Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Webinar | Russell Tobin

Moving from Intention to Action

Was your company among the many in 2020 that made public statements in support of racial justice pledging financial support for change or vowing to promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives?

The time has come to make good on these promises, as we move from intention to action in 2021.

The beginning of 2020 brought with it the usual hope for a fresh start. We made our resolutions with confidence and unshakeable optimism. But as the COVID-19 pandemic laid waste to all our plans, we put new ones in place. And as the world turned its attention to the killing of George Floyd, and protests poured into streets around the globe, we saw companies make much-needed public promises to promote change.

While it may have been enough to promise and plan as we collectively stumbled our way through the end of the year, 2021 brings a sense of expectation. A demand for action. A desire from clients, candidates, and the world to see businesses make real progress in their commitments. But how?

Russell Tobin recently assembled a panel of industry experts for a free webinar to answer that question and discuss the importance of acting on diversity and inclusion initiatives. If you missed it, read on for the recap, and watch the full webinar: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Moving from Intention to Action.

Meet the DEI Experts

Gloria Sinclair Miller, field services director for SHRM and a consultant for Frost Included, is an accomplished senior HR business partner with more than 25 years of success in human resources across a variety of industries including banking, retail, and pharmaceutical.

Geoffrey Williams, global head of diversity, equity and inclusion at Dr. Martens, has extensive human resources experience in recruitment, talent management, and diversity and inclusion.

Raafi-Karim Alidina is a consultant at Frost Included and co-author with Stephen Frost of “Building an Inclusive Organization.” His recent client work has encompassed engaging the leadership of several FTSE 100 and Fortune 500 companies as well as government agencies.

The event was moderated by Matt Stanford, associate director at Russell Tobin.

2020 saw a lot of good intentions and promises for change with regards to diversity, equity, and inclusion both inside and outside of work. With so many of us finding ourselves busier than ever at work in the current time, why is it so important that we now move forward into action in 2021?

I think it’s critically important that we move to action right now. I’ve been in HR for over 20 years in a variety of roles where leading an HR team, or leading our organization around talent and diversity has been critically important.

At this point in our history, there are many companies out there that have been doing this for years, and they never took their foot off the gas as the events transpired over the last year. They’re making strides because they’ve been able to embed diversity and inclusion as part of their strategic business imperative.

That said, there are a lot of organizations out there where it becomes the “flavor of the month,” I hate to say. They’re thinking “Ooh, I need to make a comment about this,” or “I need to make sure that I have an affirmative action plan,” or “I need to make sure I’m checking the boxes around goals and things like that.”

But that’s not having a discussion. That’s not creating an inclusive workforce. That’s just being compliant. And it really is important that we move from being compliant and diversity-friendly to really thinking about how do we create an inclusive workforce. How do we move to action? Our world’s demanding it.

If we don’t move at this point, I always say 2020 was a waste. It was a time for us to really learn our lesson. And if we don’t move and if we don’t create more equity in our workplaces, if we don’t address racism, if we don’t have honest conversations, where are we going to be?

And we have a younger generation who grew up with a more inclusive environment that is now looking for jobs. In my work with SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management,

we’re seeing emerging professionals that are demanding that we have more inclusive workplaces. They want to work in a world where they not only see themselves, but they get to see a variety of individuals and experiences come through.

So I think this movement to action is critically important for us serving today, but even more important for future generations.

And I think this conversation of moving from “Oh, it would be nice to do this,” to actually doing it requires asking honestly of ourselves, do we want to be here in another 10-15 years having this conversation about gender equality? Having conversations about racial equality? Let’s hope that we don’t want to be doing that, and that we want to be in a position where we actually understand the gravitas of having workplaces that truly reflect our societies, of having spaces where people can show up and talk about the experience they have within your organization, and that you will look at your policies and practices and make those necessary changes.

I think the conversation is about yes, we can all see it all now, so let’s stop pretending that we can’t. Let’s embrace that we can see this and let’s do the work to change it.

I would say it’s that piece of us being honest with ourselves. If you think of what 2020 did, it put a hell of a merit to how we live as a society and how we operate as organizations.

