Between a global pandemic, a reinvigorated social and racial justice movement, and a contentious presidential election, 2020 has been a year of historic change.
We brought Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion leaders together recently for a virtual conversation about the current DEI environment.
Read on to hear from Bethany Hartley, our Chief Strategy Officer and Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership, Dr. Redgina Hill of Saint Mary’s College, Jess Koscher of Write Connections | strategy + design, and Amish Shah of Kem Krest. The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee members discuss the current DEI environment, their hopes for the future, and the challenges they believe we all face moving forward.
Bethany: We’re going to jump right in. Looking at 2020 there was a lot that happened, especially in the DEI space. A lot of disparities came to light. Thinking about that from both your personal and professional perspectives, how has this year impacted DEI work?
Redgina: What I found really insightful/impactful was a lot of the businesses and organizations locally, nationally, globally started making these statements around the June-July area for diversity and standing for diversity. I also noticed a new wave of diversity positions being hired within these organizations.
Amish: In and of itself, I think that 2020 highlighted the unity across the country around the need for more prominent outcomes as it relates to diversity.
I think this year, more than any other year, there‘s been an outcry for outcomes and real action. And that‘s why we‘ve seen more and more companies, like Redgina has mentioned, trying to explore what that means for them and how to deploy some sort of strategy internally to support their diverse recruiting and the candidates that they have within their four walls.
To me, sometimes it takes trigger points. It takes that burning fire to ensure that things happen, and I think that’s what I saw in 2020: there has been enough support throughout the country to make sure this isn’t just wallpaper, but it’s actually something that’s actionable.
Jess: I agree completely with both Redgina and Amish. What I‘ve seen is people got “woke“ across the nation. We‘ve spent a lot of time making a business case on why diversity is important and why inclusion helps businesses, and why diverse workforces improve bottom lines and all of those things. We‘ve set that business case up.
But I think what 2020 has uncovered when we unpacked what we‘ve actually done in this space in the last 20 years; it‘s been jarring to see that a lot of it has been lip service.
I think this space and this year has forced everyone to look at how we‘re moving the needle, how are we actually going to make this the business case that we believe it is, and how are we communicating those metrics? How are we going to get this work done?
I‘m optimistic that people are woke to this, and they recognize they want to work in this space, but I also think it‘s jarring to people to understand what this space even means and how do we move the metrics and actually infuse diversity and inclusion in our work?
It‘s not just with a statement on a wall, but it actually is in our DNA. It hits every level of an organization, regardless if you‘re a for–profit or a nonprofit. It impacts everything you do, from your policies and procedures to how you hire and communicate your message.
We are at a pivotal moment that I‘ve never seen before where people are talking about (diversity & inclusion) in a real manner. I hope they don‘t get fatigued and give up. We cannot tolerate lip service anymore.
Bethany: Let’s talk about hope. We all have to be hopeful about something, and being optimistic as I am, I’m just curious when it comes to this work what are you hopeful for in 2021? What do you hope to see, be a part of, or see happen? What if someone is reading this? What do you hope they will do?
Jess: I‘m hopeful that companies do the work. That they have seen what‘s happened and seen what happens when we just pay lip service to (diversity and inclusion), and that they feel compelled to do something because they have to.
I hope that they recognize how they have dealt with inclusion, equity, and diversity in the past has not worked, so we’re going to have to do the hard work. That‘s what I‘m hopeful for.
That when they re-up or sign-up to do this work in our region, they know they can come to any of the four of us. I‘m feeling very optimistic that we have the resources in the people around the table for the first time who can help.
Redgina: I definitely agree with Jess. I’m hopeful that we will see some action and not just lip service. I’m hoping that we will start to see the proper resources to support this work. The proper infrastructure to help individuals who are responsible within these organizations to field their responsibility. So I am hopeful for that for 2021.
Amish: I’m optimistic that we’re going to see continued momentum. My hope is that we have the leadership behind it. The diverse leaders we have in the community need to be ones that continue to push forward and demonstrate that they’re committed to the mentorship, sponsorship, promoting awareness, providing support, and being involved in the work we are doing.
I think for the non-diverse leaders in our community, I hope that they continue to be engaged in the importance of how this builds a great community, how it builds a great organization. My hope is we continue to drive the results that are going to create a better community.
My other hope is that there is some grace because it‘s a long curvy road, and things get hard, and they get challenging, but there is grace all the way around, but we at least stay focused on what we‘re trying to achieve, which is building the entire community up through all of our people. Through diversity and acknowledging, we‘re all in this together.
Bethany: In looking at, not the complete opposite end of the spectrum, I would say, but just talking through what can be called challenges, or can be called opportunities, but what does that look like for DEI? What are some of the new opportunities or challenges we see coming down the pipeline?
