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Making Positive Change, with Leslie Wingo

Making Positive Change, with Leslie Wingo

We sit down with Leslie Wingo, CEO at Sanders\Wingo, to discuss creating cultures of belonging, having the important conversations about DEI, and how to be patient in order to make real solutions happen.


Maricella Herrera: Where leaders go learning follows Harvard Business School Executive Education offers more than 60 in-person and virtual programs. Learn more and apply at That's H-B-S.M-E/go.


Megan Oliver: Welcome to the Ellevate Podcast, conversations with Women Changing the Face of Business. And now your hosts, Maricella Herrera and Megan Oliver.


MO: Hi, everybody. It's Megan here, just Megan no Maricella today. She is on a well-deserved vacation in Cancun right now. Not to say I'm jealous, but I'm jealous. So it's just me. So I figured I would go over what we usually do at the end of the episode right up front so that you can know right off the top who is making history and what's going on at Ellevate this week. And then we will cut straight into the interview. So as always, we have our weekly Ellevate round table on Thursday. We are gonna be talking about in-depth answers to creating a stellar resume. Huge deal right now. I know that with everything going on, there's a lot of people searching for a new job or freshen up their resume just in case. Or maybe they're wanting to leave a job that is not the right fit for them. Do be sure to come on Thursday to that totally virtual. So wherever you are, come on by.

MO: We've also got our Community Circles going on. Our parents and caregivers are meeting this Wednesday. So that's today. And then next Tuesday are each for our 40 plus professionals and one for our Black Women plus of Ellevate Network. So if you are a member of any or all of those groups, feel free to come by, chat. I run the LGBTQ one, which we just had our most recent one. It was amazing, if you weren't there, be sure to come by. Community Circle is such a really great place to come and connect with your community and people that have a similar experience to yours and just to find strength in it. They're amazing. We also have some in-person events coming up today. Our Pittsburgh chapter is hosting a Happy Hour, all about networking and making way for the blue skies of springtime. I know that if you're on the... If you're on the East Coast like me and our Pittsburgh team, it doesn't seem like the blue skies of springtime right now, but it's coming, I promise. [chuckle]

MO: Our Austin chapter is also having a Happy Hour, all about being inspired and celebrating International Women's Day. Our Miami chapter is meeting today to also a Happy Hour. Lots of Happy Hours today. Woo woo. They're talking about financial wellness, how to get it and sustain it without stress. On Friday, our Fairfield Westchester chapter is having a breakfast and coffee in person. And next Tuesday our San Francisco chapter is also having a Happy Hour. So if you are in any of those areas, please feel free, come by, you can find out more details on our site, that's Ellevate with two L's and just come on by. If you're part of any of those communities or if you just happen to be in the area that day, we want you to come. We want you to join us.

MO: We also have our history makers, which again, if you stick around till the end of the show, you know, we do every single week we talk about people who have made history and so I'm gonna go over them this week. We have to start of course, with none other than Michelle Yeoh who became the first Asian woman to win best actress at the Oscars. Amazing, amazing performance. Amazing actress, amazing person, just all around. I think this is like her third time being mentioned this year in our history maker segment, 'cause she keeps setting history. And I'm not mad about it. Keep making history and we will keep bringing you up. Gloria Gilmer became the first Black woman mathematician to have research papers in the Library of Congress. Iwen Chu became the first Asian-American woman to be elected to the New York State Senate. Amanda Dotseth became the first woman appointed director of SMU's Meadows Museum. Jessie Fuentes, became the first woman and youngest Alderperson to lead Chicago's 26th Ward. And major general Paula Lodi, became the first woman to be promoted to active duty general in the Medical Service Corps.

MO: So amazing. Congratulations to all of those women making history. Keep an eye on our social media. We're @ellevatenetwork, pretty much everywhere you can find us. And we spotlight these amazing women and more all the time. And now we're gonna go ahead and go to our interview with Leslie Wingo. She's the CEO of Sanders Wingo, an independent advertising agency founded in 1958 specializing in multicultural marketing that speaks to its audiences, not at them. She's also a DEIB strategic consultant and a frequent speaker on how to build an environment where diversity is normal so that everyone is able to contribute to their brilliance and their view. So let's go ahead and cut to Maricella's interview with Leslie now.


