Diversity and inclusivity – or lack thereof – in customer experiences impact all internal and external stakeholders touched by a brand. First, employees and second, consumers.
Throughout 2020, many companies – including our own – vowed to increase education, advocacy, and efforts towards diversifying talent and improving inclusivity in brand messaging. They set their sights on reaching new audiences and, in doing so, growing their core customers to include minority groups. But, as we’ve learned first-hand while working with Dr. Daryl Jones – a leadership development, organizational transformation & DEI consultant – that’s easier said than done. Creating diverse CX isn’t just a strategy to connect with external customers, it starts within a company’s walls where the true drivers of your experiences live and play.
In this Q&A, we talk to Dr. Daryl Jones about what it really takes to solve for the lack of diversity in CX and how this work contributes to the trust, confidence, and safety customers feel throughout their individual journeys with companies.
Also read: What is CX & Why Does it Matter?
Q&A with Dr. Daryl Jones
Tallwave: Thank you so much for speaking with us today! To kick this off, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
Dr. Daryl Jones: Sure, I grew up in the Midwest… completed my undergrad at Michigan State with a marketing degree. I went to graduate school in Chicago at DePaul and then went on to get my doctorate at Case Western in Cleveland. From a career perspective, I started off in the automotive industry and ultimately ended up in the sports industry with Nike. I spent about 19 ½ years there in a number of different roles, primarily in revenue generation, but I also did a really formative stint in diversity and inclusion. I was really focused on transforming the internal culture and how we made decisions around diverse communities. I taught college for a couple years and now I have my own consulting practice focused on diversity, equity and inclusion.
TW: So, as you mentioned, you guide and consult organizations through diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI) work. What are some high level trends you’re seeing in your work right now?
DJ: I’m seeing a lot of energy around racial diversity. I’m seeing a lot of learning around racial diversity. I’m seeing a lot of sensitivity in bias awareness. Where the fork in the road tends to appear is that separation between using this work as a branding opportunity versus an opportunity to transform and evolve the existing business model. That becomes a personal decision based on leadership. I am also seeing some really tough decisions having to be made, especially depending on the industry, about what a company’s vision is and how they foresee the nature of their workforce – demographics, psychographics, etc. Changes are having to be made if they plan to evolve…. But I’ve also seen companies use this [COVID] as a real opportunity to transform. While the chips are down for other companies, a lot of them have taken a leadership position in this zone and it has paid off.
TW: Why does work around improving diversity in CX have to start from within? A lot of companies want to craft diverse experiences for external customers but they can’t do that without first making internal choices and change. Why is that?
DJ: I think it’s very difficult. You may have a few [external CX] wins just by being innovative but eventually you’ll screw up, and when that time comes, the price can be heavy. We see it all of the time. It’s the minute you try to do too much and you convince yourself that you’re an expert in something you actually know very little about – which oftentimes is culture – or you appropriate a culture, that’s when the light shines on you. So, I think before innovative companies can stake a claim in this space, they need to check themselves on how diverse they are and to what extent they embrace diversity across seven clear principles [voice, values, opportunity, respect, transparency, authenticity, and culture]. Not just the way we think or the experiences our employees have, but do you embrace this whole concept and the entire journey of every single employee that you have psychographically and demographically? And is their experience allowing them to add value to the organization like anyone else? Just having the numbers usually isn’t enough… Before you try to be an example or guide someone or a customer, you have a lot of work to do internally, whoever you are.
TW: Many companies want to attract more diverse clients. How have you seen DEI changes within the company impact external success?
DJ: There’s a lot of two-way learning that takes place at that executive level [during the DEI work]… From an optics perspective, it’s important that the organization sees what the executive team says it values actually play out. [When that happens], the optics change. “Wow, okay, I see that person in the seat. I see that person making a decision. I see that person adding value at a high level, it’s not just talk anymore.” That’s empowering for an organization. From a business perspective, we talk a lot about how it adds to innovation and it does. But beyond innovation, when I talk about diversity, I assume talent. I’m not talking about making any concession to bring diversity on. I assume a high level of talent just as I do with someone who’s “non-diverse.” So, you’re adding talent to the organization – folks that have a professional journey that no one else has. That adds value to the organization…. That cascade [effect] has many aspects to it. The tough part is when organizations have operated so long without it and deem themselves successful. It can be tough to get around that corner because you’ve never experienced it. You are 70% of the time hitting your profit margin goals; your profit logic seems to work for you. Leaders sometimes question why they really need to make this change any higher than the baseline folks in the organization.
