Words such as belongingness, bias, diversity, equity, and inclusion are more than just fads. There is actual data on their tangible impacts on businesses and individuals at a large scale. Dr. Evelyn Carter is the President of Paradigm Strategy Inc., focusing on evolving and advancing the practice of diversity, equity, and inclusion. She joins host Elizabeth Bachman to discuss the science behind DEI and define what belongingness truly means within an organization. More than just the business case of implementing inclusive practices, it is imperative that businesses realize its profound impact on their employees. In this episode, Dr. Evelyn also explains how bias can pave the way for a growth experience when appropriately approached and how individuals can intentionally shape their perspectives away from these stereotypes. There are more valuable insights to be had from this episode, so make sure to tune in and learn how you can create an environment that allows everyone to thrive.
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How Bias Can Be A Growth Experience With Dr. Evelyn Carter
The Science Behind Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
My guest is Dr. Evelyn Carter, a specialist in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Before I go into her bio, I would like to invite you to see how your presentation skills are doing by taking our free four-minute assessment at www.SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see in four minutes where your presentation skills are strong and where perhaps a little bit of support could help you get the results you need and the recognition that you deserve. My guest is Dr. Evelyn Carter, who was recommended to me. When I first met her, I said, “Yes.” She’s a very interesting person with lots to talk about.
Her official bio is that she is a social psychologist who is conducting cutting-edge research on how to detect and discuss racial bias. As Paradigm Strategy’s President, Evelyn is focused on evolving and advancing the practice of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Prior to this, she led Paradigm’s training and people development teams and advised such companies as DocuSign, the National Football League, Snap, and United Talent Agency. Evelyn’s Research has been funded by the National Science Foundation. In 2018, she was featured on the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences 20 Under 40 list.
In addition to her peer-reviewed scholarship, Evelyn is a highly sought-after thought leader. Her work and insights have been published in popular press outlets such as The Atlantic, Bloomberg, CBS Mornings, CNBC, Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, and NPR. Evelyn holds a Doctorate from Indiana University, a Master’s degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University. We had a wonderful conversation about how to think about diversity, equity, and inclusion and how to start broadening your boundaries so that you can be a better leader for everybody having intention about diversity. Here’s the interview with Dr. Evelyn Carter.
Evelyn Carter, I am honored that you were able to come and join me on the show. Thanks for joining me.
Thanks for having me, Elizabeth. It’s wonderful to be here.
One of the joys of being a host is that you get to talk to interesting people. You are going to be hearing from me. I’m going to keep talking to you because you are interesting. Before I get into the official topic, let me ask you, who would be your dream interview? If you could interview someone who’s no longer with us at the moment, who would it be? What would you ask them? Who should be listening?
I will confess that I often have difficulty with this question because usually, people are like, “Pick some wonderful historic figure.” I would pick my grandmother, who is a historic figure to me. My dad’s mom, in particular, Marthary Carter. I would pick her because I didn’t realize until when she was later in life, and I was more of an adult, how funny and witty she is. She’s quiet but would say these comments. My grandmother was throwing shade before throwing shade was a thing. You had to catch it. Also, she had an interesting life. She grew up in Georgia and then got married.
She moved to Connecticut. She went to secretary school. She had five children. She worked for the postal service for most of her career. She was a strong woman of faith. She was a cool lady. I would love to interview her. I want to ask her about her life. One of the things that I remember reading in her obituary was how she had these degrees at the time and this training. There was some line about how she followed her true calling in life to be a mother. I remember being like, “Is that how she would phrase it?” I don’t know. I’m curious.
She was born in 1927. Getting a chance to hear from her about what it was like growing up and what it meant to be a modern woman who was working with five children at the time would be interesting, and the things that she saw as she was a part of a great migration from the South up North. Anyone who is interested in a surprisingly intriguing and funny conversation with a witty person should be listening. Everybody should listen. I would interview my grandmother.
This is one of the things that I’ve started tracking in several years of this show, one of the categories is ancestors. Who wants to interview an ancestor? My grandmother died when I was 24. I was living in New York. I was a couple of years out of college. I was involved in my big New York life and all involved in myself. Now I would love to go back and ask her more about her life. I wish I had been more aware at the time but in your early twenties, you are not usually.
