Lehi
09 Aug, Tuesday
64° F

  

TOP
This August we met with Utah's diversity, equity & inclusion leaders to discuss how to approach DE&I conversations in the workplace and more.

A conversation with Utah’s diversity, equity & inclusion leaders

This August we met with Utah's diversity, equity & inclusion leaders to discuss how to approach DE&I conversations in the workplace and more.
This August we met with Utah's diversity, equity & inclusion leaders to discuss how to approach DE&I conversations in the workplace and more.

This month, Utah Business partnered with Comcast to host a roundtable event featuring Utah’s DE&I leaders. Moderated by Trina Limpert, founder and CEO of RizeNext, and Deneiva Knight, external affairs director at Comcast, the group discussed how to approach DE&I conversations in the workplace and how the execution of DE&I is changing. Here are a few highlights from the event.  

Why is it so uncomfortable to talk about DE&I? What can individuals do to get over that discomfort? 

Garrett Jones | Senior Technical Recruiter and DE&I Program Manager | Weave

For conversations to happen, we have to work with our leadership teams and individuals to actually create a safe environment where people feel that it’s OK to be vulnerable and have these conversations. Individuals who don’t identify with—or who aren’t an ally of—these individuals can witness some true, authentic conversations—it will allow them to see DE&I from a more human perspective and question their own thoughts and biases. Once we create an environment where these conversations can happen, and people aren’t afraid to share their real, lived experiences, I think that’s how you can create a culture and conversation around what action needs to happen.

Gladymir Philippe | Founder & CEO | Kado Inc.

I think being uncomfortable is outdated. There is no such thing as an “unconscious bias,” and we ought to stop entertaining the concept. It is a diversionary tactic. Again, regular human interaction with guidance to focus on compatibility will take off at an incredible rate. That’s where corporations should focus their foundations.

Bassam Salem | CEO | AtlasRTX

I think what is missing is conversations with people who don’t understand what everybody in this room understands. We’re all sitting here. We all agree. I really think that the problem in our country, and in the world in general, is that we polarize and sit in circles where we all agree. We have to bring up these topics with folks who are not in this room to appreciate and tackle the really uncomfortable questions that are hard for us to answer—questions like, “I’m the CEO of a company. I want to hire the best people, but I am so passionate about DE&I.” How do you reconcile those two objectives? How do you reconcile wanting the best engineer, the best head of sales, the best everything, with wanting to make sure that you are open and inclusive of everybody?

Adrienne Andrews | VP, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion | Weber State University

When we are hiring or creating slots on the board for people, what I hear everybody saying is, “We all want the most qualified person.” We all want the best candidate. There is an implicit underlying statement in there that the most qualified person will always be a white person, usually a white man. And if a person of color comes up, they’re coming up because we have a quota, or we need to have the diversity hire, or we need to represent more of the community that we seek to serve. Until we address and unpack that underlying assumption, we’re going to continue to have these difficulties. 

"When we are hiring or creating slots on the board for people, what I hear everybody saying is, “We all want the most qualified person.” We all want the best candidate. There is an implicit underlying statement in there that the most qualified person will always be a white person, usually a white man."

Jessica Dummar | Co-CEO, Legal & Operations | Utah Pride Center

When we discuss getting uncomfortable, we look at entities and how they exist. When you sit on a nonprofit board, you have no financial interest. So when we say something like, “We need to diversify our nonprofit board,” are we exploiting the work of those with marginalized identities? Are we exploiting their time for us to appear to be diversified and for us to appear to be inclusive? How do we put people with marginalized identities in our leadership? How do we make sure that those people are being paid for their time? It’s great to diversify a board, but to continue the work that is unpaid can also be problematic.

Trina Limpert | Founder & CEO | RizeNext

When I started Tech-Moms, I did it because I got tired of the response, “Well, women just don’t go into tech. We can’t find them.” I’m like, fine—I’ll go create them. I got mad because I got tired of that response. I’m not going to just take the answer, “Well, it just doesn’t exist.” If you’re saying those things, what can you do to create it? Go help develop those pipelines, go get involved in K-12, or help develop and create talent development into those roles. I think that there’s a key action there that can be taken.

