Technically People
Technically People

Episode · 3 months ago

DEI: Finding Connections that Unify All Humans


In her earliest days, Kellie Wagner, Founder and CEO at Collective — a DEI Lab, felt inclined to apply a structured set of academic processes to help companies create inclusive cultures. Over time, she realized the need to evolve. Today, her practice is immeasurably more nuanced.

When she works with companies, she validates and provides context for individual narratives around sexism, racism, homophobia and all “isms” and phobias. But ultimately she aims to transcend narratives by helping people discover universal points of connection — the human need for respect, for instance, dignity and psychological and physical safety.

In this episode we discuss:

- How Wagner’s experience with inequity in tech inspired her to found Collective

- The evolution of Wagner’s DEI training paradigm

- Making change in an era marked by intense fear of other people’s differences

- Why admitting you’re not ready to do the work is better than giving DEI lip service

- Wagner’s belief that we’re in a movement, not a moment

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Welcome to technically people acommunity conversation by and for workplace futurists brought to you bythe tech recruitment platform built in the podcast features, insights fromleaders, thinkers and doers on the vanguard, building human centeredworkplaces of the future along the way you'll hear concepts thatwill stop you in your tracks, concepts that inspire you to ask yourself.What's the most future forward way to approach my people leadership, we allknow the future of work isn't waiting around. So, let's get on with the show, welcome to technically people. This isa podcast about the future of work by and for leaders, visionary leaders inthe People Space I am Tiffany Myers with Sheridan or who is built in co,shared an how's life, treating you today, it's a Friday, so it's reallyexciting long week and ahead. So looking forward to it, and thisconversation with Kelly, that's right! So two things to be excited about Kellyand TGI s. So Kelly, you are the founder and CEOof collective, a DEI lab and collective offers DEI support for companies,senses ments, strategic development and DI training. So I just want to thankyou for joining us today. Thank you so much for having me. I was looking oversome of your writing and saw that prior to founding collective, you worked atdifferent companies and you never felt happy and you kind of didn't know whyand then you started to talk with people from groups that are underrepresented and historicallydiscriminated against. Tell us what declan from those conversations and howit inspired you to move forward with collective yeah. I do really feel likewhen people ask me, but did you think you were going to be a founder? Did youthink you were going to run a start up and I was like absolutely not. I loveworking in tech, but I just really struggled when I was in theseenvironments not with the work, but I just felt like this disconnect from theculture from often times the people- and I definitely felt like I was theproblem I was. I moved around a while as a kid, so I was like okay, I'm justdestined to be a job happer. It's me, I must be restless and, as I started, totalk to other employees who had shared identity, s shared life experiences. Irealized actually we're not getting access to the same opportunities forgrowth. The way that people are interacting with us is not always thatempowering or centered around dignity and understanding- and I just realizedthat I could keep hopping from workplace to workplace, trying to findthis place where I felt a sense of belonging, where I felt empowered or Icould just recognize what was right in front of me, which was the typicalworkplace wasn't really designed with me and with a lot of people that arenow in the workplace in mind. So I was...

