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The Business Case for DEI with Donald Thompson

George Grombacher December 18, 2022

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The Business Case for DEI with Donald Thompson

LifeBlood: We talked about the business case for DEI, how to create an authentic and inclusive organization and how to make doing so profitable, why it’s essential to have shared interests, and how to incorporate all stakeholders, and how to get started, with Donald Thompson, entrepreneur and CEO of The Diversity Movement.

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Our Guests

George Grombacher


Donald Thompson

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:15
Why put this Georgie in the time is right. welcome today’s guest strong and powerful Donald Thompson. Donald, are you ready to do this?

Unknown Speaker 0:22
I’m ready. I’m glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

george grombacher 0:24
excited to have you on Dundas a three time Inc. 5000. CEO is a member of the Forbes next 1000. He’s the co founder and CEO of the diversity movement. They’re working to help organizations realize real world outcomes. Donald, tell us a little about your personal life more about your work, why you do what you do.

Unknown Speaker 0:45
Yeah, from a family side, I have four kids, I have three daughters and a son. I am the son of a football coach. The reason I say that is because that’s where I learned teamwork. That’s where I learned toughness and tenacity this has transferred into the business world. The other thing about that is we’ve moved around a lot in my childhood. So I got very accustomed to making friends fast, and finding commonality, right amongst new people that I was meeting. And as a youngster, that wasn’t so great. But as you grow up, and as a business professional, you see the value of currently the CEO and co founder, the diversity movement. This is my fourth company. So I like to grow companies from zero to about 10 15 million. And then I get a little bit bored. I like to creative like molding the clay is I would say my secret sauce, in terms of business. But anyway, I’ll keep it brief, but glad to be here. Excellent.

george grombacher 1:38
So the new company diversity movement, what was what was going on in your head in the world, you saw a problem, you said I need to work on solving this.

Unknown Speaker 1:49
Yeah, as a marketer. So prior to the mercury movement, I was CEO of digital marketing firm walk West. And as we talk to our customers, people were starting this was 2018 2019. Thinking about diversity, equity inclusion from a brand perspective, right? How do I have more inclusion on my website, my content? How do I sell and create more customers, right? And so we were having companies come to us that they wanted their brand strategy to be more optically sound. And I asked to accompany, would you like to think about this more holistically inside out. So that diversity, equity inclusion as a part of your brand, as part of your business is truly authentic? They said, Yes, but we haven’t found an organization that understands our business dynamics, as well as the goals to create dei metrics. That always has hung us up. And so as an entrepreneur, I heard that and saw an opportunity. I said, Wait a minute, I’m a business person, right, I can create different views. I understand marketing, I spent time in technology sales. And so we ventured to create a diversity equity inclusion organization that tightly coupled dei work with measurable business outcomes. And that’s where we think we create the uniqueness.

george grombacher 3:04
So instead of just slapping some de dei stuff around and saying that it’s the focus of your company, actually dig into the company, figure out where the opportunities are to not just do good work from a societal standpoint for your people. But have it actually translate into results from a bottom line standpoint?

Unknown Speaker 3:25
Absolutely. If you talk to a VP of sales at a global organization, and share with them metrics of the increase in closed rate, by having heterogeneous sales teams, that’s diversity, equity inclusion, linked to the bottom line, if you talk to a CFO or your chief legal counsel, and talk about having a dei strategy in place, reducing your risk relative to employee labor related issues, because you’re teaching your leaders how to give and receive better feedback. That is how you link it to the bottom line. If you teach organizations that are looking at growing their brand, that if they add content that allows the LGBTQ community to feel a part of their brand authentically, they’re looking at a billion multibillion dollar market. So what we do very specifically is certainly we think building a better workplace for employees matters. In order to do that, you have to educate the C suite on where the profit is in it, because that’s how leaders are driven. We would love to have that empathetic thought process rule the day. But we all know, it’s an economic one, right? Whether it’s business, whether it’s politics, whatever it is, right? It’s the economy, right? And then everything else kind of cascades from there. So we talk in a business leader language, about diversity, equity inclusion, and that’s what we do.

george grombacher 4:49
That makes a ton of sense. Do you think that people that that what you just described it’s like yes, it’s possible to do too. We think the same time, it’s okay to say that by doing this good thing, it’s also going to result in profit for our company, which, fundamentally is what the company is here to do.

