Breaking Down DEI

Beth Ridley of Ridley Consultants joins Bryce to talk about the fundamentals of DEI and the steps to take to ensure a culture of belonging in the workplace.

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NE S1EP02: Beth Ridley

Bryce Lord: Hello. I'm Bryce Lord. Welcome to Nonprofit Espresso, where every week we look at topics that focus on the nonprofit sector. We talk about things going on within the social sector world, as well as different issues that social organizations face on a regular basis.

Today is no different. I want to spend some time talking about diversity, equity and inclusion. You may remember that diversity training in the workplace first appeared in the mid-sixties, after a series of equal employment laws and affirmative action initiatives were  set in motion. And these laws then prompted different companies to start diversity training programs, to help employees adjust to working in a more integrated office. Unfortunately, this early phase DEI training didn't really have the long-lasting effect that a lot of people hoped it would.

In 2019, The Harvard Business Review conducted a study and found that bias focused training had very little effect on the behavior of male or white employees -who typically hold the most power within any given organization.

That was 2019. Then we started seeing things like the Me Too movement, the death of George Floyd in May 2020, an increase in Asian-American, Pacific Islander discrimination. And there was this shift that happened in our awareness. From May of 2020, when George Floyd died, to September 2020, the number of DEI-related job postings increased by 123%.

That says quite a lot for our increased awareness and the increased demand for a change in behavior.

And so how do we meet this increased demand? How do we address the changes in our world and come up with ideas and approaches to diversity, equity, and inclusion training that is different from what we saw back in the mid-sixties? 

Today, we're going to have a discussion with someone who works in this field. Beth Ridley of Ridley Consultants. And hopefully get some new understanding, some new ideas, and new approaches on how to work on these initiatives - not just within our organizations but within ourselves.

Introducing Beth Ridley

Bryce Lord:  Hi, Beth. Welcome. I'm glad to have you join us here today if you would tell me a little bit about your firm and the things you do and the kind of tasks you're brought in to consult on.

Beth Ridley: Yes. So thank you for asking. So Ridley Consulting Group. We are a consulting firm that specializes really in simplifying what it takes for organizations to embed diversity, equity, inclusion best practices throughout their organization. So that they can achieve greater sense of belonging that enables better success with recruiting and retaining talent, better collaboration, innovation, enhancing their brand, all those benefits of belonging. But we really like to simplify it and make diversity, equity, inclusion something that is approachable, relevant, and doable to all employees in the organization.

So it is not trapped in HR, but that people really embrace it as a leadership competency. [00:01:00] So that's the bulk of the work that we do. And I think we get called upon for a lot of different reasons. Probably the main reason now is companies and organizations really feeling the pinch with trying to attract talent, to fill other open positions, and retain their top talent. 

Bryce Lord: I'm curious, I was looking over your bio, and at one point, you lived in Bangkok? 

Beth Ridley: Yeah, I did. 

Bryce Lord: I lived in Thailand myself. 

Beth Ridley: Oh, lovely. The best food ever, I thought. 

Bryce Lord: Exactly. What took you there? 

Beth Ridley: Yeah. And so I actually was working for a large management consulting firm, and one of my projects, I was based in Thailand, working with Bangkok Bank for a year. And I learned so much about culture there because I had a situation where I was brought in to do like a operations reboot, re-engineering for the bank. And I had a team; no one spoke English. So that was DEI in action, how to bring people together for a common purpose when you have a lot of cultural difference and language differences.

What is DEI?

Bryce Lord: I wanted to talk a little bit about DEI or diversity, equity, and inclusion, which is a very important topic generally, but especially in these last several years, we've seen an increased interest and demand for how it fits into the workplace.

And obviously, looking from the non-profit lens, it's just as important, not just in the workforce, but how it interacts with the broader community that these organizations serve. I guess, first of all, I'm curious from your perspective and based on your experience, how would you define diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Beth Ridley: Yes. So I'm first going to just jump to the end of my definition, then I'll break each of those words down. But when you combine diversity, equity, and inclusion, these principles in the workplace, in the organizational culture, it results in a culture of belonging, which is what everyone wants.

A culture where everyone feels a sense of safety and security being who they are. They don't have to work extra hard to fit in where you feel that you have genuine and positive connections. Not just with the work and the mission the organization, but with your colleagues. And a culture where you feel that you actually have contribution. Your voice, your perspectives, your strengths, your talents, your opinions actually matter. And weigh into decision-making. You show up, and people care that you're there. 

