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Strategies for Diverse, Inclusive Excellence
Episode 49th February 2022 • Leadership Forum: The Podcast • John Glenn College of Public Affairs, The Ohio State University
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Tracie Ransom advocates for diversity, equity, inclusion and allyship that moves beyond performative proclamations to authentic actions. In this conversation, she divulges her expertise for leaders to strategically direct organizations to diverse, inclusive excellence. Learn about the business case for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI); steps for strategic implementation of DEI goals; how to measure success; and how to bring your team along with you — especially in the face of opposition.


Trevor Brown 0:08

Welcome to the podcast leadership forum, a conversation with leaders who serve the public good. My name is Trevor Brown, and I'm privileged to serve as dean of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University where we aspire to fulfill a simple phrase that Senator John Glenn use to describe what we do, inspire citizenship and develop leadership. I also have the honor of serving as the host of this conversation series. So welcome to a thoughtful and reflective conversation about leadership. I'm joined today by Tracie Ransom founder coach and principal consultant for ransom strategies group, a consulting and coaching firm that strategically partners with law firms, businesses and public and private organizations nationally and globally, to advance their diversity, equity, inclusion and leadership objectives. Prior to launching Ransom Strategies, Tracie was Associate General Counsel and director of complaints for the investment firm Edward Jones. She also previously served as a litigation partner with Porter Wright Morrison, Arthur LLP, and clerked for a US Court of Appeals judge in the Sixth Circuit and a senior US district judge for the Southern District of Ohio. She's a bachelor's of science graduate, cum laude, a from the University of Alabama, and a JD graduate cum laude a PhD from the University of Illinois College of Law. Tracie, welcome to our podcast. And thank you for joining me for a conversation about leadership and diversity, equity and inclusion.

Tracie Ransom 1:37

Well, thanks so much for having me, Dean Brown, it is wonderful to have this conversation today about such an important topic. Obviously, it's near and dear to my heart. And I appreciate the opportunity to share with your listeners.

Trevor Brown 1:49

Great. Well, I want to jump right in and talk about DEI and strategic leadership. And have you make the case for what's the connection between diversity, equity, inclusion and strategic leadership? And maybe I could ask a different way is, why do leaders of public and private organizations need to be engaged in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts?

Tracie Ransom 2:11

So those are great questions. And I'll tell you, when we when we think about the progress that we've made, or the lack thereof, I think it's important to reframe, and start with the fact that leaders must see DEI as a strategic business or organizational imperative. If we're serious about making real progress in the DEI space, it's absolutely critical that DEI become that imperative, just the same as it is for any other business, objective or imperative, our goal.

Tracie Ransom 2:44

Too often, I think we haven't taken a strategic approach to advancing this work for many years decades, even that we've been working at this. What we've seen is that organizations might have had a DEI committee, or maybe they even task one person with some activity around DEI. But often they weren't compensated for it, or it wasn't valued as the real work of the organization. And what tended to happen was that DEI became a siloed approach. We'll throw some DEI activity against the wall, maybe a training or workshop here, and we'll see what sticks. Hopefully, that will increase our numbers, hopefully, that will build an inclusive culture. And it's not produced the results that we've wanted to see in this space, you know, the throwing against the wall and hoping that it works. What I say to that is that hope is not a strategy. It's never been a strategy, not for any other business imperative, and it certainly shouldn't be in this space, either. The tone at the top and the Leadership, Culture of organizations matter significantly, leaders must drive this work in the same way that they drive any other business objectives. And so, you know, that's what I would say around this topic, that if leaders are not committed to the work, and intentionally and strategically prioritize it, it won't happen.

Trevor Brown 4:05

So let's unpack all those good thoughts. Start by you mentioned at the very outset of your response there that there's a business case for for DEI. Just lay that out for us. What is the or I should say, more broadly, there's a performance case since some of the organizations you work with are sort of business oriented, but others are public entities. So what's the performance case for DEI?

Tracie Ransom 4:31

Sure, you know, I think it's important that leaders are able to well, actually first to understand what the business case is not to lead with that as solely the reason why we do DEI but some people actually need that understanding. And there's ample research around this topic, and the results that you get from having a diverse and inclusive workplace. McKinsey has really led the way and what their studies have shown over the years consistently is that if you're a business, there is a strategic competitive advantage to having a diverse and inclusive workplace, you financially outperform your peers, if you have this sort of workplace, there is also a significant there's significant evidence showing that teams and organizations are more innovative, they are more creative, they are better at spotting and mitigating risks, all which are really important. You add to that some of the great work that Deloitte has done around them the inclusive leadership space. And what they tell us is that it's not just having a diverse mix of people, like, oh, let's just recruit a lot of people from diverse backgrounds and experiences, put them all in a room together and hope that it works. Well, it doesn't work on its own that way, right? You need someone who is skilled at harnessing that talent that you brought together to get the most out of out of the talent that you work to bring into the organization. And so, you know, it is diversity plus inclusion that leads to these results. And so, you know, as I think about it, to my mind, great leaders are inclusive leaders, and to say it differently, you can't be a great leader, if you don't know how to lead inclusively, you don't get the best out of your people, and you don't create an environment in which they can thrive, which I think is what we're going for here, whether you're in the public space, or the for profit.

