This week, well-known Diversity Strategist, Torin Ellis, joined us for the latest episode of the Talent Experience Podcast. We were delighted to host such an incredible and inspiring guest whose work is focused on the art of recruiting diverse talent.
With an accomplished background, Torin is a powerful speaker. In this episode, Torin Ellis and host Rhonda Taylor shared an important conversation that will move you and motivate you to strive for greater humanity.
Torin is empowering and encouraging and speaks so many truths about the representation of people in technology development, about building empathy through proximity, and about whether AI is a help or hindrance to creating more equal opportunities.
Here’s how the conversation went… This interview has been edited and condensed.
Rhonda Taylor: A lot has changed in the past while. Torin, when you and I were young, we got our degree, which usually meant we were on our way to a successful career. But today’s talent space is focusing more on one’s agility, communication skills, flexibility, resilience, and other capabilities. What pathway is this creating for equality?
Torin Ellis: Well, first and foremost, minor correction – I do not hold a degree. When I graduated from high school, I went straight into the military. In some regards, I felt like I had gotten a head start on life. In others, there have been a couple of instances where I wish I’d done things a bit differently.
To your question around equality, access, opportunity, and divorcing ourselves from having to have a degree – I don’t necessarily know if it has ever been a good thing. We are not talking about certain professions like the medical profession or maybe the legal profession. But for other professions, the degree really is a stamp of approval to show that you have committed yourself to a learning journey. What I, and many millions of others, have shown is that we can operate at a very high degree without a piece of paper.
Right now, with us being in this gig economy, being propelled into the future of work because of COVID, and with the inordinate amount of social unrest because of racial injustice… I believe we are all in a unique, but vital, position to make a difference in how we show up in our workplaces. I firmly believe it’s going to provide a lot of opportunities, as long as people are willing to fairly give that opportunity, to a broader audience of individuals.
Rhonda Taylor: Our company mantra is that we all want to come out of this period fitter, faster and stronger. This is a great opportunity for all of us because anything goes at this stage of the game.
Torin Ellis: What did COVID show us? It showed us all that when we think about diversity and inclusion and the minor progress that we’ve made over the last 55 years (100 years for some), yet juxtapose that against COVID in March, what happened? Every single company on the planet, certainly here in the US, changed how they showed up to do work within two weeks.
Every. Single. Company. Small, medium, large, geography, and industry agnostic. Every single company, in two weeks, showed that they could go from a physical location and be equally as effective from home.
Much of what we see as an impediment, whatever that impediment is, has everything to do with people and their lack of desire or will in making it happen, versus it not being able to happen.
Rhonda Taylor: Resilience is the number one word right now in the workforce and the resilient companies are making great strides. Speaking of companies, we need to ensure that our talent pipeline is fair and free of prejudices. Where and how do people start?
Torin Ellis: First, I’d say let’s diversify our sourcing and recruiting team. If you can do that, then do it. Diversify the representation, the contribution, the people performing the sourcing, and the recruiting function in your organization.
Second, no matter who you are, get some degree of proximity to audiences you are not accustomed to being around. Proximity is going to help you build up that emotional intelligence that I think is so incredibly important. Proximity will help you build up that empathy muscle that too many of us are lacking.
If you know what a person, group, or audience is experiencing, it might change how you show up in the workplace. It might change what you advocate for. We have got to be willing to do something different.
If we are not willing to do something different, then we’re going to continue to get the results that we’ve gotten, as it relates to inclusion and representation. We’ll continue to experience #MeToo and Time’s Up if we allow HR professionals off the hook.
HR professionals over the last 40 years have focused more on the corporation than the employee. They have got to change their relationship with power, empathy, and proximity to mitigate the bias and systemic racism that may be built into some of our organizations and maybe even some of our processes.
Rhonda Taylor: Empathy is prevalent in today’s pandemic work world. We are all learning to have empathy with each other and with our peers. But the blinders must come off, is that what you’re saying?
Torin Ellis: Absolutely. Unfortunately, not everyone has learned empathy. We still need to put some folks through the wringer of education. The bottom line is, people need to be intentional about being different. If you say that diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging are important, then you must be willing to do something different in your workplace.
