A Wrap Up: Buffalo’s Diversity & Inclusion Symposium


Today was a great day at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center for the Diversity & Inclusion Symposium! (#DISymposiumBuffalo) This is the first event I’ve been to like this – where the whole day was dedicated to D&I topics and the focus was on getting started. I love how the whole day focused on the human element – because it’s the right thing to do and we need to create opportunities and inclusive cultures if we all want to succeed. Yes, having a diverse and inclusive culture drives innovation and profit within businesses but this only comes if us as leaders genuinely care about the issues, walk the talk and back up our words with actions. You could FEEL that everyone in the room knew the importance of D&I efforts but wanted to learn more about getting started, get questions answered or share ideas.

If you weren’t able to attend the event or follow live on Twitter, you can view a recap of all the Tweets here on Wakelet. No Twitter account needed!

Here’s a summary of the day and what I learned!

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Clotilde Dedecker, President/CEO at Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo started off with some opening remarks regarding the Greater Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable and the work they’re doing. The Racial Equity Roundtable includes more than 30 community leaders from public, private, nonprofits and faith institutions convened to advance racial equity and promote the change required to accelerate a shared regional prosperity. To learn more about the work they’re doing and to understand the current gaps, download the full report at https://racialequitybuffalo.org/

Clotilde mentioned that the roundtable calls people IN to the work, as opposed to calling them OUT.

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A Picture of the Possible – Brian E. Hall, Senior Vice President and Executive Director of The Commission on Economic Inclusion, a program of The Greater Cleveland Partnership

Brian talked about how D&I is a moral imperative that is essential to the economic and social health of our community. He pointed out how D&I isn’t the first thing business owners think about. They’re concerned with profits, market share, quality, etc. But how do we work D&I into this? He shared, if one of your major customers says to you: we will continue to do business with you IF you reach XYZ level of quality, what would you do? You would set up a target, make goals, train people to reach those goals, monitor, report, etc. We need to think about D&I as a business imperative and treat it this same way. He then shared, people get nervous about getting D&I right and about being embarrassed in the process. It’s okay to try things and fail. The important thing is that we are making progress. Brian discussed how the Cleveland area improved by getting diverse candidates into the construction industry. The city had a lot of capital projects going on and needed the talent to make it happen. Community organizations came together to help business provide apprenticeships and training programs. Someone in the audience asked about facing resistance and I loved Brian’s answer: there will be push back, some people just aren’t ready. But work with the willing. As long as you’re on the journey and committed to improving your community.

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Next, there were two breakout sessions:

Disrupting Implicit Bias – Maura A. Belliveau, Ph.D., Director, Center for Diversity Innovation, University at Buffalo

Building an Inclusive Workplace Culture – Greg Hodge, Khepera Consulting

I attended Disrupting Implicit Bias with Maura Belliveau and it was GOOD! So many actionable takeaways that you could start implementing in your organization. I took so many notes, but I’ll try and keep this short! Maura started by talking about the science of implicit/unconscious bias. She does a lot of her own research in this area.

Some of the items she mentioned during the science aspect were:

  • The antecedent step in bias is categorization
  • Our brains are hard wires to categorize people
  • Race and gender are the most salient categories
  • Beliefs about categories of people = stereotypes
    • Descriptive stereotypes are statements such as accountants are precise. Engineers are nerdy
    • Prescriptive stereotypes are statements about what people should or shouldn’t be. For example, women aren’t surgeons.

When we exercise bias, we are demonstrating our association of the category and stereotypes. For example, when a man walks by, a female clutches her handbag.

Some of the research was so fascinating. A colleague of hers had sat in on a consulting firm’s hiring process. When white male candidates had low math scores, it drew no attention. If a woman or person of color’s test scores had the slightest indication of low score, it drew a lot of scrutiny. Another example was a resume study using the names Emily, Greg, Lakisha and Jamal. Resumes with these names were sent out for a variety of job postings. White sounding names were 50% more likely to get a call for an interview. What really shocked me is that the study also changed up the quality of the resumes. With a white sounding name like Emily or Greg, it didn’t matter the resume quality. Even of the black sounding names had more awesome resumes than the white sounding names, the white sounding names still got calls. Another example given was on negotiating salary. A man and woman each get an external offer. They approach their current employer to negotiate for a counter offer. The woman gets offered a lower counter offer. Negotiating for a better offer doesn’t have anything to do with inherently being male or female BUT the stereotypes associated with women are loyal and non-self-promoting. By asking for that counter offer, the woman is now seen as aggressive, self-interested and no longer loyal which hurts her in the long run compared to the male employee.

Her next point was on stopping the color blind discussion. People use this as a clutch. If I’m colorblind, then I’m exempt from having to do anything  because I say I can’t see it. This leads to less racially sensitive behavior. Less willingness to adopt inclusive practices. Lower empathy. Colorblindness actually leads to more racist behavior and undermines trust in the organization. The message from leadership should be about multiculturalism, not colorblindness. Multicultural messages highlight DIFFERENCE. That’s so important. Everyone is different and unique!

So, now into those actionable take-a-ways! What works in disrupting bias in HR practices?

