Episode 316:

The conversation of diversity, equity, and inclusion and DEI policy creation is something on the minds of many agency owners. How to tackle such a delicate and complicated topic can be overwhelming and confusing. The fear of getting it wrong or not doing enough can lead to no action at all, which we can all agree does nothing to further the cause. But how exactly do we begin and how do we get it right?

Nikki McCord returns to expand upon the conversation we started in Episode 304 (“The ROI of DEI). Nikki consults people and companies on how to make committed changes, in both policy and behavior, surrounding the topic of DEI. She’s a passionate expert on the subject and the discussion is sure to inspire ideas and action.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Nikki McCord and I talk specifically about the concept of DEI policies and how to best approach them. Beyond that, we look at the way tiny shifts can make a big impact and why we need to give ourselves permission to make mistakes along the way. Beyond our own agencies, we also discuss how to incorporate these challenging conversations into our work with clients and vendors.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

DEI Policy

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • What should be included in a good DEI policy
  • The difference between a policy and a statement
  • How to rethink your approach to a DEI policy
  • Tiny shifts that make a big impact
  • The importance of authenticity
  • How to guide clients through DEI conversations
  • How to get through the fear of making mistakes surrounding DEI
“I think it’s important for organizations to spend the time to think about different aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion and then figure out how it relates to their specific business model.” @McCordConsult Click To Tweet “Authenticity is super important to all of this because you are your company.” @McCordConsult Click To Tweet “If the action is ‘we just want to increase our numbers,’ does that action in itself, without doing anything else, benefit historically excluded individuals?” @McCordConsult Click To Tweet “I would like agencies to start looking very critically about what is a preferred qualification versus a required qualification.” @McCordConsult Click To Tweet “If you’ve lived in a world for so long where you are the dominant, where the world is kind of made for you, it is a skill to understand and to navigate the world in a way that is not made for you.” @McCordConsult Click To Tweet “Be intentional, but also tell folks what you’re doing as well.” @McCordConsult Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Nikki McCord:

Tools & Resources:

Speaker 1:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run. Traditional, digital, media buying, web dev, PR, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build a Better Agency Podcast presented by White Label IQ will show you how to make more money, and keep more of what you make. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road, sellable. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McClellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. I am really, really excited today to bring back a guest. Nikki McCord was on episode 304, so not that long ago, really. Nikki is a DEI, so Diversity, Equity and Inclusion expert and consultant. And we got such rave reviews for her first episode, and the conversation that she allowed us to have. And I’m hoping that many of you then had at your own shops that I knew I wanted to get her back. And so, I’m super pumped that she decided to come back. And I have some really high expectations for this conversation because she’s just so forthright and honest, and calls us on our stuff. But also, just as a heart around helping us understand this and do it better. And so, I’m really, really grateful that she’s coming back.

Drew McLellan:

Before I jump into the conversation with her, I want to remind you that we put together a tool, and we did this a while ago, and I haven’t talked about it for a bit. So, I want to make sure that I remind you. This was right after the George Floyd murder, we put together a report card where agencies could in essence measure themselves, how are they doing around racial equity, and other things they could do better. So, if you go to agency managementinstitute.com/ and then all, it’s all one word, racial equity, you can download the report card, and you can see how your shop is doing. And you can see some places where perhaps there’s an opportunity for you to improve how you’re doing in the equity space. So anyway, I hope you will take full advantage of that. Obviously, it’s free. We’re happy to offer to so please take advantage of that.

Drew McLellan:

Again, I don’t want to I don’t even blather on anymore about this. I just want to get right to the conversation with Nikki because she always challenges me. She always gets me thinking differently and bigger and better. And I don’t want to miss a minute of that opportunity. So, let me welcome her to the show, and let’s just get going. All right, Nikki, welcome back. Thank you so much for coming back. You’re repeat episode, already. I love it.

Nikki McCord:

I know, Drew. I’m really, really excited to be talking to you today. I’m excited to be back. Thank you for having me back.

Drew McLellan:

Oh, this is such an important topic. And we barely scratched the surface last time. So, I knew we had to get you back soon. And so, I’m grateful that you carved out the time. So, I was telling you before I hit the record button, I was just with a bunch of agency owners and one of the many things we talked about was the idea of that agencies should have a DEI policy, a written policy. And that states their intentions and how they’re going to show up. And what I heard over and over is that these agency owners know they need to do it, they want to do it, but they have no idea how to do it.

Drew McLellan:

They don’t know what it should include. They don’t know how to go from, yes, that’s a good idea to actually creating something that’s meaningful and real. And not just check a box. I said, I have one it’s in our employee handbook, but we don’t do anything with it. So, let’s talk first about and you’re helping businesses all day, every day, think through these things. And my guess is one of the deliverables is helping them create some sort of a policy that governs or defines their stance on these topics and how they want to be seen and how they want to show up. So, talk to us about what should be included in a good policy, and then we’ll get into how that can make it.

Nikki McCord:

Absolutely. That’s a really great question. And I’m so glad that agencies are starting to wrestle with this question, and not even wrestle with the question, but look at how they can actually execute this. So what should a good DEI policy include? I look at your DEI policy very similarly to your mission statement or your vision statement. And I know that a lot of for-profit companies don’t really have mission statements. They generally can tell you what it is they do, what clients they serve. But a lot of companies have these visions statements. Who we want to be as an organization, how we want to show up in the world, how we want others to see our work. And so, I like to take this idea of your mission and vision statement, and start talking about and looking at your DEI statement, or your DEI policy.

