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Shakin' It Up

For the most part, Corporate America sucks at Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Wait, you don't believe me? Look at the numbers for this nearly 60 year-old practice. In most organizations today money is thrown at training, messaging, and an inability to match one's brand articulation with reality.

Enter John Graham, a diversity leader with a recruitment marketing and branding background, not to mention practical experience with logos like Amgen and Merck.

But wait there's more...

Shaker Recruitment Marketing, a nearly 70 year-old agency, barges in the room and plants its DEI stake in the ground by hiring John as their VP of Employment Brand, Diversity, and Culture.


INTRO (1s):

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.

Chad (34s):

I am Chad Sowash. Today we have a guest host. Give it up for John Graham. Everyone. Let me hear it.

John (43s):

Hey, Hey!

Chad (45s):

We're lactose free today, John.

John (47s):

Yes, indeed. Indeed. Dairy-free for sure.

Chad (51s):

Let's just jump into this real quick. Why don't we have John on the show? That's a good question. First and foremost, we needed to up the show's IQ. That was number one. Yeah, many requests from, from the peanut gallery saying that we need to up up the IQ of the show, but John is a brand strategy stud with logos, like Merck Amgen under his belt, attended Lincoln University went to this little school called Yale. I mean, John, do me a favor. Give the listeners a little Twitter bio about you.

John (1m 26s):

Yeah. I would label myself as a dot connector between history and modern day reality. Oh. As I attended the first degree granting HBCU in the country, the Lincoln University, I was an African studies major/ history minor, originally comp science, funny enough, but that's a whole other story. That's an easy parallel, you can see how somebody would veer off to African studies. But, but yeah, and then I did my master's in education and decided I'd never set foot in a classroom, but ultimately what I've come to understand is I'm one who can articulate the brand at the tip of a company's tongue, right? Like they're on the verge of understanding who they are. And I helped him get all the way there, but even more so I help improve the daily lived experiences of the marginalized.

John (2m 13s):

And I feel like that's where, you know, sort of the marketing and the branding and the storytelling converge into this shabang called employer brand and culture marketing.

Chad (2m 22s):

So today you are Senior Manager, Global Employer Brand and Recruitment Marketing at Amgen. Is that, is that, is that what's happening?

John (2m 32s):

Well, not exactly Chad.

Chad (2m 35s):

No, wait a minute! Your LinkedIn says you're an Amgen. So therefore.

John (2m 40s):

Well, you know, you can't believe everything you see on the internet, Chad.

Chad (2m 43s):

Well, what the hell's going on here. Tell me what's going on?

John (2m 45s):

Well, I had a great run at Amgen. We built an amazing EBP and employer brand and it's, you know, globalizing and localizing as we speak, but I have taken a new path, a completely venture, some might be shocked and some might be like, yeah, that makes sense. But I have gotten into now the consulting side of the game and stepping outside the sort of expand the impact.

Chad (3m 12s):


John (3m 13s):

And so I there's this the small, but mighty shop how'd that some know who have courted me and we've seen eye-to-eye on where the future of employer brand can go and believe that DEI and employer brand are going to merge. And so now we're on this new venture and I'm happy to say that I have joined the good folks over at Shaker Recruitment Marketing.

2 (3m 36s):

Oh, Joe Shaker. You gotta be kidding me. That's awesome. Yeah, the little shop that's been around 50 plus years for goodness sakes.

John (3m 45s):


Chad (3m 46s):

So what made you jump ship from a big logo to go into recruitment marketing as a service and really what are you going to be doing there?

John (3m 59s):

That's a great question. So I think what, you know, after conversations about the disconnect between the roses and the champagne of employer brand that is today versus the realities of cultures within organizations and seeing that gap, I saw very clearly that DEI, you know, with great internal initiatives, lack of external face. And I also saw that employer brand's job is to package and articulate a company's culture to make it attractive to talent. And I'm like, well, you can't talk about the culture without incorporating DEI because that is the culture, right?

Chad (4m 37s):

Oh, you hope it is right.

