After the tragic death of George Floyd set off a chain reaction in the world, particularly in the Black Lives Matter movement, we brought together a panel of experts to speak about racial injustice in corporate America. Aaliyah Haqq from the Center for Workforce Excellence, Jennifer Carter from Executive Women’s Forums (EWF) International, and James Pogue, diversity consultant and coach, look at the work that must happen inside ourselves, what leaders of companies can do to uproot systemic problems, and how to align the “head, heart, and hands” to drive real, meaningful change.
Watch the 9 min recap here: How to Make DE&I the Fabric, Stop Avoiding, And Get More Leaders On Board
Top takeaways from the webinar:
1. It’s a great time to teach and to learn and to grow together – at our own pace. Wherever you are in your diversity journey is ok, but staying where you are is not ok (6:30).
2. Commitment to this isn’t about doing something for 2 weeks or a quarter. It’s about changing the guts of your organization. It’s a time for courageous leaders to jump out and do the unknown. With help (14:30).
3. Systemic racism is the result of a variety of things. We weren’t taught that variety of things. You’re being asked to learn something that’s very difficult, very emotional, and something that’s been hidden from us as learners. Recognize that it’s going to be a hard journey (18:30).
4. As a society, we’ve agreed that white men are leaders. Collectively, we don’t see anyone else as a leader. That won’t change until we start to deconstruct and dismantle the idea that whiteness is the measure or standard of excellence (23:00).
5. Leaders often say, “this is great, and we want things to be better,” but then retreat to the hard metrics. They see diversity as squishy and scary and hard to measure, and so it’s separate. What we’re saying here is, it’s the same. It’s intimately connected to your business’ ability to be flourishing in 5 years, and it must be presented as a business imperative (28:30).
6. Instead of letting fear stop you, interrogate the nature of the fear. Ask yourself, what is it you’re really afraid of? Doing it wrong – ok, what‘s underneath that? Are you afraid people will judge you? Think you’re racist? That your career will be impacted? Name it and unpack it, because emotional intelligence is crucial for D&I initiatives (37:00).
7. Making diversity part of the fabric involves listening, focus groups, getting experts, educating yourself, and looking in the mirror. Be honest with yourself about what you’re accepting as diversity. We’ve got to think differently, we’ve got to do more, and we’ve got to act faster (55:00).
- Briana Harper
- Aaliyah Haqq, Partner at the Center for Workforce Excellence, Operations Leader
- Jennifer Carter, President of Executive Women’s Forums International
- James Poque, PhD, Keynote Speaker, Researcher, Consultant and Coach (JP Enterprises)
- Robin Stenzel, Chief Solutions Officer, Outmatch
BRIANA: Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining our session on “New opportunities in D&I and how to regain lost ground.”
We started planning this webinar a few months ago right when Coronavirus hit because we knew that diverse groups were going to be more impacted than others in terms of job loss, and we also knew that D&I initiatives were going to be disrupted as businesses struggled to adapt and survive.
Since then, a lot has happened. The tragic death of George Floyd set off a chain reaction in the world, and while the issues that we’ll be talking about today aren’t new to anyone who has faced systemic racism, it has caused a lot of us to open our eyes and ears and begin to understand the issues in a whole new way.
The racism conversation is heavy and it’s uncomfortable, but I’m really glad you all are here to have that conversation with us today.
We have three wonderful guests on who are all experts in the topic, and I promise that you will leave with at least some idea of the direction that you should be going in as a person and as a business leader. [pause]
So, again, I’d like to say thank you for being here. You may not feel quite as Zen as the guy here on the slide after our conversation today, but I do hope that we can help you find some clarity for your next few steps in the diversity and inclusion journey.
My name is Briana Harper and I’m your webinar host. I’m also your resource for any questions you have during the session or any time after.
We’ve planned about 35 minutes for our panel discussion today. After that, we’ll open it up to Q&A. And we’ll also have some points in the webinar. We will ask for your perspective and we’ll ask about your strategies, so be ready for that.
After the session, I’ll send out today’s slide deck and a link to the recording. If you have any questions that we didn’t get to today or questions that you think of after the session is over, please reach out.
You can email me at email@example.com or find me on social @OutmatchHCM.
Before we begin, I want to quickly answer something you may be wondering, which is why does diversity matter to outmatch, and why are we hosting a webinar on diversity? [pause]
Well at Outmatch, our mission is to match people with purpose, not just some people and not just privileged people — all people. We believe that there’s a path for every person to succeed and re-exist to help eliminate that path. We built a digital hiring platform that combines objective data from assessments and storytelling capabilities from digital interviewing to ensure that every person gets the consideration that he or she deserves.
This type of technology can fundamentally change how hiring is done in an organization, eliminating unconscious bias so that decisions are based on behavioral strengths and fit for the job rather than the name on your resume or the fact that you may or may not have been born into a family that could afford to send you to college.
That’s why we’re here, and that’s what we want for the world. We don’t have it all figured out. As an employer, we’re on the journey just like you’re on the journey.
I actually came to know each of our panelists through various diversity conversations we’ve had at Outmatch.
I hope that our mission and vision resonate with you, and I hope you try out our technology. But for today, I’d simply like to have a conversation as like-minded people who all want to do better. [pause]
So, now, I’ll stop talking so you can hear from our panelists, Aaliyah Haqq, Jennifer Carter, James Pogue. And Robin Stenzel is also on the call. She’ll be moderating the conversation today.
Thank you all for being a part of this discussion with us. I’d love to have each of you tell our audience a little more about yourself.
Aaliyah, let’s start with you.
AALIYAH: Thank you, Briana. So, as Briana mentioned, my name is Aaliyah Haqq, and I am a Partner with the Center for Workforce Excellence, and we are focused on helping organizations have more inclusive cultures. We believe that having an inclusive culture produces better business results, and the research actually proves that as well. I’ve been a part of this diversity and inclusion conversation for over 35 years, and I really am excited to be on this call today to really — to push the envelope a little bit and James will talk a little bit about his podcast about being uncomfortable. And I think as professionals, we’re all likely in a spot of being a little bit uncomfortable, but that’s where the change happens. So, thank you for having me.
BRIANA: Absolutely. Thank you, Aaliyah.
Jennifer, how about you?
