Creating an effective and impactful DEI program isn’t a linear process and can be radically different for different organizations, based on a whole host of factors. You may have the best intentions and are part of a group of people who are passionate about making change, but unless you have support, clarity, process, and leadership, it may not be the successful program you wish it to be. This week, we’re taking notes from leaders who’ve successfully brought intentional, fully integrated DEI programs into their organizations. From setting up employee resource groups or committees to bringing in a formal training program, we’re taking you step by step through what it takes to move from just talking about changing to actually making an impact.
Contributors to this episode are:
Amaia Arruabarrena (00:00:02):
So it was super important I think for us to start by saying, “What does it mean to us? When we say we’re committed to this, when we say we prioritize this work, what does that actually mean?” And so defining it for us. And so we started there and defining it as we want to create a company that reflects the communities we are a part of.
One thing that we love to say at SGO is the work is not the workshop or the work is not the program.
Elisa Campos-Prator (00:00:30):
If you have a DEI committee… Which I’m really happy to see that, A, they’re interested and it’s voluntary. This is the very first company I’ve ever been a part of where the committee is consulted on various topics across the company.
CA Webb (00:00:44):
You can’t drive change alone. You can’t have one employee who is a true believer and expect them to carry this work.
Hi everybody. I’m Felicia.
And I’m Rachel. And welcome to the SGO podcast, the She+ Geeks Out podcast.
This season is unlike any that we put out so far. What does the future of work look like when we’re thinking about diversity and inclusivity and equity? And what does it look like for different groups of people?
We got to interview so many incredible people.
You’ll also be hearing some little snippets and interjections from our facilitation team.
You’ll get their perspectives on what DEI really looks like in the workplace from a practical, actionable standpoint. So let’s go.
When organizations are building out their initiatives around DEI, some common mistakes that I see happen are when an organization is thinking about it as a check the box approach. The effort or the initiative is just there to say we did something or it’s just there because of some legality or, “We had something happen so we have to say something or we have to do something, but we don’t really care about this.” And that’s the biggest mistake you can make because DEI work is lifelong work. It’s deep work and it’s work that is most impactful when it’s built in from as early as possible in every aspect of an organization.
This week, we’re taking notes from leaders who have successfully brought intentional, fully integrated DEI programs into their organizations. From setting up employee resource groups or committees to bringing in a formal training program, we’re taking you step by step through what it takes to move from just talking about changing to actually making an impact.
We’re going to start talking to CA Webb, former president of the Kendall Square Association, about how she worked with She+ Geeks Out to build the organization’s new DEI program, which ended up becoming innovation drives inclusion.
CA Webb (00:02:59):
Four and a half years ago, I started running the Kendall Square Association. It is a consortium of innovation-driven companies based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT of course anchoring Kendall Square. This one square mile has hundreds and hundreds of tech and life science companies, research institutions, and is known globally as the definitive epicenter of innovation, the densest square mile of innovation-driven organizations anywhere in the world. So the platform that I wound up running for four and a half years is really charged with bringing this community together to drive connectivity and to take action on the issues of import to ensure that Kendall Square can remain generation to generation the center of global innovation.
CA Webb (00:03:50):
So when I started talking with the board of directors about leading the organization, we quickly started talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion as a prerequisite for any global innovation center. If we are going to be the place that solves the biggest problems of the day, we must be the place that can attract the brightest minds from wherever they happen to come from globally. And so we knew we had to ready ourselves even more than we already were to welcome people in to make sure our organizations were truly dynamic and resilient enough in centering DEI in order to attract the best and brightest.
CA Webb (00:04:32):
So of course this organization was only eight years old at the time. And while I think they dabbled in some DEI work, they didn’t yet have a terribly strong point of view and definitely didn’t have a full blown strategy about how they were going to embark on that work. So we started out with really a learning journey and that learning journey started with, well, a number of things. We brought the Boston Globe team in for a big annual meeting with our members. It was the Pulitzer nominated team that had done a nine part series on racism in Boston. We then followed that up with dozens of conversations across workplaces in Kendall Square talking with our members, everyone from the most junior to the most senior, about how racism impacted their lives at work and at home and on the sidewalks and the implications for Kendall Square. We added that… Created a learning journey with 17 senior leaders across Kendall who met for a couple of hours every month for a year to dig into a curriculum designed by an MIT professor named Caesar McDowell.
CA Webb (00:05:41):
And we did such intense work together, but out of that came this recognition that there was really a need within the organizations in Kendall for a different approach to DEI education, that there’s a lot happening internally in companies, but not enough opportunities to get executives from multiple companies together in a room learning together and frankly, cross pollinating ideas, learning from one another’s mistakes, failures, and successes. And so that was the germ of the idea that we started with.
CA Webb (00:06:20):
And at the beginning of the pandemic, I called SGO and I said, “Hey, we’ve been in conversation for a little while about a program and it’s clear that all the ideas that we had were based in getting people in a room together to do some learning. That seems to be out the window right now. How might we rethink this? Is there a way to do this work meaningfully virtually?” And those were the early days of hatching inclusion drives innovation with the two of you and your team.
CA Webb (00:06:53):
Reaching out to you certainly there was self-interest. I was looking to create value for our members, seize on this moment, not be immobilized and frozen by the moment. Ringing in my ears was my many years of my career in startups and adventure capital. And often the best companies get started when the market dips and when corporate America’s flailing talent leaves and they go do the risky thing and they start things. I knew it was a moment back in March 2020 to act, not to freeze.
CA Webb (00:07:27):
One of our first fledging thoughts as we were noticing that there was white space, if you will, for executive education around diversity, equity, and inclusion… The first insight was that often the stuff happens within the four walls of a company, but not enough of it seemed to be happening where executives from multiple companies could come together and learn from one another’s successes and mistakes. But we also noticed that a lot of this education happens on a one off basis. It’s one afternoon. It’s a couple of hours. And our feeling is for anyone, but certainly adult learners who often are being challenged to look at history differently, to rethink some deeply embedded assumptions, to begin working through and developing really a new frame, new lens, on many aspects of the world and people. We really felt like that work needed to unfold over a span of time.
