Ask the DEI Expert: How to Elevate Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace

February 2, 2021

We have the power to drive meaningful conversations and change in the workplace. In this series, we’re connecting with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion leaders to spotlight their brilliance, understand how their work affects all aspects of the employee lifecycle, how we can build better pipelines and systems, and how to do the important work of removing bias and becoming anti-racist

Meet Anthony Vaughan, co-founder of the E1B2 Collective. This human-first collective of brands and practitioners was built to change the way organizations design work and impact employee experience at every level of an organization. The goal? To help brands operationalize their core value of putting “Employees 1st, Business 2nd.” (Get it? E1B2).

can you tell us a bit about your background?

I was a football player and started my first company at the age of 19 (a year-round football academy that secured a partnership with Under Armour) and my second company (Fleet Street Kitchen) at the age of 21. I ended up losing my second business after 18 months because of people operations mistakes. 

The loss is what got me so invested in learning about human resources and people ops. I would spend 3 hours a day researching and studying best practices because I really wanted to examine the mistakes I had made while also crafting my point of view around people ops. 

What led to the creation of E1B2?

It all started with the launch of the E1B2 podcast in May of 2019. I’m a researcher and learner at heart (Anthony invests up to 2 hours every day on research!). I was at odds with executives at times and wanted to test my philosophy and opinions by talking to real Human Resources professionals and Heads of People. In doing so, I realized I wasn’t crazy! I used the podcast as a vehicle to network with people in the industry, build partnerships, and over time, this grew into the E1B2 Collective.

Think of it like a holding company with three companies and four initiatives. Each project has three co-founders and it’s a team effort. A couple of our projects include:

  • Project 2030: an incubator designed to empower and inspire the next generation of people leaders through fireside chats, keynotes, and talks at the university level.
  • Startup EX: we partner with start-ups that are thinking about bringing on a Head of People by sending in an employee experience and HR SWAT team. That team sets up shop for a year while working with leadership to scope and recruit for the Head of People role.

What do you believe is the true role DEI should have internally? 

Why isn’t Diversity, Equity and Inclusion an executive role that can make decisions? Why is it often about culture parties, just posting something on social media or just putting employees through a quick workshop? The problem with all of this is that employees begin to internalize DEI as crap. 

Now I’m not saying we need to stop doing all the trainings, activities, or posts on LinkedIn and Instagram – but the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion role needs to be in the C-suite. They need to have the power to make executive-level decisions and set the standards. Once you have that person, allow and empower that person to change behaviors, workflows, and accountability structures everywhere. 

As we get deeper and deeper into this tough work, but peoples' attention begins to shift, how can we make sure the work continues and it isn’t just a flash in the pan?

Here’s the thing: we see far less pushback with the work carried out by the CMO, CTO, CIO, or CFO. Rarely are their decisions questioned. Their roles are designed as a blank check, depending on the budget, and they’re allowed to carry out the work they were brought on to do. They’re told, “Yes, I believe you. I trust you.” 

So why do people who have no idea what they’re talking about, have such strong opinions about the work of the Head of Diversity? Did they study organizational psychology, neuroscience, diversity, or change management? Why do people have comments or opinions about stopping and slowing down that work? There’s always a lot to say about their role and how they work. This creates barriers that don’t allow the real work to take place.

We need to change or create the role of the Chief Diversity Officer exactly the way I’ve been describing. The CDO really needs to be Chief and they need to have chops in all the aspects I outlined. The buck stops with them outside of the CEO. Create the damn role that way and if you do, you will be ok.

Why do you think Heads of Diversity/Chief Diversity Officers encounter hoops and hurdles from leadership when trying to carry out their work?

It’s ego. This all comes from ego. Ego looks like protecting what you know. Protecting what’s in your subconscious. Protecting what your mom taught you and what your mentors taught you. Protecting what you thought was “right.” 

When you’re confronted with new information, your brain’s defense warnings go off. The brain doesn’t like to confront information that contradicts what it knows and this neurological response manifests in people’s behavior. They don’t even realize what’s happening in their brain but it reveals itself in their remarks or behavior.

Final question, what are some of the ways we can really put employees first, business second?

A couple of ideas here. For starters, when it comes to recruiting or talent development, organizations usually aren’t trying to understand the individual employee’s learning style/workflow, or they aren’t willing to be flexible with how one achieves against the bottom line deliverable.

When they hire someone new, the training manager could say “I put this workflow in place seven years ago but do you have any suggestions on how we could make it better for you?” Instead, many companies are completely missing the opportunity to create individual learning plans and evolve the role based on the individual's learning style to get to the same result, or an even better one. Being open and flexible will create a lot of engagement.

And here’s a question for employers: Why aren't there clear or contextual opportunities for career mapping? I never get it. 

Let’s say there’s a superstar in the Marketing team but a company would rather try to force that superstar to stay put on their team rather than give them a chance to try something new. By not offering mentoring or understanding that employee’s “why,” they’d essentially rather lose the candidate than allow them internal mobility. 

In the end, this can lead to the company losing money when this person walks away, and then needing to go through the search, hiring, and onboarding process all over again, rather than creating a win-win for the employee and the company. 

Human beings are good. People usually won’t be so self-serving where they refuse to help the company. still, they want the company to help them.

Connect with Anthony on LinkedIn, Twitter @E1B210 and be sure to subscribe to the podcast! Anthony and the E1B2 Collective are also accepting clients and would love to partner with you and your organization on your journey to a more inclusive workplace.

For more best practices, perspectives, and tools to help you build a more diverse and equitable workplace, visit our Anti-Racism and Allyship Resource Center. Want more bite-sized brilliance? Be sure to subscribe to our monthly newsletter, the Inkwell, and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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