Donald Thompson of The Diversity Movement: 5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society
Diversity of thought — multiple perspectives will always empower your group to grow faster and stronger and win in the marketplace. If you are at the table with a group of people who look and think like you, how will you encourage innovative thought and expand to new markets in a society becoming increasingly diverse?
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Donald Thompson.
With two decades of experience leading firms, Donald Thompson is a thought leader on goal achievement, influencing company culture and driving exponential growth. As an entrepreneur, Donald has led companies which have attained successful exits with strong returns for shareholders and employees. As the Founder of The Diversity Movement and a Certified Diversity Executive CDE®, Donald is a champion of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives that create transformational change for organizations of all sizes.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Asthe son of a football coach, I moved around a little bit growing up. I went to high school in Greenville, North Carolina and was signed to play football at East Carolina University as a free safety. I like to say that I was a practice team All-American in college — I didn’t get much play time in games, but I was really great in practice. I learned a lot about hardwork and perseverance through my athletic endeavors and I used that knowledge and my desire to win to start a career in sales in the technology space. Early on, I was lucky enough to meet and work for Grant Williard who became my mentor and good friend. Together, we grew I-Cubed over 10 years into a strong company whose technology was, in part, acquired by Adobe systems in 2006. Grant went with the acquisition, while I stayed with the balance of the business as CEO and grew the company from a team of 16 to 140 with a successful exit in 2014. Part of that business was spun off into a new firm now known as Blue Acorn iCi.
Currently, I am the CEO of Walk West, a digital marketing firm recently recognized by Inc. as the fastest growing agency in North Carolina for 2018 and 2019 and a founder of The Diversity Movement which provides training courses and resources that enable inclusive and sustainable workplace cultures.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
One of the books that had an impact on me early on is THINK and GROW RICH by Napoleon Hill and it’s not for the reason you may think. Of course the book has a money aspect and there is nothing wrong with that — money allows us to make choices about who we spend time with and what we can do for our families. But the main reason I gravitate to this book is the powerful direction provided on goal achievement — setting your goals, writing them down and then reading them daily. I have incorporated this behavior in my personal and professional endeavors with much success. People often spend too much time obsessing about the shorter-term “grow rich” aspect of their careers instead of the upfront thinking that will empower and enable success for the long term.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
My dad taught me early on that life isn’t fair just because you hope it to be; you have to win with the cards that you’re dealt. I’ve never forgotten that. Right now, we’re in a fight for equality, and while we work as a society to solve these ills that exist, we must also work individually to win in spite of our circumstances so that we can use our advantages to provide opportunity and access to others.
Another quote that has guided me through my journey is “Don’t let past failures get in the way of future success.” Many people allow the guilt over mistakes to hold them back from unlocking their full potential. While it is sometimes difficult to do, mistakes should be viewed as an opportunity to learn and grow — what matters is how you respond to mistakes and adversity.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
A leader is able to evoke next-level productivity from their team. They possess the ability to bring out the best in other people and the vision to create a goal structure that allows people to see the role their individual success plays in achieving the team goal.
Leadership is also about having high expectations for people. The biggest compliment that you can give to your team is that of high expectations because it means that you believe they can be great. They may not understand it in that moment but I have seen so many rise to expectations from interns to VPs, and it benefits their personal growth whether they are with me long term or go do other things, like start businesses.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
My calmness in high stress situations is a result of my preparation for that moment. Before a big presentation, I review and refine my presentation constantly, I get feedback from people I respect and I try to partner with my team so that our best ideas are put forward. Of course there will always be some butterflies in the moment, but you’ll be able to be calm and courageous if you’ve done your homework.
It takes a lot of talent to wing it, especially in high octane situations. Most people aren’t able to do that and thinking that you can do so often comes across as arrogant. When you do your homework, your client can see it and they will appreciate the authenticity of being prepared.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
That’s a historical question centered around systemic racism and the denial of the history of the United States. Our country’s ideals center around freedom and equality, but not everyone in the country is able to experience this.
