top of page
Indeed Wave.PNG

Revolutionizing DEI

In this episode, join us as we sit down with Debbie Tang and Ryan Whitacre from Bridge Partners, a leading executive search firm focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Debbie, a former lawyer from DC, and Ryan, adopted from Seoul and raised in Flint, Michigan, share their unique journeys into executive search and their passion for DEI.

We delve into why DEI is a cornerstone at Bridge Partners, tracing its roots back to the early 2000s when multiculturalism was at the forefront. Our guests discuss a recent survey they conducted on DEI initiatives in corporate America, revealing that 80% of respondents consider DEI important, with it ranking as the top priority among non-core business initiatives.

The conversation also touches on the challenges faced by Chief Diversity Officers, who often have the shortest tenure in the C-suite due to a lack of support and resources within companies. Join us as we explore the evolving landscape of DEI in organizations and the future of leadership diversity.


Intro: Hide your kids, lock the doors. You're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheeseman are here to punch the recruiting industry, right where it hurts. Complete with breaking news, brash opinion, and loads of snark. Buckle up, boys and girls. It's time for the Chad and Cheese podcast.

Joel: Oh, yeah. It's Rihanna's favorite podcast, AKA, the Chad and Cheese podcast. I'm your co-host, Joel Cheeseman. Joined as always, the vanilla to my ice. Chad Sowash is in the house.

Chad: Baby.

Joel: And we welcome Debbie Tang and Ryan Whitacre to the show. Both of them are partners at Bridge Partners. Welcome to the podcast, Ryan and Debbie.

Chad: Hello.

Ryan Whitacre: Thanks for having us.

Debbie Tang: Hi.

Chad: Happy Hump day. Where are you guys coming from? Where are you guys? Are you located in the same area, work remote, different areas? Where are you guys at?

Ryan Whitacre: I'm in Chicago.

Debbie Tang: I'm in DC.

Chad: Oh, so different areas. Definitely.

Joel: Chicago.

Ryan Whitacre: Chicago.

Chad: Chicago and DC.

Joel: White Sox or Cubs?

Ryan Whitacre: Tigers. I grew up in Flint, so as I call it, the northeast suburbs of Chicago. You know.

Joel: So Are you a Lions fan? Let's go there.

Ryan Whitacre: I am. A long suffering Lions fan. Absolutely.

Joel: Yeah. It was a good year though. Good year.

Ryan Whitacre: I mean, we get one every 50 years.

Joel: Yeah. So aside from bad taste in sports teams a lot of our listeners will not know who you two are at risk of being canceled. Let's go women first. Ladies first. Debbie, tell us about yourself.

Debbie Tang: Well, thank you. So I am what is commonly known in the DC area as a recovering lawyer, there's a lot of us around. I am actually from the DC area, born and raised. Went away for college and law school. And when I started off, I thought that I was gonna be a human rights lawyer. Didn't quite work out that way. Ended up in big law, was a lawyer for Marriott for a while, and then did a career 180 and started doing executive search, which a lot of people, not really sure what it is, but I like to think of it as a professional matchmaker.

Joel: I would not have put that puzzle together. Yeah.

Chad: How long were you at Marriott?

Debbie Tang: A year and a half.

Chad: A year and a half. Okay. Just enough to understand and then get the hell out.

Debbie Tang: Just enough. My family misses the discount a lot.

Chad: So why'd you stay in DC?

Debbie Tang: DC is a great city. It is vibrant. It's got all these different cultures. Any food that you want, any country, it's all here. And my family actually has a restaurant here, which Ryan has been to.

Ryan Whitacre: I have.

Chad: Oh.

Debbie Tang: Which is amazing if I do say so myself. But.

Chad: Go ahead. Give us a plug. What's the restaurant? Because if there's anything in DC that DC in New Orleans, probably my two best food places that most people don't realize.

Debbie Tang: Yeah. 'cause DC's got everything and everywhere. So it's a little bit complex. Right. So my parents grew up in Taiwan, so it's kind of Taiwanese food. But they came originally from Northern China. So it's like tons of noodles. Tons of dumplings, breads not your typical Chinese.

