“We all have a responsibility to help our companies do better.” – Jaron Terry, M.S., APR, Fellow PRSA
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Jaron Terry, owner of Jaron Terry Communications. Jaron is also the president of the board of PFLAG Columbus and co-vice chair of the National PRSA Diversity and Inclusion Committee. She joined me recently to share her thoughts on what companies can do to be more open and inclusive. In this new Alignd interview, we talk about implicit bias, personal accountability and culture-building.
Understanding Our Own Bias
“Change starts by looking at our own bias. Once we identify our own beliefs, we can help identify where bias shows up in our organizations,” said Jaron. “Many companies were eager to have something to say during the height of the Black Lives Matters movement last year. I believe many of them genuinely wanted to support the Black community and particularly their BIPOC employees.”
“They also wanted to step up and say: ‘We’re not like that and this isn’t what you should expect from our business.’ However, before an organization can make these claims, they need to reflect on their beliefs and behaviors. This means facing current and past mistakes and acknowledging where they still need to make changes,” added Jaron.
Jaron went on to explain that this requires more than creating a checklist. It starts with a change of heart. “Leaders need to take a hard look at themselves and be more aware of the bias they bring to the conversation or business. You can have a robust diversity program, but unless you change your heart and mind, things won’t actually improve.”
“When we think about how implicit bias shows up in our companies, we need to look at our processes and what beliefs or opinions may be affecting the way we do business.”
For example, we need to look closely at our hiring and screening processes to see if we’re unintentionally limiting opportunities for certain individuals or groups. Advancement opportunities are another area to deconstruct. Are we creating the same opportunities for all of our employees regardless of race, gender, age, identity or orientation? Finally, are we providing equitable benefits that meet the needs of all of our employees?
Changing Your Business Culture
While identifying biases and making changes that support your BIPOC and LGBTQ+ employees is critical, Jaron reminds us that it doesn’t end there.“We need to see more companies moving from words to action and action to antiracism.” As Ibram X. Kendi explains in his book, How to be an Antiracist, “One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist or racial equality as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of not racist.”
Kendi makes it clear for us that we need to pursue an antiracist culture. A culture that celebrates diverse people, ideas and experiences and doesn’t tolerate policies, behaviors or opinions that oppress or diminish the value of others.
So how do we do this? Jaron shared the following tips for individuals who want to spark change in their own companies.
- Acknowledge you can’t do it alone. “Creating change in a business requires leaders to make it a priority. Find and collaborate with the leaders or champions in your business who see the value of this work.”
- Be a voice for change. “While you can’t do it alone, you can be a catalyst for change,” said Jaron. This is true particularly for those in communications and marketing who have influence over the conversation that’s occurring inside and outside of your business.
- Make a case for it. One of the best ways to spark change in your organization is to demonstrate the business case for it. “There’s plenty of research that shows that diversity has a direct, positive impact on the financial health and trajectory of the business. Find the studies that relate to your business and make your case.”
- Align your DEI efforts with inclusive values. “Your beliefs about an inclusive culture should go hand-in-hand with inclusive values,” said Jaron. Take an objective look at your values and make updates to align them with your diversity, equity and inclusion program.
- Take action and hold others accountable. Jaron also highlighted the importance of showing up. “The key here is to take action to support employees from under-represented groups in your organization. Then, build in systems for accountability. Show your employees that behavior that doesn’t align with your values won’t be accepted.”
Speaking from the Heart
Before we finished our discussion, Jaron circled back to the idea that we need to change minds and hearts with this story:
A while back I was approached by a business owner who wanted to do more to show support for her LGBTQ+ employees but didn’t know how. I asked her if she ever brings in heart-shaped donuts in February or whether they have green beer in March? If so, bring in rainbow cookies in June.
The important part is to just do it. Don’t create a committee or do it to check a box. Instead make it heartfelt and make it a celebration. Then, recognize this is just the start. Follow it up with real changes that support, uplift and/or advance your LGBTQ+ employees. The key to getting it right is to create a space where everyone feels welcomed and valued – a place where everyone’s hard work is acknowledged and rewarded, and where opinions and differences are respected.