The Deflating Soufflé of DEI Expectations, with Whelhaus Co. CEO TJ Wright

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This is a podcast episode titled, The Deflating Soufflé of DEI Expectations, with Whelhaus Co. CEO TJ Wright. The summary for this episode is: <p>In this episode, we talk to TJ Wright — a servant leader, systems thinker, and self-described "disruptor" who has had enough with companies who say "that's just how we've always done it." TJ is unfortunately no stranger to a hostile work environment, which led him to create Whelhaus Co., a social impact start-up focusing on talent optimization and holistically reshaping how corporations approach equity.</p><p>Diversity, equity, and inclusion are the foundation of your culture, not a C-suite position you fill on your leadership team. Tune in to hear TJ's mythbusting tips (and the occasional jaunty one-liner) about your DEI strategy. He keeps it real about how corporations can take the first step — or the next. </p>
💣 Disruptive change requires disruptive thinking
00:21 MIN
🌈 DEI is not just an initiative or a heritage month. It's a business function.
01:12 MIN
🙋🏾‍♂️ The questions you need to be asking
01:09 MIN
🌱 How can we be "disruptors"?
04:46 MIN

Barista: For Seth, No Milk, No Sugar.

Seth Morales: Right here. Thank you.

Tori: You are listening to No Milk, No Sugar. The podcast about business beneath the sweetener. Powered by Morales Group and hosted by CEO, Seth Morales. We talked to local movers and shakers about what can be the harsh reality of doing business. We cover what no one likes to advertise, but everyone wants to hear. I'm Tori producer of the show. Today, we talked to TJ Wright, CEO of Whelhaus Co consulting, and executive director of The Speak Easy, about ecosystem building and being your own disruptor for DEI.

Seth Morales: TJ. This is super relaxed. We just, we want to hear your story, learn a little bit more about what you're up to, just hopping on LinkedIn and checking out a couple of your posts. I just saw... Well, congrats are in order on the new promotion to executive director of The Speak Easy, that's a big deal. Love The Speak Easy. I think you were doing kind a passing of the guard with the former executive director. By the way, your outfit was on point. Love the shoes, inaudible, you're killing it man, you looked good. Before we jump into the Speak Easy and what you're doing there. Talk to me about Whelhaus a little bit about the background, how it got started and what you're up to with that.

