How To Make Real Progress on DEI in Your Business Organization — Donald Thompson & Kurt Merriweather

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are hugely important topics of conversation in today’s workforce. On this edition of the Atlanta Small Business Show, we’re joined by the Co-founders of The Diversity Movement, Donald Thompson and Kurt Merriweather. They also serve as the CEO and Vice President of Products and Innovation, respectively. Today, Thompson and Merriweather discuss what all business owners need to know about incorporating DEI into their organizations.

Transcription:

Jim Fitzpatrick:
This is an important show folks, so take note, I should say take notes, but thank you both for joining us today.

Donald Thompson:
Glad to be here.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. Don, what is the Diversity Movement? What was the foundation of starting this company?

Donald Thompson:
So when we thought about The Diversity Movement, we saw a lot of folks in the space that were looking at training, coaching, and different things of that nature, what we saw as an opportunity for us as entrepreneurs and to provide value to the business community was linking diversity, equity, inclusion to creating better and measurable business outcomes, better retention, better employee engagement, better brand awareness, so that you could really drive growth in the business, and we felt that diversity is a way that people can do that and we thought we could help.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, for sure. So Don, how does The Diversity Movement work with organizations and companies to deliver meaningful outcomes?

Donald Thompson:
So one of the things that we do with organizations is certainly we work with the leadership to really understand the strategy and the business goals, but then we get practical and we work with the folks within the organization to really understand at a data driven level what’s working and what’s not working in the organization so that we can accurately predict how to help them be better, and that is through micro content that we develop, that is through analytics, that is through questionnaires, but most importantly, it’s through helping people be better one conversation at a time, because that’s really where we get crosswise with one another, if I say something that lands wrong to you, if you interpret something in a different way. So we teach people how to have better conversations in their daily work life.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, it seems as though this became a very hot topic after George Floyd passed away and all of a sudden every company took a look, put their own companies and themselves under a magnifying glass, said, “Whoa, where do we stand on this?” Have you found that to be the case of many companies for so long kind of had their head in the sand on this very issue, and maybe in some cases more that small to midsize company rather than maybe the big players out there, although they’re probably as guilty as some of the smaller companies, but is this an issue that really came to the forefront where people said, “Whoa, we got to do something here?”

Donald Thompson:
Kurt, I’ll let you take that one.

Kurt Merriweather:
We talked to lots of leaders and executives and there was an awakening around the time of George Floyd’s murder where people looked themselves in the mirror and said, “What can I do to make a difference?”, because they felt the outcry from the world, but often their employees asking them what they should be doing differently, and so what we’ve been helping executives and leaders think about is not only how to take advantage of that catalyst to make change, but to sustain that change over time, and so that’s one of the things that we put in place to help them do that through our tools and resources so that this isn’t just a one time thing, but it’s an ongoing journey for the organization to make progress as they’re trying to improve culture overall in that particular organization.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. And improving culture means people are going to stay with you longer in a business if they feel like they’re appreciated and they’re understood and they’re recognized for their achievements and their talents, and certainly this is something that we see today where people want to go to work for companies that get it. I mean, this isn’t just a box to check when you’re a company to say, “Yep, we’re covered on diversity and inclusion”, this is something that means money to the bottom line of a company, doesn’t it? Taking care of this and doing it right and getting it right.

Donald Thompson:
Yeah. One of the things, the metrics that I’ll use really quickly is, 70% of employees look at the DEI footprint of a company before they join, so if you’re thinking about the talent worth as an entrepreneur, you want the best talent to feel comfortable and motivated to be a part of your team, and so that’s where DEI creates better recruiting. When we look at the engagement of folks within your organization, mentorship, career mapping are critical to get people to stay with your company, it’s impossible to win in this new economy if you don’t have a people first environment.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Absolutely. No question about it. Kurt, The Diversity Movement has an extensive course catalog of courses and e-learning. How are these developed and created to ensure companies get the right training for DEI?