Chad: I love it.

Debbie Tang: It's called A&J.

Chad: A&J I love it.

Debbie Tang: Yeah. Very non-Typical name for a Chinese restaurant too.

Joel: Holy carb overload. Batman.

Chad: Gonna need an app after that one. Cheeseman.

Ryan Whitacre: I have. And I can attest. Lots of good noodles and lots of good napping.

Joel: Love it. Love it.

Chad: That's everything a lobbyist needs.

Joel: Ryan what makes Ryan tick? Give us the lowdown on you.

Ryan Whitacre: So I have much the same story, but maybe a little bit different origin story. So I'm an orphan or maybe a lucky orphan 'cause I got adopted at six months and so born outside of Seoul, found in a ditch as everyone does. And.

Chad: Found in a ditch. Wait a minute. Time out. Literally.

Joel: That was another bad '80s movie, wasn't it?

Ryan Whitacre: Yeah.

Chad: I've heard of puppies found in a ditch, but you were literally, you were found...

Ryan Whitacre: I mean, literally found in a ditch. So my birthday is yeah, my birthday's an approximation. 'cause they look at 'em and say, Hey, I suppose last night. So I spent my first six months in an orphanage and then found myself at O'Hare. Picked up by a very nice white family from Flint, Michigan, and grew up as a white kid who didn't look white and then went to a big dumb cow college here in the Midwest before I too got the law bug and, and went to open off the law school and thought I was real smart. Not not smart. Spent way too long trying to be a lawyer before I stumbled into this crazy, crazy career of executive search as well. And Debbie and I crossed paths and she brought me into Bridge Partners where I am the... I run the Chicago office, which you can see it's me and the dog.

Joel: Bridge Partner Sounds like a really big company. Is it?

Ryan Whitacre: We are 17.

Debbie Tang: Eight partners, Eight partners now.

Joel: Eight Huge.

Ryan Whitacre: Yeah. Huge.

Chad: So eight partners, 17. And then I would assume eight locations, much like we're seeing right now. Is that correct?

Ryan Whitacre: Yeah, indeed. Cover the East Coast got San Francisco and now a Miami Outpost too.

Chad: Well, we're here today to talk about diversity, equity, inclusion. You guys actually created a barometer and we have the the data around 2023's version, the value of diversity, equity, inclusion initiatives. Is it a boom or is it a bust? So why is an executive search firm focusing on DEI when it's literally not the flavor of the day anymore? It seems like everybody's trying to go away from it. So why are you guys focusing on it to try to drive awareness toward it?

Ryan Whitacre: I'll start. And then Debbie you know me well enough to get me to shut up. So our firm started about 20 years ago, actually, 2003, back when I think multiculturalism maybe was the word of the day before it ever became DEI. And those sorts of acronyms. It kind of started on the notion that at the time you had multicultural marketing and maybe your CPG companies, your consumer heavy ones, McDonald's. Kind of got the bread idea that, you know what? Black people buy stuff, Asian people buy stuff. Maybe we should be thinking about how do we market to them, maybe how do we think the way they think? And so we had this bit of a push to, especially in the marketing, maybe in HR, maybe in other functions, get different people and maybe think about getting some inroads into different communities.

Ryan Whitacre: Our firm's founders started the place on that notion that, you know what, maybe there's something here and maybe we have a niche that we can exploit in the marketplace, thought they'd be out of business within about three years. Here we are in 2024. And why would we? We're not McKinsey, we're not a big consulting firm. Why would we commission this study? Well, over the past three years, four years, especially since George Floyd, we get asked by our clients all the time what's this DEI stuff? Or should we have a diversity chief officer? Should this be an HR person, just tell us, this isn't our bailiwick. This isn't what we we do. But because we're asked so much, we're like well, here's what we think.

