Hey everybody, welcome back to another episode of The Author Hour Podcast. As always, I’m your host, Gunnar Rogers. I am super excited to introduce you to today’s guest, Joann Wortham, author of the new book, EDI is the New Black: Lead the Market with Diverse Team. 

We have an incredible conversation about her work as an EDI consultant, the misconceptions that many people and many corporations have about what diversity and what inclusion, not only is, but can do when done right within their organization and for their organization and most importantly, for the people who work there. 

So, without further ado, without wasting any more time, here it is, my interview with author and just overall amazing person, Joann Wortham.

All right everybody. As stated in the intro, I am supper honored to be joined by Joann Wortham, author of the new book, EDI is the New Black: Lead the Market with Diverse Teams. Joann has accomplished a lot in her career as a consultant, as a professional in the healthcare space and has also somehow made time to get her duress doctorate and many other things and she has made time to come on The Author Hour Podcast today. Joann, thanks so much for joining.

Joann Wortham: Thanks so much for having me, Gunnar. I am so excited to be here with you today and just thank you very much for this opportunity to talk about this important topic. I’m super excited, thanks so much for having me.

Gunnar Rogers: Of course, and as you said — and I feel it as I read it — this is a really important topic because it’s clear not just within the book but really, if you just like pass the surface of a lot off EDI initiatives, it’s obvious that a lot of corporations still haven’t gotten it quite right and you do such a good job in your book making that clear but calling people to action and giving them a plan to get it right. So the first question I had to just kick things off is, why do you believe most corporate leaders can’t grasp that that diversity is more than hiring more minority groups?

Joann Wortham: Oh my gosh, just to start off — so this is perfect because a lot of times, I have to explain this when I’m consulting. They hire me to come in, usually because there has been a problem, either with branding or if they’ve had a problem with employee claim against them or what have you and they want to tell me all about their equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives. But what they really mean, Gunnar, is that they have a policy.

They have a policy about equity, diversity and inclusion and they have training about equity, diversity and inclusion but really looking at the full scope of what it is that they can do to actually make equity, diversity and inclusion a reality within a company, I really feel like they haven’t delved quite enough into the benefits. 

So I really feel as though, it really is more of a surface kind of addressing the issue and not to talk too much. I do want to say this one thing because, the release of the 2020 census, we see that there has been a huge increase in racial and ethnic composition, different compositions in our country, really our multiracial population has increased like 276%, right? So these are our customers, these are our workforce, right? 

So, if we don’t get a grip on actually bringing equity, diversity and inclusion into the workforce, we actually are going to be behind. We’re not going to lead the market, we’re definitely going to be behind.

Employees Are Not Reading Your Policies, They’re Reading You.

Gunnar Rogers: Of course, one, and I love what you do in the book because you make it so clear from the start. I mean, honestly, even on the subtitle, companies are also missing out on their best work and their best products. Like, they’re so focused on, “We’ve got to hit a quota” or “We’ve got to meet our new policy” and they miss the chance to actually get the most out of their teams, right?

Joann Wortham: Right. And so really, this is research based. You look at Deloitte, a very reputable company, and it shows that organizations with inclusive cultures are six times more innovative than agile, eight times is likely to achieve their better business results and twice as likely to meet or exceed their financial targets, than organizations that are less diverse. So diversity really means an increase in gains. 

I mean, it’s not really a problem to be solved. I really do think that a lot of times, we frame it on this regulatory or compliance stance and we miss the benefits.

Gunnar Rogers: That feels so true and is true. I’m curious, in your consulting work and just in those rooms where you’re speaking to executives and organizational leaders. How mind boggling is it to them when you bring out the facts and figures, when you move it past, “Well, it would be nice to be equitable and inclusive in our company” and move it into, “No, here’s the stats that support why it actually behoove you to be diverse and to be inclusive”? 

Joann Wortham: You know, a lot of times, again when I’m brought into the room, I’m brought into the room to talk about a problem. I’m brought into the room to talk about how are they going to fix this particular problem and when I start talking about, “This is an opportunity, this is not a problem. This is an opportunity” and I start really giving them the stats. 

