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Leaning Into DEI Challenges

Sheri Crosby Wheeler, Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion at Fossil Group, is no stranger to challenges—in fact, she has thrived on them since she was a child. As she explains in the latest episode of the "Untapped" podcast, one of the earliest challenges she took on was during the seventh grade, when she decided to read Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace just because she knew it would be difficult for her to get through.

“I thought, that's hard. It's long. I want to do that,” she explained.

But even with this love of challenge that she nurtured early on, Sheri says she initially shied away from the challenge of DEI work because she wasn't confident she could do it justice.

“I did not want to do this work when I was first approached,” Sheri said. “I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that it is difficult work. It was something that can drain you, that can be really hard. I knew that.”

Despite these reservations, Sheri rose to the occasion, and has been tackling the challenges of DEI work ever since. In her conversation with host Tariq Meyers, she shares the biggest challenges she has dealt with on her journey.

Progress Can Be Slow

One of the biggest challenges Sheri finds is that, despite how hard she works, DEI progress can often move at a glacial pace. 

“I know it's incredibly slow, and I think that's the frustration you get, at least on the corporate side,” said Sheri. “A lot of employees are frustrated, but I think about when you have one of those big, old cruise ships moving in a direction, it's hard to turn that thing around. It takes a lot to move it. And I feel like we're on these huge mammoth enterprises and it takes a lot to move them.” 

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DEI Can Be Messy

When it's time to celebrate the holidays related to different ethnic groups, everyone loves DEI. But when it comes time to make tough decisions that will improve the diversity of an organization, the same enthusiasm isn’t always there. Sheri says one of the biggest challenges she has tackled has been dealing with the messy side of DEI and getting everyone on board with the work that needs to be done.

“Everybody wants to feel good, such as when you have a heritage month celebration. I'm not saying you never do the feel-good stuff, but you need to have some kind of balance, it cannot be all that,” she said. “Real-good DEI is like, ‘We're going to utilize the Mansfield Rule in our slates of hiring candidates, so we're going to make sure 30 percent of who we interview will be a woman. To me that falls in the real-good DEI category because that has the ability to make the kind of change that a lot of us are pushing towards. I'm not saying you can't do any feel-good, but there’s a place for that.”

Despite these challenges, Sheri says that she is hopeful about the future and how her hard work will pay off at Fossil.

“I think that we are headed towards something messy and exciting. I really do. It’s harder to get to the solutions, but guess what? The solutions are better. On the other side of messy is all this innovation, if you can get in there and learn how to do it,” said Sheri. “That's why sometimes if I come up against conflict, I remind myself that if I keep working through it, what's on the other side is something good.” 

To learn more about Sheri's views on DEI work today and where it’s headed in the years to come, listen to the latest episode of the "Untapped" podcast, which includes frank conversations with industry giants who are messily moving the profession forward. 

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