So many superlatives come to mind to describe last week’s event, DEI In Action: A Panel Discussion with Practitioners and Leaders. With nearly 3,000 registrants, it was the largest quarterly DEI panel discussion we’ve hosted. The registrants ranged from some of the most recognizable organizations in the world (like FedEx, NASA, The Nature Conservancy and Nissan) to nonprofits dedicated to positively impacting their communities (like After-School All-Stars, Campus Election Engagement Project, and Leader Dogs for the Blind). Over 125 questions were posted in the Q&A, and the chat log was 45 pages long!

The panelists were a Who’s Who of tenured practitioners in the DEI space. Arthur Benjamin, our moderator, currently serves as the Senior Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion for the digital marketing firm, Tinuiti. As well as leading Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging for Sunrun, Markus Archord is a course facilitator for the eCornell University Diversity & Inclusion Certificate Program and served a combined 21 years in the U.S Navy / Navy Reserve. In her role as the Chief Culture, Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Vizient, Monica Davy is responsible for guiding the organization’s overarching strategy, program implementation and ongoing support for culture and D&I initiatives. Not only is Sarah Hassaine graduating this month with her eMBA from the Wharton School, UPenn, but she also serves as the Global Director of Diversity at ResMed where she focuses on building a global strategy, expanding their ERGs and working closely with their leaders across all verticals. Armond Kinsey is the Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Atlantic Health System, where he’s charged with leading a transformational agenda to infuse diversity and inclusion throughout the organization with 17,000+ team members across 400+ sites of care. Dr. Samira Salem serves as the Vice President, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion for CUNA, the Credit Union National Association, a Madison, WI-based trade association for both state- and federally chartered credit unions that provides lobbying, regulatory advocacy, professional development, and professional services management for their over 120 million combined members.

Here are a few key excerpts from this thought-provoking and powerful discussion.

Where does diversity, equity, and inclusion belong in the organizational structure today? Should DEI be the relegated to the HR Department?

Markus Archord: Every organization will approach this work differently, but my preference is to be within the HR organization. Because my priority at Sunrun is looking at people, processes, and systems within the organization to make sure that our own house is in order before we focus on areas like supplier diversity, marketing, and public policy.

Dr. Samira Salem: Regardless of where DEI is in the org chart, access is key.

Monica Davy: Agreed! Sometimes we get hung up on boxes, but leadership and commitment are critical. Access without leadership and commitment will get you nowhere.

How important do you think it is to have leadership buy-in to make DEI a success within an organization?

Monica Davy: You can’t get anywhere without it. Most of the time, we start by working on leadership commitment from the top, but the work often gets harder when you hit the mid-management level, or the frozen middle, as we call it. That’s where the rubber meets the road, because the middle managers are responsible for the day-to-day implementation.

Dr. Samira Salem: Hallelujah! We certainly want to support DEI to be a strategic goal, but we also need to understand and be responsive to the goals of middle managers so that we can help them use DEI to meet them where they’re at and not approach DEI as a top-down mandate.

Monica Davy: I would like to add that not only do you want the C-Suite to have buy-in through something like a commitment statement, but I say we take it a step further and have C-Suite leaders own and be held accountable for certain aspects of your diversity program.

What are two areas that you are focused on in your 2021 Diversity & Inclusion Strategy, and what actions are you taking to move the needle in your organization or industry?

Armond Kinsey: What Monica just shared is a great segue into one of my top priorities, accountability. This year at Atlantic Health System, we tied DEI performance goals to compensation and bonus. The two goals we’re focusing on for 2021 is increasing diversity among our administrative leadership and also for our physician leadership. One of my pet peeves is to hear that there isn’t enough diverse talent to fill these roles. I say, “Give me few minutes. I can help you find it.” You have to be intentional about how and where you look. For example, we’re starting to partner with HBCUs which is a source that has been historically untapped. In addition to looking at who we’re bringing in the door, we’re also looking at development opportunities to promote more equitable internal mobility. Another area we’re focusing on is our communication modalities. One of the things that COVID exposed for us is our inability to communicate in broad languages. Our website is being translated into multiple languages, and we’re certifying interpreters within our organization to improve accessibility.

Sarah Hassaine: I’m focusing on awareness first. What do diversity and inclusion mean across all verticals? Whether its policies, benefits, effective management skills, community outreach, etc. Once we focus on what leading inclusively looks like across the business, then we focus on how we are sourcing our talent. I share Armond’s pet peeve about hiring diverse talent. Implementing these goals requires us to partner with internal groups like ERGs and mosaic groups to build pride and leverage their network to support recruiting. Your best asset is your talent!

As a practitioner, how important is creating psychological safety and trust in your DEI work?

Dr. Samira Salem: We know that diverse teams outperform homogenous teams every day of the week (see The Blinding Effects of Bias in the Workplace). The caveat is that these teams need psychological safety and trust to allow these folks to take risks, be innovative, to bring their authentic selves to work, and not feel that they’re going to be punished for going out on a limb or making a mistake. Part of the work of DEI is transforming a culture where a dominant group is prioritized. Even if you’re not a member of the dominant group, it’s critical that everyone experiences psychological safety and trust.

