Episode 378:

Diversity in the workplace is the cornerstone of running a modern and successful agency. Without it, you’re not only selling your agency short, but you’re also passing up on an immense pool of talent and ideas that you won’t find by staying in a comfort zone.

This week, we have Dr. Ella Washington, a professor, organizational psychologist, and DEI expert, on the podcast to share the purpose, pitfalls, and progress behind effective and measurable DEI work. Whether your agency has fallen behind the times or you just need a fresh perspective, we all have work to do in this area.

So, take this episode with an open mind, actively listen to it, and use it as a guide for refocusing your DEI efforts in 2023.

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 in the workplace

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • The metrics for tracking DEI work progress
  • The three P’s of starting DEI work
  • How hybrid work environments promote diversity in the workplace
  • Inviting more diversity into your organization
  • Why diverse backgrounds of all kinds matter at work
  • Inclusive leadership
  • Acknowledging and addressing microaggressions
  • How to create a safe space as a leader and invite conversations about DEI

“The three things you must think about are purpose, pitfalls, and progress.” @EllaFWashington Click To Tweet “You need to be really honest about those pitfalls. We all have them; every organization and every person has them. I think that's been the toughest thing for people to really wrap their minds around.” @EllaFWashington Click To Tweet “People that have hybrid work environments feel like they have a higher sense of belonging, a higher sense of inclusion, I think for multiple reasons.” @EllaFWashington Click To Tweet “We can do things how they always have been done, and we're going to get the same results. So we must be willing to shift, challenge, and change the status quo of how things have been done before.” @EllaFWashington Click To Tweet “It's those everyday opportunities for inclusive leadership. It’s those everyday moments to make your colleagues feel like they're seen and valued.” @EllaFWashington Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Ella:

Resources:



Announcer:

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 the podcast. Welcome to the New Year. Welcome to the month of resolutions and new beginnings and hope and promise and all of those things. And I am hoping for you a really amazing and wonderful 2023. I hope I get to see a lot of you in person, either at one of the workshops or the summit.

Just want to remind you, the Build a Better Agency Summit is coming up May 16th and 17th. If you’re a member, family day is May 15th in the afternoon, and then we’re all going to have dinner together. We have amazing speakers. We’re going to talk about leadership. We’re going to talk about handling stress. We’re going to talk about project management and how to get that done better. We’re going to talk about the core of how to be a great leader.

We’re going to talk about presentation skills, small P in terms of just sitting across the table, and also big P from a stage. We are going to talk about gratitude. We are going to talk about imposter syndrome. We are going to talk about how to level up your leadership team and what a great leadership team looks like.

We have all kinds of amazing speakers. You’re also going to learn a ton from each other. I actually think that’s what happens the most at the summit. It’s the thing that makes me the happiest. And so we would love to have you join us, May 16th and 17th. Again, if you’re an AMI member, come to family day.

At family day, we’re going to talk about estate planning for high wealth individuals and entrepreneurs. We’re going to talk about unconventional investment opportunities. And Susan Baier and I are going to release the member-only version of our 2023 research.

So lots going on at that conference. We would love to have you join us. If you’re interested, head over to the Agency Management Institute website and grab a ticket. As you know, the closer we get to the conference, the more expensive it gets, so please grab your ticket now.

All right, so let me tell you a little bit about our guest today. Dr. Ella Washington is brilliant. She is a professor. She is a organizational psychologist helping organizations run better, and she is a DEI expert. And so I’m going to ask her all kinds of questions about all of those things.

And we’re going to start off the year thinking about how we want to build the agency for this year and the future on all of those aspects and much more. So I’m really excited to introduce you to her and for you to soak in her smarts. It’s a great way to kick off the year. So let’s get to it.

Dr. Washington, welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for being with us.

Dr. Ella Washington:

It is my pleasure to be here. Thanks so much for having me.

Drew McLellan:

So will you give everybody just a sense of your background and how you became to be such an expert in this topic?