Kurt Merriweather:
Right. So we have about over a hundred customers, and one of the things that we do is we spend time, as we were talking about before, helping them on the journey, and we’re trying to create scale in the organization, so we don’t want to have a single workshop because we know people forget things after the workshop is over, so we’ve created courses, we have over 400 lessons in our digital learning, we have over 600 videos in our microvideos library, and so the goal is to meet people where they are, no matter what they know, we want to start where an organization is so we can help them make progress even if they only have two to three minutes in between meetings so that they’re constantly reinforcing the behavior change that they need in the organization, and so we’ve worked alongside organizations to customize that training with leadership team, with the DEI leaders and with managers so that we can make sure that they get the most out of the knowledge so that they can put that into practice right away.

Donald Thompson:
One of the things we found is that people aren’t going to ask emotive questions in public. If somebody doesn’t know the difference between black, person of color, African American, they’re not going to ask that in a town hall meeting, but they will look at a two to three minute video that helps them understand that perspective. If somebody doesn’t know what a microaggression is or what pronouns are and why they matter and they can do some homework on their own, then they’ll get more comfortable with all this new information and be more engaged in the conversations that are had in a more public forum.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, I can totally see that. So Kurt, how can I know I’m on the right track if I’m a company? Could you share what meaningful outcomes really look like?

Kurt Merriweather:
So one of the things is getting people to engage with the education itself. So how are people engaging with the content? So we have the ability to look at statistics. Our micro videos platform looks like Netflix for DEI, if you will, so that people have an easy to use engaging experience, and so once they engage with the content, then we’re starting to look at things that change in terms of sentiment. So our analytics tool will help organizations understand what’s changing in terms of how people think about DEI within the organization, whether that’s based on level, their perception of pay equity, their perception of the quality of the education that they’re getting, their perception of how their teams work together. Once we look at that data, we can see that data change year over year. So we have clients that are going back to say, “How can I fine tune my efforts based on what’s changing year over year?”
The other things that’ll start to do is, we’ll start to see shifts in hiring, so underrepresented groups may be hired more frequently, especially interns for example, where you can do something quickly. You could look at your supplier diversity programs to see how are your partnerships starting a shift in terms of who’s being included, and then ultimately, how are you changing your products and solutions? What are you able to bid on and if you’re happen to be bidding on a RFP, for example, if you’re a marketing agency? Strength of your ideas are going to change because of what you put in place, and so you can start to measure all those things together to see what the input’s going to be.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Not to mention the company that put the RFP out, they want to know what your company looks like and what you’re doing as a company in the area of diversity and inclusion.

Donald Thompson:
Absolutely. One thing I’ll say without name dropping at all, but we had a phone call from a marketing agency that lost a multimillion dollar RFP because they did not have a stated DEI strategy that they were going to bring to the solution.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
I can totally see that.

Donald Thompson:
It is now now becoming a business imperative that you not only can answer the DEI question on the RFP, but you have an authentic story that aligns with the values that you’re presenting and how you win and grow business.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. And as we all know, just like you would leave a restaurant and leave a review, now there’s review sites for companies in terms of employment and everybody’s got a cell phone, and sometimes you don’t know where the reviews are coming from, they might come from inside the company of current employees, they might come from employees that left the organization for whatever reason, they were asked to leave or they left on their own, but what do they do? They go right into these platforms and they say, “Hey, be aware others, this company’s not committed to diversity and inclusion and they have no program in place, they don’t believe in it”, and we’ve seen that among companies as well.
So this just to me seems like a no brainer, and I know it’s not a no-brainer for a lot of companies, but when you talk about setting up a company, certainly for the entrepreneurs out there that are listening to us, we talk to so many of you guys every day from our show, this now has to be one of those chairs at the table early on. This is, I’ve got an attorney and I’ve got an accountant and I’ve got a branding company and I have a marketing strategy and I have my money standing by, well, what are you doing in the area of diversity and inclusion for your company from day one? This isn’t something that you address when, “Oh, we’ll do that and we have a hundred employees”, you’re not going to have a hundred employees if you don’t address this, you may not even have business if you don’t address this.