Ryan Whitacre: Sure. You want me to talk, I'll talk. But last year we knew that there was this case kind of bubbling up, and this is what you get when you get two recovering lawyers. This case was bubbling up to the Supreme Court, and we knew it was going after the college admissions said maybe we should actually take the temperature of corporate America and see what they think because I don't know. I can talk. Sure, but you really wanna listen to me? So we did. So we waited. We waited until that decision came down and we asked, I think we had more than 400 respondents came back. So we were the first statistically significant sample size of large companies, 25 million in revenues, or 250 in headcount and above what they thought what do you think about this DEI stuff?

Ryan Whitacre: And does the Supreme Court decision affect the way that you're gonna be planning for next year? And I will tell you that when I was thinking about the results we're gonna get back, I thought it'd be 180 from where we came out. And I know you have the study and wanted to go through some of those numbers, but I was fully prepared for our respondents who are c-suite people. And then your Chief HR heads, I figured they'd come back and tell us flash in the pan. Yeah. We had a moment in 2020. We're kind of over it and we're ready to get going with the rest of the business.

Joel: Was this an anonymous survey?

Ryan Whitacre: It was, yes. So it was real results and we were kind of astounded. I mean, the top line is 80% came back and said, this is important stuff.

Debbie Tang: We agree.

Joel: 80 is a lot.

Ryan Whitacre: 80 is a lot.

Joel: What else did you find in the survey or what specifics if we dig into it?

Ryan Whitacre: So some of the other stuff that I'd said that I'd pull out here, we also wanted to know whether DEI was itself a separate sort of thing, or was it lumped into maybe, I don't know, corporate philanthropic things or ESG or some of these other things? And one of the pieces that came out was that of all of these kind of, not the business business stuff, but maybe your philanthropic stuff. Your environmental stuff. DEI seemed to be the number one priority for these respondents as well. So that it is top of mind. It isn't sort of a back of the office thing. And then I think another thing that was interesting to us is that the way it's counted, we're talking about corporate America here, is we like count things, race, ethnicity that's how we're drawing things up. And I think that's got a lot of implications to me anyway, about backlash now and why people are kind of coming back on it. But I'm gonna shut up for a minute.

Chad: Not shut up. I'm gonna say is for Debbie to take over.

Joel: Debbie. Yeah. I think that's the handoff to you, Debbie.

Debbie Tang: That's my cue.

Joel: Yeah.

Debbie Tang: Yeah. So I mean, I think going back to what we're talking about, sort of like why are we interested in this? What is the firm about? I think one of the things that's been really dramatic that we've seen even beyond the survey is in the immediate aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, we had companies coming out of the woodwork saying, Hey, will you find us our first Chief Diversity officer? Right? And so that was maybe immediately 2020, 2021. And then last year those numbers dropped dramatically in terms of who was looking for a Chief Diversity officer.

Joel: And how many of those placements are still employed?

Debbie Tang: Well, so that's the thing. Some of the latest surveys that have come out have said that the Chief Diversity Officer is the shortest tenured c-suite member.

Joel: Ouch.

Debbie Tang: It is. It is a big ouch. And I think that the average is somewhere around eight months now, which is ridiculous because what happened was so many of these companies decided, oh, everyone else is doing it. We're gonna do it too. But it was just a very hollow position with no budget, with no team, with no power. With a report to somebody three layers down in maybe HR or finance, right? And so it has been interesting to see not only the results of the survey, but then just day to day in our own searches and sort of who is actually interested in hiring a new CDO, a lot of the places who hired their first, after that person's gone, they are not hiring their second.

Chad: Yeah. It's akin to many of these companies who change their logo to a rainbow logo one month out of the year. Right. And it's more optics than it is, than it is a real, so therefore, I'm gonna push back a little bit on the survey. I mean, the survey is... This is answers, these are not data points. Right? One of the things that we saw during all these CDOs coming in and companies saying they're spending a bunch of money in DEI, the outcomes weren't there. Right? The outcomes weren't there to support the dollars. And for the most part, because they were putting people in positions that weren't qualified to be in those positions, number one. Number two, they were also putting people into positions without any resources, money, people, any of that, right? So at the end of the day, how do we see DEI moving forward from this point? It's not a situation where it doesn't work because we didn't allow it to work. How do we see it moving forward and what are you guys hearing from clients and the market?

