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Groupon Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Yemi Akisanya Explains DEI

Groupon’s Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), Yemi Akisanya, recently went on “The Modern People Leader” podcast to discuss the importance of DEI in the workplace. The conversation was quite profound and I definitely encourage you to take some time and listen!

Yemi is a former colleague of mine who I collaborated with in implementing DEI programs at an organization where we both worked a few years ago. Back then, he was the newly appointed Chief of Diversity, the first ever appointed to the position, and working alongside him I was responsible for running a DEI discussion panel for black leaders. I also helped coordinate a Black History luncheon at the organization.

Let’s take a closer look at what Yemi had to say in his recent podcast. How can we all learn from his many years of experience pioneering DEI leadership skills?

About Yemi Akisanya

Yemi Akisanya is Global DEI Leader at GroupOn. He used to work at the CME for about two years doing software testing.

He later went to work at the Options Clearing Corporation, more effectually known as the OCC, and shortly after became a Business Analyst. His life changed at OCC. A few years into his IT work at OCC, the Chairman and the CEO of the company, Craig Donahue, helped change his life.

Craig started to mentor him and suggested Yemi complete his MBA as this would help his career. From there, Yemi graduated with an MBA in Communications at Northwestern.

What Do Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Mean in the Workplace?

DEI is at the forefront of leadership minds all over the world. More so than ever in today’s remote society. DEI has a direct impact and influence on Human Capital within companies. It’s about representation in many dimensions for society to progress for the better.

What Is Diversity?

What does Diversity mean? Well, the Diversity meaning in this context is one of the different identities.

Examples include disability, gender, sexual orientation, moral values, or socio-economic backgrounds. Diversity showcases the uniqueness of being different and what it brings to the workplace.

What Is Equity?

Equity is about promoting justice, and fairness, in the things that govern communities.

In the workplace, it’s your policies, your procedures, your hiring process. It’s the things that govern how we function. You build culture by how you reward good and bad behavior.

Equity is not the same as diversity. Equity is about making sure that we respect the fact that we all come from a different place and that we all START from different places.

What Is Inclusion?

Inclusion involves creating opportunities for everyone to take part within society. If someone doesn’t have these basic needs met, then they will never feel included.

What Makes DEI Important in the Workplace?

DEI starts at the top. It also exists in our personal lives. But most of all, it transcends from a business problem that needs addressing.

DEI should include practitioners. But instead, many businesses use figureheads to front a campaign. Figureheads are corporate culture’s favorite facade.

DEI is a moral case and a business case at the same time. It’s up to business leaders like yourselves to lead by example. Show the world what’s achievable with a diverse, equal, and inclusive workplace.

Considerations for Business When Implementing DEI

The most important thing to start with as a leader is finding out the “why.” Why does the business itself want, or need, to action DEI in the here and now? And, what is the sentiment, or mindset, behind this decision?

For example, is it a tick-box exercise for legalities, such as avoiding getting sued? If so, stop and think for a second about how you can turn a tick-box exercise into something more meaningful. Now is your opportunity to make a real change in your workforce for the better.

Set up consultation forums and get your teams involved in the process. Are employees asking for DEI, and if so, what are they saying?

Given the right opportunities, some forum members could be the next visionaries. They may even become DEI specialists themselves.

The Current State of DEI in the Corporate World

We’re seeing the fight for social justice creeping into Corporate walls. It is not an HR initiative that you check the box on or throw money at. When customers and shareholders aren’t happy, we drop everything to make sure we fix the problem. DEI should be treated the same way.

When you bring in DEI and share data, and we see we aren’t diverse (moral case), what do we do? These issues are systemic at the company and in the community. We don’t have the privilege today to say, “we can look away.” 

The good news is there are more multi-racial global companies leading the way each day. People of all races and cultures across the world come together thanks to modern remote working and technology.

Think Like a Leader

Start now to see future success. A mature organization has integrated DEI work into its policies already. Some are successful, some not so much, and some won’t see the results for a long time.

But that’s okay. DEI is a culture initiative and an examination of things that drive behavior and govern us.

It allows us to reflect on past behavior, what works, and what doesn’t. It defines the drive for diversity, inclusivity, and equity.