Bassam Salem | CEO | AtlasRTX

I think it is inappropriate for me to say I hired someone because I wanted to ensure that I had another minority on my executive team. That isn’t something I would be proud of, and I wouldn’t want my colleague to feel that is why I have hired them. On the hiring side, are we hiring without respect for what we shouldn’t be considering, like race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, or otherwise? If we’re doing that, I think by definition, we’re inclusive. Likewise, if I’m the applicant, do I feel like something about me is precluding me? The spelling of my name, the fact that it can’t be pronounced, or the fact that I have a skin color or dress a certain way? 

Roy Banks | CEO | Weave

I have to agree. If someone told me that the reason I have my job right now as CEO of Weave is because my investors needed to embrace DE&I and they needed a Black CEO, I would resign in a heartbeat. I want people to know that I am a CEO who happens to be Black—not a Black CEO. The very order of those terms makes all the difference. I do think that there are biases we either consciously or unconsciously exercise that tend to frame what we’ve been socialized into believing is the ideal candidate, and I think that has to change. 

Edward Bennett | Director of Business Development | Suazo Business Center

When President Biden said, “I’m going to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court,” the right went, “How dare you? That’s racism.” And when Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was appointed, she was appointed because she was the best candidate for the job. Was she appointed because she’s a Black female judge? Or is she the best candidate who happens to be a Black female judge? I don’t know. But I tend to think that saying, “I’m going to appoint a Black female,” is a true statement because that’s something that needs to be done. In a post-racial world, in a post-equity world, I would love the fact that it doesn’t matter. But I think saying we have to have a minority interview helps in that it can plant seeds. Because if we don’t say you have to interview one minority candidate, odds are they won’t. 

What is your response to those who don’t discuss DE&I because “it’s too divisive”?

Layne Kertamus | Founder | Asperian Nation

As important as DE&I work is, I think in an organizational context, it’s about wellness. I look at DE&I as medicine and wellness as the cure. One of the reasons we like to avoid this or some aspects of it is because I think we’re all just a little bit—or quite a bit—incompetent on the issues. And no one—middle management, new employees, CEOs—no one wants to be incompetent. So what do we do about our incompetence? 

I would suggest possibly encouraging our colleagues to live on the very edge of their competence, whether it’s individually or in a committee, a division, or whatever it is because that’s where we have the opportunity to grow. We’re going to fumble. We have to be OK with losses. It is a divisive topic, but we can still be great advocates, find ways to have collision avoidance systems, and still do the real hard work, which is going to take time and takes a lot of commitment. 

This August we met with Utah's diversity, equity & inclusion leaders to discuss how to approach DE&I conversations in the workplace and more.
This August we met with Utah's diversity, equity & inclusion leaders to discuss how to approach DE&I conversations in the workplace and more.
This August we met with Utah's diversity, equity & inclusion leaders to discuss how to approach DE&I conversations in the workplace and more.

Garrett Jones | Senior Technical Recruiter and DE&I Program Manager | Weave

Think about why it would be beneficial to involve individuals from different socioeconomic backgrounds and different protected classes. What is it going to do to better your product and better your work environment? If people can truly understand the why then they start to get rid of what’s been so indoctrinated in us that it is divisive. People have different thoughts, beliefs, and views all the time. Why shouldn’t we be able to take that into the workplace or whatever board we’re sitting on? If you’re passionate about the product you’re creating, why wouldn’t you want to make it better? 

Deneiva Knight | External Affairs Director | Comcast

At Comcast, with our employee resource groups (ERGs), we have the tagline, “You don’t have to be to belong.” You don’t have to belong to this affinity group to join this ERG. Otherwise, you do get into that cycle of talking inside echo chambers. It is important that everybody, regardless of what affinity group they relate to, can join any group and participate in any activity.