CA Webb (00:08:31):
And so we started playing with this idea of what if there was a course that could bring people from multiple companies into a room together where they’d have multiple touchpoints to begin learning, sink into the learning, synthesize the learning, really have an atmosphere of healthy psychological safety where they could dialogue in meaningful ways, not just passively take in information, but really sit with colleagues from their own companies and others to hash this stuff out and walk away from a learning experience not just we hope with resolve to want to be anti-racist in the world, but really resolved to go back to work and do work differently? So from the outset, we always thought for it to be more than another program for executives, but to be a program that enabled these people to go back into their companies and re-draft policy, look at protocols, and really begin to unpack what’s happening inside their companies and of those things, what is at odds with anti-racist practice? What is in sync with anti-racist practice? And just bring a really different critical lens and degree of efficacy to driving change at work.
CA Webb (00:09:50):
Everyone just brought such an amazing earnest experience to the learning and practice. And that’s invaluable, to have people outside your company who you trust that much that you could go back and say, “I tried to do this thing and this thing was a mess,” or, “I’ve gotten myself a hot water,” or, “We’re stuck.” And hopefully we all have trusted relationships inside our companies to parse those things. But sometimes you really do need an outside perspective and someone who’s just in a slightly different culture and reality to help move you.
And I would love to hear if, outside those moments of connection and problem solving, did you find that the companies that you were working with came back and really shared some very specific impact related to the program?
CA Webb (00:10:40):
Yeah. It’s such a good question, the question of impact. And it’s one where you know me, Rachel and Felicia. I’m deeply impatient as a person and this work challenged me to hold onto that impatience because we need urgency driving this. I was talking to a friend the other day, a friend who’s black, and we were just both really painfully laughing about how many of our white friends have used the last two years to read a bunch of books about anti-racism. They can reel off all the titles and tell you all the synopses. But when you really say, “So how are you putting that in a practice?” There can be often a long silence.
CA Webb (00:11:25):
And I think that candidly it’s all over the board. We’re finding some folks dig into the work and they immediately know where to go inside their companies. They go instigate new and different conversations. Recruiting is always first. That’s where everyone always starts, is, “Let’s go talk to people in recruiting and talk about where we’re recruiting, how we’re recruiting. Are we sending the right signals to attract truly diverse groups?” And that’s really exciting and matters, but then the next question is, “Wait a minute. What else is happening inside our four walls as an organization? And are we actually ready? Are we culturally competent to retain the diverse people that we want to attract in?” And so that’s again where we often saw folks go back to existing systems, things like their employee resource groups, ERGs, to say, “Okay. We’ve been doing some good stuff, but now that we’ve done this curriculum, we see opportunities to be much sharper, much more aspirational in the ways we’re working with employees and empowering them to really push the C-suite to get different kinds of resources devoted to this work,” and so on and so forth.
CA Webb (00:12:49):
So really I think it’s early days to say where’s the impact. But what I can say is all of the research of our alumni as they came out of the program and then repeat research we’ve done with them has shown their confidence, their sense of efficacy, their commitment to follow through, their willingness to frankly put themselves on the line within their companies, and really become organizational strategists and change makers was pretty profound.
One last question around your experience. I’d love to know if you made any specific changes, whether it’s going to our five P model that we introduced in that program, policy, people, programs, et cetera, et cetera, within the KSA specifically after you all went through that first iteration?
CA Webb (00:13:39):
So a key element of inclusion drives innovation is developing an action plan as an actual physical document that you work through with others from your company who are attending the program. And over the four iterations of inclusion drives innovation we’ve approached it in different ways. Ultimately we found that it felt really important to weave in from the very earliest days of the program. So it’s a tool that everyone’s attuned to and they understand the importance of having real ideas committed to paper, real policies they want to start taking a look at either dismantling or changing or writing and creating within their organization.
CA Webb (00:14:26):
So at the KSA, we also worked a plan. We had an action plan. I truly believe this work… It has to be ongoing work. It can’t be episodic. I think this work needs to be constantly refreshed. I think we have to continue re-inspiring one another in the work, because there are so many opportunities to feel, frankly, dismayed and defeated. So it really does take I think having an inner core of people committed to it who keep rallying one another, keep inspiring one another, but also keep pressing one another and saying, “Wait a minute. Are we going far enough? Are we going fast enough? Are we pushing hard enough? What is our aspiration here really?” If we’re going to do this work, let’s be best in class. Let’s be best in industry. Let’s be a new standard. I think that’s ideally what any of us would like to find inside our companies.
Action planning is literally the act of thinking about what comes next in my mind. So a lot of times when we do trainings or when we do DEI work, we think about them in the moment. So we’re spending a couple hours talking about a topic. We are spending some time doing some work. But one thing that we love to say at SGO is the work is not the workshop or the work is not the program. And that’s so important in my mind because what I like to tell people is the real work happens once we leave, once we step away, once we close down the Zoom. And sometimes people don’t want to hear that because it’s hard and it does take work. And it’s not something that can be fixed by spending two hours talking to somebody else. But the real work happens in an ongoing process and it happens typically after someone like SGO is not necessarily holding your hand or as deeply involved in that process.
So action planning can be literally like a roadmap for you to think about how to continue to do the work once your training or your consulting gig or your conversation has concluded. One way that is a really simple yet effective way of action planning is to think about what am I going to stop doing based off of the training or the conversation or the work that I’ve been doing with SGO or others? What am I going to continue to do? And what am I going to start doing? So some variation of stop, start, continue. And I like that because it’s really simple, but it’s very powerful because we want to make sure that, “Okay, we realize there are areas of our business or of our work that we shouldn’t be doing because it’s not very equitable or it’s not inclusive. So let’s stop doing that.” Then we can think, “Oh, you know what? We just identified some areas that we need to work into, whether that’s short term or long term, so we’re going to start to do some additional work beyond the constraints of this training.”
