Courtesy Great Place to Work
By Ellen McGirt
March 13, 2019

Two weeks and a lifetime ago, I spent two wonderful days at The Great Place To Work For All Summit, talking about race, equity, culture, and forgiveness.

I participated in a four-hour, off-the-record session about diversity and inclusion, filled with people who already work at Great Places, and are determined to make them greater. It was an inspiring and humbling reminder about how much work there is left to do, particularly now, when it seems that the world is teetering on numerous brinks all at once.

While the bulk of the discussion remains private, Heather Brunner, Chairwoman and CEO, WP Engine and Mike Dillon, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, PwC took to the mainstage to share key takeaways.

The entire five-minute recap is worth your time, but it all boiled down to trust and forgiveness.

“One of the key takeaways that we talked about in the group is that transparency is the currency of trust,” said Heather. “And one of the key ways to drive that transparency is data.”

While any meaningful diversity and inclusion strategy starts with a clear accounting of where an organization is starting from and where they want to go, the power move is transparency. “It takes courage to share that data internally,” she says. The next steps are to set goals, agree on metrics and tactics, then report back often. The goal is “visibility, accountability, and trust.”

Then Mike shared a concept that got quite a bit of air time in the room: Forgiveness.

Part of inclusion work is understanding how majority culture people can best learn to see the barriers that exist for underrepresented people in the world, and their role in perpetuating them, even inadvertently. This can be a very painful process for everyone involved.

“We think a lot about difficult conversations at PWC,” he told the crowd. “You need to have these conversations, but you also need to be forgiving in the moment. Not everyone is going to use the right word or approach the conversation in a way that everybody might want them to.”

When Mike said the word “forgiveness” in our session, I admit I checked out of the conversation for a moment and began mentally ticking through a list of people I was not prepared to forgive.

I may have even taken a few extra minutes to rank the list.

And then I checked back in.

We discussed as a group about what makes an environment where people can continue to grow, especially when talking is painful, retribution is a legitimate fear, and key relationships hang in the balance.

He shared a version of his answer on the main stage.

“We think that vulnerability coming from the top…is a great role model for the organization,” he says. But for that organization to meet their diversity goals, it will mean making sure the leaders all throughout the middle of the organization have what they need to survive the tender moments.

“These are the people who impact the business every day,” from product and innovation to diversity and inclusion. To have a better chance of meeting your goals, he suggests, make sure that everyone has the tools they need to become fluent in both the language of inclusion and the power of forgiveness, of others and self.

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