What are some of the steps that we can take on a personal level, and perhaps for the leaders in our organizations, to make real progress and promote change here? For example, if someone wants to become an ally, how can they take action?

I think part of the issue is that, as Gloria said, for a lot of people this is the flavor of the month, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t turn that into continual action.

Part of the difficulty is that just when people come to this for the first time, if you are someone who is a middle-aged, straight, white male person and you’re experiencing everything that people are talking about, and you haven’t really approached this topic before, it’s kind of overwhelming. It can be difficult, and I can understand that, I can empathize with that.

And part of the difficulty of just trying to be an ally is when you don’t necessarily know what that means practically. You can know what it means intellectually, knowing that okay, I’m going to stand up against racism, but practically what does that mean? What does it mean in terms of how you behave in a meeting? What does it mean in terms of when you’re sitting with your friend who’s a Black female and someone comes and is like “Oh my God your hair is so cool” and starts touching her hair? What do you do in that moment?

I think giving people the opportunity to practice that can be really useful. So one of the things that we often talk about is something called “partnering.” Where, Gloria and I are in a meeting together and we’ve decided to be partners. Then my job as a man is to focus on Gloria and make sure that in that meeting when I notice discriminatory behavior or a micro aggression against her as a woman, I can see that and when I notice that, it’s my job to call it out—not hers.

That takes the burden off of the member of the marginalized group from having to speak up about it themselves, which we know is just less effective at creating change because people need to hear it from members of the majority group, but also it gives me an opportunity to practice being an ally without having to focus on everyone and everything that’s happening.

And it’s important that Gloria and I talk about it beforehand, that we agree that this is what we want to do, and we agree how we might want to call that out. Maybe Gloria wants me to call it out in the meeting very strongly, and that’s something that I can do. Or maybe instead she wants me to take that, make a note of it, and talk to the person outside the meeting afterwards.

If I have that knowledge of exactly what I need to do, it makes it a little bit easier to practice being an ally. And over time, with that kind of practice, I’ll start noticing it about other people, or other groups, or other marginalized members of society, and be able to become an ally for a broader set of people as over time you just get used to it.

What I would add as well is if you are a leader in whatever sense that means to you and you have a sphere of responsibility, take a look at that sphere of responsibility and see what does it look like? How many women sit within your line of reporting? How many people of color? What are their experiences? Where do they sit in the structure?

As you think about building your teams, think about who you go to, who you give the opportunity to recruit on your behalf or, looking at your supply chain, how many small organizations are you partnering with?

I think allyship, yes it’s about being in those meetings and having those conversations and using your influence that way, but if you are a leader in the organization, you also have a lot of responsibility and duty of care to the people that report into you. I think it’s that piece of also understanding your actual reporting structure.

I know working in this role I have conversations with people saying “What can I do?” and I’m like, “Okay, tell me about your team,” and they don’t have an answer. So then I’m going to send you back into your organization to take a look at your team and then come back to me and let’s talk about the people that you actually have a day-to-day responsibility for. Because I think sometimes, to Raafi’s point, it’s those kind of moments of “How am I an ally?” Well, actually if you’re a leader, you have to own that responsibility and find those moments for you to step up.

I’d also say it’s about putting it on your agenda. If you have a leadership team, it’s making sure that every quarter you are talking about D&I and

looking at what does your data tell you? What does your team look like?

I think it’s also figuring out what you want to stand for and verbalizing that with everyone that reports into you. Because again, sometimes everyone is like “I want to be an ally,” but if you haven’t verbalized anything, you’re kind of talking into the wind. So you need to verbalize your position so that people know actually that “Geoffrey stands for this, this is what Geoffrey wants to see, so as I report into him, I’ve going to take the action to make sure that I’m following his lead.”

And that, for me, is what good leadership would look like in his space.

As we begin to emerge slowly out of the pandemic over the course of this year and next, it’s likely that we’ll have a lot of people working from home, working in offices, spread out in locations across the country, even across the globe. What changes do you think businesses will need to make to ensure they’re building a truly inclusive culture across the board?

