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July 22, 2020 | 33 Mins Read

Mita Mallick of Unilever on Having Courageous Conversations on Race

July 22, 2020 | 33 Mins Read

Mita Mallick of Unilever on Having Courageous Conversations on Race


Mita Mallick, Head of Diversity and Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Marketing at Unilever, has an important discussion with Sarah about how to tackle courageous conversations on race, how to be an ally in both professional and personal settings, and how to foster greater diversity and inclusion.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host Sarah Nicastro. I'm very excited for today's conversation because I think it's a very important conversation to have. I'm very excited to welcome to the podcast, Mita Mallick of Unilever, and we're going to be talking about having courageous conversations around race. I came across Mita recently on social media with some of the content that she's written on this topic and she graciously accepted my invitation to come on and talk with us all today about something that is top of mind for a lot of folks right now. So, Mita, thank you so much for being here and joining us on the podcast.

Mita Mallick: Thank you, Sarah, for having me. I'm delighted.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. Okay, to start let's just learn a little bit about you. So anything you feel comfortable sharing with us about who Mita is, what your journey has been, and your current role as Head of Diversity and Cross Cultural Marketing and Unilever.

Mita Mallick: Well, I'll start by saying I'm in week 18, day two of the pandemic. I live in Jersey City in 1500 square feet with my partner who's also working full-time and a five-year old and a seven-year old. So I lead with that because that's my reality and I always say behind the best banana bread you've ever baked and drive by birthday parties and all the pictures on Instagram, we don't know what's going on in people's homes and lives right now. Everyone's on their own COVID-19 journey and my journey is different, but it's not harder or easier than yours and to really just have a sense of empathy for what people are going through. You don't know if somebody has grieved the loss of someone. And you can't even grieve during this time and you don't know and I think, Sarah, we've talked about this because you also have children. I had a friend not too long ago say to me, and there was a Washington Post article about this, about single women during the pandemic, saying to me "I remember the last time somebody touched me and it was when we went out to dinner months ago." And also being alone during this time and what that means for your mental health. So I just start off by saying that. That's really important. That's where I'm at right now. That's me-

Sarah Nicastro: Yes, that's everyone's journey right now and it does look different for everyone, but it's hard in different ways for everyone. And I know that we just recently met, but if you listen to a lot of our recent podcasts, it's been a recurring theme this idea of more empathy and more humanity because it's just a such crazy time for everyone and you see that through different industries and varying levels of management and leadership, how people are really prioritizing that human connection because it's super important to us all. Also, a good disclaimer because if either of us have any guest interrupters, everyone will know why.

Mita Mallick: Popping in. That's the soundtrack of our lives, right?

Sarah Nicastro: Exactly.

Mita Mallick: It's the soundtrack of our lives.

Sarah Nicastro: So I know you had said to me that with your current role at Unilever you feel like your personal purpose has started to be realized. So I want to hear a bit about what your role entails and what you mean when you say that it's been a good vehicle for you to realize that personal purpose.

Mita Mallick: Absolutely. So my role is a mouthful. It's Head of Diversity and Inclusion and Cross Cultural Marketing. I know many people also have equity in their title. I think equity is at the heart of this work, so I don't have an extra word because it would really another word in my title. But diversity inclusion, it is about diversity with thought doesn't happen without diversity representation, so we're trying to build a workforce that represents North America and the changing demographics. That's what it is. I think Unilever is really ahead of many companies and I know many companies are joining us, especially particularly with what's happening in this country over the last several weeks, is that it is equally as important to think about how your products and services show up in the marketplace. So no longer can you afford to separate those two things, right? You have to think about how you authentically serve with purpose all different communities, backgrounds, individuals, right? And so you can't separate, I think, those two things anymore. So that's my title.

