Season 5 • Episode 10

2024 has brought forth many challenges for diversity and inclusion efforts, and at DirectEmployers’ recent Annual Meeting & Conference, we addressed those setbacks and emphasized the importance of progress amidst opposition. Tune in to this powerful conversation as diversity activist and strategist Torin Ellis and Principal Financial Group’s Chief Inclusion Officer Miriam Lewis spotlight the importance of resilience, knowledge, and tangible progress in the pursuit of creating more inclusive environments within corporate, political, and social spheres.


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About DE Talk

For DirectEmployers, it’s all about valuable connections and meaningful conversations. This monthly podcast features honest and open dialogue between powerhouse industry experts on a variety of HR topics ranging from OFCCP compliance advice to emerging recruitment marketing trends, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and insightful solutions that help infuse new life into your HR strategies.

Hosted by Candee Chambers, Executive Director of DirectEmployers Association.

Guest Host

Headshot of Mikey Meagher

​Mikey Meagher

Manager, Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Strategies

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Mikey Meagher is the Manager of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategies at DirectEmployers Association and is focused on fostering relationships with veteran and diversity organizations to promote workforce inclusivity. Mikey began her career recruiting within the IT industry, which made her transition to DirectEmployers partnership team a natural progression as relationship-building and strong communication are core components of both. Within her current role, Mikey works to facilitate conversations between Members and existing partners and provide outreach resources to both parties, as well as identify, develop, and promote new local and national level partnerships. Mikey holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminology from University of Florida, a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership from Jacksonville University, and is a certified Windmills Trainer and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion professional.

Episode Guest

Torin Ellis headshot

Torin Ellis

Diversity Strategiest, t ellis brand

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Torin leads a progressive boutique with a laser-like focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) strategy and risk mitigation. He embraces a collaborative approach built on transparency, actionable strategy, and rigorous performance monitoring. It’s the reason some of the world’s most forward-thinking companies have trusted him to make DEIB promising and not punitive.

A trusted Practitioner and former Executive Producer and Host of Career Mix, a weekly show on SiriusXM, Torin’s voice has also become requested and trusted by some of the most prominent conference organizers in the U.S. and abroad. As Jamie Leonard, CEO & Founder of The Recruitment Events Co., said, “This year (2019), you did something fantastic. When the tents dropped on RecFest, you stood alone. Our industry was awoken by one name and one voice – Torin Ellis.”

A proponent of “activist-like efforts,” he authored his first book Rip The Resume (September 2016). And lastly, it’s fun to note listed Torin as one of “10 Baltimore tech and entrepreneurship leaders who should run for mayor,” signaling a lighter side of this focused artist. Torin sees nothing but opportunity and runway with regard to DEIB efforts in 2023.

Miriam Lewis headshot

Miriam Lewis

Chief Inclusion Officer, Principal Financial Group

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Miriam Lewis is chief inclusion officer at Principal Financial Group®. Since her start at Principal® in 2019, Miriam has led global inclusion imperatives. She has responsibility for buildinga more inclusive workplace and culture, increasing e employee performance, and supporting efforts in recruiting and retaining diverse talent. Additionally, she consults leaders and teams across the business on best practices for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) to effectively serve its customer base and continue to help advance financial security for all.

In addition to her extensive experience in the consumer-packaged goods and financial services industries, Miriam has been at the forefront in supporting notable organizations to help advance DEI. A native of Mobile, Ala., Lewis holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from The University of Alabama. Lewis and her husband, Ray, have one adult son, Ray Jr.

Episode Transcript

Candee Chambers (00:00:02):

Get ready. The DE Talk Podcast starts now, insightful conversations and dialogue, helping you put the human factor back in HR.

Mikey Meagher (00:00:14):

2024 has brought forth many challenges for diversity and inclusion efforts. At DirectEmployers’ recent annual meeting and conference, we address those setbacks, and emphasize the importance of progress and midst opposition. How do we energize and empower these efforts internally, and provide a crucial platform for navigating the complex landscape of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Tune into this powerful conversation as diversity activists and strategist, Torin Ellis, and Principal Financial Group’s chief inclusion officer, Miriam Lewis, spotlight the importance of resilience, knowledge and tangible progress in the pursuit of creating more inclusive environments within corporate, political, and social spheres.

Torin Ellis (00:00:58):

We are going to have an incredible conversation. I don’t care what conference you’ve been to. When we talk about diversity and inclusion, we do it a little bit differently. All right, so we want to know who’s in the room. Miriam sent me a text, and she said, “I’m curious about the energy at DEAMcon.” So, we want to know if this morning they are going to give us the energy that Miriam deserves. Don’t worry about me. We just got to clear… We got to clear Miriam’s meter. So, who has never been to New Orleans before? Oh my gosh. Has anybody in the room been to DEAMcon more than three times? More than five? More than 10? Wow.


Okay, so we got some folks that are regulars, and we got some people that are new. We’re going to have a incredible time. So before we get started, I would love for you, Miriam, if you would give them just an introduction of who you are, and then we can hop into this conversation.

Miriam Lewis (00:02:25):

Absolutely. I’m Miriam Lewis. My pronouns are she and her. I am a wife, a mother, and also, I get to lead diversity, equity, and inclusion at Principal Financial Group. I was a supply chain leader for most of my career, and while leading supply chain, I noticed that — I worked in manufacturing initially — I noticed that we were just the best, probably most proficient at getting products where they need to go, but I also noticed that people were getting stuck. So, I asked to move into the DEI space to help unlock people, because in supply chain, we had 99.9% fill rate. We had 99.9% on time rate for our customers, and then we were lacking in the people space. So, that’s what made me want to move into this space.


Also, I’m going to give a quick shout out since it’s March madness to University of Alabama, our first time. That’s my school, and very proud to be there for the first time in the program’s history, and also looking forward to… I should also say that Principal is based in Iowa, so I’ll also pull in for Caitlin Clark, so yes.