Have You Ever Heard of the Five Wet Monkeys Theory?

During the pod Yemi gave an example of how culture develops, and develops in a not so positive fashion.

The Five Wet Monkeys Theory talks about how culture forms. It’s an analogous illustration of five monkeys in a cage in a lab run by a scientist who follows these steps:

  • Drop banana from top of the cage
  • Spray water on the monkeys until the banana falls out of the cage
  • Repeat until no monkeys reach for a banana
  • Introduce a new monkey from a different cage
  • The new monkey instinctively jumps at the banana
  • Watch the four original monkeys try and stop the new monkey from getting the banana

The point? We’re shaping a culture where we have new workers come in who are trying to innovate and grow. And we say, “no, we don’t do things that way here.”

As it stands, many organizations don’t listen to others’ perspectives, and when people aren’t given a voice you train everyone else that the culture of the organization does not want or value your input. It starts with each one of us.

After all, the clue to being a leader is in the job title.

Creating a DEI Strategy

A DEI strategy is better than a quick win. Like most things in life, quick fixes cover the cracks. But they don’t rebuild the foundations with better materials.

Data drives everything and helps identify the past, present, and future implications of any observation or decision made. Use a DEI dashboard to break down your strategy in a way everyone can understand.

You also want to socialize any DEI data that the organization compiles, make it public, and be transparent about it. Transparency allows vulnerability and accountability, two of the finest qualities in a leader. Be accountable to the data and ask where it needs improvement.

Use Engagement Surveys

Engagement surveys give your employees a voice. Make it as welcoming as possible, and avoid bias where possible. Ask how they feel about the leadership, progression in your company, and staff morale.

Remember, representation targets are not success targets. Let me repeat that, “representation targets are NOT success targets.” They show progress. Success is all about the end goal of equity and inclusion. And, as a result, implementing these changes to create a diverse workplace.

Executing Your DEI Strategy

DEI needs a budget, and it shouldn’t be the lowest budget in your company. Think big-picture mindset. As a leader, that should be a natural process for you.

Companies should be tactical. Each people leader has to have a DEI competency and understanding. These are vital for the strategy to become a success.

Linking DEI to Business Outcomes

Top talented people are looking for flexible work. Diverse talent is hard to find.

Remember, a divergent person is looking for an inclusive company. People want employers to treat people with the same opportunities and respect!

Yemi says, “You should diversify your reading and learning selections that will challenge your morals, expand you, and challenge your thinking.”

Yemi’s Recommended Reading: How to Be an Inclusive Leader (Jennifer Brown)

Understanding Inclusive Language

Recruiting websites should have inclusive language. There are tools out there that will read the language on a company’s website and suggest better language. There are other tools to help you capture employee experience.

What Are Three Metrics to Look at Daily?

Even if you’ve not started planning your strategy yet, focus on these three key metrics first. These metrics can give you a good platform on which to base your strategy. At the same time, the metrics can also provide the biggest gains, both short-term or long-term.

Analyze Hiring Data

Check your HR policies and protocols. Look at your existing demographic to see how you hire.

You can observe based on age, gender, race, sexuality, and any other information you can find. That will offer a good insight into how diverse your team is.

From there, look into the demographics between departments and leadership roles.

Examine the Community

Look both internal and external in regards to your communities. What kind of diversity exists among them? What value does your business bring?

Consider the impact of your own biases when making decisions. A good leader sees potential, looks to the future, and does not see identity as a barrier. Consider how much power you hold in a promotion.

Look at Voluntary Time Off and Absence Records

Find out who is using voluntary time off, statutory sickness, and why. Even if it’s only one person, that’s one person too many in most cases.

Understanding why is vital in this instance. The goal isn’t to remove these employees but to be inclusive. Make the workplace as accommodating for their own needs as possible.

In turn, you’ll find they bring more value to your business than ever before.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Can Change the World

In summary, the three concepts of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are pivotal to the future of both businesses and society as a whole. By embracing this mindset, your workforce will have a newfound drive and inspiration to work at their very best.

Soon, you will find your feet as a talented leader. One that’s willing to give everyone the same chances at becoming the next great leader.

Share the vision and give everyone a voice to drive innovation.

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