Mita Mallick: Why it feeds my purpose? I think there's two big personal reasons. I would say that at Unilever we're helping everyone unlock their purpose and we know that when you think about your purpose and your capabilities that's when the real magic happens. It's tied to my family history. I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrant parents. My younger brother and I were born and raised here. My dad's mother was married when she was 10 years old and my mother's mother was married when she was 12 years old and they were both married to men in their 20s. They had very large families and they were simply remarkable women. And I share that really openly because it is the truth of what still happens in many parts of the world today, but it also is I am living proof of what progress can look like in less than just three generations when you think about what gender equity means. And so that's really important to me and I know purpose is a lofty term. It's like what's my purpose? My purpose singularly is to be present with Sarah right now.

Mita Mallick: It's to be a good mother, sister, wife, daughter. But it's also what is it that gets you up every day other than the paycheck or my four year old kicking me in the head, well, now she's five. But what is it? Or your children. What is it that gets you up? And I think I would answer the second piece of why it matters to me is it matters to me in terms of being an ally because I didn't have a lot of allies growing up and in particular, I grew up outside of Boston in a time where it was not cool to be Indian, wasn't cool to listen to Indian music, wasn't cool to bring Indian lunch, wasn't cool to wear Indian jewelry and I was physically and verbally bullied for much of my life and it started with the name calling, sticks and stones don't break my bones, names can never hurt me. No, names can hurt you and I think that's what we have to sort of reeducate our children on as well. And racial slurs that showed up on our driveway, the n-word, the s-word. I had no idea what any of this meant growing up when I was that age.

Mita Mallick: But it escalated into my freshman year Intro to Physical Science class where two of the white boys who had been bullying me decided to set my hair on fire and decided to throw, it's just very vivid when I tell this story, right? Any of those memories you think you're transported back, but lighting matches and throwing them into my braid, which was quite long at the time, which was to my knees. And my lab partner who hadn't spoken to me in the four weeks that we were doing lab together said, "Oh my God. Your hairs on fire." And so that was the first moment in my life that an ally actually stood up for me. The boys were suspended and it was my guidance counselor at the time who also happened to be the coach for Cross Country I think figured out I was not really coordinated, but I was really fast so I could run fast and so he pushed me into joining Cross Country. And so sports is a great equalizer and running is what I go to throughout my career now and my life in points of crisis and points where I need solace and comfort.

Mita Mallick: But I say all that to say one of the other reasons why this work is really important to me is I wish I had more allies standing up for me in my life because there are perpetrators, there are people who are doing terrible, mean, evil things, the spectrum. But where are all the other people that could stand up and intervene? And so that's what really drives me.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So I can imagine how some of those early experiences translated into what I found in an article you read about being painfully shy and some of the lessons you learned as you started your career on how to become a more vocal leader. So to kind of find your voice and get comfortable using your voice after all of those years of feeling probably the need to stay quiet to avoid more hurt. And so just looking at your title, even if I hadn't read some of the content you've written recently, it's clear that having a voice and being able to use that voice is imperative in your current role and in the current landscape. So tell us about the journey to finding that voice and how you're able to use it today.

Mita Mallick: No, thank you for that question, Sarah. Now that I've explained so much of my upbringing, you wouldn't be surprised now if I had said I was painfully shy and actually, I think that's different than being introverted. It's painfully shy. And people who meet me now as I'm on stage or speaking on podcasts, I would have showed up sick five years ago. I would have been like, "No, Sarah. I'm out." But only my younger brother and mother remember that and I would say it's a journey and I would say using your voice is a skill. It's a skill like being an athlete. I'm not an athlete, but it is with practice and I had someone years ago on my team who was comfortable presenting in 20, 30 groups of people but as soon as it got larger she froze. And she would laugh at me, but I would say it's practice. And what do I mean by that? You can ask my husband. From the time I started my career practicing in empty rooms getting ready for presentations, practicing in the shower, practicing in my empty bedroom, practicing on the drive to work, practicing if I was going to be presenting something, practicing actually if I was just going to be in a meeting because I was in a place where I couldn't even make comments or questions in meetings because I was so nervous about exactly to what you said.

