Target’s Caroline Wanga Is Here to Change the World: raceAhead

Three years after transitioning into her role as inclusion chief, Caroline Wanga says Target hit seven of eight major diversity goals, and made enough progress on the remaining one that they issued the next set of long term goals. But typical ones like hiring, representation, retention, and employee experience were only part of the mix. “It’s the first time Target ever had enterprise goals tied to philanthropy, product marketing, and supplier diversity… [and] owned by the business leaders,” she said.

In this extraordinary podcast, she breaks down how she got there. 

Wanga began by creating and iterating a “diversity product,” which is based on an idea she calls “courageous listening.” It was an iteration of the “courageous conversations” that became popular in corporate circles after the summer of 2016. She found pretty quickly that getting people into a room to have tough conversations wasn’t working well. “And so, what I became passionate about was what we actually needed to teach people to do was how to listen to other people’s perspectives, without feeling like somebody was trying to change their personal narrative,” she says. Sharing was never the problem. “Can you co-exist in your differentiated perspectives without violating the law, policy, dignity, or respect? It was getting people to listen and still exist.”

How she did it was nothing short of revolutionary and deeply personal. 

You can find the full interview on the latest episode of The Design of Business |The Business of Design podcast, now in its seventh season. 

And, not to bury the lede, but you’ll also hear my voice in the mix: I’ve been given a chance at the microphone as this season’s new cohost, along with host Jessica Helfand, an award-winning graphic designer and writer, long-time educator, and the founding editor of Design Observer. (Her original conversation partner, Pentagram’s Michael Bierut, is on hiatus this season.)

It has been a unique (and humbling!) opportunity for me to take the raceAhead conversation to an entirely new audience. 

Wanga has been many things in her life, an immigrant from Kenya, a single teen mother, a community organizer, a supply chain expert, and now the shaper of a global corporate culture. But it has been her journey to understand her own authentic identity that, she says, makes it possible for her to make room for everyone else’s. 

Early in her corporate career, she hit rock bottom. “I hit a climax of faking it. And what became essentially an internal conflict between my psychology and my physiology rendered me paralyzed psychologically for 60 days. I was in a state of crisis and what I realized through getting help for that was that I had been carrying the burden of being somebody else for too long.”

Changing her style (she has strong opinions about cardigans) was part of lightening her load. She wears African fabrics and hairstyles along with artist-made accessories that help connect her to her Kenyan roots—and which she describes in gorgeous detail in the audio. But the why is more important than the what. “I got rid of my closet that I didn’t care about and I started owning what I wanted to look like and what I wanted to wear… and if some guy didn’t think I was pretty, screw him,” she says. “I have a saying I say all the time that I live by which is ‘who you are is where you are. If you can’t be who you are you change where you are.’”

In this clip exclusive to raceAhead, Wanga and I wade into tender territory, in which she listens while I share the familiar pain of being a person who is technically of African descent, yet robbed of the experience of my own family origins. It led to a rich conversation that revealed the depth of her leadership philosophy.

“I’m your cousin, we just don’t know how far removed,” she began. “And one of the things that’s really true about my journey is that when I couldn’t walk people walked for me when I couldn’t see people saw for me.” That, along with self-acceptance, explains how she approaches her work.

“I think that what I am blessed and have the privilege to do is two things—because I am okay with the fact that I broke to be better. I have this really weird sense for people that are on the verge of breaking. And when I find them I just make it safe for them to break.”

She sees diversity work about making people possible. 

“I take huge responsibility for where I can play a restorative role in disrupting the pathologies that have been formed,” in society and corporate life, she says. “Where I can play that role [or design a system] where I can play that role, I do.”

You can find the full podcast interview here or here. (Please subscribe if podcasts are your thing, since there are more wonderful business, design, and raceAhead moments to come.)

And if you haven’t yet subscribed to raceAhead, please consider doing so now. The work only works when we work it together.

On Point

World Mental Health Day: It’s time to take actionable steps to support mental well-being This is the message of a new op-ed from Thrive Global founder and CEO Arianna Huffington, who says the time is right to move away from baseline “awareness” campaigns and fully embrace evidence-based tactics designed to support mental wellness. Her company has partnered with Stanford Medicine faculty to help people navigate the types of behavior change that might help, particularly with the crisis of stress, she says. “The mental health crisis is also directly tied to the stress epidemic.” It’s just not sustainable. “We’ve built our entire definition of success around it. It’s a definition of success that works for a while—until it doesn’t.”

