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Ep. 2: Is Diversity a Distraction to Business?

Welcome to Inclusion & Marketing. The show that’s all about giving you the skills and insights you need to win the attention, adoration, and loyalty of more consumers – especially those with differences that are often ignored by brands.

I’m your host, Sonia Thompson – a marketer and a person with a lot of differences. Let’s get to it.

Momentive, the company formerly known as SurveyMonkey, released data recently that showed half of White executives (51%), and 44% of White Senior Management, considered diversity, equity, and inclusion to be a distraction from the company’s real work.

Sigh. 

There were lots of other fascinating insights from this research, and I’ll link to it in the show notes if you want to dig into it.

But the key takeaway for me from this data is that even though we’ve made progress on the diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging front over the past two years or so, there is still a ton of work to be done.

To help us make sense of this data, and to get some insights on what we need to do as a result of it – I sat down with Antoine Andrews, the Chief Diversity and Social Impact Officer at Momentive.

He is a veteran in this space, and had lots of smart things to offer that will help us all as we continue along with this work.

Here’s a summary of what we covered in our discussion:

Here’s my talk with Antoine:

What a chief diversity and social impact officer does

Sonia Thompson: Hello Antoine, thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?

Antoine Andrews: I’m doing well. I’m doing well, Sonia. I can’t complain. It’s been a great week so far. It’s midweek, Wednesday, and so it’s the best you can ask for.

Sonia: Oh, always great to hear. Okay. Well, let’s dive in. We’ve got a pretty juicy topic and I want to get your insight. So let’s just dive in. Can you just tell me a little bit about who you are and what do you do?

Antoine: Yeah, so I’m Antoine Andrews. I am the chief diversity and social impact officer and that last part is very important. But I lead those efforts for Momentum. And what’s important and about the role is, I think the social impact, most folks understand the chief diversity role, but the social impact officers, what makes this job super exciting? It allows me to pull a thread of diversity equity and inclusion and how we show up as a company in the community, but also allowed me to think about social impact as I’m leveraging our diversity and inclusion efforts overall. So I’m the person that’s basically the conscience of our company.

Sonia: Well, that’s good.

Antoine: Yep.

Sonia: Well, so the conscience of the company, I think that’s a important thing to think about it from that aspect of it. And it sounds like because it’s in your title, it’s sort of baked of the business results, is that right?

Antoine: Yeah. It’s baked in our business results and we just launched a product called Workplace Equity IQ, which centers around helping companies think about diversity through the lens of quantitative HRS data and sentiment data. So yes, it’s definitely baked into our business, so much so that we’ve created a solution to help our customers and help decision makers think about diversity at a much deeper level.

Sonia: For sure. We do need more people to think about this more deeply. Okay. You did mention that a lot of people probably do know what a chief diversity officer does, but can you just level set us just in case there are people who aren’t sure and are very curious about it?

Antoine: Yeah, I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a space for some time and I think if we think about diversity equity inclusion, think about it through the lens of how do we look at how employees are experiencing a life cycle, whether it’s how they’re hired, promoted, how we’re retaining them, how they’re showing up with managers, what they’re experiencing, their lived experiences, are in a company. My job is to make sure that that comes to life in every interaction that they have. The other side of my role is how to make sure that as we show up externally, and so if you look at our Momentum, that AI site, how we show up, diversity screens around what our people are and how we show up, what’s important to us. Accessibility of our site and what that looks like. And so when I said before, I’m the conscience, I’m the person that’s constantly thinking about those engagements, employee to employee, manager to employee, company to customer, to be able to say, “Are we thinking about it through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion?”

Sonia: I love that you said all the different ways that you’re thinking about it, because what you hear when you hear a lot of people talking about diversity, equity and inclusion, a lot of times, they’re talking about it from an internal human resources standpoint, and they kind of forget that it’s also very important to think about these from when you’re thinking about your customer as well.

Antoine: Yeah. I believe you can’t just look at the internal side. We say this, we want our insides to match our outsides. And so it’s important for us to think about it. What makes working at Momentum exciting is that we have the opportunity to touch the space of DEI on a broad set. Not only through our customers and looking at it at workplace and workforce, but we also do work and think about surveys that are engaging with communities. We did some work with the AIPI data, which really centered around understanding how the agent community was experiencing hate on a broader set. So I think this job gives us an opportunity to do some thought leadership in this space, to really partner with folks that are doing great work in this sense. And so I think that outside piece is critical because we actually have to change both how we’re operating internally and really help be a part how the world is operating and moving externally.