Amish: When I look at diversity, and I look at what the opportunities are, the real opportunity is in systematizing the processes because there are processes that can be considered best practices. And specifically, I‘m talking about how we engage the right D&I process within an organization. More than in a community.
You have a lot of touchpoints, and you can formalize infrastructure within an organization. And so, I think the opportunity is to continue the work that we are doing and resource up to support and help businesses and employers. To really take that seriously and invest the time and effort in money and resources in doing that.
I think the other opportunity is in continuing to share stories of great leaders, female and diverse leaders in our communities, and the great things that they are doing. Sometimes those stories are for us because we get to see our peers in the spotlight that they deserve. And so I think those are the opportunities.
The challenges are simply, it’s hard work. It’s hard work because it’s cultural. And changing a culture is very challenging, and it takes time. It’s a journey, it’s not an action. It’s not just one destination in the activity, it’s multiple phases. And so, I think in changing a culture, you need all hands on–deck. You need to understand deeply and inherently why you’re willing to take those steps in the right direction. I think the challenge there is it’s a lot of work.
Jess: I concur with a couple of things Amish said earlier, one is pacing. This takes time, and there will be missteps and pivots and things like that.
But the other thing is grace. And I think that one of the things I have a great concern about is this space of DEI and making sure that everybody that wants to be on the bus is on the bus. I think sometimes this work goes toward the people who look like us, that are brown–skinned people, and white people don‘t see their space in it. And there is a space in it.
One of the most powerful experiences I had on Facebook during Black Lives Matter was a friend of mine, putting out two questions. One was, for people of color, talk about the first time you were called a racial slur. People explained those things, I had mine, people shared. But the other thing they did, that was really powerful, was if you were a white person, talk about the first time you realized racism or prejudice was real. Those stories were heartbreaking. What they showed me was when racism happens, when discrimination happens, no one is left unscarred.
The stories that came from the white folks showed that they were changed as well. Of course, being a victim of racism in my own life, I carry those with me. But I don‘t think I had thought before about my white friends and acquaintances, that they also carry those with them. It‘s powerful. And we never ask them to talk about it. We never even consider, I at least didn‘t, that it‘s part of their story as well.
So I think more stories that unite us both. That when injustice happens, it hurts everybody. And to solve it, we are all at the table. We talk about mentorships and sponsorships, we‘re not talking about those only being people of color to people of color, we‘re talking about mentorships and sponsorships that help raise the inclusion and equity in businesses that those happen in. So we can all be a part of it.
Amish: Yeah, Jess, when you’re speaking, I think you’re dead on it. It just got my brain around some memories of this year. We’ve done a lot this year. There’ve been a lot of great things that have happened.
This year, we had multiple community conversations, led by community leaders, socially distanced, in large gymnasiums where we talked about race and race relations. And what it feels like, the plight of the black man or the plight of what it‘s like to be discriminated against.
And when I was in those rooms, in those conversations, the demographics were 50/50, you know, 50% of minority background and 50% that were not. And of the “were not,” they were engaged, interested, and passionate about what’s going on and how to help. You know it’s almost a trepidation of “how do I help when I’m not in this class?” How do I even start a conversation without offending somebody?
I think bringing hope and optimism and talking about the things that we have done. And giving good kudos to the depth of conversations that we‘ve been having. That shouldn‘t go forgotten, and it shouldn‘t go untold because it‘s equally as important.
Redgina: I definitely agree, Amish. This summer, we held a five-week anti-racism journey with our faculty and staff. We held this five-week anti-racism journey, and on those Fridays, we got on Zoom calls with faculty and staff and just interrogated our own biases and how it shows up in the classroom, in our work, and in our departments.
I was so inspired by the level of conversations that this past semester faculty went into the classrooms and was having with students that they never had before. How they changed their curriculum, how they changed their pedagogy, and their approach to teaching. How we are now dedicating ourselves to graduating global citizens to have a critical lens so that as employers are hiring them, they can go in and support these efforts around diversity and inclusion.
I see that as a good opportunity, especially in higher education, to have these conversations that were never had before, especially from faculty members who were afraid to go deep into having these conversations.
I think one of the challenges that we will always see is resistance. There is always going to be resistance to this work. But just knowing you‘re going to have resistance to the work, that‘s not going to get you down, that‘s not going to stop you from the great work that you‘re doing. I receive so many hate emails just for doing the work that I‘m doing. I receive so much push back from people just to do the job I was hired to do, but I don‘t let that stop me. I know I‘m doing good work, the work I‘m doing is great work, and it‘s going to change not only the organization but change the culture hopefully, that will impact the world and beyond. And so, having that laser focus that I‘m doing great work, even when I‘m faced with resistance, um, I think has helped to ground me in this work and to keep me from the fatigue that Jess was talking about earlier.
