DEI & the Bottom Line
In this episode, herdacious host Lorelei chats with Michelle Bogan about the benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion on the bottom line. Increased employee retention, higher work productivity, creative problem-solving, and a 3% increase in company revenue are all only a handful of possibilities when we put diversity at the forefront. Trust us, Michelle has the data to back it up! As one of few women in her former workplace, Michelle shares her personal experiences and knowledge to help us envision how well-planned DEI initiatives can transform workplaces for the better and uplift all employees. From focusing on the whole picture when crafting a DEI plan to ensuring leadership is aligned, Michelle reinforces that DEI is not just a box for companies to mindlessly check off. It’s a tried and true solution that both advances opportunity for underrepresented groups and optimizes overall organizational functioning.
Host: Lorelei Gonzalez
Co-host: Michelle Bogan
Michelle's mission is to help companies create equitable workplaces. She is the Founder and CEO of Equity At Work, helping leaders achieve major impact through their diversity, inclusion and equity work. She is also on the Investment Committee for the RevTech Equity For Women fund, investing in women-led startups in the retail technology space. Michelle lives in Dallas with her two kids and dog, and loves yoga and photography.
Things you will learn in this episode (chapter markers available):
Resources mentioned in this episode:
Looking for additional resources on this topic? Check out our webinar “The Power Dynamic of Inclusion | Christine Moses”
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Sponsor: Today's episode is brought to you by HERdacity. HERdacity is a non-profit inspiring confidence in women to achieve their professional goals. For resources, networking opportunities, and a strong community of women visit herdacity.org to learn more.
Lorelei: Welcome to HERdacious, the podcast for audacious women. Welcome to HERdacious, the podcast for audacious women looking to make some career moves and HERdacious is one of those resources that's there to help you along your journey. My name's Lorelei, the happy host of the show, and today we're gonna be talking about a really, really cool topic, the benefits of DEI on the bottom line. Now, to assist us in this very specific and intricate conversation, I have an investor in women-led retail technology startups, a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consultant and the founder of Equity at Work. Michelle Bogan.
Michelle: Hi, thank you for having me. I'm so excited to be here.
Lorelei: We're very excited to have you participate in this conversation today, it's gonna be a good one.
Michelle: Absolutely. It'll be fantastic. This is my passion topic, so I'm excited to talk about it.
Lorelei: We're excited to have you here. So to kick us off, how would you best describe your DEI work and why you do it?
Michelle: I was driven into this out of a personal passion, partly from personal experience having been one of the only or the only women in the room at the table in the leadership role. Certainly among other leadership peers at different companies. And from my own experience now, how hard, it was to advance in different companies I worked in. And then when I turned around and tried to help others advance behind me who were female or from some other underrepresented minority, it was such a challenge. And I felt like there was a real need in the market for someone to help companies do a better job of this, so that is my focus. I really work on helping organizations become more equitable for employees of all different demographics.
Lorelei: Alright, well, let's go right into it. Where can companies start in recognizing that they might have a diversity equity or inclusion challenge in their workplace?
Michelle: Well, you know, a lot of companies have, especially recently, have been very eager to make statements about doing a better job in this, but a lot of them, while they are, I would say the vast majority of them are really sincere about wanting to do a better job and wanting to commit resources to it. In many cases, they really don't know where to start, and the challenge of it is that this is a really tough conversation for both men and women to have. If you're in the minority, it can feel like you're sort of putting an extra spotlight on yourself, and you may not feel like you've got the political capital to risk to do that. You may also feel like you don't want that to be the thing that you're known for, you may just wanna be there doing a great job and have that count as enough, and for those in the majority, they may feel like it's not their place or they don't know quite enough about it in a very deep way to speak up or speak out on someone else's behalf. They may also have a tendency to go a little bit too paternal in their response and that can cause discomfort, so it's a topic that's fraught from many different angles, but until you take a hard look at where you are today is and acknowledge what needs to be done better, it's almost impossible to really drive change. Once the leadership does take that hard look, then you've got a clear sense of where you need to go next. You can set great goals, and that really gets in to the language of business, figuring out what the goals are, how that aligns with your business performance and gives you a great way to communicate what you're doing well in your organization, get your employees really excited and motivated by it, and track and communicate that progress.
