An Exclusive Interview with Adelmise Warner, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion for Sirius XM and Pandora
Being inclusive is good for morale, and can strengthen a company’s bottom line.
This is one of the things we learned from our recent interview with Adelmise Warner, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion for Sirius XM and Pandora.
People are their company’s strongest assets. If you treat them fairly, they’ll stay. Believe it or not, this also limits or reduces a company’s risk of litigation. If you treat people fairly, they feel like they’re part of the whole. They will work harder because they believe they are part of a team that is pulling in tandem. Because they get the same fair and even-handed opportunities as their peers, they will have no incentive to malign or sue you.
An executive needs to make sure that (s)he is doing things that are right for the employees and that those things are not mutually exclusive from representing the best financial interests of the company.
In this interview, you’ll discover:
- The importance of real diversity and just inclusion
- Existing parallels between labor and employment law and inclusion
- The importance of mentoring
FIONA: Our guest today is Adelmise Rosemé Warner, global head of diversity and inclusion for SiriusXM and Pandora. Before SiriusXM and Pandora, Adelmise has an impressive track record as an employment attorney for the likes of Electronic Arts, Gap, the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, and at the law firms, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and Heller Ehrman. She’s also served in a voluntary capacity for several organizations and is currently a board member for San Francisco-based nonprofit, Women’s Audio Mission, which aims to get more girls and women into audio engineer and sound tech roles. Welcome, Adelmise. Thank you so much for joining us today.
ADELMISE: Thank you, Fiona. It’s great to be here.
FIONA: Adelmise, can you give us a quick overview of your role and what you’re trying to achieve at SiriusXM and Pandora?
ADELMISE: Yes, absolutely. I, as global head of diversity and inclusion for SiriusXM and Pandora, which just merged last week became one company, my goal really is to make sure that we are able to increase diversity in the both combined company from people of color and women particularly, but more importantly, not just bringing in the diverse folks into the company but making sure that we are able to retain them, develop them, and help them grow into senior leaders in the company. I am very excited to take on this role of being able to lead diversity and inclusion for the new combined company of SiriusXM and Pandora.
FIONA: Thank you so much and congratulations. That’s such a big role and really exciting to hear about the merger. Today, I’ll be talking to Adelmise about her experiences and all the work she’s done to drive inclusiveness in her career. First though, I’d like to ask you the question that we start with for every guest, can you tell us how you first became woke to inclusion and diversity? When was the moment you first realized it matters in business and in society more broadly?
ADELMISE: I think for me, there are a couple of ways I look at it. The very first time I would say, and we can talk a little bit more about it later, was early on in high school where I had just moved from Haiti and being in high school, being really separate and different and not speaking English and realized the challenges of feeling included. For me, that’s when I, early on, I recognized the challenge of being the other in a sea of kids in high school where that can be really hard in San Diego.
I’d say more importantly in terms of my career where I realized the importance of that in business in broader society was after graduating law school as a lawyer at a big law firm at that time, trying to take my first deposition and walking in a room, being the only woman of color with several white males who were either the plaintiffs or their attorneys and having the lawyer for the other side, one of whom asked me,
“Where is the attorney that’s taking the deposition?”
I think that was probably one of the first moments I realized being the only one in a room where you are not immediately assumes to be the lawyer. I recognized the importance of real diversity and just inclusion generally.
FIONA: That’s really powerful. Thanks for sharing. Can you tell me a little bit more about what it was like moving to America when you were 16, I believe, and the challenges that you had?
