Why Equity Matters More than Diversity or Inclusion, with Aubrey Blanche

DEI leadership

Equity is often regarded as the overlooked middle child in the DEI family. Organizations understand why diversity of thought, experience, and background is important and they strive to make workplaces safe and beacons of inclusion for employees. But when it comes to the tangible qualities of equity, we struggle. We lump the term in with the rest and tend to shy away from tackling it – yet, what if it’s actually the most important factor for driving real change?


Luckily, we had an incredible guest on The Shortlist to help us dissect this conundrum – Aubrey Blanche. Founder and CEO of The Mathpath and Senior Director of People Operations & Strategic Programs at Culture Amp, Aubrey refers to herself as an equitable designer and is always looking at workplaces through the lens of equity.

In the episode:

  • The importance of building an equitable workplace
  • Designing work for stress cases
  • DEI in a hybrid world
  • Understanding and measuring the success of equitable initiatives

Key takeaways:

  1. Why equity is so important

Diversity, in a very short definition, is about counting heads and seeing who’s in the room. Inclusion is an outcome factor, it’s a subjective experience related to an individual’s feeling of belonging and having a voice. Equity, on the other hand, is all about giving everyone what they need to succeed. It’s about treating people fairly and creating an even playing field. And according to Aubrey, “if you focus in a laser-like way on equity, it makes the other letters much more achievable. But if you forget equity, none of it matters.” The actionable and understandable mission of treating people fairly helps you avoid tokenism and is an easier concept for people to get on board with. Aubrey also believes that you experience less pushback by prioritizing equity and reach the desired finish line with fewer pitfalls.

  1. Building the muscle of empathy

One of the critical components for driving a more equitable workplace is about understanding other people’s experiences. But the challenge is that we we don’t necessarily stop to think about this often. It’s impossible to learn every type of difference and intersectionality, but there are ways you can start to build a more empathetic approach. For Aubrey, it’s about diversifying the information sources you’re already exposed to, and she points to social media as an incredible tool for this. “There are amazing people who are putting information about their lives and their experiences and their stories online already. Intentionally take five or ten minutes to seek out these voices and follow them so that their experiences are coming into a feed you are already paying attention to.” 

  1. Designing work for the stress case

Aubrey learned the idea of stress cases from the product and UX world, about creating design with compassion that builds an experience and solution which supports more users. And she employs this technique when she approaches equity in the workplace. Her go-to design cases are queer trans people or black women – by thinking about their particular experience and ensuring a workplace caters to them, it also benefits less marginalized individuals. “The failure mode for most companies is that they will start with gender because they think it’s the biggest area to tackle. And what ends up happening is they tend to build programs that benefit straight, white, cisgender, economically privileged women and leave everybody else behind.

Our guest’s final piece of advice

Change something by 1%

It’s easy to get overwhelmed and think you have to solve everything when it comes to DEI, but Aubrey implores everyone to adopt a smaller and more consistent approach. Don’t do everything, she says, do something.



  • [2.28] Introduction
  • [4.27] Defining diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • [9.19] Giving people what they need vs. giving everyone the same
  • [11.57] Equity and socioeconomic background
  • [16.54] Designing work for the stress case
  • [19.49] Learning how to understand difference
  • [24.33] DEI in a hybrid world
  • [32.09] How to approach equitable design
  • [37.33] The importance of external perspectives
  • [40.39] How to measure success
  • [44.49] Community principle


Johnny Campbell:

Welcome. It’s episode 134 of The Shortlist. My name’s Johnny Campbell. I’m your host of today’s podcast and live broadcast and also the CEO and Co-founder of SocialTalent. So today’s topic on the show is one that’s close to my heart and what I’ve grappled with over the years to understand, if I’m being honest initially, to get used to the language and it is the subject of DE&I. But actually more importantly and more focused today we’re going to talk about why equity matters more than diversity or inclusion. And I remember when I started in this space thinking about this space and getting involved, it was the space of diversity and then that became the space of diversity and inclusion. And then all of a sudden it became the space of diversity, equity, and inclusion, or diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.

And all of a sudden there were more letters being added. And I’ll be honest with you, I was confused. I didn’t know which letter meant what thing and why and where it all came in. And it took me some time to understand that. And today we’re going to talk about why equity matters more than D or I, or perhaps B, maybe, maybe not, we’re going to dig into an opinion on that. And to get there and to join us in this conversation, I’m really, really, really pleased to welcome a fantastic speaker, someone I have been dying to get on the show for some time. And that is Aubrey Blanche and Aubrey’s joining us from the west coast of the US today.

