Podcast

Episode: 392 |
Hung Nguyen:
Diversity and Inclusion:
Episode
392

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

Hung Nguyen

Diversity and Inclusion

Show Notes

 

Hung Nguyen is a McKinsey alum and a principal at OUTLAST Consulting, a purpose-driven professional development + strategy firm focused on fueling innovation and empowering diverse talent. Prior to OUTLAST, she headed the Digital Center of Expertise at BP, where she piloted user-centric ways to recruit, develop, and deploy talent. Today, she talks about diversity inclusion and strategies companies and individuals can use to improve inclusion awareness.

Hung can be contacted through her LinkedIn profile or reached through the Outlast LLC website.

Key points include:

  • 03:47: Situations that involve professional development for diverse talent
  • 09:05: Tactics used to deal with difficult situations
  • 12:21: Responding without threatening
  • 16:13: The structure of diversity training
  • 24:19: Clients’ objectives in diversity training
  • 34:30: The broader impact of diversity inclusion

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman 00:01
Hello, and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. I’m your host Will Bachman. And I’m excited to be here today with McKinsey alum Hung Nguyen, who is principal at outlasts consulting. And she also was seen on the CBS reality TV show The Amazing Race recently. Welcome to the show.

Hung Nguyen 00:27
Hi, Will, thanks for having me here. It’s a real pleasure to be talking to you and the folks listening to Unleashed.

Will Bachman 00:36
So let’s start with the amazing race. Tell me a little bit about the show for listeners who haven’t seen it. And how did you get involved in a reality TV show after working at BP for 10 years?

Hung Nguyen 00:49
Absolutely. So amazing race has been a bucket list thing for me, since it debuted in 2001. So I watched it, I always wanted to be on the show. And my husband, I actually audition for it in 2015. And we just kept auditioning over and over. So we probably auditioned five or six times. And we eventually got a callback and record the show in 2018. And it aired recently in 2020. So one bucket list thing marked off.

Will Bachman 01:23
And for listeners who haven’t seen the show, tell us the idea of it.

Hung Nguyen 01:29
Yes. So it is a global scavenger hunt. So there are 11 teams of two. So the show was about relationships between the dyads. And they always start in the US. And they get a clue to go to another country and do some challenges, answer some puzzles and check in. And the one the team that checks in last gets eliminated. And we continue just in the same direction all around the globe until we come back to the United States. And that’s where the finale is always accepted by the finish line is

Will Bachman 02:08
That sounds like it was a pretty great trip. What what countries did you visit?

Hung Nguyen 02:13
So we visited Kazakhstan, Brazil, Paraguay, Cambodia. It basically is one leg is a country, and there’s typically 11 legs total. Wow, that sounds amazing.

Will Bachman 02:30
Those are, those are some places that are maybe a little bit off the beaten path. Yeah, Paraguay, and Cambodian because it’s done. Pretty cool. So let’s turn to your consulting practice. So you were at BP, I think correction I think more like eight years and 10 months or nine years or so. And then you after The Amazing Race, you are now working in sort of a boutique consulting firm. Tell us a little bit about your focus.

Hung Nguyen 03:01
Yes. So the amazing race was a real big reasons why I left BP because I wanted to do something that was a bit more purpose driven. And Outlast is purpose driven consulting firm, we focus on innovation and professional development. And within the Outlast portfolio, I have a big passion and focus on professional development specifically for diverse populations and diverse talent.

Will Bachman 03:31
Okay, and with with that professional development for diverse talent, tell me a little bit about the types of situations you get involved in just build on that expand on that a little bit. Help me understand what that what that covers.

