The holidays are not one size fits all.  Many people celebrate different holidays throughout the year.  Listen in as Consumers Energy’s Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer discusses what the holidays mean to her.  We also discuss how to respect others without disrespecting our values. This is our final episode of the season.  Please go back and listen to episodes you may have missed or some of your favorites.  We will be back on January 11, 2023.

Bill Krieger:  Hello, everyone. Welcome to “Me You Us,” a well?being podcast. It’s another well?being Wednesday here at Consumers Energy. I’m your host, Bill Krieger.

Today, my guest is Angela Thompkins. She is Vice?President and Chief Diversity Officer at Consumers Energy. Angela, if you’ll introduce yourself, we’ll get the conversation started.

Angela Thompkins:  Bill, thank you so much for having me. I am Angela Thompkins, as you said. I go by she, her, hers as my pronouns, and I have the pleasure of leading the diversity, equity and inclusion strategy here at Consumers Energy.

Bill:  I have the pleasure of working with you. For the listeners out there, you’re like, “Why did Angela even have to introduce herself because she’s been on quite a few times, no stranger to the podcast?” We want to make sure any of our new listeners understood who Angela was and what she does.

You may have hear me call her AT occasionally, but that’s OK. We’ve already worked that out. She may call me Billy because she is my sister. You have to listen to previous podcast episodes to understand all of that.

Today, it is what we usually term is the holiday season. I want to talk a little bit, Angela, about what does the holiday season mean to you?

Angela:  When I think of the holidays, I think of love, laughter, cook food, really time to relax, unwind, and enjoy family and friends. I think no matter what your beliefs are, no matter what your religion is or isn’t, the holiday season is always I feel like a time of cheer where people get together to celebrate. Whether it’s celebrating life, celebrating friendship, holidays bring out the best in people.

Again, it is irrespective of any religion or personal belief. I think that for some is a part of the celebration, but even absent religion, holidays, we tend to eat more, we laugh more, we connect more, and most importantly, people take time to relax during the holidays and recharge which is also so important for our mental and emotional well?being.

Bill:  Yeah. I couldn’t agree more with all of that. If I think about the holiday season, just for my perspective, it usually kicks off at Thanksgiving when I begin eating too much. Then I promise myself that I won’t, but every week it seems to accumulate, right up until January 1st.

If I think about this from the past, I really look at the holiday season and it usually takes place in that December time frame. I grew up in a Christian household so we celebrate Christmas at our house. That’s a big part of our celebration.

Here’s the thing, I came to work in DE&I and work with this amazing team. We call it family here because it truly is.

I figured out that that’s my way of celebrating. Even in this holiday season, there’s so much other things that go on. It really for many people, starts in October and runs all the way through of the beginning of the year. Can we talk a little bit about some of those other celebrations that are out there?

Angela:  I love, Bill, your perspective, reflection, and insight. You said that it’s your way of celebrating.

I think for a lot of people, particularly here in the US, because that’s how we celebrate in the States, we often get in our own bubble of what “normal” is or should be without recognizing it’s just what is important for us. That others have other perspectives and beliefs and traditions and celebrations.

I love that you have that reflection and would just encourage all of your listeners out there to reflect whatever the holidays mean to you. That it’s your personal journey and experience, and to really be open and curious to learn how others may or may not celebrate during this special time of the year.

You also bring up an excellent point that again, as we’re being inclusive, as we’re thinking about others and how others may celebrate is not just about what happens between Thanksgiving and the Christmas holiday. That it starts in Q4.

Now, I don’t want to exclude anyone because we know there are cultural and religious celebrations that happen all throughout all the year. I’m not being dismissive of those, but we think about the end of the year holiday season.

I think that really starts in Q4 with the Diwali, you have Yom Kippur, you have Hannukah. You have Kwanzaa at the end of the year and so many others. Those aren’t all?inclusive, but those are just top of mind for me.

That they don’t necessarily all happen between Thanksgiving and traditional Christmas holiday, which we think of as the holiday season here in the US, but we have loved ones that are celebrating many different things throughout the year. That typical holiday season for many starts Q4. Not just Thanksgiving through Christmas.

Bill:  You bring up a good point. An aha moment for me was an interview I did with my good friend Anand Rau, and we talked about Diwali. He said that, throughout his life, especially here in United States, people are wishing each other Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. No one was wishing anyone happy Diwali.

That struck me. That this is something that’s very important to people, and not that we’re being dismissive, we just don’t think about it. I think there’s a difference there. Now I make it a point at around that time of year, I at least reach out to my good friend Anand and wish him a happy Diwali.

