MELINDA: Welcome to Leading With Empathy & Allyship, where we have deep real conversations to build empathy for one another and to take action to be more inclusive and to lead the change in our workplaces and communities.
I’m Melinda Briana Epler, founder and CEO of Change Catalyst and author of How To Be An Ally. I’m a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion speaker, advocate, and advisor. You can learn more about my work and sign up to join us for a live recording at ally.cc.
All right, let’s dive in.
MELINDA: Hello, everyone. Welcome. We’re talking with Leila McKenzie-Delis, founder and CEO of DIAL, author, activist, and speaker, who’s also a founder of the McKenzie-Delis Foundation, and host of Diverse and Inclusive Leaders Podcast.
We’ll be discussing how she’s driving transformative change through research and how data can enrich our decision-making processes through diversity, equity, and inclusion.
So, Leila, how are you?
LEILA: I am so well. Thank you very much indeed, Melinda, for having me. I’m a huge fan of the work that you do and the TED Talks and such. It’s really just brilliant to be here today having a conversation around some of my favorite subjects – diversity, inclusion, belonging, equity, and also data. So, I’m definitely a self-confessed data geek.
MELINDA: Awesome. Awesome. So, will you tell us a bit about your story, who you are, where you grew up, and how you ended up doing what you do today?
LEILA: Thanks, Melinda. I guess, how did I come to be where I am today, is an interesting question because I think as long as I can remember, I’ve always been incredibly passionate about diversity and inclusion.
If I revisit earlier times in my life when I was growing up, I was actually born in Hong Kong, but I was adopted by White British parents back when Hong Kong was a British colony. And so, I have a northern accent or a British accent.
My brother and I, having been adopted at ten months, in my case, my brother’s case a couple of months old, we traveled over to the UK when I was six and my brother was four. I think it was really kind of then that we realized that we are slightly different and certainly physically looking different.
But as we have grown up in international schools with children of all different colors, different shapes, different sizes, and parents from different backgrounds in the expatriate community. And so, for us coming to the north of the UK in a very middle-class White British town was somewhat of a difference.
Back then, I remember feeling desperate, like I wanted to fit in with my childhood peers. I remember wanting to be White actually with blue eyes and blonde hair and wanting to fit in with the crowd.
Things from then, as the journey continued, really started to improve in some of the formative years because whilst I have many happy memories of childhood, I also remember in a quite profound way feeling rather different.
And certainly, when then going to university achieved a first-class honors business degree and thought, like other children I would be able to get a great opportunity with one of the corporate organizations. That wasn’t actually the case despite the degree.
I think when you’re young, you are slightly tough on yourself. You think, “Oh my goodness, I’m not good enough. I’d been afforded the opportunity of a wonderful family and a wonderful upbringing and to have the opportunity of an education.”
I expected I would go down that corporate route and instead found myself journey into the world of running my own businesses, working within talent and executive search, and over the years got pretty good at that and actually started to recruit for C-suite level individuals and really focus very much on talent, which led me to see both visible and invisible diversity and how they started to play out in that corporate environment.
And rather naively, I remember as fast as I go higher and higher up this corporate hierarchy, noticing that there were less and less individuals that looked or sounded anything like me. I barely ever came across anyone who would be like that. But I also noticed there was a significant lack of visible diversity.
And by that, I mean gender. I mean, race. I mean, our kind of our physical appearance in terms of the aging generation. I also noticed that there was not a lot of talk about spects like neurodiversity. I’m dyslexic, and proudly so. I see it as a bit of a superpower to this day because it allows that capability of thinking quite differently.
That set me really on this course of where I am now starting DIAL, realizing that with the network that I had and the richness of the people that I had met, and naturally were drawn towards those who had high emotional intelligence, who led with often empathy, and had something unique and slightly out of the box in some respects to say around that boardroom table, that I could utilize the network and latterly the platform in which I created within the exact search to actually spearheaded a new organization which was DIAL, and more recently, the foundation.
DIAL, which stands for Diverse Inclusive Aspirational Leaders, focuses on all different aspects of diversity because diversity means so many different things to different people. Listening to your TED talks, Melinda, there are so many different pieces of uniqueness in there. Yet, from the naked eye, we are both female diversity leaders.