Lorelei: Excellent, so in your experience in working with these companies, these organizations, these leaders, what are some of the main hurdles that companies face in integrating or executing their DEI initiatives and priorities?
Michelle: I think the biggest challenge, once they can get past this hesitancy to really talk about it and people feeling a bit uncomfortable raising the issue, once they can get past that, it's really then a matter of how do we get everyone aligned because the temptation can be to go quite broad. In this work, diversity, equity inclusion covers so many different areas, not just from a demographic perspective, but also from, you're talking about hiring, recruiting, different things to help with retention, you're talking about promotion, you're talking about sponsorship, about mentoring, professional development needs, so it can go on and on and on. And so I think companies quickly get very overwhelmed in trying to figure out where do we really invest. Everyone is limited resources, limited time, limited budget, and we've just gotta make sure that those things get pointed to the right things that will really make a difference, and once the alignment starts to happen. So that really comes from the top with the CEO and the C-Suite team starting to get organized about how strategic is the work, how big of an impact could it potentially have, who's going to own it and who's really gonna lead it, that's where the data can really come in and be an amazing tool to drive change. I view data as a real catalyst for change in the DEI space, it gets everyone grounded on where we are, it gives you a clear view of the opportunities and sets up a great tracking mechanism for looking at resolves.
Lorelei: You mentioned leadership a couple of times here in the past few minutes, Michelle, where do you think executive level leadership tends to rank DEI initiatives in their organizational priorities?
Michelle: It's interesting, if you looked five or 10 years ago, I think it would have been on the long list, but it would have probably been delegated to HR very quickly as one of their initiatives. And what's changed in the last two years, especially, is that it's moved closer and closer to the top three or top four priorities for CEOS, and there's research that's come out recently that says up to 96% of CEOS rank DEI as one of their top strategic priorities, but so many of them feel either overwhelmed or stuck and don't know how to move that forward. So there's a real lack of confidence in moving that forward.
Lorelei: What is that lack of confidence that failure and execution or organizational buy-in stem from? Is it lack of sincerity, is it just a misalignment and understanding, is it like timelines, fully understanding how to integrate organizational change as deep as DEI work requires?
Michelle: As they're digging into the causes and issues around DEI, there's a lot of fear around what they're going to find. Are they opening a Pandora's box of issues that have been tucked away for a long time or kept a little bit under the radar, and now they're gonna have to face those which could be as moderate as some very low grade remarks, but maybe some unintentional or unconscious bias built into an interview process, which a lot of people are having a reckoning with now. It could be as serious as something that's very discriminatory or has been harmful in some way, and there may be some legal action that's brought into play or some HR compliance that needs to be done, but until you really take an honest look at where you are, you just can't move forward. A lot of what I do is help executives work through that fear, get comfortable with how to dig into what's going on and make sure that what they think they're delivering in terms of their company values to their employees and to the people they serve, and how they're running their business internally and how their employees are being treated. There's another issue which is certainly conflicting priorities, and as we've all gone through this recent pandemic, there was sort of emergency level need of so many things, keeping the business running, keeping people employed, making sure adequate healthcare and mental healthcare were there for employees, certainly providing health and safety and all of the locations on top of that DEI needs, which are in many cases, hard to very specifically define. And a lot of people get overwhelmed and get stuck there, so getting it into a place of organization and figuring out who owns this is an important step certainly in moving forward. And then related to that is understanding where your blind spots are, so that takes a lot of willingness to listen to employees at all different levels and across all different functions and locations and the full organization to understand what's missing and what the needs really are, so there's a little humility that needs to come into play there. But that's what this is all about. DEI ultimately drives a lot of engagement. It's about being seen and heard and valued for exactly who you are, so you can't do that until you really start listening to your employees and getting all that feedback, and there's very much a human element to all of this. As I work with leaders, I see they have a bit of conflict between the things that got them into a senior leadership role around knowing how to handle situations and being able to step up and sort of having a playbook that they could really rely on. This is a space where that playbook largely doesn't exist for people, especially if the reader is a white male, so he doesn't have that direct experience and there can be a lot of shame that comes into play is sort of a recognition. All of a sudden the privilege that person has that got them as far as they did, maybe a beginning of a recognition of they could have done better for others at some points in their career, and maybe even a little shame at how their company that they feel so directly have this kind of integration with in their life and they feel so directly connected to, may not be doing as well as they thought that they were in terms of how they treat their employees. So I find there's a little bit of therapy that kicks in. We need help processing all these feelings and learning how to listen without getting defensive, and how do you take this on, look at what's going on and look at their environment and have some accountability for that. Take accountability for that and help people move forward, but be willing to have conversations that are uncomfortable, have conversations that may not know automatically how to navigate, and just demonstrate that human connection. That really is the trick to really advancing forward in the DEI space.
