Tim chats with Katie Zink about diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as getting buy-in and supporting employees in leading initiatives. New episode here!
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Tim Reitsma Organizations know that they need to make sure diversity, equity, and inclusion is at the forefront.
It isn't simply the right thing to do.
This isn't a topic to discuss once in a while. This is a focus area for a company who truly desires to be a catalyst of change. Today, Katie Zink and I are going to have a conversation on where to start, how to build a culture around diversity, equity, inclusion, or DEI, and how to weave DEI into the DNA of your organization? Katie is the founder and principal consultant for Social Construct Consulting and is on a mission to help organizations facilitate the cultural change needed for collective success.
Thanks for tuning in. I'm Tim Reitsma, the resident host of People Managing People. Welcome to the podcast. We're People Managing People and we want to lead and manage better. We're owners, founders, entrepreneurs were middle managers. We're team leaders.
We're managing people. And yes, we do human resources, but we're not HR, at least not in the traditional sense. We're on a mission to help people lead and manage their teams and organizations more effectively. So if you want to lead and manage better, if you want to become a better organizational leader and more effective people manager, then join us. Keep listening to the podcast to find the tips, tricks, and tools you need to recruit, retain, manage, and lead your people in organization more effectively. And while listening to the show, please subscribe and join our mailing list on peoplemanagingpeople.com to stay up to date with all that's going on.
Welcome to the podcast, Katie.
Katie Zink Yeah it's wonderful to be here.
Tim ReitsmaIt's a pleasure to have you know, we've been going back and forth for a few months now to get you on the podcast. So I'm really excited for our conversation today. And thanks for making the time.
Katie Zink Oh, absolutely. I'm with you. Sometimes, you know, the time just has to show up when the time wants to show up. And I think that I'm excited that this worked out today because there's so, so much to cover in this area. And I'm so excited that I feel like companies kind of have their they're listening sharper than ever. So it's a good spot for me to be in.
Tim ReitsmaAbsolutely. And so before we get started, why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and about your company?
Katie ZinkAbsolutely. So as you mentioned, I'm the founder and principal consultant of Social Contract Consulting, which formed earlier this spring. I've had a dream to launch a consultancy like this for a couple of years. And so it's been kind of a long con for me and 2020 was going to be that year. And it still was I'm glad to say it's been a good year. Despite the challenges we all are kind of navigating every day and our personal and professional lives, it still has been a very cool year to get into this discipline. And so the things I really support clients with is the strategy and the facilitation of that cultural change. So we hear a lot of things coming out around DEI, DNI, several different acronyms coming around ERD. And it always kind of helps to slow down for a little bit at first and define those things. And what I found is that the type of clients I love working with are the ones that are early in that journey of creating their very first change for their very first plan for DEI or cultural change. I like to associate DEI or diversity equity inclusion with cultural change. So any time a company is ready to roll out a new cultural initiative or, you know, evolve their culture in a certain way, the process is very similar to how you would launch your first DEI initiative. So what I do is I, I get in at the very beginning and I start out a pretty simple, actually strategic planning process. And then it's about a three-month program where we guide I guide them through this. And I do this in a number of ways that my what I think is the proven method is a coalition or a committee format which there's so many ways to go about the work.
I like the coalition, our committee format because it's employee-led and it serves as a mechanism for employees and leaders to all work together. So this has been kind of a vision defined for over the last two years. I, my last full-time job, when I was working company side, was with a tech company based here in Portland, Oregon, and I worked with them on a number of different capacities and the sales and marketing side of things. But I also was their committee chair for about two years and worked with the founder of the committee pretty closely, our CEO, our VP of people, our HR leaders, and then also just change agents, as I like to call them. I mean, visionary leaders. Even without the title, we all come together and we accomplished a lot in that time on the committee. And so that time really inspired my signature program with that that inspired social contract consulting. So it's been good. It's been good. I've learned a lot this year. I feel like this has been such a poignant year for this work from the various social uprising we've seen around the world. And me living in Portland, I've seen it directly and first hand and then been a part of it. And then obviously the move to virtual and living through a pandemic right now and taking care of ourselves at our work every day is also fueled by inspiration to support clients. So I'm never bored.