Our media and our education system have created a false narrative and because of that, we, as a society, haven’t been working on what we need to do better together. In this moment of crisis, our failings are more fully exposed and we are forced to acknowledge them and begin the process of healing and eventual growth. Social media was the catalyst that led us to this boiling point. The killing of unarmed African Americans has been going on for hundreds of years but video is now bringing these moments into the world’s living rooms and it’s impossible to ignore. And now that it’s impossible to ignore, we can deal with it as a country.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
I founded The Diversity Movement because there is an unmet need for education around diversity, equity and inclusion. Through The Diversity Movement, we have built a data driven, technology-enabled, expert led experience that will drive engagement and results. We offer a variety of resources including mobile applications, diversity certifications as well as videos and white papers that deeply explore how to change mindsets and behaviors around diversity and inclusion. We know that this is a long journey and we are committed. If we can promote communication through the language of inclusivity, we can change behaviors and minds and embrace human rights and respect for all.
We can move the needle together and a testimony to that is a series of podcasts I recorded with Grant Williard, called Ask a Black Guy / Ask a White Guy. In these podcasts, Grant and I talk about topics on race and it is so inspiring because our 20 plus year friendship allows us to talk about anything openly and honestly. We believe that our country’s better days are ahead. I like to focus on the ways we can unify versus how we can divide and if you listen to these podcasts, you’ll see two guys that agree on most, but disagree on some — with respect — which represents the types of conversations and relationships that need to be cultivated more in our country.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
The number one reason is diversity of thought — multiple perspectives will always empower your group to grow faster and stronger and win in the marketplace. If you are at the table with a group of people who look and think like you, how will you encourage innovative thought and expand to new markets in a society becoming increasingly diverse?
The second reason focuses on recruiting efforts. GenZ has higher expectations for their future employer as they have grown up in more diverse homes and with a more diverse group of friends. You have to ask yourself, what do you stand for-or tolerate, as an organization? Your potential employees will look at your website and if the people in the C-suite all look the same, they’re not going to want to join your team. Your executive team should be a model of the clientele that you serve. Younger generations are more socially-conscious and cause-oriented than ever before; they believe that social good and social justice should apply to all and that the economic drivers of our country’s business should be enabled to make money and be socially conscious at the same time.
And lastly, it’s the right thing to do. As business leaders, we have the moral imperative to create opportunities where success in our organizations is performance-based and not pedigree-based.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
1. Self-education: In order for this movement to truly result in a shift in behavior, people need to educate themselves. If you visit the Insights page on The Diversity Movement’s website, you will find blogs, videos, articles, and other free resources that will enable you to immerse yourself and begin your personal journey.
2. Expand your circle: Make an effort to become friends with people who don’t necessarily look like you — expand your own personal circle of friends and relationships. You’re more likely to stand up for injustices that affect your friends and loved ones.
3. Use your voice: You can’t be shy when it comes to injustice — when you hear the off-color joke, the sexist remark — speak up and be part of the solution. Our passiveness has allowed these actions to continue for far too long.
4. Broaden your recruiting reach: Don’t make a hire until you’ve talked to a diverse group of candidates. This doesn’t mean that you hire based on a quota, it just ensures that you are truly exploring more qualified candidates for every position.
5. Highlight diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in your external outreach: Use your company outreach as a platform for diversity by partnering with organizations that support, grow, uplift, and educate underserved communities.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I don’t know if the issue can ever fully be resolved, but I think we can get significantly better than the outcomes we’re seeing today because, in this moment, people are serious about change and that makes me optimistic. It is important to note that many of the older generations are having an awakening and that, combined with the engagement of the younger generations, is creating an environment where change is not only expected but demanded. We are already seeing people vote with their wallets against brands that don’t adopt social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion in alignment with business goals. Companies, brands and leaders need to decide what side of history they want to be on.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
It is impossible to limit this to just one person! There are three people who have unknowingly guided me on my path and whom I would be honored to meet:
- Warren Buffet for his insights on money management and investment.
- Colin Powell because of his service to our country and his ability to be both a gentleman and a warrior — he is the type of leader I aspire to be.
- President Obama because he’s a transformational leader and has seen history being made from the front row.
How can our readers follow you online?
I welcome everyone reading this to follow me on LinkedIn. I want us to engage on this journey together and work to advance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. For more information, you can also visit my website www.donaldthompson.com
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!