Ryan Whitacre: Yeah, I agree with both those points. I think that there was too quick a trigger, right? Being pulled after 2020 and people wanted to just do something and then they, they gave it to somebody and said, well, yeah, it's their job through the chief diversity officer. Go get it. So wrong, wrong answer. And then the second part to this, I wanna go back to something else sort of the way we count. It's what's the terrible Drucker quote that's been misquoted and I guess he didn't even say it, which is what gets counted or what gets measured gets done. And he may never have said it, but it is kind of a truism at this point. And one of the things that I think we find again doing it wrong is we KPI everything to death and what's easy to count, it's easy to count our black people, our Asian people, right? And so then we put these...

Chad: It is If you have them.

Ryan Whitacre: True, but... And so then you tie... People start tying bonuses to these numbers. And so that's all wrong too. What do we talk about with our clients all the time is if you are seeking "diversity" that's fairly easy. You wanna go hire some Asian people, go hire some Asian people, but then you have a revolving door. 'cause those Asian people aren't gonna stick around because you're missing the other parts of that puzzle, which are the more important ones, which are the inclusion, the belonging piece. You gotta have an environment that people wanna stick around and stay. And we're constantly telling our clients that, which is get diversity out of your brain. Make your workplace a better place to be. Diversity will be an end goal if you're actually doing those things right.

Debbie Tang: That's the thing. It's about culture. The culture of your work environment is more important than any other acronym that you give it. Because when people are trying to count the numbers, that's when you get in trouble legally too. Right? Ryan and I are not lawyers anymore, but I can tell you that all those companies that various organizations are going after right now, it's because they made bold proclamations. We will have 25% African American employee population by 2025. Right No, that's not what diversity is about. It's not about the numbers. The numbers... If you're just going after numbers, you're doing it all wrong. Because if you're not changing the culture and making everybody feel welcome, then yeah, you get them in the door and then they're out six months later.

Joel: So help me clarify this in my own mind, George Floyd happens, me too happens. Public sentiment pivots or the pendulum swings. Companies say we have to do something. The easy something is hire someone to be in charge of our diversity initiatives so that we can tell the press and we can go to the board meetings and the steakhouse down the street that we have a diversity manager head or whatever, A year down the road we go, why do we need this person again? And what's their dollar value? And where are we now? And the public doesn't care as much anymore. We're onto like Ukraine, we're onto other stuff and like okay, we don't need that anymore. It's done. Whereas that person's job is a long-term vision for how we mold the culture to be inclusive of a lot more people than we are today. So we basically killed the fetus before it had any time to grow. And now here's where we are today, we're at basically ground zero again. Did I get that right?

Debbie Tang: I think that's mainly right. I think the part that is important in terms of why the pendulum has swung so hard back the other way, it really is a lot from the Supreme Court.

Joel: The affirmative action.

Debbie Tang: Because even though that was only directed at universities, all the companies... Part of it was the ones who didn't really have fully developed diversity programs, they used it as an excuse to like oh, well they went after the school, so they're gonna come after us next, so we're just gonna cut everything. Right? And so I think that is a big piece of why it has swung so hard the other way. But I think that the thing that Ryan and I talk about all the time that we take away from this is when you look at the McKinsey studies and you look at year after year, they're still showing that having a leadership suite and a board that is inclusive and that reflects their customer base like that is always going to help these companies that's gonna grow profit. That piece is always still there. And so I think that for the companies that have been sort of doing it right for a longer time, they're not the ones who are gonna like knee jerk as easily the other way.

Ryan Whitacre: It does stem back. I think the backlash, stems back to the Supreme Court. You get a decision point made and you can tie things back or do things or not do it and blame it on the Supreme Court. What I think is interesting is that in the last three weeks you've had two Supreme Court actions following onto that, which really call into question how powerful that decision is. Because you first had a ruling that was... Earlier this month that said, Hey, we're gonna let West Point keep race conscious admission standards in place. Supreme Court said we're not gonna really mess with that right now. So that was interesting. And then this week the Supreme Court also declined to take up another case that was a high school. That's like the number one high school in the country.

