March 24, 2021

What Comes after Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with Chequan Lewis, Chief Equity Officer at Pizza Hut

Dana Bernardino

1Huddle Podcast Episode #30

On this Bring It In podcast episode, 1Huddle’s CEO and Founder Sam Caucci sat down with Chequan Lewis, the Chief Equity Officer at Pizza Hut‬. Chequan is in charge of championing, promoting and guiding Pizza Hut’s equity and inclusion vision, strategy and initiatives across the entire franchise. Before he stepped into this position, Chequan was the Senior Director of Express and Director of Legal at Pizza Hut. He’s also a Harvard Law School graduate and a former business litigator. 

On this episode of Bring It In season two, Chequan and Sam discussed the importance of building a great team, why having a continuous equity plan in place is so important, how you can’t really be equitable if you treat the C-Suite workers differently than the workers who are on the frontlines every day, and what comes after diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Audio available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. 


Below are some of the insights Chequan Lewis shared during our chat, edited for length and clarity. You can find more Bring It In podcast episodes here.

  • “My goal is for us to be the most equitable company on the face of the planet. I set that as an intention, and I use that language on purpose; equitable and not just diverse.”
  • “Diversity is absolutely important, but you can’t stop there. Inclusivity is another part in the journey; this is this idea of not just who’s in the room and who’s being represented, but do you have an opportunity to exist with a deep sense of belonging to authentically show up and be who you are?”
  • “Whether you mean to or not, you’re inevitably turning organizations one of two ways” towards equity or inequity.”
  • “We’ve got to make sure that the things that are real in our headquarters are also real in our stores.”


Sam: Are you able to share some of your goals, your vision for where you’re going to go in your role?

Chequan: I think about us in three dimensions: who we are as a franchise, who we are as an employer, and who we are as a neighbor. I’ll give you a couple of points on each of these. As an employer, my goal is for us to be the most equitable company on the face of the planet. I set that as an intention, and I’m using that language equitable and not just diverse. We need to always be an ongoing construction project as you think about what our workforce should look and feel like. Our workplace has to have a culture of listening and learning that’s deeply grown. We have to be intentional with talent, acquisition, talent, development, talent, retention, all these things that allow us to really model what it will look like for us to be that equitable place I’m talking about, but that’s just not enough in the workplace. There’s also this idea of who we are as a franchise  because roughly 99% of our stores that you go to are owned by our franchisees and not just us. We have a few, but we’re a franchise or is what we primarily do. We got to make sure that the things that are real in our headquarters are real in our stores as well. That takes deep partnership with our franchisees. It also takes extending that culture of listening and learning and belonging quite frankly, into our stores, and then making sure that’s reflected in how we show up as a business. The way that we market, the way that our food shows up, the communities that we build and develop, and also the way that we try to unlock opportunity for our frontline team members. But also the communities that we serve, which is a really big focus across the enterprise. 

Sam: It’s an interesting situation to be in. Not a lot of people understand the franchising model and ecosystem, but the challenge of being absorbed and also the franchisees are not your business, how you keep a culture connected. Given that fact and the legal issues around separation of what’s joint employer and other stuff that’s gotta be crossed.

Chequan: It’s a challenge, but one of the elegant things about franchising is when you develop a model that works. The next challenge becomes: okay, how do I build this and replicate this with people we believe in? In my new role, one of the things I’m also responsible for is all of our partner recruiting. The franchisees and licenses to come into our business come in through my team as well. We have a chance to be really intentional and thoughtful about the folks who we give that brand over to, and I’m happy to say that’s one of the things I think we’ve gotten right. We’re always trying to get better at everything that we do, but being in a partnership with the right people with the right framework in place does give you an opportunity to not only protect your brand, but advance it and all the communities that folks come from.

Sam: You mentioned a second ago equity versus diversity. What is the difference? 

Chequan: It’s a big difference; I want to say in no way am I denigrating the concept of diversity, but I’m just suggesting to you that it is part of a journey and not the end game. Diversity is deeply important. This is what I look at as representational progress, or who’s in the room or who’s around the table. It’s important because it’s hard to build these workplaces that are deeply inclusive, that have a deep sense of belonging, if any one person is the only one with their lived experience there. So diversity is absolutely important, but you can’t stop there. Inclusivity is another part in the journey. This is this idea of not just who’s in the room and who’s being represented, but do you have an opportunity to exist with a deep sense of belonging to authentically show up and be who you are, how you are, and that be okay in the workplace but it can’t stop there. I say equity is the end game and that’s why I use the title that I have because equity is sort of a deeper interrogation of systemically in an organization who you really are and that asks you to look at your processes and your practices and your procedures. I think you’re inevitably turning organizations one of two ways: towards equity or inequity. There’s this group that we work with here in Dallas called the Imagining Freedom Institute who’s helping us go through this model of building equitable workplaces. One of the definitions that you use for equity is everybody having what they need. Which I really like, because it allows you to center the experiences of people. It allows you to think deeply about folks and where they are and where they’re coming from and it’s a reminder that you don’t have to lose when we start talking about equity, because we’re talking about everybody having what they need. Which means that everybody’s got to have a chance to be in the boat and everybody’s got to have resources directed towards them. That makes sense based on their conditions and where we want to go to have people in that equitable state.

