In August, we spoke with ClearCompany’s VP of People, Angie Wideman-Powell, and Learning Manager, Isabel Swartz, about the organization’s decision to work with a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant. Wideman-Powell and Swartz talked about how it became apparent that outside perspectives, especially those that were underrepresented, were essential if we genuinely wanted to make diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging a core value. They discussed ClearCompany’s process of choosing a consulting firm and the importance of making a long-term commitment to DEI.
We ultimately chose to work with consulting firm Change Cadet, founded and led by Dr. Akilah Cadet. Over the past several months, Change Cadet has conducted training, coaching, and workshops for employees and leadership at ClearCompany. Dr. Cadet was also a keynote speaker at Talent Success Conference 2021, where she discussed being an accomplice in the workplace and embracing being uncomfortable as you learn.
We checked in with Swartz and Wideman-Powell to talk about the work ClearCompany has been doing and the progress they’ve seen so far in our journey toward becoming a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization.@ClearCompany is on a continuous journey to being a #diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace. Read more about their #DEI journey in 2021:
Measurable and Immeasurable Change
ClearCompany tracked changes in the racial and ethnic makeup of our workforce and conducted an inclusion index survey that asked employees how included they feel at work. The survey also asked respondents to indicate their self-described identities. Tracking this data showed some positive indicators of ClearCompany’s progress.
Angie Wideman-Powell: As far as measurable changes go, our overall racial and ethnic diversity has increased by 12% since August 2020 and by 6% this calendar year to date. Our inclusion index survey included 11 DEI-related questions, and we saw positive answers to those questions increase by 10 percent. It’ll be interesting to conduct this survey again in a year and have a benchmark to hold it against because this is the first time we’ve done that survey by identity.
In addition to these measurable changes in employees’ speech and behaviors, since we began working with Change Cadet, employees at all levels have attended coaching sessions and workshops with Dr. Cadet and her team. Both Wideman-Powell and Swartz said that they’d noticed small shifts in language that they believed were a direct result of DEI coaching.
AWP: I’ve been in meetings where I’ve noticed colleagues correct themselves if they used a common phrase that doesn’t reflect our commitment to DEI. Seeing employees consciously think about what they’re saying and correcting their language — it’s little things like that that will start to shift the culture overall.
It's hard to pinpoint just one thing, but I think there have been a lot of other little changes, like communicating respect around people's boundaries on working hours and setting that expectation with new hires, as well. We encourage people to fill out their Slack profiles with their pronouns, time zones, name pronunciation, and other information. Those little things add up and create an environment where people feel respected, included, and safe to be themselves.
Isabel Swartz: I agree; you can see shifts in language choice. All of us have ingrained habits and unconscious biases that have been a part of the culture we’ve grown up in, which for me and for many of us, is a white-dominant culture. You can actually see those assumptions, biases, and behaviors are shifting at ClearCompany. Those little outward signs are the results of months and months of active change and active thought and active effort.
Another thing I’ve observed is that people who are not on the DEI task force are more comfortable sharing educational DEI resources in our Slack channels. There are a few people at our company who have always done that. But now, people who aren’t part of the DEI task force, or executive leadership who have been receiving DEI coaching, are exhibiting some of these changes. I think that’s really, really positive. This work takes a long time, but it’s really cool to see changes like that as quickly as we have.
I also think this work aligns very well with our core company values, and not only with our diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging values. Constantly shifting perspectives, seeking to improve, and intellectual flexibility are some of the core behaviors of entrepreneurship, which as far as I’m concerned is one of our primary values. I started at the company almost seven years ago, and that’s something that has really been hammered home in every one of the departments and in what we do as a business. I think this work fits really well into that. You can’t innovate and adapt without having some sort of flexibility of mind and a lot of this work lends itself to that. So our DEI work is an improvement upon — and dovetails well into — a culture that I think already existed.
Constantly shifting perspectives, seeking to improve, and intellectual flexibility are some of the core behaviors of entrepreneurship, which as far as I’m concerned is one of our primary values. - Isabel Swartz, ClearCompany Learning Manager
Workshops That Work with Change Cadet
Since we began working with Change Cadet, ClearCompany management teams have received coaching and every employee has been to at least one workshop. These virtual workshops feature breakout sessions and opportunities for employees to learn more about each other.In 2021, @ClearCompany worked with a #DEI consultant to gain valuable perspective and insight as they strive to be a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace. Learn more about their journey:
IS: Our executive team has been working with Dr. Cadet and her team of consultants for executive coaching.
I think the coaching sessions have really contributed to the changes in behavior that we've observed. In addition to that, the folks who lead our task force pillars have also been going through coaching. A lot of that has been focused on our DEI roadmap: what we're doing and what we want to do. One of the really helpful things about those sessions is asking advice, like, “Is this an appropriate way to approach this?” Or, “Should we focus on this or that?” given the resources that we have.
The other ways we’ve been working with Change Cadet are the training and coaching sessions for individual contributors. We just held one about dismantling white-dominant culture that was for people managers and people leaders. All of those are aligned toward the same goals, but they have slightly different objectives, and all of them have been quite useful.
AWP: Working with Change Cadet has helped us take a look at policies, and even just some actions taken in the day-to-day, and think, how does this impact someone whose demographics differ from mine? For example, we created our parental leave policy to be inclusive to birthing and non-birthing parents, and we're re-visiting the policy and assessing, is there any potential bias (positive or negative) toward any gender or the way in which a person becomes a parent (i.e. birthing, adoption, surrogacy, etc.)?
