Corporate response to the death of George Floyd—two organization’s studies with Ashley Ridgeway-Washington and Donna Hughes

Corporate response to the death of George Floyd—two organization’s studies with Ashley Ridgeway-Washington and Donna Hughes

The views expressed on today’s program are those of the speakers and are not the views of Today’s Workplace, the speaker’s firms or clients, and are not intended to provide legal advice.

Summary:

While the world was battling the novel coronavirus, a second pandemic emerged in America.  The video of George Floyd’s death under the boot of a Minneapolis police officer sent shockwaves throughout this country and the entire world.  Within days, thousands of corporations issued statements promising to address racial inequities within their organizations.  Many companies spoke out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.  Employers were forced to recognize and address the outrage of their employees and to acknowledge the inadequacy of their diversity and inclusion programs.  

Today’s guests successfully implemented programs in their organizations to address the very real and painful feelings of their employees and to enhance and improve their organizations diversity, equity and inclusion programs.  They developed these very effective programs without the help of outside consultants.  Rather, they relied upon their experience and expertise to develop authentic and meaningful responses to institutional racism.  We welcome Ashley Ridgeway-Washington and Donna Hughes.

Ashley Ridgeway-Washington is a human capital executive with a demonstrated track record of leading successful strategic human resources initiatives as measured by positive employee relations, improved retention, development of key talent, and an enhanced sense of culture and engagement.

Ashley Ridgeway-Washington became a member of CHRISTUS Health in 2014 and currently serves as the Interim VP of Human Resources where she provides strategic HR leadership to the Corporate and Northeast Texas divisions. In her role, she collaborates closely with leaders to align HR strategy with business strategies to achieve organizational goals and act as a culture steward for the organization.

In addition to her full-time role at CHRISTUS, Ashley acts as an independent consultant, executive coach, and trainer/keynote in a variety of industries with a focus on start-ups and rapidly growing organizations. Ashley continues to pursue excellence through entrepreneurship as her passion to help others be their best selves, manifests in many ways. Ashley is the Founder and CEO of Hoop Shots for Kids (www.hoopshots.org). Through Hoop Shots programs, her company brings basketball fundamentals, sportsmanship, character development, and fitness solutions to North Texas child development centers as a full-service basketball and character development ancillary program serving children ages 2 to 10.

Ms. Ridgeway-Washington earned a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Business and Juris Doctor from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in 2003 and 2009, respectively, and a Master of Human Resources Strategy from Rollins College in 2014.

Ashley holds memberships in the Florida Bar (duly authorized to practice), the Society for Human Resource Management, Dallas Society for Human Resource Management, Dallas Fort-Worth Healthcare Human Resources Association, National Employment Law Council, American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration, and the American College of Healthcare Executives.

Additionally, Ashley serves the community through membership in the North Dallas Suburban Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and as a Mentor for Allies in Service (a local non-profit which serves veterans transitioning into corporate careers). Ashley also engages in board work and currently sits on the American Heart Association North Texas Health Alliance, Coppell, TX YMCA Board of Management, board member of the National Healthcare Diversity Council.

Although Ashley continues to build her brand as an HR strategist, engagement Influencer, thought leader, and trusted partner in the Human Resources space, she heralds her greatest charge and sense of accomplishment as her impact in her role as “mom” to Aniyah (age 17) and Robert (age 8).

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Donna Hughes joined the EmblemHealth Family of Companies in March 2019 as its first Enterprise Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO). She oversees a team of more than 50 Human Resources professionals and is responsible for aligning enterprise-wide human capital strategies with the overall business plan.

In her first year at EmblemHealth, she has focused on initiatives to drive engagement, retention, diversity and inclusion, and a high-performing culture during the company’s rapid transformation. Ms. Hughes’ career and contributions at EmblemHealth were showcased by Profile Magazine’s December 2019 article, “How Donna Hughes Guides Teams along the ‘Curve of Change’”. In March 2020, Crain’s New York Business named Ms. Hughes one of New York’s most “Notable Women in Talent”.