TJ Wright: That's a bit of a story where, how far back do I go? Picture it Sicily 19... No, I'm kidding. Well, the story, it has some harsh beginnings, if I'm being honest with you. I started out, I got my very first job when I was 16 and it was for the Indiana public charter schools association. They've now left, but that jump started me into the education field for well over a decade. So K through 16. And in all that time, I can count on one hand how many times I was not in a hostile work environment. And a lot of that experience, lived and seen experience, because while I was also in a hostile work environment, I was often in roles that were very new, that were seen to be innovative, but didn't always have the correct support for it. I was typically the youngest in the room, but had the loudest ideas. In that journey, I faced homophobia, racism, covert and overt racism, and a lot of different experiences that made me question the workforce. And it made me question my place in the workforce. And I very quickly realized that what I was being called to do was to disrupt. And to do so in a way that as I like to say is very common sense. I don't go in and do anything too radical. Just what seems to make the most sense as the opportunity has presented itself. But I've recently learned that's called systems thinking, which I'm sure we'll jump into a little bit later. So right around 2019 is when I decided that I needed to get more involved with my community. I needed to network, I needed to take this next step. And I found myself waiting for other organizations who I thought had all the skills, competencies and resources to step up and do the work, to really pull my bootstraps up and do the work myself. So I started what was then called Spotlight Strategies and Initiatives. It was not called Whelhaus at first, but I always really enjoyed a business model that said, oh, I get to do something that's for profit. Yes, but I also want to do something that gives back to my direct community. And I didn't know what that was. Because at that time I hadn't heard anything about what a benefits corporation was. And I said, well, let me get out into the community and learn. I started my first nonprofit program, Juneteenth social that year. And as I continue to move into who I am today, I found myself really questioning what type of work I was doing. What did it mean? I didn't have an answer. I knew what I was doing. I knew why I was doing it, but it really didn't fit in a box. It didn't fit in a sort of industry, if you will. I settled on workforce development. I settled on human resources and kind of grouped it in there. Found some love with people operations, found some love with talent optimization and I kept hearing CSR. I kept hearing social impact. And all that sounded very interesting to me, but it didn't quite fit. And then 2020 came and what I thought I was going to do was not what I did at all. I very, so at the time I was still moonlighting. So I was trying to become an entrepreneur while also still working my full- time job. And I became an essential worker. I was a business manager at a very new charter school in Indiana. And my building went from a very physical space to a very virtual digital space with all the other strains that we were seeing across our country. And I got to a place where I felt like I was less of a disruptor and more of a cog in the wheel. And I decided I needed to step away and to venture out onto my own. I had gotten to a place where if I can give a little nugget about myself, a little fun fact, one of the things that, I'm a pretty chill person, but if you want to see me go over the edge pretty fast, it's saying something to the effect of, well, that's just the way we've always done it. That's, I'm over the edge. I am counting to 10 and I am bringing myself down. But over the course of the pandemic, the wording changed. It went from that's just the way we've always done it to, well, that's just not in our wheel house. And suddenly Whelhaus Co was born because while I realized what other companies couldn't do, my experience both lived and seen experience allowed me to do very effortlessly. It allowed me to leverage my system's thinking mindset, to look at an organizational issue and to say, oh, here are the pain points here, here, here. And they're connected to people because you can't