And then my favorite piece of that is the continue piece because I think that a lot of times, especially as human beings, we tend to have negativity bias. So we look towards what is not working? What do we have to do still? What are the issues or the challenges at hand? Where have we fallen down along the way? It’s a really natural thing for us to fall into that line of thinking. But I love the continue piece because it’s giving us a space to really push us to identify what are the good things that we’ve already been doing that we want to continue and keep supporting? Because that’s important too. And especially because this can be long-term work and because it’s hard work, we want to give ourselves those wins along the way. So I think part of that action planning is to also make sure that we don’t lose any of that good work and that we keep it going.
Here’s SGO staff DEI programs and training manager, Fatima Dainkeh, with more thoughts on doing the work.
Fatima Dainkeh (00:18:25):
So when I often facilitate workshops, there is a moment where we go through guidelines and frameworks. And one of the things I say in the beginning, during, and after workshops is the work is not the workshop. And the reason why the work is not the workshop has become such an important phrase for me to name in my practice and something that guides me in my work. It’s because it’s true. I’ve been doing facilitation work close to a decade now and I was practicing my facilitation skills years back with an amazing facilitator. And I remember her saying something along the lines of, “The work is not the workshop.” And I was just like, “This is brilliant!” And also important to name because when I see articles that say things like, “DEI trainings or unconscious bias trainings don’t work, but people are spending millions of dollars on it,” I want to just simply respond and say, “That’s because the work is not the workshop.”
Fatima Dainkeh (00:19:33):
It is not the workshop that’s the issue. It is the foundation within an organization that’s the issue. It is the fact that the organization has not taken the appropriate steps to make sure that before, during, and after the workshop, they have a plan. They have a strategic plan to make sure that their DEI goals, their vision, and whatever else they’re working for will adequately come to pass. And so to think that a facilitator or a workshop will change a workplace overnight or will dismantle any form of oppressive culture is naive. And quite frank, it’s false. Those of us who are doing this work know that workshops are important because they plant a seed for the workplace.
Fatima Dainkeh (00:20:22):
And I often say that seed is not nourished by the DEI consultant or facilitator. We don’t do the workshop and also fertilize the dirt or bring the sun or bring the water. A lot of that work has to happen with all of the employees within an organization. And so if we come in and do a workshop and folks don’t have a plan or there’s some foundation wrong with the “dirt” that we didn’t know about, the plant that doesn’t grow is not on us. And so it’s really important for people to think about that whenever they’re doing DEI work and making sure that a workshop is part of a longer term strategy versus the only thing that they’re doing in their DEI journey.
Here’s Jason Fooks, senior director of learning and development at Essex Property and Trust to talk about taking a DEI leadership committee to the next level.
Jason Fooks (00:21:24):
I joined Essex in the beginning of 2020 right before COVID and all the Breonna Taylor stuff was going on and the rioting and we’re all familiar with that. So it’s interesting. We at Essex had been thinking about having a DEI leadership committee as far back as mid 2019. We had been thinking about it before a lot of the stuff took place in the news. And it just so that we actually officially launched our DEI leadership committee when those events took place. So we were like, “Our associates think we’re just doing this now because what’s going on in the news,” and that wasn’t really the case. I’m sure there’s some out there who thought that, but that wasn’t our genesis.
Jason Fooks (00:22:01):
But for me, being new to the company at that time, when we first started talking about DEI and having this leadership committee, I had reached out to my manager who’s the head of HR in Zoom on a side chat and said, “Hey, if we’re forming this, I want to be a part of this.” Again, not knowing what I was even getting myself into, but I felt I could put a lens on some things and being new I wanted to be involved as much as possible. So my boss… And she’s great. She was right away, “Sure. We want you to be part of this. Well, everybody else is at the senior leadership level, if you will. But the good thing, refreshing thing, is they’re all open to ideas and trying new things.”
Jason Fooks (00:22:35):
DEI, from what I’ve gotten and understand, Felicia and Rachel, that it wasn’t… While we had some basic trainings we used to do, it wasn’t really a staple of our company or something we really focused on. And I think the goal of this committee is to put that focus on engaged employees. Because when you look at our numbers, when we look at our annual numbers in our CSR report, if you will, we have a pretty good balance of things. We have a good story to tell, and we hadn’t always done that too well and we’re still working on that, but there’s a lot to share. We are by no means experts, but we’re still learning as we’re going down the train tracks, if you will.
I remember when we first started working together and we were like, “One hour is not going to get us a lot.” And you were like, “But that’s all people are willing to commit to.” And it’s been really cool to see the evolution of people really doubling down and realizing that this work takes time and effort and it means that it’s prioritizing over other things. I would love to hear how you’ve managed to make that happen, that adjustment happen, over the years.
Jason Fooks (00:23:40):
So by the way, I remember clearly our first conversations and me being an L&D person at heart I’m like, “An hour is not a long enough time to really get any meaningful work done.” Then when I think back about it, that hour is probably good for us because we’re still new in the DEI space organization. This is a nice appetizer. So what I was able to do and so my peers was able to see, “Hey, who’s attending? What’s in the chat box? When Felicia is talking or Rachel’s talking or whoever’s talking, what’s going on in the chat box? Is there energy there? Is it sticking?” So no slight to you guys and you guys are usually facilitating. I’m watching the chat to see what’s going on so I can get a gauge on things.
Jason Fooks (00:24:18):
So we’re now to the point now I think, Rachel and Felicia, that people are seeing that Essex is devoting time and effort and money towards this initiative. We want to be engaging with it. And I’m pleasantly surprised when we’re having coffee talks, which are company wide at our company… Town halls if you will. People are wanting more. They’re reaching out to me directly saying, “Hey, I love that thing, that She+ Geeks Out. Can we do it again?” And I think what you’re going to see, Felicia and Rachel… By the way, I’m so glad I found you guys. You guys are the perfect partner in this. So whatever that’s worth, that’s got to be out there as well.
Jason Fooks (00:24:53):
But it’s how do we now take it to the next level? I think this year with your help, Rachel, we peeled the onion back a little bit and we’re getting more focus on allyship and unconscious bias and things like that. And now the challenge is going to be what do we do for next year? How do we take it even further? And the good thing is when we do these smaller classes, I was nervous. I was like, “Are people going to sign up?” I was really, really nervous. I was really, really nervous.