Actually, there are so many more things below the surface that make us who we are. And so, what we do at DIAL is really look at intersectionality. We look at what we call holistic diversity. We look at how we can utilize our fabulous network of DIAL insiders, as we call them, which is the number of large corporate organizations and their leaders to really catapult and expedite greater learning across many different regions, in essence.
You and I are both female leaders passionate about many different aspects of diversity, yet actually, we come from such different backgrounds with different life experiences. And hence would bring many different aspects of diversity and therefore learning and innovation to the virtual boardroom table as it were.
And so, ensuring that we don’t see everyone with the same lens is critical, in particular, because the diversity journey is one which is evolutionary. What our children, our future generations of leaders may view diversity as I’m sure will be very different to what we see it, today.
There will be diversities within diversities within diversities. It is like culture. It is living. It is breathing. It’s sleeping. It’s not something that we will ever get to the point of saying, “Hey, tada! We have fixed it!” because it’s a journey.
MELINDA: So, the McKenzie-Delis Review is the first of its kind where you are really looking holistically at how employers are addressing and prioritizing diversity, equity, inclusion efforts across ten different facets of workplace diversity and inclusion. Speaking of, can you talk a little bit about those ten facets and what you’re looking at?
LEILA: Absolutely. I mean, the ten facets are everything from ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, mental health, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, disability, and neurodiversity because disability can be both physical and invisible, religion, and then parenthood and caring responsibilities.
In my brief introduction, I’ve mentioned a number of those being a female millennial leader who is Chinese by origin but sadly does not speak any Chinese. Actually, my husband, who is American Greek from Idaho, he lived in China for over ten years and so speaks fluent Mandarin. We often joke and say we’re culturally confused, the pair of us.
Actually, it shows there are presumptions we may make on what diversity means actually scratch below the surface. And there are many, many different things there. You mentioned the importance, perhaps of these 10, and also the importance of intersectionality. Each of those facets represents populations, but also populations and groups of individuals that are in certain minorities and in some senses can also face discrimination and barriers in their lives.
And so, when it comes to eliminating some of those barriers, it’s important that we look at where we sit on all of these different areas, how they would impact opportunity, and ultimately, then allow us to level that playing field because it’s very much about looking at equity, even more so than equality.
We’d love to work and live in an equal world. But ultimately, we know that this is not an equal world, but we still must remain glass half full, as they say. It’s simply understanding where individuals sit so that we can all strive to reach those senior lofty heights if we so choose to be that.
MELINDA: Awesome. Awesome. And so, the McKenzie-Delis Review. You started this last year, right, and really looking at the UK. Now, you are kind of expanding to the US, is that correct?
LEILA: Yeah. You’re absolutely spot on, Melinda. Absolutely spot on. We piloted the review in the UK last year, and we looked at 79 organizations who took part. We looked at these ten facets, and we partnered with a number of what we would call singular facet experts.
For example, on the LGBTQ+ facet, we would partner with Stonewall, a well-known LGBTQ+ rights organization. On age, we partnered with the Centre for Ageing Better. On gender, we partnered with the Hampton-Alexander Review, and the 30% Club, and so on and so forth; as we made our way throughout those ten facets.
We pull together a number of questions. We cross-check those with one another because you find, interestingly, that diversity and inclusion experts in certain fields may, to an extent, challenge others and that challenge is positive.
Stonewall is an example on the LGBTQ+ side, saying, “Hang on a minute.” At Hampton-Alexander or whomever other facet research partners that would be saying we need to include XYZ in terms of pronouns, in terms of not having a box that would say other, as an example. So, all those kinds of things, we checked them. We looked basically at CEO minus two.
MELINDA: Can you talk about what that means? What is CEO minus two?
LEILA: We did the research on Chief Executive minus two, which ultimately means the CEO and the two layers of direct line reports underneath the CEO. The reason why we looked at that piece of data is because when you look at a lot of the studies done around diversity and inclusion metrics, they often will take either a large subset of all of the data, or they’ll look at specifics.
What we’ve found, as we’ve been discussing thus far, is the higher up you go in the corporate hierarchy, the lower and the lower the aspects of all of those different diverse segments or DIAL facets as we call them would be. And so, we thought it would be really important to look at comparing apples and apples and pears and pears in essence. So, we’re looking at the same subset of data.
