Every month, we sit down with transformational leaders and thinkers to discuss hot topics in rewards and recognition, employee engagement, HR, and leadership.
MEET KENDRA PROSPERO
Kendra Prospero founded Turning the Corner in 2011 to help people connect to work they love and to end suffering in the workplace. She helps companies fully support their employees and helps individuals find jobs they are passionate about. Kendra believes that people who love their jobs are happier, more productive, easier to manage, and are all around better workers.
After developing her own process, Kendra discovered she has a true gift for helping other people identify their strengths and passions in the workplace. Turning the Corner is a result of her following her own passions to help others and is one of the few firms in the nation that supports both job seekers and businesses.
Kendra continues to inspire the workforce and keeps employee engagement at the forefront of growing organizations speaking at various venues such as business chambers, economic councils, workforce centers, universities, start-up communities, professional associations, company conferences, training sessions, job search meetups, and more. She loves helping people get results and challenging us all to change the world one person at a time.
LET’S JUMP INTO THE INTERVIEW
What can individuals, teams, organizations do to create a diverse and resilient workforce in 2021? How would you define diversity as it pertains to the workplace today?
Diversity comes in a lot of different forms. It’s both the acronym BIPOC, which stands for Black Indigenous People of Color, and many other identities. There is diversity in age, ability, military status, cultural background, religious background, sexual orientation and more. A diverse organization is an ecosystem that isn’t just made up of members with one or two different characteristics. It’s made up of a wide, nuanced variety of members from a breadth of backgrounds.
I love the ecosystem concept, and how viewing diversity through that perspective helps us keep a wider view of the word. Where are we as a U.S. workforce as it pertains to diversity? What do we need to solve for and why is it important for us today?
Well, in many industries we just aren’t a diverse workforce in the U.S. Unfortunately this means we’re leaving out a huge chunk of the possible workforce, people who are able and willing to bring creativity to the table. But diversity isn’t something that you just “turn on”, like a light switch. Creating a diverse workforce within your organization takes a thousand small, ongoing steps and the process is never complete. I also don’t have all of the answers to the question of how to solve the gap in our diverse workforce today. No one person has all the answers. But what I do know is that making an effort toward the vision of a diverse ecosystem within your own workforce is critically important.
Our organizations are not currently pulling in all the diverse talent that is available. Because of this, often organizational ecosystems are not as resilient and strong as they could be. From the perspective of a business as an ecosystem, if you only have one “species” that makes up the workforce, for example, white males from a certain socio-economic class, this will inevitably foster an imbalance. One imbalance could be in groupthink, which can result in businesses that create products or solutions that miss the mark for customers that fall outside of that group.
The research is clear: more diverse organizations are better off.* There’s an increase in profitability and increase in revenue. There’s an increase in stakeholder value and shareholder value. The other big piece of it, if we are honest with ourselves, is the moral discussion. Equity, which supports diversity, is the right thing to do. Justice is as compelling as a financial business case.
Few problems today encompass both elements, the moral component and the compelling business case. What would it feel like if we were able to accomplish this desired end state?
The end state is an organization where everyone feels they belong and that they have a voice at the table. That is inclusivity, when diversity in individuals brings something to the table that is welcomed and supported. Equity is about recognizing the differences in advantage or disadvantage that each background brings, and asking what you can do to support candidates and employees in feeling welcomed, supported, and that they belong.
Right now, we are talking a lot about Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. As an entrepreneur in the HR field, the ultimate goal is to get to a place where my organization is in such a good spot of belonging that diversity just happens without there needing to be such an effort. We’ve talked about diversity for a long time, but when I honestly look at my organization, we’re not that diverse. Our workforce is mainly white women.
My goal is to get to a place where talented candidates from all backgrounds say, “I can see myself there.” They will apply for jobs here, they will come to the table with fresh ideas, they will bring forth what their needs are to feel like they belong. It is a bold statement and we are unbelievably far away from it, but that vision is guiding me.
I love that you aim to create a sense of belonging where diversity is a by-product. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs defines our third tier of human need as love and belonging. Before we can do the best work of our lives, we first must be able to trust and belong to a community, as part of a tribe.
Most workplaces today understand that they could be doing more to increase their diversity. However there are still some people that believe they’re already doing enough. How would you respond to business leaders or to people that fall into that latter category?
First, leaders have to be committed to this. If the leadership team is not committed, it’s better to do nothing at all than to pay lip service to an ideal that is actually critically important. Look around and ask yourself: how diverse are we, really? Remember, diversity isn’t just about race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation; it’s also age, ability, folks with veteran status or even, possibly, former criminal backgrounds.
In the U.S. we are statistically very much in a white male-dominant environment, both in the case of most leadership and amongst the highest-paying professions. When you look around and you see that your organization aligns with that status quo, you can easily reach the conclusion around your organization’s lack of diversity. My team is almost entirely an all-white, all-female workforce. We have a little diversity in age and backgrounds. It’s not as strong as I want it to be. So, that’s the first thing: commit to evaluating and taking action on the results.
It may feel like messy, hard work. Make peace with the fact that you will make mistakes. You may feel humiliation or shame, or deep discomfort along the way. This is almost guaranteed if you are a white woman or a white man. But committing to the journey is the first step.
