Organizational Inclusion and Diversity, with Paulette Huckstep


Paulette Huckstep (left) and Danny Nsouli (right). Graphic: Danny Nsouli

Interviewer: Danny Nsouli

Welcome to the latest installment of the Knowledge-Driven Podcast. In this series, Cyber Security Software Engineer Danny Nsouli interviews technical leaders at MITRE who have made knowledge sharing and collaboration an integral part of their practice.

The workforce at any company is filled with a mix of different types of people. While often we focus on looking at ethnic diversity, we forget to think about how our work culture should also accommodate for generational diversity. In this episode of the MITRE Knowledge Driven Podcast, Commerce Domain Lead, Paulette Huckstep, discusses her experience as a leader on MITRE’s Multi-Gen Council and what it means to make a difference in terms of a company’s organization inclusion and diversity.

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Podcast transcript

Danny (00:13):

Hello everyone. My name is Danny Nsouli and welcome to MITRE’s Knowledge-Driven Podcast. Today, we’ll be discussing organizational inclusion and diversity with Paulette Huckstep. Paulette, would you like to introduce yourself and tell the listeners a little bit about your role and experience at MITRE?

Paulette (00:28):

Sure. Again, my name is Paul Huckstep, and I recently stepped into a new position called a Commerce Domain Lead, and so within the Treasury Economics and Commerce Division within CGEM (Center for Government Effectiveness and Modernization), so that’s a mouthful. But basically, what I do is I’m the Program Delivery Manager within our division for all projects within the Department of Commerce. And in that capacity, I work very closely with the project leaders leading those efforts. And so, I’m working closely with them to shape the work, to deliver on the work, staff the teams, shape their deliverables, and just make sure that the work is delivered at the quality that we expect, and the sponsor expects, and having the desired impact and outcomes. So, I’ve been in this position for about two months now.

Paulette (01:34):

Prior to that, I spent quite a bit of my time working as a project leader and leading projects within our division. And so, I’ve been a group leader. I was a group leader for about five years and then decided to transition out of that role to try something different. I think it’s really good to rotate out of these roles to give others an opportunity to have those experiences. And I’ve been at MITRE, it’ll be 14 years in December, which is shocking, actually. When I say it, I can’t even believe it, but my anniversary will be early December. And prior to coming to MITRE, I worked in the consulting world right out of graduate school. And so, I really wanted to kind of get out of that Beltway bandit mode, as you would say, and work in a more purposeful mission-driven organization. And I had a couple of friends, former colleagues, that worked for MITRE and really recommended that I consider it, and so I did. And I was also looking for a bit of work-life balance, as I had a nine-month-old daughter at the time that I came to MITRE.

Danny (02:51):

And while you were at MITRE, what made you decide to participate in the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts?

Paulette (02:58):

Well, that’s an interesting question because at the time that I decided I wanted to transition out of the group leader role, I knew that it was going to free up my time and I thought, well, how do I want to get involved? What can I do with this kind of extra time that I have? And around that time, an email came out from the MITRE Women’s Council, looking for volunteers to take on leadership roles. They were specifically recruiting for the chair and the co-chair roles and some other positions. And I thought, wow, this would be a great opportunity to get involved and actually help shape and influence MITRE’s policies, initiatives, and programs, particularly as it relates to women at MITRE.

Paulette (03:53):

And so, I cast my name in the hat and they had a voting process, and it turns out there was a tie and the two of us that tied for the vice chair role, we decided we were going to just do it jointly. And so, Lisa Tompkins-Brown and I were the vice chairs for the Women’s Council, and then we would eventually transition to the chair roles. I took on the chair role and she stayed in the vice chair role.

Paulette (04:21):

And so, I had a couple of motivations: one, I wanted to get involved, shape and influence things, but I also wanted to bring diversity to the leadership team. I think that representation is important, and so I felt like I had a perspective to bring to discussions on my experience working in corporate America, being a first-generation college graduate and what that journey has been like. And so, it’s important to bring that perspective to the table. And so, I thought I could do that as the chair of the Women’s Council. And I recently transitioned out of that chair role. And so, I decided to work with the Multi-Generational Council.