Mita Mallick: I didn't want to be noticed because early on in my life, I think you've just hit the insight, when I was noticed then I was picked on. So I just wanted to disappear and you can't really do that in corporate America. So I found a lot of mentors and allies who helped me along the way, but you have got to practice using your voice whether that's in writing or a podcast or just speaking up in meetings.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So that's a really good point and I want to come back to that because later one we're going to talk a bit about some actions companies can take to really put an emphasis on fostering diversity and inclusion and equity in the sense of doing it, not talking about it. And I want to come back to that point of using your voice because I have a story to share around some things I think can happen in organizations that make people be quiet and then do a disservice to that sort of mission. But before we get there, we're talking about finding our voice and using our voice and we were chatting a bit before we started recording about some of the things that are happening in our country and in our world today and I was so happy to have you on because I think that it's such a critically important conversation for us all to be having because to your point, when you were that little girl that was being bullied, where was everyone?

Sarah Nicastro: Where was everyone that could be standing up for you? And we all have a responsibility to use that voice for the greater good right now and it isn't easy to do, but it's important to do and so I think it's a good conversation to have. So before we talk about kind of the meat of having hard conversations, what I want to talk about first is, and I found this in some of the content you've written, is that the very first step is an important step, which is to acknowledge that color does matter and racism does exist because we sometimes have a tendency to think that if we default to terms like we all bleed red and all of those things that we're helping, but in reality, to affect change we first need to acknowledge the fact that it is not the same and that it does matter and that the racism does exist because if we don't do that we can often unintentionally reinforce different stereotypes. So I got that question from some content you've written, so can you share your thoughts on that and why that's so important?

Mita Mallick: You have to stop being color blind. I had a leader years ago say to me "Well, I don't see color." And I was like, "So you don't see me as brown? What do you see me as?" And it is this idea that we live in a utopia, everyone is equal. But it's not. And I do think it's something that many of us were raised on that we have to unlearn now and there's so many things that we have to unlearn or relearn or learn for the first time. And so this idea that you would look at me and say, "I don't see color," my browness has defined me from the moment I've entered this world. It defines me when I walk into meetings. People see that before they even hear me speak or before I sit down or before I present.

Mita Mallick: And so I think it's also a privilege, I would say, it's a privilege to use that term if you think about it. Maybe there are. I don't know many people of color who would say they don't see color. I could be wrong, but it's just thinking about too is who is the person that's actually saying they don't see color? Because it's not something I would say because it's defined my existence since the day I was born. And it's defined, it's actually you're not acknowledging that persons existence or identity or what they might have been through in their lives. So I think it's so important. I don't think you can have a courageous conversation on race if you don't acknowledge that race exists.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. I think it's a natural inclination of white people because that acknowledgement... There's a lot of fear around saying the wrong thing and there's a lot of fear around should I acknowledge? Am I doing something wrong by acknowledging? And so I think that's where some of that comes from. I've been reading the book White Fragility, I don't know if you've read that book-

Mita Mallick: Robin DiAngelo. We had her come to Unilever a few years ago-

Sarah Nicastro: Did you?

Mita Mallick: She's amazing. It was the most profound professional experience I've had going through her workshops. Phenomenal.

Sarah Nicastro: That's awesome. I would love to do that. But what she says in the beginning in the book I think it just made me wish that everyone would read it because I think that there's this perception of racism as this active, bad intent. And what she kind of explains to disarm people is that's not always true. That can be true, but there is a lot of racism that exists passively and subconsciously. So if you want to better yourself or if someone points on something you're saying or doing that you shouldn't be, it isn't that they're attacking your character or they're accusing you of this malicious intent. We have to get comfortable examining some of those thoughts and behaviors that are so built into our society if we really want to start breaking down some of those barriers. So I think that we can't do that from the stance of I don't see color. It's not only failing to acknowledge people's history and people's roots, but it's not going to help us get better going forward. We need to acknowledge that it is a thing, that it's okay to not know the right thing to say or do, but you shouldn't let that prevent you from positive forward motion.