Prior to joining EmblemHealth, Ms. Hughes served as SVP, Human Resources, for Impax Laboratories, Inc., a specialty pharmaceutical company. There she designed and implemented a multi-year Organizational Strategic Plan to ready the small-cap life sciences organization for business development and organic growth.

Ms. Hughes is also an accomplished attorney and has held leadership roles with various organizations, including Vice President, Labor & Employment for Allergan, plc, and Director and Assistant General Counsel for Circuit City Stores,

Inc. Her rise through progressive leadership roles in the field of law to her tenure as a C-suite Human Resources executive was showcased by American Healthcare Leader’s December 2017 article, “Seizing New Opportunities for Growth”.

Ms. Hughes has been a guest speaker for several local and national organizations on varied employment-related topics, including, M&A transformation, mental health in the workplace, and “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements. Her presentations have been quoted by local and national publications including the Daily Labor Report, the Employment Discrimination Report, the ABA Journal, and ROI-NJ.

Throughout her career, Ms. Hughes has been an active member of her community. Presently, she serves on the Board of Trustees for Roots & Wings, a New Jersey-based non-profit dedicated to supporting young adults aging out of foster care. As the CHRO of the EmblemHealth Family of Companies, Ms. Hughes participates in the organization’s volunteer efforts serving New York communities.

Ms. Hughes received her Juris Doctor from Rutgers University School of Law-Newark, her Bachelor of Arts from Rutgers College, Rutgers University, and a Master’s Certificate in NextGen Human Resources from Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations.

 

Contact   

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Outline

02m 16s What is the racial and ethnic demographics of your organization and what are the unique challenges faced?

06m 02s What was your reaction to the murder of George Floyd as black female HR leaders?

12m 23s What did your organization say once you bought up the issue of George Floyd?

22m 08s Were the sessions, discussing the incident, voluntary or mandatory, and How did you manage that?

27m 49s What are your organizations going to do to ensure that this momentum continues?

34m 08s What were some things that didn’t work?

44m 09s What’s one piece of advice you would give these organizations?

 

Transcript

Barbara: During our last episode, we had a great discussion with Ashley Ridgeway Washington and Donna Hughes, about the challenges healthcare organizations have faced during the pandemic. They provided insight into the approaches their organizations have taken to ensure the safety of essential workers and how they have converted nonessential workers to remote working arrangements. Now, we will look at what some commentators have referred to as a second pandemic. Recent events ignited by the murder of George Floyd at the hand of a Minneapolis police officer and an explosion of outrage throughout the country has brought tens of thousands of Americans to protest the racism and white supremacy, underlying numerous killings of black Americans in recent years. We’ve also seen a backlash to the outrage over the George Floyd murder through an uprising of open pronouncements by white supremacists. In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, many companies have reacted with statements and with town halls. Having been so vocal on the issue, however, there is now pressure on the business community to follow up with real action, not least because consumers and employees have high expectations. Today, we are so fortunate to have Donna Hughes and Ashley Ridgeway Washington to join us again to discuss how their organizations have responded after the murder of George Floyd and the proactive steps that are planned to address diversity, equity, and inclusion.

 

Belinda: Welcome Ashley and Donna. I’d like us to begin this conversation with learning a little bit more about your organization from the standpoint of telling us what the racial and ethnic demographics are of your organization, If you can share that, and let us know if there’s any unique challenges with respect to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

 

Donna: So EmblemHealth Family of Companies, we’re an enterprise of different brands in different locations. And one of our parent is in Manhattan, Downtown Manhattan, and we have medical size through our provider affiliate advantage care physicians throughout the various boroughs, there’s 40 different sites. We also have a location in Connecticut and operations up through New England. Our commitment to diversity in the organization, as stated for the last several years, we are as diverse as the communities we serve, and that is in fact very true. And happy to say that we are a nonprofit and we focus on serving our communities and meeting them in their needs and expectations, and that also includes cultural competency, that includes linguistics, that includes being familiar with customs and practices when we approach potential members in the community, when we speak with them on the telephone. And certainly, when we render healthcare in our medical sites. And so, the demographics of our employee base are important to ensuring that we have the right things in mind when we’re serving our members and patients. 