You are diversity, equity, and inclusion, and you are a scientist who talks about diversity, equity, and inclusion. A lot of people think of it as this wishy-washy thing. Some people think it’s a victim mentality. Now, we are having a backlash against it. What is the science behind diversity, equity, and inclusion? It seems appalling to have to ask this but what’s the business case for having a policy and then doing it?
There are lots of science behind diversity, equity, and inclusion. For me, a lot of that begins with understanding what inclusion means. When I think about the research that has been done on how to create environments where people feel like they belong, that is research that informs diversity, equity, and inclusion policies and practices at all ranges of organization types. For example, we know that belonging, that feeling that you are a part of a group, is important.
Everybody has the need to belong. What we also know is that people who are from marginalized groups, who are new to an environment, and who are facing challenges, whether it’s because they are underperforming or ascending in their careers, are especially at risk for something that’s called belonging uncertainty. What that means is that your sense of whether you belong or not is tied to how good things are going that day.Everybody has the need to belong. Click To Tweet
You could say, “I got great feedback on a presentation that I didn’t work on. I feel like I belong today,” but if the next day you don’t close the deal that you have been working on, then you might not feel like you belong. What we know is that people who are from those groups that are extra vulnerable are more likely to experience that fluctuation of, “Yes, I do belong. No, I don’t.”
That undermines their ability to be confident that they belong in these different environments and ultimately undermines their ability to do their best work. There’s a lot of research has been done on this. When we think about what the science is behind diversity, equity, and inclusion, part of it is simply, “How do we create environments that mitigate belonging uncertainty and foster belonging for everyone?”
Mitigate is a tricky word for our international readers. Talk a little bit more about belonging uncertainty and how you can reduce it or deal with it.
When I say that it’s important to mitigate belonging uncertainty, what I mean is that it’s important to reduce it, to get rid of it as much as possible. Ultimately, we want everyone to know for a fact without a doubt that they belong and that their belonging is not linked to whether they are successful or fail in a particular task at work, at school or what have you. That’s the goal. How do we do that? There are lots of ways. Some research by lots of folks points to the importance of different cues to belonging. I’ve got lots of cues that tell you about who I am and what I believe in my background. It’s intentionally curated because what we know is that people are looking for those kinds of cues to say, “What does that person believe?”
“Will it be safe to trust them?”
Things like what is in the environment around you. You can also think about belonging cues being, “What do people say?” When you say, “I explicitly am excited to welcome you to my team. I’m looking forward to learning from you. I’m excited to hear about the different feedback that you have. I want you to push back.” That’s telling somebody, “I am excited to hear from you, even if you are telling me something that makes me bristle a little bit.” That cue is important.
Another cue that’s important is numerical representation, which goes back to diversity. What research by Dr. Valerie Purdie-Greenaway and many other colleagues has found is that when people, particularly those who are from groups that are underrepresented, when you are in the numerical minority, when you enter an environment, you look around and say, “Are there people like me here?” If the answer is no, then you say, “Why not? Where are they?” Put this in context.
When I was looking for undergraduate schools that I was going to go to, I ended up going to Northwestern. I’m a proud Wildcat. My mom and I visited the campus. We would walk up and down the main thorough fair of campus, counting the number of Black people that we saw. There’s research behind why that’s important. What Dr. Greenaway’s research finds is that when you are a member of a group that is underrepresented, and you see lots of people who look like you, it makes you trust the organization more. You say, “I know I’m going to be safe here.” That numerical representation is pretty key. Those are some of the things that you can do to make people feel like they belong.
It makes me think about some of the work that my colleagues are doing, getting women onto corporate boards. The magic number seems to be three. You can have one person, and then you are the token. If you have two people, say you are 2 women, 2 Black people or 2 Asians, then there’s like, “Those two.” By the way, if you are 1 of the 2, never, ever sit together because then you become the one token. The magic number seems to be three in a committee.
I have noticed that I grew up being one of the few women doing what I was doing in a male-dominated industry. I do know that part from the inside. When you talk about cues for belonging, let’s talk a little bit about what happens when you get higher up in an organization because in many organizations you find that skill and ability get you to a certain point, and then comes the glass ceiling. How can we think about representation using DEI? Let’s talk about DEI and glass ceilings. I want to hear what you say, and then I can ask the rest of my questions.