Mita Mallick: Absolutely. I think that's a super important point, especially as you think about microaggressions. Microaggressions are a form of racism and that's we experience every day. It's the subtle remarks, the jokes, the comments and the moment you have to ask yourself who are you going to be in that moment as an ally when those things happen? Are you going to laugh uncomfortably? Are you going to sit in awkward silence? Or are you going to say something or do something? And so microaggressions, I'll give you examples, is if I come off stage from speaking and somebody comes up to me and says, "Wow, Mita. I just want to say, your English is so good." That's happened to me on many occasions. Or constant mispronunciation of my name or people thinking I speak Spanish and get very angry at me. I don't speak Spanish. Bengali is my first language and then English is my second language. I just think in those moments, how can you intervene when you are witnessing that? And that's what I think Robin's talking about is that it's just so pervasive in everything we do and what you think racism or racist looks like and sort of even that's stereotype and debunking that.

Mita Mallick: And I will tell you, spending time with Robin DiAngelo as a person of color validated my life experiences because it's also very uncomfortable to read that book or go through her work as someone who's not white and then you're like, "Wow. This is everything that I've been through. Suddenly I feel validated. Somebody else is telling me that this is hope." So it's pretty remarkable.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah and as a business, as an employer, I think it's amazing that Unilever had her come, but when you think about how those microaggressions take place in the workplace, it is important to consider how are you providing education and training that breaks some of those down and fix some of them because it makes it not a great environment for people of color and I think there's far more of that happening in the workplace than there is overt racism because it's easier to notice and address. Those microaggressions can go on and on and on because they can be more difficult to kind of rise to the top and be addressed by leadership or what have you. So educating the workforce and arming people with information on how statements that they might not realize are hurting someone hurt someone and why it's important to not use that type of language.

Sarah Nicastro: So okay, so we talked about the fact that acknowledgement is a critical first step. Acknowledgement of differences, of color, of the fact that racism exists, all of that. So next I want to talk a little bit about what it takes to be a good ally. I shared with you before we started that this is something that I'm really focusing on right now and you have, again, a lot of articles on this. So share your thoughts on why... We talked about why it's important for you to be a good ally, some of the experiences that you've had, but let's talk a little bit about how to do that. What does a good ally look like?

Mita Mallick: I would say the first part is there is a piece, there's a balance between education, learning, listening, and acting, and I think they have to be in parallel. There is a great Washington Post article I saw that I posted on which said when black people are in pain, white people start book clubs. And I was like "wow." I read that piece and there was such great commentary because people are also scared. Allies are like, "I don't know enough. I have to learn more." But I would say it's continuous, it's dual path. It's not like you're going to learn and get a certificate in school. It's not like there's a point where you're like, "Okay, you're an ally." No. It's a continuous journey and I think the thing we have to acknowledge is we are going to make mistakes and that's okay. And we're all so scared.

Mita Mallick: I think one of the first things after the whole stop being colorblind I would say is that oftentimes I think the job of an ally is to educate yourself and not to put the burden on black and brown people. In this case, let's say the black community because I come into this conversation as an inclusion leader, as a brown woman. I identify with the black community. I don't identify as black. So I am also entering this conversation as an ally for the black community. My job is to educate myself and if you can find the best banana bread recipe on Google and post it on Instagram after you bake it, you can Google these topics on how to be anti-racist. You don't need a primary source to tell you what it's like to be black in America. And I think as I go back to my roots as marketing and storytelling, storytelling is one of the oldest forms of human tradition. People want stories to relate to, but you have to ask yourself at what cost do you want to continuously ask your block colleague, your black friend, the people that you know in the black community to tell a story that consistently traumatizes them?

Mita Mallick: And this is intergenerational trauma. So I know the instinct is let me go ask my black friend or my black colleague about blackout Tuesday, about Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter. You don't understand as an ally potentially the trauma that's being faced on them because you're not the only person asking them. And at the same time, I would say, when it comes to listening and learning, if I choose, if a friend chooses to share a racist encounter they have had with me, it's a psychologically safe space, they have called me and they want to share this. My job is not to be an investigative journalist and to ask lots of questions. My job is to not minimize and say, "I know Mita. I don't think that's what she meant." And my job is not to problem solve. And so that is what I think is at the heart of everything is that we are being raised in a world that doesn't shut up and we are told to speak and speak and speak and talk and talk and talk and the job of an ally sometimes is unlearning all that to allow for psychologically safe space for me to share my truth or my friend to share my truth and to honor that truth. And to know that you will leave the conversation without any resolution.

