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In Conversation

Anti-Racism in Corporate America with Jackie Glenn

Actions speak louder than words, and diversity has become more than just a social nicety -- it is a business imperative.

September 3, 2020

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Our guest Jackie Glenn recounts her own experiences fighting racism in the corporate environment, and how everyone -- not just C-level executives -- can make the workplace a more equitable and belonging place for all. 

The following interview is an excerpt from our video series, Marketing In Conversation. To watch the full interview and see more video content, click here. Or you can listen to the SHIFT - In Conversation podcast here.

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Jackie Glenn - CEO and Founder - Glenn Diversity & HR Solutions 
Grace Amodeo - Program Manager - SHIFT 

Grace:
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Jackie:
My name is Jackie Glenn and I currently live in Boston, Massachusetts. I hail from the sunny Island of Jamaica and came to this country when I was at the ripe age of 19. I moved to Boston, went to undergrad and graduate school and started working in the healthcare arena. I then moved into the technology industry where I started out in HR and 18 years later I left the company as the Chief Diversity Officer. 

Grace:
Tell us more about your company and what you do.

Jackie:
Glenn Diversity & HR Solutions is a boutique consulting firm. We market ourselves as a Chief Diversity Officer in residence or on-call for small and medium sized companies. Lots of small and medium sized companies have no one doing their diversity work, so we go in and we help them set up their strategy. 

Grace:
On your website you talk not only about the importance of diversity, but the “preciousness” of diversity. Why is diversity precious in a corporate environment?

Jackie:
Diversity breeds innovation. When you bring a diverse group of people together, it creates innovation and without innovation companies die. When I talk about the preciousness of diversity I go at it from a business standpoint, I don't go at it from a sympathy or empathy standpoint. If you care about your business, you will understand that it is precious. I always say that diversity is a business imperative and not a social nicety, and I really believe that with my whole heart. I want people to look at people like myself, and if you're hiring someone that is different from your overall population to remember that diversity breeds innovation. And if you're not innovating and transforming as a company, your business will not thrive.

I always say that diversity is a business imperative and not a social nicety, and I really believe that with my whole heart.

Grace:
What is the important difference between actions and words, between saying the right thing and actually doing the right thing?

Jackie:
Saying the right thing is box checking, or just political correctness. A lot of practitioners who have been in the field like myself can smell a box checker a mile away. The difference is someone who is really looking at DEI as a business imperative, and has this role reporting into the right level. So it's not buried deep down in the organization, but it's either reporting to the head of HR or directly to the CEO. When you see a company have a diversity role and it's reporting right into the CEO and it sits on the leadership team, then you know that that is not a box checker. When you see them buried in the organization with no budget and no staff, that company, most of the time, is just doing it to say that they have a diversity person there. 

Grace:
Do you think we are in a fundamentally different moment right now than we have been in the past?

Jackie:
I think we're in a different moment. If I may be very raw, I think a lot of people are sick and tired of the bullshit, especially Black people. I think if you'd met me 10 years ago, I probably wouldn't say “bullshit” on a podcast. And I'm unapologetic, I've always been unapologetic. I think we find ourselves at this moment where people are tired, they're angry, and they are being very intentional and deliberate. Companies that are still homogeneous at their leadership level and on their board, they are being called out and they'll be held accountable. And while I know there's a lot of people out there who want this moment of unrest to go away, I don’t think it's going to go anywhere. 

Grace:
What specific kind of work do you find yourself doing the most today, what is keeping you the most busy? 

Jackie:
A lot of the work I'm doing right now is around foundation setting. When companies call my company, the ones who find themselves telling me what they think they need -- I stop them. I use the analogy of going to a doctor and diagnosing yourself in the doctor’s office. Look at me as the diversity doctor, the DEI doctor. The diagnostics I do with all of the companies that I’ve been working with now is around courageous conversation skill sets. How do you have a courageous conversation, what are the components of a courageous conversation, why is it important to have courageous conversations? Until companies are grounded in why it’s important to have courageous conversations, we’re not going to get anywhere. I don’t care how much strategy we have, how much roadmap we have, how much mission and vision we have. We have to get to a point where we are not walking around so afraid to have a conversation like we’re having. 

Grace:
What is the first step a company can take to improve their DEI efforts and start this process?

The first thing I would say is, stop doing the busy work and stop the avoidance. A lot of companies tell themselves what they want to hear.

Jackie:
The first thing I would say is, stop doing the busy work and stop the avoidance. A lot of companies tell themselves what they want to hear. Stop the busy work, own that you are not diverse and that you need help. Don’t rely on the one or two Black or African American people in your organization to be the teachers. Invest in awareness and education, and that’s where I come in. 

Grace:
Where does the inclusion and belonging come in, to make sure that you are not only hiring a diverse group of employees but retaining them?

Jackie:
As people look back on all of their diversity efforts in different corporations, we noticed that at first they would say we can't find anyone. Then they noticed that they would find people, but the people would not stay. And when you talk to some of these people, they would say, “I didn't feel like I belong there. There was nothing for me. I was the only one who wasn't invited to the parties, and no one asked me to lunch”. When I first started at a technology company years ago, I can not tell you how many times as a new employee I was sitting there alone. So more and more people are saying, we just don't want to bring in diverse talent, but we want to make sure that they feel like they belong. One of the things we did was make sure that every time we brought in a person of color, we gave them a mentor that looks like them. That mentor can then ask how they are doing, and what they might need to know. If we recruited you from another state, do you have a place to get your hair done? If you bring a person to a predominantly white organization in a predominantly white town and they are Black and they don’t know where to go, that’s going to be a problem. You make sure you equip the person with all the tools, both personally and professionally, that they’re going to need to be successful. You always have to go back and look at the company culture. Is it an inclusive culture, or is it a culture that just rewards people that look like the majority?

You always have to go back and look at the company culture. Is it an inclusive culture, or is it a culture that just rewards people that look like the majority?

Grace:
How do you go about changing the culture?

Jackie:
To change the culture you take a top and bottom approach. Yes, you have to have the buy-in from the leadership, but you also have to have the buy-in from the mid-level managers. I call them the frozen middle. Top-level leadership can always say they want diversity, they want to make sure people are being treated equitably. But you might not get any support from your mid-level manager, you know that person hasn’t gotten the message. And if you’re at the individual contributor level, you also want to be a part of it and give your input. The change has to come from the top, but you also have to go to both the middle level and individual contributors. 

Grace:
Can any single person make a change in their company culture, no matter their role? 

Jackie:
You absolutely can. When I started my journey, I came into an organization as an HR person. I wasn't in a diversity role, but I saw that there weren't a lot of other people like me. So I found a few other people of color and I put together the first employee affinity group. Why did I do it? Selfishly, I wanted to see some Black people who I could equate with and I knew that the company was dispersed all over. So I sought them out and we put together a Black employee affinity group. I took the initiative because I knew that I would benefit from it. So this is a point where if you're in an organization and you're a person of color and you're just sitting there complaining, you need to go out and you need to put your ideas out there. If you want change, you have to make change. 

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Would you like to participate in a future In Conversation video interview? Email grace@shift.io for more information. 

Grace Amodeo is a program manager at SHIFT, where she oversees the annual SHIFT Creative Fund grant program. She is a graduate of Emerson College, where she studied film with a concentration in directing narrative fiction. Grace lives in Los Angeles.
Read more by Grace Amodeo