Episode 47: The Intersection of Business, Diversity and Leadership

Portrait of Dr. Nika WhiteAs we celebrate Black History Month at DHG and beyond, Dr. Nika White joins us to share perspective on inclusion and diversity in today's business environment. Nika’s professional career spans over 20 years and ranges from serving as an inclusion and diversity practitioner and accomplished marketing communications executive to economic development leader and community advocate. She finds inspiration through the intersection of business, diversity, and leadership and has made this her niche.

Episode 47 Transcript:

AGH: Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of our DHG Podcast Series. I’m Alice Grey Harrison, your host and I really love this venue because we get to hear about the things that matter the most to us. Flexibility, careers, and of course source about our people. We are currently celebrating Black History Month.

Today, Doctor Nika White is joining us to share perspective on inclusion and diversity in today’s business environment. Nika’s professional career spans over 20 years and it ranges from serving as a diversity and inclusion practitioner and accomplished marketing communications executive, economic development leader and community advocate. She finds inspiration through the intersection of business, diversity, and leadership and has made this her niche.

She’s a nationally sought-after consultant and thought leader and speaker to countless organizations and executives on issues such as team member engagement, organizational leadership, strategic diversity and intentional inclusion. I had the opportunity to catch up with her prior to this call and we had a delightful conversation and I just know that this is going to be a great podcast.

Welcome Nika.

NW: Thank you so much, Alice Grey, I appreciate the opportunity.

AGH: So, you have an interesting background, can you tell us about your background and what inspired you to focus on inclusion and diversity?

NW: Sure, so my background in to this discipline as you mentioned is quite unique. I didn’t set out to be in this discipline or the field of diversity and inclusion. My background is mostly in the space of advertising and marketing communications, and I recall spending about 15 or so years working directly in that industry and I started my career at an ad agency and was in between the the New York office of this agency as well as the Greenville, SC office. So, going back and forth gave me a great appreciation for the differences in terms of the market and the people in those markets and the diversity or the lack there of.

I remember sitting in my office one day as I was really contemplating on how much I enjoyed the work of advertising and marketing communications when I had an epiphany. I started really reflecting on if I enjoy this work as an African-American female. Why aren’t there others that look like me that are also taking advantage of this wonderful career path that I found to be incredibly fulfilling and very rewarding.

I couldn’t let that go. I started to think about advertising agencies and the role of marketing firms, which are supposed to be smart marketing partners for their clients whose consumer constituency represent diverse America. In fact, the question why are we not being more intentional and being more forward thinking in our diversity and inclusion leadership approach to make this a part of the foundation of our product service offering.

But, I couldn’t let that go. So I remember I had a very delicate conversation with the present CEO who is very hands-on and whom I had a good rapport with. I laid out the business case and I knew that it would be well received. He looked at me and said, “I agree we need to do it. This is something that is going to build well for our mission of becoming the most admired agency and you’re going to lead it. Now, tell us how?”

And so, in that moment I had to think very quickly, and while I didn’t have the full answer of how, I knew what the starting point was to be, you know, we had to put some really smart people in my camp that were already accomplished in creating great success in this space within their respective organizations and we literally went to work and we found that was really a great turning point for the agency. We began to be a lot more intentional and effective.

We noticed that it was really making a difference in the way which we are servicing our clients and the way which we’ve been hiring and it just – it allows us to be that smart marketing partner to all of the clients that we’ve been working for and I found through that experience as I started to work in that discipline. I was really in my element and I was really operating in a space that I felt connected to. It was only but a matter of time before I would find myself in a predicament where I was able to start working in that discipline full-time.

And so, that’s my history and my story. I think that it helped me tremendously that I did not start out as a D&I practitioner, you know, I was known already before that time as a thought leader across so many different operational aspects of an organization and that is what helped me to, you know, really be able to couple the business lens of the equation with the work of diversity and I think that makes a tremendous difference.

AGH: Oh, I totally agree with you and as you were talking it was funny I was thinking about how that probably has played a role in your success. So, you have a variety of clients, big and small. What are some of the biggest challenges that they’re facing? What’s keeping them up at night?

NW: You know, it’s a great question, Alice Grey, and I think that there’s probably a multitude of ways in which I can answer that but I would say that the two biggest things that I often hear would be first and foremost the how to. You know, people can really value the work of diversity and inclusion and recognize its significance but when it comes down to executing, the implementation, this strategic oversight often times a lot of organizations are not quite as well versed on how do we do this effectively.

