Building a Community for DEI Leaders, with The Diversity Movement’s Kurt Merriweather

Part of our mission is to celebrate and amplify diverse voices, and we want to create a culture that’s inclusive and where everyone feels welcome and valued.  But as a startup with a handful of employees, now do we do that?  And when we become a larger orginazation, how do we evaluate DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives so that everyone in the organization is on the same page?


One of our clients is The Diversity Movement, and we produce their podcast, Diversity Beyond the Checkbox.  They have built a DEI Community to reach tens of thousands of companies and millions of people all around the world – so everyone can have the DEI education they need and a support community around the questions they need answers to.

Transcript

Jason Gillikin:   Welcome to the Earfluence Podcast. I’m your host, Jason Gillikin, and typically this is a podcast about podcasting from a podcast production company. But today we’re going to do something a little different.  Diversity, equity, and inclusion are an important part of our mission as we grow at Earfluence. We want to make sure we’re celebrating and amplifying diverse voices, and we want to create a culture that’s inclusive and where everyone feels welcome and valued.  But how do you do that when you’re a startup with just a few employees?  And when we become a larger organization, how do we evaluate DEI initiatives so that everyone in the organization is on the same page?

One of our clients is The Diversity Movement, and we produce their podcast called Diversity Beyond the Checkbox.  I had the opportunity to check out their new Portal, which I had heard described as a LinkedIn for DEI. In digging into it, it’s a little like that, but then so much more.  So using this podcast platform, I wanted to share more about it, bringing on Kurt Merriweather, the Head of Product and Partnerships at TDM. Kurt’s job is to create products and platforms so scale TDM’s efforts so they can reach tens of thousands of companies and millions of people all around the world.

Kurt Merriweather:  And so we were looking for ways to take our expertise and package that up and provide that so that every company who is looking to generate new ways to think about DEI or diversity, equity and inclusion has an opportunity to take advantage of this.

No matter the size of the organization. 

Jason Gillikin:   And that’s what led to the development of the TDM portal. All of those conversations with DEI leaders, all of those talks with marketing and HR. They heard all of the questions and concerns, and they came up with a solution.

Kurt Merriweather: We always wanted to create a community of DEI champions and leaders. And our plan in the beginning of the year was to do events and to host different forums for peers to come together. And we wanted to continue to execute against that, that vision and realizing that we couldn’t physically get together. We wanted to be able to create a space for DEI champions and leaders to come together, especially in a time where, depending on how leaders in their organizations or whether it’s chief diversity officer leader of diversity, equity and inclusion may have been appointed to lead that particular function and may not have had  the training or the education or the networks to be effective in executing transformation in their organization. And so that was the reason that we created the community so that we could create network of folks who would be able to work with each other because most diversity equity and inclusion professionals in their organization don’t have peers in the organization. And so we wanted to create that network that both from a support system point of view, as well as providing access to resources and access to our team, to be able to answer questions or access to people who are in our network as well, to answer questions and challenges that they might be facing.

Jason Gillikin: Hmm. Okay. So this is a place where people can go to get answers to some of the tougher DEI  questions that they have. And so they can get these resources and they can ask questions to people on the diversity movement team. And they can ask questions to people just in DEI in general.

Is that the idea?

Kurt Merriweather: The idea is to build a community. So there are a couple of things happening and we want to convene the community, but we don’t want to be the only resources that are available in the community. The reality is that diversity equity and inclusion is so broad that it’s not possible to be an expert in every single area.

And so we want to invite other experts into the community so that they can also be part of the answers and the resources that people are seeking to advance their practice. So we want to make sure that no matter what challenge you have, you come to the TDM community and now you’ve got access to resources and answers to help.

Jason Gillikin: Yeah. And talk about the different types of diversity questions, diversity, equity, inclusion, questions that people have, because you know, when people think of DEI, you know, a lot of times they’re thinking about race, they’re thinking about gender, maybe they’re thinking of sexual orientation. But it goes way beyond that. And that’s, you know, that’s in digging into the portal a little bit. I found that to be really helpful.

