Everything I Learned at the 2019 Diversity & Inclusion Symposium

By Claire Petrie, MBA, PHR, SHRM-CP | Talent Acquisition Manager

Claire Petrie at the Diversity & Inclusion Symposium.

It was a great day at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center for the Diversity & Inclusion Symposium! This is the first event I’ve been to like this—where the whole day was dedicated to diversity and inclusion 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 diversity and inclusion 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 or here. (No Twitter account needed.)

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


Starting the day

Clotilde Dedecker, President and CEO at the 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 here.

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


Painting “A Picture of the Possible”

This was a conversation between Dottie Gallagher, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s President & CEO and Brian E. Hall, Senior Vice President and Executive Director of The Commission on Economic Inclusion, a program of The Greater Cleveland Partnership.

Dottie Gallagher and Brian Hall.

Brian talked about how diversity and inclusion are moral imperatives that are essential to the economic and social health of our community. He pointed out how diversity and inclusion aren’t often the first thing business owners think about. He said they’re concerned with profits, market share, quality, etc. But how do we work diversity and inclusion into that equation?

Brian said: “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 diversity and inclusion as a business imperative and treat it this same way.”

He then shared that people get nervous about getting diversity and inclusion right and about being embarrassed in the process. He said 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 businesses 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.”


About disrupting implicit bias

After Brian and Dottie’s conversation, there were two breakout sessions:

Dr. Belliveau speaking during her breakout session.

I attended Disrupting Implicit Bias with Maura Belliveau and it was GOOD! So many actionable takeaways that you could start implementing in your organization. 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-wired 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” or “Engineers are nerdy.”
  • Prescriptive stereotypes are statements about what people should or shouldn’t be, such as: “Women aren’t surgeons.”
  • When we exercise bias, we are demonstrating our association of category and stereotype. For example, when a man walks by, a woman clutches her handbag.

Some of the research was so fascinating. A colleague of Dr. Belliveau’s was asked to sit in on a consulting firm’s hiring process. When white male candidates had low math scores, it drew no attention. But if test scores from a woman or person of color had the slightest indication of low score, it drew a lot of scrutiny.

Dr. Belliveau also talked about 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 percent 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 if 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 counteroffer. The woman gets offered a lower counteroffer. Negotiating for a better offer doesn’t have anything to do with inherently being male or female, BUT the stereotypes associated with women are that they are “loyal” and “non-self-promoting.” By asking for that counteroffer, 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.

Dr. Belliveau’s next point was on stopping the “color blind” discussion. She said that people tend to use this as a crutch. For example, if I’m “color blind,” 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, and lower empathy. When someone says that they are “color blind,” it actually leads to more racist behavior and undermines trust in the organization. The message from leadership should be about multiculturalism that 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 human resources practices? Here are 4 tips.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Maura closed with this great statement: “If diversity and inclusion are at the core of your business, then you need to have continual messaging. Diversity and inclusion are everyone’s job within the company… not just the job of those in Human Resources.”


The keynote address

Mary-Frances Winters, the founder and CEO of The Winters Group, Inc., delivered the keynote.

She began 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, think about 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.

Mary-Frances said that “diversity is the mix of differences, inclusion is making the mix work, and cultural competence is how to achieve inclusion.”

She also said that 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 that value their staff’s uniqueness and also make them feel like they belong are the ones that have inclusive workplaces.

Inclusion is a journey, and Mary-Frances said that the steps include:

  1. Know yourself
  2. Value yourself
  3. Acknowledge your biases
  4. Open yourself to change
  5. Learn about others

If something isn’t part of your identity (ie. being a mother), it can be hard to understand others who have that identity. Mary-Frances said that 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 more experience you have with differences, the better you can recognize them and understand them… and that’s what lets you 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? Mary-Frances said you could consider doing the following:

  1. Assume positive intent.
  2. Set the stage, give context.
  3. Think about your tone.
  4. Genuinely want to understand. You could say something like, “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.”


Creating an Action Plan

Greg Hodge delivering his talk on creating an action plan.

For this portion of the day, Greg Hodge talked us through creating an action plan and gave us a great “road map” to think about. He said the best way to move through the process is to pretend you’re doing on a road trip and consider the following:

  1. What is the destination?
  2. What is your approach? (For example, what are the ground rules? Who is working on the initiative? Etc.)
  3. What is your time frame? Is there a sense of urgency for making something happen? Why or why not?
  4. What map are you using? He said that you have to know where you are going and see the big picture. We are so used to our smartphones providing us with turn-by-turn direction. If that suddenly stopped, would we have a general idea of where we are headed?
  5. What calculated risks will we take? Greg suggested creating “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.
  6. Expect the unexpected. Something magical and amazing might happen when you don’t plan on it!

Greg also led an interactive discussion on microaggressions: the brief and commonplace verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults. For example, have you ever been asked: why do black/white/Asian people do XYZ? The question may not have a negative intent, but it assumes that everyone is the same and that each of us is a spokesperson for our entire race. Greg suggested that you ask in return what the person is trying to get at or understand. Ask: “What can I help you understand?” You could also say something like: “I’m not sure why others do that, but here’s what I do.” He encouraged us to have these courageous conversations where we educate each other and share our differences!

We then filled out our action plan sheets and asked ourselves: What can I or my organization do differently? What are our goals? What is our time-frame? Once you’ve got the answers to these questions, you have a framework for getting started.


Implementing the Action Plan: Best Practices

The symposium wrapped up with a panel discussion, moderated by Mary-Frances, between (from left) Paul Vukelic, the President & CEO of Try-It Distributing; David Scott, the Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Roswell Park; and Ray Burke, the President U.S./Canada Region for Rich Products.

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. They said that 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 your company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Your marketing team can help with education throughout the organization such as intranet pages, email blasts, highlighting employee stories, and making the work being done known to all employees. It’s a great way to make your work known, instill pride, and get your employees involved. This will go a long way toward getting people excited about the work being done and excited to reach company goals instead of feeling discouraged or embarrassed for their initial lack of knowledge.

They said: “Remember, your employees look to you and other company leaders for credibility. Are you walking the talk? You have to be inclusive if you want your employees to be inclusive.”


A great day

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 on my website!

Claire Petrie, PHR, is a Talent Acquisition Manager specializing in placing professionals into full-time permanent positions in the local manufacturing and logistics markets. She has built over seven years of successively diverse human resources management experience with privately-owned and publicly-traded global leaders that provide hospitality and food service management, medical devices development, and non-dairy/frozen food production.



Learn More & Register for the 2021 D&I Symposium HERE.


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