In this episode of The Forum Podcast, Pam McElvane (Diversity MBA) offers how to create an effective DEI strategy that resonates with workers and why it still matters.
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In the wake of ongoing racial unrest across the U.S., companies are called to evaluate what DEI looks like in their workplaces. However, creating a new strategy to prioritize DEI is no small feat, and it can be even more of a challenge to ensure employees are on board and heard. If creating a stronger, more inclusive workplace culture is a goal you’re reaching toward, then this conversation is for you.
- Learn critical changes companies are making to align DEI strategies with current events
- Understand the impact of listening circles and strategies to sustain progress
- Learn the metric to grasp how effective your CEO is in raising the TRUST pulse within your workforce
- The DEI Strategy that Employees Want_White Paper – Download
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
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Ben Rue: Hello and thank you for joining us for today’s podcast. Effective DEA strategies, align with what employees want, with Pam McElvane of diversity, MBA media, APNL group brand. I am Ben Rue program associate here at the Forum on Workplace Inclusion. In the wake of the ongoing racial unrest across the US, companies are called to evaluate what DEI looks like in their workplaces. However, [00:02:00] creating a new strategy to prioritize DEI is no small feat and it can be even more of a challenge to ensure employees are on board and heard. Through this discussion, one can learn how to create an effective DEI strategy that resonates with workers.
If creating a stronger, more inclusive workplace culture is a goal you’re reaching towards, then this conversation is for you. In this podcast, you’ll learn critical changes companies are making to align DEI strategies with current events, understand the impact of listening circles and strategies to sustain progress, and learn the metric to grasp how effective your CEO is in raising the trust pulse within your workforce.
Pam McElvane is the current chief engagement officer of P&L Group Holding Company with a background in publishing research recognition and learning solutions. P&L Group manages three brands, Diversity MBA Media, 3I Research Institute, and Diversity Learning Solutions. Pam’s blended work fostered a platform for original database learning that dives into the disciplines of diversity equity inclusion, leadership, and talent management. She has combined her passions for DEI and helping others to support the strategy execution of leaders across the globe.
Her 14 years of data collection expertise has helped up and comers as well as experienced leaders aligned with their employees. In the 25 years she’s spent as an entrepreneur, Pam has been humbled and grateful to partner with organizations, including UPMC, the [unintelligible 00:03:32] Corks Company, Walmart Inc, Colgate-Palmolive, and many more. She earned her MBA in finance and international marketing from the University of California at Berkeley, Haas School of Business, and her executive education certification from Dartmouth Tufts School of Business.
Pam McElvane: Thank you, Ben, for this opportunity to engage in this conversation. I feel really excited to be here this afternoon.
Ben: Thank you, Pam, [00:04:00] so much for being part of the series. We’re really excited to have you, so let’s just hop on in. First, why do you think we still need a business case for Diversity Equity Inclusion?
Pam: What a great question. It’s also unfortunate to think that in today’s on the journey line of where we are with inclusive diversity and inclusion and equity, that we have to still talk about the business case. Well, with 78% of the leaders being White Americans and of that 46% of them are women. While that sounds like a good number, 79% of them are White women. Not to say that that’s not a great thing to see a large group of women being advanced, but when you think about the number of women of color and people of color that are still in the lower ranks and not ready at significant numbers to advance in the C-suite, we have to diversify our pipeline more.
Then, so who’s doing the recruiting? 73% of our recruiters are White Americans. Only 27% of them are people of color. Then when you look at the lens, 69% are women. Here again, not just to say that we don’t want to do to have women or White Americans joining the recruiting but the reality is this is the lens that we’re sourcing talent through. The business case is that we have to expand and we have to be different in terms of how we engage and go out and source talent in places that we haven’t done normally.
When you look at advancement, White women are being advanced five to one to people of color and White men, eight to one to people of color. African-American women, unfortunately, are the lowest on that poll when you assess those numbers. That then again says, oh my goodness. Now we’re dealing with [00:06:00] how difficult it is for people of color to get to the top and to sustain there and then who’s actually positioning them to help get them at that kind of access.