Hung Nguyen 03:47
Of course. So a lot of the principles and assumptions that we add at last have about DNI are a bit different than the status quo. One of it is that we believe that there’s a lot of focus, investment, money in diversity, but companies are failing in their DNI initiatives, because the the focus areas interventions are off. Hence, the progress is a bit slow. So we do a bit of diversity management consulting. And then we also believe that it’s not a one size fits all solution. So we do a lot of tailored solutions for the unique diverse population within the company. And then within that diverse population, each individual has different needs. Just because you’re a person of color doesn’t mean that you have the same means professional development needs, as you know, the person sitting next to you. Even if you guys might check the same box on a demographics question

Will Bachman 04:56
and say give me Can you walk me through Have a case example of a project. So when might you get called in? And what are the types of things you could help a client with?

Hung Nguyen 05:08
Oh, of course. So there’s specifically, right now, given all of the terrible things have happened since last summer in the US. And also More more recently, with the Asian American Pacific Islander population. We’ve been called in to do some development, or training webinars sessions, where we talk through how a cultural upbringing or background might influence the way we show up at work, and how we either tactically think about or reframe that, so that we are a still authentic to our selves, with our full selves to work. And, but be also be mindful about the perceptions that other folks who are not part of that diverse group might have to either confirm those perceptions or counteract those perceptions, but surely, to help the specific individual take more of a charge in how they’re perceived at work. So a specific example might be for the Asian American population is the desire to be collaborative, and not scared that. And so in that situation, if this was a training, the first step is to to recognize the tendency if you have it or not, based on your upbringing, and then to what you do in specific situations. And so, you know, we would lay out a situation and then you know, these are the possible options. And it’s really interesting will that when you lay out the options, many people are surprised at there are different things to do in that situation, like a Choose Your Own Adventure book

Will Bachman 07:09
Can you give me an example.

Hung Nguyen 07:13
So, you are in Let me think of a specific example. situation. Okay. So this is a specific situation. So you are in a boardroom, a meeting, you are the only minority in the room. People make a the other people in the room, make a seemingly innocuous offhand comment joke, that could be offensive. So what would you do? Right? And in the training, having these specific situation, and then having options of a, do nothing, be left alone, see, use it as a teaching opportunity, D raise it. But without shaming people laying things out that way. Help for the person who would be in the situation. Understand that there are more options than their typical knee jerk reaction, and ones that might actually fit them better as a person, and also might be more productive for the folks in the other person situation?

Will Bachman 08:42
And what would be kind of the, you know, in this in that situation that you laid out? Can you almost roleplay for me or give me any, like, your kind of recommended approach? Or what would some of the, what would some of the maybe more knee jerk approaches be? And what would you be kind of helping people build the skill set to react in a different way?

Hung Nguyen 09:05
So when we, when we do that specific scenario, the most common knee jerk reaction would be to do nothing, or even to laugh along. And as we explore the situation, it’s less about identifying what the right or wrong answer is. But try to make sure that whatever the individual chooses, is authentic to who they are and what they actually want the outcomes of the situation to be. So, if the, if the individual’s most important need is to feel safe, survive self preservation, then maybe the appropriate thing is to do nothing in that situation. If the individual’s objective is to Raise awareness, then there is a different action that is most appropriate to that person’s objective. But it’s to make the individual feel empowered to a, be in control the situation, identify their objectives, and to act in a consistent way. Rather than having an action that is one size fits all, for everybody, and for every situation, because the risk reward is very different. And the context of the situation was also very different for the individual and for for the business at that point, it might not be the right time to, for it to be a learning moment for everybody in the room.

Will Bachman 10:49
And then would you in a role play scenarios like that, so people can get practice actually rehearsing? and reacting to that kind of scenario?

Hung Nguyen 11:00
Absolutely, the feedback that we get is it’s very useful for folks to in a psychologically safe environment roleplay and understand the various different options. And for them to feel safe to think about what they what they want, in the situation, versus just doing something and getting through it. Which is the typically the knee jerk reaction, because the individuals is often the only minority in the room. And they just want to minimize discomfort.