Lorelei: To follow up on that, just for a second, I loved how you talked about it's a little bit of therapy. Right, DEI work is a little bit of therapy. We're talking about people's emotions, we're talking about unpacking a little bit of organizational baggage, you mentioned conflicting priorities, which is a little more strategic in the process, but what about the process itself? How often do you see an organization just not really understanding what's gonna make a difference on their diversity, their equity and their inclusionary practices at work?
Michelle: I think now what you see is a lot of companies who have been trying a lot of things, and they may have taken a bit of a scatter-shot approach because they didn't know where to focus at first, so they set up employee resource groups, they set up some networks, they did a little mentoring, they may have had some speakers come in, they may have a book club or different support mechanisms, they may have even gone so far as trying to strip the bias out of any of their recruiting mechanisms in terms of job postings or putting some screening into resumes that make sure people don't get thrown out of the process. Screen down to the process because of certain words or language that they use, so they've started with that, but they're seeing that that hasn't gotten them where they need to be. And I think the learning has been that it's not just about changing recruiting and it's not just about adding learning modules in on unconscious bias, those things are very important, but it really takes a much more holistic effort and an acknowledgement that human behavior is a large part of the challenge here, and it's not that it's intentionally negative behavior or biased behavior, it's oftentimes things we don't realize we're doing as we develop processes and we develop organizational structures and lines of reporting and promotion criteria and metrics of measurements that end up building a system that has by as incorporated into it, even though it's not intended. So if you've got a company, for example, that's always done things a certain way for the last 20, 30 years or longer, in terms of who gets recruited in or who gets promoted up to a senior role, there's a lot of contention about changing those processes because there are a whole lot of people who did well by that, and you have a company that did well by that. So it feels like a proven formula, but if you stick to those systems and rules too rigidly, you end up perpetuating the same people getting hired and promoted all the time. So it's a willingness to take a hard look at some of the things that you may have designed or definitely benefited from, and saying, "This probably isn't serving everyone equally." And to be equitable, we really have to take a hard look at how else can we judge someone on their potential and make sure that we set them up for success.
Lorelei: I love that. Thank you, Michelle. Well, one of the support mechanisms for this show are our amazing sponsors. So we're gonna take a quick break, we'll be right back.
Sponsor: Hi. Barbie here from Moonray, husband and wife indie-pop duo. If you enjoy the intro music, we invite you to listen to our debut EP Honeymoon. Streaming now on all platforms. Visit www.moonray-music.com for more.
Lorelei: And we're back talking with Michelle Bogan on the benefits of DEI on the bottom line. So Michelle set us straight here. How does diversity, equity and inclusive practices benefit a given company's bottom line?