...really inspired to say. Okay, how do Ihelp be a part of the solution and that led me to found collective and he foundit a collective in two thousand and seventeen yeah yeah. So you havereframed overtime, your sense of what kind of Dei training creates change andwhat kind of training does not yeah. When I started collective, we actuallydidn't do dei training. I started collective almost four years ago nowand the big thing at that time was this idea of unconscious bias, training andprior to quitting my job and going out on my own. I had certainly sat througha fair number of unconscious by his trading to me. It always felt like that.You threw this idea into the room and then the trainer walks away, but now weall know that we have unconscious bias and some of US feel bad. Some of us areresistant to this idea, but ultimately nothing really changes. Maybe theconversation changes, but the reality of people's experience doesn't changeand when I started collective I was like I'm not doing DI training, theydon't work and slowly over time we had so many people reaching out to us. Ithink that for a lot of companies that an obvious entry point, it getseveryone in the company involved, but I think that we gravitate towards okay.How do we equip our teams with what they need to be better? And so yes,trainings, I think, is where trainings are, where a lot of people land and Ifelt like what we were focusing on wasn't working, and so I was thinkingabout what is at the root of what we're trying to accomplish and ultimatelywe're trying to help people navigate their differences more effectively sothat they can have that sense of belonging so that they can ultimatelyperform better at work. So then, I kind of backed into what getss in the wayboil it downtown Contra Spis, but obviously that hasn't been supereffective, and so I was thinking about this idea that, like tech, has reallyevolved faster than human nature. Even from the time. I was a kid to now. Iremember sitting and putting in the AOL, CDs into the computer, to connect tothe Internet flow Ila and now we're and that famous AOL sound that we all haveit bedded in our brain, exactly the free trial. All Right, I think aboutthat, was when I was a teenager and now the way that we work. The way that weconnect is so different. I can be on zoo with someone across the world andbe doing business and we're so connected, but we as humans haven'tkept up. We haven't kept pace with that, and so, while we're being exposed atthis greater rate to difference we're not there yet we're still really waryof difference, and I think that when... combine that with power and how weare socialized to oppress or to struggle to be in the power position isa little bit of this. Conflict arises in that we're like forced to be arounddifference, but we don't really know how to engage with it and we're alittle bit afraid I collective. We Really Line into this fact that, whilewe're more connected than ever, we're also going through this era of justmajor tribalism in searching for that sense of belonging and being met withmore conflict, more disagreement for such a divided country. We have startedback into this place of. Let me be around people that are like me, so thatI can feel faith so that I can feel understood and to me I'm like that'sSuper Sad. I don't want to be around people who are just like me. I want tohelp people feel like they can have that sense of.Oh, they get me. They see me with people regardless of their backgroundand when you look at Dei training as we've evolved beyond just unconsciousbias. We've seen, especially in the past year, a lot of HIVITE TO ANTIracism, training, a lot of identity, specific trainings right, I'm going totrain you how to interact with someone who is trans or not binary, I'm goingto train. You have to interact with someone who's glad and avoid those thepit falls of being seen as racist, and I think that, while understanding therealities, the experiences of a particular identity experience,understanding things like racism as a systemic structure is super helpful andit's a great starting point of contact. It doesn't necessarily equip peoplewith the behavior change that we're looking for it's not a means oftransformation in and of itself, and so, when I think about a topic like sexualharassment, for instance, I try to strip back what is at play when this ishappening and a lot of times it's about control, it's about a power in balance,and so, if I want to shift that dynamic in a workplace instead of sittingsomeone down and saying okay, this is what sexual harassment is. Here's alist of Ducing, don't I want to help people navigate power in balance andfeel like they have the tools and the language and the confidence to setboundaries of people when there is a power dynamic, and I think the reallylike beautiful side effect of that is that when you do a training on sexualharassment or on racism, it becomes very. These people have this experienceand these people don't, and this training is going to teach people howto not do this, and I think we lose the universal usefulness of some of these things thatwe're teaching. So, if I'm doing a training on how to set boundaries inthe face of a power in balance, not...

...only can I be helping someone who maybeis navigating a relationship with someone where the lines are blurryaround not to sexual harassment per se, but it also is helping that personwhose manager is asking them to work past what they're supposed to beworking in terms of hours and saying, okay, I can also use this case setboundaries and also giving that connection point between those twopeople and those two different scenarios and stead of a guy saying Ijust don't see the sexual rast, but I don't think it exists them saying. Ohyes, I see that experience I experiencing it in a different context.How can I have empathy for this other person who's going through the samething in a different context, so one of the goals that I have is like: How dowe give people insight into people's experience? How do we create and holdspace for identity linked experiences to emerge, but not center? A trainingaround a single identity experience where people start to say? Oh, this isfor me, or it's not or I don't engage in that behavior, so this isn't aboutme and get away from that US versus them mentality. So your belief is thatby creating these connection, points of empathy or creating change, but at thesame time, when I hear you say, I don't believe that Anti Racism Training, Iimagine that they are maybe some detractors or criticism. So if I'mright about that, what would the criticisms be yeah? I think that it'sreally easy, and certainly I can go in this realm, but we are trying to holdspace for a kind of yes and people might jump and say: Oh you're, sayingracism doesn't exist or you're putting people's problems on the same plane,and so just reiterating that I do believe it's important to set context.I think that when I look at systems I try to put it into the frame of theseare patterns, and we can't ignore patterns patterns can give us clues towhat might be going on, and so, if you aren't aware of the patterns that existin the world, it's may be harder for you to see it when it's in front of you,and so in that way, I think it's super important to give people context tointroduce them to concepts like racism, sexism etc, and I don't want to go intoa training and just confirm a narrative, because that can be reallydisempowering. I think there are a lot of trains that go in with the purposeof saying: okay, everyone shared their experiences and a woman of color mightsay. I had this experience with my boss and it was racist. A lot of trainingswill say like okay, my job is to confirm this narrative and I'm like howcan we include Antran? Send that narrative right, because just confirming a narrative doesn'tnecessarily lead to behavior change. You can get really caught up in...