Kurt Merriweather: Right. So. As people were coming into the portal, they may have a variety of different questions. And so one question that we saw with the last couple of weeks was around someone who literally said, I can’t wait anymore.

My leadership is not taking action the way that I want to see them take action. What do I do? How do I get started? And so we were able to direct the member of the community to a variety of resources around how to get buy-in from your leadership team when they have questions. And what are the things that you should be thinking about in terms of establishing an initiative and laying out those kinds of resources that are practical.

That help people do the work. What we see is that there’s a lot of discussion around education, which is really important. So, you know, there’s certainly the need to have unconscious bias training and those kinds of things that are critical in addition to unconscious bias training. The next question is, well, now that I’ve uncovered my biases, what do I do?

What do I do next? And so  that’s the next question is the how, and so we want any kind of content or education to lead to conversation. And then once you have deeper conversation and you grapple with an area, then the next stage is to then go back and say, well, what other questions do I have now as I’m going throughout my journey.

And that allows us to create content to support that.  

Hmm.  

Jason Gillikin: I mean, so this is probably what an HR leader in this person’s company that was coming to you and asking like, how do I get my leadership team to buy into this? And then, 

Kurt Merriweather: Yeah, actually it was a marketing manager. 

Jason Gillikin: Oh my gosh. 

Kurt Merriweather: Interestingly enough. And so they’re, depending on the organization, this may not live in the realm of HR. If it’s a smaller organization in particular where they may not even have an HR person so that you see that in startups. And there were other organizations where whether they’re employee resource groups that are looking or folks who want to start an employee resource group for their specific affinity area, you know, whether that’s black employees or employees who are part of the LGBTQ community or employees with disabilities there are lots of different affinities around groups that come together that way. Then there are other reasons to come together, like people who work remotely groups of parents they’re all kinds of different employee resource groups that come together.  And so you may have leaders who come from different functions in the company looking to improve their knowledge of DEI and they more often than not, are not going to be part of the HR team.

And so that’s one of the things that we want to help to spread throughout an organization is it’s not just the responsibility of the HR team to promote diversity equity inclusion. It’s the responsibility of the entire organization to do that, so that organization can move forward and be successful.

Jason Gillikin: Wow. Okay. So then who is this portal for? So you mentioned in a smaller company, it could be, you know, marketing person. It could be, you know, the C-suite or whoever’s leading the team in a, in a smaller company too, but is the goal to get pretty much everybody in a company involved in this community, or just certain groups of people.

Kurt Merriweather: The goal is to ultimately would be great if everyone in the organization was part of the portal, because the goal is to advance the practice of DEI in your organization. It’s primarily for leaders who are leading that effort, but it’s also for folks that I would call DEI champions. So these are folks in that organization that want to move the needle forward in their own educational journey as well as arming themselves to help other people come along.

And so it’s that’s the way to think about who it’s for it’s really, for anyone who’s looking to advance the work where they work. 

Jason Gillikin: Yeah. That’s awesome. And so it’s now in beta, is that right? 

Kurt Merriweather: Yes. 

Jason Gillikin: Okay. And so you’ve had what, a handful of beta testers on this a dozen or so beta testers on this? 

Kurt Merriweather: So we’ve have almost 500 members of the community after launching in December in beta 

Jason Gillikin: 500?

Kurt Merriweather: So  we’re on track,  I think by April, for sure. We’ll be close to 500, so we’re, we’re getting closer. 

Jason Gillikin: That is awesome. Congratulations. Yeah. Oh man. That is really cool, Kurt. So these beta testers, what have they, what has been the feedback so far from trying this out? 

Kurt Merriweather: So folks who have been part of the community have described it like this is like LinkedIn for DEI.

This is the place that I come to find out information to help my organization move there or move our practice of DEI forward. And so there are people who are looking for DEI specific information and they might look at Harvard business review, or they might look at Gallop as an example. And they look to our community to provide the information that they need to move their practice forward.

