Triple Bottom Line

Virtual DEI is a Gamechanger!

October 12, 2022 Taylor Martin / Vivian Acquah
Triple Bottom Line
Virtual DEI is a Gamechanger!
Show Notes Transcript

Vivian Acquah is many things when it comes to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. She’s a DEI coach, consultant, strategist,  advocate, keynote speaker, moderator, trainer, and a DEI virtual reality leader! Listen in to understand why DEI is so important for businesses these days and how virtual reality is proving to be a game-changer.  https://www.linkedin.com/in/vivianacquah
  

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Triple Bottom Line | Episode 37 | DEI in the Virtual World

[Upbeat theme music plays] 
Female Voice Over 
[00:03] Welcome to the Triple Bottom Line, where we reveal how today's business leaders are reaching a new level of success with a people-planet-profit approach. Here is your host, Taylor Martin.

Taylor Martin 
[00:17] Welcome, everyone. I have Vivian Acquah on today. She is many things when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is also known as DEI. She's a DEI coach, consultant, strategist, workplace wellness advocate, a keynote speaker, a moderator, a trainer, and also a virtual reality leader. At least that's the way I see her, because what's she doing in this space is very interesting. That is one of the reasons why I wanted to have her on the show today. We're definitely going to get into all that good stuff. Let's get started today. Vivian, why is DEI on the rise these days?

Vivian Acquah 
[00:51] Why shouldn't it be, especially when you look what happened during the lockdown in 2020 when George Floyd died? Also, when it comes to the Great Resignation, a lot of companies are worried about the existence of their company. They should be worried. It should matter. They should put DEI on a pedestal and put it at number one and prioritize it as well, because DEI is part of culture. As Peter Drucker said, culture eats business for breakfast – eats strategy for breakfast.

Taylor Martin 
[01:27] Nice. What are the biggest problems companies are having by not including DEI?

Vivian Acquah 
[01:33] The problem right now is that companies are creating the best ideas and creating strategies for growth and for the future, but how can you grow and how can you plan these strategies if you don't have the people to participate in these plans or people are walking away sooner than later? The commitment that people had where they were working at least 5 years or 10 years – nowadays you have to be lucky if people want to be able to work for you for at least 2 years and not go away. There's a lot happening.

[02:07] More generations, inspired by Generation Z, are seeing that workplace has to matter. It has to fit and connect with purpose. It has to fit. It has to make sense, because I'm spending a lot time during the day in an organization, working for an organization. I have to be able to connect it to a purpose, or else it won't matter to them. If they feel like they are being excluded, it can hurt not only the individual, but it can also hurt the business as well.

Taylor Martin 
[02:41] I completely agree. We just did a podcast on purpose and how companies can define that purpose and how that purpose drives the company in ways that are immeasurable. What you and I are talking about is that plus really getting DEI into the culture, into the DNA of the company, right?

Vivian Acquah 
[03:00] True.

Taylor Martin
[03:02] Earlier, you and I were talking, and you talked about reflecting employee engagement. Can you elaborate on that?

Vivian Acquah 
[03:08] I think that at the time I was talking about we need to reconsider the way we engage people, because what worked 10 years ago, 5 years ago, even 2 years ago before the pandemic, is different. People connect differently. People know more of their value. If their value is not aligned with the company value or if you don't find a way to connect it to their intrinsic motivation, then they'll leave sooner than later. All the effort that you have put into hiring somebody will now cause you more stress, stress upon the team that is still there, but also stress upon growing your company. 

Taylor Martin
[03:49] Again, we're revolving around culture, because I keep going back to if this is in the culture, it's in the DNA, it's part of the environment, part of the purpose, as we mentioned, but what about leadership? What about inclusive leadership?

Vivian Acquah 
[04:04] I am going to say something bold, because every leader that has a title, or manager or board member, if you have never experienced to walk a mile in somebody else, their shoes, you cannot call yourself an inclusive leader. That's it. I'm making this bold statement, because I feel – not I feel – I know that you don't know what it is to be me. If you have never experienced what it is to be a Black woman or you have never experienced what it is to be a person who has a disability or if you never experienced what it is to be blind, you cannot call yourself an inclusive leader. That's it.

Taylor Martin 
[04:44] Agreed.

Vivian Acquah 
[04:44] I know I'm getting – I know I'm getting maybe a lot of eyebrows being raised, but then again, I have to call out some things. I have to say some things. We need to amplify empathy. That's it. We need to unlock empathy. We need to create that understanding that is essential to be an inclusive leader.

Taylor Martin 
[05:04] How do we amplify empathy? How do you do that?

