As CEO and Founder of E3 Professional Services, DeAnnah Stinson Reese leverages nearly 15 years of combined experience in DEI, personnel management, and learning and development to drive meaningful and sustainable equity for underrepresented employee groups in the corporate landscape.
An award nominated racial equity strategist, DeAnnah is a contributing author with Forbes and has been featured numerous times across Women Exceeding, LinkedIn, Voyage Houston, Boss Up Magazine, and many other publications. She has also been a guest on various podcasts and shows including HR Answers and Bold Black Girls.
In this exclusive interview, DeAnnah talks about the need for leaders to be accomplices over allies, committing human capital and financial resources for authentic DEI, and enabling racial equity at the workplace.
Here are excerpts of the interview.
A recent Harvard Business School report coined the term 'hidden workers' to reflect the missing talent pool in global hiring efforts. In your opinion, what is keeping underrepresented talent hidden despite the spotlight on DEI today?
I actually disagree with the concept of the underrepresented talent being hidden.
I don't think underrepresented talent is hidden. They are in the talent pools and are actively and aggressively seeking various roles globally. It's more so hiring professionals are not equipped to see the talent because they either choose not to or they've been conditioned not to.
If you're conditioned to look for certain things, you're hiring based on, oftentimes, implicit and unconscious bias. There are also those folks who hire with very obvious and overt biases that are just out there in the forefront.
Beyond the element of bias in hiring, it's also about how job descriptions are constructed. What’s really required versus what you’re saying you want, because you know who would fall into that category of what you want; and people construct job descriptions based on what they want all the time.
The lack of visibility of underrepresented talent stems from the choice to not see the talent that is there in the talent pool, because underrepresented talent doesn't look like your traditional white professional. There is no hidden underrepresented talent. There also needs to be more awareness, coaching, and equipping for underrepresented talent to feel more confident in how to effectively articulate the value and impact they bring to organisations. Oftentimes, if underrepresented talent is truly being considered for a role, hiring professionals can ascertain the value and impact that individual can bring to the organisation.
With the pace of change still slow, how can organisations better balance the needs of underrepresented communities across access to employment, mental healthcare, career growth and cultural inclusion?
It's really about reassessing priorities when it comes to the resources that organisations are allocating to different aspects of business operations. It's not a matter of not having the means to do certain things, but prioritising other things over the needs of these specific underrepresented groups.
For example, when you look at mental wellness, organisations can be very strong advocates by diversifying their vendor pool when it comes to their EAP programs. Many companies offer these programs, however the vendors that they utilise are usually vendors that most underrepresented populations can't identify with. Explore solutions with diverse practitioners so that your employees - if they choose to use that resource - can then be selective, find someone they identify with and are comfortable with, and actually use the resources out there.
Look at the unique challenges that different communities are going to face in the workplace, in their careers, help them navigate these more effectively. There are some communities where mental health is taboo or where career growth looks different because of their cultural background, or where people have physical abilities that are different from others.
It really is a priority issue, because it does takes resources to do this work and it's not a one person job. It does take human capital and financial capital in order to really prioritise DEI at its core and to address these pieces for underrepresented communities.
When it comes to racial equity, you have stated that everyone is not going to agree and everyone doesn’t share the same level of passion. How can organisations then work towards bringing everyone to the same level of understanding and purpose to enable equity?
Racial equity is the biggest threat to white privilege in my opinion. People are just conditioned to not look at blacks as being human. It's been proven time after time after time, not just 100 years ago, but six years ago, in the past two years, and in the past six months. When you add on the additional intersectionalities that a person can have - a woman, sexuality, religion, all of these different layers that can come into play - you have this conglomerate of oppressiveness.
So, a leader deciding to prioritise racial equity is what it's going to take in order for us to see progress. Someone has to interfere. Someone at an executive leadership level has to take the stance to say, ‘Hey, this is a problem and we are going to prioritise bringing solutions to this problem.’ There are very few companies that have executive leaders who have taken that stand to make sure they provide everyone the same level of learning to get to a certain level of understanding.
And a person has to choose to want to understand. If a person doesn't want to understand, you can't force a person to understand. Everybody is not going to agree or share the same level of passion, whether it's for better or for worse.