Nikki McCord:

I think a really good place to start with your DEI policy is what does DEI mean to you? So, it’s going to mean different things to different organizations. And I think that it’s very important for organizations to spend the time to think about different aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and then figure out how it relates to their specific business model. I think that’s a really good way to start understanding or writing a policy that’s going to be authentic to you. Authenticity is super key in all of this because you are your company, right? You all have particular values. I know in the Denver metro area, we’re really outdoorsy people, right? We have an outdoorsy mindset. I’ve worked with organizations before where they have these weekly hikes with their employees because that’s part of their culture. That’s who they want to… That’s what attracts folks to their business. So, I think it’s really important with your DEI policy to be authentic in how you as an organization are going to be viewing diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Nikki McCord:

Now, I think that there’s a little bit of a difference between a policy and a statement. I think that the statement, first of all declares how you all view DEI, and its importance to you, and how it’s important to your business, and how you do business. I think that is the purpose of the statement. Then the policy tells us how are we going to actualize? Or how are we going to operationalize that statement?

Drew McLellan:

How do we get closer and closer to the statement every day?

Nikki McCord:

Exactly. Closer and closer to the statement every day, right. And so, what are those things that we’re doing in our day to day business that are going to honor this policy? And the first question that I would ask anyone, and I think anyone should ask themselves when starting to create a DEI policy is how do these actions benefit historically excluded individuals? So, how do these actions benefit historically excluded individuals? And the reason why I think it’s important to start with that question is because what I’m seeing in the marketplace is folks are very excited to do things, and to have these actions. But I’m not always sure if the actions will truly benefit those who they are seeking to benefit, or whether those actions merely make me feel good that I’m doing something. So, there’s a difference between the two. And the work that I do, and the work that I encourage everyone to do is make sure that your focus is on those historically excluded individuals. So, if we’re not creating our policies in a way that are going to benefit them, bring opportunities, create equity, create inclusion for those groups, then is our work going to actually do anything to change the world that we’re living in?

Drew McLellan:

So, what you’re really talking about is, is it something on the surface that we say? Or are we actually being mindful to create real and lasting change in a small sliver of a way that we have control over in this world?

Nikki McCord:

Exactly. I think you hit the nail on the head, Drew. I see it as the difference between this representation versus tokenism. So, I’ve definitely spoken to organizations that are very intent on increasing their numbers, for instance. So, I’ve heard of organizations saying, “Well, we don’t have enough of this demographic of people that are working in our industry. And so, we have to make sure that we get more of this demographic.” And one of the questions that I ask folks is, is this an environment that this demographic will thrive at? Have you done the work to make sure that these folks are going to be heard, they are going to be active participants in the work. That you’re going to respect their point of view because their point of view may be different from what you’re historically accustomed to.

Nikki McCord:

And so, this is why I ask the question, “How does this action benefit historically excluded individuals?” Because if the action is we just want to increase our numbers, does that action in itself without doing anything else, does that action benefit historically excluded individuals? And I would say no. I would say that action on its own does not. But that action combined with other actions can actually benefit historically excluded individuals. So, that’s the very first question that I ask folks in terms of what policies that you’re thinking of. Does this action benefit historically excluded individuals?

Drew McLellan:

So, as I’m listening to you, I’m thinking, the more sweeping the action like we’re going to increase our numbers as opposed to a tiny little thing about making career advancement easy for people regardless of race, or gender, or sexual preference, or whatever it is, which is this tiny little thing. The more sweeping it is, in some ways the more generic it is. And maybe it doesn’t have the depth of these tiny little micro actions that actually change the culture inside your organization.

Nikki McCord:

Think about this, think about something this tiny. Think about a policy in which all cultural religious holidays are a day off in your organization. That’s something that you may have not thought about in the past, but it means a lot. So, we’re talking about increasing our numbers and increasing our numbers is not just enough, we also have to make other subsequent changes. So, if you put a policy in place that all religious holidays are going to result in a day off for all workers, not just the ones who celebrate these holidays. I mean, we just were just coming out of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, right?

Nikki McCord:

What if we had a policy in our office that all employees get a half day or all employees get the full day off for all religious celebrations. As you start to increase your numbers, the folks who are traditionally from historically excluded populations, they’re going to start looking at those internal policies as well. And so, not only are you going to be able to increase your numbers, but they’re going to say, “Wow, they actually value my culture, my religion, my background. They may not be at the place that I want them to me. But this is a really good step. And this is an environment that I feel like I can grow, I can thrive, I will be respected.” More than just we just want to see your face in the office.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Well, and we want to show other people your face, right?

Nikki McCord:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Right, right.

Nikki McCord:

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

Okay, so I’m hearing you say that and I’m channeling all the agency owners going, “Oh, my God, if we’re closed for every religious holiday for every religion we’ll be closed year round.” So, is it also possible to say, “We’re open 365 days of the year, but everyone gets eight days that whatever religious holidays work for you, you take those days off.” So, if you’re a Christian, and you want to take Christmas off, more power to you. If you’re Jewish, and you want to take Yom Kippur off, more power to you. But now, I’m not giving everybody all the days, but I’m giving everyone their days. Is that a reasonable compromise?

Nikki McCord:

Absolutely. And this is what I’m talking about when I say authenticity. I just put out an idea that may not work for every agency. But that’s why it’s important as you’re putting these policies together, and you’re thinking about this. You have to be authentic to who you are as an organization. It’s so funny that I bring up Yom Kippur because I went to an Episcopal School in Dallas. And at some point of my education, the school decided that we were going to take the Jewish holidays off, and it was something that really stuck with me because here we are, we are an Episcopal School. It is in our name. We go to chapel every single day. But the school respected the fact that we had a very diverse religious culture within the school that we said, “You know what, we’re actually going to honor our Jewish community that happens to be at this Episcopal School.” And it resonated with me.

