Episode 372

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Marketing agency culture is constantly changing, but adapting the best we can is important. And one of the most important ways we need to be adaptable is by identifying where we can bring more diversity and new perspectives into our company culture.

Sometimes when you’re sitting in the boss’s chair, there can be a disconnect between knowing what your people want and need and seeing who might be missing from the room altogether. This is where this week’s guest, Farzana Nayani, comes in to save the day. She has over 20 years of DEI work experience and knows how to get straight to the core of what employees want from their employers.

In this episode, we’ll talk about how to create safe environments for everyone, communicate that you’re open to having tough conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion, quiet quitting and labor hoarding, and how to set boundaries around polarizing topics in the workplace.

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.
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What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How employee resource groups are beneficial to employees
  • How DEI work has changed since Farzana began this work
  • What can we do as business owners to create a safe environment?
  • How to communicate that you’re open to difficult conversations around differences
  • How to learn more about our employees without creating more discomfort
  • How to invite more diversity into your agency culture
  • The rise of quiet quitting and labor hoarding
  • How to avoid polarization around politics in the workplace

“There are ways that even small business owners can make those adjustments to be more inclusive, not only to our team but to customers as well.” @farzananayani Click To Tweet “As leaders, it really is on us to take hold of the organization's leadership and invite it in and model it.” @farzananayani Click To Tweet “There are big companies that are looking for companies that are minority-owned or veteran-owned, LGBTQ-owned, etc. Partnering with those agencies to win the bigger bids is huge.” @farzananayani Click To Tweet “As much as you're spending time marketing and creating promotions and a brand experience for your clients, you've got to do the same for your employees.” @farzananayani Click To Tweet “Just as you know and learn about your audience, you've got to know and learn about your employees. And you've got to know and learn about the people who aren’t in the room.” @farzananayani Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Farzana:



Audio:

Welcome to the Agency Management Institute Community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money, and keep more of what you make. The Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ, is packed with insights on how small to mid-size agencies survive and thrive in today’s market. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. Super glad you’re here. I have an amazing expert with us today who is going to talk about a topic that I think is super important for us as business owners and business leaders. But first of course, I want to remind you of a couple things. Number one, we are just putting up on the finishing touches of the 2023 Salary and Benefit Survey. So we’re going to go out into the field hopefully next week to start gathering data. And if you want to participate in that Salary and Benefit Survey, it’s going to probably take you 15 minutes or so, or someone on your team 15 minutes to answer the salary questions and the benefit questions. As a result of you participating, you will get a copy of the Salary Survey results for free.

Normally, we sell those for $99 on the website, but you’ll get it for free, and we would really appreciate your participation and help with getting that done. We are going to be announcing that in terms of giving out the link and asking people to participate in the newsletter. So if you do not get our newsletter, head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com. And if you scroll all the way down to the bottom, there’s going to be a link that allows you to sign up for the newsletter. And we would love to have you do that, not just to get the salary survey link, but just because we try very hard to provide value every week in that piece. So I’d love to have you do that. So let me tell you a little bit about my guest. So Farzana Nayani is a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consultant. She has her own company.

She just wrote a book that I’m going to ask her about, called The Power of Employee Resource Groups. She’s also a faculty member and Executive Coach at The Forum on Workplace Inclusion, out in Minneapolis. So super well versed in all of this stuff. She’s spent the last 20 years of her professional life helping businesses understand the value and the importance of being a safe place for everybody to come and work, and also for customers and all of that. So as you know, this is a topic that I personally feel really strongly about, that we as an industry need to get better at this. And so, I’m super excited to chat with her and get some ideas, some really practical, actionable ideas of things that we can do inside our shops every day to be more welcoming and be more inclusive and make people feel comfortable. So with that, let’s get to the conversation. All right, with that introduction, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for being here.

Farzana Nayani:

Thank you. Hello.

Drew McLellan:

This is such an important topic. I want people to get to know you a little bit and understand your background. And then, I have about a million questions to ask you. So if you will introduce yourself, and then I will start picking your brain.

