Becoming Better Humans: Building a More Diverse and Inclusive Company

November 17, 2020
“The work of anti-racism is becoming a better human to other humans”
– Austin Channing Brown

I am tremendously proud of the success Brilliant Ink has achieved over the last 12 years. I’m proud to be a certified woman-owned business, and to lead a team of some of the most brilliant minds in this space. Our revenue has been increasing steadily, and we’ve made the Inc. 5000 fastest-growing companies in the U.S. list for the past 2 years. We’re fortunate to have an amazing roster of clients, nearly all of whom come to us via referrals and word of mouth.

It wasn’t until this past spring, when a number of horrific events thrust diversity, equity and inclusion into the spotlight, that I began to seriously question HOW we’ve achieved this level of success. Is it possible that one reason for our success is that we (mostly) look, think and act alike? 

Through lots of hard conversations, listening and learning, I realized we had fallen into the pattern of hiring like-minded colleagues from a common network, and the result was a largely homogenous team. And we’d become quite comfortable that way.

With this realization, I also began to wonder how much MORE successful we could be if we achieved success a DIFFERENT way – by welcoming new perspectives and ways of working. 

To truly change the face of our company, and ultimately our industry, we’re going to have to break out of familiar patterns. We must change the way we source talent to find people who come from different backgrounds and life experiences and career paths, and open our minds to new ways of working and thinking and approaching problems.

That work is difficult under the best of circumstances, and we all know these are definitely NOT the best of circumstances. I’ve been tempted to make excuses, saying to myself “We’re in the midst of a pandemic, we can do that work later, let’s just get through THIS.” But THIS is where the work has to happen. RIGHT NOW.

We’ve begun the journey toward meaningful change. Here are some insights we’ve gained in the last few months – I share them in case they might be helpful in your own growth:

Reflect on your WHY

Making a plan for change and executing it methodically is a start, but it’s not nearly enough. This work also requires a deep commitment of the heart, because you will face challenges and resistance along the way. So if you don’t DEEPLY believe in it, and feel emotionally committed to the reasons to fight for equity, you won’t be able to achieve it inside your organizations. 

Bring in outside support

We are experts in improving employee experiences, but we’ve known right from the start that we needed outside help to change our own. From providing training to assessing our people processes, our DEI partner, Dorianne St Fleur, has helped us see things about ourselves we never could have discovered on our own. Need help finding a partner of your own? Check out this list we compiled. 

Process is paramount

We know that the scrappy ways of working that got us here won’t get us where we want to go. We’ve begun the methodical process of examining every part of how we work, from where and how we hire talent, to how we measure performance and provide compensation. 

We’re exploring every process we use with clients to ensure we’re applying a lens of equity, inclusion, and anti-racism to our work. And we’re building a detailed and specific plan to ensure we’re amplifying a diversity of the voices and perspectives in our industry.

Go slow to make changes that will last 

Like any good Type A personality, as soon as I recognized how badly we needed to change, I desperately wanted to act quickly. But every expert I’ve spoken with has advised that it’s wise to move slowly

Building understanding and support takes time, as does breaking down and rebuilding processes that have fed your “sameness.” Even in a company as small as ours, our current roadmap for change is 18 months long. 

Accept where you are and stay focused on tomorrow

I will admit, there have been moments when I’ve been tempted to wallow in shame and disappointment. But that’s an easy way to avoid the real work to be done. Instead, I’ve done my best to accept where we are today, stay curious, and do something about it. 

We’re making progress

We’re tapping into new sources of talent that have been out there all along – we just had to think differently to find them. And we’re readying our culture – making sure we are creating systems and processes and a more open mindset that will embrace new ways of thinking and support our collective success. But I know this is just the beginning of our journey.

More than all of the achievements I listed earlier, I am most proud of the messy moment of learning we’re in right now. Because this work is not simply about setting hiring goals or growing revenue. In the wise words of Austin Channing Brown, the work of building an equitable, antiracist company is simply about being a better human to other humans. And to me, there’s no work more important than that. 

Ann Melinger

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