In Episode 96, Melinda starts Season 8 with an extensive discussion with Dr. Nika White, President & CEO of Nika White Consulting, about inclusive leadership as a key to building empathy and understanding in a distributed workforce. They explore how to overcome proximity bias in a hybrid workplace, support team members’ well-being, and provide equitable opportunities for everyone. They also delve into how we can improve our cultural intelligence to encourage effective collaboration within diverse teams and how DEI practitioners and HR managers can approach resistance to DEI efforts across global teams.
- Learn more about Dr. Nika White
- Read FiveThirtyEight’s article, “Who Wants To Return To The Office?”
- Read McKinsey’s article, “What employees are saying about the future of remote work”
This videocast is made accessible thanks to Interpreter-Now. Learn more about our show sponsor Interpreter-Now at www.interpreter-now.com.
- “[Building cultural humility] first starts with individuals accepting ownership…. We talk often about intent versus impact, and we may not have to always own the intent, but we do have to own the impact. So I think that part of owning the impact as someone that really cares about inclusive spaces and environments, it requires us to deepen our reach, to make sure we’re doing what we can at the personal level to learn about other cultures to build those solid relationships. Resources abound right now…, there are way too many books, films, seminars, and experiences that people can tap into to help them build up their cultural intelligence.”
- “We’ve found that there’s a great level of value in leaning more toward a remote-focused mindset. So some of the key questions I think that organizations should consider and think about is first, how: how do we bridge the experience gap between those employees that are in-person and those working remotely? Another key question to consider is who: who on the team might have greater challenges to overcome just to participate, and what type of support can we provide to them so that they really can show up at their best? And then, I think we move to a question related to what: what can we do to help bridge that gap and access and proactively accommodate team members with different needs around remote work?”
- “Qualitative data just by conducting stay interviews is really important too. We often talk about exit interviews, and that’s useful because it helps us to know what to do differently, but that person has already transitioned…, or they’re in the moment of transitioning. But what about all the individuals that are still a part of your organization? How are we ensuring that they are well supported? How are we ensuring that we’re giving them an opportunity to express any special accommodations that they may need? How are we learning about maybe some areas that could be a potential threat to their longevity with the organization? And so, those are some of the ways also that I think employers and organizational leaders can be privy to… reality inequities that are happening within the workplace.”
Dr. Nika White
President & CEO of Nika White Consulting
Nika White is a national authority and fearless advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion. As an award winning management and leadership consultant, keynote speaker, published author, and executive practitioner for DEI efforts across business, government, non-profit and education, Dr. White helps organizations break barriers and integrate diversity into their business frameworks. Her work has led to
designation by Forbes as a Top10 D&I Trailblazer.
MELINDA: Hello everyone! I am Melinda Briana Epler, founder and CEO of Change Catalyst and author of How To Be An Ally. I’m your host of Leading With Empathy & Allyship. Welcome!
Allyship is about learning, showing empathy, and taking action. That process often includes learning, unlearning, and relearning, then building empathy for people with different experiences, and above all, taking consistent action. So each week, we’ll learn from somebody new. Please be open to new ways of thinking and understanding.
You can learn more about my work and sign up to join us for a live recording at ally.cc.
Let’s get started.
MELINDA: Well, hello, everyone. Today, our guest is Dr. Nika White, who’s the president and CEO of Nika White Consulting. We’ll be talking today about inclusive leadership in a distributed workforce. Many companies, individuals, managers, and leaders are working to navigate a more distributed, often hybrid, often global team. And so, we’ll be discussing ways to build empathy and understanding across distributed teams and create more diversity, equity, and inclusion together. So welcome, Nika.
NIKA: Thank you so much, Melinda. Thanks for having me.
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. My pleasure. So, let’s jump in to your story first. Can you tell us about you and maybe start with where you grew up and with how you ended up doing the work that you do now?
NIKA: Sure. So, I am born and raised in South Carolina. I’ve been in the south the majority of my life. Specifically, I grew up in a small town called Belton. It was actually a town that is so small that two small towns that were right adjacent formed one high school Belton-Honea Path.
My parents actually still live in the area. I grew up in a middle-class family. My parents are still living, still in a loving relationship, so I had the value of being able to grow up with both mom and dad providing a lot of support and love in my childhood.
