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Ignite More: DEI in Practice

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are three non-negotiables for our team. For this edition of Ignite More, we teamed up with some DEI experts to delve into the “how” of it all. 

Seems like everyone’s dipping their toes into DEI lately. Great! But what does “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion” mean in practice? How do you “do” DEI? In this virtual chat, panelists discuss how DEI is implemented and communicated in various organizations. Specific programs, initiatives, and resources will are offered as examples - the good and the bad.

Here's the full discussion, with some highlights from Ignite More: DEI in Practice below.


Kenneth Worles, President & Creative Director of Three(i) - MODERATOR

  • Kenneth Worles is the President and Chief Creative Director of Three(i) Creative Communications - a social-impact marketing agency helping causes, campaigns, and corporations improve engagement and community relationships.
  • Social Media: LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, weare3i.com

Mauricio Calvo, Executive Director of Latino Memphis 

  • Mauricio heads Latino Memphis, an organization supporting and igniting opportunities for the Latinx community through social and legal services, advocacy, and partnerships. As a Mexican-American, queer dad of three teenagers, leading with ADHD, he lives and strives to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Socia Media: LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook

Karen Williams, CEO and Founder of Cultural Avid

  • Karen is the Founder & CEO of Cultural Avid where she works with people leaders to identify and improve diversity recruiting and hiring practices. She is on a mission to help people leaders understand that corporate culture has to change before we see a real difference in retaining diverse professionals.
  • Social Media: LinkedIn, Instagram 

Michael Alston, Associate Vice Chancellor for IED and Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) 

  • Michael Alston is the associate vice chancellor, chief diversity officer, and Title IX coordinator at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) and has worked for three University of Tennessee System campuses.   With a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of Tennessee-Martin, Michael has completed two DEI focused professional certificates from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations (Diversity Management) at Cornell University and the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University (Leading Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). 
  • Social Media:  LinkedIn, UTSHC Office of IED, UTSHC Staff

Topics Covered:

Since the social awakening of 2020, companies have been hyper-focused on DEI - with about 90% of companies reporting that they have a DEI strategy today. Can you describe how DEI was viewed prior to this social awakening within your company/industry and how has it changed?

  • Karen used to have trouble getting meetings prior to 2020, but after the incidents with George Floyd and Brianna Taylor, more companies realized they needed to be more diverse, and try to do the work to fix systemic issues.
  • Michael said, in higher education DEI was already important, but in 2020, it became more of an active issue. Even if it didn’t affect those individuals directly, organizations wanted to respond from an empathic standpoint to show that they care.
  • Mauricio said, in Latino Memphis, DEI is already a key issue. They’ve been talking about it for a long time without actually articulating it. He had to look at their own team and make sure they were doing “it” correctly internally - uplifting women, etc. They came up with a comprehensive statement. They embrace diversity in all its forms. Then - “okay, now we know the what and we need to figure out the how.”

With covid forcing the world to slow down in 2020, many companies also looked internally and noticed that they were often operating a pretty homogenous organization. What strategies have you all implemented to create more diverse, equitable and inclusive work environments? Talk about what has worked and not worked. Describe any programs you’ve created, chat about your internal employee resource groups, and highlight any external organizations you may be working with.

  • Mauricio - “If I don’t open my mouth, I’m a white guy.” (Doesn’t look Latino, ADHD or queer). His organization joined a network that doesn’t include anyone who doesn’t support total DEI. Multi-level strategy from talking to donors, voters, etc.
  • Michael - During the pandemic, remote work changed the dynamics. Zoom helped more employees feel included and connected. College created committees around DEI. 

In order to build a true diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace, all constituents within a company have to be on the same page. How do you clearly articulate goals of DEI to management and disseminate that information to the rest of your staff, consumers, and external community?

  • Michael's department created a listserv. 
  • Mauricio shows it. Marching in the Pride parade, etc. He said there is still a long way to go - Latino representation in Memphis is nonexistent. 
  • Karen saidin-person is best.
  • Juneteenth is a holiday. Not floating/optional.

It’s easy for companies to begin recruiting diverse talent, but we find another issue when it comes to retaining them. Inclusion and equity are just as important. What does inclusion and equity mean to you? How have you created inclusive and equitable environments for your diverse talent? And, how has that increased retention of your diverse talent?

  • Karen said there is no one solution for recruiting talent.
  • Make people feel welcome. - Michael
  • “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.”
  • Do DEI because it’s the right thing, but also, companies need employees. - Mauricio.

Outside of your own company, what companies or brands have truly gotten DEI right? Share an example of a company, brand or organization you admire and how they’ve inspired your DEI work within your organization.

  • LinkedIn learning is helpful - Karen
  • ADP has diversity and inclusion training courses. 
  • Determine what underserved groups you're looking to hire and find them where they are. I,.e. Black tech professionals at Afrotech conferences.
  • There are other ways to find black talent besides HBCUs.
  • Get out of your comfort zone.
  • 2 certificates from Cornell online - Michael
  • Harvard Business Review
  • Kellog School of Management
  • Australian HR Institute, UK resource
  • Pro-Inspire Fellowship - Mauricio (and others)
  • Leaders have to make sure resources are available across the organization.
  • It’s not just minorities who should be having these conversations.

For those looking to take on DEI roles or be more involved in DEI practices within their company, what’s one piece of advice you’d give them on how to be successful?

  • Michael - Move away from non-performative DEI by changing your mindset. 


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