I mean, you go look at Forbes, I think in 2020, I don’t know how many articles it was but one I looked at that particularly just hit me was diversity is confirmed to boost innovation and financial results and a lot of the stats, I’ll pull from that article and they want to know, “Where’d you get those starts from?” and I’m like, “Forbes,” right? 

It talks about how above average diversity within your company produces a greater proportion of revenue, that is innovation based, 45%. They accounted for 19% innovation related advantage for those companies who have a more diverse populace — and here’s the thing, they say that diverse teams actually will solve problems easier, quicker, with less resources.

So when they start hearing about that part of it — not that I’m not there to help them with their so-called problem or issue, which I do address but — what I’m always telling them is you’ve got to think past this moment. Past this moment, two thirds of human resources specialists report that like diversity training, doesn’t really have a positive effect alone by itself. 

You really have got to think past that and so one of the things that I’m always telling them is that the employees are not reading your policies, they’re reading you.

Gunnar Rogers: Say it one more time just for the people in the back.

Joann Wortham: Your employees are not reading your policies, they’re reading you. I’d like to expound on that for just a second because, and I talk about this, I hope you get a chance to see some of my EDI stories, my diary, but I talk about one of the instances. I’m in this really huge institution and when I came in, I was hired. 

I came in, I walked down the hall and Gunnar, all I saw in the hallway, apparently, they were very proud of it was white males framed. So as you walked down the hall, that’s all you saw, right? As you went up to the desk and, we had a mission statement, a vision statement, a policy on equity diversity and inclusion but I didn’t see it.

I didn’t see it in leadership, I didn’t see it in management and so I stayed as long as I could, right? I put in, I thought, a good effort, but I was always looking for something else because I just couldn’t see myself moving up there. I couldn’t see myself really becoming a part of the team.

Not because they didn’t have a good mission statement or a good vision or a good policy but because of me reading the room, the actual room. So, when we look at this whole thing about how our population is moving toward this multiracial, multicultural type of population, these are going to be your customers. 

This is going to be your workforce. I’m always trying to equip leadership to move forward as the population has moved forward. Remember Radio Shack, do you remember Radio Shack?

Gunnar Rogers: You know, I only remember it now because of their little moment on Twitter a few weeks ago when they were posting some pretty absurd stuff. Because of that, I do remember Radio Shack, yes. 

Joann Wortham: You do remember Radio Shack and so they initially had all the information about computer, handheld computers and all that type stuff but their leadership said that we’re going to stay where we are right now because we’re making money right now but you know this, Gunnar, the world moves. We don’t live in the now, like, this second that we’re in right now, this second moves to the next second.

You have to be agile you have to be able to move where your customer base is going and of course, where your workforce is going. So I’m always trying to push them forward to say, “Guys, it’s okay, we can start here but you’ve got to think about the future.” We’re not selling A-track tapes right now, okay? Nobody is buying DVDs, we’re live streaming and you even noticed this Gunnar, when COVID came, the folks who are already online, like the businesses that were already move forward in time, they just did better.

Gunnar Rogers: They were agile and they adapted.

Joann Wortham: Okay. So yeah, I mean, that’s the new black. The new black is thinking about equity and diversity and inclusion not as a problem that needs to be solved but as an opportunity to move your business forward and really lead the market.

Gunnar Rogers: Exactly, and you mentioned this in the book on that note that within the wrong direction that viewing EDI as a problem to be solved and sort of this quota to fill, it’s also started this sort of EDI quick fix issue within a lot of companies and I was curious coming into this conversation, what is a quick fix EDI practice that you’re really hoping goes away soon? I mean, I’m sure all of them but what is one in particular that you see often that you really hope, even this book is a catalyst of sort of, pushing out the door?

Joann Wortham: Right and so I’m so glad you said that and I hope, you know, and I know that leadership, leaders with really forward-thinking minds can understand this. I do wish that we would stop looking at training as the solution. Again, two-thirds of human resource specialists report that diversity training alone does not have positive effects.