Paulette (05:12):

And in my previous role in the Women’s Council, we partnered with the Multi-Cultural Employee Resource Group and other groups to put on what we called a Mid-Career Panel Discussion, and so that was my first introduction to working with the Multi-Gen Council. And I figured, hey, why not go work with them? So right now, I am the mid-career liaison for the Multi-Gen Council. And in that role, I am basically the belly button, the point of contact, for our mid-career staff who want to share ideas, concerns, or interests that they would like the Multi-Gen Council to take up, and maybe use their platform to advance with MITRE leadership, whether it be training, career development, benefits, just the things that would be of interest to employees in this particular phase, or stage of their careers. I’m that person.

Paulette (06:21):

We also have a late-career liaison, and so that’s the capacity that I’m working in in Multi-Gen. And the larger Multi-Gen mission is really about, how do we get our workforce, that is five generations, to work effectively together? We kind of hear about the sticking points, potential areas of conflict among the different generations, but we really want to focus on what are the positives. What’s the magic? What are those strengths that are generally associated with each generation and how do we bring that to bear in our project teams? And so, we’re not running away from generational differences, but actually celebrating them, and then figuring out how we can use those strengths and differences for the greater good in delivering on our sponsor outcomes.

Paulette (07:25):

And what kind of drives me to do the inclusion and diversity work, and I think I mentioned it earlier that I’m first-generation college educated. That means that, for me, my parents are Jamaican immigrants, so they… not only did they not go to college, but they’re not from this country and not as familiar with a lot of how things happen. And so, I had to do a lot of learning by trial and error. So, when I went to college, I had to figure out how to do that, my first job working in corporate America, not having anyone to show me the ropes. I had to learn as I went along. And I always feel like I want to help other people in similar positions share what I know, so that maybe they don’t make some of the same mistakes, or they can learn from wisdom and not always by experience.

Paulette (08:23):

And so, when you learn, when you know better, you do better. And so, if you can help other people to navigate the terrain a little smoother than you did, then that’s something that I want to do. And that’s an aspect of why I do the inclusion and diversity work.

Danny (08:44):

Could you talk about some of the events or activities of the Multi-Gen Council that help it achieve its goals?

Paulette (08:51):

So, one of the things, I think I mentioned Sticking Points, and that’s actually a book, but one of the members of Multi-Gen she read that book and thought it would be excellent to bring back to MITRE, given our multi-generational workforce. And so, she’s had, over the past year, this year, I think… She may have started last year, but I think she just wrapped it up, but she’d started this series of sessions, and I think it was maybe three or four sessions, where she had a panel of participants from each one of the generations, Z all the way through traditional. And she had a representative from each one of those generations sit on the panel and what she would do was pose these questions to the group.

Paulette (09:46):

And it was kind of fun because in some cases it’s like, here’s some trivia, let’s see who from each generation knows it. And sometimes you would think, oh, this generation will know all the answers and that wasn’t always the case. The responses weren’t always as predictable as one would think. And it would cross things like movies, music, pop culture, sometimes it’s like, “Yeah, I’m in Gen X and I know that,” or, “I’m a millennial and yeah, I know that because I kind of grew up in that era.” So, it was just kind of a fun way to highlight generational differences, but also show that it’s not always so cut and dry. And so that was kind of like a warmup thing she would do, but during the conversations, she would pose different discussion topics and people would weigh in on what are some of the challenges that you have as an early careerist, or a mid or late employee. The panel would discuss it, and then the audience would also weigh in after the panelists shared their perspectives.

Paulette (11:05):

And so, I think that that’s one example of having the dialogue and talking through some of the misunderstandings that occur sometimes. More traditionalists or later career employee might see you in the cafe and think you’re not really working when, actually, you’re productive. So, talking about value systems and perspectives and perceptions and how those can be not really accurate sometimes, and that they’re more associated with stereotypes than reality. So that’s one example.