Torin Ellis (00:03:42):

What is needed is a shift in openness and value given to the narrative by both the storyteller and the listener, page 219 in the book Race, Work, and Leadership. Let’s get to it. In East Palestine, Ohio, we had a train wreck last year. Chick-fil-A hired a diversity and inclusion officer, and folks lost their mind. Budweiser decided that they wanted to do a commercial with a transgender influencer, and trust me, when they felt like they had a little bit of traction, they said, “We’re going to push a little bit harder. We’re going to be disingenuous and denigrate diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.” That’s what they did. I’m just giving you the story. You don’t have to blame me, I’m just reporting the story. That’s what they did.


Last week, the attorney general Ken Paxton in Texas decided that he was going to open up an inquiry into Spirit AeroSystems, because of the Boeing accident. I’m cool. Let’s look at it. But what he said was, “I’m also going to go to Spirit, and ask them for their paperwork and conversations around diversity and inclusion, because I suspect that they were more focused on D&I, and not the safety of their planes.” We had a bridge fall in my city, 1:30 in the morning, horrible accident. People lost their lives last week in Baltimore City. When we woke up on Thursday morning, we had people saying, “Baltimore’s DEI mayor.” I’m going to try it again, because you’re acting like you don’t hear me. We had a horrible bridge collapsed in Baltimore City. Six people fell into the water, seven. I believe one body has been captured. The rest are still missing.


We had people on Thursday morning saying, “Baltimore’s DEI mayor.” You’re playing like you don’t hear me. We got a problem. We have a problem, and it requires every single person to be on deck. So, Miriam, my first question comes from someone who might be sitting in the audience, and what they said was, “We have a leadership team that doesn’t really have a strong degree of committed focus.” They get scattered and pulled in different ways. What would you say to that leadership team about the power, the criticality of DEI?

Miriam Lewis (00:06:50):

That’s an excellent question. First and foremost, I woke up, and I’m sure most of the world woke up with Baltimore in mind on that Thursday morning. So, we definitely kneel in support in solidarity for the Baltimore community and other communities who have been impacted as well. So, thank you for mentioning that. As Torin said, DEI is definitely under attack. Anytime you see these types of stories get attached to DE&I, you understand that there is a script, and there’s a narrative that is being advanced. So, back to the question itself, it’s, “If my leadership team is not connected or not committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, the first thing I would do is I don’t know if I would tell them anything. I would first seek to understand.”


Where is that resistance coming from? What is their understanding of DE&I? Once I determined that… Let me tell you a quick story, because I fell into that trap some years ago. So basically, I was working at a company in manufacturing, and I was told that if I could get this particular leader on board with DEI, that I would be a rock star. So, what I realized was that when I met with this leader to understand the resistance, and not stating it in that manner, but to understand how I can gain his support for DE&I, what I started with was family to understand it, taking the conversation somewhere he didn’t intend for it to go. So, I wanted to understand what was his reaction to being excluded.


I knew that at some point in his life, he must have been excluded from something, because we all have, right? He immediately started to share with me about how his in-laws excluded him, and how hurtful that was for him. As I understood that, I realized that the word diversity for him was a showstopper, and I began to lead with inclusion that point forward. Words matter, but I don’t necessarily care what you call it. It’s about how do we advance the work itself. So by turning our strategy from diversity, equity, and inclusion to a global strategy being inclusion, and then the outcomes that I expect are diversity, equity, problem solving at a faster pace, innovation and everything else that comes with having this environment, but it’s really about awareness. It’s about education and making that personal connection to find out how you can get someone on board to support it.


I would also say that I wouldn’t necessarily approach the entire leadership team at once. I think the one-on-one conversations and understanding where you need to go first, second, and third is extremely important. I also… People are in different places along the journey, and I also know that to Michael’s point, we have our compliance parties, right, parties. With those, I also make sure that anytime that I’m going to share something to this day, I make sure that compliance, legal, and risk are on board, because that’s what they’re paid to do is to help us to really think through and make sure that we’re being thoughtful in our approaches. So, those are the folks that I talked to today, and those are my friends that I party with to make sure that we’re going to be at the dance past midnight.

Torin Ellis (00:10:18):

Absolutely. I love the fact that you said you sought understanding first.

Miriam Lewis (00:10:25):


Torin Ellis (00:10:25):

You tried to pick an area where you felt like there was a degree of connection. Have you exercised that same discipline, that same activity as it related to other leaders inside of Principal, because my assumption is that he may not have been the only one that required a bit of cajoling, a bit of pushing? I don’t mean that in a negative way-

Miriam Lewis (00:10:46):


Torin Ellis (00:10:46):

… but it just required a little bit more. Might I add, Miriam, that because a person resists doesn’t always mean that they are racist.

Miriam Lewis (00:10:56):

That’s right.

Torin Ellis (00:10:58):

Cool with that?

Miriam Lewis (00:11:00):


Torin Ellis (00:11:00):

We can disagree. So, can you describe some of the other activities that you have used to work with leadership, to work with leaders inside of Principal Financial Group?

Miriam Lewis (00:11:13):

Most DE&I teams like mine, they’re very small, so you really don’t have the capacity to reach out individually. So in this particular case, one of my closing questions with this gentleman was, “Is there anyone else you think that would benefit from hearing a story, or having a conversation with me or you?” Then he immediately started naming people on his team and other colleagues as well. So I said, “You take the people on your team, and I’ll take your peers.” Then it became more of having someone who didn’t believe this much, committed to it, and becoming an advocate for the space itself. So, I think that’s extremely important. What was the B part of your question?

Torin Ellis (00:11:51):

Oh, I don’t remember. Still good, but something else that you’ve done, which you described it. Again, we were illustrating that it takes a variety of tactics.

Miriam Lewis (00:12:03):


Torin Ellis (00:12:03):

We have to meet different people using different modalities. We can’t always feel like an email is going to work, a Slack channel is going to work. Can’t expect everyone to move at the same exact pace. So, it was more a matter of we have to be able to be sensitive, situational, awareness, recognizing where we are inside of the organization.

Miriam Lewis (00:12:24):

Absolutely. Absolutely, and that’s so important. The journey is long. I call it a marathon, a 26.2 mile race, and folks are at different places. Some are at the starting point. Some are at the 0.2 mile marker, and some are probably at the 12-mile marker, but there are probably very few people and groups or companies that are past the 12-mile marker. So, while we are making considerable progress, we still have a long ways to go.

