Katie Zink, Founder and Principal Consultant for Social Construct Consulting, helps visionary leaders create a positive, dynamic culture that hears, recognizes, and supports all voices.
Over the last 11 years, Katie has advocated for causes in the community affecting at-risk youth, career-readiness efforts, after school programming, and accessibility services. Her mission is to help organizations facilitate the change needed in the workplace for collective success.
In this episode, Audrey, Lee and Katie discuss DEI:
- How to recognize your organization needs to implement DEI
- How to implement a DEI program
- How to speak to your employees about DEI after 2020
- The Collective Culture Model
“We are all capable of our own revolution.”
Connect with Katie Zink on DEI:
Connect with the hosts of Manage Smarter on DEI:
Connect with SalesFuel on DEI:
- Website: https://salesfuel.com
- Twitter: @SalesFuel
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/salesfuel/
Katie Zink- DEI: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
This episode of Manage Smarter on DEI — diversity, equity, and inclusion — is brought to you by SalesFuel sales manager training, based on the sales managers guide to greatness. It's a 36 lesson on-demand program to upskill your sales manager so they can execute your vision and drive consistent revenue growth. Watch a free lesson and find out more at salesfuel.com/smt.
Welcome to the Manage Smarter Podcast, with host C. Lee Smith and Audrey Strong. We're glad you're here for discussions on new ways to manage smarter, hire, develop, and retain talent, improve results, and propel team performance to new heights. This is the Manage Smarter Podcast.
Audrey Strong: Come in, come in, everyone. Welcome to the Manage Smarter Podcast on the Sales Experts Channel and all major podcast outlets. I'm Audrey Strong, vice president of communications here at SalesFuel.
- Lee Smith: And I'm C. Lee Smith, the president and CEO of SalesFuel.
Audrey Strong: Well, if you have ever wanted an expert in diversity, equity and inclusion, we've been looking for a master to talk about the subject. Actually, we’ve been looking for somebody for quite a while, Lee, wouldn't you say?
- Lee Smith: Yeah, absolutely. It's a topic that's on a lot of people's minds. And believe it or not, especially during the pandemic. And we're going to talk a little bit about that today.
Audrey Strong: That's right. Katie Zink is our guest. Hi, Katie, welcome to the show.
Katie Zink: Hi, Audrey. Hi, C. Lee. Great to be here.
- Lee Smith: You can just call me Lee, Katie.
Katie Zink: Good to know.
- Lee Smith: It's great that you're here. I want to tell everybody a little bit about you. You're the founder and principal consultant for Social Construct Consulting, and you help visionary leaders create positive dynamic culture that hears, recognizes and supports all voices, been around for about 11 years doing this. Katie has advocated for causes in her communities affecting at risk youth, career readiness efforts, after school programs, and accessibility services. You're walking the walk, girl, right? Not just talking the talk. People hire her to guide an organizational diversity, equity and inclusion strategy — we're going to learn how to do that today. If you have no idea where to start, she's going to explain that — and to design employee-led coalitions to actualize the goals in the workplace and to create a new culture. Loves contributing to professional learning summits, industry conferences, blogs, youth career days. So, you got to call her up and get her on the line. It's KatieZink.co is the website, if you want to engage her for speaking or any of those services. Okay. So where to begin?
- Lee Smith: Let's talk about our current state of affairs. We're still in a pandemic at the time of this recording, and I'm just kind of curious from what you're seeing, what diverse groups are having the most difficult time right now during the pandemic, balancing the work and the home life?
Katie Zink: Yeah. It looks different everywhere. It kind of depends on who you ask. And asking me, right now, why my clients really want to know how they can help their teams metabolize the state of things out there. Kind of as like we were just talking about before we went live today about gosh, people are struggling everywhere and there's just really no getting around these external stressors as I call them. Things like January 6th are happening. I feel like probably a lot of us feel a little bit differently about how we celebrated MLK day this year, and it's affecting the way we show up at work. And so a lot of the questions that came to me last year from my clients were, how do we have these conversations at work? Maybe if they're a little more political than we're used to, maybe if they're a little more charged than we're used to, we don't want to create any division. Ultimately, we'd like to create unity, but how do we really do that in a real way, in an authentic way?