 

Belinda: How about you Ashley?

 

Ashley: Sure. So, CHRISTUS Health employs about 45,000 associates, both domestically and internationally. Primarily in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, New Mexico, and then on the international side, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico. And so, I would say that we have a demonstrated commitment to diversity and inclusion as our heritage dictates. So, our sisters were a founding congregation of immigrants. In fact, they came from Italy and when they came to initially Galveston, Texas, one of our initial first sponsoring congregations, they came to render care to those who needed it without regard to what their racial makeup were. And in fact, there was a time in Texas that they were told specifically, it is illegal for you to treat minorities. And they said, well, go ahead and do whatever it is you do to people who break the law, because we are not dissuaded by what you’re saying. We’ve been charged by God to care for those who need care. And so, I feel very strongly in saying that our employee mix really reflects those who we serve. Now, I will also say that we are in rural communities. And so, we have to be, continue to be vigilant and intentional about ensuring that we are creating good pipelines to leadership and that we are retaining diverse talent. And so, we have established some pretty substantive initiatives to ensure that stays top of mine and I human capital strategy.

 

Belinda: As black females and leaders of Human Resources organizations within your company, what was your reaction to the murder of George Floyd? And how did it impact you personally?

 

Donna: Well, I am a mother of a black male and he just turned 19. And I have to say that initially my reaction, I think, was experiencing the stages of grief. Profound sadness, profound upset. Watching that video evoked all sorts of concern and emotions. That it wasn’t the first time, that it hasn’t been the last time, but to actually see eight minutes plus, how many seconds of a murder is an impact that you won’t soon forget. That’s how I felt personally, as a senior human resource professional, I’ve felt certain that the impact in the cities, in the country, in the world would reach our workplace, that it was just a given, and that we needed to mobilize to figure out how we were going to react to what was a natural inclination. People to be upset, to be confused, to be concerned and not assume that it was going to stay outside of the workplace and assume that people were going to bring it into the workplace, just because it was heavy on their hearts and heavy in their experience. Remember that we were still, as we still are, going through COVID-19. It disproportionately impacting Black and Brown communities and then our medical sites are in the various boroughs of New York City. And when the protests started, we were having protests outside of several of our sites. In fact, we had to close a couple of our sites early just to ensure that our people got home safe. So, it was definitely something that as a people leader had to immediately consider, how would we be supportive?

 

Ashley: So, I’ll be really transparent. When I first heard about it, cause I didn’t watch it initially, I was not prepared mentally to watch it. I was frustrated because for many of the people on this podcast today, this is not a new narrative, right? This is the narrative we’ve seen, played out most of our lives. And so, from that perspective, I was like, this is another one of those things that makes us hold our sons a little tighter at night. And then my daughter who is 18 and a freshman at an HBCU, played it. And I watched it. And at that point I was mad as hell. That’s the truth. I was not in a space where I could be the professional Juris doctorate Ashley that you see before you today. I was just one mad black woman. And in fact, I could not even discuss it at work the next day. And a colleague of mine reached out to me and said, did anybody mention it on the call? And I said, no one did. And they said, I can’t believe you didn’t and I said, and I wasn’t in a place to be able to do that yet. So, then the next day I took some time for reflection and I will tell you something happened that really shifted my thoughts about this. At this point in time, we were in early May. We have a community pool, of course it wasn’t open because of COVID, and we bought our son one of those large blue pools that goes in the backyard. So, he was in the pool, we blown it up for the first time, he’s eight. And he was having a wonderful time. And as I was sitting on my deck, watching him, I heard him reciting my phone number over and over. And I said, ACE, what are you doing? And he said, Oh, I’m, I’m making sure I can remember your phone number. And I said, well you know my phone number, what’s going on? He said, well, I want to make sure that I have your number in my mind. So, if I ever get lost in my neighborhood, I can stop somebody and ask them to use their phone and let them know that I live here. I belong in this neighborhood and to call my lawyer mom. So after I went and sent my daughter out in the house and went in the house and boohooed, I said, how dare you be so angry that you not use your platform at your job to advance this cause, because your son is growing up and he deserves better, when he’s 18 than he has today. And it brings tears to my eyes when I talk about it now. But then the next day, I got together with some colleagues, reached out tied diversity and inclusion. They called her and said, Hey, what’s the plan? Our CEO had already been thinking about it, he’d issued a statement. And so, then we had to work to put feet to that statement and I’m proud of the work we’ve done, but I will tell you, it continues to be a journey. It continues to be a journey to partner with leaders, to help them to understand how to respond thoughtfully. It continues to be a journey to address those who don’t think there’s a problem and help them to understand the value associated with really committing, investing resources and time in this work.

