Five takeaways from our Knotel Diversity Series — conversations with D&I leaders

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd died at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. It proved to be the knockout punch to an already battered and beaten global psyche. His unwarranted death sparked a global movement, and with it, a responsibility to truly see racial injustice in every corner of our lives, at every level.

At Knotel, it was not enough to simply stand on the side of justice. We made a commitment to not look away, to have honest and uncomfortable conversations, to listen, to do the hard work. We took action by creating Antiracist Knotel, an internal cross-functional team made up of diverse voices from across the company, to help us recognize areas of improvement, set goals, and hold us responsible. We formally recognized Juneteenth as a paid holiday, where employees were encouraged to spend the day either volunteering, demonstrating, or simply reflecting.

We also launched the Knotel Diversity Series, a catalog of public webinars with diversity and inclusion leaders from reputable enterprises that included Netflix, SAP, Asana, Pfizer, and Meredith Corporation.

Here are the top five more impactful lessons we have learned from the series thus far:

1. Racism isn’t always obvious

Award-winning author, activist, attorney, entrepreneur, thought-leader, and Netflix’s Vice President of Inclusion Strategy Vernā Myers expressed, “Bias will add things that are not there, and it will not see things that are there.”

Here at Knotel, we recognize that unconscious biases aren’t intentionally activated. This meant we needed to step back, take a good look at our own actions and decisions -- those encompassing everything from hiring to specific language used to how we engage with our colleagues each day -- and examine them for underlying attitudes that may be of influence. Was there concrete reasoning behind our behaviors or were we following a “gut feeling?” We’re all liable for our own actions, and in order to correct any moral deficiencies, including unconscious biases, will need to identify them first.

2. There is no uniform approach

Having worked for a much smaller organization with a centralized recruitment process before moving to a corporate giant, Shona Pinnock, Meredith Corporation's Director of Diversity, shared one of her biggest challenges. Tasked with a new, expansive, and decentralized hiring function, she had to ask herself, “How do we create a consistent set of practices around recruitment?” Her approach took the shape of creating an environment where employees felt empowered to contribute and had access to equal opportunities through mentorships and discussions around performance, growth, and development.

Sonja Gittens Ottley, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Asana, spoke to courageous leaders being open to vulnerability, committing to change, and inviting conversations that analyze their own behaviours.

SAP’s Chief Diversity Officer Judith Williams shared the company’s educational approach to helping employees understand and appreciate the value of diversity. They launched a diversity and inclusion speaker series and kicked off a program that focuses on supplier diversity by sharing a list of diverse suppliers internally as well as with customers. She described diversity as “a reality of who we are and what we bring to the table” and inclusion as “how we treat each other every day.”

After speaking to these leaders, one thing is certain. Change starts at the top, but other than that, the rest of the path to improved diversity and inclusion practices is flexible and needs to be tailored. We started our journey by opening a dialogue with our team to identify areas in need of improvement, and will strategize to directly address our first-priority weaknesses in our own way. This may come in the form of hiring more diverse candidates, continuing our speaker series, or hosting more educational programming.

3. Be bold in setting goals

Pinnock shared that her organization first: defined diversity in their goals as ethnic diversity and second: “set a goal to be at 30% by 2019, 2020” in terms of the makeup of their workforce. She also had no issue admitting that they fell short of their ambitious goals. “Having the goal helped us to move forward,” she said.

Qualitative data in diversity and inclusion matters too, as presented by Ottley. She suggests gauging sentiments around a sense of belonging, openness to speak up, feeling heard by upper management, and psychological health and safety, for example, through focus groups.

Myers stressed the importance of setting priorities. Netflix started with their gender and ethnic diversity gaps. The company was initially led by 4 black VPs, and due to their efforts, in approximately two years, that number grew to 12 black VPs.

Williams emphasized the value in having a timeline, such as doubling African American representation in leadership in three years, and being loud about it, like they did when they stated their goal publicly.

Each and every one of our Knotel Diversity Series guests touched on the importance of setting clear goals. One of Antiracist Knotel’s goals is to do just as described above -- clearly outline our diversity and inclusion goals and make them measurable (use numbers when applicable such as hiring 15% more women in the next year), and we aren’t reluctant to getting audacious.

4. This won’t be a solitary journey

Pfizer’s Global D&I Lead Rachel Cheeks-Givan stressed that her role is to lead a team effort. She may set the strategy, but organizational diversity and inclusion are not solely her responsibility. It’s the entire company’s obligation, with inspiration coming from the top down.

A notion that has proven resourceful for Meredith Corporation is the integration of people of various races, sexes, ages, etc. into conversations on diversity and inclusion. This takes the burden off of only one group leading the charge and brings together different experiences. This may come in the form of a task force like Antiracist Knotel, but again, this will vary from company to company.

5. Don’t shy away from tough discussions

Meredith Corporation launched a series titled “Racy Conversations,” where they had an external facilitator summarize the history of racism in America and follow up with a lesson on building anti-racist practices and allyship. Some employees felt the presentation was justly constructive, while others left the session feeling defensive.

At Knotel, we’re always about being loud about what we believe in, even if it isn’t easy. Get uncomfortable and fly your flag.

Antiracist Knotel is here to stay

Though George Floyd’s murder sparked an uproar against racial injustice not long ago, Cheeks-Givan begged anti-racist initiatives ignited in 2020 not revolve around just this moment in time. We’ve pledged to take responsibility for our role in defeating racism, and while we still have more to do, we’ve made strides that we’re proud of.

We can’t express our gratitude enough, for these five talented leaders giving us the opportunity to elevate their voices through our platform, share their insights with our team, and be inspired by their commitments. Black lives have and always will matter.