Audrey Strong: And ultimately, like you said, show up and speak. If you are on the employee end of this, how do you do that, where you feel like you're in a safe place and your point of view is taken in and internalized and shared and respected among all? If you're the individual, it's scary for the managers and it's scary for the employees, right?
Katie Zink: Yes, yes. A lot of these things are really delicate and very personal. And for years and years, we were raised to not really bring those emotions around our professional spaces or get emotional at work. I'm not saying that's maybe where we're going to immediately go. We know that this future of work, this current modern time work, it's a lot more real, right? We are bringing our whole selves in kind of whether we like it or not. But ultimately, the goal is so that everyone can feel more comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. And so I found that companies are starting to become more comfortable with gathering folks maybe off the clock or even during the clock to discuss these things and amplify that voice in a more organic way. And so what I do is I come in and I help facilitate all of those conversations and turn it into something of value so that it can be acted upon ideally by an executive spend sponsor or an executive member to create change in the organization.
- Lee Smith: Two thoughts about that. First thought was, when we as managers ask people to bring their whole selves to work, we get their whole selves, not just the parts that we feel comfortable dealing with at the time. And the other thing is that, Audrey and I have been talking about, the way we were raised, we were raised, we don't talk about sex, religion and politics.
Audrey Strong: The third rails. Yeah.
- Lee Smith: But it seems to me that that's kind of unavoidable right now.
Katie Zink: It's true. It's true. Because for our employees of color, for our colleagues of color, professionals of color, of different backgrounds, who, let's be honest, these structures were not designed for them to thrive in those organizations at the time. And so it was comfortable for people to just simply ignore those real world issues. People can't really do that anymore. People can't really glam on a face of professionalism, so to speak, when they're really hurting, when they're really hurting by what's going on in the world. When it's just become a point where I can't bring my whole self to work and be professional at the same time, because what's going on right now is truly devastating. So, that is a huge difference. And everyone's kind of being asked to step out of their comfort zone around that right now. But I think it's for good. I really do. I think it'll help us all grow together.
Audrey Strong: I agree.
- Lee Smith: How do you get someone who was raised the way Audrey and I were raised with that thought in mind to get more comfortable or at least get comfortable with being uncomfortable in that situation?
Katie Zink: Well, I think even leaders of any generation can recognize that when you're comfortable, you're not growing. And so it's okay to be uncomfortable. And like you said, Lee, we have to learn how to be comfortable not comfortable. But how do you become more comfortable? I think you just have to familiarize yourself with what is going to happen in the very near future. I mean, there is a rapid escalation of change happening with the way we work, with the way people are educating themselves, with the types of expertise that are even emerging. I mean, I don't want to sit here and say that I'm the master, the expert in diversity equity inclusion, people have been doing this work for a very, very, very long time. Fortunately, it is more commonplace and we see these titles sprouting up more and more, and agencies like mine sprouting up. That doesn't by any means mean it's new. it just means that people are adapting, and so I see it fully possible. Having people like me on your podcast, listening to new people like me talk about these subjects, kind of just putting yourself in these shoes and perspectives really does go a long way.
Audrey Strong: Well, and they're recognizing the value in having these conversations and getting uncomfortable together. Because as you say, DEI helps them attract the best talent ultimately, that's proven, and it's a reorg of the lens of putting people ahead of profits in some ways. Do you want to talk about those two things and some of the metrics behind that?
Katie Zink: Yeah, yeah. So, I've been writing a lot about out this lately, what I call culture of growth. I know I'm on a sales podcast and I have come from a sales background, so I can hang on this on the subject here. Culture of growth, to me, really does mean putting the growth of your people first. I was listening to a Brené Brown podcast earlier this week, and she had an author on her show recently that was discussing, for too long sales organizations have tolerated those genius a‑holes, so to speak, those people that are total jerks but they produce. They can bring in those numbers, they can meet those quotas–
- Lee Smith: I.e. the number one salesperson. Yeah.
Katie Zink: Right. The top performers. So, for too long, companies have kind of have just tolerated that behavior, and it does really affect the culture. And so nowadays, I do see companies saying, all right, culture, like you said, Audrey, will foster a sense of retention, people wanting to be there, people wanting to show up, work their hardest, produce, hit those numbers, of course, but it doesn't back burn the way we treat each other either. Or that genius a‑hole just cannot be tolerated anymore because it does hurt the company in the long run.
