Last week I attended ColorComm, a conference for women of color in communications. It was hosted in the glamorous Ritz Carlton in Key Biscayne, FL. I was surrounded by breathtaking women from a variety of communications-related roles and representing organizations from McDonald’s and BET to Edelman and elected officials (can’t imagine being an elected official in Florida right now!). Presidents, CEOs, political strategists, attorneys, and new career professionals were all interconnected in one generosity-filled space, learning with and from each other and providing a network of much-needed support for what can be incredibly exhausting work (especially in this skin).
Every session was to die for; let’s start with that. But one session, led by Kerya Lynn Johnson, VP and Chief DEI Officer for Delta Airlines, compelled me to take copious notes. Under Keyra’s leadership, Delta’s strategy actively seeks diversity, boldly pursues equity, conscientiously promotes inclusion and drives accountability for actions that foster sustainable results. This description of DEI strategy is spot on. It emphasizes actions. The DE and I are not the most important words, as she described in her presentation, it’s what we do with them: seek, pursue, and promote.
For example, related to actively seeking diversity, Delta goes on to clearly communicate that seeking diversity applies to both internal and external efforts. Directly affronting the myths that have been so prevalent in the past, there is acknowledgment that lack of diverse representation at all levels of our organizations is not a pipeline issue. Instead, we have structures that need to be examined and changed. In Delta’s case, “we reimagined our talent strategy…using an inside-out approach.” As a result of examination and reimagination, they acknowledged the inherent barriers to higher education that exist for many and that requiring it for all types of jobs is an example of an inequity in their systems. They made the bold move to remove a four-year college degree from their minimum hiring criteria.
THIS IS SYSTEMS CHANGE 👆🏾
During Keyra’s presentation, she made a light-hearted joke that is all too familiar to me and other practitioners, “We could talk all day about whether it’s EDI, DEI, EDIBA, EDISJ, DEIA…” What’s most important about their strategy and the associated language, and that I absolutely co-sign, is that it is intentional and allows them to tell a story of who they are and what they value. It also easily translates into behaviors that can be applied to every person in the organization.
Communication Is Key
Keyra Lynn Johnson is a great example of exactly what is going RIGHT in EDI. She is a strategic thinker. She and her team went far beyond appointing an EDI Committee or mandating implicit bias training as a standalone development experience. Their simple and solid strategy is accompanied by a thoughtfully designed and implemented internal communication plan. Internal means that they are prioritizing – from the inside out – their organization’s understanding and co-ownership of the strategy rather than performative actions and external accolades.
According to Keyra, “If change is driven by changing the narrative, then here’s what we have to do:
- Our storytelling has to be more compelling
- Our message naming has to be thoughtful (not just DEI, but action-oriented language)
- The learning (and unlearning) may create a little bit of burning.”
Why a little bit of burning? Because we are in complicated times. When local or federal policy is under attack, we are able to realign to strategy and also be comfortable with sitting in a place of discomfort, which is going to be a familiar place for the foreseeable future. Johnson went on to say, “Delta rallies around burning platforms when we believe we are solving something. A burning platform brings people together…. I've gotten results by creating a little bit of burn without ever being a disruptor.”
As an example of learning and unlearning and creating a little bit of burn, Delta has made long-term investments in developing the EDI core knowledge, understanding, and skills of every one of their managers and then reinforced that learning with an ongoing community of practice.
Again, they hit the nail on the head!
Internal communication, managers, and communities of practice are exactly the thoughtful work of the next generation of EDI leaders and organizations. Thank you, Delta, for providing such a solid example of what it looks like to do EDI in a contemporary environment. And thank you, Keyra Lynn Johnson, and all the other EDI leaders and practitioners who are guiding us to the next and most impactful version of EDI leadership.
Register Now for the Fall 2023 Inclusive Manager’s Toolkit, for yourself or your entire team. We would love to work with you on your EDI journey. Join the thousands of people we have helped build EDI capacity within their organizations and develop a comprehensive set of skills for immediate application and long-term impact.