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DEI Initiatives at Work with Dr. Ella Washington

George Grombacher January 13, 2023

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DEI Initiatives at Work with Dr. Ella Washington

LifeBlood: We talked about DEI initiatives at work, the responsibility each of us has as well as organizations, how to nurture inclusion, and how to get started, with Dr. Ella Washington, CEO, Professor, Author, and Diversity and Inclusion expert.

Listen to learn some inclusion best practices!

You can learn more about Dr. Ella at, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Get your copy of The Necessary Journey HERE

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Dr. Ella Washington

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:00
I went to the store Gee, the time is right. welcome today’s guest strong and powerful Dr. lf Washington. Dr. Ella, are you ready to do this?

Unknown Speaker 0:23
Let’s go.

george grombacher 0:24
Let’s go. Indeed, Dr. Ella is an organizational psychologist and dei expert. She’s the author of the necessary journey making real progress on equity and inclusion. Dr. Ella, tell us a little about your personal lives more about your work, why you do what you do.

Unknown Speaker 0:41
My pleasure, thank you again for having me. So I’m an organizational psychologist and I have spent my career trying to understand how we can make work more enjoyable. And its most simplest form, you know, we spend more than 1/3 of our whole lives either working at work or thinking about work. And I would say in the Western world, specifically, you probably spend more time than that, because now we’re so connected through our mobile devices that many of us spend most of the day working, not just 1/3. And so when you think about that reality, it can either be a little bit depressing, right? If you hate your job, or it could be something you think about with reverence with respect with, hopefully some joy, right. And so if we’re spending so much of our lives at work, we should have work environments that are places where every single person can thrive, are places that we are able to lean into our unique strengths as individuals, and hopefully have some fun while we’re doing it.

george grombacher 1:40
Amen. I think that if we’re not able to have fun, then it’s probably not worth doing. Appreciate. We can’t have fun all the time. But I think that makes a ton of sense. How close are we to that?

Unknown Speaker 1:53
Well, you know, it’s interesting, I have this concept called workplace utopia. And it’s this concept that I talked about in my book about defining kind of what it would mean for you to thrive in your work experience. And organization should be trying to understand employees workplace utopia, so they can get a bit closer. Now the reality is, is everyone’s you know, workplace utopia is going to be a little bit different, because we’re all a bit different. But if organizations take the time to understand what it is that their team members need to thrive and try to work towards, that, I think we can get a bit closer. I think part of that is is understanding your own strengths, and understanding, you know, what makes you feel most included, what makes you feel most valued and respected on teams, right. And so early in your career, it’s a bit hard, you’re still figuring those things out, by encouraging us, especially given the statistics of today’s world that most people have three or four jobs, and sometimes even three or four different totally different career paths, it’s important for us to understand those aspects so that we can seek organizational environments that support, you know, how we want to work the way we want to be treated, and the things that again, most excites us and most make us thrive.

george grombacher 3:04
That’s really well said, I spent a lot of time thinking about talking about how the only way to live, how you want is to know how you want to live. And if I have no idea what my strengths are, and what what a workplace utopia, what what my workplace utopia is, then it’s gonna be hard for me to find it.

Unknown Speaker 3:27
And we can’t complain about what we don’t ask for. Right. And so, there’s certainly organizational responsibility in this, I don’t mean to put it all on the individual, but, you know, we have to know these things about ourselves. So we can advocate for ourselves. I know, for me, you know, I think about a day that was well spent is if I’ve laughed at least once that day. Now, sometimes that’s gonna happen at work. And sometimes it’s gonna happen outside of work. But what that tells me that I need to be in a work environment, right that if something is comical, I can laugh, or I can I can crack a corny joke, every now and then or, and or, I have to have a work life balance, right, that allows me that space to have that personal time. So even if I have a very serious job, and sometimes my job is very serious. I can’t, you know, be working 24/7 Because I need that space to laugh and have some enjoyment. And so even though I simple things about ourselves, can help us to push a little bit further towards that workplace utopia. And I think, you know, in the past few years in the pandemic, many people for the first time took really close stock of what they needed from their workplaces. We realized that, you know, some of us really missed that commute, because that’s the time we listen to podcasts like this, and that’s the time we caught up with friends and family. Others of us are like, I don’t ever want to commute again. I can’t stand it. I never want to see that morning traffic again. And other people realize I have to take a walk throughout the middle of the day because that is just the way I can unplug at least for like 20 minutes, I need that other people said, you know, I actually really need that community environment like I need to go into office and sometimes at least just see another human being or talk to someone in person versus, you know, in a virtual environment. So, again, for every person, it’s different. But I do think that period of 18 to 24 months that many of us if we were able, or working from home, taught us a lot. And you know, as I encourage my students at Georgetown, McDonough School of Business, you know, don’t forget those lessons of the pandemic, right, don’t let that be time that we just forget about as like the time, you know, the time we don’t talk about, we learned a lot about ourselves. And not only should we remember those things, but we should be challenging organizations to meet us where we are. And I think we’ve seen that in the great resignation. Right? We’ve seen that in people, some many people leaving whole different industries that they were in pre pandemic. And so I think those are valuable lessons.

george grombacher 6:01
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. It is a it was a unique, it is unique opportunity, we questioned so many things, if not everything, how we educate our kids, where we work, how we police, our communities, all of it. And I know that I questioned, I just figured I need to be stronger emotionally, and physically and mentally, and all these things. So hopefully, people do view that as an opportunity to question and figure out things that they want and then to, to have the confidence, strength to advocate for themselves. Because that’s not necessarily an easy thing to go from not doing that to standing up for yourself with with, with your current employer or asking for what you want, when you’re in the job search.

Unknown Speaker 6:48
And by the way, you know, when you layer and demographic factors, like women and people of color, they actually advocate less for themselves. In the workplace. Research has told us for many, many decades, that is the case. And so, you know, as we’re thinking about more diverse and equitable work environments, that’s part of it like understanding that there is this historical pattern of certain groups, especially it’s hard for everyone, but certain groups, especially not feeling as comfortable advocating for themselves in those spaces.

george grombacher 7:21
So what, how, how can I? How can I, if I feel like I’ve not been doing that? Or what is the path? Is it I just need to practice asking? It’s obviously getting clear on what I want. But then how do I become an advocate for myself?

Unknown Speaker 7:43
It’s one of those things practice makes perfect. So in my negotiation seminars, I often talk about negotiation is a life skill. We think about negotiation when it’s time to like negotiate your salary for a new job. But negotiation happens every single day, if you have small ones at home, I promise you, you are negotiating every single day around bedtime, what to eat, what not to eat, what they’re going to wear, what they’re not going to wear, small children, to me, are masterful negotiators. Because unlike most of us, they don’t really care what you think they want, what they want, and they’re going to go after it. And so I truly think of in negotiation as a life skill. And most people are not that good at it. Most people struggle with negotiation, even if they have a strong sense of self confidence. You know, when it’s time to negotiate, when it’s time to advocate for themselves, that becomes a little bit more tough. And so when you think about, you know, advocacy and the willingness to negotiate, you know, it’s one of those things that you practice, practice in the small ways. Don’t just wait for that big job negotiation. What are those small things that you negotiate, whether it’s work assignments, whether it’s how many days you work from home, whether it’s, you know, how you team with, with members on your team, like all those things, I think of everything is life as negotiable?

george grombacher 8:58
Yeah, yeah, I think that that’s really well said, and I think it is important to think about negotiation as as a life skill. And if it’s a skill that you are able to acquire, it will serve you in every aspect of your life, if you’re trying to get your, your six or three year old, for example, just fictitiously to go to bed or to get the clothes on and to get in the car. That will certainly serve you the the responsibility of of of organizations. I’ve really, I’ve, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this as well, I think is it the responsibility of an organization? Or just what what what are your thoughts on on moving forward, what the responsibility of an organization is in in this process?