John (4m 39s):

One would hope, one would hope, one would think. And so for me it was like, okay, I'm in a, you know, a big pond, you know, Amgen twenty-three thousand global employees, Merck was, you know, 180,000 global employees. And I'm like, okay, you can do so much,

Chad (4m 59s):


John (4m 60s):

.... within one company. What would it look like if you could expand this and really bringing new pathway to exploring an employer brand and an EBP from a means that that helped the company's marketing match their reality. And that's where I said, you know, you can't do that from one company. You know, you can do it from many, but that's where it made sense to take a whole new approach.

Chad (5m 23s):

Well, is that how you feel like you can really make a much larger impact is like, you can only do so much under one logo, but if you are at a shop like Shaker, you have many different logos that you can perspectively impact around brand articulation and DEI.

John (5m 43s):

Yeah. That's the 100% correct. In my mind, I think I had always done the speaking engagements and the conference circuit, you know, talking about these things and I loved it. Right. I would see after, you know, you get off stage and you're when we could be in person with people. And you're having the conversations with your peers who are doing this great work at other companies. And you're seeing just like, man, you're you're you're so right. Like it's, we need to do a better job of incorporating diversity, equity and inclusion into the employer brand story. But how, and for me, you know, I realized that this is not, this is a new capability in, in the space of, you know, recruitment, marketing, employer, brand, and EVP developments for companies.

John (6m 28s):

So, you know, what we're building is Shaker. It's going to be a first of its kind. It's going to push companies past performance, which is, I think a very important thing, not only for myself, but Joe was a hundred percent behind that in the sense that he didn't want to get into this work, right. It's, it's a, it's a 57 year old practice, DNI consulting, $8 billion industry. And you see a lot of companies now throwing a ton of money at it. So, you know, outside looking in, it looks like a great business move, but, you know, Joe was very clear and we agreed from the start. It's like this isn't about making money. This is about making change, like doing really good work that actually moves needles and, okay if there's money on as a result of that. Cool. But, but let's, let's do good work and have fun while doing it.

John (7m 10s):

Change, change the landscape and have that really help the marketing match reality.

Chad (7m 13s):

Making change, and you've got to feed the family at the same time. I mean, let's get through that real quick. Yes. Here's the thing. So brand articulation to me over the years with recruitment marketing, especially around DEI has been fluff. So tell me about what yourself and Shaker will be doing to drive real outcomes. We're talking about companies who, as we can see the tip of the iceberg have 8% female representation in the CEO position alone. Right? Because that's just what we can see. You know, the rest of that iceberg is even worst when it comes to workforce composition, equity and inclusion. What are you guys going to do?

Chad (7m 53s):

Not just to talk about the fluffy shit and articulation, but actually drive outcomes?

John (7m 60s):

Yeah, that's that, that is the $8 billion question ultimately is right. Not what a consultant's going to do, but what are, what are companies going to do? What is the CEO suite going to do to actually change narratives and daily lived work experiences for the most marginalized? What I think we have a real opportunity to do out of, out of the Shaker house is to ask questions that haven't been asked, right? For fear of offense or fear of causing uncomfortable or discomfort in the conversation and really help to look at things in a different way. So for instance, most DEI approaches start by working backward from the most privileged people in the organization, right.

Chad (8m 40s):

The top, right?

John (8m 41s):

Then there's this expectation, okay, you resource it, you fund it, you put, you know, roles, responsibilities, measurements, all that stuff in place. And somehow the, it gets solved in this trickle down theory kicks in and the most marginalized people feel the sprinkling of commitment and concern come down from the top. Well, we know that that doesn't work right, and it hasn't worked. So what I wanted to do, and Joe was a hundred percent aligned. I said, look, let's work backward from the voice of the most marginalized and understand what their daily lived experiences that's causing, you know, high attrition rates, that's causing a significant health, emotional mental concerns, right? In these demographics. And let's be honest right today, the black professional in corporate space is still the most marginalized out of any demographic.

John (9m 28s):

And that's statistically, it's not just me saying that as a black man, right? We're talking about pay equity, we're talking about micro-aggressions. We're talking about being dismissed to humanize in certain cases, yet black women being the most educated in the country and all the multiple degrees, credentials and so forth, but still not advancing up the ladder. So that at some point we need to ask the question, what is the, the C-suite willing to do to put structural and behavioral together to make lasting change. Right? We've seen a lot of emphasis on the behavioral, and we're just seeing some surface scratching on the structural changes, accountability, measurements, and enforcement, right? But it's still an uphill battle. So, so what we're looking to do is to take some really unique approaches that was a long long-winded answer to tell you where we're looking to take some unique approaches that will, that will not only help you look at your representation, but also looking at the ability to be authentic in your organization.