Actually, when you look at the research, a lot of times diversity training, increases in EDI initiatives without actually making true change within your organization, really leads to a lot of deterrence and it leads to a lot of people getting angry or not participating or thinking that this is a minority problem and it’s not our problem, we don’t need to intervene.

I think this bubble, where EDI, where folks have EDI, again, as this problem and we can train it out of them, really is not the solution. The solution really is, looking at your practices on an everyday basis and actually allowing your employees to so to speak, read the room — this new room that you’ve created that is inclusive of everyone, right, and really looking toward sharing everything with everybody, so that you can kind of get all opinions.

That’s really where we’re headed. I do mention this in the book, I talk about redlining and others might know this term redlining, it really originated when red lines were drawn on the community maps for predominantly black neighborhoods and the government said that they were hazardous or not good for loans or what have you so, a lot of Black Americans and other Americans from minorities were denied lending and investment opportunities. 

But I talk about something called social redlining within the workplace culture and what that means, I tell leaders all the time, “Who is on the top in terms of positions?” It’s like, “Who are your executive leaders, let me see them, okay?” I want to see that. Are there women included? Are there younger people included? Because even from an age standpoint, we tend to see older white males, right?

So I want to see, are there younger people, are there women, are there minorities, they are bilingual speaking, transgender. I want to see what’s at the top of your organization, how it falls down into management because you could be socially redlining these positions and thinking that only men can do that. Only women can do that, right?

So when you do things like that, you lose opportunities. You lose opportunities because you’re not even looking at all of the populous that really could contribute to this job and actually assist you with moving your organization forward. You see right now, Gunnar, like in most Fortune 500 companies, you’ll see there are no black CEOs. There is, I think it’s like 0.27% women CEOs, 1% Asian CEOs.

We’re not really taking advantage of all of the innovation and the thought processes that could be brought into a company to move them forward. We’re just kind of looking at this little redline, like these are the only people who can do this. I think we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.

Gunnar Rogers: I’m wondering from your perspective, you know, you tell that story of walking down the hall and all you see is framed pictures of white men in leadership and it gives this image what you see is, “Well, those are who is chosen for leadership. That’s the person” and so, across the board, how many people today do you believe are having the same experience? 

They’ve done all they can to give the job they have currently but what they see in leadership is a pretty uniform version of a certain person. Therefore, they believe, they’ll never make it into that next position within that company. How many people do you believe are having the same experience you had?

Joann Wortham: Deloitte research, they were saying that over 68% of minority employees believe that they have no chance for opportunities of growth within. That’s too many people to think that, “I can’t have that top level position” but, we have a gap there. You know, in terms of a view as white employees do they think that everybody has the same opportunity in terms of getting to the top or have an executive positions. 

Then, 82% of them said yes, everybody has the same opportunity. So you can see how there’s a gap there with 68% and 80% and I’m often thinking about why is there a gap. Gunnar, I felt like it really goes back to my EDI diaries, where you can see that I’ve had different experiences. Like, I have experienced the workplace in a different way, as a woman and as a minority. 

I have experienced it differently and my friends — my white colleagues and they are my friends— have experienced it in a different way and I think one of the things that has really helped me and pushed me forward is to have those upstanders that are there who speak to their experience, they’re honest about it and speak to their experience. So I think, that would be the answer to the question is that we experience the work environment in a different way.

Having the Hard Conversations: Humble and Appreciative Inquiries

Gunnar Rogers: In your experience, how willing have your white colleagues — or in your consulting experience — how willing are people to accept that as the truth? As far as, you do have a genuinely different experience in the workplace because I feel like sometimes we lose the chance to have these fruitful and conducive conversations because people are afraid to just talk about this. 

So in your experience, how willing have other people been to hear that your experience is different, believe that that’s true? It is just simply and purely true. 

