Closing the DEI Gap: a Q&A with Candace Washington of Pivotal Impact (Part I)
In recognition of Black History Month last month and Women’s History Month this month, and of the reminders they bring about the work we all can do to make sure that our spaces are inclusive, 3Points’ Katie O’Shea spoke with Candace Washington, the founder and CEO of Pivotal Impact. Pivotal Impact is a talent and organizational development consulting firm that helps emerging leaders build the skills to navigate workplaces and helps organizations build and maintain diverse, equitable, and inclusive cultures. Like 3Points, Pivotal Impact has a particular focus on helping fintech organizations.
Keep reading to learn more from Candace about Pivotal Impact’s work and what organizations can and should do to build inclusive cultures. (The conversation has been lightly edited for readability.)
Thank you for speaking with us, Candace. To start, can you please provide some background about your company’s work and why it matters?
My name is Candace Washington, and I’m the founder and CEO of Pivotal Impact. To give you a little background, as a result of the barriers I faced while trying to navigate and succeed in the corporate environment, I founded Pivotal Impact four years ago. We help organizations build professional development tools and inclusive cultures and ecosystems that elevate the performance, engagement, and retention of emerging leaders, particularly those from diverse backgrounds.
We did this because we believe everyone deserves a level playing field so that they can contribute at their highest levels and thrive at their highest potential. That impacts two bottom lines: the individual’s and the organization’s — so it’s a win-win.
We partner with organizations to provide professional development workshops, first-time manager training, and one-on-one coaching with managers to train them on working with emerging leaders. We do this because we often find that “people leave people, not organizations.” Sometimes emerging leaders come in with the skills that they need, but if there are barriers, communication challenges, or inclusion issues, those have to be broken down. So we help with that culture development for organizations and that talent experience for people entering the workforce.
We make sure that DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] is at the core of what we do to create sustainable outcomes. We always say “we are who we serve and we have lived the lessons we teach,” because we are a diverse team of professionals with diverse talent from all walks of life. We have been down the path of these emerging leaders. I was one of them; I came from an underrepresented community, and when I got into the corporate world, I struggled for five years to understand myself and how to lead and succeed. The environment didn’t give me a sense of belonging, provide me with equitable opportunities, or help me to identify my gaps based on my unique challenges. Everyone has a different experience — because of where they grew up, their family dynamics, or some other factor — so they have different gaps. I was considered high-potential, but to unlock potential you have to create a level playing field for everyone.
It becomes a win-win; the quicker you identify these gaps and help emerging leaders fill them, the quicker you will accelerate their performance, engagement, and competitive advantage. They’re going to be more productive, faster, and more effective, and produce better results for the company — and that’s what all organizations care about, their bottom line.
Why focus on fintech?
It’s one of the top trending industries that early-career talent is looking at when they enter the workforce — because tech is where the world is going. Yet our research across many fintech organizations shows that there is extreme underrepresentation of young professionals who identify as Black, Latinx, or women of color. Organizations that are successful at getting Black and Latinx talent in the door aren’t able to keep them.
When people join organizations, they might be excited about the opportunity, but if their background differs from the homogenous backgrounds around them — like in the fintech space, as our numbers show — then they may feel like, “I don’t belong here. It doesn’t feel like there’s space for me here.” And ultimately they leave. It costs companies so much time, energy, and money to develop an employee, and so when they leave, you’re like, “Darn it, what happened? Where was the miss?”
So we’re working with forward-thinking companies that care about DEI and recognize its value to their bottom line. They care about their culture and about helping everyone thrive by leveling the playing field. They’re committed to getting their culture right from the start or changing their trajectory. We help these tech companies with the professional development tools and DEI education to ensure that they help emerging leaders, whether they’re persons of color or not, to thrive and advance within organizations.
I recently saw an article that talked about a group of 100+ investors that represented $1.7 trillion in assets — they signed a Workplace Equity Disclosure Statement to encourage companies looking for venture capital to start disclosing their equity data. Even investors are now saying, “Hey, you need to show that diversity, equity, and inclusion are part of your ethos. This is important to the growth and development of your business.” So now these companies have to address that DEI gap in fintech. We want to help close that gap.
How do companies come to realize that they should focus on DEI and talk to you?
At the end of the day, when companies start to feel some sort of pain, the pain usually equates to dollars. When people leave, it hurts a company’s financials — if they can’t keep their talent, they can’t be as successful. So when attrition starts to happen, organizations want to know where and why their people are going. Through exit interviews or other feedback from the talent that is leaving, organizations might start hearing that they’re not helping their leaders navigate the workplace or setting them up for success. That’s when they knock on our door. Especially when diverse talent is leaving, they’re like, “What’s going on? How can we stop the bleeding? How can we stop the people leaving?”
Why is it important to focus on young leaders?
Well, we’re the future. When you think about what leadership will look like, and how Gen Z will be the largest population in the workplace in the next 10–20 years, it’s clear that we need to focus on young leaders because we need a succession plan. We need to think about how they are developed and how we create space for them to thrive.
Leadership development is the number-one thing young professionals care about. Without it, they will leave the organization. They’re looking for opportunities to develop and grow when searching for roles within industries they care about, particularly tech.
That actually leads into the next question I was going to ask — what’s the number-one thing organizations can do to create a more inclusive environment? Would you say that that’s leadership development?
Leadership development is a piece of it. Think about the talent lifecycle. Think about your experience with a workplace — even before you enter a workplace, there’s an attraction phase. How is the organization communicating with you? When you go to the website, what language draws you in and makes you think, “This is a company I could work for”? Or, “Oh, there’s some neat things going on here”? Or,“I think I could feel a sense of belonging there”?
So the number-one thing is to think of the talent lifecycle and how an organization is communicating from the start. What experience is it creating from the moment talent comes through the door? What does development look like — are they assigned mentors or coaches? Are there employee resource groups for people who identify in different ways (for instance, if they’re non-binary or indigenous)? We want to set people up for an environment where they feel like they belong.
Also, to build an inclusive environment you have to educate your leaders. We take for granted that leaders know what inclusive means or what inclusive behaviors are, but many of them don’t actually know; so it’s important to have the training from the start to make sure people understand what biases are, what our biases are, what inclusive behaviors actually are, and how leadership can model them. Your organization, and especially your leadership, must engage in active listening; encourage perspectives from people from different backgrounds in every interaction, including in performance reviews and meetings; and communicate in ways and exhibit behaviors that make people feel like they belong.
Keep an eye out for Part Two of our interview with Candace next week!