MH: Very happy today to be here with Leslie Wingo, who is a DEIB solutions expert. And we know that's one of my favorite topics to talk about. So I'm sure I'm gonna have tons of questions. But the first one, as always, Leslie, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to what you're doing now?

Leslie Wingo: Sure. My name is Leslie Wingo. I am originally from El Paso, Texas, born and raised. And I cut my teeth in advertising and I have been doing that for, as my daughter would say, two decades. And I'd tell her to stop with her fancy math all the time. But for over 20 years I've been doing advertising and comm's work. And a business coach of mine, her name is Janet, suggested that I do a TEDx. And I said to Janet, "Nobody wants to hear me talk for 20 minutes". And she said, "Well, it doesn't have to be 20 minutes and you should talk about yourself and your experiences and then see what happens". So what I did is I put together a TEDx talk and it's about 12 minutes and it is about me, but it's about my experience growing up in El Paso being the only one who looked like me, an African American female, how that looks as I moved forward in my career and then also in my neighborhoods and C-suite. And what was great about it is I wanted people to listen, to understand and not defend it while I was... While I was presenting it, 'cause some of the information in the TEDx is not... It's not... It's heavy, but I didn't want anybody to feel like they were getting punched.

LW: So after it was over, TEDx... I did at TEDx El Paso, they did a beautiful job filming it and recording it and they published it and I said to my mother, "Look at this TEDx and tell me if it's good". She said, "It's good". I said, "Is it good because it's good or is it good because you're my mama and you say it's good?" And she goes, "No, it's good". So I had another person, another friend of mine, her name is Erica, look at it and she goes, "You need to release this and release it now". So that was in 2019 and it was about what we're now calling diversity, equity and inclusion and belonging. And what is interesting for me it's that the conversations that I was having around advertising and African American consumers and what does that look like after the social or the summer of social reckoning in 2020, the conversation shifted to what is this diversity, equity and inclusion thing? How do I take responsibility for my part in it? Better yet, do I have responsibility in any of this conversation? And as a White male, because most of them were White men, I don't wanna screw it up.

LW: And so, that's what got me into doing the diversity work full-time. I'm also doing comm's work, but doing it through the lens of storytelling. So people with that same intention, I want people to listen, to understand and not defend it. Because if I can get somebody to understand what's going on, then we can talk about how do we change things.

MH: Powerful. How one person's suggestion of, you know, you should do this thing, turns into something so much bigger. How did you get out of your head when you were like, no one wants to listen to me for 20 minutes. Like, how did you manage to get yourself out of that, out of your head? Because I feel like we do this a lot as women.

LW: Mm-hmm.

MH: Like, no, no, no, no. I have nothing to say, but that's not true.

LW: Yeah. It's... I think that's a fabulous question. And I will tell you exactly what happened. I was stuck in my head. I wrote the TEDx probably three different times, maybe it was more like five times. And my friend Janet, she's also a business coach, said, "Let me tell you about yourself". And so she walked me through some of the things that I've done. I'm like, "Oh yeah, I forgot about that. I forgot about that. I forgot about that". So that was part of it. And I think the second part of it was having coffee with a friend and she said, "How do you want people to feel when they walk away from your presentation? What color is it?" I'm like, "That is a strange question, but I'm gonna work with it". I said, "Yellow, because yellow is happy and you feel something when you see yellow". It's not red, it's not green, it's not this, you know, red, it's yellow. It's a wonderful place to be.

LW: So between talking to Janet and figuring out how I wanted to shape the conversation and have impact in it, that's how I got out of my head. And then I rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed and did the rehearsal in front of people who knew me very well to tell me where the gaps were. If I hadn't had their feedback the present... That the TEDx would not have been as powerful as it was.