So it’s her morning, she’s having coffee, she’s CEO of the Mathpath. She’s Senior Director of People Operations and Strategic Programs at Culture Amp. And I’m excited to get into this and I think you’ll enjoy this as well. And if you’re listening live, do join us in the comments. No question is silly, we’re delighted to hear all your comments, thoughts and questions as well. Aubrey, you’re so welcome to the show. Please introduce yourself to our audience, tell people about yourself, what you do professionally, what you do outside work, and why this topic.

Aubrey Blanche:

Yeah, Johnny, I’m so excited to be here. I know we’ve been going back and forth for a while on making the time happen, but hey everyone, I’m Aubrey. I think, I always call myself an equitable designer. And what I mean by that is I run a lot of different things in my work life, but I’m constantly thinking through the lens of equity. And I think that whole story started when I dropped out of grad school because I didn’t perceive that people like me could be successful in that environment. And by that I mean a queer, disabled, Latina woman. And so I went into tech, which if anyone knows anything about tech, it wasn’t much better! And except I perceived that I could use my skills as a social scientist to actually change the culture in a way that I didn’t feel like was possible.

And so that’s what I’ve spent the last 10 years doing is really working with organizations of a lot of different sizes with a specialty in high growth tech to think about equity. And I would say I’ve seen the same evolution of this like D and I to DEI to DEIB, to the one that I raise an eyebrow at, which is what we call JEDI, which is justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. And I’m pretty skeptical of that because I don’t think you can do justice in a capitalistic organization. I just don’t think that works. But my work has really, really shown me that if you focus in a laser like way on equity, it makes the other letters much more achievable. But if you forget equity, none of it matters. So it’s not exactly a binary, I like to say it is as a spicy headline, but I think it’s not about the other letters not mattering, but it’s without equity, we’re not going to get substantial social change. And so I think that’s why I focus on equity in particular.

Johnny Campbell:

So when I used to think about this initially, Aubrey, I would look at, well, diversity is like your front door policy and it’s like how do you let people into the nightclub and is it all the same or is it not? And it’s a way of counting differences in an organization. Inclusion confused folks and diversity almost put the responsibility on the hiring teams often. It’s like how do we change our hiring processes to create an environment where there’s more diversity, right? Because either you count the numbers and it’s not diverse, you count the numbers and it is diverse. So that was where I first introduced the topic. And then folks started talking about inclusion and that’s where the confusion came in because as I got to talk to more people about inclusive strategies, inclusion was more of a feeling, it was more of an outcome.

And that confused people because they’re like, okay, it’s an outcome, but what do you do? Because we get diversity as like, okay, we change the numbers, we make it look better, as in we change our policies and then we have better numbers. Again, that’s not what you want, that’s only the beginning or arguably not even the beginning. Inclusivity is maybe it’s a feeling, it’s a measure after the fact. And folks got confused where when I got introduced to the concept of equity, I saw in here are the tactics that actually can drive the other things. So is that how you see it or how would you compare the different letters? And for anyone who’s been grappling with the same challenges listening today, how should they or could they see those different comparisons?

Aubrey Blanche:

I think you’ve done it really well. So my short version is diversity is counting heads. It’s just the question of who’s in the room and when you isolate it, and this was the previous way of doing things, it’s like, oh, are there enough Black people on the team? But when you just ask, are you there, you are not thinking about this, their subjective experience, how do they actually feel in that environment? And so it often is pretty hostile or not great for people with disabilities, for queer folks, et cetera. Inclusion, you’re totally right, it’s subjective experience. Now when I say subjective, that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. But inclusion, you’re right, it’s an outcome concept. So Culture Amp actually has a free DEI survey that we offer. You can use it in our platform, but we release the questions for free. And in that survey, inclusion is the outcome factor.

Our people scientists, so our trained psychologists have actually identified a bunch of sub-components of inclusion. So in our survey, those are equity growth opportunities, access to decision making, having a voice, valuing diversity, and feeling a contribute that your work contributes to the broader purpose. And so again, it’s a complicated feeling, but thinking about belonging as a sub-component or an input of inclusion. So belonging is that feeling of connection and being valued for the unique thing that you bring to a group or a community that’s important to you. So both of those factors are relevant to whether someone is engaged, whether they perform, whether they retain at an organization. But equity I think is also easier to make the argument for because diversity doesn’t really take into account marginalization or just under-representation it does. Inclusion well, you can have really high inclusion scores in a company that’s all cisgender, straight, white, economically privileged men.

It’s actually pretty easy to achieve inclusion. But equity I think is useful because conceptually I think more people are on board with it that it’s not about arbitrarily we need more women on the team, it’s about we want to treat people fairly. And then the second power of the equity concept is that equity is inherently context aware. So equality just says give everybody the same thing. Equity says, give everybody what they need. And I think when you start there, you get a lot less of the pushback about why is this important? I think it’s harder to tokenize people when you think about equity. And so the reason I push on it is because actually, if you treat people fairly and well, you hire a diverse set of people, they are more likely to feel included. So you actually get to the finish line we’re talking about, but you avoid a lot of the pitfalls that have come from previous iterations in schools of thought in this work.

