When intentional or unintentional road blocks are unnecessarily set in front of employees in the workplace, the entire organization suffers.

And when those roadblocks are based upon physical or cultural issues unrelated to an employee’s ability to thrive in an organization, our whole community suffers.

What ought an employer do to ensure that they are recruiting, selecting, onboarding, and professionally growing individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds?

What beliefs or customs must they discard in order to build workplaces reflective of the larger community?

In this nuanced conversation, Mike and Angela Shaw discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives this week.

Starting with straightforward definition of each those terms, they go on to discuss DEI’s impact on a meritocratic workplace, whether the use of “professionalism” standards are an excuse for workplace bias, and how organizations can kick-start their DEI initiatives.


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Angela Shaw

Voted the 2020 TXSHRM Volunteer Leader of the Year, Chief People Officer and DEI advocate Angela Shaw is an award-winning leader, speaker and teacher. With an extensive background in human resources, her career expands over several industries including government, education and now food & beverage. Angela worked her way up from an entry-level position to earn her seat at the C-Suite table. Angela is both a SHRM Senior Certified Professional and Senior Human Resources Certified Professional earning both designations within a year of one another. She tirelessly works towards building a more inclusive world by dedicating herself to educating people about the intersection of Human Resources and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.


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Angela Shaw: I don’t feel excluded. I feel like I belong. I feel like I can bring my whole self to work. I don’t think I need to be someone else. I’m not worried about the definition of professionalism because to me, professionalism is the new ism that excludes people that upholds oppression and systemic structure that was built to exclude people. I don’t want to have to worry about that. I just want to come to work, do a great job, know I’m doing a great job, and receive the same everything else that any other person would get because I did a great job.

[intro music]

Mike Coffey: Good Morning, HR.

I’m Mike Coffey, and this is the podcast where I talk to business leaders about bringing people together to create value for shareholders, customers, and the community.

Please follow, rate, and review Good Morning, HR on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also find us on Facebook or at goodmorninghr.com.

This podcast is all about leaders who bring people together to create value for shareholders, customers, and the community. But when intentional or unintentional roadblocks are unnecessarily set in front of employees in the workplace, the entire organization suffers, and when those roadblocks are based on physical or cultural issues unrelated to an employee’s ability to thrive in an organization, the whole community suffers.

What ought an employer do to ensure that they are recruiting, selecting, onboarding, and professionally growing individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds? What beliefs or customs must they discard in order to build workplaces that reflect the larger community?

Well, today’s guest has been a dear friend of mine for at least a decade. I’ve had the privilege of watching her grow professionally from working in an HR office of one in a company that really didn’t value HR to her current role as chief people officer for JuiceLand, the best smoothies and juice in Texas with over 30 locations across the state. She’s also an adjunct professor at the University of Texas and a sought-after speaker on diversity and inclusion issues, including her TEDx Talk on busting the stereotype of the angry Black woman.

Angela Shaw, thank you so much for being with me today.

Angela Shaw: Hello, Mike Coffey. I am honored to be here and excited about our conversation today.

Mike Coffey: Well, it’ll be fun and, I hope, challenging certainly for me, but I hope for our audience too. You’ve worked on D&I issues in both the public and private sectors. What do you see as the difference between implementing a program like that in a privately owned company versus a government entity?

Angela Shaw: Well, I think anybody would agree that it’s probably the red tape that you have to go through to get anything approved and paid for when it comes to the government. But honestly, to me, it’s a discussion of the chicken or the egg, like which comes first and what an organization, whether they are government or not, is doing, just having movement on the path, period.

What part of DEI are they starting with? I think that really is similar in any kind of organization, and I think if we want to see real movement, it’s more about how all organizations kind of work together and look at each other as examples to be able to just move forward and have some real movement towards it. So not that there isn’t a discussion about the difference between the two industries, but I think we should focus on how we actually have action, period.

Mike Coffey: Well, let’s talk about those terms then. You’ve got diversity, equity, inclusion. What is diversity? And all these terms are ever evolving, and what we say today in three years will probably have a different definition. But when you’re talking about diversity today to other business leaders, what are you talking about?

