Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Beyond The Buzzwords

Catch up on our DE&I focussed webinar with our US Client Partner, David Helfrich for a refreshing, no-frills perspective - aiming to challenge traditional perceptions associated with DE&I.

David Helfrich, our US client partner, explores this dynamic topic offering a refreshing, no-frills perspective - aiming to challenge traditional perceptions associated with DE&I.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion has been at the forefront of many organizational initiatives over the past year, and rightfully so. In order to compete with the talent of tomorrow, we must all strive to be better and do better.

What's discussed?

  • Removing institutional/organizational barriers to empower openness and authenticity when driving DEI initiatives
  • The challenges of hiring diverse candidates in niche subject matter areas
  • Challenges in hiring “diverse” candidates who come from the same elite institutions
  • Being conscious of subtle/micro-aggressive discrimination in addition to overt/obvious examples
  • Mindfulness around terms/concepts like “diversity hires” and why language and phraseology is important
  • How racism, sexism, ableism, and genderism in greater society is reflected in the workplace

Full Transcript

Guest Speaker Introductions

Kristen LeBlanc [00:00:08] Hello and welcome everyone. I'm Kritsen LeBlanc. I am the executive director of ATAP the Association of Talent Acquisition Professionals. We are so glad you could join us this morning for this amazing webinar opportunity. I'm going to kick it off to David. But first, I just want to let you know that if you have any questions or thoughts or comments or anything you want to put in the chat function or in the Q&A. We'll be monitoring it and we will be stopping to have a Q&A toward the end of the session. So thank you to Armstrong Craven for their support of this livestream. And David Helfrich is a client partner / head of the Americas for Armstrong Craven. So I'm going to go ahead and kick it off him to get us started.

David Helfrich [00:00:57] Perfect, thank you, Kristen, for that introduction. Thank you, everyone, for joining us. Super excited to be here today. I'm delighted to be joined by two experts in the field, two people who have great respect for - and before we get into that. I am head of the Americas, I partner for Armstrong Craven. We are a global organisation and put it in proper context for today's discussion. Approximately 65% to 70% of the projects were engaged in, whether it's an insider or a research project, executive search or talent pipelining, has a diversity component to it.

So even though this may be somewhat of an academic discussion today in practice, diversity, equity and inclusion is really at the forefront of the vast majority of businesses, nonprofits and organisations that you'll see out there, which is encouraging. That's not to say that we still don't have a long way to go, which we'll get into today. So without further ado, I did want to introduce our panellists.

First, we have Su jan, who is the principal of diversity at Workplace Consulting Group, working with organisations to diversify their workforce and to create inclusive, equitable work environments through consultation and trainings. She also was the vice president of Talent, Diversity and inclusion at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, where she led the Enterprise Diversity and Inclusion, Talent Acquisition, Performance Management and Leadership Development, along with the associate engagement teams. In addition to her expertise in DE&I and talent management, she has held leadership roles in IT, Operations, Marketing, Sales and Call Centres in various organisations and industries. Su received her MBA from Suffolk University and her M.S. in non-profit management from Northeastern University. Hi Su, how are you doing today?

Su Joun [00:02:50] Great, thank you. Delighted to join you.

David Helfrich [00:02:54] Perfect. Secondarily, we have Greg Whitt who was the legal recruitment manager at Earthjustice, focusing on Senior Level Lateral Attorney Recruitment, Legal Fellowships, Legal Clerkships, Internships and a variety of other roles from 2011 to 2019, Greg worked as a Legal Recruiter at the Federal Trade Commission and the Bureau of Competition. In 2018, he received one of the FTC's highest honours, the A Leon Higginbotham Junior Award. This award recognises supervisors, employees or groups that have made outstanding contributions toward fostering equal employment opportunities. Prior to working at the FTC, Gregg worked in professional development and recruitment at Arnold Porter LLP's Washington DC headquarters. Gregg received his B.A. in Journalism from Temple University. He lives in his hometown of Washington, DC, with his wife, daughter and their dog. Gregg, how are we doing today and what kind of dog is that, by the way? I was curious.

Gregg Whitt [00:03:55] The dog is a chihuahua-pug mix. His name is Primo. He's not well-behaved, but we love him anyway. Thank you for the great intro and looking forward to a great conversation. 