And so that’s been a really powerful part of what we’ve seen and then being able to connect around specific interest areas. So one of the areas that we’re going to be focusing on is the venture capital community in a bigger way, because we see an opportunity there to create bridges between underrepresented founders and venture capital firms.

And then startups who may be looking to build DEI in from the ground up at the very beginning of the organizations creation. So we want to be able to s peak to those specific kinds of interest areas. And so as people were coming into the community, they’re really excited that this place exists. Because what we see is that most folks who are in the DEI space have their own networks, but they’re fairly fragmented. And so they don’t get access to all the information they could get access to in order to advance their practice. And so that’s what we’re seeing right now in terms of the community and people asking questions around specific issues that they might be facing. And so you know, we had a question recently around for example, how do I deal with the insurrection at the Capitol? That started to come in. And so we hosted a what we call an ask TDM, anything live chat where we answered questions that came up around that.

And so we want to be able to provide timely answers for things that are relevant. One of the things that we’re seeing in the country, unfortunately right now is that there’s been violence against the Asian-American community. And so we’ve created content to help organizations practice allyship in a powerful way as that’s starting to happen.

So the goal of the community is to create relevant real-time answers so that it’s not just theoretical education or kind of intellectual education, but it’s practical education that you can apply right now. 

Jason Gillikin: Yeah. I mean, you can think of a use case for this, which 2020 was obviously just so heated with the election. Right. And I know that Jackie Ferguson wrote an article about, you know, how to talk to your employees about the election. And I mean, there are just so many questions from that. Like how, how do you talk to somebody that is just not having a civil conversation at work and you know, how do you talk to somebody when your values don’t align with theirs? Let’s say, so that can be really difficult. You know, to keep the peace, so to speak in a work setting. So how do you do that? Well, it seems like this would be a great portal, you know, to ask TDM, but then to ask everybody else in the community, you know, about those situations. 

Kurt Merriweather: Yeah. That’s exactly right. And so we want to have different points of view. Because ultimately, when you’re talking about diversity, equity and inclusion, you want to include different points of view to have a richer discussion. And when you’re able to do that, then, you know, everybody grows from that. So we want to have those kinds of discussions and  dialogues within the community so that we can make sure that we’re looking at an issue from multiple points of view.

And when you’re able to do that, then the outcome becomes more powerful. 

Jason Gillikin: Hmm. 

Let me let me ask you some questions from a skeptic’s point of view here. So I got, always got a skeptic’s mind. And let me ask you a couple questions there. Like, what happens if that conversation then turns political?

What happens if there’s a lot of disagreement about how to handle these situations? What happens if these conversations then become heated, like how does TDM police, in a sense.

Kurt Merriweather: Right. So fortunately we haven’t had that as an issue to date. But there may become a time where that’s not the case.

And so one of the things that we want to make sure that happens is you can have different points of view, but make sure you’re being respectful when your dialogue and that you’re using inclusive language and language that doesn’t offend, but we’re doing this in a way to seek to understand. So if you’re on different points on the political spectrum, we’re talking about discussions primarily in the workplace.

So it’s not about somebody’s political affiliation. It’s more about, do you have the right to have a different opinion in the workplace? Yes. Should that impact my ability to work with you in the workplace? It shouldn’t. Can I discriminate on that basis? No. So those are the kinds of things that we want to educate people about is that it’s okay to be different in ways that may be unpopular.

And the goal is to make sure that you’re building the right kind of community. So that those discussions can be had in the right way, which is increasingly hard to do on social media where, you know, because the more polarized the conversation is then the more volume you get from that conversation, we want to make sure that conversation’s nice and respectful.

And so we’ll see. So we haven’t seen it yet as an issue based on who we’ve invited into the community. And because we’re talking about how things should function in the workplace. I don’t expect it to get too, too controversial in that manner. 