I have an older sister who’s now practicing law in Washington, DC, you know, so a pretty usual childhood. But I will tell you that a lot of my childhood certainly has helped to influence how much I show up to the world today. I was always taught that my sister and I both, you know, could accomplish anything. And so, we never were afraid of what obstacles that maybe society told us should be in our path.
We were always really ambitious and had a lot of drive. I think that that carried me through to my present adult years, where I continue to bring that level of strength and confidence, which is really important to me as someone who is part of a couple of different intersecting identities that can be systems of oppression. I think that it has proven to be useful to have a mindset of being able to accomplish anything.
So, that’s just a little bit about my background. I’m also a mom of a neurodivergent son who was a young adult. He’ll be 21 in October, and a young adult daughter, who is an activist in her own right, so she’s following after mom’s footsteps in many ways. She just graduated from her undergrad degree and will be going to grad school at the London School of Economics in the fall.
I just celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary with my husband, who was also an entrepreneur. I’m just glad to be here today, Melinda.
MELINDA: Awesome. Awesome. Can you share a bit about what your work is, what it looks like? Say a bit about your work.
NIKA: I’m fortunate to serve as the founder and lead principal consultant of NWC, which is short for Nika White Consulting. We are a full-service boutique, diversity, equity, and inclusion consultancy where we intersect the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion with leadership and business, working with all types of clients, different industries, and different sectors, helping them to integrate into their business framework, strategic diversity, intentional inclusion in the lens of equity.
Our organization is 100% remote, not because of the pandemic, but because that’s been our business model since inception. Our clients are all over, so it serves us well for our colleagues to be all over as well.
MELINDA: Awesome. So, let’s dive into the topic and first talk about inclusive leadership. What does inclusive leadership look like and feel like? And maybe what are the components of inclusive leadership for you?
NIKA: I love this question. And you know, first and foremost, I have to share that my philosophy is that when we talk about DEI and inclusion-minded leadership, to me, I think it’s important for us to amplify that it’s not just leadership by way of positionality or title. I think that that’s often where we gravitate to. But the work of fostering inclusion belongs to all of us.
I think that’s really critically important because I know of a lot of people who can value diversity, equity, and inclusion and see it as something that’s really critical for a society that’s centered on humanity and respect. But I also know that many of those individuals are passive about the work of DEI and that they see it as the sole responsibility of someone else. And typically, that someone else is the person who carries the title of Chief Diversity Officer, manager, director, or maybe even the HR professionals, right?
What I think is such an important point to make sure people don’t miss is that we all have a way of leading just through our influence. And so, if we think about it in that regard, this work belongs to each of us. So, for me, it’s a mindset of people being intentional to identify what they can do within their own sphere of influence to help create and foster environments where people can show up at their best and can have equitable opportunities provided to them to be able to prosper. And so that’s really how I think about inclusive leadership.
Sometimes, it’s about the practicality of the everyday things that we do just to help make someone else to feel centered as someone who’s worthy and deserving of just having the opportunity and being respected and treated with dignity.
MELINDA: Absolutely. Agreed hundred percent. And even the leadership and the title of our podcast is Leading With Empathy & Allyship. I believe it’s on all of us to be leaders; whether or not it’s our rank in our organizations that all of us lead, need to lead the change.
Many of our listeners and our clients are struggling with building empathy and understanding across multiple regions, especially through video and more remote work than a lot of folks are used to. What are some things that people can keep in mind when working in a distributed workforce and some initial ideas?
NIKA: This is such an important question. It’s timely because I think that at one point, many of us were anticipating that things would go back to normal, right, and the pandemic would be behind us. And we would all just be back in our, you know, physical spaces interacting face to face like we were so accustomed to but that’s not the case.
We’ve found that there’s a great level of value and leaning more toward a remote-focused mindset. And so, some of the key questions I think that organizations should consider and think about is, first, how. How do we bridge the experience gap between those employees that are in person and those working remotely? Right? Because that’s a really important consideration.