MH: I love that so much. I mean, you had Janet who basically put a mirror up for you.

LW: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

MH: And like showed you some things you weren't seeing, which is so important that we have those people in our lives. And then your friend's question is a fantastic question. I'm going to use that going forward.

LW: Mm-hmm. I think it's... For me, what it did is it reframed how I was looking at what I wanted to say. And I don't it... For some reason it worked in my brain, hopefully it'll work in somebody else's brain as well. But that it's if you see... For me, if I see the problem or see what I'm trying to solve a little differently, then that's where inspiration can come from. It's kind of like walking through the streets of New York and it's like, "Oh, that's kind of interesting. Let me dig into that". So yeah, it was a great experience. I'm glad I did it. I would love to do another one, but not anytime soon. [laughter] It's a lot of work.


MH: I really wanna do one someday. Someday. I should apply. So I wanna go back. You said you want people to listen, to understand and not defend and that's your... Not just, it was for the TED Talk, but currently with your practice, this is how you approach things.

LW: Mm-hmm.

MH: That sounds really, really hard. [chuckle]

LW: It is...

MH: How do you get people to actually listen to understand?

LW: Well, so I have this incredible responsibility in my head, it's a responsibility. I need to honor where I came from and who I am, but I also need to be the voice of the employee. And I also need to be the voice of the C-suite. And C-suite folks, some of them are very new to this conversation, even though I'm 50 years old, I've been living with it my whole life. Right? So they're very new to, "Oh, there's a different possibility than what I've experienced". And employees want C-suite to make a lot of changes. I feel that the responsibility is not only on C-suite, but it's also on employees. C-suite can't do things that are... These magical things are gonna happen overnight. And it's going to... Sometimes it's going to take time. And the example that I give is, when I was a kid in the '70s, there was this big discussion about pronouns. Do we call them the chairwoman of the board or the chairman of the board? Why don't we just call them the chairman? That's what they are. And there was a lot of mental exercise to shift our mindsets from just making the assumption that everybody wanted to be referred to as male.

LW: I am now 50 years old and from when I was a kid, we'll say 10 to where we are now. That's 40 years of practicing and creating a new reality, a new possibility, new opportunities where I don't even have to think about it. I don't even have to exercise that muscle any longer. So what I want, when I talk to people, when I talk to employees, there's this desire, "We wanna have change happen right now. We need to have it happen right now". And I don't disagree with some of that, but I also think we need, as employees, you have to be responsible that we wanna build something that's long term and not something that's gonna wear off like a sugar rush. We don't want it to be this thing where it's a set aside or it's once a month. If we want it ingrained into the culture, we're gonna have to take our time to do it. And we cannot, we cannot have these big changes happen overnight. I wish we could, but that's just, people hate two things changing the way things are. And we're very resistant as humans to cause change.

LW: On the other side for C-suite, they have to be opened to possibilities that they've never considered before. Right? Some things that they never knew were offensive. They are terrified of being called a racist or they just don't get it a sexist, right? All the S words. And if we want real solutions that are going to live beyond my lifetime, we also have to invite these folks into the conversation and meet them where they are, not where we think they should be because that's a learning curve and that's a curve that they may not be ready to make the jump. And so, that's when I listen for understanding and not defending. That's what I mean, it's patiently walking through a lot of different things to get to the same common result which we all want. Which is positive change as we move forward, not only for us, but also for our kids and their kids as well.

MH: Yeah. It's... Like you're saying, it's bringing people along. Kind of, in both... From both sides. And I agree with you. Change cannot happen just from the employees and cannot happen just from the C-suite. It has to be both. There's an aspect of change coming from the top and an aspect of change... The actual culture is made by employees, right?

LW: Mm-hmm.

MH: It is not something that we just, someone writes down and that's what it is.