Mita Mallick: And when my friends comes and tells me about a racist experience she's had at the store shopping, she's not looking for me to fix the store policy or brainstorm or problem solve, which as leaders is what we want to do, which makes all of this so uncomfortable. So I would also say don't go to every person of color in your life and ask them to educate you as a white ally, but I would also say if they do, honor it and just listen and say thank you.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, absolutely. And I think if you're just willing to look there is so much content to consume. Really, really good content to consume and learn from. Everything from books to audiobooks to podcasts to TED talks. There is so much out there to listen and learn from without having to put the onus on someone who hasn't already shared. A lot of people have shared experiences that you can get a really good new perspective from. A couple other things that I picked up from some of your writings around this topic that I think are just important to mention is diversifying your circle. So I was-

Mita Mallick: Let's talk about that. Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: I was listening to a podcast on this and I was thinking about, I'm not going to be able to get it right, it was a Renee Brown guest, but you can't do this as a token. It can't be that inauthentic of just "Oh my gosh, all my friends are white. I should try and find a black or brown friend so I can check a box that I'm doing this thing right." That is not what you mean by diversifying your circle, but by really looking at the people you engage with on a day-to-day basis and thinking about is this representative of who I want to be and do I have relationships beyond my own comfort zone? So in real life, I do, but one of the things that I've been working on is my diversifying my social media followings so that I can be more intentional about the content that I'm consuming and I can incorporate black authors and I found a really good Instagram account the other day because I'm a big mental health advocate and I think it's a black female therapist or something along those lines, but it's a great account. Information for anyone. So how else can we work on diversifying our circle?

Mita Mallick: Start by acknowledging that your circle's not diverse. Start by thinking about who is in your trusted circle? Who are the five people you call when you have great news to share or you're going through a life crisis, you need a shoulder to cry on and just think about that. And if they look like you and they act like you, you need to start building meaningful cross cultural relationships. And what I would say in this work, we do a lot of great work at Unilever and as many as organizations are doing, but if you are wanting to be a white ally and you show up at work and you want me to talk to you about Black Lives Matter and how you can be an ally but you don't know a single black person in your life, in your community, I don't know how to help you. Because so much of this work and the stereotypes and the things that we pull in our heads and unconscious bias from one encounter, one conversation, one article, one TV show we saw, all of that needs to be undone. And that's where the hard work starts.

Mita Mallick: So unconscious bias training is actually critical, and it can be very effective if you start to think about your own biases and working them through. But then if you go home and your community is everyone who looks like you and thinks like you and acts like you, how can you undo any of that? Where's the practice? So what I would say is think about all the different moments in your life and I know this is tough because we're talking about in a pandemic, but where do you go grocery shopping? Have you thought about shopping more local? Do you support black and brown owned businesses and is that something that you can make part of your routine? If you are thinking of volunteering at your local church or temple, why don't you think about going and volunteering somewhere else? So really just challenging all of those moments of things that you want to do. What do you do on a Saturday? What about going to a cultural event and looking up what's happening in your local paper rather than doing what you normally do?

Mita Mallick: And a lot of those things are uncomfortable and scary, but I think you have to put yourself in environments that are different than what you normally operate in to start meeting people to build those meaningful relationships. If you're a parent like we are, if you think about interestingly as my children are growing up the relationships they're making with friends, that's an opportunity. As your children make cross cultural relationships that are meaningful that you can actually build those relationships with their families. And so I just think that there's so many opportunities, we just have to be more intentional about how we liberalize day-to-day and where we can interrupt.

Sarah Nicastro: I have a really recent example of, I guess this crosses race and gender, but my older son just turned five in June and he wanted a superhero party. Well, of course, we didn't really have a party because COVID, but we still had a birthday week. I probably, honestly, went above and beyond because I was trying to still make it special for him and-

Mita Mallick: This is the opposite of my daughter turning five. We went the other way during COVID.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah? You went low key?