Nikki McCord:

It’s something that I think about all of the time when I’m when I’m thinking about how can we be inclusive? Yes, this school has Episcopal right in its name. It is very clear who the school was, but it also could find ways to in include others and make them feel welcome as well. And so, I don’t know, that has always stuck with me. And so, being authentic to who you are and how you put these policies together is extremely important.

Drew McLellan:

So, the way I translate that is they went from my faith or our faith is important to faith is important.

Nikki McCord:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

And we want to honor everyone’s right to celebrate, and honor their faith, period, just with a period. Not a specific kind of faith, or as long as it aligns with my faith, but that we want to honor faith.

Nikki McCord:

Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Nikki McCord:

And so, I loved your example, Drew. Maybe you’re an organization that says, “We are open 365 days a year. And we’ve taken the time to count how many of the major religious holiday times that there are and we’ve said there are 16 days of major religious holidays. We’re going to let our employees take these eight, or 16, or however many days there are at their leisure.” So, being authentic in your policy is extremely important.

Drew McLellan:

Okay, so that’s number one. Number one, I’ve got to make sure that I’m actually helping a historically marginalized community or group of people. What else does my policy need to include for it to be something more than just a surface thing?

Nikki McCord:

It’s so interesting because the authenticity just really resonates with me. In our first conversation, I think we mentioned it’s very hard for me to give you a listicle of these are the top five things that you need to do to diversify. And I’m feeling the same way about the answer to this question in terms of I’m having a hard time coming up with, it’s got to have this, it’s got to have this, it’s got to have an introduction, a middle, and a conclusion, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Nikki McCord:

I think the broad brushstroke that I’m going to give it is that authenticity because I don’t believe these policies are going to look the same for every agency. I think that different agencies are going to be located in different locations, they’re going to have different values, they’re going to already be made up of different demographics. And so, I think that each agency is going to have to take the time to look inward to see where are we located? What are our current demographics? What demographic is important for us to be inclusive of? And then after taking that inventory to start thinking about, how are we not meeting the needs of those who are not already here. And that is what I think is going to be very important in creating your policies. So being authentic, and then also thinking about what are the gaps? What are we not currently doing?

Drew McLellan:

It seems to me the question to ask yourself is, if this is what we believe, and it’s not reflective of our truth right now, why is that? What’s in the way of us being what we want to be? Is it policy? Is it geography? Is it whatever it may be? How do I ferret out why we don’t look and behave the way we say that we want to?

Nikki McCord:

Absolutely. And I think by taking that pause and asking yourself that question, I think that agencies are going to discover different ways of doing business that they may not have thought of. So, for instance, I live in the city of Boulder, Colorado. And one of the asks I get a lot is, or I guess one of the observations that organizations bring to me is, “Well, Nikki, Boulder is a very white city. And so, you’re talking about diversity, and you want us to have a more diverse workforce. But it’s very hard for us to do that because the pool in which we are gathering from happens to be very homogenous.” And so, I ask clients, “Well, is that the most important thing? Is it the most important thing to make sure that your workforce looks diverse if you are in an area which there is a lack of diversity? What other ways can you fill those gaps that may not be this physical representation, but may benefit those historically excluded individuals?”

Nikki McCord:

So, one of the questions that I ask, “Who are you doing business with?” So, maybe it’s not that you’re pulling in employees because… And I’ve heard everything, especially in the city of Boulder. The cost of living is very expensive. The cost of housing is very expensive. It’s very… Because there’s no diversity you can’t attract more diverse people here because there’s not already that face of diversity. And so, I’ve heard every counter to this idea of diversity. And so, once we start looking at, well, who are you doing business with? Who are you writing your checks to? And once I asked that question, it helps people think about, “Oh, well, Denver is right down the road. Wyoming is right down the road.” And people are able to start expanding their thinking about what diversity is outside of the just purely representation, we want to see, we want our website to look a particular way.

Nikki McCord:

I’m also big on partnerships as well. It’s not just who are you writing checks to. But if your goal is to reach an audience in which you may not have reached before, if your goal is to do business with a segment of the population that you haven’t done business with before? How are you making those relationships with other organizations that may be women led, that may be Latinx led, that may be LGBTQ led? How are you forming those partnerships? Because one of the things that I say, “There’s money out there.” I know that a lot of people like to think about we’re all in competition, but there’s lots of money out there. There’s lots of opportunities. If this is important to you, how are you building those relationships, and how are you building those partnerships with folks that are already established to help you diversify, to help you reach new customers, to help you reach new markets?

Nikki McCord:

Unfortunately, I don’t think I can I can answer the question in terms of your DEI policy should include this, this, and this, but I do like looking at the gaps. Looking at how you’re not currently serving different populations. And then, I mean, we’re talking about the creative industry, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Nikki McCord:

And then creatively figuring out ways to bridge those gaps.

Drew McLellan:

What’s interesting is what you’re really talking about is not going to the obvious, and the first answer, which is I need to have a more culturally diverse staff so that we look diverse, and saying, “Yep, that may be a thing. But there’s seven other things that would actually have impacted meaning that may be invisible to everybody else.” And maybe that’s part of it, too, is what are you doing for show versus what are you doing for real change? And so, pushing yourself to think past the, well, there’s 20 of us, and there’s only one nonwhite person or one not straight person or whatever it is. Okay, but what else could we do? And where else can we as a business, and as business leaders have impact both short term and long term?

Drew McLellan:

So, one of the things that some of my agency folks have been doing is they’ve been just talking about the lack of diversity in general, and you know with the pandemic, and all that people are getting applicants from not just their local market anymore. So, even if you are in Boulder, Colorado, you may be able to hire someone from Dallas or someplace else that is more diverse, right? But they’re still saying, “Most of the people who apply look a lot like us.”

