Episode 18: Laying the Foundation for DEI

We return to the studio to kick off this month with the Community Collaborative’s eighteenth episode. Follow along as we converse with some of Arizona’s brightest and most inspiring leaders working to build the foundation for change in local communities and businesses. With these conversations, we hope to inspire others to take similar strides toward a more diverse, inclusive and equitable future both in and out of the workplace.

In this episode, our leaders discuss embedding diversity and inclusion into workplace culture in everything from large corporations to small startups. As the new generations of workers continue to push for more equity, the spotlight is on business leaders to plan initiatives and take action toward implementing change. Today’s conversation is a reminder that intentional action is essential to moving the needle. 

Community Collaborative co-host/producer Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO Monica Villalobos returns to join co-host/producer and Black Chamber of Arizona CEO Robin Reed to guide today’s insightful conversation. 

They begin by taking a look at the dishearteningly small percentages of venture capital that went to minority-owned businesses this year. In response, Robin notes the need to increase awareness of the value of investing in such businesses (2:42). Villalobos agrees, explaining the need for investors to support the unique needs of minority-owned companies  (3:40). 

However, today’s episode also highlights positive strides being made in the world of workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion. Villalobos and Reed are joined by featured guests Raquel Daniels, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Southwest Airlines, and Andrew Zwerner, CEO of Chassi

Together they discuss the importance of laying the foundation for diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, showcasing the possible progress when there is a deep-rooted commitment to change.

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Raquel Daniels of Southwest Airlines begins by explaining how diversity, equity and inclusion are at the forefront of its culture as a people-first company (4:24).  However, she acknowledges there is still progress to be made. As a company with over 56,000 employees, Daniels points out the importance of making diversity and inclusion implementation a team effort. Furthermore, communication is an essential component to the success of any initiative, as it creates pathways to share “the progress, the intent, and all the efforts behind [them]” (5:20).

She compliments SouthWest Airlines for embracing an environment of “empathy and understanding,” explaining the imperative role listening plays in an inclusive workplace (5:52). 

“What’s been most important,” she says, “is creating a space for uncomfortable conversations.” These conversations must be focused and productive if the goal is to foster understanding and lasting change. 

A truly inclusive workplace is one where all employees are capable of thriving. For that to happen, business leaders must be dedicated to “creating an environment for safety, empathy, and understanding” (6:40). 

Despite the progress thus far, Daniels makes it clear that issues of diversity, equity and inclusion are far from static. Therefore, true progress can be made only when we are committed to evolving with the initiatives (7:24). 

With that comes the dedication to learn about what is needed for the people, the community and the business to truly thrive. “We cannot assume we know it all,” Daniels asserts (7:52).  

As Daniels reminds us, this is not a one-size-fits-all journey. It starts by understanding what diversity looks like within your organization. From there, you can begin to map out your unique journey in this space (8:54). “It’s not about perfection. It’s about progress,” Reed adds (11:50). 

Andrew Zwerner of Chassi joins the conversation to showcase how small companies can be just as mighty when making waves in the diversity and inclusion space.  For Zwerner, intertwining diversity and inclusion into the company’s DNA from the very beginning was one of his top priorities (19:02). 

Zwerner wanted Chassi to be proactive in the diversity and inclusion space rather than reactive. Therefore, he prioritized focusing on initiatives in the areas of hiring and community outreach  (19:34). 

Despite being a small startup, Zwerner describes his belief that diversity, equity, and inclusion should be considered part of a company’s survival rather than a mutually exclusive component (20:50). A large part of a company’s success is dependent on building a culture that attracts the talent you desire to hire. 

Zwerner goes on to express how a diverse team is imperative to the success of a company (21:29). “Talent is everywhere,” he notes. It is the organization’s job to ensure the pipelines for diversity are in place to attract and acquire the top talent to get the job done. 

Additionally, purpose, alignment and trust are critical elements to a high-performing team (22:38). Zwerner further explains how the ability to have open and honest conversations is critical to building the foundation for that essential element of trust that enables the team to move toward success. 

Reed calls for leaders to adopt Zwerner’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion as part of a good and successful business (25:30). Just like other aspects of good business, diversity, equity and inclusion take commitment to see results. 

Actions We Can All Take

Actionable takeaways from this episode that leaders can apply in organizations of any shape and size: 

  • – Make DEI a priority, focusing on what you can control (18:50).
  • – Go beyond a value statement. Embrace diversity in your company culture and DNA.
  • – Utilize the resources and tools available to increase meaningful communication behind your initiatives (5:20).
  • – Create a safe space for uncomfortable conversations to happen with honestly, understanding and respect (5:55).
  • – Start by internalizing conversations to help determine who you are and who you want to be as an organization, then determine an appropriate plan of action (9:04). 
  • – Build behaviors into your organization that match the values you promote (19:53).
  • – Actively work to find a diverse pool of candidates for any and all roles (21:20).
  • – Foster high performance teams by encouraging everyone to bring their whole selves to work (22:38).
  • – Work toward a long-term solution by engaging in community outreach initiatives (24:00).
  • – Commit to and follow through with DEI initiatives (26:01). 
  • – Meet your values with action (27:50).

The Future of Change

In this episode, we had the pleasure of featuring an incredibly inspiring young author who, at just 16-years-old, is using her talents to promote diversity and inclusion. Author Jordan Davis-Wiley shares the inspiration behind her first book, Dreamcatcher (12:54). 

Wiley is a fantastic reminder that it’s never too early to start making waves for change. Younger generations play an imperative role in the future of diversity, equity and inclusion. We must continue to share positive messages that celebrate diversity to plant the seeds for a brighter future. “What we do today isn’t going to matter if we’re not planning for tomorrow,” Villalobos adds (16:50). 

“It’s the baby steps that lead to long-term success,” reminds Wiley’s mother, Nicole Davis (17:26). We must understand the role we all play in progress and remain committed to the desired outcome of diversity, equity and inclusion.

While there has been an increase in efforts and progress made in the space of diversity, equity and inclusion, the leaders in today’s episode remind us the journey is never over. As Villalobos reminds us, diversity is a strength, not a weakness (26:29). Therefore, regardless of how big or small the company is, diversity, equity and inclusion serve as an essential part of its DNA. 

Issues surrounding diversity are ever-evolving. Therefore, the conversation must continue to adapt.  As leaders, we must continue to set the bar for holding others accountable for their efforts and actions. As today’s episode reminds us, if we remain committed to listening and learning, we can continue to grow in a positive direction toward a better tomorrow.

About The Community Collaborative

Community and business leaders and individuals who want to educate themselves on diversity issues will find the series informative and educational. And anyone who wishes to get involved will have ready access to resources featured in each program.

The video series may be streamed for free through the STN app. Viewers may subscribe through STN’s website or by downloading the STN app on the App Store or Google Play.

Each program in the series will provide details on how to get involved in featured activities and initiatives. To be featured in “The Community Collaborative” series or other STN programming, contact us at 480.967.7088.

Every day, there are leaders on the front lines of the fight to improve life in our community. STN provides the platform to tell their and their communities’ stories with video series on leadership philosophies and active efforts to make positive change in our region.