Dallas Mavericks CEO on going ‘all in’ on DEI

Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall, the first Black woman to ever head up an NBA team, is “all in” when it comes to leading with the heart.

But that’s heart spelled like “HEART”—with an emphasis on HR—because the heart is the most vital part of something, and HR leaders “represent the most vital parts of your organizations,” she said Tuesday, closing out the first day of the HR Technology Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas. The event runs through Friday.

Related: Watch a one-on-one video interview with Marshall.

As an executive, Marshall championed DEI through her leadership across numerous organizations, including Dow Chemical Company and AT&T, before becoming CEO of the Dallas Mavericks in 2018.

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Marshall brought transparency, trust and a values-based leadership style that evolved the company culture in her first 100 days.

“We were very intentional about focusing on investing in our people,” Marshall said, emphasizing her focus on improving diversity and inclusion, with emphasis on the inclusion. “This is what [HR leaders] enable every day.”

Her 100-day transformation plan for the team included a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate behavior, developing a Mavs Women’s agenda, a best-in-class employee compliance process and operations infrastructure, and an inclusive and supportive culture across the institution.

In addition to these initial priorities, gender pay equity was one of the first requests she made in transforming the culture at the organization.

“Fairness is a real big issue for us to work on to really invest in our culture,” Marshall added.

Her plan was to have the Mavericks set the NBA standard for inclusion and diversity by 2019. “We actually had a strategy, and the first thing we had to do is talk about differences between diversity and inclusion.”

Diversity is being invited to the party, she said; inclusion is being asked to dance.

“It’s one thing to be at the table, but you’re just at the table,” she added. “You just invited me to the party, but I need you to teach me to dance. I need you to incorporate me into the culture.”

Marshall shared questions for HR leaders to reflect on in developing their “all in” plan:

  • INtent: Are you focused on new ways to attract, develop and retain talent?
  • INclusion: Who will you teach to dance?
  • INsight: How will you ensure every voice matters?
  • INspire: How will you inspire others?

“Authenticity matters,” Marshall said. “It’s OK to show up to the workforce as who you are. You might have to temper it, but I brought value with my background and who I am, and that contributes to the workplace.”

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Nick Otto
Nick Otto is HRE’s former senior digital editor. He is a professional communicator with more than a decade of demonstrated accomplishments in newspaper and trade publishing. He has spent the past five years covering the employee benefits space and holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.