LW: Exactly. Exactly. And it's interesting when I talk to founders and they have a perception of what the culture is, and then when I talk to employees, their perception of culture is not the same as founder. And so that's where the interesting conversations about what is culture? What should it be? What is this thing, this inclusion thing that we keep talking about, our culture of belonging, what does all of that mean as my company grows or my company changes involves? And how do I make sure I'm in tune with what my employees are saying? But at the end of the day, I still have this company that I have to run and I have to be responsible for all these other things. And so, it's a delicate balance of making sure that people are having those conversations so they can cause change or create what they never thought was possible, which I also think is pretty exciting as well.

MH: Interesting. So it's they... I understand the fact that they could have different perspectives because sometimes founders are not in the day-to-day weeds. And also sometimes if you're in the C-suite, people just don't tell you stuff. [chuckle]

LW: Right, right. It's interesting, right? So, this one CEO, we did some work and he thought he had built this inclusive culture and it wasn't as he called it, "A bro culture". But when you talk to the female employees, they're like, "Oh, it's very much a bro culture". And then they outlined what was missing for them. And then having that conversation with CEO to, "Oh, I didn't even know this is what was happening. I didn't even know this was going on. What do we need to do to be better?" And that is an excellent place to be because everybody's being heard, everybody's being seen, conversations are being valued across the company.

MH: How do you make sure that you are getting that information though?

LW: It's... As marketers, we're taught to take friction out of the process. So people are more engaged very quickly. And to do this work, there's a lot of friction in the process because you're... We actually reach out and we talk to people and have one-on-ones. It's more than just a focus group and it's more than just one meeting. It happens over time and it happens... What's the word? It's iterative, I think that's the word. Where we continue to have these conversations to see what's missing, to see what people like, because it's not all bad, right? Some of the stuff that's happening is quite incredible or sometimes things are happening in companies that companies don't even take credit for, but the employees are appreciative of those things. So, we've got to talk about the thing and put a lot more friction into the system. And when we put that friction in and understand where people are coming from, and do it in a way where we can understand them, then we can have conversation. And it's not this back and forth and nothing gets done, because that's just wasting calories. We only have so many calories you can burn in a day. So have to be very strategic about these things that we're doing.

MH: And I was gonna ask you kind of counter goes against this because I was gonna ask like, are there kind of general trends you see?

LW: Like trends in companies, or...

MH: Right, in companies where like these are more of the... Or I guess trends in like, these are areas of where you should think about when you are trying to build a culture of belonging, that you're seeing are probably missed currently.

LW: I think to have a culture of belonging, when I talk about it with my business partner, she and I talk about it. It's people wanna be seen, valued and heard, right? This is the cornerstone of culture of belonging. And to do that, we're gonna have to have conversations. And to do that, we're actually gonna have to listen to what people say, not just assume what we want them to say to be true. And so, the trend that I'm seeing is that C-suite is very interested because they want to do these things, which I think is great. I think C-suite is also coming to the realization that they cannot be all things to all people and to all causes and to all things. So where are they gonna firmly stand in this conversation around equity, inclusion, belonging, diversity, accessibility, right? Or where are they gonna firmly stand and make a difference? Because if they try and do everything, they're not gonna... It's gonna get watered down.

LW: And who are they talking to? Let's talk about thought leadership and what are they writing about? And so, there's a lot of ways to think about it. But I think from a true perspective, the other thing that I'm seeing, which I'm pretty excited about is that human resources, this thing is not just a human resources thing, it's across the company, which I also think is quite beautiful. Because if I had looked at this work in 2020, the conversations I was having was mostly with chief people officers and human resources. And what do we need to do hire more people that look like X, Y, and Z? And we weren't talking about culture. And the last thing I'll say is I worked with this planner, and she said, "In the United States, Leslie, for the most part... Let's just assume for the most part, people speak English". I'm like, "Okay, we can assume that." She goes, "We may all speak English, but we do not all speak the same culture." I'm like, "Oh, that's amazing, I'm gonna use that every time I talk about culture."

MH: That's an excellent, excellent analogy.

LW: Yeah.