- Lee Smith: And they’re a liability these days.
Katie Zink: Definitely. Yeah. That's another huge cost. Another thing that I'm excited about personally, because it totally bodes well for my work, I've got a prospective client that is hearing from their prospective clients they're going to lose business if they don't demonstrate how they're committing to diversity, equity and inclusion in the organization in a real way. My contact happens to be their marketing director. And she's like, yeah, I can write some flowery mission statement and put it on the website and talk the talk, like you said, Audrey, but people see through that real quickly. And so you hear authenticity a lot in this space and it's like, I have to answer that question a lot. How can we be authentic? How can we be it? And it's like, well, you just have to show that you really care because it is too easy to talk the talk, as they say. So, I'm seeing a lot of really encouraging behavior out there so far.
Audrey Strong: Do you have any clients in California, where they're now legislating the diversity on the boards of directors for companies and also production companies have to have a certain level of diversity and equity? That's all like being litigated and legislated right now in real time. Are you dealing with any of that? It's fascinating what's happening.
Katie Zink: It is, it is. Yes. It's intense, right? I don't have clients that are doing that right now. Most of my clients are kind of still in the Portland, Oregon area for now. But yeah, I mean, it's no longer just a market demand. We're acknowledging now that it is a market demand but it is also becoming a strict requirement in more ways than one. And I think boards are — I have conversations like that a lot with people that if you're not really walking the walk in your board setting, then you're not really going to go far.
Audrey Strong: That makes sense.
- Lee Smith: I have to ask this question. I'm looking at the screen and I'm seeing three white people talking about diversity and inclusion. And I'm wondering, you as an expert, it's like, what advice can you give to managers and leaders, who are white, to pick up the mantle, whatever, and be champions of this sort of thing and be unabashed about it?
Katie Zink: It's a good question. It's definitely one I think about every day and how to best show up given my own identity and background, and the identity and backgrounds of many people currently in leadership, where this work does need to really start at the top in an organizational sense. And it's not really the case. We're seeing many organizations still are dominantly white, leadership teams are dominantly white, boards, all these things. And so what Audrey's saying, these mechanisms are now in place to try to really change that, but how do we move it forward without crippling it or confusing it or slowing it down in any way? We don't want to seem as though we're speaking for other people as white people, what we really want to do is learn how to take the cues and learn how to apply support where we can, and show up in the best way, learn when to speak, when not to speak, when to advocate, when to follow. That's a dance I dance every day as well.
Audrey Strong: I was going to say, how do you do that? I don't agree with identity politics, where I have lots of gay friends and you're saying to me because you're a cis female you're not allowed to be a champion for that protected class. Yes, I can. Yes, I can.
- Lee Smith: Yeah. We can all be allies.
Katie Zink: Yeah.
Audrey Strong: You shouldn't take yourself out of being involved in this simply because you're Caucasian is what I'm saying.
Katie Zink: Correct.
Audrey Strong: You can be a champion with your peers and your colleagues and your friends and all of that. But like you said, though, for people who want the identity side of it, okay, you're going to launch this program in the company, now be quiet. How do you do it in a tactful way? You kind of made it sound like it's a bit of a maze. It can feel that way to managers and leaders.
Katie Zink: It's not easy to know when you should maybe back off and listen or speak up, speak out, call in, call out, kind of what's your style? I would agree, though, I don't think it's appropriate to do nothing. I think doing nothing is the problem. I think we just have to figure out where to listen and where to speak out, as I've kind of been saying a couple of times. I can give you a practical example of what I really do with my services.
Audrey Strong: I was hoping you would. You sessions, how do you facilitate that?
Katie Zink: So, I know that your audience, a lot of the folks and your listeners are people leaders, are sales leaders, maybe they're leading startups, they're leading maybe growing organizations. I created a membership for folks kind of like me, I'm similar in that camp, right? I'm a startup leader. I'm an entrepreneur and I'm having to sell my own services and find community out there. I've formed a community of people with privilege, people with a platform, entrepreneurs, I like to say visionary leaders too. So, it's a no way limiting, but change agents, people that are ready to acknowledge that we need to change the way we show up at work and create culture at work and are ready to learn together.