Johnny Campbell:

I love that, it’s like to run faster, don’t tell someone to run faster, tell them to exercise their legs, have a more balanced diet, get out. The outcome can be you run faster. Explain to me if you can a little bit more about that concept you mentioned, which is to give people what they need versus giving everyone the same. Can you maybe give me some very specific examples of how that would play out in an organizational context?

Aubrey Blanche:

Yeah, so I think the most obvious place that this shows up is in the way that companies use accommodations and adjustments for people with disabilities. So it’s really easy to think like, oh, an accommodation is special treatment. But I would actually flip the script and say everyone at an organization needs specific support. They have a specific set of needs, it’s just that non-disabled people get their needs met by default. The default meets their specific need. Whereas let’s say someone has executive functioning challenges, which is common with autism or ADHD. And so they might need slight alterations to their work environment to allow them to get their work done effectively. And that could be really anything depending on the individual. So I’ve seen cases where for one person it was whenever I come back from leave, my manager makes sure that I have one full day with no meetings so that I can get myself set up because without that it was overwhelming to that person.

Or for someone else it might be the manager making sure that they get specific structured breaks throughout the day. Or it might be someone who gets migraines and needs a set of glasses to be able to look at their computer screen all day. And so I think that that’s one way that it shows up is we can say you are entitled to specific support at Culture Amp, but we rely on a collaborative process with each, we call them campers, our employees, to identify what that specific support is. And in some cases we have to do something extra or different in order to make sure that support’s provided. So that’s one way that I think about it is just every single person, regardless of their demographic needs specific support and equity is about making sure that you get the specifics.

Johnny Campbell:

So we are streaming and listening live and with people listening to the show, it’s great to have you agreeing that equity and belonging is definitely more important than diversity inclusion. I’m not too sure we’re saying that exactly, it’s just saying that one achieves the other. But what bring you back to those examples because obviously reasonable accommodations, et cetera, for someone perhaps with a disability or something physical, they need corrective lenses or whatever it might be, is probably an easy concept for some most people to get their heads around. But what about something that’s probably harder to get your head around, which might be somebody who perhaps has a different socioeconomic background to you, somebody who comes from a different community where you might look and go, okay, they grew up in a different place or they live in a different neighborhood, but hey, surely their needs are the same as mine. Can you maybe give us some examples of where it might be beneficial to consider their background and what accommodations they might perhaps benefit to allow them to bring their whole self to work?

Aubrey Blanche:

I think socioeconomic factors are not talked about enough in equity work. I think there’s really important overlap with that, with especially racial difference, disability difference. But a couple of things that come to mind for me. So when I think about first gen people, and I think of that as first gen in tech tend to have come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds because of the economic sphere or tech lives. And one thing is clearly communicating to people the norms around interviewing. And I know that sounds really basic, but I grew up with a parent that was in the corporate world, and so I knew how to give a handshake. I knew that I should send a follow-up thank you email to my interviewers. And while we can think, oh, that’s just polite, it’s not actually a given that makes sense as a behavior, right?

It’s lovely to do, but there’s no reason to expect that someone would do it by default. And so either the equity answer is that you provide guidance to people about the etiquette of what’s expected or you don’t grade people on their ability to perform specific norms in the first place. I tend to go with the second, I don’t count it against you if you don’t email me, you’re probably busy interviewing. So that’s one way, or I think about companies and the way their expense policies work. So a lot of companies will do things like the employee has to purchase something and then they get reimbursed. But for someone who is of lower socioeconomic status, if that reimbursement doesn’t come the same month, that could put them in relatively dire straits. So the couple of different answers there are how do we think about the reimbursement cycle of our finance team or how do we think about having a central corporate card that can be used for certain types of expenses as equity issues, their finance and their operations, but they’re equity issues.

And so I think that goes back to our earlier point is that that’s clearly not a diversity issue, it’s clearly an equity issue. And so I think when you’re telling everyone, and this is my genuine belief, that everyone has a role to play in equitable design, in designing their work in a way that creates equity. And I think equity is more accessible for people to understand what can I do? Because I think with diversity or inclusion, you say be a better ally, but people don’t actually know what specific action they can take that equals that. Whereas I think equity, people are such experts in their own area, if you just give them a little bit of knowledge, they’re actually pretty likely to be able to make some really cool changes.