Will Bachman 11:40
What would be like an example? So let’s say for someone who’s the only woman in the room? Like, can you share with me like an example response that you might help to be training people to, to respond to something like, that would be a sort of a productive response that people would find helpful to the organization and not like, not threatening to the other people in the room in terms of which might sort of, you know, hurt the person, you know, the person’s promotion prospects or something, but sort of make everybody say, yeah, that was like, you know, advancing the advancing the goals of the organization as well as protecting the person.

Hung Nguyen 12:21
Yeah, so an example that comes to mind is, and I’ll give more specific samples in just a, a woman. So if we think about the intersection of being an Asian American, and a female, so an Asian American woman, there are very specific stereotypes that might show up in the workplace. So it might be, you know, Dragon lady, it might be geisha it might be. So a piece of it might be the perception of how aggressive she is, or is not. And the objectification of her. So a situation might be where the Asian American woman is the only woman in a 12 person discussion. And she is not only the the minority in terms of demographics, but the minority in the way that she’s thinking about a business situation, she wants to advocate for something, and the majority wants to kill this idea. So that was the situation. It’s important that a, she have awareness of how she’s being perceived, in that context, in that specific meeting. So it’s not just how she’s perceived in the organization, generally, but because the individual context of the meaning that she’s in is specific. So let’s just pretend that in this meeting, she is assumed to be really meek and mild, right, that she’s soft spoken, she generally doesn’t talk very much, right. If that’s the situation, then she should lean into the fact that people assume that she doesn’t have strong beliefs, and is not going to speak up. And when she does get will even be magnified, when she clearly makes a very clear stance on her with her opinion. And if she’s advocating for it, she also should, it will be helpful to redirect the attention away from her specifically saying it but grounded in data in the business situation, and remind folks that we’re all pulling for the same thing, and we’re all looking for the same success criteria. And once you ground it to that, then it becomes less personal, and then it becomes less about her but about her ideas. And that would be a specific scenario. And for an Asian American woman within that context, so I guess where I’m going is, it’s difficult to talk through them without coming up with a very, very specific context. Because it would be very different for a black woman, or a black man, or a Hispanic woman and the various intersections of race, gender, and other diverse demographics.

Will Bachman 15:39
Okay. So, when you work with organizations, tell me a bit like how the training or professional development would get delivered, you know, given the intersectionality that that you refer to? Do you kind of break up the training, you know, individual, like, groups like that? Or how would you structure the training? You know, what, what’s it look like? who’s in the room? And? And how does, how does that work?

Hung Nguyen 16:13
Yes, that that’s a great question. Well, because that’s one of the reasons why companies are not progressing as quickly. And with as much impact on the diversity agenda as they want, because the tendency is to try to do all diverse populations and pulls together. And that’s not the winning way, we do need to be able to focus and tailor solutions, specifically to specific diverse populations. We’re in conversations with one company who has very specific black leadership, new leadership targets. And what we have been helping them with is thinking through very specifically, what those targets are, and who is in that specific population, and then go talk to those people in that population. Usually, the group is so small, that it’s actually very easy to go talk to those specific groups, magnitude 50 or less within each of these groups. And then from there, ask them what they need, and then provide them that there’s a interesting killer stat from a recent BCG study that shows people of color 98% of people of color say that their company has a diversity program. But only 28% of people of color say that the diversity program that exists, helps them in any way. So it’s really important to talk to the specific populations that you’re trying to serve and create tailored solutions. Because in that way, you’ll have sustained impact.

Will Bachman 18:12
And when you when you do that, what sorts of things do you learn when you have those conversations?

Hung Nguyen 18:20
So consistently, regardless of the population, you learn that a what the populations ask for and wants are usually very different than what has been offered to them. Because I want to think is the people who have the budget, and the power to decide diversity initiatives and programs are usually the people who are receiving the programs, or they’re not the people are making the decisions are the people who are who need the extra support. And so there’s a big gap in what’s needed and what is offered. Typically, what pops in terms of what is needed are very specific, actionable plans. For instance, a group might want a have individual tactical advancement plans, what do I need to do to close my gaps? What are my gaps, versus a very broad brush, generic program about unconscious bias?