Angela Shaw: Differences in how people who are in organizations are different. That really is what it boils down to. I think people talk a lot about very common factors that we all know. So race and gender are probably the most common factors, but we also know sexual orientation is becoming a really big topic when it comes to diversity, but also veteran status, parental status, education status. There are just so many factors that we should be thinking about, big-picture definition of diversity.

Mike Coffey: Okay. So diversity, just having a bunch of different people in the room-

Angela Shaw: Yes.

Mike Coffey: … with all kinds of backgrounds. Then what is equity?

Angela Shaw: So equity is that everyone has the opportunity for the same things across the board, so how I am selected to come into an organization, and I’m being compared to the same standards as anybody else. When I come into the organization, that I am treated the same, that my total compensation is the same, that we are using actual standards that keep the impact equal, right?

The impact of whatever it is, that it is equal. And so whatever things we put into place, whatever resources we provide for that impact to always be equal is equity to me. So how I grow, how I get the opportunity to grow, how I’m developed, how I’m retained, and that someone cares about I’m being retained, to me, that’s equity.

Mike Coffey: So back in Title VII 101, you’re talking about both really disparate treatment and disparate impact then, right? This may not be a policy we put in place specifically to affect this group, but we don’t have a business case for this policy. And it’s creating an impact on that group.

Angela Shaw: And let’s talk a little bit about the difference between those two, right? So disparate treatment is, I am on purpose treating a group different based on a factor. And then the disparate impact is, I have a rule across the board that affects groups differently. And we should care about people being affected differently, which is why I talk about this equal opportunity, so this opportunity that I have the same and that we put whatever resources into place, that everyone has the same opportunity. And that’s how you counteract the disparate impact that can happen.

Mike Coffey: And we can circle back, but I think that idea that one of the complaints that you hear business leaders, or maybe not business leaders as much as detractors of DEI, say is that you’re looking for equal outcomes regardless of background, even though different backgrounds, education levels, and opportunities people had that were far outside out of that employer’s control could affect how a particular individual succeeds in an organization.

And so are you, when you’re talking about equity, talking about equal outcomes for everybody, or are you talking about a meritocracy where some people have the opportunity … Well, everybody has the opportunity, but those who have the skills, knowledge, and whatever else it takes to succeed in the organization are able to do so.

Angela Shaw: So in order to give equal outcomes, that sometimes means that you have to do different things. So I don’t know. I don’t know how I can work meritocracy into that, right? But I think that when it comes to equal outcomes, it means that everyone doesn’t need the same resources to get to equal outcomes. And of course, it’s complicated, because you talked about how different individuals had different experiences, different backgrounds. Maybe this person didn’t have the opportunity to go to college, but how do we change what we do to give those equal outcomes?

Mike Coffey: So, okay, but I mean, there are skill sets and things like that. Employers by and large don’t want to train everybody on how to do their job. I mean, the unique things that come with doing the job … Yeah, in our organization, this is how we do it. Employers definitely should and need to do the training around those issues. But the expectation … and tell me if I’m wrong here, but I don’t think your expectation is that an employer rework their system to identify people who wouldn’t otherwise be qualified for a position and give them that opportunity at the employer’s time and expense to build them into that role. But all things being roughly equal, everybody has the same opportunity to succeed or not.

Angela Shaw: I would say overall, it is not my opinion that an employer completely reworks whatever they’re doing to include other people. So I would say overall, that’s not what I’m saying. I would say that there are already underrepresented people who meet the requirements but are being excluded because of these factors being given value.

Mike Coffey: So give me some examples of those factors. What kind of factors?

Angela Shaw: I dare say it’s two different conversations, right?

Mike Coffey: Okay.

