ezCater Leaders Jenn Johnson-Davis, Phil Morris and Terence Jones Share Insights on Diversity in Leadership and Creating Space for the Next Generation
- Lauren Henderson
- 3 Min Read
Our ezCater team members Jenn Johnson-Davis, Phil Morris, and Terence Jones spoke with ezCater’s Lauren Henderson about why it’s important to have diversity in leadership, how ezCater is deepening its commitment to DEI and what they appreciate most about Black culture.
The need for diverse leadership continues to be a critical focus for tech companies and corporations of all sizes. Why do you each personally believe it is important to have diverse leadership?
Jenn Johnson-Davis: Whoever is in the ultimate position of power creates the framework we operate within, whether it’s social frameworks for how we relate to one another or success frameworks for how we are promoted within a business.
We all want to believe, in a utopian fashion, that people can separate their beliefs and backgrounds from their professional decisions. But we all bring ourselves to work, including our beliefs. If we have the same type of people in power with a similar background, you can extrapolate that those decisions are going to center them.
If you have a diverse group of people who can bring their different perspectives to the professional decisions, then more people are seen and considered in the design of the framework, instead of bringing people into a design that’s already functioning and then having to retrofit them into it. Diverse leadership is hugely important, more than we give gravity to.
Phil Morris: One of the reasons I value my position here at ezCater is that I have the opportunity to create some of those frameworks you discussed, Jenn. I have been able to bring in DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion), which has been so important to ezCater. I’ve been able to learn and better myself but also better some of these programs for the company. As a leader, it’s important to actually show diversity in this space. It opens doors and gives people, particularly those early in their career, the opportunity to believe that a higher level is attainable. So many companies have a glass ceiling for leadership positions, which people don’t talk about. Showing that ezCater doesn’t have that is important.
I’m a walking example of something that can be achieved. It’s a blessing and a curse to carry the weight of being the first person of color who has a leadership position in Engineering. If I’m not going to seize this chance to be at my absolute best, I’m potentially squandering an opportunity for someone else. There is an immense privilege to doing this but there’s also the burden that I have to be the trailblazer and that’s heavy at times.
Terence Jones: I’ve never had a manager from a diverse background. My work prior to ezCater was mainly in the financial services industry and many times I was the only African American or person of color in the room. As Phil shared, being able to see people in leadership roles that look like you lets you know that it’s possible.
Can you share how you bring your whole self to work as a Black leader?
Jenn Johnson-Davis: Being perfect isn’t real or human but it’s the expectation when you are the first and sometimes the only. It makes it very challenging to actually bring your full self to work because my full self doesn’t fit in my work box. ezCater is very open, inclusive, and honestly the best culture I’ve ever worked in. But still, I didn’t create it and there are pieces of me that don’t fit here that I wiggle and nudge into. I know that my adding a joke that only a few people might get and using words that everyone in the room might not fully understand comes at a cost.
To Phil’s point, I do it because I am creating space for someone else. I want the space that I’m creating for the people that come behind us to look like them and have enough room for them to actually not have to nudge and fight for space. If I have to take that ‘L’ (also known as taking a loss) I will.
If I’m going to use phrases like ‘taking an ‘L’ at work, I know that might come with reinforcing certain stereotypes that people have of me and of Black people in general. But I also know that I’m good at what I do and if nothing else I’m certain of that. When I come with that, it’s coming with a presentation that will reinforce some of the narratives that you’ve been told but quickly dispel them because I’m on my game and I don’t play about my business so it’s both.
Phil Morris: I recognized that in a presentation you recently gave, Jenn, because your language was atypical for someone in your position. Your essence came through loud and clear and seeing that was a really positive signal that I can show up and be my full self at work too. Those examples are super important for people to see and accept, it’s how change actually happens. Thank you for doing that.
Jenn Johnson-Davis: I can only do it because I have psychological safety and we don’t talk about that enough. If I was in a different space or had a different leader, I couldn’t bring those pieces of myself into the room and still be accepted.
How would you describe ezCater’s commitment to DEI?
Terence Jones: It seems like more and more companies are making a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and setting public goals/targets to change the makeup of their workforce. Being here at ezCater and seeing what we’re doing as it relates to DEI has opened my eyes because I’ve never been at a company that has BIPOC hiring initiatives. It gives me confidence and hope for the future.
Phil Morris: The biggest thing is starting a dialogue. I think our DEI efforts over the last three years have been significant and consistent. Focusing on DEI work in 2020 was easily justifiable but doing DEI work in 2023 means there’s an actual commitment to the business. The leaders here at ezCater gave me the greenlight to attend DEI trainings and I actually recently missed an important meeting to attend a training. The value comes in those small actions that really change the fabric and people of the company. We’re seeing positive change through different types of actions rather than less bad actions.
Jenn Johnson-Davis: DEI is about looking at the frame everyone is working within and seeing what barriers are there and who in the system has the tools that they need to operate as equitably as they can. I look at all the behavioral moments and decisions we can influence. We also focus on providing our leaders with a really clear understanding of what the expectations are at their level and the implications for stepping outside of our cultural boundaries.
We’re offering tools to get people into good, substantive conversations about identity and bigger topics that can get emotional and personal pretty quickly. We’re changing hearts and minds and that’s how you ratify the frameworks and beliefs I referenced earlier. I love that three years out, we are still in a mode of doubling down on opportunities to learn more, develop and have community.
What do you appreciate most about Black culture and why is it important to recognize Black History Month?
Terence Jones: I really appreciate our resiliency. You only need to go a few generations back to get an idea of the environments some of my family members experienced. Despite this, they are super loving, caring and not angry at the world. The determination to not download your negative experiences and anger onto your children but to provide for your family in spite of all the obstacles.
I see Black History Month as an opportunity to look back, educate, and bring awareness to the sacrifices, struggles, and accomplishments of our community.
Jenn Johnson-Davis: I appreciate our communal approach to almost everything. We really are a collective and I love that. I can go into a space that might be homogeneously another culture and lock eyes with another Black person and we’re like yes, hello how are you? I love that we speak directly because I’m a direct speaker and will give you honesty.
For the other eleven months out of the year people love the cool aspects of Black culture but don’t really understand what created it. Black History Month is an opportunity to freely discuss things that are meaningful to me about my culture and the history of our culture that everyone now enjoys.