While diversity, equity and inclusion are paramount to attracting and retaining top talent, many companies miss the mark. When brands do implement a program, it may not actually be effective. “For so long, we looked up at largely white men and asked them how the organization is doing on diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Michael Munoz, who leads diversity, equity and inclusion within Marketing at Google, tells We First. “We need to look at the Black, Latinx, Asian, indigenous populations and ask, ‘How are we doing at building a culture where you feel empowered and a strong sense of psychological safety?’”
Performance Paradigm is helping Google do just that. The company has been advising top business leaders for nearly 30 years about how to shift the conversation around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to create more deeply engaged leaders and teams. “A lot of senior leadership is afraid of messing up. I don’t care if you mess up. If you’re trying, at least you’re showing evidence of effort. That will make your team stay. We need people to get involved and stay engaged.” Reggie Butler, founder of Performance Paradigm, says.
Google has contracted Performance Paradigm to develop their own diversity, equity and inclusion programs, Examined Human and Digital Human (alongside creative technology company Left Field Labs, a partner on the project). Through shared experiences and community building, the partnership is a disruptive way to truly incorporate DEI within Google. The collaboration between Performance Paradigm and Google offers actionable insights for executives looking to Lead With We.
Why companies get diversity, equity and inclusion wrong
Despite the best of intentions, many DEI programs haven’t produced long lasting change. “Somebody will look at their organization and say, ‘We have a representation issue.’ They try to solve for representation. However, they don’t solve the environmental issues that create exclusion,” Butler says. “People don’t feel like they belong. People have very different lived experiences. The bigger issue is more complex than representation. So, sometimes it doesn’t look like there’s much progress in organizational programs. They’re only looking at certain indicators.” Essentially, many leaders aren’t considering the whole picture. They must understand and highlight new perspectives to start deconstructing old habits.
How the partnership began
It takes leadership with an active desire and understanding to change complex issues around race, sexual orientation, and unconscious bias. The partnership between Google and Performance Paradigm started with Reggie and Michael’s shared desire to disrupt the status quo.
“I was tired of looking at data that said people from different genders and races were having different experiences. To fix that, we needed to change the way that their managers and leaders were thinking about them in the organization. That is the beginning of changing behaviors,” Munoz says.
When the two met, they both wanted to implement a program that would be so transformative that staff members and leadership couldn’t go back to their desks and forget about it.
“It all started with someone trying to solve a human-centered problem. They need different people to actually be a part of that solution,” Butler adds.
A collective love for art and music as well as the belief that shared experience can be a transformational tool to create community, brought the two thought leaders together. Those shared values sprouted the formation of new DEI models.
“Examined Human is the first thing we built together. We’ve created a bunch of shared experiences that COVID-19 made Digital Human necessary for us to do. We migrated a lot of that content, methodology and learnings about creating shared experience into a digital platform,” Munoz says.
Fundamentals of Digital Human:
Digital Human helps leadership and team members navigate DEI. The program concentrates on four key behaviors, Munoz describes.
- Show up: “Have you shown up for your stakeholders in meaningful ways when it matters most?”
- Be present: “Understand the issues at hand for individuals who might look different or have different lived experiences than you.”
- Create visibility: “Are you, as a leader, able to create visibility that is in service of the people on your team?”
- Proximate: “Do you know where your folks want to go? Do you know your users well enough to be able to amplify voices in the direction they want to go, whether they’re in the room or not?”
Biases can be deeply rooted. It takes real work to break them down. “Our leaders need to unlearn,” Munoz says. Unlearning is a powerful concept. Executives often have to face difficult questions that might bring up uncomfortable feelings. “When executives ask, ‘How can I do more?’ I often ask them ‘When did you realize you were white and it mattered? How are you using your position to deliver access and privilege to others?’” Butler shares. “Those questions are presented to them through an experience. So they can’t unsee it.”
“One of the engagement activities we do is called ‘2, 24, 25.’ You pick two people on your team, one that you know fairly well and one that you barely know. Within 24 hours, schedule a 25-minute meeting with them and talk about them. Don’t talk about a project,” Butler explains. “The feedback we get sounds like, ‘It was pretty easy to start the conversation with the person I knew. When I went to the person I didn’t know, they thought something was wrong. It was awkward but a great exercise.’ It highlights that you’re supposed to create belonging for all, not belonging for people in your prototype.”
To create that sense of belonging, the Digital Human platform includes 12 weeks of workshops and exercises. The content is structured like a four season show. “We still used art and all the experiential things to deliver it, but we wouldn’t let them fast forward. We wouldn’t let them binge, they had to stop and do the work,” Butler says.