MH: Okay, so you're seeing more people in the organization get involved, you're seeing it's not just an HR trend, which I love hearing that. I also believe HR is just so in the past, in a way. [chuckle]

LW: I agree with this, I want companies to treat HR like it's its own incredible brand, that is star of the show. They make so much magic happen behind the scenes where problems are anticipated before they're problems, and they can talk about the company in a beautiful way that, as a marketer, I could never do that, but human resources can, so let's treat them like... Give them their own brand and give them some light to shine in because they should be shining in that light to have these conversations.

MH: And when you say that C-suite executives are thinking more of where specifically, if they try to do everything, they're going to be watered down. I completely agree with that, you can't be everything to all people. But where... Can you give me a specific example of what these things that... Okay, now I'm focusing on X versus focusing on just doing a bunch of random little things?

LW: Sure, so when I talk to my clients, I usually give them these big examples. So, one of my favorites is Netflix, and from a storytelling perspective. So they create all of these beautiful stories, they curate all of these different things and, "Oh, by the way, here is our collection during Black History Month." That's great. It's not a one-off, it's something that's done over time, but it's all under their umbrella of storytelling. Now, if they want... Google on the other hand, they did an incredible job, I think it was in 2018, telling story like the first, the number ones, the most searched performer, the most searched speech, and it was... They told a story using the data that they have. So if you go into Google and you want to... If you're looking for a sponsorship for the arts, typically, they don't do that because their focus primarily is on tech, and that's where they sponsor. Netflix is all about storytelling, and so that just becomes a different opportunity.

LW: Now, when I look at employees, those companies are very different. I think for employees, it gets complicated because what they see on the outside may not necessarily match what's happening on the inside. And I think that's where the opportunity is, if we are going to celebrate Black History month, then what does that look like externally, and then what does that look like internally? Are we going to celebrate Black History Month internally, and is it gonna be this one month, this 28 days? Are we gonna look at other times throughout the year? Are we going to change our logo so it looks like Black History Month, and then it looks like Pride, and then it looks like and it looks like and it looks like...

MH: Oh, God.

LW: Exactly. So are we gonna pink wash it and green wash it? Are we actually gonna do something meaningful? And so, I think if companies can commit to and stand in what they wanna cause and change and be authentically who they are, then we have a different conversation than, "We're going to change our logo," or "We're gonna put a meaningless post on Twitter when something bad happens, even though it doesn't go anywhere." It's moving past all of the lip service and actually getting into the thing and getting messy with it, to come out on the other side.

MH: Which is scary, right?

LW: I know.

MH: It's not easy.


LW: It is scary.

MH: But that's where change happens.

LW: Right. And I think it becomes like, what is your level of risk? If you can tell me what your level of risk is or how risk averse you are, then we can have a real honest conversation. But if we're not gonna have an honest conversation, then this diversity conversation, equity conversation, you're gonna have it again next year and you're not gonna move any needles.

MH: Yeah. And that's where it becomes performative and people don't believe you and you erode trust and your employees don't believe you and they leave.

LW: And they go find something else, because if they feel like they fit into the culture, they're more willing to stay even more so than money, is what I've been reading. If you can make somebody feel like they're part of it, then yeah, they're gonna stay, they're vested. If you're just giving them money and throwing money at a problem, then why would they stay?

MH: Yeah, someone else could throw money, it is about building that relationship with your employees in a way that they know they're cared for, they know they belong and they know they can trust you.

LW: Right, and I think trust is so interesting because they have to be able to trust you not only when things are good, but also when things get messy and complicated. And I think that's where things start to get interesting. I have one client who their CEO felt very comfortable responding after George Floyd, however, as a brand, the brand did not respond because they're two very different... They were intentional about it being very two different things, two different people. And so, the employees knew where the CEO was coming from, however, the company wanted to be more thoughtful in how they responded and gave themselves time and space to figure out what that looked like responsibly. And I think that's a brilliant way to do it, if it works for that brand. If it doesn't work for that brand, then we gotta talk about, "Well, what makes sense and what doesn't make sense?" And keep moving and pushing from there.