Joann Wortham: Well, I mean and I can really tell that my first meetings, you know when I have conversations from my consult that folks really just want me there to do I call window dressing and I will say this, I am perfectly willing to do that. Like if that’s where they are, if that’s where you are but I think one of the things that I do try to do in the book is to talk about those experiences that I have had and sometimes how. 

I mean, the book starts out with someone not believing me like, “You know, I know you think that this is what’s going on but it is not what’s going on” but calling attention to it, she watched. My friend watched and then at the end she says, “This is going on. You know, this is going on, can we still be friends?” and the answer to that is yes, absolutely. I’ll say this though Gunnar, it’s more for me to get the message out is that I am not mad about it. 

I am not mad, I just want to bring it to folk’s attention so that we can actually do something about it but a lot of times, yes, executives don’t believe and here’s the thing, I have learned from the many consultations that I’ve had is that data does a lot. So actually helping them to assess, let’s just assume you are doing everything right. So when I walk in there, I am saying they’re throwing me their policies, they are showing me all the initiatives they have. 

They’re telling me everything that they’re doing, okay, let’s see if it is working. I mean, let’s do an employee survey, right? Let’s do a culture survey, right? And an environment I call it survey and let us see what your employees’ think because it really doesn’t count per se the window dressing and they can be very pretty and windows need to be dressed. I’m not saying don’t have mission statements, vision statements and policies and posters. 

I am not saying that but you need to ask your employees, I mean, the folks who are the stewards of the process. You need to ask them what has been your experience. 

Gunnar Rogers: Then they need to listen, correct? 

Joann Wortham: You need to do active listening and I will say this, this is hard, Gunnar. These are hard conversations. I am not saying that this is going to be easy but what I’m saying is for those organizations and leaders who are willing to listen and what I call it is humble inquiry, just humbly in your mind just say, “You know what? I am going to go into this with what I call a beginner’s mind.” I am just going to pretend I don’t know anything about it. 

I don’t know anything about it and then I am just going to start from zero. Tell me what you believe and I’ll say this, a lot of times if we would just ask the employees, this sounds too simple but if we would just ask the employees, a lot of times they could just tell you like, “I would do this, this and this.” And for most of my consultations that have been the most successful, I would say it was for those leaders who were humble in their mind about what was going on. 

[They] did not assume that they knew everything and really listened intently to the employees. The other thing is appreciative inquiry. You know, a lot of times we’re doing some things right. Like there are some organizations that have these pockets where things are going really well and they don’t even know about the pockets but if you do the assessment, you see what I am saying? You figure out, “Wow, these people never leave.” 

“This is a very diverse team, look how many projects they’ve done. Look at what they have completed, we can duplicate this,” right? All over the organization. So I think I have warning to a lot of people who do not believe me but I have worked with a lot of leaders before and data does help. Also, I think the way that I kind of go at it, I am not mad and if you want me to dress the window, I’ll do that and then if you want to do something more progressive, I can help you with that. 

Gunnar Rogers: I love that when you say that, it gives me this phrase in my head of, if the windows look pretty people will come into the store but if the store sucks, people leave. So at that point – 

Joann Wortham: All the time. 

Gunnar Rogers: You might as well also fix the store, so I love that but a few things you said did bring to mind these two questions I had written down already. So I will just ask both of them, the first one; what was the hardest topic to cover as you wrote this book? 

Joann Wortham: I don’t want to cry, so I am just trying to think, “Okay, get yourself together”. So code switching. Gunnar, I do a lot of code switching, meaning I try to change myself so that I will be acceptable to whatever audience I am in and I have been doing this all my life. I talk about in the book about how I don’t bring my authentic self to work and I talk about rationales and reasons for why I don’t do that. 

The majority basically has painted the picture of what is professional and what is acceptable. So I don’t wear braids, I wear suit or I wear a skirt below my knees and pumps and I dress try to fit in, the way I dress and also the way I talk or the way I speak. So there’s a part that I talk about in the book where someone is actually complimenting me or talking with me about the way that I dress and the way that I speak. 