Vivian Acquah
[05:07] There are ways that you can experience that. You can activate empathy by going to a museum and walk through the experiences of an artist. That's another way. You can activate empathy by volunteering somewhere else, volunteering in a community that isn't part of your lived experience, but supporting them so that you can understand where they are coming from. 

[05:36] Then there's another way, which is my favorite way of doing that and a safe way of doing that – is using virtual reality so that you can stand – for five minutes. I'm asking five minutes of you to stand in my shoes and to see all the things that are hidden for you because you come from a different background. You have a different lived experience. You have a different neighborhood. You have a different upbringing. You have a different education. 

[06:04] There are different levels – and I'm talking about intersectionality – that you might not be tapping in. Everybody has an intersectionality identity as well, but there are certain identities that people don't see that can be a barrier for them to be able to stay in the workplace or feel safe even in the workplace. If you know what to be mindful of, and you know how to understand, how to respond when somebody confides in you, said that something happens – and don't brush it off like, "No, Peter is a good guy. He did an amazing thing. Peter didn't mean anything by that joke." You don't know how it feels for the other person. I want you to be able to experience things from a safe space, walk a mile in the other person's shoe. That's what I want, to challenge leaders to do that.

Taylor Martin 
[06:58] I'm completely fascinated, because I love the idea of this whole using virtual reality to do this. How did this start, and how is it working for you and your clients?

Vivian Acquah 
[07:09] It started with my business partner, Anita Abaisa. She came up with the idea, because she studied positive psychology and is also a fan of learning and development as well. That's her expertise. She came up with the idea. So far, there are so many trainings and so many study results from Harvard saying that unconscious bias is not working. The majority is stopping where they should be continuing. She wanted to do something. She wanted to amplify diversity, equity, and inclusion, but also create that sense of urge where people can really understand how it feels to be othered. Then she came across talking to a VR partner. That's how the collaboration started. She first showed it to me. I'm a very talkative person. When she showed it to me, I couldn't talk.

Taylor Martin 
[08:04] Wow.

Vivian Acquah 
[08:05] My jaw was dropping. The only thing that I had was, "Wow." Even me describing into words – you have to experience it. There is a video out there so that people can understand, because for the listeners, for some people, it might sound like I'm talking like outer space or I'm talking about Star Trek. This experience is literally catapulting you towards the universe, towards the moon. Then you have to come back. Then you have to come back, "Okay, I cannot unsee what I've seen," because your brain thinks that it's real, and you have to act upon that. Then and there, that's how we connected with our clients to tap into their intrinsic motivation, tap into their self, because you cannot dictate towards employees or towards teams that – from now, you have to become inclusive. 

[09:07] We also have to inspire people and also have to – I know we have to meet them where they are. Where I am at is at a different level. I want you to level the playing field. That's what we're doing with the VR experience. We are leveling the playing field for you to experience what other people are experiencing so that you can become an inclusive leader.

Taylor Martin 
[09:29] Man, I love that in so many ways. I've been in a VR space just to – I bought a VR headset just so I could see what's going on in there. I was blown away at the graphics. I was like, "Wow." I'm a designer, so I'm looking at this, going, "Wow, this took a lot of time." The impression that it gave once you're in that world, and you're in there for a little while, it's like –

Vivian Acquah 
[09:52] You're on the moon.

Taylor Martin 
[09:53] It's like, "I could dig this for a while. I could dig this." When I was reading on your website about the VR stuff, I was just like, "Oh man, that's totally next level," because –

Vivian Acquah 
[10:02] It is.

Taylor Martin 
[10:04] You're making such an emotional impression on people, because they are –

Vivian Acquah 
[10:08] Exactly.

Taylor Martin 
[10:08] Able to, like you say – really, it's the closest thing we could do to walk a mile in someone else's shoes.

Vivian Acquah 
[10:13] Definitely. It's different than reading or listening or watching a movie, because if that was the case, then we didn't have a problem. This experience is causing goosebumps.

Taylor Martin 
[10:25] Wow.

Vivian Acquah 
[10:26] It's triggering senses that cannot be triggered by movies or just podcasts. 

Taylor Martin 
[10:31] Can you share some feedback that... I know it's hard to – 

Vivian Acquah 
[10:35] I can. Definitely, I can.

Taylor Martin 
[10:37] I would love to hear what people have said when they've gone through this.

