What: A “best of” compilation of three webinars recorded in August, September, and November 2020.
Who: Melissa Jezior, Eagle Hill Consulting’s President and CEO,
Pedro Suriel, Vice President Diversity and Inclusion,
Raymond James, Jeff Perkins, Managing Director and Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Stanton Chase North America, and
Major General (retired) Linda Singh, Founder and CEO Kaleidoscope Affect LLC
It’s important to normalize conversations about race and bias at work. So what can organizations do to start the conversation, make sure every voice is heard, and take real action to create a more diverse and inclusive environment? We talked to three experts over three webinars to find out.
Melissa: With the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, that’s really where I think I personally started to see all of the connections of the broader system, issue of systematic racism and it really touched a nerve. I think it touched a nerve in all of us. And certainly me, I think both on a personal and a professional level. And so it’s really triggered me and I think so many people around me to look at things differently.
And it’s caused me to pause and ask questions of myself, some tough questions in terms of how I see work and how I see life and my role as a leader at Eagle Hill. And so I really see this as an opportunity for me to open up, to learn how to do better, to be vulnerable, and see things that maybe I haven’t seen before. And so and to take this approach, I’ve realized that the conversations that we need to have in order to move this forward aren’t the ones that are necessarily a part, a natural part of the corporate world. So I think for me, certainly this moment feels different.
And so with that, I’d love to ask Pedro kind of his take on that same concept. So 2020 has been such a year of disruption, as we all know, right, on so many levels, that it feels like history is kind of being reshaped in front of us. So as it relates to diversity and inclusion Pedro, I’m interested in your perspective on this moment and whether you see something different here than you have before.
Pedro: Soon after the new year we were introduced to this, we went into this whole pandemic. Then the social unrest that you just mentioned. Add on top of that the political environment that we’re in. We’re in an election year. You talk about disruption. Now, in the business world, we look at disruption as a way to innovate. You think about business disrupters like Amazon.
When Amazon came in, they changed everything from logistics to shipping to buying.
And you think about the events that triggered this, conversations that we’re starting to have, it was based on, we’ve been put or thrusted right in the front of the social injustices that exist in society. And what I see different is to your point in your message is that the difference now is that there are a lot of more individuals asking questions. There are a lot more individuals coming to the table to seek to understand and asking questions, how can I get involved?
Jeff: Where I live I can see protests go by here in Washington periodically and I see people of all ages, all walks, all shapes and sizes and persuasions and I realize wow, we are starting to care about this potentially more as a country and a world than we have in my lifetime. I guess some have looked back to the 60s as probably the most dramatic look at this particular topic, but in my lifetime probably this movement that I’m beginning to feel a part of and as you say it starts in our workplace, in our neighborhood, in our daily lives because you know a lot of these things get sensationalized which is really why we are where we are today so it’s super necessary. Technology has really brought into our homes and into our lives and into our hearts things that are happening that bring inequality and issues of race forward, both in our workplaces.
And I think with the pandemic some of us have been home more than we ever have been so it’s allowed us to a pay a little bit more attention to the world and to ourselves.
And so I think we’re beginning to realize that you know black lives matter not just in the street but in the boardroom, on Zoom calls, in elections, in healthcare, in neighborhoods. And so I think these are the things that are beginning the national, and I would say global dialogue around race.
Linda: It’s a pivotal moment in the sense that it’s causing conversations, even though they’re not necessarily always productive conversations. It’s causing conversations to occur. It’s causing people to re-examine what they believed previously, what they currently believe, what their current beliefs are and even what their values are. I think the challenge is going to be is that, you know, we can have a lot of conversations, so what’s the action that we individually together are going to take to be able to move the dime forward?
And that means, you know, how do we look at this thing of inclusivity, and not lose ourselves, and lose our identity, but still address all of the critical things that, you know, we need to address. And that’s going to be a heavy lift, right? It’s not going to happen overnight. It is going to take policy. It’s going to take people at all levels, and it’s going to take community engagement continued.
Linda: Well, I think the first thing is, you want to go into it very open, then not get defensive about what someone may say, because they just don’t know. And I think the biggest thing is if we can start with the assumption that people are coming from a place of being inquisitive. And sometimes, you know, they’re not, right, sometimes they’re just trying to be mean. And if they’re just trying to be mean you just gotta call it what it is, you shouldn’t try to kind of tiptoe around the conversation where you just need to have an honest conversation and say, you know, I just, I didn’t like that.