Johnny Campbell:

So I love the example of expense policies because to people who can afford to spend the money on expenses and reimburse them, they’ll never think twice about that. And reminded me actually of a good friend of mine and presenter on our platform, Joanna Abeyie who told a story of when she was an intern in the advertising sector in London when she was just finished with university and she got an internship and the internship paid a tiny stipend, not much, and that was considered you’re happy to get into this industry and so on, so forth. But she came from a very, very poor working class counselor state in East London. And the stipend meant she could either decide to get a bus to work or to pay for lunch, not both.

And that was her background in reality. And so she had to decide, okay, I have to eat. So she would walk two hours to her internship and two hours home every day to take the internship. And the industry just probably never thought that someone from her background would have that situation, nobody stopped to think. And I’ve heard you talk about Aubrey when you’re designing policies, procedures, processes to think about the extreme cases. Talk me through that logic and what the benefit of that thinking is and how it plays out in reality?

Aubrey Blanche:

Yeah, absolutely. So I learned these terms from actually a product designer and a UX designer, a friend of mine. And so in design, you can either think about something that lives on the margin or the margin of experience. For me, I tend to think about someone who has overlapping marginalization. So my favorite design cases are a queer trans person or a Black woman. And the reason I choose those people is because when I think about their experience and I design for their experience, I’m actually also making changes in the workplace that benefit less marginalized people. So the failure mode for most companies is that most companies will start with gender because they think it’s the biggest area to tackle. And what ends up happening in that case is they tend to build programs that benefit like straight, white, cisgender, economically privileged women and leave everybody else behind.

But if you design for what designers would call the stress case, you end up building solutions that work better for everyone. And I think the power in that is you actually overcome a lot of the trade-offs that people believe are necessary in this work. Now, I’m not saying there are never trade-offs, let’s be practical, but that there are far fewer of them when we think about more marginalized people first.

Johnny Campbell:

I love that. I work with our design team here and we talk about those edge cases and the designer developer will come and say, but what if somebody types this in, then does this and then does this? And you go, yeah, but is that really going to happen? And it’s like, well, it could happen and if it does happen, does it work? Does it not work? And you go, okay, let’s build for that. And you have to seek out those edge cases. I love that type of thinking because it forces to get out of our comfort zone. And it reminds me of, I read a book recently that was recommended to me written by an Irish woman about her experience growing up with both dyspraxia and dyslexia. And one of my sons has dyspraxia, and I read this piece and I was like, I never really appreciated the experience, and particularly of those two things colliding and all of the challenges that she faced to just grow up, get an education, get to work and all these things.

But again, it’s not that I’m a bad person for not understanding that. I think there is a lack of awareness of some of the challenges because again, most of us come with our own backgrounds and upbringings and we just don’t necessarily stop to think about others. So how do you encourage teams and organizations to think about others? What techniques can you use aside from learn about every type of difference and intersectionality is possibly in the world, which is just too much. What’s an easier or more practical way to approach it?

Aubrey Blanche:

So I think it comes down to how do you diversify the information sources that you’re already exposing yourself to. So I know you ask for an action or a tip at the end, I’ll speed that up and give it to you here and think of something else for the end. But social media is amazing for this. So Facebook less because it’s an information bubble, but Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok, Instagram, there are amazing people who are putting information about their lives and their experiences and their stories online already. And how do you just intentionally take five, 10 minutes to seek out those voices and follow them so that their experiences are coming into the feed you are already paying attention to. That’s the way that I’ve been on a very specific journey coming into my own disabilities and naming them as disabilities as someone who’s bipolar and ADD.

And what actually changed for me was I said, oh, I need to learn more about disability justice and accessibility. And my journey was actually, I started following these brilliant thinkers like Anali Barban and Tiffany You and I was like, oh, I’m actually disabled, and that’s not a bad thing, but I had come into it with so much stigma and internalized ableism. And so I think that’s the other thing is you will probably find commonalities and reflections of your own experience in these people who are very different from you. And I think that both gives you an intellectual tool set to design better, but I also think it’s actually an incredibly wonderful personal and emotional experience to develop your empathy muscles. And for most people that I talk to, that’s in line with their personal values and the kind of person that they want to be. And I say that because it’s easy to think that we’re doing this work only for the benefit of others, and I think that should be our primary concern. But there is personal gratification I have found in this as well, and that’s not illegitimate.

Johnny Campbell:

I love that because I have tried to do the same. Someone many years ago who’s wiser than me suggested something similar to me Aubrey and encouraged me to not have this echo chamber that too often we will. And I see people with different backgrounds who live in different countries with different faiths, different jobs, who have different family backgrounds just living their lives. And it’s something that you wouldn’t read about in a book, you would never see in a case study, but you just get to see what someone else with a different background does on their weekend, what their weddings look like, what their family events look like. And it’s like, oh wow, that’s interesting, and it’s completely normal and real. And it does normalize it for you, you being whoever you are to see difference everywhere. And I remember being told about a town in Ireland back in 2009, 2010, I think it was, where for some strange twist of fate, this small regional rural town in Ireland and rural Ireland doesn’t have a great name for diversity and inclusion, probably rural anywhere.