I think the first thing we all have to realize is we keep talking about going back to “normal.” I don’t think we’re ever going to go back to the normal that we all experienced in 2019. And I think many of our businesses and our senior leaders are slowly but surely starting to realize that—that everyone potentially will get vaccinated and everyone will come back into the office and we’re going to have the same office dynamics that we had back in 2019—that’s not going to happen.

Or, that those who were not able to go into a remote setting because they were frontline workers who continued to deliver or be in healthcare or whatever that occupation was, that their normal looks completely different than it did when we started the year last year in 2020.

So I think the biggest thing is going to be we’ve got to recognize that it’s a new normal as we go back into a more, let’s say calmer time, as we continue to move into 2021, and as we’re seeing organizations starting to open up.

But I think we also have to recognize a few things as it relates to inclusion. One is the pandemic highlighted inequities. It didn’t create inequities. It highlighted ones that were already there.

We saw that, from a gender perspective, more women dropped out of the workforce because when everyone came home, women with children now had, in addition to whatever that day job was, a second day job of being teacher, lunch lady, and recess coordinator for their child or children. Eventually they had to decide which job was more important for them.

We need to recognize that that’s still going to create a gap in our workplaces and look at how we can create some flexibility to bring women back into the workplace.

And there are other inequities that we have to be able to face as well. Again, going back to emerging leaders and young professionals, maybe they were coming out of college and they didn’t get a job right away, so now they’ve had a year of unemployment, or a year where maybe they didn’t go back to school, or maybe they didn’t finish degrees.

So what does that now do? How is that going to impact our future workforce? And let’s go even further, because in some industries, they were starting to recruit in middle schools because of talent gaps that they had, specifically in STEM areas. We saw kids’ dropout rates increase in various parts of the country and the world. So what happens now?

Again, here in the U.S. we’re seeing kids start to go back, teenagers start to go back into schools, but what impact is that going to have later, that year of remote learning where some of them just dropped out of it completely and now they’re going to reemerge? Are they going to get held back?

I think those are all inequities that organizations eventually will need to face. And I think the last point I would make is we’re also going to have to think about how mental health had an impact on individuals.

We were used to collaborating, traveling, going places, and interacting with people, and some people shut down during this time. Some people are going to struggle to reengage. One of the actions that I think we’re going to have to really think about and help our leaders with is how do we teach people how to reengage again? That’s going to be part of building this inclusive culture again. It’s almost like we’ve got to step back to move forward a bit as we reengage.

Building off of what Gloria said about this pandemic highlighting the inequities that already exist, is that it also means that now that we’re going into this new normal, we’ve found ways to deal with the changes that have had to happen in the last year. More people are working from home with flexible working hours, and there’s no reason why those can’t necessarily carry on in the future, even when people are all vaccinated and are able theoretically to go physically back into the office.

I think most organizations used to have some sort of flexible working arrangement that you could request, and I know from personal experience with colleagues, that that was often denied. People wanted you to be in the office physically from 9 am to 5 pm or whatever the hours were for you. And now they can’t really justify that anymore.

So I think managers and leaders will have to start to individuate a lot more in the way that they work with individual people. This presents a tremendous opportunity to be even more inclusive of people’s individual circumstances.

And maybe that means that we have to deal with these societal issues like the fact that

women still bear the overwhelming share of household labor which led to more women dropping out of the workforce in the last year.

It led to inequities, for example, in academia where men have been publishing more in the last year than ever before while women are publishing less than ever before because, even though everybody’s at home, women are taking on even more of that household labor.

So we do have to deal with those societal issues, but as part of that, the workplace now has a tremendous opportunity to help with that by just tailoring the way that people can work so that it fits better into their lives.

I think, to Raafi’s point, the way we view talent, the way we view people, the way we view HR has shifted.

This is a new bastion. We all have to work together to find that solution of what the new normal is, making sure that everyone understands what the policies are, where they sit at the moment, what we are going to do to restore people’s mental health, and also what “return to work” really means.