Unknown Speaker 5:13
I think if we’re really honest, at a human level, we do things based on personal motives. And that’s whether we give to our church, or whether we give to a charity. That’s whether we are the baseball coach for a little league team, right? It makes us feel good to give and be held in high esteem. Right? That’s a reality. So the putting the good seed out there, there’s nothing wrong with appreciating a return on that. And so if we use our human nature, and then apply that to business, it really holds true. And most people in underrepresented groups don’t expect businesses to work for free, they understand the profit motive, they just have a high expectation that leaders can do people planet and profit, that triple bottom line at the same time.

george grombacher 6:03
People planet and profit, I love it. So he talked about how having a heterogeneous Salesforce will increase close rates, talk about how having just heterogeneous organization will reduce employee issues, and then being able to invite other communities in will certainly increase revenue. Because if somebody looks at an organization and doesn’t see themselves doing business with them, well, then they’re not going to do that. We, it sounds like we have enough data to be able to prove that.

Unknown Speaker 6:41
Absolutely. The data exists. It’s really an How do you interpret the data? And so when you think about the employee surveys that organizations take, one of the things we’ve learned into working with hundreds of companies, 1000s of leaders, mentorship, sponsorship, and career planning with your employees, increases retention. So everything about diversity, equity inclusion, you don’t have to call it that. It’s how do we build a better workplace so that we can win? When we’re winning? We absolutely can treat our employees better. If we treat our employees better, we’re gonna keep winning, you create that sustainable organization through some of those fundamental truths. But the reality is that data when properly interpreted can inform your choices and behavior.

george grombacher 7:28
Those are fundamental truths.

Do you feel like it’s been I don’t know how long the term dei has been around? How long has that been around? Some of it’s been hijacked. It’s got a stigma to it. What are your thoughts on

Unknown Speaker 7:51
that? I mean, the term di and di as an industry 2030 years, right 40 years, the thing that we helped transition the conversation too, and why it’s important that we talk about culture, leadership development, we use the term internally and with our clients as well, inclusive leadership. Because what we’re really trying to do is frame the conversation in a way that people can see themselves as an active participant. When you do use the word diversity, it can be hijacked by half the country, well, this is that work stuff. This is that this this is that whatever. And I tell people very clearly, let’s look at the goals of why we’re having this conversation. Right? We want to help you win in the marketplace. How can we help you do that? Well, if you’re recruiting at the same three universities, then you’re not recruiting the best people. How do you know that if you expand the number of universities, you recruit, you don’t have to lower your standard of excellence, you actually get more opportunity to find people that meet the standard. And so my goal is to bring things to a very, very simple conversation. Because the noise tries to confuse it with the complexity. When really at a basic level, right? If I walk into a restaurant, and I walk up the stairs, I’m not upset because there’s a ramp for my friend in a wheelchair to go up. That accommodation for someone else did not impair my ability to choose the stairs or walk up the ramp. It just made it available to someone that doesn’t have the same advantages that I did. And keeping it simple as the way that I tried to communicate it to bring people closer to the dialogue.

george grombacher 9:29
What a great to put a great comparison that is. Yeah, that is not offensive to me when I got into it and failed,

Unknown Speaker 9:40
right? I mean, because you know, every our society or politics are driven by middle aged white men at a high level, right? That doesn’t mean there’s points of emphasis there’s points of celebration right as we grow in different things, but that’s the reality of it. So that means that the Diversity Equity inclusion discussion has to be framed in a language that they can feel a part of it. Right? Not a villain in every meeting, because I’m trying to bring people into the fray that have the ability to move the needle with their checkbook with their influence, right with their network. And that’s what we that’s what we try to do as we do our work.

george grombacher 10:19
But essentially, it’s a huge part of inclusive leadership, right? If the leadership doesn’t feel like they’re included, then they’re not going to take part in it. Or if they do, so it’d be begrudgingly.

