Last month, we posted a blog from the point of view of Sam Julka, our President and Founder. Who better to kick this off than her?! And…how do we follow that? Well, we thought we should introduce you to our amazing friend and consultant, Dr. Tiffany Polite, whose brilliance is captivating. 

Here’s the thing, we know our work has just begun, and in fact, may not have an ‘end’. With guidance and education from Dr. Tiffany, we hope that we can embody the true values of DEI at DORIS in our research, and therefore impact change exponentially as we grow with our clients. Ok, enough about us, let’s hear from Dr. Tiffany Polite, read along to hear her thoughts. Do not just take our word for it, read on to see how great she is!

Question : If someone were to search your name in Google, they would see that your background and education are focused on Higher Education and you are a program manager for the University Innovation Alliance. How does that relate to your work with DORIS in research and DEI?

Answer : I am a researcher and an educator, so I have the knowledge and tools. Issues evolving from power dynamics and how they affect DEI are adaptive issues, not technical issues. These adaptive issues need a level of depth in exploration in order to solve them.

It is important to understand how influential the field of higher education is as a social institution. We produce the entrepreneurs, the politicians, the workers. Because of that, I have been given exposure to the impact of some of these inner workings and processes, which is how and why it becomes relevant to the working environment.

Question : How do you define DEI? 

Answer : Diversity: The simplest way to think about diversity is as composition. It is the most tangible in this set of concepts. We can measure it, touch it, feel it, see it. Check the box; does it look diverse?

Inclusion: Inclusion is making sure those diverse persons feel a sense of belonging in that space. Just because you have a set of black people doesn’t mean they are having the best experience…they also may not be having a BAD experience. Identifying: who is truly benefitting? Thinking about it relationally as humans…the relationship should not be one-sided. This is where a lot of inclusion efforts fail because it is one-sided. We can avoid this by valuing the voice of the other. Can you hold the space within yourself first, then within the organization for the voices that don’t align with yours. Can you stop before judgment to include that perspective?

When talking about DEI, we have to recognize what is being exchanged in terms of capital exchange. We might value different things differently, and because of that, we are coming to the table with different sets of values. It is not about having the same values, but can you value me as a colleague, even though you are not used to having to consider it in your space? 

Equity:  Equity comes into play when we are evaluating power dynamics with everyone involved. It is not about everyone having equal opportunity or equality. There are two sides to equity: 1.)  how do we overcome the deficiencies that have been brought about historically, and 2.) how do we not just provide equal service but equal access to opportunity? 

Equality is where everyone gets a loaf of bread. But what if I don’t need bread? I have a bunch of bread, and what I really need is protein. I need meat.

Equity embraces personalization; if I need meat, I get meat, and then those who need bread get bread. We need to know what the specific and unique challenges are and then service those, and they may be very different from the mainstream population.

Question : Why is this so hard for businesses?

Answer : We work within what we have been given, and what we have been given does not take DEI into consideration. We reproduce what the world gives us instead of creating new paths.

In private business, we want to make a profit, and in focusing on that, we minimize certain things in order to maximize efficiency. We fall back into the reproduction machine to maximize profit and make decisions from that point of view. 

For long-term success, we want to build a pathway for sustainability. You want buy-in, stronger brand loyalty, long-term success, repeat customers, so you have to continue to refine your offering so that people see it. We know in 2021 these are things people care about if you want to ensure your business is sustainable. We are browning, tastes are changing, so we have to change along with that. And change is hard.

Question : Why DORIS?

Answer : Because I think this is an area that is sorely lacking in the private business space. I think that many business owners actually do want to be inclusive and want the people they hired to want to be there, want to work, and believe in the mission and values of the organization. There is not a lot of assistance with organizational design with DEI in mind.

Because of my research and my personal beliefs and values that I hold, with all of us doing our part, I think this is a great way to impact change on a bigger level. I don’t believe the ‘isms’ are the true issue, but I want to help influencers and decision-makers understand how the decisions they make affect the outcomes in DEI.

If we are not able to break out of our routine ways of thinking, behaving, and knowing, then we won’t be able to truly impact the change for the issues we want to address.

Question : What is your overall goal for this engagement?

Answer : That you all feel comfortable with engaging your work through the lens of DEI. We know your service as a value-add, and this one is additionally not easily accessible. 

I desire for you all to be better because you want to be better and because you are being thoughtful and intentional about it…and that extends to your clients, and that becomes the purpose of it all. We want to show different people and work environments that this is possible, and it is ok to look through this lens and have a positive impact on their outcomes.

Tiffany is so brilliant that she captivates us as an audience anytime we engage with her. We have engaged with her on several levels. Tiffany is helping us engage students and community members in a current project, she has helped in our revised interview protocol, and she continues to help us reassess our research process from step 1. 

Takeaway #1: To make an impact, you must allow yourself to be vulnerable, which is exactly what we are taught not to do. We are socialized to be protective of ourselves and to smooth over conflicts by being “nice.” What ultimately happens when we are put in a place of vulnerability in a work environment is that we become hyper-defensive. We first have to have empathy, and that’s not easy. 

Takeaway #2: We have to listen to resistors. They are telling us something. So rather than having our feathers so ruffled by the fact that they are resisting, if we come out of that space of frustration, stay curious, and understand why they are resisting we can better communicate how and why they are important.

Takeaway #3: Usually in research, we are told to get rid of the outliers. However, we want the outliers. They are usually signaling something, and we need to listen.

Oh man, see how we started talking about outliers? This is where Meghan Tooman does a lot of pondering since she has been trained specifically when talking about parametric statistical testing to look deeply into the outliers.  She will talk to us all about outliers and how her work with Tiffany has stretched her to grow both professionally and personally.