Donald Thompson:
Listen, amen.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
And I know you’re going to agree with me on that. I don’t own any part of this company, but I will tell you what I do own is a few companies that I have made that mistake before and I’ve lost good people, and as a result, we did change our… Not change our ways, per se, but we made a commitment to this area, and I will tell you, it’s all the difference, and diversity inclusion is where it’s at right now, maybe even more important than having an account, the only time you need to count us when you make money, you’re not going to make money unless you address this issue, so the diversity. So let me ask you this, The Diversity Movement was one of the four startups selected by Atlanta’s Access Entrepreneurship program, why did you decide to join this year’s cohort?

Donald Thompson:
So one of the things that is phenomenal is, a phrase I’ll use is, “your network is your network”, and I happened to be in Atlanta on the advisory board for a company in Atlanta, and another member of that advisory board asked about my new company and recommended Ty in the ACCESS program.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, they’re awesome.

Donald Thompson:
And so by being present, by learning the community, and so we wanted to compete against some of the best startups in the region, and Atlanta is a market that we want to participate in, in a really authentic way, and so by being a part of the contest, we not only got second place, we not only won some funding, different things like that, but most important, we’ve met 25, 30 business leaders in Atlanta that we now can call as friends, and that’s something that’s super important to us as we go into the market, but we’re really thankful to the ACCESS Program.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
And I love that line, your network is your net worth and you are so right about that, and Ty does such an incredible job of doing just that, promoting entrepreneurs and working with them, and it’s all about networking, so I totally get that. So I’ll put this out to both of you, and I’ll start with you first, Don, mentoring is a big part of the program, what was that experience like for the company and why is it essential for growing companies like yours?

Donald Thompson:
One of the things that, and I’ll be brief and give Kurt space, you don’t know what your blind spots are, and having someone that can give you that perspective, the things that you can’t see, is invaluable, and if you’re humble enough to take advantage of those insights, you can get further faster.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right. I agree. Did you want to chime in there, Kurt?

Kurt Merriweather:
To add to that, we were at a critical point in thinking about our own business, and so we were able to get some counsel as we were beginning to formulate our next level strategy, if you will, for 2023 and beyond, and so having seasoned folks that could help us walk through and think through different ways that we could talk about what we’re doing, but also chart the path for the future was invaluable, because we don’t want to develop scar tissue if we don’t have to based on our own mistakes, we want to learn in advance of those things, and so working with the Ty team helped us to see those things and make sure that we don’t make the mistakes that we can avoid, so getting advice is really important there.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. This is one of those areas that, as I said, for small business owners and entrepreneurs, companies, large and small, many people that watch us are running companies with 200 employees or better in them, and this is one of those areas, a friend of mine, his company, they were sued by an employee for discrimination and what have you, and he went to his attorney and he said, “Hey, we got to defend this lawsuit”, and the attorney said to him, “Well, tell me about your plan and tell me about your program that you’ve got internally for this area for diversity and inclusion”, and he said, “I realized at that moment, oh oh, in trouble, because I had to tell my own attorney, I don’t have a plan specific to diversity and inclusion, I’ve have got African Americans on my staff and I’ve got some Hispanics and I have females and I have males and I have gays,” and he said, “But I don’t have a plan per se, RNI okay”
And the attorney said, “You’re in trouble”, the only question now is, how big will the settlement be? Okay. So for companies that are listening, this is a very important area, not just because you want to set up and fly right and do right by your shareholders, your stockholders, and your employees, because at the end of the day, this is the right thing to do, but it’s also another area that you’ve got to be protecting, it’s almost like cyber security, you don’t do anything in that area you’re in trouble, don’t do anything with the IRS, you’re in trouble, you don’t do anything now in the area of diversity and inclusion, you’re in trouble.
So please, like I said earlier, hope you’re taking notes on this. We’re going to put up the information on the screen so you can get ahold of this company, because if it were me starting a company today, this might be one of the first calls I make to say, “Hey guys, help me out in this area”, and I’m sure that they’d be more than willing to do that. So Donald Thompson, co-founder and CEO of Diversity Movement, and Kurt Merriweather, co-founder, VIP, Innovation, The Diversity Movement as well. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us on the show. This has been very informative and hopefully our listeners get a lot out of it.

Donald Thompson:
Thanks for having us. This has been great.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Great.

Kurt Merriweather:
Thank you so much.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
And congratulations.

Donald Thompson:
Thank you.


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