Deborah McLean is president of the CAIA Foundation and global head of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at the CAIA Association, the professional body for the alternative investment industry with 13,000 Members representing 100 countries. As a chief DEI strategist and spokesperson, Deborah leverages the organization’s voice and influence to help shape an investment industry that is more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and better represents the society in which we live. She has held senior leadership roles in the corporate, nonprofit, and higher education sectors, and is an ardent supporter of workplace diversity as an essential component to unlocking innovation, driving higher performance, and creating business growth outcomes.
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John: Welcome to another edition of The Impact Podcast that I’m so excited today to have with us, Debbie McLean. She’s the president of the CAIA Foundation and Global Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Welcome, Debbie to The Impact Podcast.
Debbie McLean: Thank you, John. It’s nice to be here.
John: It’s great to have you. And we got to get to know each other a little bit offline before we did this interview, so I had the pleasure of that. But we’re going to give our listeners and our viewers the pleasure of that now. I always like to open up before we get going into what you’re doing now for your day job. Talk about your childhood a little bit, where you grew up and what your greatest influences were.
Debbie: Sure. well, I will say, we’ll get into what I do. But I will say that a college friend of mine recently told me that of our college friend group, I was the last person she thought would be working in finance. So it is an interesting journey how I got here. But I grew up in Peoria, Illinois, where a lot of people laugh and say, ‘do people actually live there?’ They do. It was a great place to be raised. And my parents were both from the East Coast and they were big believers in public education. And my dad was actually a doctor. So We’re pretty privileged. And we lived in a historic section of town that was district into the lowest income poorest academically performing high school in the city. And my parents said, without doubt, I was one of four girls, ‘you girls are all going to Manuel High School.’ And that was never a question. It was never- So I went to a high school that was very diverse. It was 50% white, 50% black, and probably 80% poor. I like to say, as we were studying for the SAT and taking prep classes, a lot of the kids I was around didn’t know what the SAT was, and they were thinking about real head-heavy, much heavier kind of questions my parent survival job. Survival, survival. And two things that came out of that for me were, number one, I was very aware and conscious of the privilege that I had, the privilege that I came from. I saw some great teachers that really were so committed. And I saw students succeed from every imaginable background. But I also saw how being born into certain zip codes can make it a lot harder for people to go on to get an education and all of that. I do think that those early years of being in a super diverse environment where people were dealing with real-life problems, but in a very positive environment stuck with me. And education ended up being a big theme in my career in different industries. But I went on to go to school kind of opposite to a women’s college, Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. This was also super important to me because I quite frankly didn’t come in with the best academic preparation, and was really lifted up there and got a phenomenal education, and saw what it’s like to see women lead in every position available. So when you’re in that kind of environment, the question is, can you lead, how are you going to lead? So that was very formative and important. I think a piece of where I ended up and I was a politics major. I learned that I was really passionate about changing the world and dealing helping with societal problems. And after I graduated, the one thing about growing up in a town that I- By that time considered boring as it gave me a lot of motivation to find my way. So I moved to Washington, DC with a duffel bag, no job, and no place to live. I found a friend who had a floor in a basement, and I thought, well, gosh, I’ve got to do something with my time while I find my important job that is going to change the world. So maybe I can get an internship with one of the television networks. So I called ABC News in Washington and said, “Hey, I just graduated from college. Do you have any internships?” And of course, they said ‘no.’ And I got chatting with the HR person and I don’t know what we were talking about, but eventually, he said, “Well, you know, we do have one thing.” And they said, we have someone going off on maternity leave and Good Morning America, but it’s very entry-level.” And I said, “Oh, I’ll do it. What is it? I’ll do it.” And it’s only for three months. I said, “I don’t care. I’ll do it.” So long story short, I got into ABC News, a place that nobody gets into. I didn’t even really want to be in television. I was going to find my important job. And eventually made my way to World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. And so I worked on the production team with real people in the industry who were just top of their game and most respected and learned the language. It’s like learning French, you have to learn the industry. I really didn’t love television because I felt like, ‘you really only learn 10 seconds of each issue, and then you have to move on.’ But what I did love about television was shaping stories about topics that were so important for the public to understand. So I decided to move in the direction of doing more of that and found a consulting firm in Washington that was working with all the foundations, the Carnegie Foundation, the Ford Foundation. Really, it was a who’s-who list of organizations that were trying to make an impact in education reform. And I went there for a long while and ended up going to work for one of my clients, which was a nonprofit based in Boston that had been formed by David Rockefeller Jr to look at education reform in urban areas. So all of this was the thread of education. I eventually made my way into higher education and I worked at Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, women’s colleges, fundraising in Corporate & Foundation Relations. We’re working with corporations to develop multimillion-dollar programs to provide access to students usually. And that’s when I met the CEO of my current organization just through a mutual friend. And they called me one day and they said, “We have a job for you.” And at that point, I’ll talk a little bit more about what CAIA is, but we work in alternatives, which are alternatives to stocks and bonds. So it’s things like Hedge Funds and Private Equity, Venture Capital. I didn’t know what a Hedge Fund was when I got this job offer. And so I decided to take this opportunity to work with this global organization on professional education where it was really needed because the people who manage money do need to be educated. They do need to be trained. And so that was a continuation of this real focus on education that I had going way, way back
John: Okay. So you have education and the focus on, and your firsthand experience of diversity and inclusion and privilege and, and those have a lot more at stake, honestly. And then you had this great education and storytelling on a world stage in a very big network with a very big voice at the time, Peter Jennings, it was very big that was bigger than him and in his age. So now how long ago did you then step into this role that you have today at CAIA?
Debbie: So I’ve been at CAIA for 10 years. And I came in 2012. And over time took over several different large areas and sat on the executive team overseeing so CAIA, let me- I should probably give a little bit of background, but we were created in 2002. Because CAIA sits on the education side of finance. So as I said, if you’re working in what we consider high-risk, high-return areas that are not typically available to the everyday investors because we call them institutional investors, which is really code for big investors, billions of dollars. They have access to different kinds of investments, which are much more complex in many ways than just buying a stock, trading a stock kind of thing, or bond. In 2002, there was no standard for education for people working in this sector. So the people who might be running your mother or father’s pension that they’re relying on, they were a teacher or they worked for this city or any number of jobs, the people who are actually making the decisions about how to invest that money so that your parent, my parent who got a pension from the State of Illinois better know what they’re doing because this is really important money for people who need to live on it for a very long time. So our organization was founded because there was a huge need for a credential for this sector of the industry, a credential meaning if you want to have a- If you pay someone to do your taxes, you pretty much hope they have their CPA. Their certain credentials or you go to a doctor, you’re not going to go to a doctor that didn’t get their MD at medical school, hopefully. The same thing exists in our profession. So we created a credential, and it’s called CAIA and it to earn it, you have to take a series of very difficult exams. We test in 350+ test centers around the world. We have members in a hundred countries. And so we started from nothing in 2002, and we now have 13,000 members. We are in 100 countries. We have 33 chapters. We do 250 educational events a year all over the world. So we really grew into what is now the professional body for the industry. So yes, we do a credential, but we also are the unbiased voice in the industry because we’re not selling products. So when we comment on things, when we get involved in things, we like to think it matters because of the stature of our brand and our reputation. So I was going along doing my other job always with an eye towards Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, mainly because our industry is very non-diverse, compared to most sectors. In our membership, for example, we have 16% women in our membership. And so just because of my DNA, I had always done some work to try to work on the gender piece. But really what was 2020 and the murder of George Floyd was absolutely a wake-up call for our organization as it was for so many the social justice and the inequities that exist simply could not be ignored. And that was a big moment for our organization. A lot of us were talking and our CEO was very, very involved and engaged in figuring out what is our role. What should we be doing? And certainly, if we’re not actively working to address the diversity, equity, inclusion issues in our industry, then we are most certainly part of the problem. So at that point, my position was created, which is I have two roles. One is Global Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. And the other was we have a foundation, we have the CAIA Foundation, which was formed to support diversification mostly from a gender perspective. And now I’m president of the foundation as well. And we’re re-envisioning the work of the Foundation to be about diversity more broadly speaking in terms of diversity is, is many, many more things than just gender.