Another key question to consider is who. Who on the team might have greater challenges to overcome just to participate? And what type of support can we provide to them so that they really can show up at their best? And then, I think we move to a question related to what. What can we do to help bridge that gap and access and proactively accommodate team members with different needs around remote work? It’s not just about where people work, but it’s also about how they work. I think that we need to make sure we are shifting the conversation appropriately to make sure we’re thinking in that vein.
MELINDA: Yeah. I’m seeing a lot of workplaces struggling with basically proximity bias, right? We used to be in one place, and now we’ve grown as a company. We may have merged or acquired different companies that are in different regions. And so, there are that proximity bias headquarters, and then there’s also a proximity bias who’s in the office versus who is not. As a result, there’s a disconnect and kind of a lack of communication for people outside of the office and people who are working remotely versus being in the office and sometimes a lack of opportunities as a result of that as well.
NIKA: Yeah, absolutely. Proximity bias is real. Sometimes it’s happening with people not being consciously aware that it’s happening, right? You know, we are creatures of habit. We are conditioned to kind of gravitate toward people who are sharing a physical space with. And so, for those who may not be familiar with proximity bias, it’s where there’s a tendency for people in positions of authority to show favoritism or even give preferential treatment to employees who are closest to them physically.
It’s a mental shortcut that allows managers to make decisions about performance, promotions, and hiring based on familiarity rather than objective criteria. And so, some of the examples that I often will share with organizations that are navigating this distributed workforce are people evaluating the work of on-site employees more highly than maybe those remote employees. Maybe not taking into account some of the objective performance metrics, you know. Out of sight, out of mind sometimes can be harmful.
Another example would be offering the most interesting projects, most visible assignments, or development opportunities to on-site employees because it’s just convenient for me to be able to walk over and download all the appropriate information without giving consideration to who’s missing out on the opportunity that’s not even in the consideration set.
MELINDA: And what ideas are you missing out on when we’re not collaborating together, or we’re not soliciting ideas?
NIKA: Yeah. Who are we excluding from maybe some really important conversations and meetings and maybe not encouraging them to speak up on calls? And so, there are so many different ways that proximity bias can show forth but favoring office employees is often one of the ways in which we see that.
MELINDA: Do you have any suggestions for ways that companies, individuals, and managers can build empathy across distributed teams where some people might be in the office, some people might be remote, and some people might be in different countries? Any thoughts?
NIKA: Yeah, there’s a number of them. I think the first thing, and as I mentioned before, is getting people to reimagine the workplace. Right? I used the words before, remote-first mindset. It’s because right now, our mindset is focused on what we’ve been conditioned to experience, which is everyone in the same physical space working together, right?
And so, I think just constant reminders of the need for a remote-first mindset is going to allow people to be very intentional to think more about where the gaps are and who’s going to be negatively impacted. How do we try to fix that on the front end? So that is not an issue of needing to course correct.
I think before, as I mentioned, not just where people work, but how. One of the biggest mistakes I think I’ve seen a lot of organizations make about remote work is assuming that it means the same thing to everyone. This isn’t just considering where people work, but how. So, are we taking the time to ask thoughtful questions to really engage the individuals in our organization to find out what their concerns are, what their needs are, and those needs can be vastly different from one person to the next? And that’s where we may need to think about individualized plans to help ensure that everyone has an opportunity to really show up at their best.
Sometimes this requires designing new ways. It’s not enough just to provide equal access to laptops, mobile phones, and internet connections. I mean, those are really important. But instead, we have to also recognize and design new ways of working to empower employees, giving them opportunities to feel a sense of inclusion and connectivity to the work even if they may not physically be sharing the same space as their peers.
And as you’ve mentioned, Melinda, right now, empathy and compassion are so critically important. People are holding a lot. There are a lot of stressors that are right now happening as we think about all the social complex issues that people are navigating. And when you combine that to also people having a sense of maybe feeling a little displaced and disconnected, it causes us to be even more intentional about designing new ways and showing forth empathy and compassion so that that belonging piece can still be at the center of how people are experiencing their work life.
MELINDA: Yeah, that old normal. I think we’ve redefined normal, and we’re continuing to redefine normal, but in the old normal of everybody being in the office in one place, there are little informal ways that we’re building empathy and understanding for each other. When we’re waiting for a meeting to start, we talk amongst ourselves or you know, a couple of people get there early, and we talk amongst ourselves, or we meet each other in the hallway or go to lunch together, go to coffee, to go to all of those things that we don’t have or some people don’t have if you’re in a hybrid workplace that you have to actually schedule time, right? Otherwise, work just becomes transactional, and you don’t build that empathy.