Dr. Ella Washington:

Certainly. So I’m an organizational psychologist by training. So my whole career has been spent helping workplaces be more welcoming and places that everyone can thrive. That is what I see the mission of my work. And specifically I focused on the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion, helping organizations of all sizes understand where they are on their DEI journey and how can they make progress.

Drew McLellan:

Beautiful. As you and I were talking about before I hit the record button, this is a topic that I think for our industry is so important, not just because we own businesses and need to show up in a way that is inclusive as business owners, but also because we often depict the world in our work, in our a television commercials or in brochures or in anything we produce that gives people a snapshot of the world that we live in. And I just feel like we have an opportunity to really be influential in this space.

So I want to start with just talking to you about where you see the world today. After the George Floyd murder there was this huge uprising in attention and concern about DEI issues and we saw lots of big companies come out and make statements and start to work on this. And then of course it started to quiet down.

So when you look at us as a business community, give us a letter grade and help us understand … It seems like every time something big happens, this all gets brought up again for a brief period of time and then it sort of fades away. How do we sustain the momentum of this?

Dr. Ella Washington:

To your point, the murder of George Floyd was unfortunately not the first time we have had these conversations. It’s not the first time that there’s been awareness that social justice is not really just for everyone. But it was the first time that organizations seemingly were comfortable or forced, however you want to describe it, to enter the conversation in a meaningful way.

I mean, you had companies who had never come out with public statements saying really bold things around racial equity or justice, even within their organizations or even just the word equity, adding that to their DE and I initiatives. And so I think there has been progress.

I think that attention though it has waned, that waning of attention is natural for anything. Morality can only get us so far because that wanes, it goes up and down. I do think that more organizations than two or three years ago do have DEI strategy. They are paying attention now.

Are they really making progress? I’m not sure. I think that’s where it becomes a little unclear, but they certainly … I think the attention is there. I don’t think, for example, any company is comfortable in the business community saying, oh, we don’t have a DEI perspective, we don’t talk about those things. I think that is no longer the standard or even acceptable for most organizations. Those organizations who do do that, they’re probably the anomalies.

So I think there has been a shift, but in some ways it’s too soon to tell as far as what the long term impact of that is going to be. For example, in 2020, companies pledged $67 billion towards racial equity. And at the beginning of this year, only 652 million have been spent. And so we still have to see the long term effects. And even that 652 million that have been spent, we don’t know exactly where that went. We don’t know exactly what the impact is.

And so what I’d like to see is I’d like to see progress reports from companies and not just those annual reports that are like, oh, we have these 10 programs in place. Those are good, but I really want to see tracking mechanisms. I really want to see what exactly has the progress been over the past two and a half years.

Drew McLellan:

And what would some of the metrics be in that kind of a tracking system? If we’re thinking about our own companies and we’re saying, okay, we not only want to talk about this, we not only want to put a statement on our website, but we actually want to grade ourselves to see if we are making progress, how would somebody do that?

Dr. Ella Washington:

So in order to make progress, you have to be really clear where you’re starting. So it’s not a one size fits all thing, like these are the three things you should look for. That’s easy, I could say recruitment, promotion and employee engagement scores. Sure, those are metrics, but rather than have a cookie cutter approach, you want to be really clear on first of all what it is that you’re trying to achieve. And so I say the three things you have to think about are purpose, pitfalls, and progress.

So purpose, what are you trying to achieve? What is your goal and why not because someone else has this goal, not because you see it on a company’s website that has nothing to do with your own. You can get ideas from other people, but you have to look internally to your organization, what’s our mission and purpose and how does this work specifically connect with what we are trying to do as an organization?

As I always say, we all can’t be Ben & Jerry’s, and that’s totally fine, but what Ben & Jerry’s does well is they’re really clear on their purpose and who they want to be in the business community and their actions follow that. Every single organization can do that no matter if social justice is a core part of their mission or they’re really focused on making sure their workplace is someplace that everyone feels like they can be themselves, et cetera.

So the first thing, you have to be really clear on what you’re trying to achieve. Then you have to be really honest about what’s holding you back. And so people often want to set metrics and figure out what’s next without being honest about, okay, we are saying that we will-

Drew McLellan:

Here’s where we are right now.