Drew McLellan:

And so, there’s been a lot of discussion about, well, are we dipping down young enough into some of these populations to teach them about the industry? And that there are opportunities there for them? And maybe they haven’t really thought about marketing or advertising. And so, I have some agencies that are partnering with diverse population colleges or even high schools to say, “Look, can we mentor some kids and help them understand what our industry is all about? Can we just expose them to it so that over generations more diverse people, a wider population of diversity begins to think about our industry as a possibility.” So, again, doesn’t show up on the website, may be absolutely invisible to most of the world, but you’re actually affecting change.

Nikki McCord:

Absolutely. And we talked about this last time, Drew, because I think my pushback on that was the immediacy. So, making sure that you’re building a pipeline, but then you’re also looking at the folks who are already here as well. I think that it’s a both and conversation.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Nikki McCord:

So, while I will never discourage folks from mentoring the younger folks and mentoring the folks who are coming up after us I would ask a couple of other things in terms of that invisibility or how are we attracting folks who don’t look like us into our agencies? So, the first thing that I’ll say is educational requirements. So, I would like agencies to start looking very critically about what it is that is a preferred qualification versus a required qualification. So, I think that we’re accustomed to saying, “You must have this, you must have that.”

Nikki McCord:

It’s so funny, I was just working with a headhunter, and I was helping them out. We were talking through this job description. And the headhunter said, “This is really a unicorn position.” Because the client had put all of these requirements that they want it this one person to fill, and I’m looking at it, and I’m saying, “I don’t know who this one person is. I don’t know where they’re going to find it. I feel like they should be a lot more realistic in what it is that they’re asking for because I think that that’s going to open up the pool of possibilities of people that they can start talking to, they can start thinking about to find out who is going to be the best fit.” Maybe they don’t have X number of years of experience. Maybe they don’t have you know this or that. But they may have other skills, that you’re not thinking about that’s going to come out in the interview process, that you’re going to start to see that you value more than these list of items that you put in the job description.

Nikki McCord:

I think it’s really important for agencies as they’re looking to broaden this pool to start, ask the question why. I think I really want that to be one of my new mottos is why are we doing this? I feel like it’s just a really good question to ask because I get pushback all the time. I ask people, “Why are we doing this?” And people give me really good reasons to why they’re doing it. And I’m like, “Okay, cool. I’m convinced. We’re doing this because of X, Y, Z.” But if we can’t come up with good reasons for why we’re doing things the same way we did it in the past then maybe we need to start thinking about how we’re doing things differently. So, I would ask the question as you go through your list of qualifications for potential folks to fill different positions within your agency because not everybody in your agency does [crosstalk 00:27:44]-

Drew McLellan:

And vendors and partners. It’s not just employees. I think you could ask the same why questions about all of your relationships.

Nikki McCord:

Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I think you’re exactly right.

Nikki McCord:

Why are we doing this?

Drew McLellan:

Right, right, right.

Nikki McCord:

And if your answer is convincing, then you’ve answered the question, but if you’re answering that question, and you’re not super convinced with your answer, that’s the time to take a pause and say, “What could we be doing better?” So, that’s the first thing that I would say is that I call it the education piece, but because sometimes education, sometimes it’s education. I spoke to one group of folks who said, “I know a lot of people who can draw, and who can draw really well, but they don’t have bachelor’s degrees or they may not know this software. How to put it in this type of software.” And so, I asked, I said, “Would it be possible to offer a six-week boot camp where you bring in 10 people who know how to draw, and you teach them how to use the software that’s necessary for your business. And after that six-week period, the people who rise to the top, you can start looking at them to bring them in. The people who just didn’t get it maybe this isn’t for you. Thanks so much for participating.”

Nikki McCord:

I’m taking that from the tech world. When I first moved out to Colorado, the thing that I kept hearing in the tech world were these G schools, and they were these schools, they weren’t accredited. They weren’t bachelor’s degrees, but they were basically programs in which you could get intensive learning in a particular software languages. So, if you were a person who I remember having a Myspace page. That’s how-

Drew McLellan:

Wow.

Nikki McCord:

That’s where I come from. I come from [inaudible 00:29:49]. I didn’t even realize that I knew how to code because as a teenager, putting up your Myspace page, you didn’t really know it was coding, but you could bring in a person like me who just has so little knowledge of coding. I can go through this school. And then at the very end I can decide, “Yes, this is for me.” I have more knowledge. Now, I can take this formally to that formal job description that says, “You must know this particular coding language.” And I can present myself and say, “Yeah, I do have this coding language. I don’t have a computer engineering degree. I only knew how to code Myspace pages. But now this has opened up a new opportunity for me because someone has, I don’t know, opened the doors in terms of we’re not going to be so rigid about you have to check box one, box two, box three. But we want to create an environment in which you can learn. And if it works out, great. If it doesn’t we can both go our separate ways. But you have the opportunity to bring someone in who you may not have considered previously.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, yeah, it’s so spot on. So, we’re at such the infancy of this in terms of our own business, and our own sensitivity to it, and our own willingness to ask those why questions. So, we need to take a break. But when we come back, what I want to talk about is, so we’re not good at this, and yet our clients expect us to help them with it. And so, I want to talk about how do we as babies in this in terms of our own maturity and sophistication, how do we then turn around and lead these kinds of conversations when we are stumbling through them inside of our own businesses. So, let’s take a quick break. And then let’s come back and talk about that.