NIKA: Oh, absolutely. The demonstration of vulnerability and empathy is so critical in remote work environments, so I like the idea of these practical, high-touch connection moments. Getting to know team members on a more personal level by asking open-ended questions on topics that they care about, or those you know, checking questions that just allows us to get a bit more familiar with who they are beyond a resource to the organization. But more importantly, as a human, right?
We talk a lot about work-life balance, and I’m one of those individuals where I always like to, especially in this distributed workforce conversation, introduce the idea of work-life integration and work-life blend. The bottom line is that when people are working remotely, oftentimes, they’re in their homes, where you may see a loved one kind of past behind them as they are on a Zoom meeting call. You may hear a dog bark in the background or another pet make certain noise. But, you know, again, I think it’s just important for us to make sure that we’re putting the human back into human resources when we think about the workplace.
MELINDA: Absolutely. I know you do a lot of work also on cultural competence and helping leaders build cultural competence. So, let’s add that layer as well as we’re working on a globally distributed team. What is cultural competence? What does it look like across globally distributed teams?
NIKA: Yeah, I have actually reframed cultural competence. And my language has shifted a bit, as has, you know, many other practitioners. I tend to believe that cultural competence can create a bit of a challenge and that when we think about the word competence, we think about all the many different cultures and backgrounds. It is impossible for someone to be fully competent around all of the cultures.
And so, instead, I like to use languages like cultural intelligence and cultural humility. I think it’s just a reminder that we all are growing and learning. We don’t know what we don’t know. But it does certainly require if we are, you know, really wanting to be individuals who are fostering inclusivity to make it part of our responsibility to build our cultural knowledge and cultural intelligence, right, to build up that cultural humility to where we are putting people in our networks and in our spaces that are different from us. And we’re really curious about who they are and their story, right?
I think that just in that mindset shift, it allows us to become much more knowledgeable and increases our empathy and awareness, and understanding. I think that alone really helps in a situation where you’re in this distributed workforce, especially for those organizations that have colleagues that are all over the globe. Right? So, that is what I would bring to the conversation as we delve into cultural intelligence and cultural humility.
MELINDA: Absolutely. So, if I’m a people manager, what are the benefits of cultural intelligence for my team or cultural humility for my team? And what is the best way for me to build it?
NIKA: Yeah, absolutely. I think it first starts with individuals accepting ownership. I think sometimes we will hide behind the excuse. Well, I don’t know what I don’t know. I just used that language a moment ago, but still, not knowing what we don’t know does not exonerate us from the consequences of our actions, right?
We talk often about intent versus impact. And we may not have to always own the intent, but we do have to own the impact. And so, I think that part of owning the impact as someone that really cares about inclusive spaces and environments. It requires us to deepen our reach, to make sure we’re doing what we can at the personal level to learn about other cultures to build those solid relationships.
Resources abound right now, right? There are way too many books and films and seminars and experiences that people can tap into to help them build up their cultural intelligence. When we think about the benefits to your question, Melinda, to organizations, it makes us better equipped to leverage all of the differences among our colleagues. And when we can leverage and harness those differences, we know by research, they’re greater outcomes. It makes for effective collaboration, greater creativity, and problem-solving ability. All of that certainly can breed positive outcomes to new product service offerings, new systems and procedures, and new ways of operating that can even impact the overall performance and revenue potential of organizations, but not that it’s just simply about the business case, because I think that we need to stop leading with that. And we also need to make sure we’re centering people on the humanity aspect of this work. But yes, there certainly are some business benefits as well.
MELINDA: Yeah, they’re all interconnected too, right? If I feel more like I belong in an organization, if I feel psychological safety, I’m more likely to take risks, share my ideas, and so on. Right? It’s all interconnected.
MELINDA: They certainly are interconnected. Many DEI folks, many practitioners of this work, and HR folks as well are working across globally distributed teams and struggling to navigate different levels of understanding, different ways that DEI resonates or doesn’t in different cultures. And the terminology is a little bit different from region to region, and even some resistance and different ways across different offices. Any advice for implementing programs globally?