Where the work is sustainable for the long-term and whereby they are seeing impact and not just approaching it from the activity perspective. I spend a lot of time bringing my level of expertise and skillset to empowering those leaders and organizations who want to be more thoughtful about this work to understand how you do it and do it successfully and that includes a multitude of things even from, you know, talking about change management and how that plays a significant role and diversity and inclusion within an organization and tracking and measurement and, you know, looking at the educational piece – making sure that people see it as a leadership function and not as something that’s just sole responsibility of the person that carries the title of diversity and inclusion officer or manager.

Another challenge that I often see that a lot of organizations grapple with in addition to just that, you know, not knowing how, is how do we make sure that we get the buy in that we need where we have the executive sponsorship and the leadership that’s needed to continue to make sure this is not just something that’s over in the corner, operating on its own but it’s fully infiltrated throughout the operations of the organization.

And so, that requires helping those organizations to think attentively about an internal approach and leadership to towards the inclusion as well as an external approach, whereby they may find themselves executing certain initiatives then programs that extend to those who are outside of the organization. But those are the two things that I find to be most challenging often times.

AGH: Very interesting.  One of the top hot areas of discussion here at DHG and I think, you know, probably nationwide is implicit bias. Can you tell us exactly what it is because that’s a new term? Or at least new, you know, to this industry and why has implicit bias become such an important topic in corporate America?

NW: I love that you brought this question up because I feel like it is very timely to your point and it is a topic that often times people don’t think about as it relates to diversity and inclusion but implicit bias as you mentioned it is, you know, synonymous with other conscious bias. This is biases that we all have but we aren’t aware of and as you can imagine the danger of that is if your aren’t aware of how your actions, your decision making, your behavior could be negatively impacting the work environment or your relationship then you aren’t in a position to try to fix that.

So, where it’s not negatively creating implication that causes people to not show up as their best in the workplace and we live in a society that we rely on our teammates day in and day out to give us their best, you know, in order to be a high performing team and an organization that’s really reaching its mission and its goals. And so, if someone feels as though they are not fully accepted or that there’s some type of behavior that causes them to not want to bring their full selves to work and they question whether or not they belong, then it’s going to be hard for them to really perform at a high level.

And so, we have to make sure that we’re taking the necessary precautions to become more mindful about how we show up in the things we say or decision making and in order to help prevent those biases from negatively impacting the work environment. And, I always say that people are very well intentioned. If you don’t know what you don’t know it’s hard to fix it.

AGH: Right.

NW: And so, the reason that we have to put forth the concerted effort around training people to disrupt implicit bias and unconscious bias is because, you know, we need for people to be able to show up at their best and there’s a multitude of skillsets that people can be empowered by to help make sure that they aren’t part of the problem. Whether it’s intentionally or not intentionally and so, it is a big conversation these days. I think that what makes it a big conversation is that again sometimes people are experiencing it and maybe they don’t even realize it. But, you know, the person who is the “victim” may not know how to address that and obviously the person who is, you know, involved in some of that activity most often they don’t know it.

AGH: Right.

NW: And so, then it creates the situation to where now the cycle continues, you know. I always say that even if someone is a witness to bias, they have a responsibility as well because if you see it and you don’t say anything then that leads to, you know, perpetuation of that behavior. That also can diminish the culture and the inclusive environment of an organization and so, it’s a topic that certainly deserves conversation, deserves training, and one of the things that I always like to encourage  people to do is practice mindfulness.

Because if you’re mindful that means you’re very self-aware of your actions, you are very observant, you are practicing emotional intelligence. You have a greater propensity to notice when bias – unconscious bias even – is to have the propensity to, kind of, surface between the situation. And you can do something about it at that point in time. And so, education is key.

AGH: It is key. I like to think I’m a very mindful person but I had never heard the term unconscious bias or implicit bias until probably a year or maybe two years ago. I remember the first time I heard it I thought “Wow I wonder if I am doing any of these things?” And so, I really do try to think about how I approach things and ask myself. I also think about what am I witnessing? And I think trying to witness these things helps me become more self-aware of, kind of, my own approach to things.

NW: Absolutely, absolutely, and bias can exist in so many different ways. Not only the people bias but it’s also in process bias. We can have bias within some of our procedures, the policies, that we don’t even realize that could be creating and tendering the work of creating this inclusive environment. So, we have to make sure that we are consciously, you know, being mindful to really evaluate all that we’re doing all the decisions we’re making and whatever our policies maybe.

And, to your point often times it’s a situation whereby we just don’t know that it is happening and it doesn’t make us bad people - it makes us unaware which is why you have to educate.