Angela Shaw: Yeah, so women not being hired because we think they’re going to have babies and not be here, Black people not being hired because there’s this bias that we have that we think Black people are not educated enough or have enough experience or knowledge to do this job. There’s also this unconscious bias that everybody loves to talk about, which is something in you that makes you take action that has negative impact on other people. And how are employers trying to think about that, counteract that, and make sure that that is a reason why they’re not hiring people with underrepresented factors, women, veterans, parents, Black people, Hispanic people? How are they thinking about that and counteracting that, which we all know is happening?

Mike Coffey: Sure, and this is the 11th, I think, 10th or 11th episode of the podcast. I’m using the podcast often as a confessional of sorts for myself. My concern … I’ve never had concerns around color of people’s hair, and I’ve got some employees who are a lot more creative than my 52-year-old self is about hair and how I present myself. But we have signature blocks on all our emails with people’s pictures on them. And it’s great, because our clients almost never meet us or see us, but it’s been great over the last several years to have those. People have an idea who they’re talking to, and it builds a relationship, I think.

But one day, I started noticing I’m getting employees with blue hair and magenta hair and different colors. And that, for me, was kind of an issue. I just had to think, okay, what is this going to look like to employers or to clients? And does this make us look less professional and all that? And ultimately, I had to say, it’s kind of on them if it does. It’s the clients. And fortunately, most of my clients are HR folks, and so there we tend, I think, as HR people to be more accepting than maybe your routine accounting firm or something like that.

So I think it’s something we all struggle with, and it’s not always because we place a value on some thing. But we’re concerned about what that may mean for our business. But I think ultimately when we think about it, just doing the right thing tends to come out on the side of the nonconforming-

Angela Shaw: The right … yeah.

Mike Coffey: Yeah, the nonconforming or the diverse candidate.

Angela Shaw: The nonjudgmental side, the right side. I will add a caveat to that, though. There are some characteristics that people have the ability to change, hair color, tattoos, piercings, right? But there are other characteristics that people don’t have the opportunity to change like the color of my skin. And so when we think about the compare of you didn’t hire somebody because they had blue hair versus you didn’t hire somebody because they were Black, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. And so while we want to have a big-picture view of DEI, we also want to remember that there are some nuances there, that there’s a difference between my hair being blue and I’m a black woman.

Mike Coffey: Okay, that’s a good point. And then inclusion. So we talked about diversity and equity. Where does inclusion fit into that? What does that feel like?

Angela Shaw: I don’t feel excluded. I feel like I belong. I feel like I can bring my whole self to work. I don’t think I need to be someone else. I’m not worried about the definition of professionalism because to me, professionalism is the new ism that excludes people, that upholds oppression and systemic structure that was built to exclude people. I don’t want to have to worry about that. I just want to come to work, do a great job, know I’m doing a great job, and receive the same everything else that any other person would get because I did a great job. So I think naysayers or people who are against diversity, equity, and inclusion, they always want to find … The things that they want to find, like why it doesn’t work, aren’t the things. So, oh, we have to lower our standards.

That’s really not what it is. There are qualified people who have factors that are underrepresented who are just not getting opportunity. So I’m lucky enough to have gotten opportunity to have ascended in my career, and when I go to work every day, I want to be judged on these bodies of work that I built, Mike, that you cannot discount, right? Not on the color of my skin and not because of my gender or any other thing about me. That’s inclusion.

Mike Coffey: That’s good. Let’s dive deeper into that professionalism then. So most organizations have something around … They want their employees to act professionally with one another, and certainly if they’re client facing, they’ve got some written or unwritten standard as far as quality of communications and use of English language, things like that, English language or whatever language they operate in and what their customers need in order to interact with them. Talk to me more about what you said about professionalism being an ism, and how is that used to unfairly advantage or disadvantage one group or the other?

Angela Shaw: Yeah, and I would, again, introduce the caveat of characteristics that we can change versus those that we can’t, right. And so while I think it’s unfair that someone says, I’m not going to hire somebody with blue hair, or whatever the characteristic that somebody can change is, and being a Black woman, I feel like there’s a difference. But the one that always comes to mind is natural hair. States have had to enact laws that say that you cannot discriminate against a Black woman because of her natural hair or Black people because of their natural hair, so things like dreadlocks or twists or any of the things that Black people do, protective styles that they wear for their hair and being discriminated against because that’s not professional. It doesn’t fall under the definition of professionalism.