NIKA: Yes, I do have some advice. I would say to those DEI practitioners who are encountering client partners with a global presence to not feel like you have to do all that alone. I mean, because to your point, Melinda, there are a lot of nuances, right? There’s certainly some common ground, but there are even more nuances. And so, one of the things that we do at NWC is if we don’t feel like we have a really good handle on the local markets, global markets, and the challenges that are most relevant to this conversation of DEI, we also will partner with other local consultant partners that are deeply rooted into that culture and that market that can help work alongside us to help bring that perspective.
I think that’s important. I find that when you are able to align with those partners and those partners that can be kind of the conduit of helping to deliver that information, it creates a greater level of trust, a greater level of connectivity, and resonance to the information that’s being shared because people didn’t see it as this is someone who has experience what we have experienced in this market. I think that’s really important. So, don’t go at it alone and be prepared to be very open and transparent about where your skill sets lie. If they don’t lie, and you know, being able to provide support to global organizations from a DEI perspective, then, you know, make that known.
I think that the beauty of this space of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging is that there’s so many different practitioners and leaders and professionals that bring a certain level of skill sets and style to this work that is a lot of value to the diversity within the space of DEI, right. So, that’s what I would share.
MELINDA: Yeah. I would just add one more, which is that some of our clients that are working on diversity, equity, and inclusion globally will also partner with their experts in their offices, right? There are experts in your office around, maybe not around diversity, equity, or inclusion, but certainly around culture and so use that knowledge and partner together.
NIKA: Yes. That brings up another good point. I think a way that also practitioners can help best support global client says, “Who are you hiring on your team?” “What is their experience and their background?” “What are those intersecting identities that could be of value to some of the communities in which you’re serving through the clients that you’re supporting?” So, that definitely is a very astute point.
We’re even seeing it in our organization as we are making hiring decisions. Those are some of the considerations that come up for us. What are our client’s needs? What markets are they in? Who among those who are a part of our organization has a knowledge base and insights that could add a lot of value to the work that we’re doing?
MELINDA: Yeah. How do you navigate resistance to diversity, equity, and inclusion? You are going to find resistance. I’ve found that there are different kinds of resistance from different regions, in different offices, and among different people. Right? How do you work through that?
NIKA: I often share, Melinda, that resistance is a lack of clarity in most instances. I often also share that clarity is kind. And so, I think that first and foremost, when we are sensing resistance, we need to allow our curiosity to take over and start asking really thoughtful questions to understand where’s this resistance coming from. Is it because of some type of personal experience? Is it because somebody has been exposed to misinformation that they need to unlearn? Is it because they just have not been brought into the conversations to have a level of comfort with understanding really what this body of work entails?
And so, I think identifying where the resistance comes from is part of solving for it. And then, typically, once you identify where it’s coming from, it’s a matter of adding clarity. How do we help bring this person along by ensuring they understand the why behind this work? Why are we doing this? How are we articulating that story?
My background is in marketing communications. I find that those skill sets find its way into the work I do from a DEI perspective every single day because it’s not just about helping people to understand the constructs of diversity, equity, and inclusion in theory and practice. But equally important, it’s about how we’ll be telling the story. How are we controlling the narrative? How are we really articulating the why and letting that cause people to form their own positions about the need for this work? Right? That’s what we spent a lot of time on, in the beginning, is the education piece, the awareness piece, the exposure piece.
I think it’s important, too, as you’re starting that journey with those individuals to meet them where they are. I don’t mean that in a way to where we need to give them a pass or an excuse, but we need to meet them where they are in order to be able to help bring them along. And so, I think sometimes if people feel attacked, or guilted, shamed, and blamed, then they’re less willing to engage, right, and to champion the work.
So, I think that sometimes we have to be mindful that people are entering these conversations at different places within their learning journey, different mental models that could be influencing how and which they are showing up, and their level of understanding. And so, knowing that should cause us to think about how creatively and strategically can we align some strategies and practices to be able to help bring them along on that journey.
MELINDA: I love that. I agree with you. I hadn’t really thought of it exactly that way—that clarity. Just to go back to that part of what you said is that clarity is so important. I would add that sometimes that resistance comes from a lack of clarity around their role in all of it, in the role in creating change.