The Importance of DE&I

David Helfrich [00:04:09] Wonderful. Yeah, we appreciate you both being here with us today. And you know, listen, we're kind of we kind of hope we can take the gloves off today, kind of move off the beaten path because when you think about DE&I. It's an exhaustive subject, right? Everyone's talking about something that is at the forefront of everyone's mind. But you know, I think few discussions go into really an authentic conversation to really give a no-frills interaction of what DE&I means, outside of some of the preconceived notions that we all care about. So I want to welcome you both and also say that this is an open forum to really challenge people's ideas on this as well to push the envelope. And our goal is to have a really progressive conversation that helps people think about DE&I in sort of a new way that hopefully fosters creativity and an open-mindedness to leave people with something different.

So to start, I mean, I wanted to ask, you know, why is this such an important topic, right? Because you know, we hear people sometimes make a business case for DE&I, right? I've heard many people say, oh, well, listen, the more diverse an organisation is, the more profitable it is. However, is this the right framing? You know what? Why would we look at DE&I as sort of a business profitability utility as opposed to sort of a moral imperative? What do you think the right way to view DE&I is? Is it comprehensive? Is it? Is it first and foremost a moral imperative as a humanity and as a society? Or do you also give credence to those who would make a business case for it? I'll open that up to both of you now, Su you can start, please.

Su Joun [00:05:47] Absolutely. Again, I'm Su Joun. My pronouns are she/her and hers, and I'm really happy to join you all today. So David, my first response to that question would be all of the above, all of the above. I don't think we need to spend any more time debating even about what the rationale is. I'm hoping in the year 2021, we're done with having to get permission to do this work or having to justify this work or convince organisations and senior leaders to do this work. Because let's face it, if we know there is racism, sexism, genderism, ableism, etcetera, in society, we have to assume there is racism, sexism, genderism ableism etcetera in organisations.

People don't come to an organisation's door and completely leave everything behind. I know in a way we sort of looked at that maybe 20/10 years ago that we do separate work and home, but we all know that it's flawed. It's the same. You know, it's people who function in society, also function in organisations. So we have to assume if we - if we see the events that is unfolding and highlighting things that have been in our country for - for hundreds of years, we have to assume that it's in our organisation. And for those organisations and say, well, I only want to focus on business, well, diversity equity inclusion helps with business. There's a direct correlation between financial performance, innovation, decision making, war on talent, all of that. So and for those who sort of have an individual commitment to - to do this work, it's it's applicable to that as well. So I would say all of the above. Let's stop debating the reasons why and let's just get to making an impact.

David Helfrich [00:07:40] Very well, said, Gregg, what are your thoughts?

Gregg Whitt [00:07:42] Yeah, I completely agree with Su. I think, you know, business case is - is like long settled. I think we can all agree on that. I think, you know, from my perspective, I think I work in a pretty unique environment that I work for Earthjustice, which is the premier environmental, non-profit law firm. And when you think about environmental issues, you typically - the communities that are suffering when there are environmental problems are communities of colour, they are tribal and indigenous peoples, they are generally people who've been underserved and in some cases rendered voiceless. And we work in partnership and on behalf of these people. So for us being able to work across cultures and in partnership with different groups of people. I mean, it's a very real part of the business and that's why and we're a non-profit right.

The other thing about Earthjustice, I think it's unique is that we are always representing others. You'll never see in a case, Earthjustice versus so-and-so. It's always us working in partnership, representing other people. And so, in order to represent other people, in order to represent people who may be from different cultures experiencing different things and not only represent but work in partnership with them, these are communities who know more about what's going on than we do. So, in many cases, they are leading the charge and we're working in partnership with them. We have to be culturally competent. And so, it's much more explicit in this organisation.

But still, if you are in a corporate profit-driven environment, it doesn't really change, right? If you want to make money and we talk about structural issues as they relate to racism, sexism, you know, all of these issues that if we can come together and agree that these issues exist in our society, that's going to be reflected in commerce and business. And in order to be the best business that you can be in order to create an environment where you can represent and make money for your stakeholders, you have to keep in mind the people, the human beings that are involved, both from a consumer/customer perspective to internally how you're going to work as a team to reach all these goals. So, it doesn't really matter whether you're in an NGO, whether you're in a corporate environment, whether you're in a state or federal government it's still vitally important. And it's not - I think people have long looked at it as sort of a squishy kind of kumbaya thing, but it really is a factor in succeeding in no matter what business environment you happen to be in. 


