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Introducing a new DE&I series: Driving change from the inside

November 10, 2021 | By Michael Tennant – Founder of Curiosity Lab, Creator of Actually Curious@MichaelTennant
Illustration by Rebecca Ustrell

In the pop culture zeitgeist “Game of Thrones,” the Hand of the King bears the burden of their leaders’ whims. So too might our generation’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) leaders when the health of an organization hinges on its leadership’s ability to foster a feeling of safety internally. That means creating an environment where employees of all levels, backgrounds, and abilities feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment, or any other emotional or physical harm. 

Life on the front lines or cutting edge of anything can be a lonely place. But particularly heavy lies the crown of those who are the cornerstones of transforming the future of workplace culture. 

With this in mind, we’d like to introduce some of the leaders on the front lines of the diversity, equity, and inclusion movement. These leaders’ each have a personal story that informs the work they do and how they got there. They also posses practical knowledge and experience that can help others make lasting change in their organizations. Over the next few months we’ll share conversations with DE&I leaders from a range of organizations to understand, and learn from, their efforts to support enduring change. 

History repeats itself

Last year, organizations across the country pledged to make advancements in diversity equity and inclusion in response to the racial justice movement that arose following the murder of George Floyd. Outraged by the actions of public officers, our country began to look inward at the inequity and injustice surrounding us. Once again, it exposed the lack of representation, psychological and even physical safety existing in our communities and places of work. So, a generation of newly minted and veteran DE&I leaders were empowered and pressed to devise and advance equitable agendas. 

Meanwhile, optimistic albeit cynical onlookers like myself (an entrepreneur and self identified corporate refugee) could not help but recall similar awakenings in the past. This isn’t the first time outrage has rippled through corporate America. Unfortunately, time and again, we’ve witnessed committed companies and leaders fade into the chorus beneath the lead notes of profits and quarterly goals.

An empathetic approach

After a year working with these leaders as an empathy training consultant, I learned that many of them have overcome a kaleidoscope of challenges themselves. I chose to lay my judgments to the side and to see them as the allies and change-leaders that they are, particularly given a lack of precedent (and often leadership) to guide them. 

In an effort to support other optimistic and like-minded leaders, I decided to do my part to help unlock and share their wisdom, elevating their voices so that peers and supporters can hear them. This new project, Driving Change From the Inside, distills insights from intimate conversation with leaders at a range of organizations including NASA, NPR, Robin Hood Foundation, and Havas Group. It is about those who are leading the charge of change to correct issues of discrimination, harassment, emotional harm, and inequity.

Tactics and takeaways

The series dives into the practical tactics and best practices leaders want to learn about and enact. It also offers an intimate look at the people serving in these roles. What we find is that their success requires the passion and support of all the people around them from the CEO and the board to the entire executive team and leadership team, and rank and file employees who share the mission and belief. 

We hope that viewers and readers will open their compassion as they experience the backstory of these individuals as well as the complicated layers of their present. As one interviewee said, “we’re running the same race but with different roadblocks.”

Driving change

All of our interview subjects have attained great achievement. Their stories are remarkable, but far from over. These conversations provide insight into the work required to establish and maintain a culture that fosters the DE&I agenda, including the steps our guests have taken, the processes and procedures they’ve implemented, and the support systems they’ve needed to achieve short- and long-term goals. 

In the absence of an inclusive and empathetic past to guide us, these pioneers are writing a guide book that we all can put to work in our own organizations. Through these conversations, we can begin to understand the “why” behind what leaders do that equips them to show up day after day in the arena, bloodied while projecting grace, and Driving Change From the Inside. Their experiences and insights give us hope and support as we shape the future of work with diversity and empathy at the core.

Key takeaways, highlight videos and full interviews:

Safe Space: Exploring NASA’s equity efforts with Edward Gonzales

Precious resources: Havas’ Juliana Akoumouh on the competition for diverse talent

Reflecting America: Michael Smith on putting the public back into NPR

Accelerate mobility: Robin Hood’s Stephanie Royal on how anti-racism fuels innovation

About the author

Michael Tennant is a founder, writer, and movement-builder dedicated to spreading tools of empathy and helping people find their purpose. Before founding Curiosity Lab, Tennant spent 15-years becoming a media, advertising, and nonprofit executive, and delivering award-winning marketing strategies for companies like MTV, VICE, P&G, Coca-Cola, sweetgreen, and Oatly.

Tennant founded Curiosity Lab in 2017 and created the conversation card game Actually Curious. Actually Curious became a viral sensation in 2020 during Covid-19 and the rise of the racial justice movement for helping people build meaningful connections and to tackle the important topics facing our world. 

He has channeled his business success and momentum into a sustained movement supporting BIPOC and other underrepresented communities through speaking, writing, leadership, mentorship, consulting, partnerships, and talent-pipeline programs.

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