Courtesy Stephanie Pinder-Amaker

Earlier this year, we wrote about an important book on inclusion called Did that Just Happen?! by Dr. Stephanie Pinder-Amaker and Dr. Lauren Wadsworth, clinical psychologists who work together at Harvard-Medical-School-affiliated McLean Hospital. Since then, it’s become the most popular book that Charter readers have bought after reading one of our briefings.

We hear from our readers that they don’t want to ease up on diversity and inclusion efforts, even amid heightened competition for talent and complications around the return to the workplace. So we reached out to Pinder-Amaker, for her thoughts on what everyone should be doing now. Here is a transcript of the conversation, edited for clarity:

What is the essential work around inclusion to be doing now?

The first thing is to name the promotion of diversity, equity and inclusion as a priority of the organization. If that hasn't been done before, it's really important to make that a clear statement and to express that commitment across every possible platform within the organization. If it has been done before, then this is an important time to recommit, to restate and be very clear and vocal and transparent that this is a priority of our organization. I'd say next to make sure to both properly resource and elevate the work. It's not enough to say this is what we're doing, or these are our values, these are our goals. The work has to be resourced. When I say properly elevate, I mean that it shouldn't be marginalized or hidden or buried.

It needs to have a platform. Whoever your top diversity, equity, and inclusion person is in your organization shouldn't be tucked away in a basement office somewhere that no one can find. They should actually report very high in the organization. Think in every possible way, what does the elevation and amplification of this work look like? And what are the unique opportunities that your organization has for elevating this work? There isn't a one-size-fits-all kind of answer. But think about who you are as a system and as a structure, what are your platforms? What does it look like when something is a priority within your organization? How is that communicated? And however that's communicated traditionally for your organization, the promotion of diversity equity, and inclusion work should be done at least at that level and beyond.

It's not about equality where inclusion work is concerned. It is about equity. So that means it's not going to necessarily be sufficient to use the same tactics. You're going to have to get innovative, creative, go above and beyond. Because inclusion is work that historically has not been done. And it has been suppressed. If you apply the same old strategies and tactics, that's like using a lens of equality. We really need to use look through the lens of equity. That's the second thing. Then it's important to commit to a process of institutional or organizational racial reckoning. That should be a high priority for organizations right now.

Related to that, I would make it a priority to adopt what I refer to as a model of shared responsibility. It goes hand in hand with thinking strategically about how to elevate the work. A model of shared responsibility is how you come to your organization. It's the opposite of marginalizing work. You want to challenge, invite, encourage every mission element of your system, every person within your organization to look through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion in their work to see themselves, to ask themselves, 'what is my responsibility in my role, where I sit within this organization for promoting diversity, equity and inclusion?' Every member of the organization, that's what a shared responsibility model is. Promotion of inclusion in an organization doesn't sit within the DEIO office or rest with the chief diversity equity inclusion officer. It's pervasive, it's integrated. It sounds so obvious and straightforward—and the vast majority of organizations really don't function in this way. But it's really exciting and amazing to see what can happen when that organizational shift in culture takes place, because then you truly get all hands, all hearts, and all minds on deck. That can be just transformational, which is what we need.

How do you know if your organization or an organization you're considering working with is doing the real work, rather than just making statements about it? What differentiates the organizations who just put out press releases about racial justice from those who are committed to change?

It's an important question because that's what people are paying attention to right now. They want to see who has moved beyond a press release or a statement or the naming of a committee to actually beginning the real work and committing to the real work. The priorities that I just named, those are examples of steps that people are taking. You can know that you are making a commitment to doing the real work by embracing those steps and those strategies.

One way that you'll know that you're doing the work is to commit to an ongoing needs assessment so that you're constantly asking yourself, that question 'Where are we?' We talk a lot in DEI work about requiring a commitment of both the head and the heart and it really is both of those things. The head part is—there really is movement in this direction—looking for metrics and standards, benchmarks. Have you moved the dial in tangible ways that can be measured in terms of say bringing more diverse talent into the organization and is your diverse talent really significantly advancing within your organization?

Those kinds of metrics, people are paying attention to them. If you're a hospital system, what does the diversity or demographic profile of your patient population look like? Gather that data. This is an important time to know who we're working with currently in the community. And it's not quite where we want to be. This is our goal for the next quarter. So that's the head part, those metrics where you can really improve and document that some things are changing in a tangible way. The head part is the part that's required with when I talk about committing to a process of racial reckoning for the organization. That's really difficult work. The vast majority of organizations who put out well-meaning statements of their commitment to this work really bypass this next step. That's because it's painful. It's difficult to do. It's important to pause and really commit to that process.

