Diversity & Inclusion

Featuring: Amber Baird, Winston Powe, and Erin Smith

Robert Amberg:

This is Strategy That Works where we discuss practical solutions to companies’ most complex challenges. I’m your host Robert Amberg, chief marketing officer at Jabian Consulting. Let’s dive in.

Hi, everyone. Welcome to the podcast. Today we’re talking about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, what it means, and how businesses are adapting their practices to see positive results in employee satisfaction, retention, and profitability. We’re joined by Senior Managers Amber Baird and Erin Smith, and also Director Winston Powe, all with Jabian Consulting. Everyone, welcome to the podcast.

Winston Powe:

Thanks for having us.

Erin Smith:

Thank you.

Amber Baird:

Yeah, thank you.

Robert Amberg:

Cool. Let’s dive right in. What do we really mean by diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

Amber Baird:

That’s a great question. We like to think about diversity and inclusion as a way that you can be more diverse in terms of your population, but then also make sure that each of those people has a voice to speak up, a voice to dissent, and to make sure that they are bringing their true and authentic selves to work.

Erin Smith:

Yep. I think a lot of people think of… They hear the word diversity, and they think black, white. Really, it’s more than that. If you look at the piece of inclusion, you’re looking at backgrounds where people come from. You’re looking at working moms, working dads, and really making sure that everybody feels comfortable, everybody feels like they have a voice at the table.

Robert Amberg:

Okay. You kind of alluded to this, but inclusion sometimes gets overlooked when talking about diversity and inclusion, so how can… Can you expand a little bit on what inclusion means and how can business leaders build an inclusive culture?

Winston Powe:

Actually, it’s a great question, and it just reminds me of a time we recently had a forum where we had a similar question that was asked to us. It was a little bit different whereas they asked, “Why should inclusion be a part of inclusion and diversity?” and just goes… They kind of go together, right? It’s one of the things that struck a chord with Amber effectively during that session, and she just gave an amazing answer to that. It was really an awesome sight to see. Amber, could you talk a little bit more about the answer you provided them?

Amber Baird:

Sure. What I actually brought it back to was the word feminism, which has been obviously in the news quite a bit recently but also has turned into a bit of a hot-button word, where you don’t want to say it, like, “Well, how could we say feminism without saying it?” so like a quality or something of that nature. But words actually matter. So, when you use the words inclusion and diversity, and you champion those things and lift them up, then you are taking a stand as your own personal self and saying, “This is something that matters to me, and this is something that’s important.”

You want to dive into the inclusion part just because you have focused on getting different people in the workplace, the working moms, the working dads, people of lower socioeconomic backgrounds, doesn’t mean that they’re going to thrive and that they’re going to help make your company better. So, it’s something that’s really important to focus in on that inclusion portion because diversity is just the first step. Then inclusion, is everything that happens afterwards.

Robert Amberg:

What are some of the ways that the companies… I feel like a lot of companies probably aspire to be inclusive or say. “We’re here for everyone.” But it’s a lot to think about when you’re trying not to actively disenfranchise someone from having the same opportunity in the workplace, whether they have a disability, or whether they, for whatever reason… What are some of those steps companies can do? Is there like an audit they do about, “Here’s our physical space. Here’s our meeting type. Here’s our leadership style?” What are those steps?

Amber Baird:

Yeah, I think part of it is definitely an audit, but more of it is truly thinking about who your employees are and talking to them, listening to them. What would make Erin feel comfortable in a way that would make Winston feel comfortable in a way, that would make Amber feel comfortable? All three of us have different needs and different backgrounds, so you have to really put yourself in each of our shoes and other people, people with disabilities, et cetera. What would be their individual challenges, and how can you help to overcome those challenges?

Erin Smith:

Also, listening to your employees, right? We talk about employee engagement. We do surveys and just talking, focus groups, things like that. Those are other ways to gauge if employees feel empowered. If they’re sitting in a room full of executives, do they feel empowered to speak up, or do they feel like they’re going to get overlooked? Things like that to measure employee engagement also help to understand how inclusive your company is, understanding if you’re moving in the right direction.

Robert Amberg:

Okay. From an internal and external standpoint, how are they practically looking at it from both hiring practices through customer experience?

Winston Powe:

Sure. In terms of hiring practices, a lot of companies tend to stop there. They look at a key metric to say, “Okay, we’re gong to hit this threshold of hiring X amount of this type of employee or X percent of female employees, or we’re going to promote X, this amount of female employees,” or whatever the example, whatever the KPI is. Oftentimes, there’s a metric that they’re trying to hit and show, okay, we’ve made progress in DNI. It’s much more than that.

Erin Smith:

And then no one looks again. Yeah.

