The connection between lobbying and helping organizations develop their board members and DEI programs can be easy to miss. But for Nikki, it’s a clear link.
After gaining lobbying experience in grad school, at the state of Michigan under Governor (now US Secretary of Energy) Granholm, and in the nonprofit space, Nikki struck out on her own. But she soon learned that potential clients weren’t considering her services because many boards of directors failed to realize they could engage with legislation.
Nikki saw the opportunity to help boards understand their opportunities—and their responsibilities. And that included impressing the need to build cultures and practices supporting historically marginalized groups.
At one point, the legislation she devoted her grad school and early working years to seemed relegated to her past. But now she finds it, and the other skills she picked up in grad school, resurfacing in the most unexpected ways.
Listen in to a fascinating story with practical (and priceless) advice for pushing employers—and your own business—to better support DEI.
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Welcome to The Work Seminar, the podcast for people with liberal arts advanced degrees considering work outside their fields of study. Hi everyone, and thanks for joining me for another episode. I'm your host, Jesse Butts. Today I'm chatting with Nikki McCord, a master's in public policy from Michigan State turned diversity, equity, and inclusion; facilitation; and board governance consultant. Nikki is the founder of the McCord Consulting Group, which she started in 2013. MCG provides for-profit and nonprofit board of director governance, training and development, organizational diversity training, and strategic facilitation. Nikki,Nikki McCord:
I'm excited to be here, Jesse. Thanks for having welcome, so excited for you to join me! me.Jesse Butts:
Absolutely. So before we dig into grad school and the path to your current work, could you explain a little bit about these activities with your work at MCG?Nikki McCord:
Absolutely. So like you said, McCord Consulting Group does three core things. I work with board of directors, I do strategic facilitation, and I do diversity, equity, and inclusion work. So with board governance, lots of organizations have boards, whether they are for profit or nonprofit organizations, and I work with board directors to be the best board directors that they can be. And that usually includes some board governance training, as well as hosting and facilitating board retreats. In terms of strategic facilitation, I help groups make decisions. Sometimes it takes groups a lot of time or negotiation to make decisions. And as a facilitator, I come in with a particular activity, or workshops or ways for groups toJesse Butts:
I'm curious a bit about the facilitation. Is that...are you typically helping a team, or leaders, or a company in general decide what's the focus next year? Or the profits in the gutter, how do we recover? What are some of these facilitations all about? Not with any revealing details, obviously, but just kind of a general sense for that?Nikki McCord:
Of course, it's a really great question. So I do facilitations, from everything from, how do we get people more engaged? And so that's just a huge question, right? How do we get people more engaged in our program? And you may have certain individuals thinking that we need to go one direction, certain individuals thinking that we need to go another direction. And there tends to be this circular talk without anyone actually putting pen to paper and saying, Let's just try something and see how it goes. So with facilitation, a facilitator is there to help you think of the pros and cons to help you think of any unintended consequences by going down a particular path. But I think the most important job of a facilitator is to give the group permission to just press play. A lot of times groups get stuck in the decision making process, and they want to think of every possible solution or they want to think of every possible path they can take. And that gets bogged down into actually pressing play. And so what I do, and I love what I do as a facilitator, is really bring a group together so that they can think of all of the possibilities, and then hone in on choosing a solution to try. And what I love telling my groups is just because we try something today doesn't mean that it has to exist for forever. We're going to try it this way. We're going to see what works, what doesn't work. And if we have to pivot at any time in the future, we have the ability to do that. So I answer...I help teams answer all sorts of problems or all sorts of questions. How do we get people more engaged? What policies should we be looking at in terms of legislation? What legislative policy should we be looking at? We're creating a new team, how do we make sure that the folks who interact with our team are interacting within a way that's going to serve their needs? It is so interesting, all the questions that I get to help folks solve to benefit others. Yeah, it's, it's really cool. I love what I do in terms of facilitating.Jesse Butts:
Yeah, I mean, I can see it in your face. I'm sure listeners could hear it in your voice. That I mean, that passion is evident in what you're doing. For our listeners who may not be as familiar with DEI, can you explain a little bit about those type of policies or actions or things you're helping your clients discover and implement in your engagements with them?Nikki McCord:
Yes, absolutely. That's a great question, Jesse. I work with organizations that are interested in transformational change. So I'm interested in working with folks who may have gone down a path on their own, maybe they weren't successful, maybe they got stuck somewhere, maybe folks who haven't even begun their DEI journey, and they're just getting started. But what binds all of those groups, or the commonality among all those groups, is they're ready to make significant changes. That's very important to me. Because I tell potential clients this all the time, my work is very self serving. So I'm a Black woman, I want the world to change yesterday. And so when I do my work, I want to make sure that my clients are also interested in doing the things that are going to fundamentally change the way that they do business. So we talk about definitions, we talk about what words mean, we talk about what the AI means to a particular industry. And what I think is very...what I love to do with my clients is I bridge the gap. Or I wouldn't