Farzana Nayani:

Great. Yes. So nice to be here. Thank you for having me. Drew. My name is Farzana Nayani, my pronouns are she/her and hers. I’m a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consultant. I’ve been doing that work for over 20 years. I have my own agency doing that work, and I also am a small business, minority certified and woman owned business. I’ve written a book called The Power of Employee Research Groups that just came out three months ago, so I have lots to share about being on the author track and can’t wait to talk more about our conversation today.

Drew McLellan:

Awesome. So talk to us a little bit about what an employee resource group is.

Farzana Nayani:

An employee resource group is a group based on someone’s identity, whether it be gender or race or parental status, or if you’re a person who’s a veteran or anything around ability, disability. And those groups form in organizations to support those communities, especially if they’re underrepresented within a company. As those are formed, perhaps they can create events or help with marketing in terms of maybe being more aware of how to reach a diverse market. There’s also ways that people can create more engagement and support for people if there’s a group that is particularly underserved. So those are all ways that employee resource groups work within organizations. They’re usually in large organizations, but it’s helpful for small to medium-size businesses to also know about them.

Drew McLellan:

So could a small or medium-size group, I’m thinking we have this community of agency owners, could we as an organization convene resource groups where people, and from different agencies who have some of those similarities could come together and talk and connect and help each other?

Farzana Nayani:

Absolutely. There are a lot of associations that have groups based on identity. So let’s say if you’re part of a marketing association or if you’re part of any other type of business association, they might have a caucus that will come together around maybe, let’s say people of color or people who are queer identified or women. And those groups actually are also a form of affinity groups, exactly.

Drew McLellan:

So that’s really interesting. That’s something we should think about and play with, because that would be a great service for us to offer our members. So I may pick your brain about that later. So you’ve been focused on diversity and inclusion for 20 years. How has it changed?

Farzana Nayani:

There has been a lot in the past, of focus around the business case for diversity and how, if we are more productive through engaging employees, that there can be better output of a business or perhaps there can be a greater connection to markets. That has all been rebranded and it’s gone by the wayside. There’s been obviously a movement around equity and inclusion and the ability to be more sensitive to people of different cultures and create belonging. So with the advance also of 2020, also with the pandemic and the tragic murder of George Floyd, we’ve seen diversity, equity and inclusion really be on an uptick in terms of attention, and in intentionality as well.

Drew McLellan:

One of the things we were talking about before we hit the record button was this idea that organizations need to create a safe place where people who are different from the mass majority of people who work there or not, can feel comfortable being themselves, being accepted. And most of the listeners are small businesses, they probably have 50 employees or less. So what are some things that we can think about as business owners and leaders to create an environment that is safe and welcoming for all kinds of people?

Farzana Nayani:

Great question. There are a lot of ways that can be done. I think one thing is to take a look at the group that you have working for you and see, “Hey, do we have any blind spots? Are there any gaps, in not only our workforce, but how we see problems, and come up with decisions and solutions?” And what you’ll find is that there’s a whole segment of perhaps a market or a service or the way that you do business where, there could be some infusion of creativity or an idea or a perspective. And if we look at it that way, it doesn’t seem like something we’re forced to do or obligated to do. It’s actually an opportunity. And when we think about it that way, that’s when we can embrace more perspectives. Maybe for example, we have a restaurant and people in our neighborhood identify as someone who’s non-binary, and we have restrooms that are male and female, and people are coming in and they don’t have a restroom to use.

So given that, if there was someone on your team, maybe you would’ve flagged it earlier. I used to rent an office out of a co-working space, and that was one thing that happened where they’d have these bathrooms and I said, “Hey, you know what, that’s not really conducive.” And so I gave them that feedback. I also said, “Hey, what if someone’s a nursing mother? You don’t even have a space for that.” And quite frankly, and the state I’m in California, you actually need to provide that. So there are ways that even us as small business owners, we can make those adjustments to be more inclusive, not only to our team, but to customers as well.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And again, the whole idea of speaking up and making some of those small changes. As I’m listening to you talk about some of the conversations you’ve had about the bathrooms or the nursing room, I imagine myself being somebody who has to speak up, who has to ask for something that’s not already present or has to ask for something to stop, that is present. I find it hard to imagine the courage that it takes to have that conversation. So how do we as business owners and leaders communicate that it’s okay to have those conversations? Because you’re going to talk to your boss and A, you’re exposing something about yourself that may or may not be clear or evident, and B, you’re asking for something and don’t know how the boss maybe is going to respond to that. So how do we communicate to our employee base and our customers that we’re open to those kind of conversations and we want to be better and we want suggestions on how to be better?