ADELMISE: Sure. Coming here at 16 was extremely challenging for me. A little bit of background for me, I was born and raised in Haiti where I’m the oldest of five children, and my mother is completely illiterate. She has never gone to school, doesn’t read or write. My father has the education of essentially a third-grade education. Being part of a country or a family where there is a status quo, the girls really are not encouraged to go to school. The boys do. For me, it was very important for my family to make sure that I had an education. I think part of it is my mother not having had that privilege. When I moved here to the US, I didn’t speak English. I came at 16, moved to San Diego, went to a high school, 10th grade. If you can imagine coming from literally one planet to another was how I was feeling at that time, being in high school or taking classes with students who spoke English and not understanding me and I couldn’t understand them. It was really difficult navigating through the school, learning the process, learning how to read. Believe it or not, one of the ways that I’ve learned to really understand and learn English was listening to Beatles’ songs. The lyrics are simple. Here comes the sun. That’s one of the ways I learned how to speak English. For me, it was about just persistence and resilience and being able to focus on really the north star to me, which was having an education. Every day was a challenge, particularly not speaking English and particularly not having had the support in terms of my extended family. Also, my parents not being able to help me with schoolwork was another big challenge for me.
FIONA: Wow, that’s really, really impressive. You clearly worked really hard to learn English in your high school years and be able to make it into Berkeley, which is one of the top universities in the US. I’m curious to know, did you experience prejudice or discrimination along the way in that transition moving from Haiti to the US?
ADELMISE: Yes. Unfortunately, I did experience quite a bit of prejudice, and I think I would say sometimes, the discrimination or prejudice came from people who were ignorant or just the fear of the unknown. One clear example of that. This was in high school, again starting in 10th grade and I knew I wanted to go to college, but I knew it was really an uphill battle. One of my counselors at that high school told me, “Well, you would never get into a four-year college because, first of all, you’ve only come here for three years and you don’t really speak great English. Your parents don’t have money and your parents really can’t help you.” He would discourage me from applying. At that time, for me, I know my goal was to go to college, but I knew I needed the help. What I ended up doing was I would go to the library, local library and have the librarians help me with the college applications, doing research because I was determined, but my counselor unfortunately was not supportive. That was for me a huge lack of support and also just the counselor who saw me, they couldn’t get past the fact that I was Haitian or had limited English. That was one of the earlier experiences.
I think also in college at UC Berkeley, even though Berkeley was a very diverse community, there weren’t a lot of Haitians in the area. Sometimes I would feel like I needed to hide the fact that I was from Haiti because people couldn’t get past the … I’d get ignorant questions like, isn’t that the poorest country in the world or did you come here on a boat? Those are the kinds of questions that I had gotten. What it did, it really reinforced for me the importance of, first of all, making sure that I pursued my dreams but also really committed to ensuring that people who look different, who came from different backgrounds than me always felt like they belonged. That’s always been a core to what I wanted to do, both just as a student and also in my career, even when I was not in the role of diversity and inclusion.
FIONA: It galvanized you in a way then. I’m curious to know, did you have the chance ever to go back to that guidance counselor and tell them, oh, I made it into Berkeley, or did you get a chance to see their reaction to that?
ADELMISE: Oh, absolutely. I’ve done even more than that. Some folks might view this as I was showing him off, but it actually was a lesson I wanted to teach him. When I graduated, when I got into UC Berkeley, I sent him a note. Obviously, they knew because he was the counselor there. When I graduated from UC Berkeley, I sent him a card. When I got into law school, I sent him a card. When I graduated law school, I sent him a card. Every chance of the way, I’ve always sent him a note saying, “Here’s what I’m doing next.” There are a couple reasons for that. One is I wanted to make sure he understood that…
I think a lot of times, it’s giving people an opportunity to show what they can do and they’ll surprise you. The other thing is I knew there are other folks who are coming from Haiti, kids who are going to that high school, and I didn’t want my experience to become the norm. I wanted him to see an example of success despite the challenges and adversities that the kids may have experienced while they were growing up or when they came to the United States.
FIONA: From the data that I’ve seen as well, one of the biggest stumbling blocks to progression and social mobility really is that you don’t have that career advice from your parents. If they didn’t go to university, they don’t get the system perhaps then it’s really difficult for you to get that knowledge, and that’s where the guidance counselors are supposed to step in. Right?
ADELMISE: Yes, exactly. That really was their role. Unfortunately, when they view you and they discard you for being, well, you’ll never make it, and some kids could that approach, well, it’s not worth trying because I’m told that I’m never going to become anything or I won’t be successful. I can tell you, for me, there’s an internal drive in me that’s always been there. My mother encourages me to really no matter what you face, just push forward. You can find a path. You can find a way. Just don’t give up. To me, that’s what I really wanted to show coming out of high school.