move a company or an institution without people. And now we've gone through years and decades of ignoring people and saying, you have to check your emotions at the door. And suddenly you realize that's no longer the case. You realize that's no longer possible. Those lines have bled completely. And companies didn't know how to address that, but I did. So I left and I created Whelhaus Co to focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, talent optimization, powered by predictive index. People operation. So focusing on the employee experience and the life cycle, and then social impact and responsibility to showcase how to be a true responsible member of your community as a business and use business for good. So that's how Whelhaus Co got started. That's the origin story, if you will. Not quite like Spider- Man, but it's, I think it's a little interesting

Tori: Might make a bigger impact than Spider-Man, at the end of the day. So..

TJ Wright: We would hope so. Without the leotard.

Tori: Well, that's an incredible origin story. I'd love to hear a little bit more about how some of Whelhaus's projects and what have you been up to lately? You and your team.

TJ Wright: We've been taking a very deep look at self. We're still a non- profit... Or excuse me, we're still a startup. We're still new in the game. And we're a nimble boutique consulting firm that really focuses on human centric design and agile project management. So part of our work right now is doing research and figuring out how to build a sort of business model that may not have been created just yet. Something that allows the fluidity of highly cross- functional teams. But allow you the, what's the word that I'm looking for, the flexibility, if you will, to keep the customer at the forefront. and it's very difficult to juggle those two because they've never been seen as equal. They've always put the customer first. The customer's always right, but in this business model, we're saying we can't deliver on the customer if our business model doesn't sustain a certain level of agility and speed, while also making it very bespoke for each of our clients. Each of our clients, what we tell them is what client A gets is not what client B gets, because if people are not the same, then it's almost unwise to assume that each company will be the same or that the problems could be addressed in the same way. It takes a more intentional look at the individual ecosystem within the company to understand how to fix it and move it forward. Especially when you're dealing with complex issues, such as belonging, or complex issues like cultural development. What does that look like? So we're asking ourselves those questions. We're getting thrown quite a bit of questions from our partners and from other allies around, what does it look like to have a strong employee resource group? What does it look like to have a strong leadership team who is competent in diversity equity inclusion? So I'm happy to say we're kind of nerding out on the industry and what it means for the future of work. Especially as we look to... Very, much closer than I think we realize very closely, millennials will become the C- suite. And that's going to mean significant changes. We're seeing this kind of happen as companies are being held to task around how involved are they in the community? How are they using their platforms? And that's not going to change. It's only going to get more and more pronounced as we see our generations move within the workforce. So we're looking ahead in that way. And we're also soliciting clients. We're working to bring more folks into the fold, work with more people. We're excited to roll out new projects towards the end of the year. That I don't want to drop the dime on just yet, because we're still fine tweaking them, but we're excited to hopefully roll out individual services and more coaching based services for leaders and individuals who they know they have work to do. But oftentimes I get the question, where do I start? What books do I read and how do I get there? And you need a thought partner to take you that journey without feeling like you're putting too much weight on friends and families and without tokenizing certain individuals in your space, you really want to have that safe person. And we want to provide that space for people who want it.