Farzana Nayani:

The first step here is really to be open to the conversation. And as leaders, it really is on us to take hold of leadership of the organization and invite it in and model it. So I think the way that we can do that is to showcase our own vulnerability and say, “Hey, you know what? I know that there’s a holiday coming up and there’s fasting involved. I’ve done a little bit of research on my own. I also want to know how this impacts you, if it does or not.” It could be something around the news and maybe there’s some tragedy in a certain community and wanting to have open arms and support people.

But part of it has to do with resistance around our own apprehension to talk about it. And once we get past that, then it’s easier for other folks to share. And you should also really tell your customers that there are some guidelines around it. If there are some incidents, what you’ll do to follow up with them, because if it is on their property or off their property, in their neighborhood, I feel that they also are responsible. But a lot of the time business owners don’t set up those guidelines as they engage with clients and customers, but it should be in a contract or it should be verbally said. So I think there’s some guidelines that we can co-create, but there has to be some thought put into it in order to support the employees needs.

Drew McLellan:

So again, putting on the hat of the employee or the customer who has a special request, I’m a straight white guy, so this is a world I just don’t know, other than by talking through people like you. So if somebody’s listening and they are feeling like they want to have this kind of conversation either with a place of business or with their boss, how do they gear up for that conversation? How do they prep for it? What should they anticipate? What do they come prepared with?

Farzana Nayani:

I think part of it is something you said earlier, which is, that it’s a special request. And I think the norm that we need to think about is that it’s not a special request. It’s normal for some of us and not for others. And in a dominant culture, you can move through the world in the way that you do and not have to think about some of those things. And for me, I have privileges and there are a lot of places where I don’t have to think about that either, but we have to flex ourselves and think about, hey, when there are these moments, do we look at the cultural calendar, for example, and think about how we celebrate holidays? So I’ll give you an example. I was consulting to a major car company, giving them some advice on their showrooms and how the sales people can be more conducive.

And one thing that we were talking about is, for example, in Asian families, and I’m Asian, my mom’s from the Philippines, my dad’s from Pakistan with roots in India. So I was advising them on how to be more supportive to customers. People come in with extended family. And so if you’re catering to the Asian community, you need to have more chairs, you need to have a simple thing. And that can feel like a special request. What, you’re asking me to bring in two or four or more chairs? But guess what? A son will come in with a grandma, the grandma who is the one who’s going to make the decision, even though the son’s doing all the talking.

So things like that, we just have to expand our horizons around that and observe behavior. I think one way to do it, just to set it up, is notice if there’s a trend happening or notice if there’s people who aren’t coming through your doors and ask yourself, “Okay, what is needed here?” And then I think employees do have a lot of insights. A lot of them know what’s going on. There was a candle company I was working with and we were talking about the warehouse and shifts, and it turned out there are a lot of Spanish speaking folks in the warehouse and the managers were not. And so, how do we actually make that environment more effective and the shifts, and we had COVID coming in. So listening to employees is the way to do it, is the bottom line answer.

Drew McLellan:

If you have an employee that you know either celebrates holidays you’re not familiar with, or again to your point, might be non-binary or something like that. I know you do a lot of work in HR. So in today’s HIPAA compliant, don’t ask any questions, don’t say anything appropriate. How do we learn more about each other in a work environment without causing problems or making someone uncomfortable?

Farzana Nayani:

Drew, you’ve nailed it in that, we are very weary and fearful of saying the wrong thing. And because of compliance issues, we often don’t bring it up. I think the other side of it is that we miss out on the opportunity to connect with people. So of course, we’re used to talking to people who are like us maybe, and that’s called affinity bias, by the way. That’s the type of bias where you golf, I golf, let’s go golf together. Or someone’s from the same hometown or someone’s from the same sorority or fraternity, you just end up liking and having affinity with the people who are similar to you. So you have to watch for that. So part of it is just asking the open question and observing and saying, “Hey, you know what? I know that I have this gap in my awareness. I need to surround myself with people different than me.”