Let’s say a leader has reflected, made observations, and had initial conversations around the diversity gap in their organization. Then what? How do we begin to operationalize this journey towards a diverse workforce?
I think it is a journey of a thousand small steps. I’ve actually been documenting what certain organizations are doing to become more diverse for the last two and a half years. (I’m somewhere around 94 steps.) First, acknowledge that there is not one set playbook for this. The journey depends very much on the leader, the organization’s location, and the organizational goals. If you have a broad, national reach there will be a national strategy you’re going to want to think through.
It has to become well known that you, the leader, are deeply committed to this journey. Diversity must be incorporated into your values, your metrics, and your budget. The second area is looking at your brand and branding. How are you showing up in the market? When I go onto a site for a company that I’m going to be consulting for, and I go to their “About Us” page and I see an all-white, all-male team, that makes an impression.
Of course, it goes beyond the pictures on your company website. It goes beyond the people in your social media images, the testimonials that you get from your customers. However, having these elements begin to visually represent diversity tells a candidate or prospective client how you as a company orient to inclusivity in your branding.
Next: how do you do recruiting? Though recruiting may fall at the tail end of the effort, because again, what is most important is that you create an inclusive environment to begin with. But in your recruiting efforts, start to be more proactive around where you are finding candidates.
How are your job descriptions laid out? Do you talk about your commitment to diversity in the job description? Consider using tools that blind your resumes for you, so don’t get to see candidates’ names, LinkedIn photos, or other immediate cultural identifiers at first, to control for unconscious bias.
How are you promoting employees? How are you onboarding them with intention, and training them equitably and equally? Be rigorous. Ensure your compensation and benefits are equal based upon equal experience, historic performance in a role, etc.
There are dozens of steps under each of the categories I’ve mentioned to operationalize these elements. What is critical is to have your whole team aligned on the diversity vision, focused on it, consistently chipping away at barriers to equity, diversity, and inclusivity.
How do we transition from that last part, to maintaining a culture of diversity and inclusion within the workplace?
I think it starts with awareness training, actually. I will use myself as an example: I grew up with biases, I was taught to stigmatize certain people. But the amazing thing about humans is that we all have the capacity to grow, expand, and change.
My own mental models have changed when I’ve been committed to them changing. I recognize that the learned biases and stigmas may not ever fully disappear from my consciousness (typically we are taught to be biased, or racist, or to stigmatize others when we are very young). But as I bring more and more awareness to my biases and question my own mental models, I notice them loosening and receding into the background.
Someday I’ll meet someone that triggers an automatic, biased response of some sort. Maybe a response rooted in my childhood or rooted in some experience I had in the past. And if I have the awareness, I can catch myself in that moment of bias and literally say to myself, “Wow! There’s that trigger again – hello! I know where you come from. And I know better than to trust you, now.”
There are some amazing Unconscious Bias trainings to get your mind thinking about how your mind is thinking and reacting. And becoming just a little more aware of that. Following this would be deeper Implicit Bias training, cultural awareness training and general mindset training.
Generally you’ve got to train your teams on awareness itself, because people are going to be uncomfortable at some point when talking about racism, bias, stigma, and so on.
But if you can support employees in being patient with themselves, and bringing more and more self-awareness, they’ll come to a point where they are curious and open to understanding more of their own biases and triggers. Then comes acceptance of the journey of ongoing inner work, and the desire to execute on policies and enact change.
Eventually, your team actually self-manages the diversity and inclusivity aspects more and more. Ideally, you and your team get to the “maintenance mode”. But it all starts with training: of mindsets, and awareness.
A quote that sticks with me is “We fear what we don’t understand.” But we can break down some walls through training and awareness, and have the courage to stay the course.
Are there any resources that you have come across in your research or in your learning, or even with your job that really have had an impact on you and your thoughts on diversity and inclusion?
I would start with the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, and a 20-minute video on deconstructing white privilege that she does that really was eye-opening to me because I do hear a lot of people say things like, “Oh, I’m not a racist. I don’t care what color skin you have. I don’t care if you’re pink purple or polka-dotted.” And I mean, everyone said that to me for a long time, and I would cringe inside, but I couldn’t figure out why that made me cringe until she put it into good words.
“I don’t care what color skin you have” minimizes the experience of a person of color. Personally, my husband is Mexican. I have two brown children. I see racism all the time through my family. I don’t personally experience it, but I see it through my family. The other book I would recommend is How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi.
Here in Colorado, we have Colorado Inclusive Economy, which has a whole free toolkit available for organizations diving into DEI work.
What are your resources, and where can readers find you and learn more about your consulting work at Turning the Corner?
Turning the Corner’s business website is a great place to start. We specialize in helping busy executives in high-growth companies to recruit, onboard, and train the team members they need to grow their business. Our REAL People™ culture-building system is designed specifically to support busy HR professionals and C-level leaders with a comprehensive suite of proven HR solutions.
What do you challenge people reading this interview to think about or do next, to champion diversity?
I challenge you to look deeply at your organizations and decide what you want to do, because you are going to get passed up otherwise. Nonaction is also action. Put effort into your vision around diversity. Realize it can be very uncomfortable for you and for anyone else you do this work with. This is a meaningful journey of a thousand miles, and it does begin with a single step.
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