Tim ReitsmaIt sounds like, it sounds like you have a true and a real offering for organizations. And you touched on a little bit about 2020 being such a catalyst year of change. And so with all of this happening in the world, why, why is, why is now the right time to be talking about DNI and why if an organization is thinking about DNI and what to do about DNI or creating a strategy which is more than just a strategy, but why is now the right time?
Katie ZinkI love that question. And that question is exactly what I asked people who contact me for help. I want to know what it is in their own words and. You can imagine I hear all sorts of things, and one of my clients from over the summer who we, I actually I detail their success story on my blog, and you can kind of read details in there. And I asked her this question, and they are sensitive to the fact that they don't want to be grouped in a bucket following a trend that that isn't attractive to people who are really, really ready to do this work. And it's there's no question that it's kind of we've gotten to a point where it's unacceptable to remain neutral and that a lot of our clients and consumers are kind of expecting companies to take a stance on these issues. But it's the right time now because it's always been the right time. And so how much longer do you want to kind of widen this gap of having to eventually catch up? Because the importance of it won't be diminishing. The importance of it will never leave people's minds. I mean, I like to say I work with visionary leaders and change agents despite their title, because the kinds of talent we all want working for us, no matter what our company or service or product is, we want people with a vision. We want people who care about social good and social impact and seeing representation in the narratives that are coming out of our companies. We want our products to actually help more than one demographic. We want our marketing campaigns to shift the status quo for us. Right. I mean, think about how different it is already and how many changes we're seeing just from mass communications alone and all of that necessary change that absolutely needed to happen. If we don't start examining it, just step there. We'll just stay there stagnant and it'll be even harder to remove or dismantle later. So. Now is the time, because the time was yesterday, the time was last year, and it's important to have an urgency around these things because there's so much work to be done and we can't really celebrate that we're finally now getting to it. In many ways, we are on the right track. So I love that question because I'm always asking I want to know why they're passionate about it now and because that answer for them is what's going to be our North Star and our work together.
Tim ReitsmaIt's a, reminds me of a story that the founder of the company that I work for full time is. The company that I work for, we have a value in organization of inclusion. And often people ask, well, why? Why is inclusion such an important thing to our organization? And our founder tells the story of, in the industry we're in. He was at a conference years ago before he started this organization that I'm part of. And he looked around and he noticed one thing. Well, he noticed a few things. One thing is everybody was one gender or appeared to be one gender, and that the room was about 90 percent gray hair, meaning, as he says, older. And he looked and said, well, if we want to change this industry, we need to be a catalyst of change. We need to be at the forefront. And we can't just put it on a wall or put it in a manual somewhere. We need to be driving our processes from a place of inclusion and it needs to be at the forefront. We need to be challenging ourselves every day to be thinking differently, to be thinking more inclusively. And I like that because it comes from the leader. It comes from the top. And yes, there's lots of organizations who do it who set up DEI from an employee committee perspective. And I love that. And this is like a big callout to those who founders who might be listening, that you need to be paying attention to this and kind of leads you to the next question is the next thought that I had is do you see people in organizations jumping out to DEI from a place of authenticity or from a place of, hey, it seems like other organizations are really focusing on this. So let's just Google a DEI policy and and put that up on our website. What are you seeing in the marketplace?