Will Bachman 19:32
And could you say a little bit more about the types? I’m quite curious about this gap that you’ve that you see? Could you say a little bit more about the types of things that companies are offering that people don’t find valuable that 72% say gives them no value? And what are the types of things that when you talk to the populations that you find that they actually want.

Hung Nguyen 20:01
Yeah, so there’s a lot of conversation about what’s being called diversity theater. So companies with good intentions, are creating programs that, for instance, celebrate or publicize minority achievements. But it’s very externally focused. And that’s not particularly useful for the minorities within the four walls. Or they might have a series of speakers that they bring in externally that talk very generically about a diversity problem. And the employees of color, already know that there’s a problem. But hearing somebody talk about a problem existing isn’t useful for them, instead, the the, the gems that they are more interested in having are mentors, more coaches, more senior leaders that they can look up to and understand how they got that way. We got to that position, more transparency in recruiting or advancement decisions, more individual roadmaps for advancement, more opportunities for sponsorship, it’s that tactical, tangible piece of it that are usually what pops when these populations are interviewed.

Will Bachman 21:44
I got it. And then in terms of professional development, or training, what are some of the things that people are looking for?

Hung Nguyen 21:53
People are looking for tactical, hard skills. So it’s less about let me give you a specific example. For instance, it’s it’s the toolkit that McKinsey consultants are taught around problem solving, and storyline ing collaboration, productive inquiry, it’s all the things that are necessary to be a excellent individual contributor to be a good team leader to motivate an influence. Those are the things that they want, you know, more of the hard skills and less of less of the DNI theory about the fact that there there is a problem, or the fact or what the it’s difficult to be lectured or told what the problems are, when that to the person color is, is obvious. So more solutions, rather than what the problem is.

Will Bachman 23:11
Talk to me a little bit about the kind of your clients objectives, when you know, when you get the call from them. Is it at the level of our board has mandated that we get you know, more minorities at a certain level of executive, so we have to hit our number? Or is it Hey, you know, our call centers, like as really Bad’s ratings with diverse populations, because we just don’t seem to get it. So we need to get more like diverse leaders at the call center. So we can you know, be responding better to these different populations is, is it tend to be a more metrics driven for publicity purposes or for to respond to, you know, or to, you know, look good to consumers, or to the board or to investors or other also kind of more business objectives that that, where they say, well, geez, we’re just our thinking isn’t diverse enough. So we, what are some of the objectives? How are they How are they framed for you?

Hung Nguyen 24:19
Yeah, so it’s a it’s a mix of it. So usually, the biggest emphasis is current events, because there’s been so much of it in the past preceding months. So there’s a bit of, you know, racial equality and social justice, we just have to do something. What should we do, you know, so it’s very broad and a bit reactive. And then sometimes we have companies who are saying, well, we agreed with the board that we need to have X percentage of senior minority leaders by y time. How can we get there? And what should we do? So there’s a bit of both. There’s also, the third one probably is around, er G’s. So employee resource groups who are feeling

Will Bachman 25:15
What’s that mean? Don’t tell me about that a little bit. Er, G’s?

Hung Nguyen 25:18
Oh, yes. So er, G’s are employee resource groups. So large fortune 1000 companies often have affinity networks to support their various diverse populations. So there might be a black network, there might be a Asian Pacific American network. And the goals for those networks are usually threefold. One is connectivity, just to you know, create a community. Another one is around education. And another one is around typically professional development. And in these, again, preceding months, there’s been a lot of hope, and healing that’s needed. And so these er G’s, employee resource groups have reached out to get additional support. And something unique that we’ve been able to do different in the space is, we’re not traditional di experts. So we don’t come at it from a HR or, you know, a traditional lens, we’re coming from it for more of a strategy lens, because we believe that the DNI issues need the same sort of rigorous problem solving that’s required of any business or technical issue that requires to be grounded in data is, you know, consumer focused, depending on how you define the consumer, and also something that we can measure and track progress for. That is your question. Well, it does.

