Want to Create a More Inclusive Workplace? Kimberley Thompson, DEI Expert, Shows Us How

I'm in the middle of reading White Fragility and it's making me uncomfortable as it should. These last couple of weeks have been overwhelming and eye opening but nothing that compares to what the BIPOC population in the U.S. has dealt with for generations.


I'm grateful that my former colleague, Kimberley Thompson, offered up some ideas on how organizations and leaders can make strides in creating cultures that are inclusive and welcoming to all.


How and when did we first meet? We met during your leadership tenure at Starbucks. I don't remember the actual moment we met however I recall your kindness, your leadership and our brief moments of connection. I am imagining in that it was when I was working on the Urban Coffee Opportunities initiative (the partnership with Starbucks and Magic Johnson to develop 125 stores in the urban marketplace).  My time at Magic Johnson (1999-2005) and Starbucks (2005-2017) allowed me visibility and expanded my network vertically and horizontally at Starbucks. My position was unique and the experience was gift. 

Before you came to Starbucks you worked for Magic Johnson Enterprises. How cool is that!  How did that job come to be? Prior to Magic Johnson Enterprises, I was in the entertainment industry. I think everyone that lives in LA dreams about a career in the entertainment industry. I had the good fortune to begin my career with Michael Jackson (yes, the King of Pop) and it was there that I learned crisis management, strategic partnerships and the importance of networking and leveraging those relationships.  A leader I worked with once (Zeta Smith) told me that ideally diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is fully integrated into the business and shouldn't need to be called out as a separate function.  That said, until it is, it does need to be a distinct department.  What are your thoughts on that? I love Zeta. I believe there are pros and cons to both and there many other considerations that determine a separate function or an integrated function with HR or Corporate Social Responsibility.  

The questions that you want to consider is "what is the best approach to implement diversity and inclusion strategies in the workplace" or "how best to implement diversity and inclusion strategies in the workplace." Here are some practical fundamentals for a focused DEI strategy:  

  • Leadership engagement - visible, actively participating and demonstrating inclusive behaviors

  • Embed DEI in HR practices - talent reviews, promotions, interviewing, hiring, recruiting and policies

  • Shared accountability - everyone's responsibility including tying DEI goals into business goals, KPI's and metrics

  • Communication - the value of DEI in the workplace, transparency, ongoing and consistent

For small and medium sized companies where it doesn't make sense to hire staff for DEI positions, what are some things they can do to advance DEI in their organizations? There are several things that don't cost anything but send a powerful message. I recommend creating a council or a workgroup that focuses on diversity and inclusion. The group should have the following: 

  • Executive sponsor

  • Business case (value of DEI in the workplace) 

  • Vision, mission and objectives for DEI

  • S.M.A.R.T. goals 

  • Engaged participants: CEO/owner, business leader, middle manager, HR and a disruptor   

Tell us about what it means to have unconscious bias. I've heard about it and read about it a bit.   Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs. We all have biases. Biases stem from our brain's tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.  The reason why this conversation is important in the workplace is because our unconscious bias can impact our decisions in the workplace: talent reviews and performance, who gets hired, promoted, and developed.  When I was finishing my degree at Antioch University, I took a required class called Diversity, Power and Privilege. Wow - was that eye opening in terms of my own privilege that I wasn't aware of.  How can an individual become aware of their own biases they may bring into the workplace?

​It starts with education (what is bias/unconscious bias, types of bias and how it shows up in the workplace). Then, the person acknowledging and identifying their biases and recognizing where and how it shows up. Creating accountability and using certain language also intentionally disrupts their process. Building relationships with others outside of your usual group, race, team etc, means you get to know new people. Always stay curious and be a life-long learner. 

What are some watch out areas for company practices that might affect their ability to create a culture of diversity and inclusion? Leadership needs to be engaged and active and know that people want to feel valued, respected, acknowledged. These are core leadership principles that need to be demonstrated among leadership.  Make sure your organization is a place where different voices can be heard and ask yourself if employees have access to leadership and has a pulse on what employees are really thinking and feeling. Finally, ensure communication is sustained and consistent.

What books or podcasts would you recommend for those that want to learn more about DEI?

Time for for your rapid fire round Kimberly!

  • One company you follow that does DEI REALLY well: Target

  • Favorite motto or quote:  “There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask "What if I fall?" Oh but my darling, What if you fly?” Erin Hansen 

  • Where you'd like to live some day: New York....

  • Hot or iced coffee: Iced Coffee 

Thank you Kimberley! It's been great having your voice on this week's In My Network, especially considering recent events.

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