Jason Gillikin: Yeah. A civil and respectful conversation. What a concept. Sounds amazing. Gosh. Even on LinkedIn, you’ll see people just you know, brandishing, you know their Trump dialogue or brandishing, like, you know I can’t stand this Trump guy, like even on LinkedIn where it’s just supposed to be about being professional.

But yeah, I mean this sounds like it would be a community where that would not be the case and just talk about how to handle workplace situations. So that’s, that’s strong. I really appreciate that Kurt. You’ve mentioned inclusive conversation or inclusive language a couple of times. And one of the resources that I saw in the portal was something called, say this, not that, right?

Can you talk a little bit more about that? 

Kurt Merriweather: So say, say this and that, that is our inclusive language course that we released in the fall of last year. And that’s was started by creating white paper around, say this, not that. And so there are six rules of inclusive language. The most important rule is to start with the person first.

And so a lot of times when you’re talking about a person, you put a modifier in front of who that person is in a way that can be offensive. And so when you’re talking to somebody, think about the humanity of that person first. Before talking about whatever other descriptor there is around who that person is.

So for example it’s not the disabled person, it’s a person with disabilities. And so that’s one of the things that we talk about not using gender in the wrong way. So thinking about, you know I, manned at the booth, at my trade show, no a person was at the booth and the trade show. So those are a few examples of thinking about inclusive language, a little bit differently. And the portal has infographics that are available to be shared broadly, so that folks have ground rules around how they should be interacting when they’re having conversations. One of the things that we see when people are going through the education process is that they may have intellectual understanding around what to say or what to do in a specific situation.

But they don’t say the right thing or  they don’t get put themselves in a situation where that’s even a consideration or an issue. Cause they just don’t say anything at all. And a lot of times people don’t say anything at all because they don’t know what to say. And they’re afraid they’re gonna say something wrong and they’re going to be canceled in the cancel culture context.

So we want to make sure that we’re giving people the tools that they need in order to have the right dialogue, because ultimately we only get better in the organization when there’s dialogue. 

Jason Gillikin: Yeah and I felt that like I felt the hesitancy to talk sometimes when I wasn’t exactly sure what to say, and that’s not healthy either.

So like, you know one example that we heard a lot earlier in 2020 was do we say, do we say black? Do we say African-American like, you know, growing up, I’ve been taught always to say African-American and you know, I’ve heard that throughout my life, but then wait a minute. That’s not quite right.

And you can you have an understanding of why that’s not quite right from these conversations, but for awhile it was like, Okay. Maybe I just don’t say anything at all. And  that can’t work. 

Kurt Merriweather: Right. 

And the key always is to do it in a way where you’re seeking to understand.

And if you make a mistake correct it and we all make mistakes every day in terms of our dialogue with different people. So it’s the intent and making sure that you’re correcting yourself as often as you can so that the people that you’re trying to understand, hopefully understand that you’re trying to get better.

And so it feels a little awkward. It feels a little unnatural at the beginning. And if that’s how it feels, then you’re probably doing the right thing. 

Jason Gillikin: Yeah. I was listening to a podcast the other day called The Hustle and Gather, and the guests, Rachel Sheeran, she was saying that she was speaking to a crowd in Philadelphia.

She’s a professional speaker, speaking to a crowd and she used the phrase you guys, and she gets off stage at the end things, she crushed, crushed the speech and the person that her contact there was all excited too. And then, you know, but she said, you know what? You can’t say you guys and she’s like, Oh, I didn’t mean anything, but I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean anything by that. And it. Honestly her contact didn’t, it’s not that she didn’t care. She knew she was concerned about her speech and just wanting to her to fix it for next time, but it devastated Rachel. And so like that was a learning process for her and learning things like this and being willing to learn and be able to be a part of a portal like this, to learn things.

I mean, that can be so helpful to so many people. 

 Kurt Merriweather: That’s exactly right. And so it’s being aware that, you know, no matter how long you’re doing the work that there’s always something to learn. And it’s about the journey because this isn’t something that stops. And so because we’re always changing.

And so as people, and so we want to make sure that we’re providing the resources as that. That evolution starts to happen and continues to happen. 