Racism, Sexism, Ableism and Genderism in the Workplace

David Helfrich [00:10:56] Very well said it, fascinating comments to that I'd like to segue into a different question for you because, you know, in the United States, certainly, I think we all remember we're all probably young enough and old enough to remember the turn of the century around 2000 when, you know, I think there was sort of this optimistic attitude that we were kind of moving towards a post-racial, a post-sexist society. I think people got a sober awakening that that wasn't the case. We still have a lot of these structural problems in the United States. And I'm curious from your perspective, outside of your professional capacities, both of you, do you see racism, sexism, ablelism and genderism in general society? And do you see those experiences reflect what you experience in the workplace? In other words, do - when you experience that in our general society, are those same challenges existing in the workplace? Is it less challenging, more challenging? I'd be curious to hear both of your perspectives on that. And Greg, if you could start it off, please do.

Gregg Whitt [00:11:59] Well, I think, you know. At Earthjustice, you know, these issues are very front of mind. I think particularly when you're talking about, um, you know, environmental issues that the people are dealing with clean water, food that are free, that is free of pesticides and poisons. Clean air, they intersect with so many of these other issues, right? Um, they don't put coal-fired power plants or bus depots in areas typically in areas that are - people got rich people that are - feel that that are not a homogenous, typically these things that cause these health issues end up a lot of times in black and brown neighbourhoods.

So, it intersects with a lot of social justice issues, housing justice issues. And that's something when you know, when we're doing our work, we have to think about environmental justice and environmental racism as a real, real issue to deal with as we try to, you know, litigate cases in and push policy forward. So, I think externally, that's something we have to think about. Internally, you know, we work in a team environment for the most part, right? That's something that we're evaluating candidates on all the time, on how you work well with others, how you work across different departments.

You know, we're primarily a legal organisation, but we have we're 100% donor-funded non-profit. So we have a really robust development team. We have a really robust communications team, H.R, Operations, IT, all of this infrastructure to help us do this work. And we have to work together with one another. And that means that again, you're working across cultures, you're working, you know, our team have to be very, very diverse. And so we have to think about not only a diversity equity inclusion as we try to do the work of the organisation, but also as we try to figure out how to do that work together.

Gregg Whitt [00:14:19] And so to answer your call, the short answer is yes. These are things that I'm thinking about every day as an employee, particularly as a talent acquisition professional and making sure that our processes are as inclusive as possible as - that our job ads are using language that are not excluding people subconsciously or consciously that we're thinking about, you know who we are going to be on our hiring panels when folks are coming in for interviews. All of these things, even when candidates are trying to apply, if a candidate has a visual impairment, it is our - is our applicant tracking system going to be usable for that candidate or are we are we thinking about all of these things as we try to do our jobs both internally and externally? So these are things that really come to the forefront. And again, they're really, really important. These are these are things that we need to do to do our jobs. These are not things that we say to feel better or to look good. We cannot do the job without really, really wrestling with and reckoning with these issues and thinking about ways to approach them differently going forward.

David Helfrich [00:15:44] Fascinating, yeah. And Su, please yes.

Su Joun [00:15:48] I second everything, Gregg said. I'm actually going to get to answer another angle of your question, David. I'll speak for myself because you talked about personal experience. I'll speak for myself being a female and being a person of colour and being an immigrant, I will share some of my experiences and how that relates to being a professional of colour, female professional of colour in the workplace as well.

So I would say first thing I want to say. Not seeing representation is very, very painful. And when I was a child, there was I'll just again, like I said, I'll speak for myself when I was a child, I was desperate looking for a doll that looked like me. There wasn't any. There was no Asian dolls and never mind that there was no dolls that had black hair. So I remember being nine years old, bought a dark brown haired doll, and painstakingly with a Sharpie, I covered each hair strand. Now I didn't do DE&I as a living when I was nine, but as a nine year old kid, I instinctively knew I needed something to represent me because I wasn't seeing it in books. I wasn't seeing it on TV. I wasn't seeing it anywhere around me. And so not having representation is inherently, inhumanely and instinctively painful. And then the second thing I would say is, even now, as I'm now a grown-up everywhere I go, I can't help but clock who else in the room looks like me. Rather, it's a business meeting. Rather, it's a restaurant. Rather, it's an amusement park, right? Even at concerts, even at Broadway shows. Wherever I go. A subway bus, I instinctively clock.