NIKA: Yeah. What am I to do with this? You know, it’s important, but can I really impact this? I think that’s one of the big questions, too. Is this my responsibility? And it goes back to what I said at the start, yes, we all have to own this. And it doesn’t mean that only it makes all of the responsibility fall on a one-person shoulder. That’s not plausible. But I believe that each of us within our sphere of influence, there are some things that we can do. If we all adopt that mindset and we all start conditioning ourselves to leaning into that. I think we will be much further along in this work than we are now.
MELINDA: Absolutely. You made several points. But another point you made was around storytelling and telling stories around this. And also, in the message, I think is really crucial to test with different people too along the way.
NIKA: We are so surface these days with our colleagues, with our friends and associates sometimes. I think it’s time for us to get below the surface, right? And that’s what I love about storytelling. That’s what I love about creating space for people to feel a sense of safety and sharing a bit more about their story, their journey, their challenges, their lived experiences.
And then, our responsibility as listeners and allies is to believe their stories and let that information help us to be better positioned to serve as even more an effective ally. Just because it’s not our experience, we don’t see ourselves in that experience does not mean that it’s not someone’s experience, right? And so, how do we begin to ask questions like, “What does support look like for you in this moment?”
I think that’s really critical. And right now, when I think about the workplace, again, I go back to the level of busyness, right, because we all are just being driven by productivity and outcomes that sometimes I think it can cloud our judgment around the frequency in which we’re taking time to meaningfully check in with our colleagues. I think that that’s hurting us. It’s hurting our relationships. It is causing us to be so focused on the outcomes that maybe we aren’t focused on the human aspect of the needs of individuals in the workplace.
And so, slowing down. Just really slowing down and taking a moment to have dialogue that is deeper than just, you know, “Here’s the deadline.” Right? “How can I support you today? What does support look like for you today?” “How was your family?” “You were working on this really big project a while back that you were kind of holding a lot of anxiety around. How did that go for you?” I mean, those small things can carry a lot of potential in helping someone to feel a sense of belonging.
I often share that if someone is always questioning whether or not they belong, then they’re not feeling a sense of connectivity, which means that the productivity is probably being compromised, right? But if they’re questioning things like: Do I belong here? Am I valued? Am I seen? Am I heard? Do I have full opportunity for success? I guarantee they’re not bringing their A games to that environment. So, people and leaders can help foster that type of culture and environment just by again putting more focus on the humanity aspect of the resources within our organizations.
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. Good questioning of whether or not you belong, that feeling of exclusion, and all of that takes brain space too. Right?
NIKA: Yes! Yes! Absolutely.
MELINDA: As well as kind of, as you and I both know that short-term and long-term effects of continued feeling of lack of belonging, continued feeling of exclusion.
NIKA: Belonging provides acceptance and validation. And so, it’s critical to the conversation. I often will spend a lot of time centering on instructional design opportunities and these learning experiences around really helping people to understand what does it look like to cultivate a culture of belonging? What does that look like in practice? How are we creating psychological safety for people to really feel like they’re not going to be defined or negatively judged by a mistake? Right? They’re able to fall forward, if you will, knowing that they’re supported by taking risk and respectfully challenging the status quo. Right? I think that’s really important for a healthy culture.
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. So, we’ve talked about belonging and inclusion and even some psychological safety. What about equity? What are some things that managers and leaders should be thinking about when it comes to equity across distributed teams?
NIKA: Yeah, well, equity is the gateway to opportunity for all, so to inclusion and to belonging. I tend to find that a lot of people will get equity and equality mixed up. And while they’re certainly interconnected, there is a very important distinction that needs to be amplified. Quality is giving everyone the same thing. And the assumption that by giving everyone the same thing, everyone has a fair opportunity for success. But that’s not the case. People have different starting points, different challenges, and different needs. And those needs are often vastly different from one person to the next.
And so, what equity does is it helps us to focus on what are those very specific needs that individuals may have that we can try to align with in order to give them full opportunity for success. And when we’re able to condition ourselves to think about it in that regard, I think it positions us to be able to be more focused on outcomes that help to bridge the gap of parity that exists right now, particularly among those that are historically disenfranchised, marginalized, underrepresented.