Jessica Dummar | Co-CEO, Legal & Operations | Utah Pride Center

I know we hear the phrase “echo chamber” a lot, but when working with marginalized identities, it’s so rare that they have the opportunity to have an echo chamber. And whenever you do not exist in that marginalized identity, part of respecting that space is to provide them with that. It is more likely that a white man shows up to a Black women’s function, and they do center their own voice. It’s hard not to center our own experience whenever we show up somewhere. 

How can we “unfreeze” what I call our “frozen middle” management—those who make hiring, pay, and promotion decisions and are less likely to get involved unless they are a minority?

Layne Kertamus | Founder | Asperian Nation

I think the “frozen middle” truly is a great description for that segment of an organization. I think they’re frozen for a couple of reasons. Number one: people who’ve made it to middle management have conformed to organizational norms to get there. It’s a less diverse group than entry-level people typically, notwithstanding demographics. And I think that they are a little bit uncertain as to whether the senior leadership has their back. Should they go out and start an ERG or self-spend part of their budget on Pride month or whatever it might be? That’s great, but they’re not really sure that they can do that without stepping out of line. 

"I know we hear the phrase “echo chamber” a lot, but when working with marginalized identities, it's so rare that they do have the opportunity to have an echo chamber."

Adrienne Andrews | VP, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion | Weber State University

There are two pieces to this for me. That “frozen middle” gets stuck in the risk-versus-reward. The risk may be that I’m the primary breadwinner in my family, and “I don’t think I would lose my job over this, but I could.”People make decisions out of fear sometimes. That risk-versus-reward can be very scary, especially if you haven’t seen anyone do something like that in the organization and have success. 

The other piece for anyone at any level of the organization who wants to make a change and engage in ED&I work in a meaningful way is: Go back to your mission statement, go back to your vision statement, go back to your incorporation documents and review those materials because they will give you the blueprint of how to do ED&I in your organization in alignment with your organization. If I am working in higher-ed or on a hospital board, what is our mission, and how does ED&I form that mission?

What are some great first steps for someone to take in the DE&I space?

Adrienne Andrews | VP, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion | Weber State University

When you welcome someone to your organization, you can say, “Hi, welcome to the organization. We believe you have the skill set that we need to get this job done and to be a part of this larger team and make a difference.” But is that where we leave it? Do we then connect them to people who can help them develop intentional, meaningful relationships in the organization? Or do we just say, “Okay, great. This is going to be your office, and here’s your computer. See you later.” 

Do I circle back, and do I check on you and see how you’re doing? How do we create belonging so that an individual can come into the organization and can be ready on the second day to say, “I’m going to challenge that idea. And here is what I’m bringing to the table,” and not have that be a value rather than a threat. 

How do you see the execution of DE&I changing? 

Roy Banks | CEO | Weave

Having lived in Utah for 30 years, I have been what I call “the one,” meaning I will walk into a room and I will be the only Black. No one mistakes me for a white-collar executive. “Did you play football? Did you play college football? Are you an athlete? Are you an ex-athlete?” I moved into a neighborhood once, and someone said, “I thought all the drug dealers lived in West Valley.” 

I’ve had some really ignorant experiences. But what I’m seeing happening is I’m starting to become the two, not the one. And it’s not just another Black. It’s somebody who’s transgender, somebody who’s gay, somebody Latino. I’m starting to see that I’m in better company. Not better company—more company. There are more people like me here in Utah. And that feels really good because I think it marks progress; albeit incremental, not monumental. 

Nevertheless, it’s progress. 

Mekenna is the assistant editor of Utah Business and a graduate of the print journalism program at Utah State University. She has written about local news, arts, and culture for publications like SLUG Magazine, Salty Magazine, Visit Salt Lake, and the Standard-Examiner. She loves hiking, thrifting, reading, and taking camping trips with her partner in their 1986 Land Cruiser.

Post a Comment