Dr. Ella Washington:

Right. Here’s where we are right now, and this is what’s held us back. Maybe our recruitment efforts have not really looked thoughtfully at diverse pipelines. Maybe our process for hiring isn’t as objective as it could be. It could be more rigorous in that way. Maybe we haven’t been honest about how things really get done internally. We think we have a place of equity, however, if we’re really honest, there’s a lot of informal conversations that actually lead to promotion, for example, in our organization.

You got to be really honest about those pitfalls. We all have them, every organization has them, every person has them. I think that’s been the toughest thing for people to really wrap their minds around.

And then I would say the third thing is that that’s the progress, that’s the metric. So once you handle the first two, then you’re in a position to say, okay, what are our short-term and long-term goals? And what are the key indicators that progress has been made? I think if you start with just layering in metrics without that thoughtfulness on the front end, the metrics don’t mean much.

Drew McLellan:

Right, because you’re right, they’re the generic everybody metrics as opposed to how can we move our needle knowing where we’re at?

Dr. Ella Washington:

Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

How has the post COVID shift in work where people are working from home or its hybrid situations, how has that changed what’s possible and how companies approach DEI efforts. I mean, it used to be everybody was in the office together and that had its own dynamic and now culture is shifting because people are meeting on Zoom and meetings and all of the other things that we do today. Has that made it easier for companies to attack these issues or has it made it more complicated?

Dr. Ella Washington:

The hybrid work environment provides opportunity to rethink the way that we did things before. So I think many companies are in a place of rethinking and reframing what they previously did, not only just around inclusion, but their culture in general. I would say that it doesn’t make it easier. It’s harder in fact to have deep connections when you’re on Zoom because for example, at the end of the call, you just hang up. There’s no coffee chat. There’s no walking to the next meeting. There’s no let’s grab lunch. So you do have to be more intentional.

But the research does tell us that people are feeling more included working from hybrid environments, probably because they feel a little bit more like they can be their full selves. And so organizations have to balance that increased nature of, I feel a bit more comfortable because I’m working from home most days with the necessity to be intentional about creating human connection even in a hybrid work environment.

So I’ve done work with Future Forum, it’s a nonprofit by Slack, and they survey 10,000 global workers every quarter. And what they have found specifically in looking at what people are expecting and how inclusion and belonging, how those feelings are, people that have hybrid work environments are feeling like they have a higher sense of belonging, a higher sense of inclusion, I think for those multiple reasons. So I don’t think it’s been a bad thing, but it does change the way we have to be intentional about those things.

Drew McLellan:

So if an organization is doing some self-reflection and … One of the things that we talked about a lot right after the George Floyd murder was our industry is pretty homogenous. Compared to other industries, we don’t have a lot of diversity among our ranks, and certainly we don’t have a lot of diversity in the leadership roles. And that’s true not only of racial diversity, but honestly, we’re a pretty white man world, especially at the leadership and ownership level.

And so if somebody is looking at their organization and saying, A, I want to create an environment where people of all kinds are comfortable here, but B, I want to actively recruit more diversity, but I’m in a pretty whitebread city in a pretty whitebread industry, how do I go about inviting more diversity into my organization and attracting more people of various backgrounds into my world? How do I do that?

Dr. Ella Washington:

So the first thing you have to do is debunk the implicit myth that there is not diversity available. No matter, if you are in a industry or a location, there is diversity available. And that may sound basic, but it is foundational. We have to debunk the myth that it’s not available to us.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I think you’re right. I think a lot of people have used that excuse. I live in either a small town or a very homogenous town or our industry, just we don’t have candidates. I’ve talked to a lot of agency owners and they’ll say, “Look, we are recruiting, but our candidates all look like each other.”

Dr. Ella Washington:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

Right?

Dr. Ella Washington:

So my next question for them is, where are you recruiting?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Dr. Ella Washington:

Some industries have figured it out. I truly don’t think it’s rocket science, it does take effort though. It’s not easy. It’s not rocket science, but it’s not easy. You have to search for schools that have diverse populations that are maybe specializing in your industry. You have to be willing to maybe stretch a little bit.

