Meet Chante Butler, VP of DEI at Diageo

Tarun Galagali
15 min read
Posted on
October 10, 2023

“Mandala has been one of the most powerful investments we’ve made into our workplace. From our managers, to our BIPOC employees, to our entire workforce, this is the kind of programming which can move the needle on psychological safety, well-being and ultimately resilience.   

I’ve heard feedback from participants like, “this has changed how I interact with my kids,” or it’s “given me a moment of pause before I reacted.” That’s why I got into this work – to create an employee experience that actually meets the needs of people.

And on a personal level, I’m seeing a different level of engagement in any initiative. Mandala isn't a service that sits on a shelf. It’s a service that transforms how we understand ourselves and each other. And how resiliently we face the changes, the ups and downs that a business goes through. ”– Chante Butler, VP of DEI at Diageo

Tell me a little bit about yourself 

I grew up mostly in West Bloomfield, Michigan, a suburb outside of Detroit. Prior to West Bloomfield, we lived in, what was it? Weigelstown, Pennsylvania, which is a suburb outside of York, Pennsylvania, a really small town.

How do you think that impacted how you see the world

Oh, 100% how I grew up impacts everything, every relationship that I have and everything that I do. My parents grew up in the South. They're very interesting, you think nowadays. My dad, they came from a large family in the South. They had a farm, almost like sharecropping. They actually picked cotton. My mom is from Kentucky. They worked in the tobacco fields. My mom integrated a school in Shelbyville, Kentucky, and went to a boarding school. All these things that you find out when you're older, it's just very interesting about your parents and how it shaped them, and how they wanted to raise their children and shape the life that they wanted to build for their kids.

What was that like?

West Bloomfield is a suburb of Detroit. And at the time, there were not a lot of Black families there. When my sister and I were in elementary school, she was in middle school, we were definitely, if not the only, one of few. Maybe four black families. 

I think that experience most definitely impacts how I build relationships, how I lead, and why this work is so important for me on many levels. Not only the negative experiences that I had growing up, the positive ones of teachers, principals, counselors investing in me, the ones that invest in my sister. 

My parents really believed, before the terminology really became DEI, in the possibilities of that. They really lived their lives like that and built relationships and got to know folks with that spirit. We grew up in a neighborhood that did not have a lot of Black folks, but on our street. I'll never forget this, they were part of the gourmet club. 

All the families, the parents would get together once a month and they would rotate homes and it was all centered around food. Certain people would bring the appetizer, the host family would be serving the main course. We still talk to those people today, and they were all white. I always say, I wholeheartedly believe in DEI. I wholeheartedly believe in inclusion because that's how I was raised and lived, and it's how I build relationships.

It's sometimes easy to default to making all statements (generationalizations over people) but I know examples of folks that don't fit those categories of all. Folks that love me, that have invested in me. That's always a nice reminder when you're going through these challenging moments that okay, it isn't all. It isn't everyone. I know people specifically who love, who invest in me, who we may still disagree with, but who I've learned from, who have learned from me, who have impacted me. I try to keep that top of mind as you go through these very challenging moments working in this space, but also just living in this world.

What’s your role, here and what does it involve?  

My role at Flatiron is Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. This is a role that sits within our People Team and works cross-functionally with the other People Teams, like Talent Development, HRBPs, Recruiting, Total Rewards. And then also working across the org with our leaders, our ERGs, and our employees. That's a big part for me at Flatiron in this role, is really improving things for all of our employees. To ensure that we are fair, consistent, and equitable for all. I keep coming back to that. That, for all, is the piece that's really, really important.

I've been at Flatiron for almost six-and-a-half years. I started out on the Quality Team. That was my background, was pharmaceutical and quality, and came from consulting into tech. Right away, when I came to Flatiron, I really got involved in, at the time, Diversity and Inclusion work. Just because seeing and experiencing what tech was like, I just couldn't accept the status quo. I was like, "Okay, what am I going to do to help shift and change?" Just there, doing my regular job, but also, just being very active and involved in the work that our People Team was starting, which was great. 