MH: That's an interesting example because I feel like in many ways, when the CEO speaks out, and the brand, they're so intertwined, brand and leadership. And people are looking for leaders that inspire them, they are looking for leaders that are competent and that stand for things, and not just wishy-washy, go with the flow. So it's interesting to think about this client of yours where they actually separated those two.

LW: They separated them, and somebody said on a call to me, "Outrage does not have to be yelling, outrage can be something very different." And I was like, "Ooh, that's good too. I never thought about it that way." And so where the CEO can stand in front of a town hall and be empathetic, the brand may need to take time and space to say, "Instead of investing $10 million towards these things, this is what we're doing and this is what we're committed to, and this is how we're gonna do it." I think that's more impactful and it's responsible and it's accountable, and people can actually see it happening in real time, not just wishing it would.

MH: It's a great conversation to have. I mean, look, I've been working for Ellevate for 10 years, so I've been in this kind of space for a while, and when people come to me and are baffled by the idea of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. And to some, it's still just diversity and inclusion. I'm like, "Yeah, okay. You're a little late to the game, but okay, let's go, let's start". Now, I'm fearful though, 'cause is it true that... I don't know, this is where the cynic in me comes in, because...

LW: Oh, I love it.

MH: I want to believe with my whole heart that the work we're doing, and I'm putting myself in your bucket here too, [chuckle] that the work we're doing to change culture is going to make a huge difference. And I believe for many reasons, it can. I believe in the next generation that's coming into the workplace, bringing tons of change with it, so God bless Gen Z. But I keep hearing too the outcries of recession, layoffs, the bottom line is screaming for our attention. So, will we see backwards movement in these efforts instead of forward movements in these efforts?

LW: I think it's a great question, and it's something that we spend a lot of time talking about. I think part of it is... I live in Texas, so part of it is definitely a political conversation where some politicians don't want to have these conversations about what it is, what caused it? The systems that are in place, if the systems are in place and not changing those systems, 'cause it was never built for a population like that. They don't wanna have those conversations, so then what do we do if the government is, to steal from one of them, is stuck in this idea of woke culture and what that means versus the work that we're doing? They're not the same.

LW: They are not the same. And when we talk about diversity and equity and inclusion, it's not about the check-the-box moments that happen in a census, it's bigger than that. And so, I, like you, am concerned because when things get tough, the first thing that usually go are the things that are not contributing to the bottom line; so marketing, advertising dollars, let's cut that. These benefits things, we don't need it, let's cut that. But I think we have to figure out what the return on investment is when it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. And when we look at employees and trying to recruit talent, top talent, different talent, whatever kind of talent we want for an organization, this becomes a very strong tool if it's done correctly, and then you get the best of the best. And it's not just this one... You're either one thing or the other. My kids are half Black, half Hispanic. Female, I have a daughter and a son, they're not just one thing, they're a duality of a lot of things.

LW: And so, there has to be a shift from looking at people like they're zeros and ones to the reality of, "We're all a bunch of different things, and it is okay to be different." That is wonderful. But do we have a lot of work to do? Yeah, absolutely.

MH: But make it human first.

LW: Gotta be human. If it's not... And it's interesting, when I set up conversations, I don't refer to consumers as consumers or targets, I refer to them as human beings, because no one wants to be a target, and I want you to see me for exactly who I am. So the assumption should never be made that I'm gonna behave a certain way because other people behave that way. That's not true. It's not fair.

MH: Yeah, I agree.

LW: It's a tough story.

MH: So, I love that you said, woke culture is not the same as the work we're doing, it's not the same as diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Can you expand on that?

LW: Yeah, so I'm not sure how far I can go down the political rabbit hole, so cut me off if I go too far.

MH: Hey, I'm... This is... Don't worry. [laughter]

LW: Okay. So, it's interesting, I was talking to a potential client about this the other week, and there is a narrative going around around woke culture and critical race theory. And my frustration with both of those things is, what is woke culture and what is critical race theory? So let's define what those things are first. I think for politicians, it becomes this mental shortcut for the way things were versus the way things could be. And the way things could be look very different than the way things are right now. And I think that's scary. Going back to what I said, people hate two things; change and the way things are.

