Debunking the myths around inclusion: A conversation with Mita Mallick, author and head of inclusion, equity, and impact at Carta
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI)

Debunking the myths around inclusion: A conversation with Mita Mallick, author and head of inclusion, equity, and impact at Carta

Mita Mallick, the author of Reimagine Inclusion: Debunking 13 Myths to Transform Your Workplace, discusses how leaders should think about inclusion in a hybrid world.
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In this next episode of The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast, Heidrick & Struggles’ Christina Cary speaks to Mita Mallick, the head of inclusion, equity, and impact at Carta, a California-based software company that provides ownership and equity management. In this conversation, Mallick, who has also had a long career as a multicultural marketer in the beauty and consumer goods space, discusses her new book, Reimagine Inclusion: Debunking 13 Myths to Transform Your Workplace. She explains how leaders can develop an understanding of inclusion by reflecting on what it feels like to be excluded, the importance of sponsorship, how companies’ commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion are evolving, and how leaders should think about inclusion in a hybrid world. 

Below is a full transcript of the episode, which has been lightly edited for clarity.

Welcome to The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast. Heidrick is the premier global provider of senior-level executive search and leadership consulting services. Diversity and inclusion, leading through tumultuous times, and building thriving teams and organizations are among the core issues we talk with leaders about every day, including in our podcasts. Thank you for joining the conversation.

Christina Cary: Hi everyone. I am Christina Cary, a partner within Heidrick & Struggles’ Washington DC office and a member of the Human Resources Officers and Technology & Services practices. 

In today's podcast, I am joined by Mita Mallick, the head of Inclusion, Equity, and Impact at Carta, a California-based software company that provides ownership and equity management platforms trusted by thousands of founders, investors, and employees. 

Mita, throughout her extensive career as a multicultural marketer in the beauty and consumer goods space, has worked at Unilever, Pfizer, Avon, and Johnson & Johnson. She's a fierce advocate for including and representing Black and brown communities. Her book, Reimagine Inclusion –Debunking 13 Myths to Transform Your Workspace, is a Wall Street Journal and USA Today best seller. She's also the co-host of the popular podcast, Brown Table Talk, which is part of the LinkedIn Podcast Network.

Mita, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us today. I'm super excited to spend some time with you.

Mita Mallick: Thank you, Christina. I've been really looking forward to our conversation, so let's dig in. 

Christina Cary: Yeah! So, you recently published this amazing book—unpack it a little bit for us. Talk about those myths and how you arrived at them. 

Mita Mallick:  Christina, I thought if I'm going to do it, it has to be additive. It has to say something different. There's a lot of great books on leadership and development out there right now. 

I have young children, and I thought, “Huh, you know, every night I read them a bedtime story.” I was thinking about these stories we tell ourselves. What are the stories we tell ourselves at work that aren't true? So, that's where it started to come to me. I thought this could be an interesting angle for how we reach people on how to commit to showing up as more inclusive leaders and building more inclusive workplaces. And so, my son said to me, “Mom, why is it 13?” And I said, “There's no scientific rationale against the 13, except it's my lucky number and my birthday is June 13th.” 

How I came up with the 13 myths was that, as many of you probably do, I journal. I had kept career journals throughout the years, and I went back and was able to pull together 13 things that I had heard consistently at work that just weren't true. I wanted to debunk them for all of us, and that's how the book came to be.

Christina Cary: In the “Myth 2” chapter, you talk about developing an understanding of inclusion by reflecting on what it feels like to be excluded. Why do you think that is effective, and how can leaders or organizations get their employees to be comfortable with talking about this idea of being excluded? 

Mita Mallick: When you think about the word inclusion, I think it's a powerful word. It's also overused. Diversity, equity, and inclusion, justice, belonging, right? People are overwhelmed.

But exclusion is powerful because we don't really talk about it from the other vantage point. Whoever you are, wherever in the world you're joining us from today listening to this episode, whatever your life experience, whatever your path has been, I believe everyone can pull on that feeling of exclusion. Whether it was yesterday, when you weren't invited to a friend's birthday party you thought you were going to get invited to. Or when you thought, “Hey, I did all the work on this project, and yet I wasn't in the meeting where the project was being discussed.”

Or I can go back to early childhood memories of being tortured during kickball games in physical education, right? There's a moment when you think, “God, it's such a horrible, lonely feeling.” I don't believe anyone intentionally is trying to exclude anyone (for the most part). And I think if we can remember that, we can start to see that this is what inclusion feels like.

Christina Cary: That's a great segue to where we are now as a world, with respect to DE&I. There is a lot of commentary now about DE&I and the fact that it is waning, relative to three or four years ago. 