Torin Ellis (00:12:49):

In the beginning, Miriam, did you struggle in any way? Did the organization experience a misstep, maybe even a catastrophic misstep?

Miriam Lewis (00:12:59):

Yeah. So at Principal, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that Principal has been committed to diversity for a very long time. Yes, we’re located in Iowa in the Midwest, but back in 1978, Principal added its first black person to its board of director, and its first female the very next year. So, what I would say is that we were doing the work before it was popular to do the work itself, because companies are now throwing parties for doing the same thing. So, I would say that the struggle at Principal was more around how do we expand this work to other dimensions of diversity, and take it further down into our organization itself.


So, it came by a way of making sure that there was good awareness, bringing people along the journey, and then really getting a shared definition of diversity, equity, and inclusion so that everyone understands not only just how we think about it, but what’s our strategy and what’s our approach. So, we define diversity as it’s everything that I am, and more importantly, it’s everything that I’m not. We want it to be a very humbling definition so that people understand that we need each other, that we cannot go on this journey by ourselves. Then we define equity as giving people what they need to succeed, and we use examples like our on-site daycare center. People can easily get behind the fact that our on-site daycare center is not for everyone. It’s for those who need it, and that equity works in that same way.


Then we define inclusion as a deep sense of belonging or feeling at home. Then lastly, it’s about how do we bring those three things together to create value for our organization, and not only creating value for our organization, making sure that our approach and our strategy and everything that we do is tied back to how we’re going to accelerate business growth, how we’re going to increase business, as well grow the business. So, a lot of the work that I do spend 40% of my time not just in the people processes, but working with our clients, and making sure that our leaders call our team the differentiator. I can’t think of what else it is, but we call our team the differentiator, because we’re the ones in the room that are serving as executive sponsors for our RFP processes, and making sure that our clients understand what our culture is like, what it is to do business with Principal, and how we’re making progress in this area.

Torin Ellis (00:15:30):

So, I want to go back to the question that I asked, not because I’m trying to put you on the spot, but what people I believe tend to forget is that we do make some mistakes, even in our most earnest of effort. Even in our most authentic of time, we do make mistakes.

Miriam Lewis (00:15:47):


Torin Ellis (00:15:48):

It happens, and sometimes we have to absolutely apologize and be accountable for those mistakes. So, I want to go back to the question, “Have you and or the team ever approached a project, put forth an effort, designed an initiative, looked at some operational shift? Have you done anything where it actually did not unfold the way that you wanted it to unfold?” If so, what may have happened?

Miriam Lewis (00:16:16):

Yeah, so I would definitely say that my team and myself, we make mistakes.

Torin Ellis (00:16:20):

You all see what happened there? So, now, I can… See, now, she answered the question, so I’m good. She was trying to get by that joint, but I got Miriam. It’s all good. Go ahead.

Miriam Lewis (00:16:29):

Yes. So, we make mistakes, and typically, our mistakes are not in our strategy. It’s in the execution of the work itself. So, we forget connecting with certain stakeholders as we should. That’s probably the most common mistake we make, and making sure that we have that communication panel, that communication chain tight. Typically, when someone… Let me just back up a little bit, because it’s probably helpful to understand that we have a lot of rigor in our diversity, equity, and inclusion processes and in the execution of it. We also have the same degree of rigor in our business processes. We just went through… Not just, but maybe two and a half years ago, we went through an activist analysis of our business, and that has made us much more rigorous in how we approach all of our work.


So, we get questioned a lot about the execution mistakes that we make. We get questioned a lot about, “Hey, what is it that you’re trying to accomplish? What will be the outcomes of the initiatives or the solutions that you’re putting forth?” Then we make sure that we are using data to make sure that we’re making that progress, but yes, we do make mistakes. It’s typically on execution. When you make a mistake, if you do exactly what you said, you acknowledge the mistake that you’ve made, not try and cover it up, and move forward with it. Then it typically works out well.

Torin Ellis (00:17:59):

Has anyone in the audience ever attempted something in their organization, and possibly made a mistake? Just curious. Throw them up real high so we can see them. We can talk about that a little bit later. I’m serious because I want to make sure that when you are in the work of doing D&I, that you are not capitulating and or taking a posture of retreat just because you’ve made a mistake. Trust me, I have been excoriated online by various communities, because I’ve taken a position that I thought was allyship, that I thought was favorable, but people from the community did not feel like I was being a good ally, that my comments were favorable. I have been taken to the woodshed on social media.


In the beginning, when I was a little younger, I was offended by that, and it took some time for me to understand that it’s not personal. I have to understand, and I love your definition. It’s all that I am, and more importantly all that I am not. I love that. When you all think about-

Miriam Lewis (00:19:15):


Torin Ellis (00:19:15):

Go ahead. I’m sorry.

Miriam Lewis (00:19:16):

I want to go back to the mistake piece. I do think that’s extremely important, and I think that when we make mistakes, as we make mistakes, that that’s where we learn the most. So, I can tell you, I can recall the mistakes that I’ve made and the mistakes that others have made, because I focus on what did I learn from making the mistake, and not so much of what I lost as a result of making the mistakes. So, I think that embracing making mistakes is really powerful, and I think that if we can embrace making mistakes more, and take time to reflect and learn from those mistakes, it’s where we really make the progress.

Torin Ellis (00:19:55):


Miriam Lewis (00:19:56):

So, either we win or we learn.

Torin Ellis (00:19:59):

Yeah, we win or we learn. We got a video.

Miriam Lewis (00:20:07):

We do.

Torin Ellis (00:20:07):

I think we got a video. So, did you have a chance to look at that video?

Miriam Lewis (00:20:08):

I did.

Torin Ellis (00:20:08):

What’d you think about that? Well, the audio, what’d you think about that?

Miriam Lewis (00:20:11):

Well, I thought the audio was perfect. I guess that’s what you want me to say, because you’re in it. It was really, really good. It’s the best audio I’ve ever seen. It was informative. It was thought-provoking. I’m just honored to be here with you today.