Paulette (11:48):

And then, I launched the MITRE Masterclass Series this year to highlight our mid- and late- career employees who were feeling a bit left out. A lot of the focus on recruitment for the past few years has really been on early-career staff, which is great because historically that really wasn’t our demographic. And so, there’s a thought that, hey, we’re glad that we are diversifying our workforce, but don’t forget about your very seasoned employees who still want to contribute, who still want to grow and develop. That looks different depending on what stage of your career you’re in.

Paulette (12:35):

And so, I started it out of a desire to amplify and help give voice to that perspective. So, with the Masterclass, we are highlighting the contributions of our seasoned employees to both our sponsors, to MITRE and oh, by the way, talking about their career journey, their life journey along the way, and what they’ve learned and what others can learn from the ups, the downs, the pivots, the plateaus. And so, it’s not just for mid- and late- career employees, it’s for everybody.

Paulette (13:12):

The hope is that in sharing these stories, that if you happen to be early career, you can say, “Hey, I hadn’t thought about that. I heard this person’s story, and these are things that I can build into my career planning strategy. I can think about this,” or, “Just because I get to a certain age, doesn’t mean I need to hang it up.” There are examples of people at MITRE who are constantly reinventing themselves and they are late career and they’re still having impact. They’re still learning and doing new things. So, when that time comes from me, whether I’m at MITRE or somewhere else, I have a model, a different model than what you traditionally hear that, oh, you retire by the time you get to this age.

Paulette (14:05):

And it also allows the speakers, the guest speakers to feel like they have something to share, to contribute and to share their wisdom and knowledge. It’s a form of mentoring, too. One of the things that I would like us to do in the new year, next year, as we plan out the program is really entertain the concept of reverse mentoring, because we can learn from each other. It’s not always the seasoned person imparting the wisdom to the earlier career person, or the younger person. So, it’s like, how can we exchange our knowledge and help each other grow and learning from each other?

Paulette (15:01):

Another example of some of the things that this council has done, they’ve done a Caregiver series and a Benefits series. So, the Caregiver series started out with people in your mid, late career, you usually have older parents that you now have to start, maybe, taking care of depending on their health situation. And you may still be raising your children if you have children. And so, you’re, indeed, that sandwich generation. So, this caregiver series started out talking about, here are some resources if you’re caring for an elderly parent, or that was the kind of scenario that the person brought to the council. But what she shared with me was, it’s not just for people who are our age, mid-career, that have aging parents. Some of our early careerists also have aging parents because people trended towards having children later in life. So, you may be younger, but you have older parents, so some of these topics may come up sooner than what would have historically been the case.

Paulette (16:22):

And so that’s another example of showing that these are topics that are not just for one group or the other, or one may make assumptions about who would be impacted, and you can’t really do that. And the other Benefit series was about, just what are the benefits that MITRE offers its employees, and helping to explain that to people and maybe getting feedback from employees to HR to say, you may want to think about expanding this or making it a little more inclusive because the different generations, in general, have these types of needs and the way that the benefits are currently, it may only be speaking to a certain slice of the population and not broad enough or not dynamic enough.

Paulette (17:17):

So, I think the thing about Multi-Gen Council is everyone in the corporation falls into the Multi-Gen Council. And so, it’s really about reflecting the needs of our different generations. And, of course, it’s general. It’s not that everything applies to each generation equally. You have to deal with the individual, of course, but it’s another way of reflecting the needs of our workforce.

Danny (17:51):

And are there any outcomes you have observed from the council’s activities, or any that it hopes to make in the near future?

