Clarisce Tolston

Director of TA Clarisce Tolston: Corporate Culture Detox; Challenging C-Suite DEI Expectations

Clarisce TolstonDirector of Talent Acquisition

As the Director of Talent Acquisition at HealthTrackRx, Clarisce takes joy in connecting the brand and its core values to the organization and its people, while also attracting fresh talent to come in and be in alignment with those values. In today’s episode, you’ll learn more about how she does this by providing her organization with the best possible resources in order to help fuel development and personal growth, rather than simply checking the boxes. We have a truly eye-opening conversation about detoxing from destructive corporate cultures and distinguishing between good people leaders and people who are good at their jobs. Clarisce also shares some actionable advice for challenging misplaced expectations when it comes to bringing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) to the C-suite, and how to do so in a meaningful way.


Episode Transcript



[00:00:05] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent to Me, a podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the front lines of modern recruitment.

[00:00:12] FEMALE: We actually want to understand the themes of someone’s life. We want to understand how they make decisions, where they’re willing to take risks and what it looks like when they fail.

[00:00:22] RS: No holds barred, completely off the cuff interviews with directors of recruitment, VPs of global talent, CHROs, and everyone in between.

[00:00:31] FEMALE: Once I went through the classes and the trainings and got the certifications through diversity inclusion, I still felt something was missing.

[00:00:39] MALE: Talent acquisition; it’s a fantastic career. You are trusted by the organization. You get to work with the C-suite, and the security at the front desk, and everybody in between and everybody knows you.

[00:00:52] RS: I’m your host, Rob Stevenson, and you’re about to hear the best in the biz. Talk Talent To Me.


[00:00:58] RS: Hello, podcast land. It is I, Rob Stevenson once again, bringing you that sweet, sweet talent acquisition content, you so need in your never-ending role to find, hire, engage, develop, retain top talent. Here with me today is the Director of Talent over at HealthTrackRx, Clarisce Tolston. Clarisce, welcome to the podcast. How the heck are you today?

[00:01:23] CT: Good morning. This is pretty exciting. I’m excited to be here and excited to share some hopefully helpful things for you guys.

[00:01:30] RS: I’m so thrilled to have you. It’s a crime that this is an audio only medium, because you’re looking bright and sunny. There’s beautiful art behind you, you have a wonderful red outfit on. It’s a feast for the senses over here on Talk Talent To Me. Our listeners only get to hear it, but I do appreciate you going the distance to show up the way you did.

[00:01:49] CT: Thank you. Step your game up! We need a video podcast.

[00:01:52] RS: I know. I’ve been putting it off for so long, just almost because this whole idea of the pivot to video has been a joke in marketing for 10 years. Now podcasters are just getting on a joke. I’m like, “Guys, come on. I’m tired of being told to pivot to video.” I just need to swallow my pride and do it at some point. We’ll see, coming 2023, maybe, who knows. In any case, we are audio only for the time being, and I’m so happy to have you here Clarisce.

Before we get too deep in the weeds, because there’s so much to go into with you, you are so much more than a Director of Talent for HealthTrackRx. You have your finger in a lot of pies, as they say. I want to hear about all that. First, can we learn a little bit about you, and your background, and what drove you to your current role?

[00:02:32] CT: Alright, perfect. I want to say, I feel like most people that got into talent acquisition, it was 100% an accident. I think there’s a small outlier group of people who always wanted to get into helping people. I think talent acquisition is a mix of marketing, branding, employment branding, and then customer service, and someone being adept at technology, especially in this time. My career path is a non-traditional path. I started off in an administrative role. I started off as a receptionist for a fashion house. I loved that job. I think that is also what makes you a good recruiter is that you have to still have passion and fire for people and for helping and supporting people.

It was one of those roles where people told me constantly like you would be good at this or you would be good at that. I’ve had a whole career path of me self-promoting myself in jobs. I was a receptionist that became an office manager by default, because I had hired different people in certain roles within the organization. They just tapped in on to my role. People said, “You’re really good at this.” Finding people and connecting people, I ended up getting a bigger role at Microsoft. I also was serving as an in an administrative role, and did well in that. I used to hang out – this is the beginning of the era where they have these high-tech companies that have these huge cafeterias with chefs and this whole setup, so I used to just go around, and I was pretty social, because I had a boss that was very high in the corporate hierarchy. So, I spent a lot of time hanging out and talking to other people in other departments and sharing some of our projects, because I was just really proud of the work that we were doing at the time.

This is the beginning of the Microsoft service. So when I was there, I was talking to developers, and they often – I was often like, “Yeah. You should come join us.” So I was an internal thief. I would go around and get other people from other departments to join our department, which would put an ease on our recruitment. My boss at the time decided to have his own internal recruitment department, which was led by me. I was there for a temporary assignment. One of the things that – I was covering maternity leave, and once that maternity leave came back, I didn’t have a job, but I just really enjoyed my experience and I was okay moving on. So he told me to go down to HR and see if they had any recruiting jobs. They didn’t at the time. I went back upstairs and I said, “They don’t right now, but if they do in the future, they’ll let me know.” Then he made a phone call and a job appeared.

[00:04:50] RS: Interesting.

[00:04:50] CT: Yes, in second.

[00:04:52] RS: Hey, Clarisce, it’s us again. Damn this thing. We just found this open role behind one of the file cabinets.