Because I think a lot of organizations are doing that research into how people want to work, but I think they’re also taking a look at how they can save money on office space. So if you are making these decisions, how does that impact your people? Finding that kind of middle ground and that variable is going to definitely be the important action.

That’s what somebody said before, about how it’s a great opportunity for making these company culture-building moments, if you like. What recommendations specifically would you have for companies that are looking to try to take this as an opportunity?

I think, for companies trying to take this as an opportunity, it’s about leaning into two-way communication to make sure that you are actually listening to your people.

I know a lot of businesses are doing surveys at the moment saying “How would you like to work?” So, actually listening to those surveys and putting the opinion of the majority over the leadership at the forefront of your decision-making is important.

I think it’s also important to look at and understand the nuanced experience of individuals that work in your business. That means speaking to people that are working parents, asking “What do you need, what are your experiences? How might it differ to someone who’s not a working parent?”

Asking the questions of your grads and your intern audiences and making sure you understand how they’re currently living. Because a lot of them during this pandemic were actually living in flatshares with other individuals all trying to work around a dining table, or working in their bedroom and being in there for a good 10 solid hours a day. Again, that’s not fit for purpose, so how are we going to support them to either be able to get back into the office, or to go to spaces where they can be outside of their rooms?

I think it’s that piece of looking at where you are right now, listening to your people, and asking the right questions of your people as well. And, in all honesty, all of us that are working in this space, we’re all living it too, so it’s not like we’re sitting there not aware of what people are experiencing, because we’re also experiencing it. So we need to lean into our own experiences and bring that into the process as well.

I completely agree. The big thing is, as Geoffrey said, there’s this commonality that we all shared this experience over the last year and a half. It wasn’t segmented to one part of the country or world. There’s also this welcoming in part, as we’re coming back to whatever that is, whether people are remaining remote or they’re coming back into the office one day a week, one day a month—the flexibility piece is going to be key—but it’s almost like reset and day one.

Think about how many people changed jobs during the last year. There are people who have never gone to their office, they don’t even know what headquarters looks like, have never had to interact with their coworkers outside of a Zoom or WebEx meeting.

So now we’re almost having to retrain people how to reengage with each other and remind them how to interact. It sounds basic and crazy, but it’s true. We’re so used to doing this, to shutting our camera off and we’re done, but that doesn’t happen if you’re back in an office setting where someone’s now sitting next to you.

And what happens if there are individuals who are going to stay remote? I’m in a situation where I’ve always been remote, and it was very interesting for me to watch my colleagues when they went remote. In the beginning, no one had their camera on when we had meetings, and then slowly they started to get comfortable with turning their cameras on. Well now half of the population is back in an office four days a week, so it’s interesting watching that dynamic change of people not turning their cameras on, or people sitting at their desk because they’re not going into conference rooms.

So there’s this question of, “How do we now have conversations and interactions where we’re bringing people back together?” I think about my workplace and the things that have happened in the U.S. in the last year. We had a contentious election period. We’ve had lots of conversation and examples of racial and social unrest.

All of that played out while we were still at home and having very interesting chats in social media, or in offices, where we couldn’t really see the person sitting next to us.

But now we’re going to have to have that conversation with people who are going to be right in front of us. And we’re going to have to retrain people on those.

Then there’s also the people who were impacted by loss of life who weren’t able to grieve the way that normally you’re able to do that. There may be workplaces where people are no longer there. How do we prepare people to handle that?

This all ties into the fact that creating an inclusive workplace is just really recognizing the place and the path and the journey that so many people have been on over the last year, and for all of us to be able to acknowledge that and give people the space that they’re going to need.

We have a client that I’ve been working with that is a scientific research organization. One of the difficulties they’ve been facing is that, as a research facility with people who are managing these labs working on things like how aging affects the development of different kinds of cancers and really important areas of research like that, all of a sudden a lot of them had to go home and couldn’t be in the lab anymore. The only people who were allowed there on campus were people working on COVID-19 related issues.

When your sense of self is tied to your work—which it is for a lot of us—and when your work is tied to that physical location, how do you maintain that sense of connection to such a fundamental part of your identity?