Then clearly what is actually going on? What is the reality that is happening within the workforce when you look at the numbers of promotion and advancement? Then finally, I just got to tell you, everyone’s talking about the good old adage of diverse slates. Well, only 38% of companies acquire accountability with metrics aligned to those business leaders. Our data comes from our 14 years from our inclusive leadership index, so we have more than 600 companies on annual basis participating. This is annual data that we’re getting every year.
We’re seeing what’s happening real-time in the shift. Just those numbers alone when you’re talking about why you continue to do the same thing year over year, you will continue to get the same results. That’s the reason why we need to adjust the business case.
Ben: I say, isn’t that the definition of madness continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results?
Ben: How important is it for DEI strategy to align with business functions and talent management specifically? Can you talk a bit about the key components that should be in a solid DEI strategy?
Pam: That’s a very good question. When you think about what I call the intersection of a roadmap of your strategic roadmap with other business functions, one, everyone has to be in there when they say we’re all here together, let’s all get into it together. That is exactly what has to happen. Aligning the diversity strategy to not only just talent acquisition and talent management but across all business functions. When you look at diversity recruiting, you have to have that [00:08:00] specific lens. When you’re laying out what are the key initiatives that we want to make sure talent acquisition achieves.
When you talk about representation of all levels from senior leaders, middle management, from a pipeline to being accountable, to EELC, one guidelines and reporting, that’s what you’re driving in terms of how are we advancing talent? What does our pipeline look like? Representation is a huge part of the strategy that shouldn’t just sit in one function. The accountability has to be aligned throughout the entire organization. The DEI strategy has an opportunity to be represented across the organization. Sitting down with those leaders, understanding what their accountable goals and outcomes are, and then being influencer and ensuring that those are achieved.
Then when you look at culture, workplace inclusion, and retention, that’s a real big piece of part of the work that the diversity equity office does. However, you have to talk to and understand what’s happening in terms of the employee performance review process and talent management. You have to understand they pay equity access and the inequities that exist in the organization. You as a diversity leader having a broader strategic outlook in terms of how you’re going to help them navigate to minimize and in some cases mitigate some of these issues that exist, and retention versus early churn.
Having those real conversations in terms of how sustainability impacts your existing workforce and how losing people too early impacts the bottom line. What’s actually going on within the culture when that happens. Workplace Inclusion [00:10:00] shouldn’t become something that is bigger than initiatives and activities. It’s how people are resonating with the values within the organization. DEI strategies have the ability to make sure those pillars penetrate across the organization.
Finally, when you’re looking at advancement and the accountability within that, looking at rate of advancement for people of color, as compared to White women and White men having those representation numbers, what the accountability goals are, what reward systems both compensation and non-compensation looks like, these pieces have to be a part of what DEI leaders have to have within their initiatives and their strategies. We will look at overall succession planning and accountability metrics.
These are changing today, what intentionality looks like. This is an opportunity from a roadmap perspective, I believe, for DEI leaders to really look at, retool and be able to have their strategies aligned across the organization. Do you mind repeating the second part of that question?
Ben: No, not at all. Can you talk a bit about the key components that should be in a solid DEI strategy?
Pam: Oh, okay, yes. I did talk about those where we said the recruitment, representation, workplace inclusion, retention, succession planning, and accountability. I just want to just add how we look at those big rocks. What are DEI executives doing today where they have to pivot strategies that they have already created? [00:12:00] How is that being impacted? When I talked to chief diversity officers and chief people officers about what they’re thinking about, they talk about next. I said, “What does that mean?” He was like, Well, we’re looking at the next. I came up with an acronym and said, “How about the new engagement to exchange ideas together?”
We’re talking about both the existing workforce, your external partners, and your community at large. I thought I like that because the next doesn’t have a timeline to it. It’s a continuum that we have to look at. What are some of the key things that our leaders are doing that they have to pivot to bring their strategies current-
-and to make it real? First, they have some of the– I call this a leading practice where they’re hiring dedicated executives to work on anti-racism strategies and components, just separate and in addition to what’s going on in D&I. Structural racism isn’t something that just showed up, structural racism has been here and it’s manifested from institution to institution then become systemized within the workplace. When that happens, the DEI strategy has to be able to pivot and to be able to be agile enough, so that folks that understand within the culture can adjust to it. What else does that mean, in terms of what they have to do?