Trevor Brown 6:29

So you've alluded to this, but and thank you for making that right up front, that sort of performance business case. There's a moral imperative for diversity, equity inclusion, lay that out for us as well.

Tracie Ransom 6:41

Absolutely. Well, I do this work, because it's the right just and fair thing to do. You know, as I think about what Senator Glenn has said, about inspiring citizenship and developing leadership, the work of leaders who are committed to advancing DEI in the workplace, really understand that this is about democratizing opportunity. And it leads to a better society, a more just society. You know, we live in an increasingly more global, diverse and interconnected world. And I believe our organizations ought to reflect that diversity through all levels of the organization, not just at the entry level, or through the mid career years, as is the case, often across industries. But people, every single human being ought to have equal opportunity to pursue their dreams and reach the highest levels of achievement in their careers for their families, for their state, and nation and world. And when we really come to see people see people, we recognize our shared humanity, which then enables us to truly embrace and celebrate difference and to work to build cultures in which all have equal opportunity to thrive. And I think that's critical. And it's actually what I lead with. Yes, we can talk about the business case, I think it's important that you articulate and be able to show how it impacts the bottom line. But it's about so much more than that.

Trevor Brown 8:08

Yep, yep. No. And what we've learned from countless examples, and public and private sector is that marriage between a value driven organization and a performance driven organization is what makes people want to come to work and work hard.

Tracie Ransom 8:22


Trevor Brown 8:22

What you noted at the beginning that there's a there's a gap between where we are sort of collectively in organizational settings and where we'd like to be, what do you think and then a minute, I want to talk to you about how we strategically close that gap. But but lay that out for us a little bit. Where, where are we in organizations falling behind? Where are the where are we not meeting that that moral imperative of creating that inclusive environment? What are some markers of our deficiencies?

Tracie Ransom 8:53

Well, I think you just look at the numbers, right? You, you take a long, hard, honest assessment at the decades that we collectively have been talking about, oh, well, we had this DEI initiative before we added the E recently, right. We we've been working at diversity, and yet the numbers in organizations and businesses, you know, across sectors don't reflect the work that people have said they've been doing. And why is that? I think, one we haven't been strategic about it and, and then two, it lacks the intentionality. Again, it's not just activity around DEI, but have you established objective metrics? Are you transparent and consistent about applying those metrics? Is there accountability, like some some of these key elements are have been missing? And, and I think to the larger point really is if you have been successful in recruiting a diverse workforce, but you've not have been intentional about building a culture within that workplace where all of your talent can thrive, what you'll do is you'll be able to recruit them, but you won't be able to retain and advance and promote them. And so people will opt out. And increasingly, as the world again becomes more interconnected, people have options and they decide to go where they are valued, where they can be their authentic selves, and where their perspectives and experiences are valued and not stifled or they don't feel as though they can contribute in a way that's meaningful to try and take organization forward.

Trevor Brown:

So you began to lay some of the elements out, I think of what you refer to as the sort of strategic focus on diversity, equity inclusion, just underline that for us what what does it mean to be strategic in this in this space?

Tracie Ransom:

Sure. Well, as I mentioned earlier, the Tone at the Top absolutely matters. And so I absolutely believe that commitment at the very top levels of organizations matters in word, and in deed, so it's not just what your values are, and core values written on a wall somewhere or written on your website. In fact, there's a quote, and I'm not going to get it exactly right. But the idea is that your culture is not what you say it is, but it's what your people say it is, right. And it's this idea that if you are seriously committed to advancing this work as a leader, as the most senior leader in the organization, you've got to live out that commitment. And people can see that they can tell when you actually mean what you say, just as again, in any other business area of the firm, I would say other critical component components would include having a senior level leader who is driving this work forward, a chief DEI officer who is empowered, armed with resources, and the full support of the CEO or president or leader of the organization to affect change. This is someone who is in the room with the CEO in the senior most meetings, and a part of the strategic decision making for the organization. Consistent with that, I think having a DEI strategic plan that's aligned with the organizational strategic plan, if you have a five year plan, how is DEI embedded through every aspect of the organization, again, unlike the previous approach that many have taken, which is to silo it, and kind of, oh, it's just this thing that we do off to the side and in a nice to have a check. Check the box, right? I think it's also important to train your people, training and workshops alone won't transform culture, but they serve an important role to educate about bias, for example, and then not just raising awareness of bias, but it's certainly not in a one and done fashion. Oh, we had a bias training about three years ago. Isn't that good enough? No, not actually. What you really need to be able to do is to raise awareness and educate about bias, but then take the next steps to provide trainings and workshops on bias interruption strategies that your people can actually put into practice. And your leaders can then use not just as they're doing their own self assessment about how bias may seep in some into some of their decisions, but also how bias seeps into organizational and institutional policies, practices and procedures. And then really going the next step, being willing to really be honest, at an organizational level organizational assessment, understanding that data is your friend. And not just from a quantitative perspective, but a willingness to pull back the curtains, take a long, hard look at that data and ask the question, are we having the results that we would hope to be achieving in this space? And if not, why not? And keep asking why? Why are we getting the results that we're seeing in this space? To what extent is bias affecting our processes and our outcomes, and then being willing to take corrective action? But I'd also note that qualitative data matters significantly as well. And what I mean here is workplace experience surveys. Are you asking the talent that you've worked so hard to recruit in the first place, what their experience is? Are you telling them what their experiences are? Are you listening to what their actual experiences are? Then once you've conducted a survey, and actually I'd say here, don't conduct the survey unless you're willing to take action based on the feedback that you receive. People need that and they know it's disingenuous and another check the box. But if they learn that their leaders are committed to taking action on the information that they learned, then they're more willing to be honest and transparent about the experiences that they're having. But it's critical here, that leaders then disaggregate the data. This helps them and what I mean here is to disaggregate across every aspect of difference. This helps you disabuse yourself of the notion that everybody is doing equally well. Oh, well, we are in the, you know, 100 best places to work? Are you a best place to work for everyone? Or are you a best place to work for some groups, you won't know that until you ask the questions, and then disaggregate the data, and then take action on what you learn.

Trevor Brown:

So earlier, you said one of the key steps, then you sort of reiterated here, assertion disaggregating, the results of data, and you're looking at difference across all differences. And I would imagine that you've worked with a lot of different organizations. And I would imagine in any organization, there are people who are either champions of diversity, equity, inclusion, or just really enthusiastic about it. And so they're, they're ready to jump in and participate. And then there's probably some who are, you know, open to the idea and, you know, cautiously interested, but maybe a little reluctant, and then I've got to believe there are opponents, people who either outwardly or you know, subversively try to push against these these efforts. And so again, thinking about coaching leaders, how do you encourage leaders to engage the differences around support for DEI efforts and specifically, engage that group that is, you know, either non enthusiastic or trying to sabotage these efforts? How do you how do you address that as a leader?

Tracie Ransom:

Well, as a threshold matter, what I would say is, if you know one, you're absolutely right, you encounter the full spectrum when you're leading teams of people. But what is fundamental is that leaders must be committed to this work, even in the face of resistance or opposition, because it is the right thing to do. I can't underscore how important that is. Brene Brown actually has a quote that I love and quote often, and it's from her book, dare to lead. And she says this, that daring leaders live into their values are never silent about the hard things. That means you don't cower in fear, you don't run for cover in the face of people who are resistant to change. And instead, leaders have to be willing to prioritize courage over their own comfort, right? They have to demonstrate a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset that says, I'm not going to rock the boat. You know, it's real comfortable here. I'm going to keep following along. No, that's not the right answer. Not if you're a leader, right. I think leaders have to be clear about the type of culture that they desire and are working to build within their organizations and teams, be clear about those values and unwavering in their commitment to advancing them, you know so much about leadership is meeting people where they are. But equally as important is bringing them along being unwavering, and your expectations and your values that this is who we are. And if you desire to have success on our team, or in our organization, this is the expectation. And I also add that communicating in a way that helps people understand that we truly are Better Together means a reframing for some, some people are coming to this work coming to our workplaces with limited experiences, or perhaps negative experiences with others outside of their own affinity groups, right. And so sometimes that requires reframing. And if you're a great leader, this is a skill you should be working on right to be able to say this is not a zero sum game. And that, in order for others to get equal opportunity, I have to lose, you may have actually seen a meme going around Trevor, that in the last couple of years, especially it goes something along the lines of equality is not pie; equal rights for others equal opportunity for others doesn't mean that it's less opportunity or less rights for you. That's true in our society more broadly. And it's absolutely true in our workplaces. And so great leaders understand the importance of knowing truly living out and believing those values and then communicating them in a way that people can receive them.

Trevor Brown:

So this is getting a little in the weeds, but you've repeatedly and by the way you are an exceptional communicator yourself. So just modeling behavior after you is one way to learn how to be a good communicator, but so much of the work that we sort of witness around diversity equity inclusion is communication. It's the things that people say the way they interact with each other the words they choose. And organizations have spent a lot of time and effort across the spectrum and industries with statements they've made, particularly in the wake of signature events like the, the sad murder of George Floyd and other, you know, similar kinds of public events, organizations have come out and said things. Talk a little bit about how it's back to that walk that talk, how to how best to guide organizations to make sure that when they communicate in this space, they then align that with the necessary actions to follow through on their stated commitments.