Rhonda Taylor: What we are seeing now is AI coming into the hiring processes and talent mobility within organizations. Will this make it a more equal opportunity do you believe? Is AI going to solve problems, or is it going to create problems?
Torin Ellis: Certainly, AI is going to solve an abundance of problems. But it also has the potential to exclude individuals as well. Whether it be in how the service is leveraged or how the service is being developed in the first place. We must make sure that we are not losing sight of the duality of its impact. We want its presence, but we want to be present in how it’s being developed.
Not enough organizations are working hard enough to disrupt the representation in the development of AI. They’re just pursuing the journey.
We are missing the voices of individuals that have a disability. If I know that AI is going to be deployed and dispersed in cities and it’s going to impact everything around the city, including movement, why am I not thinking about the voice of people with a physical impairment? Why am I not doing that in the development? They may not be able to do the development but let them help me real-time develop a solution that is inclusive.
I see a gift and a curse. I want it to happen, but I want it to happen with full representation.
Rhonda Taylor: We must catch some bad habits and not let them go into AI. For example, if the position within a company has been held by an older male for the past four generations of employees, we must catch that that’s not a requirement. What needs to happen for full diversity and inclusion to occur?
Torin Ellis: This is not a zero-sum game. Citibank just put out a report revealing that $16 trillion in GDP is what the United States has lost since the year 2000 because of racism.
It’s really about perspective and how we look at the narrative. Too many people have the notion that it’s a zero-sum game – “It’s at my expense”, “These people are less talented”, “Those people are unqualified”, “These people got special preference”. It’s none of that. In some cases, it might be all of that. But the point is: there’s enough for all of us.
In 2021, I see a runway of opportunity and my hope is that you see the same.
Rhonda Taylor: How do we go about removing the emotional side of the jealousies and insecurities?
Torin Ellis: I firmly believe that if we treat this moment as important as it is, then it will serve as embers for all of us. We will do better and different, but it requires more of us to be together like the way that we have been over the summer of 2020.
The establishment needs to be shaken up. Look at any industry, any geography, and evaluate its condition. Who has been in power? Who has made the decisions up to this point? Who has had the most influence? I think most of us would say there’s a lot that can be changed. There is a lot that can be better.
Am I going to wait for “them” to do it, whoever them is, or am I going to be a part of changing that myself? And I submit to you that many of us are willing to be a part of what we want that future to look like.
I’ve been on this path of diversity and inclusion since 2012 so I’ve been almost a decade in trying to change the narrative, shift the results and the progress around inclusion and representation. The beautiful thing for me is that I’m not tired.
Rhonda Taylor: And you have just begun.
Torin Ellis: Absolutely.
Rhonda Taylor: As we wrap up, we always ask our guests the same question: What drives you to get up out of bed every morning? What makes you the success that you are?
Torin Ellis: It’s simple for me, love. The two most powerful words in our lexicon are love and process. If I love you, when I say something to you, if I tap you on the shoulder, if I cut you off in traffic, if I run down the hallway and get in front of you, or grab a chair before you. If I do any of these things, and you know that I love you, you don’t tend to question why I did it. In your mind, you immediately go to, “It’s probably for my benefit”, “He’s helping me to avoid something”, “He’s protected me from something”. If I love you, and you know that, then your reflex from me is different.
When you don’t know that I love you, you have got to process everything I said. You process how I cut you off, you process if I’m talking over you as a woman, you process whether or not I agitated someone to get to promotion and didn’t advocate for you. And sometimes you’ll end up with the same conclusion that the person who holds love concludes. But there are those times when you don’t.
And so, for me, I am driven by a love for humanity. I couldn’t care less what color you are, and I see your color. I couldn’t care less about your ethnicity and I see that as well. I don’t care about your political or your religious leanings, your sexual preference or identity.
None of those things matter enough to me, to make me divorce myself from being an advocate, a warrior for you. I want you to have everything that I want. And I want you to know that me wanting those things, takes nothing away from you. I want you to know that the ROI of diversity and inclusion is greater humanity. I close with the ROI of D&I is greater humanity.
My hope is that those that listen find value in what it is that they listen to, and that they share it far and wide with their social and digital tribes.