Episode 304:

There’s no denying that the call for diversity, equity, and inclusion has never been louder. In the middle of it all, agencies are trying to embrace change internally at the same time they are guiding clients on how to incorporate genuine representation, making us students and guides at the same time. It can be uncomfortable, awkward, and overwhelming, especially to dominant communities who have no real-world experience with marginalization.

Nikki McCord turned her political science degree into a career dedicated to influencing change and policy. When she started her own consulting firm eight years ago, she chose to focus on three things: strategic facilitation, board governance, and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion). She does so from the crossroads of compassion and urgency.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Nikki and I dive into all the difficult topics, starting with why she didn’t want to do this podcast. We talk about the ways agencies get stuck when trying to diversify, the costs and ROI of DEI, how to handle the necessary discomfort of open conversations, and the roles we all need to play in order to create a better world for everyone.

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.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Where we get stuck in the pursuit of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)
  • The costs associated with DEI
  • How to handle the discomfort of diversity discussions
  • The ROI of DEI
  • The need for dominant communities to be a voice for change
  • What to be thinking about in the quest for a diverse agency
  • The importance of management buy-in for DEI
  • How to begin a DEI integration
“We get stuck when we realize the resources needed to affect change.” @McCordConsult Click To Tweet “When we see that we’re going to have to change behaviors and the way that we do business, it makes people very uncomfortable, especially when we haven’t received any negative consequences to the way business has been done before.” @McCordConsult Click To Tweet “I think there’s a balance between compassion and urgency.” @McCordConsult Click To Tweet “The burden to eradicate racism, sexism, or any of the ‘isms’, is always put on the shoulders of the ones who did not create the ‘ism’.” @McCordConsult Click To Tweet “People in marginalized communities give up things all the time to try and have a life in which they can just get up and live every day.” @McCordConsult Click To Tweet “It’s not so much about walking on eggshells to make sure you never mess up, it’s about how you course-correct.” @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, webbed out, 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 McLellan.

Drew:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. I am so glad you’re here. I know I say this to you often, but I want you to know I do not take for granted that you hang out with me every week. I am so grateful to walk your dog with you, or be at the gym with you, or ride the subway with you, or whatever we’re doing while you’re listening I am happy to be doing it with you. And I am super grateful for your presence every week, so thank you.

Before I tell you a little bit about our guest because this is going to be a really interesting conversation, I want to remind you that we have two AE boot camps coming up. So we have the advanced AE boot camp, so that’s for people who have four, or five, or more years of experience in account service. We’ve had people who come to the workshop that have 20 years of experience, so there’s no such thing as too experienced. They still walk away, I think, with some great nuggets, but anyway, anyone from four years, or beyond in terms of experience that is going to be August 17th and 18th in Chicago.

Then the next month, September, we are doing the sort of entry level AE boot camp for people who have not been in the agency business, or not been in an account service project management role for four years, so that’s going to be your entry level AEs, your project managers, your account coordinators, folks like that. That is September 14th and 15th also in Chicago. So if you want more information, if you want to see what we actually teach during these two day workshops head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com and under the How We Help tab you’ll see workshops, and then you’ll see the eight boot camps right there, and you can read all about them.

I will tell you that we send them home really understanding what their job is, and who they serve, and how to serve them better. And keep in mind AEs don’t just serve their clients. They serve their internal teams. They serve the agency owner, and the agency itself, and so helping AEs understand all of that and how to make all of that work is a big part of the workshops. And then we talk about all kinds of things. In the entry level one we talk about time management. We talk about the tools they need to make sure that their clients feel well-informed. In the advanced one we’re talking about delegation. We’re talking about strategic thinking. All kinds of things like that, so.

We would love to have you if you’re an AE, or your folks at the workshops. I promise we’ll take good care of them. So send them our way, and we will send them back fired up a little smarter with some new tools, and probably with some new friends that also do what they do, and they can begin to create a network of peers that they can reach out to when they have questions, so. Lots of good things happen inside the workshops, so keep that in mind.

All right. Let me tell you about our guest. So, Nikki McCord lives in Colorado and she runs a consulting company. I’ll ask her about her background because there’s a theme of change, and policy change, and influencing people throughout her entire career, but when she hung up her own shingle about eight years ago one of the areas that she decided to focus on was DEI, so diversity, equity and inclusion. And as an African-American woman she comes at it from a very unique perspective.

And one of my AMI agencies hired her to help them think through their own sort of strategy for being more diverse inside their agency. The agency owner after they worked together for as long as they did the agency owner called me and he said, “You’ve got to meet her, and you’ve got to get her on the podcast.” So I reached out to her, of course, right away. At first, she didn’t want to do it, and she had some very interesting reasons why which I will let her tell you about. So without any further ado, let me welcome Nikki onto the show. Nikki, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Nikki:

It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much, Drew.

Drew:

So, first, I want you to give everybody just a little sense of your background, and how you come to have all of this knowledge. And then we’re going to talk about why you didn’t want to come on the show.

Nikki:

Wonderful.

Drew:

Okay.

Nikki:

Well, here’s my background. So I am a Texan by birth, but I am a Coloradan by residence currently, and I really love living here in the state of Colorado, particularly, Boulder, Colorado. I graduated from Notre Dame way back when longer than I realize on some days with a degree in political science. I worked as a lobbyist after college. I started working for Fortune 500 companies. So we had some big business clients as some of our clients in Michigan. I started working as a lobbyist in Michigan, and then I was asked by former Governor Jennifer Granholm to be the lobbyist for the Department of Environmental Quality for the state of Michigan, so. I had a background of working on both sides of the aisle, which I think was really helpful in shaping how I view coming to consensus and bringing disparate parties together. So I’m really proud of having that experience in my background. While I was working for the state of Michigan I received my master’s degree from Michigan State University, and I have a master’s in public policy, so my life has been policy-oriented for a very long time.