One thing that the financial industry did about 15 or so years ago, they stopped requiring everyone to have finance backgrounds. They were like, there are certain skills that we can teach on the job. So maybe if you had an engineering background or maybe if you had another adjacent background that still you have the core skills needed to do the job, but maybe you just didn’t major in finance, that opened up the pipeline in the financial world, just for example. And I think we can learn from that.

Drew McLellan:

That’s a great example.

Dr. Ella Washington:

I mean, I remember back when I was in college, it was the first time that many of those financial institutions were welcoming people with liberal arts degrees. As long as you had some math skills or whatever the skills needed for the job, you didn’t have to have that specific degree.

And so that’s one of the things that comes to mind for your industry because we can do things how they always have been done and we’re going to get the same results. So we must be willing to shift, challenge, and change the status quo of how things have been done before. So that may look a little bit different than how you grew up in the industry. That’s hard for people.

In my book, I interviewed the CEO of Infosys, and one thing that he did was look for non-traditional backgrounds in the tech world. And so in the tech world, it’s been pretty homogenous in terms of what schools people go to, what their backgrounds are specifically.

And what he said, he said, “We’re going to go to community colleges because community colleges have so much untapped potential. And looking at the statistics, we want to leverage the potential, especially from these folks with these community college degrees that are in these technical spaces.”

And so that was a amazing idea and it definitely pushed the status quo, but what he didn’t expect is that internal resistance of people saying, well, I had to have a four-year degree, so everyone has to have a four-year degree, or that’s the pathway to success. And so we have to shift our own mindsets to say, just because that was how we did things doesn’t mean it was the best way to do it, and it certainly doesn’t mean that that’s how we have to continue to do things in the future.

So a lot of this is mindset shift as opposed to there’s this big secret of how you get more diversity. So once you shift your mindset, then I think it’ll become a lot clearer to say, oh, there’s these historically Black colleges and universities in my area or in my state, there are historically Hispanic serving institutions in my state.

Or we’re in such a global workforce, a hybrid workforce, they don’t have to be co-located. Maybe we think about what a career pathway could look like for someone who does live across the country but has interest in this field. Can we grow them? Is there an opportunity for a hybrid type of working relationship?

Drew McLellan:

I was thinking that the new work world does open up, literally open up the world to a much larger candidate pool. And by accepting the fact that everybody’s not going to live down the block from your brick and mortar office and figuring out ways to make that work, which honestly most companies are doing today anyway, even with their employees who do live down the street from their brick and mortar. We just have to think a little differently.

Dr. Ella Washington:

Even employees that live down the street don’t want to come into the office every day.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Dr. Ella Washington:

They’re like, the commute’s not bad, but I still don’t want to do it every day.

Drew McLellan:

Right. I’m going to take a quick divergence because of your background. Do you think we’ll ever get back to everybody working in an office five days a week?

Dr. Ella Washington:

No. I think that there are some companies that have tried to mandate that, they’ve got a lot of pushback. And there may be some industries where there is still a higher norm of being in the office most days, but I do not think an organization that wants top talent in today’s environment is going to be able to require five days a week, especially if they want a diverse workforce. Because that’s not only from a racial and gender demographic, you’re even ostracizing working parents or people with different abilities or people that are caretakers of elderly parents.

There’s just so many different ways that people show up as diverse, and working in a hybrid environment allows way more opportunity. So if you want top talent, and that’s not predicated on them being in the office, you’re better off having a hybrid work environment. So no, I don’t think we’ll ever go back to that at all.

Drew McLellan:

Do you think we would’ve gotten here without the pandemic?

Dr. Ella Washington:

Absolutely not.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Sort of fascinating, right?

Dr. Ella Washington:

Many companies have had work from home opportunities, one day a week or depending on their role. So work from home wasn’t a new thing, but most CEOs, if you would’ve asked them could they take all of their operations virtually, they’d say, absolutely not, we could never do that, or that would take us so long to do. And so the pandemic forced us to do it and we had to adjust. Humans are so dynamic in that way. We can adjust to many things.