Mita Mallick: Well, I had her birthday, a store bought cake and that was it. Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So we did a superhero thing, but I started as I'm reading some of the stuff and trying to be more intentional, I stopped and thought of all the superheroes we bought him, they'll all male and they're all white. So I just got on Amazon and looked up female superhero, black superhero and bought whatever came up first because it was just a moment for me to think intentionally about what am I exposing him to and what dialogue or unconscious experiences or biases am I planting for him? And is that how I want him to grow up? And so I just I'm glad I caught it because it was just something that came to me before he got his gifts and just last night he was like, "Mommy, I want to be Wonder Woman. Can you get me a Wonder Woman costume?" And I was like, "Yes!"

Mita Mallick: That's great!

Sarah Nicastro: It just made me so happy.

Mita Mallick: It's so important thinking about what they watch, what they play with, where are their role models coming from? It's critical.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Okay, so I think when we talk about being a good ally I think one of the most challenging parts, and I just shared a story with you before we started of me doing this very recently with a family member, is having the hard and courageous conversations. So when you see someone saying or doing something that you know is wrong, avoiding the path of least resistance and facing it head on. So let's talk about this from two perspectives, so you wrote an article recently for Create Cultivate on having courageous conversation and this is an article that was written around how to be an ally to and for people of color in your life. So I think we've covered this a bit, you brought up some really important points which are don't put the onus on them to educate you, work on educating yourself and if they come to you with a story, don't try and fix it just listen and let them share openly. Is there anything you would add to that in terms of being courageous in how you engage with your friends of color and people of color in your life to be a good ally to them?

Mita Mallick: I'll give you two responses. I think one is in those moments that matter, intervene. And I think that means not just at work, in our school yards, in our public spaces, places like the public library, the grocery store. You see something, say something. That's where it matters and starts to look at what's happening in our communities and so don't be a silent bystander when these things happen. That's what I thinks so important. I think going back to the conversation on having courageous conversations with family members that can be so tough and difficult. I was just having a conversation earlier with someone about this before we go together today is that you have to have patience and understanding in the relationship with the family member. I actually think sometimes these conversations are easier to have at work, and hear me out, because there's a level of professionalism. There's a level of professionalism, we all conduct ourselves at work. And suddenly on a virtual happy hour or dinner with a family member and someone says something and you just flip out.

Mita Mallick: And I think to myself if anyone I can move in the family, it's me who's going to do it. But there has to be a moment of creating a psychologically safe space where they can share what they're feeling and for me to educate them. And not to shut the conversation down by saying you're a racist, you're a sexist, you're a homophobe. No one wants to be called that and then suddenly it's all dissolved and you won't be able to move them. And I'm not saying that's going to work for everybody because some people have their beliefs and they believe what they believe and it's not going to be a healthy situation to continue and it's not going to be that you're going to be able to move them, but a lot of times it's people said something or did something and you're like, "Did you realize what that means?" And the person says, "Well, no. I actually didn't." Do you know where that word comes from? The roots of it? Do you understand why that's derogatory?

Mita Mallick: I'm not going to say that's always the case, that's not. But I like to live my life and I have to do this glass half full. This is why I do this work is that 99% of people live their life with good intentions and they don't realize their impact. There is 1% of people who don't, of course. But I just think thinking about how you can take a deep breath, be patient, and think about how you can have this conversation with the family member and not be triggered by some of the things they're saying, especially if it's a white ally trying to talk to another family member who's also white who you want to become an ally and do these things with you. That would be my advice.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay.

Mita Mallick: Not easy, not easy.

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Mita Mallick: I know you know.

Sarah Nicastro: So I get that you're saying it's a bit easier in a work situation because there is a level of professionalism and people are just going to carry themselves and handle themselves differently, but I do want to ask with your role at Unilever and in your experience with this, if someone sees or hears something in the workplace that they know is wrong what is the best way for them to address that? How do you do that without being scared that you're maybe overstepping or maybe that gets into the company making people feel empowered to speak up in those situations, but what is the dynamic on how you suggest handling that stuff in the workplace?

Mita Mallick: Yeah. And listen, courageous conversations are not easy at all, whether it's professional or family. I just think sometimes because we're so close to our family emotions tend to rise a lot faster than they would at work.