 

Barbara: Yeah. I mean, I appreciate the both of you sharing how your stories, as it relates to how it impacted you directly, but we all should have a common theme in our family life because we all have young black African-American boys that were raising; mine the same age range as Donna’s son. And I will tell you I had my reaction, but I had to quickly be prepared to help him with his reaction because he was devastated. He was crying. He wanted to know why do they want to kill us? So, he personalized that very much. And I will say that it really got me actively involved and engaged in conversations with organizations about how they now add a social justice platform onto their already established D E and I initiatives.

 

Belinda: So, with that, I wanna ask you, once you brought it- either brought it to the organization or the organization brought it to you, what were they saying? And then, what actually happened after all the talking? How about you Donna?

 

Donna: Sure. Well, similar to Ashley’s CEO, our CEO, Karen Ignagni, put out a statement and she and I talked about the approach going forward and agreed that the approach needed to be one that was genuine, authentic, and allowed for safe spaces for our employees to speak about it. And that we could not simply allow the circumstances to be and pretend like it wasn’t there. And so, we were encouraging our leaders to have sensitive conversations. We initially put out- my team put out some guidelines to support them in that regard. And I spoke to leaders and told them that it is okay for people not to be okay right now, people are going to turn off their cameras. Black employees are going to be frustrated and up, and employees who are not black, who have not had similar experiences are going to say, I don’t know what to say. I’m not sure what to do. And then you’re going to have everything in between, but we need to be able to have these conversations, facilitate them and allow people to feel what they’re feeling and get on the other side of it. And as a healthcare company that sits in such a diverse city and population, including our employee base, it was important for that reason too. So, initially arming them with some tools, which of course everyone was nervous about, but making the point, what you say and what you do doesn’t have to be perfect. It won’t be, okay. We will make mistakes. But if you approach it from the standpoint of, you’re an empathetic leader, and you want to be able to make sure that your colleagues are okay, that will, for most people be enough. No, one’s going to expect you to write the playbook on how to address these things. Because if we had one, there wouldn’t have been the tragedy that we saw occur. So then, we embarked on some programming for the organization, my team and I sat down and talked about how we would want to do that. And this was just within a week or so after George Floyd’s murder, we put together four-part series program and intentionally put programming together that did not bring in outside consultants. We put panels together using our colleagues and did that because we felt that that was the most authentic way to address this in real-time. And that’s not to say that outside consultants aren’t useful and outside speakers aren’t useful, but for our culture, our environment, and what our employees were going through, we felt it would be better to actually just have real-talk conversations with those who walked the halls, the virtual halls right now, of our organization. So, the first panel that we put together was really just to talk about the George Floyd murder and how folks were feeling. And our panelists were of all ranks in the organization, all hues in the organization. We really made sure that it was cross-functional representation. And because we have clinicians, we also were able to leverage our head of behavioral health, our social workers, nurses, as well as folks within general support locations. And we had conversations initially about the videotape. Like Ashley, some of our panelists hadn’t intentionally not watched it. They did not want to go through that trauma. So, in that programming, we did not show that video. We used a video of Ken Frazier, the CEO of Merck, where he described what happened and also said, make no mistake, that could have been me. Just because I’m a CEO doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have been subjected to that, and also had my life in jeopardy as did George Floyd. And we asked for reactions and asked people to speak to it. And a lot of great candor came out of that. And one of the things that I remember from that particular programming was that we talked about the talk that occurs in black families with their teenage boys. And many may think that that’s the talk about sex or the talk about drugs, but it’s the talk about how to stay alive. And if you get home, just get home. It’s to talk about how, what you should do if you are stopped by the police and how to get home safely. And we talked about that. We talked about some of our colleagues who- a young African-American male who, very tall, and he talked about how all his life, he felt like he had to shrink who he was so that people wouldn’t think he was intimidating. So just very real talk in real-time. We also had a program on unconscious bias and did exercise on unconscious bias so people could actually see you have lived your life and who you share your time with and why is that, to get people to start thinking about those things. We did a program in June connected with pride month, but focused more on intersectionality and ally-ism. And then we did a program on privilege, which was really a striking program. Again, in terms of individuals speaking to their heart, to their experiences. We have white colleagues saying, I know that I have privilege. And I now know that I’ve never done anything with that other than receive the benefit of that. We had colleagues talk about how there was still remnants of Jim Crow type laws in certain States that they go through. And we also did our own little kind of privilege walk during that video. And if anyone has not seen what that looks like, there are YouTube videos about privilege walk, and it’s very powerful to observe, but we did that by asking some questions of our colleagues. Like, have you ever been followed around a store? Have you ever been accused of theft when you didn’t steal anything? Have you ever been stopped by the police for no reason and while certainly not scientific, it was quite the image to see that all of our African-American colleagues raised their hands to say yes, that has happened to me. And all of our white colleagues said, no, I’ve never experienced that. And I can’t imagine having experienced that. And so, it was very powerful and we continue the journey. That’s what we did, and just the first month after George Floyd’s murder, and we continue the journey with the library, with discussions, and currently the DNI council is planning on how we’re going to be more intentional going forward.