JENNIFER: Hi, everybody. My name is Jennifer Carter. I am President of Executive Women’s Forums International, EWF International. We’re a leadership development company based in Dallas. We are focused on increasing the number of women in the C-suite and in business ownership and throughout the ranks. We do that not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also as Aaliyah mentioned, it drives business performance — diversity at all levels drives business performance, financial performance, the ability for companies to innovate, pivot in times of great change in crisis, which we may or may not recognize at the current moment. And we — I’ve been passionate about this for a number of years, and I am thrilled to be here and be with such an incredible panel. So, thank you for the opportunity.
BRIANA: Sure, Jennifer. And for anyone that attended our webinar on leading through anxiety, you’ll recognize Jennifer. She was on that discussion as well, so I’m really glad to have you back. And James, welcome to — welcome to the Outmatch webinar series. If you would, please introduce yourself.
JAMES: Sure. My name is James Pogue, and I have the opportunity to talk to people about diversity inclusion advice. I’ve been doing that for a while now. I’m grateful for the opportunity to join Outmatch on this podcast and really share what it is that I’ve learned, and also learn from the — from the panelists that I have — that are joining us.
The work that I do is really focused on, as Aaliyah said, keeping people in that right place of uncomfortable — to be uncomfortable, but to learning and doing so not to be uncomfortable for the sake of being uncomfortable. It’s a great time to teach and to learn for all of us to grow together at our own pace. I’m a firm believer that we are — wherever you are in your diversity journey is okay, but staying where you are in your diversity journey is not okay. It’s a great time for us to learn and to gather together. So, I’m grateful again to Briana for gathering us and putting us in a position where we can share some information a little bit of what we’ve learned with some really interesting and hopefully curious people.
BRIANA: That’s great. Thank you, James.
And as I mentioned, we’ve got Robin Stenzel from Outmatch. She’s gonna be moderating the panel discussion.
Robin, please introduce yourself.
ROBIN: Hi, thank you. I’m Robin Stenzel, Chief Solutions Officer with Outmatch. Iget the honor and privilege of working with people like Briana every day. I also get to work with our customers, our product team, and my background is in HR, so it’s a great way to bring all of that together and be able to bring different solutions, and really more importantly, different conversations as it relates to talent and topics and how we really enable our businesses through people.
So, I think this is a very timely and important conversation in ways for us to really hopefully improve our businesses and also the communities in which we live. So, excited to be part of it.
BRIANA: Yeah. Thank you, Robin. Again, thank you, Jennifer, James, Aaliyah for being here with us today. And with that, I’ll hand it over to you, Robin.
Let’s get started.
ROBIN: Great. Thanks.
We’re gonna start with a poll question. Normally, when you see us with a poll, we give you some answers and you get to pick one, but really gets you started thinking this morning, and so challenging you a little bit about why you’re here.
We know that there’s — with recent events particularly as we think about the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as we think most recently about Rayshard Brooks, those have really brought to the forefront this — the fact that we have social injustice and systemic racism in our society. And so, it’s also caused our businesses to think we need to do something different, we need to do more, and we probably need to act faster.
Now, many of us have had diversity and inclusion plans for many years, but maybe when we look back, that impact of that change hasn’t been where we want it to be.
So, now as we start to think about this, as we start to do things different, I’m curious what caused you to say, “Now, I want to come in, I want to learn more, and I want to be part of this conversation.” So, what brought you here?
And if you would just go in and chat those in, that would be great for us to be able to hear. And while you’re doing that, I’ll reach out to our panelists who have such great experience. They’re out having these conversations with organizations like yours and maybe you all can each sort of share as you’ve been out and having conversations, what are you hearing from businesses? What are they trying to accomplish?
Let’s start with — with Jennifer, she’s on my left. I’m gonna make my way along. [laughs]
JENNIFER: So, we’ve been having many conversations not only around COVID, but also the social unrest and the conversations around institutionalized racism. What they’re challenged with is doing it right, getting it right, being concerned about getting it wrong, and — and the council you’ll hear today, and James mentioned it a little bit earlier and said it very well is that, you know, you are where you are in your journey, but you can’t stay there and the conversations I’ve been having with colleagues and friends and clients have been around embracing that discomfort, embracing that exposure and vulnerability, and pushing into those spaces anyway.
ROBIN: I like that, embracing and exposing. Great, thank you so much.
Aaliyah, how about you?
AALIYAH: So, I’ve seen a mixed bag. There was actually just a couple weeks — actually, it was the day that the George Floyd video just, you know, went viral. I was doing some focus groups with a technology company, and shortly after those focus groups, they just went on fire. So, they got very vigorous in their action, they were ready to go, and they were like, “We got to do something about this,” because they had done an employee engagement survey and knew that there was an issue and now, this was like the perfect time for them to really just go all in. So, they were — they are demonstrating that they are committed and we are wanting to contribute to this long-time challenge that we — that we’re facing.
There have been some other organizations who, unfortunately, are not that ready, and because it’s such a sensitive conversation, they’re not willing to jump in because it is difficult. But like James said, you know, you’re somewhere on the journey, but staying where you are is, at this point, is kind of just not permissible, and that’s a strong language, but we really are talking about people’s lives and livelihoods. And we’re really talking about a system that is expired. And we know in business when things expire, it’s time for change.
So, I’m seeing a couple of different ways in which people are engaging, but if you think about people and companies and how leaders run their organizations, leaders who tend to be more, you know, courageous and going to get after it, they’re going to show up that way. And leaders who tend to be less than that mode, who may want to listen a little bit longer aren’t some may just want to avoid. I think we’re seeing it all, actually.
ROBIN: Interesting, I wonder if you think about that idea of sort of being out leading, being courageous and avoiding, I wonder, you know, if you think about not just as we talk about this issue, but in general, how does that impact the overall health? I think this is a huge piece of the overall health of your business. But then if you combine this with everything, right? Those that might be something as you think about your business, how do you get it healthier?
It’s a great point, and I really — I like the idea when you said it’s expired, I immediately went to like, “I’ve got stale milk in my refrigerator and how do I get anything in here?” You know, or — or just, you know, fruit, whatever that is, it’s time to get it out and put something back in. So, I love that — that term expired, I think is really powerful to your point.
BRIANA: I’ve seen a lot of this reflected in the answers. We’re getting several answers on the call.
