How to Embrace Diversity and Inclusion — and Why It Matters

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Almost exactly 50 years to this day, Marvin Gaye released What’s Going On, a masterful album on which he raised many of the pressing issues the world was facing at the time: racism, poverty and war. Sadly, these issues remain unresolved today. But what has changed is the way we are able to look at and learn about them.

Thanks to the digital revolution — and particularly, social media — the injustices happening around the world are more visible than ever. Groups who have historically been oppressed have a platform to bring awareness, share their message and educate the world on their struggles — or even show them in real time. People are learning about issues they never knew existed. And so, the push for social justice is stronger than ever.

The effects of this social shift has carried to the corporate world. Nowadays, companies can no longer just stand on the sidelines. They need to care about social issues and they need to show that they care about social issues through their actions. If they don’t, current and prospective customers, partners and employees will often look for alternatives. 

One of the best ways companies can be socially conscious is by embracing diversity and inclusion in everything they do, internally and externally. In this article, we’ll review three of the main components that can help companies successfully promote D+I: internal buy-in, a committee of those who want change and conscious hiring practices. We’ve gathered input from some of our own key D+I committee members: Mary Beth Lacki, Kuulei Hanamaikai, Kyle Head and Jarica Befus. We’ll also go over some of the initiatives TA has taken, challenges we’ve faced and lessons we’ve learned — all in the name of helping you along your D+I journey.

Change comes from within

For any corporate initiative to be effective, management must be fully on board. Half-baked programs rarely inspire buy-in. TA leaders have not only approved of our internal initiatives, but have embraced and encouraged them — which has emboldened employees of all ranks to contribute and bring ideas to the table without fear of being diminished. 

Mary Beth adds: “The reason we have been successful and have had the liberty to do things is because our leaders believe good ideas can come from anywhere. For any company — regardless of size — if you don’t have the support and encouragement from the decision-makers to try something new, it will be an uphill battle.”

So, as an employee, if you’d like your company to be more involved in D+I, your first step is to convince the right people that it’s a worthwhile endeavor. To do that, you need to put on your sales hat. Gather some data, put together a presentation, schedule a meeting with the decision-makers and make your case. 

Of course, making this pitch is a lot easier when your company has established its values — and is willing to abide by them. So if it hasn’t happened yet, it would be wise to first define those values before diving into more specific initiatives like D+I. 

Once your leaders are on board, the next step is to find other like-valued people within the company. That group itself should be diverse and inclusive — it’s essential to gather a variety of perspectives and life experiences. The goal of this committee is to brainstorm and strategize both internal and external D+I initiatives. We at TA are proud to have a strong committee, which meets monthly to discuss issues or topics to promote.

Commit to the committee

The key to a successful committee is heart and vision, not expertise, says Mary Beth: “It’s our first time doing any of this. We’ll be the first ones to admit that we’re not experts, but we care enough to turn our concern into action and are bold enough to believe our efforts are worth fighting for..” 

Kuulei echoes her sentiments: “You don’t have to be an expert but you do have to be out there and learn what’s going on so you can come to the table with ideas. And then finding like-minded people who want to do the same.”

After forming your initial committee, get cranking by finding relevant topics that align with your company’s values. Then bring awareness to those topics and take a stance on them. For instance, TA celebrated AAPI Heritage Month in May by providing educational tools and conducting employee spotlights, and June is focused on highlighting LGBTQ Pride Month. 

We also have a year-long social impact campaign called “Rise Up the Charts,” which was developed to provide education, resources and hands-on development opportunities to combat the state of women’s inequality in Utah. In our upcoming virtual conference, Rise Up Women’s Symposium, we will host eight thought leaders (including C-suite executives, entrepreneurs and change-makers) to speak on relevant, meaningful topics that address the complex gender equality issues we face today.

TA’s D+I program is well established and allows us to take on a variety of projects, but don’t feel like you have to do everything out of the gate if you’re just starting out. Even a monthly social media post is a great start and can involve multiple players.

Whatever issues you choose to bring attention to, remember that you cannot force people to change their mind, whether it be customers or employees. As such, it is best to focus on awareness and education — and then let those seeds sprout on their own time.