And so I’m not advocating that we are not in offices. There are so many benefits of the community building and connection that does happen in person. I mean, for me as a professor, I’m so glad we’re back in person in the classroom.

Drew McLellan:

Of course.

Dr. Ella Washington:

It’s painstaking to try to teach on Zoom to college students who barely want to listen in the first place.

So there’s value, there’s benefit, but what many workplaces have started to understand is that it shouldn’t just be humdrum, we’re going to the office, just sit in our cubicles, don’t talk to each other anyways, and then go home. What it needs to be is when we’re in the office together, we are building community, there are things that are happening.

Maybe we’re saving those meetings to collaborate and brainstorm as opposed to doing our siloed work. Siloed work is important for most people. They need time to actually do the work. And so if we’re in meetings all day, that becomes impossible.

So there’s pros and cons of both. And I think that if we are thoughtful, we can get the best of both worlds. We can get the best of the world of yester year where we’re in person making those connections, but we can also get the best of the opportunity to be more flexible, invite more diversity and more diverse perspectives by having virtual and hybrid teams.

Drew McLellan:

Right, diversity in all the ways, not just in how and who people are, but even in ideas and backgrounds and experiences. And I think about it in our work that’s so important that we bring different perspectives to our work as we try and solve problems for our clients. If everybody has the same background, the same education, comes from the same geography, we’re pretty limited in how we can see things.

Dr. Ella Washington:

Absolutely. In my book, that’s one thing that the CEO of Uncle Nearest, Fawn Weaver talks about. It’s not just about demographic diversity. Diversity of thought is such a powerful mechanism that’s often overlooked. We can be from different races and genders, but if we all wear the same blue suit to work every day and we’re all thinking the same way, we all went to the same three schools and we’re all from the same region of the United States and all from the United States to begin with, there’s a lack of diversity there.

And by the way, not only do we have to have this diversity of thought ingrained, we have to encourage it as well. We have to have organizations that want you to be a divergent opinion in the group, that want you to play the devil’s advocate, that want you to raise your hand and say, oh, that’s not quite right, I’m thinking about it a little differently. And so those are the ways you can leverage and maximize diversity including and above and beyond just the demographic diversity that you have.

Drew McLellan:

So I want to ask you about what gets in the way of inviting that. So the whole idea of microaggressions and how … So let’s take a quick break and then I want to come back and talk about some of the things that happen every day that deflate the effort.

Hey everybody. I promise I will not keep you more than a minute, but I want to make sure you know that at AMI, one of the things that we offer are virtual peer groups. So think of it as a Vistage group or an EO group, only everybody around the table, figuratively in this case, is an agency owner. So you have to be an agency owner to belong.

The virtual peer groups meet every month for 90 minutes on Zoom. This was not a COVID creation, it was pre COVID. You see the same people in your cohort every time, so you get to create relationships with them. And it is facilitated by AMI staffer, Craig Barnes, who has owned his own agency for 25 or 30 years. So plenty of great experience both from Craig, but also learning from each other.

So if you have any interest in learning more about how that works, head over to the AMI website and under memberships you will find the virtual peer group and you can get all the information there. All right? Okay, let’s get back to the show.

All right, we are back with Dr. Ella Washington and we’re talking about DEI efforts. And right before the break we were talking about how important it is in any industry, but certainly in ours to have a variety of backgrounds, opinions, ways of thinking, experiences, so that our work can reflect all of that.

But there are a lot of things that happen, small little things that happen in the workplace that dampen people’s spirit in terms of speaking up or having a different opinion or being honest about who they are and talking about their background versus the majority of people’s in the offices background. So can you talk to us a little bit about what that looks like and how we as leaders can address those microaggressions?

Dr. Ella Washington:

Absolutely. So microaggressions are a part of our lives because stereotypes exist. We have sordid histories that exist and it’s a reality. And it’s also a humanizing factor because every single one of us has committed a microaggression before, every single one. No matter what your background is, no matter what your beliefs are, we have all done it, likely have done it unintentionally. So we have all been the aggressor of sorts. And most of us, again, no matter what your background have also been on the receiving end of a microaggression.