Drew:

Right. Well, all about change.

Nikki:

All about change, absolutely. I came out to Colorado at the end of Governor Granholm’s second term, and I worked in various areas here in Colorado. I’m really proud of my work for the union, so I worked as a policy analyst for Colorado WINS which was a union that represented our state employees here in the state of Colorado. And after my stint working with the union I started my own business, McCord Consulting Group, so I started my business eight years ago, believe it or not. And I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to cultivate here in this community. So McCord Consulting Group focuses on three main things. I do strategic facilitation so I help groups make decisions. I do board governance work so I work with board of directors giving them insight into what it is to be a board director, what it is to be an effective board director. And last but not least what we’re going to talk about today is my work with diversity, equity and inclusion.

So I’ve been doing this for the past eight years. I’ve definitely seen a change in attitudes, and a change in level of interest in this subject area, and I’m really encouraged by what I’m seeing, and I’m hopeful that this new insight, this new interest into this topic takes us deeper to a level that we may not have been before, and that’s where my hope is.

Drew:

Yeah. So you worked with an AMI agency, and that’s how you and I got connected. So I reached out because you did some work with them on their diversity policies, and some of the strategies that they were going to employ in their agency to be more inclusive. So when I heard this owner raving about you I asked for an introduction. And I reached out to you and I asked you to be on the podcast, and you were a little hesitant. Actually, I had to get on the phone and convince you to do it. So if we’re being very honest with the audience, right? So talk to me a little bit about what your concerns were because I think that tees up our conversation.

Nikki:

Absolutely. So when you first approached me I was hesitant because number one, I’ve never done a podcast before, so this is my very first podcast, so I really didn’t know what to expect in that regard. And second of all I wanted to know what the audience really was looking for from me in an interview style. One of the things that I tell folks all the time the work that I do especially around diversity, equity and inclusion is not a one-size-fits-all. It’s hard for me to give you a listicle of, like, the five top things you should do to make sure that your agency is diverse, equitable, and inclusive so I didn’t know what this conversation would be like. And when I talk to folks I always want to make sure that my words are impactful that whatever we’re going to talk about is going to lead people to think, to examine, and to ultimately change because I’m in the business of making a better world.

Drew:

That’s kind of what you’ve done your whole career, right?

Nikki:

I guess it’s in my DNA.

Drew:

Right, right.

Nikki:

I want to change the places that I inhabit, right? And so I wanted to make sure and I’m very grateful that you took the opportunity, or you took the time to talk me through what this process was going to be like because I want my words to have impact on folks because it’s a selfish reason. I want to live in a better world. If we’re saying that we want our world to be different, if we want our world to be more inclusive, if we want our world to be more equitable I want that too. And so I want to make sure that the work that I do always leads us in that direction that we are moving from the surface to under that surface level we’re getting a little bit deeper where that change actually lies.

Drew:

Well, with your help I want to do that too. I want to talk about here’s what I’m hoping that we can do in our conversation. I know you’re not going to be able to give us the five steps to be more inclusive, but I am hoping that we can raise a whole bunch of questions, and get people thinking about how they think about, and want to approach this for their business, which I think is the start, right? It was a little more than a year ago that all of a sudden this issue, again, came to the forefront with the George Floyd murder, and all of that, and then everybody was posting their black square on social media. And people were coming out with their statement about diversity, but honestly, I’m not so sure that a lot of people have done much since then.

Nikki:

Yeah. Oh, my. I don’t want to be pessimistic on my first stab.

Drew:

No, no, but I guess my question to you is why do you think that is? Because I believe that most of the people who spoke out when that happened, and put the black square, and shared all the information I believe in their heart of hearts they do want diversity, and inclusion, and equity, but wanting it, and being able to create it are so vastly different. So where do we get stuck?

Nikki:

I think we get stuck when we realize the resources that are needed to effect change. I equate it to losing weight, right? We’ve all been inside for 16 months, and we say, “Oh, I’m going to lose weight. I’m going to go to the gym once a week for 30 minutes, and I’m going to lose weight.” And a month goes by and we get frustrated with ourselves, right? Because we’re like, “Well, I worked out for 30 minutes a week. I don’t understand why I haven’t lost this weight.”

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

We’re not taking into consideration that, well, are we taking in fewer calories than we’re exerting? There’s an equation in terms of how do we lose this weight? There’s work that needs to be done. I had a conversation with a group a year ago that was asking lots of people how do we do this work, and they were asking lots of questions. And one of my questions to folks all the time is what is your budget for this work? And I feel like that question stumps people sometimes because that’s something that folks haven’t thought about. “Oh, it costs money to make this change.” When we think about anything else that we spend money on if we have to go to a conference, or if we need training, or if we need any of these other things we understand that there’s a price associated with it, but for whatever reason a lot of folks when they started to engage in this diversity, equity and inclusion work it was a shock to them that, “Oh, we’re going to have to pay for this.”

Another way that people get stuck is in terms of that resource allocation is there needs to a point person. Either there needs to be one point person who’s going to keep us all accountable, or we all as a small group need to agree to keep ourselves accountable, and that’s something that we have to do every single day. Let’s keep on with our weight loss metaphor, right? We don’t get there by exercising for 30 minutes a week. We have to change the way that we eat. We have to exercise every day, and so we also need to keep ourselves accountable within our organizations to say, “Hmm, maybe we should rethink the way that we’re doing things. Maybe we should question cultural stereotypes. Maybe we need to keep each other accountable in order to continue this work.” So I 100% agree with you.