Armond Kinsey: The term psychological safety is big, and we can’t assume that we’ll get there overnight. A lot of companies rushed out messaging on DEI last year following the murder of George Floyd. This year, their employees are holding them accountable to those words. To make good on those statements requires a certain amount of vulnerability. If you survey your employees, for example, they need to see their fingerprint in your resulting DEI strategy. If someone can see their input in how you built out your strategy, they’re more inclined to trust that this is going to be in their best interests which will help build trust and psychological safety.

Monica Davy: After the murder of George Floyd, a lot of organizations rushed to have listening sessions to create a safe space for people to come and process what they were feeling and going through. I don’t know that many organization are still doing that. I think it’s critical for organizations to have those listening sessions all the time. In my previous position with the National Credit Union Association, we were having conversations like these every month for about four years prior to George Floyd’s murder. So, when he was murdered, we addressed it as a natural part of our process. People knew that they could come, they could share the raw emotion of what they were feeling, they could be transparent, and they could also screw up and make mistakes in the language they were using and learn. My hope is that people make these sessions an ongoing part of their practices. We already know that there will continue to be issues that people will need to process in safe spaces.

Sarah Hassaine: I’ve been holding listening sessions like after the Atlantic shooting, before the Chauvin verdict came out, after the verdict came out, and I plan to hold one as a memorial of the year after George Floyd’s murder. I keep seeing increased participation where people come for support, to share, or just listen. There’s a spectrum of how people are feeling. The challenge that we see now is that there is repeat trauma for a lot of communities because we keep seeing repeat events and images. We can’t cover the pain we’re all carrying at work. I love the Deloitte data on covering. So, not only are we covering, but we’re also carrying this pain at work. At the end of the day, psychological safety is not getting enough attention, and it needs to be incorporated in our training starting from onboarding and repeated.

What areas of DEI do you believe we are not giving enough attention to, and how do you think CEOs and DEI leaders should respond to these gaps?

Monica Davy: We give too much attention sometimes to representational diversity. We start off trying to get diversity into our organizations. But, if you’re not focusing on making sure you have an inclusive culture, that diversity is going to walk right out of the door. Your attrition rate is going to stay high and you’re going to create a revolving door of talent. I like to say that if you don’t intentionally include, you unintentionally exclude. But, our brains are wired to make quick, exclusive, decisions to save us time and energy. So, you have to slow yourself down and be intentional about inclusion. My title at Vizient is Chief Culture, Diversity & Inclusion Officer. I love the fact that they had the foresight to put those things together. I could do a lot of work on D&I, but if we’re not working on our culture – which starts with your leadership living and modeling your values – you’re not going to make any progress. I say make sure that inclusion is one of the values included in your culture, starting from the top.

Sarah Hassaine: Pay more attention to the competitive advantage of your DEI strategy. This starts with widening the definition of diversity to include areas such as neurodiversity, veterans, and the disabled communities. There is an enormous pool of untapped talent that currently is not included in the workforce, but could significantly contribute to your competitive advantage.

What are the dangers around a performative approach to DEI?

Monica Davy: I’m assuming you mean those “check-the-box” exercises to make it look like we’re committed. I think that the best laid programs or strategies can fall into that category as well. You can’t boil the ocean. You have to be patient and understand that you have to have a holistic approach. And that approach, I believe, begins with asking people to start with their “why”. DEI professionals do it themselves, and you need to do it with your leadership team. If you don’t start there, it’s all going to be performative.

Sarah Hassaine: I so agree with what Monica said. I always invite people who are in my trainings to take a week to observe themselves. Think about what inclusion means to you and be aware of your own biases. When we do this, we’re making DEI not about the organization, but now, it’s personal. I do worry that it is not sustainable. It will be interesting to see how companies fare 10 to 15 years from now in this area. There’s currently a 71% increase in D&I professionals who are helping to strategize, but it’s also predicted that 50% of us will fail.

Armond Kinsey: We often marry diversity and inclusion together. While they’re complementary, they’re two different arms of the work. Getting the diverse talent is one job, but, to Monica’s point, keeping them is a job in itself. There’s a statistic that finds that within the first 30 to 60 days of talent walking in your door, they’re deciding if they’re going to stay. It costs 1.5 times a person’s salary to replace them. So, outside of whether they love their job, consider how well you are connecting them to your internal community. I would also caution people to stop trying to find people who “fit” the organization. Look for people who align with your organization. No one wants to fit into a box. So, instead of hiring for culture fit, think of hiring for culture add.

Dr. Samira Salem: For this work to be sustainable, it has to be transformational rather than transactional. If we simply put forward the business case, that can lead to a more transactional approach. That’s where having patience, picking yourself back up when you’ve made mistakes, having both the leadership commitment and tie-in to your individual “why” will give you the north star to do the deep work that needs to happen. This work is not linear. It’s built based on all of the areas brought up by this amazing group of practitioners. But, if we want to see the humanity and reap and true value, we have to be committed to doing the work.

Thanks to our esteemed panelists, our passionate attendees, and powerhouse team, for showing up, for sharing, and for continuing to build community around getting DEI right. We are honored to present quality programs like this to continue taking you from what is to what is possible.

QuestionIs your organization getting traction with its DEI strategy?


Click here to watch this amazing discussion unfold



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