better spent just pushing yourself forward. Like just selfishly I don’t have the energy to try to hold other people down, but then all of a also I think, gosh, I feel like,

[00:21:48] Amy: just personally, like I’ll never do enough, I’ll never do enough fast enough, and it’s really difficult to feel that way, and then have other people point out to you day after day as well to think, you know what, I showed up, I didn’t, I didn’t stay in bed and cry all day and I think that’s something right.

[00:22:04] Amy: And there’s, I think there’s just, it’s so easy to point a point to what’s not working. It’s that much more important to celebrate what is working, it’s that much more important to say look, progress is progress, and we’ve just created a little more space for people to be who they are in this organization.

[00:22:25] Amy: We’ve created a little bit more space for people to show up authentically and do their work a little better and serve customers a little better and serve the public a little better. Can you talk just a little bit about that? About what is it that you celebrate on a day to day?

[00:22:40] Jen: Honestly, any day above ground, I celebrate.

[00:22:44] Jen: I think as an organization, what we celebrate is the fact that

[00:22:52] Jen: we focus. One of our, one of our behaviors is that we strive to be 1% better every day. That is one of our behaviors, and what I love about that behavior specifically is that if you strive to be 1% better every day and you actually achieve that, 365 days a year, that’s 365%, and that’s not an average number,

[00:23:33] Jen: and I don’t think people realize what 1% actually means every day, and so we just celebrate the ability to make progress every day in the right direction, and I, and we try to celebrate the win, just that, It’s, and I’ve said this before, is that you have to celebrate your wins and not compare yourselves to other people, but I think the one thing for Epsilon is we’re just celebrating the fact that when we look at what we are trying to accomplish, that the support is there, that we look forward

[00:24:28] Jen: to what we know that we can actually achieve, and we’re, we don’t have these lofty goals, and we know that we have strategies in place that are obtainable, and we know that if we actually do the work and we come together collectively as a team, as an organization individually, that we can achieve those things,

[00:24:57] Jen: and I think it pulls us together as an organization to know that we’re not doing this individually, but we’re doing this collectively. This isn’t my fight. This isn’t my win. We do this as an organization, I don’t take the win for myself personally. This is a team win, this is something that we are all doing as a whole,

[00:25:28] Jen: and so honestly, I just believe it or not, I celebrate the fact that I was the one that was selected. I have a dream job and I have the dream team that I work with that really believed in the vision for us to be able to do some amazing work, and honestly, it’s because of the sport of the leadership team that, they were ready and they believed in their organization,

[00:25:59] Jen: and so that’s what we celebrate. We just celebrate that. We celebrate the fact that, you know what we were ready, and I think they celebrate the fact that their leaders are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work, and again, it goes back to who we are, I think culturally as an organization and that they stand by what they believe in,

[00:26:27] Jen: and it goes back to what we started the conversation on and that’s data, it’s accountability and it’s truth.

[00:26:36] Amy: That is just fabulous. They’re just processing all of this. I’m wondering, as you’re thinking about this 1% better every day, there’s, that’s so empowering for people in having a growth mindset, because when we’re learning new skills, when we’re learning new ways of being, thinking that we don’t have to be perfect tomorrow, we don’t have to go from 1% today to a hundred percent tomorrow is reassuring, and there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of grace, I think that gets afforded to people 1%. I know you said it a lot over time, but at any given point, it’s not a ton. I can get 1% better at just about anything

[00:27:10] Amy: if I apply myself in a day, and I think that there’s so much power in that and in a reminding people, new skills and new ways of being are things that we learn over time. Nobody got to where they are because they were born that way. Nobody knew how to do everything about their job, the day they were born

[00:27:28] Amy: they had to learn every single bit of that along the way, from how to tie their shoes in the morning, to how to drive the car, to work to how to host a zoom meeting, which is something a lot of us learned in the last couple of years, right? So, we’re all doing this

[00:27:40] Amy: and this is just, like you said, applying a common business practice, common business approach in a way that maybe we haven’t thought about it in the past, or we weren’t thinking about it too far in the past, in, in this case, I’m curious as you look to the next year, what, aside from this 1% or maybe in the context of this 1% what’s an area that you would like to see personally improve in the next year?