Vivian Acquah 
[10:40] We have trained different people, but the majority that we train are leaders. One leader from a huge consultancy firm shared that when he saw the neurodiversity experience, he finally found a way to share what he's going through. He was avoiding certain meetings. He was avoiding certain social get-togethers, because for him, it was triggering him too much. It was extracting a lot of energy from him, where he felt depleted at the end, so he avoided it. Now he has found a way to communicate and say, "I'm going to show you. I'm going to let you experience how I feel after I do that." What people do after they have been to the experience, they really come to a different level of understanding.

[11:29] Let me share something else. The way people see and approach sometimes DEI, it feels like for them they are being dropped in the Atlantic Ocean. Not everybody can swim. Even I am not comfortable by being just dropped in the Atlantic Ocean. You need to start with the kiddie pool and then guide people from pool number one to pool number two, pool number three. I have a son, so that's why I'm using these pool analogies. 

[11:58] You need to be there. As a DEI consultant, I am there to help them, to guide them, to navigate them, to provide baby steps, to nudge them to understand the essence of, it's not only hurting you as an individual, it's also hurting your team and it's also hurting the company as well. What do you want to do? If you want to grow, if you want to expand, if you want to level up your business, DEI is here to stay. You can hide from it. You can active your ostrich-ism, as in keeping your head in the sand, but it's not going away. 

[12:38] You have different platforms, like Indeed or like Glassdoor. They are now more paying attention and they are sharing the temperatures of the companies, as in how inclusive is this company. The more people share about how inclusive your company is or how exclusive your company is, guess what. You get the talents or you lose the talents. It's up to you.

Taylor Martin 
[13:03] I can only imagine, because when I think about clients or companies addressing their DEI, it's more like, "Oh, we got to take this class. This speaker's going to come in and talk to us for a couple of hours. We're going to have a business meeting about it. We might have some homework. We're going to come back, talk about it again," and then it's just gone. What you're talking about is creating an experience that really connects with people on a human level that goes so far beyond just a video or a conference room meeting or listening to a speaker. I just find this incredibly fascinating. I think everybody should start really focusing on virtual to do things like this.

Vivian Acquah 
[13:48] We always start with this experience. Why? It's mitigating the non-discussions. I don't like the non-discussions, because it's draining energy. Once people have that experience, then we go into the training. Then we go into the action. Then we go into commitments as well, because you have to see this is a tool. It's not a one-stop shop solution. It's a tool that accelerates the DEI journey.

Taylor Martin 
[14:17] How do you guys set up the virtual reality space? You mentioned a couple of things that it seemed like it was custom to somebody's experience so that you could educate others on it. Is that something that you're just building a catalog of?

Vivian Acquah 
[14:31] We are.

Taylor Martin 
[14:33] You also do custom ones, so that a client can come in and say, "This is my experience I need to express with everybody else."

Vivian Acquah 
[14:40] We are doing both. We currently have a library with different scenarios to cater to different challenges that people are facing in the workplace, so supporting gender identity, sexual identity as well, talking about racism, talking about Me Too, talking about neurodiversity, and talking about how women are being excluded in the workplace and how it can really make a sense out of it. A lot of people say, "Why didn't you say something?" or, "Why didn't I know about this?" Once you go through that experience, tell me how you felt, because it can activate your fight, flight, and freeze mode. Once you are in that mode, I'm curious into how you are going to commit to what you said before. It's very easy to say, "Why didn't you say anything?" or, "Why didn't I know of this?" Is the workplace safe enough, is it psychologically safe, is it social safe to say something about?

Taylor Martin 
[15:41] All you HR managers, directors out there that are listening to this right now, please let this sink in, because I think it's great. I actually want to try and experience this myself, Vivian. I want to go through the motions, and I want to see this firsthand.

Vivian Acquah 
[15:57] We are always open to collaborate with partners.

Taylor Martin 
[16:01] Excellent. That's what I want to hear. DEI is really focused on the people part of the Triple Bottom Line. Can you explain to our listeners how it connects with the planet and the profit?

Vivian Acquah 
[16:13] I would not say that DEI only – yes, its dominant or main ingredient is people, but the people can have direct and indirectly impact on the profit. The people indirectly and directly can impact on the planet as well, because if people feel excluded, how many more costs are companies going to spend into recruiting instead of into sustainability? We are now dealing with a turnover leak or a talent leak where we keep recycling the same ad. Six months later, you'll see a new – you see the same ad being published again. To me, that tells a story about exclusion. It tells a story about why couldn't the person who was on this seat before, why couldn't they stay. 
[17:03] It's a very important question that I also want to share with those who are seeking jobs. Ask the question, "What happened to the person before? How old is this vacancy?" If it's a new vacancy, that's kudos to you, but if it's a new – if it's an existing vacancy, ask them.

