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Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Episode 82: Dani Monroe Discusses Untapped Talent, Unconscious Bias, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

July 29, 2020  |  By Matt Waller

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Dani Monroe is the Vice President and Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer - Mass. General Brigham, the largest healthcare organization in Massachusetts. Dani has a master's degree in organizational development from Pepperdine University. She has been a consultant for many companies including Shell, the CIA, and The Walt Disney Company, to name a few. Dani has recently authored a book called “Untapped Talent: Unleashing the Power of the Hidden Workforce.”

Listen as Dr. Waller discusses with Dani Monroe about how untapped talent is the opposite of flourishing, unconscious bias, advice for students graduating in the midst of COVID-19, and more.

Purchase “Untapped Talent: Unleashing the Power of the Hidden Workforce” today.

Episode Transcript


00:08 Matt Waller: Hi I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to Be EPIC, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collegiality, and what those values mean in business education in your life today.

00:28 Matt Waller: I have with me today Dani Monroe, who is the Vice President and Chief Diversity Equity and Inclusion Officer for Mass General, Brigham, Massachusetts' largest healthcare organization and private employer with 78,000 employees. She has a tremendous history and experience, but what got me interested in talking to her was her book. She wrote a book called Untapped Talent and the subtitle is unleashing the power of the hidden workforce, and I read it not too long. And I wondered if she would be willing to talk to me about it, and she was willing to. So, thank you, Dani, so much for joining me today. I appreciate it.

01:17 Dani Monroe: Oh, thank you for having me. I'm excited about having this conversation, and I always like talking about the book and how it came about being, and the importance of it even today, especially in the climate that we're living in.

01:34 Matt Waller: Great. First of all, what is the Untapped Talent? What does that mean?

01:39 Dani Monroe: Yeah, so untapped talent, I have over 30 years been doing diversity, equity and inclusion work, and started off with Dr. Price Cobbs who is a psychiatrist in San Francisco, recently passed away, and Price wrote the seminal book called Black Rage, probably in the late '70s and '80s, and out of that, Price began to work with black executives across the United States, and I went to work for him young out of college, graduate school, couldn't get a job as an organization development person, 'cause they were not hiring women of color back there to do organization development in large corporations. So we began, or he was working and I began working for him and going all across America in Apple, 7/11, the big corporations working with black professionals in helping them excel in an organization. What I noticed then is that they were talented, smart, bright, capable, and willing, but they were not progressing in the same way as their white counterparts. And what I had to ask myself, well, why is that?

03:06 Dani Monroe: And really it was about them being invisible in plain sight, people not being able to see their skills and abilities, Matt and so, their talent went untapped. And untapped talent is when you do not have the opportunity to really use your skills and your abilities to the best possible means. All of us have had those... Not all of us, I'm hoping all of us have had this opportunity where we are in an assignment, it is absolutely exciting, it's stretching us, we're using everything we have in order to do the job, it doesn't feel overwhelming, it feels exciting, it may be exhausting, and there's that genuine excitement about it, because you don't know oftentimes what you're doing at the time, but you know you're doing something important or special, and as that purpose and your skills all come together and align, right? That's when people flourish in organizations. Untapped talent is just the opposite, where none of those things are happening to you, because people can't see you and you're standing right in plain sight.

04:28 Matt Waller: Well, Dani, when I was reading your book, I really liked the chapter where you talked about inhibitor environments. And of course, as I was reading that, I was thinking about our situation. We've got over 6,000 students, over 100 faculty and over 100 staff and lots of outside constituents as well, and I was thinking, how much untapped talent do we have? So I like your chapter about inhibitor environments. Would you mind talking a little bit about that?

05:01 Dani Monroe: Yeah, and inhibitor environments are environments that really prevent people from fully exercising their talent or having opportunity. There may be systems or structures that are legacy. People don't even think about them, they just exist. For instance, at my institution, Mass General Brigham, which is the largest private employer in Massachusetts, as you said, a lot of our physicians come from Harvard Medical School. One of the requirements to become a department head is if you become a full professor at Harvard Medical School. Well, there's so few diverse full professors at Harvard Medical School that that almost automatically eliminates them from becoming department heads. That particular criteria, we just recently have had voided, because it actually is an issue around structural racism. And so, you have inhibitor environments that have these interesting little clauses or system in them that nobody thinks about, but it prevents people from being successful. Even job descriptions, sometimes the way job descriptions are written, they may be written in masculine terms. You know, we want someone that takes action as a directive and dah, dah, dah, dah, right? And some women will not apply for them, to those jobs because they said, "Oh well, that's not me."