Katie ZinkAbsolutely. Yes. And authenticity comes up countless times when I'm listening to other thought leaders discuss the other practitioners in the space who sometimes flat out refuse to work with clients who really aren't doing this work for the right reasons. And I would for sure identify as one of those practitioners who, if I can't tell that you really get why it's important and you're just doing it to kind of follow suit or you don't really want to kind of do those back end and dig deep and sometimes really painful elements of the work. It just won't it won't last. And I actually think there could be more harm for companies that sort of just seem fake along the way to doing it. That's not going to achieve an outcome of diversity that that's actually going to repel any sort of diverse talent being happy where you work. Right. Because they're going to know. It's going to be obvious, though, when you talk about authenticity. I love talking about this because one of my metrics, the success that I help my clients measure collective success essentially is what I like to call it, the first one. It's called perceptive. I call it perceptive success indicators. So I have five success indicators that you can actually find the whole guide you can download on my website where I walk through each one. But the first one is perceptive and I think it really closely relates to authenticity because it can't be faked. The success of your DEI initiative is a perceptive one, and it's all about how employee experiences are perceived. It's not about the expressed culture. It's about the live culture, the lived experience. It's really easy to make a very shiny in and filled out Glassdoor profile. And Glassdoor is a great tool for employee branding and helps a lot of people in their job search. But it's really easy to make your Glassdoor profile look good and make it seem like, OK, here's our Diversity Mission Statement. Here are some photos of our team. Here are our goals for diversity. I've even seen some companies add that there. And that's all well and good. But that's not an. Really necessarily authentic, it could be true, but the authenticity comes from the lived experience of working there. So a few sort of signals, if I like to call it, or even indicators that you can tell if there is a authentic lived experience of inclusion or a few things here. So access and participation. So if you were to go to somebody on your team or an employee coworker and ask them, do you really feel like you can access, you know, access anybody in the organization that you might need to? Do you feel like you can speak with anyone in the organization? Leadership, access, resources? You're comfortable interacting across silos. There are employee resource groups where you can vocalize concerns or speak up about things that are coming up for you. Is that available for you? Are those mechanisms already in place? If so, that's a strong indicator that people can perceive the culture to be an accessible place where their voice will be heard. And on top of that, you can even start thinking about, well, what would an employee say about the management team in its entirety, the whole perception of management, not just their individual manager, but how would employees perceive management? And depending on who you ask, you'll learn a lot. So if everyone feels like, well, I sort of feel like decisions that are coming out of management are often unfair, you know, if employees of color are voicing that concern and your employee, the dominant culture, aren't there, you have you know, that's a problem. And it's a problem of a certain caliber where you don't, it doesn't matter how your Glassdoor profile looks if those people of that lived experience, if your employees of color, if your women, depending on their identity, that's not part of that dominant culture. And they're feeling that pressure or pain coming to work every day. That's how, you know, it's not authentic. And then one more that I think is actually pretty attainable as long as leaders are on board, is demonstrating their own engagement. So are your leaders actively tracking the progress on the culture? Are they vocalizing that culture? If one person's job, but in fact, it is everybody's that it must start with them and are they openly supportive to helping everybody believe that? Do they include it on their annual report? When you're meeting together as an all-hands format with everybody on board, does the culture show up in that report? So when it comes to authenticity, it's all about cultivating an environment where everybody's true self can thrive. You hear that a lot like bringing your whole self to work. And it's much easier said than done for any of us on a given day, especially this year. I know. But.
Tim ReitsmaYeah. I think for that especially this year, it's. Yeah, bringing your whole self is definitely a challenge for sure in some cases. Yeah.
Tim ReitsmaAnd I love what you said earlier about, I'm trying to remember the exact words, but it's demonstrated culture. So it's not just, you know, written down in some manual or on a Website, but it's a lived experience. It's a lived culture. And I love that you say that because often in my past I've seen organizations who say they're about something their Website says are about a certain thing, but they're not living it. And so I think it's so important that it's not just it ties back to the place of authenticity because we're pretty resilient, determined, I guess people when if we're looking at a company or looking for a new place to work, to go and start digging in and digging into what this organization is about. And it's really looking for those stories. And so. Yeah. So I just love that you brought that up.