I think that everyone who put out a statement, who put up a black square on Instagram, I think that they all had very good intentions. It’s just when the rubber hit the road of this is the cost, this is the entire cost that’s associated with this change. I think the other thing that folks run into is they’re faced with the realization of how much change they can actually endure.

Drew:

So talk to me about that.

Nikki:

Yeah, I see this with organizations a lot. We’ve done it this way all of the time, and it hasn’t hurt us in any way.

Drew:

Well, it hasn’t hurt some of us.

Nikki:

Exactly.

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

Exactly. Who’s asking that question and who’s answering that question?

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

And so when we see that we’re going to have to materially change our behaviors and the way that we do business that makes people very uncomfortable, especially, when you haven’t perceived any negative consequences to the way that you’ve been doing business before. So I think that hesitancy to change as well as this realization of the resources that are required to make that change is where organizations get stuck.

Drew:

So let’s talk about the budget for a minute. In our earlier conversation you mentioned that, and my thought was, well, what are people spending the money like if I want my workplace to be more diverse, inclusive and equitable, I’m spending the money to do what, or on who? Talk to us a little bit more about if I actually want to do this what kind of budget thing should I be thinking about?

Nikki:

Absolutely. So I think the first thing that I would encourage everyone whose going down this road is to not go down the road alone. I have talked to organizations where it happens to be a situation arises and the organization says, “We’re going to face this head-on. We’re going to do this work ourselves.” And they don’t have any expertise. They don’t have any prior knowledge. They’re just kind of flying by the seat of their pants. And they get so far down the road without any material change that then they have to double back and figure out, okay, who can we bring in that has the expertise who can do this a whole lot better than we could have done it on our own? So I think that that’s one of the things that organizations run into is they have this thought that they can do all of this work on their own when they don’t have any experience in the area, and then they have to double back and kind of take a step back, reevaluate, go down the road again. I think that’s kind of the first thing.

So the very first thing that I would say is don’t go it alone. Find someone who can help you with your journey. I also think that once you find that person they can give you real concrete things to do so you’re just not floundering out there trying to pull out this program, or that program. I think that organizations also run into the trouble of trying something and then being discouraged when it doesn’t work out the way that they intended, and I think that that also comes from not really having the expertise, not having the background, just going to a session having a good idea wanting to implement something, and then really not having the expertise of how do we do this the correct way, or if you if try something, and it is not as successful as you intended it to be how do you take a step back and say where do we need to pivot? Where do we need to change our approach so that we can continue doing this work? And we don’t just throw up our hands and say, “I’m done. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Drew:

Yeah, or do I have to just let it sit because it just takes longer than we want it to take. So part of the budget is in other words is finding some guidance from someone who from an outside perspective can help you look at your business and say, “Here are some trouble spots that we might want to talk about, or think about.” And I’m assuming ask really good questions because I’m guessing that in many cases there’s sort of the surface level of I want to be different, but then there’s the underneath level of not only I want to be different, but, oh, you mean I have to stop doing that, or give up that, or change the way I do that? And so I would think that sticking with your analogy having a fitness coach who says, “Get back on the bike.” Right? And I know it’s hard, but get back on the back you can do this would be hopeful in this scenario in this thing, right?

Nikki:

You’re absolutely correct, Drew. And I’d even go further to say that at least from my approach, and the approach that I take with my clients is I need my clients where they’re at in terms of what their understanding is, where their comfort level is, and I always tell folks I will meet you at your comfort level, and then I’m going to push you a little bit further because it’s not about staying where we’re at. It’s about growing and learning. And so, yes, I absolutely agree. I love the analogy. Having that coach, having that person that’s going to cheer you on to say you can do this. Let’s try it in a different way. Let’s meet you where you’re at. Let’s understand what your agency is like, what your budget is like, what your clients are like because, again, in my opinion this work is not a one-size-fits-all.

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

It has to be customized to each individual client. The other thing that I say to folks all the time is the message is the same, but the messengers are different. And sometimes you’re going to hear that message from one messenger better than you’re going to hear it from another. And that’s okay because the ultimate goal is change. The ultimate goal is for a better world, and so whatever vessel that message comes from I’m okay with that as long as we’re doing the work to change.

Drew:

So beyond the budget, and I’m assuming the budget is not just for a consultant, but also it may about recruiting differently, or maybe about changing policies. It may be about correcting salaries that are inequitable, right? There could be a lot of costs tied to this. When you work with people and they begin to see because I think in a lot of cases we all know what sort of overt racism looks like, or overt bias looks like, but a lot of times especially speaking as white man I think there are a lot of things that I don’t know that I do that you would be able to go, “Ah, Drew, that is inequitable, or that is not respectful of diversity.” Right? So how do you help your clients because I think I would feel bad. I think I would be embarrassed. And I would think that sometimes that would mean I don’t want to keep going because I’m afraid I’m going to find out more bad things about myself, right?

Nikki:

Yeah. So what I’d say to that particularly is one of the reasons why I work with smaller groups is because normally these groups have relationships with each other, right? We work together. We’re spending a lot of time together. And so what I like to do is level set. One of the things that I have realized in doing this work is when we have that fear about, oh, my goodness, what am I going to learn? What am I doing wrong?

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

I level set everyone by simply going over definitions. You’d be surprised how many definitions I get to the word diversity. Just starting it out, hey, everybody, what do you think the word diversity means? And when we get in those situations where we can share, where you’re working with a facilitator who is kind, who is patient, who has the understanding of facilitating groups, and dealing with that uncomfortableness we can start exploring these answers, and sometimes we get the answer wrong, and how are we going to navigate into an answer that we can all agree on? I think that’s one way to start. The other thing that I tell my clients all the time in some of my presentations is I tell folks that you are going to be guilty of committing a microaggression. I have been guilty of committing a microaggression. And I do this on a day-to-day basis. Of all the people who should not be committing microaggressions it should be me, right?