John (10m 20s):

We have some other cool things that we're doing there and then looking at development. Right. And so I can unveil a little bit, you know, when we talk about authenticity and being your authentic self, right. We've heard that statement about, you know, bringing your whole self to work.

Chad (10m 35s):


John (10m 35s):

And for a large population within corporate spaces at best you can bring your whole half.

Chad (10m 40s):


John (10m 40s):

And so what are the impacts of that? Well, how many executives actually know what that means? And there's a, there's a term called code switching, which let's say a lot of black professionals have to do. We're bilingual too. There's the way we speak and act and project ourselves in corporate spaces versus how we do outside. And don't get me wrong. Everybody code switches, to an extent it may be class-based, it might be ethnicity based, but right. But what would it look like if an executive team could see and hear the stories of their marginalized employees in their daily lived experiences in a way like, even in a documentary style way. And storytelling that connects the historical context, or like archival footage and PhD, analyses of the impacts of these experiences on there, on the employee base like that, you know, in addition to some measurements and some instruments that we're working on that are going to highlight that daily lived experience.

John (11m 33s):

So there's some really cool stuff. I mean, we're getting into like natural language processing and performance reviews to locate biases in particular demographics, performance reviews, and help to really lock in on where advancement is stalling out.

Chad (11m 46s):


John (11m 46s):

So there's a lot of work that we can do in here, but I think it's the approach that we're taking that's going to make it unique and differentiated.

Chad (11m 52s):

It's interesting because the easy answer years has been, do more training. And that's why we have billions of dollars spent on DEI training. And we're not seeing any outcomes. Do you know that there's really an appetite out there to go past the performative? To go past just spending money on training, to tick the box and say, look at what we did and focus on outcomes and focus on the internal mobility and retention and definitely promotions.

John (12m 22s):

Yeah. So is there an appetite absolutely, from those who are not seeing the change, right. If we're talking about the heads of company, the Titans of industries, here's what, here's what we know there is, you know, in a post George Floyd era, there have been commitment statements made, right? There've been pledges, there's been commitments met, right.

Chad (12m 45s):


John (12m 46s):

Many right? You give that about six to eight months and now what you've seen as a return to business as usual. That is seen, that is felt by the marginalized or underrepresented employee base at your organizations. At some point and we're starting to see this now that feeling and that sentiment, or that I almost say the sense of betrayal is spilling out online.

Chad (13m 8s):


John (13m 8s):

So now your brand is going to start taking a hit from the inside out. So at some point as an organization, you have to figure out how do you not only get ahead of this, forget the PR side of it. Right. But how do you stop the bleeding from, you know, and close that gap between your commitment and then the reality of change. And we all know that this is a 450 year old problem in certain instances, that's not going to be solved by Q3 of next year.

Chad (13m 31s):


John (13m 32s):

But in the meantime, the people who, who are most aggrieved should feel like something's moving in a direction that doesn't just feel like lip service. So, you know, is there an appetite, you know, it's a question of how, how much change do companies really want and how willing are they, right. It's not a capability question. It's a willingness question. How willing are they to disrupt the status quo to really get a different outcome? And we believe that there are companies out there who are ready to, to try something different or to add on to what they've already been doing to start to make sure that those results hit the intended beneficiaries.

Chad (14m 13s):

I think talking about, you know, really the ability for transparency out in the social networks of the world through brand articulation, or let's say false brand articulation, which we've seen again, the fluff that's been blown. We'd love to start to see organizations and hopefully this is something that Shaker can not just foster and build within your own group, but also be able to press out to your clients is transparency and demonstrating that, you know, workforce composition, pay, equity, all of that. And this is, this is not a small move obviously is incredibly important to demonstrate to everybody that brand that you are articulating is real.