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Mita Mallick: Because we know people and we're so familiar with them it's like going to extreme emotions and when we're at work it might be a bit different. Not in the way in which we might approach a conversation. It's really about empowering the bystander and I would say we all work so hard to create these amazing cultures, we all contribute to them, and we want to be agents of change to help protect them. And so if you see something, say something. And I would say often in my career, and this happens, maybe I will have seen something and I will rewind it in my head and I never said anything in the moment. It's not too late to go back and approach that person. And I think it depends on the situation and the level of comfortability. If it's a large meeting in which some things have been witnessed, you might not feel comfortable saying in that moment, you might need a few days to think about it and go back and approach the individual and something that you observed. You might pull someone aside privately so many times often in my career is mispronounced and I would say if somebody is constantly mispronouncing it, the same person over and over again, huh? What is it there's so difficult to learn about my name?

Mita Mallick: So, Sarah, in that case, might pull that person aside and say "Listen, I need you know..." And that's allyship and that's allies moving to being advocates because you're actually advocating like "You don't pronounce it my-ta, you pronounce it me-ta. And I just want to bring that up because I noticed in the last few meetings that you've mispronounced it and maybe no one has ever told you how to pronounce it, but this is the impact it's having on her. And so I think it's about you have to be comfortable depending on the setting and I also think it's never too late. And you can always go to someone else to talk about it and try to strategize on how you can go and approach somebody. I think there's so many ways to do it. There's not one way.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah.

Mita Mallick: Not one way.

Sarah Nicastro: That's a good point. That's a good point and to one of the points you made earlier, you're bound to screw it up. It's an area where this is all really heavy, complicated, sticky stuff and so if we want to do better and we want to be catalysts of change and forward motion it's not going to be a smooth trajectory. We're going to screw up as people and we have to not let that fear prevent us from doing our best. So what practices can businesses put into place to foster more diversity, inclusion, and equity in terms of real action? So I think any business would say that this is important to them, but if you had to give a few tips on real, tangible action to take to make progress on this within their businesses, what would you suggest?

Mita Mallick: Lots of tips and advice. I will try to keep it brief. I would say that hire a head of diversity, equity, and inclusion, a chief diversity officer. You need somebody to do this work and lead and strategize and that person needs to report into the CEO and not four levels down or five levels down because that's not where the work gets done. You need to think about best practices like starting a diversity and inclusion board. Diversity Best Practices is an amazing organization, they're a diversity think tank and so much of what I've learned is from them, but there's so much out there in terms of best practices on having an inclusion board, setting targets, you know what gets measure gets done, thinking about the recruiting pipeline and where you're getting candidates from, thinking also about... I often get called by smaller companies for advice and that's a critical moment when you're a smaller startup and you start to think, "Well, do we all look like and act like each other?" And "What happens when we start to refer our friends to come work here?" You just sort of perpetuate the issue of not being diverse because you are doing something very well intentioned and tapping into your own networks.

Mita Mallick: But your own networks might actually look like you and act like you so there's so many things that you can be doing to really think about that and I think it really starts from the top, in your leadership and what's their commitment to this? To having someone run it, to having a team, to having funding. This work certainly isn't free, it's not for the faint hearted, and it's a lot of work. And so you have to invest to show results in return. Absolutely.

Sarah Nicastro: And I think it goes back to one of the things we talked about, which is it needs to be an authentic desire to have a culture of diversity, inclusion, and equity and not just, again, be trying to take measures to make sure you're covering basis or checking a box because part of this is following best practices and creating metrics that will help you achieve the goals that you've set and things like that. But I think you can achieve diversity and not derive the full value from that diversity if you don't actually realize the benefit of having it. And that goes back to if you have a diverse set of people in your workforce that are working on finding and using their own voices but you fail to listen, then having that diversity is not helping you all that much to begin with. And that was something that I thought of when we were talking about this earlier. In my former role with my former employer, it was the company is almost all men and there was a number of times that I was shut down as a woman speaking up because they just did not want to hear what I had to say and they made that known.