Torin Ellis (00:20:32):

How about that? Hey, but listen, I want to actually set it up a little bit differently. Miriam, you didn’t have to do all that. I want to set it up a little bit differently, but Candee, this message is for you. I was holding this for a couple of weeks. This is for Mr. Errin Braddock.

Candee (00:20:48):

Oh, okay.

Torin Ellis (00:20:48):

I’m reading the text. Am I reading the text?

Candee (00:20:49):

Oh, you’re reading the text.

Torin Ellis (00:20:51):

I’m reading the text. Errin Braddock, he says, “I really hate to miss DEAMcon. Let them know I want my seat back next year.”

Candee Chambers (00:20:59):

All right.

Torin Ellis (00:21:00):

So, I just want you to know that he wants to be here.

Candee Chambers (00:21:05):

All right.

Torin Ellis (00:21:05):

Errin Braddock is actually in this video audio clip, two minutes and 45 seconds. We talked last year, and I made some mention around band-aids and sprinkling fairy dust on D&I, and people trying to make it better by just doing these little things. Errin’s example was it being on a treadmill, and we appreciated it so much that we wanted to bring it back this year. Roll the clip.

Excerpt from DE Talk Season 4, Episode 9 (00:21:37)
Moving Off the DEIB “Treadmill” & Onto Progressive Change

Errin Braddock:

Being newish to it, what I’ve seen over the last three years, and I don’t think it’s intentional. There’s a lot of activity. To use a little slang, I think people are out doing all the things, and I call it some of it is a little performative. That’s probably the magical pixie dust you’re talking about, but I think a lot of that, I think, is unintentional, but I like to call it treadmill running. Not to use a lot of analogies, I know we had Shola here yesterday talked about the cow and the bull, but this concept to me of treadmill running, I think, it’s… When I think about treadmills, this is not for everyone. When I think of treadmills, that’s to get me into shape. That’s to help me feel good.

I see a lot of companies and a lot of people who are doing this treadmill running. It makes them really, really good. But if we’re trying to get to the other end of that room, treadmill running won’t get you there. So, we really want to focus on what’s the activity. How are we going to get there? Not just how we are a treadmill. I’ll give you an example. This is about really touching people who really care about this work, and want to see progress. So, anybody here bought a home before? So, you all have heard this concept. I’m not disclaiming that these aren’t real things, but there’s this real huge move on… It’s no longer a master bedroom or a master bathroom. It’s a primary bedroom, a primary bathroom.

Don’t get me wrong. All that’s really important. Words are important. But I can tell you as a black man, I don’t really care about that. Here, let me tell you what I care about in the real estate market. I care about when I’m selling my home that I don’t have to take down every black picture that identifies a black person owns this house. I care about when it’s time to have an assessment done on my home to determine the home’s value. I don’t have to have my white neighbor come over and sit in my house during the assessment. That’s what I care about, but someone else is feeling good because they call my bathroom a primary bathroom. To me, that’s treadmill running. We’re running in place, and that is exhausting. You will get tired, and people will stop.

So, it has to be about progress. What I’ve seen right now is you have to focus people in on what’s not treadmill running, what’s progress, because there is this activity versus progress, and we have to be focused on progress. So, I’ve seen that change. I’ve had to slow people down, and tell them, “You’re on the treadmill. Let’s get off the treadmill.” I know you feel good, and it makes you feel good. You’ve done all these things, but it’s not really moving anything forward but making you feel better and getting you in better shape. This is about all of us. As you said, it’s about the entity, the people, all of us. So, I’ve seen that ship, and so trying to get people back to progress is a ship that I think we need to start going towards.

Miriam Lewis (00:24:25):

Wow. I still think it was fantastic. Torin, just with the video itself, how did that impact you? What are you thinking?

Torin Ellis (00:24:39):

I got to tell you, I was talking to Tim on Monday, yesterday, when I arrived Monday, whatever, and Tim’s sitting in the back of the room. I’ve shared with people often, because I feel like if you are going to be in the space of diversity and inclusion, there are four words that you will ebb and flow through, empathy, intentionality, proximity and transparency. Empathy, intentionality, proximity, close, and transparency. So, when people ask me, “How are you?” I want to be honest and transparent, “I am frustrated.” I said in California on the DEAMcon on stage in 2022 that it is horrible that you would stand, and even persons on this stage, you would sit and stand and say that you were doing diversity and inclusion as a result of George Floyd’s death period.


I got on the stage in 2022 or ’23, whatever it was, and I said, “You should be ashamed of yourself. If you are at an organization, and you are saying that you are doing D&I because of the death of George Floyd period, and not have a continuation statement, that could be the ignition, but you must be able to talk about why you continue to do it.” For me, I do it because I am chasing humanity. So when you ask me, Miriam, how does Errin’s comment from last year, the one that you echoed, you said it right before that words matter, but how you say them? I just want the results. I am frustrated that I am sitting in a room of individuals who raise their hand, and they will say that diversity and inclusion is important, and I can count on one hand the number of people of you sitting in here that I have talked to outside of the conference.


I’m not saying that you need to hire me. I’m good, but I can tell you when you shake my hand, and you tell me that you care, then damn it, you better be doing something to show me that you care. I am frustrated that in 2024, I have to listen to Errin’s comment, and it still resonates because we are not pushing back on the insanity, the insanity that some of these individuals are professing and purporting in our media, in our corporate corridors, in our communities, in our churches, in our grocery stores, in our daycare centers, in our law firms. I am frustrated, and I need more of you to be equally as frustrated as I am. I’m going to smile. I’m going to hug you. I’m going to tell you how much I love you. I’m going to do all of that because I really do, but I am going to hold you accountable. That’s what I’m going to do.

Miriam Lewis (00:28:30):

The meaningful progress is so important, and I think I’ll share maybe a little bit about some of the results and outcomes that we’ve been able to achieve at Principal by making some systemic changes within our processes. Basically, my bias is around embedding inclusion into our processes, and not adding new processes to do this work. So with our people process, that’s our compliance training. We’ve talked a lot about compliance. We’ve embedded our voluntary self ID process into that work. By embedding it into our annual compliance training, then more people are self ID-ing. Not only that, we promote it during our ERG events. So for people with disabilities, over the last five years, we now have 353% more people identifying as a person with a disability.