Will Bachman 27:03
To what extent when when you get into conversations about diversity and inclusion, with your clients? To what extent is it primarily talking about race, and gender, you know, getting more women or getting more African Americans or more Hispanics, or more Asians in, in certain level roles? To what degree is it ever about? I mean, I could imagine, and I went to Harvard, and I can imagine that my thinking might be, you know, much more similar to a woman or a black student, or other diverse pilot who went to Harvard and like, went to McKinsey and had similar, you know, professional training, then a white male like me, who grew up in West Virginia and spent four years like, into Army ROTC and was an army officer and has, you know, a different political persuasion than me. And, you know, evangelical Christian, perhaps, that person, you know, might look like me, but might be like, more diverse in their thinking. Right. So, to what degree is that diversity inclusion world, like trying to get people who are diverse in terms of like socio economic background at the senior leadership level, or religious background or political background? Or is it mostly about kind of racial and gender diversity?

Hung Nguyen 28:31
Yeah, I think that’s a really good question. And I’m glad that you asked it, you know, point blank, because and see how I answered it. The true benefit for the business. So you know, if we were to think about the businesses interest is to have diverse perspectives, and diverse ideas. That’s where the business value and innovation comes from. So that is the North Star. But on the way to the north star, there are lots of lots of blocked paths. And there are, you know, paths that are blocked for lots of reasons, but the most, the most critical, completely blocked paths are right now around race, and gender. And it’s also the easiest to track. And so, I would say that the general focus now is there. And when you unblock those paths, I do believe that the other paths will also be unblocked. Whether it is you know, schools or network or social economic status. Once you make the leadership ranks a bit more heterogeneous, then it will be easier for These other types of diverse demographics to show up and show up fully, because something else to be weary about is having a fully diverse united colors of Benetton ad kind of leadership. But having every single one of those people have the exact background and idea because now we’ve just, you know, move deckchairs around, we haven’t actually injected, the leadership ranks with the diversity of thought that is necessary. And that’s the actual Northstar. Okay.

Will Bachman 30:44
Thank you. What sort of going to be on the things you focused on understand professional development? What are some of the other range of things going on right now, in terms of the types of projects that you see clients embarking on that relate to diversity and inclusion and equity? What other things are going on now in response to black lives matter? And, you know, the recent terrible massacre of Asian Americans like what sorts of responses are our companies making to the, to these to these things?

Hung Nguyen 31:23
So the most obvious reaction to all these terrible, you know, hate crimes is that companies are going out and doing lots of public pledges. There’s lots of sign public pledges, press releases, monetary donations. But my personal concern is commitment alone is not enough. Companies need a more systematic business led approach to the an AI, including more intentional development, advancement and retention of diverse talent, because that is the sustained change. Otherwise, these public pledges are just simply a reaction to a news headline, and once No, the excitement dies down, then they’ll just kind of go away. And so when you know, it’s, that’s all they’re gonna do the reactive public pledges, then it’s not a sustainable solution. And also, it creates a bigger credibility gap between the organization and their stakeholders, including, you know, employees of color inside the organization, and also the consumers that are buying the products and services that these companies become a bit more suspicious of the company’s intentions, if, you know, there’s just a series of public pages and no actions. So it’s important to avoid just like a lot of pledges that don’t really have a lot of meat behind it. Yes. Yes, there’s a lot of press releases being sent out and lots of social media posts, but not as much actual action behind all those commitments?