We had a Diversity and Inclusion Council. We were starting ERGs, doing some work around goals, around recruiting, setting goals. Just really partnering with some of the People Team employees to do events and just starting conversations. And then as it progressed, I was leading an ERG and building trust, I think, amongst leaders as just being a voice at Flatiron. In 2020, when the world erupted, we, as a company, did our own reckoning and came up with a plan, and one of the outputs was this role, Head of DEI. 

I always say, Flatiron took a risk on me. I wasn't a trained HR professional to lead such important work at such a critical time. But I think more at the time, the right thing to do is to build the trust of our employees. I think at the time, the best way to do that was internally with someone.

Have you met other DEI professionals that didn’t start in DEI? Isn't it a bit unconventional?

I think it's a little. I've met other folks who have that passion and translate to work, so I'm not the only one. I think the more and more you go higher up into DEI, it's folks who have come the more traditional route. But I will say, at Flatiron, we're an innovative company, and so I think we're willing to take risks. I'm actually one of those people that they were willing to take a risk on. Which is also motivation for me to continue that piece of equity and ensure that our employees at Flatiron have access to the experience that I had, which is a company taking a risk on me, a company investing in me, a company developing me.

I had great managers. I had sponsors. I had mentors. A lot of that, I actually reached those relationships, too. But also, I was getting it back. When I talk about that stuff, it's very real for me, and I know the possibility of what that can be at Flatiron. I've shared with you our CEO. She came from within the company, not external. We have these stories and examples at Flatiron, and I just want to make sure that that is accessible for all of us.

What does success mean to you?

Of course, representation matters and that's part of it, but not the whole story. I think for me, success is if folks feel like they came to Flatiron and they got what they wanted out of Flatiron, whatever that is. That means you were there for two years, you got the promotion that you wanted that set you up for the next big thing, whether it's at Flatiron or somewhere else. You can walk in and be like, "I did my best, I had an impact, and now my time is done and I’m ok with going." Whatever that is, but you got what you wanted out of it. It served its purpose for you, for your development, for your career.

To me, that gets to the point of people having access to the tools to support them, to develop them, that are equitable in how we provide access to opportunities and investment. That's what I want. That is success for me. For me, when I get stories from our employees of like, "Hey, this really was impactful," or with our Inclusive Leadership Changing Training and Program that we built with you of leaders coming and saying like, "Hey, this is really changing how I interact with my team. Thank you for doing this. How are more managers going to get it?" That is success, because that's going to have a massive impact on a lot of our employees.

So DEI is a partner in all parts of the employee experience? 

Yes, and what has helped, too, in terms of connecting all the dots is, on our Talent Development team, Lindsey Gilligan is our Senior Director of Talent Development. Last year, we hired an Employee Experience expert, Minni Kahlon. She's created through design thinking, this whole Flatiron employee journey, and through her work has identified all these different moments that matter as it relates to an employee's work and job. And that's really what you want.

What are the most significant moments that matter as you think about your employee journey at Flatiron? And are you getting that out of it? That team has just been really instrumental and helpful in connecting the dots as we think about DEI. Not just so much of the traditional lens of representation, but really, that feeling and experience that you're having and how DEI plays into that for all of us, whatever that identity or thing is for you.

How did you hear about us?

My coworker, Laura Welch, I don't even remember what she said. She's like, "Oh, this company focuses on BIPOC and wellbeing in corporate America." I was like, "We need to talk to them." She's like, "I think they could be really valuable for Flatiron." 

I was a year into the role then. For me, I felt seen and heard, not only as a potential client, but as a person and human.

Stepping into this role, so many people reaching out to me, so many different vendors. But what you all were offering was just a different focus and approach that I really hadn't heard a lot about. But I realized just as an employee, and then stepping into this role, that that was something that we needed at Flatiron, in particular for our BIPOC community, and then for all of our leaders.

What did you hope we’d do?