For veterans, we have 111% more people identifying as veterans. So, that’s one way that you can not be on the treadmill but driving some meaningful progress, because when they identify, then what’s helpful for us is that we’re able to make sure that we have the supporting mechanisms within our benefits program, and other ways to further engage employees. But we talked a lot about the lack of progress, and I don’t think we can move too quickly from that either, Torin. So, what do you think is… This is a question from the audience. So, what do you think is the driver? Why is there such a lack of progress in this space? I talked about some of the progress, and there are areas that we can drive improvement in as well, but overall for corporate America.

Torin Ellis (00:30:10):

Personally, I believe that it is a multi… I don’t even know the cute word that I’m trying to find right here in this moment, but it’s a number of things. Number one, I believe that we have lackadaisical leadership. I think that if we are inside of organizations that have leaders, I’m speaking specifically of the CEO, definitely of the C-suite, senior leadership team, executive leadership team, and then hiring managers. If we are inside of organizations where leadership has not made a declarative statement that diversity and inclusion are important to the organization, I think that we are in the wrong organization. I feel like those organizations are the ones that are going to struggle in terms of building high-performing teams as we move forward.


That declarative statement does not need to be external-facing. I feel like at minimum, every employee inside of the organization needs to know where their senior leaders stand. I think that that has been missing in far too many of them, and or if it’s present, it’s a little lukewarm. It ain’t hot. You got that glass right there because you wanted to keep your beverage warm. Am I right? You don’t want it to be cold, watered down. Talk to me. Yep. Yep. Indeed. That’s right. Talk back. Number two, I believe that we are not doing a good enough job in our organizations of allocating resources, headcount and dollars. We are putting people in place saying for them to do D&I, but we are doing it without zero budget.


Let me give you all a statistic, not even a statistic. March of 2019, it was a report by Russell Reynolds, major executive staffing firm, major, major, like a $400 million staffing firm. I know this, because he did a report, and it said, “Finding our next chief diversity officer.” Then they went in and talked about how diversity officers are underfunded and all of this other stuff. I’m looking at myself like, “Well, yeah, we get it,” but you continue to go into these organizations representing your firm, and you are not trying to push leaders to allocate resources. So, you have to be willing to put dollars behind what’s important. You must put people in role that have the acumen to deliver on the business methodology as well as the social imperative.


I cannot tell you how detrimental it is to go into organizations, and find them having someone leading the D&I effort that is emotionally charged only, lacking the acumen. So when we do that, we are doing that, and disrupting the progress of D&I. So, lack of a statement, lack of resources, and then last but not least, leaders not holding people accountable. That’s the bottom line. I’m going to be real quick with this. I always tell people, “If you want to…” The young people in the room, you recognize this. This is the play or free game. That’s young people’s talk, Miriam. I’m not young. Free game. If you want to hold people accountable, all you have to do is one thing, and it doesn’t cost you any money. Every single person in this room, you ask every employee in your organization, “What did you do to support that leader’s declarative statement?”


You see what I did? Declarative statement, resources, holding people accountable on everyone’s performance appraisal. You ask one question, “What did you do to support the leader’s diversity and inclusion missive?” Some people are going to say, “I ain’t do anything.” That’s cool. If you report to me, we’re going to work on that. I’m going to try to figure out why you didn’t do anything. Maybe you didn’t have the confidence. Maybe you felt like you were too new. Maybe you don’t feel like you have the cache in the community. Whatever the reason, I’ll try to find out why didn’t you do anything. Some people don’t do anything because they don’t care, and it’s my goal to make sure that I root them out of the organization, and make space for somebody else who cares about what’s important to our executive leader and myself.


So, it’s really simple, declarative statement, resources, holding people accountable. That’s to me why we haven’t made the progress that is deserving.

Miriam Lewis (00:34:48):

That’s fantastic. You said a mouthful, Torin, and I probably would offer a couple of… Oh, was that not right to say? I’d probably add a couple of more things to that, because there are probably… Y’all have acknowledged that we have different companies in the room, and we’re in different places along the journey. So, maybe, excuse me, a couple of more things to offer would be fear. It really goes back to the question that you posed to me earlier that came from the audience. So, fear, I love that Joyce Myers defined fear as false evidence appearing real. Once we understand that most fears, 90% of fears, don’t come true, then people are willing to lay them aside, and try a very thoughtful approach, so really meeting people where are on the journey. If it’s fear, studies still show today that fear is one of the things that’s impacting the progress in this area.


Then I think we have to take accountability for it as well as D&I leaders. I think that the approach that many of us have taken in the past isn’t the right approach. What I mean by that is that it’s diversity, equity, and inclusion. Many of us take it as diversity, equity or inclusion, and that matters tremendously. We have to run parallel paths, or otherwise we’ll be on that treadmill. If we’re just focused on diversity, we’re opening the front door wide open, and the back door is wide open too for talent to go back and forth. Our recruiters in the room know that to be true as well, because you’re constantly recruiting. So, I think that making sure that we’re not just hiring for diversity, but also retaining for diversity, developing for diversity is extremely important.

Torin Ellis (00:36:37):

Miriam, I want to stay there for just a moment. When you say the front door is open, the back door is open, I love that Boolean operator of or. I’m a recruiter. I heard Mike asking about recruiters. Let tell you something. We are important.

Miriam Lewis (00:36:51):


Torin Ellis (00:36:51):

I love us, Mike. Let me ask you this question. When you talk about that swinging door and it being important, where does the forensic discovery of D&I in all of the value… Let me ask it differently. How important is it for us, Miriam, to explore how that D and I is being explored in all of the value points, meaning recruiting, employer branding, supplier diversity, corporate social responsibility, learning and development? I can go on and on and on. Is it critical that we do it through the entire organization, or would you say that we can make way by just looking at talent acquisition?

Miriam Lewis (00:37:41):

It has to be pulled through the entire organization. We put too much pressure on a talent or acquisition function, and we don’t hold leaders accountable for the equity and the inclusion part of it. That’s where we’re not able to retain talent. So, they’re all equally important. One is not more important than the other, and making sure that… The way that we do that is through what you just talked about. It’s accountability, right? It’s how are we holding leaders accountable for all three? We have three measures across all of those factors to make sure, and we also at Principal tie it to the short-term incentive not just for leaders but for all employees, because inclusion is not just up to the leadership team, but it’s who I’m interacting with on a given day. They need to respect me, and I need to respect them.