Sam: Let’s say you’re a business owner today and you’re trying to make your workplace more equitable, more diverse, more inclusive. That’s a goal you believe in it, you’re trying to make it happen. For those listening, where do you think you should start and how do you measure progress?

Chequan: I don’t mean to be plugging all my partners, but this is an important point because just like you are able to look at any given time and see how we’re performing on a promo in a given market, we can dashboard the data that really matters to us that critically. I think you have to really deeply assess your organization in the same way to take a snapshot at a picture of time and then as you program against it, see where you go. There’s actually another group here named Kanarys that we’re working with based in Dallas; it’s a company owned and started by Black women. What they help us do is not survey our organization, but deeply assess our organization. I’m asking our folks to spend 20 minutes going through these 50 questions, and I’m asking questions along the lines of belonging—along the lines of do you feel like your leadership team says that equity and inclusion matters as your immediate coach said that it matters. Do you feel like you can talk about these things without fear of retaliation? What have you personally witnessed? Do you feel like you can belong? And then I ask people to identify at the end of that, so I understand how I can splice this data according to their lived experience. What does a Black woman think? What does a white man think? What do transgender people think and feel? We’re data forward about all these other things. I want to be data forward about the way folks feel about our business. I look at that and when I see there’s an issue here in this population, I’m going to be like “how do we go and program against that or make sure my coaches are connecting with these groups?” That type of data-intensive approach to what your people feel is the best place to start, because you don’t want to make broad presumptions about your workplace based upon what you’re hearing outside or based upon your lived experiences. You got to give people the opportunity to come to the table and share that with you if you ask for that in humility.

Sam: What do you think is blocking companies or leaders from doing what you just said…what do you think the reason is? When I open up LinkedIn, there’s a lot of people talking about this stuff, and some are doing a lot of great work, but what do you think some of the challenges are as to why this isn’t already the norm? 

Chequan: I’m happy people are talking about it. One of the things that I’m seeing as I sort of creep into conversations about the corporate context or people pointing at people who are talking and not doing anything and being like, “just be quiet if you’re not doing anything,” I have a strong bias towards as well. I definitely hold some space for that, but I’m glad we’re in a space where people at least feel that they need to come to the conversation with a perspective on the topic of diversity and equity and inclusion, and that people need to acknowledge that there has been deep hurt that communities have felt in our country and in our work spaces. I just want to lift that point up because I think it’s important. I don’t want to chase people back into the recesses of where we were in the ‘80s when no one had a thing to say about these issues. I just want peace, but the reason why I think the challenges are what they are is because it’s difficult. Unpacking and redirecting the status quo is a really hard thing. Think about any learned behavior that you have, just think about the things that you naturally do and someone asks you to go change that tomorrow. It really does take you time, and it’s scary. How many behaviors do people have that they’re just unwilling to reinvest and to try to redirect? There’s a deep piece of human nature that I think is understandable. I think the bigger point I’d make is that people presume that when we have these conversations that change and progress necessarily means the exclusion and the other rising of folks who have lived in the majority experience. I think if we get this right, we’re not doing that. Going back to that definition, everybody having what they need, that means that everybody has what they need, which means you have to think about everybody. I think there’s a lot of fear that folks feel in some cases, depending on your lived experience, that when this comes, who’s coming for me? Who’s taking my stuff? Instead, we’re asking folks to draw the circle of family bigger in these conversations and think about what it means to invite people into this deep sense of you having what you need. I think the last point I’d make about why there are so many challenges as people look at these problems… I was wrestling with this the other day because I’m still figuring this out. I’m six months into it, and I think 60 years into it I’d still be figuring it out because it’s a journey. But I was thinking: what do I do with these big societal issues that come into my workplace? If I had the perfect workplace, people would still be bringing these background narratives and these background experiences and these stories and centuries of ways of life to the table. I think the thing that people should be invited into is an appreciation that moving the ball forward doesn’t require you to have a silver bullet. In fact, there’s not a silver bullet and moving the ball forward doesn’t require you to say, “okay, here’s how I’m going to complete this journey by the end of this year.” We set these corporate strategies, but instead we move forward.  Sometimes people have to get in the game. You have to start somewhere and that’s perfectly okay. You have to be okay with making some well-meaning mistakes. I know that impact is more important than intent, but there’s a lot of space and a lot of grace for folks that are getting on the moving plane to try to move our country, move our businesses, move our societies forward. When people appreciate that it can be a starting place not a ‘pat yourself on the back because you started,’ but that can be a starting place. You realize this work is far more accessible than I think a lot of people realize. We look at this big daunting issue and say: how can I solve equity? You can’t do it alone. You can be a part of a solution, but you have to be intentional, authentic and humble in the ways that you start. 