Debbie Tang: That's my high school. That's where I went.

Chad: Ah wow record.

Joel: She's number one.

Ryan Whitacre: Yeah.

Debbie Tang: It's very interesting. So the high school that I went to is in the suburbs of Washington, DC And it's a magnet math and science school. And so when I was a kid, I can tell you how old I am, I'm not ashamed, I'm 45. So I graduated high school in '96. And in '96 when I went to that school, you just took a test. Right. And anybody could take the test, there was no fee. You just walk through the door and that's it. Right. In the years that have followed, there are now kids who take a prep course just to take that test like kids who move from overseas into that neighborhood to try to qualify into that school. And that's all to say that when I was a kid, it was not an Asian majority school at all. And then over the years, it's highest point was maybe 70 to 75% Asian American.

Chad: Wow.

Debbie Tang: Because I mean, my people care about education. Right. And that's why literally there were like families that moved from Korea to be in the boundaries of my high school. Right.

Ryan Whitacre: I'm a bad Asian, by the way. I'm terrible at math.

Chad: Tiger moms are a thing. You know, you grew up White. That's entirely different.

Debbie Tang: But that's the thing is that people said, hey this is the best high school in the country. Why is it 75% Asian? That's not right. We're not reflecting, we're not reflecting the county that we live in. Right. Yeah. And so then the Supreme Court took that on and declined to take that case. And so now you can still use race as a factor. But it's interesting because this is sort of one of those it doesn't quite make sense, right? Because you're like, oh, okay.

Joel: The affirmative action case was, I mean, the Asian population is a huge reason why affirmative action was struck. I mean, people don't kind of realize that, but the Asians were the spearhead for a lot of the movement.

Debbie Tang: Yeah, so it's interesting.

Chad: I would say they were pushed up front, yes.

Ryan Whitacre: They were.

Chad: To be the face.

Debbie Tang: Yeah.

Chad: I don't think they were the major push at all.

Ryan Whitacre: That's right. They got some spotlight.

Chad: Yeah, there's an entirely different discussion around that one.

Debbie Tang: Yeah.

Ryan Whitacre: Yeah.

Chad: Let's talk about the evolution of DEI programs. And we've heard many opinions over the years. And in some of them, we're in this woke, anti-woke society where we're really looking to try to divide and conquer, right? We being the, let's say for instance, the upper crust, they're always trying to get us to fight each other underneath them, so we don't focus on them and what they're taking away from us. The evolution could be, and I don't know, it could be more socioeconomic if that's the case. And it is less than just saying Black, White, Asian, doesn't matter, right? It's more around poor people and we got loads of those, right? No matter whether they are what color they are. Do you think that there might be a way forward in DEIB with looking at socioeconomics as opposed to just focusing on race? I think they're both important, don't get me wrong, but to be able to get past this woke, anti-woke bullshit, we've got to find a way to do that. Do you think this might be a mechanism to be able to do that?

Ryan Whitacre: Yeah, yeah. I think that's exactly where it's going. It's gonna be other factors beyond race and ethnicity. It could be zip code. Geographic factors, yeah, but your socioeconomic factors are, to me, the way it is. And that goes back again to the way we count things up. What are the KPIs that companies are going to be putting on their people to get to the benefits of DEI without getting through quotas? How do we reimagine this? I saw something where a company said, okay, if one of the outcomes we want out of quote unquote diversity is innovation, creativity, well, maybe one of our KPIs ought to be, I don't know, patent applications. How are we measuring ingenuity and spurring that creativity? Maybe that's a way to do it. Thinking outside of just, again, just kind of Benetton adding this thing to death.

Debbie Tang: Yeah. So what a lot of the law firms are doing and what a lot of the companies are doing is that what had previously been a scholarship or a fellowship for maybe Black Latinx students, internship programs, some of them are turning into maybe first generation college attendees, things like that, and opening it up in different ways. So not only is it, put them out of sort of the target of some of these groups that are going after these companies but also trying to be more broad and inclusive and sort of what they're thinking about and sort of what their, what their company values. Okay.