Unknown Speaker 10:31
That’s exactly right. And the worst thing that you can do in anything around your employee engagement, is not be authentic. I would rather organizations move slower in some of these initiatives, but at a pace they believe in, then have a big splash and something that fizzles out, right. And so that’s where you really have to be honest with where you are as an organization as a culture, and what are you really trying to accomplish. And my thing, and I’ve shared this, I’m talking to a lot of marketing leaders lately, that are calling us because what we found is that what unifies people within an organization is the quality, authenticity and the impact that your brand messaging is having on the business. And marketers are trying to very smartly figure out how to speak in a personal way to the different stakeholders, they have both internal comms their boards, their future employees, their future clients, and customers. And so it’s a very interesting time to be a marketer, because you’ve got all of these distribution channels, social, this, all this stuff, but people want to be talked to in a personalized way. And so we’re seeing a high level of impact and interest on how to have that diversity, equity, inclusion conversation, integrated into your brand strategy. And we think there’s a lot of financial growth there. In terms of opening new markets, and bringing folks in, we immediately a lot of times assume sexual orientation, race, gender, but just think about messaging to Gen Z, think about the messaging you need for someone that is coming out of the military. Think about somebody that is not us born, but working in the States or moving to a different organization or country, you have to speak to people in a way that their experience feels relevant to what you’re trying to sell them. And that’s another way that we’re bringing dei into the business. And we love it, because most people are still driven by the social issue of the moment. And that matters. That’s important. That’s just not where we play. Right, that we have a different lane that we’re trying to drive, drive change. Got

george grombacher 12:43
it. I think that that makes a lot of sense. And it seems actionable. And you know, sometimes I think about large groups of people. It’s, it’s, it’s hard, it’s, it’s impossible for us to get our arms around. But the reality is, when we’re interacting with with people in our organization, these are real human beings. And they sniff out our BS if we’re trying to sell them BS. And the more honest, we can be about, this is why we’re doing this, this is what we’re hoping to accomplish. And we want you to come along with us, which is a fundamental truth, what however you’re trying to lead. And this really is that conversation about inclusive leadership and empowering people. And that’s helping the people feel like they have a role if it’s the employee of the company, the CEO of the company, our customers and the general population, just the world.

Unknown Speaker 13:43
That’s exactly right. And I think you hit it, the only thing I’ll expand, right, let’s say you’re working at a financial institution, right? A bank, will, your tellers, your frontline professionals, the language they use, can bring employees closer to the business or push them away. And so it’s a simple thing to think about in terms of what do we want as an outcome? Right? When we’re building an organization, we’re wanting everyone that comes in contact with our brand, to have that consistent brand messaging and story. Right. And so that’s where that education on inclusive language is very important, right? And there’s so many things that people can agree upon. Right? I tried to focus on the areas that we can get started. Let’s build momentum over time. And there’s plenty of time to debate and disagree on all the things, but it’s a lot cooler when you’re in motion on five things you absolutely agree on. Right. And that’s the goal of what we do. The other thing I would just throw in and appreciate the space. I think that a lot of times people will hire a chief diversity officer Head of Diversity and think that that single champion is going to transform the organization and this I want to share with your users. Not true doesn’t work gonna fail. Right? But just so we’re clear, right? Not true. Does At work, you’re gonna fail a lot, right? It’s any business transformation is a team sport. And so you’ve got to create that that coalition that can move things together, just like you’ll read in Harvard business review how to have a cross functional team and all these things. It’s no different when you’re looking at some type of cultural transformation in your organization. And so I throw that out to folks, as we think about it, of what really works. And what really works is that the leadership starts to model the behavior they expect in the organization. That works, right, as a, as a parent of four, if I want my kids not to use salty language, I have to improve my language, right? Like I like the period, right? Because we mimic right the behaviors of leaders of people respect and different things. So a lot of it is falls on the leader to change the behaviors to those that they want the organization to emulate.

george grombacher 15:57
I think that that’s really well said, teamwork, toughness, tenacity, as a football team, I’m assuming most the time, like Herm Edwards said, we play the game to win. So the goal here is to win. And we’ll do it in different ways with people of different body types, and whatever, all come together. And we need to focus on the things that we agree on. And so long as we’re doing that, there’s room plenty of room for all those other things that you’re talking about as things come up. But we need to get on the same page with the stuff that we agree on.