Paulette (17:59):

That’s a good question. I think we’re still on the early side of things. I think that Multi-Gen is one of the less mature councils that we are still in the building phase. They have a new leadership team in place, who is trying to build on the previous leadership. They’re kind of looking at how they want to engage MITRE leadership, what are some of the key areas that they want to leverage the Multi-Gen Council for? This year has been about increasing awareness, so through our programming, people will learn about the council, seek the council out, and start feeding those ideas and those concerns to the council. But I can’t really say, and I’m just involved in the Masterclass series, so I’m not aware of all the other things that the council does, or who’s engaged with what leaders and the outcomes, necessarily, but I do feel like we’re kind of a startup council in a way, is that they’re still on the building phase and want…

Paulette (19:18):

Certainly, that’s an aspiration to have those impacts and outcomes, but I don’t know that we are there yet. I think we are very much on the building awareness, building could community, building a network and a forum for people to bring those kinds of ideas and to help us help them achieve those kinds of outcomes. That was a long way of answering that, but honestly, I think we’re not quite there yet.

Danny (19:52):

In a more broad sense, do you see the council’s impacts on our internal workforce also bleeding over to our government sponsors?

Paulette (20:01):

The thing I thought about, Danny, is the fact that our sponsors are going through this same evolution, if you will. They have the multi-generations in their workforce, all the different kind of slices of diversity. They have that in their organizations too. And so I feel like, as MITRE matures itself in these areas, these are capabilities and lessons learned that we can also share with our sponsors and help guide them through this process as well, because these are similar things that they are grappling with, mentoring, reverse mentoring, aging workforce, people staying in the workforce longer than historically has been the case, and how do you have this melding or integration of the generations in the workforce?

Paulette (21:01):

It’s not just something that’s internal-facing, but I think, increasingly, we are going to have to help our sponsors go through this process as well. And I think MITRE has the Social Justice Platform. We’re definitely leaning forward in a lot of areas that are not only beneficial for us, but to society, to our sponsors, so I’m pleased to see that our leadership is open, willing and making the investments to do so, to create a more inclusive workplace for everyone. So, I did want to just touch on that. It’s something that our sponsors are going through the same process too, as we work in their organizations, we’re seeing them try to figure out how to do this and do it well.

Danny (21:52):

On another note, since we’ve talked a lot about generational unity in the workforce, I was wondering if you had any thoughts on how early career professionals could use reverse mentoring to support their own informal mentorships with more experienced employees? As a member of the MITRE Mentoring Committee, that is something we’ve noticed younger professionals struggle with, which is why we plan on hosting events to help facilitate those types of relationships. But what are your thoughts on that knowledge gap?

Paulette (22:20):

A lot of these relationships do happen organically. Sometimes you’re working together on a project or initiative and the opportunity presents itself. But I think you really have to be intentional about it. If you see somebody in leadership or a subject matter expert in an area, or discipline, or domain that you’re interested in, I feel like you should feel comfortable reaching out directly to them and say, “Hey, I heard you speak in a technology exchange meeting or on a brown bag, or whatever. And I’m really interested in fill-in-the-blank.” And I think most people at MITRE would love to talk about the work that they’re doing. And I’ve always heard people say, when you reach out to people, show that you’ve done some homework in this area, because then it makes the conversation even more engaging because the person sees that you genuinely are interested in whatever this thing is, and you’ve done some leg work and you have some kind of specific questions, or even your own thoughts, insights on it. And so, you can really engage the person.

Paulette (23:49):

And so, it’s not only just what you can get from them, but it now becomes what you’re giving to them, which I think is much more appealing, engaging, if you will. So, it’s like, even if there is kind of that hierarchical thing going on, maybe you are approaching a senior leader and you’re an early careerist, I don’t think that should matter at all. That goes back to the reverse mentoring, so you reach out to them because something piqued your interest, but you also have some knowledge to drop on them, too, because you’ve done your homework and you know who are some of the key thinkers, thought leaders in the space, and you can say, “Hey, I’m tracking this, I’m listening to this, and I actually think there’s some gaps here, or there’s an opportunity here. What do you think about it?” So, you can come at them, not just seeking, but contributing.

