30 minutes with the Dallas Mavericks’ Cynthia Marshall
YOU have the power to ignite change. YOU have the power to make a difference. YOU can help shape the future of the workplace.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day.” We all know that, but it rings true today as we think about the times we are living in, and as we strive to create more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplaces. Though it takes time to build great things, we must focus our attention on what we can do each and every day. Because the truth is every perspective matters, every voice deserves to be heard, and everyone should be included and feel as if they belong – and as individuals, we can help make inclusion a standard for workplaces around the world.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Cynthia Marshall – or Cynt as she prefers to be called – as she joined us for a dynamic keynote at our INSPIRE virtual global conference. She went viral as thousands of people sung (and danced!) her well-deserved praises. Cynt’s story is what keeps me inspired to continue to work to make inclusion a standard for workplaces around the world.
Cynt spent nearly 36 years – 13,088 days to be exact – with AT&T, where she served as the SVP of Human Resources and Chief Diversity Officer. Now, she is at the helm of the Dallas Mavericks, serving as the first black, female CEO in the NBA. Her admirable career has never been without challenges. In her highly engaging talk, Cynt shared her family struggles, health concerns, and how she climbed the corporate ladder. Through it all, she persevered and came out the other side as a trailblazer for inclusive cultures.
Here are a few key takeaways from Cynt’s session – and how you can apply elements from her values-based playbook to your role, too.
- Go all IN: After receiving an unexpected call from Mark Cuban, Cynt’s next role was right in front of her. She was called upon with one clear goal in mind: to set the standard for diversity and inclusion at the NBA. To do so, she leads with HeaRt and encourages everyone to go all IN – be intentional, inclusive, insightful, and inspirational.
- Start with a 100-day plan: Start small with an achievable plan that has mile markers along the way to track progress. Cynt’s plan includes modeling zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior, developing a women’s playbook, transforming the culture to be more inclusive and supportive with mandatory trainings and employee engagement, and developing a best-in-class employee complaint process and operations structure. Her plan had four major components:
- Leading with intent: Develop a values-based playbook to guide your team in leading with intent. The playbook that Cynt created for the Mavericks includes the company values, owning their mistakes, the importance of asking for help internally and externally, and supports the creation of employee communities and investing in your people.
- Leading with inclusion: “Diversity is what we have, inclusion is what we do. Diversity is a fact. Inclusion is a choice. Diversity is about counting the numbers. Inclusion is about making the numbers count. Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance,” she said. Your mentees, team members and colleagues won’t – and shouldn’t – always look and think like you. You need to ask them to dance, so they feel like they belong.
- Leading with insight: To yield the best results, we must bring in various perspectives, experiences, and insights. To lead with insight, we must also understand the difference between equality and equity. It’s not enough to give people what they need to overcome barriers; to be truly insightful, we have to question why the barriers exist and dismantle them all together. We must be creative, innovative, and change the game so that everybody can participate.
- Lead with inspiration: What inspires you? What inspires your teams and colleagues? As Cynt described, you have to try to understand people and then “meet them” where they are. She also is passionate about her team’s involvement in community service to give them a bigger purpose and keep them inspired to keep reaching for more.
- Be the monarch of the castle: Borrowed from the famous ‘60s hit, remember that “ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough…” No mountain is too high for us to be there for each other, and no challenge is too great to overcome. WE are at the center of making real change in the workplace. WE are the queen or king of the castle – the fate of the company is in our hands, as we are responsible for setting the tone for the culture.
Between COVID-19 and the social justice movement, Cynt points out that we are fighting a double pandemic. Let’s break barriers and overcome adversity, just like she has. Think about your 100-day plan to change the game, be transparent about your plan with employees, and be accountable. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is not a business initiative, it’s a business imperative. We can do this, together.
Want more? Watch my interview with Cynt from INSPIRE 2020 here.
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About the Author
Chinor Lee is the associate director of culture, belonging, inclusion, and diversity at iCIMS. Through his work, Chinor builds and fosters an inclusive, collaborative, and empowered workforce at iCIMS as we aspire to set the tone for many more companies in our industry.