When I think about the concept of a glass ceiling, and there’s a variety of other versions of this but ultimately, the idea is that if you are a member of a group that is not well represented in business, for example, there’s only so far you can go before you start hitting some ceiling. That’s a general idea. What is interesting to me is that when it comes to moving past that, there are lots of interventions that are helpful but one of them is having mentors and sponsors who can help get you access to those higher levels.
A lot of times, what I’m doing in my work with executives is encouraging them to sponsor people who don’t look like them. Most executives, particularly in the United States, are White and male and tend to be older. There’s this interesting phenomenon that the Center for Talent Innovation talked about in their 2019 report called Mini-Me syndrome.
What they found is that about 70% of executives tend to sponsor people who share the same race and gender. If you are a White guy in an executive position and you are sponsoring your mini-me, all you are doing is helping more White guys get ahead. If you want to help women, for example, break through that glass ceiling, you’ve got to make sure that you are going beyond the people who give you that warm fuzzy feeling of, “You remind me of myself.” Instead, you are thinking about what values you hold. Are those values to increase representation to remove barriers that might be there, that are holding well-qualified people back?
If so, sponsor some different folks. Help give them access to the places that you know are going to be critical. What I also find, though, is that there are structural things that you can do. I was working with a company once that had this wonderful program that helped people get into that executive level of leadership at their organization. It was one of those things like, you get into the program, it is almost guaranteed that within the next cycle, you will be promoted. When I asked them how they selected people for that program, they said, “We have people who previously went through the program recommend others that they think should go through it.”
I was like, “Therein lies the problem.” If you take a look at the diversity of the cohorts that have come through this program recently, and when they did, they were shocked to find it was quite homogenous. Both at an individual level, encouraging people to sponsor folks who don’t look like them but also with some of those more structural programs, I’m saying, “How can you make sure you are not engineering bias into your opportunities to get people into these higher levels of leadership?”With some of those more structural programs, how can you make sure you are not engineering bias into your opportunities to get people into these higher levels of leadership? Click To Tweet
Strengthening the pipeline was the other question I was going to ask you about. One of the other things that would be interesting is thinking about how you measure people. For years, women have been measured by the standards that men are measured. You are only rated on the male things, the things that guys do, instead of being rated on the things that women do that guys don’t notice. The same with minority is that you must be intentional about diversity and make an effort until it becomes something that everybody takes for granted.
This will probably take a long time to get there. You’ve got to be intentional until it becomes routinized.
I’m old enough to remember when seat belts in cars became required. I was a kid going to school, and suddenly we had to wear seat belts for the carpool. One of the parents who drove us refused to let us have seat belts because it was infringing his freedom, this whole thing that we’ve heard over and over again. Now we take seat belts for granted but it had to be legislated. There had to be a law requiring it to get people to do what’s going to be better for them. Let me ask you when we were talking about this earlier, you spoke of having a growth mindset around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Having a growth mindset about bias. How can bias be an occasion for growth?
Something that’s beneath that question is that when somebody gets called biased, racist or homophobic, those are big words that are scary. That can feel like they are undermining your personhood.
People get defensive about it.
How is it that these big scary words can be an opportunity to say, “I can do better?” There’s some research on it. Part of why that is, first, Dr. Carol Dweck talks about how there are two ways that people think about where different traits and skills come from. One is that people tend to have more of a fixed mindset or an entity theory, which is that you are born with a certain level of talent. You are as good at basketball as you were ever going to get when you were born, and that’s it.
There’s another perspective, which is a growth mindset or more of an incremental theory, which says, “Talent is a starting point but with time and effort and by learning from your mistakes, you can improve.” You can go from a junior varsity level basketball player to a varsity level basketball player if you try and practice hard enough.
If you take that and apply it to the concept of bias, there are lots of folks, Dr. Aneeta Rattan, Dr. Jessica Neil, and many others who have looked at how people who think about bias as something that isn’t fixed but that is something that is malleable, that can change over time, respond when they get feedback. What they found is that if you believe that bias is something that you can change, then when somebody tells you, “That wasn’t good what you said,” you might at first be like, “This feels threatening.”
Ultimately, you are more likely to say, “Thank you so much for telling me that because you see it as an opportunity to change your behavior for the future.” That’s far less threatening than someone who believes that bias is this innate characteristic that you have. If that’s the case, and I tell you, you are biased. I will give you that feedback. I have proven your worst fear. That’s why having a growth mindset is important.