[00:28:09] Jen: Oh, wow. That is a really good question. Oh, I think for me

[00:28:17] Jen: it’s hard. It’s hard for me to tell you what that is, I’m I’ve never been ever I’ve never really, I get asked a lot what’s next for you? I don’t know. The only thing I knew when I was a kid, is that I wanted to be an architect, that’s all I knew. I didn’t know anything else, I just knew that I loved structure,

[00:28:45] Jen: I knew that I loved to design. I knew that I loved to sketch things and I could look at like the clouds and I could find pictures in them, and when we were kids in our house, we had that paneling, and I remember I used to look at my dad and I was like, do you see that picture? And I could find things in the paneling

[00:29:11] Jen: and he would be like, what are you talking about? I’m like, look, it’s right there. And I could see pictures and I could literally see like cities. And the paneling and he finally would be able to see them and all that’s all I ever knew, I didn’t know anything else. That’s all I ever wanted to do was be an architect,

[00:29:33] Jen: and so, I went to school to be an architect, and so I never looked beyond that, and so I went to school to be an architect and that’s what I became, and then after that, and I didn’t like doing that anymore. So, I never really thought about what was next. I always lived in the moment and I always thought about what I was passionate about

[00:30:02] Jen: and then I responded to that, and then I was told that wasn’t very responsible of me and so I never really, think about what’s next in the next five years, Jen, what’s your five-year plan? I don’t have, I don’t have one, and I think sometimes you limit yourself when you think about life that way,

[00:30:24] Jen: and I just don’t put goals in place for what’s next for me, I think about what I am inspired by, I think about what I’m motivated by, and I’ll be honest with you, Amy, I’m motivated by people, and so I can’t tell you what next looks like or what’s on the horizon, what I will tell you is that,

[00:30:55] Jen: I am motivated by people, I am motivated by doing what is right by people, I am motivated by ensuring that people are happy and that people, are represented in the right way, and I don’t know what that means for me. But I’m also motivated by the fact that people have a voice and that, they’re able to remove barriers for the, for themselves,

[00:31:24] Jen: and when I think about diversity, equity and inclusion, that’s not what’s next for me. That I do know, I think when we think about these spaces, our goal is to come into these businesses and help transform the business so that we are educating businesses on the value of understanding what it means to be diverse and then what it means to be inclusive

[00:31:56] Jen: and how do you integrate this into our business systems? So, it just becomes how we do business. I think that if you’re in these roles for too long, you’re doing your company’s a disservice, because then you’re not putting DNI into the hands of the business leaders who actually need to drive the culture change in transformation,

[00:32:23] Jen: and then we keep doing the same things. We’re like the hamster on the wheel and you just keep turning and then progressions never made. So, if I have to think about what’s next, I think it is thinking about how do I continue to transform our business model so that I have to have a conversation with my leaders about what my next role with Epsilon looks like

[00:32:47] Jen: and that’s not a secret. I I’ve talked about that since before I started here, and I talk about that when we talk about our culture transformation, which is one of the big initiatives that we do is that the goal is not for me to be in these roles, in this role for a long time, because I feel like if I’ve done that, if I’m doing that, then I failed, our leaders need to understand how to take

[00:33:11] Jen: the reigns into their own hands to get comfortable, having conversations around, understanding what it means to be diverse, what it means to be inclusive, how do you look at our talent systems? how do you make sure that you are removing barriers so that those barriers don’t impact your decision making when it comes to the talent that you’re bringing into the organization, the talent that sits on your team so that you’re not, creating risk for yourself and for the business.

[00:33:45] Jen: So you can continue to move things forward. I don’t know what that means for me, but I don’t know, and but I have love for the game. That’s all, that’s all I can tell you.

[00:33:56] Amy: well, that much is clear. Your passion absolutely shines through Jen Mahone-Rightler thank you so much for your time today.

[00:34:02] Amy: Thank you for being on including you.

[00:34:05] Jen: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

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Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at www.LeadAtAnyLevel.com

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