For many years, businesses shied from taking a stance on societal issues. But as more people look to align their careers and purchases with their values, companies are stepping up to address pressing issues. That’s especially apparent now, as calls for a more equitable society have become rally cries for racial justice in the wake of shootings and other violent attacks on People of Color — Jacob Blake, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor — in just the last few months.
After Floyd’s murder, many businesses made public statements in support of Black Lives Matter and their desire for an economy and society that work for all people. But moving from words to actions to create that economy requires a commitment to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion — a field known as JEDI.
One leader in that field is Dr. Tiffany Jana, who founded TMI Consulting as a marketing firm but since evolved the Certified B Corporation to provide JEDI consulting.
“As I worked with my clients, what I found was everyone was kind of under the misconception that what they really needed was more and better marketing,” Jana told me. “The closer I got to the organizations, the deeper I looked into their challenges and the things that were going on, I realized they had people issues on the inside that had more to do with what was happening, both with how employees were being managed or mismanaged and with how people were relating to their communities.”
Jana gained experience in JEDI by working with their mother, who was a pioneer in the field, and saw an opportunity to develop a high-impact business focus as well. They have since written or co-authored several books, including Erasing Institutional Bias: How to Create Systemic Change for Organizational Inclusion, and numerous other resources for businesses and individuals.
As part of my research on businesses that are building a more inclusive economy, I recently talked with Jana to learn more about their work and thoughts on what steps businesses and workers can take against racism. Below are excerpts from our conversation.
Christopher Marquis: You mentioned two aspects of your work: one structural, and another more behavioral. What kind of work do you do to try to help behavioral change? Because things that are in people’s minds are really hard to change.
Tiffany Jana: The interesting thing is that an organization has absolutely zero right to get into people’s minds and dictate what they think, and believe, and feel. On the other hand, we can tell people what is expected in our inclusive workplace. So we can as employers dictate behaviors.
That’s a very subtle distinction but a really important one. People ask us to help “remove the bias” from employees. Well, you can’t do that. But you can identify biased-based behaviors and make it clear that these behaviors will not be tolerated.
We look to expand people’s cultural fluency, because a lot of the negative behavior that we see has to do with a lack of exposure. When we start with giving people language and tools to be able to navigate the conversations, the challenges, and the conflicts that come up when we’re talking about free speech and interaction across culture, we’re demystifying it.
This is about leveraging the learning lab that is the workplace and saying, “OK, we want to be intentional about being in an environment where people don’t have to run to HR or run to the newspaper because somebody insulted them and it made them upset.” We want to have a kind of culture that has the resilience and the skills to be able to hash it out with each other in a way that’s still respectful and appropriate. All of those things can be taught.
Marquis: Since the George Floyd murder there has been much more public conversation and awareness of the issues of systemic racism, for at least the first time in my life. Is real change happening? What are your thoughts about the momentum?
Jana: You are correct in noticing that there’s a shift, the likes of which you’ve never experienced, because none of us have.
There’s a difference between understanding racism intellectually and actually feeling and witnessing the impact of racism on a screen in front of your face as we did with George Floyd. That caused a seismic shift in the collective consciousness because we actually felt it. And it didn’t matter what race you were. It didn’t matter what color, creed, or class, we all had our hearts cracked open. In eight minutes and 46 seconds, we watched that happen, and that has turned the tide.
You have some organizations that are like, “We need to put out a Black Lives Matter statement, otherwise we’re going to look racist.” Yes, you could. But if you don’t follow it with any meaningful action, then it really doesn’t matter that you did that.
We do have momentum on a scale that we’ve never had before. What we’re seeing is a significant number of organizations — across sectors, across industries — that are actually putting time, money, resources, and staff behind meaningful, sustained action. Every organization that I talk to is saying things like, “We recognize that we can’t do this in six months. We recognize this isn’t a short-term effort. We’re looking for a year, two years, three years worth of engagement.”
Ten years ago, 100% of the client work came from executive teams that said, “We need to do this,” usually in response to a lawsuit. It came from leadership. In the last five years, most of the work came from individuals saying, “We don’t like what’s going on here. We still want to work here. We know that there are people who specialize in fixing this. Go get to it, team.” They’re forcing the JEDI work up the food chain and holding them accountable.
Now you have external pressure colliding with internal pressure, and we have a perfect storm for action.
Marquis: How do intersectionality issues, race and gender in particular, factor into your programs?
Jana: It factors very heavily into the work. Now, people are saying, “OK, we want to talk about Black people. We want to be anti-racist.” In my agency, we err on the side of inclusion. When you isolate a single demographic, what you’re saying to the rest of the demographics is, “Your challenges don’t matter; your exclusion doesn’t matter. In fact, we’re going to create a new way to exclude you.”
Right now, everyone wants to center Black lives, based on what’s happened and the zeitgeist. We know we can get an organization from where they are to where they want to be. If you do that — if you’re optimizing an organization for inclusive behavior — it doesn’t matter how you show up. You can show up purple, with blue polka dots and yellow eyelashes, and you will thrive in that environment because we’ve optimized it for creating that sense of belonging and inclusive behavior.
That does not mean that we downplay or undervalue the reality of the protected categories and why we have them. We still lift that up, and we do things appropriately. But the way to honor the intersectional identities, and the way that these things all overlap, is to create very specific, clear, and measurable goals.
It’s not about quotas — it’s about setting goals. You’re never going to achieve success and you’re never going to move the needle if you haven’t decided where the needle is going.
Marquis: Research and real-world experience shows we all have implicit biases on many issues, race obviously being a very salient one in the workplace. How do you address these biases in your programming?
Jana: That was the focus of my first book, Overcoming Bias. It’s part of the way that the human brain works. We make shortcuts. We make assumptions. And it’s totally fine when we’re dealing with inanimate objects and places. But when we’re talking about people and we’re overlaying our experiences, our assumptions, and the messages that we’ve been told or taught, suddenly that becomes a challenge.
Dealing with your unconscious bias is about recognizing that it doesn’t make you a bad person. We all have them. No matter what you do, you’re never going to completely get rid of them, because no sooner do you address a set of them then a new one pops up behind it.
In the book I use the hygiene versus appendectomy model. We can’t cut out your bias. And if you don’t take a shower every day, or at least every couple of days, you’re going to smell funky. So, the nature of bias is recognizing that it is ongoing work, just like hygiene is ongoing work.
All you can do is mitigate bias. You can become aware of bias and make a more intentional and conscious choice. But you can’t just get rid of bias.