Tyronne Stoudemire Leads Charge for DEI in Corporate America

    Four years after George Floyd’s death spurred many American businesses to embrace the need for more DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion), the tide of change seems to be receding. According to a recent Pew Research report, the number of jobs posted with “DEI” in the description dropped by almost a quarter in the year ending November 2023.

    The trend underscores the timeliness of a new book from Tyronne Stoudemire, senior vice president of global diversity and inclusion for the Hyatt Hotels Corporation, in which role he impacts some 95,000 workers worldwide. With a long career championing DEI initiatives—work one business leader has described as providing “a legacy and roadmap to positive change that future generations will follow”—Stoudemire shares his wisdom in Diversity Done Right: Navigating Cultural Difference to Create Positive Change In the Workplace, published in April.

    A popular conference speaker and adjunct lecturer in management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management, Stoudemire joined Hyatt in 2014, becoming CEO (chief empathy officer) three years later and taking on his current role in 2022. Stoudemire spoke with WayMaker Journal about his work and what still needs to be done in corporate America. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

    WayMaker Journal: What is the state of DEI in the country right now?

    Tyronne Stoudemire: Organizations either reacted to the death of George Floyd or responded. Many reacted by giving money to not-for-profit organizations; they tried to have conversations with many Black folks and promoted Black people in the organization. We are actually now going backward. People see diversity as a bad thing, they don’t see it sometimes as a good thing. Companies that get it and get it well, particularly product-to-consumers, their consumers are mandating more inclusion, more diversity, more showing up . . . Until we shift our thinking from equality to equity, we’re not going to move [forward] . . . Race has become a default in most cases, but it’s really about culture and what we’ve been taught as children that we take into adulthood. The power of our worldview shapes our beliefs, our behaviors, how we resolve conflicts, how we maximize cultural differences. We’ve got to shift the paradigm. People are still stuck in, “I’m not a racist,” “I’m not homophobic,” “I love women; my God, I’m married to one,” and “My best friend is gay.” Those are all things that are in people’s minds that [make them] feel that they’re doing the right thing, but they’re minimizing others.

    WJ: Is diversity about doing the right thing in corporations, or is it doing the right business thing, or are they one and the same?

    TS: I think they’re one and the same. And we have to follow the data. When you look at the spending and buying power of each demographic group, particularly in my business, travel, [the Black and LGBTQ+ communities spend significantly]. Yet oftentimes, we still market just to the heterosexual white businessman. Studies have shown that 89%, if not 90%, of Blacks prefer all-inclusive. During COVID, those were the most profitable properties in our portfolio because Blacks wanted, “I want one check. I want to get there, I want to eat, drink, be merry . . . don’t nickel-and-dime me, I will pay it at the end of my trip. I know what I’m paying. I know where I’m at.” Companies that look at the data, analytics, and prediction analytics will make the right decisions.

    “the more inclusive you are . . . the better the results you’re going to get.”

    WJ: What is the message of Diversity Done Right?

    TS: There is a right way and then there is a wrong way. When you pit people against each other [you] become polarized, them against us, but the more inclusive you are, the more you have more diversity at the top of the organization and throughout the organization, the better results you’re going to get. And age is a big thing: for the first time in American history, we’ve got five generations in the workforce. How our children view diversity is very, very different.

    WJ: Give us an example of that.

    TS: I had a conversation recently with a Black executive whose daughter and son-in-law were going to buy a car. They have an eight-year-old daughter. The daughter, said, “What color are you going to get, Mommy?” She said, “A black car.” Her daughter said, “Mommy, Black is not a color, Black is a culture.” That’s the mindset . . . I think in corporate America, we have lived under this bondage that we have allowed white men to articulate and describe how Blacks should show up in corporate America—certain skills, certain competencies. How they show up from an executive presence perspective, what we wear, how we wear our hair, what cars we drive . . . we have fallen into that, [we] are not our full authentic selves. Imagine if I was my full, authentic self and I came to work, just how powerful my input would be, how more productive I would be . . . This generation today, they ain’t having it. They ain’t got no problem with telling you, “I’m not doing that and I’m not coming back tomorrow,” or may not show up. If the environment is not inclusive, people will lose. Eighty million Baby Boomers will transition out of the workforce by the end of 2025. The next generation of workers will be 40 million; there’s a shortfall of 40 million qualified workers. If corporations don’t do something to enhance their strategy to bring people in, they will lose, diversity or not.