I think, Lee, when we connected, we talked a little bit about my facilitation skills and kind of how that informs the way I serve my clients. So, in this setting, I call it the Community Call to Action, and it's a membership group for these folks to come. We join virtually right now. We discuss topics that are really, really relevant to the now. So for example, I have my group meeting tomorrow night, we're discussing abolition. We're discussing why abolition might freak us out, why we don't understand it, our questions, our doubts. A lot of us were showing up to the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer and we were chanting defund the police. Many of us do believe the police should be defunded, but we're trepidacious with it. We might not fully understand why that's needed.
And so my intention was to pause and take a moment to understand, okay, abolitionists have been around obviously forever. They've been around since slavery was abolished. Number of things in our social timeline had been abolished. There are obviously people that were for abolition then, what's happening now? Like, what are people's hang ups now? And so what we do is we get together, we understand kind of these social change issues. I facilitate conversation. I give assignments and then I'll bring in other experts. So, I'll bring in people with backgrounds that have that lived experience in the black community or the BIPOC community, you could say. Black and brown professionals that are also this is their discipline kind of like me, but they do bring that lived experience. And I bring them in as sort of like a partnership in that learning environment setting. And so it's really cool. I'm really excited because for the series now, I'm going to be focusing on abolition and then how to bring abolitionist principles into your organization. So, it's pretty fascinating stuff and it's definitely challenging. It's definitely uncomfortable.
Audrey Strong: So, what does a rollout within — I'm your client, you've done the facilitated session. HR might have been in on that too, because ultimately they're kind of implementing this. But what does the rollout look like and how do you get buy-in from everyone?
Katie Zink: Yes. I love that question because I think what kind of differentiates me and my service is I have that communications and sales background. And so the communication and the rollout plan are completely intrinsic to the success of the whole thing. I got my experience started probably right around officially 2016, with chairing committees and chairing diversity, equity, inclusion spaces and organizations. As far as I know, that's kind of when I first saw that happening and was able to get involved. I was working at an Ed tech company here in Portland, and I began chairing the committee, and I did so for two years. And I didn't need our CEO or our VPs or all of our executive team to be in those meetings every time, but communication and keeping them in the loop of what was going on, getting approvals, all that stuff, getting that buy-in was a constant part of a job as chair. And so I've kind of taken it upon myself as part of my offerings to continue that sort of effort of looping in executives and kind of holding them accountable to be that servant leader, too. They don't have to be controlling of the conversation. I'm in there facilitating all that and extracting needs of the employees, and we can also call them an affinity group or a coalition, that's kind of what I like to say in an organizational space.
And then we form that communication plan along the way so that goal is that everybody in the organization, whether or not they're in that culture group that's discussing those to topics, whether they call it a DEI committee or whatever works for you, they all know the progress. They know there's an ERG coming out. They know what initiative is coming out, whether it's an educational program, a new launch and learn series, what have you, everyone has that awareness of it all. Because I've found that even as a sales team, customers are going to want to start knowing, okay, what is your company doing for that?
There was a time where we had sort of a fireside chat event at that Ed tech company I was working at. Our CEO does a wonderful job with these types of events. One of our prospective customers, our prospects spoke out to the entire room, what are you doing for equity? And we were an education company and so equity is massive. It has always been an important priority there. Our CEO, he really couldn't answer the question. He's like, "Well, Katie chairs our committee." It is important to be able to articulate the progress other than just we have a committee and there's the person that leads it. So, that's where the communication comes in.
- Lee Smith: I'm curious, what sparked your interest in this topic as a young professional? Can you think back, was there one particular event or was it just something that happened over time?
Katie Zink: Yeah. So, I'm glad you brought up Boulder, Audrey Because I went to school at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and Boulder is a great town to get involved in things like this. I live in Portland now, it's kind of a like-minded culture in terms of that progressive vibe and people taking an interest in others and a lot of community-based stuff. And so when I was a freshman at CU Boulder, I don't know really where I was going. I decided to enroll in some communication classes and I signed up to be a communication major. And then I came across more sociology courses. I got really, really interested in that. And I started really geeking out over the women and gender, racial and ethics studies sorts of courses. I decided to take that on as a double major as well. I would say in college, I got really, really interested in the social sciences and feminism and topics like that, social justice right around then. And it wasn't really popular. I mean, albeit I graduated college in 2010, but it still really, really was not being talked about a lot. I kind of felt like unique in that way of taking an interest back then, even at a place like Boulder.