...desperate truth. So if I'm working witha manager and their director report is saying, you speak over me and meetingsall the time and I feel like it's because you're a white man and I'm awoman of color and I feel like I'm experiencing racism, I think it'sreally easy for that manager to say I'm not racist. I just don't buy into yournarrative, it's not true and what gets lost, and all of that is the behaviorand the thing that they can change and to me my job as a facilitator is to say: First, let's pull back. What are thebehaviors that are happening and what is its impact? Change can happen whenthis woman of Color says you speaking over me and meetings is keeping me fromsharing ideas, and I'm here. I assume, because you want to hear my ideas. Ihave value to bring to this conversation because of my expertise. Ineed you to create space for me to be able to share my ideas by not speakingover me. First of all, just from a feedbackstandpoint of behavior standpoint, the manager can do something right withthat. He may not have been aware that he was speaking over her or cuttingpeople off. He might be doing that to even more people than her, and yes there's that space, then for okay.How do I go over to that manager and help them examine their pattern? Sowhen you're speaking over people, is it happening with a certain type of personlike? When is this happening? Can you think about that? Why might you bespeaking over people? I think that it's really easy. To sum it down to theroute being a particular identity, factor, etcetera, and sometimes it is-and sometimes it's like a misunderstanding, or this personunderstand the impact that they're having their an only child or they haveabd, and they just want to get their thought in before they forget it, andso I think, by focusing on the behaviors that we want to ship, wecreate so much more possibility than just confirming a narrative or gettingreally caught up in this is why, especially if the person doesn'tbelieve that's why they're engaging in the behavior? How can we get them toaddress the behavior and hopefully plant the seed for them by saying, Hey, here's some commonpatterns? Is this a pattern that maybe fits with something that you're doing?Can you reflect on your own behavior and the patterns in your behavior, butI think telling someone to stop being a racist immediately or calling them aracist. You get stuck in this. I don't believe, I'm eras to the store, or inother cases- Oh, my God, I'm paralyzed with shame, and I don't know how not tobe a racist when really were asking them to change a set of behaviors andbe more aware. Yeah, and your belief is that no one trainer is going to haveall of the answers, and I actually that... should be pretty wary of an expertwho says they do and that deriving at this approach has been for you a matterof iterating and evolving. It wasn't how you started yeah, I think. In thebeginning, I was just really rigid about Di work in general. I'd gonethrough a program at nyu on strategic diversity and inclusion work as a partof their master's program in human resources, and so I was like okay. Ihave this check list of things. I need to do. First, you do an assessment,then you do a strategy. Then this comes, and so when I first started collective,you have to start with an assessment. That's you have to do it in this orderthis way, and what I've really learned is that you have to understand wherepeople's motivations are and then really walk alongside them. I thinkit's about stepping back and listening and really understanding what theperson needs. How can I walk this journey with them and to me it's aboutmaking sure they're making forward steps on their journey, not abouttelling them they have to take this journey, this very specific way orrunning ahead of them, and, looking back and saying, why aren't you where Iwant you to be, or I think you need to be? What strikes me is the analogy andthat a DI exporter trainer is talking to allies or would be allies. Theyemphasize that listening and listening loud and listening hard and listeningbetween the lines is the first step with action following fast on its heels,so your approach aligns completely with teachings around around Dei. So I want to mention that built in in twothousand and twenty one publisher report on the State of Di and tack andsome of those debts make it extremely clear that we are nowhere near where weneed to be in the tech industry. Majority of companies in this studyhave no black leaders, no Latin ex leaders. Almost all ninety sevenpercent have no native or indigenous leaders, but it was a little bit of atwo edged sword, because in that report we found some signs that companies arepaying attention, so companies that have invested in Di that investment hasincreased by eleven percent. But I have to go back to this question that everyone right now seems to be askingit, which is this a movement, or is this a moment? What's your God tell you,do you feel like that? Those signs of progressors are going to last thatthey're going to grow into something? More. Do you feel like companies arejust going to revert to the status quote? What's your take a look, I thinkthat this work is hard and companies stall out they tumble they're going totry again. But ultimately I do think...