You also make another good point, and that is that even though the fourth quarter kicks a lot of things off, there are things that go on throughout the year. As part of my work here, I’ve learned a lot about that and it’s given me a different perspective.

I know that, for instance, our interfaith Employee Resource Group recently talked about Hinduism, and did a lunch and learn. I was just, I don’t know if fascinated is the right word, but it was just incredible to listen to that other perspective on religion. I think you can respect other people but not disrespect your own beliefs.

Angela:  Yes, love it. I love that you call it respect. Even before respect is being open because other traditions, religions, values, they don’t just come to you. You have to seek out that learning, so being open and willing to learn beyond your own experience.

I love ?? I’ve never thought about it in the way you just put it ?? you can respect others without being disrespectful to your own values and beliefs. That’s so important for people to realize that there is no trade?off.

If I’m being curious and open to understand a different perspective, it doesn’t mean that I’m walking away from the beliefs that I currently have. I’m just being curious. I don’t have to change my mind. I don’t have to change my beliefs. It’s just being open to learn something different. I love that.

What we’ve done as we’ve been growing on our DEI journey here at Consumers Energy, we’ve recognized that not all of our co?workers and our family members celebrate the same things. Don’t have the same religions, cultural celebrations, holidays. We’re not monolithic people.

We’ve added this year two new, what we call floating or inclusive holidays, to everyone’s time?off bank so that you can celebrate those days that are important to you. We’re giving you that time to do that with the recognition that we all don’t celebrate the same thing.

Bill:  Thanks for bringing that up because I think it’s easy to forget sometimes that those things are there. We just look at our time?off bank, and yeah, we’ve got time off, but for some people, that is very intentional. That they’re taking that time off for a reason. For instance, I take time off at Christmas. Others I can see would do that.

You bring up another great point, and that is we’ve added these different holidays or different time off to our banks. What are some of the other things that you have seen happen, especially over this year? If we’re talking about celebrations, what are some of the things we’re celebrating along our DE&I journey?

Just as a memory jogger, some of the things I can think of, for instance, is how we’ve changed our parental leave policy to make it not only better for people but more inclusive for people.

Angela:  Yes, Bill. Our parental leave policy is something that we should be extremely proud of and something we should celebrate for all of our coworkers. One thing I want to do is take a step back before we talk about those and talk about the benefit that diversity brings to the entire organization.

No matter what your beliefs are, no matter how you want to use those two additional days of time off, every single person in the company gets it. All of our exempt employees get those two days. What I think is important for everyone to understand is sometimes our coworkers don’t see themselves as a part of this journey.

They don’t self?identify as an underrepresented demographic, yet they still benefit from our efforts in the DEI space. DEI does benefit everyone. Our parental leave policy changed to ensure that both the birthing and non?birthing parent enjoy time off to bound with the newborn and to have that time off to connect and be with the family.

We also introduced this year, with our annual enrollment, in benefits domestic partner benefits. That again is for anyone in the company. That’s not specific to anyone that self?identifies as LGBTQ. Years ago, that’s where the domestic partner benefit plans were born, to provide some equity for that group.

It doesn’t matter how you self?identify. Domestic partner benefits are available to all of our coworkers. That’s something that we’re proud of this year. That was brought to us from our employee resource groups. That’s the whole point of having the employee resource groups.

They are a voice to let us know where we may have some blind spots, where we can provide more equitable policies in the company for all of our coworkers. We’re grateful for the voice of our all of our employee resource groups. It helps us be a better company, have better results not just for those that belong to those underrepresented group, but for all of our coworkers.

Bill:  If you think of it from this perspective too, you look at the parental leave policy and the domestic partner benefits, that’s leading edge. Not only are we benefiting our own employees and coworkers, other companies look at that and think maybe there’s something different we can do. That benefit reaches out into our communities and the people that we serve.

Angela:  It also helps in this competitive market of talent. It’s a great talent attraction tool. People, as they look for work today, are interviewing companies just as much as the company is interviewing that potential candidate. No longer are people just looking for a pay check.

People are paying attention to company culture. Pay and benefits, obviously is something that is important for those entering the workforce. It’s how can I be my best and authentic self? That goes beyond self?identification and representation. It’s how does the company value me as a whole individual?

It’s also important not only for retention and doing the right things for our current coworkers, but how do we attract new coworkers? How are we getting competitive from a space of our culture?

Bill:  I’ll let that sink in for a minute. That’s huge culture shift if you think about it. I know when I was entering the job market after leaving the military, I was trying to sell myself to these different companies. Now, when people come in, I’ve sat through some great interviews where when we were done and said, “Do you have any questions for us?” we got interviewed.