    RELATED: Alicia Straughter Champions Equal Access for Everyone—and Advises Starting Small

    WJ: How does diversity impact the wealth and health of the Black community?

    TS: Wonderful question, and that’s something we talk about day in and day out. It’s all stereotypes. Stereotypes says that Black women can endure more pain than any other demographic. Therefore, they’re constantly and consistently given the wrong prescription and not enough. Financially, we’re paid less. Same level of education, in some cases we’re not making as much as our white male counterparts . . . There’s some things in people’s minds that have been handed down from generation to generation that [say] we are not equipped to lead organizations because we’ve been labeled as dumb, stupid, ignorant. After slavery was over, 97% of Blacks were illiterate because [reading and writing] was against the law . . . [Some people are still living under the idea that] we’re not enough, that we’re not bright, that we’re not smart. Nobody says it in the room, but their behavior and their actions speak volumes. Out of all the Fortune 500 companies, we have less than three Black [CEOs]? Black women hold higher degrees than any other demographic.

    Diversity is not a problem to be solved, it’s a difference to be leveraged

    WJ: Do we need a different perspective?

    TS: The systems in most organizations are flawed and biased. They’ve been created by white men for white men, and the rest of us have to fit into that cycle . . . Diversity is not a problem to be solved; it’s a difference to be leveraged. If my contribution is leveraged, we’re going to get better results.

    WJ: What does equality in corporate America mean?

    TS: It means meeting people where they are, giving them the tools to be successful. I use the illustration of a family of four that’s going out for a bicycle ride. You have a kid who can’t touch the pedals or get on the seat. You have a mother that’s riding very comfortably, but the father, his knees are hitting the handlebars. And then you have the daughter in a wheelchair; she can’t get on the bike. Well, we gave them all the same bike. That’s equality. Equity is giving them the bike that fits them. So, corporations have to be better at listening to how Blacks are inspired, how Blacks are interpreting the work that we’re doing. We interpret respect very differently. In our culture, respect is “Mr.” and “Mrs.” and “Yes, ma’am,” “Yes, sir.” You better not call Grandma by her first name. But if you do that in the white community, “Don’t call me Mrs., you’re aging me.” So, if we look at these things differently, we have to make sure we meet people where they are so they can communicate effectively. Leaders have to be more vulnerable today than they’ve ever been before about the disconnect of other cultures.

    RELATED: Lynae Vanee’s Bold Approach to Discussing Black Issues

    WJ: How can we encourage more equity?

    TS: Top-down and bottom-up . . . Data talks and BS walks. When you show an organization, a leadership team, the more diverse your ideas, the money that you can make, they’re going to get on it. One of my mentors told me, “The one thing that white men want more, rich people want more, is more money.” So, if you tell me where the money is, I’m more likely to get there. So, you’ve got to start a different strategy at the top of that . . . At the same time, you’ve got to develop people and give them hope. People can’t see themselves in senior-level roles . . . the more we can see people like us in C-level roles [the better].

    WJ: What should corporate leaders be looking at as they build their teams for the future?

    TS: People, people, people. We have got to have people lead with kindness, with courage and with care . . . be more humane and lead with humility. This is an ethics issue for most publicly traded companies. They’ve got to lean into those things to be able to attract talent, retain talent and to promote talent. It’s often said that people really struggle with the way things are, but many people don’t like change. And in the words of my dear friend, Mary-Frances Winters, the only people who like change is wet babies. We have got to be more comfortable with change and be able to change on a dime. We’ve got to test it. We’ve got to learn from our mistakes, and we’ve got to move forward. You’re going to see companies [doomed] because they do not have diversity at the top . . . We’ve got to follow the demographics, we’ve got to push ourselves to work harder, we’ve got to speak up when things are wrong, we’ve got to support each other. And in a world where you can be anything we want to be, be kind to yourself and be kind to others: it wins every time.

    Share post:


    * indicates required


    More like this

    Top 10 Affluent Black Neighborhoods

    Discover the wealthiest Black neighborhoods in the United States....

    Herman Dolce Jr. Says Debt is Ignorance to Financial Liberation

    Herman Dolce Jr. isn’t a social worker anymore, but...

    Black Tech Saturdays Bridge the Racial Wealth Gap

    Black Tech Saturdays are building a community seeking to...

    Carrie Lapsky Davis’s Million-Dollar Gift to Tougaloo College

    Carrie Lapsky Davis never forgot her student days at...