Pictured above: Students and workshop panelists Amber Grace, Kesha Kent, LaShana Lewis and Crystal Ross-Smith participate in the November 20, 2020, workshop, "Incorporating DEI Practices into your Organization."
Five takeaways from Olin’s MBA workshop with corporate diversity officers

Engage white managers from the outset. Separate the human resources function from corporate diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Build relationships. These key takeaways and more headlined “Incorporating DEI Practices into your Organization,” a recent workshop for WashU Olin MBA students featuring four DEI professionals who have been engaged in the work for years.

The workshop, organized by Olin’s Weston Career Center and moderated by Lori Whitherspoon, MBA ’21, provided insights from Amber Grace, advisor for diversity and recruiting partnerships for Raymond James; Kesha Kent, CEO and founder of MrsKeshSpeaks and national diversity and inclusion, community engagement talent specialist for Ascension; LaShana Lewis, of the St. Louis Equity in Entrepreneurship Collective; and Crystal Ross-Smith, MHRM ’17, director for diversity, equity and inclusion at Ameren (see their full bios here).

Here are a selection of the takeways from their session on November 20.

Create relationships

“We want to know what we can do to make everyone at Ameren be successful and bring their authentic selves to work,” Smith said. Kent added: “It was always my goal to make sure that individuals who had amazing experience could get in front of those hiring managers. It was about creating relationships with those hiring managers.”

Focus on entry-level positions

“Cultivate that talent,” said Grace. “We work on making sure our internship and entry level programs are highly, highly diverse. Then, making sure we have mentorship opportunities, exposure to executive-level leadership.”

Make sure the interview panel is diverse, while at the same time making sure the group of prospective hires is representative as well. “Allyship and ambassadors are very very important,” Lewis said. “Seeing that the interviewees were looking through my shoes made me feel like I would be welcome.”

Separate DEI from HR

Said Smith: “We are separate from HR. Our VP for diversity reports directly to our CEO and she is a peer of the VP of HR. That really works. It creates checks and balances. When we sat down to create the diversity of the hiring pipeline, HR showed us what we were doing. We were able to independently challenge what they were doing.”

Involve and engage white men

“Be intentional. Be honest and say that white males are the ones who feel most attacked, but you need white males to be involved in this,” Grace said. “Be intentional about constructing the conversations. You’re bringing the decision-makers into the space of allyship. Explain that this is the problem and make them feel part of the solution. That is a skill I had to learn. If I’m trying to make change, I want it to be solution-oriented. It’s not about me. I want this to be a safe space for everyone. Understand what your resources are, who your allies are, so you’re not internalizing these issues.”

Be creative about problem-solving

Lewis knows some organizations aren’t large enough to provide a full-time person dedicated to initiatives around diversity, equity and inclusion. “A lot of us consultants have come together and came up with the idea of a ‘fractional’ chief diversity officer,” she said. That’s a professional who provides a share of her time to a variety of organizations each month. “Employees are supposed to be doing their jobs, not doing the volunteer service of being a DEI officer.”

See video of the workshop

Pictured at top: Students and workshop panelists Amber Grace, Kesha Kent, LaShana Lewis and Crystal Ross-Smith participate in the November 20, 2020, workshop “Incorporating DEI Practices into your Organization.”

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