The equity piece is so important to this broad conversation. I often say that if equality is the hope for the end, which it is, we know we live in a society where all people should be treated equal, then equity is the means to get there. Another way that I’ve heard it described as equality is giving everyone a shoe. Equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits, right? How are we really drilling down and collecting and understanding the data so that we can then be informed with information to help us create solutions for those disparities?
Many organizational leaders don’t even want to take that step of really getting the data, and it’s because of fear that we’re going to hear something that we know probably is not aligned with all the best practices around equality and equity and inclusion, and belonging, and then we’re going to be responsible for solving for it. I think that alone creates anxiety because people’s assumptions are that once this is uncovered and we are exposed, we’re going to have to fix this all overnight. That’s not the case. It’s not the case.
MELINDA: It’s not possible.
NIKA: It’s not even possible, but it’s a starting point. It’s a starting point. And even incremental changes over time can be really impactful. And so, just commit to being on that journey. It starts with getting the data and believing the data. And being committed to doing something about it in whatever timeframe that is feasible based upon, you know, so many circumstances that are unique from organization to organization.
MELINDA: A lot of distributed teams and hybrid teams, we have to keep in mind that the folks who are remote are often more likely to be from underrepresented groups. There’s a lot of research just showing that White men tend to want to go into the office more, and the rest of us tend to not want to go to the office more. And for people with disabilities, of course, that’s even more important and a part of equity. Right? I believe that offering that opportunity to work remotely is a part of equity.
NIKA: Oh, it is. If we think about the challenges that all people of color, professionals of color, women professionals, that they experience, you know, the microaggressions. It’s not easy remaining in a work environment where you have constant reminders of that. And so, sometimes it provides an escape to let me just do my job, you know, be able to earn a living to take care of my family without having to also be harmed at every turn by microaggressions or microinequities.
And so, we certainly are seeing an influx of professionals of color that are preferring to work remotely for reasons that I’ve just named. And so, you’re absolutely right. Yeah. And people with disabilities, yes. That’s another population of important stakeholders that also are finding a bit of comfort in now this distributed workforce opportunity, right?
MELINDA: For managers who are listening and watching, are there any specific things around that they should be looking for when it comes to inequity? Any specifics that they should be looking for across their teams to really identify inequity?
NIKA: Yeah, so several come to mind. You track the data around the rate of promotions of your colleagues and make sure you’re tracking it not just by some of the more generalized information like how many, but more so disaggregated by demographics. Let’s see, you know, by gender, by all of these important dimensions so that you can understand where potentially a parity exists.
So that’s for promotions, that’s for how and which, you know, high visible assignments are being made across the organization that also relates to your hiring practices. Look at your pay equity. Look at the pay across your organization and see where there could be some misalignment. It’s all of those key critical areas. The rate in which the timing of the promotions that are occurring.
Some of these things we’re unaware of because we have not taken the time to collect the data, track the data, and study the data. And so, I think that’s where it begins. But when you do that, it is amazing how much opportunity presents itself because now you are exposed to all of these areas where you’re challenged.
I also think that qualitative data just by conducting stay interviews is really important too. We talk often about exit interviews, and that’s useful because it helps us to know what to do differently, but that person has already transitioned. Right? Or they’re in the moment of transitioning, but what about all the individuals that are still a part of your organization? How are we ensuring that they are well supported? How are we ensuring that we’re giving them an opportunity to express any special accommodations that they may need? How are we learning about maybe some areas that could be a potential threat to their longevity with the organization?
And so, those are some of the ways also that I think employers and organizational leaders can be privy to whether it’s perceived or reality inequities that are happening within the workplace.
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. Is there anything that we’ve missed that we haven’t covered that you think is important to talk about when it comes to distributed teams?
NIKA: One of the things that I think would be a really good challenge for organizations to consider is really encouraging their colleagues, particularly their people leaders to develop these individual inclusion commitments from a distributed workplace perspective, and to have conversations with those on their immediate team. And then, you know, try to have a development plan for really strengthening that remote-first mindset.
We don’t take enough time, I don’t believe, to really pause and think about all of the intricacies of this big decision of now having a distributed workforce. I think that so many people were forced into having to solve for it. And so, they did so, making decisions at the top without really hearing input from those throughout other layers of the organization.