Luz: TJ, you shared a little bit about where Whelhaus is heading to and where you guys are right now. A term I want to pause on that you shared was ecosystem building. You mentioned it a little bit ago and kind of brushed over it, but I want to nail it just because I know we talked about it. We both serve on the true U DEI task force, but I just, I want to give you some space to describe it. What does that mean? I heard you even earlier talk about leveraging your system specifically, the systems connected to people, right? Everything kind of goes back to Rome and that's our people. Can you talk a little bit about what is ecosystem building? You're a self described synergy architect. Tell us a little bit, what does that encompass, when you talk about people, when you talk about this ecosystem, what are you actually talking about?

TJ Wright: Mm, now we get to the fun stuff, right? Oh, and this is really a lot of what my Speak Easy work bleeds into. This, not this idea, but rather this industry around ecosystem building. So when we think about an ecosystem, traditionally, you might think of economic development, workforce development. What you're really looking at is the inner workings of a system. The inner workings of this connects over here and this moves over here. I'd advise you to kind of use the idea of an ant hill. Inside of an ant hill is an ecosystem and everything flows a different way. It goes here, it goes there. Everything has a particular purpose. But when you look at something more complex, like people, they are not as obedient as ants, they live a much more wide breath life than ants. And so it becomes very complicated to maintain how people live, how they breathe, how they work. And so let's talk about, let's flip it on the head and kind of think about issues. Then the issues that are widely discussed when we're thinking about making changes to a city, food justice, criminal justice, entrepreneurship, work, how many jobs are available, how many houses are available? How difficult is it to get a house? How does everybody have equal access to own a car? Do you need a car in order to move about our city? What does our transportation system look like? You can't really talk about one of these items without talking about the other, because they're all interconnected in the same way that humans are. So when we talk about ecosystem building, what we're talking about is building systems or innovating systems that determine how people live, work, and experience quality of life. And within ecosystem builders, you can look at or ecosystem building rather, you can look at ecosystems as big as a municipality. As a city. There are people in this industry who do it for countries, who do it for particular issues around with say the World Health Organization, or you can go as minute and as small as your office. Your office is an ecosystem. There's a bathroom. There's a place where people work. There's a place where people collaborate. There's a place where people generate ideas. And there's also a flow, not just physically, but also a flow of information, your emails, your Slack communications, how you receive your performance evaluations. All those things are interconnected to how people are experiencing what is ultimately a third of their life in the workplace. And my job on the Whelhaus Co side is to analyze that ecosystem and say, how can it work better? And as a systems thinker, I'm a person who thinks in, if you can imagine sort of, I'm a real movie buff. Let's see if I can... I'm also a self- proclaimed Netflix enthusiast. So let's see if I can pull one out. If you've seen Lucy, Lucy is a great example, with Scarlet Johansson. She's one of my favorites. She almost begins to... You can see visually what it looks like to think of systems. She starts to see phone wires and how people are communicating and messages from back and forth. That's what I think of when I think of systems thinking, because I'm able to kind of see it, if that makes any sense. I'm a very visual person and I kind of just am visualized it in my head and being able to trace an issue back to its origin past what feels like the real issue. Oftentimes I come, I speak to C- suite level executives and they say, ha, DEI is the issue, we are behind. We need to do this, let's get an ERG, let's get some leaders in here. Let's get some more recruitment going. Let's get all this. And I say, oh, that's wonderful. That's great. Let's let me talk to a couple of your staff members. Let's see what they believe the issues are. And together using their information and the staff's information, I'm able to come back to the CEO or the, C whoever and say, I love that you care about DEI, but it seems to be, the smallest of your issues. Let's talk about how are your employees working with one another? Is there misalignment of team and manager, if there's misalignment between employee to company, what is that? And it often traces back to something much more root cause. Something like, Hey, this person quit. And this person was well loved and no one talked about it. That's strange. Isn't it? That's like if grandma was living at home and grandma just wasn't living at home anymore and you just didn't talk about it, it'd be odd. Where is grandma? It's looking back and figuring out where those core roots, that's systems thinking in a much more, less sciencey nutshell as ecosystem building. I try to not nerd out too bad.