Who else looks like me? And if I don't see many people who look like me, I feel unsafe and I don't feel relaxed. And that's just how it is. And that is also very painful. And unless you sort of know what that feels like, you don't know the pain of that.

The other thing I would share is that I have children. And I'm talking to them about fairness and meritocracy, work hard, study hard. And I also have to balance that with the-with the - with the reality of society. So I have to balance that work hard, study hard, yes, but also be aware of systemic 'isms'. And that conversation is also very difficult and - and you have to know that meritocracy is true. But at the same time, meritocracy is not true and it's a myth. And then on top of that, one of the things is I have a child who has autism and painfully being aware that the school system is very much based on teaching sort of a common denominator -a generic child, if you will, and is not capable of adapting to anyone who learns differently, reacts differently. Doesn't understand authority. Social skills, all of that is just not designed for that.

Su Joun [00:19:15] And so, if you put all that together from my personal experience and you bring it to work, this is what we address on diversity inclusion on a day-to-day basis with our clients is, yes, work hard, study hard, have a lot of degrees, but also realise there are barriers that are systemic that has nothing to do with you as an individual. Yes, we tell people to speak up, but if you're in a room where you don't feel safe or comfortable, your ability to speak up is very limited. And then you couple that with, well you know yes, I'm bright and equipped and talented, but at the same time, how much of myself do I bring? How authentic should I be? That lack of representation is also painful and makes you second guess everything, which then makes you hesitate, and people wonder, well, you're bright, why aren't you saying more, volunteering more and so forth? So everything you experience as an individual, you bring into the organisation.

So, David, to your question, yes, there is some separation. I am in essence, a - a different person when I come to work than when I'm at home. But how much is that difference has to be is where that burden and imposter syndrome, all of that comes. And so every organisation says, speak up, be authentic. We value diversity. But really, what they're saying is we want someone who is diverse but who acts walk talks just like us. And then it becomes very, very difficult.

The Challenges in Hiring Diverse Candidates

David Helfrich [00:20:44] Very interesting, and it actually just came to mind. Su what you just said is a segue to the next question, which is the challenges in hiring what we consider diverse candidates who may come from the same elite institutions or actually may come from some of the same philosophical backgrounds.

 So what I mean by that is to use an example. If you look at our Supreme Court in the United States, right, it's if you look at it's pretty diverse. I mean, just a lot of people from different backgrounds represented. Yet they all graduated from either Yale or Harvard Law School, and they're all essentially former prosecutor. So I wonder if we're really getting sort of the rainbow grades of true diversity if we're just sort of recruiting people from the same elite institutions? I'd be curious from both of your perspectives. You know, Greg, oftentimes we've seen AM Law 100 firms. They kind of do the same thing, right, when it comes to their diversity recruiting. Typically, they'll first go to the Ivy League law schools as opposed to maybe broadening their scope and looking at people from different backgrounds. And Su I'm curious from your experience at Blue Cross Blue Shield in some of these blue-chip organisations that if you witnessed the same thing or have you witnessed that organisations, nonprofits and firms are actually evolving beyond that to sort of broaden their scope? Greg, do you want to take that?

Gregg Whitt [00:22:03] Yeah, sure. So having worked at one of the aforementioned M100 law firms and then worked at - having worked at a mid-sized federal government agency and now working at a steadily growing non-profit, I've seen I've seen this evolve quite a bit. I would say that yes, there is a particularly in legal recruitment. There's been a history of employers kind of fixating on - on these same law schools. Right? And I think, especially in recent years, particularly in the last five years, I think you're starting to see a little more movement from employers in being more open-minded about the sources from which their candidates are coming.