Do you agree with that sentiment? How are company's commitments evolving from where we were two or three years ago, post a lot of these social events that happened?

Mita Mallick: I believe DE&I is not dead. I believe DE&I will evolve. The companies that are listening today, the leaders are listening today, know that inclusion is a driver of the business. It's a competitive advantage, and you will outpace your competitors and competition. So, anyone who's canceling DE&I right now: where will they be 5 and 10 years from now? 

When you look at the growth of chief diversity officer roles, it was tremendous! But here's what happened: many of those individuals were never set up for success. No budget, no team, and expected to come in and fix this. No metrics, no real decision-making power or authority. And like I talk about in Reimagine Inclusion, inclusion needs to be built into everything that we do. And we didn't do that. 

And so now, why are we surprised that there's fatigue because we're not seeing the results? This is a long game, but in the short term, we never set up these roles for success. So now, it's easy to say DE&I is failing. And oh, by the way, from a US perspective, we're entering a very hotly contested US presidential race. There’s a lot of divisiveness, right? 

When I work with founders and CEOs, sometimes they say to me, “Well, Mita, this sounds really political. I don't know if I can talk about this.” But I like to have people think about this: well, isn't it through the lens of privilege that I can say something is political? So I, Mita, can say “Black Lives Matter” is political, Islamophobia is political, antisemitism is political, anti-LGBTQ legislation is political. 

I can say that because that's not me and that's not my community, right? If I actually said, “No, this is about hurt and harm. These are people's lives. These are people's livelihoods. These are about their communities.” And so, I hope that people can start to flip that so we can bring more kindness and compassion back into these conversations. 

Christina Cary: I know someone who does search work in the HR arena, and I can tell you firsthand: diversity is not dead. We continue to hear about it as a core element of what not only the CHRO, but what the CEO needs to tackle in terms of the broader people strategy—and also, to your point, the broader business strategy. Companies are thinking about how they can evolve as an organization and ensure they’re creating a diverse pipeline of talent and a brand that is attracting a diversity of individuals. I fully agree with you. 

Recent Heidrick & Struggles’ research has found, regarding women and individuals from historically marginalized communities around the world in the roles that most often lead to CEO (whether that's CFO, COO, divisional heads), that there's a gap there. In your perspective, how can we work to close that gap and to get individuals from those communities to the C-level positions? 

Mita Mallick: How much time do we have? 

Well, if I am working with you and you work for me, and I perceive some sort of difference between us and I don't feel comfortable giving you the feedback you deserve in your career, that's going to have a devastating, long-term impact. And I know, Christina, you work with CHROs, you work with a lot of executives. You look at leaders, and can say, “Gosh, if someone had given you that feedback 20 years ago!”

People are scared. And so, imagine if you perceive a difference in someone, you're doing a disservice to somebody if you don't feel comfortable giving them the feedback they need to continue to grow. So, there's that piece of that: how much are we developing and coaching people through mistakes and actually helping them, right?

The other piece I talk a lot about in Reimagine Inclusion, boldly and unapologetically, is that I have been over-mentored and under-sponsored in my career. Yes, I will say that again: over-mentored and under-sponsored in my career. Because being sponsored (and I talk about this in detail) typically requires somebody who's two levels above you in your organization. They are respected. They're in the room when doors are closed, and decisions are being made about your career. Yes, I was naive about that; that happens in corporate America.

They have the budget, they have resources, and they are somebody who can help you advance your career. They're going to say your name when you're not in the room. They can get a meeting with the CEO, get your name on a list for a job you didn't even know it was open, get you on a special task force, get you paid more, get the retention votes. I can go on and on. 

But that's the difference. Sponsors are usually looking at the rising stars to see who they can help bring up, to say, “I think Mita has the potential to be a CMO one day, and I'm going to sit down with her and if she does these next five assignments, she's going to be there.” But often what happens is that I like people who look like me, who act like me, who think like me. That's human bias. And so, what happens is I'm attracted to helping the next generation of Mitas. 

If you can break that and start to think about whose career you are investing in other than your own? I want to ask everyone to think about that: whose career am I investing in other than my own? And if they all look like me, act like me, and think like me, there's some work to be done there on how you can broaden who you're sponsoring at work. 

Christina Cary: Another term that we've started to hear a lot about (I know we talk a lot about it here at Heidrick) and that you talk about is allyship. That is often a word that is paired with inclusion. What does good allyship look like in your mind, and how can that help advance an organization's level of inclusion?

Mita Mallick: So, I'll go personal: I am on a journey to be an ally for the Black community. It's a journey. There's no allyship card; I don't pull it out and say, “Here! I'm an ally.” The only people, Christina, who can tell you if I'm actually showing up for that community are my Black friends and colleagues. You would have to go talk to them and ask if Mita shows up for them.