BRIANA: Thank you so much, everyone for sharing what you’re trying to accomplish with us. So, I’m seeing, you know, always learning. I’m seeing some really answers around. When we were interested in D&I and we’ve got this — we’ve accelerated this. I’m on a council, we’ve got an initiative. I think that’s what we’d expect.
So, yeah. Let’s — let’s turn it over to James and see what he’s seeing.
JAMES: So, I would say two things — one, particularly with leaders, it’s hard. This is hard work. It’s heavy lifting, and for those of you that aren’t in the kind of shape, right? That we need to be in, you got to get to the gym. And that means you get — you need somebody that’s going to help you out and help you get fit as it relates to this. And there’s a lot of help that’s out there. There’s a lot of really smart people that are raising — that are raising their hand and saying, “Hey, I would help you do this.” So, you’re not out there by yourself. It’s really, really hard, but it’s very accomplishable.
If you do the second thing, which I’ve heard a lot about, which is you’re going to have to be in this thing for the long haul. There — there is no magic dust that people can sprinkle on you and say, “Wohoo, it’s fixed.” And to Aaliyah’s point this — the expiration date has passed, and so you have to begin to do something now that is long-term. And so, you’re thinking about solutions. Your solution is unlikely to be a webinar approach. It’s unlikely to be an ERG group and some information that they give you. That’s — those are good things, but that’s not a comprehensive solution to a systemic problem. It is hard in the long-term solution. And if you’re not committed to doing those — to those two things, but I would challenge you and say that are you committed? And not because you’re a bad person necessarily, but a new lens on what commitment looks like, right?
So, we’re talking not the first two weeks, three months, a quarter, we’re talking about how are you going to change the guts of your organization, and it isn’t the time for courageous leaders to jump out there and do the unknown with a lot of help. But there’s lots of good, healthy, really solid people that are out there to help you, but you got to be committed to the long haul. So, if you want to lose 37 pounds, you start by showing up at the gym and with a trainer that’s going help you out, and you can start in January and February and expect to have any results, right? We got to be in this thing for the long haul. Let’s hold some hands and jump off a cliff together with a parachute.
BRIANA: [giggles] There’s — there’s another answer I want to call out because, you know, this is a conversation we’re having as business leaders, but also as humans, and so someone wrote in. I also have two little girls and I want to take action for them. So, that’s certainly a piece of, you know, it’s — it’s everything. It’s — it’s definitely not siloed to one aspect of life.
ROBIN: James, you said something, and it made me think about a conversation we had before this. You said, you know, if you want to lose 37 pounds, you got to get to the gym and start to do it. You can’t quit and you’ve got to do this. The 37 pounds, you’ve got that goal, like so where do you want to go? What are you trying to achieve? And how do you sort of are — sort of start to articulate that?
And I think kind of in our early conversations when we were starting this and I think when we first met, we sort of said even beyond the training program, “Hey, we want you to take us to the park, goal is to run a marathon. We want you to take us to the race.” And you said, “Great, but why are you running the race?” Like what are we trying to do and what is that goal, and what does that look like. And I think I said to you that, “I need to get back to you.” Because I’ve got a few questions on my own that we’ve got to get answered. So, I really appreciate that setting the goal and the intention, and then to your — it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get there.
So, lots of great experiences you can see from our panelists and the work that they’re doing. I’m so excited to dig in a little bit more and then also kind of connect that back to the things that you all are trying to learn and accomplish as you’re part of this session. [pause]
So, that’s leading you up with another question. [pause]
So, as we think about this, and I’ll post this to our panelists, and as we think about what are the defects. So, we’ve talked about there’s this this problems and James, you — you mentioned it earlier, you touched on it, Jennifer as well. This isn’t new. This is something that — that certainly came up because of COVID or because of the recent deaths that we just talked about. This has been in our society for a long time. And it’s a problem that exists in business as well. It’s not just something that we can separate. This is my personal life and this is my business life. These things have become intertwined.
And as you all have kind of started to move in your journeys, not just today, and not just recently because you’ve been doing this for a long time. What are the deeper — deeper systemic problems that you see in businesses that are causing us, you know, a little bit we talked about it not to do something, but what are those problems and why aren’t we acting faster? Why don’t we stick to our — I’m going to turn it to James first — why aren’t we sticking to that regimen, that plan when we set a goal out or maybe we haven’t set a goal?
JAMES: Yeah. I think that there is a lack of basic understanding. And so, I — it’s a tough thing to say out loud because this questions who we are and where we’ve been and that we haven’t been learning the right things. And so, I really try to provide grace in my comments and my thinking, but just because you don’t know, that’s okay. You know, I don’t know you. So, you don’t know because you don’t know you. In 5th grade and 15th grade, you weren’t taught something. I wasn’t taught, right? And so, we didn’t have the opportunity to engage in discussions that — were the topics — the term systemic racism is the result of variety of things. We were taught those variety of things over time. Until now, we’ll be forced into a situation where in a very accelerated way, you’re being asked to learn something that’s very difficult, very emotional, and something that’s been hidden either purposefully or otherwise from us as learners.
So, it is a challenge. So, you got to — we have to put on — if my mom would say put on your big girl underwear [giggles], your big guy underwear, and then you have to go to work. So, we have to engage and just recognize first off, this is going to be a hard journey, so that’s okay, but you have helped, as I mentioned before. So, when I think about what some of the systemic issues are, the first is that there’s a lack of education, lack of basic education. The second piece I would say is that — before I turn it over– is that we have to be careful to whom we go to get the information we need to take the next steps. Everyone may be willing to be helpful, but everyone doesn’t have the knowledge necessary to help you. That’s not — again, that’s not on them. They didn’t know either, right? And so, if we go to the wrong — the wrong portal to get the right information, we inevitably will get the wrong information, right? So, if I go to my black ERG group to have them teach me about all things black, perhaps I’m going to the wrong knowledge base, right?
Just because you’re black, it doesn’t mean you know all things black. Just because you’re a woman, it doesn’t mean you know all things woman. You want to go to somebody whose job it is to teach you, to help you how to kind of understand this information better. And both Aaliyah, Jennifer have such deep roots in this, and so I’m interested, obviously, in learning from them also and pushing you to engage in folks like them, so that they can be helpful to you in your journey.
