Monica Guillory is the Founder & CEO of Back Pocket Wisdom, a consulting firm that offers corporate and enterprise consulting on any DEI or HR initiative, as well as consulting and coaching to senior-level executives on leading inclusively and building a culture where people and business succeed.

Monica has devoted her career to the business of people. With a successful track record leading Corporate Human Resources and DEI/EEO/AAP compliance teams, Monica has proven success in change management, leadership development, culture transformation, diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), executive coaching, employee relations, talent acquisition and development, mentoring, and program management.

Perhaps most importantly, Monica has devoted her career to enabling people to grow and thrive personally while meeting business objectives. She advocates for more joy at work and firmly believes, employees tend to meet organizational goals to the extent they feel included and their needs are met.

I sat down virtually with Monica to discuss what changes she’s seen in corporations around DEI in the past 12 months and what challenges businesses are having today after the public commitments they’ve made to equity and belonging. The conversation was poignant and powerful. Monica’s contagious passion and depth of sincerity made it one of the most impactful conversations I’ve had in recent memory. Here’s an abridged version.

Sarah: What kind of changes have you seen in corporations around DEI in the past 12 months?

Monica Guillory: We definitely had a defining moment in 2020. Due to the circumstances we all know, there was suddenly so much demand for conversation about race and differences from across all types of organizations and industries; small businesses, corporations, nonprofits. The exposure to the social unrest and racial injustices made people aware, whether they wanted to be or not. And it gave people of color a new boldness to speak to their pain in organizations and demanding to be heard. The pandemic was isolating and many Americans were already traumatized from work or home or the news, and then they were confronted with the worst of themselves. Many of us had a reckoning with self, friends, family, community. Organizations making commitments to do better were intentional. It was hard to suspend judgment, but you could feel the sincerity of the statements while our history caused us to doubt if the newly made commitments would last and create real change.

Sarah: What are some of the challenges businesses are having today after having begun bigger DEI efforts in the last year or so?

Monica: Change requires more than intention. It requires influence and commitment to realize it. It’s easy to make big, bold promises, but it’s hard to influence people to change hearts and minds resulting in behavior change. What drives real change is organizational and an individual commitment to equity. What evokes real change is an inspired heart, an informed mind, and a willingness to act. Willingness to say the things that need to be said now and to personally be the change. Do it. Not say it… Create equity. That’s an outcome. Deliver pay equity. Tie compensation to inclusive leadership and diversity results. I’m not sure companies were ready for that level of execution.

It’s also hard to change without some disruption and discomfort at all ranks of an organization. If you have a willing leader, that person has to commit to being a disrupter. Even to be an effective ally in your personal life, you have to be willing to assume some risk. As leaders who are willing to disrupt, they must realize it could come at the cost of social capital as power doesn’t yield willingly.

Many companies today are now recognizing it’s not just creating the right goals. You have to find a way to sustain and continue those goals through continual action, nurturing and watering. Getting DEI right is making a continual commitment. The process is never done… it is ever accountable, and ever-evolving

Sarah: What advice can you give to businesses that feel they are stagnating in their journey?

Monica: Stalled efforts can be reignited especially if they were intentional, but it takes grit and grace to make big painful change. As we look to history to inform us, we know culture does not change quickly. There’s a need in this work, especially in organizational work, for what I call “impatient patience”. Some conditions are not acceptable, but we also need to be realistic about how fast they can change.

The business case for DEI is as strong as ever – and it is affecting all industries. Gimmicky things may be used to attract people to a company, but at the end of the day, they will stay based on how they feel when they get there. Real Inclusion still matters and makes all the difference in who stays and thrives and is promoted in organizations.

There are three questions I recommend in a framework to help consider what might have stalled the journey.

Question 1 — Who are you trying to include?