 

 

Belinda: Were those sessions voluntary or was any part of what you did mandatory? How did you manage that?

 

Donna: We did the sessions by teams. I’m forgetting the name of it- online live teams. So, we did the sessions by live teams video. So, any one of our colleagues, all 4,500 employees could watch it. It was not mandatory. It was voluntary. We taped it, all of the sessions we taped, so that people could watch them if they couldn’t attend. We have union employees that maybe had shifts. We have medical professionals, obviously, who needed to attend to patients. We’re still hearing now, emails from folks saying, I just got a chance to watch this and it was really powerful. So, all of the videos live in our library for people to go back to at any point in time. 

 

Ashley: You know, I think our approach was similar. I will say that I’m proud of my organization, in that we had an established health, equity, diversity, and inclusion team that had already really started some really important work. And so, about two years ago, our council, which is an interdisciplinary council of senior leaders and executives, physicians who come together quarterly to kind of design what our DNI agenda will be and how it will be carried out and fund. It had already gone through unconscious bias training. And then we rolled it out to all executives. I believe in 2019, it was mandatory. And then, in the beginning of 2020, the plan was to roll it out at the director level across. And so, we started that process. That was kind of paused because of COVID, but we’ve now picked that up using video training, which is different than what we had planned in the beginning. So, we had already kind of set the baseline. And I shared before that, I think is so important to just start as a baseline awareness for folks, that you have this bias. I have this bias, everybody has it, right? It’s kinda like cells and your body. Everybody’s got it now. Now that you’re aware that you’ve got it, how do you navigate that in an intentional way? So that had been. And then once we had the George Floyd issue, certainly our leader sent out a communication, but then we really started thinking through some pointed efforts. So we had already had a town hall on health equity amid COVID. So, we had talked about disparity and impact to Black and Brown people about COVID. And we actually were tracking those numbers in our community. So, we knew what they looked like. And we had really started working with our clinics and not only our employed physicians, but our community partners to really see how we can target that. And we had had some programs specifically focused on what I’d say is community outreach and providing resources to those who can’t afford to provide it. And we can get some of that had been thwarted by COVID. So, what we did is kind of retooled some of those dollars and started really working on COVID testing for people who couldn’t afford it. We also started working through what we call it, was a monitoring program for those who weren’t ill enough to be in the hospital. They could work with a navigator to be monitored, and they call in every day. And then if they got worse, then they could then go into a situation where they were hospitalized and the cost of their treatment was covered. And so, we had already done that. And so, then we also stood up several interdisciplinary panels with both physicians, associates to really talk about racial injustice, to talk about what their experience had been both in the workplace and in life. And they were open and well attended by people all across the organization. And there was kind of a series of those panels on various topics. The other thing we did was we stood up a racial justice book club and our first book is how to be an anti-racist, which I thought was really pretty impressive and provocative for healthcare. And so, we are going through that and it’s a pretty large book club. It’s facilitated by DNI professionals, and we take it one chapter at a time, digest it. We have rules of engagement. In fact, before we did the book club, we had a training on how to lead courageous racial conversations and how to engage in them in a way preserves people’s dignity and integrity. And I actually did a similar thing with the National Health Care Diversity Council. And that was also really, really well attended by our folks. And then the other thing that we’ve done is stood up a interdisciplinary committee that has been committed to tackling policies that we currently have. And so, we have chosen four policies to look at those policies and determine if there are things in there that really don’t promote racial equity. And so, we’re going to dissect those policies as an interdisciplinary group, and then go back to our senior leaders with a recommendation about how we might make changes to those policies. And then we’re also working on what we call a decision-making framework. So, as groups continue to promulgate and revise their policies, here are considerations that they should consider about racial equity and how their policies can be more racially neutral, if you will. And so, we’ve done some really cool things and I’m looking forward to see how this will continue to evolve.