John: For our listeners and viewers out there who just joined us, we’ve got Debbie McLean, she’s the president of the CAIA Foundation, and also the Global Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, DEI at the CAIA Association. CAIA, you could find it at caia.org. So two years ago, or a little bit more actually now, 30 months ago, this role is created and you take over these different arms of CAIA what’s going on? How’s it going? Like where are we in the journey now?
Debbie: This is exactly how it happened, isn’t that? We had to do some restructuring because I needed to kind of move some other things off my plate to clear the room. And here this was a role that had never existed at CAIA before and a huge responsibility because there was so much to do. And the first thing I did was I went to my boss one day and I said, “Look, you know, I feel very committed. I feel very passionate. I feel like I probably know more than maybe the average person about some of these issues.” But I said, “I don’t have the foundational understanding of these issues, the groundedness, the background that I feel I need to know how to design a strategy, not just for our organization, but to actually influence the industry.” So the very first thing I did is I took a program at Northwestern University called Leading DEI, and it’s really for executives who have moved into this role because like anything, there is a strategy for doing this. Some people think maybe DEI is all about getting people together a few times and having speakers or doing some training or having a survey once in a while. But that’s not actually- Those all things are very good, but if you really want to strategically change, there’s a lot of organizational change involved.
John: So let’s go back and talk about Pre-George Floyd, the non-diversity. Maybe even the correct terminology is notoriously non-diverse. Nature of your industry. How then George Floyd was a flashpoint and an inflection point where it forced the change to happen and inspired the change to happen within your own organization. But what does a change really look like? And what are the goals when you’re creating- But basically you’ve become now an entrepreneur within an organization you’re creating, there is no path in front of you that others have trodden before, therefore, what does the change really look like? And what does success look like for you and for the organization as a whole? And how do you create those goals and landmarks that you then try to achieve?
Debbie: I think my boss called it a startup, actually, but I should say too. Yes. 2020 was a turning point, but it was also- At that point perception in the industry changed about DEI. The perception changed from DEI is nice to have it stuck over on HR to doing nothing about DEI could be the biggest risk to your business of anything. And so It was a catalyst, it was a moment of change. But I think the change has really come because this research has been out here forever and ever, about the impact of diversity on driving higher performance, creating more growth, attracting the best talent, and retaining the best talent. The research has been here, it just wasn’t being incorporated into business strategy. So I think that like for us, and I see that for other organizations that are taking this seriously, you are actually making the DEI strategy at the center of your business strategy, not off to the side. So in other words, we will fail in my organization, if everybody looks, and says, “Oh yeah, Debbie does DEI.” No. What we talk about is embedding DEI into the D N A of the organization. And that’s much, much different. The first thing you do in- Because you’re really moving people, you’re really influencing people, because DEI is all about how you think, how you act, how you behave, and how you make decisions. So the thing about DEI is you really have to influence. You have to create influence. And one of the most important things to begin with when you’re going down this path of making this a priority is you really have to understand ‘what is your organization, and why?’ Why are we doing this? If people view it as just like, “Ah, it’s another thing. It’ll be changed to another, it’ll be different in six months.” And that’s where you have to get into the business case. I really firmly believe that, yes, DEI is the right thing to do. There is a moral case to be made for it, but businesses really have to approach this from a business perspective. Why are we doing this from a business perspective?