That’s how I feel included is when I’m respected. I remember in kindergarten, Torin, I would get this… You probably got your little folders that you took home on Fridays as well. Was that just an Alabama thing, or anyone else have folders? You get a smiley face if you treated others well. That’s just what inclusion is today. I recall just a couple of years ago, my mother asked me, “What do you do at work?” I went through this long spiel about embedding things and people processes and all of this. She said, “So, you get paid to teach people to respect each other.”

Torin Ellis (00:39:12):

That’s right.

Miriam Lewis (00:39:15):

That’s really what it’s all about. So, it’s really about respect, and how are we going to do that?

Torin Ellis (00:39:19):

That’s right.

Miriam Lewis (00:39:19):

We’ve been taught it for a long time, but now it’s a matter of just embedding it in every phase, every aspect of our lives. I’m probably going on a rant right now, but I’m going to continue.

Torin Ellis (00:39:31):

That’s right.

Miriam Lewis (00:39:32):

So, that really bothers me When we are… That’s basically what we’re doing. When we’re doing our self-assessments, we’re looking to make sure that people are being respected in our promotion systems. We’re making sure people are being respected in our talent hiring practices. So, all of this boils down to treating people the way you want to be treated, and getting that smiley face at the end of the day when it comes to how well we performed.

Torin Ellis (00:39:58):

So, I stay in the news, and I want to read this to you, because I don’t want the good congressman to find out that I sat on a stage of DEAMcon, and I misquoted him. So, if someone is from this beautiful state, tell the good congressman that I read his quote exactly the way that he said it. Congressman Greg Murphy introduced the Embracing Anti-Discrimination, Unbiased Curricula, and Advancing Truth in Education Act. Now, I want to tell you how he got cute with that, because then after all of that, he put educate in parentheses. See, that sounds less threatening. You got it? The Embracing Anti-Discrimination, Unbiased Curricula, and Advancing Truth in Education Act to ban race-based mandates at medical schools and accrediting institutions.


If you read further into the act, what he is saying is that at schools, they will not get any federal funding if they have any diversity and inclusion offices or program managers or some other title. This is going to have a huge impact, and not just in that great state, but across these United States. I don’t want you for one moment to think that I am against a political party. I’m not. I’m against anything that is an assault on humanity. That’s what I’m against. So Miriam, I’m wondering, from your perspective, what are the short and long-term ramifications of our traversing through this particular climate?

Miriam Lewis (00:42:12):

First, let me acknowledge how sad that is, because education is important, and when we are educated about something, we’re likely to change our behaviors, and we’re likely to drive different outcomes based on being informed on anything. So, the short-term impact, I’ll just be honest with you. It’s the frustration of it, the agony that comes with it, and also the fact that some companies are going to reverse efforts with this work. What I do believe to be true is that from a long-term perspective, those companies won’t be around come another 20 plus years. So, I think that it’s a short-sighted decision to not move forward with this work, and make sure that you’re leveraging it to drive good business outcomes.


So, I think that what’s important here for the professionals in this room is to say, “Stay the course. Don’t quit.” Make sure that you are being thoughtful in your approach around this work, because you can’t have inclusion at the expense of others, right? When we say inclusion, it has to be about everyone, and we have to make sure that what we’re putting forth, it’s not just meaningful, but it’s also lawful. If we take that approach, then the work that we’re doing will be fine. I get to in this party forum that we talked about earlier with compliance, risk, and legal, we get to have a lot of parties now, and we go through our inclusion processes. Going through those processes, we’re making sure that they’re just that. They’re meaningful and they’re lawful, and that they can withstand reasonable scrutiny.


We walk out of those sessions. Julie is here. She runs our affirmative action program. She can really tell you that we walk out of there with a great deal of confidence, shared confidence, united confidence around the work that we’re doing. So, making sure that you’re doing the right work, and that you understand what your goals are, and that you are achieving those goals, and that also that you’re setting your goals where you have a 50% chance to meet them, and a 50% chance to miss them. That’s the way we set our business goals. So, we really follow a lot of those same principles in making sure that we’re doing the work. But if we’re not careful, if we’re putting in treadmill type of solutions, progress is reversible, and you’re going to see that happen. But if you’re putting against systemic change, then you’ll see continuous improvement.

Torin Ellis (00:44:43):

Before we hit our conversational descent, I want to look out into the room. Are there any questions from you all? I know, and don’t feel like you can’t stand up, because I said I was frustrated and all of that. Listen, I tell you, I love each and every one of you. I open it up, but are there any questions that you all might have for Miriam or myself? I really, really want you all to consider grabbing Miriam’s intellect, her insight, her energy, her acumen, because she has done a wonderful job. I want you all to look at Miriam. Don’t look at me. Look at Miriam. I’m about to say something that Miriam doesn’t even know I’m going to say. I grew up in Davenport, Iowa. Well, look at Miriam. I grew up in Davenport, Iowa, and one thing that I tell the team, no matter where I go, I set the rules for how I show up and participate.


I’m not trying to impress you. I’m just impressing upon you that I don’t just take any speaking engagement. I don’t just show up where I’m invited. When I do say, yes, you do it the way that I want to do it, or I’m not coming. It’s just that simple. When they reached out to me, and they said that We want to put you in conversation with Miriam Lewis from Principal, I said, “Cool, let me shoot my former girlfriend from high school a message.” She used to work at Principal. I said, “So, tell me about Miriam Lewis, because if she’s not legitimate about D&I, then I don’t want to be on the stage with Miriam. I don’t want to set her up. I don’t want her to be in a conversation. I just don’t want that to happen, not to Miriam, not with me.”


That’s just the way that I am. She did a little bit of digging, hit a couple of folks, sent me back a message, and said, “Torin, she is absolutely legit.” So, the reason why I want you to ask her questions is because she is who she says she is.

Miriam Lewis (00:46:41):

Thank you for that.