AGH: Yes, so you mentioned an inclusive environment. So when I think about corporate America, whose responsibility is it to ensure that we have an inclusive workplace where everyone feels safe and everyone feels valued?

NW: It is everyone’s responsibility and sometimes when I get that question and I answer the way that I did with you Alice Grey- some folks become a little puzzled by it and may be a little overwhelmed because we still want to have that easy button. Where we can pinpoint whose responsible; we can make them accountable and then move on with our lives. But the reality is that one person, one individual cannot be responsible for it. You are talking about something that’s very systemic. It’s part of the culture and so, in order to make sure that you’re creating a culture of inclusion, you have to charge everyone in the organization with the responsibility of trying to make sure that they’re doing their part to create that kind of inclusive environment.

I like to call those folks intentional inclusionists. I actually wrote a book on it in 2017 and it’s titled, The Intentional Inclusionist. And, it really comes from the premise of everyone, if you are a leader in your organization or whatever environment you may find yourself in, and you know being a leader should be being a person of influence. But, if you are person of influence then you have the ability to create change. You have the ability to impact inclusion within your environment and if we all as leaders are taking the responsibility and assuming the accountability for that, then imagine how much further we could be in this work of creating inclusive environments.

I think its everyone’s responsibility now having said that you’re going to have your champions and you’re going to have your key influencers in the organization that will be able to help the organization to move that forward in a way that is at a pace where people can really appreciate it and you can start to see impact pretty quickly. I often say that it starts with, you know, your key senior leaders because they are the ones who are setting the tone for the organization and setting the expectations but ultimately it’s everyone’s responsibility.

AGH: Absolutely, I love that answer because it totally is everyone’s responsibility. When we think about everyone and I think of myself and I think about maybe where I was 20 years ago when I started my career, or maybe where I’ll be in another 10 years. What can individuals do to contribute to building a more inclusive environment?

NW: Well, first and foremost I think that we have to be responsible for educating ourselves and becoming more culturally competent. You know, often I find that many people particularly in today’s society would rather be politically correct than culturally competent and I feel like that’s a missed opportunity for us. Because when you are politically correct, really what you’re doing is you are avoiding really being fully authentic and the way of which we can become a society whereby we’re appreciating and valuing human difference, is by understanding human difference.

So, we have to become culturally competent. And we have to recognize that diversity comes in all forms. You know, we do not need to define diversity by the optics of age, race, and gender. We need to really become much more sophisticated about the multiple layers of diversity. Because I think that helps us to value and appreciate the principle better. Because if we think about it diversity really is a point of respect to which things differ. It’s not black or white, or young or old, you know, it’s much broader than that.

And, the more we can start defining it and talking about it in a broader sense I think that the better we are able to really embrace it in a way that allows us to start making it, you know, part of our daily lives and routines in terms of creating those very inclusive environments. But those are two things that I would say advice at the top of the list for, you know, recommendations for people becoming more aware of how and which they can render talents, their expertise and their knowledge to creating very inclusive environments.

AGH: Super - that’s great advice. So, this has been really insightful and helpful and I know that after our first conversation I immediately went out to learn more on your website and there’s a wealth of information out there so give us a shameless plug.

NW: Thanks for asking, I never pass up an opportunity for shameless plugs. I’m very passion about this space and hopefully that’s come out even in our conversation today.

AGH: Of course.

NW: And so, for anyone wants to elevate their work in the space of diversity and inclusion whether it’s just at a personal level because it does start there personally, or whether it’s been within a leadership capacity of an organization that you may belong to. I certainly encourage you to use my website as a resource.

I do have blogs and white papers out there and lots of such information that can help people to become more educated about the significance of diversity and inclusion. The website is and I would love the opportunity to connect with anyone who just wants to sit down and have an attentive conversation about how to move this work forward because we all have a responsibility in helping our society to become much more inclusive than it is.

AGH: And, can they connect on social media?

NW: Absolutely, so if you go to my website you’ll be able to have direct links to all of the social media that I belong to.

AGH: Awesome, well your passion truly shines and we are grateful that you took a few minutes out of your day to talk with us.

NW: Absolutely, absolutely, and again I appreciate the opportunity to be here.

AGH: Yes-  thank you and thank you all for listening to Life at DHG. Our premier podcast series, if you like what you just heard we hope you’ll tell your friends and colleagues be sure to check out our DHG blog for more great stories about our life beyond numbers.

Join us next time for another edition of life at DHG.

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