“All we can do is take a stance for what we believe in, what aligns with the TA values, present this information and let the individuals ultimately decide if they want to participate in these issues,” adds Kuulei.

And don’t forget, D+I is a labor of love. It’s not a marketing campaign; it’s work employees have to do on top of their actual work. So don’t focus too much on quantifiable objectives, Kuulei advises: “Getting caught up in measuring direct impact can be frustrating and kill the passion we have. We don’t know who this will touch. But if we don’t do the work, it will touch no one.” 

Mary Beth agrees: “Even if just one person’s life is changed forever, it’s completely worth all of the effort, because then they have the ability to have a positive influence on the people in their lives. The ripple effect of impact and change is immeasurable.”

Internally, you also have to be prepared to face criticism from other employees. When that’s the case, make sure to sort out the valid suggestions from the dismissable ones. Use the ideas that could improve the committee and its initiatives but know that people will sometimes log less-constructive complaints — take those concerns with a grain of salt, keep your eyes on the prize and carry on with your work.

Hire well

Talent acquisition is difficult and incredibly nuanced to begin with, but it gets even more tricky when you throw D+I in the mix. Kyle Head, who also serves as the Executive Director of People and Places at TA, offers some advice:

1. HIRE FOR SKILL FIRST

The most important hiring practice for any company is to hire people who can get the job done. As such, skill and the ability to complete the job’s functions takes precedence over anything else. But beyond hard skills, a lot of factors go into recruiting, like culture fit and dedication. One of those key secondary factors is variety of perspective, which is where diverse hiring comes into play at TA. 

“We think there’s a way to hire talented, smart people with character that can get the job done but are also diverse,” says Kyle, adding that “one of the big values that diversity brings is that you get different ways of thinking on matters of business. When there’s a wider scope of consideration, it leads to better thinking and often better solutions.”

2. REMEMBER THAT JOB SEEKERS NOTICE D+I EFFORTS

D+I doesn’t just attract customers; it is also vital to many prospective employees. Over the years, TA has seen its diversity numbers improve — today we are proud to have more women, more ethnic diversity and more LGBTQ employees represented than ever before. This change correlates directly with TA’s emphasis on D+I efforts, according to Kyle: “If we as an agency are showing out to the community that we are committed to diversity, then minority candidates will see TA as a place that embraces what they believe in and will want to come work here.” 

3. MIND UNCONSCIOUS BIASES

No matter who we are, we are all predisposed to unconscious bias — through our upbringing, our experiences, our friends and the larger culture. In order to hire more diversely, recruiters and hiring managers must reduce implicit biases as much as possible. They must systematically view others who have different value systems and lifestyles as equals, which is a lot easier said than done.

Kyle says the best way to lessen those biases is to embrace differences as opposed to acting as if they don’t exist, which is a mistake he’s made before — until his friend called him out on it. “I told my friend Maurice, who is Black, that I didn’t see color and just saw people as people. He quickly told me that that wasn’t true and that I did see differences in people. So I learned to love and embrace them instead of saying I couldn’t see them.”

How we practice what we preach

“In this line of work, actions speak louder than words,” says Mary Beth. 

It’s important to commit to D+I internally but this commitment must also carry over to a company’s external presence — its product, its website, its marketing campaigns.

One of the ways TA showcases its D+I commitment is by being fully transparent about its employee demographic makeup, which can be seen here. This data comes from the company’s yearly EEO report, which Kyle advises to use as a tool to analyze and improve D+I as opposed to an afterthought to stay government-compliant.

We also make sure to be diverse and inclusive in our client work — and are fortunate to work with clients who fully support us in doing that. For instance, Jarica, who is a social media strategist here at TA, always makes sure to have various groups visually represented when creating a photo carousel ad for a client. 

But even though our clients support us in our efforts, there can be pushback from customers. For example, one of our clients received scathing emails from customers for including images of minorities on their website. But our client didn’t budge and neither did we. Alexander Hamilton once said: “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.” We live by that. Ultimately, that is where D+I starts: values. If a company, its leaders and employees have sound values to stand on, then wanting to improve D+I comes very naturally. And embracing diversity and inclusion isn’t just good for business — it’s good for the world.

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June 15, 2021by kuulei hanamaikai, mary beth lacki

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