ROBIN: I like that. And I appreciate the fact when you said, you know, if you’ve got a problem, don’t go to — if it’s a — if it’s a female problem, it doesn’t mean you go to some women and sort of say, “Can you solve this?” If it’s something that you see, don’t go to everyone who’s black and ask that. I mean, in conversations that I know that I’ve been having within groups, people I know have said to me, “I’m tired because I am black, that people are coming to me and wanting me to be the educator and the cheerleader for this. I am processing my own feelings and emotions right now. And I don’t know that I have all the answers.” And I don’t want to have to be put up as the person with all the answers.
So, I really appreciate that you brought that out and said that it’s who’s the expert. So, we’re going to keep turning to experts because that’s not me. And I’m going to turn to Aaliyah next and see what her personal feelings are…
AALIYAH: So, when — whenever someone is going through something, it’s very important to notice a name. You know, it’s something that’s a phrase that gets tossed around quite a bit, you got to notice a name. There’s also a framework that a colleague who are followed uses quite a bit. It’s awareness begets choice, choice begets responsibility. And I loved it, but I thought like something was missing, and the thing for me is action, right? So, awareness, choice, responsibility, and then action.
So, if we kind of put those two concepts together with noticing and naming and then — I’ll talk about noticing and naming first, and then we can talk about action — part of the noticing and naming is really naming this thing. So, what is the deeper systemic issue? The deeper systemic issue is white supremacy. And we’re not talking about people with, you know, hoods on and all of those things. Actually, in a call that Jennifer and I had, she shared a beautiful definition of it, which was the measure — white supremacy is the measure that white — the level of excellence is whiteness.
And if you think about that, it’s like, yeah, that really makes sense. And if you take it a little bit, if you go just a step further with it, it really is about cisgender white men. That’s the level of excellence. There’s a — there’s an exercise that we do. And part of it is about, you know, how do you — it’s about bias and stereotypes essentially. And without fail, the positive or negative stereotypes that get assigned, the only step, the only group that gets assigned the word leader is white men. So, if you think about the agreements that we have in our society, as a society, we’ve agreed that white men are leaders. So, if you think about business and think about diversity and inclusion, and you think about all of these things kind of coming together, part of the challenge is that we don’t see collectively, we don’t see anyone else as a leader.
So, until we start to deconstruct and dismantle white supremacy — and again, we’re not talking about sheets and hoods and burning crosses, we’re talking about the societal agreement that we have that white is excellent, and that’s the measure or the standard by which everyone is going up against. So, when I think about another, just another part of this, and James brought it up, is about listening and going to the experts. I think it’s super important that people are listening to people who have an experience. And part of what that does is it humanizes people because I think part of the origin — or not the origin, but part of what is so challenging about being black in America, is that there’s a dehumanization of our experience and there’s a dehumanization of the struggle in which we go through.
So, I believe that corporate America is one way that we can help to educate people because people are working, right? Corporate America is a structure that we’re collectively a part of, but we also have to keep in mind that the great equalizer is law enforcement.
So, for us, we have to again, think about the things that we needed corporate America, belonging all of those things, but we also need to dismantle those systems that prevent us from belonging and from really being a full contributing partner and a full contributing participant in the American dream.
So, I know I went all places there, but I have lot to say about this topic. [giggles]
ROBIN: Well, and I think it’s — it’s multifaceted, right? I mean, and you’ve done a great job of just sharing that there’s not sort of this one sort of laying, you’ve got to look at all these different pieces and parts that are making the, you know, making this up. And so, that’s really, I appreciate that you went in those directions.
I also thought it was interesting when you talked about, you know, white supremacy and leaders and that in this exercise that you do, you know, leaders equal white men. You know, we were — I was talking to a friend who’s an HR leader, and she said, “You know, as I look at my organization and just logistically took a snapshot, it would look very diverse. But if I start to look at it in different ways, and I look at leaders and particularly in our more senior leadership, it doesn’t look so diverse, it looks one way, and it looks very much like white men. And so, somewhere, I know I’ve got a broken process.” And I am looking just to see and we were just talking about sort of this idea of how do we start to start to fix that.
And so, I’m going to kind of then transition that into Jennifer and thinking about some of the work that you all do and maybe answering this question as well.
JENNIFER: So, the answers that you’ve gotten so far have been awesome, and — and, you know, really meaningful. I think one of the challenges that we have is, if you’re on this call, and what James and Aaliyah just said, has made you uncomfortable, good. Part of the challenge that we’re having right now is when we do notice a name, it forces us to really think about our notions of what — what is business, what is business leadership, what is, you know, building capacity and people, what does that really mean. We have — one of the systemic challenges in organizations is that we have a sense that we’re trying to build a meritocracy. And that in building that meritocracy, there is such a thing as an objective position. And that — that we can define leadership in a way that everyone can accomplish, right?
Those are some of the basic tenets of building culture, building capacity, HR, you know, strategic partnership with business and part of my professional background is culture transformation. I’ve done large scale culture transformations, digital transformations for a Fortune 500, mid market, and even small companies. And — and one of the big challenges is that leaders say, “Hey, this is so great, like we want those things to be better.”
What really matters is, you know, efficiency and revenue numbers and, you know, productivity and, you know, profitability and reporting, particularly if you’re publicly held, there’s this separation that we think of between business, which has these “objective” measures, and I’m going to put objective in quotation marks because that’s part of what we’re talking about. When we talk about systemic challenges, we’re talking about the notion of objective measure, and how that often is through the lens of subjectivity. It’s through the lens of decades, and in some — in some cases, hundreds of years of codified language.
So, when we look at this, and we think, “Okay, where am I going to spend my time and resources right now?” We, as business leaders, have a tendency to prioritize the things that are closest to the business metrics that matter to our stakeholders, not our shareholders, — shareholders, rather, not our stakeholders or shareholders. So, the people who are wanting that profit return, the people who are concerned about being paid or compensated or bonus. What — one of the challenges is — and I think everyone on this panel would agree with this, and if you don’t, please speak up — is that this is not an optional thing, right? This is not of the moment. This is not something that you say, “Wow, I’d really love to do that. That’s absolutely the right thing to do.”
