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A Conversation with Julius Pryor III, Diversity Consultant

January 19, 2011

At the 2010 Leading Diversity Summit, I had the opportunity to sit down with Julius Pryor III: speaker, consultant and General Managing Partner of the J Pryor Group.  Julius has served as a Diversity and Inclusion executive for some of America’s premiere organizations, including Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, and Russell Corporation.  His specialty, as he likes to say, is making people “more comfortable being uncomfortable.”

Julius Pryor III
Julius Pryor III

Tell me the story about how you got involved in diversity and inclusion?

I was a Navy officer who had just been released from active duty.  I  was going to work for my first company, a pharmaceutical startup.  As I progressed through the ranks of that company—and now I’ve been in the company about 9 or 10 years—the president of the organization said, “You know, all of the work around diversity is becoming much more important, and I want someone to actually be in a full-time role of leading our efforts to develop strategies around diversity.”  I immediately looked at my boss and said, “Wow.  I will do this.  This sounds exciting.”

The thing that was critically important to my success in this new area was the fact that I had a very strategic mindset.  As I began to work through the processes of what’s involved in developing strategies around diversity management, I understood that there was much more to this than simply having a workforce that has demographic representation in it.  There’s much more to this than pluralism.  As I began to think about those things, what was critically important was not simply having a workforce that reflected the population of the customers that we were trying to connect to, but also being sure that everything we were doing was aligned with and supportive of the goals and objectives of the organization.  Thatis when I began to really understand that business rationale or a clear-cut rationale that is connected to outcomes was critically important to the success of a strategic diversity and inclusion process.

How do you measure the success of diversity and inclusion?

In many cases, when I’m putting together metrics instruments or scorecards, I’m looking at some of the more academic things that are involved in a diversity strategy.  We are looking at workforce representation.  We are looking at what we are doing in the marketplace.  We are looking at the organization’s culture.  But, more important than that, we are trying to be very clear about what it is that the organization considers important in terms of top line growth, earnings per share, revenue streams, and how a diversity and inclusion strategy can affect and support those critical drivers of a for profit business.

2010 Leading Diversity Summit
At the 2010 Leading Diversity Summit

Let’s talk about global diversity in a digital world…

I have two sons.  My two sons are in college now, but when they were a little younger, I always felt I’d be able to stay connected to them.  My younger son, during his high school years—his name is Christopher—I thought that I could stay connected to Christopher because of the music he listened to.

I’m walking past his room one evening, and I hear this horrible sound coming out.  It was some rap artist.  I immediately walked into his room and turned off the CD player, and, of course, the music is still streaming out—it’s coming out of his laptop.  I looked over at him.  He didn’t even realize I was in the room.

He had his iPod earbuds in.  He was text messaging someone on an iPhone.  He was having a conversation with someone on his Apple MacBook, and at the same time, he was watching a soccer game in a picture-in-picture display on the MacBook.  He was oblivious to the fact that I was in the room, and I pulled the earbuds out of his ear and said, “Chris, what are you doing?”  He said, “Dad, I’m doin’ my homework.”  In that one moment I realized, “Wow.  I’m no longer cool, and I am a digital immigrant, whereas he is a digital native.  Here I am a supposed expert in diversity, and I’m having difficulty managing the diversity in my own family.

What I learned is that not only is it important to let people find their own flow, but to be very clear about outcomes.  The outcomes we decided upon were that he was to get good grades.  He was getting very good grades, yet I was uncomfortable with the methodology he was using to get the result.  This is what I mean when I say we’ve all gotta become more comfortable being uncomfortable, especially now that we are at the beginning of the 21st century; we are in a completely digital world.

There are new ways of communicating with people, new ways of moving across lines of demarcation.  We have the power of the net at our fingertips.  We are one mouse click away from basically having access to any information.  We can answer any question based on empirical data simply by having an interface and a good search engine.

How do you remain relevant?  How can you continue to connect with people, and how is it that you are going to be sure that you are clear about outcomes that you are trying to accomplish?  All of those things are part and parcel of understanding how to effectively manage and leverage diversity.  It’s not only the people component.  It’s not only the marketplace component.  It’s not only the cultural component.  It’s how you put all of these together.  That’s what I mean when I say “a strategic approach to diversity and inclusion.”

2010 Leading Diversity Summit Participants
2010 Leading Diversity Summit Participants

The benefits are pretty obvious.  The fact that we are so much more connected means there’s a much more rapid opportunity to exchange innovative and creative ideas.  There are greater opportunities to reach greater markets.  There are greater opportunities for people to start their own businesses.

I can literally connect to people all around the world by having a website.  That content comes from my intellect.  It comes from ideas that I have, and it has to do with being relevant in this world that we are in.  Those are huge advantages.  The fact that we can move information back and forth very quickly and the fact that we can collaborate with people all around the world are good things.

The challenge is: How do you actually ensure that people are working together in a way that benefits the team?  How can you be sure that you are effectively managing people who have a number of different ideas and a number of different methodologies and a number of different flows to their work styles?  How do you overcome the challenges of time and space when you have people who are deployed in a number of different geographical locations?  How do you actually manage different cultures – not only geographical cultures, but organizational cultures?

Even in a very disruptive financial environment, such as the one we are in today, there are huge opportunities if we are willing to simply leverage all of this great human talent that is all around us.

What can diversity officers do to help their employees achieve flow?

The whole concept of flow is interesting.  When Jay-Z, the famous rap artist, goes into the studio to do a song, he talks about his flow.  He’s looking for the methodologies that are best for him.  He’s looking for a balance between being creative and being able to lay tracks down.  I think that we all have a flow.

It has to do with understanding and our core strengths and being sure that we are leaning into those core strengths, and it also means that we’ve got to continue to push ourselves to be more comfortable being uncomfortable, which is what I think one of the core foundations of managing diversity is.  It means that I’ve got to reach out to people that I may not necessarily be comfortable reaching out to.  It means that I’ve gotta work with people who may have different styles and different kinds of flows and methodologies than I have, and it also means that we’ve got to be very clear about what the goals and outcomes are that we are looking for.

Dark haired woman watches from audience of conference event

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