In addition, we also noticed that when you look at board members who often may sit across countless boards, you get slightly skewed figures. The executive roles underneath the CEO would, namely, be full-time, what are called executive positions. And so, that is the area that we wanted to look at because it would allow us then to look at succession planning, it would allow us to look at role modeling, real modeling, and ultimately how we then send the lift back down as it were.
Because whilst I do believe diversity and inclusion objectives can be very successful from grassroots up, and that is important at every single layer. We know that diversity initiatives are expedited much faster and more efficiently if they do start at the top and there is full buy-in across the C-suite.
MELINDA: And so, what impact do you intend to make with a benchmark like this? Why is this so important to you and to the industry in general?
LEILA: It’s a great question. I wish I could give a whole podcast around the answers to this because you could tell how enthusiastic I am about it. Basically, we learned through looking at all those aspects of diversity.
Number one, diversity means many different things. It means different things to different people. Everyone has their part to play, whether it be in allyship, whether it be through representing a number of those areas.
Now, certain areas of diversity do receive a great deal of attention from corporations, whilst others far less. The report indicates that often D&I goals are not necessarily backed up by actions. Yet, at the same time, they need to be given reasonable amounts of recommendations and kind of positive aspiration.
I come from a place when it comes to diversity and inclusion that it’s very much about the carrot as opposed to the stick. Most people know exactly why diversity is necessary and is also the right thing to do from a human level. But actually, there’s so many other reasons and rationales behind that from not only profitability perspective but also from ensuring that we don’t just take this scattergun approach or feel, yes, we’re doing lots to either knee jerk reaction because something’s happened in the press or world movements have happened. But actually, we ensure that we give attention to all of the different aspects.
We’ve seen that some companies might take a slightly scattergun approach to D&I, give careful attention to certain aspects, be it gender, be it other aspects, whilst others aren’t necessarily brought to the forefront. We found that there were a lot of good willing wants around strategy, such as like nine in 10 participating organizations in our 79 of last year, have a clear strategy on leadership team diversity mentioning gender. But when you look below the surface, just half of those specify gender diversity leadership succession planning.
And so, the willingness is there. Again, nine in 10 organizations have a process to ensure employees with disabilities’ long-term conditions have the adjustments they require at work, yet senior leaders at more than four in 10 organizations that’s under 50 percent don’t currently ensure disability inclusion as factored into business strategy.
And so, the pattern in some of those instances continues. The great thing about the benchmark piece is actually it becomes more and more powerful the more it is done and the more it is iterated every single year. But also, it keeps that momentum on. There’d be no good as doing a diversity-studied benchmarking piece multiple years ago because things then have moved on. There needs to be a checkpoint.
And so, we’re doing this review on an annual basis to make sure we keep the momentum on, that we’re learning, we’re sharing from one another. And we are also able to, one, get under the surface with clear, actionable goals and initiatives. But also, we can look at where we’re going to focus our energy.
If I’m Organization X, let’s say, and we’re doing great in terms of gender diversity, the next natural step might be to move on to something else. We can’t presume that we’re doing great on diversity as a whole because gender only might be at the forefront.
Actually, there are so many different other aspects to that. And so, making sure we know where we are placing and pushing and pivoting our energy is critical for us ultimately to succeed longer term.
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. Can you get a little more specific about some of the questions an organization might expect on a survey? What are some of those questions look like?
LEILA: It’s a great question. Interestingly, we are launching this year in the states to your earlier point. We had to look at pivoting a number of those questions because the American market and terminology and language is rather different.
I’ll give an example here for an acronym, BAME. I must say it sounds like a sexually transmitted disease or something like that—BAME. I’m BAME. Black people would be BAME. Indian, Asian people, would be BAME. Yet also we are so very different from different backgrounds. For those wondering what BAME means, it means Black, Asian Minority Ethnic individuals. That’s just one example.
MELINDA: It’s similar to saying here, people of color, or even potentially BIPOC, but it’s not quite there. Yeah.
LEILA: Absolutely. Interestingly, you mentioned POC. We often see POC over in the space. It’s not so relevant, not such used terminology in the UK. Whilst in the first year of the review, in the UK, we did reference terminology BAME. We also said that whilst we are using this terminology, number one, we spelled it out because there is importance on all.