Torin Ellis (00:46:42):

You are welcome.

Miriam Lewis (00:46:43):

I did similar digging when I joined Principal. Before I accepted the offer, I went and talked to former employees. I didn’t want to talk to the current employees. I wanted to understand about the culture. That was part of my research, but what I want to say here is that one of the things we noticed in our initial prep conversation were the differences between the two of us, the style differences, and you can see it here today. We both embrace that, because we can have differences, and we can still share philosophies. I think that our strategies are the same, but our approaches are different. It doesn’t matter. As long as your strategy, your belief, and your missions are the same, you can get to a very good place in the end. So, this is really diversity, equity, inclusion in motion.

Torin Ellis (00:47:27):


Jim (00:47:30):

Hi, Miriam. My name’s Jim U. I’m from State of Oregon. I operate a Jobs for Veterans State Grant Program. So, I wrote a lot of notes. You guys talk really fast, and I’m a slow writer. So, one of the things I wrote down is about equity is about giving the tools to succeed. Then you also talked about inclusion and belonging, but I couldn’t keep up with the writing. Can you give me a little bit of a general definition of what you mean by inclusion and also the statement about belonging?

Miriam Lewis (00:48:02):

Yes. So, we consider inclusion to be a deep sense of belonging. A lot of companies define them differently, but we define them both. We believe that it’s a continuum. That deeper sense of inclusion is belonging said a different way. I think that we try and keep it simple. There are some companies that have other words attached to DE&I as well. They’re all helpful, but trying not to over complicate it. Let’s get diversity, right? Let’s get equity. Let’s get inclusion, and then we can move on to some other things, if you will. But when you bring all three together, it’s really about valuing differences, and creating value for your organization, or creating value for the community. Thank you for that question.

Dee Anne (00:48:53):

My name’s Dee Anne. I’m with Direct Employers Association. Thank you so much for both of you being here. My question is for you, Miriam, since Torin told me to ask you, but it’s really about something he said about the congressman. I know that it seems like in today’s world, at least with me, that a couple people control a lot of what we do in a big space. But, I have also heard too that a response that we can have with diversity inclusion is that for those universities or corporations that decide that this is not important to them, that obviously we have a voice by not attending them or also taking our business somewhere else. So, I wondered what you thought about that in response to how that’s impacting our country for business.

Miriam Lewis (00:49:42):

I really dislike the cancel culture without really deeply understanding, but relating back to education, since that’s the focus of the question itself. I think that it’s a misstep to be honest with you. I think that it’s a decision that is more politically charged than anything else. I will have to be honest with you and say that it’s hard, and it’s not as hard as it’s going to get, but the thing that will change is that we will learn to do hard well. We will be stronger as a result of it, and the thing… Not only do we get to, I would say, counsel and not do business with someone else, but it’s really about voting. It’s about making sure that not only you’re getting out to vote, but that you’re taking others to the polls as well, that you’re encouraging others to vote as well.


The other thing that I would say is that companies don’t get a vote at the polls. They have a voice, and they can influence policies, but at the end of the day, we have to make sure that we are helping others to vote, and to help move and change the needle.

Torin Ellis (00:50:58):

Thank you, Miriam. I see one more on that side. Good morning.

Tim (00:51:01):

Good morning. I’m Tim.

Torin Ellis (00:51:03):

He is.

Miriam Lewis (00:51:03):

Tim, ask your question of Torin, please.

Tim (00:51:09):

No. I’m going to ask the question for both of you.

Miriam Lewis (00:51:13):


Tim (00:51:14):

I operate in the midst of a military doctrine of the rule of three. I try to look at things in terms of three tasks, three takeaways, three achievement points, three goals, and then I move on to the next three. What three do you want us to leave this room with?

Torin Ellis (00:51:30):

I’ll go first. It’s real simple. I’m going to give you some operational cover. I’m a military dude, all right? I would’ve gone to the Marines, but I felt like when we did all of the research, and they said basic training was going to be 13, 14 weeks long. In the army, it was 10 weeks, 11 weeks long. Navy, it was nine weeks. In the Air Force, it was six or seven weeks, and the pay was exactly the same. I said, “I’m going to the Air Force. There ain’t no need for me.” There’s really no need for me to crawl through the mud for 14 weeks, and it’s the same amount of money, but I’m going to give you some operational cover, empowerment, strategic exploration, tactical execution. Empowerment, strategic exploration, tactical execution. If you have no voice, you are in trouble, and I can’t empower Tim.


You have to feel empowered. I can do everything that I can to inspire you to develop you, resource, support you, make you feel like you can run through walls, but you have to feel empowered. When you feel empowered, you will do what Miriam said, and you will exercise that voice. You will vote. You will stand up in meetings. You will push back. You would do some things differently when you feel empowered. Strategic exploration, listen, I want results, and I want them immediately. I want them to be bigger than they are right now, but I must absolutely have a strategy. I can’t run through this room, and expect everyone to move at my cadence and frequency without some degree of strategy. No matter how I dart through the room and collect and deposit, I need to make sure that I leave every table with some sort of a strategic strategy.


Where we miss is that as recruiters, we take requisitions from hiring managers, and we just run to the marketplace to try to find talent. That’s poor recruiting. You see, one of the things that I would do is I would say, “Tim, I appreciate all of this right here, but what stage of the business is this business unit in or this department in or this team in?” Because depending on where you are, continuous improvement, transformation, hyper growth, your team requires something different in terms of talent. So, I have to have a strategy, and then I need to execute. Miriam said it in the first five minutes. I have to be able to execute on that strategy knowing what resources I have, domain knowledge I have, what I’m missing, don’t have, what can I bring into the equation, but my execution has to be boom. I’m going to make sure that I deliver empowerment, strategic exploration, tactical execution.

Miriam Lewis (00:54:35):

I 100% agree, so I’ll just maybe provide some more emphasis to what Torin has said. A lot of what’s happening today is a distraction. So if you’re not strategic, if you’re not staying on strategy, you’re going to wake up a year from now, and you’re going to be in the same place you were today. So, make sure that you are being intentional, that you’re prioritizing where you and the resources spend their time, and make sure you’re delivering on this work. The last thing you want to do is not make any progress because of what’s going on externally. It’s a distraction. We have to deal with some of it, but make sure that you have a person focused on dealing with that, what percentage of time you want them dealing with those issues, or maybe even create a sub-team outside of your team to help with some of the work, but stay on strategy. Make sure that you’re intentional, and make sure that you prioritize what’s most important first.