And how has that sense of connection changed when you physically go back to the office, particularly when you’ve been told that your line of work is no longer quite as important as someone else’s for a certain period of time?

So the people who are going back to the office, or the people who have been in the office this whole time are considered essential, does that make me not as essential anymore?

And how does that affect the way that I think about my workplace and my place in it, and my place in the world? And what does that mean for how I might need to change the way that I think about what work means for me?

That’s going to require different kinds of management and leadership techniques that haven’t necessarily been employed in the same way before.

I think it goes back to that real opportunity to connect with individuals and how they are doing and how they work as individual people and treat them the way they want to be treated.

Great points. Everybody’s had a different experience in the last 12 months and it’s really about recognizing that, isn’t it?

Now, we have another question here which is more about the ever-elusive notion of work-life balance. What should organizations be doing to make sure we’re seeing an effective work-life balance, especially as inclusion has come more and more into focus on a global scale. How practically can we see that happening with people while also managing work-life balance?

The work-life balance conversation is interesting because we all have these lovely mobile phones that we’re walking around with in our hands that we’re constantly using and responding to questions at times, when we should probably all put them in a drawer and leave them alone.

But, I think the piece about work-life balance is looking, again, I keep talking about policies, but looking at your policies and quantifying what they mean. Readdressing that with your leadership and with your managers, and saying, “We need to make sure that our employees are only doing a certain amount of hours a week.” So is it 40 hours a week? 35 hours? Whatever’s on their contract we want to make sure that they are sticking to that and that they are switching off.

I think there’s a lot of technology now, I don’t know how many people are using Microsoft or any of those different bits of insights, but really looking at those insights as an organization, at how much time people are actually spending responding to emails, and what are the times they’re doing that?

Then, it’s putting in checks and balances. So at the moment, I’m looking at doing some stuff around switching off between lunch hours and making sure everyone has some downtime between 12 and 2, and that as a business we are doing that.

Or looking at how we can integrate some up and down periods as well, so that there are core

hours and you work within those core hours, but then there are also hours where you can dip in and out.

I think again, going back to what we said in the last response, it’s about having those individual conversations, and understanding what people need, and making sure as a line manager that you actually lean into the word trust, with the reality of what trust actually means. Because I think a lot of the time, when you look at the research about what’s happened during this COVID period, we as humans have actually delivered more for our organizations than we did when we were going somewhere 9-5 everyday.

We’ve definitely demonstrated that people can work flexibly and in different ways and that businesses are not going to fall down and our economies are not going to crumble because of it. So I think it’s that as a line manager you are responsible for someone’s health and well-being, so you need to look at your duty of care and lean into trust.

It’s also about communicating a little bit more clearly what those individual circumstances might be for yourself, and how people can respond to that. For example, if your life requires you to work, or maybe you just want to work, from 9am to noon, and then take a few hours and start up again at 7pm and work for a few more hours, then you’re probably going to need to send some emails out after 7pm.

And so one thing that I’ve seen some of my colleagues and clients do is add a little thing in their email signature that says “These are my work hours. I might send you emails outside of your work hours, I don’t expect a response.” Just to kind of set that expectation for other people. And I think people are quite generous with that. They understand that everybody has individual circumstances.

And they’re more generous with that now after the events of last year than I think perhaps before. So being able to say that very clearly helps take the receiver off the hook so they don’t have to respond in that time. And also, it means that if you’ve been very clear that these are my work hours, then no one’s going to expect you to send them an email back outside of those hours because they know that you’re not in the office otherwise. I think that it’s a really effective way of just communicating some of that work.

The other thing that I’ve been seeing a number of people do is in their email signatures, just adding something about how they are expecting

emails back. Saying, “I only expect you to respond when you feel like you can,” or “I really need an email within the next day” or something like that which can help people feel like they can prioritize because they’re getting tons of information thrown at them in the middle of a very stressful time period.

For example for myself, yes we’ve been in the middle of a pandemic, but I’ve also moved from one state to another and I’m moving again in two months, I’ve dealt with immigration issues which are stressful because I’m a Canadian but I live in the U.S., and with all of those things going on, and people getting sick and having more work and things like that, it’s difficult to triage things.