And for some strange reason, the population of the town over a very short period of time became 60% Brazilian from old Irish who would never seen anything but a white face before all of a sudden you had this rich culture. And I remember reading an article on it and you had granny’s and granddads and all sorts of farmers mixing with the Brazilian community who moved in and changing what they cooked and having more variety. And I imagine if you had of interviewed anyone in that town five years previously and asked them about their opinions on what we call doing air quotes the foreigners, they would’ve been potentially negative. But when that community was forced to see a different community and live with them, it opened up a whole new world.

And both communities I’m sure learned from each other and it was all absolutely fine. And I think that exposure bias and being able to accelerate it to your point through certain social media is brilliant. Do you think, let’s say the workplace environment, the increasingly hybrid workplace environment and for some folks completely virtual environment, does that make it easier or harder to do that in a workplace context?

Aubrey Blanche:

I think both. Sorry, I’m a social scientist, I hate telling you binaries. I think we spend so much time at work and for so many people, they get so much of their identity and their meaning at work, that I think it would be difficult to say that work doesn’t matter. And I think it depends on the company, but there are ways that it makes that easier. So I think one of the most valuable ways inside of companies that we can create that exposure is through employee resource groups or ERGs. And I say that certainly is if you’re a member of a marginalized group, you should join them for the community and the connection and that really valuable thing that they provide, but also I would say usually ERGs have ally communities. And that doesn’t mean that every event is for you, but can you take a moment in your workday to celebrate a heritage month or attend and get some insight about an experience that’s different from yours?

So I think that’s a part of it. I would say also in our remote work environments, it becomes easier without intentional action to get more insular. And so if your company maybe isn’t as diverse, isn’t as balanced as it could be because they haven’t made progress, they haven’t invested or like Culture Amp, we are at population level representation of BIPOC folks on our team, but we’re still 70% white. ‘Cause we are based in all white majority countries. And so it still takes intentional effort for our white employees to experience and work with BIPOC campers because of the distribution of where our business is located. And so I would say that work can be an incredible conduit for that, but often without you taking the initiative to do it, and that initiative doesn’t have to mean overhauling your whole work life.

It can say, let me make sure that once a month I’m taking action to get perspective or exposure to something that’s different because again, I’m a big believer that often something big happens in the world, I saw this in summer 2020 after the video of George Floyd’s murder went viral, and all of these really well-intentioned white people just went on a binge diet of anti-racism books and it turns out they exhausted themselves and forgot to care about Black people by the middle of 2021. And so what I would say is it is much more productive for you to set little bite goals around engagement in this because I think over time it builds on itself.

And if you give yourself the positive dopamine hit of I did that, I did a good thing, you’re much more likely to continue on that path and get to the point of being what I call an equitable designer, which is basically where you’re looking at all of the things you’re already doing from a lens of does this create inequity or equity and how do I choose the equity creating option whenever possible. So I think that’s a more promising path than going, I’m going to be the most inclusive person ever, it’s just like the person to go back to your running analogy, if you get up in the morning and you’re like, I’m going to run a marathon and you try to do it on day one, you are going to fail and definitely need to ice your knees for quite a while.

Johnny Campbell:

I love that. I have had to ice my knees many a time. I was on a call earlier with a guest we’re going to have on our STLive later this month talking about workplace flexibility. And her angle was particularly around workplace flexibility and its positive and negative benefits for underrepresented communities. And she brought up something that was very positive in her experience, I want to get your thoughts on this where she talked about how in a world where we do more Zoom and Teams calls and less in person, she said she had colleagues. For example, she’s based in Texas, she’s colleagues in China, colleagues in India, different parts of the world. She said her colleagues in China are able to say, now our meetings have a transcription life in my language, which is wonderful. I never had that in the in-person meetings. She said also because we run transcription and it’s there for everybody, people slow down when they speak because they’re aware that the software doesn’t pick it up as well.

And then we put up our hands in the software in a really nice way to get a turn to speak. And she spoke to the guest I’m having on about this experience and said, I really, really love this, I never had this when we had an in-person world. So you have that kind of experience, which is just one person’s experience, but do you see those kinds of benefits in this increasingly hybrid world? And in the same breath, do you see negatives where you might have to wake up and do calls with the US because you’re in Germany and you have to go to talk to the West Coast and they expect you to work in the evenings when you’re meant to be doing your own thing. Right? Are there also negatives in that internationalized world where time zones aren’t necessarily respected?