Tracie Ransom:

Oh, Trevor, this is something I am especially passionate about. I hate performative DEI, hate performative allyship. And here's what I mean by that. In the wake of the tragic murder of George Floyd, as you mentioned, right, so many had awakenings. Right? And we'd like to believe that those awakenings were genuine and true, and not as a result of well everyone else is doing it and will look crazy if we don't right. Um, but you did see some performative allyship, performative DEI, we'll make a decision to celebrate Juneteenth, this year in 2020. Because everybody's talking about it, but we'll reserve for future decision making as to whether we'll observe it and and recognize it in future years, right, you know, once it quiets down, or we will put out a statement saying that, you know, all these things matter to us, and we mean it externally. But when it comes to actually doing the internal work, to actually pull back the curtains on our systems internally, oh, yeah, we really just meant out there not at home, right. And so what I'll start by saying is that we have to keep in mind that, um, you know, this issue of performative DEI and performative allyship is something that actually does more harm than good, right? Yes, statements are absolutely important. But if and only if you intend to follow through, and not just intend, but strategically execute on all those great things that you said you were going to do, and that statement, yeah, if not, again, more harm than good. And I'll say this as well, you know, people know and can feel inauthenticity a mile away, right? They know when your words or actions are just performative. So it's better to, I would say, stay silent, until you can get to a place that the words that you write on a on a page, or that you spend time having your lawyers review and fine tune and wordsmith that you put out or release, until those words become true for you as an organization, and you're willing to put a stake in the ground and actually live out that commitment, you should probably just stay silent. And there are consequences to that as well, right? Because then the talent within your organization are questioning what it is you value, do you not see what's happening in our society? Do you not care? And we're making judgments based on the actions or inaction. But the important thing is that if any one organization can do this, any other organization can with the right leadership, right. And I think that it's so critical and want to emphasize that so what is this Coca Cola example shows us, this one doesn't have to take decades, we can actually make significant progress over the course of even a year even, we can start to make strides make gains. And by staying on top of this work, staying intentional about it, and continuing to to champion this work, even when no one else is talking about it, even when what's happening in society isn't demanding it as much. Because it matters to you as an organization, driving this work consistently. In the same way you drive other business objectives forward, you can get great results.

Trevor Brown:

So let's close this conversation by bringing it to you. What drives you in this space by you, you emanate an enthusiasm and passion for diversity, equity inclusion, which I think is just an inclusive humanity. What what what is the real motivator for you? And I would imagine there are obstacles that you face in the kind of work you do and how do you overcome those personally to keep moving with such positivity?

Tracie Ransom:

Well, thank you. First, I'd say obstacles. What are those? Seriously, no, in an all seriousness, I prefer to reframe them and to see them as opportunities, right? You encounter resistance you encounter someone who's like, No, I don't think so how do you stay engaged and stay in that work because of the rightness of the work? I have this fundamental sense of fairness, and a desire for justice and equality for all. And yes, that includes in the workplace as well. It should come as no surprise, as a lawyer by training, right, that this sense of fairness and justice is actually what propelled me into this career. And then in this next phase of my career, and recognizing what hasn't been working so well in the DEI space, and really wanting to come alongside people to say, Hey, this is possible. And this is doable. And you can do this right, no matter the resistance that you might face. And I guess I would say, it's really hope that keeps me going, that we are all fundamentally capable of being better tomorrow than we are today, if we so choose. And that means that our organizations can be as well. It's really in keeping our eye on the prize of what a fairer, more just more equitable workplace in society can look like, and continuing to work toward it, no matter the difficulties we encounter, that we become better leaders that we become better citizens, and frankly, just better people better human beings, which makes for better organizations and a better society. And so I count all of those things as significant wins. And if I can help bring just one person along in a position of influence to help change the trajectory of, of the organization, the course that they're on to be more diverse, more equitable, more inclusive, than I count it as a win. So it's a joy to partner with my clients. And it's a partner with you all at The Ohio State University, you all are doing some tremendous work at the Glenn college and, and across the university as well. So it's just wonderful to see the results that we are able to achieve together. So I'd say that's what really keeps me going.

Trevor Brown:

Oh, Tracy, thanks for those those inspirational thoughts and sharing your personal commitment. I want to thank you for spending time with me in this conversation today. But more broadly, thanks to your for your continued commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and helping leaders of different kinds of organizations embark on this important journey. Thank you.

Tracie Ransom:

Awesome. It was great to be with you. Thank you