- Lee Smith: Well, it's interesting, because when Audrey and I went to school together at Ohio University, I, little known fact, have a double major and my second major is in women's studies.
Audrey Strong: I didn’t know that.
- Lee Smith: I had classes in feminism and everything. Yeah. I don't know if I ever told you that, but it's like, so this is back in the 1980s.
Audrey Strong: You were ahead of your time, my friend.
- Lee Smith: Well, that's the thing. I found it curious or whatever that in 2010 or whatever, it still wasn't a big thing, because it was a thing back then but not a big thing, but it's like, it's just you thought it would be further along.
Katie Zink: It's a thing. It wasn't a big thing. I actually have vivid memories of taking a photo on the stairs at my graduation and our group was probably less than 15 people that were in my class that year. But that really warms my heart, Lee, that you double majored in women's studies. Can I ask you the same question about how you took an interest in that subject?
- Lee Smith: You know, I will say that growing up I've always been influenced by powerful women and had a great admiration for women who were astronauts, women who are scientists, and the business world and everything like that. They helped me as a young professional. And so, I've always had my level of enthusiasm there, and it's like even my company, it's like majority of the people here are women, so.
Audrey Strong: That's true.
- Lee Smith: It's just something that I gravitate to. And I don't know that I can really put my finger on a particular event or anything like that that caused that to happen. It was just something that was always there for me.
Katie Zink: I do remember. Yeah. The feeling I felt, I remember to this day of just like, gosh, I wish more people had this information.
Audrey Strong: Yeah, yeah, yeah. One thing — we got about five minutes left. I wanted to ask you, one of the other things that you work on is, it's called employee activism. And that's almost like a charged phrase because–
- Lee Smith: It sounds scary.
Audrey Strong: That phrase will make some employees recoil and say, "I don't want anything to do with that" or "Do I have to do, do I have to go do that?" or "I don't want to." And other people are like, "Yeah, let's go do it." How do you–
- Lee Smith: They're the activist, right? The activist says, "Let’s go!"
Audrey Strong: What is that in practice? And then how do you manage that?
Katie Zink: I appreciate that question. Yes. So I like to say I'm focused on the intersection between employee activism and culture. I was actually sitting in a women and business kind of membership presentation earlier this week. And I didn't really follow this metaphor but I think this is maybe somebody who presented that has been in business for about 17 years, and so this metaphor has worked for her. But in order to have a scalable business, you need to either be a pain killer or a vitamin. And I sat there thinking like, I don't know which one is better, which one is right? Is it the drug or is it the thing we need to be healthy?
Audrey Strong: I say vitamin.
Katie Zink: You say vitamin.
- Lee Smith: I say steroid.
Katie Zink: You say steroid. Okay. To scale, right? Apparently the correct answer is to be a pain killer.
Audrey Strong: Why?
Katie Zink: This surprised me, yeah, because it's the most immediate need, right? If you have a headache, a migraine, you need to pop a pain killer in order to get through your day. I don't know if I really agree with this metaphor, but the point is that you need to create something that's an immediate need for your market, right? Like that need to have versus that’s nice to have, which I think we can wrap our heads around that one.
Audrey Strong: One’s short term and one's long term.
- Lee Smith: Well, exactly. You need both of them. It's just that people are willing to pay money for the painkiller because when they're in pain, they want it to go away.
Audrey Strong: Aviator gin.
- Lee Smith: Yeah. I'm not sure which category that falls under.
Katie Zink: Well, it makes me feel better that it's not really resonating for you too as well.
- Lee Smith: No, I'm not getting it now.
Katie Zink: The reason I bring it up is because to your question about employee activism, how it might totally freak some people out, how it might even turn some people off, but it also might rev others up. When I have to make decisions about which companies I want work with, as it's important for any entrepreneur and any consultant, that's kind of my differentiator there is I really want to work with companies that care and that this is their painkiller. What I have is killing the pain they experience by not having the support that I can provide. I believe that my clients will see more success there if the kind of people that I work with get revved up and jazzed about employee activism. If there's people that just put on their hood and don't want to look up and look away, I'm not really interested in working with the people that don't care that much, because it just won't go as far as I'd like it to go.