Aubrey Blanche:

Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think the biggest benefit or the group that I think has benefited often the most are caregivers and disabled folks when it comes to this flexibility. So how often did we hear that working from home or working remotely wasn’t a reasonable accommodation until all of the non-disabled people needed to do it and suddenly it was fine, that’s institutional ableism. So I think that it’s fundamentally changed workforce access for disabled people and disabled in many ways. Certainly we think of physical or mobility challenges, but also think about autistic folks for whom working at home avoids overstimulation of the ever popular open office plan. So I think there’s that. I think caregivers, it gives them access to work that they might not be able to access otherwise. But I also think it does have downsides. So it means that your job is coming into your home, you have a bigger burden of setting boundaries around that.

And I can speak as a global executive that some days my hours are absolutely terrible and there’s ways that I work that… I live between the West Coast and Sydney Australia. And when I’m in Sydney, my workday starts at 7:00 AM but that’s so that I can talk to America, but I also have teammates in Europe. And so for me, the way I think about balancing that is, one, it’s great to get to talk to people all over the world, but I have certain days that are late days and certain days that are early days. And what I think is really important about that is you create a workplace culture that is inherently respectful of the boundaries that people put in place to be able to manage this hybrid or very integrated work world that we’re in. And so I think that comes down to what is often the equity solution, which is there are individual components and then there are cultural components, and then there are process or procedure components to how you solve problems or how you make something work for a broad set of people.

Johnny Campbell:

So we have leaders listening here today who are sold, they get it, they’re like, you know what? I’ve struggled with diversity, I’ve struggled with inclusion. I really get equitable design, and I’m up for that. Where do you start? What’s the right way to approach starting with bringing in a more equitable design approach to your organization and focusing more on equity? What are the low hanging fruit areas that you would go after if you were an executive hearing this for the first time, who’s now a believer, who wants to get stuck in?

Aubrey Blanche:

Make sure you’re collecting data. It sounds really basic, but I think of that in both a quantitative and a qualitative way. And I think it’s really interesting because at Culture Amp, we have more than 6,500 customers and so much of what we do with them is actually helping them more thoughtfully and effectively collect data to inform their strategies. And we’ll be releasing an updated report later this year, so look out for it, the 2023 DEI report. But in our 2022 workplace DEI report, we found that there were three factors that helped companies make progress on DEI. And they were having supportive policies, collecting and sharing data on the topic, and having an intentional strategy. And when I read that, I was not shocked, but I also said, isn’t that what you need to make progress on any other business priority?

And so I hope that that’s helpful in the sense that leaders who are maybe intimidated or say they don’t know about DEI, certainly there’s probably education to do, but they actually have a lot of the foundational skills that are needed. And so I think collecting the right data, both quantitatively to understand inclusion and to understand the equitable or inequitable outcomes of your processes is crucial. But then I think you fill in sort of the gaps or you test your hypotheses that you develop from those quantitative insights with qualitative data. So are you doing listening sessions? Are you doing interviews to understand what’s the small end size stories that people are telling and living in your organization? And what I found is that if you do really good data collection, the strategy writes itself.

Johnny Campbell:

I love that, ask and then your employee base will tell you where to start. It’s a good place to start.

Aubrey Blanche:

Absolutely. So many people want the buzzfeed listicle of the eight things I can do to make my organization more inclusive, but to torture Tolstoy a little bit, right? He’s like every equitable organization is equitable in the same way, and every equitable organization is inequitable in its own way. And so when I talk to my consulting clients, they’ll be like, well, what do you think is wrong? And I’m like, well, based on the problems you’re describing, I think it’s x, y, and z, but I can’t actually build a strategy for you until we go measure and make sure that my hypothesis is right. My hypothesis comes from hundreds of companies that I’ve worked with, but it is that so often executives go, it’s a recruiting problem, or we need unconscious bias training. And I should also just tell you, you don’t need unconscious bias training, but I think that’s something which is leaders, you already have the skills to make basic progress on this, you just need to apply it in the same way that you apply it to your own business areas.

Johnny Campbell:

I love that. We’re famously haters of unconscious bias training here at SocialTalent. And I’ve talked about this before, how it’s not per se, the unconscious bias training I’m upset about, it’s the fact that it’s considered to be a solution and it’s just not. It’s like watching a movie or reading about what watching movies is like, it’s like watch the movie. I don’t need to be told that movies are good, they’re entertaining, here’s how it all works. It’s like, great, that’s the world that we live in. Change me, make me feel something, but more importantly, help me do something. And I think that’s where a lot of the work in this space, there’s been an absence of how you do it. Folks have talked about the why the business case, here’s why, here’s the bias you have. And it’s like, okay, okay, I get it.

