February 26, 2021

More Than Just a Hashtag

As we all know, 2020 was a record-breaking year. The COVID-19 pandemic caused human and economic devastation across the globe. Australia and the U.S. West Coast saw some of the worst wildfires in their history, burning millions of acres and displacing thousands. And in May 2020, protests erupted worldwide in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many other Black Americans who have been killed at the hands of police.

As a result of May’s events, the Black Lives Matter movement swept the nation, becoming the largest social movement in U.S. history. It calls for police reform and an end to systemic racism that plagues our schools, government, health care systems, and workplaces, and has since resulted in many organizations discussing how to create real, long-lasting change to ensure a diverse and equitable workplace.

On December 8, 2020, Kenway hosted “More than Just a Hashtag: 2020 and What’s Next.” This virtual women’s event was headlined by two Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) professionals – Kara Wright, managing director of Envisioning Equity, and Deirdra Donahue, Leo Burnett’s vice president, director of equity & inclusion. The event discussed how, as both individuals and organizations, we can begin to change our practices for the better, and explored tactics we can employ to continue to create a brighter 2021 and beyond.

Throughout the event, attendees asked Kara and Deirdra questions about the current state of their DEI efforts, challenges they see in the workplace, and strategies to improve DEI in our own organizations in 2021. It was an informative and hope-filled event, filled with many actionable learnings. Following is a summary of five key questions and takeaways for those who weren’t able to attend:

1. “The title of our event is ‘More than Just a Hashtag.’ How are hashtags helpful for social movements?”

Hashtags like #BLM or #MeToo can be powerful tools to encourage social media users to connect to a cause, and can help them find specific themes or content related to the social movement that interests them. This kind of activism, sometimes called #activism, serves as a way to promote conversation and information sharing about a cause, and can have a big impact on cultural dialog about the topic. Although this can be a powerful tool, it is crucial to remember that there are people and lived experiences connected to these hashtags. Sharing a hashtag is not enough to promote social change without follow-up action. It should not serve as a veil for the real work that needs to get done.

2. “How can unconscious or implicit bias be identified in the workplace?”

Only 50 of the 11 million bits of information we consume per second actually reaches our conscious minds – the remaining information is processed without our awareness. Over time, this processing is committed to muscle memory and becomes our routine. When we interact with others, this can create a lot of tension as we develop preconceived ideas about certain groups of people. “When we fall back on automatic, deeply engrained beliefs, those things have the ability to influence our behavior and our choices, and all too often our behavior and our choices impact other people,” said Deirdre. Advertising and media, as well as a person’s upbringing, education and general life experiences all impact bias. In our workplaces, this bias shows up when you think about which people are getting certain jobs, who is getting learning and development opportunities, and who is being promoted. When there are not diverse voices at the table, it is extremely hard to check and solve for this bias.

3. “How can we start employing tactics in our organizations to overcome this bias?”

To overcome bias, it is important to first understand our own biases. Once we do, we can begin to look to a bigger picture perspective and build an inclusive environment. Training and education are extremely important. It is also important to do a gap analysis to understand where bias is showing up within the organization, and it’s critical to put in systemic safeguards. When assessing hiring practices, ensure that the minimum requirements include skills that can be learned on the job, that there are not educational barriers that would limit the population of eligible applicants, and that language used throughout the recruiting process is gender and racially inclusive. Investing in these DEI efforts is crucial for discussion and problem solving. If you hire everyone from the same bubble, it is very likely problems will be solved the same way over and over again. Diverse talent gives you people at the table with differing perspectives, which will lead to very different solutions in the end.

4. “What are the biggest DEI challenges you see today and what tactics are you using to overcome these challenges?”

During this time of COVID, the two biggest issues that rise to the top are race and gender. One in five working adults are unemployed, partially due to uncertain childcare arrangements which disproportionately impact women. Women are three times more likely than men to take on the housework, and three times more likely than men to stay home to handle childcare responsibilities. This creates a huge burden on how you show up to work. Many women are now working around the clock to keep up, and are exhausted. If this trend continues, approximately $180 billion in annual potential earnings will be lost for women alone. This disparity is even greater for women of color, Hispanic, and indigenous women. It is likely to set women back a generation, especially Black women. Another large DEI challenge today is the discomfort people are feeling watching what is going on around them. “If you can’t have these conversations about race, you’re not going to be able to create the kind of change that needs to happen,” said Kara.

5. “How do we ensure our organization is racially inclusive?”

This starts by being honest about how we got here as a country. People need to understand that this problem is systemic and has an impact at both an organizational and individual level. Many people don’t have the skills to talk about these issues, so it is important that we create brave spaces where people can learn how to have these conversations in productive and healthy ways. Leaders have to be crystal clear that these efforts are imperative, and need to be the champions of change. According to a study by BCG, companies with more diverse leadership teams have 19% higher revenue. Similarly, McKinsey found that racially diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform their peers. Dedicating time and energy to DEI efforts is essential, and can improve business outcomes. Without board, investor and leadership involvement, these efforts are unlikely to be successful.

As part of Kenway’s 2021 DEI strategy, we plan to incorporate many of these above-mentioned tactics. Amy Ehrmantraut, Kenway’s director of human resources and culture, noted, “We have much to do in the world, our local communities, and at Kenway to address the social injustices that continue to occur. We are committed to increasing our dedication around education, training, recruitment and philanthropic efforts.  Being able to be a part of events like this, with such a diverse group, brings to light new ideas, resources and people from whom we can learn.”

To view a complete recording of the event, please fill out the form located here. For a refresher on diversity, equity and inclusion terms, please see the DEI Vocabulary sheet provided by Envisioning Equity.




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