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

But having that understanding of we’re going to do it what is our reaction when it happens? So I really try to get folks out of the mindset of walking on eggshells like, oh, I can’t say that. I can’t say this. I can’t say that. I would rather people be their authentic selves. Be who you are, but when you run into that situation where someone says, “Uh, Nikki, what you said it made me feel really uncomfortable.” It’s my reaction to that situation that’s going to smooth it over rather than me saying, “Oh, my goodness. I got to make sure that I’m walking on eggshells when I talk to every single person who enters my sphere.” So I think that having really good interpersonal skills is very important in this work. I think there’s a balance between compassion and urgency.

Drew:

So talk to us about that.

Nikki:

Yeah. So as a black woman there’s an urgency for me to live in a world that works for me, right?

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

I want everyone to have done all of this work yesterday.

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

So there’s an urgency is terms of I’m interested in working with groups that are willing to make that change because it’s self-serving to me and my needs, right?

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

And to the needs of people who are marginalized, and who look like me, but there’s also a compassion that comes with it as well because I am asking people to fundamentally change the way that they show up in the world. The way that they do business. We talked about if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. If I’ve been operating.

Drew:

Right. It’s working, right? I’m making money. I got employees, got clients, right?

Nikki:

Absolutely.

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

It’s working. Why is this woman telling me that I need to change when I’ve been in business for 25 years, and everything is working well. I also like to talk to folks about the ROI that’s associated with DEI. Hmm, I just made that up.

Drew:

There you go.

Nikki:

The ROI that’s associated with DEI.

Drew:

You’re a poet as well, yes.

Nikki:

There’s actually research. There’s research that shows what happens when organizations increase their diversity especially on top levels. We see it in terms of when there are more women in leadership positions with organizations, and those organizations are more profitable. We talk about being able to reach different audiences when you have diversity. And when I say diversity I mean that authentic diversity. It’s not just about the numbers and the representation it’s that inclusion piece as well because that inclusion is authentically bringing in folks who you may not have normally invited to the table inviting them to share their opinions, to listen to their opinions as well. So there’s an ROI that’s associated with DEI, and I talk about that as well with organizations. If we’re thinking about expanding, if we’re thinking about growing, if we’re thinking about reaching new audiences, if we’re thinking about making money.

Drew:

Right, right.

Nikki:

If we’re thinking about making money we have to incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion into our business practices because, yeah, you’re absolutely right. You could have been doing the same thing for the last 25 years, and it could have been great, but think how much better you could be. Think about if you incorporated these new tools how much more you could grow, what your reach could be, what your impact could be.

Drew:

Right. Well, and I also think it may have worked 25 years ago, but the world is waking up, and we’re talking about these things in ways we didn’t talk about before, and so people probably didn’t notice, or care that you were being inclusive, or equitable. Whereas, I think a lot more people care today, and are noticing, and we also didn’t have social media 25 years ago, right? So I think a lot of it is companies are getting called out for not having diversity amongst their work population, or whatever. Glassdoor and all kinds of things like that are opportunities for people to call us out, so I think it’s also, yes, it works, but the world is changing, and if we want to continue to be relevant and successful we’re going to have to change along with the world.

Nikki:

I agree with that. I’d actually say that a lot of us have noticed. It hasn’t just been social media because I think what’s important for folks who are not in marginalized communities to understand is marginalized communities are communities.

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

And so we talk amongst each other.

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

We gather with each other. And so while on the outside it may not have looked like 25 years ago no one cared if you were diverse or inclusive. I counter that and say marginalized communities.

Drew:

Have always cared.

Nikki:

We’ve always cared. I mean, look at the LGBTQIA community and Chick-fil-A, for instance.

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

Like that community knows what Chick-fil-A stands for. They know what kind of company they are. And that community there are large swarths of that community that have nothing to do with that company and organization because of their views. Now, we’re talking about an extreme case where their views are very overt, but that’s not to say that organizations that have been committing microaggressions, that have not been inclusive that’s not to say that those marginalized communities have not been talking amongst themselves about those organizations as well. So I want to make sure that our listeners understand that this is isn’t just a big thing now because there’s social media, and you can get, quote, unquote, called out in the public square. These communities have always been listening, and watching, and moving with their dollars, and their support for years and years and years. It’s just that now these non-marginalized populations it’s coming to the forefront of their minds.

Drew:

Well, Chick-fil-A is a great example. I’m a straight white guy. I haven’t walked into a Chick-fil-A, or driven through a Chick-fil-A since it became clear what their views were. Not because I was being marginalized, but because I absolutely disagree with their position, and for me it would be a betrayal of people that I know, and I love, and I respect to support that business when they hold that belief, so. One of the things that I also think is the non-marginalized communities are beginning to recognize that we have to play a role in this too. Even if we’re never the one who’s discriminated against we have to speak up, we have to vote, and we have to conduct our business in a way that says, “This is what I believe.”

Nikki:

So here’s the thing, Drew. I find it very interesting sometimes that the burden to eradicate racism, or sexism, or any of the isms is always put on the shoulders who did not create the ism.

Drew:

Right, yeah, fascinating, you’re right. It’s not my mess to clean up, right? Yeah.

Nikki:

I mean if we’re all going to be in this together, right? There’s a part for every person to play.