We should do it. We have bias. And then there’s been as much on the how do you do it? And I think that is for me, certainly I think to you as well, Aubrey, at the real opportunity of equity. It’s like, eh, equity is the how, it’s go look at those edge cases. But going back to those edge cases you mentioned earlier, if you survey your employee base, you ask, what are the challenges, you do listening sessions, isn’t there a danger that you’ll miss what you don’t have? And what I mean by that is, many years ago at SocialTalent, we were moving offices and we were designing a new office and someone talked about putting in a feeding room for parents who needed to feed their child. And it was said, well, we don’t have any of those, so we don’t need one.

And we almost didn’t put it in because we didn’t have anyone who needed that. So it didn’t seem like a priority. Is there a danger you’ll miss the person you don’t have? And to your point earlier that being more equitable leads to more diversity because more different types of people will want to work in your organization because they see that it’s a very equitable organization, but you couldn’t miss something because you don’t have representation in that area. So does that happen and how do you get around it?

Aubrey Blanche:

Yeah, absolutely. I think it comes down to being really thoughtful about educating the experts in the room and sometimes bringing in external experts. So bringing in those perspectives. And as you said earlier, it’s impossible to bring in every single intersectional perspective into every conversation, but I think you can be really strategic about which voices you bring in. So, as an example, when I was at Atlassian, I got to work with our facilities and workplace team when we built out the new San Francisco office. And we thought about it and there were two personas that for us were really important. And so we worked with a disabled consultant who was an expert in the ADA, but understood there expertise is globally applicable. And we came in and said, what are all of the things? What is the checklist of things we should consider from a disability perspective?

And even though, for example, I am disabled in one way, I don’t have the natural intuition of what someone with autism or mobility challenges has because it’s not my experience and the list of things that we ended up building in the office. So now every Atlassian office has, we call it a library, it’s a low stimulation environment, so low lighting, soft seating, you are not allowed to talk in this room. And so for people who get overstimulated, it’s a great place for them to go to regulate. We make sure that all podiums have a side thing. So people who are using wheelchairs or other mobility devices have a podium at the appropriate height. We eat merchandise snacks vertically. So no matter what height you’re at, you can get pretzels. And so that was one persona and we hired an expert because we didn’t have that perspective on the team.

The other place is we actually brought in a religious inclusion specialist because we said, we know that different diets and cultural customs are really important, and as a global company, especially opening an office at Bangalore, right, which met significantly more Hindu and Muslim employees than we had in our Western offices. We ended up building religion rooms basically in every office where on the floor there’s a triangle that points to Mecca, we have rugs and carpets so that people can observe their prayer. It’s also for people who are non-affiliated there, it’s meditation space. And we also made sure that our food programs always offered a kosher option because that took care of both kosher and halal food needs. And so those are the types of things where we had to bring in experts because we just didn’t know enough. And so I think that’s something, it doesn’t mean that you have to hire someone full-time, but you have to be thoughtful about allocating budget and resource to get those expert voices at the design phase of something important.

Johnny Campbell:

How do you know it’s working? What are some of the simple ways you can measure to see, you talked about the start about taking qualitative and quantitative approach to it, but then you take a quantitative approach to coming back to it. What does that look like? What are some of the tools you’d recommend to see are we making progress this? How should folks measure this?

Aubrey Blanche:

Yeah. So I think over the longer term are more people from X group showing up? So, for example, at SocialTalent, I would consider the success of your initiative, is someone eventually using the feeding room? Is it getting used? But I also think this is where that inclusion or subjective experience data is really valuable. So, at Culture Amp, we do an engagement survey every quarter, and I’m cutting all of that data by seven different aspects of diversity every single time. And so for me, for example, one of the big focuses for my team this year is around ensuring that neurodiverse and mentally disabled employees feel that they’re being developed in their careers because that was the biggest gap that we saw. And so we’re working on succession planning and manager training and in a few different interventions to get at that improved experience, but measure and remeasure over time.

So making sure that you’re collecting longitudinal data so that you can see what’s working. Because the other thing I would say about this is similar to any other business strategy, it is not a set it and forget it type of thing is what worked last year. The entire external environment may have changed such that what you’re doing no longer makes sense. I think where that’s coming up for me in my work right now is in thinking about the trans employee experience. So at Culture Amp, we’ve seen that our trans and otherwise queer employees historically have done very well, been very happy. It’s a very LGBT friendly workplace. But over the last year I’ve seen the experience of LGBT and especially trans and non-binary employees drop significantly. And at first I went like, oh shit, Culture Amp is failing on our commitments.

