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Accepting Differences in Order to Advocate for Others

Posted By USFN, Monday, October 21, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Introduction by
Sally Garrison, Esq.
The Mortgage Law Firm, PLLC
USFN Member (AZ, CA, HI, OK, OR, WA)

Interview by
Jorge Rios-Jimenez
BDF Law Group
USFN Member (TX, GA, CO, CA, NV and AZ)

Diversity and inclusion are the watchwords of modern business. In addition to being equitable and just, there are compelling business reasons for promoting diversity and inclusion. In a rapidly changing and increasingly challenging environment, businesses must be adaptable. A diverse and inclusive workforce reduces turnover, provides stability, and fosters innovative problem solving through different perspectives to see opportunities and pitfalls that could otherwise be overlooked. USFN has established a new Diversity and Inclusion Committee dedicated to providing education and programming on this critical, and often misunderstood, area.

The first program sponsored by this committee was featured at the USFNdustry Forum in Nashville, Tennessee in June. Jessica Pettitt, M.Ed., CSP, author, comedian, and nationally recognized speaker, spoke to the attendees about being “Good Enough Now,” pushing everyone to start having the difficult conversations. In taking those risks, leaders establish a corporate mindset of learning and the habit of building diversity and inclusion over time. She challenges business leaders to take an honest inventory and move from abstract aspirations to action-based leadership. Jessica made her case in her signature voice: insight wrapped in humor. The audience was inspired, energized, and ready to start the conversation.

For those who were not able to be there, Diversity and Inclusion Committee member Jorge Rios-Jimenez interviewed Jessica to give our readers a sample of what we learned at the Forum.

How do you effectively gain buy-in from participants/employers to educate them on building welcoming and productive teams?
You can't. This is a hard answer to give and it is a typical question I get asked. I, nor you, nor anybody can make anyone do anything. You just have to work with those that are interested, even if that means doing this important work all alone as you can. These small gestures set an example for others that this work matters and is your best recruitment tool. There is a TON of research about increasing profits, talent retention, diverse recruitment, and the like and the positive effects (and affects) of diversity work that builds welcoming and productive teams and none of this is motivation for everyone to buy in. More research isn't the answer. Trying to try to set an example for work matters is all that is left to be effective. Along the way, others will feel more welcomed and become more productive.

Diversity and inclusion has been a hot topic for some time, but as of recently there seems to be more traction in expanding our awareness. Inevitably, some organizations have tried to work on this but have missed the mark. What would you recommend as something to avoid in starting these efforts?
I would avoid several things. First - a lot of organizations create metrics, like "increase diversity by 10%," without knowing what the current diversity is or even the organization's definition of diversity. There also isn't a functional timeline associated with this goal so it can never fail, nor can it ever be done. Second - trying to do diversity and inclusion work without any form of measurements. Painting a mural and having a "mandatory fun" potluck won’t solve problems without a measured plan to note current status, progress, as well as a process to respond to issues gathered. Organizations often ask for input and then do nothing with it. This feels even worse than never being asked in the first place. Third - don't set someone or a small group of interested people up to fail. Organizations often respond to the need for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work by creating a committee or an affinity group, or maybe even hiring a staff position and then give these tapped resources the responsibility to do DEI work with no resources, budgets, or institutionalized support. The organization leaders can check a box and it looks like these folks just aren't successful. Lastly - thinking that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work has a finish line. This work is never done. It can't be boiled down into a worksheet and is about a holistic cultural shift.

In your experience, what is the biggest challenge in implementing diversity and inclusion in an organization?
The biggest challenge is all players recognizing that a problem doesn't have to be experience for it to matter to someone else. We all have VERY different lived experiences and we must accept these differences without getting defensive and accept them as truth and do something about them until we find ourselves advocating for others before we are even told of a concern.

What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment in guiding others to stand up and take action?
Laughter is the best community builder as well as an equalizer so that we can work together with one another, heal wounds, decrease ignorance, and increase the connections with one another both in and outside of the office.

What are common misunderstandings people have with regards to diversity and inclusion?
That the work needs to be done by someone else. This work must be a part of every person's life in as many ways as possible from all of our privileged and marginalized identities and experiences. There will always be more elements to learn about ourselves and that is our responsibility and not that of those targeted, excluded, or feeling left out.

What advice do you offer to avoid unconscious bias?
There is no way to avoid unconscious bias. We can only work to become more conscious of our unconscious positive and negative bias.


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