What we’re all saying here is this is intimately connected to your business’s ability to be flourishing in five years, to be profitable in five years, to have the right workforce in five years, to do — to be inclusive, but also drive the financial metrics that make your business run. We’re not trying to create a separation here. And one of the big challenges that I’ve seen in kind of my work around gender parity and also culture transformation is we often as leaders hold these things separate because this one’s kind of queasy and hard to measure and scary and vulnerable and uncertain and uncomfortable. Don’t really know what — so we’re going to retreat to the hard metrics, right, the hard business skills. What we’re saying here is they’re the same.
This is ultimately a conversation about leadership, and leadership is ultimately a conversation about performance. And if you don’t have the right capacity — leadership capacity and definition of leadership in your organization or if it’s myopic, like Aaliyah was pointing at, which by the way, most organizations it is myopic because we’re all trained through the same language, then you’re not going to be able to pivot and sustain your business and grow and draw out outcomes for everyone. It’s just not possible.
AALIYAH: Let me just jump in really quick.
So with — with Center for Workforce Excellence, we do a head, heart, and hands model. So this is really a heart conversation. And what Jennifer is speaking to the, you know, the discomfort and it’s soft and, you know, it’s hard — it’s hard to measure, that’s part of why we’ve taken — we’ve punted this for so long, it is because we have been able to kind of put it on the back burner.
And, again, we can no longer. However, I do believe that there are some people who will just continue to keep punting because of the difficult nature of it. And we’re encouraging people to step in and to lead with your heart and to do something differently and to do more or to act faster, as I believe Briana mentioned at the beginning of this, and I believe that there are going to be some people who are lagging in this effort because that’s human nature. But I agree with Jennifer’s comments, just the philosophical underpinnings for sure. Like, yes.
ROBIN: Well, and I think you just said something, too. It’s kind of, you know, it’s difficult in nature, and I think to tie that a little bit also to Jennifer’s point is this connectivity. We see these things as very separate, and having worked in organizations where you start to have this conversation, and you start to say, “But we’ve got all these other things to do. Do we have time?” Right? And we aren’t seeing them as — as I go out to seek more revenue.
This is part of that conversation and they should be hand in hand in the separation that I think Jennifer you were talking about is we haven’t made that connection. And it’s, I think, to your point, it’s hard, it’s queasy, it’s uncomfortable. So I’m not going to even try to make that connection as we start to think about it. I think that’s really interesting as you all brought that up.
JAMES: You know, Robin, if I can jump in — there was a comment I think that was made about somebody saying, I have two children at home or something to that effect. And in the — the first organization and many of us leaders, that one that’s underneath our roof, and you want to be able to say that we’re a good CEO of that organization, that you lead well in that organization, that if your children, if your nieces and nephews, whomever it is that you’re responsible for, have the capacity to ask you where are you in this moment, you have a decent answer.
Are you in a position where you can say, I’m growing, I’m learning, I’m going to try to do what is best and right for these people to provide them an on-ramp to a better — a better company, a better organization, a better country than the ones that was left for us. And so, the courage to do that, it has to sometimes come from those tougher conversations. When I look in the mirror intellectually, emotionally nude, and say, where am I in this, right? And each day, I may have to revisit that. Some of us put affirmations upon our mirrors in order to push us one day at a time. And this is the kind of effort that is going to require perhaps a daily uptick for us, a daily check-in for us, a daily look into the eyeballs of the little people that were making cereal for and say, “I’m doing this for you because I don’t know what the heck I’m doing right now, but I know that if I got a fall, I’m going to fall forward on my face instead of falling backwards as I have in the past.” And if you can pass it back to your team members, to your board members, to your executive team, to whomever it is great, that’s fantastic.
But where we start is important. So, I suggest for those of us that are still just dipping a toe in the water, the first person you got to influence and lead is the person in the mirror, and you got to be able to convince her or him or them that you are doing this for the best kinds of reasons. And secondarily to that, the people that surround you and look up to you literally, and then need you to create a better space and a better organization, a better family for them to the extent that you’re struggling to try to figure out the “why”, look in the mirror, if you’re still struggling, look across the dinner table and ask yourself, are you doing all that you can in today’s moment to take the information that you have access to, not just in these webinars because there’s a whole lot of stuffthat you can get for free on the Google, as my grandmother calls it, to make yourselves a part [giggles] as it relates to all of this, and take that data that you get and then you can process it through people that are raising their hand and say, “Hey, I’ll help you out with some of this, but I promise you all, for me.”
When people — even my diversity friends, I got some white guy diversity friends, I got black folk diversity friends, that if you come to me unprepared for deep and substantive conversation, I take it as a borderline insult. The least you can do is go read something and then come and talk about that. I may not be prepared today to talk to you and teach you from zero to 100. But man, if you come to the table with two and a half, that’s going to come together, right? So, do your part to make your world better, mirror first and the people crossing the dinner table.
ROBIN: I think that’s so — that’s, I mean, it’s such a great point. And it’s — and it’s hard, right? I mean, you just expose something that’s really hard and challenging and vulnerable and all of those things. So, we start to your point we started this conversation at what are you doing and how are you having at this — at the organization level. Sometimes I think it’s harder to have that conversation on appropriate level. I think, you know, to do the things that you’re talking about and to move from zero to two and two to five, you know, then you feel more equipped to go have that in your business environment, but you’re not doing it home, back to again, separation, and you’re not making all of those connections, it becomes really hard. I think that’s such a great point. Thanks for bringing that up, too.
JENNIFER: All right, let’s jump in really quick. And —
JENNIFER: — make a suggestion. And both Aaliyah and James have mentioned this and I think Robin touched on it as well, is we often let fear and discomfort, but it’s particularly fear stop us. So, if you are someone who looks like me, and you are in conversations or being asked to do certain things, or wanting to lead in a certain way and you have a fear, that’s very real, I want to acknowledge that’s real, but also one of the most effective ways to interrogate the nature of that fear — and this is — this is really, you know, reinforcing what James said — is ask yourself, “What is it that you’re really afraid of? What is the conceit of that fear?” Because one of the things that we say is, “Well, I don’t want to do it wrong.” But what does that actually mean? Right? What is it that you’re actually afraid of, and name that because whether it’s talking about diversity and inclusion or talking about other things, when we start to name, the — the motivators of the fear, we start to uncover the emotional state inside ourselves? And we stop reacting, and we start being productive. And that is a very strong toolkit whether we’re talking about very difficult topics like culture transformation, which is ultimately what this is, or if you’re talking about a potential promotion or advancement for yourself. There’s a whole host of ways that this shows up. Asking yourself and encouraging your managers, your team members, your employees were expressing that to really unpack that for themselves too, because we know that high emotional intelligence is crucial for these initiatives. And emotional intelligence is the ability to identify your own emotions, and manage those emotions, and identify emotions and others and help influence and respond to those and meet people where they are.