John: So Corie Barry comes on our show being now the CEO of Best Buy. And she took over from a very great leader [Inaudible], also a very modern, progressive human being who’s now teaching at Harvard. But when Corie came on, we were talking about DEI and she took the mantle where Uber left off and he already had moved the needle tremendously at Best Buy. But she said, “John, for the most part, much better decisions are made with diverse organizations when Diversity and Inclusion and Equity are.” So we were talking about more specifically her board of directors at that point and how diverse, they were in every way, shape, or form. But let’s talk about your industry as a whole. Larry Fink, about 18 months ago, famously came out, as a leader, but BlackRock, the biggest investment organization on the planet, arguably. And he basically starts talking about besides DEI this other acronym that’s become now a very hot topic in some instances somewhat contested, but for the most part wily accepted now, ESG. Where does DEI in ESG fall in line in your thinking, in your organization’s thinking, Debbie? In that Larry Fink came out and said, “All of our portfolio companies of BlackRock now are going to have to get on the ESG train and prove up their ESG successes and accomplishments and progress, and if they don’t, they will no longer be a portfolio company a BlackRock. Now, once BlackRock says something like that, and Larry Fink says something like that, the financial institutions listen and they follow. He literally moves mountains in that industry, which is your industry. Therefore how does ESG play into, and the great trend and the winds at the back of ESG, is that wind at the back of what you are doing at CAIA with regards to DEI?
Debbie: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, for sure. Now, I am not an expert on ESG, but certainly, DEI is absolutely part of that. What I’m seeing is I’m part of this group called institutional allocators for DEI. So these institutional allocators are people who sit in foundations and endowments. These are people who are managing billions of dollars. And we meet quarterly and this group, I’m a different kind of organization. But what they’re doing is really looking at diverse managers and how can they access more diverse managers. And they also said, a hundred percent of proposals now include DEI metrics. So you are seeing a lot of the push, the change is coming from places. NASDAQ requires now they will not list a new company unless it has you a diverse board. So you are seeing those kind of changes. ESG though is huge. I think if you look at it, there’s a lot of thought too now that the term ESG, like what does it mean because there’s so much folded under there. But this is absolutely part of that discussion.
John: Which I have to believe that trend of ESG in financial institutions and corporate America and worldwide corporations has to be good windy, you’re back as well.
Debbie: Well, it is. The data, if you just look at the data, like the demo, they’re demographic wins here. This is a huge part of the story. According to the US Census, by the year 2045, the white population will be minority. But if you look at this 17 to 27 age bracket, that shift is going to happen in 2027. And when you look at Gen Z, because I have several. Gen Z, and millennials, there is an expectation that companies it represent values that they want to see. So if you’re competing, there’s a war for talent. And if you want to track this young talent, they’re growing up, this generation is more diverse than we’ve ever seen. And so the companies and the consumer products’ consumer side is way further along in the DEI work than our side. But we can learn a lot from how a lot of the consumer side has embraced DEI. And I see a lot of change in our industry in the last two years, my title didn’t exist. I don’t think it did, five years ago. But now you’d be hard-pressed to find a major player in our industry that does not have a Chief Diversity Officer. And typically the Chief Diversity Officer is not reporting necessarily to HR but is reporting to the CEO, which is significant.
John: Very significant. So let’s go back and talk about your journey. So now you’re two years into this or more, 30 months.
Debbie: Oh, yeah. I’m actually just one year into it. There’s still a startup.
John: Okay, fair enough. So where do you want to go? Since [crosstalk]
Debbie: How do you do it?
John: Yeah. Right. Because there’s been no path and that’s the cool part sometimes, and it’s also the curse and the blessing of a startup. So where do you go? How do you drive success and change and what does that look like to you?