Focusing on what does an anti-racist strategy look like in terms of our workforce that’s penetrating within our suppliers and community, we have to understand how advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion leaders to levels of organization influence that they weren’t at before. Leaders that have had the access to their CEOs [00:14:00] are doing more work faster and deeper than those that before were [unintelligible 00:14:08]. What has happened with for them to be able to pivot those strategies, the heightened awareness with the trifecta with race relations, the pandemic, and now the elections.
Having to deal with the impact of all of that is making, enforcing as well as requiring opportunities for the DEI leaders to take advantage of what the years and the listings now that they have. Aligning the remote workforce with engagement strategies working across the halls with the learning organization, the training, and development organization, the actual marketing and communication organizations, so companies can immediately and very realistically shift to how they are positioning themselves, how they’re posturing to the existing marketplace community, both external and workforce internally. That’s a real pivoting that has to take place and going on right now.
The other deep dive that, not to say that it didn’t happen before, but it’s really happening where diversity, equity and inclusion leaders are able to leverage employee resource groups, business resource groups, networks, councils and inclusion, councils at ways they never did before. That is understanding all the dimensions [00:16:00] of diversity, understanding the impact of the heightened racism and structural injustice that exists mostly on African-Americans and Hispanics.
The impact of all of it, on all the dimensions of diversity on everyone that has either identity or gender or some level of micro-inequity and microaggression that they’ve been dealing to. Adjusting and pivoting to deal with a culture real-time is something that is not just for today and not just for this moment, but it will be a continuum that goes on. The training that has occurred before becomes very different because it needs to have dimensions of behavioral changes aligned to it. How do we create rituals for habits? That’s working closer than you have before with your counterparts.
You’re like, “Whoo, really, Pam?” Well, yes, just a few more things there. Leveraging diversity councils and other executive councils to become race equity advisory councils, where you have an opportunity, where they’re mixed typically with White executive male and women and people of color, to understand at a deeper and a different level of how the impact of what’s going on in the world is impacting the people that work. What organizations have said is, “We want to be responsive, not only to our workforce but also to our customer base and also to our community.”
The DEI strategies now are really having to be overarching, even though you have your sustainability organization and everyone’s looking at their different issues and supplier diversity. They’re having to be overarching strategies integrated where the pillars are working off of one another and creating more institutional integration over time, so that [00:18:00] it will be no matter if one individual leaves or it’s not a part of individual’s visions but as a part of the organization’s sustainability.
Stronger alignment across the community as well as across business functions, as well as across what you do and how you deliver to your customer base is all what is happening now with the adjustments and delivering roadmaps for the DEI strategies.
Ben: Thank you. You mentioned a new world we’re living in with everything happening, the pandemic, the new movement for racial justice, and everyone working from home. What do your employees want or need to feel psychologically safe and supported in this new normal?
Pam: That’s such a powerful question. I can share with you, we’ve been listening, part of listening circles for both employees. I’ve been part of town halls with leaders, had the opportunity to hear from all groups across the organization. Creating new experiences, that’s what these courageous conversations have done, and what we call also establishing difficult conversations and listening sessions because of the George Floyd murder and assassination and more. The employees saying, “Okay, these new experiences with these courageous conversations are continuing.” That’s good to know that our leaders want to hear and know how we’re feeling.
We want to be heard authentically, meaning that what we say and what we share, we want it to be real. [00:20:00] We want to feel that we can trust the environment and be psychologically safe. Well, the reality is of 100% employees, 78% are just the majority of white Americans in the workforce, they feel pretty safe. You look at a scale of 1 to 10, they typically break between 8 and 10. They feel pretty comfortable but when you look at people of color, you can break down those dimensions. It’s really different African-Americans are the lowest, then the Hispanics, and then the Asians. Then the Asians then break up they break down.