That was a big change. That was a light bulb went off, I thought. You’re right. People aren’t just going to settle for a job to have a job anymore. It has to coincide with their value system.

Angela:  Yes, absolutely.

Bill:  By the way, Consumers Energy is a great place to work.

Angela:  Great place to work.

Bill:  It is. Many multi?generational families here working as well. There’s something else I want to back up and talk about a little bit too. When you brought up the domestic partner benefits, you’re absolutely right. I remember years ago, those were called same?sex partner benefits. It was very exclusive like, “This is who this is for.”

Through conversation, discussion, and learning to listen to learn, we realized that this is a benefit that helps people who have been in relationships for years and didn’t think it was necessary to get married but for benefits and so, why do that? That’s a great example of how we have evolved in the way we think about it.

Angela:  Speaking of evolving, the business case for us to decide whether or not this made sense, that was put together by PACE, our LGBTQ+ employee resource group in partnership with GEN?ERGY, our generational employee resource group. Different generations are starting to define what relationship, marriage, I’m air quoting marriage, what that looks and means for them.

It’s defined differently by everyone. Who are we to define what a meaningful relationship is and should be? We would hate for someone to not feel valued, included or feel [indecipherable 16:26] because they don’t have a signed marriage certificate. In this day and age, it’s silly.

Bill:  I think about my grandmother. My grandfather died a few years ago. My grandmother, after he passed away, met a gentleman at church. His name was Ernie. I’ll never forget this. They held hands. They went for walks together. They had a relationship. They weren’t going to get married. They were in the 80s. They were happy with that relationship that they had.

We should definitely recognize that. When you brought that up, immediately, that memory came back to me. To me, that was a relationship. There was no wedding vows. There was no marriage certificate, but they were in a committed relationship to one another. It was pretty amazing to watch even at that age.

I did want to bring up though, even maybe to a smaller segment of our coworkers, our veterans group this year was able to change the policy around paid military leave.

One of the things that people may not know is I think one of the number one reasons that people leave the National Guard and Reserve is due to either not being able to find a job or not being able to find a job that supports the work that they do in the military.

Here at Consumers, we’ve always supported our veterans, but we had a complicated process when they were going on orders for 30 days or less. We changed that to say if you’re on orders for 30 days or less, we’re just going to pay you, and we’re not going to make it difficult for you because you’ve got enough going on.

I think that was fairly a significant change. I think that will help attract people. It doesn’t impact as many people maybe as parental leave or domestic partner benefits, but I didn’t want to leave that out.

Angela:  But it matters, right? It doesn’t matter if the group of impact is 500 of our co?workers or 5,000 of our co?workers. It matters. It is important that we do what is right. I don’t know that there’s a…There will ever be a…We have to have a threshold of…


Angela:  …the impact. 25 percent or more, whatever, if it matters, let’s do the right thing.

Bill:  I’m glad you saw that because the right thing, again, could matter to 10 people or could matter to all 9,500 of our co?workers, but it’s still the right thing.

Angela:  I want to clarify something I just said because what has also happened in this space of DEI is we are bringing more awareness and learning throughout the organization. People will sometimes attempt to weaponize DEI and will say, “Well, if I can’t get 100 percent of what I want, is the company really serious about DEI? My individual needs are not being met.”

I think it is important. We talk about paying military leave. That is something that that group brought to our attention because sometimes, we may not know that there’s a need or a gap until people bring it to us.

When I said this is the right thing to do, and you were going to do the right thing, we have 9,000 co?workers, 9,000 hearts and minds, 9,000 different expectations. We can’t have 9,000 one?size?fits?all policy.

I want to make that clear because we have or are starting to see people unfortunately weaponize our DEI efforts to say, “Well, if I don’t get 100 percent of what I want, it means the company is not inclusive and they don’t value me,” which is unfortunate.

Bill:  I think part of that conversation too is that just as my beliefs, just as the holidays I celebrate, sometimes the right thing will mean different things to different people as well. There’s this overarching ethics that these are some of the right things and these aren’t really negotiable.

As you dig down into that, my right thing may be different from your right thing. There’s this word that I like to use called compromise. Not compromising my principles, but compromising to understand someone else may have different principles than I do.

Angela:  You said that so eloquently and you said it so easy, but it’s so hard. To your earlier point about respecting a different perspective, does it mean that I disrespect my own perspective?

I think that is lost on people as we journey in the DEI space is that there’s some type of compromise of my personal value system or beliefs if I am open to simply understand another perspective.