I didn't think of it in that way. Because the pilot we did was with our Black and Latinx employees, and Asian employees, I really just wanted folks to feel that they had a safe space to be, just to be at Flatiron. At the time that we started work with you, our engagement survey, our numbers were not good in particular for Black and Latinx employees. So more than the representation, the feeling. I wanted to see if there's a way that we could have space, recognizing the systemic challenges and all of those things, but still, just a space to be and feel and be okay. Maybe that was what I was trying to solve.

Why did you end up partnering with us?

I was very intentional about who I was going to partner with in this role. I really wanted to give voice to support and give voice to folks that haven't traditionally been in the forefront of this work. I wanted to give the voice of people doing this work that actually understood the experiences that our employees are going for.

That was really, really important for me. I hadn't come across a man who was Indian, who was doing this work in DEI. That was a unique and different voice that I wanted to hear more of, that I wanted to be available for our employees to hear from and relate to. That was just really, really important for me.

I'm always so heartened when you tell me that. How do you think that actually influenced what ended up happening from the content, what we ended up doing?

I think wholeheartedly, it changed everything. I think it brings a different perspective. In my experience, when I go to the vendor side, I haven't seen just a lot of men in the space, let alone Indian men. It just brought a different perspective, I think, in a different way of just bringing all these different voices and representing the different voices, and bringing a different perspective.

Even when you shared your story when we did the opening of the Inclusion Leadership Circle, I just think that piece of relating differently, but also finding the commonality just means so much. I think being able to show the commonality across various folks of various identities is really, really important. I think the intentionality of that just makes a difference.

How do you think Mandala has helped people at Flatiron? How would you describe its impact?

“Mandala has been one of the most powerful investments we’ve made into our workplace. From our managers, to our BIPOC employees, to our entire workforce, this is the kind of programming which can move the needle on psychological safety, well-being and ultimately resilience.   

Wow. I think for folks who have participated in the Resilience Circles, in particular, our pilot program, it just has made them feel like they have a safe space and that they are seen and heard. I also think it's been impactful in their lives outside of Flatiron. That's a lot of feedback and things that we hear as well. "This has changed how I interact with my kids," or, "It gave me a moment where I paused before I reacted.” That’s why I got into this work – to create an employee experience that actually meets the needs of people.

I also think in terms of Resilient Leadership, it's given our leaders an opportunity to get to know other leaders. We've paired them up with folks that they haven't necessarily maybe worked with or spent a lot of time with. And people are really enjoying getting to know various leaders across the company and building connections in that way that I think can help them build the connections across their teams.

I think that approach, we haven't done at Flatiron. I just think it will be so impactful. And the fact that so many participants see the value of rolling this out to more managers because it can be so transformative is really, really special.

Is there a connection between belonging and burnout?

I definitely think, because in my mind, the word that's coming to mind instead of burnout is exhaustion. Sometimes I think belonging for us is the output of diversity, equity, and inclusion and where you feel safe, where you feel like you can show up and you feel like you can be your authentic self. 

Sometimes showing up, I feel, as the 100% Black woman that I am and the reception of that, I think sometimes I still have the fear of the reception over that still in my mind. Even as the head of DEI, I still think, "How do I word this so it's not so harsh? How do I say this? I'm coming off too aggressive." All of those things are still going on in my head, and that is exhausting. I think that that continuous exhaustion can lead to burnout.

I think that they are linked. And I think this piece focuses on well-being, so you can have the tools to be resilient through all these things that you face, so you don't feel the burnout, so you still can be true to yourself and who you are and feel safe in showing up, I think is really important. I think that that's what your work does. 

What’s changed as a result of Mandala?

I've always felt like Flatiron is a company that wants to do the right thing. It's one of our values, and I really, truly believe that. But programs like Mandala give us a concrete way of making that happen.  

With Mandala, I  see a different level of engagement from all leaders. And after Mandala, seeing the engagement and seeing the desire from leaders to want to do things differently, to go on this journey with us. Mandala isn't a service that sits on a shelf. It’s a service that transforms how we understand ourselves and each other. And how resiliently we face the changes, the ups and downs that a business goes on. 

I see sparks of people beginning to engage differently at our company, and that's really lovely to see.

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