Don’t be silent about diversity - demand it
Straight-talking diversity consultant Torin Ellis, shared his views on corporate D&I initiatives and why he thinks they are no longer an optional extra but an essential that should be insisted upon…
The mere existence of diversity and inclusion initiatives creates the impression that enormous progress has been made in creating equanimity within the workplace but, in actuality, the data says otherwise.
According to 2021 research from Workday a third of UK companies do not have D&I programs. The same study said that one in 10 UK businesses did not see the importance of diversity, while 12 per cent described it as “polarising”.
In the US the report, Elevating Equity: The Real Story of Diversity and Inclusion from Together Forward @Work, an initiative from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) says:
- 76 per cent of companies have no diversity or inclusion goals.
- 75 per cent of companies do not have DE&I included in the company's leadership development or overall learning and development curricula.
- 40 per cent of companies view diversity work as a way to mitigate legal, compliance or reputational risks, with HR in an enforcer role.
- 32 per cent of companies require some form of DE&I training for employees; 34 per cent offer training to managers.
Torin Ellis says otherwise as well. It’s the reason he spends his days consulting, advising, and highlighting the gap between the rhetoric and the results.
According to his bio, Ellis is a Human Capital Strategist, “focused on the art of recruiting diverse talent using various creative methods”.
His resume includes 17 years of human capital efforts, military service, several Board of Director roles and a book Rip the Resume: Job Search & Interview Power Prep. He’s also an extremely engaging and powerful speaker too. If he’s ever part of an event you’re at, it’s recommended that you go and listen to him. He doesn’t pull any punches.
He approaches everything from a starting place of honesty and transparency. Without that, he argues, no meaningful progress will be made. Companies and organisations have plenty of great intentions, but unless they are willing to have difficult conversations, confront uncomfortable truths and recognise their own reality, they are talking the talk but not walking the walk.
“What I think organisations are getting right these days”, he says, “is that they are recognising that they need to create different and more tailored messaging. That the marketplace is thirsty for better storytelling, more honesty, integrity, and such.
“We're being a bit more honest in our messaging, but I still believe where we are missing is that we are we are still operating with a bit of restriction. We're not willing to go far enough. We're not willing to tell the real story, the truest story of our organisation. And I think that's the last frontier.
“When I say the last frontier, a lot of people, say I am crazy. Why would we talk about a #metoo infraction or why would we talk about leadership that has been negligent around pay equity? Or why would we talk about an organisation that may have had a policy around not hiring from certain schools or from certain communities? Why would we tell that story in the marketplace?
“People probably would say that I'm crazy, but I believe that is the last frontier around messaging. And so, I think that the sooner we get to that frontier, the better it will be. And the people you hire are going to stay in your organisation for 10 years versus the 18-24 months that we're experiencing right now.”
Implementing D&I initiatives
Fear of talking about these realities is perhaps what is preventing companies from achieving real progress in their D&I work. As he has readily admitted, It might also be the case that they do think he’s crazy.
Certainly, fear is not something that is holding him back.
“We're so accustomed to it being the way that it has been. We're still separating and divorcing ourselves from the protocol of everything needing to be pleasant. Everything needing to be of promise, everything needing to be shiny. We'll only tell the good of our opportunity. We paint these job descriptions, and all these wonderful things about the organisation’s new acquisitions, and market expansions and new product rollouts, and all these things. And here are the things that we want you to be able to do, to be a great communicator, team player, someone who's self-driven and ambitious, and a go getter, we use all these beautiful phraseologies on the left side of the balance sheet.
“But then when we get inside, we find out that we're working for a manager who has poor communication skills; we're working for a leader who does not believe in having black folks in leadership roles, or women in leadership, or for a person who is an absolute misogynist, or someone who you don't want to go on a business trip with because they are known for getting drunk and being belligerent.
“So, we don't tell the story. And we know that these individuals are in our organisations. The bottom line is, we must be willing to cross that frontier of being more honest.”
Diversity in the workplace
The subject of diversity is, by its very nature, diverse. It’s not just about race, but sex, gender, age, class, disability, physical health, mental health, religion and more. All of which are to varying degrees emotive, divisive, volatile issues for a company to deal with.
Ellis agrees that some companies, whatever they may project outwardly, find it almost overwhelming to deal with and to get right. But how many are ready to admit that? Instead, he argues, they have been fighting the battle in what they may regard as a more comfortable arena.