Tori: We definitely love it when our guests nerd out. So please by all means, go full speed ahead. So you mentioned a couple things about, organizations who you work with, who they're either, they're just getting started. They don't know what they don't know. Don't know where to start. What is something that you see a lot of organizations or employers, or, groups that you work with, kind of small pitfalls that they're falling into. I know that you mentioned that, you're really just kind of starting to dig into all of this research and getting started in that way, but what's something that you see oftentimes popping up for them?

TJ Wright: Hmm. I can tell you the top three, the first are myth busters. So the number one thing I encounter more often than anything else are demystifying myths and saying that's simply not true. One popular one is we can't find diverse talent. That's simply not true. You're simply not looking at where you need to look to find diverse talent. Your systems simply don't go far enough. And that can be, something like that, a myth, that to be busted like that can be difficult. And that's why a lot of people really hold on to these myths or hold on to these beliefs, rather, that make it difficult for them to go to the next mark. That's number one, number two, budget. Budget. If you're going to do this work, DEI is not an initiative. DEI is not a heritage month. It is not a pride month. It is not women's month. It is not something that you can just place onto your calendar and say, okay, we got to prepare for that six weeks out. And then after that, we're done and we're going to do it again next year. And we're just going to tighten it up. Doesn't work that way. DEI and people operations and talent optimizations. These are business functions. And if you require a budget to manage your other business functions, you require a budget to manage diversity, equity and inclusion. Even if you don't know what that is, that looks like earmarking a number saying, okay, how badly do we believe in this? Because I'm certain that if you went back and you looked at how much you're spending on software, you figured out you might care a bit about software. You might care a bit about office chairs. So how much do you care about DEI to even earmark your money before you even know what you're doing with it, having a budget. Saying I'm going to dedicate a leader to this work, which gets into number three. Number three is capacity. I found out in doing this work that I, you develop new pet peeves. And one of the new ones for me, this is, and I had to really talk to my therapist about this one because she noticed I would get a little hot about this. DEI, if you are not prepared to paying a person to do the work, then you are not prepared to tackle DEI. This doesn't always need to look like a chief diversity officer, especially if you don't have any direction around what this chief diversity officer is supposed to do. I see a lot of that too. They hire a person then say, okay, go do the things go. You got it. You're the expert. Without giving this person any sort of idea of what they need to do, expecting a generalist to handle what are very specific problems. A chief diversity officer may not be your solution. Maybe you need a chief people officer, maybe you need a chief operations officer, or maybe your leadership team needs to be trained on certain competencies. That could be cross- functional across multiple departments, but you won't know that if you don't analyze and make sure you have the proper people at the table at the proper time. So I often advise companies, ask yourself three questions. Who's in the room. Who's making those decisions. Who is helping to inform what you're doing and what project you're going to hire and what contractor, what type of contractor do you need? Have you surveyed the team? Who's in there, who's asking those questions. Then who's in the building, who's affected by this work. Whose work are you functionally changing? Whose day are you making harder? Whose day are you making easier by executing this work? Whose job who's whose job are you putting into question? Whether explicitly or implicitly. These are questions that you ask when you're asking who's in the building. And then who's in the street. What's your output. Have you garnered trust with your local community? Do your customers trust that, what you're saying is actually very truthful to what you mean. Does your customer base see your values represented in your chief executive officer? These are things that have to be demonstrated at these levels. And when it comes to capacity, you can have the best DEI strategic plan you could absolutely have. But if you don't have the people to execute it, or if you didn't or worse, you didn't ask about how to roll this out or implement or engage in any sort of change management processes prior to just "rolling out DEI," it's not going to work. It never does. It'll look like it at first, it'll rise, just like a souffle. And then it will just go right into the middle and then you'll be sad. Nobody wants a soggy souffle.