Debbie: The blueprint? Yeah. Well, so in year one, what I have been focused on is there’s an external piece and then there’s an internal. Because we want to amplify our voice and our influence to drive change, to amplify the good work that’s happening, but also shine a light on what DEI is, what the business case for it is. And so a lot of what I do is external work in that area where I’m connecting with other DEI champions in the industry, finding out what works where we can partner to design programs to bring more diversity into some of these roles. So that’s one area, and that’s really important because it’s using. When I think about what can CAIA do that no other organization can do, that’s what I want to do. I don’t want to do all the same things that an organization that’s much better at us. We’re not doing mentoring, they’re mentoring programs that do that great. We were not collecting any data on DEI, I know DEI data, and how do you know what your DEI problems are If you don’t have data? How do you know what your gaps are? How do you even know what the strategies are that you should- And from that, I mean, understanding who our members are. We call them candidates if you’re moving through our program, and sometimes it takes years to pass the different levels. Understanding who our members are and our candidates, which is a complicated question on a global level for one thing, because we see diversity through a North America lens, which is very much what you see. It’s through a lens of race and ethnicity. But if we’re talking about diversity in other parts of the world, it makes no sense because, and it’s illegal in some countries to ask about what’s your ethnicity. And people identify themselves completely differently, so that’s a complicating thing. We do know that gender is a big diversifier everywhere. Women are underrepresented in every single corner of the world in our industry. So data collection and then leveraging that data to design your programs, to mitigate what you see as the problems is another big area. And then the third area is what I call embedding into the organizational D N A. [crosstalk] I would say kind of the trickiest one for me, because what this is all about is normalizing conversation. And this can be very hard because if you’re in a culture that’s not comfortable with these topics, you really have to create safe space for this conversation. And one of the things that I learned in this awesome class I took, we studied the work actually of Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King was just a master at working and communicating with people who had didn’t believe anything that he was saying, really opposed. If you read his letters from jail, these are letters to people who absolutely were his opponents. And one of the things that you learn in doing this work is you have to create a culture of empathy. You have to be able to understand that someone is bringing a different experience to the table that’s very different from yours. So when you’re thinking about creating a safe space for conversation, that’s all about creating an environment can be open and honest, and that everybody’s bringing this intention to be empathetic. And also this idea of equanimity, which was sort of a new term to me. It’s all about being calm and being emotionally unaffected in these conversations, being present. And in order to be present in conversations about DEI, sometimes that’s really hard. Over the past year, we introduced an employee resource group, which is this very intentional opportunity for come in and learn and talk. And it’s had some really amazing benefits. I think it’s built trust, people have built relationships because you see, you humanize, it’s so easy to dehumanize people. But when you can create opportunities for conversation, I call it DEI conversation. We have brought DEI conversation into our office. I think that’s been really good. We did not have a DEI policy. How do you know- And DEI policy goes back to that, what do we believe a set of beliefs, it’s principles, and from that, that drives the behaviors that you want to see.
John: You can’t get from point A to point B if you don’t have a roadmap. And without policy these [crosstalk]
Debbie: Right. Exactly. We just finished our first internal DEI survey to understand what the health of the organization is, do people feel, seen, heard, understood. And that was really, really helpful. What are our strengths? What are our weaknesses? You have to do these things.
John: I’m glad you brought up Dr. Martin Luther King. His words are over our front door at our facilities here in Fresno. And his words are that we have on the walls, literally over the front doors. Everyone could be great because everyone can serve. And he’s been a hero of mine throughout my life. His son was on our show, actually.
Debbie: And I think I saw that.
John: It was really fun to have him on, and it was an honor. And I still can’t believe now that I’m 60, that he did all that he did. And at a mere 39, he was taken from us. So it’s just amazing. Talk a little bit about self-reflection, though. It’s hard to be self-reflective. I assume there’s been some resistance in your industry as a whole. And at CAIA as an association, where have you met? Change is difficult. Change is difficult. And you’ve volunteered or tasked with being the change maker with this new startup division. Where is there burden resistance? And where have you had to really push through and where there’s been friction or sticking points?
Debbie: One of the things that I learned in doing this work… Well, two things. One, you got to meet people where they are.
John: Yeah. You’re right.
Debbie: Okay. So number one, you got to meet people where you are. And number two, you have to have a lot of resiliency because your work is never done.
John: It’s true.
