Episode 304

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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? Wh