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

If I am a part of a marginalized community where statistically I don’t have the resources, I don’t have the power, I don’t have the influence then what is the expectation that I, the marginalized person can change a system that first of all was not created with me in mind, and secondly I have the least amount of power and influence within that system. So, yes, it is the responsibility of folks from dominant communities to do their part and more to change these systems. When we talk about this change and we talked about the cost of this change I think folks in marginalized communities are very familiar with that cost. I mean, there’s always something that you’re giving up in order to have a place in this world. I mean, I’ll give an example from my own life.

I don’t speed anymore. I don’t go over the speed limit and maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, and I’m more responsible, and that has something to play with it as well, but that’s not what’s running through my mind when I’m driving my car. What’s running through my mind is I don’t want, and let’s be very clear. I can get pulled over for anything. I can still be driving and not speeding, and still get pulled over, so let’s be very clear that me not speeding is not saving me from anything, but in my mind the way that I rationalize my day-to-day life is I don’t speed.

I use this example because I know driving around town if the speed limit is 35 I go 35, and I always look at the people behind me who are like, “Who is this woman going 35?” Everybody goes 40, and they pass me. And I just have this idea in my head that when they pass me they’re like, “Oh, it’s a black woman. Nevermind. She has to go the speed limit.” Right? So what I’m saying is folks in marginalized communities we give up things all of the time to try to have a life in which we can just get up and live every day. So, yes, it is the responsibility of those in the dominant communities to know that, and to be willing to give something up on their end as well.

Drew:

Yeah. So what kind of conversations should we be having around the leadership table, or amongst our entire staff? If I’m the business owner, and I am committed, and I will tell you that our industry is predominantly white. The sexual orientation has always been a mix in our world. For some reason we’ve attracted a wide variety of people with all kinds of different sexual orientations, and preferences. That in my world in the agency world that’s like, oh, yeah, we’ve had that forever, but we don’t have a lot of minorities. We don’t have particularly-

Nikki:

Women in leadership.

Drew:

We don’t have as much women in leadership, although, there are a lot of agency owners that are women, but probably it’s not 50%, but we certainly don’t have a lot of minority employees at any level. So one of the conversations some of the agency owners and I have been having is, okay, if I want more diversity how do I make myself a more welcoming place for applicants? And am I looking for applicants in a place where black, or Asian, or Latino applicants might be? So what should we be thinking about and talking about around all of that?

Nikki:

Great question because I have lots of ideas, Drew.

Drew:

I knew you would.

Nikki:

So the very first thing that I would say is the second question that I ask folks who come to me after what is your budget for this work, my second question is, is leadership bought in to what you’re trying to do? Because a lot of times the person who comes to me is not the agency owner it’s someone else within the agency. Maybe they’ve been tasked to figure our diversity, or maybe they just have a passion for it, and they’re taking it on their own. They’re taking the initiative we’re going to address diversity, equity and inclusion within our agency.

The reason why I ask has leadership bought into this is because this work takes effort and time, and perseverance, and if leadership is not bought in you’re going to go out, you’re going to try something it may not work. It may work, and then all of a sudden it falls off the wayside because our attention is in a different place, or leadership wants us to focus somewhere else, or we’re doing this really big campaign, and we have to really focus on this big campaign, and we can’t focus on this DEI stuff anymore. So the very first thing that I-

Drew:

So it’s sort of the flavor of the month in some places.

Nikki:

Oh, yes.

Drew:

Yeah.

Nikki:

I want to take a little bit of a pause and talk about this flavor of the month. I want to answer your question, but this came to me last month because I just wrote about it. I saw a statistic that said that the level of support for Black Lives Matter like now, right now is lower than it was before George Floyd’s murder.

Drew:

Really?

Nikki:

Yes.

Drew:

Why do you think that is?

Nikki:

Well, what we’re talking about when you said that flavor of the month that’s what jarred my memory of the statistic. It’s in our face. Everyone is talking about it. We’re caught up in this whole whirlwind of we should be doing something. We should be placing the black square on Instagram, and then something else happens. Oh, the pandemic is over, or it’s waning, and we’re opening up. Now we have something else to focus on. So, yes, in terms of having leadership to say this is one of our core values. This is something that we’re going to put time and energy behind is the number one step I think that any organization needs to take in order to continue these efforts.

Drew:

Yeah. Well, I suspect like most systemic change this is something you work on forever, right?

Nikki:

Yeah. You have to continue to work. You’re working on it until you make it a habit.

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

Right?

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

Let’s go back to our … I love fitness.

Drew:

It’s a great analogy, yeah.

Nikki:

I’ve been missing the gym these past 16 months, so I can’t wait to get back into a gym, but I use myself as an example. Once you start going to the gym every single day it just becomes a habit.

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

Like, sure, there are some days where you’re just like, “Ugh, just five more minutes in bed like I really don’t want to do it.”

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

But it becomes part of your daily routine, your daily habit.

Drew:

Yes.

Nikki:

And that’s when you start to see the change, and so what I tell my clients is we’re starting on this journey together, and I’m helping you see new things. I’m helping you look at the world in a different way. My goal for you is to eventually not need me.

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

Because it’s so ingrained into your minds. It’s so ingrained into the way that you do business. I was talking to someone earlier and they said, “Nikki, I was doing something, and I heard your voice in my brain as I was doing it.” And I was like, “Yes.” That’s exactly what I want. I wasn’t there in the room. I had nothing to do.

Drew:

Right, but you kind of were, yeah.

Nikki:

Exactly. So that’s how we get into the habit of these changes. We start doing them constantly. It becomes part of our model, part of our policies, part of the way that we talk to our clients. We rollout things that it becomes second nature.

Drew:

Yeah. Well, and we probably catch ourselves doing it wrong, and course-correct sort of automatically at a certain point in time, right?

Nikki:

Absolutely, absolutely. And I tell folks all the time you’re going to mess up.