06:45 Dani Monroe: And so, we've been learning how to rewrite job descriptions, so that they are much more inclusive to have more people apply for the roles. And so, those inhibitor environments, sometimes there are things that are really quite apparent, but often they are more implicit than explicit in the environment. We look for people, those types of people, whatever that mental model is we have in our head, that's who we think should fill those roles.

07:18 Matt Waller: Well, yeah, and you were talking about unconscious bias.

07:24 Dani Monroe: Yeah.

07:24 Matt Waller: And so, two questions about that, one, what is it? And two, how can it be reduced?

07:29 Dani Monroe: So, unconscious bias is really very difficult to eliminate, and it is because we start creating patterns and thought patterns from the onset of when we're born. Babies very early on begin to discern their family tribes, and the color of people's skin, and people's voices. And the food companies has figured this out actually pretty early on that babies at six-months-old, if you can figure out what they like, then it continues for a long period of time. Because if you think about it, when you bring a child home from the hospital and it's their family unit, pretty much seeing those same type of people all the time. And if notice, if you go into the supermarkets and see young babies, five, six, seven, eight, nine-months-old and you're not of their race, they kinda start to look at you strange, because they're really trying to reconcile what their mental models are against what they're seeing. So those patterns of development we do throughout our life, through our life experiences on education, our religion, and we create ways and patterns of thinking that help us discern how the world operates.

09:02 Dani Monroe: And so, unconscious bias exists for all of us, and their patterns of behaviour. And so, to eliminate them, one has to break patterns, and behaviors, and mental models, which you have to be conscious about it. The way it may play itself out is, you're on a plane and the pilot is female and you think, "Oh, do they really know how to fly the plane?" Because our model is, men are pilots, right? And so, that's how it happens all the time for people in the instant of a second, because you have been hardwired from the time you grew up around some of these things, which is why it makes it really difficult to shift. You have to have a variety of experiences, some of them very significant, be very conscious about the behavior that you're trying to correct. And even then, Matt, you're gonna revert back to some old behaviours.

10:00 Matt Waller: Well, I would think your research, your experience, and your knowledge in this area, of course is obviously really beneficial to your current position as Chief Diversity Equity Inclusion Officer, but I'm just curious, in your role, what are your main objectives and really, what does a typical day look like for you? None of us have typical days right now. [laughter]

10:29 Dani Monroe: Yeah, yeah. So my main objective when I go into an organization, and I was a consultant for many years, I've been inside for, this is my third assignment inside, and the longest that I've spent inside. I went in to really implement a strategy that I had assisted Mass General Brigham in developing. And so, the goal is to really oftentimes, A: How do we increase the diversity at the top levels of the organization? How do we create a climate where people have psychological safety? How do we create a climate where people can really demonstrate their talent and their talent is recognized, so they don't become invisible? What does it mean for people to have dignity and respect in an organization? And healthcare, it is also all about the delivery of our services to our patients.

11:28 Dani Monroe: And I have a hypothesis that if we have a very strong healthy workforce, then our delivery of services to our patients and our clinical outcomes are also gonna be very positive and strong for that particular patient. We've done some wonderful work in terms of education at Mass General Brigham. In February, we were sort of ahead of things and in that we brought in Dr. Robin DiAngelo who wrote White Fragility. My colleagues across the country kept calling me and saying, "Are you really bringing Robin DiAngelo into your organization?" I said, "Yeah, we are. It is time for us to have that conversation that we've been talking a lot about a lot of identity groups, but we haven't talked about what does it mean to be white in this society. And that we're gonna have a really inclusive conversation where we look at all sides of this dynamic that we really need to have that conversation."

12:26 Dani Monroe: So, Robin came in in February, and as you might imagine kinda rocked the place. [chuckle] And people were like, for over two weeks, that's all we could talk about around the system. But it put us ahead of the race conversations that we're having now as a result of George Floyd being murdered, going into that and thinking about how do you respond to that? In most organizations, you're not responding to these social justice issues. We have always, since I've been there, we've been responding to social justice issues. We looked at the Florida nightclub shootings, we looked at the Dallas shootings, we had conversations about this. We talked about the election when Hillary lost, because people had all kinds of different emotions about that. So, we have tried to really have some of these tough, challenging conversations and also in diversity to communicate to our employees is that you matter, and if we're talking about bringing your whole self to work, then that doesn't mean you get to park these ideas at the front door as they follow you in.