Sarah Nicastro: And it was a frustrating situation and ultimately, it wasn't a good fit for me, but it's just there's so much value in diverse thinking and diverse experiences and diverse opinions that I just wanted to bring up the point that it isn't just about being able to say, "Yes, we have diversity within our workforce." But it's harnessing the power of that diversity to make your business stronger. And I think that's an important part as well.

Mita Mallick: No, absolutely. You will be at a disadvantage from a business perspective if you don't have diversity representation because it goes back to what we were talking about. How do your products and services show up in the marketplace? On are you capitalizing on the changing demographics of this country to serve those populations, all populations? And so that's why to your point, Sarah, why it's so critically important.

Sarah Nicastro: So I was really curious to ask this question. I know that you're very passionate about the work you do and it's so super important, but as someone that is heading up cross cultural marketing I wanted to ask what brands do you see that you think are really doing this work well? And why? So that our listeners can kind of learn a bit from those examples.

Mita Mallick: Well, I would be remiss not to talk about Ben & Jerry's, Dove, Dove Men+ Care. I won't make this a commercial for Unilever because there's a lot of great products. We have beauty, personal care, home care and food and refreshments, so hopefully a product that you own and use in your household. Thinking about non-Unilever brands, I would say Instagram, as we talked about, Sarah. There's so many brands on Instagram. It's just phenomenal to follow. One of the brands that I've been following for a few years is Billy's Footwear. This gentleman was a frontline emergency worker, I believe he was a fireman, Billy. He fell 15 flights and became paralyzed from the waist down and he realized that he didn't have a shoe that he could put on himself and he started Billy's Footwear. Universal design with a zipper. It's also very easy for children to put on.

Mita Mallick: So you think about what an amazing idea and thought from a tragedy and this is products that are being sold around the country, his footwear. But there are so many examples of inclusive brands. Another one is called Nunude. N-U-N-U-D-E. And they are about, they actually petitioned the Oxford Dictionary to change the definition of nude from lightest pink beige to all skin tones because they sell products that are apparel that matches your skin tone.

Sarah Nicastro: That's awesome.

Mita Mallick: So lounging, underwear, garments, etc. But there's just so much out there I think. You look at what Rihanna did with Fenty a few years, it's a few years old now, but the amount of shades of foundation that is just groundbreaking and even that idea that makeup for all and really for all skin tones. And so I think there's just so much out there. To your point, if you really want to look at fine inclusive brands, fine brands that are living their purpose, there's just so many on Instagram.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah.

Mita Mallick: Pretty amazing.

Sarah Nicastro: Another one that I have liked for quite a few years is Aerie.

Mita Mallick: Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: Because I think they do a good job of, especially as women, just representing a broad spectrum of across the board. And I think I wanted to ask who you thinks doing well because I think it's good to take a look at what are those companies doing and how could that potentially apply to some of our listeners? And it's not too hard to find the ones that aren't doing a good job either.

Mita Mallick: Yeah. I would add to the list Tommy Hilfiger. There adaptive clothing line, again, thinking about the experience. Similar to Billy's Footwear, but if you have a prosthetic leg, if you only have use of one arm, single use zippers, magnetic buttons. Just they have done, I think, a really phenomenal job if you follow Tommy Hilfiger adaptive clothing on Instagram as well.

Sarah Nicastro: Cool. Good. Okay, so we're pretty much out of time, which is so sad and I knew this would be a longer podcast because we had a lot to talk about.

Mita Mallick: I feel like we could talk for hours.

Sarah Nicastro: We could, we could. And I would love to have you back-

Mita Mallick: Oh, thank you, Sarah.

Sarah Nicastro: At some point. I think we could do probably a podcast on its own just in terms of best practices around diversity and inclusion. So perhaps we can do that at some point in the future, but, Mita, I really appreciate you being here. I've thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and really grateful for your insights.

Mita Mallick: Thank you so much, Sarah, for having me. Thank you.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. You can find more content by visiting us at You can also find us on LinkedIn and Twitter, @thefutureofFS. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more about IFS Service Management by visiting As always, thank you for listening.