If you want to look at middle Easterners, although they’re identified as White American in our senses, but in the workforce, you have Muslims and you have folks that truly are of color and they are a minority group. The dimensions of micro-inequities and micro-executive aggressions that exist in the workforce bin are huge. Across industries and across disciplines, they exist among these groups of color. Once they’re heard and they feel some sense of understanding to build psychological safety and trust, they need to know that what are the actions that we’re going to take to sustain this continued learning in our environment and culture?
What are the tolerances that we’re not going to accept when we talk about people that are in a bubble and continue with their micro-inequities by talking about why are black people destroying their own communities out of frustration? It makes no sense unless you understand the [00:22:00] history of it. Wanting to be able to feel that there will be no retaliation in terms of having these kinds of conversations. With the knowledge that’s been shared, the employees, and this is all of them, White, the allies that want to be better allies as well as all people of color, they want to know that after being able to release and share frustration of what’s been going on at home because they bring it into work.
These are realities. My reality is I have two ground boys in college both of them gen Z is one’s a junior. One is a freshmen that it terrifies me to think about when they’re saying, “Oh, I’m going to be out at night with my friends.” Making sure they know what to do if they’re stopped by a police officer, for whatever reason. Making sure they say nothing, making sure their hands are present forward. Should I have to worry about that and other parents? Because that’s the state that we’re in. For people to hear that even senior leaders of color have these same issues, you’ll find that they want to know that now the organization is going to put together the kind of effort that will be continued.
The CEOs are showing up and they’re having these conversations. They’re trying to understand. When the employees say that, “Well, we do feel that there’s unfair practices and policies and procedures, because of the manifestation of micro-inequities are so embedded and ingrained in our culture,” how are we going to change that? While bias and understanding both implicit and explicit biases is a good thing, it’s [00:24:00] a very surface level exposure, creating awareness. Now, what are we going to be the rituals and habits and behaviors we’re going to have to bring forward to change that? An example is in typically healthcare where it’s covert, and let me step back and say this biases for micro-inequities typically are covert or they are not known and they’re not aware.
People that sometimes are bringing forth microaggressions aren’t always, I would say most people most of the time don’t know that they’re doing this. Now with these courageous conversations and people of color sharing with them that you are doing this, and this is how it’s making me feel and we’re on teams together. I need to be able to feel better to work with you, how are you going to change now that you understand? This is a huge opportunity for companies to answer what the employees feel that they need. They’re speaking out and saying we’re hopeful, but can we make sure you have the tools for both our managers and our team leaders to be okay with having difficult conversations and not feeling retaliation?
Black women at all levels are saying we’re being filled with the angry Black woman syndrome. Can we get over that? How do I get past having to have that feeling and tell someone, this is what and how you’re making me feel? Allyship has become one of the greatest, the largest platforms to create access safety and fairness for employees. Where organizations can create allies and allow it to foster within your cultures [00:26:00] at all levels. It’s probably going to be the most powerful activity that you can bring together all groups.
Unequivocally across groups, they all have said if I had an ally, including White men, by the way. Allies are proven to be able to step up and speak out and help individuals when they’re in a place not able to defend themselves or to champion themselves. Allyship now can show up in so many different forms beyond education, beyond exposure, but being in a way that it should be presented in daily routines and cross-functional teams can come together and learn from each other throughout the organization and find ways from peer to peer mentoring, kinds of examples, to support each other to the next level.
These are the kinds of really major events that employees are looking for. They also just want policies that are unfair once they’re identified to know that they will be enforced. The example that I was thinking about is in healthcare industry, sometimes you have patients that come in and you have our first responders, our nurses, different safety, security people within hospitals, and other administrators that are there in front of line people helping all patients of color including White will come in and they’ll have different attitudes.
Some of the White patients might have some biases that are embedded and then they’ll come out. Those behaviors will come out in the hospitals and the healthcare in a way that should not be tolerated. The employees are saying, “We don’t want to have spillover of the bad behavior from the community coming into the workplace. [00:28:00] If it does, how are you going to protect us from that? How do we know that is not tolerated?” Those are the kinds of things that the employers want to know and hear how leadership is going to take care of those.