TW: It comes down to what you deem success as. Hitting quotas and making money is one type of success, but if you’re in the business of serving your community – even if you’re achieving your goals and the board is happy – you’re not really succeeding in the community.
DJ: The community aspect is really important. I’ll even stop short of that and say how successful do you want to be and have you been limiting your vision of success because you haven’t experienced diversity? There are markets you haven’t even pursued. So you’re making tough decisions now but it’s going to [end up benefiting] everything… If you’re serious about maximizing opportunity, I think not pursuing high level diversity is a big mistake.
TW: Let’s rewind and start at the beginning. How does your DEI work with a company typically begin?
DJ: I start with a conversation with the highest level executive team. I like to understand what their sense of the organization is right now. What’s prompting them to do this work? Are they willing to make really tough decisions down the road and maybe have some discomfort? Then I shift into a conversation with that second level of the organization and understand what’s the history been around diversity? What are the statistics telling us? What are the demographics of the organization? Then I like to hear from the organization and that’s where cultural assessments come in. It’s very difficult to do this work if you jump into training and development, but you haven’t accessed the organization across critical principles – that’s the next step. That’s the beginning of the work for me. It’s oftentimes the toughest part, especially when the data is staring you right in the face and the organization has been clear because everything we do is anonymous. So those are the first steps – to hear from everyone in the organization and not assume anything.
TW: How do you guide people through the realization and acceptance of the statistics that they did not intend to be racially unequal or biased in the company?
DJ: Fortunately, I have a pretty long history with a company who has had its peaks and valleys as it relates to racial diversity, and gender diversity quite honestly. So, part of what I can do is speak to experience and how – if a decision is made and embraced – how successful you can be… On the other hand, there are certain organizations that I wouldn’t try to convince a racially diverse employee base to work with because the culture is wrong for them. So, what I try to do is convince a leader that this journey they’re about to embark on must be personal and professional, but it must be personal first. If you’re disconnected outside of work, you’re going to have a much tougher time making critical decisions about DEI at work. Don’t think you can step in and step out – the Clark Kent Superman scenario – you can’t do that. This becomes a life journey and the two entities [personal & professional life] are connected. And if you don’t see it, employees see it. There’s a transparency piece to this that extends beyond working in the office. What does your life at home look like? And that’s the part that is often tough – you have to bring that personal shift into the office, you can’t put it on once you get to the office.
TW: What are some things people need to evaluate about their life at home? How does that impact their diversity efforts in the workplace?
DJ: Well, there’s a couple things. How willfully ignorant are you? Do you allow yourself to stand on the periphery of racism? Or are you active and addressing it? How complicit are you? Do you allow conversations to be had that are unacceptable in your presence? Are you dismissive? And I think another one that people really tend to overlook is how conflicted you can become when these other three things happen. Are you saying one thing at home and in your social circles and trying to say something different at work? I think that’s more important.
TW: How does social media play into this? How powerful is social media as an activist?
DJ: Well, I think social media can be powerful, but I think there are a number of people who use it as a crutch. There are some people who don’t post anything at all who are doing more work than any of us. Social media can tell us a lot, but I don’t rely on it for my answers. I have a process that I use to separate the branding aspect of this from the business model aspect… Social media plays a role, as it does in so many different sectors of life, but I personally don’t rely on that to make any determination on where a person is in this journey. It’s too easy to post or not post, or be so innovative in other aspects of your life, but when it comes to [DEI work] you become a re-poster, for example. So, it doesn’t mean a whole lot to me.
TW: Many companies shared sentiments of support for #BlackLivesMatter on social media but were then challenged to share what their plans for learning, listening and improving really were. If a company said the right words but didn’t know what actions to take, where can they start?