Bethany: That’s beautiful. I appreciate all of the answers, and anecdotally from my perspective, this year, and outside of my role here, was the first time I had a conversation with other white people about race. They had never spoken about race, and it had never come up in conversation. Fascinating how other white folks approach it, and everybody’s different, and that’s regardless of race… but the wiliness to understand and actually recognize that this is a conversation that non-white folks have been having forever… their whole lives. And now the question is, what do I do with this?
And that’s where I think too, that question of, “what can I do as an individual?” regardless of my race, gender, sexual orientation, what can I do to be a part of what you all are speaking of, the change for the future? What are things you’re encouraging folks to do in your networks to make a personal difference for others?
Jess: What you just said made me think about an experience I just had actually, at Kem Krest when I did a training there with their team. I do an activity that talks about “you may think this (about me) but actually…” in which I use an example “While I am Asian, I’m not good at math” because that’s a stereotype.
It was a mixed group with people you would look at and see they were from a diverse background and people you would look at and see they were not from a diverse background, the amazing part about that was every single person had one of these. Every single person had where they had been misjudged by a stereotype and (they) talked about the pain that it caused.
So I don‘t think microaggressions only happen to diverse groups. I had a guy in the group say, “hey, I‘m husky, and everyone thinks because I‘m larger, I love sweets, but I don‘t,” and he talked about the pain of always being offered the extra doughnut because he‘s heavy. So I think helping people see that there is some common ground starts the conversations, and they can tune into that feeling that they had and then amplify it for people of color.
Redgina: You are absolutely right. I have been telling people to amplify the voices of People of Color who have been crying out for centuries about the injustices that we are experiencing in the world and within companies. Also, using their privilege, using that privilege in ways to open up doors and opportunities to say who’s missing from this conversation? Who’s missing from this table who needs to be here? Whose voice and perspective are missing?
I think that there is a need for continued learning and unlearning. Having a willingness to unlearn some of the things they have been taught that were not true or half–truths. But being in the position to be willing to learn, to listen to the narratives to those who may be contrary to what they think is true or reality.
I believe there is an African proverb that says, “Until the story of the hunt is told from the lion‘s perspective, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.“ So who are the lions in your sphere of influence that you can listen to — to hear their narratives and perspectives to change how you view situations? Those are just a few things I‘ve been encouraging people to do.
Bethany: Thank you. Amish, anything you‘d like to add?
Amish: I was just totally blown away and inspired by both Redgina and Jess, so I‘m literally just kind of digesting those powerful words and sentiments. I don‘t have anything to really add because I think they articulated it so well.
For the sake of space, the entirety of our interview is not included in this article.
Bethany Hartley: For the past decade, Bethany Hartley has served in leadership roles including director level positions at the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) in Chicago, the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Joseph County, and RISE in South Bend. Currently, Hartley serves as the Chief Strategy Officer and Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership. Hartley’s past experiences includes strategic development, change management, and technology transformation. Hartley is passionate about the advancement and empowerment of historically marginalized groups. She is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago and currently resides in South Bend with her partner and two dogs.
Dr. Redgina Hill: Redgina Hill, PhD currently serves as the executive director of inclusion and equity for Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. In her role, she defines and cultivates diversity, equity, and inclusion as an institutional and educational priority. She is also the Founder & CEO of Redgina Hill Consulting, LLC (RHC) which exists to cultivate diversity, equity and inclusion within businesses and organizations and seeks to help organizations facilitate change through measurable goals.
Jess Koscher: For over a decade, Jess Koscher has been a voice in the DEI space. First as a United Way professional when she worked with United Way Worldwide and currently as the founder and CEO of Write Connections | strategy + design, LCC. Koscher has crafted multiple articles on diversity and inclusion topics, trained various groups in professional settings, and often consults with public, private, and in the nonprofit sector on DEI strategies. She has her Masters degree in Public Affairs with a specialization in nonprofit management. Koscher and her wife reside in Elkhart with their two ginger cats.
Amish Shah: As an entrepreneur, community champion, and education enthusiast, Amish Shah has helped make the South Bend – Elkhart region a better place to live and work for more than 20 years. As CEO since 2008, Amish has led Kem Krest to become a $500+ million business that services Fortune 100 companies globally. In March 2020, Kem Krest launched Kem-Shield, which distributes a wide array of health & safety products to customers nation-wide. Amish serves on a variety of boards and committees and is especially passionate about building the next generation of entrepreneurs. Amish has been a strong voice in the DEI space for over twenty years, serving on diversity councils, working with large Fortune 500 companies, and within his own organization. Amish and his wife, Amy, live in Elkhart County with their four children.
To watch the conversation in its entirety, click here!