They want leadership to be clear on the yes, and what that means in creating psychological safety in the workplace and creating trust in helping leaders understand what the values will be and what that feeling looks like
Ben: To pick up on what you just left off on, and mentioned several times in the last segment is the importance of leadership and good leadership. What do leaders need to be successful?
Pam: Another good question, Ben, I tell you-
Ben: That’s a big one.
Pam: That’s the big one.
Ben: It starts from the top.
Pam: It really does. What they’re getting an example, they’re getting an opportunity to do is to express theirselves and admit that, “Hey, I’ve been in a bubble.” They’re admitting they’ve been in a bubble and admitting that I don’t understand. I didn’t know that my colleague that senior vice president down the hall was dealing with this every day. Now that I’m aware of this, I need to educate myself and be more committed. With that, and with them saying that, hearing them say, “Well, yes, you have to accept individual accountability and responsibility to ensure that the values that the organization reflects shows up in how you behave.”
They’re like, “How do I model inclusive behavior?” Having tools, having community in the toolkit, practicing, helping them understand that you have to [00:30:00] demonstrate what this means. Then being able to have a tolerance for the leaders to make some mistakes and fell forward because they sometimes don’t always know what is the right steps to do. The big one of course is the accountability, which CEOs have to be ferocious. They have to be furious in doing this and driving accountability, not just cascade it down to every employee, but clearly from your senior leaders who will then model that to their next levels.
You can’t just say, “Oh, I know what to do,” without doing it and without having some consequence of not doing it. They too have had a tolerance of this behavior. They have been complicit for a long time, but no longer can they get away with legitimizing, normalizing behavior of implicit bias.
They’re aware of it now and they have to be able to make mistakes and be okay with making those mistakes. That’s where the diversity equity officer and inclusion officer is paired with those leaders and being able to have those real, honest, open conversations with them and what they need to do to change.
Some of them have been very humble and vulnerable and when they are vulnerable like that, that helps with the trust within the environment and the culture. That helps with folks wanting to be able to say, “Yes, I trust this environment.” Some of the organizations, what they’ve done is you’ve heard the external commitment letters from the CEOs, but they created platforms and initiatives in their own cultures where leaders have had to sign on the commitment and then they’ve been given the toolkits and then [00:32:00] they say, “Okay, which initiative are you focused on this week?
Which habit are you going to change?” One chief diversity officer just told me the other day how important it is for them to create a plan. The leaders have to create a plan to change and know that it takes time for that to occur. We do know while it starts at the top of the journey line, they’re still one of the nuggets on the journey line, and it’s going to take some time for them to step up and speak out. That’s the biggest competency or behavior that many of the employees that they want.
They said, “We just want our leader to not be afraid to speak up and speak out particularly when they see a wrong. We want them to be comfortable enough to say, “Let me pull you over to the side, and let’s talk about why you were behaving this way.”
Ben: Easier said than done. [chuckles]
Pam: Well, and it takes courage to do that. We do know that. Even though you give them tools and then there’s accountability, they’re going to try for that to happen. The reality is they too have to go through this new normal and adjust how they manage, how they behave, and how they lead. That is happening. You do have leaders that really have the empathy we call it, emotional agility where they too can be angry. White Americans can be angry, highly frustrated, yet hopeful in what’s going on. In their time of frustration, they have to be able to have emotional agility so that our leaders can understand to be able to process the emotion without taking negative action.
Once the emotion is processed, then they can think clearly on what they need to do next, [00:34:00] and it takes training for this thing. This is a new way of thinking, but it’s something that’s been here for a long time, Ben, and we should have had leaders step up in the forefront many years ago, and start to champion these causes. When you think about Dr. Roosevelt, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and how it shows up within the cultures have been going on for years, you have folks been doing this work for 40 years or the late Dr. Roosevelt been talking and teaching on campuses. These are the things that we need to do.
At the end of the day, having a culture that’s accepting of making some mistakes, even among your leaders, then being vulnerable and humble and together they could be part of the next in the change.
