Kenneth James is the Director of Inclusion for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. Because there's still a great deal of confusion around diversity and inclusion in the workplace -- what it means and why it matters -- I asked Ken if he would share some of his wisdom and insights. Hope you find this interview as helpful as I did!
For context, tell us more about your role as Director of Inclusion
As Director of Inclusion for the Grand Rapids Chamber, I deliver Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) services for the Grand Rapids business community. In addition to delivering and implementing DEI programming that helps employers attract and retain talent, my role also includes executive coaching services to assist C-suites in building DEI into strategic and long-range planning.
We hear a lot about equity, diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Say more about the role of each
In my opinion, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are all essential in the work place:
I define DEI as follows:
- Diversity, or the differences that make each of us unique
- Equity eliminates the predictability of success and failure that currently correlates with any racial, social or cultural factor
- Inclusion means that all people regardless of any factor (race, gender, ability, orientation, etc.) are respected, appreciated and valued in their current setting (work, worship, volunteering, etc.)
All three are needed for employees to feel like they belong and that they can bring their authentic selves to work.
How would a company go about starting a diversity and inclusion program?
“The longest journey begins with just one step.”
I am a huge believer that DEI programs have a higher likelihood of success if the approach is top down and has executive sponsorship. But it is never too late to start. I recommend aligning DEI to the mission and vision of the organization. Sometimes you have to start slow, get some early wins and get buy-in. I never minimize DEI work to a potluck; however, a potluck, lunchtime series or book club can serve as a conversation-starter that can lead to awareness.
When it comes to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, what are the pitfalls companies should avoid?
Organizations have to begin somewhere, oftentimes when it comes to DEI, it has been my experience that some organizations are just beginning the journey and do not know where to start or they have started the journey and encountered a roadblock.
DEI needs resources (time, people and funding); this has to be taken into consideration before beginning. What is the organizational culture? Too often DEI it treated like the flavor of the day or a flash in pan. For instance, “We brought in that speaker last month because of the unrest from the George Floyd incident, that should be enough.” Please do not fall into this insincere trap. DEI needs to be sincere, intentional and sustained if it is to be effective.
Summing up, what are the first 5 things you would have a CEO know about diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
- Companies that have more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue.
- To encourage a sense of belonging in the workplace, DEI Expert Dr. Stefanie K. Johnson recommends building a strong T.E.A.M.: Be (T)ransparent, (E)mpower, (A)lign and (M)otivate.
- Decisions made and executed by diverse teams have delivered 60% better results
- 40% of employees cite stereotyping as a major reason they leave a company
- Fortune 500 Companies with more female directors experience higher financial performance
How can readers get in touch with you?
Ken James, Director of Inclusion – Grand Rapids Chamber Ken’s career has spanned a variety of industries (Not for Profit, Healthcare, Retail, Higher Education and Municipal Government). One of Ken’s greatest passions revolves in the world of equity, diversity, inclusion and initiating cross cultural dialogue. Ken enjoys combining his knowledge and experience to deliver creative programs to employers and their stakeholders.
Ken currently is the Director of Inclusion with the Grand Rapids Chamber. He is part of a team that delivers Diversity, Equity and Inclusion services to the business community. This includes 5 cohort-based leadership programs and 3 engagement programs offered by the Grand Rapids Chamber.
Ken has a master’s degree in Public Administration from Grand Valley State University and bachelor’s degree of Public Administration from Kentucky State University, where he played football.
Ken is married and has 3 daughters ages 15, 14 and 13.
P.S. 21 Diversity and Inclusion Quotes
In keeping with Mr. James' philosophy of "The longest journey begins with just one step," here are 21 diversity and inclusion quotes you can use to start a meeting, start a conversation, or simply stir your own thinking:
- "We all want to feel a sense of belonging. This isn’t a character flaw. It’s fundamental to the human experience. Our finest achievements are possible when people come together to work for a common cause." — Rosalind Wiseman
- "We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color." — Maya Angelou
- "Diversity: the art of thinking independently together." — Malcolm Forbes
- “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
- “It is never too late to give up your prejudices." — Henry David Thoreau
- "“The worst thing about a disability is that people see it before they see you.” — Easter Seals
- “If you exclude 50% of the talent pool, it’s no wonder you find yourself in a war for talent.” — Theresa J. Whitmarsh, Executive Director of the Washington State Investment Board
- "Strength lies in differences, not in similarities." — Stephen R. Covey
- “Labor should not be about creating monuments on hills or statues in parks. Labor’s monuments and statues are when a young person with disability can get access to the ordinary life that others take for granted.” — Bill Shorten
- “For me, every diversity issue is an insider-outsider issue. Our brain sees people as insiders and outsiders. Outsiderness has an impact on cognitive performance.” — Steve L. Robbins, Ph.D.
- “A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone.” — Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google
- "It's time we become comfortable with the uncomfortable conversations about race...Instead of being color blind, we need to be color brave." — Mellody Hobson
- “Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.” ― Fred Rogers
- “You will often feel as if you don’t fit, but it has never been your destiny to fit in. You were born to stand out.” — Melene Rossouw
- ““I raise up my voice — not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard … we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” ― Malala Yousafzai
- “In every position that I've been in, there have been naysayers who don't believe I'm qualified or who don't believe I can do the work. And I feel a special responsibility to prove them wrong.” ― Sonia Sotomayor
- “We must be headlights, not taillights.” — Rep. John Lewis (1940-2020)
- "We need to resist the tyranny of low expectations. We need to open our eyes to the inequality that remains. We won’t unlock the full potential of the workplace until we see how far from equality we really are." — Sheryl Sandberg
- “Many white Americans are afraid to talk about race for fear that they will be judged racist. Many African Americans, Hispanic Americans, indigenous Americans are afraid they’re going to sound angry. Let it go. Stop it. We have got to talk.” — David Pilgrim, sociology professor, Ferris State University
- “D&I needs to be something that every single employee at the company has a stake in.” — Bo Young Lee
- “Companies can do more than just make money; they can serve others. The business of business is improving the state of the world." — Marc Benioff, Chairman and Co-CEO, Salesforce