Joel: Okay. Who are the most discriminated against that we don't normally think about? I mean, we think about age, we think about disabilities, like who are we not talking about that we should?

Debbie Tang: I mean, I think one of them is neurodivergence. I think that in the last couple generations there's been more studies, just more people with... It's not always just like mental health or things like that, but that is one of the areas that a lot of people aren't thinking about and that it's important because when you're thinking about the whole workforce and sort of all the people who are lost, who are kind of looked at as, oh, well they, they can't function as a customer service rep, right? So what? There's like tons of other things that person can do. Right? So that is one of the ones that is not always apparent, but I think gets sort of pushed aside.

Joel: And to follow up on that, Ryan, I don't know if it's a different answer, but the return to office phenomenon, to me, the work from home movement was fantastic for disabilities, age, people that can't get to the office easily as able-bodied people. Thoughts about that and what the return to office movement has meant to discrimination?

Ryan Whitacre: I think it was a great leveler in many, many respects. I remember back when I was in charge of a group of people some of the stuff that would come my way as the manager was, well X person has five kids that she's gonna get off to school in the morning. Can we give her a little leeway to get that done, come up? And 25 years ago, that was like, oh, that's a big deal. I don't know. Can't treat everybody... You got to treat everybody the same. So I don't think we can do that. And those little things that we think as little are not little. Those are real issues to somebody. And so in many respects, the work from home phenomenon for those of us who can do it from home, yeah, it's terrific for that.

Ryan Whitacre: I think that there's a schism now, though, because I think about people like my brother who drives a truck or my sister who ran a restaurant, they have to show up. They have to show up and they don't get the work from home. So I think there's a gap there. And so trying to find quote unquote professional careers where you can work from home that maybe, 'cause I would say to add on to Debbie's response, another group that we don't think about are the less educated. I wouldn't say uneducated, but people who don't have a master's degree, maybe don't have a bachelor's degree, but they can do stuff and they're getting left behind in this work-from-home economy. And I think about that. While it did level for some, not for everybody.

Chad: Yeah, yeah. So the survey actually had 73% of C-suite report that they are looking to expand DEI initiatives coming up. Can we call bullshit on that? Is this just somebody trying to make themselves feel good? They're looking in the mirror like, we're gonna do this. I feel good. Now we're gonna do it. And it's like, no, no, you're not.

Joel: That's, darn it. People like me.

Chad: No, you're not.

Ryan Whitacre: So we thought the same thing, right? Okay. And there was another data set that came out in December and it's a law firm, Littler Mendelsohn. They came out with similar stuff. Okay. And I don't know the same number, but it was still an astonishingly high number of their respondents also said, yeah, we're gonna put more money into this stuff. And so, yeah, those of us who are in there talking to these folks all the time, CHROs and CEOs, you kind of sit back and go, yeah, are you though? But here's where I think it's going. There was another article on the Wall Street Journal that's akin, right? So the ESG side of things. And there was a piece that says, forget about acronyms but don't forget about the underlying importance of the actual stuff going on beneath the surface. So acronyms are gonna change and what we call things are gonna change, but the principles underlying it are sound. And so we're gonna figure out how to really make that work. And so that resonates for me.

Debbie Tang: Right. So I think that when you talk about DEI initiatives, right? Take away race, take away gender, I think that the inclusion piece is very tied to culture, right? And every corporation still is longing for, especially with the hybrid work environment, especially with work from home issues, having a really vibrant culture and having a culture that people want to go to work, whether it's in their basement or at corporate headquarters, right? And so even though maybe the D part might be fading a little bit the inclusion piece is absolutely how they're trying to get people to be productive, to wanna work for their companies.

Chad: So this is really almost like a rebranding, rethinking, re-narrative of what we need to do to be able to move forward as organizations so that we don't have to play with the, these stupid woke, anti-woke bullshit conversations that are happening. I mean, that's what it seems like to me, like we're trying to navigate around to that. How long do you think that's gona take? Do you think it's happening now? Or do you think there's gonna be a big movement to actually make it happen?