Michelle: There's been a lot of research on this in the last five years or so with people really wanting to prove out that this isn't just a feel-good exercise, but in fact there is a hard benefit that can be measured. So I'll share a couple with you. A few research resources that I use that do a great job of this tracking, the first is the female questions, and they have measured that every 1% increase in gender diversity yields a 3% increase in revenue and anyone who has had any responsibility in driving revenue knows that that is a really big deal. That is a big, big number to hit that 3%, that alone should be enough. That should say it all. And company's also do a lot of research here and they have proven that the top quartile of ethnic and culturally diverse companies is 33% more likely to outperform on EBIT margin, which is a huge metric for any public company, so that's a great one to look very closely at. If you're starting to think about metrics you wanna track as you start to invest in this kind of work, and then a great place to work does all of their best places to work list. They do a lot of research in this area and in diversity overall, and they have found that inclusive workplaces outperform the S and P 500 stock performance by four times, which is amazing, and they've tracked that over about 10 or 15 years, so that's proven true. Time and time again, diverse and inclusive workplaces have a 54 times higher employee retention rate, and those that are not diverse and inclusive, and if you think of industries like retail and restaurants and healthcare, and even logistics and supply chain areas within companies, their employee turnover is so hard to manage and it's incredibly costly, so if you have a way to get 54 times higher retention from your employee base, that is a direct impact to your bottom line.
Lorelei: Those numbers are clearly telling us a story, Michelle. The Diversity, Equity and Inclusive practices in workspaces lead to better outcomes. Spell it out for us. Why does that happen?
Michelle: At the end of the day, DEI helps to break up the group think, which sounds so simple, and yet we have a tendency to gravitate toward what's familiar time and time again, so that's why we have organizations where everybody kind of looks like and sounds like and went to similar schools and has similar backgrounds and all of that is that finding that formula that feels comfortable and tried and true. But when you bring in a lot of different experiences and perspectives and socio-economic backgrounds and genders and sexual orientations and races and everything else, you get to spotlight all kinds of new opportunities, opportunities for growth, opportunities for innovation, opportunity to serve your clients and customers better, definitely different perspectives, and so that's another metric that's tracked is just more effective risk management. So that turns into better management of investments, smarter investments, and growth, and new markets and new clients. So all of that leads to all of those financial metrics, and then the net outcome of all that really is that you have an employee base that feels highly engaged, they feel like their perspective, their voice really matters in their workplace, and so those employees stay very loyal, they feel very devoted and committed, they stay longer, they're happier, their work productivity is better, and they're happier humans, they feel just more value, more productive, and that has an impact outside of the workplace at a tremendous level as well.
Lorelei: I feel like what you've shared seems very intuitive, right. Diverse perspectives create better opportunity, allows for more creative problem-solving, different perspectives on solutions, it seems so obvious, yet we've been missing it for... I don't even wanna put a date on how long... What's up with that?
Michelle: Yes, I think a lot of it just came from partly being so shareholder-oriented companies going through this pressure to find a niche grove that really dominated space, maybe grow beyond that space and be a big public company and then have certain metrics they felt they could guarantee they'd hit time and time again. So to do that, even if they started very small and you tended to have a group of people that just... They were all very familiar to each other, so you might start off with a bunch of white men who are the ones who used to be the ones who got to go on to college and for high level education and had an easier time getting internships and jobs, and didn't historically have the challenge of balancing families at home and how to manage all that. And over time, certainly women have been able to fill more and more roles, but we've still got a long way to go. Same with people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, as well as people who are disabled and veterans, and from the LGBTQ community, all different dimensions. It's a challenge, but there's been better and better representation that's working in. But there's still a lot of bias that's there, and it still takes a lot of courage to look at that and say, "We really need to do better, we can do better, we can't just wait for it to change on its own."
Lorelei: Well, speaking of courage, how do we get the message out that positive DEI practices make your bottom line as an organization better, how do we get people to act on that?