So, someone has to be okay with not being liked, essentially, because there’s people that are not going to like you for it. You have to get to a point where you're okay with not being liked for the sake of what's better for humanity.
We don’t need more leaders to be allies, we need more leaders to be accomplices. Because when you think about what an accomplice is, it’s somebody that is just as guilty as the person that's doing the frontline work.
We need allies and have allies, and allies are great, however, we need more accomplices. People who’ll say, ‘I don't care who doesn't like me, we're prioritising racial equity. We're going to do this. We're rearranging the budgets, and we're reprioritizing our funds and resources. We are going to make an intentional approach to focus on these specific subgroups. And yes, that means it is going to threaten white privilege and systems that support white privilege and I don't care we're going to do it anyway.’
Now that’s way beyond allyship. That’s choosing to be an accomplice. That's where sustainable work is going to come in.
What does the corporate landscape look like for BIPOC professionals? What are some markers of progress and where is change overdue?
Because of the heightened attention to DEI, the corporate landscape is in a unique position for BIPOC professionals where there are a lot of opportunities, but there are also a lot of tokenized roles.
Beyond tokenistic roles, there are some companies who are crawling before they can walk and walking before they run. The landscape for BIPOC professionals is prime if you are looking to move into a certain level of leadership. We're seeing an increase in visibility of BIPOC professionals in those frontline leadership roles. These are mainly director/ senior director level. We are however still seeing a significant gap at the VP/c-suite level. You're still seeing tokenism across the board if you see any type of visible diversity. It's just a very slow progression there.
But the key thing that is still the biggest challenge is while companies are trying to now be more intentional to bring in more BIPOC professionals into various roles outside of just frontline workers, they're still missing the mark on what do you do to retain the diverse talent.
Organisations haven't really cultivated an environment that will allow them to not only want to stay but that will equip them to be successful in their roles.
You can't bring someone into a director level role if they really don't have real decision making power, or they don't have resources afforded to them that other directors within the company may have, or they aren’t really in roles where they can be as influential as their privileged counterparts. That is the biggest problem I'm seeing.
What is your advice for organisations striving to bring about authentic and sustainable DEI shifts?
The first thing is to decide whether you are going to really prioritise equity. Equity is the root and the foundation of achieving DEIB - Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging. If you don't have equity, you aren’t including everyone, people won't feel like they belong and your visible diversity won't be disseminated across the organisation the way it should be in order to actually mirror DEIB. If there's no equity, there is no DEIB, period.
The second piece of advice would be for companies to allocate not only human capital, but financial capital for authentic and sustainable DEI. You really need to be proactive and intentional, instead of assigning it to one person in addition to the role that they were hired for - that's what a lot of companies are doing and that's not being authentic. If you are doing that, it means you view it as something extra that really doesn't need or require the same level of attention as every other business operation.
You have to allocate the human capital and the financial resources for authentic DEI.
My third piece of advice is to own what you don't know or what you don't have a high aptitude for, and ask for help. It is okay to ask for help if there's something that your organisation feels they don't know how to approach. DEI is an evolving learning journey and owning a misstep or reaching out for help when needed is what will make the work sustainable.
What are your top three DEI priorities for 2022?
My top priority is Racial Equity, because there's so much resistance to it, and I know where the resistance comes from. That is going to always be a priority until I see progress.
My second priority is educating the masses around what it really means to understand your value proposition. If you don't understand the impact that you're making at a company from a business operations or business scaling perspective, or who's directly and indirectly impacted by the work that you do, you will always be more susceptible to being stuck in a rut.
When professionals better understand their value proposition at work from a business lens, they equip themselves to be savvy careerists, take ownership of what their next step is going to look like and be successful in it.
I'm really trying to prioritise making this information more widely accessible to BIPOC professionals so that more know how to use that power. We have the power. We just don't know how to use the power oftentimes.
My third priority is getting with companies and building more robust and effective ERG programs. ERG programs are really evolving but companies are not really thinking through how that can help make a shift in a positive way or how it can shift the culture of the organisation when done right and start to really move the DEI efforts.