[00:04:59] CT: Exactly. I became officially by title, a recruiter there. I started off in IT. I did a lot of H-1Bs. I dealt with a lot of different groups, colleges, universities, and obviously legal, I stayed. My desk was literally in the legal department, because that’s where I housed a lot of H-1B candidates. I started off as a technical recruiter. Later in my career, I got into healthcare, but I’ve always been at core an IT recruiter, so I left that organization and then I went to dabble in healthcare. I’ve been in healthcare ever since. I’ve spent most of my recruiting lifetime in healthcare. I got there. I wanted to be. I was there as a contractor, great work, I had been successful as an IT recruiter. I had the branding of working with Microsoft, so I was just showing no issues.

What happened was they realized there was a difference between people who were contract recruiters and were in-house recruiters. They wanted their in-house recruiters to be more like the contract recruiters. We’re filling 20 positions a week, right? Because we are competitive, where their, time is money, time is of the essence and that’s the type of environment and people put their headphones on, they get to work, they kill it, they would have offered to offer. Now you’ve got these executive recruiters who are feeling one position a month. So for them, the leadership was, we want more of this and less of that. So they asked me to come in and start training some of their corporate recruiters.

Again, another title made up, not part of the hierarchy, not part of the budget, not part of the plan. They create another role, which is a trainer. I trained all of our new recruiters and I updated our technology systems. So I did that role for a year, then there was a supervisory position which I did not apply for that came available. My boss was like, “You already trained everyone. They already know you. They do respect you. This is a great transition.” I was promoted into that role. Every year after that, I actually was promoted into another higher position. I really had a very fast track hierarchy to the top, and mainly because we had a high retention rate. We kept those recruiters and each year they got better, and they got developed.

Then, I switched over to more technical recruiting, and helping the recruiters in a technical space. That’s when I got into the leadership realm with recruiting, so going from that management role to being a director. That’s the short and sweet version of how I got here and how I transitioned and how it was possible to start off minding my business into an executive role in a very short period of time. Lots of strategic, lots of tactical, lots of politics. Unfortunately, here in healthcare and IT, you’re going to deal with that. Yeah, so that’s the short version of that journey is starting off in recruiting and then coming up into the ranks of leadership.

Now that I’m up here, I realized there’s 700 other recruiting genres that I could have done, which probably would have been managing people, so it’s been an exciting journey.

[00:07:52] RS: I really love your story of how you landed in recruitment, specifically, because when someone asks advice, how should I get into X field? Right? How should I get, let’s use recruiting as the example. Probably no one would give that example, no one get that advice, no one would be like, “Oh, well just get your foot in the door and deliver and meet people. It’s not what you know. it’s who you know, and just get close to where it’s happening and probably if you do a good job, and people like you, they’ll sign you up.” Right? No one would tell you to go do that. That is really how it happens, though.

Honestly, I really feel that is, the alternative is what? You message people on LinkedIn. You hit the Apply Now, button. You start off at in the mailroom and just try and toil your way to get the job you really want. I don’t know. It really feels like, in one breath we’ll say, “Oh, well referrals are our best source of hire, or internal hires are a best source.” At the same time, then the way that you go to get a job is not by working your network is by hitting Apply Now or by going through the LinkedIn job posts. It seems really disjointed.

So, I love this story of you just getting close to it, getting close to the action, foot in the door, delivering being yourself and then winding up in a role you liked.

[00:09:05] CT: Exactly. I think now there is a more structured process to becoming a recruiter. I also think recruiting has rebranded and evolved in a way that people do want to become recruiters, they do want – it’s a genre that people are excited about. It’s the other side of HR. I like to say it’s the fun side of HR, right? We’re not dealing with investigations and people’s drama. We’re out there really connecting the brand and the core values to the organization to people and attracting them to come in and be in alignment with that. I think that part is fun, because 90% of your role is yes, now it’s more with technology, you’re just talking to people, you’re just literally getting on, putting your headphones. Hi, this is Clarisce. This is the organization, da, da, da, da. I think there could not be any greater gift for people that aren’t going to be structured in more of an HR setting.

[00:09:54] RS: Yeah, absolutely right. I love hearing that, too. I do think you’re right. Recruiting is more of a clear career option for people as opposed to something that they fall into. My hope is that eventually I’ll be talking to people on this show. They’ll be like, “Well, I graduated college and I knew I wanted to be a recruiter.” You’re laughing.

[00:10:15] CT: I know.

[00:10:16] RS: Maybe that’s not, is that not realistic?

[00:10:18] CT: Well, I think yes, because I think recruiting – when people first think about HR, right, they might not think of I want to be a disciplinarian. I want to be a connector. I want to be a networker. I think it’s framed different. I even think the transition from recruiting to talent acquisition, right, is that whole shift in what you do, who you are, how you represent the brand is so different than you getting on the phone, dialing for dollars, right? You’re not like you’re this telemarketer. We’re like one level up from a telemarketer. This is people really going out there. I think it’s one branded, which we’ll get into when we talk about DEI. I think people do want to say, “How do I make this whole picture whole when it comes to work?” Because we spend 80, 90% of our time in a work environment, in a work setting, or with co-workers.

I think when you’re looking at the big picture, I think people – it’s an exciting field to get into. It’s a part of the HR structure, I believe it sits between HR and the C-suite. I feel like that’s the sweet spot for talent acquisition. That’s where we do our best work. It’s also a creative function, which I think which we’ll get into a little bit later during our time, but it’s also a creative function. So, if you’re a creative person, and you have an outlet, and you’re good talking to people, and you truly have a passion for it, and I don’t want to overuse that word, because I think that word can be very overused. Having a passion for it, but actually having a fire for it and seeing those people that you hire, get into roles where they are successful, and you pass by them and they’re like, or they send you stuff.