So when you have those ingredients, that's a cultural belonging. That really creates a thriving workplace where people want to engage more because engaging and showing up feels good, and they feel a sense of "psychological safety" you're not afraid to speak up. You're not afraid to suggest ideas, push yourself outside of your comfort zone, volunteer yourself out of fear of embarrassing yourself or fear of retribution. You just get more out of employees. that's good for all the organizational goals that you're trying to accomplish.

Especially in the nonprofit sector where frankly, people work super duper hard. And you have to be able keep that engagement, that motivation high when you're doing really important work. It's important that employees feel super connected and committed. So, that's the end result of diversity, equity, inclusion, but you need those three ingredients in order to get to that culture of belonging. 

The diversity is diversity in all aspects. The physical dimensions of diversity the primary dimensions that we tend to focus on, whether that be race or gender, ethnicity. As well as our diverse life experiences, our perspectives, our talents. 

Inclusion is making sure that everyone feels involved in and respected for all their dimensions of their diversity, not just the ones that you're comfortable with.

I think a lot of times people think we're a welcoming environment, as long as you fit in. 

Bryce Lord: That's my experience is we're all here together, working happy as long as you're okay being like one of us. 

Beth Ridley: That's exactly right. And that's actually a culture of tolerance. It's not horrific, but it's not really great. And the funny thing that you say about that is a New York times article came out about two weeks ago breaking down what's at the root cause of employees not wanting to come back to work.

So we're rounding the corner from the pandemic. Companies are opening their doors, welcoming employees back. And they're like, actually I liked working from home. And a lot of it is because they never felt that sense of belonging. They put up with it because they had to, And now they realize, oh my gosh, I just feel a sense of relief being at home.

And it's for a whole lot of reasons. Everything from "The temperature was too cold at work and I got sick of always freezing all day." To " I'm more of an introvert and I felt a lot of pressure to interact with people." To "I was the only one on my team who didn't have kids and everything revolved around family." To you name it. And I think it's showing that we took the culture for granted and assumed it was good for everybody, women, frankly. It really wasn't. 

So that's inclusion and then the equity piece closes that gap between people having diversity in the work force, but not feeling that true sense of belonging.

The equity piece is recognizing, because we're all different, we may each need different things in order t o succeed. So, in the case of the introverts not feeling like their opinions mattered because they were more quiet in the room, let's recognize that. And let's create ways for people who are more on the quiet side to also be able to speak up and share.

And it could be simple things like sharing the discussion questions in advance of the meeting, having anonymous polling devices in the meetings, so people do feel that they can speak up and honestly. And so that's how you really need diversity in all shapes and sizes. 

The way to get to inclusion is to approach that diversity with an equity mindset. How do we create a situation where we're able to set everybody up for success? And that's how you get to true belonging.

What creates Organizational Culture?

Bryce Lord: It occurred to me that as we're defining this in the workplace, maybe we should take a step back and clarify what an organizational culture can be defined by in itself. And to try and figure out what, if I'm right, and correct me if I'm not, from a baseline of expectations in the workplace culture, in a perfect world, what does establish that in terms of the workforce? Does that make sense? 

Beth Ridley: I think I understand what you're getting at. 

Bryce Lord: I'm rambling, I know. I have something in my head, but...

Beth Ridley: No, not at all. I'll take a stab at it and then you should redirect me. 

Bryce Lord: We'll figure it out from there. 

Beth Ridley: Okay. The workplace culture. It's the norms. The written rules and the unwritten rules. When people look around and what drives or constitutes success in an organization. Like who rises to the [00:08:00] top? Who doesn't? That says a lot in words, and also just by observation. So people sorta get what the culture is. How to behave in order to be successful in that organization.

An organization will be like, that's not our culture. Those are not the values that we uphold. But then it is. 

To answer your question, What creates that culture? It's the leadership. The leadership sets the tone intentionally as well as unintentionally. And as an organization, you want to have a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture. People are looking at the constitution of your leadership. Not just in terms of how do they look diverse -that matters- but also their personalities, their characteristics, their own backgrounds, their own leadership style.

Bryce Lord: You were talking a little bit before about people coming back to work after working from home and don't want to. And we hear about the great resignation over the last couple of years. As organizations become more aware of their DEI initiatives and their perception in the community as having this general workplace culture, how can a nonprofit leader get that out to the community?