Unknown Speaker 9:48
So organizations have a huge responsibility, you know, quiet quitting has been all the rage in the media over the past few months. And what I often think of quiet quitting And the other trend choir firing, what what the signal is for me for both of those things is that there’s a break in that psychological contract that you have with the organization, you have your actual contract, how much you’ll get paid, how many days off, you’re gonna have what’s your job role. But it’s it’s also kind of psychological contract that you have that, hey, I’m entrusting my career I’m entrusting my next steps in this organization. And in return, the organization is getting a certain type of performance, a certain type of work product from me, right. And we take care of each other in that way. And so I think there’s a huge responsibility from the organizational lens, to care for their employees, every single organization has wonderful values online, and many of them look like versions of the same, you know, five to 10 values. And anyone can get their communications team to put up some values and statements online. But how are you living those values, and I guarantee you part of almost every single organization of values has something about being people centered or caring for their people, or having a community of care, right. And it’s not enough to just have those words on the website, you have to live and feel that every single day. And you have to seek out opportunities to improve that. And so a lot of organizations kind of run, if no one’s complaining, then there’s no nothing wrong. And that’s the wrong way to think about it, you always have to be seeking out to understand what the experience of your employees are every single day, especially employees from traditionally marginalized backgrounds, you really have to seek out their perspectives uniquely, because, you know, though, we can all go into the same workplace, our experience of that workplace can be very, very different.

george grombacher 11:46
If no one is complaining, nothing is wrong. That’s funny. I think that that your impulse is to think that Yep, we’re all good. But I think it’s probably quite the opposite. I, there was a, I spoke with a military person years and years and years ago, and he said that a bitching soldier is a happy soldier. Because that means that they’re comfortable enough to be complaining about things to superiors and things like that. And so you want an organization where to do the things you were talking about earlier, to be able to crack a joke and laugh or to say, you know, this is BS, or I’m not happy with what’s going on here, versus quiet firing and and quite quitting. So I 1,000% agree with that. When an organization has taken the time to think about their values, and they publish their values, and what an employee wants to do is contrary to that, how do you think about that?

Unknown Speaker 12:45
That’s a That’s a good question that comes up so many so many different lines, what happens when an employee does something outside of the work day? That’s against the organizational values? What happens when they disagree with another employee? And maybe it’s something that’s values related, right? And how do we welcome healthy disagreement, but also have you know, specific boundaries around what we will and will not accept? One, it’s really difficult, let’s just acknowledge that because though we can have policies, and we can have, you know, written statements online, human interaction is is not a one size fits all. And so context does matter. You know, how someone says something, I’ll be it, even if it’s challenging, no matter how they say it, their tone, their intent, the impact it had on other employees, all of that matters. And so that’s the tough thing about this work in human capital and diversity, equity and inclusion, that we want a one size fits all many of us want kind of the answer to this is exactly how do we deal with this when this happens, right. And that’d be great. But we’re talking about humans, or we’re talking about the human condition of being imperfect. And so there’s not going to be a one size fits all approach. But you can be really clear about not only what your values mean, but what that looks like in action and things that will not be tolerated. Right. So disrespect, for example, if your value is respect, and you say you will not tolerate disrespect, then when you see evidence of disrespect, even though there’s not a one size fits all, when you see that evidence, you have to take action. Now you can have course corrective action by calling in someone and you know, coaching them to not expect that behavior again. But sometimes it has to go further to termination and realizing that employee is not living up to your values. I think organizations lose so much credibility when they don’t live their values and not just live their values. When things are good. It’s living their values when things are challenging, whether that be you know, employees are not so happy, or the economy is challenged, right? We have to make tough decisions. All of those are opportunities that we must live to live our values. Otherwise, you know, what are those values for other than some nice words on a website?

george grombacher 14:58
Yeah, exactly. We’ve got them there on the shelf over there. collecting some desks. There they are. So you talked about how it’s it’s valuable and important, essential. I don’t know if he said essential or not, for organizations to be actively seeking input from marginalized groups. So what is and there’s not a right size fits, or a one size fits all or perfect strategy that’s going to accomplish this. But what are some ways that that you have seen that have been effective at doing that.