13:42 Dani Monroe: They're gonna impact your performance, if we don't talk about them, they're just gonna sit there and you are going to feel like there's a part of you that's not being expressed at work. So, it was a challenging time for us and for us, we're to think about it as a healthcare organization, we're on the front lines of COVID, it's very clear that there's racism in the health system now, because of the diverse neighborhoods that... Where COVID was rampant. That was not lost on us. We did a lot of work trying to manage what was going on in our diverse neighborhoods around COVID and was really on the front lines with that in our diverse patients. So coming on the heels of COVID in that way, and then George Floyd being murdered and race being raised in a very different context, was a pivotal time in our history as a nation, but also were in healthcare for us. It took us into another place that a lot of institutions or organizations or agency didn't have to deal with it, 'cause it really was life and death for us.

14:53 Dani Monroe: When you ask about a typical day, there hasn't been one for us in a very long time. I've been working remote since March 13th, so has my entire staff, and they're trying to understand how do you really manage the 78,000 person organization from your kitchen table, [chuckle] right? And even before that, most days, there is always something that comes up. We have a very active LGBTQ community. We just built a fabulous 13 floor office about six, seven years ago, only to come to the realization now, that we didn't put in gender-neutral restrooms. So, prior to COVID, this was one of the hottest issues I was dealing with, was how are we gonna bring equality into the building, so that everybody felt welcome and could use restrooms of their choice. And so, it runs the gamut in terms of the issues that you are confronted with, now we're on design teams with the architects, so we can get this on the front-end, and you talk about how do we build inclusive sites from the ground up, as opposed to trying to retrofit them. So there's not like a typical day.

16:24 Matt Waller: So, given all that's gone on in the past few years, and now we're in this crisis, what advice would you have for students who are graduating from college in this era?

16:40 Dani Monroe: A couple of things. I think there's incredible opportunities out there in the world today, obviously, that didn't exist when I was coming out of college. Just in terms of the industries that exist now, and I think that if you really build relationships with people who are not like you. And when I say relationships, I don't mean, "Let's just go have a beer with somebody," right? But become life friends with people, because that's when you really begin to understand other people and who they are and where you get to explore all kinds of differences. Because the world that's gonna exist five years, 10 years from now is gonna be completely more diverse than it's ever been. So really it's about broadening your horizon, broadening your relationships, and to be successful going forward, that's needed.

17:38 Dani Monroe: I mean, you will have diverse teams that you're working on, or managing. And if you don't understand the nuances and the power of diversity and what it brings in terms of innovation and creativity to projects... I mean, there's a lot of research out there that talks about the difference between homogeneous teams and diverse teams, and how diverse teams actually in the end, it takes them longer to get organized because you gotta manage all the different perspectives, but they actually tend to be more productive and more innovative and more creative than homogeneous teams. I think that's gonna be one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, is to say, "Let me get uncomfortable, so that I can learn more about myself and more about others." Because, the world's not gonna be the same world that exists today from a diversity perspective. So, if I can thrive in that, then you will be highly successful, I think in whatever field you're gonna go into.

18:42 Matt Waller: I think that's really good advice, I mean, whether you're a leader or a marketer or a manager, understanding other people is absolutely the key.

18:52 Dani Monroe: And whether it's generational diversity... I mean, I have several millennials on my team, they teach me so much and not just about technology, I mean, we'll be talking about topic and I'll say, "Well, help me understand how you got there." And then they'll explain it. And it makes total sense, it's a new way of me thinking about an issue or a situation, and because of my life experience, I couldn't see that. And so, letting in that differences, exploring that different perspective, seeing where it fits in, that is when you start to get some incredible relationships and have incredible work experiences with people.


19:39 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of the Be EPIC Podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcast. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching beepicpodcast, one word, that's B-E-E-P-I-C podcast, and now, be epic.


Matt WallerMatthew A. Waller is the dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Sam M. Walton Leadership Chair and professor of supply chain management. He is also the host for the Be EPIC Podcast for Walton College.


Walton College's EPIC values -- Excellence, Professionalism, Innovation and Collegiality -- are the heart of Dean Waller’s podcast. Since the beginning of the series, Waller has interviewed business professionals, industry experts, CEOs and Walton College students to bring listeners first-hand accounts directly from the entrepreneurial world.


Waller is an SEC Academic Leadership Fellow and coauthor of “The Definitive Guide to Inventory Management: Principles and Strategies for the Efficient Flow of Inventory across the Supply Chain,” published by Pearson Education. He is the former co-editor-in-chief of Journal of Business Logistics. His opinion pieces have appeared in Wall Street Journal Asia and Financial Times.


Waller received an M.S. and Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University and a B.S.B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Missouri.

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Walton College of Business

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