 

Barbara: It sounds as if both of your organizations had a very impactful response to the murder of George boy, but I’ve often thought, in corporate America, is this a moment or a movement? And the question is, what do you see in terms of what your organizations are going to do; are doing to ensure that this momentum continues? What are your plans? What are you thinking about in terms of how do you make it more than just a moment in time? 

 

Donna: Yeah. So Ashley had mentioned that before George Floyd’s murder, her organization had already stood up some things as did we and I had already, and my CEO had already made a commitment to the board that diversity and inclusion and equity would be a part of our ongoing fabric and that we would make sure that it was just as important as business strategies. So, there was a commitment already at the top of 2020 to be more intentional about inclusive actions for the organization. And it was only COVID that made us kind of pivot a little bit and then pivot back. So, there’s a plan and always a process and then we decided to move forward with. The difference is though, is that I think that what will come out of this is a much stronger response to the employee voice on this discussion. We have had coffee hours, the diversity and inclusion council has had coffee hours every two weeks, inviting employee base to come and talk to us about their thoughts. About what’s going on in the organization, what needs to be touched, what needs to be targeted, what they think would move the needle in our organization. And so, we are listening very intently to them. So, it is not just a top-down approach. And I think that is what will make all the difference in making sure that it’s not just a moment in time, but that it is very much a part of how we live and breathe as an organization. And that we’re committed to it. We’re also, at this point in time doing a initiative on our values in general and the behaviors that attached to it and that accountability that attaches to it as an organization to further drive high performance. And so, this commitment to equity is certainly going to be an instrumental part of that. And so, I like the fact that all of this is really kind of coming together and that it’s not going to be something that just stands alone. It will be a part of our everyday culture, not just on paper, but in the way we interact with each other and everything that we do from a workforce standpoint, from a workplace standpoint, and from a marketplace standpoint.

 