It's one thing to be an employee and see it for yourself day to day. But say, people are coming back to the workforce. They're looking for work. Looking for organizations that have a comfortable, satisfying place for them. How do you get that out to the community and lift up your reputation on a broader sense.

Beth Ridley: Yeah. My answer may not be super satisfying because it speaks more to the long-term nature of this work. Obviously there's marketing strategies and that type of thing, but you really want to be careful because if it's not felt truly, internally for the employees, it becomes a sham and hypocritical. And then employees are really going to be spreading the word to their friends and family, because it's this is ridiculous. And I actually worked for an organization- every year they were on the top 10 places for best places for women to work. And the women who are there are like, you gotta be kidding me. 

Bryce Lord: Yeah, who set this up. Yeah. 

Beth Ridley: Right. Exactly. The most enduring sustainable strategy for getting the word out there is to have alignment between your words and how your current employees perceive you. And they will become your best ambassadors. Because truthfully the way that most organizations really recruit is, yes, they might post their job openings, but the best talent comes from the social networks of your current employees. They know the type of people, they know the culture, they know the type of people who will succeed in the culture. They can make that match and do that pre-screening. But employees are only going to brag about the company and encourage their friends and family to apply if they actually really believe it's a great place to work. 

Where to Start?

Bryce Lord: That makes me think then, as a nonprofit leader who is looking to initiate or strengthen a DEI strategy within the organization, regardless of the perceptions, within the logistics of it, where do you start? 

We talk about, making sure that these strategies come from the top down and that the leadership represents what they do. And this may sound like a simplistic question, but what are the basic steps for achieving that? If that makes sense?

Beth Ridley: Yes. So there's really three steps to transform the culture in a sustainable way that diversity equity, inclusion best practices really seep in. I'll tell you the three steps and then I'll tell you out of those three, where to start. 

So the first step is leadership commitment. Have your leaders be invested in being that type of leader that is going to challenge themselves to be comfortable, or embrace diversity that may make them uncomfortable, that they're unfamiliar with. To be interested and really talk about and demonstrate that they see diversity as an asset and therefore not to be managed or tolerated, but to really be embraced and brought out of everyone. If you do nothing else, just get leaders to be that kind of leader. And I'll talk about like how to do that. 

The second step is engaging everyone in the organization. I think a lot of times people think, oh, we're going to have a DEI strategy and HR, you go do it. And it's led out of HR, but it doesn't really creep into everybody else because it doesn't seem relevant.

So you have position DEI as competencies. Everyone should learn how to bridge across differences and get the best out of the people you interact with. Make more thoughtful decision-making and not have a myopic view. Like everybody. That's good for anybody's job, whether you're in accounting or marketing.

Second is, you've got to engage everybody, not just those in HR. 

And then the third is you do need a strategic plan. Just like anything. No one has all the time and all the money to do everything. So we got to pace and sequence where we invest in this and that's a strategic plan. So those are really the three areas of investment.

But again, if you do nothing else, just have your leaders lead differently because like we started talking about, people will notice. What does it take to be the executive director of this organization? And if they see that it takes a leader who is interested in understanding who my people are, leveraging what makes them unique, then I'm going to model that.

And so, to jumpstart your leadership commitment, I think it's carving out an hour in that executive team meeting to say, "What do we know about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and why does it matter to our organization and the longterm? And what does it matter to us as individual humans?" And to be able to suss out and come to some shared understanding of why this matters and they can speak to it with one voice.

So I would say that would be step number one. 

What Steps to Take?

Bryce Lord: Looking back at my career and the different places I've worked have tried. It always starts with training where they call everybody together, and HR gives a presentation, provides definitions, but in many cases it never really seems to go beyond that.

And I would say that's clearly, in my opinion, the fault of the leadership for not making follow through part of this process. Beyond that sort of presentation from the leadership, is there anything tangible beyond that?

Beth Ridley: A couple of things. So, I think one important step is to make it an ongoing conversation where employees, again, they see the benefit of developing and demonstrating DEI competencies, because it creates a better workplace for them. So once you can make the case that we all benefit from showing up and having more of a culture of belonging and here's some things that we can all do to get there, an easy way to engage employees is to put DEI in  action in the process of actually improving the culture. Asking employees, what can we improve on? And that could be a cultural belonging survey. Then using that survey to say what are your ideas? Like, you show up in these meetings every day. What could we do so that you feel more engaged? You feel more valued and respected; those pillars of belonging. What are the ideas, things that you're doing that are working well? Things that you've seen or things that are not working good at all, that we should stop doing? 