Katie ZinkYeah. I mean, you can learn a lot from this individual sharing their stories. And, you know, even though it's more anecdotal way of collecting data, that's one thing that's actually very important to remember right now. Those anecdotal stories, even if they're from a few individuals in your company, those are really, really worth listening to. And if we're paying attention, we can learn a lot. I in my membership, which I can share more about here shortly. We were reviewing a study that was conducted by an organization based here in Portland named the Partners in Diversity. And they're fantastic. I highly recommend looking into them or wherever listeners are are based, if they're similar organizations that are already out there that are helping professionals of color, whether they're relocating or currently in a community, feel like they have a home there. I write a lot about that. What does it mean to have a home where you work? Where you live? what does it mean to be part of a community? And so Partners in Diversity really took most of I think 2019, I think when the study wrapped up. So before everything we're experiencing this year happened in 2019, there was a researcher from PSU Portland State and he would say he's an organizational psychologist and he got really in the trenches about what professionals of color are saying about self, as I'd like to call it, the self-proclaimed progressive cities. So your Portlands, your New York, your L.A., and in Denver maybe. And this is in the United States. But wherever these cities from the outside look super progressive and like where the culture is really great for, you know, say, tech, or whatever industry it is. And he interviewed a number of professionals of color who relocated to Portland. And it was pretty eye-opening. You can actually read the whole article on my blog. It's all about retention and why these retention issues are costing companies so much right now. Because you know, these stories shared where these professionals of color from the outside, it looks like these companies or these cities, they wanted to move there because it looked like it could be a place where they could thrive. And then once they got there, they were just shocked by the levels of racism, the levels of bigotry. And some of them were quoted as feeling downright bamboozled by what they thought their experience would be versus what it actually was? And I am actually from the South originally in Atlanta, and I've lived in Portland for about seven years. And I feel for a lot of people who are from these cities who are seeing this data come out because of the information they hear that you know, the city cares a lot about the diversity of the companies that are here, cares a lot. They're putting a lot of intensive recruiting efforts into play, but it's still not done. That's not where the work ends. And so it really goes to show why the inclusion piece, as you were mentioning earlier, really does need to be a core value in where your place of work or your community, because it's going to be a parent if it's not.
Tim ReitsmaIt will be. People, whether they're in your organization or outside of your organization, if it's just a word that is not being lived, if you have a maybe a policy about DEI or it's part of your values or your vision or mission if you're not living it, if you're not demonstrating it in any sort of way. Now, people notice, people will take stock of that.
And so it's not just again, it's not something that that DEI is not something that we just need to be thinking about.
It needs to be in the, in top of our minds. And so. I'm curious from your perspective, so if you, if you're working with an organization or an organization comes to you and says, look, we know this is really important and it's important to us and we know we need to change. We're just an organization start. How do they how does an organization go about this journey of DEI?
Katie ZinkGreat question. So what we'll do is they'll kind of if they were interested in working with me specifically or they just kind of want to understand the process of hiring, say, a cultural change facilitator, culture strategist, whatever title they're sort of thinking about bringing in. I would highly recommend them bringing in an outside resource for this process because, you know, I could spend all day kind of chatting about how, yes, it needs to come from leadership. Yes, it needs to be employee-led. And it's part of everyone's job, but it is a project and a full-on initiative in and of itself. It needs to be treated as such, just like any other initiative in the organization. So say they're ready to bring in an outside resource. If it's me, we would go through a discovery process and I would want to learn more about how would they currently describe their culture? What are the certain initiatives in play already? What have they tried in the past? Kind of all those questions for me to get the landscape down and we would start thinking about how we would do the kind of pre-assessment piece? And my program is called the Collective Culture Model. I touched on it a bit earlier in our conversation about an eight-step process. That's not very complicated at all. I mean, we would get together. We would, I would share with them, hey, this work works best when you have stakeholders across the organization. And one thing I'm kind of figuring out my own business as well. Who is my target audience? Who are the people I'm trying to connect with? And I keep coming back to the same thing. It's just a stage and visionary leaders with or without the title of leader, they can actually. And that's that change I've seen that happen in so many organizations. They do need to have that strong willingness to make that change. They do need to feel like they can make a case to their HR team or executive team. But once that's