Many voices and colors are needed in championing diversity, equity and inclusion, you cannot practice exclusion in the name of supporting the marginalized. Individuals are unique. Diversity only happens in context with others. So we much be specific in setting diversity goals. Who are we missing, lacking, trying to promote? It doesn’t have to be everyone at the same time, but what you do you should do well. Are you lacking Black leaders? Women in operations? Goals must be specific. Watered down DEI goals get you mediocre or no results at all. Consider what you are doing to ensure equitable treatment to all members on the team, realize that equality is not the answer. Treating everyone equally only works if everyone is at an even placement. If we try to do the same for everyone it will not work because everyone does not have the same starting point. Blanket policies and practices don’t work for folks that aren’t the same.

Question 2 — Are the people I have in place preventing or limiting us from accomplishing our DEI initiatives and goals?

Not every individual needs to be a disruptive champion for change, but everyone does need to arrive with an inspired heart and informed mind to make their environment one where people feel like they belong. Sometimes reticent folks can change but often they can’t, won’t, or aren’t able to do so at the pace you need them to. These are the hard but necessary changes involved if DEI is to progress. Sometimes leadership changes are required.

To invite culture change, we have to reframe what effective leadership is. Leaders have to be empathetic, active listeners, with emotional intelligence. They must recognize and respect that all this emotion that we used to check at the door is coming to work with their employees and the strong feelings are unavoidable… our mental health needs are important and leaders must be able not just to give direction, but to listen with empathy in order to have the influence to lead effectively. It’s about taking care of people that take care of your business. We need to bring those things together and often it requires reconsidering the leadership of any team.

Question 3 — Are you willing to have the courageous conversations?

Corporate diversity has to stay aligned with the real people in the business. It requires people working all the way through organizations. As an HR or DEI leader, you may not be involved with the impacts of decisions at every level of the business. Ensure that you’re not assuming that you know all of the circumstances and stop thinking people can’t understand the big topics. Employees can understand a lot if the organization is willing to be more transparent and engage them in real conversation. Inclusion enables these diverse voices and perspectives to be heard. The companies that are thriving right now are the ones that are willing to have conversations with all levels about the critical and important things that matter to people and when people know they matter, innovation, increased performance and even commitment always increase.

Sarah: Any advice to individuals on this journey?

Monica: Learn how to self-regulate, suspend judgment, know how to take a breath. When you’re in a tough conversation, one where you have a strong belief and have an urge to give someone a piece of your mind, remember, they COULD be right. Require yourself to listen, not to debate, but to understand. You are not handing over your beliefs to anyone, you’re simply suspending them for a minute. And if you give that space, there just might be a shift in perspective born out of a broader understanding. Change generated from understanding tends to last. But by not taking those steps it will certainly never happen. Be brave and be a bridge. If you show up with an already formed opinion, no listening, and no suspended belief, you will not change.

Also, ensure you aren’t stereotyping and labeling others, including white people, in the name of diversity! Stop using blanket assumptions for groups of people… any people! This behavior is counter-productive and reinforces exclusion. We need ALL allies in DEI and the fight for equity and justice. Call out the person, not the group. Engage the “non-diverse folks” that you think shouldn’t be doing the work, especially if they have positional power, leverage it. This is the messy part of change, making room for everyone that wants to be a part of creating inclusion and equity to play a role. Sometimes while not the way you would have preferred, efforts are made and you can be the hindrance based on your own mistrust and distrust. We need everyone willing to act with an inspired heart and an informed mind to do their part to practice intentional inclusion and insist on answering the demands for societal and workplace equity that have been set in motion.

About the Author

Sarah Ratcliffe is the SVP of Product for Passport Inc a software company dedicated to realizing more livable and equitable cities through mobility software solutions. She holds a Senior Professional Of Human Resources designation, a Certified Diversity Professional and a Masters Degree in Industrial Psychology. Sarah spends her personal time running a social enterprise that brings mental health and dance together through various events around the city of Chicago and beyond. She is a volunteer writer for the National Diversity Council.

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