“For some, absolutely. They're afraid of their lack of preparedness. Lack of acumen in the various dimensions of diversity and in the various dimensions around equity and representation. And so, because they don't have that deep rooted knowledge, because they don’t have a virtuoso, an expert, if you will, they will just tackle one dimension. It’s the reason why for the last five to seven years, the largest of organisations focus their diversity efforts on women.
“It may have seemed like they were talking about race, but no in all actuality, most of the tech companies or the largest of the tech companies, they focused on women. I say this often, but the biggest benefit of diversity and inclusion efforts has been for white women. It's not black and brown people. It has been white women. The data supports what I'm saying, which is that I think that they have taken the easier route around diversity and inclusion.
“What I want and encourage people to reconsider is that there are some other dimensions. And no, we don't need to tackle all of them at the same time. But we do need to recognise that while in 2022, we may be working or targeting two or three of those dimensions, we recognise that there are others out there. And in 2023, we might shift our focus and do two or three other dimensions. And then in 2024, we may need to come back and revisit the first set of dimensions. I just want people to know that there's no finish line.”
Truth, honesty, transparency, call it what you will, is the foundation of Ellis’ approach, just as it is in all good employer branding. Only through that can you create an employer brand that is truly authentic and representative of a company’s culture. And if one of the reveals is that diversity is lacking then it also needs to be part of the conversation, no matter how much has already been spent to say otherwise.
“I just believe that if we, as EB teams, allocate just a percentage more of our effort towards gathering those stories from the real individuals in our organisations, we will put out more genuine, more intimate, more authentic messaging that is going to resonate in the communities in which we need to increase representation.”
Sometimes he says the answer is a bit simpler than what we make it: “Let's just tell better stories.”
He is also on record with his belief that employees and individuals in different groups need to more insistent in their ‘negotiations’, in order to achieve the change they want to see.
“I will tell you that not enough people are demanding,” he says. “We still have a lot of individuals that are taking the posture of asking or requesting, of being conciliatory. And I get it, I know that that is a part of business protocol and relationship building. But at some point, you must be able to walk into a room and say, ‘listen, we absolutely must do something different’. You must be able to walk into your executive, your CEO, the leaders of the organisation, and you need to be able to drop a folder of reports on there and say, ‘this is the deal’.
“And that's got to come from a variety of different people. It must come from people in HR, it must come from people in leadership, from employees, from folks in learning and development. It's got to come from people in supplier diversity; must come from people in corporate social responsibility, and philanthropic giving, and people who care about the community and environmental concerns.
“That “demanding” that I'm talking about must come from a variety of different voices. Because if it's only coming from the black guy who's a consultant, that's not enough. If it's only coming from the one person who's disabled over in accounts payable, that's not enough. It must be a chorus of people demanding something different inside of our organisations, or else they're going to continue to do what they've been doing.”
You won’t get him to name the companies that he thinks are getting it right. Not because there aren’t any, but because none of them are getting everything right. But what he can detect is companies that are at least making a real effort and matching some words with some deeds.
“If you are, serious about this work and you care about D&I, you can tell which organisations are doing a better job at it.”
- They will show up at different conferences and events.
- They will have different messaging on job boards, and on their corporate website. They will do more than just put up a diversity statement.
- They will support organisations and associations and communities that have often been overlooked and under-represented.
- They will make statements to suggest that they are doing a better job of providing representation at the highest levels of leadership in their organisation.
- They will be transparent on their website around what their supplier diversity mix looks like and what their philanthropic giving looks like.
- You will see employees on sites like LinkedIn and Twitter and others singing the praises of the organisation around the expansive learning and development catalogue that they have access to.
“So, if you care about or if you're curious about diversity and inclusion or who's getting it right or who's doing this around equity, you will see it. You will see organisations that are signing pledges around Hands Off My Body or they are supporting their employees as it relates to here in America, on voting rights acts or things of that sort. Companies’ leadership will take a stand on social issues, by at least making an honest and earnest effort towards being better at it, versus the ones that are silent on everything. They're silent on equity. They're silent on equality. They're silent on inclusion. They're silent on representation and leadership. They're silent on community giving, they're silent, silent, silent. So those are the ones that we want to stay away from.”