Ashley: I agree with that. So, I will say we have had a commitment to diversity, so I don’t think that will change. We had hiring targets, we had retention targets, and we were meeting those. In fact, it was a key component of our people portion of our executive compensation. It was hardwired into our strategy. When we incentivize around it, we mean it, right? We say that all the time. I go back to the comment that I made in our last session around this is a time when your culture will tell on you. And I think we have had more than a paradigm shift for businesses. We were starting to see a paradigm shift for workers or for employees. And I think that paradigm shift is here to stay. I think that this notion that people are going to come to work in a place that doesn’t value them, that does not invest in the things that are meaningful to them. Doesn’t treat them in the way that they want to be treated. Doesn’t reward them in a way that’s meaningful, it’s kind of over. And so, if we are serious about this war on talent that we all say, we want top talent, we want the best of the best and the brightest of the brightest. We as organizations will rise to that occasion, or we will get what is left over after the best talent goes to the places where they feel that they can come and be authentic and be rewarded for that and be heard for that. I think more than anything, the workforce is no longer tolerant of us placating and saying, we’re doing something that we’re not, and there’s a quote that I love and it says something around the nature of, moral core courage has rewards that timidity could never imagine. And Billy Graham said it, and I love it because I think that it is the more core courage of the workforce and of everyday people that are really going to hold our feet to the fire. And if we aren’t doing what we say we’re going to do, then they’re going to tweet it. They’re going to post it. They’re going to talk about it on glass door. And what will happen is that those people that we saw coming and flocking to our organizations to be a part of that will choose to go somewhere else. And so, that is what I really see as the next real push, in terms of continuing to keep our moral compass where it needs to be. It’s hard to able to say one thing and do something else. And I saw a tweet the other day, where a young lady says, quit using diverse photos on your website if your board of directors doesn’t match. People are making a list and checking it twice. And so, it’s going to be harder and harder for us to say one thing and do something.

 

Belinda: Donna and Ashley, you both raised really good points about the fact that at both your organizations, and of course, you’re a picture of organizations across the country. What you’re seeing is a phenomenon where employees are driving more of the culture, the devolution of the culture at the companies. Absolutely. And that is part of this ongoing social justice imperative. And not only from the employees, but organizations are going to start hearing it from their customers, their patients, their stakeholders, other stakeholders, shareholders, the community partnerships. They’re going to be asked to be accountable. So, this is a great time, like Donna said, to bake these concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion in a way that makes it part of the regular way that we’re doing something as opposed to some add on or bolt-on type of thing. So, you gave us a great idea of things that work. What were some things that didn’t work? Did you have any, or did you hear about any things that didn’t work from colleagues in the same industry? 

 

Donna: Well, a couple of things one-on-one, in the interest of transparency, in my own organization, while I think the work that we did in reaction George Floyd was very well received. And we had lots of great feedback. There were folks that weren’t happy with how we, the characterized invitations and the way we stated things and wanted us to state things in a certain way. And so, could we make everybody we happy? No. Did we make everybody happy? No, but what we did do is provide content that provoked thought and conversations and opportunity, and a launching pad to hear more from the employee base and use that for the initiatives, goals, and practices that we will be doing going forward. Which makes it, in my view, I think, in the majority of our organizations view, the right thing to do and impactful, even if the invitation didn’t state what everybody wanted us to state or the external message to the community didn’t state it in the way everyone wanted us to state it. As for other organizations, in terms of anything folks did do or didn’t do, that worked or didn’t work- I sat in on calls almost every week for a period of time with CHRs around the country and with labor employment attorneys around the country and heard all sorts of stories about things that some of us were doing that were similar. And then there were companies that weren’t doing anything at all. There were some companies that felt that this was a political issue and chose not to respond, and the despair from those Human Resource professionals was just profound. And when Ashley says people will start walking elsewhere, right? Because you’re not living up to that expectation. There will be Human Resource professionals as well going elsewhere because they realize that they’re at a company that doesn’t support the important work that necessarily needs to be done. There were also companies who wanted to do the right thing, tried to do the right thing, but we’re looking terribly inconsistent by giving millions of dollars to social injustice organizations and making very profound statements, but their CEOs or other senior leaders were caught saying, and doing things that were completely inconsistent with their position. And then they had the scramble to try and do something else on top of what they were doing. The $1 million became $15 million. And the commitment to diverse hiring became more of a percentage and a timeline and the this and the that. And that was, I think the learning for me, it should be a learning for everyone, that as Ashley stated, people are paying attention. They’re paying attention. And so be true to the organization that you are, and don’t necessarily allow the voices to force you in a direction that you aren’t comfortable with or that you can’t commit to, or be consistent with. But also, really recognize that people will check you and make you walk the walk that is equal to what you were saying. So, if you can’t walk that walk, don’t say it.