By simplifying, you kind of almost diminish the richness of each of those very, very different backgrounds and cultures. But also, it does take time for language to start to evolve. If you look at LGBT, it becomes LGBTQ+, then LGBTQ+IA in the same very much in an evolutionary way for the other facets of diversity.
But once your initial question around the questions that we asked, they’re actually relatively simple. I’m giving a broad brush here, but a lot of the questions would be asking around leadership team strategy. Do we have a policy or a process in place? We’re not asking that in a critical way. The question is, do we have a strategy in place?
Often, we have found, I must be careful not to generalize here, often we found that there is a strategy in place. But actually, when it comes to looking at the physical adjustments around those, it is not marrying up with the verbal want to actually include this within strategies. It’s actually not dropping down.
So, a number around how there could be self-identification in particular when it comes to LGBTQ+ and sexuality. And then, others would be around what processes/procedures we would have in place.
Some also are around reporting lines, again, because we’re talking about one of my favorite subjects, differences between cultures. We’re looking this year at UKVUS, which is exciting. You often see the terminology chief diversity officer in the States reporting lines after a no entity HR role. Sometimes into CEOs, which is fascinating.
You look at the UK. I can count the number of named chief diversity officers on the one hand. They often have a title that would be ahead of sometimes the director of would not always fit into that CEO minus two. So, it interacts with that facet.
MELINDA: Yeah, what I have found is that it’s a little bit earlier. Diversity, equity, and inclusion—these conversations have not been around as long. I think if you look back a few years ago here in the US, it was the same. So, I think that could be part of the issue there that is just a little bit earlier in the conversation and in the work. Yeah.
LEILA: Absolutely. You hit the nail on the head. It’s still not fully formed, I would say standard, in a vertical role. I always get so excited when I see new chief diversity officers being appointed. I always look at, “Oh, what’s the reporting line? What is the remit?”
Obviously, you and I are perhaps a little bias because we’re so passionate about diversity and inclusion, but that role itself as the chief diversity officer is really one of the most complex within the organization because it has to influence every single area, Chief Diversity Officers are focusing on supply chain diversity.
MELINDA: Yeah, exactly, which is a really good argument for that role reporting directly to the CEO or the COO, and being a part of the core leadership team because of that, just in the same way that finance reaches so many different aspects of the organization or strategy, right. Yeah, absolutely. So, what are some of the key findings from your first year in the UK that you could share?
LEILA: Of course. And one thing I will note here is you can download the report completely free, the McKenzie-Delis Review annual review, which has been supported by Verizon, Walgreens Boots Alliance this year, as well as KPMG, and many, many others.
It’s available completely free to download. So, all of the research is free. We don’t believe in charging for that. Obviously, support is great wherever it is available, but we make that free to download. You can download that free, and we’ll be doing it again every single year from now.
MELINDA: We’ll put a link on our website and also on YouTube and on our podcast channels as well so you can access that directly.
LEILA: Thank you so much, Melinda. I’m super excited to be more involved with you and the great work that you’re doing around D&I. But to answer your question around some of the findings, here’s a couple actually. Nine in ten organizations recognize the benefits of an intergenerational workforce. And again, we know the millennials now are becoming the largest part of the workforce, yet only 7% offer training and development programs specifically for older workers or differently aged workers.
So again, you can see there the recognition is there. Yet, the intent, whilst still over 50%, which is great, in terms of the older workforce on that side, is brilliant, but it doesn’t marry up with the recognition of the benefits. And again, six in 10 have a member of the leadership team acting as an executive sponsor warm all senior champion for an LGBTQ+ employee network, but just under four, which is a lot lower, that’s nearly half, under 50%. So, under four in ten gather and monitor data on the sexual orientation of their leadership team, and less than one of 10 use LGBTQ+ based on competency requirements in senior leadership recruitment.
Those are just a couple to share with you. In fact, I’ll share one more because this is around disability, but nine in 10 have a process to ensure employees with disabilities and long-term conditions have the adjustments they require at work, yet senior leaders more than four in 10 organizations don’t have disability inclusion factored into the business strategy.
Again, you can see there is a slight disparity there in a number of areas. This is recognized. We’re seeing this is recognized now. We’re just not necessarily seeing that some of these actions are following through.