Even recently, I’ve heard a lot of women talking about not wearing makeup and that being held against them as a standard of professionalism. So these are some of the common ones that happen quite a bit where someone else’s definition is put on everybody and held against them. So we always talk about in HR … Everybody knows this, right? To build a good job description, it’s always about knowledge, skills, and ability, right?

Mike Coffey: Right.

Angela Shaw: They didn’t talk about makeup. They didn’t talk about natural hair. Any of this stuff is not included. So I think as HR people, as employers, even as individuals, let’s put context on what we’re making decisions about and what we’re using to make those decisions. And that’s where I would say professionalism … that people are not thinking about what the actual decision we’re making is about and what we need to be able to make that decision.

Mike Coffey: And let’s take a quick break.

Good Morning, HR is brought to you by Imperative, premium background checks with fast and friendly service. If you’re an HRCI or SHRM-certified professional, this episode of Good Morning, HR has been pre-approved for one half hour of recertification credit. To obtain the recertification information, visit goodmorninghr.com and click on Recert Credits. Then select episode 11 and enter the keyword Angela. That is A-N-G-E-L-A.

On Thursday, September 30th, I’ll be hosting a webinar entitled Beyond Values, Building an Ethical Business Environment. This webinar is approved for one professional development credit for SHRM-certified professionals and one hour of business recertification credit for HRCI-certified professionals. You can register for this free webinar at imperativeinfo.com. And if you’re listening to this program for September 30th, you can still watch the recorded webinar on our website for credit. And now back to my conversation with Angela Shaw.

So as you’re talking to business leaders about DEI programs, what are the components? If you were going to come into my organization and say, okay, in order to be a diverse, equitable and inclusive organization, let’s start with these three or four pillars. Where would you start us at, and what would be in a program like that?

Angela Shaw: So I would start with education, and then I would start with what action we take. And then the last thing would be accountability. So how do we hold ourselves accountable to what we’ve said we are going to do? And I think that there are a lot of different ways in which you do that, but when it comes to education, I think you need to hit a lot of different cylinders, right? So information needs to be coming in on a regular basis from all kinds of places to be able to get to, within your organization, shared knowledge, shared beliefs, and shared behavior. And once you have agreement on that, that’s what you hold people accountable to, right?

Mike Coffey: Well, you’re talking culture there, right? Right?

Angela Shaw: Right, but I hate to call it that because I feel like culture’s a negative word that people, again, use in a bad way. They been a bad way. It’s used to exclude, again, because we keep talking about cultural fit versus add. The excuse for not getting a job, not a cultural fit … What does that even mean? You didn’t go to this university, or you didn’t graduate from university. Or you don’t have this specific type experience. So yes, it’s culture, but I just don’t want to describe it as that, right?

Mike Coffey: Interesting.

Angela Shaw: So when we make these agreements about, this is the behavior in our organization that we want … and it should be based on already existing values and mission, right? Almost every organization has that. This is how we want you to embody that you work for our organization. That’s our definition, and we get this behavior that we agree upon. We’ve taken in this education. We’ve talked about all these different factors. We’ve got gotten to this place of, I know I have bias, and I need to counteract that. So we have this agreed upon behavior, which is hard enough, and there’s still a lot of organizations that even have to get to that. They haven’t even got to that yet.

But if they’ve gotten to that, I really feel like the hardest part of the process is uninviting those people from the party who do not meet this definition. That has been the hardest part. So you have someone in your organization who is having behavior that suggests that they are racist, sexist, or discriminatory, but we don’t uninvite them. We just let them continue to be here and torture and oppressed people.

Mike Coffey: Yeah. There are a lot of bad managers. I had Terri Swain on a few episodes ago, talking about how the pandemic exposed a lot of bad managers. And there are a lot of people who we would tolerate their management style, or they succeed at their management style in person through intimidation or coercion or just old-school management, management by walking around. And then when they didn’t have employees in front of them all day, the deficits and their real ability to be a leader were really evident.