 

Ashley: So, the internet is the ultimate accountability partner. I say that all the time, I say to my daughter, I believe it to be true. And you’re right. If you put it out there, you need to be able to sustain that. And so, I will say that’s probably what I’m proudest of our organization for is, I think, initially were criticized for not moving immediately, and not responding immediately. Now, our CEO did send out a statement immediately, but we spent a couple of weeks thoughtfully strategizing about really, what was sustainable and developing, not just a kind of knee jerk response, but really thinking through what would be palatable today and what would work in our organization, but not only that, how to continue that conversation and in a sustainable way. And so, that’s one of the things maybe we heard some noise from, and then as you know, people on different spectrums, right? There are people who are very pro-law enforcement and don’t really feel like that you can be pro-law enforcement and pro BLM. And so, there was a lot of controversy and got a lot of feedback from our associates about that, on both ends of that spectrum. But I think that pausing a minute to think about the strategy longer term was a good move, ultimately. We did catch backlash from it. The other thing that I will say that I think I heard from colleagues, I have a good colleague who works for a large grocery train, and another colleague who works for another retail chain that indicated that really, they struggled. They initially started having sessions where people could really share raw emotion and some of it turned ugly. They didn’t corralled it in a way where it could be channeled for there to be something constructive or actionable to come out of it. And so, that was one of those things we thought through as we kind of determined what our response would be. And then the other thing that I think could have backfired, it did not, cause we like Donna’s group, provided talking points, and even went as far as to say these are the things probably that won’t be well-received. If you say it might be well-intentioned, but they may not be well real received, right? Is that a lot of organizations did not give leaders, particularly, majority leaders tools to engage in authentic conversations. And many times people want to say something, but it’s kinda like when someone passes. Like somebody, his father passes, well, your dad didn’t die. So, you don’t really know how that feels, but you want to say, I feel for you. And so, a lot of organizations did not equip their folks and so, we had folks saying things that might’ve been well-intentioned in their head, but didn’t come out that way. Organizations and that stuff became the tweet of legends. Stuff that will live on forever. And so, those are the things that I really saw that didn’t go well from my perspective, both internally and stories that I heard from colleagues. But I think people are- those who have a commitment to it are really working within their organizations to get help. And then the last thing I’m going to say about that is this, I think I really liked the approach Donna, of being authentic and working within your skillset in your organization. To have that first conversation but I’ve heard a lot of organizations say they’re looking for good credible consultants in that space because they recognize that they did not have the skillset inside of the organization to do anything more than that initial response. And they wanted to build a program going forward. So, I’ve even worked with some friends that kind of curates a little shortlist to share with within our little circle to say, these are people we’ve used before. We know they’re good, they fit within your price range, just so people have options.

 

Barbara: Okay. As we wrap up, what’s been a wonderful conversation about the programs that you put into place and things to do and not to do. If you could give just one piece of advice to organizations that are on this diversity, equity, and inclusion journey; if you could give just one piece of advice, and one minute, what would it be?

 

Donna: I would say that the journey should be an end to end strategy, not an initiative. An end to end strategy that can have some sustaining impact, a strong commitment for the organization. And I would say that organizations, similar to what I said before, you need to be credible, so don’t over-promise. Don’t fail to walk the walk and don’t do something just to check off a box, people see through that. So have an end-to-end strategy to support your organization in this space.

 

Barbara: Right. Ashely?

 

Ashley: First, diversity and inclusion is a business imperative. It’s the right thing to do, but it makes you more money. It makes you more successful. It makes you more innovative. So, it’s really, ill-advised not to. And then the second thing I’d say is to people of color in positions where they voice, don’t leave your blackness at the door. Don’t leave your blackness at the door. You’re there for a reason and certainly use your voice in a way that causes other people to follow you. That’s RBGs words, not mine. Right.

 

Donna: Those are the words 

 

Belinda: Yeah. Those are definitely. Both of you gave great advice and great words to live by in this space as we try to move forward in a much more impactful way. So, we’d like to really thank you, Donna and Ashley, once again for just providing a wonderful conversation in our journey along, talking about the relevant and timely issues in today’s workplace. Thank you. 

 

Barbara: Thank you so much. 

 

Donna: Thank you

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