Serilda Summers-McGee is the Owner of Workplace Change, LLC, a company that exists to help organizations assess their workplace culture, creatively resolve identified workplace challenges, recruit under-represented executives and staff, and retain high quality employees in an inclusive, positive, and high functioning work environment.
She is also the author of the book Change the Workgame: Building and Sustaining a Diverse Workforce, which instructs readers on the best and worst practices of recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce through the use of case studies from Serilda’s consulting experiences.
Serilda will be leading the Value of a Diverse Workforce workshop at this year’s GoGreen Conference on April 4 and shared with us some of her takeaways.
GoGreen: The terms ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ have become quite cliche in today’s work environment. What does ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ mean to you?
Serilda: Diversity is about the “who”- who are you allowing to have access to your organization. Inclusion is the “how”- how are they treated once they get there.
The reason why it is cliche, and why we need to unpack it, is that organizations tend to tokenize the “who”, saying they need one or two of a particular group. They are focused on whatever group they feel the most guilty about- black people, Latino people, disabled people, etc.
They aren’t talking about changing a system, a system that lends itself to people not having access. They are talking about placing one or two people in their organization for aesthetic purposes. That is not the essence of diversity and inclusion, but instead dilutes the purpose and intentionality behind the terminology for why it was originally created. We need to have an environment where people from underrepresented backgrounds can actually thrive, be exactly who they are, and bring all that beauty to the table to create more beauty when aggregated with people from other walks of life.
GoGreen: Why should Diversity and Inclusion matter to businesses when hiring?
Serilda: There are a ton of studies, proposals, and presentations about how diversity and inclusion strengthen your bottom line. That’s a very capitalistic, self-centered, and selfish stance to have on why it is in the best interest of a leader to have an inclusive environment.
It’s true, their business will thrive. But it is also in their best interest because it is the right thing to do. Today in the Trump era, humanities is an after thought. But for me, I’m in this work because I see the way people are hurt in their workplace and they come home and they are not the best mother or partner they can be. Stress, anxiety, anger and resentment manifest themselves in very physical ways. So, business people should care because diversity and inclusion create a healthy environment for people to prosper.
Managers and leaders should care because it is human nature to take direction from the people in power. If the CEO doesn’t care, you won’t care, and it is a vicious cycle of hurting people. And by the way it also helps your bottom line. But if that’s all you care about you’ll never fix the challenges in the workplace.
People bring the best versions of themselves to the workplace when they are happy and if you don’t have a supportive work environment and you have an exclusive work environment, people who are not part of the majority will not be the best versions of themselves. And that can hurt productivity. But it is bigger than that.
GoGreen: Can you speak to the intersections of Diversity in the workplace and sustainability? How can diversity support your bottom line?
Serilda: I will always pivot away from the discussion of capitalization of underrepresented people. This is controversial, but I’ve been saying it and I’ll continue to say it: the commodification of underrepresented folks, predominately black and latino people, could be equated to slavery. It’s just like saying “how can slaves make your business more sustainable?” You aren’t talking about them as a person and creating an environment for them to thrive in. It is the same argument that was made for why slavery should have been sustained. It was all about business, profitability and capitalism.
The whole bottom line narrative is very loaded and very problematic. A lot of people are jumping on the diversity bandwagon and bringing on people of color and women but treating them like crap when they get there. We tell them that they are there to help them grow the business, but they don’t get a voice. The moment they actually have a voice and are articulating the challenges that exist is the moment they are kicked out. The white leadership get afraid because they moved into the diversity realm from a position that it is going to benefit the bottom line and not from a humanistic perspective. It is based entirely on self-interest and capitalistic in nature. And capitalism is about exploitation. But sure, diversity will sustain your business, but only if you treat people properly once they are there.
GoGreen: That is an interesting point, which brings up the question of how can we get business owners to care about diversifying their workforce not to benefit their bottom line, but because it is the right thing to do?
The right-thing-to-do argument will fall on deaf ears because business owners generally have bought into the American dream and capitalism. My objective is to enlighten and open people’s minds to what is going on inside their organizations. I want to go beyond the bottom line and talk about how people are treated once they are in the system. We need to stop treating people as a commodity.
People will do better if they knew better. Once people are aware, they have the choice of whether they want to extract and exploit, or include and invite and then capitalize on the beauty that they create.
GoGreen: Your workshop at GoGreen will be discussing how to change the status-quo. What are some challenges that you anticipate business leaders will face when Diversifying their workforce?
Serilda: There are two arguments for the challenges of diversifying the workplace: “I can’t keep them”, or “I can’t find them”. It is hard for me to believe that someone can create a business from concept to completion, but can’t find minorities for your workforce. I think that is hogwash – it just means you aren’t passionate about it. You need to go out there and do the work.
I will be making these points at the conference, but also I’ll be providing tools for your toolbelt on how to get you there, along with some inspiration. I know that people care, and I know we get there. If you are brilliant enough to start a business, you are brilliant enough to solve this problem. You can figure out how everyone can be treated with the same amount of respect and integrity that the predominate community gets treated.
To hear more from Serilda Summers-Mcgee, join us for The Value of a Diverse Workforce: Change and Activate Your Company Culture at the GoGreen Conference on April 4. Register here.
What does this woman have to offer regarding green and sustainability issue. Looks to me like she is marketing a book and trading off her position as city employee. I object to ypur organization using a city employee as speaker on a regular work day on city time. Why aren’t you disclosing that she is a city employee? I assume you agree it is inappropriate and hence are willing to hide her actual status as assistant HR Director at the city of Portland .
Thank you for your concern, however the GoGreen Conference is a sustainability conference for both public and private sector attendees. Many of our speakers and attendees represent local and city government entities. Our speakers are not allowed to use their role at our conference as a platform for business promotion. In addition, it is our firm belief that there is a very strong intersection between diversity and sustainability. Our mission is to empower attendees with the strategies, tools and connections to work across industry silos and foster peer-to-peer learning and collaborative solutions. We believe Serilda will provide excellent resources for our attendees to learn about diversification in the workplace; something we feel very strongly about.
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