Taylor Martin 
[17:22] That's always a great question, who am I replacing and why did they leave. Before we started recording the show, you mentioned allyship. I wrote that down. I was like, "What is that?" I've never heard that before. I love hearing new things. Can you elaborate on what allyship is and how it works?

Vivian Acquah 
[17:39] Yeah. I will use us as an example. I am a Black woman. People talk about meritocracy, but the way things were for you and the road to your career and journey, totally different. You have a different background. You come from a majority. You have a background where your experiences, your life experiences and your network, is connected to a majority. Within the majority network, people share games, people share the rules, people invite each other in and keep uplifting each other as well. For me as a Black woman, there is this – when you Google meritocracy and Google the images, you'll see the different hurdles a Black woman is facing. You'll see the different hurdles that a woman is facing and see woman – replace it by somebody with a disability or replace it by somebody who is neurodiverse. We all have challenges. 

[18:38] When you are an ally, you speak up on my behalf. You come up for me. You stand up for me. If something happens and you were a bystander and you noticed that, you can address the person who was doing that to me, because in that moment, I might be activating my fight, flight, and most of the time maybe freeze mode. I want you to be able to say something to that person and say, "It's not okay." I don't want you to activate Texas Chainsaw Massacre where you bully the other person, because we also have to be real. People need to humanize the way we share feedback. We need to wrap it – we need to share it in a way that is constructive. If somebody has done something wrong, provide them feedback so that they can learn from that experience. Don't kill them because they have done something wrong. Give them a moment to learn and activate the grow mindset as well.

Taylor Martin 
[19:34] Man, this is rolling right into a podcast we're going to be doing next week on leadership. When we talked about inclusive leadership, and talking about sticking up for somebody else like that, because they might be in that fight or flight or freeze mode – which I like the freeze mode. That's new to me. I haven't heard that one. I think that's great. I have a problem with leadership that doesn't do that, that doesn't realize that their job as a leader is to protect the people that work under them, their team or their teams. That's just one form of it. The part that I really underscore is it's cooperation. It's understanding the other people and being constructive in the management style, the leadership style that you hold. I think this is exactly about that.

Vivian Acquah 
[20:22] I do want to say some encouragement for the leaders, because leaders are getting a lot of finger pointing, saying, "You have done this wrong. You're not doing this right. You're not doing this." Are leaders set up for success? Do they have the tools to lead? Do they have the resources to activate themself as inclusive leaders? Are we setting leaders up for success? Leading now in this age, it's a whole balancing act. You have to be an artist in the Cirque du Soleil to be able to lead, unless you delegate, unless you activate the superpowers within your team.

Taylor Martin 
[21:02] Lots of spinning plates. What do you wish the future would bring to the DEI space?

Vivian Acquah 
[21:13] Normalizing DEI, not walking away – embracing the uncomfortableness, so getting comfortable with the uncomfortableness. Yes, you will fall. There is no best practice company out there that is a hundred percent being inclusive all the time. They have all fallen. What do you do after that? Do you learn and grow from that? Do you apologize or do you create a situation where you feel like people are personally attacking you? Most of the time – I cannot speak on behalf of other people. I can only speak on behalf of myself. Most of the time, I want to provide you constructive feedback so that you learn from that experience. 

[21:58] Also, know that as a leader, you do need a coach, and not only a coach for the business, but also a coach regarding DEI, because this is a whole new domain space where you need a cheerleader, you need a confidante, you need somebody who can hold up the mirror, where you are able to share what you see and they are able to share what they see as well. I want to challenge that as well. Pick a DEI coach that doesn't look like you, is from a different ethnicity or a different background. See the diversity in that. Let yourself be challenged by them. Also, connect with somebody who you click with, because the energy and the click is also important as well. Challenge yourself by finding a coach, that DEI coach or DEI consultant that can support you in your DEI journey, because you don't have to know it all.

Taylor Martin 
[22:58] I could see companies having an onboarding session. When you come in, you're part of the organization, they go through this virtual reality DEI session. I could also see it being something that's done annually or biannually so that you can come back, because things are changing left and right. Every time you turn around, there's something else coming at us business-wise. Do you guys do things like that? Do you have interventions with companies and set it up on an annual basis?

Vivian Acquah 
[23:26] We are going to. We're currently working with a client that wants that as well. Doing this VR training or providing this VR experience, like I said, it's a tool. We have different scenarios to cater towards that road map or that journey that you're talking about. There are some clients that have one experience, and there are some clients that have three experiences, because they feel like they want to tap into the different scenarios so that people are more aware of what they are doing and more aware of how they can prevent hurting the individuals but also hurting the teams and the companies as well.