Bias flourishes when there is ambiguity. Anywhere that you can impose structure and eliminate ambiguity in HR decision making processes (hiring, performance evaluations, etc), the better. There needs to be clear criteria for hiring and evaluating quantitative ability. What are the true required qualifications and how would we know if someone has these qualifications? Lay this out in advance. OTHERWISE the applicant pool starts shaping the job criteria instead of the other way around.

Create and train a diverse hiring committee. Do not begin candidate evaluation until you already have a diverse pool of candidates. Structure the interview process so interviewers are focused on job relevant skills and information. Also, when you’re focused on speed in the hiring process, bias is more likely to creep in. I know openings cross my desk that are “urgent” and need to be filled ASAP. Give the hiring process the time it needs and plan ahead.

Accountability is key. Without accountability, nothing will really work. Tell the hiring managers what you are holding them accountable for and how you will be evaluating the process. Managers have to know how they will be monitored. You aren’t taking away their discretion, but you are supporting the diversity process. They must provide justification on why certain candidates made the short list.

Evaluate your current process. Where are diverse candidates dropping off in your process? At the application stage? Interview stage? Are we even getting them into the applicant pool? Map our your current process and see what changes can be made to attract the diverse candidates you are seeking.

There was so much more, but let’s move on to the next speaker! Maura closed with: If D&I is at the core of your business, then you need to have continual messaging. D&I is everyone’s job within the company, it doesn’t just sit with HR.

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Keynote – Mary-Frances Winters, Founder and CEO of The Winters Group, Inc.

Mary-Frances started with some great examples about how behaviors may be part of a culture’s frame of reference and we may need more context to understand. For example, someone who looks down and doesn’t make eye contact. Instead of assuming this person is “shady” or hiding something, this may be perfectly acceptable in their culture. Diversity if the mix of differences, inclusion is making the mix work and cultural competence is how to achieve inclusion. Equity is the end goal. If we want people to bring their best selves to work, they can’t do this if they are forced to confirm or assimilate. Businesses who value their staff’s uniqueness and also make them feel like they belong, have inclusive workplaces. She talked about inclusion is a journey. Some of the steps of this journey included know yourself, value yourself, acknowledge your biases, open yourself to change and learn about others. If something isn’t part of your identity (example for me – being a mother. I’m not a mother) it can be hard to understand others who have that identity. You know you have a bias when you get a certain feeling or exhibit a certain behavior. For example, if a bunch of men get on the elevator with me, I may get stressed and sweaty because I assume something bad may happen. The ore experience you have with differences, the better you can recognize them and understand them. You can move from sympathy to empathy. We have to help each other overcome obstacles and make each other aware of our differences. So how can you get these courageous conversations started? Assume positive intent. Set the stage, give context. Think about your tone. Genuinely want to understand. Say, I’m curious. This is what I’ve experienced and I wanted to understand what this was like for you OR I don’t know this and maybe I should, but I wanted to ask you about XYZ.

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Creating an Action Plan for an Inclusive Workforce – Greg Hodge, Khepera Consulting

Greg talked about creating your action plan for an inclusive workforce. He gave us a great “road map” to think about. Pretend you’re doing on a road trip.

  • What is the destination?
  • What is your approach? Ground rules, who is working on the initiative, etc
  • What is your time frame? Is there a sense of urgency for making something happen
  • What map are you using? You have to know where you are going and to see the big picture. We are so used to our smart phones providing us with turn by turn direction. If that all of a sudden shut off, would we have a general idea of where we are headed?
  • What calculated risks will we take? Create safe to fail experiments. Not something that will put the company out of business, but a calculated risk. Try a new approach for a few months and debrief, see what you learned, make changes, etc.
  • Expect the unexpected. Something magical and amazing might happen when you don’t plan on it!

Greg also led an interactive discussion on microaggressions – brief and commonplace verbal, behavioral and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative slights and insults. Have you ever been asked: why do black/white/Asian people do XYZ? This may be unintentional, but this assumes that everyone is the same. Each of us is not a spokesperson for our entire race. Ask back: what are you really getting at? What can I help you understand? I’m not sure why others do that, but here’s what I do. Let’s have these courageous conversations where we educate each other and share our differences!

We then filled out our action plan sheets – what can I or my organization do differently? What are our goals? What is our time-frame? Then, get started!

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Implementing the Action Plan: Best Practices from CEOs.

The symposium wrapped up by Mary-Frances Winters moderating a panel which consisted of Ray Burke from Rich Products, David Scott from Roswell Park and Paul Vukelic from Try-It Distributing. Each leader shared some of their internal initiatives such as offering onsite day care, mentoring programs, employee resource groups, training, hosting various company events where different cultures can showcase their culture, etc. Inclusion does involve thinking outside of the box. Another great point that was brought up was that your marketing and communications department should be a key partner in D&I initiatives. Your marketing team can help with education throughout the organization – intranet pages, email blasts, highlighting employee stories and making the work being done known to all employees. Make it known what you are doing, be proud, and get your employees involved. Get people excited about the work being done and excited to reach company goals, not discouraged or embarrassed for their initial lack of knowledge. Remember, your employees look at you for credibility. Are you walking the talk? You have to be inclusive if you want your employees to be inclusive.

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I hope you all enjoyed my wrap up post and I look forward to seeing you at more upcoming events focused on advancing our region. If you have any questions about the symposium, feel free to reach out to me!

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