DJ: Honestly, maybe I’ve been around too long, but long enough to be skeptical. I don’t buy into the narrative of confusion and not knowing what to do. I buy into the narrative of it not being important enough. There are so many aspects of business where leaders have become experts because it was important to them and it was an undertaking that was a requisite. This isn’t treated as a requisite. I don’t know how you could be so confused about this, but so enlightened in other areas of the business. So, when I hear the words, “This can be confusing!”, I’m skeptical of that. I think you haven’t decided how important it is to you, yet. Or you have and you’re not talking about it. You’ve made a decision – it’s not important to you. I’ve been around too many business leaders who are great at some wonderful things. Being confused about this is confusing to me.
TW: That makes so much sense. You’re really fond of golf, and you want to be an expert in golf, so you go out and do it.
DJ: First thing you do, you hire a pro. Second thing you do, you buy clubs and you start practicing. It’s very simple if you want to be great at it. DEI is no different. What hasn’t been decided with a lot of leaders is “I want to be good at this and I want to make change.” Because there comes a point when the data is there and the numbers are staring at you, and it’s not about what I tell you anymore, it’s about what you want to do. And I love it when we get to that point because it’s not in my hands, anymore. The charter is there. The people who have stepped up and exercised their voices have done so with passion. What are you going to do?
TW: You’ve mentioned the need to make tough decisions a couple times. What are some of those tough decisions that companies often have to make?
DJ: If your executive team is all white and you claim you want to build a diverse organization, you have a tough decision to make. If you want to stay like that and still claim you’re going to be diverse, I think you have some really tough decisions to make. It’s not easy to change the composition of a team, initially… Oftentimes, I find that the work that they do remains lower down in the company. There’s no intention of shifting that homogenous group at the top. But to think you can remain static [within your leadership team] and bring [other] diverse employees in who think, “I’m not even going to get [advancement] in my head because there’s no one there that even looks like me, understands me, wants to connect with me.” I don’t see how that’s a viable journey for business leaders. If you say this is your vision, then you have to rethink everything. So, one of the toughest things for me is when we get to this charter phase – developing a charter for diversity – these decisions start to fall on the organizations. I can provide skeletal models and [outlines of] things you need to think about, but then decisions need to be made at the executive level. It needs to be authentic to them.
TW: So what kind of data or KPIs do you usually suggest for measuring how efforts are playing into overall business?
DJ: It’s critically important to understand the seven aspects that are critical to DEI – voice, values, opportunity, respect, transparency, authenticity, and culture. I measure employee sentiment on each one of those using a SWOT analysis. Do the responses represent a strength, weakness, opportunity, or threat for your organization based on your employee feedback? Same with all seven. That tells us a number of different things: A) How employees feel because the SWOT analysis is anonymous, and B) what to measure our progress against. It provides a baseline for future work to see how valuable the change implemented is when we do additional assessments in 6-12 months. So, as opposed to simply relying on narratives, we use hard numbers. That tends to provoke folks to act. Along with that, we do supplement with narratives. Say more about the company’s voice and ask employees for feedback on that. It’s pretty much consistent though with the scores that we get. What’s interesting is we can get scores that range from a nine, which means this is a strength for the organization, or one, which highlights a threat. Leaders have to own all of the responses that they receive. For example, if you have an organization of 75 employees and 10% of your organization say opportunity is a threat, but your score ended up at an average 9.2, are you going to own that 10% or does that not matter? That threat is living and breathing in the organization. If it’s anonymous, what does that 10% look like? It’s the 10% who doesn’t feel relevant to the culture. So, we’re very diligent about that step in the process and were very diligent about leadership taking accountability.
TW: Any last comments you’d like to share?
DJ: I believe in people and I believe in talent. I know how I grew up, and I don’t think hard work is enough. I think we have to acknowledge certain things that are systemic and certain things that we may not want to buy into. I like to get leaders out of embarrassment mode as soon as I can because a lot of embarrassment comes with this. You’re typically not producing when you’re in embarrassment mode. It’s okay to be embarrassed for a night when these numbers come through and you don’t like them. Turn around, get back to work, get out of the embarrassment mode, focus on what we’re going to do. Because often, this was never a focus. How could you have great assessment numbers?… [Leaders] can relearn and we can create new habits and beliefs, [they] just have to put in the work.