I get very curious when there are particularly situations of extreme difference when I really cannot understand that. For me, there’s no right or wrong because I know, I understand I do not have that same life experience, that same path that shaped and formed that person’s belief and perspectives. Had I walked in their shoes, I may have that very same belief and perspective.

I didn’t. I walked a different journey. It’s so important for us to understand is there’s no one is right and one is wrong because you have not walked a mile in my shoes. You don’t know my journey and my story. Nor do I know your complete journey and story.

What is right for you is absolutely right for you. There becomes this ?? I love how you say this ?? compromise of allowing new perspective in, but not compromise your values and beliefs. I can’t wait for the day that we can get there, that people are just open and willing to learn other beliefs and perspectives.

It does not mean you have to let go of yours because essentially what you are saying is mine is right and yours is wrong. You don’t see me or value me and my experiences if yours is right. That’s just so important for us. I love how you say respect others doesn’t mean disrespecting your own. I think you need to create a T?shirt. [laughs]

Bill:  I think I might. Maybe some ball caps or some business cards or something. You’re absolutely right. To some extent ?? and hopefully, this will change, and I think that the work that we’re doing in DEI will help change this ?? feel like sometimes we’ve lost the middle.

For most of my life, there’s been this middle ground that you could occupy. I don’t mean sitting on a fence and not making decisions and not having your own beliefs. That’s not what I’m saying at all. There’s a middle ground where we can come together and have that agree to disagree on certain things, but still love and respect one another.

I feel like we’ve pushed to these polarized, you’re either on this side or you’re on that side. My hope is that through learning from others, as I have, that we will gain that middle ground again.

Angela:  I hope so too, Bill. I really do. As we reflect during this holiday season, that is one wish that I have. I just personally don’t like drama. If we could ever have a world that is drama free, and that doesn’t mean that we all agree on everything.

To your point, that we just meet in the middle and we can agree to disagree and truly, truly just be willing to open ourselves to learn something different, knowing learning something different doesn’t mean that we have to change or compromise who we are.

Bill:  I think we hold on to our beliefs so tightly that sometimes we can’t see anything else except for what we’re holding on to.

Angela:  We are unwilling to see anything else.

Bill:  Yes, thank you. There is a difference between can’t and won’t. I will definitely concede that [laughs] for sure. We have talked about quite a bit, actually probably quite a bit more than we thought we were going to talk about today.

We are coming close to the end of the podcast and you’ve said so many things that I think people can take away from this. Before we go, what is the real message that you want to hear people take away from our conversation today?

Angela:  Just one message. Because we’re in the holiday season, one thing that I do all year long is try to live a life of gratitude. It’s been a very difficult year for me personally with the loss of my father. I had a surgery with some things that just didn’t go right with that, so unexpected time off.

As I constantly reflect, I remind myself that there’s always something to be grateful for. If I can just get everyone listening today to take five minutes and write down what they’re grateful for, and it could be anything.

It could be the people that you have in your life, it could be the roof that you have over your head, it can be the support system that you have, whatever. It can be your health, it can be some obstacles that you’ve overcome this year, whatever it is. It’s important that we all stay grounded in gratitude.

Because when we can stay in a space and be mindful of the good things, the differences, those beliefs, those values, you don’t feel attacked when there’s a different perspective.

You can sit in a space of comfort knowing there’s always something to be grateful for. That even if things change, even if my environment change, the people around me change, thinking around me is so drastically different than how I think, feel, and believe, there’s always space to be grateful.

Again, we’re at the end of the year, we’re in the holiday season and holidays just mean so much to me. I think a lot of people use a holiday as a time of reflection, and so as listeners are reflecting, I want people to practice gratitude during the season.

For the next five minutes, just write down some things that you’re grateful for. I think it helps put you in a better place of well?being and really, really, really a better place to open yourself up to see things differently.

We don’t want to change you. We love you just as you are. We want you to have that same love in respect for each other. That is my wish for the holiday.

Bill:  I think that was your mic?drop moment. That was pretty amazing. Thanks for taking the time out ?? I know you’re so busy ?? to give that message to our listeners. I really appreciate having you on the podcast and looking forward some podcast next year as well.

Angela:  Thank you so much. Happy holidays to you, my friend and my brother.

Bill:  Thank you. Just a quick reminder to all of the listeners out there. This will be our last episode of the year. Please go back and listen to some of your favorite episodes or catch up on some episodes that you may have missed. We will be returning on Wednesday, January 11th, with some new and exciting podcast episodes for you to listen to. ?