I like to build in, once a month, have some type of intentional conversation among employees and it could be in work teams. It could be in created teams, where you bring people from across the company together to start exploring these topics of, what are the ingredients of belonging and what should we do as an organization, both individually but at the team level and at the organizational level, and engage employees in the conversation. 

And frankly, employees like it, one, because they feel like their voice matters. They have a hand in shaping the culture. 

Two, these are topics that they don't normally talk about in their day to day. And it's a little bit of a reprieve, frankly. I think people are really burned out. And so to come together and to bond and create deeper relationships about a topic that benefits everyone, related to the culture is a little bit of a reprieve. It just gets people to stretch a different part of their brain, while deepening relationships at the same time.

Once they buy into why this work matters, they're very happy and excited to have a voice and to contribute. And to go through that process where it's an ongoing conversation. 

Curiosity Wins

Bryce Lord: And so I'm wondering, as a middle-aged white man, I have no doubt that I have put my foot in my mouth more than once. Not intentionally, it's comes across the wrong way or, I don't necessarily explain myself as well as I could. 

What suggestions would you offer me? Because that makes the conversation more intimidating. 

Beth Ridley: Yes, it does. The first thing I would say is you're not alone because no one is an expert in diversity, equity, inclusion, because that would presume you've met every human on the face of the earth. And so there's always going to be differences that we just don't have experience with. That we just don't know about. And we're going to say things that have an impact that we didn't intend.

So, I think the first thing is just to have grace, patience and understanding for yourself. So you can also extend that to others. Then, I think just some basic communication techniques really helps. I think it's a great thing to be curious. Curiosity is really the only anecdote to maybe minimizing some of our blind spots. Because again, the only way that we can replace our stereotypes and biases with more empathy and understanding is just increasing our data points around the human experience, which means having to interact with a human. Which means having to often ask questions. If you run into somebody, they're of a different background or a different heritage or a different whatever, how are you going to learn about that unless you ask? 

Bryce Lord: I think the fear is that, I know just speaking personally, I can't speak for anybody else, but I was raised in a way that. Don't stare. Don't look. You don't ask those questions because it's too personal. And so there's this fear that if I do try to increase my knowledge and my understanding that way, that I'm stepping on personal territory in some way? That it's none of my business, perhaps. 

Beth Ridley: Correct. A couple things. I think for the most part, it's human tendency to always dwell on what could go wrong versus what could go right. Second, if you are asking out of genuine curiosity and compassion, people can tell that, no matter how the words come out of your mouth and it always feels good when someone takes an interest in you.

Now, someone can also tell if you're asking in a judgemental way. If you're asking, cause you want to just confirm beliefs or stereotypes that you already have. People can definitely pick up on that and they won't take too kindly to it. But if you do ask a question because you are simply curious about the person in front of you, rarely do people take offense because actually the feeling of, oh, they have an interest in me, usually overrides that and people want to feel valued and respected in the eyes of other people. And an indication of that is that you took the time to ask. Now there's a strategy to asking. I'm going to give you a super, just super quick tip. Usually my go-to phrases, there's just three simple phrases to memorize.

If you're in that situation and you want to ask, but you don't want to put your foot in your mouth. You almost can't fail if you simply say, 'I'm curious to know dot dot dot and fill in the blanks.' It is a way to express really why you're asking. Genuinely, you are curious to know in a nonjudgmental way.

So I'm curious to know, I detect a slight accent. Would you mind sharing where you're from and the person can answer yes or no.

And usually they love to elaborate. People love to talk about themselves, so they will tell you. And then say, "Oh, tell  me more." Right? And then simply say, thank you for sharing.

I think people get a little twisted up when they try to say something in response. You just have to listen. That's the best thing you could do. Simply listen. You asked. They're telling you. You listen and simply say, thank you. That's all you gotta do.

Bryce Lord: That's very helpful. Because I will tell you, I'm one of those people. I focus on what could go wrong.