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

Like I said about the microaggressions. You’re going to commit a microaggression. You’re going to mess up. It’s not so much of the walking on eggshells to make sure that you’re perfect, and that you never mess up. It’s how you course-correct.

Drew:

Yeah. Well, it’s even recognizing that you messed up, right? Because I think a lot of it is it’s a complete lack of awareness.

Nikki:

Yeah, I don’t know. And maybe this is just my perspective.

Drew:

No. Hang on. We’re going to take a quick break, and then I want you to tell me why I was wrong. Okay?

Nikki:

Excellent.

Drew:

When it comes to conducting a client satisfaction survey your agency has three choices. The first one is adopt it, don’t ask, don’t tell policy, and just roll the dice. Your second option is to do the study in-house. And the third option is to use a third party to conduct your client satisfaction survey. If you decide that you’re ready to invest in protecting your client relationships, and improving your win and keep ratios we believe there are some benefits of using AMI as your third party research partner. Number one, we know emphatically that your clients will tell us things that they just won’t tell you. The reality is they’re going to speak more freely if they’re not talking to you directly. They don’t want to hurt your feelings, and they don’t want to get into a big conversation about it, so a third party is a safe place for them to share their real feedback.

The second is that at AMI we don’t have a bias about any particular client. We don’t know if you like them, don’t like them, if they’re a pain, if they’re your favorite. And so because we understand agency business, but we don’t come into those conversations with any preconceived notions we can absolutely give you unbiased and unfiltered information based on what your clients tell us. And you know what? We know agency clients. We can hear what they’re saying, and we know which threads to pull on as we’re talking to them to get more information for you, and more insight. Your clients will be comfortable talking to us because we speak their language. If you’re interested in having AMI do your customer satisfaction survey head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com and look under the How We Help section of the website to learn more. All right, let’s get back to the show.

All right. We are back. I took a pause, which I should have taken a long time ago, but this conversation is so fascinating I sort of forget, so. Nikki gave me the perfect segue because she’s about to tell me why my comment about us being unaware is incorrect. So, all right, you’re up.

Nikki:

I don’t know if I would say you’re incorrect. I think that my perspective is different, and maybe it’s because I’m a black woman. Maybe it’s because of the nature of my work, but I have to think that on some level we know if we’re doing something that doesn’t quite feel right.

Drew:

Yep.

Nikki:

So I want to give humans a lot of credit, but I also want to hold human’s feet to the fire as well, and not paint this rosy picture of we’re all going through the world thinking that we’re not hurting people, and when we do hurt people it’s this major surprise because, oh, my goodness, I could never believe that I ever could hurt someone. I do not believe that humans are going through this world intentionally trying to hurt people. I don’t believe that.

Drew:

Right, right.

Nikki:

But I do believe that we all know that we have the capacity. We have the capacity to be mean. We have the capacity to be not compassionate. We have the capacity to be all of those things. And so I don’t know. I don’t know if I agree that we’re completely unaware. I think that we can have tinges of, hmm, that felt uncomfortable, or that felt a little weird. I think that what makes us better humans is our ability to then investigate that feeling, investigate why it felt weird, why it felt off.

Drew:

Interesting. Yeah. All right, so if I’m an agency owner and this is a core value, and in most cases the agency’s values are the owner’s values. I don’t know where to start, or I don’t how to begin. So a lot of my agencies, for example, last summer they started book clubs, and they were reading all the recommended books, and then they were talking about them, but when they got done with the conversation about all the things they learned from the books, which were super valuable, they didn’t really know what to do with that. They didn’t know how to actually evaluate their own policies, and procedures, and how they go about business to see where the biases were, or the inequity was. And once they figured it out they didn’t know what to do with it.

Nikki:

Yeah. So a couple things. First of all, I encourage folks to name what you’re trying to do. So if we think of non-profits we think of their mission statement, right? There are a ton of for-profit businesses that have mission statements, but I do encourage for-profit businesses to have some type of mission statement, but when I think about a non-profit with a mission statement that mission statement tells us who the organization is, who they serve, where they’re located, what their purpose for being is, right?

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

I encourage organizations to do that same exercise when it comes to diversity and equity and inclusion. Name it. What are you trying to accomplish with your agency through DEI? Maybe you’re focused strictly on recruitment, and you want to have a more diverse workforce. Say it out loud. State it because it’s easier to work towards that goal when you stated it out loud. The other thing is if you’re starting from ground zero, if you’re starting from the floor, you have to integrate things that are going to work for you. So maybe we start with recruitment, and we are successful with recruitment. The next question is, well, what’s next? Maybe it’s our outside client relationships. Maybe it’s how we’re showing our clients the value of diversity. Maybe that’s the next step. Maybe the next step is something else, but once you define it, once you state it out loud it’s much easier to work towards that goal.

Secondly, when it comes to, okay, we’ve learned all these things now what do we do to change? I always tell folks to ask the question why. So as you go about your day ask the question why. Oh, we’re going to talk to this client, and we’re going to do this, and we’re going to do this, and we’re going to do this. Ask the question why. Why are we doing it that way? I think when we start one of the tenets of overcoming unconscious bias, or how unconscious bias manifests is our inability to question the way that we’ve done things in the past. We get in the rut of doing the same thing over and over again, and that’s how unconscious bias manifests.

So we’re always looking if we have a relationship with this vendor we’re always going to this vendor. Well, why are we going to this vendor? “Oh, because this vendor and I went to college together, and we have that relationship.” Okay, well, can we develop a relationship with a second vendor? “Huh, I never thought about it.” So it’s just we’re not asking ourselves why we’re doing the things that we’re doing, and I think those can be ways that we’re changing. So for those of you who were involved in book clubs, who were reading, who became more knowledgeable I want you to start asking the question why related specifically to some of the aspects that you picked up in your readings.