Torin Ellis (00:55:33):

Question up front.

Anonymous (00:55:35):

Torin, Miriam, thank you so much for your authenticity and just your honesty. I really do appreciate it. I am here representing … so y’all know what kind of situation we are in. Just to just give y’all a little insight, just for me to be here, we had to take on DirectEmployers as our vendor. So technically, this wouldn’t be counted as a DEI activity that the state was funding. We are really facing a lot of challenges. So, in a place where I’m at a public institution where I can’t even use the words diversity, equity, or inclusion, aside from staying in the course, what advice or suggestions would you have to make sure our work remains intentional, and we still have outcomes that impact the people we care about most?

Torin Ellis (00:56:12):

I’ll make this really, really quick, and we can talk afterwards and or post-conference, but look up something called Covering, C-O-V-E-R-I-N-G. Deloitte and Kenji Yoshino, in 2014, they published something titled Covering, and Miriam alluded to it earlier not using the same language, but she found that common ground. I believe it’s extremely important that we find a way to get all the individuals at your academic institution to see themselves in that axis so that we can have meaningful conversations. Covering, C-O-V-E-R-I-N-G, by Kenji Yoshino, and Deloitte.

Miriam Lewis (00:56:57):

It’s an excellent read. I echo that as well. It’s a very short read too, so take advantage of that. The other thing that I would add to that is go back to your core values, and find common ground within your core values. Many companies’ core values are do what’s right, respect others, or something to that nature, and then just make sure you’re tying that to making sure that you’re respecting others.

Anonymous (00:57:22):

Thank you.

Miriam Lewis (00:57:22):

Thank you for the work to that.

Torin Ellis (00:57:24):

One more question, and I believe we have one in the back.

Francesca (00:57:26):

Hi. Thank you. Francesca M., Buffalo, New York. I have to say Kaleida Health, where I work, is very much part of DEI and doing the right thing. However, I’m very active in the community, and what I’m hearing a lot of throughout… We are up south, so you’re no different from being down south to up south. What I’m hearing are people now saying, “Oh, we don’t need DEI. We can just hire a consultant.” People are getting rid of DEI departments in Western New York, and they’re now going… Some companies, some not-for-profits, some profitable not-for-profits are now saying, “Oh, we can…” Maybe you’ve heard this. That’s why I’m asking this question, “What do you do? What do you say when people are saying, “We don’t need a DEI person. We can just hire a consultant to do this work?”

Miriam Lewis (00:58:22):

Companies are taking that approach, and many of them are taking it, because they have cover right now to take that approach because of the political environment. But I think that if companies are taking that approach, it’s deeper than what do we say to them is how do we respond to that not with our words, but with our actions? So, we all know that inequities exist. So, what approach are we going to take to address inequities? Just having that conversation, making sure that the leaders understand the full impact of that particular decision. A consultant could come in, right? I love consultants. They could come in and help you to explain why you need a DEI organization, and build it out so that it’s sustainable.


I think that DEI will exist as long… There will be a need for DE&I as long as there are businesses, because we help make sure that the business imperatives are met.

Torin Ellis (00:59:18):

There’s nothing wrong with a consultant. That’s the way that I operate, but I always operate… No, seriously, but I operate with the intention of getting an organization to understand that I am what you would consider fractional. I would what you consider to be a flex resource, but you would want to build your own center of excellence, and I can help you with that path of building that center of excellence internally.

Nesha (00:59:45):

So, good morning. My name is Nesha C. I am the assistant commissioner for the Virgin Islands Department of Labor. So my question is… Thank you for your presentation. It was excellent. My question is what would you say for individuals who are in organizations where they say, “We don’t need DEI, because we have one woman. We have one black person. We’ve met the standard. We’re good. Let’s move on?” What would your advice be to that?

Torin Ellis (01:00:12):

I’m going to be really, really short on this one. We’re going to defer to Miriam, because we do have different styles, and the cameras are rolling so…

Miriam Lewis (01:00:27):

I mean, I think that-

Torin Ellis (01:00:28):

Do it, Miriam.

Miriam Lewis (01:00:33):

I’m going to say it like Torin would say it.

Torin Ellis (01:00:35):

Do it. Do it.

Miriam Lewis (01:00:35):

It’s obvious that the organization isn’t serious about the work itself, right? So, I think that it’s a much larger conversation around having a representative on the team. What I found that… I actually feel that I’m needed less in our organization now that we have more diverse representation in our company, and that’s a really good thing. It means that we’re doing our work when we have people in all of our groups, not just a person, but people in all of our groups with diverse representation. So, I think that they don’t know what they don’t know. So, I think that you have to continue to tell them. Also, the people who are first in the door have to be wildly successful in order for people to want more diversity within their groups.


So, it’s a weight that diverse people carry with them is to make sure that you’re not just doing the job, but that you’re exceeding in the job itself.

Torin Ellis (01:01:30):

Miriam will be back this afternoon. We are wrapping up. We’re going to land the plane. I know that her conversation this afternoon is going to be equally as riveting. So, make sure that you are in the room and present for such. 30 seconds, what do you want the room to hear from you before this afternoon?

Miriam Lewis (01:01:51):

Use your voice, and stay the course. What about you?

Torin Ellis (01:02:03):

What is needed is a shift in openness and value given to the narrative by both the storytellers and the listeners.

Mikey Meagher (01:02:27):

This conversation represents one of the many incredible sessions featured this year on the DEAMcon stage. I welcome our listeners to save the date to join us in Scottsdale, May 21st through the 23rd 2025. For more sessions like this one, visit to sign up for our mailing list for event announcements, programming announcements, and more.

Candee Chambers (01:02:50):

Thank you for tuning in for another episode of the DE Talk Podcast. Stay connected with DirectEmployers on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and subscribe to our emails by visiting to receive notifications of new episodes each month.

Candee Chambers
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