Winston Powe:

Exactly, and then nobody looks again. They’ve hit that target. Clap your hands. As Amber and Erin were talking about, it’s much more than that. It’s about the education. It’s about making that individual and making that group feel comfortable and continuing to have those conversations in and around the workplace.

Amber Baird:

That’s also, as you’ve talked, the internal and external portion. The goal with internal inclusion is that it leads to external improvements. So, Erin actually can talk more about this. One of her friends works in diversity and inclusion at a large retailer, and we had that person come here and talk with us. They’d had kind of a PR disaster that had happened where they had a severely racist image that was shared as part of an advertisement, even though they are a very diverse company. But along the way, there were just little things that were dropped from the time the picture was taken, the advertisement was set up, all the way through printing, where no one really spoke up, even though, again, it’s a very diverse company.

So, they are diverse that maybe not as inclusive as they needed to be because at any point, someone should have said, “Let’s take a step back and realize that this is pretty historically racist imagery and not actually publish this as part of our platform.” The more people are included, and the more people have that voice that Erin was mentioning, the better your customer experience is going to be because what your customer is going to perceive when they see your output.

Erin Smith:

Yep.

Robert Amberg:

I think that’s a very good point to make. Winston, you had mentioned kind of checking this box and companies that potentially do things just to meet a KPI or such. But to your point, I think I know what example you were talking about. It becomes both a risk management. It becomes a public relations, I think you said, a marketing, and ultimately a customer-experience issue when things like this happen. Especially with the advent of social media and the speed at which things can travel, someone can get called out, rightfully or wrongfully, I should add, and perceptions are formed. How has that really changed, do you think, or do you think that has changed companies’ perceptions of DNI practices and their attention to it?

Erin Smith:

Absolutely. I mean, I think, as we’ve seen, a lot of this stuff has been very reactive, and now companies are trying to be more proactive. Right? They’re starting to incorporate these DNI practices. They’re starting to make sure that they’ve got people at the table who feel empowered to say, “Huh, maybe this shouldn’t have made it out the door.” They’re understanding the power of social media and markets and understanding that social media is an international market. It’s not US-based. The example Amber talked about with the retailer, this started off over in a UK-based market. Right? 

It wasn’t until someone in the US posted about it or tweeted about it that it blew up, so really understanding that impact. One tweet could take your company down in a matter of seconds. I think companies are realizing that, and I think they can use it to their advantage as well. Right? So, can go both ways.

Robert Amberg:

Yeah. I was just going to say, I think a lot of companies might hear something like that and be scared about the impact, social media or the speed of that message going around. But at the same time, like you said, it is an absolute advantage if you can get it right.

Erin Smith:

Yep. Yep.

Winston Powe:

And I think a lot of companies is, is many companies… I think they understand it, and I think these leaders of these companies understand the challenge. I think also that they may not necessarily understand what direction they should go in. I think that’s an opportunity for us to figure out or to develop some thought leadership in that space and to give some of these companies’ guidance, or some suggestions, or even a playbook on how to tackle those types of challenges.

Robert Amberg:

I think we’re seeing more… I think we’re seeing an increase in the amount of advertising that companies are doing where they’re trying to make a proactive approach to that. Ironically, this morning on my Facebook memories popped up… I had shared a commercial from I think a year or two ago from Guinness beer. The commercial kind of took every beer ad you would think of and kind of turned it on its head. It was six men playing basketball, and they were… It was three on three, but they were all in wheelchairs. It was highly competitive.

Amber Baird:

Oh, that’s awesome.

Robert Amberg:

… very physical, bunch of friends out there, a diverse crowd, just really getting after it. Then, all of a sudden, the game ends, and five of the six get out of their wheelchairs, stand up and walk out of the gym.

Amber Baird:

Oh, I saw that.

Erin Smith:

Oh, wow.

Winston Powe:

Yeah, it was awesome.

Robert Amberg:

Right. So they were trying to be inclusive of their friend, and then they end up at a beer.

Erin Smith:

I remember that one.

Robert Amberg:

The tagline was something about strength unites us or something like that. It was just a very powerful ad and unlike anything Guinness had certainly ever run and unlike any beer ad. I think at the time, they were saying how much of an impact it had, and you can see that impact with beer sales. I don’t think the did it for an increase in beer sales. I think that was a nice ancillary benefit. But it just shows the progressive thinking of that company, and it was just a very powerful ad.

Amber Baird:

That’s a really great point is the sales, because people these days, mostly kind of the younger generations, want to spend their money with companies that they feel empower their value, or embody their values, rather. So, when you were seeing that in an advertisement… Nike has come out for equal pay for the female soccer team, the US national soccer team, also highly promoting Serena Williams and a lot of these other really powerful female athletes. Also, they’re not… I guess there’s a word for it. I can’t quite come up with it… basically, penalizing them for getting pregnant. In the past, that they had lost their sponsorship if they were pregnant for a certain period of time and didn’t actually work.