FIONA: Just to change gears a bit, so when you started your career, you were a lawyer who specialized in labor and employment first for the firms, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and Heller Ehrman and then for the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office before you moved into in-house roles in corporate. What parallels do you see in between your legal work and what you’re doing now in inclusion?
ADELMISE: There’s quite a bit of parallel. I actually have had to think about this quite a bit. As an employment lawyer early on, I wanted to do advice and counsel work. As an employment lawyer, you can be a litigator and just die hard litigate all the time, be in court, or you can do advice and counsel and you can do both. I did some litigation quite early on. I did for probably 11 years litigation. Even at the first firm at Heller Ehrman, I wanted to have an opportunity to be a counselor or an advisor to the client. The reason for that is because, as an advisor, you can be very proactive. You can take an approach to me that is really humanistic, being more human in how you advised the client is very important.
“One of the principles that I live by, from one of the companies I worked at, says be human first.”
I think it’s really, really important, and that’s where you see the parallel for me being able to be human in your approach and how you advise a business and inclusion. They go hand in hand. I think people are amazing assets to companies. They’re their strongest assets. If you treat them fairly, they’ll stay. Believe it or not, if you take the approach of treating people fairly and as humans, that ends up limiting or reducing your risk of litigation. There’s quite a bit of a parallel in how I’ve approached my legal career and me being an employment lawyer and advising the business and doing the right thing, and also inclusion, being able to make sure that you treat people fairly. They feel like they’re part of a whole and you being consistent. For me, I find that they go hand in hand. In fact, I had one of our general counsel at Pandora, who I worked with at Electronic Arts, Steve Bennett, he had a time when we were handling a matter and I actually asked him for his thoughts on the correlation between the employment work and just being able to be the human side of things. His comments that he made resonated with me. He says,
“What makes me great at my job as an employment lawyer also happens to be aligned with the company doing the right thing and keeping out of trouble.”
I think that sums it up pretty well.
As an employment lawyer advising, I make sure that we’re doing things that’s right for the employees, and it’s not mutually exclusive from representing the company.
FIONA: When you first started out as a lawyer, did you ever think that you’d end up working in diversity and inclusion or any social justice, equality role?
ADELMISE: I wouldn’t say when I initially started out. I’ve always been very committed to, even in my role as a lawyer, doing things that would help promote diversity. Part of it is my background. As I mentioned earlier, coming here, I was always feeling like I was the other.
“I was on the outside. I never felt like I belonged, so I had to push my way a lot to be heard, a lot to be in the room, to be invited in the room.”
When I’m in the room, for people to actually see me as a lawyer first rather than a Haitian. I’ve always been interested in that. It wasn’t until last year when I really started thinking about taking what I’ve done as an employment lawyer and the informal, through mentoring and volunteering, using that as a way to say I’d like to really try to make a bigger impact because I think in my role now, I have the opportunity to make a bigger impact than just being the employment lawyer. It’s always been something that has been part of my DNA. Now I’m just so thrilled and excited to have the opportunity to just do this and help both the companies that just merged and take it to the next level.
FIONA: Thinking about the 80/20 rule, what’s the 20% of stuff you’ve done at Pandora that’s yielded 80% of the value? Just to mention, I’m just talking about Pandora now, given the merger between Pandora and SiriusXM is very recent, in February of 2019. We’ll just focus on the stuff you’ve done in the past year or so in Pandora.
ADELMISE: Yeah, absolutely. A couple of things that come to mind for Pandora in terms of the 80/20. One is being able to really … Since I’ve taken on the role, I’ve tried to sit down and actually listen, listen to our community groups, which are employee resource groups, listen to people who are able to say here’s what my concern, my challenge is with respect to diversity and inclusion, and having that inform how I approach my strategy from a diversity and inclusion standpoint. I would say that’s the first thing.