Paulette (24:51):

I think the challenge with these relationships, especially if it’s not somebody who’s in your organization, who’s in your leadership chain, who’s in your day-to-day, that’s where the intention comes in and you have to now be intentional about keeping the lines of communication open, nurturing, and cultivating that relationship. How do you do that? I mean, some ways I think you can do that, again, is maybe you see an article. After you’ve made that initial contact about whatever your shared interest is, you can send them an article. “I saw this in Forbes, or whatever, and I thought about you. What do you think about this?” Or, “Wow, this person really is provocative or whatever.” You’re sharing something with them. So, it’s not just you reaching out when you are in a crunch, or you need a sounding board, or you need something, but you are sharing with them too.

Paulette (25:49):

“Hey, I would love to buy you coffee and talk about something that I heard at this conference that I went to.” Or maybe you send them a deck from a conference that you went to. It’s a mutual thing and so it’s that communication, you’re keeping the communication flow open, and you’re not just somebody taking something from them, because most of the time, the people that we want as mentors, they’re very busy people, there are lots of demands on them. You now stand out as somebody who actually is sharing and giving them something, opposed to just taking from them.

Danny (26:31):

Great. So, shifting back to the operations of the Multi-Gen Council, has the rise in remote work due to the pandemic affected those at all?

Paulette (26:39):

I think that, probably across the board for all of the councils, that we’ve seen participation go up in terms of events, interest, membership, people wanting to sign up for the different councils. And I think part of that is during the height of the pandemic, it was very isolating. We were all at our homes and whatnot, away from your project teams, away from your colleagues who you would normally see in the hallway, you could grab coffee with and just poke your head in and have a quick conversation. And so, I think people were really craving connection. And so, by the councils and other groups offering these virtual forums, where we could get on, turn your video on, hear somebody talking about any manner of things, you could hear a discussion on… Some of the councils put on information sessions about COVID. What is it? What do the vaccines entail?

Paulette (27:46):

You could get that kind of information. You could also hear about wellness, like how to take care of yourself, self-care during this isolation, how to network during the pandemic. I can’t just walk the halls now, how am I going to find a project? I’m new to the company. I don’t know anybody. I can’t pick up the phone and call anybody because I don’t have a network yet. What do I do? So, for existing employees, but also for new employees, they could come in and get a sense of the culture of the organization without having set foot into a physical MITRE facility. So, I think that the councils play a critical role in conveying the culture of our organization, of MITRE.

Paulette (28:41):

And so, the councils have definitely played a key role in keeping employees connected, being a support system, a networking opportunity for people to get to know people. And I meant to mention this earlier, but another key benefit of being involved in the councils is the leadership and professional development opportunities, because you may not have the opportunity to have a leadership role on your project, but you could join a council and take on a leadership role. You could lead the council, you could serve as a chair, or vice chair, secretary, treasurer, or a committee lead. And that’s an excellent way to gain that leadership experience. Also, exposure to MITRE leadership. Each council has an officer champion who works closely with your council on your strategy, your execution of your programming. And so, a lot of times, you would not necessarily have access to these people because, I mean, your day-to-day project work doesn’t put you in the same space with them on a… it just would not provide that opportunity.

Paulette (30:11):

And so, the councils not only provide that forum to have your voice heard, to express yourself, your interests, your concerns, your ideas, but it also is a training ground for our leaders, who can then take that experience and transfer it over to project sponsor-facing work. And so that’s the beauty of really getting involved, too, in the councils. You’re helping to shape the organization, the culture of the organization, the direction of the policies and initiatives. And so, I always say you can sit and complain about what you don’t like about your company or your organization, or you can just decide to get involved and help make it what you want it to be.

Danny (31:10):

Who are the types of people you would say the council looks for in terms of either it’s leadership or speakers for those discussion forums?