Unknown Speaker 15:41
So there’s so many ways you can do that. I think at the core, you have to understand, first of all, diversity, equity and inclusion are three different concepts. They’re three totally different pathways, they’re kind of married, because we say them all in one breath. But they’re not the same thing. And so if we focus specifically in on inclusion, that feeling of feeling valued, and that you belong within an organization, there are two specific things that I talk about in depth in my book, The necessary journey, talking about the fact that inclusion is a dual process. So inclusion means first an active verb of change, you have to do something to actually include someone. So if you’re new to my team, George, and, you know, we go to lunch, I have to actually say, Hey, George, do you want to sit at the table with us? That’s something to actively include you. Right? We can’t just think because we’re smiling and nice that you’ll know that you know, you are welcomed at the tables, I have to say, Hey, George, come on, sit with us. But the challenging part is the second part of that inclusion definition. And it is that feedback loop is what I’m doing actually making you feel included. Now, George, maybe you feel super included when I invite you to the lunch table. Or maybe you’re more introverted and you like your quiet time at lunch, and you kind of feel called out, because you just don’t want to be bothered at lunch, right? How am I to know if I don’t ask you? How am I to know if I don’t create that feedback loop? Now, usually, you know, inviting someone to sit with you at lunch isn’t such a precarious topic. But if you extrapolate that to larger examples, you know, for example, I hear all the time, for example, June 1 is the beginning of Pride Month. And you know, many organizations celebrate in a way of putting a pride banner, and rainbow on their websites or their LinkedIn pages or other things like that. And, you know, for many employees, you know, it gets great, I feel seen, I feel like you know, the organization is celebrating my identity, awesome. But you have a lot of employees that also feel like, hey, you know, that actually doesn’t make me feel included, because organization doesn’t do anything the rest of the year. So I actually feel other than ostracize. And it’s a bit performative when they put their privacy up. So actually, you can keep your black pride flag, I want you to do things throughout the year. Again, you’ll have employees that run the gamut of this particular topic, right? But it’s just an example of how you must create that feedback loop. And so it’s great to have programs, it’s great to have policies, but you gotta check back like, Hey, how did that event land? Or hey, how’s that mentorship program going for this group of people? Right? And I think a lot of times, we can autopilot, and we just do something, even if it’s worked in the past, we don’t check back to see hey, is this is this still working? Is this, you know, giving the desired impact that we have intended?

george grombacher 18:26
That’s not too hard, is it?

Unknown Speaker 18:28
Well, you know, in theory, right, but in practice, it takes continuous evolution. And I think that is the key crux of the work that I do, is helping people understand that, you know, this work is a lifelong journey. And that’s hard because we think of often think of diversity, equity inclusion as a problem to be fixed, instead of something that should be in the fabric of our organization. If we shift our mindset to think of inclusion and equity, and belonging, and all those concepts of being human in the workplace, as really elevating humanity in the workplace, instead of fixing a problem, then we’ll know that we should always be checking back on these things, there’s always going to be shifts and changes as generations shift and change as our world shifts and changes. And so you know, how we want to work and how we want our workplaces to look will shift and change. There’s always an opportunity to make folks feel more included to do things to bring people in, and to make sure they feel a sense of belonging. Love it.

george grombacher 19:33
What do you hope that people get out of when when they pick up the necessary journey making real progress on equity and inclusion? What do you what do you hope people get out of it?

Unknown Speaker 19:44
The book tells nine different stories of companies at all different places on their dei journeys. So what I want them to know it’s not a one size fits all approach, but to the reason why I wrote the book in a narrative format that’s an easy to read digestible format, is because I want people to see themselves at some point in the journey? Maybe you’re at a large multinational corporation like Sodexo, or PwC as I talk about in the book, or maybe you’re at a small startup, like Uncle nears, or maybe you’re at a, you know, a midsize company like BestBuy that’s been around for a while, right? No matter what type of company you’re in, no matter where your company is on their di journey, no matter where you are on your journey, I want people to be able to see themselves and we know the power of storytelling and narrative are much more likely to remember something to, you know, feel connected to a story. data and facts and figures are awesome. I’m a researcher. So I love that too. But what you will remember is a story that someone told that emotion you feel. And so that’s what I hope that readers feel and take away when they read my book.

george grombacher 20:49
I love it. Well, Dr. Ella, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people pick up a copy of the necessary journey making real progress on equity inclusion, and how can people engage with you?

Unknown Speaker 20:59
I would love it. If you follow me on LinkedIn, Ella app, Washington. You can also go to my website, Ella app And you can pick up the book at any retailer where books are sold and sell whether that’s Amazon, Barnes and Noble, your local bookstore, you should be able to find the necessary journey and I hope you enjoy it.

george grombacher 21:19
Excellent. Well, if you enjoyed this as much as I did, show Dr. Liu appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas pick up your copy of necessary journey making real progress on equity inclusion, wherever you buy your books. Find Dr. Ella on LinkedIn as well as Ella F I’ll certainly link all those in the notes of the show. Next good Dr. Ella.

Unknown Speaker 21:42
Thanks so much for having me.

george grombacher 21:43
And until next time, remember, do your part by doing your best

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