I think for the reasons that I think you're alluding to, David, that. You are you - even if you get candidates who have, you know, that, you know, diverse profiles from all from the same school, you are still potentially getting a homogenous group of candidates in terms of their thinking, certainly in the way they've been educated. And so I think that more employers are starting to seek out different sources and seek out different students, particularly, you know, for us, right? If we were doing legal recruitment of all of the historically black colleges and universities, only six have law schools right on, you know, that's Howard Law School, FAMU, Texas Southern, UDC. What am I missing? NC, I think in North Carolina, central yes. Yeah. And then Southern University. And so you're talking about, you know, six law schools that are either two, two of them in Washington, D.C. and the rest of them are in the south. And that's a region of the country. I think that are law firms, certainly the white-shoe law firms that we're thinking about have spent a lot of time in terms of doing outreach and connecting with people down there. And I think they're missing out on an opportunity to interact with students, potential candidates, who bring a wealth of different experiences that will really transform how they approach the work at their own, at their firms and their even if you hire for in-house or things of that nature.

You know, I think I do think we're getting better. But I do think it's, it's an uphill battle, particularly with some hiring managers, particularly with some managing partners who've been doing things the same way for a very long time. And so their minds have been successful, I think, in some ways. But I think, you know, in terms of how the world is changing, I think they're really, really missing out on opportunities to become a much more impactful firm or a corporation or non-profit by being a lot more open-minded in terms of the sources from which they are finding candidates. And I think I think it's changing. Certainly changing and my organisation, but it's changing very, very slowly. And I think, you know, more conversations like this are needed to help really cement with the hiring managers and leaders. And really, it always comes down to leadership. I'll help them to understand why it's so important that we're really, really broadening our view in terms of where we're finding candidates.

David Helfrich [00:26:11] Fascinating. What are your thoughts, Su please?

Su Joun [00:26:14] I was just going to say our progress is absolutely being made, but it's happening at a very painful pace. And according to two recent studies, I think women, referring to just talk gender and race for a moment. I think women, even with all the women in the pipeline, it's going to take 100 years to parity in the C-suite, even if diversity, even in law firms a lot of diversity in the entry-level. But as you grow up into partners, it becomes smaller and smaller. And you could say that about health care. You could say that about the music industry. You could talk about non-profits. You could say that about retail, just about any industry. If there is some diversity in the entry-level, some in middle management, but then really very little in Board Chairs and in CEOs.

In fact, I'm sure you all know, we all laugh, but we also have to understand from the statistic. I believe there is more, more CEOs named James and Michael than there are all women CEOs combined. There are more Board Chairs named John than there are all women Board Chairs, and we laugh at this. But it's still and you talk about the progression of the Supreme Court. Yes, it is very diverse, but not too long ago it wasn't at all. And Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously said, You know, when will she stop fighting for gender rights in the Supreme Court? And she said, when we have nine women, Supreme Court justices and people are like, what, nine women? And she's like for hundreds of years, we had nine men, no one's fought with that. And this whole feeling, if we - if we just have one of each, we're diverse.

And that is, of course, not true, right? We seem to be OK with just having one of each and having some tokenism. But we have a person of colour on our board, we have a woman and we have a person who is part of the LGBT community. We're fine. And that kind of settling for just a few is, I think, what is contributing to the slowness of the progress that's being made.

Su Joun [00:28:17] And then the other part is, I'm sure we have a lot of recruiters, a lot of talent acquisition folks in the audience, which is, you know, they are hiring managers are like, yes, give me a diverse pool of talent, if they even ask. But they usually ask, and let's say, at the beginning, and then they always hire the person that they're familiar with. Oh, David is tried and true, Greg is tried and true, Sarah is tried and true, Chris is tried and true. I know them from my network, so it's a sort of a safer bet to go with that or the filter, so if you think about it, we use the same filter to filter a diverse pool of talent, and that just tells you the outcome will then still be the same, right?

Because things like executive presence, the communication skills, for a moment, I'm just going to put education and, you know, big-name previous company experiences to a side for a moment. Just looking at our criteria we use, we use the same filter to filter diverse talent and then we say, well, we have to adjust the filter. Are we lowering our standards? And you're like, no, you just need a different filter because your talent pool is different. You can't. So to my earlier comment about we say we want diverse talent, but we want someone who walks and talks and acts and runs meetings just like us.