What’s changed in the world of diversity of the last decade

Sonia: Very good. All right. So you have been in this space for a long time, right? Think over a decade, you’ve been doing this work. But for a lot of companies, they really started to get more focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, over the last year or so. In summer 2020, the world kind of woke up to a lot of things that were going on. Are there many differences in the way that you’ve sort of seen and observed the way people have been starting to engage in this type of work from a company stand point over the last year that we should be aware of?

Antoine: Yeah, Sonia, I think that’s a great question. And you’re so kind, I’ve been in the space closer to 20 years, you’re trying to give me 10 years back on the [inaudible 00:05:14], so I appreciate that. But I think one of the things that I’ve, I’ve noticed over the past 15 to 18 months that language has changed and shifted, which is really critical, uncomfortable, but needed, right? Language like white supremacist culture, white supremacy, the books that folks are reading, whiteness and all of those things are really driving towards how do we talk about the core of what we’re trying to resolve and how people show up margin, people talk about marginalized groups. And so language has shifted and that’s different because once language shifts, I think actions shift along with it. And I think that’s the biggest piece for what I’ve seen over the past 15 to 18 months.

Sonia: Definitely. I think people are having much more frank conversations that probably are a lot less politically correct. And I’m not saying that politically correct is what we needed. We probably need less, a whole lot less, we need to stop being politically correct, to be able to have the conversation that we need to have.

Antoine: Yeah. Yeah. One of the things I said as I was coming through the summer of last year, 2020, and I think there were three words that I used to talk to organization around where are we in this moment? And talking about having difficult conversation. One was perfection. I think we’re striving for perfection in these conversations and having a perfect conversation for an imperfect situation is just impossible to me. So like, let’s not, [inaudible 00:06:45]

The other one is I think that most people talk about is uncomfortable. We’re all going to be uncomfortable as we’re having these conversations, it’s needed. You have to get to that uncomfortable stage before you move on into really being able to understand it. You always like to say, when I had hair, there was that piece before short hair, the long hair. And it’s that uncomfortable phase in between where you’re not sure if you’re going to comb in a brush it. So that’s one. And then the third piece, Sonia, that I think is really important is stamina. It’s required for us to continue to stay in the space. We all get tired of like, “Oh, we’re going to have this conversation again?” And that’s when you need to lean in. And that stamina piece is important as we’re moving through.

What’s behind senior leaders thinking ‘diversity is a distraction’

Sonia: So I’m glad you brought that up because I do feel like there are a number of people who’ve gone through a bit of fatigue. Like they were super gung ho whenever they first started, but now people are like, “Okay, can we have a different conversation already? Let’s talk about something else.” And that brings me to your company recently completed a survey and the findings were quite interesting in terms of nearly half of executives feel like diversity is a distraction. Could you talk a little bit more about the survey and some of the findings that came out of it?

Antoine: Yeah. I think what was interesting about the survey, there was a disconnect between how senior leaders and how folks that are more entry level saw that. I think one of the things that we also saw is that white employees were more likely to think DEI was a distraction, and really about half of white executives compared to the entry level. So I think that was critical for us. And I think that what that showed is that lived experiences has a ton to do with how people are seeing this work and what’s important to it. And I think the survey kind of… It was surprising, but it also gave us some sense into what we needed to do more and really helping people understand that we all have a role in this, and in order to close a gap, we actually have to close our mindset. As far as understanding this is a part of the business.

You know, one of the things I like to talk about is that employees drive the business, right? We know that. And employees discretionary efforts, what gets us to the next level. Folks are more willing to give that discretionary effort in a place that they feel connected to, they feel valued. And how do we continue to do that? And so a distraction actually limits your ability to be successful. And I think we all know that diversity, having different mindsets, having different thoughts, and having innovative approaches actually expands how you can show up and expand your reaching to a market. So I think that the data just helped us realize, like we have some work to do as an organization, we have some work to really do to help drive and to go back to the workplace equity. It’s a key component. That survey that we ran is a key component of the Workplace Equity IQ, which helping organizations see where gaps between their senior leaders, their senior managers and their overall employee base are different.

Sonia: Right. So what would you recommend? So as people are starting to understand that building an inclusive brand is an essential aspect of what they need to do if they want to attract their diverse talent, if they want to create a space where their customers of all different backgrounds and the differences they have, feel like they belong. Getting this data, somebody might say, “Oh, there’s a lot more work to do than we realize.” What should people be thinking about or doing, once they get their bearings about them, to kind of start to get people to understand that it’s not a distraction, it’s more of a business imperative.

