Closing the DEI Gap: a Q&A with Candace Washington of Pivotal Impact (Part II)

3Points Communications
6 min readMar 30, 2021

Welcome back to our conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) with Candace Washington of Pivotal Impact. For Part One of this blog, please click here. In Part Two, below, Candace discusses measuring success, changing everyday behaviors, and more. (The conversation has been lightly edited for readability.)

What is the top misconception that organizations have related to equity before you start working with them?

We’ve seen that there’s often confusion around equality and equity. Many people don’t know the difference when they start this journey. Equality means things are the same on all levels for each person. Organizations need to understand that equity in the workplace is about everyone receiving fair treatment; when equity exists, people have equal access to opportunities. That sets up an advantageous environment for employees and the employer.

When you think about creating a level playing field, you have to take into account the fact that people have different gaps based on their background. I came across this quote recently: “Equality is providing the same meal full of meat for everyone, knowing that you have vegans and vegetarians in the group, whereas equity is providing vegan and vegetarian options along with the meat so everyone has something they can eat.”

To have equity, you need to have an understanding of what each person needs in order to be successful in their role. It requires creating multiple pieces of the puzzle. We specifically focus on the experience for emerging leaders and creating an equitable culture for them.

What does success look like? How do we measure it?

We focus a lot on measurement, and when we think about the temperature checks, you have to have lots of listening sessions to understand what’s happening. Let’s say a firm comes in and does DEI training for an organization. They’re trying to gauge where your organization is at with performance and retention of talent and where you want to go. Measuring can be done with engagement surveys before and after the experience to see what that change in behavior looks like. In addition, an organization should have an accountability scorecard with emerging leaders and management and constant communication and flow to revisit what they’ve learned, what’s different as a result of the experience, and how they’re holding each other accountable for the commitments they made. You need those checks and balances to ensure that you are seeing the needle move, because if the needle isn’t moving, what is the point?

I give different answers to “what does success look like?” because every place is different. I’ve heard people say, “Well, belonging looks like this,” or “when people can bring their full selves to work” — well, what does that mean within your organization? Defining that is going to be different for each organization; what works for you won’t necessarily work for everyone else. What is happening now that we want to change? What do we want to be seeing or hearing? What behaviors are we looking for?

We ask those questions of both the leaders and the emerging leaders to create the culture and tools that are best for them. We work together to understand the culture that exists now, the current experience for emerging leaders, where you want to take them, the skills they need to get there, and what environment you’re creating, so that once they’re equipped with skills so they can thrive, they feel a sense of belonging and want to stay in your organization.

What are some everyday behaviors that people may not realize are obstructing inclusion?

When I think of things that obstruct inclusion, I think of microinequities. Let’s say for example a leader is saying good morning to everyone besides one person, or a group of employees goes to hang out for drinks and one person is left out, or you’re in a meeting and you feel you can’t speak up or your opinion isn’t being heard or valued. Those are the types of microinequities that can occur within an organization. And when they start to happen to you, you might start thinking, “I don’t think there’s a place for me. I don’t feel like I belong.”

I remember one time when I worked at a big company, the manager of our small team appeared to be the ringleader and encouragement behind team members reading a particular book together. It wasn’t a professional development book, it was for fun — and it was clear that this specific book had been selected because it appealed to the manager and his clear “favorites” on the team. So the group reading this book would all discuss it every day while walking to lunch or standing around everyone’s desks, and the three of us who didn’t read the book were left on the outskirts — we felt completely excluded. He had essentially created a little clique. And yeah, we could have read the book, but we shouldn’t have had to feel like we had to read it in order to fit in and play the game. And so every time they walked by talking about it, I just thought, “How could a manager at that level do that? He should know better.”

These kinds of things are microinequities. Some microinequities are conscious and some are unconscious; either way, they discourage performance and inclusion within an organization. They can be based on various things, such as gender, race, or education (for instance, maybe on a certain team everyone went to Northwestern, except for one person, who feels left out of certain conversations as a result).

I know we touched on this a bit, but how has the pandemic affected organizations’ efforts to create inclusive spaces?

We’re engaging with each other from a communications standpoint every day, but we aren’t physically together, and what we’ve seen is that it is all about making sure people are being heard. You can’t just stop by someone’s cubicle to ask them how they’re doing, so it takes a lot of effort to check in with people now. You have to communicate differently.

There are still ways to move forward with inclusion efforts. Organizations can create virtual spaces for people to come together and have conversations. After George Floyd’s death, we saw organizations create spaces for dialogue about race, culture, and challenges people are having.

A lot of times organizations want to do this but don’t know how — or because they’re so busy keeping all the balls in the air, these conversations aren’t happening. So being intentional about it is key. In a sense, I think the pandemic has helped organizations be more intentional, because it has shone a light on what’s important. What is inclusive for people at home? It’s not always about race — it can be about being inclusive of people who have kids, people who have disabilities, or different challenges. So ultimately there are some negative effects, but organizations are working through them.

Communication is one of the biggest challenges that affects inclusive spaces. But communication is still happening in virtual settings. We’re still having conversations with each other. We’re still training first-time managers and emerging leaders to understand what inclusivity looks like, what’s important to them, and how they can advocate for themselves. We’re still helping emerging leaders take ownership of their journeys and helping organizations identify their blind spots and create spaces where people feel like they belong.

We’re grateful to Candace for taking the time to chat with us and share her knowledge about these important topics. If you’re interested in learning more, we highly recommend visiting Pivotal Impact’s website.