Another one that I would say that I think it seems small but it’s huge, on the legal team, we have what’s called diversity and inclusion dialogues or D&I dialogues. Every month, we’ll have a meeting where the team talks about issues that tie into diversity and inclusion, and they vary. Those are times when they’re very difficult to try to address because you may be talking about something that people ae not very comfortable with, but I can tell you that’s been one of the most successful things at this company, at least for the team where people feel like there’s so much value to be able to talk about the big elephant in the room or things that you wouldn’t normally talk about. Those are just a couple of examples I think in the last year or so where we’ve done I would say small but huge, huge value.
FIONA: Just for the latter, as a legal team, are you talking about D&I issues from a real legal standpoint or more just airing some challenges perhaps that have come up from your community groups or from individuals in the team?
ADELMISE: It’s the latter. It’s more talking about issues of sense of belonging or challenges. For example, as you may know in the legal field, there is a huge challenge in making sure that you have more women or people of color in house jobs. It can be things talking about leadership development and how do you make sure you develop leaders in the company who are women or of color? They’re not from the legal standpoint, but they’re more from a how do you make sure the teams feel inclusive, they feel like they belong, and they feel like there are opportunities for them to grow regardless of what they look like or regardless of their orientation or the language that they speak?
FIONA: What’s one simple thing that anyone could do in their work environment this week to build inclusion?
ADELMISE: One thing that I would say really, I would encourage people to do, find someone on your team who may be different from you and just get to know that person.
“Ask them out to coffee. Find out something that you didn’t know that could help you learn. I think sometimes inclusion really is about understanding, being able to really understand the other side as someone who’s different and how do you make sure that they feel that they are part of a whole, part of the team?”
I think sometimes team members, they don’t always think about how do you get to know people, and it’s very easy. I’m a big believer in taking out people to coffee or find someone you don’t know and get to know them.
FIONA: I love that. It’s simple.
ADELMISE: Very simple.
FIONA: In all the impact you’ve made in diversity and inclusion over the course of your career and especially at Pandora, what single thing are you most proud of?
ADELMISE: I would say maybe a single thing would be mentoring, mentoring people who are a junior and particularly women and women of color. It may seem like sometimes mentoring has a connotation for being you don’t need a formal mentorship, but I’m a big believer in doing informal mentoring. I think I’m very proud of being able to take more junior folks in, get to know them, help them understand some other challenges that I had faced, not that they will necessarily face but they may and help them navigate through them. Along those lines, I have been involved with the National Employment Law Council for quite a few years now. It’s been now probably six years. I’ve been able to mentor some junior attorneys, and now I’m proud to say two or three of them have gotten in-house jobs at big companies where they’re doing fantastic work. It’s not necessarily all because of me, but I think taking the time to actually mentor people, especially women of color and how to navigate in-house jobs has been one of the things I’m most proud of.
FIONA: Looking forward into 2019 and beyond, what do you think will be some of the headlines for diversity and inclusion across tech and in the broader business community in San Francisco Bay area?
ADELMISE: I think a couple of things that I’m hoping will be the headlines because that’s something that’s very near and dear to my heart and one of my focus areas.
“One, I’d love to see a headline that says for the first time in decades, there are more female executives running global companies.”
I would love that. I think we have a huge opportunity to have more women running corporations and making sure that the environment that we are in is really truly diverse and inclusive of all people. The other one I would love to see is around corporate boards. I’d love to see a headline that says,
“…leading tech companies are finally getting the message, having a diverse board is a business imperative.”
I’ve had conversations with folks where you have board members who are not diverse, and when you talk about diversity and inclusion, it can be a little bit of a disconnect. I think having those kinds of headlines would absolutely help us make more progress in terms of inclusion and equity and diversity overall.
FIONA: Thank you so much for sharing those lessons with us. I’m sure there’s a lot for our listeners to take away from our conversation today. If any of our listeners want to connect with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
ADELMISE: They can connect to me in a few ways. I’m on Linkedin, so they can find me on Linkedin and also on Pandora. Life at Pandora, they can go there. I’m pretty active there and pretty good social … Follow us on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn would be great.
FIONA: Wonderful. Thank you again, Adelmise.
Be sure to follow Adelmise as @AdelmiseWarner.
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