For anyone who’s listening who’s thinking, what is an executive sponsor, we find with lots of organizations now they have what is called employee resource groups or, in some instances, business resource groups, which is my preferred name for these groups because I think this didn’t know that we’re looking at these groups as a real resource to the business and ultimately strategic results to the business.
You look at Walgreens Boots Alliance. They’ve named all of their resource groups business resource groups. I think the message that sends in terms of language is actually really powerful. What it’s saying is, these groups are not just a nice to have. These groups are unnecessary, and they’re something that is really truly beneficial to our business.
MELINDA: Interesting. Yeah. I would say there are arguments to be employee resource groups as well, right? Because you also want it to be a resource for employees and not just as an organization within the company that is there for business goals, right? It’s there also for employee goals.
So, I think that it’s an important balance there to where employee resource groups or business resource groups need to be seen both as a business imperative and also as an employee imperative where everyone is allowed to thrive and really be able to use those groups for their own sense of belonging. Right? Yeah.
And so, you were going to say, I think, in terms of executive sponsors, that the executive sponsors of these business resource groups is key. Yeah.
LEILA: Absolutely. That is essentially, an executive, usually from the layer that we mentioned, CEO minus two, or those on the executive leadership team would be lending their power, sometimes their budget and their resource to each of these networks, because these networks can be made up of anyone within the organization that would either (A) identity as one of those diverse characteristics or (B), could be someone that really wants to learn more.
One of the common misconceptions around employee resource groups is that they must be made up of individuals that would be within that specific area of diversity (i.e., there’s a number of Asian resource groups or East Asian resource groups that I’ve started to see). Well, I mean, they were very important in particular around the time, which we’ve seen a lot of late around Asian hate. But they are not specifically just for those of an East Asian background.
Number one, there are many, many people that would fall within that. And number two, there are so many that can lend themselves as allies to those groups to really help raise them up and even just want to learn more about those groups and the culture and some of the learnings because we are all on a lifelong journey.
I certainly don’t know myself at every single aspect of diversity, or how could I possibly know someone’s lived experience from a different part of the world? I couldn’t. I could join an employee resource group if I was within a corporation to learn more about those individuals, try and look through their lens, understand what they’ve been through, and seek to educate and support them.
MELINDA: Awesome. So, where can people learn more about you and your work? And where can companies sign up for this?
LEILA: Thanks, Melinda. We’ve launched our McKenzie-Delis Foundation website. That’s www. McKenzieDelisFoundation.com. You can also visit us at DIALGlobal.org and connect with me on LinkedIn.
I know that you’re super kindly going to put some notes in the show notes and such so people can reach out and vice versa. You’ve done some fabulous work. I think it’s so important that we raise each other up, I should say, as leaders and share voices and great work that has been done.
I can’t wait to have you come onto the Diverse & Inclusive Leaders Podcast show and have you in the hot seat and tell us all about the great work that you do and the book that you’ve written as well, which is super.
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you so much, Leila, for all the work you’re doing to kind of push companies forward and drive change. Agreed—let’s lift each other up. Absolutely.
So, for those of you listening and watching, my question to you following this as one of the things that I really heard from the research is that disconnection between priority and what you prioritize and what companies prioritize, and then execution and strategy.
And so, my question to you all is, what are you saying as a priority, but not yet working deeply on strategy and execution and how will you take action to change that. So, thank you again, Leila.
LEILA: Perfectly summarized, Melinda. Perfectly summarized. And you’re absolutely right, what gets measured gets done, but also, we must remember the story behind this and that there are hearts and minds as well as data and metrics. But Melinda, thank you. It’s been an absolute joy. You’re such an expert in what you do. I’m so grateful to be here. I can’t wait to speak with you again very soon.
MELINDA: Awesome. Awesome. And if you’re looking for more ways that data can help drive change in your organization, also check out Episode 20, where we talked with Danny Allen about using data to drive change internally.
In fact, you could take some of the learnings from the research of McKenzie-Delis review. You can take your work from the McKenzie-Delis Review, and then you can drop it into a data dashboard that Danny Allen talks about.
I highly encourage you to take a look at that because that is then taking the next step of driving change in your organization.
All right, y’all. Thank you for listening.
LEILA: Thanks so much, Melinda.
MELINDA: To learn more about this episode’s topic, visit ally.cc
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