Tori: They don't.

TJ Wright: They don't. It's not good.

Luz: Everyone on this call is just cracking up. inaudible TJ, just because I kind of have an insider's look at the type of work that you're involved in across the city, whether it's through indie hub, the 1828 leadership project, or some of the boards you sit on, just because I'm biased with Indy being such a great city, to be able to do the work. Not only talk about DEI initiatives across different industries and different organizations. But I do want to selfishly ask, what are you most excited about with our city through that DEI lens, or the growth opportunity that our city provides, whether startups like yourself or more established venues, what is that key piece of excitement for you in Indianapolis?

TJ Wright: I am a lifelong Hoosier, born and raised here, and I have been heavily influenced by my grandfather who was also born and raised in Indianapolis. He lived, he was number 10 of 12 children and his house they grew up right on the corner of where university, excuse me, the campus center at IUPUI sits University Boulevard. Right on that corner, right where you make that turn. And there's that Barnes and Nobles and that Starbucks, that's not a Starbucks. It's right there. And for a long time, I found that very difficult to chew with. And I could not for the life of me, figure out why my grandfather wasn't more upset than I was. I didn't even see the house. And I went to IUPUI. I mean, good. My goodness. I paid tuition at this place. Why would you let me do this, this place that came and they tore down, what was your childhood home? And he really instilled in me then, and what lives right now is a certain love for growth within a city. And knowing that a city can acknowledge where it's had misgivings or missteps and how it can step into a better version of self in the future. And prior to him really teaching me that. And then frankly, me learning a bit about that in my own experience, after he passed away, it never quite hit me as hard until I became an ecosystem builder. Because after I became an ecosystem builder or a synergy architect, it was like seeing a cheat sheet to everything that my grandfather had said was possible. Suddenly I was putting on a different set of glasses and I could use my systems thinking to see, oh, there are more opportunities here than what was just under the surface. And I think ultimately that's what he was always trying to push forward, that it didn't matter that the campus center sat on that corner because he knew what had gone into making that corner possible. How many families had come through that space and how many more would get to experience a new and improved city that had the opportunity to generate more opportunities and more people and more intersectional identities than ever before. Than it could have ever if it had stayed just the same. And I'm beginning to see that lens and use that lens now for Indianapolis. When I look at Indianapolis and really the state, if I can be honest with you, we, anyone who I talk to, who's also an ecosystem builder, whether they're running a nonprofit, whether they work at the state house, whether they work at a, for profit business, that happens to be an entrepreneur. Everyone is like, it feels like we're in this weird area. That's kind of like, are the stars aligning? Again, I'm a movie buff, so I'm thinking of Hercules, yes, the Disney Hercules. And that scene in Hercules, which happens to be one of my favorite movies, by the way, that scene where all the stars come align and then boom, this new opportunity. Suddenly, so in Hercules, it was actually very bad. Boom, the Titans came out, but then in this way, boom, it's a new opportunity. And I'm just excited for that. I am very excited for the entrepreneurial ecosystem that's happening. And I, not just because I work at The Speak Easy and entrepreneurship is kind of my job now, but because of the true opportunity, it brings for closing the wealth gap, for creating local business. Again, for Indianapolis to become one of the top tier two cities in the country to be the true crossroads of America. And for us to set ourselves apart and become innovators, even to become leaders and to remain leaders in certain respects across the Midwest. And to generate new ideas of innovation. One of the sets of numbers I like to share is that within, about, we want to say within the next 10 years, about 9 million jobs will be created. Let's just ballpark it. Of the companies that create new jobs, 9 million net, new jobs of the companies that create net new jobs. It's companies that are one to five years old. And if Indiana builds itself to be a place where companies are being born and where companies can stay, because it's, we're not lacking for entrepreneurs, it's entrepreneurs, they get to a certain place, and then boing, they bounce to Chicago or boing, they bounce to Atlanta, boing, they bounce to Denver, boing, they bounce to these other areas that are saying, Hey, come to our city. And you'll see that we have all the amenities. We have all of the culture. We have all of the events. We have all these things. Well now Indianapolis is leaning into culture. Now Indianapolis companies are linked into diversity, equity and inclusion and belonging. Now Indianapolis has a secretary of commerce who has made entrepreneurship a priority in his agenda. We have the opportunity to create millions of jobs, millions of dollars into our economic ecosystem. That's schools being renovated, that's houses, being built. That's food deserts, ceasing to exist. That's teachers getting wages. That's Indianapolis, still doing what Indianapolis loves to do and hosting people with that Hoosier hospitality, not just for, GenCon, not just for an event here or there, but for all kinds of events. And to become that true crossroads of America that I know, and that many Hoosier residents who've been here all alone, know that's what this city has always been able to be. And now we can be that, not just for people who have traditionally had that access, who have traditionally had that experience. But for people who look like me, who love like me and those who don't, those who come from different identities, different cultures, different spaces. And they'll find a place here. That's exciting to me. It's exciting to me to think of a day where I go to... Where anyone from Indianapolis goes to another city. And when they say, where are you from? They say, Indianapolis with glee, instead of right now, when you typically get Indianapolis and then you get some sort of apology. No, no, no. There's going to be a day where people are going to say, I'm from Indianapolis. And they're going to say, what is it like there. For reasons that we couldn't have even imagined three years ago, that's what I'm most excited about.