Jason Fooks (00:25:17):
They’ve been selling out and we never have classes sell out. We have the two classes coming up on allyship so I’m able to see that, “Hey, there is a need. There’s a want for it.” I’ll be honest. One of the challenges we’ve had… And that’s [inaudible 00:25:34] too far off topic, but I think it’s important to introduce or at least talk to is not everybody’s a fan of DEI in organizations. I see that in the chats also. “Why are we focusing on this and not this? Why do they get a special…” This, that. You can imagine all the things you see in there, but I want to hear that too. I want to hear the good, bad, and ugly to know what the pulse of the organization is.
Jason Fooks (00:25:53):
But I think we’re heading in a good place now. I think we’ve managed to get that buy-in from leadership, Rachel. So now in the future we want to do a two hour class or a three hour class or what I would love to do… And we’ll talk about it. Is our leadership committee, the VPs and above. They should be going through their own bespoke just for them as leaders. How do they translate the message down through the organization and why it’s important for them to be involved? So that’s something I wanted to explore with you guys as well.
Jason Fooks (00:26:23):
But it was a struggle early on. I was really frustrated for that one hour, but I think it’s a blessing in disguise because it allowed me to say, “Okay, there’s interest here.” I could tell my manager a story and say, “Hey look, [inaudible 00:26:36]. It’s sold out. People are wanting to hear more, but here’s what they’re saying.” It was a very easy decision for her to say, “Yeah, let’s do more and more and more.”
Jason Fooks (00:26:42):
So as much as you guys can keep giving us great ideas and great plans, I see this partnership lasting for a very long time. It’s not something that we’re afraid to talk about anymore. I think now it’s expected to be talked about. It’s a free conversation. People are sharing their opinions and their thoughts and their ideas more than they have, at least in my experience, far more than they were in the past. And I think that’s directly attributed to what we’ve been able to partner with you guys on and get those messages out.
Jason Fooks (00:27:08):
We’ve actually created a DEI action team that spawned off of the leadership team because six people can’t do all the work. It takes a lot of production and background to get these things moving. So we had an opportunity to engage associates at all levels, maybe at some more and more junior levels in the company, who have a voice and have a passion about this and invite them in and say, “Hey, these are our initiatives for the year. This is what we’re trying to do. Can you help us? What ideas do you have? What are we missing?” So we have a committee of about 15 or so DEI action team members that help us, like myself and other leadership members on DEI team, to actually put a lot of our ideas in motion, to the point now where I would say they’re more of the leaders than some of the other folks in the DEI space.
Jason Fooks (00:27:56):
I’m saying it in a good way, because the ultimate goal is to engage our employees, give them a voice. That’s one of the things of the main things we wanted to do and being able to leverage them and bring them involved and to fold in this sense is great for organizational health. They feel better about what they’re doing. They feel like they’re making a difference. And that’s not just cheap talk. That’s legitimate stuff. They’re making a difference. They’re getting to talk on our town halls monthly, on our coffee talks. They’re able to create videos and put on our internet that highlights women’s history month or black history month or AAPI awareness. So they’re doing all these things that they never did before and it’s giving them a voice. And that makes them feel good about coming to work every day, about what Essex is doing. And you can’t put a price on that. That’s just great for an organization.
Jason Fooks (00:28:41):
And as you guys know, that spreads more and more. Somebody could be in a meeting talking about, “Hey, I’m part of the action team.” “Oh, how do I get involved in that?” “Oh, I’m glad you asked. Here’s how you do it.” So it’s snowballing I think. We didn’t have that a year ago, six months ago. That wasn’t even a thought, but now we’re seeing how it’s growing and how the employees are responding to our efforts is that we’re getting more dollars towards it and more resources towards it. It makes me feel good because when we first started, we were getting you guys money, but we were just trying to steal it from somewhere in the budget because we didn’t really budget for it.
Jason Fooks (00:29:13):
But now I think going 2023 it’s very apparent this is a long term thing for Essex. How do we put money around it, more money, and all those kind of things? But everything that we partner with you guys on has led to this. I’m happy to report that it is heading in the right direction. I don’t see the steam slowing down. I think it’s picking up and nothing else. But again, our journey is far from over. I think you guys will continue to educate us. We’ll continue to educate ourselves obviously along the way and we’ll meet in the middle somewhere, but the work’s not done. I want to say it’s just getting started.
Let’s talk more about the role of formal trainings and workshops. Here’s Dr. Erika Powell.
Erika Powell (00:29:48):
Yeah. So I come to this work with so much love for what I think is this shift in consciousness that we’re having. When we talk about DEI, I know folks say, “Oh, well, we’re talking about DEI or some folks are adding in the justice,” but when I facilitate a class or an experience, I always say that each of my classes is a flight because we go higher and we go wider in our consciousness. I never know where we might go because part of the biggest challenge of doing this work is you don’t know where folks are when they enter into your unconscious bias room or into your microaggressions or your allyship. Or if they are bold and brave enough to stay in the anti-racism conversation I don’t know where they’re going or I don’t know what they’re coming in with.
Erika Powell (00:30:46):
And so part of why I say we go take a flight is because I really do feel like our consciousness is expanding in this conversation around DEI, particularly at work, because so much happens in the workplace. Work can either move you up and through certain ladders, if you will, if you’re looking at it from that hierarchical model, or it can open different doors for you. So that’s where I get that idea of, “All right, we’re going to go…” I like to call it… If you’ve been in a class with me, you will know when we look at the agenda I’ll say, “Okay, so like a captain on the plane, these are the terrains. These are the lands that we will be passing over today. Are there any stops folks would like to take? If you have them, send it to me in chat.”
I’m curious about how you’ve maybe historically and currently viewed bias at work, because you mentioned you came into this work through the L&D channel, if you will. And I’m sure that your thoughts have shifted over time. So what does that conversation look like for you when you started out given where you are now?