Antoine: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think when you see the data coming out, where if you read looking at our surveys, most folks will have a reaction like, “Ah, the mountain is too heavy or too far to climb or we got to boil the ocean.” I think for me, as I like to chunk it out and think about what’s most important for us at this moment in time. And your employees tend to tell you that. Most employees are really focused on how they want to grow their careers and how they want to thrive and really want great managers. And so always a great staring place to say, “What does our manager population look like? What do they need? How do we make sure that we’re scaling them up to be there?”

And then the other piece I think is critical for, as you think about not being a distraction, is you develop and upscale your entire employee population goes back to my point, employees drive outcomes. And if you start to see that, you actually see your outcomes increase. So for me, it’s really trying to say “We can’t do it all, but let’s focus in on those areas that we know we get the bigger lift across the entire spectrum of our employee population.” And that’s tend to great managers and really great development components in there, which is a place of where we’re focusing in on, at Momentum as well.

How individual contributors and leaders alike can impact change within their cultures

Sonia: What would your recommendations be? Great managers are critical in this effort because they can create psychological safety, they can create in team environment where let’s say, if their organization isn’t onboard fully, at least something can be done on a team to create that sense. Is there anything that you would recommend people who are, let’s say individual contributors or who aren’t necessarily the overarching business leaders, that they can do to start if evangelizing or to make positive change on the inclusion front, if they don’t feel like they’re getting that support from the top at their organization?

Antoine: Yeah, that’s another great question. For me, I think about employees not advocating their role of making their colleagues feel included in there. And so one is always starting with, what do I know about myself? Folks are doing so much reading and so much learning about where their biases may lie. That’s one. And then the other piece is like really leveraging curiosity, I think, and empathy to really be able to help drive that. I think asking questions without having a inclusion is critical. And I think employees, individual contributors, really leaning in and understanding how their colleagues are experiencing the organization or even experiencing them and taking that in on, and really being able to drive change for themselves.

I think for me, microaggressions, and I know what you’ve heard about that, are really those small things that people don’t realize that they’re doing. It’s like talking about someone’s hair, all of those things. And so I think there’s some ownership that I would recommend individual contributors say, “How am I actually impacting my colleague work experience? How am I impacting my colleagues ability to be successful and thrive in the organization?” And owning that, you actually start to role model that for others.

Sonia: Yeah. So kind of like take some power back. Don’t put it all on leadership and what they can do, you can create change right where you are.

Antoine: Yeah. Kind of like the power to the people, right? I think people have a lot of power. And if we give up that power, we actually… We give up that power, it gives people the sense of saying, “Well, there’s nothing I can do.” And I don’t think in this work that’s an approach to take.

Sonia: Right. And it goes back to what you were saying earlier as employees can drive change, like everyone within the organization has a role to play. Okay. All right. So we need to kind of be a bit of a PR agent for diversity, equity and inclusion work. Because like I said, because so many people are thinking about this as a distraction, do you have any thoughts or suggestions on how to get more people to see it as a business imperative versus something that’s political or something that’s in response to one or two particular events that happened?

Antoine: Yeah. I think we have to find a way for leaders, in my experience, to personalize it.

Sonia: Okay.

Antoine: And so really finding a nuance for each leader, it’s going to be different for every leader. I think having standard talking points just doesn’t work in this space. It feels like soundbites and so understand what’s important to that leader and it may be driving towards increasing the business goals and understanding how that plays out. And we’re looking at, “Hey, we’re looking at your team, what’s what’s the issue around your team?” So really being able to do that. Personalizing is helpful.

Sonia: Okay.

Antoine: And then customization on messaging for each leader. And for me, I always like to use, what books are you reading and really helping them understand that because there’s a journey that folks have to go through, and you talked earlier about psychological safety. Sometimes people need that psychological safety when we’re trying to get underneath of why do they believe it’s a distraction? And so telling people that it shouldn’t be a distraction, and that’s why you should… Just not going to work. You need to understand why they believe it, and then really help them take that journey and figuring out how do they get closer to where we need and to be, and they may never be all the way on the other side, and that’s back to that perfection. That number of 51% of C-suites see it as a distraction. We may never get it down to zero, but how do we decrease that number from half to a quarter?

Best practices for building an inclusive brand

Sonia: Okay. From your nearly 20 years experience, you said now, do you have any best practices that you can offer on what people can do to build an inclusive brand? So where diversity, equity, inclusion is just kind of how you operate versus it’s an initiative of that we need to work on at this point in time.

