Episode 316

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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