And that’s just a rule of thumb for business in general, where you always need to surround yourself, where they say with people smarter than you or people who know different things. So culture and diversity is another element of that. There’s nothing wrong with that. And the experiences they bring, it’s not just a token thing. They bring with them a whole wide array of experiences and awareness and knowledge that we as individuals don’t have access to. So as responsible business owners, I think it’s part of our list of things that are priorities where we need to have people… They say that there’s this data point, Drew, where they say that when you have a woman on a large corporate board, that they’ve correlated, might not be causation, but there’s correlation. They say if you have at least one woman on a corporate board that they’ve seen actually higher profits. So why is that?

Drew McLellan:

They’re pretty smart.

Farzana Nayani:

Maybe uniqueness, innovation.

Drew McLellan:

Different point view, all the things.

Farzana Nayani:

Right, and the market. Or it could be the empathy sensitivity, it could be the reach, it could be how you connect with employees. There could be any number of reasons.

Drew McLellan:

And it’s probably multiple reasons.

Farzana Nayani:

It could be more than one. Yeah, exactly. So the same thing goes for any other identity, I would say as well.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, for sure. And I think about it, given what we do for a living. We create marketing messages to connect with lots of different communities and people, and we in essence, reflect society. And so, if anybody should have a vested interest in being more inclusive and understanding people who are different from us, no matter how they’re different, it just seems like we as an industry should be all over this.

Farzana Nayani:

Absolutely. I’ll give you an example. So I was being marketed to by some automated list and it was a product I was interested in, but what came in was, “Ladies and gentlemen”, or something, and that doesn’t work now, because if I don’t identify in either of those ways, you’re missing out on me. There was another experience I had where there was a software I was looking at, and this gentleman came on and he was talking to me about how I can crush it on my goals and nail it. And it was this bro language. Actually, I said, “Given what I do around diversity, this is not connecting. This is not the right thing, the right approach, the right message, you’re doing.”

Drew McLellan:

Know your audience.

Farzana Nayani:

Yeah, exactly. So I think those fundamental principles around marketing and connecting to your group layer onto diversity, you have to have that awareness.

Drew McLellan:

We were talking, our industry is amazingly homogenous given what we do still, even today. And there’s a lot of talk in the industry about how to change it and how certain ethnicities of kids in high school or college don’t even ever think about us as a profession. So I’m curious, for us as industry leaders, not necessarily even in our own business, but what are some things we can do to invite more diversity into our industry, even if it’s generations down the path. What are some things that we can do to influence that? Because I feel like that’s our responsibility.

Farzana Nayani:

Yes. The idea of how to retain people and engage people is such an important item today. One thing that you can think about is that, there are already people there who have diverse backgrounds. So how are there ways to not only uplift and support them, but showcase the efforts that they’re doing? I think that there are a lot of also people who are not owners, but maybe who have hired amazing and brilliant minds that could one day start their own thing or be at the top of their game.

And so, thinking about that pipeline and apprenticeships and internships and even people who are stars in their own way, I think is important. There’s also something called supplier diversity, where there are big companies that are looking for companies that are minority owned or veteran owned or LGBTQ owned, et cetera. So partnering with those agencies so you can win the bigger bids, I think is huge. If, for example, you don’t have the diversity on your team. So I was working with an architectural firm and they were looking for business owners who were of various backgrounds and they had access to the bid, but it was a matter of matchmaking and having someone else come on board. And then that group will continue with their expertise. So there’s a lot of contributions we can do as a group as well.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So I want to talk to you a little bit about the quiet quitting that we’re seeing across the globe. But first, let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come back and chat about that.

Hey, sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to make sure that you are thinking about how to connect with your clients, by figuring out what they love, and maybe a few things that they’re not so crazy about with your agency. So at AMI, one of the things we offer are client satisfaction surveys, we do both quantit