Unknown Speaker 16:30
That’s exactly right, I had a great conversation with an executive that was just feeling challenged with some of the DEI work that was going on in their organization. And one of the breakthrough moments that we had, and I can share this really quickly. He felt that as a highly religious individual, he was being forced to adopt things that he didn’t believe in. Right. And so he was struggling with that. The reality is we’re trying to get you to increase your expansion of thought. So that you understand where other people are coming from, we’re not trying to change you, in every conversation, we’re trying to give you the space to understand others so that you can work with them better. That’s the goal. And once we broke it down like that, he was like, That makes a lot of sense. And I feel better about engagement with that temperament. Right. And it’s really tough, because we all have background experiences and different things. And as a practitioner, my job is not to bring my personal perspective to the story. It’s to help an organization that I’m working with, with the tools, the technologies that we have, so that they can win.

george grombacher 17:42
Such important work, timely work. And it sounds like you’re good at it, Donald? Well, I appreciate it. You know, is have have, have you encountered organizations, leaders that it’s just not going to work?

Unknown Speaker 18:03
Absolutely. Like, let’s be real, like, I’m highly practical, right. And, you know, and it’s best for them not to move in a direction, that’s inauthentic. Right. But there are some businesses that absolutely just want to check the DEI box, like going through annual sexual harassment training or your annual safety training, they want to set up your annual dei training, and that’s all they really want to do. Right? You will then find however, this is what I talked to their executive team, you’re gonna have a little bit of a challenge as you move into the next frontier of business from a recruiting and retention standpoint, as long as you understand that, that that tsunami is already here, that Gen Z is much more diverse, that folks that are looking at the the gender pay gap and the emerging leadership from a gender perspective, right, the number of folks with disabilities, if you choose to stay on the sidelines here, you’re just going to have a business impact, it’s going to be hard to catch up. As long as you’re aware of that, you know, call me later. Get you later,

george grombacher 19:10
when the pain gets bad enough that you’re actually ready to look at these things, and to name them and then to address them. I’ll be here waiting.

Unknown Speaker 19:19
That’s right. That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. And I don’t take it personal if people aren’t into it, or they have a different speed. But usually, most people across any thread wants to retain top performers. Right? If we if we think about any business, any political background, any age leader, any of that most I would almost go 100%. But most leaders because we have this Elon Musk then I don’t know if he wants to retain key leaders or not. Right, but most leaders want to retain emerging leaders. So when you break down how you do that, you’re gonna have to deal with some things relative to your best In this environment, your hybrid work environment, your feedback loop, your promotion strategies, your diversity, equity inclusion, we can call it whatever we want. But if you look at retaining key talent, I’m not even talking your whole organization retention numbers, retaining key talent, what do those talented people want. And then when you look at that list, you’re gonna actually be implementing a DDI program, you just might call it an Emerging Leaders Program. You might call it a leadership impact cohort. But those folks are going to want promotion opportunities, they’re going to want to work in an environment where they’re really proud of the authentic brand. They’re going to want to have accessibility to leadership and give to a feedback, they’re going to want to work in an organization to where they’re proud to share that with their friends of different backgrounds. If you look at what emerging leaders want, that’s how you build out your dei priorities. Without you know, if you don’t have a big time consultant, or budget, or XYZ, and whatever those 10 things are, that’s what you can start with.

george grombacher 21:02
Love it. Well, Donald, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you and how can they engage with you and diversity movement?

Unknown Speaker 21:10
The diversity has a lot of free resources on our resources page. And that’s the way people can get to know and trust. And then LinkedIn is a great way to connect with me personally, if you reach out outreach back.

george grombacher 21:24
Excellent. Well, if you enjoyed this as much as I did show Donald your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas go to the diversity Find Donald on LinkedIn. I’ll link all those in the notes of the show. Thanks again, Donald.

Unknown Speaker 21:41
Thanks so much. Thanks for having me.

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

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