When I was a recruiter, everyone loves me. When I got into management, no one cared about me, but when I was a recruiter, I used to have a desk, a whole office full of flowers, and thank you, constantly things were coming in to the door, edible arrangements, all kinds of thank you cards. Thank you for the interview. Once I got in leadership, everyone was like, “We don’t care about you.”

[00:12:07] RS: Interesting.

[00:12:07] CT: Where are the recruiters? But when I was when I was a recruiter, I mean, my first roles I was in a cubicle, when I was at Microsoft head office, but when I transitioned my whole office was filled with, thank you so much. Thank you for helping me. Thank you for my internship. Thank you for giving me an opportunity. I would sit in that space every day, so I can actually look at that every day and say, “Oh, my God. I’m really doing something that I can see every single day that might tangible impact on an organization and on people’s lives.” Yeah, so my whole office, when I moved into an office, my whole office was just like, thank you, thank you, thank you, until I became a manager then no one cared about me at all. It went from that to like I was so grateful. Then everyone’s like, here are my problems. I’m like, “I want to go back to recruiting. I don’t care about problems.”

[00:12:53] RS: Yeah. More requests to speak on podcasts, but less edible arrangements, which is a bad trade, I think.

[00:13:01] CT: Yeah. I think that’s where recruiting is now.

[00:13:03] RS: Yeah. I say this over and over again on the show, but because I believe it: changing jobs is a life altering decision. No matter which way you slice it. Can be good can be bad, but at minimum, you are going to change the people with whom you interact every day and people get their best friends and their future co-founders, and their spouses at work, right? That is really common –

[00:13:25] CT: 100%. Yeah.

[00:13:26] RS: The people you spend all your time with end up being your network and having these important roles in your life outside of work, usually, plus, if you have to move or go into a different office, it just changes everything. You get to be the arbiter of that, as a recruiter, it’s so rare to receive that level of gratitude in any job function. I get it a little bit, because my work is public, right? I have people consume it.

No one is sending an edible arrangement to a salesperson who are like, “Hey, I really loved this software you sold me. It changed everything.” These don’t do that. Or even an engineer. It’s like you could be a really awesome engineer and ship an amazing product. No one’s going to be like, “Man, I love my Venmo app.” I want to share some things with the people who made it, no one’s doing that, but recruiters do. You get that – because you have more of an impact on someone in a direct way. I think it’s really special. Do you miss that? Because now you have people’s problems?

[00:14:19] CT: Yeah, I do. I miss it. I miss those days of not having to – because you do become – in any role in leadership, even in the talent acquisition space or beyond, you’re dealing with politics and people and branding and pressure from your C-suite to do certain things. When you’re recruiter you don’t really have that. It’s just you and the people, you’re just in the trenches. You’re just getting people there and people are excited and you see them out and about. You see them at Starbucks. I mean, I constantly, thank God, this was pre-COVID. I constantly was hugging people. I would be in the middle of the hallway just like, “Ah! So and so!” and just hug them, was so excited about them. I’m just as excited as they are about opportunity.

I think when you get – you lose a lot of that when you get further away from it, when you start teaching people how to have that. You start teaching people how to brand. Then you get into a more technical space where you’re almost disconnected from people. Now, you’re in a place as you go up the corporate ladder, now you’re just dealing with people’s issues when it comes to request. So you’re there, you’re there as a problem solver, as a strategic problem solver, but you lose that credibility that you had to impact people’s lives directly like you said. I have a whole team of people that are moving from major cities to this little city in the middle of nowhere to start a lab. It’s such a culture shock, but to be able to talk to someone and to convince them that this is the time in their life that they should be making a choice.

I don’t think there’s any other greater joy, and for that choice to be the actual right choice for them when you see them. They say, oh, my gosh. I’m glad I moved. I met my husband. I’m glad I moved, I advanced in my career. I’m glad I moved. I needed this change. You feel that reward, but you don’t feel it as much when you’re in leadership. You feel it when you’re recruiting. You don’t you get to see it every once in a while. You’re like, “Where is it at?”

[00:16:06] RS: Someone’s had made an impact out there. I’m certain of it.

[00:16:07] CT: Exactly. I’m like, I have to find it, but as soon as I find it, I feel like it brings them back full circle.

[00:16:13] RS: Yeah. That’s a shout out to the individual contributors out there, tell that story to your boss. That is one, you’ll make them feel good. Two, those anecdotes in the workplace, I find, yeah, you got your metrics, you got your spreadsheets, etc. but if you can be in a room or in a Zoom room and say, “Hey, here’s a paragraph I received from a candidate who was just thanking me.” Right? That will go a long way to really demonstrating your impact to the org. So shout out to people out there, do a little storytelling, if you want to demonstrate your impact. There must be some pros to going into management, otherwise, you wouldn’t do it. What has been better for you on the director side?

[00:16:49] CT: I think for me, it’s being a mentor, right? Every organization that I have been involved in, I run the internship program and just being an impact to those interns. When I see them successful, I see some of them working at NASA now. I see some of them working at crazy organizations. I see them working at Tesla, and at these really great branded companies, I have an intern who left and took the opportunity at Microsoft. She put a little picture of me and her when she was an intern there, because I shared my story with her.

I think you when you get into leadership, obviously, you get to see the big picture. When you get in the trenches, you just see things at eye level and that’s fun too, because you don’t have the pressures of numbers and meeting KPIs and metrics. Leadership, you get to teach other people how to do that. You get to teach other people how to have that connection and to build their brands, to build their self. I think when you get into leadership you see the big picture of all the work. I think it also advances you as a leader and as a people person, because you see things so differently. It’s like a complete different lens, because every level you have access to certain information that you didn’t have before.