So they’re taking those sort of measures, and that makes someone like me, who spends money on active wear sometimes, like, “Oh, maybe Nike’s someplace I should spend my dollars to show them that I appreciate the stands that they’re making.” People were trying to do that these days, again, specifically the younger generations. I do think that the companies know that, and that speaks to everyone’s point that there is a big opportunity there to increase your customer sales by improving the customer experience that these people actually want.

Robert Amberg:

Talk a little bit more about the strategic advantage that companies can kind of seize on if they leverage DNI correctly.

Erin Smith:

Yeah, I mean you’re, you’re pulling in a market share. Right? You’re pulling in untapped markets. Some of the examples that Amber talks about… Actually, we wrote an article on this and just talking about Rihanna came out with Fenty foundation. Right? If you looked before, many foundation shades didn’t match women of color. Right?

Amber Baird:

Almost none. It was like two brands.

Erin Smith:

Yeah, like almost non-existent, and Rihanna comes out with this Fenty foundation and takes off. I can’t remember the amount of sales. I don’t remember the specific number, but –

Amber Baird:

It was $100 million in a month, and $400 million in a year, which is unheard of for a new foundation company.

Robert Amberg:

Yeah.

Erin Smith:

So now, of course, now other makeup companies are seeing that and saying, “Okay, women of color are spending money on makeup, and we need to be able to cater to them.” Some of the other things we talked about were in the fashion industry and catering to plus-size, the plus-size market. Right? A lot of designers didn’t want to cater to that market. There were certain designers that came out and said, “Okay, well, we will,” and they have seen it take off. So, I mean, it’s definitely impacting the bottom line. Right? In addition to that, it’s just the right thing to do.

Robert Amberg:

It’s the right thing to do, yeah. Right.

Amber Baird:

Yeah. We think diversity is important for its own sake, as is inclusion. But we’re in a capitalist economy, so business cases matter. So, you are increasing your customer base. So, the strategic advantage is the fact that you can sell to more people if more people are able to and want to use your product.

Robert Amberg:

Sure, absolutely. And not just a product enhancement. I think you’re also looking at architecture changes –

Amber Baird:

Absolutely.

Robert Amberg:

… store design from like a wheelchair-bound person, reaching something or not being able to reach something.

Amber Baird:

The width of the aisles.

The ADA does take care of some of this, but there’s even more beyond that. So, if you have an establishment, do you have a sink that’s a bit lower? People of shorter stature and also children could use it, but there’s a lot of places that don’t cater to children that also someone who is not that tall might use. Or, we talk a lot about gender-neutral restrooms. Winston, you have children. You can probably talk about this one.

Winston Powe:

Oh, I’ve been that guy to be in there in the store with all those kids, and, “Oh, rats. I need to change my daughter’s diaper.” Well, I don’t really feel comfortable, taking her into the men’s room. So, what do I do, right? We also talk about the opportunity in the article around in the hospitality space.

Amber Baird:

Yep.

Winston Powe:

Right? Where you have an actual talk about the –

Amber Baird:

Toiletries?

Winston Powe:

No, this was specifically about the toiletries. Exactly. I was thinking it was… Getting caught up in my words, but just around the toiletries and just having toiletries around that would cater to women of color or women with different hair styles or different… Not different hairstyles, with different –

Erin Smith:

Textures.

Amber Baird:

Hair types.

Erin Smith:

Yeah.

Winston Powe:

… hair textures. Right.

Amber Baird:

Not straight hair, basically.

Winston Powe:

Exactly. Right. Those are opportunities that still exist [crosstalk].

Amber Baird:

Yeah, and that’s important now that a lot of companies… I know IHG and Marriott have both gone away from the mini individual toiletry bottles. Now they’re just doing large toiletry bottles that are fixed in the hotel room. A cost savings, of course, but also an environment impact. But then, when you don’t have the ability to have the small containers you can change out, what do you do then? Do you have another bottle that you could provide for them behind the counter? How do you be environmentally conscious but still cater to your customers who don’t have straight hair, basically?

Robert Amberg:

Right.

Amber Baird:

Yeah.

Robert Amberg:

Absolutely. So, with all these changes and all these different things that companies can do, what kind of… We love to measure everything, right? So, it’s not successful if we can’t measure it.

Amber Baird:

Absolutely. 

Robert Amberg:

What type of measurement is needed to make sure that you can track and progress and really show progress?

Erin Smith:

Yeah. I mean, I think, we’ve gone back to surveys again, measuring employee engagement, employee satisfaction. I think one of the other things that I think about too is, as companies look to like recruiting, right, if your employees aren’t happy, they’re not going to tell their friends about the company. They’re not. So, being able to promote within, I think those measure very highly. We’re starting to work on certain types of maturity models, so looking at different factors across the board, I think. Amber, I don’t know if you want to touch on some of the additional ones.