And so if we think about it, it’s this thing that we’ve all done. We’ve all said something that’s a little off kilter or played into a stereotype maybe we didn’t know existed. And so once we recognize that no one’s perfect and that we all have the capacity and probably have done these things likely unintentionally, but we’ve still done them, it brings a sense of humility. It brings a sense of, okay, this is something we can all continuously work on.

And so the challenge is that when we refuse to acknowledge that maybe we do have some stereotypes that are in our mind that maybe we didn’t realize or because we didn’t intend for something to be hurtful, that we’re not able to realize the impact it actually had on our colleagues. So you have to be in a space to recognize, one, these things happen, and two, they don’t have to though, there are things that we can do about them.

The challenge with microaggressions is that for many people they don’t know they’ve happened, or they don’t know they exist, or they don’t know where they lie until they’ve gotten called out. And so now we’re in a situation where I feel uncomfortable, not quite sure how to navigate this. And I encourage folks just come from a place of humility.

First of all, recognize that if someone is hopefully calling you in instead of calling you out, but if someone is bringing something that you said that was hurtful to your attention, there is underlying, a sense of trust. There’s this underlying sense that something can change. Because for most of us, psychologically, if you truly think your manager is never going to listen, they’re never going to change, your colleague is never going to be open minded, you don’t waste your time, you just keep it moving.

Drew McLellan:

Well, you don’t take the risk.

Dr. Ella Washington:

Exactly. You don’t take the risk, you don’t waste your time. And so even though our first reaction is usually to be defensive, I truly want to plant that seed deep down that when those moments happen, the reason why they’re bringing it to you is because in some way they think something can change. And if you take that perspective, you’re much more likely to be open to their feedback and take it as a learning opportunity.

It doesn’t feel good. Absolutely, it doesn’t feel good for anyone, but it’s not about feeling good in the moment. It’s about how can we create a stronger relationship moving forward. People don’t like discomfort. Change is uncomfortable. Having these conversations are uncomfortable. So they’re not something you wake up and you’re like, oh, I can’t wait to talk about a microaggression today. No. Who does that?

Drew McLellan:

Right. I sure hope somebody calls me out today. Right.

Dr. Ella Washington:

Right. But when those moments are presented, that’s our opportunity to really practice what we preach. That’s the opportunity to go beyond those statements, go beyond the black squares on Instagram, go beyond the moment or the trend. And that’s where the true work of diversity, equity, and inclusion happens. It’s that everyday moments. It’s those everyday opportunities for inclusive leadership. It’s the everyday moments to make your colleagues feel like they’re seen and valued.

And I think that’s what people truly miss. I think for the most part around DEI, they think it’s this big thing, that it’s always whenever it’s on the news or when there are big moments. Absolutely, DEI is the big moments, but it’s also the small moments too.

And part of the reason I wrote my book, The Necessary Journey is to demystify what DEI is all about so that people can see it is about these everyday moments as well, and see with the nine stories that I tell of organizations in the book, what it means to have DEI integrated every single day, not just in those big moments.

Drew McLellan:

Right. So a microaggression, I just want people to understand what it actually looks like, because I think sometimes, as you say, that happens without people knowing it. So is it somebody making a comment about how someone looks? Is it about a holiday? Does it often show up as a joke? How do they appear?

Dr. Ella Washington:

Microaggressions appear in so many ways. So there are behavioral microaggressions, so one person not getting the same type of service as another person, let’s say based on their race for example. That’s a behavioral microaggression. That’s something that’s behaviorally done.

There’s verbal microaggressions, so making a comment or a joke about someone’s appearance or background or speech. Those are verbal microaggressions.

And then we also have environmental microaggressions, so things that exist within our environments, such as Confederate statues of previous slave owners. Or I’m here in Washington DC, our beloved now Commanders were previously the Redskins. That was an environmental microaggression that was not culturally sensitive and inclusive of the history of Indigenous peoples in our country.