even say it's bridging the gap. I like to bring together urgency and compassion. And so I like to focus on the changes that they think that they can make, and then I push them a little bit further. So I always meet people at their comfort zone. So what are you comfortable doing? What do you think that we can achieve in a year? And a year and a half? All right. That's what you're coming to me with. Let's see if we can go a little bit further. Because I think one of the things that I've realized in my career is sometimes you need someone to give you permission. To go a little bit further, you need someone sometimes from the outside to say, I think you can do it. If we just do these things. If we try it this way, I think that you'll be successful. And so that's what I bring to my clients, I give them the ability to explore these terms and themes in a way in which they may not have been able to do so in the past. So creating that environment where people feel that they can share that they can question that they can learn and then also giving them permission to change the way that they're doing business in a way that is really going to make a difference to those historically excluded individuals. Because the work that I do is not to make the client feel good or feel like they've entered the conversation or they've done something. My job is to make sure those folks who have been excluded out of the process, through my work with my clients through the new policies, the new systems that my clients implement, it's ultimately going to be for the benefit of those historically excluded individuals.Jesse Butts:
I'm so curious how you've evolved in this journey from Master's in Public Administration to doing this type of work. So I guess this is, you know, my imperfect segue to start at grad school. So what prompted you to start grad school? What did you think you'd be doing? What were you feeling at that time in your life?Nikki McCord:
Wow, what prompted me to go to grad school? So I always knew that I would pursue my education beyond my undergraduate degree. And for a while, I thought I was going to be an attorney. And so one of the things that I think, it's really funny when you look back on your life, and you see those, those things that you did, or those things that you thought about, or you got into, were at the moment, it really didn't seem very monumental. But 10 years out, you're like, Oh, my goodness, I'm so glad I did that, because it completely informed the way that I'm living my life today. So I graduated from Notre Dame. And I actually, I graduated a semester early, because I had enough credits that I think I would only have been taking like three credits my spring semester. And so I just took all of my credits in the fall, I graduated, I graduated a semester early, and I had to get a job. Because all of a sudden, there's no dorm living, there's no meal plan, I had to get a job. And so I got a job as a paralegal. And it was great for me, because I knew I wanted to go to law school, I thought, you know what, I can get a job as a paralegal, I can go to law school, you know, afterwards, this is great, I need money. And being a paralegal was super important for who I am today, because one of the things that I did was I talked to every female attorney I could talk to, I talked to the junior associate. And one of the things that they they told me was, they had a family, she had a family, and she would be inthe office at 5:
30 every morning. And she would feel bad, or she'd feel this pressure if she had to leave at 5:30 to catch her kids soccer game at six. So she was putting in all this work. But then she also felt like she was doing something wrong. If she took time for her kid. That was a junior associate. I supported a partner, a female partner in the firm. And she told me instances where she wasn't respected as a female partner, even though she brought in a whole chunk of business to this firm that they weren't engaging in previously. So I really got an opportunity to not only work in the field, make money, but then also take advantage of talking to people who I looked up to and who I eventually wanted to be. And I began to realize that law school wasn't really the environment that was conducive to the way that I learn. And also, I don't think I didn't think I really wanted to be an attorney. When you're in, when you're an undergrad, you think of what am I going...what job am I going to have that I can make the most money? Or things like that. And after working as a paralegal, I was like, man, I don't think that this is really what I want to do. So I decided I wanted to be a lobbyist of all things. And I entered lobbying in a very unconventional way. And I lobbied for four years for a firm. And it was great.Jesse Butts:
And this is before grad school?Nikki McCord:
This is all before grad school. I worked for Fortune 500 companies, I got to pass legislation. It was great. And then I was asked by former Governor Granholm in Michigan to be the lobbyist for the Department of Environmental Quality. And it wasn't until that time that I started thinking about grad school. Actually, it was kind of the bridge between the firm and working for the state. And it happened to be because Michigan State University was starting their Master's of Public Policy Program. So there's a Master's of Public Administration and there's a Master's of Public Policy. When I entered grad school, there were only a few schools that were offering the Master's of Public Policy. And that master's program focused very heavily on legislation, policy, running and being in governmental agencies as well as public administration, at least when I was looking at grad schools was mostly focused on kind of nonprofit administration. So I knew back when I started grad school that a master's in public administration wasn't exactly what I wanted. But I was very excited about the Master's of Public Policy Program. And I happened to be part of the first cohort that went through that program at Michigan State. The other reason why I decided to go to grad school is because I was a state employee. And I know that benefits are eroding in this day and age, but when I was a state employee, one of our benefits was we got partial tuition reimbursement. So that was a huge factor in me wanting to pursue my master's degree, because I would have help from the state of Michigan to pay for that degree. And so understanding that I loved policy, I loved being a lobbyist. I had the state partially paid my tuition, all of those things factored in to me saying, yes, this is for me. It's not law school. That's not what I want to do. I want to do grad school. And I got very, very excited about it.Jesse Butts:
I'm wondering if we can pause for a second to talk about lobbying? Because I think, and I'm including myself here, we probably have this notion of, you know, every politician complains about these special interest groups, these lobbies, these lobbyists...can you tell us a little bit, you know, what exactly lobbying is and and why, in your view, it's so important to the legislative process.Nikki McCord:
Ah, I love this question. I love talking about lobbying, even though it's something that I don't do anymore. The first thing that I will say about lobbying is everybody needs a lobbyist. Everybody needs a lobbyist. It is not just for the moneyed, it is not just for big corporations. If you have any type of business interest, you need a lobbyist. And that's because a lobbyist is there to monitor and protect your interest. For me, it was the state level, I really enjoyed working on the state level. And what I want people, what I want listeners to understand about lobbying is there are decisions that are made every day that impact your way of life, whether it is your personal way of life, whether it is your business way of life. And being a part of the conversation, to make sure that your interests are protected, or your interest aren't trampled on, is extremely important. Because we have a saying in the lobbying world, If you don't have a seat at the table, it's because you're on the menu. So if you are not a part of the conversations as to, Oh, wait, don't do that, that impacts my business community, or don't do that, that impacts the people that I serve as a nonprofit. If you're not at the table to speak up for yourself, you're the first person that we're going to eat. So this is why I say that everyone needs a lobbyist. Now, what is lobbying? I approached lobbying, I think differently, because I just happened to be a different person who kind of charts my own path. But I really, I enjoyed the interrelation aspects of lobbying. Yes, there's glad handing and there's taking people to dinner and things like that. But what I thought was so interesting about lobbying was to get to know you as a person, you as a decision maker, what matters to you? What's your district like? Who are your constituents? What are your own personal interest? What jobs did you have in the past? And I could use that information to make an argument about whatever I was lobbying about.Jesse Butts:
Obviously, there's really important aspects to it. And it's very clear from what you're talking about that representing communities and representing people who would otherwise be on the menu? Definitely, definitely seems like you're weaving a thread to what you're doing now. But so I'm curious after grad school, were you still lobbying or what were you doing for work after you finished up at Michigan State?Nikki McCord:
Well, I was working full time while I was finishing up at Michigan State. So I was basically a full time student. And I because I graduated in two years, and I had a full time job representing the people of Michigan as well. And so my timing actually was again, it's amazing the day decisions that we make in the moment. And when we look back at those decisions, we're like, Oh, wow, that was really smart of you to do it that way. But I timed getting my degree to coincide with the end of Governor Granholm's term in Michigan, because as a lobbyist for the state, I had an appointed position. And so we know that our positions go away, when the governor goes away, and this was her second term. So she wasn't going to be up for reelection. So I knew that I was going to need to find a job at the end of her term. So I graduated in May of 2009. So, right, and I think her term was up December of 2009. So I had a little bit of time to find a job after I received my degree.Jesse Butts:
What did you do after her term expired?Nikki McCord:
Excellent question. So I looked for jobs, and I looked for jobs wherever I could find them. And I was really interested in being in policy state space. So I did some education policy work, I did some labor policy work. I really enjoyed the labor policy, because, again, I love working with and for people who don't normally have a voice, and union work runs deep in my family, and we are a union family. And so being able to work for the union in Colorado, was really awesome to me. I worked for a group that represented state employees. So I went from being a state employee to representing our unionized state employees. And what I was working on was wage increases. So at the time, when I was working in the Colorado legislature, state employees had not had a raise for a number of years. And so working to get that state employee raise was something that I was very proud of. Definitely part of a team. I also got to see how my work and policy related to grassroots work as well. And so one of the things that I loved about my job is, I was just one person in a larger system, to not only get union members signed up to join the union to get them mobilized. And we had field workers, who was doing that work, who were going out to sites, who were surveying sites, who were getting testimony from our employees on working conditions, on wage conditions. And that was their job. And my job was to translate that information up to legislators and policy decision makers. So one of the things that I really liked about working with the union was seeing how all of our efforts work together to create a better work environment for our state employees. So that sense of working as a team for the greater good was something that I really enjoyed. So that's what I was doing. After I got my my master's degree, I was still working in policies, still working with legislators, still passing legislation. So it really wasn't that big of a change from what I was doing while I was earning my degree. Until I started my business.Jesse Butts:
You must have relocated to Colorado, at some point. So how long were you working for employers in Colorado, before starting your own business? And what made you think that would be a good move for you to go into self employment?Nikki McCord:
Three years. I moved to Colorado in 2010. And I started my business in 2013. So I was only here for three years. And what prompted me to start my own business. It was one of those things where I saw, I'm so glad that I had the experience that I had in Michigan before I came out to Colorado because they are very different states when it comes to the legislative process. Colorado is definitely a direct democracy. And so you get a lot of initiatives put on the ballot by special interest groups. Grassroots groups can, if they get enough signatures, they can put something on the ballot. And so you really have more of a direct democracy here in Colorado, where as Michigan, it really wasn't the case. You had kind of the big interest groups and they would put together bills and talk to legislators. And when I was in Michigan, it wasn't as easy for citizen groups to get things on the ballot. And so seeing the difference between the two states, and seeing how much more power I think special interest groups could have in the legislative process outside of the initiative process was something that really fueled my desire to start out on my own. What knowledge could I bring from the experience that I had in Michigan? And how could I incorporate it into the very unique and distinct flavor that is here in Colorado, not in a way to change Colorado, because there's a reason why we do things the way we do it out here. And as an outsider, it wasn't my, it was...I didn't feel it was my place to say, Oh, you're doing it wrong. You need to do it this way. But I did see it was my place to incorporate some of the learnings that I had in another area, and see where those matches could be made. And what I was seeing going on here in Colorado. So that was one of the reasons why I started my own business.Jesse Butts:
And when you started, was your sole focus advocacy and legislation? How did you evolve to start offering the board of governance work, the DEI work? All those things that you're doing now?Nikki McCord:
Right. Entrepreneurship is such a weird thing, especially the solo entrepreneurship. Because I made a lot of mistakes. Fortunately, I was able to learn from my mistakes, and I was able to pivot a lot. So when I began my business, I was doing what I, the only thing that I'd ever done before, which was lobbying. And that's how I started my business. Now, it is very, very, very, very hard to start as a lobbyist in a new place where you don't have as deep of connections as you've had in previous places. You have shops that have been around for decades, you have people who have had these relationships for a very long time. But one thing about me is, I will just do something. If you tell me, it's hard, I will tell you well, I'll figure out a way to do it. And I did, I got my first lobbying client, passed my first piece of legislation in in Colorado, just by pounding the pavement using my relationships that I had, whether they were in Michigan, whether Notre Dame, any type of relationship that I had to make those connections to make the case that I can pass a bill for you. What is your problem? Let's try to solve it. So that's how I started my business. My name is Nikki, I'm a lobbyist. Tell me about your issues. Let's see how we can get it passed. I think that having that first success....this is what I tell my clients all the time is success begets success. And I tell them that because it's what I went through as well. After I passed my first bill as McCord Consulting Group here in Colorado, I started thinking about how to get more clients, and what was going well in the system and what wasn't going well. And after passing my first bill, what I realized was, in Colorado, there are a ton of interest groups. There are lots of nonprofits in Colorado compared to Michigan. And with the volume of nonprofits, what I found was not all of them were engaged in advocacy. And so when I was having those conversations with other groups after I pass my one bill, oh, I can pass a bill for you. What I was finding were those groups were saying, Well, why would we pass a bill? Or, Oh, we can't advocate. The misconception that, Oh, we're a nonprofit, we're not allowed to advocate...Jesse Butts:
Like in relation to tax exempt status is what you're referring to?Nikki McCord:
Yeah, yeah. Lots of when I was first starting out, lots of nonprofits were saying, Oh, we're a 501c3, we can't lobby. And I'm like, That's not exactly correct. You can lobby. There are just rules around whether or not you can lobby. And so what I found was, by me going out into the marketplace and telling folks, Hey, I can do this for you. There was a disconnect because they were saying, Oh no, you can't do that for me, because that's not allowed. So then I was like, Well, maybe I should start telling nonprofits that they can advocate. And that this is such a fun conversation for me, because I've never really put all of these things together in the way that we're talking about them, Jesse. So I'm, I'm having a blast, just laying all of this out. But that's how I started Board Governance work, because I found that I couldn't get anybody else. After I passed my one bill, I couldn't get anybody else to hire me as a lobbyist. The folks who did hire me as a lobbyist, they saw the value in lobby, and in fact, they were trying to get something very specific done, and I was able to get that done for them. But these other groups out here in Colorado, what I was running up against was, we're not interested in passing a bill because we can't even pass a bill. It's not something that we can do with our 501c3 status. And so I found an opportunity to start educating folks on the fact that, yes, you can lobby and after, again, what did I say in the beginning, Giving people permission, like giving them the permission to do something, once organizations saw that they had the permission to do something, then we can start having the conversation about, Okay, let's now talk about your constituents. Let's now talk about the people you serve. What's going on in the State House that could have implications for the way that you do your business, the people that you serve, and what's your voice in that process. So that's how I got to board governance, after putting up my my sign saying, I'm a solo entrepreneur, to passing one bill, to figuring out that there was this place in which I could provide a service to organizations that while I was no longer passing legislation, while it was not actively passing legislation, I felt like I was still in that sphere of policy and having people understand the power of their voice in that that legislative conversation.Jesse Butts:
What happens after you get the foot in the door with the board governance?Nikki McCord:
I love that I got my foot in the door. That's exactly how it happened. So I get my foot in the door, I start talking about your 501c3. Let's talk about what that means, specific to advocacy. But then what I was finding out with organizations is some of these organizations were not organized enough to even have the conversation about what policies are impacting our constituents. So then I was like, Oh, wait a second, we need board governance. So even before we can have a conversation about, let's look at legislation that's impacting your business model or impacting your constituents, we also need to get really grounded on what does it mean to be a board director? What does it mean to be an executive director? How do those two entities interact with each other? What are the duties of the executive director? What are the duties of the board director? And when I begin giving Board Governance workshops, I always incorporated diversity into my workshops. It wasn't anything anyone told me like, Hey, you should do this. It's because I'm a Black woman. And I know what it feels like to be excluded. And I know...here's the thing. We all have our role to play, right? And specific to And what happened was, the more that I just, I mean, I naturally diversity, equity, and inclusion, I don't care if you're a CEO, I don't care if you're an entry level person, incorporated diversity in what I was talking about. It made everybody has their role to play. And I feel the same way about my own work, even though I wasn't, you know, telling people people think, Well, wait a second, she's talking about I'm a DEI consultant. It's, I do Board Governance work. And we're diversity. And she's talking about we have to have diverse going to talk about diversity. Because if I had an audience of decision makers, and they were listening to me, and if they boards. Well, Nikki, how do we do that? And so then it's like, listened to me, tell them how to be a good board director, and I Well, let me tell you how to do that. So then we can have tell them, You can't be an all white board. You can't be an all male board, while also telling them this is how you be a board conversations outside of just board governance. So we're director. Whoa, this is my awkward, like, I'm not gonna pass up this opportunity. I can do something with this work. And cueing up the conversation in board governance, but then those so, yeah, it wasn't that I told people, hey, I'm a DEI folks that are hungry for more information who want that consultant. It's, I told people, I do Board Governance workshops. I can train your board directors how to be effective board transformational change, they're starting to ask these questions. directors. I can help you executive director because your board directors are starting to get more in your realm and mess Well, you're telling us, Nikki, that we have to do this. How do with the way that you're doing, I can help people understand we do it? And then by virtue of just the world, funders started their roles. And once I get in the door, again that foot in the door, once I get in the door, and they're like, Oh, my telling grantees, We want to know about what you're doing in goodness, yes is a service that we need. We're gonna talk about diversity as well. terms of diversity. And so there was a need there for organizations not only to hear about board governance, but how do we specifically think about, talk about, be effective in diversity within our organizations as well. And honestly, even when I was having this conversation, in the context of board governance, I may not have been saying diversity, equity, and inclusion. I may not have been saying those words, but it was all baked in. It was more than just the faces around the table. It's how are you gaining from their experience? How are you treating them? How are you treating your constituents? Do you think that because you're on the board, you sit on on high, and you can make all these decisions without actually listening to what people want? And so for me, it was it was simply how I spoke about diversity and understanding that I had an opportunity to influence decision makers in a way that is self serving, So I'm curious as you've you cemented yourself in this line because as a Black woman, I want all of these systems to be changed yesterday. So this is self serving to me, but also is going to help those historically excluded individuals who may come in contact with their organizations as well. of work that obviously isn't, you know, what you studied...As you look back, do you see a strong relationship with what you studied at Michigan State, and what you're doing now? Is there kind of a thread that that weaves it all together in your mind? So lately, there really is, and it's...and maybe I can only see that thread, maybe if you're on the outside looking in, it's more difficult for you to see that thread, but I can definitely see it. Everything from time management, you know, holding down a full-time job while going to school full time...I am great with time management. as a solo entrepreneur, working with teams. In my undergrad, I didn't have group projects. It wasn't something that I did with my coursework. I had group group projects in grad school. And so having that experience of understanding how groups work, how different team members work in groups was really important to me. Research, taking the time to do research in grad school, is important to me now. As a solo entrepreneur, as I'm doing work, and in terms of just how to find things like how to do a...how to find something on Google, knowing what databases are out there, knowing what I access with different databases. That was important in grad school. I'm not doing policy right now. But what's funny is I am in super weird ways. For super, they're not weird clients, but for clients that I never thought I'd be working for. But now I'm bringing back my policy knowledge to these clients where I thought when I started my business after I passed my bill in Colorado, I'm thinking to myself, I'm never going to be a lobbyist again. I'm never gonna work on policy again, and it wasn't...It made me a little sad because I really enjoy that world, but I saw my role somewhere else. But now eight, nine years later on, going right back to literally pulling up pieces of legislation and reading them line by line. I never thought I would be doing that at this point in my career. But having the ability to do that, even though I hadn't used it for a while is super important to me today, in the work that I'm doing. So I would say that grad school was super useful to me in the work that I'm doing now, even though I'm not doing not really policy work. Like I'm not really passing pieces of legislation like I was, when I was in school.Jesse Butts:
It's so evident in your answers, I mean, in the tone of your voice that you love what you do. You're clearly passionate about it. For you, did career, did work, always have to be something that you were going to be passionate about? Or was it kind of a discovered passion as you started doing the work?Nikki McCord:
I would say that the state of Colorado changed the way that I view work. Definitely in the beginning of my career, I liked lobbying. I loved lobbying. A lot of my identity was tied to the work that I did. And I would not have been able to articulate it in that way back then. It was kind of just what was expected of you. You go to work...well, you go to undergrad, you get a degree in something, you pursue whatever that degree tells you that you can pursue, right? And I did that. And I was making money. Everything was fine. And I think when I came out to Colorado, because of the Colorado lifestyle, we have a scene out here, the only reason why we go to work is so we can have money to play. So there is this divorce between your work life and your...there's a divorce between the way that you make money and who you are as a person. And that wasn't something that I discovered until I came out here. And I have to say that I fought it when I came out here as well, because I'm like, these people are weird. This is not the way that you're supposed to live life. And, what, 11 years later, I'm like, nope, this is how you live life. You make money doing this thing, and then you spend that money doing things that really make you happy. I am hesitant. I'm very hesitant to counsel folks the way that they make money needs to be a passion. I'm hesitant for a number of reasons. I'm hesitant as a Black woman living in America telling Black kids that they should just follow their dreams and everything will work out. I'm super hesitant to do that, because that's not the way that this system is set up for them. For us. As Black people, the system is not set up for us to pursue our dreams and everything will work out fine. I think that's why I'm very grateful to have had the work history and the work experience that I've had. So that at this time in my life, and at this time in my career, I can be in a position to say things that I do to make money and I have things that I do that bring me joy and pleasure, like my garden, right? So I'm hesitant to tell Black kids that because it's not realistic for us. But at the same time, I want Black kids to be able to experience that freedom, because I definitely, I have friends who are my own age and when we talk about work, it's such a different conversation. Because they are definitely talking about getting to work early, staying late, managing people, like their management styles and things like that. And sometimes I think they don't want to have those conversations with me because I just have such a different approach to making money. So it just, it makes me uncomfortable to say that your work has to be your passion because I do feel like we as humans, uh oh here's the Boulder Colorado coming out of me right now, we as humans need to have more to our lives then then the way that we we make money. Like we're not, we're not full human beings if our whole identity is tied to the way in which we make money.Jesse Butts:
Forgive me if this is really like an oversimplification, but I mean it does sound like the work you do is helping, in time, to make it so that Black kids can have those opportunities to follow your dreams.Nikki McCord:
Yes! I imagine a world where little Black kids can have an experience different from mine. And that's not to say that my experience was bad. I had a fantastic experience, but I just, I want life to be easier for the folks who are coming up after me. And if I can counsel organizations in ways to do the work that they need to do today, so by the time that sophomore in high school lands at their company, they won't have to go through the challenges that I went through. Here's something else that I think about, about work and money. I think that we as individuals need to be more realistic. And we need to talk to people in a very realistic way about the cost of following your passion. So we need artists, we need dancers, we need singers, we need cooks, we need people who are...we need bakers. Like we need all of those people in order to have a rich society. But we need to be realistic about the society that we live in. We need to be realistic about the cost of housing, right? We need to say that you may want to be a baker, and you may want to be a self-taught baker. And you may not want to go to school for bakery, because you're super awesome at baking. But we also need to be realistic and telling folks coming up that this is how much it's anticipated that you'll make being a baker. This is how much the cost of housing is in your environment. If you decide to become a baker, you may have to have roommates for the next 10, 15 years. And those are conversations that we don't want to have because they're not sunny conversations, right?Jesse Butts:
It erodes our view of the American way, right? What are we told us Americans, Work hard and you can get whatever you want, right?Jesse Butts:
That all you have to do is work hard. That's not the reality that we're living in today. So I never want to tell people to not follow their dreams, but I want them, I want us, to have very real conversations with folks as to this is what it means if you want to spend the time following your dreams.Jesse Butts:
You know, a lot of listeners of this show, they might have their master's or PhD and in creative and performing arts, or in a field where tenure track positions, which they they thought would be their bread and butter, they've just essentially vanished. I mean, it's it's terrible. What would you say to people who are in that spot where they have tried to practice what they've learned or to teach it...And it's just not economically or emotionally viable? Like, what do you suggest they think about if they're considering pursuing work outside of what they studied?Nikki McCord:
Absolutely. And if you don't mind, Jesse, I want to answer that question for two different groups of people.Jesse Butts:
Yeah, please do.Nikki McCord:
This is something that I tried to talk to younger folks about. And I also want to answer your question about those of us who have our degrees and are thinking about new career paths. So when I talk to teenagers, I try to encourage them, I try to find out like, What are you into now as a teenager? And I remember I talked to one student, he loved making beats, he was really good at making beats. It was his passion. School, who cares about school, I just want to make beats. And I told him, I was like, That is so cool. You want to make beats? Is there anything else you would be interested in doing in the music industry? So are you also good at math? Are you also good at writing? Are you...Like what else are you good at? Our own brains constrain ourselves so much, but we are good at more than one thing. And so I was like, You're really good at math. Have you ever thought of looking at any type of finance jobs in the music industry? No, I know, it's not making beats. Like you're 16 years old. All you want to do is make beats and pushing a pencil at a music company sounds not very exciting. But it's how do we bridge that gap between something that you're really passionate, about making beats, and something that can possibly make you more money than making beats? You know, assuming that you don't get discovered at age 19 or whatever. Because what I found in my career, and I think this is going to answer the second part of your question about the folks who are already have their degrees, what I found is, at least with my entrepreneurial business, I've always been able to find these bridges. So we talked about it, I started my business as a lobbyist, because that is all I knew how to do. I didn't know how to do anything else.Jesse Butts:
And I found this bridge that I didn't see a lot of people connecting between lobbying and actually making a good board director. So that is what I would counsel folks who have advanced degrees, who are not interested in academia, or if academia is not opening up for them. What is the bridge that you can make between your course of study and the gap in the marketplace? And that's something that I've learned through trial and error and talking to other other entrepreneurs as well. And it's something that I had to learn myself. If your goal is to start a business, if your goal is to make money, sometime, you have to listen to what the market is asking for, right? So if I started my business, and I said, I'm a lobbyist, and that's all I am. And if I kept knocking on people's doors and said, I'm a lobbyist, I'm a lobbyist, I'm a lobbyist. It didn't get me very far, right. But when I was able to stop and listen to what the marketplace was asking for, maybe it's not something that I really wanted to do because I'm a lobbyist, that's all I know how to do. But if the market is asking you to do something, you have to listen to the market. Hopefully, at some point in time, you can get back to your passion, which, my goodness, eight years later, I never thought I would be looking at a piece of legislation again, but here I am. But I had to take some time to put my own ego aside and listen to what the market was asking for, and finding that bridge to provide what the market is asking for. So I would suggest that we take a step back from our ego, because that's all that's driving us. It's our ego. We think that we're only good at something, or we know that we're only good at something. And we're not taking the time to expose ourselves to what those bridges may be. And looking at our past experience. I mean, my goodness, if you have a PhD, if you have a master's degree, you have a you have a breadth of experience. Before you got to that point, check in on those things that you were doing previously, to find out, what are those bridges? What are those things that you can now that you have this advanced knowledge with your masters or your PhD, go back in time in your career to see how much more some of the things that you were doing could have been informed by the knowledge that you have now.Jesse Butts:
It's such a great perspective. And I was just thinking for that student that you were talking about with beats and pushing pencils. I can think of one, one area that has combined beats and pushing pencils. And that's the song Stan. Remember the scribbling? In Stan?Nikki McCord:
There you go.Nikki McCord:
Absolutely. Absolutely.Jesse Butts:
I'm curious as we wrap up, I would love to get your your perspective and your experience on a couple things for our listeners. So for example, for a listener who may be thinking that working for a company is the right path. What would you suggest that they keep an eye out for so they can gauge the potential employer's commitment to DEI, and if they have a good board of directors in place?Nikki McCord:
Excellent question. So I'm going to answer the DEI question first. I would encourage folks to simply ask whoever's interviewing you, What is your commitment to DEI? The organization should have it on their website. If the person is not able to recite it back to you, they should be able to tell you, Oh, well, we have our commitment on our website, they should be able to give you statistics about under their organization. A lot of those statistics are based on representation. So it's like, we have this many women of color in our company, or we have this many people who identify a particular way in leadership. That's good. And that is definitely important. I'm very interested in the culture of an organization. And unfortunately, sometimes you won't know that until you are actually part of the culture. But I think that the very basic question that we should be asking potential employers is, What is your commitment to diversity? And then you have a decision to make based upon the answer that you receive. So maybe the company says, Oh, you know what, we have a diversity statement, it's right here on our website, please go to our website. And if that's fine for you, awesome. But if you are asking that question, what is your commitment to diversity?, and the organization comes back and says, Well, we haven't really thought about it. Or they come back and say, Well, we respect everyone, you then, as an individual, have to decide whether or not that's an acceptable answer for you. So I would say that is kind of where we start. And remind me of the second half of your question.Jesse Butts:
Is there anything that people should be looking into, or any red flags that people should look out to...I mean, the Board of Directors, I think, is such a nebulous concept to so many of us, that it wouldn't even dawned on us to consider that in our employment search. But I'm curious if you have any thoughts in that area.Nikki McCord:
Honestly, as an employee, especially at a large company, the makeup of the board of directors is really not going to impact your day to day life as an employee. I'm thinking of, you know, I'm thinking of Google, for instance. If you get a job at Google, if you get any job at Google, the makeup of the board of directors is really not going to impact your life as an employee that much. And really, is that the fight that you want to take to a potential employer? Like, I care about your board of directors, when I'm coming in as an entry level programmer, right? Like, is that the fight that you really want to have? But something that does impact your employment life is the management right above you. So maybe you're not asking the question about the board of directors but you can ask the question of, Can you tell me about the diversity makeup of my reports? So the people I will be reporting to, or this management level, this management team. Can you tell me about any programs that you have in place for historically excluded individuals to be parts of management? Those are questions that you can ask that are going to impact your work life more than kind of that board of director. I think that the fear that comes in is, If I asked this question, will they not want to hire me? And that's a choice that each one of us has to make, because we've got to keep the lights on, we've got to keep the water running. The water company doesn't care about good intentions, the water company wants their check every month. So we all as individuals have to figure out when we ask those questions, and how we push for those things. But I also feel like this is the time to do it. Like the the environment is so ripe for it right now. And I feel like we have an opportunity to take advantage of this environment.Jesse Butts:
What can solo practitioners do to show a commitment to DEI, to make change happen when they don't have employees or or they're not planning to ever grow to something? What are the things that maybe we're not thinking about that we can do?Nikki McCord:
Hey, this is a great question, Jesse. So there are lots of things that you can do. One of the things that I do with teams, especially during my facilitation when we are trying to answer big questions, when we're putting the group together, I asked my team, Are you happy with the racial diversity of this group? I just asked them that question. And I let my team tell me whether or not they're happy. A lot of times, no one has ever asked the team that. They just pull in, you know, the same usual suspects that they always pull in. But when I asked that question, a lot of times teams start thinking. I've even had a team say, Oh, my goodness, we just hired somebody new in a leadership position, who happens to be someone from a historically excluded group, we should probably invite them to this. So it's, it's, it's honestly not anything huge. It's just asking the question, are you happy with the racial diversity of this group, that starts to get people thinking. So that's one thing that I do with my groups. And so I would say that as well as a solo entrepreneur, remember, you are the expert in the room, they've called you and because you are the expert in whatever you are in the expert in. That gives you a lot of latitude to ask questions like, Are you happy with the racial diversity of this team that I'm going to be working with? I also like to think about my vendors, who are the people that I'm spending my money with? Who are those referrals that I'm making? So there's there? There's definitely things in the nonprofit space that I don't do. For instance, I don't do fundraising. Fundraising is not something that I do. But I do know LGBTQ individuals who do fundraising. So when a group comes to me and says, Hey, Nikki, can you do this fundraising? I say, Well, I don't do it. But this group does it. Or they don't even have to ask me the question. I don't even have to wait for them to ask me the question. I may be doing my board governance work, I may see or hear in the course of my work, that they don't have a fundraising strategy. I will tell them, you all need a fundraising strategy. It's not something that I do. I'm going to refer you to this group, they're really great, I think that you should talk to them. Because the other thing is, as consultants, our referrals are very valuable, because people are busy. People don't want to put in the work of interviewing five different fundraising consultants. They've worked with me, they like working with me, they're most likely going to, at the very least have a conversation with someone that I refer to them. and then give back. So make sure especially if you're in an industry that doesn't have a lot of racial, gender, sexual orientation diversity, religious diversity, if you're in an industry that is like that, find opportunities where you can volunteer your time and talents to folks who are coming up or who may be thinking about that industry as well. I would say, those are my top three in order of importance. So ask the question in the room while you're in the room, that's most important. Number two, develop a network of consultants, people who do work that is tangential to the work that you're doing so that you can make referrals. And number three, volunteer your time and talents to folks who don't look like you who can benefit from being in your field as well.Jesse Butts:
Excellent, excellent advice. So Nikki, before we go, if any of our listeners do happen to think that they might need your services, or they know a company where they think you might be a good fit, where should people find you?Nikki McCord:
You can always find me at @McCordConsult. So that's the @ sign McCord Consult. You can find me there at all social media platforms, and you can visit my website at www.mcconsultgroup.com. I would love to hear from you. I'd love to share ideas and help you be a better company, better consultant. I love this work. And I love talking to folks as well.Jesse Butts:
All right, well, thank you again, Nikki, for joining me for an episode. It's been awesome.Nikki McCord:
It's been fantastic, Jesse. Thank you so much for inviting me on. I've had a pleasure being here.Jesse Butts:
Thanks for listening to this episode of The Work Seminar. If you like what you've heard, please take a minute to rate the show on your favorite podcast app. Know someone who'd be a great Work Seminar guest? Or have a suggestion or two for the show? You can reach me at Jesse@TheWorkSeminar.com or @TheWorkSeminar on social. And special thanks, as always, to Jon Camp for the music and Isabel Patino for the cover art and design. Until next time, never cease from exploration.