Sharing Our Diversity & Inclusion Journey

Tiama Hanson-Drury
EVP Global Product

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black American man, was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. This death was one of the many that make up a consistent pattern of disproportionate police violence and use of force against Black people. Since the day the video of George Floyd’s killing became public, it and the larger pattern has ignited a global wave of protests and debates around about police brutality and racism.

The CEO’s of companies from big and small brands alike have been crafting public statements condemning racism and police brutality, with many using the three words, “Black Lives Matter.”
My company, Dynata, joined in with the social media campaign, Blackout Tuesday, which was collective action, originally organized within the music industry, to go silent on social media, reflect on recent events, and stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Beyond this, however, our response has intentionally focused internally with a series of actions to reflect on how to further improve our policies and practices. We have not posted publicly regarding this, simply because this isn’t about virtue signaling or trying to capitalize on a “trend;” both of which were cited by our panelists when surveying consumers about how brands should react in this scenario.
However, based on our evolving understanding of how best to dismantle systemic racism, and as part of our overall commitment to Diversity & Inclusion (D&I), it became apparent that we did not want to be silent on this topic.

To quote the first book our newly formed D&I book club has read, the author Ijeoma Oluo, acknowledges that systemic racism and police brutality is horrible and terrifying. “The feelings it brings up in us are justified. But it is also everywhere, in every corner of our lives. We have to let go of some of that fear. We have to be able to look racism in the eye wherever we encounter it. If we continue to treat racism like it is a giant monster that is chasing us, we will be forever running. But running won’t help when it’s in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” This book is titled, “So you want to talk about race.”
Therefore, we are sharing a few points about how Dynata approaches D&I within our organization, and how we have invited our employees to share their experiences and use their voices to help us determine where/how we should make additional commitments and investments  internally and externally. We will also share some suggestions you may want to consider for your own approach.

We share this knowing that we are nowhere near perfect, nor proclaiming to be experts in this area. As we’ve made abundantly clear to our employees, we will make mistakes along the way, and have asked our employees to help make us aware when that happens- without fear of judgment or repercussion. The purpose for sharing is twofold:  One, if it helps inspire others, we are thrilled. Two, if it helps demonstrate more clearly our unwavering commitment to anti-racism and for an overall culture that celebrates D&I, then we will also be delighted.
Our Approach:

1.) Dynata already had an existing D&I initiative which was only recently created (end of 2019). This grassroots D&I taskforce is comprised of more than 80 employees globally.  I act as our EVP sponsor and am often joined by my CEO, our head of HR, and other senior leaders to demonstrate executive support. Our taskforce is committed to ongoing work because D&I is also not a onetime event or an item to be checked off. It’s organic and part of the culture we seek to foster.

2.) Our taskforce picked a 2020 theme (Equality) with key objectives to achieve throughout the year. In response to the global protests, however, in June we had the first of what will be recurring monthly roundtables on the topic, led by our CEO, our head of HR, and me. The goal was to come together as a community for discussion and understanding, and provide a safe space to dialogue, understand, and empathize – candidly, openly, and honestly.
We were very clear that we do not have all the answers. However, we clearly stated that we wanted to start this process by acknowledging and seeking to better understand what our employee’s experiences were within our community and outside. We provided ground rules and discussion prompts ahead of time to give people a clear idea of what to expect and help them feel prepared to use this time in the ways they wanted to.
This first conversation was the most important step in my mind, and in the grand scheme of tackling issues of race it is just a small step. However, without it, no forward progress could be made. I share this because many companies we’ve spoken to have valid concerns regarding how to best tackle this very difficult topic. It is true that you may hear things you did not expect, and they may challenge your views about the type of culture you have. We certainly did.
Our experience was that as long as you begin with acknowledging that you will make mistakes, earnestly commit to coming together to provide a truly safe and open space, and plan to invest in and measure the impact of real change coming out of this then I genuinely believe you will only gain from this action.
Hearing from our employees generated so much positivity across our business and inspired our D&I goals.  For me, this will remain one of my proudest moments at any company.

3.) We listened and acted. Of more than 50 suggestions, we narrowed the feedback to 12 concrete steps that we will undertake as a business. First and foremost, we will staff a role dedicated to managing this effort full time. That role will help us guide how we live, (job link here if you know any good candidates). The remaining initiatives will be directly overseen by this individual and implemented with the help of different leaders and functions across our business and with my coaching. As our CEO noted at the end of the round table, many learned more in that 60-minute meeting than we probably had in the past 60 days. Listening is fantastic. But it must be followed by action.

Some things to keep in mind:

1.) Avoid asking your employees of color to do all the work, become the “expert” or feel pressured to act as moderator. It is not their job to educate their white colleagues on this issue. As many of our employees shared with us, they have generations of examples that leave them warry of being harmed by opening up. Many people instinctively do not want to run the risk of damaging their position of employment, their relationships, or their physical safety by having conversations that intuition and experience tells them may go awry. By acknowledging that, establishing a safe space where there is no tolerance for any negative repercussions, and then backing that up with policy and action; you will have greater success in eliciting real experiences that will help shape your company’s understanding.

2.) Be prepared to examine your own privilege. As many of our white employees shared, this process has been akin to “peeling back an onion.” Literally, everyone who participated has benefited from listening, reading, learning, and examining the privilege that they have. As one employee’s white grandmother told him growing up, “you may not have set the table, but you sure are eating at it,” suggesting that white people benefit from systemic racism and the privilege it affords them.

3.) Plan, plan, plan. Ideally you have people on staff with D&I backgrounds. Regardless, these events and steps require great planning to ensure that people of color are not harmed intentionally or unintentionally. One of the first books our newly formed D&I reading club chose to share is the aforementioned, “So you want to talk about race.” and I highly recommend it. The recent edition has a discussion guide and framework for businesses seeking to use this as a handguide as they embark on more direct confrontation of what it means for them to tackle systemic racism within their own organizational halls.
We share this with you in case it may inspire some. We are also happy to speak with you, as we have with many of clients, about Dynata’s approach. As we have said multiple times to our employees and clients; we will make mistakes and do not profess to be perfect in our pursuit for a more inclusive and diverse future. As researcher and author Brene Brown says, however, “it isn’t about wanting to ‘be right;’ it’s about wanting to ‘get it right.’”
We also share this because we have learned how important it is to actively and vocally stand in opposition to systemic racism. So, to our community of clients, colleagues, panelists, partners, competitors, and any other person that may find themselves reading this, please know that Dynata is committed to creating and maintaining a culture that allows each and every employee to realize their full personal and professional potential in the workplace. At the end of the day, anything that drives diversity of thought is a priority that is woven throughout our corporate values.

We are inspired by the multiple industry wide initiatives taking place to instantiate D&I (ARF WIDE , CORe, WIRe in Color, etc.). We hope that as an industry which connects people to consumers for their opinions, thoughts, and feelings, we can do a better job of what I often refer to as, “eating our own dogfood.”
How can we truly act as the “voice of the consumer” if we leave voices out in the surveying, the creation of surveys, in the analysis of surveys, and in the recommendations that come off those surveys?

This not only involves being more demonstrative of our desire to hire, develop, promote and celebrate diverse talent. It includes highlighting diverse voices and ensuring the research that we conduct is inclusive. We cannot be the true access point to “voice of customers” if we don’t leverage diverse voices along the way.