Michelle: It's really something that you can do at any level in your organization, and I think it's having the willingness to take a look at it and talk about it. The way that this sort of ignited a fire for me was in one of my old companies, I was asked to start our first women's internal network, and we ran that for a few years, and it was nice and it was a great support environment, and we were in the minority as females at the company, so it was really good to have that. But I felt like we just weren't getting anywhere with it, we weren't being specific enough on our goals and what we were looking to achieve, it became a bit of a support group, but not something that was an accelerator for us. And when we got really focused on the acceleration specifically of getting women from a manager level over the hurdle into a more senior level, we got laser-focused on what to do about to make that happen, and that's when we saw a change. And as soon as we saw change, I measured it. And I still remember there's a slide, one slide I put together that showed the ratio of men to women by level in our organization, and I took that slide to our leadership team, and I said, "This is where we are today, and this is what we want to change." And they were so shocked because it was so different than their perception of what our company was about, that it became a rallying cry. I was able to really demonstrate that as a partner in that firm, for every one of me, I had 14 male counterparts, and there was only one other woman that was also a partner, so we were up against 28 males every time we raised a question or challenge somebody or had an idea, and we didn't have a high conflict organization, but it was very obvious that we were in the minority, and you could see some version of that happening at every level. And when I explained that to the senior team, it made the light bulbs go off and they got very focused on making that change as well, and investing in it. And we were able to then drive that from every level, so we found ways for even the most junior people to get involved through outreach or through recruiting or through social media or contributing, just having the conversations in their teams and keeping those things top of mind. That's how you make change. You've gotta take a look at where are we today. What do we think needs to be different? And talk about it, it's really that simple. You've gotta have those conversations.
Lorelei: Awesome, so if our listeners wanna keep making that change, give us some resources that you would recommend they check out if they are wanting to activate those DEI strategies in their workplaces.
Michelle: Yes, I will give you my top four that I use all the time, they're my go to resources time and time again. I mentioned McKinsey over and over, they do a great annual study of women in the workplace, and every year they add new dimensions, so they've recently added women of color versus white women, and they also recently added lesbian women versus heterosexual women as different slices of their data, so it's really great to see that, especially for women of the LGBTQ community, because there's so little reportable data out there. So that's been terrific. I would also highly recommend Catalyst and the Women's Law Center. They do loads of publications, they have a lot of free resources you can tap into in addition to data. They provide guides and helpful tips and infographics and other resources that you can distribute within your organization. And then look at your census data, census data can sound intimidating and scary, but the government website is actually set up so it's very user-friendly, and doing an exercise as simple as getting a sense of the demographics in your area and comparing that to the demographics of your company gives you a sense of the gaps that you've got and how much better you probably could be doing from a diversity perspective, your hiring and your retention.
Lorelei: Wow. Data nerds, rejoice. Well, thank you, Michelle. So we're going to transition to this episode's femme fact, and if you've been tracking current events as of late, you've probably seen the tweet threads, the articles about the 1921 Tulsa Race massacre. We are at the centennial of remembrance of what is being considered by some to be one of the most glaring incidents of covered up racial violence in United States history. As HERdacious has often discovered through our many jaunts back through history, on the topic of women's achievements, it is all too aparent that harm and violence inflicted against marginalized communities has a habit of evading conventional record-keeping and memory. The 1921 Tulsa Race massacre is one such event. Having occurred in the thriving Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, in a predominantly Black neighborhood, which had been nicknamed Black Wall Street due to the affluence and success seen by its residents in 1921, post-WW1 racial tensions against Black Americans were pretty high. A white supremacist group, KKK was very active. Lynching had once again become commonplace and anti-Black rhetoric was pervading society. It comes as no surprise that when a Black teenager named Dick Rowland entered an affluent office building in Tulsa and a white woman in the building's elevator screamed, said teenager gets accused and arrested for sexual harassment or attempted rape, depending on who you're talking to, of that white woman. After his arrest, a mob of angry white men showed up to the courthouse demanding for the sheriff to hand over the offending teenager.