But what you said about culture, that’s interesting because culture, when I’m doing my presentations on building culture, I always talk about culture being the unwritten set of rules about how things get done in the organization. And I think what you’re saying is, yeah, there are cultures out there that get things done, but the way they get them done may not be ideal for a lot of the candidate pool or employee base. And it’s really good. Yeah.

Angela Shaw: Because it’s not inclusive. Yeah, it’s not inclusive. If you don’t meet this criteria that we set for our culture, you are not a fit, and we are excluding you. And if those organizations will look at the metrics of those people that they’re excluding, I bet there will be some similarities in the kind of people that are being excluded, some disparate impact or treatment going on.

Mike Coffey: Interesting. So you said education, and then what was the second pillar? I should’ve written it …

Angela Shaw: Action.

Mike Coffey: Action, okay. So what does that look like?

Angela Shaw: So action looks like-

Mike Coffey: You said uninviting certain people, but beyond that, what does it look like?

Angela Shaw: We do what we say. So we’re not just out here putting a black square up. We didn’t just make a statement, right? We’re not just changing our logo colors. We’re actually doing work, right? So this action is all encompassing, so it’s our continuous education. It’s uninviting people. It’s the way we train our managers to have conversations, to be empathetic, to not run from uncomfortable. All of that is the action part. It’s continuous, and it is across the entire organization that this action needs to take place.

And then that accountability, which again, it can look different ways, but yes, it’s absolutely uninviting people. It’s also looking at your metrics and how your educating is affecting, how your action is affecting. It takes place through surveys or exit interviews or having conversations with your employees about how they feel coming to work every day. That’s all the accountability part that organizations can look at to see, are we have having movement? Do people feel good about coming here? Would they recommend other people to come work here? That’s our accountability piece.

Mike Coffey: You mentioned metrics. If I implement a DEI program in my organization, how do I measure actual success? What does that look like in six months, a year? Or are we talking two or three years to make a viable change?

Angela Shaw: Yeah, so I think it’s at all of those intervals, but it’s, who do we bring in, and do they stay? I mean, I feel like that is the biggest metric right there. So who do we bring in? And do they all look different, and did they stay? I think that’s all-

Mike Coffey: And so it’s not just a matter of counting noses, though. It’s about finding fully qualified candidates. You’re not compromising quality or anything like that.

Angela Shaw: Correct.

Mike Coffey: And I think that’s one of the things that people who automatically respond negatively to these kind of programs-

Angela Shaw: I know, Mike, but it’s an excuse. It is just an excuse because they don’t want to give up power, right? They don’t want to be uncomfortable. That’s why people come up with excuses.

Mike Coffey: Interesting. And so all those metrics over some period of time … we’ll know if we’re successful or not if productivity and performance is the same or better, and our workforce looks more like the community around us.

Angela Shaw: Yes.

Mike Coffey: Okay. And people push back against that. You mentioned … What kind of pushback do you hear from business leaders, either opposition or just fear? What do you hear back from them about why they don’t want to implement something like that?

Angela Shaw: They don’t have time. We don’t have time to be intentional or to put this extra work into that. That’s not the most important thing, right? So it just happens organically. We hire the best talent. I would be embarrassed, though, to say I hired the best talent and there is no diversity on my talent team. I would be embarrassed by that, and that would make me want to go be intentional.

And so I would say they need to break down those reasons, right? So let’s just take that one that we just talked about. I hire the best talent for my team, which means I don’t have to pay attention to diversity because I’m just hiring the best talent, right?

Mike Coffey: Right.

Angela Shaw: So breaking that down as the reason … so what you’re saying is, there’s no underrepresented person that has the skillset you’re looking for? That’s really what you’re saying, that the definition of best talent never includes a Black person, a Hispanic person, a woman? It never includes that? I mean, I would have to break that down. That is not the truth. And I think when you ask that question, it’s not the truth, Mike. I mean, is that the truth?