Jason Gillikin: Let me ask you a tough personal question then. How have you changed in your speech, in your you know, in your learning, in your, you know, whatever it is over the past year?

Kurt Merriweather: Having dialogue with different kinds of people. So I’ve probably conducted, Oh my gosh, 50 listening sessions with different groups over the last year. And. A lot of times when you’re not in dialogue with people you create assumptions or you make you have stereotypes of why people think the way they do until you have a discussion with them.

So I remember you know, the flag kneeling situation has been a pretty controversial thing. For years. And in my mind, I don’t even understand why somebody would misunderstand what’s going on. So during the protest, the national anthem, I’m kneeling, because as an African-American, there are people who don’t think they’re represented by the flag.

And so this is an opportunity to say this flag doesn’t represent me and I want you to see that. And so that’s, and I’m using this opportunity to make a statement about how we should be treating each other differently as a country, because I don’t feel like a full citizen. It reminds me of when Doc Rivers was talking about this during the NBA bubble season, where he talked about the fact we love America, but America doesn’t love us.

And so that’s the sentiment that gets discussed. And I was doing a listening session and there was a gentleman who talked about the fact that he was part of a family that was raised in the military. He went from base to base, to base, to base and they never let the flag touch the ground for any reason. They folded it. They folded the flag properly put into corners that was supposed to be, and they treated the flag with reverence. And so when somebody. And they had a lifelong military person. And then recently you know, was honorably discharged and worked at this organization.

And so he said, when I saw someone kneeling, instead of standing, what that said was that was a slap in the face to all the people who had sacrificed their lives for the country, because I was raised in a family where the military, the flag was held with high reverence. And I never thought about that before.

And so that caused me to re-examine how I was thinking about that controversy. So usually people come to conclusions based on the information that they’re exposed to. And so when he started to see things from a different vantage point, then he said, Oh, now I understand why people might kneel. It’s not really about the flag at all.

And so that dialogue we had that discussion was eye opening for me. And so what that’s helped me to do as I’ve had conversations with different kinds of people is not to have hard and fast judgment around who that person is. But to listen to what they have to say, to understand why they think the way they do as a way to build common ground.

And so I’m doing much more of that as I’m doing the work that I’ve been doing. 

Jason Gillikin: That’s awesome. And that’s the next level of thinking where you can appreciate and understand the other person’s point of view and not necessarily change your mind about it, but still get it. You still get why they believe that the way they do on, on a particular topic.

So let me ask you this. You’re probably getting some pushback and maybe I’m wrong, but if I’m wrong, correct me, you’re probably getting some pushback from people saying, you know, why would I want to join another community here? If I can get all this information from LinkedIn. If I have, if I can get this information from Google searches, if I can get this information from anywhere else, like what, what do you say to that?

Kurt Merriweather: What I would say is that the challenge with getting it on LinkedIn is that we want to create a community where there’s content and then there’s conversation around the content. And LinkedIn makes it difficult to have discussions that are organized like that. So you can have a conversation about a topic, but then you can’t share resources very easily around that topic.

A lot of the discussions that are had in LinkedIn, it’s not as this LinkedIn has. Here’s the DEI group. There’s multiple, there are multiple fragmented groups around what you see and then because LinkedIn doesn’t really make it easy to broaden the discussion beyond that platform. Then it’s hard to bring in other voices, other, other discussions to make it more discoverable.

And so  our goal is to do this in a way where we are creating content that leads to conversation, and then there’s access to expert advice all in the same place. And so that’s the thing that unifies what we’re doing and makes it unique is the content, the conversation. And access to experts all in one place, all the one platform.

So I don’t have to go search for information in a lot of different places. I can follow topics that are going to be the most relevant to me. And then I get alerts to let me know what’s happening on a daily basis as I follow those topics, as the content is published in the platform and that can follow people on the platform who were experts to see what they think about a specific thing.

