Blue Ocean Brain CEO Claire Herring talks with author, CEO, and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) expert Dr. Tiffany Jana about the role of inclusivity in the workplace and practical steps organizations can take to build and sustain DEI practices through culture shifts, data analytics, and accountability.
Claire Herring: How can organizations do a better job including everyone—at every level of the organization—on the journey to building a more inclusive workplace?
Dr. Tiffany Jana: Listen to people. People are often more vocal about their organizational inclusion concerns than leadership likes to admit. Pay attention to the complaints, suggestions, concerns etc. even if the voiced perspectives are not formal complaints. Everything you hear is worth listening to.
When you create surveys and offer employees the opportunity to voice their opinions, be sure to follow up and let people know what you did with the data and how you intend to follow up.
Pay attention to who is NOT in the room. What voices, perspectives, and demographics are not at the table? Identify who is missing and work to ensure that those perspectives are represented at all levels of the organization—especially when decisions are being made.
CH: In your books, you use the term cultural ally. Can you share what you mean by this and offer advice to organizations looking to encourage more people to become cultural allies? How can allies be empowered and supported in the workplace?
TJ: A cultural ally is someone who intentionally learns about cultures and perspectives besides their own. Allies use that understanding to build authentic relationships, amplify the voice of those not being heard and included, and to right wrongs as they see them. A cultural ally speaks up in the face of microaggressions and uses their privilege to advocate in service of increasing equity.
Companies can empower allies by normalizing speaking up for inclusion. Let people know that remaining silent when microaggressions take place, or when an unfair process happens, is NOT the expectation.
Tell people exactly where to go to report bias, microaggressions, and other non-inclusive behavior. Don’t punish people (overtly or subtly) for speaking up on behalf of the marginalized, whether they represent the injured group or not. Encourage actions that foster a sense of belonging for everyone.
CH: Setting the aside the negative effects one experiences personally and professionally when exposed to microaggressions for just a moment, what can you tell us about the organizational impact of microaggressions based on your experience consulting with companies?
TJ: When microaggressions are allowed to persist, it creates an environment of exclusion. One of the more recent corporate buzzwords is “belonging”—with good reason. Cultivating a sense of belonging in organizations gets right at the heart of DEI values. Microaggressions signal that people do not belong, that they are essentially unwelcome in the workplace. When people feel unwelcome, morale and engagement decrease and that has an adverse affect on productivity overall.
CH: What role do you see microlearning playing in expanding the conversation on important topics like unconscious bias?
TJ: Unconscious bias cannot be eradicated entirely. The best we can do is understand that we have bias, learn which ones we have, and intentionally interrupt them. Microlearning allows us to keep our vulnerability to bias top of mind. Microlearning invites us to access and familiarize ourselves with new tools. These assets strengthen our ability to maintain less biased postures as we make our way through life.
CH: What would you suggest to HR and learning leaders who are working to help their organizations take a big step forward around diversity and inclusion issues?
TJ: Begin with data. Understand the demographic composition of your organization. Figure out what lived experiences people are having and determine how diversity and inclusion will specifically help your organization be more successful. Be intentional about inclusion. Set clear, measurable goals and hold people accountable for inclusive behaviors.
Dr. Tiffany Jana is the founder of TMI Consulting, Inc. a diversity, equity, and inclusion management consulting firm, headquartered in Richmond, Virginia. Dr. Jana is the co-author of Overcoming Bias: Building Authentic Relationships Across Differences, Erasing Institutional Bias: How to Create Systemic Change for Organizational Inclusion, and the 2nd edition of the B Corp Handbook. Her recent accolades include the 2016 Enterprising Women of the Year Award from Enterprising Women Magazine and inclusion in the 2018 Top 100 Leadership Speakers by Inc.com.