...that it's a movement. I don't know thatit is necessarily being driven by company somuch as it's being driven by employees. You can see that with this trend ofpeople are quitting jobs as we're going back from remote to in office. Thereare a lot of employees who are saying. I don't want to go back to the way itwas and realizing that they have power more power than maybe they thought,with the job market being the way that it is, and so I don't think we'll evergo back. The pandemic has been a part of that, but also this new generationof workers is impacting that too. So we see Gen z coming in and theirexpectations for what the workplace should look like what it should givethem in return for their labor is very different and when you have an entirewave of employees coming in and saying no, this is what I expect you can. As acompany say. I don't want to give it to you, but I think at a certain point youhave to be responsive to the market and adapt, and so at the root of this work,it's about navigating the messiness of humanity and so we're going to bumblealong some companies are going to try to act out of it and we'll see how thatgoes, but ultimately we're just going to have to figure it out as we go along,but I don't think that the options to stand still or go backwards is reallyon the table. Any more. This idea of fumbling and like learning as we go, Iknow one of the core values have collected this to show grace and growth,and it's what you're living out when you talk about continuing to learn andevolve. So I think that end of this glimmer of hopethat this is in fact, a movement, and then it will have lasting changes ofperfect time to kick it over to Sheridan. Who is going to explorepractical applications for companies and elaborate on some of what we'vetalked about so share it den take it away Kelly. I was really excited tohear o you think it's a movement and not a moment and as companies embark ontheir journey like what are some of those things that they may experience.That would be a surprise to them. There's two things that come to mindfrom here. I think the first is when we are waiting into uncharted territory.We want a manual, we want a map, and I think that a lot of people are maybesurprised or frustrated. Toby is just there's just not a prescribed list ofactions. You can take to make it right before George Boyd, before theParadenia I felt like there was this understanding of people want to checkthe box training that will fix it if we can just bring it unconscious by us.Training in roll it out to our employees will have solved the problem,and I think that two thousand and twenty showed a lot of people. That wasjust not the case. It was unrealistic, and so they started coming to us andsaying hey. We want to think about this as a systemic level issue. We know thatcheck the box. Trainings don't work.

How do we move beyond checking the boxand having gone through two thousand and twenty and looking backwards? Now?I realized we just expanded the number of boxes that we wanted to check off.We still in our minds were like still give me a check list and what I thinkwe have to grapple with is this is about leading with listening, liketiffany stead and listening to your employees, really understanding what itis that they need to feel like they can be empowered and thrive. Where arethose disparities that you need to address and then being flexible andadaptive, because those things change were humans? The things that I neededtwo years ago are not the things that I need now and the sooner we can getcomfortable with that, the sooner we can start to feel a little bit more onsteady ground and another thing that people just don't expect, and I alwayssay I want people to go in with their eyes wide open around it's just howmuch healing and repair has to come along with the process of this idea upwe're going to be inclusive. Now we're going to do tei work. I think there'sthis thought that, especially from leaders that, like hey we're doing thisthing and everyone's going to be ready to go on that journey, and so theydon't realize that there's also this work of addressing employee skepticismsuspicion like past hurts and grievances. You have to tackle the passbefore you can move forward and I think, particularly in America, we reallydon't like to do that. I often use the example of kind of how America hasgrappled with slavery versus Germany and the Holocaust. Germany, one thingthat they did but was really acknowledge and own and try to heal andrepair what had happened with the Holocaust and in America were just like.No slavery, don't want to it's, not my fault, it wasn't me etcetera and if thework places a microcosm of the broader society, you see that too. I think alot of companies are like let's move forward, and they don't recognize thattheir employees, trust has been broken and the part of this work isn't just.What are you going to give people now? But it's also, how do you address andtake responsibility for past issues? Yet I mean that's soimportant, but as CEOS and leaders are wont to do, the Pendulum sometimesswings backwards, because people are afraid to embrace that change, andobviously, two thousand and twenty has been a year of tremendous change andwe're starting to see CEO saying you know what we don't want, theseconversations to happen at work. This is work and we do work here and wedon't talk about personal problems or identity like it's distracting and Ithink in some ways the horse is left the barn so to speak. But how do youtell CEOS? This is important to your business and you actually don't want togo back. Yeah I'll, probably throw a...