Erika Powell (00:31:59):
Yeah. I remember when I first started doing L&D, the first class that anyone will ask a L&D person is, “Can you do a class on unconscious bias? We want you to create a class on unconscious bias.” That is the letter A in the DEI alphabet. You don’t pass go until you’ve taken that class. When I first started out, I remember seeing a lot of stuff that I would say was very… And no disrespect to the cog science folks, but it was very, “Okay, well, these are our different types of biases.” And I remember thinking, “No one is going to memorize all 175 different types of biases,” unless you have that ability and enough respect to those who have that type of ability. A lot of my career has been situated in business. How do I make this relatable to my CEOs, to my directors, to my senior managers? What does this really mean? They’re not going to sit down and learn all 175 types of bias.
Erika Powell (00:33:06):
The other thing that I think has shifted for me as I think about, “What does bias mean at work?” Is not just like, “Oh, do we know that it’s an unconscious prejudice against someone else?” But how does it really show up in our day to day conversations when we are recruiting, when we’re just in our daily, “Hey, we’re getting on a Zoom meeting. Hey, Erica. You look like you’re losing a little weight. You look good.” Or, “Oh, let me see that art. Oh, that’s really interesting.”
Erika Powell (00:33:40):
So what I like to do is to get people to see how is it showing up and how does it make people feel when bias is present? So I feel like the evolution of myself as a DEI practitioner… Because that could be a whole podcast on the evolution of a DEI practitioner. Now I’m like, “No, let’s really talk about what is it like to have bias in a conversation? What does it feel like so that we can make different choices and be aware of it?” I know there’s so much content out there around unconscious bias and some of it is like a Pac Man, like, “Oh, spot the bias! Get it! Get it! Get it!” I hope y’all like the sound effects. I’m very animated. But for me it’s more than attack the bias. It’s look inward and see where that bias is within you. And how is that affecting your outcomes and how is that affecting your relationships that you make in the workplace, regardless of what level you’re at, senior, executive, or an individual contributor?
Well, yeah. I love this because I think it really speaks to that tension and you spoke to this around we’re unlearning so much. And I think especially in the corporate world or in the working world, there’s a lot of white supremacy characteristics that we have so deeply ingrained that we don’t even realize it. I know for me, perfectionism is something I’m trying to move away from, not because I don’t want to do good work, but because I don’t want to be constricted by this ideal. But I think the other layer that a lot of practitioners have to deal with, whether you’re in house or coming in as an outside vendor, is undoing past traumas, whether that’s personal or even undoing the work of past other practitioners who are not approaching this work in the same way that you are, Erika, or that we are on the SGO team. And has that come up for you? And what challenges have you seen when you’re coming into a space where it’s not their first rodeo and there’s a lot of history there that you’re also dealing with?
Erika Powell (00:35:57):
Yeah. Yeah. I usually like to say… I call it the whammy. Remember that game show? “No whammy! No whammy! No whammy!” You never know when the whammy is going to show up. You don’t know when you’re going to hit that particular iceberg. And part of what I love about the She+ Geeks Out approach in general and part of what you all have taught me and I think your classes are really oriented towards is to that growth mindset. So when we look at what guidelines govern our session today, if we’re in a training or if we’re in a consulting engagement, we have to be willing to unlearn things that won’t get us to the next level.
Erika Powell (00:36:50):
So a lot of my phrasing when I hit that whammy of… What was it? A few weeks ago, I was teaching a class and a white male stayed after. He said, “I love the messaging. But what do you say to the white men who say they don’t want to… It wasn’t their fault that slavery happened or it wasn’t their fault that all of these atrocities happened?” And I thought to myself, “Well, there’s the whammy,” because definitely part of being a good DEI practitioner is you got to know where your triggers are. That’s a ouch spot for me of like, “Eh, I’m living with the effects of what happened.”
Erika Powell (00:37:31):
And so part of how I navigated that was I said to the individual, “Yeah, you’re absolutely right. They didn’t create that originally. And the next level of unlearning and learning is to really think about how are they perpetuating that?” Because this work… I believe in my heart of hearts it’s soul level mindset consciousness work. So in as much as it’s soul, think of it in the same way that you would think of it as mindfulness work. There is no done. You are always learning and unlearning and growing and you hit a certain level. So the message to those folks are, “Yeah. Now start to think about how you can make things better now that you know. Now that have that nugget of information, now that you have that awareness, what will you do moving forward for yourself, for the people that you interact with? And if you can get in your hot tub time machine and fast forward seven generations from now, this moment in time starts with you.”
Erika Powell (00:38:40):
That’s why I love… Seems unrelated, but in my mind, y’all know how I’d be connecting stuff. That’s why that land acknowledgement is so important at the beginning of a session, because this is that point in time that we talk about what happened and we acknowledge people’s agency and power and choice to show up in an hour and a half webinar, two hour class, whatever it is. And it’s by their presence, by their being open to something new, that they can actually shift and be something better for those who come after us. Or like I said, if you can’t get in your hot tub time machine and go seven generations from now… So that you can make it better for the people that you work with.
Every organization is going to need to define what diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, means to them. Here’s Amaia Arruabarrena, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at ezCater.
Amaia Arruabarrena (00:39:44):
We started by saying, “What does DEI mean to us?” And because as much of a hot topic… It was finally getting the attention it deserved. But it didn’t mean that everybody was going about it in the same way or that it meant the same thing to everyone. And I think it spanned the entire spectrum of companies who really were like, “Okay, we need to do better,” and actually tried to do better to performative and people who were like, “What do we need to say? What do we need to donate? And then can we just go on and pretend this didn’t happen?” And so it was super important for us to start by saying, “What does it mean to us? When we say we’re committed to this, when we say we prioritize this work, what does that actually mean?” So defining it for us.