Ben: It’s always so hard to be a leader. I’m sure you understand that it’s harder now than ever. How are you seeing CEOs creating trust within their organizations?
Pam: Whoa, what a way to wrap up, a really good one then. I’ve been looking and watching, listening, and being a part of a lot of conversations in the executive wing of organizations. I feel privileged to be there and really you’re talking about how can CEOs be and what are they doing to raise the trust post in their organizations? Well, number one is how they’re speaking up and speaking out if they’re being fearless or not. How they’re showing up is what most employees are saying we want and we want to see that on a continuous basis.
Now, of course, some CEOs, depending on their own styles will speak up and show out, but we’re finding the largest [00:36:00] impact is how they show up in the communities. How they are definitely making the statements and influencing external behaviors that soften the internal impact.
Secondly, is their engagement. How are they engaged with their workforce and their stakeholders? We know at the end of the day, CEOs are beholding to their board of directors who have competing priorities and what they have to deal with on a daily basis. The board of directors itself has a fiduciary responsibility to the duty of care and who is that?
That is to their consumers and their customers, and which are also the employees. When you go back to where the responsibility lies, CEOs are saying, “Well, we need to engage them in multi-dimensional levels daily, weekly, and monthly.” We see effective communications coming from CEOs that are not just sending emails, but they’re allowing their employees to be responsive. They’re taking the time to actually respond to some of the inquiries that they’re getting.
They set up communication teams to make sure that every request that a employee or question inquiry that they raised, that they’ll get a response to. Some of them are taking the time and writing weekly letters to their employees. They’re very thoughtful, very emotional, they’re showing vulnerable sides of themselves and living that they didn’t even realize that their cultures internally were so unrest themselves. That vulnerability helps and the monthly town halls, organizations are leveraging polls that way they never have before monthly basis, bi-weekly basis, trying to understand what the employees want to hear from senior leadership and actually getting that communication, [00:38:00] the authenticity as much as they can.
Even when they have to furlough. The CEOs also have been making some huge decisions in terms of how do we support our workforce during this time, whether in healthcare or not? How do we shift some of our funds from investing, what we give to the community? Organizations have made decisions to give employees at X salary levels some monies that they might’ve given to the community to keep their workforce sped when they had to furlough them. These are the kinds of things that were going on resources into mental health and wellbeing have been invested, allowing the leadership to do what is necessary as they hear real-time, what is needed from their employee base.
The CEOs that have stepped back and allowed level of autonomy and integration fund their leaders to cascade down to the employee’s well-being is showing up in a big way. Then even more than that, CEOs have said, ” You know what? This is an opportunity we can take advantage of vantage of advancing some talents. Let’s go ahead and see where we have ready talent that we can move into some of these roles right now.”
We’ve seen that I’ve seen quite a bit of that. In fact, has been quite significant in terms of seeing how people of color have been advanced in organizations. Now it’s not happening now because of these pressures, but the good news is happening and they have the ready talent that’s available for it to happen. These are a lot of the different things that CEOs are doing to make sure that what they say is actually showing that. We know that [unintelligible 00:39:52] strategy. We know that’s not nothing new. We know that truly the CEOs [00:40:00] that are coming out and talking about “We will not tolerate racism. This will not happen.” I will name some of the fortune 10 companies that are doing a lot of work in the community but still are being marginalized and what they do inside their workforce. We still have a long way to go. I don’t want to create a visual that we’re there. We’re not, but the heightened awareness of what’s happening in the black experience is allowing organizations and other groups to benefit of what’s going on with this experience among all groups of diversity. I leave you with this. If we together confined one action to take to move forward imagine how many little steps forward will move us toward our successful outcomes.
Ben: Thank you, Pam, for the wonderful podcast and wonderful conversation. Thank you listeners for joining us for today. If you’d like to learn more, you can feel free to reach out to Pam directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can listen to more forum podcasts at our website forumworkforceinclusion.org or sports/podcast. You can also find our podcasts on Spotify Anchor and Stitcher. Thank you again for joining and listening and have a great day and happy holiday.
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