Debbie: I would say my organization is very receptive to the DEI as a value and a priority. I would say a lot of people don’t know what to do. And so, a lot of times I think about that. I think If you go into this work or a conversation with the belief that people have good intentions- But maybe, bias is just like a huge problem. When you’re trying to move to an organization to a more inclusive leadership model, a big part of that is educating people on their implicit bias. Explicit would just be like, you’re totally saying things that are just like, “What?” Implicit is just what we do, what we’re drawn to, we’re drawn to people similar to ourselves. And so when people are made aware of that that in itself can change behavior. But you’re 100% right. Humans hate to change. And I think you have to give people. I do think like this building of relationships and having people see the human behind the person. And the other thing too here is that I like to say that you understand inclusion when you remember what exclusion feels like. And I don’t know very many people who have never in their life felt excluded. It doesn’t feel good. Or maybe they’re children, or maybe they’re whatever. Everybody has had that. I really haven’t hit a lot of resistance. I would say people don’t really- We’re early on in this, but they don’t necessarily know what to do. People want to be more engaged than others. And I will say you have to engage the majority groups, but too often you see all the women showing up. All of underrepresented groups showing up. I was at a conference a couple of weeks ago in New York, and I saw my first, it was so awesome. It was a panel of men talking about DEI, and they were all in venture capital and private equity, which is the least diverse of all our. So it was awesome. And they were all so authentic. You do hit people who are just going to be like, “This is dumb.” Yeah. I just don’t really give ’em a lot of oxygen. Am I afraid? Because there’s too much other work we have to do.
John: Exactly. Now you’re in, is this the top of the first ending? And when you lay down at night and you’re thinking about what you’ve accomplished so far and what’s left to be accomplished, do you see a long path ahead here? And do you see a clear path, or do you realize there’s still a bunch of challenges along the way? How’s your approach now, a year or so in?
Debbie: I feel really proud of what we’ve gotten done in the first year. I would say a year ago when I was- I had to fill this class. I had to take exams every week. I had to write papers every week. So every Sunday night, I’d say to my husband, ” You got to proofread my paper.” And he’s an engineer, and he’d look at it and be like, “There are too many words. I can’t read this whole thing.”
Debbie: So a year ago I was just like, “What the heck? What do we do? How do how do you begin?” And I have a really clear picture now of what our strategy is. We’re starting to create some really- We’re doing an effort with the Milken Institute on reaching out to HBCUs and really having exposing these young brilliant, awesome students to an area that they completely don’t know is out there. We need to flood the pipeline with diverse talent, but the diverse talent needs to know that these are awesome careers. You don’t have to be. I had a bit of an analogy to calculus, so I am an example of- And this is why my friend thought I would never be in finances. But there are so many cool directions you can go in these industries that people don’t have exposure. And the exposure piece is a huge missing link. We are doing a lot there to really acts or we want to be doing, we’re starting and we’re getting some, starting to get some really good traction there too. Well, I feel inspired. I don’t let the haters.
John: For listeners-
John: That’s good. That’s a great leadership startup mentality because there’s always going to be haters and there’s always going to be naysayers.
Debbie: I will say one thing is I do try to have a conversation with people because I do feel a number-1 email is terrible form of communication where nuance and delicate topics, I avoid it the plague, but I will pick up the phone and typically, we have way more common ground than not. And usually, we can figure it out.
John: What can we solve with a good conversation?
Debbie: There are a few, but again, we’ll just-
John: We’re not going to worry about the [crosstalk]
Debbie: We don’t worry about them.
John: There’s a lot of young people, Debbie, that are watching this show. We’re listening to it. And some in your industry and some not. Those who want to be part of the change though the solution, not the problem. But those who want to help effectuate good DEI behavior, wherever they sit, like you said, let’s meet ’em wherever they sit. What’s the first step should they be doing at their own organization or to help effectuate that kind of change? What kind of advice can you share with them to help really from the ground up, make this world a more diverse and inclusive and equitable place?