Let's talk about the process. Say I'm at a company and I want to start a process of racial reckoning—what do I do?

I think about racial reckoning as an internal self study. You're doing an intentional, deep dive within your organization seeking to answer the question, who are we relative to diversity, equity, inclusion? Who are we currently? Who have we been? What's our history? And you're making a commitment to understanding what that history has been. This is challenging because often the history is painful and, and not very complimentary in these ways. Which is why I love James Baldwin's quote that not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it's faced. I use it as a guiding mantra in this work when committing to the process.

I like to design it almost like a research study design. You're trying to find out who are we relatively? Everyone thinks they know. But you can't change what you don't know. And until you engage in this process, you do not know. So the process often includes many components, but one is a listening tour. The listening tour can evolve in many ways. I think about it as a structured opportunity through which you conduct this self study in which you are inviting all members of your organization to come forward and share their lived, observed, and supervised experiences of bias, marginalization, and racism within the organization. Can you share those things with us?

A lot of thought and planning has to go into making it possible to get meaningful data because people have to feel safe. It's a tough question to answer, so people aren't going to necessarily volunteer to come forward with this information. The organization has to commit to a process that makes it safe to get the real data. Otherwise you're just wasting your time. Everything has to be structured to promote people feeling like it's safe enough to come forward with this information. A guiding thought going into the work is knowing at the outset that no matter what you do, there will be members within your organization who will never feel like it's safe enough to come forward and share the truth of their lived, observed, and supervised experiences of racism within your organization.

You should know that going in, because that's what you're up against when trying to get to the real information. It can be especially helpful in this area while doing that, when doing this internal self study to include people who have left your organization. If you're an organization that has interns and trainees, and you've had difficulty retaining diverse talent, you want to invite them into this process. They probably have a lot that they can share. I like to design both in-person listening sessions, and, for prioritizing safety, I also like to give people multiple opportunities and methods for sharing the information. Some people won't feel comfortable participating in an in-person session but they may feel more comfortable completing a survey. Give people lots of different opportunities to submit, but with the guiding idea being what's going to make people feel most comfortable sharing the truth of their experience.

And then presumably producing a report that is then shared within the organization?

That's right, there's a report out of those findings, almost like a scientific approach. Every step of this requires a lot of thought. It's important that that report out is transparent. What can be so powerful about that is first you're gathering a realistic picture of who you are, who you've been. It may not be a pretty picture. But you can come forward and say, this is who we are. And this is what we learned from people within our organization. And now this is who we want to be. Then begin to lay out the strategy for moving forward. It's so important not to like leapfrog that process. People really want to go to strategy because there's a lot of interest, passion, and motivation to becoming more inclusive at this point. But you've a missed opportunity if you don't really commit to first understanding who you are and what the history has been of not only your organization, but also the field in which you reside.

The other helpful thing about that intervention is some of the resistance and many of the barriers to becoming a more inclusive organization exist within your organization. A lot of times we like to think those are external barriers, but many of them are within the organization. Some of those barriers frankly, will be that you'll have members of the organization who don't think there's anything to report out here. They're going to say, this isn't a racist organization—what are they talking about? This isn't us, this isn't who we are. But when you gather that data and they're reported back to the organization, then you have an opportunity to bring those people along. They can say, I didn't get it. I didn't know. I didn't think it was real.

There's currently a war for talent. How do you see the diversity and inclusion dimension of that?

When we're talking about the empowered worker, this means that organizations in the simplest terms need to be prepared to bring their DEI 'A game' at this point. Because diverse talent isn't going to settle for less. Diverse talent doesn't have to settle—at this point they can go anywhere. It's a really important question to think about in this context. It really steps things up. This period that we're in remind me of what happened in the late 1980s in California following the Rodney King incident. A model emerged. And it's a model that I love to use when working with organizations.

It is a model that was advanced by two physicians of color, Dr. Melanie Tervalon and Dr. Jann Murray-Garcia. It's a model of cultural humility. It's a four-step process that organizations can look to almost like a guide sheet. If we can commit to adopting the model, then we're going to eventually position ourselves to really be much better positioned at both seeking and retaining diverse talent within our organization.


The handbook for this new era of business doesn’t exist. We’re all drafting our own as we go along—and now we’d like to start doing so together. You can sign up here to receive briefings like this by email.