Black women artists may, in fact, be having a moment Sculptor Simone Leigh, multi-media artist Lorna Simpson, and painter Amy Sherald (made famous for her official portrait of Michelle Obama) sat down with New York Times Magazine writer Jenna Wortham to discuss the long-time dismissal of, and recent interest in, Black women working in the traditionally-defined art world. (Last year, music producer Sean Combs set the high-water mark for a price paid for a Black female artist.) “Yes, it does feel like a moment,” says Sherald, but, adds Leigh, Black intellectual thought is part of this moment, too. “There has been some focus on black radical thought, but there has never been a focus on black feminist theory, which seems to be starting to happen. And I’m really happy about it.” Also noted, the moderator and photographer were both Black. “[O]ne of the best afternoons of my life, literally took a master class in black excellence,” tweeted Wortham.
New York Times Magazine

Mindy Kaling, reluctant role model This exceptional profile of the multi-talented star is must-read, a balm for anyone who has been ignored, demeaned, underestimated, or otherwise made to jump through hoops that white boys never have too. Part of it is cultural for the Cambridge, Mass., native where she spent her high school days “staring longingly at boys who would never look at me and having, like, pornographic thoughts about them.” And then there was the time the Televison Academy tried to cut her from the too-long list of producers on the Emmy Nominated series, The Office. “[T]hey made me, not any of the other producers, fill out a whole form and write an essay about all my contributions as a writer and a producer. I had to get letters from all the other male, white producers saying that I had contributed, when my actual record stood for itself.”

Diversity is looking more promising on the entertainment front WarnerMedia's latest diversity and inclusion report shows some promising news: They've almost achieved gender parity. Across its global workforce, 46% are female, and 54% are male. “I was really pleased that we are close to gender parity—that means we could do it,” Christy Haubegger, Executive Vice President, Chief Enterprise Inclusion Officer, told Deadline. But, while it’s a positive sign, the numbers are less promising for onscreen representation. Women working in TV fill about 34% of onscreen roles, and 23% of behind-the-camera roles. It’s worse for film: 28% for onscreen roles, 20% for behind-the-camera. And, in-keeping with the commitment to transparency, the report also breakdowns the representation for people of color (also not great). The full report, which covers 2018, can be read here.

On Background

Here’s how Brené Brown recently managed her own mental health crisis In this poignant piece, the beloved author and human emotion researcher (courage, vulnerability, shame, empathy) describes the persistent funk she found herself in after the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, that also coincided with a hobbling foot and ankle injury. “After three weeks of feeling untethered and increasingly hollowed out, I realized something more serious was happening than the usual exhaustion or burnout,” she writes. She turned to a familiar touchstone, All About Love, by author, professor, and philosopher-queen, bell hooks. “As I started to untangle everything I was feeling, I realized that over the past few months, I had unknowingly turned away from love—the only fuel source that really works for me,” she says.
Brené Brown blog

Ally talk: Break the Bro Code Most advice for male allies tends to be clear and direct, which adds to disappointment when it’s not followed. But this dispatch from Code Like A Girl is a way to help people deal with traumatic times—like when a SCOTUS nominee is publicly accused of sexual assault or a disgraced television anchor claps back from self-imposed silence—and reminds men to be empathetic. Check in, give people time off if they need it, and make sure you’re up-to-date on what employee resources are available. But more than that, break the silence daily. Be one of the “good men” who speak up, call out harassing behaviors, look for ways to include women’s expertise, and, in general, challenge norms in your workplace. “Such male-to-male peer pressure may just be the silver bullet we need in workplaces everywhere,” they write. “And in the U.S. Congress, too.”
Code Like A Girl

Remember the Big Tech commitments to reporting on diversity? Well, in the years since Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Google decided to release data on staff demographics, the diversity reports show there hasn’t been much progress. That’s especially the case for “technical workers,” reports Wired. Since 2014, the number of Black or Latinx employees in those positions barely increased by a percentage point at Google and Microsoft, and not at all at Apple. And while there’s been more progress with female employees by all four companies, none can report achieving gender parity. Read for reasons why, despite Big Tech efforts for more diversity, which include training programs and more funding aimed at minority students, much more needs to be done.


Tamara El-Waylly helps write and produce raceAhead.

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"I think mental health is a real thing and it should not be taken lightly. Those of us who deal with depression—I have dealt with depression myself as well as millions of other people. I think it’s important to be honest about where you are and seek help from those who are available for you. I wish that our system here in America made mental health care more affordable, or quite frankly, free for every human being. It’s something that we deal with. The highs and lows of life are inevitable and it’s not realistic to not experience the changes in your journey."

—Janelle Monáe

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