Now, when I have recruiters who are like, “Why don’t we just switch out this or do this ATS?” I’m like, “There’s 1000 different decisions behind the scenes that have to make this happen. It’s not just an early an easy request for a lot of people.” You learn how to be a problem solver. You embrace hard work, but you become very strategic and very mindful when you become a leader. I think there are lots of pros to it. Connecting with your team. Now, I’m not connecting with people day-to-day, but I’m connecting with the team and inspiring them, and seeing them grow, and seeing them make better decisions, taking accountability. I see them maturing right in front of me, professionally. Seeing them grow and you’re like, “I grew that little person. Oh, my gosh.” You have such a sense of pride in that there’s a lot of internal rewards that come along with that and you become an advocate for things that you truly believe in.

I think you get into a spaces a lot of times, people sit at the table and especially in HR, people feel like HR is not very helpful to me in an organization. Now they mean HR, they don’t mean talent acquisition. Talent acquisition is extremely helpful, but when they think of us in full scope, they think of us as someone who just supports the C-suite. So, when you get in those rooms, you’re able to talk to people about internship. You’re able to talk about early career development. You’re able to talk about brand partnerships, and that’s one thing that you don’t get to do as a recruiter is that now you’re in the space and they’re like, “Okay, well what do you think?” You’re like, ahem.

[00:19:20] RS: Glad you asked.

[00:19:21] CT: Let’s begin at the top. You can shape an organization from your perspective, based on the people that are in the roles, and that are coming into the roles. You don’t get to do that as a recruiter. You get the information and instruction, but here you are actually forming it and creating a sphere of what we should be looking at with people. I love Malina, I used to work in healthcare, and we used to go through, we used to do an audit of all the positions. This is before DEI was popular. They used to remove degrees from positions that didn’t need degrees.

They used to remove degrees and doing – we were also mindful of people who had prior convictions, especially for marijuana. That was not properly. We did not do drug tests, so you know, we didn’t do drug tests, we were very mindful of convictions for certain things and the timeframes in which those convictions happen. We went, we audited all the jobs. We would call the leaders, me and my team would call them and say, “Hey, this person is an analyst. Do they need a degree to be an analyst? Who else on the team has an analyst and what level? What impact will that degree have on the organization if this person doesn’t have it?” I’m like, oh. Well, I went to Harvard University, but yes, and now you manage this, this person is an analyst. What level do we really think that?

We removed that degree qualification from 75 jobs. It was something that I had learned at Microsoft, because a lot of their key engineers did not have degrees. They were just homegrown engineers. They had loved computers, they love technology, they loved building things. They were those people that were watching the movies that are in their room, building the internet. If you ever watched those early shows where people first start building out the World Wide Web, those are those people who have that mindset who weren’t properly trained in a school environment, in a university environment and were the best and brightest.

Microsoft built out a certification program in lieu of a degree, because they wanted to give those people those opportunities. So Malina took notice, I was able to go one of those pros, I was able to go in there and say, “That person is a clerk. Do they need a masters?”

[00:21:21] RS: Yeah.

[00:21:21] CT: They can’t need a masters. Job pays $16 an hour. Work with me. So, we did a whole audit, and we removed a lot of those qualifications. We simplified the job. We got some of the best people there. Quickly, I think the job market is not limited, I think our mindsets about the type of people and I think it’s an aesthetics question that organizations have, when it comes to who they want to work here. It’s not really about, who’s talented? Who’s bright? Who’s committed? Who has resilient? Who has that can do attitude? Who’s going to come in there and really kill it? I think we should be hiring people on different criteria than job descriptions, which is that’s a whole another podcast. I think when you start opening up to that way of thinking, I want to have great people, because this is a great place. Not I want to have everyone here that went to Ivy League University. Then you just have people here who don’t want to work, because they feel entitled, and now you say, “Oh, I have a toxic culture.”

It’s a huge mix. I think those are one of the things that is different from being an individual contributor to someone who’s leading the department or leading and shifting and shaping the organization from a culture perspective. I think you find out that you become a part of that, because you monitor it, you evaluate it, you educate leadership on it, and you try to hire people that match it.

[00:22:38] RS: You just gave me a real “aha” moment, when you were talking about people who insist on keeping degrees in job descriptions by saying things like, well, I went to insert prestigious university here, because those people went to the fancy college and they now think that it was instrumental in their ability to do their job. If you’re saying, “Hey, it’s actually not, we don’t need a degree.” Then they have this cognitive dissonance where they’re like, “Well, if I didn’t need a degree to do this, and why am I still paying all these student loans?” That’s very much them problem. That is an internal thing to do, need to resolve and not perpetuate upon the next generation of talent. That blew me away a little bit, that of course, they’re insisting on it, because otherwise they’d have to change their worldview. God forbid, anyone do that ever.

[00:23:21] CT: Exactly. That’s too hard for people. They can’t accept that even we talked about Gen Z, we talked about who’s coming in the workplace right now. People cannot accept this change. People say, “People are quiet quitting, they’re going to be loudly fired.” No, they’re not. People are already overworked, because we can’t retain employees. So you think because people have resilience to that, that you’re going to fire all these people. I highly doubt it. If you did, their a generation of people who don’t care. Who are going to be like, “Oh, well.” And they’re just going to walk out and get another job.

People don’t have that stick-with-it-ness that I grew up with when I was going to work. My parents were the generation of people who stayed in the same job, 20 years. I wouldn’t even feel comfortable staying in the job that long, ever, under any circumstances. I don’t care how great the role was. I was like, magnificent. I’m like, you might got a three year or four years stint with me, and I got to move on.