The other thing that I encourage people to do is understand your industry. Understand the statistics about your industry. Understand the history of your industry. I served on a housing board for a long time here in Boulder, and one of the things that we did is we started researching housing laws. A lot of folks didn’t know what redlining was which is the laws that dictated who got mortgages, and who didn’t, and what parts of cities people lived in, and what parts of cities people were not allowed to live in. So it wasn’t just about providing affordable housing anymore. Having that context of the history of, well, this is why we’re providing affordable housing in the beginning help people understand the policy changes that we’re making today in 2021. I encourage the same thing for any industry.

So with the public relations industry do some research. Find out why. I mean, we said it here today there aren’t a lot of ethnic minorities that are involved in this industry. Let’s do some research to find out why because, again, that question why, once we can understand the history of and understand why we can better craft ways to make those changes rather than just saying, “Well, they’re not interested, or they don’t have the degrees,” or whatever negative comes forward you have an understanding because there’s a genesis to everything. There’s a reason why to everything. And once we start investigating what that reason is we can start to change it, and that’s where you get to the systemic changes.

Drew:

Yeah. In fact, I have an agency they did not have a diverse population in their workplace, and they started talking to the colleges where they recruited and what the colleges said, “We don’t have a lot of diversity in the students that choose these majors.” So what they decided to do was to partner with some of the junior high schools and have a bigger presence. Particularly junior high schools with a very diverse population, and have a greater presence in the career days to encourage all of the students, but the students from diverse populations to consider our world as a possible career choice. And I was like, okay, that’s somebody who dug down, and asked the why as you said, and found an answer. And maybe it’s not the genesis, but it’s at least deep enough where it’s like we could actually impact in the next 10 years that we have a much more diverse population of applicants who are interested in our profession. And maybe we set up internships, or other things, but I think we all need to do more of that.

Nikki:

I agree, and I’d also go back to what I said about urgency.

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

So you just said we can set these folks up where they can be ready for a career in 10 years.

Drew:

Yeah.

Nikki:

Right?

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

I’m looking at urgency. So while there is nothing wrong with that, and I encourage folks, yes, let’s make sure that we’re reaching the kiddos and letting them know that this is a viable career path for them, but I also question what we value. So why do you need a four year degree to work as an X in the agency?

Drew:

Right, or why do you need somebody who has a specific major, right?

Nikki:

Right.

Drew:

Yeah.

Nikki:

Can we look at those folks who did not major in this area. I was just talking to a group of scientists, believe it or not, and that’s a hard nut to crack with scientists because, obviously, you have to know calculus and math, and all of these engineering things, but there was someone from the audience who said that during their internship they had been in the business for like 20 years, or something, but during their internship they worked with a senior person who was an English major and a scientific engineering background. And they said that that experience not only allowed them to understand that you don’t have to be an engineering major to work in this particular field, but it also gave them the ability to see how that English major thought differently about problem-solving that was different than all of the engineering majors.

So we’re talking about ethnic and racial diversity and I tell my clients all the time I want you to focus on the big aspects of diversity before we start getting into diversity of thought, and diversity of majors, and things like that, but you see how they’re all threaded together. I encourage you to do both. Look at the pipeline, but I also feel like the pipeline conversation is a conversation that kicks the ball down the line, and doesn’t speak to the urgency. We have this conversation in tech all of the time. Well, you haven’t been through this programming school, or you don’t know this programming language versus that programming language. And is that necessary? Is it preferred? If we’re trying to solve the problem today are there ways that we can open things up to invite diversity?

I tell folks if your goal is diversity, if that is your goal, you need to make the changes in order to get there. So if that means that you start looking at people who don’t have degrees, but have experience you start looking at those people. If you open up your program to say, “You know what? Our angle is diversity, so we’re going to have a six week program for people who don’t know this computer language, or whatever, or this design language. Now a six week program if you can get it in six weeks, perfect, you can advance to the next level. If you can’t get it in six weeks then maybe this isn’t the right fit for you.”

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

If you have to work towards your goals, and we can’t continue to live in a sphere that says, “Well, they’re not measuring up to what my perception is, and so, well, we have to wait until we get to this solution in 10 years.” Because guess what’s going to happen in 10 years? Those programming languages are not going to be the same in 10 years.

Drew:

Right, right.

Nikki:

We’re going to have a new way of doing business in 10 years, and so I want us to do it all. I want us to reach the younger generations and let them know that there is a career for them, but I also want to go to the people who are here, and who are eager, and who are ready, and who just need a chance. I mean, think in your life as a listener, as an agency owner, as someone who is just listening to our words think back at a time when somebody took a chance on you. And what did that chance mean to you, and your trajectory in life? Maybe you shouldn’t have been in the room that you were in, and that happened to open a door for you. Maybe any sort of thing could have happened that opened the door to you. We’re now in a position as agency owners, as business owners we’re in a position to take a chance on someone else. It may not work, but remember the time that it did work.

Drew:

Right. Well, and what I’m also hearing you say is the urgency part of it means that you can’t accept as a reason why you’re not that it hasn’t worked in the past, so. People say, “Nobody of diverse populations applies. We’d hire them, but they don’t apply.” Well, if we stop there and don’t say, “Well, how could we get them to apply? Where could we go to find applicants, and encourage them, and invite them to apply. And let them know we want them to apply.”

Nikki:

And be honest with yourself as well because there’s a difference between representation and tokenism. So I want authentic representation which means that when you invite me in you’re inviting my whole self. You’re inviting my experience. You’re inviting my perspective. You are valuing all of those things that make me different from you. You have created an environment within your workplace that is conducive for diversity. If you’re not in that place this is why I say be honest with yourself. If you’re not in a place where you’re like, “Ugh, man, I don’t know if a person like me is really going to be able to thrive in this type of environment.”