Amaia Arruabarrena (00:40:26):
And so we started there, defining it as we want to create a company that reflects the communities we are a part of. First, we are nationwide. Now that we’re remote/hybrid, we have hybrid. We have employees all over the country. United States is the great melting pot. We’re an incredibly diverse country. So if we want to reflect these communities, we also need to be incredibly diverse. Starting there and saying, “Okay, great. That’s one piece of it.” But these three pillars, diversity, equity and inclusion… You have to have them all. They all have to be prioritized and happening together to be successful, otherwise you’ll be filling a leaky bucket, meaning you’ll be bringing people on who don’t feel included, who don’t feel like they have access to opportunities or to be able to succeed and they’re going to leave. So it’s holistic work and it all has to happen together. It has to be prioritized together.
Amaia Arruabarrena (00:41:14):
So we said, “Hey, okay. If we want to reflect these communities, we need to get working on that because we don’t currently. We also want to create that environment where people can be exactly who they are and they’re not afraid to be that person. They’re not worried that they won’t be taken seriously, respected, looked at as professional, given a chance to be promoted, paid as much as they should be if they don’t put on their, ‘I’m at work now, hat.'” We don’t want you to have multiple hats. I want you to be the person you are when you come to work. We want that from our people. And so that’s the environment we’re working to create.
Amaia Arruabarrena (00:41:53):
And then looking at equity in all of our systems. Most of us… I don’t want to say a blanket statement. Most of us want to get paid. We are going to work because we want to be paid for it. And as much as we love our jobs, if we stopped getting paid, we’re probably not going to keep going. So I think that what’s super important is to say, “Okay. It’s one thing to have a diverse population. It’s another thing to make sure that everybody feels included and accepted and that they can be exactly who they are.” But if we do not have equitable systems, if their performance is not evaluated equitably, if they’re not giving chances to promote and to grow and to develop and they’re not given access to stretch projects, they’re not going to stay. So we have to address all of these things at the same time. We have to look at all of them. How do these all fit together? And what are we doing in each of these to be the most diverse, the most inclusive, and the most equitable company we can?
Amaia Arruabarrena (00:42:48):
So we started by saying, “Okay, that’s what DEI means to us. Now what do we do about it?” So we got a dedicated budget. And one of the things that we had heard loud and clear and that we had been wanting to move forward with is that we need to have opportunities for continued individual learning. So DEI is not something that I do in a silo. It’s not something that my team does. It’s something everybody does and everybody has to be a part of. I cannot change the way you think. I can’t force you to learn. I can’t do any of it. The only person who can do that is you. Each of us individually have to choose to be open. We have to choose to question, to challenge, to think critically, to be okay being wrong. All of us. And so the best thing I can do is set up an environment where you feel safe doing that and then give you the opportunities to do it.
Amaia Arruabarrena (00:43:38):
So that’s what we focused on. We focused on, “Okay, how can we make it clear to people that we support you in this journey?” It’s a learning journey and everybody’s starting in a different place. We support you wherever you are. And we are going to give you opportunities to learn, to grow, to see. And that was where the training through you all came into play. And it was very important though because I knew what a massive move for us this was.
There are unique challenges that different organizations will face based on size, age, location, budget, and resources. Here’s Elisa Campos-Prator talking about approaching efforts creatively.
Elisa Campos-Prator (00:44:18):
I guess the challenges I’ve seen come up, especially when it’s from a startup perspective versus a larger enterprise established organization, is in terms of resources, understanding that maybe startups are not able to have the resources to fund certain programs, workshops. And I think we can get creative though. I feel like Scott’s is still fairly small. We’re not a startup, so to speak, but we’re growing. But again, fairly small compared to other companies I’ve worked with. And so we think creatively around the DEI efforts. So one of the amazing things that they do is we do have a DEI committee that actually consists of various people, which I’m really happy to see that, A, they’re interested and it’s voluntary.
Elisa Campos-Prator (00:45:00):
And then this is a very first company I’ve ever been a part of where the committee is consulted on various topics across the company. These are decisions across how the copy and certain newsletters or anything that we’re sending out to our members and just being mindful if that copy is inclusive, if there’s anything that’s popping out that we obviously may have not noticed and just want to avoid anything discriminatory. That essentially comes through the DEI committee. We review it and then give our thumbs up or thumbs down. Sometimes we’re like, “No, this is completely wrong and we have to try again.” So I’m really happy that that’s a creative effort in itself that doesn’t require essentially funding. If anything, it comes from the individuals working at Scott’s Cheap Flights out of their own volition just wanting to help out there.
I love that because I think it hits on a really pertinent point for this work no matter what industry or what company you’re at, which is always this tension between, “Do we have money for it or not?” And getting budget dollars can be very competitive.
And I think it’s really important to think about it as it’s not just one pathway too, because there are a lot of things you can do without money or without funding, but then there are certain things that you can only do really with funding. Obviously our partnership together is funded because that’s how we survive. I know for a lot of organizations that’s a big step, saying, “Oh, we actually are going to spend money on this.” And then how did you get from that decision to SGO?
Elisa Campos-Prator (00:46:37):
I feel like specifically at Scott’s, the DEI committee did a huge push there. We got together where, “This is needed: X, Y, and Z, Y.” And we created a budget and usually that’s what business leaders want to see. “How is this going to affect the business and how much of it can we afford? And we want to see the numbers and the data and essentially what the effect is going to be from these workshops.” So from a hiring perspective, I can definitely talk on, “Okay, if we train everybody, everybody’s aware of the goal and obviously the value for this DEI workshop. Everybody’s on the same page.” Then obviously there’s basically not going to be any type of questioning around, “What is this? Why am I doing this in the first place? Or is this another training that I have to go through?”
Elisa Campos-Prator (00:47:27):
No, I think talking about it out loud in the first place is important. And then once we present that data to business leaders, usually they like seeing that. They like seeing the numbers. They like having the data in front of them and honestly looking at it like this is going to be an ongoing investment and looking at it too, from the future of the company. “We’re going to continue hiring amazing people. We’re going to continue creating an inclusive environment across the entire company.” And then just the different walks of life from the folks that we hire on… It’s going to make a huge effect in how we think, how we collaborate, and then the products that we essentially produce.
Here’s SGO DEI facilitator, Rachel Sadler.