John (14m 58s):

That's right. And look, the biggest, I think barometer of whether that's working is, is getting a very good sense of where your baseline is. What is your marginalized population saying, right now? What is th`eir experience? How is that being viewed and expressed internally? What are the channels for outlets and so forth. And then you start to make some, some tweaks and you start to look at structural change, and then you start to look at, you know, meaningful change that's implemented. And then you go back and you test again, you say, look, did this change for you? Do you see an improvement? Are your managers less micro-aggressive? Do you feel like you're heard, are your ideas still being stolen and being passed to somebody else, right? Or, you know, are you seeing a difference in your performance review language or your pay scale?

John (15m 42s):

Like these are the conversations that you have over time so that the people who feel like they haven't had a voice at least know you're listening, and then they can see what measures companies are taking to actually implement and make good on the commitments that they're making, internally and externally.

Chad (15m 59s):

What's the title. What's the expectation, many organizations they only know one thing and that's to throw money at the problem and that hasn't worked. They need something that works. So what are you going to do? And what are the expectations you guys are setting at Shaker?

John (16m 14s):

From a title perspective. I mean, if those are even relevant anymore, I'll be the VP of Employer Brand Diversity and Culture. The mandate is to oversee the existing employer brand division, while also building the DEI culture transformation. We're adding these new capabilities and offerings for our clients existing and future to really work backwards from the lens, through the lens of employer brand and say, okay, look, we understand you want a diverse, equitable and inclusive employer brand, but is your culture diverse, equitable, and inclusive? And if not, why not? If who are your marginalized, you know, that's going to be meted out by your data, you tell us, but as we do the EVP culture analysis, we're now intermingling different instruments to get at other sides of the culture.

John (17m 1s):

So we're not going to look at just what the broadest population thinks about the culture and who they are and their experience and so forth. But we're actually going to zero in on the marginalized. And we're, you know, like I said, we have some instruments in development that will speak directly to that. So historically you've had the inclusion surveys or your pulse surveys, right? That gives you this broad swath of how your company culture is operating. But we know that the voice of the majority can drown out the marginalized in those surveys. And I think the way that some of these questions are asked, don't really speak to these other experiences. So we'll do those still, but then we're also going to introduce some other ones that can give you a really good contrast of the experience of those who, you know, who we obviously know don't have the loudest voices.

John (17m 44s):

And so with that, then we're able to sort of bridge the gap and still create an EVP that's honest, that's accurate. That speaks to the culture of aspirational elements of your culture, you know, where you want to be and lean into those places where you're not yet, you know, arrived. Right. And be honest about that. And it's, you know, I'm a huge fan of, of Brian Adams and Charlotte Marshals to get him to get approach to employer brand and not just selling champagne and roses. Right. But also leaning into harsh realities. And that takes a very bold, honest self realized company to do that. And I think that we can, we can make that work good. So, yeah, it's, it's, again, it's not DEI standalone on its own.

John (18m 25s):

It's DEI through the lens of your employer brand, making sure that the marketing matches reality. And if not helping you close those gaps, some really strong offerings and partnership opportunities there.

Chad (18m 36s):

Well, excellent. John, I have to say that this is a big move. There's no question for an organization like Shaker to commit to DEI initiatives and to be able to make it more holistic. One thing I am going to say is you have to come back on the show and we're going to be as critical as we possibly can be because we want to see the ball move. Right? and you know, as well as I do, we haven't seen enough of that. So we want to hear about it. We want to see it. And we definitely want to invite you back on the show to talk more about what you guys are going to be doing at Shaker. So in the meantime, as you're getting settled, I'm sure over at Shaker Recruitment Marketing, where can individuals find you to start having these discussions?

John (19m 25s):

Yeah. Great question. I'm all over LinkedIn. You can simply search John Graham creative and you'll find me Twitter. I'm Instagram 1906 and that's G R A H A M. And yeah, I'm, I'm always happy to connect. I loved hearing, you know, what my other fellow employer brand and talent marketing colleagues are doing, but also how we can start to interweave this other element and super important element of culture into our work.

Chad (19m 52s):

And I'm also expecting a copy of the book that you're going to be putting out as well. So again, once again, thanks so much John Graham for joining us and we out.

John (20m 5s):

Hey, I appreciate it. Thank you.

OUTRO (20m 55s):

Thank you for listening to, what's it called? The podcast with Chad, the Cheese. Brilliant. They talk about recruiting. They talk about technology, but most of all, they talk about nothing. Just a lot of Shout Outs 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. Any hoo 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. Is so weird. We out.


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