done, well, we'll start building their coalitions. And it's interesting because I've been hearing a lot of I've been hearing some ideas out there about, well, why would there be one culture team? Why would there be one committee? Are those the only people that get to have a say? And absolutely not. There are people that maybe feel passionate about certain things in the organization and there maybe people who just want to show up and do their work and that's it. And that's completely fine as well. But there are those people that care more and do bring this home with them every day. So for those people, those are the people I think will carry us forward. So once we form that initial coalition, I would be the one facilitating the meetings, guiding the strategy, and offering those proven recommendations and techniques that I've seen work in other companies. But as you may know, and as many out there who have experienced this, at least in the beginning, it's also context-specific, depending on your product and service and industry and how you support your clients, because that relationship with their clients is going to largely inform how you get your CEO buy in and a lot of other executive-level buy in, because obviously, those folks are thinking about their market, their customers, their revenue. And so your DEI initiative most certainly has to involve how you're supporting your customer. So getting a bit ahead of myself. But that's an example of some of the types of programs that you come together and start building and delegating out items and tasks for scale. So I actually, I had the pleasure of listening to one of your episodes. I believe it was one of your more recent ones where your guest was talking about employee-led programs for culture change. And I couldn't agree more. I think that approach is the way to go. And if your goal is program management and creating things that will be sustainable, My advice is always just to start with the first year. So once we define our purpose, specifically what the needs of the organization are from a cultural standpoint, what sort of goals they have in mind, we'll start building at what I call the collective culture survey. So I would create the survey for them to roll out and get some initial data and to help inform those goals. And then we'd unify. We would create a code of conduct and how that how the committee or the coalition would operate. We'll make agreements and expectations for each other because the other day this is on top of focus, full-time positions oftentimes. So it's a lot. And it's so important for me to make sure. We have clear and concise actions for everybody to take on to their own plate, but and I take on a lot of the load as well in terms of research and pertinent documents and tracking the progress. But I'm of the belief that it should be in addition to full-time jobs, depending on the teams they're on. And so will the circle of thinking kind of that one-year capacity. And then another sort of differentiator, I would say, about my services is that I am all about communication and creating those roll out communication plans. So that sort of stuff for so the purposes would be to build awareness, avoid working in those silos and to continually share out the progress that would gain momentum in achieving that BI end that we need across the organization that executive-level buy-in would have already happened by this point, but we'll still need to be maintaining the buy-in so that people have awareness of the programs that are coming out that they'll want to participate, say it's a learning and development program and they want to do some lunch and learn about some various equity topics. Those are all going to be successful if people show up. So we have to focus on the awareness piece first and then from there, it's really just kind of that project management of brainstorming ideas, building for action, and then scaling so that after 12 months or so that you have the first 12 months of your plan figured out. And then it can just roll on from there and it can iterate from there. But everyone kind of knows their roles and expectations and pitches in. And, you know, the committee can cycle in and out. Certain folks can say, you know, I can't really participate this quarter, but I'll be back later in the year or my folks can come in and we'll already have that established process for them to get right in and start contributing. So I do kind of consider it an addition to people's work requirements and kind of on top of their full-time jobs, because, you know, they're going to have the voice that matters and create the culture that is authentic. We've been talking about.
Tim ReitsmaMm hmm. Yeah, I love that idea of employee-led programs. Previous guest has talked about it, having a conversation work about recently. And it's a place that, you know, that's where we need to start. You know, we can look to our top leaders to be a catalyst of change. But if it's our top of our minds, why what's stopping us from being that catalyst of change? Sometimes it's not on somebody's radar, even though it should be. But maybe something else is. And so, you know, this is a call up for anybody who's listening, whether wherever you are in an organization, be that catalyst of change, start that conversation, have that conversation and ask some good questions about, ask questions about what are we doing about diversity, equity, inclusion in your organization? Ask questions about what would make it, what would make this topic a priority? What's standing in the way? And yeah, people if you ask and your managers or leaders those questions, they may squirm and get a little uncomfortable. But that's OK. It's OK to be a little uncomfortable and we need to challenge. And so in your experience, is there success without that executive team, that leadership team buy-in?