Drew McLellan:

I know. I know you did not want to break away from the show, but I had to tell you about this workshop that’s coming up soon. One of my favorite workshops to teach is Money Matters. And it will be in December on December 9th and 10th in Orlando, Florida on beautiful Disney property. Here’s why I love teaching this workshop. It is all about money. For two days, that’s all we talk about. And we talk about how you can make more money, how you can keep more of the money you make, and how you can grow the agency’s bottom line, and your own personal wealth.

Drew McLellan:

I love teaching this stuff. There is not a time I have taught this workshop that somebody doesn’t walk up to me and say “You know what, Drew, I wish I’d been here 20 years ago, 10 years ago, five years ago, I could have made so much more money.” What I say to them is, “I know, but you’re here now. So let’s put it into play.” But here’s what I’m going to say to you, don’t wait another five years to attend this workshop. I promise you it is worth its weight in gold. And as always, we have a money back guarantee. So, come join me December 9th and 10th in Orlando for Money Matters. All right, let’s get back to the show.

Drew McLellan:

All right, we are back with Nikki and we have been talking about DEI policies for our agency. And right before the break, I posed the uncomfortable truth, which is we are guides and leaders for our clients. And for many agencies, we started to get really in partnership with our clients helping them think about these social issues. And it’s not just DEI, it’s other things, but the social issues that our clients should address and should have a voice in. And they look to us and say, “Great, I want to do that. How do I do that?” So, my question to Nikki was, “Okay, we’re not that great at it for ourselves. So, how in the world do we take a leadership role with clients?” Again, with acknowledging we’re figuring this out ourselves, too. But we also, we get paid to help them think this stuff through. So, how do we do that?

Nikki McCord:

Absolutely. Great question. I think the first answer to that question is confidence. At some point, you just have to be confident, and you know what you know. You don’t know everything, but you do know what you know. And so, if you’ve been spending the last year reading books, going to conferences, really educating yourself, you know something. And so, lean on the understanding that you already have, and really push that limited understanding to others. I also say take that leap. What I’m seeing with folks is they’re hesitant because they don’t want to mess up. I don’t want to enter this conversation because I’m afraid I’m going to say something wrong. I don’t want to suggest to my client that they add more Asian folks in their campaign that is a San Francisco based campaign. I’m really afraid to suggest to my client to add more Asian voices and faces to this campaign because I’m afraid what they’re going to say.

Nikki McCord:

I think what I said during our last talk was I want a better world yesterday. And so, I am depending on those of you who have been reading, who have been learning to take that faith, to take that leap of faith, to have the confidence to lean into what you already know because I would rather you lean into what you already know than sit on the sidelines.

Drew McLellan:

Until you have it perfect.

Nikki McCord:

And you’re not going to be perfect.

Drew McLellan:

Right, right, right.

Nikki McCord:

I mean, I’m telling you right now, it’s going to happen. So, you might as well try. You will find out that once you put yourself out there, it’s not as scary as you think. I mean, listen, we’re talking to agency owners, right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Nikki McCord:

We’re talking to people who have started businesses.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, taken risks, right?

Nikki McCord:

Remember how scary it was to put your name on the door, to tell your first potential client what it is that you do knowing in the back of your mind, can I really do this?

Drew McLellan:

Right, absolutely.

Nikki McCord:

Am I over promising to this potential client what I can do? And then you take that leap of faith, and you’re like, “No, I absolutely know how to do this. And everything that I don’t know how to do I am going to learn along the way. I’m going to enrich what I already know. And then I’m going to start bringing in more and more things.” I mean, I think it’s true with entrepreneurship with any business, but especially in this business. You start out with your very first client, and you’re saying, “I know I can do this. I’m very confident that I can do this.” And then by the time you get your third client, that third client says, “Oh, but can you also do this?” And you think about it for a second you’re like, “Yes.” And then you do some research [crosstalk 00:36:49].

Drew McLellan:

On the drive back to the office you’re like, “Oh, shoot, I got to figure out how to do that.”

Nikki McCord:

Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Yes.

Nikki McCord:

So, let’s also apply this to your learning with DEI. There are certain things that you have learned within the past year that you’re feeling very confident on. I know that I can do this. I know that I can speak up in these situations. Lean on that, and start pitching that to your clients. This is what I know I can do. This is how we can embrace DEI with the clients that we’re working with. And then after you start doing that for a while, you’re going to learn more, or someone is going to ask more of you. And so, then it’s your responsibility to do a little bit more learning. Figure out, how can I serve this client in a way that I may not have been able to serve them previously?

Nikki McCord:

So, I say have competence in what you currently know, take that leap. And then I also like to say that we are all in different stages, right? So, if you are in year one of your business, you are less likely to take risks because you got to bring the money in, you have to pay the bills. And you don’t have the luxury to say no as much as someone who’s been in the business for 20 years.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Absolutely.

Nikki McCord:

So, understand what stage you are in your business, and leverage that into how you have conversations with your clients. So, a year one person may not be able to draw a line in the sand and say, “If potential clients don’t wind up with this particular views, I won’t accept them.” It may not be realistic for you in year one, but in year 20 you have the tenure.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And probably the margin. You have the wiggle room.

Nikki McCord:

You have wiggle room to say, if you’re speaking to a potential client, and let’s take our San Francisco case. If you’re speaking to a potential client, and you come in and you say, “You know what, it’s really important for us to make sure that we are showing Asian faces in this campaign. It’s very important that we partner with an Asian-led firm because we want to make sure that we’re getting the language and the messaging right when we do this campaign.” And if that client says, “Well, no, that’s not really what we’re looking for.” You have the ability when you are in the business for 20 years to say, “Well, you know what, this is really important to us. This is really our values. And while we would love to work with you, I don’t think that this would be a good fit for us at this point in time.”

