Webinar Recap: 5 Things I Learned as a DEI Panelist

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When you’re asked to participate as a panelist on a webinar, your mind might trick you into believing you’re there to share your wisdom. And while that might be partially true, it’s more accurate to say you’re there to learn from your fellow panelists.

On March 3, I participated on a panel organized by my colleagues at Dixon Schwabl: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion In Advertising.” My fellow panelists included foremost experts on the topic, including Great Place to work CEO Michael Bush, St. Bonaventure Associate Professor & Diversity Advocate Kimberly DeSimone and University of Rochester’s Norma Holland. (My former classmate at Bishop Kearney—Go Kings!)

The content and education made available in the webinar are difficult to boil down. Here are five key insights on DEI I gleaned from the hour I spent absorbing knowledge from these powerhouse DEI professionals.

1. You don’t have DEI figured out, and that’s OK. But please don’t give up.

In the year since the murder of George Floyd, the conversation around diversity, equity and inclusion experienced a cataclysmic shift. Conversation is no longer enough. Action is the expectation. And that can create a paralytic fear. Where do you start and what if you do or say something wrong? Dr. DeSimone set participants straight on this notion: We need to be vulnerable and we need to be willing to walk boldly into our understanding that we have biases, that we’re not getting it right. I have found that the more an organization says We’re working really hard on diversity, equity and inclusion. We have a long way to go,’ they’re usually much closer than organizations who think they already have it figured out.”

2. It’s change, so it’s going to feel hard and uncomfortable.

Sometimes all we need is permission to make mistakes. When the panelists discussed the change we’re embarking upon, they acknowledged the discomfort that comes with it. But change is hard in the beginning, messy in the middle and beautiful at the end. If we don’t move through it and get comfortable with being uncomfortable, we won’t move forward. The work ahead is hard. I think this is the hardest work for people leading organizations. It’s the place where they don’t have many benchmarks, they don’t have many mentors and coaches on how to make this change. But there’s nothing in the caterpillar that lets you know it’s going to become a butterfly one day.” —Michael

3. Don’t mistake including for inclusive.

In 2019, I attended the Great Place to Work for All summit, hosted by Michael’s organization. I realized then, and it was reinforced during my time with Michael on this panel, that my idea of inclusion was mixed up with my idea of including. We can ask someone to be a part of our organization and convince ourselves that we’re including them, but if we don’t create a space in which they see themselves or engage with role models with their shared experience, we haven’t been inclusive. My daughter with curly hair needs to see other women with curly hair. Why? because curly hair is beautiful. If all she sees are women with straight hair, she’s going to have the thought that she is not as good as, she is not as valuable. What you say matters, but what you show matters. That speaks volumes.” —Norma

4. It takes time, so get moving now.

Examining your organization’s DEI practices isn’t something that happens overnight. Michael cited his organization’s research, which shows that even the companies that are fully embracing DEI practices will take three years to experience shifts in their organizations. It’s time to make take action now. Let’s say your team today doesn’t—‘Hey, my team kinda all looks like me.’ And you want to change that. It takes about three years to change it. It takes time. You can’t do it overnight.” —Michael

5. Words are words are words are words.

And while we’re on the topic of action, take heed of the old adage about it and words. When you act, it sends a clear message about your commitment to change. When you speak and don’t back it up with action, it diminishes trust. It can’t just be words on paper or images. The product has to back it up.” —Norma

As the CEO, Kim understands what it takes to make an impact as a business. But even more so as a person.

Kim Allen
Chief Executive Officer

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