84: How to Elevate Diversity & Inclusion in Your Workplace

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How do we take practical steps to address bias and resistance in our world and in our corporate lives? Our guest is La’Wana Harris and her episode is especially timely given the current public discourse. La’Wana shares her career and personal story and insights on why and how to change behavior to overcome bias and arrive at a more diverse and inclusive workplace and society. She offers advice for HR Leaders.
Thought leader La’Wana Harris is a certified diversity executive and ICF credentialed coach. She is a transformational speaker, facilitator, community activist, and author. La’Wana has worked to advance diversity and inclusion in the for-profit and non-profit sectors, and her industry experience includes global leadership development, facilitation, diversity and inclusion and people leadership. La’Wana’s latest book is titled Diversity Beyond Lip Service: A Coaching Guide for Challenging Bias.
Listen (above) or watch the video (below) to catch Denise's interview with La'Wana.

Key Learnings From This Episode

  • La’Wana’s personal journey and motivation. La’Wana describes the ebbs and flow of her diversity and inclusion (D&I) journey, including her experiences as a black woman in America and corporate America as well as her upbringing and experiences outside of the workplace. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother, who reached the point in her career where she questioned how she could give back. She had experiences that she did want the next generation of leaders to have to confront, hoping they can get to resolutions easier and more quickly. She pulled together her life experiences, research, and stories, and uses the power of coaching to help the next generation.
  • A shining example. A former VP made everyone feel valued and as though they belonged in the organization. When you have those experiences where you ‘get the hope’ and see it done well, you think, ‘we can do this’. You may not be doing it yet, but you know, ‘we can do this’. He was not afraid to challenge the status quo, to create new positions, to bring in people of color, and to challenge policies that were not inclusive. He has since retired, but his legacy still lives on.
  • How can we change behavior? People struggle with diversity and inclusion. Statistics have been disheartening – hate crimes have gone up and there is a lack of appreciation for diversity. Every single human has inherent value and worth. If we’re not working from that foundation, of having that mutual understanding to build from, then we have to get to that point. There aren’t any extra people. We need to make room for everyone to feel they belong and to provide the opportunity for them to contribute their best self to society and the workplace.
  • Post Training Follow Up. There is a lot of noise around unconscious bias. There is an incident, something happens, and the company delivers unconscious bias training. After the training – what do you do then? Everyone agrees that D&I is good for business and the data supports it. However, if someone has not dealt with their own ‘truth’ through personal experiences or because of blind spots, they may give ‘lip service’ but their actions don’t support it. This is where you see the ‘intent’ does not match up with the ‘impact’. Start with the fundamental awareness of ‘value in all people’, then go deeper to see if there is something under the surface that needs to be dealt with.
  • How do people get to their own personal truths?
    • People need to resist the urge to retreat to their corners and come out swinging. Everyone wants to be right and defend their position. Let that go for the sake of solidarity. 
    • Open up and realize no one has it all right. No one has all the answers. Things will get messy. When people open up, they can explore, and this is how they get to those pieces they may not want to admit. If we open ourselves to the idea that there might be some ‘bad and ugly’ inside all of us and be open to explore what that is, then we can understand and be aware of it. When we understand our own issues, blind spots, and triggers, then we can move forward from a place of truth and not simply comply because society and our organizations say we have to be inclusive.
  • La'Wana Harris Quote on HR Studio PodcastHow do we overcome confirmation bias? We seek out information that confirms what we think and screen out information and things that conflict with what we think. When our subconscious is working to prove our preconceptions, it can be difficult. By having the awareness that confirmation bias exists, we can seek out opinions different from our own. We can proactively look at the opposed position. When we do this on a regular basis, while we are never able to fully rid an environment of bias, we are able to put some practices in place.
  • What are some of the barriers that cause people to not open up? Everyone has their own filters that may cause a barrier. In the US, the focus of practitioners is broad – LGBTQ, gender, ethnicity, differently-abled, age. Outside of the US, everyone tends to align around gender topics. People seek the path of least resistance. When people think about race, they think about what has been going on in the US. People feel it is confrontational. They don’t know what to say. When La’Wana introduces herself, she says she is a black woman. Should she say African American or of African descent? Not knowing what words to say can be uncomfortable. We need to make space for people to be uncomfortable and move forward from that. One of the major barriers is around not knowing how, what to say, or where to start.
  • What should you say if you want to be called something else? Just say you want to be called something else. La’Wana has an apostrophe in her name. People ask why (an apostrophe) or why can’t they call her something else. In some cultures, your name sets your destiny. It should not be dismissed or made fun of. We should approach life with cultural humility. We should be curious about others and be open to feedback, to learn, and to share. Don’t make assumptions.
  • What should we do when we see an incident of bias? When you see something, say something. Go deeper. There is usually a victim, the offender, and the bystander(s) who witnessed what happened.
    • Address it. Call out micro-aggressions and incivilities. However, use judgment. If you are alone and it appears it may become violent, do not call it out if you could suffer harm or if there is a threat of violence.
    • Education and penalty. We need to have a zero-tolerance policy. We need to have policies and laws that make it clear the behavior will not be tolerated.
    • For bystanders, it is a judgment call. Individuals who may have been preyed upon in the past may not have the fortitude to speak up for themselves, but you have a responsibility to say something. The bottom line – use sound judgment. Know when and where to engage, and how.
  • Advice for rising HR leaders.
    • Look inside yourselves as HR leaders. People are coming into the workplace with a variety of backdrops. We need to have safe spaces to have conversations around race, anti-Semitism, etc. When we do that, it needs to be understood that it is confidential and there will not be retaliation. The only way to know if that environment exists is to ask.
    • Don’t skirt around issues on surveys. Ask, ‘Do you feel psychologically safe in the workplace?  Are you able to have conversations around diversity and inclusion without fear of retaliation?’
    • Look within teams to ensure there are no gatekeepers preventing good things from happening in organizations. Somewhere there may be a bottleneck in the trickledown.

La'Wana Diversity Beyond Lip Service Book JacketRecommended Reading and References From this Episode

To Follow La’Wana Harris

La'Wana Harris HR Studio Podcast Show Notes
La'Wana Harris HR Studio Podcast Show Notes
Tuesday, July 23, 2019 - 8:00am
Denise Yosafat
La'Wana Harris
HR Studio Podcast