From Social Justice to D&I

Written by Katherine Griffin

5 Minutes with Tujuanna Williams

Tujuanna Williams grew up watching her mother, owner of four Nashville beauty salons, advise women who wanted to start businesses. Today Williams, who has spent much of her career as a diversity leader for major companies, is vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer of the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae). From 2011 to 2014, she took a break from corporate work to found and run her own executive coaching firm. Williams spoke with Diversity Woman about fear, speaking out, and promoting inclusion.

Diversity Woman: What led you to start your coaching company?
Tujuanna Williams: My gifts are around helping people find their purpose. And I like positive psychology, because instead of saying, “What’s wrong with me?” it’s about saying, “What are all the things that are right with me, and how do I use them to become my better self?”

DW: You’ve said that you want to support people who want to be fearless. Why is that important?
TW: To be successful, you have to be fearless. A lot of this work is around being able to deploy others throughout the organization to drive your strategy. That requires having conversations that, if people are not confident, they can’t have. To have courageous conversations, you have to be a risk taker.

DW: How has your background influenced your approach to promoting diversity and inclusion at Fannie Mae?
TW: I came out of HR. Before that, I spent most of my career in the airline industry. I realized [early on] that in the work I was doing, even though it wasn’t now what is called D&I, I was always the spokesperson for social justice—some situation where someone was treated unfairly. People always came 
to me and I would be the one giving them advice, or going to my circle of colleagues and saying, “We need to create other opportunities.”

DW: What are some achievements you’re proud of at Fannie Mae?
TW: Fannie Mae is the most diverse organization I’ve ever been in—inclusion is where we have challenges. My strategy here has been around cultural competencies, using a tool called the Intercultural Development Inventory. It’s based on a five-part continuum: denial, polarization, minimization, acceptance, and adaptation.

You take the assessment, you get the result, and then you get an individual coaching plan. Then we provide training around cultural awareness, unconscious bias, identifying differences, and crossing bridges. Every officer and all critical directors have taken this assessment.

DW: What have the results been?
TW: Minimization is where we find most people. Minimization means you don’t see any difference. You focus on the similarities. But it’s the differences that drive innovation. It’s easy to say, “I treat everybody the same—I treat people the way I want to be treated.” But we want to treat people the way they want to be treated.

Minimization is not a bad place. It is a place of openness and learning. My goal is to move the organization from minimization to acceptance. That means whether I agree with your differences or not, I accept them.

DW: The fifth stage is adaptation. Can you explain that?
TW: Two percent of the people who take this assessment are at adaptation. Adaptation is where we’ve got this dance down pat. I don’t have to lead, but if I need to, I can. Or you can lead. I can dance to your music, you can dance to my music, and we’re still in step.

DW: Any other important goals?
TW: Our biggest opportunity is around how we get more people of color and women into the C-suite. Today 33 percent of our senior leaders are women, and 35 percent are people of color. Those numbers are really good, but you always want more.

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