Amber Baird:

Yeah, absolutely. You could have org charts that are set up who they… You have people who are being promoted. You see opportunities for promotion, so that’s a metric you can measure is how are you moving or people of color, your women, your people with disabilities through the organization? You’re hiring them in. That’s great, but what level do they net out at? Are they all at the entry level or middle management level? Do you have people in leadership? With your sales, you can look at your customer base when you do your customer engagement surveys and your customer personas. Who are those people, and how are you increasing your customer base by increasing your customer types? Then, of course, it goes back to the employee engagement surveys.

Those are some really nice tangible things that you can focus in on what your pain points are and actually manage them. Then, who within your company understands your DNI goals, and can they speak to it? Within that maturity model Erin was mentioning, it will pretty much go from aware, maybe word of mouth, all the way to any person in your organization should be able to articulate how you are approaching diversity and inclusion and why it’s important to the company.

Robert Amberg:

Let’s talk about the maturity model. Let’s talk about the very beginning of that maturity model, right? So, if you’re a leader just starting out, you’re looking at your company, and you’re saying, “We have a DNI problem,” or, “I want to focus on this,” what are those initial actions that you can recommend someone take to start on that journey?

Amber Baird:

The first thing… I’m going to let them answer this one after me, but the first thing is listening. Talk to your people and listen. We as consultants, and I think we as people, are so inclined to talk and make our voices heard and fill in the silence. It’s like, no, no, no. First, ask the question and listen to your people. What are their issues? What are their pain points, and how can you be better? Then, go from there.

Erin Smith:

Yeah. I mean, even look around. If you’re sitting at the table with the peoplel in your company, do you guys look diverse? Does everybody look the same? Look at your literature. Does your literature all look the same? Does everybody on the front cover of all of your publications or your advertisement –

Amber Baird:

Advertisements.

Erin Smith:

… that you’re putting out all look the same? I mean, it definitely starts from within. I think Amber said, “Listen.” I’m saying, “Look around and see.”

Winston Powe:

Yeah, and I’d echo the same sentiment. It’s also a lot of companies are not necessarily starting from scratch. Right? They may have affinity groups. They may have programs and organizations with a DNI focus.

Amber Baird:

Engage those people.

Winston Powe:

Yeah. They can engage those individuals, but you can also start there by evaluating what you have and understanding the success or not success, lack of success that you would have in the existing programs and do an audit against those programs.

Amber Baird:

Also, one of the things, read up, study. There are all sorts of literature out there. There are podcasts. There are books. There are articles. People are really leaning into this concept right now, and it’s pretty easy to go out there and do some brief education. Because one thing that it’s important to do is that you don’t rely on the marginalized people within your organization to teach you how to be a better ally, a better person. Because, trust me they’re doing a lot of work outside of your company already. So, you want to make sure that you are at least bringing to the table a really good faith effort to do as much as you can internally within yourself, focusing on where your biases are and how you can be better. Then, bring that to your leadership team, to your peer group, and then within the organization as well.

Erin Smith:

Yeah, and it has to be genuine, too.

Amber Baird:

Yes.

Erin Smith:

As a leader, it starts at the top, right? It’s not one of those things… A lot of people hear diversity and inclusion and bundle it with HR. It’s like, “All right, we’ve got it. Let’s check the box.” Right? But if leaders aren’t passionate about it, it shows, and it’ll show in the employees. So, from a leader’s perspective, really being genuine about it, really understanding, understanding different cultures, understanding your people, and then it’ll trickle down from there.

Winston Powe:

Absolutely. 

Robert Amberg:

Yeah.

Amber Baird:

And be willing to know that you’re going to make some mistakes. But if you’re coming to it with the right heart, the right frame of mind, then those mistakes will be forgiven, probably. At least it will be a point of topic of conversation that it’s a learning moment, it’s a teaching moment. It’s not a catastrophic failure because you were kind of faking your way through it.

Erin Smith:

Yeah.

Robert Amberg:

Awesome. Well, everyone, thank you for the conversation. This has been, I think, really eye opening and impactful. I think there’s a lot of different aspects of this topic. We could talk for hours on this. I think that as companies, you mentioned, are focusing more on this, I think they’re only going to realize the benefits, not just from a ‘this is a great humanity thing to do’, but there are business benefits. And if one thing drives business, we know it’s business benefits.

Amber Baird:

Very true.

Robert Amberg:

Winston, Erin, Amber, thank you very much for being here today.

Amber Baird:

Thanks.

Erin Smith:

Thank you.

Winston Powe:

Thank you.