Audrey Strong: That's a fair answer.
- Lee Smith: So, I'd go back to my first question about the people that are having the most difficult time during the pandemic. And so I'm thinking about the groups that have been harmed the most by the virus. I'm thinking about the people that have lost their jobs the most or fear for losing their job because of the virus. I think about the parents who are now working from home and having to teach their kid, as they attend classes on Zoom and that sort of thing. They didn't really sign up to be a teacher, so they're having to juggle all of that. And so the work-life balance thing becomes even more blurred. And so I'm thinking about those people, and that leads me to wonder about are the companies themselves having a more challenging time executing their DEI strategies during this pandemic?
Katie Zink: Yes. Yeah. I would say short answer is yes, because historically in organizations it hasn't been prioritized. I think I want to say back when I'm thinking into April of last year right when all this stuff was really fresh, with the pandemic specifically, those teams were getting cut first. As a consultant in the space, I was having a heck of a time connecting with people around that time, as you can imagine. And depending on what company you're looking at, it's not a priority. It either is, or it isn't. I believe for it to be successful, it needs to be a priority even under these difficult circumstances. In my opinion, it's even more important.
One of my clients says, this was the year of HR, 2020 was the year HR. We had to learn how to compassionately lay people off. We had to learn how to figure out home, constant remote work. And like you're saying, homeschooling while working, all of that, that's the year people — I don't think that HR, it should all fall on their plate to figure out the employee experience, the work-life balance. I like the emergence of people operations teams. I find that my work kind of fits in that a little more squarely.
So, I think your question is more so how do we keep DEI anti-racism work top of mind while we're kind of still in this survival mode, and that is an existence in a pandemic. Yeah, it’s a lot to really juggle all the time. I don't think there's ever a time to forget about social equity and belonging, where we have to show up every day. I mean, I think that — this is actually something I was writing about in my newsletter this week — 2020 gave us probably the most opportunities of ever to be into our full authenticity, have tough conversations, and bring our whole selves to work even when it's hard. So, the way I see it, DEI is one aspect of it, to making sure there's equity and opportunity for all to thrive, but it's culture. That's kind of a change I made in my I brand recently is kind of zooming out a bit and just thinking about the holistic culture and what that means in these parameters of a pandemic. It's more important than ever.
- Lee Smith: There's never a time not to have fairness and justice, and never a time then for you to not be thinking about your employees and how they work and play well with each other. And also then, your employees as people and what they're going through, and we're all going through a lot. And on one hand, it's great to see the Zoom call, where you get to see their kids or you get to see the dog come up or whatever while you're having the meeting and like that. You feel get to know them a little bit better. I think that's a positive out of all this, but it's like, this is not like an option on a new car or anything like this. This is just something that has to be. And especially right now, because there's a lot of people hurting and we have to be compassionate to those people. And also as we were talking about on pre-show, it's like we got to count our blessings. That we're not out on the street in Portland and Denver and everything like that, that we have warm houses and we have jobs if we have them, and we have means, and most importantly, we have people who care about us, and I think that's all anybody wants.
Katie Zink: Yeah. I mean, just the fact that we can do our work on a day-to-day here on a computer and connect remotely, I mean, that speaks volumes. And one of the things I was reflecting on a lot over the last year is the concept of intersectional safety, and just means that not everybody feels safe right now.
Audrey Strong: Right. Well, if you'd like to implement a program like this or have Katie facilitate a workshop, all the various amazing things that you do, Katie. It's KatieZink.co, and it's Z‑I-N‑K, not zinc like the supplement.
- Lee Smith: That's what you need to be taking during the pandemic, by the way.
Audrey Strong: Which you should take with your vitamin D. And then for your LinkedIn–
- Lee Smith: And your painkillers.
Audrey Strong: Painkiller on your martini. Katies, as in Sam, zink on LinkedIn. Katie, this has been great ideas, best of luck to you with the company. I hope you get some new clients out of this. And really, it's great to get everybody thinking about this in an active way. So, we're so glad you were here today.
Katie Zink: Thanks for having me. Really appreciate it.
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This podcast on DEI — diversity, equity, and inclusion — is a part of the C‑Suite Radio Network. For more top business podcast, visit c‑suiteradio.com.