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Interview with Filene Fellow Quinetta Roberson

We had a chance to speak with Filene Fellow Quinetta Roberson on the Filene Fill-In to talk about the work she’s embarking on with us over the next five years.

On January 13, 2020, Filene officially launched our new Center of Excellence for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to be led by Dr. Quinetta Roberson of Michigan State University.

We had a chance to speak with Dr. Roberson on Episode 65 of the Filene Fill-In in February to talk about the work she’s embarking on with us over the next five years and why she feels this research is so groundbreaking not only for credit unions but for all businesses. We share some brief highlights from this conversation.

What is most often misunderstood about DEI in a business context?

I think there's three reasons that businesses struggle with DEI. The first is just the concepts. To some degree, I hear people say diversity, equity and inclusion as if it's one word and they treat it accordingly...we manage diversity, equity and inclusion by lumping them together. There's no understanding of what that's about and what happens is that they become interchangeable. We manage diversity, we manage equity, we manage inclusion without necessarily understanding the complete picture. It just becomes this thing that we do. And this thing is often delegated to someone else, usually the HR department or it's delegated to the Chief Diversity Officer. It seems to be an initiative or a practice rather than something that's part of the DNA of organizations. And so with that, a lot of people will look at it and say, what's in it for me, or actually say that doesn't have anything to do with me. But everyone has skin in the game.

What role do leaders play in DEI? What are the hallmarks of an inclusive organization and inclusive leadership, in your opinion?

Diversity is about any difference, right? I've mentioned a few: diversity of thinking, functional background, tenure, age. People will talk about gender and race. But it could be any difference. Sometimes I'll talk about left-handed versus right-handed. Some people say, "Whoa, wait a minute. Now you're diluting the definition." But in some of my work environments, right hand versus left-handed is important because if I'm teaching in a classroom that has individual desks and most of the desks tend to be right-handed desks, then my left-handed students have to navigate those right-handed desks. What I notice is that if I have them work with a partner or talk to someone in the room, they rarely talk to the person on their left side, because they're so busy navigating the right hand and it becomes a barrier to the person on their left side. They exclude that person. They are just naturally closer to the person on their right.

Inclusion is about the opportunity for everyone to be fully contributing members...but we need to have equitable systems and practices and tools in order for people to be able to do that.

I note that because that's what inclusion is about. Inclusion is about the opportunity for everyone to be fully contributing members, and meaningfully contributing members, of an organization. But we need to have equitable systems, practices and tools in order for people to be able to do that. I've seen leaders say, “I'm inclusive.” And when I ask them what they do, there's nothing really actionable. And sometimes they need to make sure that it's not just the way leaders are interacting with their direct reports but thinking about the practices, looking at if any of their employees are falling by the wayside or being marginalized or unable to contribute just by the nature of the way we go about doing business or our talent management practices.

So DEI are all related and you need them to tell a complete story. You have the differences, but you have to make sure that the systems don't throw anybody out of an opportunity or prevent them from having access and inclusion. Making sure that there's an environment where they feel respected, valued and welcomed, and are motivated and engaged to be able to make those contributions.

What’s the difference between diversity, equity, and inclusion? Why should we talk about them all together?

You know, it's interesting from a research standpoint I studied equity first. So before I was really studying diversity, because you didn't see a lot of it in the research literature, I was studying issues of equity. Who gets treated fairly versus who gets treated unfairly, or, what are the different types of relationships managers will have with members of their team? But people assume that diversity is then a separate thing. But when we hear organizations say we need more diversity. What they may be saying is, we don't have a representation of women in our workforce that represents our customer base, or that represents where we operate in terms of geographic location. But there's diversity in every organization. And it's figuring out how it influences the work that gets done. 

And then the equity is that all of those people, regardless of characteristics or background have the same opportunities and the same access to information and opportunities. So then to me, those two are related and they're already there. 

So the secret sauce becomes inclusion, right? That's the systemic thing. That kind of brings it all together to make sure that everything is running the way it should so that every single person can be his or her best at work or in whatever their environment is.

I can't think of any study right now that links these three things together. So there's probably goal number one or task number one for us. There's nothing to show that diversity, equity and inclusion reinforce each other but when we look at the way organizations operate, they do reinforce each other. And so it's linking that research and practice to be able to show why this trifecta is needed in order for people to really be effective and for organizations to be effective overall.

Listen to the entire podcast to learn how Dr. Roberson came to find her passion for being a researcher and teacher, what she overachieves at, plus a metaphorical look at our candy preferences and why it might be better to hang out with someone who likes different flavored starbursts than you.

Filene is deeply appreciative for the support from Desert Financial Credit Union, SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, State Department Federal Credit Union, Suncoast Credit Union, United Nations Federal Credit Union, UW Credit Union, Visions Federal Credit Union and Xceed Financial Federal Credit Union for the Center of Excellence for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.