For some businesses Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are measurements for company success. For Ashleigh Brookshaw, it is a way of life. Before managing the 35,000 members of the Occupational Safety and Health online community, she spent many years watching her mother and grandmother defy norms in the safety and healthcare industries respectively.
Even as a child, Ashleigh recalls being aware of “very little diversity within specific industries that are focused around science, technology, mathematics, and certain kinds of hard skill industries”. As a first generation Jamaican-American and founder of C2M Digital, LLC she strives to bring her real world experiences to the DEI sector while pursuing her passion for integration between the human connection and digital spaces.
Through her work within the community industry she has realized a disconnect between business values and DEI efforts. She contributes this issue to organizations identifying DEI and business values as two separate entities.
I spoke with Ashleigh virtually to ask her how DEI can be put into action with the SPACES model. For those not familiar with this model, it is a simple model for defining community business value. Read more about the SPACES model and see real-world examples!
DEI is at the center of support within your community. Ashleigh reinstates this idea during our conversation.
“In order to appropriately satisfy customers and make sure that they’re getting value from what you’re delivering, you have to know who they are.”
By learning more about the identities of your community you will be able to support them in a way that is relevant to their life experiences. If your community isn’t responding to your support efforts your message needs to be culturally translated to address them properly. Support through DEI starts with knowing who you are supporting.
“Having a diverse customer base can be determined by analyzing the age, race, and ethnicity of your members.”
If all of your customers are satisfied, but they all look like you, there might be a concerning story behind those metrics.
“Take a look at what is the operating value proposition for your online community and make sure that your interweaving DEI.”
What one member considers valuable may not satisfy another member’s needs. It will depend on where they are in their community member journey.. You have to be aware of how your methods for support impact your members on an individual level.
The next feature you should consider for your product is DEI. Ashleigh mentioned how products can influence the DEI initiatives in your community.
“Does your product include a forum or survey where users can leave feedback? Is it accessible in any place other than your email marketing campaigns?”
These are some basic questions to ask to confirm that your products are adequately servicing a wide audience of people. By making this audience bigger, you will begin to tap into more people who will help drive your product and who will want to join your community. Resulting in every community’s dream: more members through meaningful and impactful engagement!
According to Ashleigh, the key to a successful acquisition community is knowing your “why”. This will be the motivation behind your desire to interact with specific communities and demographics.
“So for example, as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion, let’s say I want to go after our inactive community members of color. What strategic purpose? That’s always my question.”
Once you establish your motives behind acquisition it is important to have a strategic plan for engagement. Building an engagement plan requires important considerations before moving forward. The first thing to consider is clear ownership. Ashleigh suggested that where most DEI initiatives fail is poor planning and resourcing.
“What is your engagement plan for these individuals [of color] outside of Black History Month? That’s easy. Juneteenth is easy. What is your long term plan of sustainability for this particular group?”
Making sure your plan is sustainable illustrates that there are long term intentions for your DEI initiatives. This foundation will translate into your messaging and show that your goals of acquisition are insightful with pure intent.
“The trick with DEI as you’ve heard me say already is if it’s not resourced properly, it’s not going to get done.”
An acquisition may tend to fall short because there is no cultural and measurable accountability to guarantee organizational efforts are sustainable. Maybe your organization launched one campaign in a silo and “checked that box”. The goal here is to be consistently present for the communities you plan to reach in a meaningful way.
DEI within your member contributions requires a systematic approach that must provide every member with an equal opportunity to participate. As our organizations produce more content, it is our responsibility to be conscious about who we are representing.
“If one of your goals is to provide educational sessions to members and there’s a diversity component to that. Who are you getting to speak for the event? What equitable processes for sourcing speakers are in place?”
These types of questions will help you be more mindful of where your organization currently stands with the various groups within your community. If all of your speakers identify as White, yet your community consist of people of color, consider the disconnect between your processes for selecting speakers.
“Like take a look at the amount of AMAs that you did. More often than not, was it homogeneous? If it was to create a goal that says by the next 12 months we want to increase the diversity of our AMA speakers by X. DEI is not a separate plan”
DEI is a conscious decision to step out of your organization’s majority and include the voices that require more representation.
When considering engagement, Ashleigh spoke to the benefits that DEI contributes to loyalty and retention.
“So when we’re talking about loyalty and retention, it’s about who your change advocates are.”
Change advocates are community members who push your message forward and are stewards of your culture. Ashleigh went into more detail as she spoke through her experiences as an employee at Allstate, an insurance company based in the USA. During her time with the company she oversaw oversaw operations for the Ambassador program as well as their employee only community.
“When it was team safe driving month, Ambassadors went out into their local communities to advocate for Allstate’s products and services. Those are your ambassadors, Those are your cheerleaders.”
“Same thing with DEI because it is such a personal connection. If you don’t feel connected to the organization or if you don’t feel like they’re really living their values, you’re going to have a problem doing that.”
Ashleigh attributed this success to peer to peer endorsements and recommendations. We constantly see organizations tell us how good they are. Organizations are always telling the public how amazing they are, their product, their features, their processes; the true differentiation happens when customers start evangelizing and reciprocating that message. You can use the same logic towards your DEI, so just track it. Make it something your members are advocating for daily.
Success communities aren’t built overnight. In fact, much like DEI, they are constantly evolving. Ashleigh reiterated the importance of foundational planning and its impact on processes when developing Success communities.
“Where does community fall in the top-of-funnel strategy?”
A common concern for companies is addressing DEI too late in their funnel processes. DEI is not a check-the-box metric. In fact, it is a top-of funnel initiative that can increase your membership’s success through the intrinsic values that we often overlook, such as representation. If a company waits for their prospects to engage before considering DEI they will be positioning themselves at a disadvantage. Ashleigh uses the phrase, “it wasn’t built for us” while discussing personal examples she has seen of communities that didn’t meet her diversity standards. If you truly want to see members succeed, start by showing them that it’s possible.
The words Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are everywhere, but these words need so much more than solidarity statements. Companies need to invest resources into building DEI programs. “DEI programs are no longer a “nice-to-have” in a community structure,” Ashleigh said. “These kinds of considerations need to be made for all aspects of your community. In order for your members to truly feel a sense of belonging, a DEI program must be in both policy and practice.”
What to read next
In March 2021, we ran the first-ever CMX Community Health Survey. Our goal was to hear from as many CMX’ers as possible about their experience, and take away some actionable next steps for the team.
We’re committing to making CMX a helpful community of peers, an incredible resource for community builders, and an inclusive space for all. To that end, we included some of the next steps we’re taking to improve the CMX Community. Check out The Results from CMX’s First Community Health Survey.