Katie ZinkGreat question, I would have to say that in the early stages, there can be. The forming of the coalition as long as you have the approval and you're able to do that. And that's OK with your individual manager and all that good stuff. I think there's no there's nothing wrong. And people getting together and meeting. I had a close friend of mine. She's a product designer for a sportswear company based here in Portland. And you know, the thing that I really want to figure out, because it is hard for me to see these really passionate individuals that just because they don't have that leadership title, they feel like they can't create change and. Well, that's what I want to get in and support those people with, so if you're somebody out there who feels that way. Please get in touch with me because I have ideas for you I can go to on how to be that change agent and start building the coalition and start those conversations going because that really is the meat of the work is getting the conversation started, elevating people for perception and highlighting some areas of the organization that could be addressed and. So it's possible to get those conversations going, but in terms of it being sustainable and actually being the fabric of the organization, you must have that leadership involvement. And so speaking, from my experience a couple of years ago, when I was full-time and caring our committee, we definitely had the support and the approval of our executive team, and they love seeing what we come up with. They attended our programs and events. They read through our newsletter for updates, and they were totally on board and excited. And especially when I got to the point where I was publishing articles publicly and sharing out in different and different platforms so that other companies could see how great we were doing. Of course, they love that and that's exciting. That definitely can fuel momentum and keep people inspired to persist. But at the end of the day, you've got to have that visible CEO buy-in involvement because really the nitty-gritty of DEI work and equity is making sure that the structural changes are happening. And some of those processes that only certain teams really touch are changing because that's really what contributes to the lived experience, too. I mean, if the career pathing sort of attitude or the culture of growth in the company, if the CEO's not really passionate about that and making sure everyone feels empowered to continue growing and going after learning and development opportunities, that's a stagnant culture. And that's absolutely the opposite of what we really want in a dynamic and culture of DEI. So I was interviewing a close friend of mine who she's got 20 plus years of experience and technology sales leadership. And her and I were pretty much on the forefront of our DEI initiative in our company. And, you know, we talked a little bit about, well, what about when the point comes where you have to make your business case to your CEO? And we reflect a lot on that because it's kind of starting to. Shine a light on you if you have to do that, if you have and can make that case to your CEO, it might not actually your company might not be ready because they really should be the CEO rallying everybody and your executives rallying everybody and then getting that buy-in across the organization. If you've got to convince them that they need to be hiring more equitably, promoting more people equitably, it seems to me that it won't have that long term success.
Tim ReitsmaIf you've got to make a business case, it may be time to check to see if it's the right place that you need to actually be working. And I say that maybe a little flippantly, but honestly, we shouldn't even have to be a business case. We need to be as leaders and organizations, leaders in our community. We need to be striving for driving. For diverse organizations, we need to be driving for things like pay equity, equitable performance, and how we're managing our performance and talent, our training, and our development and being an inclusive culture. And so, yeah, it's an interesting point. Interesting question. So leaders, if you're a leader or an owner of a company or founder listening, I would also challenge you to take a, take stock of what people are saying, but also just even do an internal look. Are you driving your organizations from a DEI perspective because only good things can happen if you do?
Yeah. And Katie it's been such a pleasure having you on the podcast and so much insight packed into the last 30 minutes or so, and where can people find you? Where can people find out more about what you're doing? You talked about your offering as well as the plan and the plan that you talked about. I've downloaded I've read through it and it just makes sense. So where can people find you?
Katie ZinkAwesome. Yes. So you can find my website, katiezink.co. And as Tim mentioned, that's where you can download my five measures for collective success that I referenced a bit today. You can also sign up for my newsletter there and stay current with my work. And I'm very active on LinkedIn, so definitely find me on LinkedIn as well. And once you do go to my website, check out the community founders, small business owners, any sort of visionary leader, entrepreneur, solopreneur. Check that out, because this is a membership I formed in August and it's for folks who are ready to create a sustained anti-racism action plan. So we have leaders from all sorts of industries, HR, marketing, education, and communications coming together and brainstorming together. It's sort of like a strategy hub for visionary leaders. So I'd love to share more about that, if that's of interest. But yeah, my website, you can sign up for my newsletter or find me on LinkedIn.
Tim ReitsmaWow, yeah, that's intriguing, I think we might have to have you back on Katie and just to talk about that initiative in itself, I think that's a fascinating initiative that you're taking on.
Katie ZinkI'd love to. Yeah, it's been great. It's awesome. I mean, we've got some amazing, amazing members, part of it. And we've been able to take just a much closer look at what's really happening throughout our industries and how we're operating within them with all these, you know, these systems that oftentimes just kind of need to be done away with. So it's been great.
Tim ReitsmaOh, that's fantastic. Yeah. And what better way to do it than collectively putting people together, putting some brainpower behind, behind change, and to be that catalyst of change?
Katie ZinkYes, absolutely.
Tim ReitsmaSo, yeah, again, thanks for coming on. And and I really appreciate your time today. And for those who are listening, thank you.
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