And so, I want to just reinforce what James said about looking in the mirror. Name that fear not just what you’re afraid — I’m afraid of doing it wrong. What’s the conceit of that? I’m afraid people will judge me. They’ll think that I’m racist. They’ll think that this is happening. My career will be impacted. And really calling that out and then acknowledging — again, if you look like me, that the feeling you’re feeling now may be new to you, but it is not new to many of the people on your team. It is not new to Aaliyah and James on this panel. It is not new to other leadership. And that’s part of that growth process is really understanding the emotional space that this is in as well.
ROBIN: I think if you think about the question that we sort of asked kind of, “why are you here,” and kind of the business side of this, and we’re, you know, business is starting to do and we’re getting a little bit more into that, you know, in some of the — just in the conversations that I’ve been in, when you start to open up the conversation or you start to have this, people say. “Wait, why do you want to talk about that as a business?” Isn’t that back to something you should have in your home? Right? That’s not something we should cross into this line. What happens because now you’re getting into politics, or now I’m going to become, you know, what if someone says something that’s inappropriate, or, you know, politically incorrect if we open up this conversation, so maybe we shouldn’t open up this conversation.
I’m just curious as you all. I’m — I’m assuming you all have heard these comments and questions and things before. How did you respond to that? If I’m sitting on this call, I’m an HR leader. I may not be the leader of the organization. But I’m in here and I want to start to help my company have this conversation. But I’m being faced with some of those as — as rebuttals. What do I do about that? How do I respond?
AALIYAH: I think being mindful of the, you know — being mindful of the environment in which you’re in is absolutely critical. And we are all in some ways protecting something. And it’s important to make sure that you have buy-in, so having a conversation with those who are higher up. If someone has put out a letter or something like that, you actually have a great opportunity to have this conversation.
Also looking at an organization’s core values, there was a client that we were just doing a proposal for, and one of their core values happens to be diversity and inclusion. Well, it’s a perfect pivot point. So what are you espousing? What is it that you stand for as an organization and that can sometimes help to have the conversation? Again, this is a conver- this again is a conversation about humanity. And even though it’s hard, it really is about — it’s about the survival of a very important group for this country.
So, I think one, getting buy-in from those who are higher up, using something that you already have in your organization as a pivot point. You know, do we — maybe diversity and inclusion isn’t called out as a core value, but maybe we’re family is a core value. Well, if someone in your family is having a hard time and you have a conversation about it. And getting the — also getting permission from people like, “Hey, this is going to be very messy,” and creating the conditions so that people can be honest that will be the point in which people are going to have to move on. And I’m not at all a legal person, so you people would have to. I’m not — I’m not an attorney, so people would have to find out intheir organization what is permissible, but again I say start with core value, start with getting buy-in and also we remember that this is — this is not a conversation, it’s gender percent that we can avoid. It’s — it’s not, it’s — it’s no longer an option, and we do have to throw out this conversation into all the fabric of our organizations that Jennifer mentioned stakeholders.
Part of, and I’m just going to go on a little tangent for a second. Part of an effective diversity equity and inclusion strategy really does involve all of your stakeholders. And it means that as an organization your looking at the needs of your community, your employees, your vendors, your — if you’re getting — if you’re working with government, any regulation, any regulator’s, etc. So, this conversation has to be really funky threaded in and when we start thinking about it really systemically then it loses some of the emotion even though it is a hard conversation.
JAMES: You know one of the — the benefits of being on panel, you don’t have to do all the heavy lifting as one of the panel, right? So, I get [giggles] — I get to just sort be on the on-ramp with Jennifer and Aaliyah, and to the point that being uncomfortable is critical. Hopefully, all of us are little uncomfortable. Let — let me nudge you a little closer to the edge and say that when Jennifer talks about naming the fears, she rattled off a few potential fears. Let me plan one in your lap and – and strap in if you’re not fully prepared and hold on to something because the fear might be that you did something that was racist, right? That you may be not on purpose, I mean, you might a decent person, good for you, but you may have done something to someone that was not nice, i.e., racist, maybe and by extension, maybe your company has a series of policies and practices that are racist or sexist or just in a variety of ways. And that’s who your organization is today. That’s who you might be today. But you don’t have to stay there, you can move one tip toward something else to be non-racist, to be actively a — a –a — anti-racist, right?
So, these are all probabilities. When you look in the mirror, one of those things might be maybe I didn’t hire her because she was a little too — I’m not sure what the word is — she just wasn’t a good fit. Hmm, her hair was too African. Her name was had too many syllables that looked interesting to me, right? That might be your fear, and I believe that we are put on the planet and our organizations are built to do more than make widgets and make money.
We have to be in part here to make the world a better place, and so if you think that that’s your job as a person, if you think that that’s your job as a professional, if you think that that is your job as an organization, then part of what you need to do is unpack some of those potential things that you did that work nice to people.
I’ve had to raise my hand a few times and said, I — I — I learned that I said or did something that was not okay. There was a Cuban Professor in New York that checked me one time and said, “James you know what, we’re talking about patriarchy. You know what, if everybody in the world was black, you’d be hyper privileged. How do you feel about that?” Oh — Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, I got to own that. I didn’t do anything to be male but I sure as heck have benefited from it, right? So, I have to recognize and, in some ways, I have privilege and as a result of my own privilege and the patriarchy that exists, I may have have executed on tactics, techniques, processes, and policies, and maybe even built some that disadvantaged the group of people. All right, now that I know that, what am I going to do about that?