Taylor Martin 
[24:03] Is there anything that business owners or managers could do to measure their lack of DEI? They're listening to this podcast, and they're thinking, "We're fine." Is there something they can do to say, "I need to know real data."

Vivian Acquah 
[24:20] If you want data, then you have to do a culture analysis. You have to take the temperature of your DEI culture at the moment so that you know where we are starting and take the precautions or take the right measurements but also the actions. Everybody's responsible, not only the leaders. Every individual within the organization is responsible for activating DEI but also maintaining the DEI flame.

Taylor Martin 
[24:46] That's awesome. Do you have any other words of wisdom you want to share with our audience?

Vivian Acquah 
[24:52] My words of wisdom is – and I'm going to quote Maya Angelou, because I do feel like this is appropriate for this. "It doesn't matter what you say. It doesn't matter what you do. It matters how you made people feel." This is an essential part of inclusion. How are you making people feel? If you're creating a space or creating an environment where people feel excluded, that will come back in the revenue as well.

Taylor Martin 
[25:20] I think that's the title of your next book. I would love to see you write a book about this, because –

Vivian Acquah 
[25:30] I'm a talker, not a writer.

Taylor Martin 
[25:32] See, you just talk into the computer. The computer will take it all, put it down in text form. Then you get an editor come in, clean it up. Then you get a publisher and boom. I think a book would be great in your future, and especially once you gather more and more data from this virtual reality business here, man.

Vivian Acquah 
[25:49] Yes, definitely.

Taylor Martin 
[25:51] I am thoroughly intrigued and energized about that. I see that as just such a win-win-win on all sides.

Vivian Acquah 
[25:58] It is creating a win. It is definitely creating a win. We have seen amazing shifts activating leaders or CEOs even to commit to become sponsors of the DEI committee. I know a lot of people are dealing with maybe the DEI fatigue where they are done with the topic, but DEI is about humanizing the workplace. It's about humanizing the environments that we have around each other. Doesn't everybody deserve that? The way that people are now looking up to Black Ariel, we never – I wouldn't say never, but there are less Black role models, and the fact that kids are now seeing themselves in a Disney character, that's huge. Imagine it would be the other side, where you never would see yourself being reflected. It does something on your self-esteem. It does something to your confidence as well.

Taylor Martin 
[26:54] I agree. When I heard about the mermaid thing, I went online to look at it. I see all these videos of these little girls all excited. My heart just exploded. I was like, "That is so awesome. That is so, so awesome."

Vivian Acquah 
[27:06] Disney's doing an amazing job when it comes to representation. I hope that they inspire more companies to activate that as well.

Taylor Martin 
[27:16] I think they did. I think because the publicity that that had gotten and garnered at this time in our world – and what you're doing is growing. I think the timing was perfect.

Vivian Acquah 
[27:27] Thank you.

Taylor Martin 
[27:28] Vivian, how can our listeners reach out to you, your company, or follow you on social?

Vivian Acquah 
[27:33] I am best followed via LinkedIn. I do have Twitter and Instagram, but to reach me, to connect with me or reach out to me, LinkedIn is the best way or reach out to me via amplifydei.com, because I cannot do that alone. I need you all in this journey to amplify DEI to infinity and beyond.

Taylor Martin 
[27:56] Oh, man, another reference. I'm going to leave today's with one that you said earlier. All you listeners out there, I just want to say, how did you make such-and-such feel today? Just think about that as you walk through your day to day. Just think about that with every person you interact with. Just think about how you made them feel, because that's powerful.

Vivian Acquah 
[28:19] I love that. Thank you, Taylor.

Taylor Martin 
[28:21] Thank you, Vivian. Thank you for being on today's show.

Vivian Acquah 
[28:23] Thank you for having me. Now I'm out of words. 

Taylor Martin 
[28:28] That's good. Then we're done. We did our job. We're good. Over and out, everybody. We're out of here.

[Upbeat theme music plays]
Female Voice Over 
[28:34] Thanks for tuning into the Triple Bottom Line. Your host, Taylor Martin, is founder and Chief Creative of Design Positive, a strategic branding and accessibility agency. Interested in being interviewed on our podcast? Then visit designpositive.co and fill out our contact form. If you enjoyed today’s podcast, we would appreciate a review on Apple podcasts or whatever provider you are logging in from. This podcast is prepared by Design Positive and is not associated with any other entity. We look forward to having you back for another installment of the Triple Bottom Line.
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