Our country has a huge issue with systemic racism, and it has been swept under the rug for far too long. This toxic problem has permeated pretty much every single aspect of life, but it is notably present in the workplace, along with other forms of discrimination. Research from McKinsey showed that ethnic and racial minorities, LGBTQ+ individuals and women were less likely to pursue a job opportunity because they didn’t feel the company was inclusive enough. These populations have also experienced more microaggressions while at work. In addition, white people still dominate positions of leadership and get paid more, on average. For example, the average hourly wage for Black people is $21.05. For white people, it’s $28.66—a startling 27% difference.
This is just the tip of the inequality iceberg, and there is, unfortunately, much more where that came from. Transforming our workplaces won’t be easy, but we desperately need change. Frankly, we needed it decades ago. And for this to occur, for us to be able to break down the complex webs of structural oppression, we need to start at the top.Leaders have a responsibility to create a culture in which every single person has equal access to opportunity and feels wholly accepted and celebrated for exactly who they are. It’s not just the “right” thing to do—it’s what’s going to set your team up for success, or failure. After all, it’s only when people feel they are able to be who they are that they can perform at their best.
I asked six incredible leaders, all of whom have been committed to diversity for some time, what they’ve been doing to create even more inclusive environments in 2020. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Centering A Company Objective Around Diversity And Inclusion
Carrie Siu Butt, CEO, Simple Health
At healthcare company Simple Health, Carrie Siu Butt has always been committed to building a diverse team. “This moment in time has been something I have been working towards for my entire career,” she said. But with renewed urgency, her team recently established a new company-wide objective for the third quarter of 2020 with a focus on diversity, inclusion, equity and social justice.To meet it, they’re leveraging a five-pronged approach:
- Building a diverse team
- Hiring diverse contractors
- Ensuring their website is accessible
- Implementing gender inclusivity practices for clinical consultations
- Creating marketing collateral that reflects all of Simple Health’s patients
“This objective will be evaluated with the same level of scrutiny as our revenue and Ebitda objectives,” Butt shared. “I’ll be holding my team accountable, and both my team and my board will be holding me accountable in return.”
2. Making Inclusion More Than Just Rhetoric
Kerel Cooper, SVP Global Marketing, LiveIntent
For Kerel Cooper, it’s imperative that marketing platform LiveIntent backs up words with action—because it’s simply not enough to say you’re diverse and inclusive.Near the beginning of 2019, a group of LiveIntent employees (including Cooper) spearheaded an employee resource group called BID, which stands for Belonging, Inclusion and Diversity. The ultimate goal was to “bring the company together and share in each other’s unique day-to-day experiences,” explained Cooper. He’s proud to report that BID has seen great success, and they’ve expanded it to include a newly-formed Executive Committee, for which Cooper serves as chairman.“[The Executive Committee’s] purpose is to continue to mature and oversee our D&I’s success by providing opportunities for all employees to come together to share and educate each other both internally and externally,” Cooper said.Cooper is also the co-founder of Minority Report Podcast, which “focuses on diversity within media, business and technology” and “highlights people of color, diverse backgrounds, women and the LGBTQ community.”
3. Increasing And Prioritizing Diversity In The Hiring Process
Tina Hsiao, COO, WePay, A Chase Company
“We take pride in the culture we’ve built at WePay,” shared Tina Hsiao. “Jennifer [Aubert Parker, Chief Revenue Officer] and I are both diverse members on WePay’s leadership team; Jen is Black and I’m Asian. We recognize we have the opportunity to bring our diverse perspectives together, and we continue breaking barriers and making diversity and inclusion a priority at our company.”WePay has a strong set of diversity and inclusion efforts, including:
- Sourcing talent from new channels, such as HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) and code academies
- Doubling their 2020 goal for Black and Latinx new hires
- Requiring every new leadership position to have at least two diverse candidates make it to onsite interviews before extending an offer
- Achieving at least 50% diversity in the 2020 Summer Intern candidate pool
- Providing employee-run committees such as Women of WePay and hosting events with diversity and inclusion themes
4. Creating Opportunities For The Communities They Serve
LaShunda Leslie-Smith, Executive Director, Connected Communities, Inc.
LaShunda Leslie-Smith is the executive director of a small nonprofit that focuses on revitalizing neighborhoods and breaking the cycle of poverty. And she’s well aware that her organization’s huge endeavor simply can’t be accomplished without dismantling structural racism and being intentional about equity at every level. To do their part, the Connected Communities team makes sure to have a staff that reflects the population they serve by hiring from their neighborhood. In addition, they also have a Resident Ambassador program, for which they recruit, train and pay a living wage to residents who provide critical context expertise. This ensures that the voices and desires of those most impacted by Connected Communities’ work are heard and reflected in the organization’s actions.In her free time, Leslie-Smith facilitates conversations around race equity through a weekly live stream show in which she challenges listeners to be active anti-racists.
5. Getting The Whole Team Involved
Karsten Vagner, People VP, Maven Clinic
At Maven Clinic, a telehealth company for women and family, “We asked the company for volunteers to help build our diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives,” shared Karsten Vagner. To his delight, almost half of the employees wanted to participate, and they’re all committed to holding themselves accountable to long-term change. Together, the staff organized working groups focused on areas like education, partnerships, member experience, hiring and other areas of Maven Clinic’s business. They “now have a 12-month roadmap with measurable OKRs built by our employees that will make our team, culture, and product more diverse and inclusive,” Vagner said.
6. Learning By Doing
Diana Marie Lee (Co/lead CEO), Samuel González (Co-lead Creative Strategist) and Ruth Jeannoel (Wellness Consultant), Sweet Livity
Sweet Livity, a minority- and women-owned B-corp is helping other organizations transform in a holistic way. “We don’t offer one-off skills-building workshops because they don’t lead to culture change,” shared Diana Marie Lee. Instead, the organization works to “curate action-based, experiential learning that helps you transform, supports you to change your mind (the first step to changing your behavior).”
Some of the specific ways Sweet Livity does this include:
- Leveraging professional development opportunities, such as Restorative HR, Intersectional Racial Justice and Political Education, to inform organizational decision making
- Establishing caucusing or affinity groups for Black, Indigenous and people of color across intersecting identities, (e.g., gender, sexuality, roles, citizenship, age, etc.)
- Creating diverse teams of workers across roles and lines of authority
- Centering people most impacted by the work of the organization to guide the goals, plans and process of culture change
- Cultural organizing and consensus building in an effort to shift from “power over” to “power with”
- Providing individual and team coaching to help staff overcome compassion fatigue and stress
As these leaders show, there simply aren’t one or two easy solutions to dismantling systemic discrimination and creating a culture that feels inclusive and equitable to all. Every company or organization must have different approaches and initiatives that reflect their own issues, values, and employee base. The important part, though, is prioritizing this work—and ensuring that diversity and inclusion are woven into the fabric of our organizations from here on out.