And that’s what I was asking and sharing with you, now that you know, now that the mirror has shared with you but you have done some things, engaged in some things, built some things, that disadvantaged the group of people strictly because they color their skin, or because of the gender that they have, or because of who they love, or whatever the case might be, what are you going to do about it, right? You all are on this call, all of us have been blessed with a certain kind of perhaps economic or organizational power and authority, what are going to do about it? Get smarter, make some better decisions, develop some better processes, unpack some of the systemic races that may exist in your organization, right? That’s how we make a difference one step at a time.
JENNIFER: I’m going to say something real quick. I love what James and Aaliyah just said. I’m going to jump in real quick with a resource recommendation because as James and Aaliyah both mentioned, there is a lot of great resource — there are a lot of great resources out there that we can self-select and choose and use the Google and/or whatever DuckDuckGo, or whatever version of that is cool with you. Especially around the idea of white leaders, white team members, white, you know, executives expressing discomfort around this, expressing hesitancy and fear and those kinds of things.
One of the things that I would encourage you to research and read up on is the term “white fragility.” Now you might have just had a reaction to that term, that’s okay, that means you need to learn more about it. And one of the things that as HR professionals and business leaders, we need to be aware of is where are arsenal of responses come from? So, when we are navigating staff challenges and leadership capacity building and those kinds of decisions, we’re pulling from a set of resources, assumptions, and remedies, interventions as professionals and models, and one of the things that the notion of white fragility attacks and talks about is the centering of white feelings.
And so, the — but Aaliyah was referring to earlier when she was talking about white supremacy and how that gets institutionalized as leadership, and how the cisgender, white males end up being the avatar for leaders. This is also — HR policies are often written with the idea that this objective measure of emotional status, if they’re written that way not overtly, but they are there institutionalized with the idea that the white experience as the majority is more important, so their discomfort is policed in a different way.
So part of what I encourage you as an HR expert to do is to do some research about what that means, how that can be a poison, everything else you do as the D&I, as an HR leader — D&I leader, as an HR leader, as a person because what it does is it says, me functionally as a white woman my — my discomfort, my personal guilt about potentially, you know, being racist in certain situations or feeling incited is more important than Aaliyah and James’ experience. It is more important than the discomfort of our black and indigenous and people of color staff leaders, colleagues, friends, family members, and that is something that is institutionalized in this country, that is a part of white supremacy is not something you wake up in the morning and say, “I’m going to do this on purpose.” It’s how your — it is — it bleeds into our bones in this country because that is the language we speak, and so I would encourage you to go do that research. There’s some great resources out there. Google it. There are some great resources for you.
JAMES: So, the extent to which like white fragility did that thing, right? You flip it on its head. What is that, right? What is the opposite of white fragility and the extent that folks have been running from, trying to understand that, as folks have been running from trying to recognize that the reverse is true, too. You fill it in yourself, listener attendee. Opposite of white is what? Opposite of fragile is what? You know how strong Aaliyah must have to be to talk to her children about you got to be attending to when the police stopped you. And she has instilled that into that young person when they’re 15, nine months, almost 16, you must know this.
I — I’ve been stopped by the police, I don’t know somewhere about three dozen times, something like that, and I think about the guys who weren’t strong enough to make it through the 15th police time and they lost it. They never — they didn’t have to be that strong. They shouldn’t never have to be that strong. That’s not fair. How much did your business lose because you didn’t get the intellectual gravitas of that potential employee because they lost it when they got stopped for only the 15th time. Thank goodness, I could make it to 32, right?
So, if white fragility is the thing, then you have to know, you have to begin to believe that black strength is a thing, and not to be feared, right? Not to be — not to run from, but to recognize that it exists, right? Because this — this — this is not one of — all of these things are connected, the systems are connected, and we recognize that what is there and the other is there. I — I don’t know what it feels like to be white and hear somebody say black strength on a webinar or a podcast. I don’t know what that’s about, right?
So, I respect it. I may have poked you an eyeball in love — in love, but I — I think that we have to do this together. I can recognize that you are fragile, and you can recognize that I am strong at the same time, right? We can — we can do things together, and I’m not saying that your white agility makes you a good person and you’re not saying that my black strengthens me a bad person. It means that we can meet somewhere in the middle, we can develop something it’s really interesting and beautiful and strong together, right? So, I’ll stop then.
ROBIN: I think this is good, I mean, we’ve got this. This is the question and while I didn’t ask it in the same way, we’ve gone about, you know, answering this in a lot of different ways, and — and I just want to make sure that I’ve captured sort of some of the things that you all said. So, we think about we know what the problem is, what can we do about it. Well, some of the things I’ve heard you all say, which have been very powerful or, you know, this idea of looking internally. You just said recognize as a word that I’ve picked up acknowledged. You know, that we’ve got these differences and that we’re looking at things from maybe one point of view so that gets into education. How do I look at this from a broader perspective and what do I think on it, and then make sure that as we go through this, that we’re naming it and we’re understanding it. And I think as we talked about organizations and the conversation that we also understand the organization and then we can bring it in a way that can be consumed as a little bit of I think what I heard you’re saying, Aaliyah, is like we don’t want to ignore it, we’re not going to walk away from it. I’m going to bring it to you, but I’m going to understand your consumption, so that I can continue on and have that conversation.
This is very simplified into and certainly not as eloquent in all of the great details that you all had, but again some things that maybe as the audience starts to think about what can they do next. So, maybe because I know we just have a few minutes. Maybe Briana, we move to — to just thinking about D&I and the fabric of a company and how does we’ve talked a little bit about this, but how does it really become. So, we know that you’ve got to have a strategy in place and, you know, we kind of talked about that a little bit I think around the edges. And we talked a little bit maybe as you think about how does it become a fabric because maybe as you all kind of think about your answers, thinking about too — is what – what prevents it from doing that. So, how does it become that or maybe what prevents it becoming in our fabric?
I’m going to start with you Aaliyah, if that’s okay.
AALIYAH: So, I want to just really quickly the last question that you just asked. It kind of ties into this, “what do you do?” So, there are tangible things that you can do, and the first is listen. James mentioned it right away. We’ve got to listen to the people who are impacted the most because we’re all impacted in some way, but you’ve got to listen to the people who are impacted the most.
I think it’s important to get experts on whatever topic it is you’re exploring, for example, “I’m not going to go to a podiatrist because I have a GI issue.” Okay. So, it’s very similar like most of the people who know and be willing to accept their prescription or their — their proposal to help you get to wherever is next. So, that’s one big thing is listening, trusting experts and listening not just to experts, but also to the people who just impacts.