Will Bachman 33:28
Does it have an actual impact on the company to get more diverse candidates in executive roles? So let’s say you have a fortune 500 company and the top 100 executives, I don’t know typically how to do this. But let’s say that they are able to get the top 100 executives from, you know, being a low diversity to being, you know, a very representative, does that actually have an impact? In your experience? Or what you’ve seen, you know, in studies, on the way the whole company operates, or how it treats its clients, or how it treats, you know, works with the community? I mean, it’s certainly good for those executives that get into those roles. But beyond those people, does it trickle down? Like did this company end up hiring more people at lower levels and so forth? Is it? Yeah, it’s I guess that’s the question, right? Is it beyond the people that actually get into those roles or to get into board positions? and to what degree does that like roll down and have a broader impact?

Hung Nguyen 34:30
Absolutely. So consistently, it’s been shown through studies, that ethnic diversity on executive teams and on board lead to improved business results. So off the top of my head, I know that company’s in the top quartile for racial diversity in its leadership ranks, is 36 times more likely to financially outperform their respective industry. So yes, there’s Definitely a top line and bottom line impact to that. So that’s one. The second thing is in terms of recruitment and retention of diverse talent, it has a huge impact too, because as a recruit, if you if you see other people like yourselves be successful there, you also believe that you could be successful there, and you would be more likely to join. So that’s one piece. And then also, when you’re there, if you again, continue to see people who are in the leadership ranks, who you could emulate, or see yourself being one day, you’re more likely to stay. So there, again, is another reason for retention of diverse talent. There’s also so that’s the positive side, there’s also the brain drain bit of it. So studies have also shown that when a black senior executive leaves the company, there is often a trend a pattern of other people leaving the company because they they believe that I guess Personally, I think if you know, that person couldn’t be successful here for XYZ reasons, then I don’t know if I can. And so you see people believing to go to other places where there’s a reputation for being more racially diverse, or fair, or folks leaving to then start their own thing, because they don’t believe that that industry is welcoming of diverse talent. So yes, from a business standpoint, and from a people standpoint, there are huge impact to having diverse leaders. And so the impact is very different, depending on how you groom those leaders to because you can a groom them through your ranks, so homegrown, or you can import books. And it seems that there’s more positive impact if you can grow them in

Will Bachman 37:17
Yeah, otherwise, it’s a little bit of a zero sum game, it’s good for your company, but then you, you just cost the problem somewhere else. And to tell me a little bit about the more very earlier stage, do you see companies saying, we want to invest in communities or work with like high school students or college students to help be mentoring people at that point, to actually kind of build up the base of potential entry level employees.

Hung Nguyen 37:47
So it really depends on the actual company and the industry, how they’re approaching the solution and problem. And some people, some companies are being a bit more intentional about it. For instance, companies, stem companies are investing in underrepresented groups in colleges and high school to really build that pipeline. And other companies with, you know, as you mentioned, the the reactive monetary donations are just donating large amounts of money to groups that might not be directly connected to either their customer base or their future talent pipeline. So it really runs the gamut. And clearly, it’s a practical takeaway, you know, it makes the most sense to invest in a talent pool or population that makes sense to your business model, whether it’s your talent pool, or your customer group, because it just one makes more business sense. And two, there’s more of the relationships already there and it’s more likely to sustain because it picks up traction, and it’s something that the employees want to continue doing.

Will Bachman 39:09
Yeah, fantastic. Well, for people that wanted to follow up with you and find out more about your practice or connect, where would you Where would you point them online?

Hung Nguyen 39:21
Sure, you can go directly to our web page at outlasts LLC Comm. Or you can ping us or me on LinkedIn, again at Outlast, LLC. Cool. We’ll include that link, as well as your LinkedIn profile in the show notes.

Will Bachman 39:40
Hung, thanks for joining us today. Talk to me about the amazing race and your transition. And then two out of BP and then about diversity inclusion, I found it really educational and helps me become more aware of these issues. And it’s really interesting to hear about your work. So thanks so much for joining

Hung Nguyen 40:00
Thank you so much Will for having me on your podcast.

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