There has been times where, you know, I was selected, and this was on the military side where I was selected to be at an event. And they wanted to be front and center. And I’m just like, well, why do I need to be front and center and they go because you’re the only black female that we have that’s an officer. I’m just like, really? Because, you know, and now they were being honest. Right? And I’m just kinda like how do I feel about that.
Jeff: In preparation for this webinar I kind of did some googling and looked around at SHRM and some to her sites and I found some interesting things that I didn’t know, which were you know 45% of black Americans say that their workplace actually discourages conversations. And to think that that’s where you show up at work whether it’s virtually or in-person 38% of black American workers don’t feel emotionally safe sharing how they feel about protests or things of racial injustice in the workplace. 33% of black American workers do not feel respected and valued in the workplace. And again this is SHRM data. You can really find it on their site.
I think right now more than any time organizations, and I know our organization is looking at these things both with our clients and among ourselves is how do you approach racial injustice and kind of foster communications and take steps to adjust, to address societal issues like this. And I think the real answer is it kind of starts at home, so that’s what we decided at Stanton Chase much like you’ve decided is you know anyone can write a press release about oh Eagle Hill is doing XYZ, but really the proof is in the pudding. Like what are you doing? Are you hiring? Do people feel comfortable in the workplace? Do people feel like they can have the conversation and encouraging authentic and conversations that go beyond kind of just a statement, a mission statement, or values of the organizations is it like Stanton Chase or Eagle Hill or wherever you work. Is it a place where diversity can actually live and thrive?
Pedro: We don’t necessarily have to have all of the answers. But if we listen with intentionality, we’re able to begin to uncover things that might have not be visibly present to us. For those that are sharing, it’s important to have an environment where they’re feeling being heard and seen. In one of the phrases that I’ve heard many times, and ever since we started these conversations over the last several months is: I see you and I hear you.
Melissa: At Eagle Hill, we have something that, we’ve had it in place now for a couple of years, but we’ve been trying to leverage it even more so now is this concept, we call it our Let’s Talk About It series, where we bring everyone together and we try to talk about and unpack really tough issues. And one of the things I’ve loved about that process myself is that it creates a place where we kind of have these ground rules where we kind of present ourselves to say look, none of us may be experts.
But we’re all here to learn from each other and learn and grow together and keeping an open mind and being respectful and being humble. And it’s, I think it’s creating those ground rules and those establishments really does create a lot of trust and creates an opportunity for people to risk trying to have the conversation.
Pedro: Yeah, and part of that, too is just as leaders or whoever is facilitating those conversations, is to begin to have a level of vulnerability. Because often I talk to CEOs of organizations and I understand the weight that fits on the shoulders of CEOs because you represent your organization and always careful about what you’re saying. But I’ve found is that through the power of storytelling and sharing and having a little bit of vulnerability and say look, I want to engage in this conversation.
Melissa: I feel like you are going to mess up. Like we are all going to mess up, right? Like you just almost have to get…that’s part of having an uncomfortable conversation. I think it’s owning when you mess up, owning and learning from it and knowing that it’s probably going to happen again and all you can do is grow from the last time there was a bump in the road. That’s what I would say.
Jeff: I would say that too, owning it, learning more, growing from it I think are all important parts to it.
Not lingering on it and obsessing about it. Living in the real world is really important and I would say reaching out to others that are different is really an important point. I also think that each of us whether we are at work or we are at a rally or we are voting or we are in our neighborhood or our church or wherever you go we are always encountering opportunities to show the world that we are becoming better people.
Pedro: It gets back to that level of vulnerability. Because that part of that fear of being afraid of that I’m going to say the wrong thing is that as managers and leaders, we always carry this burden on our self that we have to have the answer for everything and that we have to be right about everything.
And I’ve given myself the grace, I always say, tell individuals give yourself some grace. Because as a manager, there are so many different things that you’re responsible for. And to Melissa, to your earlier point, not having a conversation is a louder conversation than having one and being afraid of what to say.
So the first step is inviting into the conversation, being vulnerable and say, “Hey look, I’m concerned about what I may say, so just know that I am in a state of inquiry.” And most often, you will find that people are willing to engage in this conversation and go along with you on that journey. Because this is a journey, it’s not going to happen overnight. And it takes some time to get to a point where the words will flow, the conversations will come, and you will be surprised as to the types of things feedback and questions that you receive back.
