• Dr. Kim Stephens

Find the disruptors

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

I was talking to a friend who has done this massive research project on a particular branch of the armed services, and he had focused on why it had not adopted a well-proven strategy. He outlined some of the factors and some of the reasons that were given to him during his interviews. But it all came down to one thing, status quo bias – no one was willing to stop what was being done now to make a change. There would be some uncomfortableness and some risk. The strategy was outside of the ordinary and different from the way things were always done. So, as he talked, I thought about, “How do we overcome that?”

I started thinking about my own business as being a diversity, equity, and inclusion facilitator, or expert, and how do I get past the status quo bias? For my overall business model, I really have designed one that is not in my best interest. My job as I see it is to come into a company or organization and help them to understand what diversity, equity, and inclusion look like. I want them to make a change. I want them to make a cultural shift to inclusion. So, if I'm successful in evoking change, then I have successfully put myself out of a job. And that's what I want to do. I don't want to be going back to the same client for 5 to 10 years. My hope is that I come in, work with the organization, set up the infrastructure where they can create their own diversity, equity, inclusion policies and strategies, and then implement them. They can come back to me and ask questions and do some tweaks and re-calibrate. But that initial structure is something I should leave in place when I go away.

One of the ways I do that is by finding disruptors. What do I mean by a disruptor? I mean someone who is willing to challenge the status quo and who isn't okay with this is the way we've always done it. They're coming in, they're looking at what's there, and saying, “this has to change.” You can call them change agents, if you like that terminology better. But what they're doing is really disrupting that status quo. And we can do this in diversity and inclusion by creating champions within the company. These are people who are willing to push and to make those changes.

Many companies do this incorrectly. They look to their diverse employees – their employees who are Black, Latinx, LGBTQ+, Asian, persons with a disability, etc., – and they put the burden completely on them. And the companies are usually looking to the same diversity folks that they tap every time they have a diversity initiative. We ask them to lead business resource group, affinity groups, or employee resource groups, but what we are asking them to do is usually unpaid labor. For something that is a core issue for the company – diversity and inclusion – you need the expertise of these groups. But you also have to compensate them. For hourly or employees who have to account for every hour, it means giving them a billing code. For salaried employees, perhaps it is not compensation with a bonus or pay, but time away from their day-to-day job.

Let me give you an example. So, you say you have someone who 75% of their job is to be an engineer and come up with product solutions. The other 25% is to make sure that within their engineering groups that diverse ideas are being heard. And that person is a disruptor – they are challenging the status quo, which in turn, brings innovation. Every company I ever talked to has the word innovation, or innovative in their title, their mission, their vision, whatever it may be. So, I'm telling you right now, you can't have innovation with status quo. They don't work together. And if you're going to ask people to be disruptors, or change makers, then you have to give them the tools to make change.

One of those key tools is time. Disruption should be part of their job, not in addition to their regular job. And we have to empower disruptors to make change. They can come up with all the ideas that they want, but implementation is what you need to move the needle in diversity, equity, and inclusion. And with implementation, the influence of those disruptors starts to spread. The result is an inclusive environment where everyone takes on the role of diversity and inclusion champion.

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