And so first of all, they exist in so many different ways. Second of all, I can run down the list of race, gender, socioeconomic status, education, et cetera. So certainly marginalized communities are the ones that feel microaggressions more, but that’s not always the case.

I can make a offensive comment about you being a white man, and that is still a microaggression. Or I can make an assumption and say, oh, well, you always feel included because you’re a white man. That is a microaggression. That is not necessarily true, and that is not giving consideration to your experience and how you see the world.

And so again, that’s why I say it’s that humanizing factor that we all have probably said or done something that is considered a microaggression. And the other hard thing is that it’s in the eye of the beholder. And so a joke that I make to you, you might laugh it off and not think anything about it. A joke I make to someone else may be really hurtful for them.

And so for me as the aggressor, I’m thinking, well, I just said that to such and such yesterday and they didn’t have a problem with me asking who’s taking care of their kids while they’re at work. But someone else may be really offended by that. And it’s because, this is the messy part of DEI, it’s humans. Everyone is not the same, and so we have to leave space for individual experiences.

We all see the world through our own personal lens. We see the world based off of our backgrounds, our values, whether or not we’ve had our coffee this morning. I mean, all of those things are the lens which we see the world, and so we have to understand that impact to intent ratio is not always one-to-one. Just because someone didn’t mean something offensive doesn’t mean we don’t receive it that way and vice versa.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, you’re right. It’s all about their perspective. So I’m a single dad, and so I’m always correcting people who make assumptions about dads versus moms.

Dr. Ella Washington:

Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

But no one would know that just by looking at me, so you’re right. That’s an interesting perspective that everybody has a subject or a topic that is going to be triggering for them and it’s not always visible to us what that might be.

Dr. Ella Washington:

And that’s a really challenging part, when they’re not visible because someone could say something about dads not being as active in their kids’ lives and not even realize they are being so offensive to you, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Dr. Ella Washington:

So then that’s a moment where you have to decide, is this a conversation I want to engage in? Do I correct them? Is this something that I just roll off of my back? But the thing about microaggressions and the reason why they are important to acknowledge and address is because they’re like … Death of a thousand cuts is the analogy I really like.

So someone says something about dads one or two times and you’re like, I just roll it off my shoulder. I don’t know how old your children are, but by 10 or 12 years of hearing this, it’s like, all right, I got to say something. This really does have a long-term impact.

And in the workplace, we know from research that microaggressions lead to people feeling more cases of depression. They feel like they don’t belong in the organization. There’s way more imposter syndrome. They feel more isolation and loneliness, and they’re more likely to leave.

And these are things that people will often say, oh, it’s not that big of a deal, but when you think about that, it does have an impact and research has showed us that. How would you feel if your colleague left because of that joke, right?

Drew McLellan:

That’s right.

Dr. Ella Washington:

That wouldn’t feel good and I don’t think that’s what most people want.

Drew McLellan:

God, we could do a whole show just on microaggressions. I’ll have to have you come back and do that.

So as we wrap up, as a leader in an organization, how do I set the tone and the stage for acknowledging that it really is a million little moments? And whether it’s a microaggression or your recruiting habits or whatever, how do I as a leader, make it really clear? And how do I set the tone for my organization being a safe place to call each other in, as you say, to have these conversations?

Again, right after the Floyd murder, there were a lot of book clubs that started in organizations and things like that, but how do I make it really clear in my organization that I want everyone to feel welcome and included and seen and recognized and celebrated?

Dr. Ella Washington:

So I think it’s that same process of understanding that organizations have a DEI journey, but individuals do as well, and especially leaders, and so there’s this parallel process that’s happening. So as a leader, and not only do you have to understand where your organization is and what you want to accomplish, you also have to look inward. You have to look inward at saying, what is your purpose? What is it that you really want to work on? What are areas of opportunities for learning? What are the areas of opportunities for maybe action that maybe in the past you’ve been on the sidelines a bit, you want to be a more active ally. What are areas of opportunity within your organization? What’s your purpose?

And then what’s holding you back? The same thing. Maybe I have to be honest that I grew up in a household where some of those stereotypes were talked about often and it wasn’t a thing. So I didn’t think about that till I got to college and I was in a more diverse environment. Whatever that is, you got to be honest about what’s holding you back.

