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Three Considerations for Activating DEI with Kelly Burton — Virtual Gathering Recap

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On January 27, 2022, Kelly Burton, Executive Director of the Black Innovation Alliance, joined Leshawnda Larkin, Head of Brand Marketing at Dolby Laboratories, for a discussion on activating DEI within our organizations.

Over the course of the conversation, Kelly and Lashawnda shed light on three major considerations for sustaining effective DEI strategies.

1. Confront and tackle the barriers to change.

Lashawnda asked Kelly to describe the three biggest challenges she sees as barriers to effecting positive change for DEI within our organizations. Kelly responded that she’s specifically witnessed:

A lack of understanding and racial literacy

We begin by understanding that “the biggest challenge that we have in this country is a lack of knowledge and understanding about the implications of race and gender in our society and in the workplace,” Kelly explained.

She encouraged conscious leaders to explore the history of race as a concept, especially in the U.S., in order to understand the impact it has on our relationships today. Citing recent statistics, Kelly noted that race is a dominant predictor of life outcomes and has been since its inception as a social construct.

Improving racial literacy will help us understand how we got to where we are today and what we need do to to make a meaningful difference.

Unhealthy business cultures

A company culture where employees can trust their leaders and feel free to bring their full selves to work is foundational to beginning and maintaining long-term DEI strategies.

“If you don’t have a healthy business culture, your DEI work is dead in the water.”

Kelly advised: “You have to be able to build trust, have courageous conversations … there has to be integrity in what you say and what you do.”

And, Kelly says, healthy business cultures embrace communication, collaboration, and diversity of thought.

Ill-equipped middle management

Kelly suggests that leaders must enable middle managers to play a part in carrying out DEI strategies and initiatives; otherwise, middle management could be the point where progress deteriorates. This is not because middle managers do not care, but because “middle managers are not really incentivized to carry forward DEI strategies and initiatives,” Kelly cautioned.

To effectively play their part, middle managers need the resources, support, and training. Leshawnda also suggested that conscious businesses allocate the budget to provide opportunities for learning.

2. Determine where you are, consider where you want to be, and decide where you want to get started.

Educate yourself.

A consistent thread through Kelly and Leshawnda’s conversation centered on education. While Kelly encouraged lifelong learning and curiosity about those who are different from us, she also cautioned against the “paralysis of analysis … where you’re on this learning track for years.”

Getting started means applying the necessary effort and action to bring about a world where race does not have as much of a determining power in our workplaces and society.

Start small and be consistent.

Kelly’s vision of starting small focuses on building soft skills. She has adopted the modern view of diversity—in that it is not about assimilation, but integration and inclusion—which require adopting modern skills.

“The more you can help your folks build their own emotional intelligence, focus on mindfulness, being self-aware… lean into those soft skills, it’s really going to help you when it comes to activating on specific DEI initiatives,” said Kelly.

3. Avoid common pitfalls that are counterproductive to activating DEI.

Don’t expect diverse professionals to carry the work

“Don’t expect marginalized groups to carry the burden … It’s important for us to share the burden of righting society.”

Because people of color, women, and other diverse groups, did not create systems of oppression, it’s important for all of us to play a part in driving change.

Appreciate DEI as a professionalized industry

Every day, DEI is becoming more of a professionalized and academic area of study. It’s more important now than it’s ever been that organizations hire experts in the DEI space—and even at the executive level as Lashawnda suggested—to steward the work.

In a nutshell, Kelly closes with “If you value DEI, then apply the resources that are necessary for it to be successful.”

To get the full conversation, watch the recording of this virtual gathering.


Our Virtual Gatherings are designed for business leaders, investors, and advocates who are looking to level-up their practice by learning from and connecting with Conscious Capitalists around the world.

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