Ryan Whitacre: I think it's happening now. Things are going underground, right? You're just not seeing the big, huge pronouncements anymore. You're not having your Twitter account go black in Black History Month or but things are going underground. And I think that the major reason why, because we can talk to the McKinsey studies and the other studies that show the underlying of correlation between diversity at the end and performance, fine. I think demographics. We Xers sitting around this podcast chuckle and laugh at how we hate the millennials and hate the boomers. No one ever gives us the time of day. But it's sheer demographics, that's why. Because we're tiny compared to the boomers that are leaving. Our kids are the millennials and now the Zs.

Joel: But we are fierce.

Ryan Whitacre: Yeah, fierce. But there's not enough of us, really. But the millennials and the Zs, they are the two most diverse of themselves generations ever. Yeah. And they're not letting go of this stuff. That's why it's gonna continue to move.

Chad: Well, here's the problem, though. Here's the problem, though, Ryan, and you guys are right in the middle of this. We got a bunch of old White dudes at CEOs in the C-suite, right? They're all boomers. They should have been gone a long time ago. We should have had people in those seats so that they would be mature. They would be seasoned and experienced. That's not going to happen. So we're going to have a ton of individuals who are coming into the C-suite, no, none, zero, zip, nada experience because we allowed this shit to happen. So I guess from your standpoint, 'cause this is...

Joel: It's all of you in executive search that are keeping these old guys in line.

Chad: That's right. All your fault. All your fault.

Debbie Tang: Not Ryan and I. Not Ryan and I.

Ryan Whitacre: Now, you get to the heart of the point, right? Okay. Which is I think too often. And that's what Debbie and I see and what we strive against all the time. Too often, it is the same five dudes and it's always dudes.

Debbie Tang: Yeah, it's a very country club mentality.

Ryan Whitacre: Who get the chair, right? And they kind of circle it back and forth, right? You have to be intentional about that. You have to be intentional about breaking that cycle, which is what we're trying to do in our day to day. But you're right. I mean, too often you get that, that this is what leaders look like. This is who leaders are. And that's it. If you don't come through this funnel, then good luck to you.

Chad: What's the percentage of executives you guys are pushing out into companies?

Debbie Tang: In terms of our stats year to year, we place probably around 70 to 75% leaders of color in the C-suite and on boards.

Chad: Damn!

Debbie Tang: And it's probably 75% female last year.

Chad: Damn! That is awesome.

Debbie Tang: That's the difference maker, but it's also, you can't do that at all firms, right? So our firm is minority owned. You know, we got everybody rowing in the same direction. And that's just not what most firms want as their stats, right?

Ryan Whitacre: And I would also say to that too, that what we're doing isn't placing diversity. That's not it.

Debbie Tang: Right.

Chad: Yeah.

Ryan Whitacre: What we're doing is, and I go back to, again, my own stupid example. I went to a big dumb cow college. I went to a so-called Ivy League law school, and I found smart people both places. And I found dumb people both places. And so our philosophy is that there are great people everywhere, but it takes a little effort to actually find them. And that's what we do. We put a little effort into it. And so our clients then have an array of choice. And if you have an array of choice, maybe you go for something that isn't the cookie cutter. I don't know.

Debbie Tang: Right. I mean, Ryan and I talk about it all the time. Why hasn't the Rooney Rule worked in the NFL? And yet all these corporations are trying to adopt the Rooney Rule in their own hiring. Yeah. And what it comes down to is when you're just there to check a box, no one's taking you seriously. Yeah. It's just for window dressing.

Joel: And to me, that's the heart of this movement is expanding the pool of candidates. Right. It's not tokenism. And I think it gets in that bucket way too often. One of the data points that I found interesting was that a majority of companies don't understand that there's a backlash on DEI. We're talking about woke and all that. Well, we're in a political year. I don't know if you've heard or not, with two pretty polarizing candidates probably going to face off against one another. If a majority of companies don't know about a backlash, they're gonna know about a backlash in an election year. What do you guys foresee 2024 unfolding in regards to this movement? Are you buying or are you selling DEI in an election year?