[00:24:16] RS: Exactly.

[00:24:17] CT: It’s such a different generation. The generation that’s coming into the workforce, they think that’s crazy. If you look on a resume now and someone’s been there a year, they think that’s the standard. They’re like, “Yeah, I was there for 12 months.” I’m like, “Okay.” I don’t think the fear from these leadership groups that are saying everyone needs to come into office, people are not. I also don’t think people are going to be fired, because they are doing their actual job and not going above and beyond. I was in the workforce. I started off in – when I was started off in leadership in that space where people worked on the weekend, worked after work, worked on Saturday, answered every single email, every time you got a ping, had your work phone on you 24/7.

I came from that and now I feel like I’m detoxing from it. It’s like being on drugs. You have to slowly, okay, I have to physically turn off my phone. Physically put it in a desk. Physically shut the door, so that I’m not in a constant state of life at – was that ping? I have to answer. Yeah. So I’m glad that that shift happened, because I think it is helped me also spend some time developing myself in other areas, especially when it comes to leadership, because you can become very tactical and not strategic and that will also hold you back as a leader.

[00:25:25] RS: Yeah, yeah, of course. I love that. Just that take on the quiet, quitting loud the fire thing. Now if someone’s quiet quitting, and you loudly fire them, you haven’t taken away something from them that they cared about. By the way, if you have the type of people at your company who are quiet quitting, you don’t have any leverage anyway, you don’t have something to offer. People are not quite quitting good jobs or good companies, right?

[00:25:49] CT: Exactly. They’re sitting there. They’re on LinkedIn right now, while they’re listening to this podcast, looking for other jobs where their friends are at. I also think networking is, we talked about this when you opened up. I also think networking is very key. I think people go to cool jobs, and then they bring their friends and the our other friend works at a cool job and then they bring their friends. It’s not for career development, because they want to work with their friends. I think that’s also very cool. I think like you said, there’s no leverage in telling people, they’re going to be fired, because they don’t have that mindset of being fired. I think people that are just newly coming into the job market also have different financial incentives, and they live, their housing is different.

It’s not like their mortgage is going to fall apart and not going to be homeless. If you decide to fire them, they’re just going to be like, “Oh, man. Today, I go get a Frappuccino, until I get my new paycheck from my new job.” They don’t have the same devastating consequences. People that went to school, then they went out on their own, because they have a different mindset. It’s so it’s very different. So that leverage is just false narrative. It’s just highly misinterpreted. I feel bad for them. I’m like, if people, like you said, if you create the environment where people are quiet quitting, you need to check your culture, not the people that you want to secretly fire because they’re not working on the weekend.

[00:27:02] RS: Exactly, right. Clarisce, I wanted to ask you a little bit more about what you are bringing to those conversations when you say that talent ought to sit between HR and the C-level. You mentioned a moment ago like, “Oh, Clarisce, what do you think?” And you unravel the scroll above things. What’s happening in those conversations? What are the things that are top of mind for you that you want to make sure your organization’s aware of?

[00:27:23] CT: First of all, I don’t think talent acquisition. I’m pretty sure people would disagree with me, but I’m going to say it anyway, because I don’t care. I don’t think talent acquisition needs to sit under HR, at all. I think talent acquisition is a function, sitting between C-suite and marketing. It is the delivery of the brand. It is hiring and connecting people to the true core culture of the organization and the brand that they want to amplify in the market. It is not a constructive paper-pushing environment. When you get into those spaces with between HR and the C-suite, what’s top of mind for me is succession planning, mentorship, developing internally, internal mobility.

I think we are like triggered to be replace, replace, replace. Instead of being invest, invest, invest. We don’t want to invest in anyone. We don’t spend the time to really develop leaders. We don’t have mentorships internally where people have access to C-suite advantages. I would say this when I was transitioning from being a trainer to a supervisor, I had a mentor that was in the C-suite. I met with her every week. She taught me about budgets. She helped me understand the core values of the organization and how they got there, which I was totally disconnected to. I feel that’s one of the things, I think talking about job descriptions, when you’re talking to the C-suite, and what the true expectations of those roles really are.

Another hard question that you get a chance to talk about is, is horrible hiring managers who have these misplaced expectations of people. I also want to look at retention in certain departments. I feel like it all, it’s like Blue’s Clues. There is a pathway to find out who’s horrible. People just they want to turn a blind eye, because maybe that person is working in a revenue-based department that’s bringing in money, so I say, “Yeah, they’re horrible, but he’s got two huge accounts.” Or this person you know brought in XY and Z, or this person helped us save this type of money, so we’ll allow the behavior.

What we do is we empower bullies. We empower people with poor development. Then they unlatch on a whole group of people that regardless of what people say, I know everyone’s is, everyone’s so whiny. I’m like, “No, people can be traumatized at work.” People can actually be traumatized in those environments. You create these environments where people aren’t successful, because they have people who have so much power, because of what they bring to the organization. Now they can have that. They just don’t need people. There needs to be someone in between. So those are the types of suggestions that we have. This person is great, but they’re not a good people leader.

Let’s bring in a good people leader. So, there’s some space between the talent that serve the organization and are in production and they don’t have to really deal with that person and that person will actually spend time doing their job even better, because they don’t have to deal with PTO requests, they don’t have to deal with grievances, they won’t even have to be aware. They can just thrive and continue to grow whatever revenue base that they have coming into the company and people leaders can be people leaders. Those are the type of things you bring to the C-suite, brand partnerships, early career development, branding with colleges. I worked with an organization that’s a non-profit that it connects IT with, because of my relationship with Microsoft, IT with HBCUs. So they actually go out to the HBCUs and scout talent. That’s pretty exciting.