Facing resistance from leadership
For senior leadership, 12 weeks of diversity and inclusion training might sound like a diversion from hitting project deadlines and sales targets.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Why is diversity important?’” Munoz says. “The answer is, it’s not. It’s not important unless you build a culture of inclusion. If you have an organization with a lot of diversity and no psychological safety, that company either has or will soon have a retention problem.”
“We took a lot of heat when we decided to go for it,” he continues. “People said, ‘I only have three hours. Let me just binge through this.’ What’s been incredible is that now folks are emailing me to say, ‘It’s my Friday night appointment viewing.’ It helps them frame how they want to show up the next week or in the next one-on-one differently.”
By measuring results based on feedback from underrepresented employees, Google is getting a better sense of the long lasting benefits. “Team members will ping me and say, ‘I’m going to stay here longer because my relationship with my manager has gotten better. I don’t know what you did to them when they went through the training but they’re showing up for me differently. I feel like I have a voice. I have better psychological safety.’,” Michael explains.
“We’ve got to move a person from being transactional about their job and the people that help to get the job done, to being transformative and human-centered,” Butler says. “When people come out of the training, they’re more focused on their humans than they are on the project.”
Ultimately, the long-term benefits of building culture and retaining talent pay off when it comes to DEI training like Digital Human and Examined Human. “Are you able to retain the talent that you have and acquire new, diverse, underrepresented talent moving forward? that’s going to be the new barometer for us,” Munoz says.
Dealing with discomfort
When you’re trying to be at service to everyone inside your organization, there can be sensitivity amongst those who have enjoyed privileges. They may feel like they’ve done something wrong. At the same time, there can be uncomfortable feelings around favoring those who have been marginalized in different ways in the past and trying to better serve them. How can a company resolve that?
“We started both programs with the premise that human connection will define our future,” Munoz says. “We’re creators of a just Google that elevates the power of people through equitable systems, continuous learning and collective action. When you center everything on this operating premise, it frees people up. It brings us to focus on the common good and collective action. There can also be a paralysis, especially for white males in leadership positions. They don’t want to say anything wrong or be perceived as out of touch, so they don’t say anything.”
Another core concept of the training is the idea of “calling in.” “We think everyone needs to find their voice and be vulnerable,” Munoz says. “The Digital Human or Examined Human programs help folks understand that there is a place for everyone in the conversation but doing nothing is not an option.”
When the focus goes astray, Munoz and Butler use methods like art, music and frameworks to bring the focus back towards the common goal. “We try to create shared experiences through storytelling and narratives, but also some shared accountability,” Butler says. “Here’s an example. We were talking about how people who are Black, Latinx and women, have a very different experience than white males. We take them through a small exercise. Some of them say, ‘That’s never happened to me. So I don’t believe it’s true.’ Somebody else in the room goes, ‘It happens every day. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean we’re not supposed to do something.’ By having collective experiences, Reggie and Michael hope participants from all backgrounds will feel a deeper sense of belonging at work.
Tools for diversity and inclusion:
Performance Paradigm utilizes what Reggie calls R.I.C.H. Dialogues to facilitate authentic communication and community building. “R.I.C.H. is an acronym for race, identity, culture, and heritage,” he says. ‘It’s a type of communication tool that accelerates relationship management by exploring all the different points of view around race, identity, culture, and heritage.”
Behavior change, whether it’s around DEI, marketing or even taking a different route to work, is extremely difficult to catalyze. “It starts with people saying, ‘I know what the problem is. I may not know what to do, but I must listen.’ If we can get people to use a tool to help them frame these conversations that typically paralyze them, we’re going to make incremental progress,” Butler says.
Long lasting impacts
While unlearning and increased awareness often happens after a DEI training, it can be difficult to maintain and measure the long lasting impacts. Some of the ways Digital Human and Examined Human try to prolong the lessons is by providing participants with memorabilia like bracelets and art, as well as building real relationships with coworkers and employees on a human-to-human level.
“It’s an opportunity to rejigger people’s mindsets to catalyze the experience in the course so they show up a little differently for their one-on-one meetings,” Munoz says. By implementing leadership buy-in, measuring the success by feedback from underrepresented groups and taking a more human approach, the impacts of diversity, equity and inclusion can be sustained over time.
Numerous studies have shown that diverse teams are more resilient, more creative and more effective at generating results. “Talk about diversity and innovation. Imagine when everybody’s working well together.” Munoz says. “That’s that magic sauce that is going to unlock the creativity we’ve talked about for years.”