Nikki McCord:

We’re very… I think that we can talk about fit with those things that we’re comfortable with and we can easily make a distinction between what is a fit and what’s not a fit with the things that we already value and are comfortable with. But I’m asking you to take that leap with maybe things that you’re learning or things that are new to you to understand what the dividing line with that fit is, as well. Now, for that company that is a year old, you can also state your values and be adamant with your values. Maybe that discussion is not, “We will not work with you,” because you’re in your one and you’re trying to build your business. But I believe that it’s really important to always state who you are.

Nikki McCord:

If you’re affirm that’s a really outdoorsy firm, and you value hiking, and camping and all those outdoorsy things. You’re never shy from telling people that. You’re never shy from saying, “This is who we are as a firm.” I ask that you also have that confidence and what you are learning and confident about, and in terms of the DEI space as well. This is who we are as an organization, and it really circles back to the very first thing that we were talking about, Drew. What are our policies? What is our [crosstalk 00:41:11]-

Drew McLellan:

And that statement, yeah/

Nikki McCord:

Yeah, absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

So, I think one of the things you just did was I think right now, I think people feel this compelling need to be perfect at it, and to go all the way to the finish line, and that there’s no incremental behavior, beliefs, statement, policy. And what I’m hearing you say is, you absolutely should have a core set of beliefs around this issue. But you have to also marry it with the reality of your business. So, back to our discussion about the holidays. Maybe you don’t give everybody every holiday. But you can find a way within the construct of your business to try and get, as we said, in the very beginning, a little closer today than you were yesterday. And maybe that’s how it is with clients, too.

Drew McLellan:

It’s like, okay, first of all, just like if somebody is around me for 30 minutes they know I’m a dad, and that I love being a dad. I just wear that on my sleeve. So, why wouldn’t I wear my DEI statement and belief on my sleeve as well. Now, I talk about being a dad differently depending on the audience and the context and the space. So, I’m mindful of the environment that I’m in and the audience that I’m with, and how much they care about being a parent or a dad and whether they are interested at all, but I don’t hide the fact that that’s really important to me.

Drew McLellan:

So what I’m hearing you say is, we should be showing our statement, our policy, just like any of our other core values, we should wear that on our sleeve. But then, given the context of the conversation, where our businesses, where our clients are, we are allowed to temper those conversations to fit the moment as long as we don’t compromise. As long as we don’t allow ourselves to be compromised in that belief any more than I would allow myself to be compromised in any of my other principles, yes?

Nikki McCord:

Absolutely. You’re spot on, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

So, that to me feels like, “Okay, I don’t have to be perfect at this. I don’t have to be like, every client meeting. Dang it, if we don’t do this, we’re walking.” I can find a way just like I find a way with everything else to give it context.

Nikki McCord:

Yes. Context is super important. I think the other thing that folks who are not from marginalized communities. So, if we’re talking specifically about the Black American experience, I can imagine that White folks are like, “Oh, my goodness, I got to make up for 400 years [crosstalk 00:44:02].”

Drew McLellan:

Right. That’s a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of pressure. Yeah.

Nikki McCord:

There is a lot of pressure. It’s real.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Nikki McCord:

I’m not saying that that’s not real. But I don’t know, it’s a difficult conversation to have because exactly what we talked about last time, this sense of urgency and compassion. So, yes, I do have compassion for those folks who are afraid to mess up, and afraid to say or do the wrong thing that’s going to make someone mad or make someone not want to engage with you. But I also look at it on the other side of those of us who are in marginalized communities who this is our entire life. Our entire life is operating in a way in which we are trying not to make mistakes that are going to alienate someone else or make someone else mad.

Nikki McCord:

And so, I think that those folks who are fearful of stepping into that space, I like them to start thinking about their friends, neighbors, colleagues who are in marginalized spaces, and have an understanding of what that tension is like. And so, if we can take that leap of faith every day when we wake up in the morning, and we get in our cars, and we drive to work, or we go about our daily interactions with the understanding in the back of our heads that we have to operate in a way that doesn’t get us killed, or doesn’t get us stopped, or things like that. And yet, we wake up every day, and we live our lives. I think that folks who are not in marginalized communities can also… It’s kind of like that solidarity.

Drew McLellan:

I’m listening to you and I’m thinking as a straight white guy, why can’t I share in that tension with you? In my way, which is to speak up and to talk about the truth and to call people out when they are marginalizing. Why can’t I own… I can’t own your part of the tension. I will never have that experience. But I can own some of the tension, which over time will ease your attention and mind?

Nikki McCord:

Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Nikki McCord:

And what we’re talking about is building a better agency, building a better world. And so, we have to… These are the activities that need to take place in order to build that better world. So, I tell folks all the time, you’re going to mess up. I mean, especially if this is a new way of operating for you, you’re going to mess up. I put it in such simplistic terms of I’m right hand dominant, so I write with my right hand. And if I were to spend today for the rest of the day writing with my left hand, it’s uncomfortable, I’m going to mess up a lot of things. But if I am serious about being ambidextrous. If I’m serious about having people understand what I write with my left hand, I’m going to keep at it. I’m not going to just give up when I turn something in, and the first person who says, “Nikki, I can’t read this.” I’m not going to give up. It means that there’s something more that I need to do, that I need to work on to better my skills.

Nikki McCord:

In essence, it’s so weird to talk about this in terms of skills because on the one hand it’s almost like, this is just how you’re supposed to be as a decent human. But then on the other hand, if you’ve lived in a world for so long where you are the dominant, where the world is made for you, it is a skill to understand and to navigate the world in a way that is not made for you. So, this conversation is super interesting to me-

Drew McLellan:

Me too.