Tori: That was poetic and beautiful. I'm ready for that vision. I definitely think that the next 10 years are going to be pivotal for that. And I'm really excited as someone who also is an Indianapolis citizen born and bred, grew up here, went to high school here, went to college in Indiana as well. I can definitely see that potential and I'm really excited for it. I did have like one last question that I wanted to ask you. I know we're coming up on our time, but yeah, it's one of the things for our theme is it's called disrupting DE and I, and you called yourself as self- described disruptor. I know that inertia is a really big problem and getting, some of these initiatives and kind of like this mindset change to move forward. The pandemic was a big catalyst for that, just forcing everyone to things differently. It was a big disruptor in and of itself. But even as we're moving forward, even the more subtle pieces of moving, making progress with diversity, equity and inclusion, what are your recommendations for kind of beating that inertia where people who maybe they aren't self described disruptors, but they see that vision and they want to get there. But I mean, it's hard. And, just especially in corporate spaces where, like you said, this is the way things have always been done. This is how we've always thought about it. Of course, we've had this pandemic that, we've had to change a few things here and there, but on a broader cultural sense, how do you get over that inertia? How can everybody become a disruptor?

TJ Wright: I can think of three things. The first is that you have to start. The truth is that inertia is often not always, but is often based out of fear. And which moves me into number two, because how I really disrupt these days is less slamming my hands on the table and saying, you've got to listen to this. And more calling people into a space of awareness, calling them into a place where they feel like they can have an honest conversation without it being incredibly divisive, without it being supercharged, giving them the space to make a mistake and to say it is okay to make a mistake. You are not expected to know all things. You are expected to be very early in your journey. That is present day disruption. And moving from a competitive advantage to a collaborative advantage, which brings me to number three, this work can feel lonely, but it does not mean you have to do it alone. It's very simple. You do not have to go down this journey to a better self, no matter what that version is, whether that's you want to exercise three times a day, go for it. I hear it's great. I I don't subscribe to that, but just, Hey, try that. Or you want to be a more self- aware person. You want to leverage introspection very frequently or more than what you do. You want to be a more engaged parent. You want to be a more engaged partner. You want to be a more engaged coworker. You want to be aware, you want to avoid putting your foot in the mouth. All of that is very scary and all that can make you feel very isolated, but it's not true. There are people in the world just like you who have these same questions and they are more than happy to be a peer. They are more than happy to be a mentor. Not everybody, but generally people who share the same journey as you, they're willing to walk that journey with you, especially if it means having an accountability partner, those three things, taking the step, no matter what that step is, being sure to call people into a space of awareness and to lead with empathy, which can be difficult. Especially if someone has opposing views than you, yes, you still have to lead with empathy, even in those situations, even more. So trust me, I keep a Michelle Obama book close to remind me to go high and to lead even when it can be a little difficult. And finally to be okay with walking in step with someone. I happen to subscribe, to building programs that leverage an omnidirectional mentorship style. So it says you don't just learn upwards, but you learn from upwards. You learn from having peers and you learn from teaching. Leveraging that sort of accountability circle or leveraging that sort of accountability in your life can be a strong way to make sure that you don't do that work alone. I would say those are some very easy steps that you can do as a company. And you can do as an individual and trust that eventually you will have to do them both, but however you want to start is whatever's most comfortable for you is exactly what you should do. And that's how it gets started.

Tori: Very, very well said. Thank you so much. I know that we're running out of time. I feel like I could listen to you talk for hours though. So if you ever just need to, just run through some thoughts, I just... You could like narrate audio books or something. But is there any way that, if our listeners want to learn more about Whelhaus or, The Speak Easy, anything else that you're involved in, how can they either get in touch with you or follow your endeavors?

TJ Wright: I will, I'm going to highly, highly recommend LinkedIn. And that is mostly because selfishly I'm getting into the busiest time of my year. So if they really want to contact me, I recommend reaching out through LinkedIn, sending me a message, connecting, easy way. I check those pretty regularly. For those who want to risk it for the biscuit, they can send me an email understanding that I now have two primary emails. Okay. Listen to the emphasis on primaries. Because there are several others that my eyes must also graze and they can get, I don't have an assistant yet guys, I'm working on it. Give me a little time.

Tori: You need one.

TJ Wright: I agree. Let's, I love that I'm saying this on this podcast. So when my board listens to it, they'll also hopefully agree. Definitely reaching out that way. You can always find me at The Speak Easy. We have member fun day every Thursday at 4: 00 PM. Pop in, say hello, meet some friends, I'm there. And I'm always happy to have those kind of one off conversations. Those impromptu kind of serendipitous connections. I absolutely love those. Those are my favorite part. So if you also love serendipitous connections, please pop up. I also frequent Tease Me, if I'm around, say hello, other than that, it's easy peasy. I just had this one thought to find out more information on Whelhaus Co or Speak Easy, you can go to our websites or our social media. I am happy to say that both websites are getting some renovation. So we'll be rolling out two new websites, which is crazy. I can't believe I'm doing that at the same time, but two new websites are being rolled out within the next quarter. So be on the lookout for those improvements for really a lot more self schedule, self engagement. I know in this present day, we like to do our things ourselves because we're big kids now. So we're updating our website to allow us to do that. These are my favorite types of conversations to have where I just get to nerd out with friends. Yeah. It's fun. You don't get to talk about, it's such a new... In ecosystem building is such a new industry that I love talking about anytime I get, so thank you for the space.

Tori: That was awesome. I feel like we needed probably three hours to get through everything that I would've wanted to ask him.

Seth Morales: Well, first things first, I think the title of the podcast is No One Wants a Soggy Souffle. inaudible he had a lot of great sound bites. But also he, TJ made me laugh. What did he say, risk it for the biscuit? I hadn't heard that before, but that was great.