Sam: Some companies employ this trickle down training. It never quite gets to the people who need it most. From a business perspective, I’ve never understood it because a frontline worker could be your next bestseller; they could be your next best person on the line. They could be your next franchisee. How do you think about equity when it comes to access to skill training? 

Chequan: I think that’s a big part of the game. As we talk about unlocking opportunity—and you’re so right—I’m just thinking about some of the franchisees who have been in the business longer than I’ve been alive. My cherished relationships with some of these folks began as cooks and dishwashers, so you’re absolutely right about the ways in which this business in itself, in some respects represents a pathway to possibility for so many people. Equity means equity. Which means if everybody’s going to have what they need, then as we push out our best and our most premium content—that means that not only do my folks at headquarters need to get it, but it needs to be real at the store as well. We sometimes use the core in the store, if it’s real at the core, it’s gotta be real at the store. That’s absolutely true with content as well. I don’t want to overstep where we are in our journey on this yet, but I can tell you, we just got done fielding some research where I did a number of town halls with our frontline employees and had some time to do some real research with the franchisee leaders as well, figuring out where the places where we know we have high need and high capability to move the ball forward for frontline workers and the communities that they come from. The biggest one was career growth and development. The key insight was that so many people look at the Pizza Hut universe as an opportunity for these stores that we were talking about. If I’m a team member, maybe being an area coach is the thing that I want to do. I talked with an RGM, a restaurant general manager, who told me his dream was to be an area coach because his dad was an area coach. We are going to be deeply committed in 2021 and beyond too, and I think we’ve done a fine job with that. But as we think about what it means to really push this concept for the career growth and development piece, the journey that we’re going to go on through the unlocking opportunity initiative I expect is going to really give us an opportunity to go deep and make sure that the best ideas, the most premium content we have on these topics, touches and concerns every level of our organization. Because that’s the only way it makes sense. The last thing I want to say is you get us because not only is the team member our best seller, our business is the team member. When you go to Pizza Hut, you either go in, place the order over the phone with a team member, or you use our website that a team member somewhere is receiving in back of house. When we show up at your door it’s with a team member. We literally are that team member, and your experience will never exceed that of our team members. We take that as a deep intention, and it’s a big purpose behind our work this year and going forward as well. 

Sam: There’s a lot of software companies across franchising and in the restaurant space, so where do you think technology can be assistive in your journey? 

Chequan: It’s a critical part of what we do, and technology can be a hindrance or it can be a competitive advantage. We always seek to make sure it’s a competitive advantage. We want it to be easy to operate a Pizza Hut. We want it to be easy for you to interact with us. If you have an issue, we want to get out of the team members’ way, we want to enable what it means to run our restaurant well, and technology is something on which we’re deeply dependent to deliver training content to the field as well. When we do that, we want to make sure that it’s really easy to get. It’s easy to understand. It’s easy to give us feedback through if it’s something that’s not working for you. I hate to be overly generic, but it’s a really important part of the ball game, and it’s something that we think a lot about and continue to try to push forward. We know, and we hear that it matters and on a day-to-day basis to our team members as well, it’s a big unlock. 

Sam: What is your hope for the future work?

Chequan: I think I have twin hopes: my first hope is that the concept of work moves more and more towards looking like people have an opportunity to find the highest and best expression of self in the workplace. That can look like so many things. There is such a thing as self-actualization in almost any role that we can contemplate, but that’s only true when the workplace deeply honors and respects people; when the workplace takes into consideration the ambitions and the needs of employees. And it’s only true when the workplace is a place where people belong and feel safe and feel included like they’re part of the whole. That’s one piece of it. The next piece of it is I hope that we get comfortable with the ways in which work can be an unlock in our personal lives as well. I’ve been spending some time thinking about this a lot, because a lot of us have the privilege to work from home, while a lot of our frontline employees don’t have that privilege. We’re seeing the increasing blurring of lines between work and home, so one of my ambitions and hopes is for the collective, not just us, but as a collective for the future of work, is that in a world, those lines are more blurred. We recognize the ways in which work can be a really big unlock for the way people show up at home and the way people show up in their communities as well. If we can think of the workplace as a way to deliver skills, tools, personal development, and not just professional development. Inoculate values that are indicative of who we would love, the communities that we serve, if we view work at that and not just as a transactional thing. Companies can really have something to say about the ways in which our world operates as well. There’s a study by which I’m deeply, deeply counseled: it says 55% of consumers believe that brands can move the country forward more than the government can. So in a world where that’s true and consumers are betting on us, It’s really important that the workplace delivers something else to people of value that they can make real in the spaces they hold most sacred; beyond the pizza transaction, beyond the nine to five, beyond the more programmatic things we do in life. We can do something deeper if we can see work as something bigger as well.

Topics discussed: DEI, Leadership. Future of Work, Equity, Company Values, Social Impact

Dana Bernardino, Manager of Digital Marketing at 1Huddle

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