The situation quickly escalated, prompting some 75 Black men to also show up at the courthouse to try to guard roll in and protect him. Now, the white mob, their numbers estimated to be around 1,500 was pretty well armed, and they responded with violence. The Black men quickly retreated back to Greenwood, however, the white mob not only followed them, but grew in numbers and weaponry... Without getting into too much more detail, these folks basically demolished the entire Greenwood community, shooting people, looting, setting houses, businesses, schools and churches on fire, even a hospital; even worse, when area firefighters arrived to extinguish the flames, the mob threatened them with violence too. All this was occurring outside the window of a Greenwood apartment, occupied by a mother too engulfed in a good book to pay any mind and her daughter, who reeled her back to reality with the words, "Mother, I see men with guns." Mary E. Jones Parrish was spurred to action by her daughter's observation where she watched the violence unfold outside her window. She witnessed stand-offs between white and Black shooters, including a group of white men bringing machine guns to higher vantage points like the tops of buildings and in planes in order to better assault the folks of Greenwood. Instead of fleeing her home and seeking safety, Mary chose to stay and bear witness to the disaster, attributing her decision to one of personal responsibility.
It's estimated that around 300 Black residents of Greenwood lost their lives in the attack, and about 8,000 residents were left homeless and then chose to leave Tulsa afterwards. But Mary stayed and began her work. Initially, there was a lot of confusion and deliberate misinformation about the massacre, white-owned newspapers were full-force printing front page stories, blaming the incident on a false Black uprising narrative and other such protective cover stories. While the two Black-owned newspapers offices in Tulsa, the Tulsa Star and the Oklahoma Sun had been burned down during the attack and were unable to report, it didn't help that city officials, including police officers were intentionally spreading misleading information, and it's worth noting that state police and state militia archives about the massacre, including old newspaper articles of the time have since been eliminated, are missing, or are lost. Convenient eh? Getting back to Mary. After the massacre, a community pastor encouraged her to dig further into the residents' experiences, causing Mary to collect individual testimonies from about 25 people through a series of interviews. She took these interviews as well as her own experience and wrote a book titled "Events of the Tulsa Race Disaster" that would later be privately published in 1923.
Mary did the work in correcting the false narrative set out by white communities, but just as the Tulsa massacre escaped mainstream history, so did Mary's efforts. The historians who studied African-American history are familiar with the Tulsa Race massacre, specifically via Mary's book, which holds merit as the primary and one of the only source materials of the massacre. Mary's contribution and sacrifice has rarely been acknowledged even amongst historians studying her work, until now. This past May marked 100 years since the massacre, and with that, Mary's great granddaughter, Anneliese M. Bruner republished her great-grandmother's book under a new title, "The Nation Must Awake: My Witness to the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921," with the purpose of reaching a wider audience. Spurred by the similarities between the 2021 January capital insurrection and the Tulsa Race massacre, Anneliese has since been vocal about her family's experience, and those of Greenwood. In an OpEd, Anneliese remarked that in history, societies most powerful people tend to skew the truth of events to fit their preferences and agendas, precisely why the Tulsa Race massacre was able to stay hidden for so long. With a concerted effort to live by her great-grandmother's own words and to learn from the seemingly effortless erasure of certain elements of history, Anneliese intends to reverse these patterns by reaffirming what has already been relevant, holding up a mirror for all of us to see ourselves and our attentions more clearly, all thanks to Anneliese and to her incredibly brave great grandmother Mary. We'll be sure to link Anneliese's OpEd in our show notes as well. As well as all of Michelle's amazing resources for today's episode.
Lorelei: Michelle, thank you so much for participating today. I know that the work you're doing is really powerful, and particularly needed. I wish you the best and I really appreciate your time on the show today.
Michelle: Thank you so much for having me, I really enjoyed it.
Lorelei: It's my pleasure. And I am so glad that you chose to tune into our show today. If you like this episode, check out our others. Subscribe, follow us, download our episodes, and you are welcome to leave us a review. No holds bar. Just say it how it is. I welcome the feedback. You're also welcome to send feedback to our email [email protected] [dot] org, and I'll be sure to add that portion to the show notes as well, 'cause it's a wicked long email. So this was HERdacious and I'm Lorelei, I'm so glad you chose to join us today. Until next time, be brave, don't be afraid to look a little closer in the mirror, whether your personal mirror or your professional mirror, it's definitely worth a look.