Mike Coffey: And I think when our recruiting strategies are heavily focused on current employee referrals and posting to the same set of job boards that we all post to, maybe we’re missing a lot of those candidates. And certainly, employers of a certain size have affirmative action plans in place, but unfortunately, we all know that EEO reporting is largely a numbers game. And it can make an organization look-

Angela Shaw: It is.

Mike Coffey: And if you really want to do it right, I think what I’m hearing from you is you got to do a little extra work in your recruiting and selection process.

Angela Shaw: And you might be surprised to know I’m actually not a fan of affirmative action plans.

Mike Coffey: Oh, I don’t think anybody who’s ever been in HR more than a week is.

Angela Shaw: Not just because I’m in HR, but I feel like it perpetuates the myth that there are not qualified people out there and that you only hire for numbers. It perpetuates that. And so as a person personally who has worked very hard to be an expert in my field, that reflects negatively on me, and I don’t like it.

Mike Coffey: Interesting.

Angela Shaw: And I don’t like it.

Mike Coffey: Well, let’s talk about your TEDx Talk. I want to wrap up with that, because I thought it was … I was privileged. I got to see an early version of it, and then it went out there and got a lot of traction. It’s the internet, and maybe I shouldn’t have been so shocked. You got a lot of positive thumbs up and a lot of positive comments, but there was some real vitriol out there in those comments.

Angela Shaw: There was.

Mike Coffey: Tell me about what your response to that was, because I hurt for you, so I mean, I couldn’t imagine it.

Angela Shaw: It was definitely surprising. I have to tell you that. It was very surprising, and it was very hurtful because these are people who don’t even know me. They don’t know anything about me at all to just come and make … I mean, they attacked everything from my dating life to my parents. I could not believe it. So surprising, definitely, but I think one of the things about me … and you know this.

I’m very confident, but this confidence comes from, again, bodies of work that people cannot discount. They can say whatever they want, but listen, Angela Shaw, she work hard and she don’t play. And anybody who knows me will say that, and I find comfort in that. So I find comfort in knowing the truth and that anybody who knows me knows the truth also. So I just really try to find comfort in that, and honestly, I just stopped reading. I mean, I would go every month and I just had to stop because I was like, that’s crazy.

And I think the other part is, I did have so many supportive people reach out, strangers that I didn’t know, and most often Black women, because a lot of times, if you’re in an underrepresented group, you do feel unheard, unloved, like nobody cares about you. And you may not feel like you could be the one speaking up. So I got a lot of support from Black women who said, I’m so proud of you, and you also told my story. And I thought nobody else knew my story. I mean, it gives me chills right now. That’s special. So for every person who made an ugly comment or whatever, I think about those people who tell me that I told their story. I didn’t even them, and they didn’t know that someone else experienced their story and could speak up about it. So I’m going to live there. That’s where I’m going to live. I like it there.

Mike Coffey: That’s a good place to be, and that’s the right perspective. So thank you for joining us. That’s all the time we’ve got today, but I really do appreciate you making the time to be part of … and for being my friend for all these years. We first met when you were at Williamson County HR, and y’all had me down to speak. And you took me to dinner the night before. And I was like, well, any woman that’ll take me out to dinner and pay for it, I’m on board. I love this lady.

Angela Shaw: Well, I mean, I’m not scared, Mike. I’m like, come on, let’s go. We’re going to dinner.

Mike Coffey: It was good. Well, thank you, Angela.

Angela Shaw: Thank you for having me.

Mike Coffey: Sure. And thank you for listening. You can find previous episodes, show notes, and contact info for Angela at goodmorninghr.com or on Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube. And don’t forget to follow us wherever you get your podcasts.

Rob Upchurch is our technical producer and Imperative’s marketing coordinator, Katy Bautista keeps the trains running on time, and I’m Mike Coffey as always. If I can ever do anything for you personally or professionally, don’t hesitate to reach out. I’ll see you next week, and until then, be well and keep your chin up.