I think those are the conversations that you want to go and have: who’s coming in? Do we have a succession plan? Do we have a pipeline? How are we developing our talent? Are we increasing an environment where we have internal mobility? Or are we just sitting around saying, “Well, did they apply? Did so-and-so apply to this job?” How do you create better leaders and make a distinction between who is a good people leader and who was good at their job? Because that is a huge pandemic in itself, that is COVID.6.

You do not need just because you’re good at your job, doesn’t mean you need to manage people. I feel like that’s something that leaders need to come into grips with. That person can have that title, if that’s connected to compensation, but they do not need to leash poor management on other people and give them bad direction, because they’re good at their job. I think those are the conversations you have in the C-suite and identifying them, not just saying this pie on the sky. These managers are bad. I mean, being like, Tom’s horrible and here’s why.

[00:31:40] RS: Yeah.

[00:31:41] CT: I’m looking at his last nine people in nine months. He can have all the career coaching and feedback and 360s, we can give him. It’s not going to help him improve. If we want him and he’s a value add to the organization, let’s center someone right in between him that’s good with people, or promote someone within a team that knows the product, knows the brand, knows whatever it is, that keeps that whole department ticking and allow them the opportunity to lead and manage the team where Tom can now do his thing, and not have to worry about things in middle management, things in Middle Earth. They can focus on the big picture.

Those are tough conversations, even talking about DEI with C-suite, scary. I know we’re going to – I know you’re going to segue into some of those questions about DEI.

[00:32:23] RS: I definitely want to hear about how you are bringing in those DE&I conversations to the C-suite. First, though, you said something interesting about being specific; “Tom was horrible. Tom’s lost nine people in nine months.” Another light bulb went off for me, you’re so good at that Clarisce, which was that these things that affect recruitment, are also leading indicators for the health of the business. For example, Tom losing nine people in nine months directly affects you, because you have to go make those hires. You have to replace those people that keep quitting off of his team. It’s affecting your ability to even show up honestly, because at a certain point you’re giving someone a shitty job, right?

[00:33:03] CT: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah.

[00:33:03] RS: Like, “Oh, Tom’s a bad boss, and I’m hiring you into this bad thing and hopefully you last.” But historically, people haven’t. It’s a leaky bucket you’re hiring for. So it’s a problem for recruitment, no matter which way you slice it. Also, it’s toxic for the company to have someone like this who’s a bad boss. They’re going to ship bad products. They’re going to have low morale. So I’m just seeing this connection between things that affect the recruiters ability to do their job, and also our indicators in the health of the business. You just really connected that thought for me.

[00:33:34] CT: Think and I believe that. I hope that recruiters and people that are in talent acquisition have an opportunity to really have those conversations. No one wants to have them, but when you bring data to the table, it does enlighten it. I’ve grown as a leader, I will tell Tom, “It’s hard to recruit for you, because every time I go to Glassdoor, there’s another engineer that hates you.” Now, I have to explain it to all of the people that they’re interviewing that, you can’t say, “Oh, those are a few bad apples.” I’m like, “We got 22 reviews. They’re pretty tough.” I feel and I’m glad that I had great mentors coming into organizations, because I can say it now. There’s no like, “Oh, there’s a secret society where we have to work around Tom and do all these secret things.” It’s like, “No. Let’s call Tom.” “Tom, this is not good.”

[00:34:20] RS: Yeah.

[00:34:21] CT: What do you think about me bringing in a supervisor? Usually, the thing is, too, is once you free people of that, they’re usually so receptive of it. They’re definitely like, “Yes, of course, I hate doing that. I get so angry, because I’m spending so much time doing paperwork when I really shouldn’t be out there doing this for the business.” So you remove that, you relieve two problems. Management thinks it’s a great thing that this person’s in this role, but all along, they’re miserable, and they’re taking out in our team, because they want to do something that they really aren’t conditioned and minded to do. So, now they have an opportunity to do it, because now we alleviate that. We have someone who is a good PTO checker, time off, development, career. Now those things are taken off that leaders play and they can actually do their job.

I think we tried to put six jobs into one. That’s the frustrating part about leadership is that there’s no true role. We were like, keep coming here, roll up your sleeves. No. Give me clear, definitive direction of what the role that I’m going to be doing and the impact that it will take. Otherwise, we’re just going to be, I’m going to become Tom, eventually.

[00:35:25] RS: Yeah, yeah, exactly, right. You mentioned a moment ago, that it’s scary to bring DE&I to the C-suite. Why is that scary?

[00:35:35] CT: It’s scary, because people don’t want to hear it. People hope that it goes away. That it dies down. That the pathway and the passion for it dies. In some areas, it has. I live in California, a very employee friendly state. It’s definitely not dying here. In other areas, we know who we work with people and you talk to colleagues and other partners. it’s not as central focus, as it was maybe a year ago, where people were really pushing those initiatives. I’m talking more so large organizations that are really key to making those changes. I think what we asked, the reason why DEI is hard, is because what people hear and what we say are completely disconnected.

What people are hearing is how do we solve systemic racism? That’s what they hear. What they produce is a marketing campaign to say “we’re not racist.” The question is, really, it’s not so much about the different genres of people. When you explain – so you’ve got someone who needs a spreadsheet, who needs a presentation, a PowerPoint, an audio visual, and you’re telling them, “I know people,” because that this is my primary role within this organization, right? I know people that are coming in. I know the people that are coming out. I know the growth of the organization like you mentioned earlier, the health organization based on the people that are here, and where you want to take this company.