LW: "Let's keep things the way they are, because then we don't have to deal with any of it." But there are stories that have not been told or things that have been swept under the rug for whatever those reasons are. And so for me, woke culture, if you will, is not these mental shortcuts, it is digging deep into history, winners, losers, however we wanna frame it, and understanding why things happened the way they did. Why did we redline cities? Why... I live in Austin, Texas. Why is there... There are certain parts of the city that are still dealing with the impact of those redlining, those neighborhoods that have been redlined. Critical race theory is also a mental shortcut that, from what I understand it to be, it's something that came out of a legal department, maybe out of the University of Texas Law School, I don't know. But CRT is not the same thing as teaching history, and we can't negate what happened and pretend like it didn't cause any problems, because it did. And we have a responsibility not just to ourselves, but to the people that we're raising to lead the future, we have a responsibility to them. I think one of the things that I did probably... This was in my younger... Probably in the early twos, I went to Germany.

LW: And I'll never do it again, but I did go to a concentration camp. And the Germans, what they have done very well is they will not forget, at least when I was there, what they did or what happened, and how they are causing change. They take full responsibility for what happened, for the most part. If we don't take full responsibility here in the United States for what happened or what we did or what we caused, it may not be our fault, but it certainly is our responsibility to own what happened to cause positive change. If we don't understand why there's food deserts, then how do healthcare companies cause positive change when there's not grocery stores in certain neighborhoods? So I think it is important that we not use mental shortcuts like woke culture and CRT to make it a negative, but really dig into, what are these things? And it goes back to what I was talking about earlier, we gotta put some friction back in the systems. Life is not 140 characters or less, and it's not about clips from politicians. Real life takes more work than that, and I think we should invest in ourselves to understand what we wanna create and cause. I was on a soapbox, sorry.

MH: I love it.


MH: I've said this many times in this podcast, and it does come from how I grew up. And I'm from El Salvador, big background, but those who don't know their history are bound to repeat it. And understanding of what history has caused is the only way we can actually change things.

LW: I agree with that 100%. I was listening... There was a school somewhere in the... I want to think they were in the south, a high school. And one of the administrators said he felt uncomfortable talking about slavery. And as an African-American female, I'm like, "If this is the first time you've felt uncomfortable, imagine being Black for 50 years in the United States and having this conversation?" Yeah, it's gonna be uncomfortable. Is it gonna be fun? Absolutely not, but what if we set it up so that never happened again? I think that would be a better place to stand than, "I feel uncomfortable, so we're not gonna do anything about it."

MH: Oh yeah, well, that's like you said before, "Imagining how things could be."

LW: Right.

MH: I know we've gone down this political rabbit hole a little bit, and I've been... [chuckle] So I'm gonna ask you something that's out of my own curiosity, 'cause I've been reading about the fact that the Supreme Court is gonna hear on affirmative action, which to me is... Again, are we going backwards? [chuckle] So, I don't know, I'm bringing it up just to get your thoughts on it, 'cause it's something I've been thinking about as we're planning a lot of our content for our big summit this year, and it's... Every year, there's things that are coming up and I honestly hadn't heard about the fact that they were gonna listen or that they were gonna go into affirmative action and what that means, and if it should be or not be a thing. And when I saw it, I was like, "What?"

LW: I feel... And I heard that there's two types of change, there's transactional and transformational. Transactional are the things that we can count and measure, transformational are things that we can feel that take a long time, but we're causing change. For affirmative action, is it the best solution? Probably not, but we still need to know where we stand and measure things, because if we don't know what to measure or if we don't have anything to measure, then we don't know if we've moved the needle. And when affirmative action was created, in my head... So I have to do some research 'cause I don't know if this is true.