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

Start to look at other ways that you can invite diversity, equity and inclusion into your organization. One of the things, and I’m using the Housing Authority because that’s where I spend a lot of time as a volunteer, but I would always question who are our vendors? Who are the people that we’re spending our money with? So it wasn’t a question of we don’t have enough diversity on staff, you know? It was looking at those other areas. What relationships are we building to bring people in? What does our media look like? And maybe we can’t change that media. Maybe we are who we are. Maybe we look like what we look like, but what are those other things that we’re signaling to people that this is a place that’s conducive for diversity. Maybe we’re signaling to vendors that we value the diversity of our vendors. I’m trying to think of other ways.

Drew:

Clients. I mean, it’s all kinds. In our world, I mean, when you think about it think about what we do for a living. We persuade people, right? We present a vision of the world to audiences to persuade them to do things, so I just feel like if there is an industry that should be wrapping their arms around this issue, and changing the tide we could be that industry if we chose to be.

Nikki:

You have so much power.

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

I just want you all to understand you have so much power. I was on Instagram the other night. I just came back from a camping trip. And, of course, now all of my ads on Instagram all are about camping.

Drew:

Of course.

Nikki:

But I saw this ad. It was an ad that Ford did. It was for the Ford Bronco. See, I remember the ad.

Drew:

They have a new one, right.

Nikki:

It was a new one. It was for the new Ford Bronco. And you had this Bronco and it was going all through the rugged terrain. I’m like, yeah, that’s my thing. And then it was all these black women. It was black women mountain biking, and it was black women camping, and this black women with this huge Afro out hiking. And I looked at that ad, and I was like, “This ad the Ford Bronco is for me.”

Drew:

Right, right.

Nikki:

I need to go out and buy a Ford Bronco.

Drew:

I see myself there, right, yeah.

Nikki:

I see myself there, absolutely. Now, I don’t know anything about Ford’s marketing, or their branding, or anything like that, but you know what? An all white company could have made that ad.

Drew:

Absolutely, absolutely, yeah.

Nikki:

I mean, anybody could have made that ad, but you’re right in terms of that power to show the audience the world that they can inhabit, that world that they can live in.

Drew:

Yeah.

Nikki:

I mean, they sold me with that ad. I started Googling Ford Broncos to see if I need to add one to my life. So start thinking about that in whatever campaign you’re working in. It doesn’t have to be a big national campaign.

Drew:

Right.

Nikki:

Are you asking yourself who gets to see themselves in the material that I’m producing? Maybe that’s what you do as an agency because you’re not at a place where you can confidently say that we have made an agency that is conducive for diversity to bring in all of these new hires because you want to make sure that they’re going to be nurtured and protected in the environment that they come into. So let’s start looking in different ways, in different aspects of your business where you can encompass and embrace diversity, equity and inclusion.

Drew:

Yeah. I feel like we have just scratched the surface, so. I need to wrap this up because I promised I would let you go, and I’ll follow-up with you offline, but I would love to have you come back because I have so many more questions. And this has been so interesting, and I think, again, we’re doing exactly what I wanted which was just to get people to think about this differently. And so first of all, thank you for letting me convince you to be on the show. And thank you for bringing all of your experience and your smarts to the show, and helping us see through a different lens some of these issues so I’m super grateful to you for that. And I’m going to pester you to come back.

Nikki:

I would love to come back, Drew.

Drew:

Okay.

Nikki:

I love this community. I love what you have the ability to do. And I love your thirst, your hunger for this knowledge in order to change the world for the better, so thank you so much for having me. And I would love, love, love to be back.

Drew:

Okay, well, I’m going to email you in a minute as soon as we say goodbye with a link to schedule another conversation. All right?

Nikki:

Perfect.

Drew:

All right, guys. This wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. Gosh, I hope you were listening with an open heart, and thinking about we can do this. We can have profitable businesses. We can make a great living. We have the opportunity that we can be part of the change that our world needs. And, God, wouldn’t that be awesome to know that that’s part of our professional legacy? So I promise you I’m going to bring Nikki back. We’re going to talk more about this, but I hope we filled your head and your heart with maybe the possibility that you can do more than you’re doing, and that you can help make the change, and that you can change your own perspective.

I think we all need to open up our eyes, and see where we have room for growth. And so that’s what I’m hoping came out of today’s episode for you, and I promise I will bring her back so we can continue this conversation because it’s something that I just barely scratched the surface so I have lots more to talk to Nikki about, and to get you thinking about, too, so. Thank you for listening. You know that I am super grateful that you carve out the time to be with me. I know you’re busy. I know that you have lots of other resources, and I’m grateful that I get to be one of your resources, so thank you for that.

I want to give a quick shout-out to our friends at White Label IQ. As you know they’re the presenting sponsor of this podcast, and they make it possible for us to come here every week, and share these great guests with you. So check them out at whitelabeliq.com/ami because they have a special deal where you get some free hours of their work. So they do White Label PPC, design and dev. And, Nikki, by the way, they’re right near Boulder, actually. Yeah, so, anyway lovely people, and check them out, and by all means tell them that we sent you. Okay?

I’ll be back next week with another guest. And my job as always is to get you thinking a little differently about your agency, and how you can do it even better than you’re doing it today, so. I’ll be back and I’ll talk to you guys soon. Thanks for listening. Thanks for spending some time with us. Visit our website to learn about our workshops, go in our peer groups, and download our salary and benefits survey. Be sure you also sign up for our free podcast giveaways at agencymanagementinstitute.com/podcastgiveaway.