However, DEI is also about not having people in the boardroom that are so far from the population of the company. If you’ve got your general – your most populated group of employees, and everyone is four generations before them, mentioning things like VCRs, and Blockbuster, they’ve never even heard of it. They watched a documentary on it. I think that’s also a part of DEI, right, is making sure that you are connected, and not just making sure that you put Black people on poster boards and are like, “Look, DEI. Did you guys see the new website?” Then, they’re stock photos too, which makes it 10 times worse. I hate stock photos. What they hear is they want you to solve a problem. What you’re saying is, I want to bring visibility to something that I think is a disconnect and can make us a better organization based on the fact that we have a diversity of ideas, thoughts and backgrounds. But that’s not what they hear.

They hear George Floyd, they hear racism, they hear we’re racist. We got to do everything in our power to make sure that we put our Black dots on Instagram, and that we launch a marketing campaign like no other, and that we hire four or five Black middle managers. Then we have solved the issue of DEI within our organization. DEI is also about ageism, It’s also about other minority groups, Asian groups. It’s also about Native Americans. It’s also about transgender.

At the core of it, it’s not even really about all of those things. What people are really asking are, be good to anybody who works here. Invest in anybody who works here. Don’t just be a good person in words and in marketing, be an actual good employer. Be good to the people that come and work for you, because they’re spending time away from their families, they’re spending time away from their homes, they’re coming out here trying to do the best that they can under the circumstances on a daily basis.

if we could come to them with a little bit of empathy, some training and support, they can take this company to the next level. We have so many superstars at work that gets overlooked or burned out, because either we give them too much work or too little work. We don’t spend time developing or growing them into good leaders. So, that is some of the key things that when you look about what’s going on with DEI, is that we’re also just overlooking internal mobility. It’s not just what’s on the outside and bringing in, because you look at every DEI in corporate America, and they have this Black and Hispanic person that are just leaning over to computer and they’re like, “It’s so fun to work here.” It’s supposed to give you that energy, but then you look at the boardroom and you don’t see anyone that has a reflection of the people that are doing the actual structural work.

I think that is where we have the biggest disconnect, the people at the top must reflect the health and the body of the organization. That’s what DEI is saying, is how can anyone reflect any thought or be culturally sensitive to any thought or idea they have, if there’s no one in there that reflects that or has experienced that at any level at any degree? Then, I think what happens is, we use numbers, we say numerically, here, how many leaders here? That so we say, okay, quotas. Let me fill these quotas, make sure that you have high numbers. I’ve worked, I’ve coached a few people who were in these positions were like, “What should I do? They told me I had to hire 20% Filipino, 10% Asian, one Native American, and seven Black people by the end of the year.” That’s not what DEI is. That’s not what it is. It’s saying I want my body of work to be representative at all levels within the organization and for me to have advocate somewhere within the organization that is looking at the needs and the growth and development of everyone within the organization, not just the top 10.

[00:40:35] RS: Yeah. I really hear that last piece that, it’s not just the amount of melanin you hire, right? It needs to permeate through your organization. Do you think that is the starting point, though? Having specific goals for hiring managers to be like, listen, we are going to make this top of mind for you. We’re going to make these goals specific, because we don’t have the organization where these sorts of folks are just going to wind up coming through our hiring process. I hear you that it’s not enough, but do you think that is a necessary starting point?

[00:41:05] CT: I think, you need to know. So from that point, I think you have to understand the data buildup of your organization. You really have to understand that you have to have the numbers, right? You really have, because I think there are a lot of people who say like, I want DEI to work for X, Y and Z, and they really have a great DEI infrastructure, but there’s a misplaced expectation there. I think yes, one you need to understand what your ask is, so by that you need to understand who works out, who’s the demographic of people that you that you truly work for? Then you need to break it down in layers, because individual contributors, early career individuals, and then your mid-level managers all the way to your C-suite, now who works here.

Now whose ideas are being implemented through each of these groups? Then you should start building your DEI plan that way. I don’t think it should be really like, “Oh, we should hire.” If we hire four Native Americans, that’s going to be good for our reports. Of course, some branding. We’ll make sure we’ve mentioned that.” Then that poor person is now a token and every time they come in here, they’re like, “Hi, person of Native American descent.” We can get into that. Then it becomes a game, right? Then it becomes part of the politics of branding, versus the actual ownership and accountability of branding and what we want to bring to the organization.

I think a lot of it is going to sit in the space where, how can as an organization as a whole, right? Not breaking it up? How, as an organization, as a whole, how can we be better to the people that already work here? How can we create pathways for the people that already work here? Because I have a great receptionist down or a great admin that’s been supporting me, who probably could be really great at being an EA or really great in marketing, or really has really great ideas. That’s what DEI is saying, it’s like, I don’t want to be selfish as a leader, because I got a rock star who could probably excel their career and what worked for Oprah or Bill Gates, or Elon Musk, or any of the great employers or branded employers of our times, if I give them that opportunity.

[00:43:05] RS: That was your story.

[00:43:07] CT: Yeah. That was my story. I was randomly, literally, minding my own business, and just doing great in the work that I was doing, because I enjoyed it. I talked to people all day, they will come in, and they will sit down and like, “Hey, want something to eat? Want something to drink?” And chat with them. Actually, they will start talking about their career, because they’re getting ready for interviews. They would talk about different things that they were thinking of and saying, “Oh, did you do your research on this and that?” I was like, “I should be a career coach.” This is something that I really, and that made them so comfortable. Even if they didn’t get the job, they would say, “Oh, thank you for sharing with me this opportunity, or thank you for sharing with me this process.” I would be like, “Oh, no problem.” It’s just a regular, it was just part of my day-to-day work.