Rachel Sadler (00:48:10):
Organizations can support their DEI committees or ERGs in several ways, firstly, by providing committees with resources to do the work. So that could be setting aside a portion of the annual budget for DEI initiatives and training. It could look like allotting time during the workday for the committee to meet at a reasonable cadence. It could be providing a liaison that is part of the leadership team at the company so that the committee’s concerns go straight to the decision makers. Support also means trusting the team when they present issues and concerns around DEI and taking meaningful action in a reasonable amount of time.
Here’s Anna Whitlock, director of people, strategy, and culture at LabCentral.
Anna Whitlock (00:48:58):
With LabCentral specifically, the organization exists to provide access. And so at a baseline, it is operating in the realm of inclusion to provide organizations that would otherwise have really, really high startup costs to be mitigated and operating in a shared economy where a $500,000 piece of equipment is shared amongst 24 companies. That makes it a lot more accessible. So the existence of the company alone is aligning with an integral value.
Anna Whitlock (00:49:33):
I think the initiatives and various things that the organization has done, like many organizations, is multi-pronged. Some are happening at a really grassroots level. Some are happening at a more organizational level. And I think where I’ve seen that show up maybe on the grassroots side as an example is my colleague Shazia Mir. Her role within the organization is community building, which I think oversimplifies it, but a really beautiful thing that she does is we have artwork up in our space. And so she does this tremendous job of bringing in artists that are of many different backgrounds and many different representations and has those artists come and speak.
Anna Whitlock (00:50:18):
And we had the first in-person art exhibit art opening. All of the artists identified as African American or black or Caribbean American and/or Haitian American. And we’re talking about how this institution, being tech and LabCentral as an offshoot of that… Biotech. They never felt like this was a place that they belonged or that they were welcome. They thought this was the place that scientists go and that was where that story ended. And having this opportunity showed them that not only are they welcome here, but they’re celebrated here. So that feels pretty grassroots because it’s one person just doing a part of their job.
Anna Whitlock (00:51:01):
On the other side, have been really awe-inspired by the work that the organization… And this was specifically a lot driven by our board as well as team members. So it was from the bottom up and the top down to launch the Ignite program. They’ve done a great job putting word out there and marketing for that. And they’re still evolving what exactly their pronged approach is, but this oversimplification is bringing representation into the realm of STEM. And so some of the ways they’re doing that is they have really robust internship programs.
Anna Whitlock (00:51:38):
And my colleague Krista Licata is really advocating out there, talking to CEOs of large pharma companies and talking to their talent people and saying, “Do these folks really need PhDs? What about you bring this kid in who’s 19 and they’re really thirsty and teach them on these basic lab operations pieces and then hire them at the end of those three months and see if that works?” Bringing them through career forge programs that’s entirely supported and subsidized at LabCentral and then actually paying the participants who go through the program. Give them fundamental skills.
Anna Whitlock (00:52:15):
It’s not revolutionary. I think there are a lot of organizations doing similar things. Ignite’s really trying to catalyze those organizations to come together and not be operating in silos as well. And that is something that our board has dedicated millions of dollars in the budget to make that happen and it’s not something that is necessarily going to bring in money. So clearly it is entirely based in the values of representation and inclusion on that side. So just wanted to identify two distinctly different things that the organization does at different levels that I think have profound impact in different ways.
Anna Whitlock (00:52:58):
One of the first things that I did when I came was recognize, “Okay, let’s try and put together an interest group… People who care about these topics who want to talk about them and learn from them. Anyone who’s interested come and we’re going to meet every… Maybe it started every month and then went to every three weeks. And that was made up of a cross section of the organization, including executive leadership. I was a part of that and other folks. And I started off being like, “Here’s the discussion point for us to cover,” but I’m very sensitive to the voice that I have within this work and within the organization itself. For better or for worse, I end up being a vocal person because of the work that I do. And so especially within the realm of… This was the DEIB cohort at the time is what we called it. Trying to balance that, to say, “I’m not leading this. I’m not driving this. I’m a contributor just like everyone else.”
Anna Whitlock (00:53:54):
And unfortunately that really didn’t go… There was no ownership because other people would say… I think we had maybe two volunteers who led content, but it ended up being more of a discussion group. And at times there was feedback that people who identify as a person of color felt like they were being burdened with leading the group and sharing their experiences and that was not intentional at all. My perspective is that that organically happened on its own and then they felt bad about it, which is totally warranted. And so that really fell flat because we’re like, “No action is being taken.” I was sensitive to being the director and the captain to be like, “Go, go, go.”
Anna Whitlock (00:54:41):
And so we really had to pull back and reevaluate. And so the next iteration that we landed on was having an application-based system where people had to commit to that. It was seen as being a dedicated amount of time and they had to apply and the applications were reviewed by myself and a consultant at the time and maybe two other people. It’s a little foggy. We ended up having three applicants for what we had planned to have six spots for. And so basically we were like, “You’re all accepted.” They’re all actually people who are great for this work anyway. Everyone’s great for it in their own way. These folks have shown up consistently for this work at LabCentral.
Anna Whitlock (00:55:24):
And so they started and I think they felt a little aimless as well and came back to me and they were like, “What are we supposed to be doing?” And I said, “You’re building the charter. You are acting as advisees to the organization and to the executive team and the board to say, ‘These are the issues. This is how we think we should solve them.'” Getting their buy-in and then making it happen either as individuals or with support of the rest of the team.” I think that they struggled with that a little bit as well, because I think they wanted more guidance. And again, it was like, “But we want this to be employee driven and committee driven.”
Anna Whitlock (00:55:59):
And thank goodness where we have landed now, which I think is the best iteration and continues to evolve, is when we hired the executive director for Ignite, Gretchen, she also is coming to the organization with the wealth of DEIB experience. And so she came on and she was like, “This is good. We need executive leadership here,” which was a question we’d had because we’d gotten feedback, “Do you have the executive there to help support it? Or is that crowding the space for people to speak their mind? And someone from people strategy needs to be there,” which is me.