Linda: When I think about being with people who are not like me, it energizes me. It gives me like there is something that that makes me just get so excited about, you know, being in an organization where no one looks like me in terms of, you know, we’re not all from the same place.
We might all be the same color, but we’re not all from the same place. We have different backgrounds. And it gives me the chance to really learn what they value and to learn something from them that makes me up my game a little bit. Right. And so if you, if you want to be successful, the first thing is to learn what is it that pool that you’re swimming in and what are they like, and what do they value? And if your bosses are very different, you need to understand what their expectations are, and it doesn’t mean that you have to change who you fundamentally are. It just means how you show up may be different.
Pedro: Don’t get too rigid in formality and in formulas and so forth. Set some very basic ground rules of how do you want to have a conversation? Yes, there are some very good tools that are out there around holding courageous conversations. You can put some leader-led discussion guides in place that outlines here is the objective of the session that you want to hold, here’s some ground rules we want to share, and here’s the desired outcome to help facilitate.
But not get—not over-engineer it. Because again, this is about trying to create human connection in a very simple way, in a very structured way to allow conversations really to go where they need to go. Because it’s an evolution that we would go through in order to make sure that we have that continuous learning cycle.
Melissa: One tool that I say, that I will say that has been helpful for Eagle Hill leadership so far in our journey is we just as a group finished taking Eddie Moore Jr.’s 21-day racial equity habit building challenge. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it. And we got into smaller cohorts and we did the challenge over three weeks and we spent time together talking about what we learned and reflecting. And we kind of kept a joint journal as a way to start creating, not only to create more of that introspection to your point, but also to create more habit around being able to talk about it.
Linda: There’s no shortage of, you know, diverse talent, so we need to expand our polls and maybe go to another level of depth, And that’s going to cause us to be, you know, a little bit more strategic than what we would be.
Melissa: And tell me what you mean by another level of depth?
Linda: You can’t go to, um, a school. Let’s just say you can’t go to Harvard and expect to recruit all of your talent there, and that you’re going to get a good smattering of diverse talent. It’s just not realistic today. I mean, look at their student body. So what I would say is then, are you going to more of the HBCUs?
Are you really going to search or look and where the pools where you are going to get some of that best talent? So if you’re looking for engineers and you what black engineers, then, are you going to Nesby to get black engineers? Because that’s where they’re cultivated. That’s the group of where they’re at. And so I think we have to you know, it’s one of these things where someone actually said this, is that if you want to fish for salmon, you’re not going to go to a pond out in your backyard. You go where salmon swim.
Linda: I think the challenge is it’s hard work. It’s not something that is, you can just kind of say, we’re going to do this, and it’s immediately going to turn the corner, right. This is a long and enduring process. And so it’s a marathon, it’s not a race time, and I think we lose steam after awhile, right?
Pedro: And as you think about setting goals and objectives, you can only be able to accomplish those goals and objectives if you clearly understand where the organization is, where individuals are. Because you will need to go alongside and come alongside wherever on that change journey individuals are.
So to me is when you’re thinking about setting objectives and goals is having that clearly readiness assessment for the organization. How ready is this?
And they have to be reasonable and attainable. You don’t want to put something that is far outreaching. Absolutely should you strive for aspirational goals? Yes. But when you’re talking about whether it’s recruitment, retention, or involvement, it’s like what is realistic based on what the load of the individual is, where the organization is, and the maturity of the organization?
For example having leaders engage and sponsor specific initiatives. Individual practitioners—ensuring that they participate in X number of events throughout the year. If you have learning objective, identify which, what courses or content would be required and say you should participate in an unconscious bias conversation. So making sure that those objectives are attainable by the individual and the organization.
Jeff: I think tuning in to what’s happening on the national level is important but I think it also matters on a day to day basis. You know this is a long-term sustained effort and it doesn’t happen overnight or even in a series of months. It takes time to transform. We realize that, but I think also I would say we’ve been very patient. I mean as a country we’ve wasted a good amount of time related to these matters and so you know ask your colleagues, your team, your employees what they think and what needs to happen in your workplace you know. I think that’s really critical.
Melissa: And as you know, we’re on a journey here at Eagle Hill to build a more diverse and inclusive culture. And so, we’re really thankful to be able to talk to experts, like you, and willing to share, and learn from you, so we can all figure out how we can do better.”