So, how does the D&I become the fabric of the company? You have to think about all of your stakeholders. There is a great model, so conscious capitalism is an organization I have been involved with for over a decade. And I like — I like a lot of the tenants of what they talk about and they talk about a stakeholder perspective instead of the shareholder perspective. And in a stakeholder perspective, you really are — you really are thinking about the needs of everybody. So, what does my community needs? What do my employees need? What — again if your regulated by government — what does the government need from me?
So, we’ve got to very well — we have to be intentional about how we weave diversity and inclusion into a fabric, and how you do that is through listening, focus groups, getting experts, educating yourself, looking in the mirror, as James said because when you have gotten your own knowledge base, you can have a different conversation like James that come prepared. You can have a very different conversation even with an expert because your level of learning and your level of absorption will be impacted.
Something else that you can do is look at the numbers. So, diversity — diversity and inclusion has become this fun, check the box exercise that we’re like lead for people like to be comfortable. That’s just was human nature. We like to be comfortable, and people will put a lot of companies, will put — would be very diverse.
Actually, I did a keynote for a company, another tech company back in October and they we’re like, “We are so diverse.” I don’t know what their measuring stick was, but it was definitely inadequate, but they we’re diverse based on what they were comfortable with. They had — they had a — a pretty well-balanced men and women ratio, they had quite a few minorities, but again it was — it was how they were — what they were comfortable with. So, we also have to be honest with ourselves that this should not — this should no longer be a check the box of exercise. We need to go a little deeper and I loved again Briana’s words at the beginning, we’ve got to do something differently, we’ve got to do more, and we’ve got to act faster.
I can go on and on with solutions because I’m a solutions person, but I’ll stop there to give people some more space.
BRIANA: Sorry to I interrupt, Robin. before we throw that question over to Jennifer and James, I wanted to just add in some things that are related to this question, that we got from the audience.
One of the questions is, “D&I works when leaders tie it to performance and rewards and recognition, how do you address this when business leaders do not want to tie and eye to compensation rewards, etc.?”
So, that to me sounds like it’s not in the fabric, so that’s — that’s, you know, part of this question, how do we change that and then, you know, the comment I’ve got is obviously this — this discussion applies, racism applies to all races.
So, any — anything you would add around that, because diversity is about — is about everybody. So, I just, I’d like to hear Jennifer and James, your thoughts on those two things.
JENNIFER: James, go ahead.
JAMES: Sure. So, let me start with the last question first that diversity is about all races, are all groups. I think if we’re not careful, we can get slippery and slip right off the foot, right? So, that’s not to say that the other groups are not important, it is to say that if we address the biggest issue, we can make a lot of traction on the other. Issues. I had a friend say to me, well I didn’t see all these protests and riots happen to where you were locking up our babies down south of the board, right? And I was like, you know, that’s a really good point, right? I got — you got — you get to be upset about that, I’m upset about, and you’re correct that there wasn’t the same kind of reaction when that was transpiring.
Let’s not allow this what we might perceive as a different topic to supersede the overlapping Venn diagram of our issues, right? That there’s a lot that we can accomplish together. Unfortunately — unfortunately, the — the what do they call it, the — the original sin, right. The big sin of the United States is this slavery issue and we — and this race issue. If we can unpack that, we will develop skills and policies and practices that will impact across the range of diversity. We will get smarter about talking about race and diversity. We become more expert about talking about race and diversity. We will have stronger and bigger muscles if you will to talk about all of these issues. It will make it easier to talk about GLBTQ issues if we can deal with race/black issues. It will make it easier to talk about the Asian issues, the Hispanic and Latino issues, all versions of immigration across the board, if we can get stronger around the issue of race and slavery of people, racism and systemic racism, we have to get stronger around it.
So, let’s do what is hard. I think it was Mark Twain said, “if you eat a live frog for breakfast every morning, right? There’s nothing worse than what happened to you throughout the day.” Meaning, do what is hardest first, you have been avoiding the harder topics, our S topics for a long time, right?
So, I think that you have to acknowledge that there are the absolutely depravity and challenges that exist in other spaces, but that we can all win by lifting what is heaviest first together.
ROBIN: Jennifer, I’m going to give you the last word.
JENNIFER: I just want to say something quickly and address another part of the question that — that Briana read off from the audience about tying business incentives to D&I initiatives and the reluctance to do that.
D&I of any type needs sponsors, so this can’t be something that’s pushed from the bottom. So, you need to recruit executive leaders and the conversation should be had is not we need to do this because it’s the right thing to do, although it is, that is not — I’m not disputing that. You have to present this as an HR or D&I executive as — as a business imperative. And there are lots of studies out there that show — that this is directly tied as very specific business outcomes. Whether it’s the ability to innovate pivot in a crisis, drive financial performance, increase profitability, reduce waste and costs and expenses.
So, part of this is — is to call it what it is and then tie to the impact that you’re looking for, and then measure the progress just like you would any other strategy, is that when we have more diverse leadership throughout an organization at all levels, involvement, more inclusion, right? It’s not just the seat at the table, it’s the voice at the table that actually can affect change. These are often conversations around things like sponsorship and mentorship, right? This is not a huge performance gap that we’re trying to deal. Well, if only that, you know, our black staff were better at blah or only our women were better at negotiation or blah, this is not that. The data out there shows that it says this is access to authority and power and systematic institutionalized issues.
So, what I would encourage you to do is to get really — like really overt about the business metrics that you’re driving and use this as a strategy to drive those metrics because that’s the language that leadership worries about. They’re worried about profitability, they’re worried about how that ties — how that ties stakeholders to shareholders, which is ultimately the motivator for most businesses.
BRIANA: Thank you, Jennifer. I think that’s the — the perfect way to leave this conversation because I was seeing things in the chat really about the buy-in piece of this, like if — if the people on the call are on board, how do they get other leaders on board with them to really make change in business?
So, I think that’s a really great place to start and focus some energy.
Thank you so much Jennifer, Aaliyah, James, and Robin for moderating. This was a really great discussion and I know our audience appreciated it because of the things I was seeing in the chat.
So, thank you so much and everyone on the call, I hope to see you next time.
JENNIFER: Thank you.