Anna Whitlock (00:56:33):
And so when we took the committee as it existed, had her leadership and had my presence there and they built a charter. They also were compensated, which I think adds a different weight and perspective on it. And we have right now a monthly meeting and a list of items. Some are as easy as, “Let’s make sure we have an anonymous question place that people can ask questions about DEIB,” to much more involved like we’re in the midst of something I’m driving and was already a part of my goals for the year, is doing a compensation audit through the lens of not only health of the business and market assessment, but equity promotion, all of those pieces which are important.
Anna Whitlock (00:57:14):
And so the evolution of that has certainly been a learning for us. And I think the biggest challenge I always have with this work is ping ponging, responding to one thing… And so someone says, “This isn’t working for me!” So then you do it this way and it’s not working for someone else and then you do it this way. And trying to figure out that happy medium where you’re doing this work in a way that’s not upsetting or offending or aging out of an antiquated practice so that it’s working right. And the committee definitely is an example of that that’s now played out over the past year and a half or so, but I think we’re in a good place, hopefully.
Ooh, I love that. And I love how open you are about that, because I think a lot of companies struggle with exactly the same process that you have gone through, so it’s really great to hear that in your own words, because it’s real, right? You’re like, “Hey, we have a committee. Go forth and do all the things.” And they’re like, “We don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing.” And in some senses, everyone’s figuring it out as we go along. So really appreciate you sharing on that.
Here’s Elba Lizardi, site director at BASF, followed by Naomi Seddon, author of Milk and Margaritas.
Elba Lizardi (00:58:25):
So we had a woman. She was actually a lawyer in our London office who had spoken to the CEO about doing more around diversity inclusion. It was [inaudible 00:58:35] my previous company. And from there came the idea of a diversity and inclusion task force. And when they created this task force, they basically said, “Okay, we need to go out…” And we were a global organization about probably 20,000 people at that point. They said, “We need to go out and we need to create this task force full of diversity. It has to show…” So it was diversity from different parts of the world, men, women, different racial, I guess, ethnicities, because how can you create a diversity inclusion task force and not have it be diverse?
Elba Lizardi (00:59:07):
So that was initially how I got involved. So I was lucky enough that my boss reached out to me and said, “Hey, we have to nominate someone from our business and we think you’re the right person.” And it’s quite interesting because I sit there sometimes and wonder how did I get chosen? Obviously I’m a woman. What a lot of people don’t know is I’m actually originally from Puerto Rico. So I am Latina. I’m a mom. I’m a wife, but I don’t know that I was outwardly doing something outside of I’ve always been very supportive of women and trying to advocate for women, because that’s who I am and I’m in a male dominated world. So outside of that, I wasn’t sure that I was constantly being very loud around diversity and inclusion. Prior to that I was very much I would say female focused I would say in that arena.
Elba Lizardi (00:59:47):
So when I got called on to do that, I joined this task force and it really was I think about 10 of us, again from completely different businesses, part of the world. And we just started to working as a team. What does diversity and inclusion mean? And that’s where I actually met the lead of diversity and inclusion for BASF, because that was when we started reaching out. We did say, “Let’s reach out to our customers. Let’s reach out to our competitors. Let’s reach out to our suppliers,” because we were aware of certain companies that were doing this I would argue the right way. And so how did we learn from those customers, suppliers, et cetera, to emulate what they were doing? And employee resource groups I would say was that first thing that we were focused on. We need to have employee resource groups.
Naomi Seddon (01:00:26):
One of the things that we’ve done at Megaport, one of the organizations that I’m on the board of, is we’ve really very heavily invested in this area because we genuinely care about affecting change and better supporting our employees. And so we have developed a DEI advisory board and we are going to be recruiting members of the public who might not otherwise get board opportunities and also pulling some board members from within the organization as well.
Naomi Seddon (01:01:00):
But one of the things we really wanted to do is hear about the lived experiences of other people who might be dealing with some of the challenges that we simply don’t have ourselves. Employees that might be blind in the workplace, employees that might be disabled, physically disabled. These are experiences I don’t personally have. And so we want to hear from other people within the community around what their experiences are within the workplace and how we can find better ways to support them, because ultimately I think one of the things that most organizations do is we listen to everybody within the workplace, but if we want to find ways to improve diversity within the organization, we actually need to be listening to people outside of the organization with different backgrounds, different cultures, and different lived experiences. And I think that that’s the area where I really believe more organizations need to start investing time and resources.
Here’s CA Webb again to take us home.
CA Webb (01:02:01):
You can’t drive change alone. You can’t have one employee who is a true believer and expect them to carry this work. I think it’s a flaw even in the way we staff diversity, equity, and inclusion officers. Often a company will hire one person and then the work gets shunted over to them and they’re often drowning. If the C-suite is really committed, that person also sits in the C-suite and is given many resources and that work gets dispersed across the company and it becomes something that ultimately every manager and every employee is expected to live up to. But no one person can do this work.
CA Webb (01:02:47):
So I think first, diversity equity inclusion work has to happen in community. I think if you are really being an entrepreneurial change maker in your organization, it’s essential that you have an inner circle of folks, probably ideally some internal, some external, who you can confide in and can get support from because you’re going to get pushback. You’re going to have naysayers. And you’re going to have days when you want to throw in the towel and you need people who are going to remind you of what you originally said. They’re going to hold up the mirror for you and help you remember yourself and help you keep going.
Thanks so much for listening. Please don’t forget to rate, share, and subscribe. It makes a huge difference in the reach of this podcast and, by extension, this work. Make sure to tune in next week when we talk about building inclusive cultures. If you’re looking to further your own knowledge and gain support alongside other incredible people, join our free community. You’ll get a welcoming, built-in support system grounded in the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. You’ll have access to bonus episodes, additional resources, courses, webinars, coaching, and more. Check it out at shegeeksout.com/community. This episode was written, produced, and edited by Vienna DeGiacomo, hosted by Felicia Jadczak, me, and Rachel Murray. The guests featured in this episode were [inaudible 01:04:22], Elba Lizardi, Amaia Arruabarrena, CA Webb, Jason Fooks, and [inaudible 01:04:31]. Our facilitators were Rachel Sadler and Kia Rivera.