And so, you know, how can you invest in the well-being and the treatment of others, you know, again, to have that remote-first mindset? How can you be an ally and advocate for targets of mistreatment? How can we support others to achieve their goals? I mean, just some simple things that I think could really carry a lot of value if it’s intentionally planned for, thought about, and activated upon.
MELINDA: Well, this has been fantastic. We always end with a call to action. So, I want to ask you what is one action you’d like people to take after watching or listening to our conversation today?
NIKA: We touched on so much, Melinda. So first, I just want to say thank you for the space and the time to share with your community. I hope this has been valuable to those who are going to be able to have this data shared with them. We spent a lot of time really addressing this distributed workforce. I have referenced several times the remote-first mindset as being critically important. So, I think a call to action for me is encouraging people to revisit some of those key questions that I mentioned in the beginning.
How do we bridge the experience gap between employees that are in person and those who are working remotely? Who on the team may have greater challenges to overcome just to participate, and what support can be provided? And then the what question, which was, what can we do to bridge the gap and access and proactively accommodate team members who have different needs around remote work?
And so, my call to action is for leaders to leverage their influence to pull other leaders and stakeholders together to really just delve into those questions. And then allow the responses to inform a path forward plan of what can be done to better improve a more healthy culture, especially in this distributed workforce.
MELINDA: Fantastic. Where can people learn more about you and your work?
NIKA: Oh, great. Thank you for asking. I think the best way is probably through my website, which is www.NikaWhite.com. We have lots of resources that we share just to help people deepen their knowledge and understanding of this broad work of DEIB through white papers, and blog articles. We have a vodcast and a podcast, and lots of resources. And also, people can connect with me on social media by visiting my website, www.NikaWhite.com.
MELINDA: Fantastic. Thank you. Thank you, Nika. This was fantastic. So much great information that hopefully our audience has learned quite a bit about distributed teams and really working to be more inclusive leaders across increasingly distributed teams in our work environment.
NIKA: Fantastic. Thanks again. I appreciate the opportunity.
MELINDA: Absolutely. And thank you everyone. Do make sure you take action, and we will see the next time.
MELINDA: We’ll share resources and a transcript from this discussion at ally.cc.
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Leading With Empathy & Allyship is a show by Change Catalyst where we build inclusive innovation through training, consulting, and events. You can learn more about us at ChangeCatalyst.co Let’s keep building allyship across our communities and around the world. Thank you for listening.
Host: Melinda Briana Epler
Melinda Briana Epler has over 25 years of experience developing business innovation and inclusion strategies for startups, Fortune 500 companies, and global NGOs.
As CEO of Change Catalyst, Melinda currently works with the tech industry to solve diversity and inclusion together. Using her background in storytelling and large-scale culture change, she is a strategic advisor for tech companies, tech hubs, and governments around the world. She co-leads a series of global solutions-focused conferences called Tech Inclusion, where she has partnered with over 450 tech companies and community organizations and hosted 43 solutions-focused diversity and inclusion events around the world.
Previously, Melinda was a Marketing and Culture Executive and award-winning documentary filmmaker – her film and television work includes projects that exposed the AIDS crisis in South Africa, explored women’s rights in Turkey, and prepared communities for the effects of climate change. She has worked on several television shows, including NBC’s The West Wing.
Melinda is a TED speaker. She speaks, mentors and writes about diversity and inclusion in tech, allyship, social entrepreneurship, underrepresented entrepreneurs and investing. She has spoken on hundreds of stages around the world, including SXSW, Grace Hopper, Wisdom 2.0, the World Bank, Obama White House, Clinton Foundation, Black Enterprise, Google, Indeed, Capital One and McKinsey.
Watch Melinda’s TED Talk
Change Catalyst Co-Founder Melinda Briana Epler has spoken across the globe in hundreds of venues and virtual events. Empathy, Allyship, Advocacy, Microaggressions, Inclusive Leadership, and Building Inclusive Teams are just some of the topics Melinda has spoken on. Let us know about your next speaking engagement needs! Melinda has also spoken on how to build organizational capacity to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as how to lead behavior change or how to build allies and advocates.
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