They tell me, “Oh, you’re so articulate” and I know, like I said in the book, I don’t think that she meant that as an insult, right? But my question would be to her would be, “If I was a white woman, would you have complimented me that way? Would you say you are so articulate?” right? I even mentioned that even in my family. I am African-American and my family for so long when I was growing up, I was shunned a bit because they were like, “Oh you talk like a white person.” What does that mean, Gunnar, you know? But that’s how I grew up with. 

Gunnar Rogers: Yeah, how do you respond to that. 

Joann Wortham: That’s how I grew up. So in my book, the code switching issue, I had to really delve within myself while I was writing it and I just kind of teared up because I thought, “Yes, I have become exactly what I’m expected to become” right? That was really the hardest part and I even say that I have problems with myself with doing that. 

Gunnar Rogers: I remember reading that part and I even teared up a little bit because I thought this is raw and this is vulnerable and this is something that you’re having to deal with every day — and I just want to say before people will read it, the book is out now, please go get a copy to read it yourself but — that is one of the moments in the book personally when as I was reading I thought, she is talking about something she’s dealing with every day. 

This is, it was hard to read not from a, “I don’t want to know this” but from a, “Man, how many people do I know that are also code switching and I don’t even realize it?” So, I do wanted to say thank you for including that as hard as it was. 

Joann Wortham: Yeah, absolutely and I went back and forth about whether I should say that or not but I just know — and it’s not just Black Americans. I didn’t know that Asian Americans were changing their names to give more English sounding names, so that they would be more accepted. I talk about that in the book, it is not just me. I mean, it’s transgender employees hiding that they’re going through the change. 

Then after they go through their transition, Gunnar, often times they quit their jobs and go to another job so that they can live as their true selves. So again, fill out like the new black. If you really want to leave a market being as inclusive as you possibly can, it’s really what’s going to make you the leader, it really is. 

Gunnar Rogers: Wow, I totally agree. I do want to know on the note of code switching and all and some of the issues we’ve discussed today, your book definitely being a catalyst that is moving us in the right direction; do you believe that we are beginning to head the right direction and we are coming to a day where people don’t have to code switch and where inclusivity and equity is truly reflected in the corporate world? 

Joann Wortham: Yes and I know some people, some listeners may say, “Yeah, sure” but I’m always looking at things from an appreciative inquiry standpoint that I have seen for myself with my own eyes changes that have been made within organizations. I have been there and I have seen those changes and I have seen the willingness of these leaders to make those changes and I just have to believe and I’m sorry, I’m just forever positive I think. 

I just have to believe that’s what’s going to catch on and I know from a moral standpoint, there are people out there going, “You shouldn’t have to tell people to be equitable or to be more inclusive” or what have you and I get that. It is a moral issue for some people, it’s a moral issue and it is rightly so, rightly so, but I do think putting a focus on also those companies who choose to lead with diverse teams and showing how they are outperforming other companies while also almost make it a mandate, right? 

In order to compete, you’ve got to be in the new black. If you are not, then you’re not even compet[ing]. You’re going to be another Radio Shack, you are going to be selling tapes. So I do think that there is hope for a better tomorrow not because I’m dreaming it necessarily but because Gunnar, I have seen it. I have seen it. 

Implementing The New Black

Gunnar Rogers: Oh, exactly. Well, that’s a great segue into what my other question was, was what companies and organizations are doing a good job of moving toward the new black and implementing the new black? Who is doing a good job of this that you’ve seen so far?

 Joann Wortham: Well, there are several but I think one company that I mentioned in the book is IBM and I talk about how they have all of these different companies kind of all over the world and not just them, I don’t want to say just the one company but companies that have kind of taken out these, you know how we used to think of a niche? Like we would say, “Well, I am going to put Joann because she’s African-American over the African-American accounts.” 

Now, you see companies not really doing that. It is more like they’ve infused it into their everyday and because they have infused it into their everyday. It’s in all of their processes, if I can say it like that. I think even Forbes also is moving forward but they’re all about research though and so they are looking at the numbers if you will. I would think companies like that, also I don’t want to leave out Microsoft too. 