LW: It seemed like it was, "How many people of this certain demographic are we hiring based on the 1972 census? And then we need you to report your numbers." But the conversation we're having now, it's bigger than that. It's so much bigger than that. And I want my kid, whoever they wanna be when they grow up, to be able to go into a job and be who they are, and it'd be okay. And affirmative action is part of that. We have to be able to measure what we can see. Transformationally, that's tough. I think it goes... To give people a different example, when I was a kid, I remember you could smoke in a restaurant, even though there was a smoking and non-smoking section.

MH: I know.

LW: Right. It's gross.

MH: Yeah, I was remembering that the other day.

LW: You could smoke in an airplane. I mean, who smokes in an airplane now? You can... Yeah, anyway. So the transactional piece of that is we can measure how many people... Causes of lung cancer, what does that look like? How many cigarettes are sold? And there's a bunch of variables that go into this stuff, but that's for some of these cities' data. The transformational piece of that though is, I was with my kids and we were walking down the street in Chicago, and my daughter said, "Oh my God, that guy is smoking. Gross!" And I'm like, "Oh yeah." I can't measure that. I can't measure that. But now I have this baseline, like, "Hopefully she'll never pick up a cigarette, because this is a good thing. This is fine". And I think most of us can agree smoking is not good for you, it's not.

MH: I love that example. It's very clear. [chuckle]

LW: Yes, it was very clear. And I wasn't embarrassed, but then I was like, maybe a little bit, but it was great, it was great. I'll never see that guy again. It was fine. [laughter]

MH: And he shouldn't be smoking.

LW: No, he shouldn't be smoking, it's bad for you.


MH: Leslie, this has been so much fun. Thank you for being here.

LW: Thank you for having me.

MH: We're gonna get into the lightning round.

LW: Fine.

MH: So just a few questions, nothing too serious.

LW: I'm ready.

MH: If you could have any super power, what would it be?

LW: To be invisible.

MH: Huh. Interesting.

LW: I wanna know what people are talking about... Yeah, I wanna know what people are saying about me when I'm not in the room, I think. I don't know. But invisible would be incredible.

MH: I don't know if I would wanna know.

LW: I wanna know what my kids are saying, for sure.

MH: I mean, I guess important information.


LW: Okay, I'll behave, I'll behave.

MH: No, no, no need. What's the most used app on your phone?

LW: Instagram.

MH: What's a skill you wish you had?

LW: I wish I was a mechanic so I could fix cars.

MH: Oh, that's a good one. I've never heard that one.

LW: I would love to be able to go into an engine and figure out what was wrong with it and put it back together. That would make me happy.

MH: Favorite mythical creature.

LW: So, I thought it would be a liger, but my kids have since told me ligers are real things. So, mythical creatures, I'm gonna steal a little bit, I think Marvin the Martian.

MH: Oh. [laughter] He was cute.

LW: Yeah.

MH: Best piece of advice you've ever been given?

LW: Oh, this is... My grandfather told me once, and I'll have to figure out how to translate this for my children, but, "Don't let anybody else write your checks, you need to write your own checks," meaning don't let people dip into your account, you need to be responsible for and pay your money to the people that you owe money to.

MH: Hmm. I like that one. And finally, what's one thought you'd want to leave with our listeners?

LW: My favorite, favorite thought for people to needle on is, "People hate two things; change and the way things are." I love that.

MH: Yeah, I really like that one.

LW: That's my favorite...

MH: Really, really... Well, thank you, Leslie.

LW: Thank you. This was a lot of fun, I appreciate it.


MH: Join an exceptional peer group to sharpen your leadership skills and advance your career. Harvard Business School executive education now offers in-person and virtual programs. Learn more at That's H-B-S.M-E/go.

MO: Thanks so much for listening to the Ellevate Podcast. If you like what you hear, you can subscribe, give us five stars and share your review. You can learn all about Ellevate membership and all the great things that Ellevate Network is doing at our website, That's, And special thanks to our producer, Katharine Heller. She rocks. Thanks so much and join us next week.