So, what does that mean from a workplace context? It means that if I am seeing everyday aggressions happening toward Black colleagues, when I see something, do I say something? Do I check in on them? Do I intervene in the moment or after? We talk about Equal Pay Days. It's that day and everybody's posting. But how about this: how about, instead of posting, if you're a people leader, go check to see if the Black women on your team are being paid fairly and equitably.

If you're a recruiter, imagine there’s a candidate—let's say it's a Black woman—coming in with a low range because she's underestimating herself, but you know the range is quite a bit higher and based on her skill experience, she's just been underpaid. Are you going to say something, or are you going to lowball the offer?

It's about understanding that we all have privilege. I've had a lot of privilege in my life; it just happens to be that gender and race aren't two points of privilege for me. But that doesn't mean that I can't think about how I can use the privilege I have to help somebody else who might not be in the same circumstances as me or may not in a workplace have the same access to power that I do as an executive.

Christina Cary: So, creating an inclusive environment is hard, no matter what organization you're in. I would say it's become increasingly difficult now with the advent of hybrid work. How do you think about inclusion in a hybrid world? Is there anything about inclusion you see leaders missing in the conversations that they're having? 

Mita Mallick: I think the biggest thing we're missing is every company should build for remote first. All of our technology. That doesn't mean that you can't be hybrid, but build for remote first, because that is where the technology is going. This is the period we're in, where half the people are in a conference room and half the people are around the world on screens. There are ways to do this, but I think people just haven't done the work to think about this. 

And the thing, Christina, that no one really talks about, and this is really interesting: here we are today doing this podcast. I’m doing it with you. I normally never sit this close to you, and so there is some intimacy that's actually built from remote that people discount. You are much closer on screen to each other. When would I actually get so much access to my CEO, potentially?

If we were back, pre-pandemic, you might say, “Well, Mita, you get access to him. Find him at the gala next year,” or something. But now it's like, “No, I can talk to her here. She's going to have a 15-minute Zoom with me.” Look at the intimacy! So, I think we underestimate how you can create more intimate relationships and really get to know people when it's just one-on-one on screen.

Christina Cary: As you reflect on the different roles that you've held throughout your career, whether it was on the marketing side or now more in your core DEIB-focused positions, what are you most proud of? Where do you feel like you've been able to personally move the needle for your organizations? 

Mita Mallick: I started my career as a marketer; I still consider myself a marketer and a storyteller. And for me, it was always about who has the power of the pen and why? Who gets to make the choices on who's on a cereal box? Who's on a TikTok video? Now, we get to make that choice.

For me, I've always been the proudest when I can get people to think about inclusion being a driver of the business, and the possibilities of all the communities we can serve. That’s what I think is magical: when you can really think about the diversity of representation you have around a table when you're thinking about a campaign, when you're thinking about a product innovation or idea. 

And if you have somebody who's had a different lived experience, they just show you the world in a different way. You're like, “I never even knew that product could exist or that someone would want it, because that's not something I needed.” I can't tell you the number of times I worked in color cosmetics where none of the products I worked on worked on my skin tone. How strange is that? To be developing blushes and eyeshadows and lipsticks and thinking, “Doesn't work on my skin tone.”

I'll never forget (and it was pretty junior in my career) having this conversation late one night with a director of product development. And I said, “This product doesn't work on my skin tone. Can we add more pigment?” And her response was, “If we add more pigment, it's going to cost more and no one's going to buy it.” And I thought, wow, okay. From her perspective, that's her lived experience; she wouldn't need a darker shade.

But guess what? I want it all. I want the foundation. I want the blush. I want the eyeshadow. I want the lipstick. I want everything that works for my skin. And so, those have been some of the proudest moments: when I can get people to widen their view on how their products and services can be impacting different communities.

Christina Cary: There's something to be said for thinking outside of the box, asking questions that maybe you don't already know the answer to. 

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. Everyone, read the book! It's out, and it'll certainly open your mind as it relates to reimagining inclusion and debunking those myths as Mita described.

Can't thank you enough for spending the time with us today. I hope everyone has a great rest of your day. 

Mita Mallick: Thank you so much, Christina.

Thanks for listening to The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast. To make sure you don’t miss more future-shaping ideas and conversations, please subscribe to our channel on the podcast app. And if you’re listening via LinkedIn, Twitter, or YouTube, why not share this with your connections? Until next time.

About the interviewer

Christina Cary ( is a partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ Washington, DC, office and a member of the Human Resources Officers and Technology & Services practices. 

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