Tori: He had some great one liners.

Seth Morales: What'd you guys think like just overall,

Speaker 4: I really enjoyed the holistic approach that Whelhaus takes and clearly TJ himself takes just, you know how he mentioned, it's like, Hey, this isn't my bottle up solution for your DE and I problems. We want to get in there. We want to talk to your people. It's like your ecosystem is different in every company that you're at. So we need to get in there and treat it as such.

Seth Morales: Who's in the room and who's in the street. Those were great soundbites. But to think about is your CEO, is your executive team in the room when you're talking about DEI. He talked about capacity. And then do you have a pulse on the street? To me, those were really good. Just he had some thoughts around org pitfalls and what would happen, what he typically sees when he goes in to work with other companies when they have great intentions, but they don't necessarily execute. I like that he said, DEI is not a month. It's a business function. And are you going to invest? So just some of those thoughts man really, I took a lot of notes just for my own mind as a leader in what we're doing with our organization. So there were some great takeaways on that as well for me.

Tori: Totally. And then his, I think one of the third myths that he wanted to bust was capacity. And I think that's so true because I think a lot of the times, people do want to hire someone who's like, all right, you're in charge of diversity. Figure it out, make us competitive in that arena. When it's not something that you can silo in that way, it really needs to be kind of more of the foundation of your business.

Speaker 4: How can we become disruptors? And he was like, you just need to start. Right. So again, demystifying those myths and he's like, boom, just start. There's a lot of fear again, kind of alongside that. And then the second one, he talked about budget from a business function, Seth, like you mentioned, but his second one on how to become a disruptor was you call people in and you lead with empathy. Again, you're creating kind of like that space, that budget, that line item in your actual business plan. And that line item in who's going to be part of this effort. And then third, the capacity of being able to build that community, I think it was just very organic. And I don't know if he did that intentionally, but he did mirror both of, Hey, these are some of the pitfalls that I'm seeing, but this is how you combat that.

Tori: Just, the whole point of this season as well is to kind of get into the fact that people need to be aggressive with DE and I, and it's not... The pandemic was a great kind of fire under our seats for kind of revealing some of the cracks that, corporate America has as a whole. But it's like, the work's not done. And I think TJ has a lot of, he's definitely aligned with, we're digging into this. This is not something that you can kind of come hire Whelhaus, and they're going to check off all your boxes for you. You need to do the work, and we'll help you. And we're going to hold your hand alongside it and like do the research and help you know where to go from here. But I think a lot of the times the pitfalls that corporations fall into is definitely like, okay, here are some boxes that we have to check, because people are wanting this and that's not the attitude to have. And we're going to see that more and more where people are choosing the places that they want to work because they're aligned with their own vision and belief systems. Thanks for tuning into another episode of No Milk, No Sugar, the podcast about business beneath the sweetener. We hope you learn something. And we'd love to hear from you, tag us with hashtag No Milk, No Sugar, or email us at NoMilkNoSugarpod @ gmail. com. Or connect with Seth on LinkedIn, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And we'll see you next time.


In this episode, we talk to TJ Wright — a servant leader, systems thinker, and self-described "disruptor" who has had enough with companies who say "that's just how we've always done it." TJ is unfortunately no stranger to a hostile work environment, which led him to create Whelhaus Co., a social impact start-up focusing on talent optimization and holistically reshaping how corporations approach equity.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are the foundation of your culture, not a C-suite position you fill on your leadership team. Tune in to hear TJ's mythbusting tips (and the occasional jaunty one-liner) about your DEI strategy. He keeps it real about how corporations can take the first step — or the next.

Today's Host

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Seth Morales

|CEO + President, Morales Group Staffing
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Tori Updike

|Content Marketing Manager + Podcast Producer, Morales Group Staffing

Today's Guests

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Luz Flores

|Director of Marketing
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TJ Wright

|Whelhaus Co. CEO, The Speak Easy Executive Director