...curve ball here, which is to say Idon't take that a I I think, about base camp a lot recently and their CEO cameout and said. I don't want employees to do this and I thought that was the mosthonest thing he could have done. I'm glad he did that because he let hisemployees know what the real situation was going to be versus giving lipservice. I think there's this idea of now that there's this moral rightnessabout doing dei work, but a lot of CEOS and leaders don't actually want to dothe real work that comes with that, but they also don't want to say I don'twant to do that work. So I was. I never try to convince someone. I say this isthese: Are Your options? These are the pros and cons of each if you're goingto go this path of investing in di saying that it's something you careabout, you need to be ready to do the work or it's going to back fire, and so,when I think of B this idea of yeah, how do you hold space for theseconversations without it distracting from the business that you're trying torun? I think first, it's getting clear and what your employees want yourcompany to be, and we talked about this next wave of employees coming into theworkplace and a lot of them want their companies to be cultural and sociopolitical champions, and I think that again, going back to what I just said,leaders need to get honest about whether they want that for theircompanies to or not, and if they do. If that is part of their mission, thenthese conversations won't be a distraction. They'll actually benecessary to align the company to its efforts on that front and, if you don'tor if you're, neutral or whatever, I still think you need to think about thereason that these conversations are being had. So are people grappling withcertain issues outside of the office that are impacting how they show up.Are they looking for support from their colleagues? I think that the best thingthat you can do in either case is teach people how to navigate differences moreeffectively and more respectfully, because the truth is that you can'tkeep people from talking about what they're going to talk about, but ifthey don't know how to navigate conflict effectively, it does become adistraction so, instead of trying to quell it, which is usually fruitless, Ithink if companies focus more on okay, how do I make sure people can havethese conversations easefully effectively? It's going to be less of adistraction. It's just going to be a way that people are able to worktogether. That's a surprising answer, but I absolutely wholeheartedly agreebecause nothing is more dangerous to progress and CENIS and to give lipservice to a cause really can undermine any future.It may have and that's where moments come from rather than movements, butone thing CEOS tend to listen to a lot... data, and how do we use data to tellthe story of this is not only good for your humans that work for you. This isactually good for your business. I think you've alluded to. One is if youwant to attract the best in the brightest in the future workforce. Thisis what they're expecting from their employers. Are there any other metricsthat we should look to make sure that we're making progress and that can tiesto business results? Yeah, absolutely collective is known for being veryhuman centered, and so there's this idea that we don't think about the dataside, but actually everything that you do in your Di work should have adesired outcome and a way to measure that desired outcome, and I ties backto two things. What impact is it going to have on the business, making yourbusiness and the product and the service stronger, and what is theimpact that it's going to have on your culture and recognizing that yourculture and how people feel is going to impact their work product, so it allflows back to how it impacts the business culture is incrediblyimportant in making sure that the business side of things works reallywell, and I think, because we've put this moral label on Di work. We oftenput things into place because we're like. Oh, it's the right thing to do,and we forget them to measure what the impact is or even define what impactwe're looking for. So, for instance, I use this idea of employee resourcegroups or affinity groups. A lot of companies will come to us and say wewant to put this together and we're like why and there's this blank look obecause we're supposed to have them and I'm like what is it that you want themto do? Do you want them to drive retention for underrepresented groups?Do you want to drive a sense of empowerment or belonging, that's goingto increase productivity and make people more excited and motivated to dotheir best work. Okay, ask yourself those questions and then identify howyou'll measure that you can do that through pole surveys, you can do acompetitive analysis. Can you serve employees that are part of employeeresource groups versus not do they have higher engagement? is their workproduct better, so getting really clear on like what it is that you want Dei todo just like you would any other area of the business. I think it's reallyimportant, it's great for it to be values alone, but you also need tounderstand. Are the things that you're doing working? Are they actuallychanging people's reality, or are you just doing stuff to do stuff, whichactually, I think, can lead people to feel discouraged or like it's nothitting the mark? I don't feel like my company's doing anything when inreality they might be doing a lot. It's just not the things that you actuallyneed. One of the things that gives me hopeabout our conversation- and I think you talked about it earlier- is that Gen Zis really changing the relationship between the employer and I, theemployee, and I really admire that...