Is it, you’re just uncomfortable because it’s different? You’re not sure how to really use pronouns, so you never ask people what they mean? You never enter that conversation? Again, we all have things that we can work on. You got to be honest about that reflective process.

And then just as with the organization, once you get those first two down, then you can say, okay, what does progress look like? So as a leader, progress looks like X and Y and Z. Maybe my team members feel more comfortable talking to me. Maybe it is a metric. I look at my organization’s engagement scores, but what if I look specifically at my team?

Or maybe it’s those matters of having those individual conversations with your team members and feeling an increased sense of comfort, not only for yourself, but also recognizing your team members are starting to connect with you more. I mean, there’s so much that can be done.

And so instead of trying to boil the ocean, like I say, which is really hard and there’s always more work to be done, getting that granular focus, holding the mirror up and say, hey, what am I trying to accomplish? What’s holding me back? And what does success look like with those progress, pitfalls, and purpose? I think that is truly the key for leaders to engage in a meaningful way around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Drew McLellan:

That’s a great call to action for all of us, for sure. This has been a great conversation and I really would love to have you come back because I think you can teach us a lot more, but we need to wrap up for today. So tell folks how they can find your book, learn more about your work, reach out to you. How do they connect?

Dr. Ella Washington:

Absolutely. My book is available on all platforms. It’s called The Necessary Journey: Making Real Progress on Equity and Inclusion. It’s published by Harvard Business Press. You can find it again on all platforms. I’m super active on LinkedIn. I’d love if you connect with me on LinkedIn, Ella F. Washington on LinkedIn. And I look forward to connecting with you then.

Drew McLellan:

That’s awesome. We will put links for all of that in the show notes, folks, so you can find Dr. Washington. So thank you so much for being here and for being patient, as I’m sure I’m asking very elementary questions. But it feels like we have to start at the beginning and we have a lot of work to do, and so I’m super grateful for your expertise and your tolerance. So thank you.

Dr. Ella Washington:

My pleasure. I’d love to come back and continue the conversation. And just want to encourage everyone, we’re all on a journey, literally, and so it’s not about how fast we get there, but it is about us continuing to have forward motion, put one step in front of the other.

Drew McLellan:

And wanting to do it.

Dr. Ella Washington:

That’s right.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. All right, guys. So the last thing that Dr. Washington said about us examining where we’re at, our own experiences, the biases that we’re unaware of and aware of, that’s where we start. That’s how we actually step up into this in a really humble leader role. And so I’m going to encourage you to spend some time thinking about that. Grab her book, take a read. There’s lots of other good resources out there.

But we set the tone for this and we set the tone in our own organizations. And in a bigger macro way, we are setting the tone for the world with our work. And so I just feel like this is not an optional activity for us. We have to care about this. We have to step into the opportunity of this both in our own organizations and in our industry.

So this is not a passively listen to the episode, episode, this is a, I really do want you to do something with it. So go out and find some resources. Happy to have these conversations with you. Find other colleagues to have these conversations. Bring these conversations into your work environment.

Share with your people that you’re doing this exploration and you’re trying to figure out your own path to being more open-minded and inclusive. And I think that will help them be more comfortable sharing with you their journey, wherever that is. And so I think there’s a great opportunity for us to lead in a really meaningful way around this. So I encourage you to do that.

All right, I’ll be back next week with another guest. Huge shout out to our friends at White Label IQ. As you know, they’re the presenting sponsor of the podcast. So head over to whitelabeliq.com/ami for a special offer that they have for you.

And I’ll be back next week, and if you want to have this conversation hit me up, I’m happy to have it. I think this is really important and I think we can lead the way, which is exciting. And it’s also, I think, an obligation and responsibility we have. So let’s do it together. All right, I’ll see you next week. Thanks for listening.

That’s a wrap for this week’s episode of Build a Better Agency. Visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to check out our workshops, coaching packages, and all the other ways we serve agencies just like yours. Thanks for listening.