Nikki McCord:

The way that we’re just communicating because from my standpoint it’s like, “Yeah, this should be second nature. Everybody should completely understand this.” But if I were a person where the world was catered to me at all times, yeah, that’s a big adjustment to now navigate my world in a way where I have to consider those other points of view that I may not have considered previously.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, as you’re talking, I’m thinking it feels like this is sort of a one two punch, which is one is the awareness and the belief. And then the second one is, how do I translate that into choices and behavior and action? And that for people who, again, have lived in the world’s made for us. I have to actually consciously figure out, okay, this is what I’m used to. What is it like for everyone else, and how do I step into that? And how do I make that… How do I invite them over into it being less hard or less not about them? How do I make more room so that everybody can write with their left hand? How do I teach that class? How do I help someone? How do I put their hand on my hand and show them how I do it because I actually am left handed. So, like the scissors and the desks and the stuff never worked for me, right?

Nikki McCord:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

In fact, I learned how to play all sports right handed because I never had a coach who knew how to teach me how to do it left handed, so I had to adapt. As I’m thinking about all this, and I’m listening to you I’m thinking, okay, so maybe for a lot of us, we’re at the point where we’re like, “I see the problem. I know there’s a problem, and I want to be a part of the solution to their problem.” So, that’s my heart part and my head part. I get that. But now it’s like, what do I… Figuratively, what do I do with my hands? How do I actually make change? Because now it’s action. I think for a lot of us it’s about actually having to think about how to make… It’s not even that you don’t want to make the change. But we’re so wired for it to be easy to think about how it’s hard for other people, and then how to make it less hard. There’s some work behind that, and we have to be ready to do the work.

Nikki McCord:

We do. I love the fact that you’re left handed because I’m wondering how different your world would have been, or your world would be even currently if folks would just make conscious choices that kept you in mind.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, right.

Nikki McCord:

That the people who make the notebooks, they make them with the spirals on the left side, and they make them with the spirals on the right side. When we think about business, how much more would that really cost? How much extra work would it be to make binders with the spirals on the left and the spirals on the right, but then also thinking about what your audience would be if you just did that. If you as the person with the power said, “You know what, all of our notebooks from now on are going to be spirals on the left, and spirals on the right.” You as a consumer, Drew, are going to say, “Wow, that’s the company for me.” Because they’re taking something that is unusual, that isn’t the norm, and they’re thinking about me, they’re thinking about my comfort, they’re thinking about my needs. And it’s something very, I’m not going to even say it’s something very simple.

Nikki McCord:

It may be, I’m thinking of kind of like production. It may be really hard to have a machine that makes it one way or the machine that makes it the other way. But if you think about how much more your profits would be if you can cater to a larger segment of the population, I don’t know. I love this left handed, right handed conversation because it’s a very low stakes conversation. It doesn’t have to-

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it’s not emotionally charged.

Nikki McCord:

It’s not an emotionally charged conversation. But I think that we can think about the world in those ways in which now hopefully our listeners, especially our listeners who are right hand dominant. I would love for our listeners to just go about the world for the rest of the day after listening to this, and see how much of the world is catered to you as a right hand dominant person, and how many things in the world with just a simple change, or with a simple tweak could be universal for all of us. And to start thinking about those conscious changes that we’re making in relationship to DEI as well, I’m going to consciously always speak up on this particular issue, or always say something in this particular situation, and how that starts to include more people.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. When I’m thinking about there are things that I know as a left handed person to continue our analogy that you would have no way of knowing. So, unless you engage me and say, “Well, what was that like?” You can suppose and I think that’s what a lot of times what we do is we assume what it’s like for marginalized populations. But maybe we don’t just sit down and say, “Really, help me understand what that’s like.” And then help me think about, Drew, what it would be great… Like scissors were a serious pain for me as a kid, and my mom tried to buy left handed scissors, but they never had them at school. And so, I just learned how to cut right handed, eventually. But you as a right handed person, you probably have never picked up a pair of scissors and even thought that there’s a difference between left and right handed scissors.

Drew McLellan:

I guess as we wrap this up because I need to let you go, but as we wrap this up, I’m going all the way to the beginning, which is maybe part of creating the policy and the statement is just finding people to talk to and say, “Help me understand what the world is like from your perspective, and what things big and small could I help change that would make that a better experience for you?” And maybe that’s part of our own discovery. And then maybe those conversations are things that we can share with clients and say, “Here’s what I’ve learned. So let’s talk about your clients, or your audience, or who your customers are. And let’s start having these conversations.”

Nikki McCord:

I agree with you, Drew, and I would add on. So, if you’re having a conversation with someone, and you are telling them how difficult it is for you to use right handed scissors, and how it would be great if you had scissors that were just for you, and they were available in all of the schools. You as the person who provides the scissors has to listen to that input because it’s not… If I listen to you, and I say, “Oh, man, Drew, that’s totally terrible that you had to go through that.” Like, “Oh, well, let’s move on.” Or maybe it’s too hard for me. Or maybe it’s too hard for me to think of like, oh, what would that entail? What would it cost to do all of that?

Nikki McCord:

So, I think that, yes, have those conversations, but then also as the person who’s listening, you have to decide what you are going to bring in, what you’re going to implement after hearing that conversation. Because if all you’re going to do is sit down and listen to that person, you’re going to hear that person, the person who you’re speaking to is going to be bringing up all of this pain. They’re going to be bringing up their experience. And you’re just going to be absorbing all of that without actually doing anything about it.

Nikki McCord:

Before you even bring in someone to talk about these things that you want to listen to. Before you even start the process of like, “Yes, I want to listen. I want to bring someone in.” I think that you need to make a decision that based upon what this person says I am going to do something. I don’t know what that something is because I haven’t had the conversation yet, but I’m making a commitment that based upon whatever I hear, I am going to put some action behind it.