Working with Change Cadet has helped us take a look at policies…and think, how does this impact someone whose demographics differ from mine?
- Angie Wideman-Powell, ClearCompany VP of People
What ClearCompany Leaders Are Learning
We asked Swartz and Wideman-Powell to talk about some of the things they have learned as a result of our efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion. Wideman-Powell discussed how certain actions that may seem inclusive, such as allowing employees to take the day off or refrain from meetings during difficult times, might make them feel singled out. Swartz shared how Dr. Cadet’s workshops helped her realize how some of her own behavior perpetuated the status quo.
AWP: One thing for me that was really educational was to be aware that we don’t create a circumstance — like allowing time off after stressful current events — that may make people think, “Yes, I have this opportunity to take this day off or turn off my camera. But if I use it, then will others’ perception of me change?”
In those cases, I learned it’s better to make an all-or-nothing decision.
IS: Yeah, you don’t want to put someone in that position — you don’t want to “other” them.
Swartz addressed how valuable she found the breakout sessions, where a small group of employees discussed a conversation prompt from Dr. Cadet.
IS: One of the great things about those coaching sessions is the breakout rooms where topics are discussed privately amongst a group of people that you don't necessarily talk to regularly. You get to know people that you work with very profoundly and very fast. That’s whether you're in the leadership session and you're talking about ways in which you've seen white dominant culture exhibited at ClearCompany or in other places, or you're talking about your own identity.
The first session we did as a whole company was focused quite a bit on personal identity and learning how people identify themselves. Not only is it a privilege to get to know your colleagues that way, but I think it is profoundly empathy-generating, and I found that to be very valuable. In checks that I've had with other people at the company, they've found that really valuable too.
You're given a common language, and then you get to discuss it. You learn so much about the people you work with, and it generates a lot of respect. When we talk about DEI work, that empathy and respect are fundamental to all of it. One of the quickest and best ways to create empathy and respect is to go real deep, real fast on the important topics.
Challenges to Creating Change
While Swartz and Wideman-Powell are both optimistic about ClearCompany’s efforts and progress so far, the journey to becoming a better workplace for all isn’t easy. We asked both leaders to talk about challenges they’ve encountered as our DEI journey continues.
AWP: Since we’re fully remote, so many people haven’t met each other. I think that's probably one of the biggest challenges to get over with this current work structure — how do we get people to see each other as humans? And it's hard, because we're all in a rush, we're all trying to do 800 different things, and people are tired of Zoom happy hours. So how do you create those real connections?
IS: Yeah, it's a profoundly emotionally challenging time for everyone. It's a hard time to be empathetic. And you're physically distanced. And you've never gotten to meet these people. If there's anything that has made me grateful to work for this company in the past year, it’s that despite the challenging circumstances, we've put forth this effort collectively.
I think one of the challenges we've encountered in the process is that a lot of the work is private. You get to see the small behavioral changes which are the tip of the iceberg. If the tip of the iceberg is all you ever see, though, you don't have evidence of the amount of work that got put in.
If you don't take a step back and see even those small changes over a period of time, it can be very easy to criticize the pace of the journey — especially in times of frustration and when you're feeling emotionally distant. So another challenge I've seen is that people expect this work to be fast and that we will completely change the company overnight. One of the first things that Gitanjali Morris, one of our consultants, actually told us was that what we want to do is going to take years.
The work is hard. If you truly want to change something, you have to give it the time and space to change — and to change in the right way. I don't blame anyone for being frustrated with the pace, and I also understand why the work takes time now.
If you truly want to change something, you have to give it the time and space to change — and to change in the right way. - Isabel Swartz
AWP: We're definitely seeing some changes and some shifts in behaviors and company culture, and new hires coming in are sensing it and saying that. And I think that tells me we've made more progress than I might think.
We also made the 2021 Great Places to Work® List! That, combined with our own internal surveys, combined with an increase in our Glassdoor scores — those things tell me that the culture is shifting. I witness it on a day-to-day basis, but those things are the benchmarks that tell me, outside of the makeup of our workforce and other metrics, that things are shifting.
2021 Great Place to Work® Certification™
As Wideman-Powell said, ClearCompany was named a 2021 Great Place to Work®, with 87% of our employees in agreement. ClearCompany employees see the company as being fair and welcoming:
- 96% agree that employees are treated fairly regardless of their gender or sexual orientation
- 95% agree that new employees are made to feel welcome
- 94% agree that ClearCompany employees care about each other
- 93% agree that ClearCompany leaders promote inclusive behavior, avoid discrimination, and are committed to ensuring fair appeals
- 87% of employees feel engaged
Our improved results indicate we’re heading in the right direction with our DEI efforts. But no matter how positive these results become, we’ve made an ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion at ClearCompany. That means continuing educational workshops and coaching sessions, reviewing our policies for inclusivity, and creating connections with our colleagues.
We’ve compiled some DEI resources for more information on making a commitment to DEI at your organization — check them out here. Then, take a look at a few more helpful resources below.
Kojo Institute: Equitable Vocabulary - 5 Phrases To Replace
CNN: International Pronouns Day: A guide to personal pronouns
The Genderbread Person | A free online resource for understanding gender identity, gender expression, and anatomical sex.