We’ve seen it a lot in the acceptance of the gay community over the last many years. If you know someone who’s gay, you stop being afraid. The more you know people, the more it becomes taken for granted like seat belts, then the easier it is. We do have to go through that period of adjustment.
That period of adjustment is an interesting one. As there’s research showing that having somebody who is gay or somebody who is from a different racial or ethnic group or who is disabled when you are not disabled in your friendship network can be helpful. The flip side of that or the other side of that is that sometimes you can start to compartmentalize that person and say, “You are not like the other gay people because you are my friend.”
Having that growth mindset is important because you need to be willing to not see that person through the lens of stereotypes and see them for who they are and how they identify, and all of their individual characteristics as well. There are some tricky things that our brains can do. It’s important to remember what is your core goal. If your core goal is to be inclusive, then leading with that, even when you get feedback that makes you cringe a little bit, is important.
What does the future look like for DEI training? It has been around for a while. Do we also include the #MeToo Movement and learning to respect sexual harassment as well?
We can include it all. Inherent in that question is what’s interesting about my job is that a lot of times when people come to me and say they want diversity, equity, and inclusion training, they are talking about a big umbrella of possibilities. Part of what I have to do is understand what are your actual goals. The goals, if you are talking about sexual harassment prevention or the outcome that I will do if you are talking about sexual harassment prevention versus if you are talking about creating an inclusive leadership model versus talking about anti-racism, I might do different approaches depending on each of those things.
That’s why I ask that. Thank you.
The future to me goes back to the question that you asked me earlier about the business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion. In a nutshell, the business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion says, “Companies who prioritize having diversity, companies that are representative more in terms of racial and ethnic minority groups in terms of gender but those companies outperform their competitors who are more homogenous. The idea is that if you are more diverse, you will have a better financial outcome. That’s a business case. Diversity is good for business.The business case for diversity, equity and inclusion is if you are more diverse, you will have a better financial outcome. Click To Tweet
Talk a little bit about why that is so.
There are many reasons, but one of them goes back to, “How we have conversations with people who are different from us.” There’s this thing that happens when you are talking to people who look similar to you that you assume they are going to agree with you. This is a natural thing that we do. We assume we share a common reality. What that means when I’m talking to you is that I’m less likely to give you elaborate, detailed sentences. I might trail off more. Do you ever had that conversation where you are talking to somebody, saying, “You know what I mean?” They probably do, especially if they know you well or if they look like you.
We are less likely to rely on those shortcuts when we are talking to people who are different from us because we don’t assume that we share the same reality. It prompts us to communicate in a more detailed way to elaborate more on our thoughts. While this takes a little bit longer, it leads us to make better decisions overall. Part of the reason that diverse teams are better, smarter, and more creative than homogenous teams is that the way that they communicate and make decisions is fundamentally different than how those homogenous teams make decisions.
It’s because you have lots of different viewpoints and different experiences. The company should reflect your market.
This gets into what I would call the moral case for diversity, equity, and inclusion, which is best captured by one of the CEOs that I’ve worked with who said, “I don’t care that diversity in my company is going to help me make more money. Quite frankly, if diversity didn’t help me make more money, I would still prioritize it because it’s the right thing to do. I know that if I am creating a product that is going to serve a global world, my company needs to reflect that.” What is interesting is that the future of DEI for me looks like a shift from people saying, “I am doing this because someone is telling me I’m supposed to,” to, “I’m doing this because I know that it’s the right thing to do.”
That’s where I’m trying to get a lot of my clients to go. I can talk to you all day about how having diversity is going to help you in your organization, how having inclusive policies is going to be good, and how making sure that your practices are equitable in terms of outcomes is going to be better for your bottom line. Ultimately, we are doing this not just because I want to make you more money but because I believe that it is imperative that organizations create environments where everyone can thrive. That is the core of why I do this work.
As we move ahead, how can we start personally to stretch our boundaries?
My first recommendation is to simply think about the people who are in your personal friendship network and the people who are in your professional network. This is especially important for senior leaders and executives to do because what I find is that the more senior you get in an organization, the more senior you get in your career, the more the people who are in your orbit share your same race, gender, political beliefs, sexual orientation, religion, all of that.