Debbie: Well, it depends, if you’re at a big company, most companies have affinity groups and ways to engage. If you’re from a majority group, boy can you be helpful in being an ally and being a champion. I just heard this woman speak who was amazing. She’s a professor up at Dartmouth in their Tuck business school. And they devised a way that if she says something that is kind of offensive, there’s a signal that she gets just a signal where she can say, |”oh, you know what, let me apologize.” It’s really hard for people who are experiencing the microaggressions or experiencing the bias to always be the ones to try to call it out. We need allies. We need sponsors. And if you are in a leadership role, boy, you can activate your power to really help in that way [Inaudible] And the other thing I would say is that a really important step is really understanding your own biases. Because we all have them. And there’s a great website that has a free test. It’s called the project Implicit, it’s out of Harvard, it’s free. It takes about 15 minutes. And they walk you through this assessment and you can assess anything. You could say, ‘do I have a bias against tall people? Or whatever.’ And it comes out and it tells you where your biases are. And I think that’s really helpful because when you truly believe that you are bringing bias to the conversation, because we all do. And develop the empathy for people understand like have conversations with people. There’s so much you can do to be part of the solution.
John: If you were informed so many ways along your life, both from your high school days and the diversity that existed at your high school, your Peter Jenning days at World News tonight, and what you’re doing at CAIA? Where do you draw strength, and when you look back and you realize, how did I get here? And what was or is the biggest influence on my life, what would you say has been the biggest influence on you?
Debbie: Wow. The biggest influence on me?
John: It could be a who, or it could be just the general situation you were put in.
Debbie: Well, if I was going to say who, I have recently realized in my life how much influence my father had in me. And I’ll tell you why, because so he was a really humble guy, really super humble. He was a phenomenal baseball player. He was recruited for major leagues, all American in college. But he had a dream of being a doctor. It was his calling. His father was a country doctor and would take him on calls to go see car crashes. And he was just fascinated by it. And he had this dream of healing people, but his dream almost didn’t happen because in 6th grade, he finished 6th grade and his parents realized he couldn’t read. He had memorized words. He could not read. They sent him, they had him assessed. They went down in New York City, found out as someone to assess him, and he had dyslexia. He couldn’t read. So he ended up, they bribed him with a new baseball match to go to summer school. He went to Amherst College, which was really his brother was there and he was this great athlete. He’s very much a C student, really struggled, like barely got through French. Went to University of North Carolina and became top 10% in his class. Went on to publish studies, and some of the world’s best journals was the chair of the neurology department at the university. But he was always so humble, and I really feel like he was super empathetic, super compassionate. And I think his struggle, he never felt he was smart. Because when you don’t read until like… I don’t know what, 11 or 12 or 13, he never considered himself smart. But I think that that empathy and that compassion for other people just made him a better doctor, a better husband, a better father, and empathy and compassion is just so necessary for doing this work. And so it’s interesting because the dots… sometimes you don’t connect the dots and they come to you. I feel a lot of gratitude for having been given that example of how you really can overcome struggle, and how doing that can sometimes really give you so much empathy and compassion. Because when you are empathetic, it allows people to be vulnerable. And you need people to be vulnerable if you’re going to make progress on DEI.
John: Is he still with us, your father?
Debbie: He passed away this summer, so I’ve had a lot of time to reflect.
Debbie: Thank you. Thank you.
John: Did he become a neurologist? Was that his type of medicine?
Debbie: Yeah, he was a neurologist.
John: Wow! How old was he when he asked?
John: Wow. So he had a good run though. [crosstalk]
Debbie: He sure did.
John: He had a good run. And and quite a decision he made with you and your sisters to say you’re going to go to this high school instead of some other school.
Debbie: Yeah. And you know what? We don’t ever regret it.
John: It’s great thing. That’s a great thing. It’s great to leadership by your pops and great fatherhood by your pops. I’ll tell you that a lot of other people would’ve said, “No, you’re going to go to some other fancy, and I’ll write a check and you go from there.”
Debbie, this has been wonderful, and this is just the beginning of a conversation that I hope we can continue as you continue your journey at CAIA and we continue our discussion with CAIA and in society in terms of making us a more diverse and equitable, and inclusive world. It’s really important.
And for our listeners and viewers to find you and all the great and important work you’re doing and the impact that you’re making at CAIA, please go to www.caia.org. Debbie McLean, it’s been an absolute pleasure and enjoy having you today. Thanks for all the impacts that you’re making, positive impacts in the United States and around the world, and thanks for joining us today on The Impact Podcast.
Debbie: Thank you, John. It was a pleasure.
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