In honor of Black History Month, we decided to dedicate episode five of the DE Talk podcast to the topic of diversity and inclusion–and what better guest than published author and leading diversity strategist, Torin Ellis? He sat down with our VP of Strategic Partnerships, Shannon Offord, for a conversation on why many employers continue to struggle building inclusive workforces, and the steps they can take to show a real commitment to D&I. Take a look at some of the highlights below for a quick taste, but then we highly encourage you to listen to this powerful conversation in its entirety, which can be found here, or via your favorite podcast provider such as Spotify, Google Podcasts, or Apple Podcasts.

Shannon Offord:
Why do you think we’re still having this conversation in 2020? This conversation has been going for a long time and obviously I think there’s been some progress, but we continue to have this conversation, even though there’s this supposed, “war for talent.” I mean, what do you think the cause of that is?

Torin Ellis:

Business has always fought to find incredible talent, so this is nothing new. But that being said, when we talk about why do you think it is, you’ve got to look at this D&I conversation in many ways, Shannon, is over a 100 years old. You have to think about Ford Motor company back in 1913 one of the first large corporate clients that were spending time and being very intentional around hiring a variety of individuals, and I don’t know if they necessarily called it diversity and inclusion, but they were one of the first large organizations that hired African Americans, that hired people with some form of disability that hired Irish people, if you will.

So Ford was one of the first, in 1913, you got 1919 the veterans where they started gaining traction in the workplace, 1961 an executive order around racial equality, 1964 of course the civil rights act. And then you have the diversity reports over the last, let’s say six, seven, eight years, 2013 or ’14 depending on where you’d like to start the count. My point in referencing those is that this D&I conversation is not just over the last 10 years, it’s not just over the last 20 or 30, it’s actually one that goes further back. And so when you ask why, for me it’s because people don’t care, period. It’s easier for us to put up a report to put something beautiful at the bottom of our website, to go on and get some stock photographs of some black and brown folks and sit them at a desk, to promote one person and to say that we’ve done well, it’s easy for us to put a chief diversity officer in place and not give them any power or resources. We can go Wall Street, we can go healthcare, I can go government, I can go in any direction. There’s a lack of diversity. But no tech company right now would put up with AOL dial-up, not one, not one. So, then why is it that we are still comfortable with the lack of representation and not trying?

Shannon Offord:
If you’re a company out there and you want to get serious, how do you go about doing that? Like what do you do? How do you structure your team? I mean, what do you do to actually show and mean that you’re being serious?

Torin Ellis:
So, I think your question was, what does it look like to be serious? There’s a number of ways to look at that, but I try to be a bit foundational. First and foremost I think the steps… Let me back up. So Shannon, for me, when I go into an engagement, when I’m looking at an organization, I’m looking for three things.

I’m looking for empowerment. I’m looking for individuals to feel like they have support and they can raise their voice, whatever that voice is, however that voice comes out, emits whatever it needs to say. People are comfortable and strong enough in saying what needs to be said. Empowerment is extremely important. Number two, I look for strategic exploration. I’m looking for organizations that are curious, they want to be successful, they want to make progress in this regard, and they are willing to explore a variety of different options to figure out what option works best in their culture, in their environment, with their composition, with their product service suite, with their geographic footprint, with the marketplace. I’m looking for that strategic exploration. And then last but not least, Shannon, I’m looking for tactical execution.

So, now that we’ve explored it all and we’ve put some data in place or we baseline things, whatever, now we’re going to do the work. We’re going to allocate resources, we’re going to put man and woman hours on that. We’re going to put technology against that. We’re going to put a plan in place and we’re going to do all of these things. But if an organization is not willing to explore their voice, they’re not willing to explore different strategy and they’re not willing to execute, it really doesn’t matter. They’ll continue to do press releases and stand up and pontificate about how wonderful of a workplace they are. And they will absolutely do nothing that moves the needle around diversity and inclusion. And for some of those, they will skate by.

Wow, some great thoughts here! Of course, this is just a snippet of the chat with Shannon and Torin. Be sure to listen to the full podcast and tell us your thoughts, or share it on social, to keep this important conversation going. Let’s keep D&I top of mind–not just during Black History Month–but through the entire year!

Kacie Clark
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