A closer look at the first steps in C Space's DEI journey
Today, we welcome the first of our guest contributors on the important topic of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. Leah Ben-Ami is the Director of Learning at C Space, a customer agency focussed on putting their clients' customers at the center of the work it does, and the way C Space approaches the work. Here's a look at the 10 steps the organisation took to improving DEI, as told by Leah:
We know that DEI is an area that needs be prioritised not only because we want to celebrate and provide an inclusive and equitable environment for all of our new and continuing employees, clients and customers, but also because as L&D consultants and HR leaders we face significant roadblocks if our employees are not able to navigate conversations about DEI and other challenging and complex client scenarios.
Knowing that the toughest thing is getting started, our initial approach was to involve people across the business and bring in external experts to drive awareness of the issues. In Spring 2019, we brought in Doug Melville, the Chief Diversity Officer of TBWA to run a 'Language of Diversity' training series across the entire company. This served as the catalyst for the C Space Allies group we formed, focussed on promoting safe-space conversations and celebrating the diversity of our employees and customers.
With the support of our Chief People and Operations Officer Phil Burgess, we were able to celebrate International Women’s Day and Black History Month led by Ashley Guilliame, who is a Consultant at C Space and a leader within the local Boston black professional and university community. Working together with a cross-functional team of C Space Allies, we were able to bring in Nick Bates, Assistant Director of Thurman Center Networks at Boston University to focus on storytelling and hip-hop, and how to leverage both to share your own personal story.
We brought in Professor Dr. Earlene Avalon from Northeastern University to speak about challenges and biases people of colour face in the health industry, and how we can make improvements. We also brought in a few prospective college students of colour to get a tour of our offices and learn more about our company and culture.
C Space also has a long history of celebrating Pride month, led by Aidan Borer and Samuel Martin both from our Customer Strategy and Experience team over the past two years, who adapted the focus this year to celebrate black transgendered activists in the LGBTQIA+ community to both honor the #blacklivesmatter movement as well as Pride month.
Language of Diversity with Phil Burgess, photo taken by Lee Delulio.
10 ways C Space scaled its DEI initiatives
The pandemic and the racial injustice protests stemming from the murder of George Floyd – in my own hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota – really accelerated and reprioritised our DEI efforts on a global scale. Within a month we had to have some extremely emotional and challenging conversations (virtually) internally about our own roadblocks with DEI as a company, within leadership, and ways that we could focus first on resolving our challenges by focusing on upskilling non-marginalised groups on DEI.
This was not an easy decision to make, and not an easy challenge to tackle especially virtually and during a pandemic, as we saw other competitors and clients rapidly reaching out with their #blacklivesmatter statements – which our Allies group felt was potentially inauthentic and premature given the conflicting voices of their customers. Instead, we forged our own path and did the following 10 things to improve DEI at C Space:
- Grew our Allies group to over 70 people, now representing over a third of C Space.
- Had our Allies group nominate and select a global cross-functional DEI board focused on carrying forward our DEI strategy and serving as a bridge between our Allies group and senior leadership.
- Created a DEI page on our employee engagement platform, 'The Spot,' (through Reward Gateway), synthesising books, videos, podcasts, and other resources shared and collected from the Allies group over the past year.
- Kisha Payton and her team created a #Wearehere toolkit (slides, resources, videos, and more) to help our client teams out with branding and templates for approaching the topic of DEI with clients, or at least being ready if/when they brought it up.
- Shut down our company for a day (globally) and built and ran a DEI Day on August 4th, running live sessions across our London and Americas offices inviting keynote speakers Pamela Newkirk, author of 'Diversity, Inc.' and Doug Melville to return. We created virtual working groups to help create a more intimate and authentic environment to discuss these challenging topics.
- Acknowledging the role that leaders have to play in establishing a truly diverse and inclusive culture, each member of the Leadership Team completed a personal development plan linked to their own self-education and personal commitments to driving change. They were also required to complete an Unconscious Bias training with Dr. Bryant Marks, to help establish a baseline and upskill where needed.
- Our People and Operations team completed a DEI analysis on our recruitment and promotion efforts, to make sure that we were being inclusive and equitable in our hiring and retention approaches. This was shared with the board and continues to be evolved and updated – this was also a huge win for our HR team!
- Made a goal as a company to prioritise the recruitment of talent and to have a diverse employee base by 2023, with the help of Marcus Tremaglio our TA recruiter with extensive experience in this space.
- Created a virtual Our Space group to better support our BIPOC employees and provide a safe space to discuss challenging issues and reduce isolation across our BIPOC employees.
- Started tracking hours focussed on DEI work to make sure we were recognising and appropriately calibrating these costs to our clients as we continue to expand in this area in 2021.
5 helpful lessons learned along the way
Overall, taking the time to conduct a thorough analysis on our existing metrics with DEI allowed for us to better prioritise the areas of focus required to build a cohesive and authentic approach to our internal and external position on DEI. If your organisation is trying to figure this out, here are a few things I’d recommend:
|1. Listen with as much empathy as possible – avoid placing judgement and have an open mind. People change, and it’s ok to 'get it wrong.'|
|2. See the learning process as always evolving and everyone’s responsibility.|
|3. Keep the external context in mind, but challenge the status quo where it makes the most sense for your organisation to do so (values, culture, etc.).|
|4. Build advocacy at all levels and make sure everyone is clear on what DEI is and isn’t for the company.|
|5. Take a research-backed approach – this will save time, help build a stronger case, and will keep the company focussed – there is no need to reinvent the wheel when so many best practices have been validated.|
While we’re proud of the progress we’ve made this year, we know there’s still a huge amount of work to be done. We’re on a journey and we’ll continue to be intentional about driving meaningful change that matters to our people, clients and the world.