Drew McLellan:

But back to our conversation around the incremental, I don’t have to feel burdened to solve the whole thing. I can do one little thing that makes it a little better. And then maybe I can do the next little thing, which I think the permission that it’s okay for it to be incremental. The point is that you’re demonstrating through not just your head and your heart, but through your hands, through action, that you’re trying to make it better.

Nikki McCord:

And I would even say, verbalize that. Tell the world that you’re doing this because not only are you going to be signaling to the folks who come to your website, or the folks who hear you speak at a conference. Not only are you signaling to those people, but you’re also signaling to the people who you’re looking to bring in. So, if your company doesn’t look diverse based upon the website, but that is something that you have authentically decided we can do a better job of. We’re going to start doing X, Y, Z. When you talk about that, in your communications. When you adamantly state that, when you’re adamant about that.

Drew McLellan:

I’m with you, yep.

Nikki McCord:

It signals to those who are not already a part of the organization-

Drew McLellan:

That you’re trying, yeah.

Nikki McCord:

That you’re trying. And then that person can make a decision for themselves because we’re all different. We all have different personalities. So, there may be some people who are saying, “Yeah, this isn’t for me because I’m not interested in someone who’s trying. I’m interested in [crosstalk 00:58:29].”

Drew McLellan:

They’re not far enough along. Great. Yeah.

Nikki McCord:

But then other people say, “You know what, I’m really interested in folks who are trying. That’s exactly where I want to be.” So, be intentional, and then also tell folks what it is that you’re doing as well.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Nikki, this has been a great conversation.

Nikki McCord:

It has been.

Drew McLellan:

I loved it so much. So, thank you so much for coming back on the show and being willing to explore this with me, and letting us just bumble around, and have… Just, I love this conversation. So, thank you so much.

Nikki McCord:

Thank you, Drew, and thank you for inviting me back. I have enjoyed every second of it.

Drew McLellan:

Me too. Well, you know what, I know you’ve got a busy fourth quarter, but in early 2022 I would love for you to come back again because I just feel like there’s so much that we haven’t touched yet or talked about yet. I know this is on a lot of people’s heads and hearts, and I want to keep having these conversations. And if you’re willing to come back I would love to have you come back sometime in the next year and just keep having this conversation.

Nikki McCord:

Let’s keep having this conversation. And then maybe next year, people can tell us what they’ve been doing as well.

Drew McLellan:

Oh, I love that. Okay.

Nikki McCord:

I’d love to hear what folks have been doing since hearing these two episodes. What has that spurred you to do? That would be really great.

Drew McLellan:

We’ll ask that question and then we’ll come back and we’ll talk about what we heard. That would be awesome. If people want to learn more about your work and reach out to you and follow your wisdom, where can they find you?

Nikki McCord:

Wisdom, I never have described myself as that.

Drew McLellan:

Oh, my gosh.

Nikki McCord:

But I appreciate it, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

You have dropped a ton of wisdom bombs on us today.

Nikki McCord:

I appreciate that, Drew. Well, you can find me at all social media channels at @McCordConsult. That’s at M-C-C-O-R-D-C-O-N-S-U-L-T, and you can find me on my website at www.M-C-C-O-N-S-U-L-T-G-R-O-U-P.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

Drew McLellan:

Awesome. We will put that in the show notes as well. Thank you so much. All right, guys, this wraps up another episode. I am telling you, I just… I don’t know, I just feel really good about this conversation. I feel like we just opened up some doors and some windows and some attic attachments, and that you guys have all kinds of new things to explore based on the conversation we had. I hope that you’re feeling like we can do this. That’s how I’m walking away from this conversation like we absolutely can do this. That even if we do it in baby steps, and it’s awkward, and we’re not good at it, it doesn’t mean that it’s not important, and it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it, and that we can’t do it. And that we cannot affect the change that I know we all want to have in this world, inside our agencies, in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our communities.

Drew McLellan:

We’re leaders in so many ways. And so, shame on us if we’re not taking a leadership role in this, too. And honestly, the leadership role is to step awkwardly into these new things and bumble it and mess it up. But to do it with the right head and heart and to just keep at it because it’s hard. And if we don’t do it, then it just stays hard. And the more we do it, the less hard it gets. I think that’s the message for me anyway from this conversation is that we need to step a little more boldly into the uncomfortable, and the awkward, and be willing to be that I guess vulnerable, and we have an obligation to do that to change our world. So, I love that. I love that it’s bigger than just the work.

Drew McLellan:

Anyway, hopefully you’re feeling the same. Hopefully, this inspired you in some way to step out of your comfort zone as well. I will be back next week of course with another guest to get you thinking differently about our world and our work. I want to remind all of you that I am grateful beyond belief to our friends at White Label IQ for being a presenting sponsor. They do white label design, dev, and PPC for lots of agencies. So, they are an extension of their team. And they are really great, great folks, and I’m grateful to them. And you know that I’m grateful to you.

Drew McLellan:

So, if you hung in with us, and heard us talking about being left handed and right handed and you just stayed in the conversation with us, and got to the end and saw some of the things that I saw. I’m just really glad that you stayed, and that you hung in, and I’m glad you come back every week. I am so appreciative of all of you, and the fact that you give me your time every week. So, I’ll be back next week and I hope you will too. All right, talk to you soon. Thanks for listening.

Drew McLellan:

Thanks for spending some time with us. Visit our website to learn about our workshops, owner peer groups, and download our salary and benefits survey. Be sure you also sign up for our free podcast giveaways at agencymanagementinstitute.com/podcastgiveaway.