Anything we’ve wanted to improve on at Table XI has come with a plan. A couple of years ago it became clear we could be doing better with hiring and working with diverse groups of people so we started to discuss plans for it. We had guidelines for what this would look like and had a few programs running in the background of our day to day operations.
Since the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent widespread civil unrest, it’s become clear to us that diversity equity and inclusion cannot be sidework to our overall product. It cannot be seen as a program of work or an initiative — but rather a core part of our company strategy. It has to be with all of us in everything we do.
DEIB can’t be an initiative — it has to be part of our core strategy
Initiatives have a start and end point. This gives everyone the illusion that by the end of a certain period of time, things will be fixed and we can go back to business as usual. Also, making DEIB separate from everyday culture silos it. It turns into a box to check once a month or once every quarter and no one outside of that focused DEIB circle is fully buying into the initiative.
Like any business strategy that is core to the organization, DEIB needs a level of focus and measurement to see how the strategy is working. Four questions to ask when developing any kind of business strategy are:
- Accountability: Who is driving it?
- Learning and Guidance: How can leadership get advice and coaching to further their efforts and correct for deadspots?
- Investment: How are you investing in it? Is there a budget? Whose job is it?
- Performance: How will we measure impacts?
#1 - The driving force behind DEIB work comes from the top
At Table XI, we have a DEIB team that helps to escalate topics, educate our team, and support the growth of our understanding as a business. Their insight and passion for this work is invaluable to our business.
When we talk about who is our company culture and strategy, we also have to talk about the management team in this work. The habits and attitudes of executives within an organization often trickle down to every level below them. And the management team sets the tone for the company’s priorities and strategies for our business.
So last year, our DEIB team recommended that our management team go through some formal diversity training. That helped to build common vocabulary and shared assessment of where we were as a business. Following that training, members of both the DEIB and management teams collaborated together to build our DEIB Roadmap 2020 with plans for next steps.
Like any other core strategy in the business, there needs to be accountability at the management team level for this work. And our roadmapping together helped to build a vision for how this strategy could grow our business.
In addition to the support of the DEIB team to drive internal change, as a CEO I thought we needed other support and guidance, which is why we started searching for a coach to guide our efforts.
#2 - Coaching and Guidance for the DEI strategy
Beyond participating in our company lunch and learns and DEIB team meetings, I recognize the need to grow and learn personally as well. As CEO, ultimate accountability of the company culture and strategy rests with me. In the same way that operations ultimately falls on my shoulders to guide, DEIB is no different. That means I need the same kind of coaching and peer group as I have in other aspects of our business.
Currently I am involved in Vistage — where I am given an executive coach and peer group to work toward becoming better as the leader of Table XI. I created Ops-Conf to learn and share ideas about running a professional services firm with other great leaders in my industry.
That’s why I was honored to be accepted to join Loyola’s Quinlan School of Business DEI Leadership Institute. I’m joined by an incredibly diverse group of leaders in Chicago area businesses to learn and collaborate with. The faculty are some of the most respected leaders in DEIB training and I’m given a coach for DEIB along with an incredibly diverse peer group of respected leaders from around Chicago.
One thing that we explored as a cohort in the very first session was this sentiment: It’s not a moment — it’s a movement. DEIB culture needs long term commitments, strategies and vision from the top-down of an organization to make an impact. Thankfully, each of my coaching and learning sessions allows me to bring other members from my management team along with me, to aid in their own DEIB learning. If leadership from across the company all align with our DEIB strategy — the likelihood to meet our goals is much higher.
#3 - Investing in the DEIB strategy
For these changes to succeed and sustain we have to make a plan to invest in them monetarily. Without a budget for DEIB, it won’t move the needle. Putting it into the same category as profits and loss will.
We are putting together budgets for:
- Hard costs: Dollars for training staff and providing educational opportunities for our team
- Commitments: Donations and fund raising in the communities we serve.
- Our time: Carving out time for our DEIB team members each week to advance this strategy. Things like lunch and learns, reviewing company policies and benefits and other things they deem overall beneficial to us.
- Our projects: Setting aside money to do low-bono work can have a positive impact in DEIB projects, like the work we’ve done with Embarc.
#4 - Measuring DEIB culture as a line item
In any aspect of business how you measure success is important for your shareholders, clients and employees to know what is and isn’t working. Making DEIB an item for quarterly and yearly reports and making it clear that a diverse team will build better products will ensure growth year-over-year and maintain priority status.
A great example of this in action is the PepsiCo Human Capital Report. Alongside their earnings and growth reports they publish a yearly report focusing on their stated mission of “advancing respect for human rights throughout our value chain, building diverse and inclusive workplaces and investing to promote shared prosperity in communities where we live and work.” Their report includes all aspects of good corporate citizenship, environment, waste and importantly “people.” Their DEIB efforts are publicly reported and made accountable for their leadership team. This is a strong way to ensure they move the needle forward.
Similarly, at Table XI we want to make a similar effort in reporting our DEIB culture goals. We are looking at how we will measure and track our progress and the impact we are able to have. Part of that measurement focus will be redefining who our stakeholders are (not just our shareholders) and how the DEIB strategy can serve them.
Employees: Hiring a more diverse team brings new ideas and talent into the company - helping everyone grow and learn new skills.
Clients: The software we build are used by all sorts of people — not just cis heterosexual white men. This element of strategy is to ensure we build better features for the widest audience possible, so our products get high adoption rates and engagement for our clients.
Ownership: It has been proven that more diverse teams yield better results and stronger financial performance
Community: This group is our largest and least well defined stakeholder (at least compared to the other three). The Table XI community includes our alumni, the peers and competitors we collaborate with, the places where we collectively live, the community groups and non-profits we support, and the industry groups we mentor, team, and recruit from. We are looking to find ways to bring value to each of these groups, with our company’s DEIB goals and investments.
Table XI has never been perfect in these regards, but perfection is neither an achievable goal nor a reason not to strive. Setting goals and measuring how we get there is a way to keep moving forward.
I feel very lucky to have the resources and team around me to support this DEIB work and fully turn Table XI into a company that can affect some real change.
Valuable DEIB homework
Before the first session we were given homework. I highly suggest reading and watching these videos and text supplied by my facilitators for further learning: