allyship, dave fine, steve mizell, chris womack
From left, Dave Fine, Steve Mizell and Chris Womack look on ahead of their TED-style Talks at the 2019 Women of Color and Their Allies event on Oct. 2 in Atlanta.

Southern Company’s Chris Womack, Merck’s Steve Mizell and AT&T’s Dave Fine on the Road to Allyship

In individual TED-style talks, Chris Womack, EVP and President of External Affairs for Southern Company (No. 33 on The DiversityInc Top 50 list), Steve Mizell, EVP, Chief Human Resources Officer for Merck, and Dave Fine, National Vice President of Sales and Distribution for Cricket Wireless at AT&T (No. 1 on DiversityInc Top 50), shared their experiences of allyship and beyond in the final session, “Intersectionality from a Diversity Management Point of View,” of DiversityInc’s Women of Color and Their Allies event on Oct. 2 in Atlanta.

Chris Womack

Womack, a three-time cancer survivor, said he was at an event this summer where rapper Common was discussing his memoir, Let Love Have the Last Word. The book touches on love from a universal perspective, but Common also gets personal in sharing his story of being sexually abused as a child. Womack said when listening to the rapper talk about his trauma “you’re just like all-in.”

“Not only did it happen to him, but he’s being vulnerable enough and forthright enough and confident enough to stand here before the audience of people he doesn’t know and share this story,” Womack said.

After the event, Womack said one of his employees stopped him and revealed that they were sexually abused by a person who attended the event with them.

Womack said that while he didn’t know if he was being told as an officer of the company or as a friend, the best thing he could do for that person was listen to them.

“Listen to me, but also, as you listen to me, hear me,” Womack said.

Steve Mizell

Mizell, who has been a CHRO for 27 years and celebrated his one-year anniversary with Merck on Thursday, called diversity and inclusion a “microissue” and said the focus needs to be on leadership. He said most places have access to the same resources, but there hasn’t been progress.

“You have to start deconstructing how you think about diversity and inclusion,” he said.

Mizell shared an anecdote about his last job working for an agriculture business based in the Midwest that consisted of “all white males” and “about 7% female sales reps.” He and the CEO at the time decided to change the mindset and start thinking more globally.

“You could not have a team of people, all white males, and say that farmers cannot talk to women,” he said.

Mizell said 14 years later, the CEO, head of marketing, CFO and head of sales all were women.

Mizell said that data needs to be used appropriately — sometimes when looking at “underrepresented” groups “you sometimes paint a false picture.”

“When you start thinking about what you can do, you can either join the table, you can engage at the table or you can lead the table,” Mizell said. “And we have to figure out in our own way how we lead the table.”

Dave Fine

“Never waste a good dose of adversity” is Fine’s mantra.

Before fighting stage 3 cancer and going through chemotherapy 19 years ago, Fine said he set goals with his wife for what he wanted to accomplish in his life. But he said they were “me-focused, not we-focused.”

After beating cancer, Fine said he made a promise to make a difference in the world.

“Nobody’s more important than the next,” he said. “When we work together, we win together, and together we change the world for our employees, our customers and the communities that we serve.”

Then, three years ago, Fine had an aortic aneurysm and eventually needed a pacemaker, reinforcing his need to fulfill his promise.

“I want to make an impact so when I die, I want somebody to say that I’m better because, I’m better because Dave spent time with me,” he said.

Fine said in order to gain allyship people need to be proactive, network, maximize mentor opportunities, engage in employee resource groups and “put your house in order.”

“Your house is [your] foundation,” he said. “It’s laid with integrity and trust. Bottom left window, that’s your education and experience. Bottom right window, that is your balanced results, so how do you do your job?

“Top left window, sponsors. Who talks about you when you’re not in the room, and what do they say? Top right window, that’s all about willingness to recommend. I’m going to put my name on your back, your name on my back, and you will be my reputation for the rest of your career.”

Fine gave an example of his allyship with Selena Barnes, a current employee of his. He said he identified Barnes, who is multicultural, as a high performer and has helped put her in front of people who can promote her in an intentional way.

In the Q&A session following the three talks, Alicia Johnson from Toyota Motor North America reinforced Fine’s words, saying: “Every seed that you have sown in the lives of the people that you’ve touched in the past, in the lives of the people that you’ve touched today, may you reap a harvest that is so plentiful that you will not have enough room to receive the blessings that are coming to you.”

Learn more about Chris Womack.

Connect with Steve Mizell here.

Connect with Dave Fine here.

Related Article: Webinar Recap: Unpacking Global Diversity and Inclusion Management

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