I think that’s the difference is that I wasn’t – my only motivation was to help people. This was before I had real bills, too. I wasn’t motivated. I didn’t even have financial motivations at the time. I just really wanted to help people and see them get those jobs and when they would get it, when they would get an opportunity, I would be so stoked.

[00:44:09] RS: Of course.

[00:44:10] CT: I also think that DEI is also about being politically equipped. I don’t think people understand the politics around hiring certain people. We create these environments where it’s really scary. We don’t want to talk about it. Like Juneteenth for example. I get candidates all the time to say, “Oh, do you guys celebrate Juneteenth?” Because they want to know where our cultural sensitivity is. I had a leader that said, “We have unlimited PTO, so they could just take the time off. We don’t we don’t celebrate it as a company.”

[00:44:35] RS: That’s not the same thing. Yeah.

[00:44:36] CT: Yeah. The person declined the offer. Sometimes we have to understand some of the politics and be very mindful of it when it comes to DEI.

[00:44:45] RS: Yeah, yeah, of course. I liked that you said, when you say it’s scary, it’s also, I think the C-suite is also very scared, right? They’re scared of saying the wrong thing. They’re scared of, like you said, that they think they’re being called racist, right?

[00:45:02] CT: Exactly.

[00:45:02] RS: That they’re going to be hashtag canceled or something, right? They are so scared of doing the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing that they would rather just say nothing. It’s safer for them personally, to say nothing, but what they really ought to do what they care is educating themselves. There’s a woman who I’ll have back on the podcast, one of my favorite guests, Jenn Tardy, who does these DE&I workshops, and she begins these sessions with like, let’s give you some language, right? Let’s make sure here’s what you can say, here’s what you can’t say, basically. Kind of have to hand-hold people a little bit. That’s the Managing Up thing. That’s where you say, talent sits between marketing, or HR and the C-suite, because you have to manage up and do some hand holding and offer that education.

[00:45:44] CT: I know, 100%. They’re scared, they’re nervous, they’re terrified. They don’t want to say the wrong thing. You also have to keep in mind. They’ve been doing this for a long time, a long time, a long, long, long time. So, to have somebody rewire in no time, is almost like – it’s impossible. It’s something that they got to take time, too. They have to learn these cues and stuff like that.

I was on a panel not too long ago at one of the universities here and the leader said, “Well, I’m really happy when the ladies wear braids and dreadlocks to work, because I feel like we create an environment for that that’s acceptable.” There is pure silence. He was so proud of that, because he said braids. “Then, the other thing that the Black ladies like to do, they wear them at my organization all the time,” and everyone was like, it was downhill from there.

[00:46:36] RS: He’s so close to getting it right. That’s why they’re so terrified, because the point is like, oh, you don’t have to sell your own edge off, you can bring yourself to work in an authentic way. Then he had to make a stereotype in order to make that point.

[0:46:50] CT: Exactly.

[0:46:50] RS: So close, but no cigar.

[0:46:53] CT: Pretty much. I think they’re scared. They’ve been doing this for a long time. They have this way of thinking, they’ve read all the books, they listened to all the TED Talks, they’ve gone to all of the training and conferences. This is something that they have to learn on the fly. I think it’s, we have to be also sensitive to the fact that this is something completely new for them to process.

To simplify it, it’s be a good boss that’s good to everyone, and the best way you possibly can be, versus breaking it down saying – Even when they talk about promotions, they’ll say, how many people in this ethnic group got promoted? Okay, good. Maybe, oh, so and so does a really good job. Maybe we can promote them, too? They’re usually lower-level positions.

When you get into the numbers, it’s going to differ per company, because some companies are large, some companies are smaller, some people are located in the middle place where there is no one that remotely looks different than them. How do they embrace DEI if you live in a certain area? It’s scary on both ends. It’s scary to speak up and say, “Hey, we need these programs.” It’s scary for that C-suite executive to say and acknowledge that we might need some support, or some different handling.

What often happens is they find the people that are most passionate about it, and they say, “You four, you do it, the DEI stuff. Go talk to HR and do DEI.” Then if something goes wrong, they’ll say, “We’ve been working with them lately, trying to get them on track get to have better DEI programs.” It’s also scary for them, because it’s something that they have not learned to do. Because they haven’t learned to do it, and they haven’t done it well, they rather either not do it at all, hope it goes away. Or, they leave it to other people. They bring in consultants to tell everybody, “If someone wears a headscarf, what do we say?”

[0:48:36] RS: It is like Blue’s Clues. My God.

[0:48:39] CT: Yeah. They said, “Oh, we say, do you have –” For example, I ran the internship last year, and I had to create prayer rooms, because people pray in the middle of the day. We had facilities clean out these storage rooms, so that they could pray during the day. That’s what DEI is. It’s saying, I’m coming to you with a certain need, based on culture, based on religion, based on my background. If you have the ability to accommodate me, you do. That’s it.

[0:49:04] RS: Absolutely. Well, Clarisce, we have cruised past optimal podcast length here, but I ain’t mad about it. This has been a ton of fun. I’ve really loved chatting with you. Been full of so much advice on how to bring talent to the powers that be, how to bring DEI into the conversation and do so in a meaningful way. At this point, I would say thank you so much for being here. This has been a real delight chatting with you and it’s been an awesome episode.

[0:49:27] CT: This has been so fun. Thank you for having me.


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