And so being able to have some of the elements that you see in LinkedIn, but then combining that with a focus -on business impact. Community or organizational impact. Those are the things that you know, create a really powerful a place for everyone to come together and hopefully get their needs met.

And as any community goes, as it gets bigger, it becomes more valuable. And so we’re starting to see that value already even as we grow and in the hundreds here. 

Jason Gillikin: Wow, yeah, I mean, when you said somebody described it as the LinkedIn for DEI, I thought, no, LinkedIn is cool, but it’s a lot of cheerleading and like updates on what you’re doing and that’s all great, but it’s not necessarily a place that I go to have a conversation and to learn something and to get in, to seek information about things I need to know for my job or things to know, to grow my company.

Right. And so this portal seems to be it seems to be more valuable and it seems to be different than what LinkedIn can provide for sure.

Kurt Merriweather:  That’s exactly right. 

Jason Gillikin: Yeah. Yeah. So this is just starting out. It’s still in beta. It’s a, it’s a few months old. You’ve got about 500 users on there now.

Fast forward to the end of 2021. What does this portal look like? You know what’s in there and you know, how many, how many users are on it, what’s the vision for the future? 

Kurt Merriweather: So both multiple thousands of users. And so I’ll leave it at that in terms of the goal. But what we want to be able to do is create this place where not only is are we focusing on leaders and champions, but we’re, the community is organized based on what association you might belong to in creating partnerships with associations trade associations, for example where we can provide channel specifically for them to, to be successful.

It’s a place where conversations are organized based on industry or sector. And so what we’re starting to see is there’s a lot of discussion around or a lot of folks who have joined from the health care field folks who have joined from the economic development space who were looking to make impacts in their communities.

And so being able to organize the community around those specific interest areas, so that those continue to scale and get bigger. And then working with companies specifically who were looking to build communities within their own leadership teams that we can create private channels specifically  for them that can be curated with information that they need to make sure that they’re getting their needs met. And what we’ve often find is that their leaders who are involved with the DEI that may not have opportunities to connect, connect with each other. And so we want to use this as a platform to unify those discussions that we can help moderate and host and move along.

Jason Gillikin: Wow. Great answer. I mean, that is exciting. Like when you talk about the private companies and just creating a separate portal for them or separate sub domain or whatever you’re planning on doing there. Oh my gosh. That could be 

Kurt Merriweather: Yeah so  separate communities within the same platform. So the idea would be to have here’s your space conversations that are had in that space, or only  for your eyes only in that space, but then you’ve got access to all the things that are happening in the  broader community.

Jason Gillikin: Wow Kurt. Great. This portal is going to be so helpful. Where, where do people go to access it right now? 

Kurt Merriweather: Yes. So go to portal.thediversitymovement.com to sign up and that’s the place to go. 

Jason Gillikin: Okay. And is it, is it free? Is there a price point involved? 

Kurt Merriweather: It’s free while we’re in beta and so as long as we’re in beta go sign up.

Jason Gillikin: Yes, absolutely. And there’s a lot of great research,

Kurt Merriweather:  Yeah we’re in beta now and as long as we’re in beta , it’ll be free. 

Jason Gillikin: Awesome. Well, Kurt, I really appreciate the conversation and it’s exciting. Congratulations on this launch and looking forward to big things from this portal here.

Kurt Merriweather: Thanks, Jason. Enjoy the time today. 

Jason Gillikin:  That was Kurt Merriweather from The Diversity Movement. As he mentioned, you can find more about the portal at portal.thediversitymovement.com.

And for more DEI content in podcast format, search for Diversity Beyond the Checkbox on any podcast app.

Thanks for listening to this special episode of the Earfluence Podcast.  Cee Cee and I will be back next week with 10 things they don’t teach you in podcasting school, with guest Javier Leiva.

Until then, I’m Jason Gillikin, and we’ll see you next time on the Earfluence Podcast.

Full Episode Transcript

The Earfluence Podcast is a production of Earfluence Media and is hosted by Jason Gillikin and Cee Cee Huffman.

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