And when we dug in and started to have those qualitative conversations, we found that a lot of it was actually how hostile the US has become to LGBTQ and especially trans people. And so that didn’t mean that we just said not our problem, but what it did mean was we said, you know what actually matters to you, and so we ended up communicating more specifically to employees about our commitments to LGBT people saying that we valued them, highlighting the different aspects of our culture and company that were designed with them in mind. And so even though we didn’t actually change our programs, we actually changed our approach. And we found that while it didn’t solve the whole problem, we’re starting to see that queer employees are doing a little bit better because we’re being intentional about validating them and validating their dignity and their worthiness, which is something they may not be getting outside of work because of quite frankly, just the shocking hostility and violence that’s being directed towards that community.

Johnny Campbell:

Yeah. Some very concerning changes since probably the blossoming from such a tragedy of the murder of George Floyd, which led such a change worldwide. You hate to think of going backwards in lots of different areas, which I think sometimes it just does, and we got to constantly fight that and be intentional. But when you’ve mentioned before Aubrey, about when folks are passionate about this subject, you’re trying to focus on equitable design and you’re trying to consider different backgrounds and intersectionalities, not to forget to talk to the piece people you think you’re representing, and does that happen? I know as a white male, I know a lot of people like me tend to fight and then forget to stop and ask somebody that you’re fighting for. Is that the way you want to fight? Is that the topic? So tell me about that and tell me, is that what you did with the communities that you’re talking about in the last year in terms of trying to better help them?

Aubrey Blanche:

Yeah, absolutely. So that’s the third principle to me of equitable design, what I call community. And when I talk about this community principle, it’s both trust people’s voices about what their problems are, but also lean on that community’s wisdom to help articulate the solutions, and I think it has to be both. And the way that I think you talked about being a white man, I am a queer disabled Latina, mixed race, but most of my marginalizations are invisible. So I have a lot of privileges that aren’t afforded to other members of my communities. And I think what’s really important is you build relationships with people who will check you. And I think that that’s not a flip thing to say, I think it takes a lot of time, but I do a lot of anti-racism work and I’m very careful to have very close relationships with people who are darker skin than me or experienced different types of racism.

And that’s not solely because I’m like, oh, I want feedback on being a good person that I actually love and value them as human beings. But I’ve also been very intentional with them to say, I want to be an ally to you, and I recognize that my privilege might prevent me from doing that. And so I want to give you permission in the context of our relationship to push back on me when I am not living in line with my values. And I think that it takes humility, it is super uncomfortable sometimes. I don’t want to pretend that it’s easy, but for me it goes back to how do I expose myself to difference? I build relationships with people who I want to work on behalf of. I think in the company context, I do focus groups certainly, and I always lead with my identities so people know who’s in the room.

But when I’m in doing a focus group with a community that I’m not from, so recently a group of Asian employees or a group of Black employees, I say, I recognize that I do not reflect your experiences, but my number one goal is to create a safe space for you to share your stories. If I ever fail to do that, you have complete agency to stop me and stop this entire process. And so I think that even saying that can do an incredible amount to build trust with people especially. But I think it’s especially important for those of us from majority groups or who carry different types of privilege to be very clear that we’re aware of that and we’re very aware that it causes gaps in our understanding and that we very vehemently want feedback on how to do better.

Johnny Campbell:

I love that, you’ve given us so much advice, so much wisdom. As you said yourself, you revealed your tip that you were holding back for the end earlier. So I’m going to ask you, and you don’t have to throw one in, did you come up with another one on the fly to close us out as your final tip to leave our audience with here today?

Aubrey Blanche:

Yeah, I think the tip that I try to teach folks I coach is change something 1%. So it’s really easy to look at all of these systems oppression and all of the intersections and get super overwhelmed and think you have to solve for anything. But the question that I ask is, what would I do if I made something 1% more equitable? And the book Atomic Habits is something I love, and they talk about how a 1% improvement every day over a year leads to a 300% change. And so I think it’s really important to hold yourself to the standard of don’t do everything, do something. It’s okay to give yourself an allyship cookie or enjoy that dopamine hit if you’re into the neuroscience of it, but it is with each of us doing the small things that we will fundamentally change the world. And so that’s what I would say is don’t do nothing.

Johnny Campbell:

I love that it takes one person to stand up on a bus and say no to change the world. And that’s what happens. Aubrey, it’s been a pleasure. I’ve loved this conversation, I bet our audience has too. I’m sure they have. I’m dying to have you back on. I’m dying to see your new training, which I know you’re working with us on as well, and to bring your passion, your wisdom, your insight to the platform as well. Thanks for joining us today, and I really hope you go back to enjoying your coffee and your breakfast and your 11:00 AM shower.

Aubrey Blanche:

Yes, absolutely.

Johnny Campbell:

We’ll keep that secret to ourselves. Aubrey, thanks so much, and thank you for listening here today to the show.

The Shortlist is a workplace, thought-leader focused talkshow that broadcasts every Wednesday. You can watch it live on LinkedIn and on YouTube. Or, why not stream as a podcast after?

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