Ryan Whitacre: You're taking it underground.

Debbie Tang: Yeah. So I'll start by saying that we talk to CHROs, chief diversity officers, CEOs all the time, and some very large ones, right? Like Fortune 5 companies. And they have said exactly what Ryan's saying. It's like, we're not stopping, right? We know that this is good for our bottom line. And that's what they care about is their bottom line. We don't blame them. I mean, they want their stock price to stay high and they want their business to succeed, they're still gonna do it, but they might not make the bold proclamations of, oh, we're going to donate 2 billion only to Black owned VC companies.

Joel: No SuperBowl ads touting it.

Debbie Tang: Right, exactly. And so I think that it's going to be a little bit more underground, but it's still going to keep moving.

Ryan Whitacre: Yeah, they're going to keep their heads down. No one wants to be head above the fort, get blown off, be the target.

Chad: So last question, because I mean, you guys are obviously heavily focused on ensuring that companies are getting that diverse slate. When the pool runs dry, because there aren't as many in the actual pipeline, where are you guys going? HBCUs? Are you actually going to creating training programs? What are you doing that most of those other organizations, I'm not looking for you to give away secret sauce, but where are these leaders of the future going to come from, these diverse leaders of the future?

Joel: They're all at Debbie's high school, apparently.

Debbie Tang: So I'll start by saying that we don't have a secret sauce, right? And for the level that Ryan and I do, 'cause we are working on C-suite, you can't go to an HBCU to find your CEO, right? And so I think that what it really is, is it's got to be what's right for the organization. And it's not like we're not done until we find you an underrepresented minority for this role, right? When I first joined Bridge, and Ryan and I laugh about this all the time, I would have old candidates and clients call me and be like, I'm an old White guy. Does this mean you're never placing me again? And I was like, no, not at all. I still place old White guys, too. I think that it's all about who's right for the position at the time. Right. And so it's not about we can't create people from whole cloth. We've had clients say, can you find me an African-American male who's got experience with soda manufacturing in the Midwest to be our next CEO?

Chad: No.

Debbie Tang: No, we're not like Dr. Frankenstein piecing together somebody. Right. I think that for Ryan and I, we can't help as much with the pipeline because we tend to do C-suite. But when there are up and coming folks who are like one or two levels down, oh, you can bet we're keeping our eyes on them and keeping up those relationships and following them as they go from company to company.

Ryan Whitacre: Yeah. And you don't manufacture people per Debbie's take there. But what we try to do then is expand the brand of your client. Talk to that search committee, talk to that CEO. And say, okay, what are we really after here? Do they really need to have soda manufacturing experience from the Midwest? What if it was pipeline manufacturing from the Southeast? I mean, come on, seriously, what are they doing here? Let's get down to what are the five true things here? Do you need a change agent? Do you need somebody to just keep the wheels spinning? What are we after here? Because, again, there's a lot of people who could do this. You have to open up your brain to the possibility of who that leader looks like and where they come from. And so that's what we try to do is expand minds first and get you to think about talent broadly before we winnow down.

Joel: Mind expansion Chad, that's what it's all about. That is Ryan Whittaker and Debbie Tang. For those of our listeners that wanna find out more about you two or the organization where do you send them?

Joel: I love it. Another one in the can Chad, we out.

Chad: We out.

Outro: Thank you for listening to, what's it called? The podcast. The Chad. The Cheese. Friend. They talk about recruiting. They talk about technology. But most of all, they talk about nothing. Just a lot of shoutouts of people you don't even know. And yet, you're listening. It's incredible. And not one word about Cheese. Not one. Cheddar. Blue. Nacho. Pepper Jack. Swiss. So many Cheeses and not one word. So weird. Anywho, be sure to subscribe today on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. That way you won't miss an episode. And while you're at it, visit Just don't expect to find any recipes for grilled cheese. So weird. We out.


bottom of page