So when it comes to you know, racial, gender diversity or what have you, Microsoft, one of the Fortune 500 companies, Microsoft has really been put at the top if you will and I don’t want to leave them out to say that they have higher more diverse teams, that they’re looking more toward diversity and what have you within their set. I think it was Adobe also I think, I don’t know what number they were on the list but they were there. 

TD Bank was there, Quicken Loans was there. I try to think of some more, Hartford Insurance was there. BlueCross BlueShield was there too, BlueCross BlueShield — and you would think this too because I have been in healthcare a long time, Gunnar — you would think we take care of people and so you would think we kind of would be at the top but the healthcare industry is way at the bottom. 

Well, we found out with COVID that there was like a huge health equity gap, right? Between minorities and majorities, so I was upset about that when Forbes first put out the list of companies because I kept thinking to myself, “Where is healthcare on the list?” BlueCross BlueShield I think was the only one that made it. Several banks also, I think it was TD Bank and Progressive – was it TD Bank? Yeah, TD Bank was one of the ones that was on the list. 

So if you look and I am going to say this, really savvy employees like the ones we want, real innovative smart people, they look all of this up. See, we don’t know this. 

Gunnar Rogers: Yeah. 

Joann Wortham: People don’t know this. You go to some websites and everybody on the website is Caucasian and men and then you are trying to hire this lady to be over whatever it is you’re trying to hire. I am just saying really savvy folks who have a lot to give to your company, they check you out. 

Gunnar Rogers: I love that end though because it’s so true. Anytime somebody is looking for a new job or look into a company, they are Googling you. They’re looking for certain information and they are going to find it. Well Joann, I don’t want to take too much of your time. The book is out now, so everybody listening, please, please, please make sure you go check out, EDI is the New Black: Lead the Market with Diverse Teams. 

There is the ton of valuable statistics, a ton of great calls to actions throughout the whole book. Joann, now that the book is out, I am curious, once people pick up a copy and read it, what are the best next steps that they can take? They read the book, they’ve read it, they know that they can implement these changes, what are the next steps that they should take? 

Joann Wortham: Well, for every leader that reads this book, this is your playbook. So if you go to chapter four, it really kind of gives you an outline of where to start and so after reading the book, the place to start is actually assessing where you are. If you don’t know where you are and what’s going on with your hiring practice, employment practice, your culture, what have you, you don’t basically have any data to really look at. 

You want to make sure everything that you do is measurable, so that you can show that there was a change. That’s important in business, so assessment is the place to start and again, if you look through the book, it really is a playbook. You really can look through it and figure out, “Okay, I am here.” Another reason why I wrote it the way I wrote it Gunnar, is that if you need to skip a few chapters and go straight to hiring or straight to retention, you know, you can go to those chapters individually but just in general, you read the book, first thing to do start assessing where you are. Yeah, absolutely. 

Gunnar Rogers: I love that. Also not just the steps but once people pick up the book and read it, how can they get engaged with you? Where can we find you? How can we engage with you? Just anything you need to plug in and want to plug, just how can we hire out your services, how can we all find you and communicate with you? 

Joann Wortham: Thank you so much for that. So Gunnar, I’m on LinkedIn, so you can actually go to my LinkedIn page and get in contact with me. I also have my own consulting business, it’s called Culture Steps, so www.culturesteps.com, you can send me a message there and I can get right back to you. 

Gunnar Rogers: Awesome. Well everybody, once again, EDI is the New Black: Lead the Market with Diverse Teams. The Kindle version is available for 99 cents for one week only, so make sure you go take advantage of that discount. Either way, pick up a copy, engage with Joann on LinkedIn. Joann, thank you so much not just for your time but for writing this book, giving us a path that we can follow to really make EDI the new black. Thank you so much. 

Joann Wortham: Thank you so much, Gunnar, and thank you everyone who’s listening. Thank you so much.