This week, I had a chance to sit down with Bring Ruckus, a consulting firm focused on analyzing, optimizing, and solving companies' challenges with digital and online marketing and recruitment and talent strategy, to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities in pushing for more #inclusive companies. The full interview is below. Check them out and subscribe to their newsletter by visiting their website.
Bring Ruckus: When companies and leaders don't have a serious commitment to #diversity what do they risk losing?
Corey Ponder: I think companies lose talent, trust, and money. In 2014, Glassdoor conducted a survey with active and passive job seekers and found that 67% of these respondents considered diverse workforces a key factor in considering job offers. Underestimating the importance of #diversity may reduce the talent pipeline, which says nothing about the impact that a weak commitment has for employees already there. Deloitte conducted a survey in 2013, which found that 80% of employees are more likely to believe they work for high-performing organizations when they perceive their organization is committed to or supportive of #diversity. Trusting that the organization has an employee’s success and growth in mind becomes a lot harder when the organization isn’t perceived by employees to be firing on all cylinders.
Companies lose money in terms of return on investment and on revenue. The Multicultural Economy 2017 Report by Selig Center for Economic Growth notes that the spending power in the U.S. alone will exceed 16 trillion dollars by 2021, and the fastest gains will be in minority groups (Asian-American, Hispanic, African-American). A weak commitment to #diversity means a higher risk of not understanding or reflecting these markets in the products or services being created to engage consumers. Additionally, organizations spent an average of 1,252 dollars per employee on training and development initiatives in 2015, according to the State of the Industry report sponsored by Bellevue University and the Training Associates. Given the importance of #diversity to both current and potential employees, it’s fairly safe to say that some people have left companies because of weak commitments to #diversity, and the question ask is, would a more serious commitment to #diversity be worth the cost if it reduced the attrition that contributes to lost ROI?
Bring Ruckus: What are some of the obstacles to D&I and how do you help companies overcome these?
Corey Ponder: I think of and focus on three things as obstacles in my work: lack of empathy, fear of discomfort, and committing to values. I think for many conversations about #diversity, we have an empathy gap. Rather than intellectualizing the problem that a lack of #diversity creates for leaders, I try to humanize the issue. I don’t need leaders to leave my workshops having a scholar’s understanding of systemic injustice and inequality in underrepresented communities. What I do want leaders to walk away with is the ability to empathize — I’ve never had your experience and yet, I can understand and connect to the feeling of being excluded or othered, because we’ve all felt that pain. Whether a person experienced racism for the first time or was picked last for kickball because they weren’t athletic, the feeling is something we can connect to, even if the circumstances, solutions, and gravity of the experiences are different.
Part of the problem with trying to “teach” people what a community has experienced and will experience is that no amount of education will be enough to keep up with what it means to live that underrepresented, underserved experience every day. So not only is an education not enough; it is also daunting. For some clients, I’ve had this manifest as a fear of being uncomfortable. We don’t want to get it wrong. We don’t want to be challenged. We don’t want people to know we don’t have all the answers. So in my work, I spend time identifying what our fears and barriers to stepping out confidently for #inclusion are, and how we can reframe our response to these fears so that we are not stifling our ability to have an impact even with imperfect responses. I teach my clients to worry about the slugging percentage rather than the home-run. A strong batter doesn’t just wait for the pitch they can knock out of the park. They practice hitting all sorts of pitches, in the hopes that they can improve their odds of hitting it out of the park most of the time. They will strike out, of course; however, they learn and adjust their stance and their swing and they live to play another day.
Once we can see past our fear or internalizing this sense that we can only show up as both informed and perfect before we can act, the final obstacle is committing to a clear set of values. I’ve seen companies layout beautiful statements of intention for the world that they want to see; however, the values are the rules of the road for how you will execute and weigh tradeoffs between two positions. It’s not enough to have a company #diversity statement if there aren’t values leaders and employs can use to make decisions about priorities and what success looks like: if a hiring manager is faced with filling headcount to help their team scale quickly on a set of new business priorities and a consistent lack of representation of women or minorities on the team’s they hire and manage for, do the company values emphasize growth at all costs or emphasize the importance of #inclusion as part of the solution for a successful team?
Bring Ruckus: What does it mean to be an ally who is in a leadership role at a startup or major tech company?
Corey Ponder: I think leadership and #allyship are as symbiotic as peanut butter and jelly, or for my Californians, avocado spread and honey on warm toast. For instance, #allyship usually requires a willingness to break with a norm or rule because we have knowledge or conviction about the right thing to do. By breaking the status quo, we give others an example that they can now choose to follow. And, even as we lead by standing up, the choice is not about us, but the issue we wanted to address and support.
I love the quote by Lao Tzu: “A leader is best when people barely know she exists; when her work is done, her aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” Because being a leader is, in so many ways, about being in service to others. In the past, I’ve talked about this as showing up not as the knight in shining armor to save the day or the masked avenger on the white horse riding in like a righteous beacon of hope, but as a trusted sidekick.
This involves three things:
Being there for the everyday moments: how can you show up for someone else’s fight as though it were you own? How can you show up alongside the “protagonist” of the story to make their fight easier? Maybe that could be as simple as making intentional time and space to listen to people share their experiences, because sometimes what is needed most if for someone to take the time to care.
Being willing to confront ugly truths: what are you doing to confront uncomfortable truths about ourselves and the environments you occupy? Part of that starts with accepting that we all have biases and holding ourselves accountable to they could show up. The second part is actually opening ourselves up to asking for and receiving critical feedback and then committing to and demonstrating continuous learning.
Using your magic AKA your privilege to help others: what is your magic, AKA your privilege? What are you doing to leverage it in the support of others? As leaders that may look like influence, access to resources, or a more permissive environment for ideas and rapid prototyping of solutions. Privilege is nothing to be guilty about—everyone has some form of it because we represent a confluence of identities and experience. What matters is what we do with it.
As a leader in a start-up or major tech company, demonstrating this type of servant leadership, and by extension #allyship, can be a powerful culture setter for your organization.