...being Jenk, we just conquer down andadore. So what gives you hope in this conversation? I think people are asking questions. Ialways feel like that's a good sign right when you spark some sort ofcuriosity. I'm excited about that. I think that even in the ways in which we do di work,social justice work because it's now solidifying itself as an industry,people are asking okay. What will it actually take for us to do better forfor people to feel empowered at work and that excites Me Hee Titan? Whatwould be your takeaway from this conversation? We've had with Kelly?What's stuck out to you, I think one of the most striking thingsKelly that you mentioned just is your response to these several companies who areessentially banning political discourse, and I've actually read this idea that by creating these bands, you areactually acknowledging that this is a huge, a huge problem that exists andyou're acknowledging the fact that not all employees are going to be alignedand that the real change making process would be to setin set guidelines in place for how to know if you're having a productiveconversation or a destructive debate. So that's when major take away again asurprising answer that we love those curve balls as you called it. So I honestly think that mine was, ifyou're going to do this work and it's going to be hard work, and it is a longjourney. Don't give lip service either embrace it wholly and be authenticabout who you are and what you want to achieve measure. It reiterate continueto talk to your employees and understand where you are Kelly. Ifthose are ours, but I would love to know what would you want our listenersto take away, and they could do two things today or tomorrow? What wouldthose be? I think for me, what's really been onmy mind and if I could have a platform to talk about these things, it would be.How do we meet people where they're at and find those universal experiencesthat connect us as humans? As colleagues, I think it's so easy in theworkplace to say: Oh, that's not my problem, that's not my experience todismiss these things or to Pathologie them, and I think we can get back tothis idea that we ultimately want many of the same things. We want access toopportunity. We want to be seen. We want to be validated and understood andhave a sense of dignity at work, and then I think the other thing isrecognizing that this is a learning journey. As a DEI practitioner, a lotof companies come in and say: Okay you're. The expert tell us what to doand no like we're all stumbling around...

...together, we're all learning what works.What doesn't and also learning that what works in one company might notwork in the other, and so how can we build the trust so that our goodintentions make the actual impact that we really want to make? That's soimportant that we all want to make impact Kelly if our listeners want toget in touch with you or your organization? What's the best way forthem to do that, yeah, you can reach out to us at our website. It is www. Dowe even use that any more and t hello dash collective you canfind us on social media at Collective Dei is our handle, and you can alsofollow me at Kelly Kell. I E M Wagner on twitter and INSTAGRAM and definitelybeal free to reach out to me, I'm linked in and I'm sure, we'll bechecking in with you frequently as we all go on this journey to other, andit's always nice to have someone like you who's out there doing the difficultwork and talking to other organizations where we can all grow our collectiveconsciousness. So, thank you so much and if you enjoyed this conversationand if you'd like to find out more about this and other topics and how youcreate a human centered work environment, you can join us attechnically Peplo. We hope that you'll subscribe on your favorite podcastplayer and leave us a five star reviews. So we can continue bringing you greatcontent like this. Thank you for joining us here and technically people.We hope you have a wonderful day and look forward to further conversations built in is a tech recruitment platform.That's in constant dialogue with leaders about the future of tech,Bilton's podcast. Technically people expands those conversations now fellowfuturist create and lead exceptional workplaces, environments that inspirein Demand Tech professionals to join your company and thrive to learn howbuilding can help your company attract besting class professionals, visitemployers top built Incom you've been listening to technicallypeople, a community conversation about the future of work. If you want to hearmore cutting edge ideas about creating human center, workplaces subscribe onyour favorite, podcast player and you'll, never miss an episode and if you're over the moon about whatyou've heard we'd be honored. If you took the time to give us a five starreview so signing off until we meet again in the future, I.

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