So if people are setting those expectations for each other at least internally within companies, you can make at least a little bit more headway in just helping people make their lives a little bit easier. And I think that’s, at the end of the day, part of the point. It’s just about helping people do their jobs a little better by helping people live their lives a little bit easier. Because it’s really hard right now.

The only other thing I would add is I stopped calling it work-life balance and started calling it work-life integration because it’s really around how do we integrate these pieces into our lives.

It is about communication. I don’t think we can reinforce that enough. It’s a two-way communication between you as an individual and whoever that group or manager is that you need to interact with. It’s just so critical.

Many of us involved in D&I believe it’s about leadership, as it’s been mentioned. If the current leadership in an organization is not representative, how do you address the concerns of those currently in post who believe change means their job is at risk?

That is one of the 100-million-dollar questions of D&I work. What I’ve done over the years is focus very much on, one, instilling in this leader the idea of their legacy and that when they transform this organization in this way, what it will mean to how people will remember them and talk about them.

I also push the idea that to make this change does not mean that they have to lose out or that they suddenly do not have a seat at the table. Their knowledge, their experience is what has gotten them to where they are, however, the organization needs to represent the societies that they operate and work in.

For me, I’ve recently joined Dr. Martens and we are a commercial business looking at selling to consumers, so we need to represent those consumers. We need to make sure that we’re not going to have any foul steps in our marketing campaigns or in our branding campaigns because we don’t have the right people sitting around the table.

So effectively I think it’s a combination of leaning into that leader’s ego, but also leaning into the commercial value of the D&I conversation and taking out of the social justice movement. Because I think a lot of the time people feel like, “Oh we’re just going to hire someone to be really nice to that woman or to that Black person because aren’t we fantastic people.”

Effectively, we all work for businesses that want to make a profit and that is not how D&I should be integrated into your organization. It should be a fundamental part of your business,
making sure that you actually are able to engage, communicate, and talk to those that you want to sell your services to but also attract those people to consider working for your organization.

I think it’s about that mindset shift, I think it’s about the conversation with that leader, and in all reality it’s also a little bit of chasing the financial rewards at the end of that tunnel of diversification in my opinion.

The only other piece I would add to that is it’s a journey. This isn’t something that’s going to happen day one. I think making sure that that leader understands you’re not just going to go out and hire a person of color, or a certain gender, or something just to make a statement. You want to start to create a talent pool where you’re really investing and promoting whatever that group is that isn’t represented at the leadership levels in your organization. And it’s not just the senior leadership levels. Yes, we know that there is definitely an opportunity in most organizations at the most senior level, but that comes from building the bench and that comes from differentially investing in talent programs and recruitment opportunities to bring in a different perspective and bring in diverse voices and recruit in areas that you may not have recruited in before.

But you have to look at your organization and go “Where is my opportunity? Is my opportunity in certain parts of the business? Maybe my sales force does represent the community that I am targeting, but my R&D space or my technical space does not.” Then you put plans in place to really look at your talent pool from a recruitment perspective, and then internally from a promotion perspective to get to that level two, three, five years from now. It really is an investment and it really is thinking about how is this part of your strategy.

If you’re just adding more diversity, without working on the inclusion side, without working on the equity side, those diverse people are just going to leave. Because it sucks as a workplace.

That’s it. If you’ve not created an environment where people from these different backgrounds feel like they’re heard and they’re valued and like they belong and like they have a voice there, where their opinion based on their different experience actually brings value and they feel that they’re appreciated for that different value that they bring, if they don’t feel that, they’re going to leave.

You can hire as much diversity as you want and maybe in some organization where you have not a lot of representation at the top and they replace one person with someone who looks a little bit different, that person is still probably going to leave pretty quickly if they don’t feel like they’re able to bring their entire selves to work.

If they’ve done that, then they’re not going to be replaced until they choose to leave, because people value that inclusive behavior especially from the top as that gets mimicked further down.

People mimic the behaviors of those who are in power, and behaviors day-to-day are what create a culture. If you’re a leader and you’re behaving inclusively, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.