Antoine: Yeah. I think one of the things I think you see a lot of companies do it. I think if you put your marker out there and make a statement, that’s something you have to live by, right? So I think that’s always, companies have done a great job. And then the hardest part is living by that statement. And I think that is looking at your internal employee population and saying, “What can we do to make sure that people are thriving?’ I think one of what’s important for me is that over the last year we’ve talked a lot about hiring, which is important, but I think it’s important for companies to think about the retention and development aspect and the promotion. And the reason why I say that is that if you focus in on that, you actually are looking internally at what things you may have done or may have not created for your employees to see them thrive.

And so I think looking at development moments, whether it’s a mentoring program or the sponsorship program, which benefits not only the sponsee or the mentor, but the mentee but the mentor as well. I always think of reverse mentoring program is always helpful because it gets senior leaders to actually start to learn and get closer to the issues from there. And then the last thing I think that’s always helpful, and we have them seven times throughout the year and even more so when you think about days, is that using awareness months, heritage months, and key moments as an educating factor for folks to understand what groups are about, understanding the learning through that.

And my team, probably if they watch, they’re probably waiting for me to drop this one quote I always drop. And it’s the Brian Stevenson quote. I had the fortune to see Brian Stevenson speak and he talked about learning. And what he said, “Learning is an action item. Learning gets you to do things that you would not otherwise do.” And sometimes in organizations, we see learning as soft. But everyone in the corporation has gone to some type of learning institution and has changed their mindset. And there’s no different when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Sonia: Got it. Okay. So many wonderful things that you said, and I think it’s a lot of… It gives people very tangible things that they can do and in terms of thinking about how they create that culture I know you talked a little bit earlier about you have social justice in your title. I might be saying the title wrong.

Antoine: That’s fine.

Sonia: Is this something that most brands need to be thinking about as they’re working internally to connect what they’re doing internally, externally as well in some way?

Antoine: Yeah, I think so. I think it’s the S and the ESG that many organization and investors are talking about. And I think really, for me, how you look at the community across the board. And for us, we have three ways of thinking about it. It’s equity and education. So how do we make sure that our young people have access to the education they need. Reshaping the workforce, and how do we make sure when they’re ready, when folks are ready, they actually have access to well paying jobs and can be successful. And the last one is around environment and sustainability through the environment. And so, yes, if you look at it from a corporation, how do you continue to drive through that as a way of helping the communities.

And honestly our future to be prepared and be successful and to one day kind of be sitting in this seat where they’re being interviewed by Sonya or Sonya’s interviewing someone who we’ve kind of leaned into. So I think it’s the key component here, because it’s the place of, we are giving back to others, we’re leveraging our resources. And then I’ll leave you with this because one of the things that’s critical, our employees are amazing. And so how do we leverage our employees to really engage them in the communities? Skill-based volunteering is huge. It’s a great way for our employees to leverage what they know to help others, help communities in that way. So social impact and social justice is a key component for all companies. And it’s a way for us to get closer to what’s going on.

Sonia: Nice. All right. This has been fantastic. Any parting words of wisdom for people who are working to build an inclusive brand?

Antoine: I think the key here is that I remember somebody saying that. That this work is hard. And this work is really hard. And I think from that perspective, it’s that anything that’s easy, whatever it is, you’re going to all ask some questions about it. But it’s pushing through the tough times and you see results, you feel good about what the journey, and this is a journey. This is a journey. And then the last thing I would be wrong if I didn’t throw a shameless plug of a Workplace Equity IQ solution, which I think is really centered on helping decision makers make the best decisions and really shape the future for their organizations.

Sonia: Well, I will definitely incorporate some links and information of that so people can get more info. Thank you so much.

Antoine: Thank you.

Sonia: And super insightful.

Antoine: All right. Thank you so much.

You can change the narrative of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging

Antoine was a breath of fresh air. And there were two things that really stood out to me from what he said. The first is that stamina is essential. We’ve got work to do – and there will be both highs and lows on this journey. But we must remain vigilant, and to do that, we need stamina so we won’t pack up and quit – if we go for a while and don’t see radical results.

The second thing that stuck with me is the whole notion of our individual power. Power to the people – as he said. We all have it, and we should never cede it to others – especially to those who may not see the importance of this work.

No matter where we are, or what our position is – we all have power to influence others in our orbit in a positive way. 

That’s it for this episode. 

If you’d like more information on how to get started building your inclusive brand that wins the attention, adoration, and loyalty of more consumers — grab my Inclusive Marketing Starter Kit. Head on over to inclusivemarketing.co/starterkit to get it.

And if you liked this episode, I would so appreciate it if you would share it with a friend, and even rate and review it in your podcast app of choice. It’ll help get the word out so others can get going delivering inclusive experiences.

Until next time, remember: everyone deserves to have a place where they belong. Let’s use our individual and collective power to make sure more people feel like they do.

Somebody’s waiting on you.

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