Beth Ridley: And we all do. You're a human. I'm trying to think of a scenario where I've asked someone something out of genuine curiosity. And I use those phrases where they were really like cold. I can't think of an example. It will happen, so I'm not saying it won't happen. But that could be for a whole lot of reasons.

That could be the person's in a rush. They're just simply having a bad day. Maybe they're just not a nice person. I wouldn't take it personally, right? Generally someone's reaction to you has less to do about you than it has more to do about them. 

Bryce Lord: I think that's absolutely true. I know in my life I can swear that's definitely true. I will take your tips to heart and see what we can do at least to get through my journey, as we all do.

Wrap Up

Bryce Lord: This has been fantastic and very informative and really useful. And I appreciate you taking the time. So you have a book coming out this fall. Is that right? 

Beth Ridley: I do. I have a book coming out this fall called "Jumpstart DEI: Practical Tips to Engage Everyone in Creating a Culture of Belonging." And it basically takes the process that we use as part of our consulting engagement to embed DEI and have everyone embrace it more as a mindset.

Competencies that are relevant to your job, whether you're in accounting, marketing, operations, whatever. So, it's basically just laying out the blueprint, really, for the consulting work that we do and the process that we came up with, in order to sustainably embed DEI in the way that organizations operate.

Bryce Lord: And how can people get ahold of a copy? 

Beth Ridley: So, right now they can go to my website, www.RidleyConsultants, and then they can just shoot me an email. And then I will send anyone who's interested in a copy when it becomes available in the fall.

Bryce Lord: Great. And you're conducting some workshops in the meantime? 

Beth Ridley: Yeah. So in the meantime, because, yeah, the fall still feels like a really long ways away. At the time of this recording, there is snow on the ground. 

Bryce Lord: I know.

Beth Ridley: We live in Wisconsin.

Yes, I've been holding every month, complimentary one-hour workshops. You can also go to my website and sign up. "Three Steps to Creating A Culture of Belonging." So basically breaking down the three steps from my book. The three areas that you have to invest in, which is leadership commitment, all employee engagement, and strategic planning. And giving some simple, practical steps of, if you could only do one thing, where should you start?

So the next webinar or workshop that I'm holding is 8:00 AM, on May 10th, which is a Tuesday and also noon on Wednesday, May 25th. So that would be an opportunity to get the basics from the book prior to the book. 

Bryce Lord: That sounds fantastic. And I wish you all of the best and success with everything you've got going on. You're doing some very important work, and I appreciate you taking the time to have this conversation and teach me so much more about the day-to-day process of becoming better. 

Beth Ridley: Yeah. And it's, I think it's all about all becoming better all the time, every day. And it's an enjoyable one too. So thank you so much for having me and I enjoyed the conversation immensely.


Bryce Lord: So as we bring this episode to a close, I wanted to go over some information that I found that I thought was very interesting in relation to DEI initiatives in the workplace. 

Employee teams who have at least one member that represents their target communities' gender, race, age, sexual orientation, or culture, whatever the case may be, are 158% more likely to understand that target community. 

And on a managerial level, organizations that have a higher diversity in management on average, bring in 38% more in revenue than organizations with a lower diversity rate. It's thought that this is because the diversity of gender, country of origin, career path, industry background, and so on are all highly connected to innovation. 

And then finally, organizations at that top 25% of gender diversity among its executive leadership are 21% more likely to be solvent. And 27% better at creating impact. 

And so with that, I want to wrap up another episode of Nonprofit Espresso. Thank you for joining me. Next week, we will have another nonprofit espresso Single Shot.

Until then, be well and enjoy the week.  

Beth RidleyProfile Photo

Beth Ridley


Beth Ridley is a corporate executive turned organizational transformation consultant, speaker, author, and CEO of Ridley Consulting Group. Beth combines 25 years of global leadership and management consulting experience with expertise in diversity and inclusion and positive psychology to help organizations build a workplace culture of belonging to improve the ability to recruit and retain top talent, increase collaboration and innovation and enhance brand identity.

Her work appears in national publications, and her forthcoming book-- Jumpstart DEI: Get Everyone Engaged to Build a Workplace Culture of Belonging – is scheduled for release in Fall 2022.

Beth holds a BA in English Literature from the University of Virginia, an MA in International Relations from Tufts University, and an MBA from Columbia University. Beth has lived in London, Tokyo, Johannesburg, and Bangkok and now resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with her husband and three children.