Paulette (31:18):

I would say when I was a chair of the Women’s Council and we were recruiting people, it was usually the people who were passionate and were proactive, really, about expressing or communicating what they were interested in. They saw a gap in whatever area it was, and they raised their hand and said, “I’m seeing this,” or, “I saw this somewhere else, that other companies are doing this. I think MITRE should be doing this.” And they’re willing to jump in and either lead or contribute, but they don’t just kind of mention it and then disappear. But they’re like, “Hey, I can do this. I want to be involved with it.” And even if they don’t have experience, or necessarily the knowledge, they’re willing and just have a go-get-it attitude, like go-getter attitude, like I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I’m willing to learn and let’s do this.

Paulette (32:33):

So, I think what I’ve found in working with the councils, other councils, is that they’re filled with people who are very passionate, passionate about making a difference, passionate about making MITRE inclusive, a place where everybody can thrive and grow and contribute. And so, I would say that’s first and foremost, the people that come, they’re passionate, they want to make a difference, they’re open, they’re ready to help however they can.

Danny (33:15):

And do you have any guidance to impart on those who are listening to this podcast for right now and want to contribute to this type of work, possibly because it may not be getting enough attention at their workplace?

Paulette (33:26):

I would say the beauty of growing up in is the time that we are is that so much information is available online. And I guess, depending on what your interests are, I know for the Women’s Council, there’s so many studies that are put out about women in the workplace, and I know McKinsey & Company puts out an annual report about women in the workplace. The Catalyst is another organization that does a lot of research on women’s issues. I’m sorry, I’m not as familiar with a lot of the other organizations like Society for Human Resource Management, SHRM, they’re another really good source of information, if you want to learn about leading practices on inclusion and diversity, what companies are doing, both in the government and in the private sector, just kind of poking around Fast Company, different publications, Forbes.

Paulette (34:46):

A lot of times I just google, and I see different topics that come up and you hear about what progressive companies are doing, like going to conferences. Like I think maybe two years ago, MITRE sent us to an inclusion and diversity conference, and I don’t remember the name of the host, but there were different companies there talking about what they’re doing. And that’s an opportunity for you to say, “Hey, are we doing this at our company?” Or “Maybe we should be doing this,” or, “Maybe we could do a form of this.”

Paulette (35:25):
So, there’s a lot of information out there going to conferences, subscribing to publications is also another way to gain some insight, talking to your friends about what’s going on in their organizations is another way to compare notes. Maybe, talk to your HR reps to say, “I heard about this, and I think this would be something great to bring back to our organization. Is this feasible or not? Do you need me to maybe do a white paper on it, and I could bring you back my findings about what I learned about this topic.” There’s all sorts of ways to get the conversation going.

Danny (36:11):

And to wrap up, is there any final advice you wanted to give to our listeners, possibly something you’ve learned along this need that speaks to you?

Paulette (36:18):

One of our former senior vice presidents, Rich Byrne, would always say, it’s not really about the title you have, you really can make your job what you want it to be. And so, the work that I do with the councils, it’s a passion, passion work for me. My day job is being a domain leader or a project manager, or what have you, but I’ve carved out this other piece to be able to do this internal work within MITRE to help enable us to be even more effective and influence our culture. So don’t think that because you have this certain title or this certain role that that prohibits you or limits you from branching out and making a difference. It’s just a title. That doesn’t keep you from shaping that job or that role into what you would really want it to be, and that includes, maybe what you actually get paid for, but also bringing some of your passion into your job and having those influence or impact to your organization, beyond what your job title is all about.

Danny (37:38):

Cool. I think that’s an inspiring note to end on. Alright, well, thank you for coming on to bring more awareness to this topic. I’d like to give a quick thank you to MITRE and the Knowledge-Driven Enterprise for making this show possible. And again, thank you, Paulette, for coming on to discuss your work on the Multi-Gen Council.

Danny Nsouli is an Associate Cyber Security Software Engineer. He has a passion for computer graphics and enjoys learning about front-end solutions for consumer-facing project components such as data visualizations.

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