There’s some interesting research that finds that for most people, our personal friendship groups are also made up of people who share the same race, religion, and voting preferences. We need to take stop who we are hearing from. The reason for that is that if you are only talking to people who believe everything that you do, you are missing out on opportunities to hear about others’ experiences in ways that might powerfully shape your view of the world.If you are only talking to people who believe everything that you do, you are missing out on opportunities to hear about others' experiences in ways that might powerfully shape your view of the world. Click To Tweet
What I’ve found in my own research is that the more that White people, in particular, heard about stories of bias that African-Americans faced, the more likely those White people were to say, “Anti-Black racism is a thing that I should worry about.” They were more willing to support efforts to combat that racism. People who didn’t have that same exposure were more likely to say, “You are just complaining. Get over it. Grow a thicker skin.” This complainer effect is most likely to happen when we aren’t exposed to people who are different from us. That exposure is key. I would say start by taking inventory of who you are talking to.
How can we ask for the real conversations? How can we ask someone who doesn’t look like us what their experience is without being obnoxious or impolite?
As somebody who both does this for a living and also has had people ask me questions when I am not on the clock, I have experienced this difference. What I would say is that you should first begin by seeking to create genuine relationships with people. While I want to look at my friendship network and say, “Am I hearing from people who are disabled?” What I should not then do is say, “How can I find a disabled person at my company and go up to them and say, ‘I would like to be your friend because I don’t have any disabled people in my orbit. I want to talk about your experience.’” It sounds silly but that is sometimes what people think I’m asking them to do.
What I would say is to start by noticing who you gravitate toward in those settings. If you find that you are having a workplace conversation, maybe you are in person or maybe it’s on Zoom, and you are listening more to the people who look like you or you are spending Slack messages or Teams messages to people who are in your same department or who share your same background, try mixing it up. Especially if you are a leader, have a list of the people in your company and maybe rotate who you are meeting with regularly so it becomes a part of what you are doing. If you don’t have people that you can connect with personally, the internet is a great place to start. I like to follow people.
I love Twitter. I follow people on Twitter and Instagram that are going to introduce me to a variety of different perspectives so that I can be more aware of the conversations that are happening. I would recommend that as you are doing that inventory, think not about who you are interacting with in real time but think about the interactions that you are having on social media as well. That’s another way that you can start to almost passively infuse your mind with different perspectives as a way to get this started.
I love the idea of rotating through the people you know to invite other people and not just talking to the same people all the time, which involves a little bit of effort. This is intentional but it’s a good one. One of my colleagues works in a large company. Once a week, you get fifteen minutes with someone you didn’t know before. It’s a random choice. You have a fifteen-minute conversation about who are you, what makes you tick, and what makes you interesting.
That sounds lovely. The introvert in me sounds daunting to have a random fifteen-minute conversation. I love that. I will say for myself that something that I do at my company is host monthly office hours where I invite everybody from the company to come and hang out. We talk about whatever is on people’s minds, not related to work. My four dogs and my cat often make an appearance.
What I like about that is that for anybody who’s reading from Paradigm, spoiler alert, I’m doing this, I take attendance on the side to see who’s coming. When I don’t see people from different teams, I reach out to them specifically and say, “I would love to see you at the next one.” That’s a way that I’m taking something that works for me.
That one on ones is harder for me to manage. A group session where everybody is coming together is a great way to build community. My intentional piece on the backside is making sure that I am seeing a variety of people. If I’m not, I make sure I let them know. Going back to belonging and being intentional, I let them know, “I missed you. I want to see you.” Maybe they say, “I’m busy. I can’t.” Sometimes they say, “I will be at the next one.” It’s a great way to make sure that I’m intentionally fostering that sense of belonging and connection within my workplace.
Dr. Evelyn Carter, thank you for being a guest here. This was awesome. Thanks so much for being our guest.
Thank you for having me.
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About Dr. Evelyn Carter
Evelyn is a social psychologist who has conducted cutting-edge research on how to detect and discuss racial bias. As Paradigm’s President, Evelyn is focused on evolving and advancing the practice of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Prior to this, she led Paradigm’s Training & People Development teams and advised such as DocuSign, the NFL, Snap, and United Talent Agency. Evelyn’s research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, and in 2018, she was featured on the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences “20 Under 40” list.
In addition to her peer-reviewed scholarship, Evelyn is a highly sought-after thought leader. Her work and insights have been published in popular press outlets such as The Atlantic, Bloomberg, CBS This Morning, CNBC, Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, and NPR.
Evelyn holds a doctorate from Indiana University, a master’s degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University.