Podcast Clip: How Can We Increase Diversity at Lean Events?


Yesterday's podcast is admittedly very long (almost two hours), but it's a very important topic and I appreciate the opportunity to have had this discussion with  Christopher D. Chapman, and Dr. Valeria Sinclair-Chapman.

One topic that we got into toward the very end of the podcast was a question of how (and why?) should we make sure that Lean conferences (and podcasts like mine) have diversity that reflects our community as a whole.

Here is that 20-minute segment, below, as video, audio podcast, and written transcript:


Mark Graban: Let me ask one other question that comes to mind. While we're on this topic, I've got to ask it. I want to hear your thoughts, Chris, as the consultant in this space and, Val, your thoughts in terms of if you're advising an organization in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

I'm not speaking on behalf of any of the major Lean conferences. As an attendee and as somebody who has spoken at these conferences, it is hard not to notice that if 13 percent of Americans are black, you don't see 13 percent black faces on stage speaking. You don't see 51 percent women on stage.

Defining that gap, that inequity, is easier than the rest of the thought process of how to and how aggressively or what actions can and should be taken to look into that clear gap. I don't know what to do beyond identifying the gap.

Dr. Valeria Sinclair-Chapman: I can jump in here.

Mark: Please.

Valeria: Part of it is who is elevated, who is trained, who is called to the front. In those spaces, where we will begin is with perhaps one or two. We'll begin with one or two. They will be tokens. They will probably feel like tokens. There's a lot of pressure on a token. Does that make sense?

That is the one kind of representative, so I can't make a mistake. If I get out there, then I represent everybody that's going to come behind me. If I make a mistake, there's not going to be another chance.

Mark: Sorry to interrupt. That's part of the privilege I have. If I go up there and I stink as a speaker, people are going to say, “Mark was a bad speaker.” It doesn't reflect that it was a mistake to invite white men to speak…

Valeria: Exactly.

Mark: That doesn't occur to me. That's my blind spot. Thank you for sharing that perspective…

Valeria: What I'm saying is one of the ways that we think about getting around some of that is we do things in cohorts. When we hire in academia, you bring in a set of people instead of just one person. When you bring in speakers, maybe you bring in a set of speakers.

You give them opportunities to practice, to talk with each other. You make sure that they have mentors. You make sure that they have coaching. You invest in them for the long haul. You become a sponsor and a supporter, an ally, a coach.

One of the other things that we see in literature, in the scholarship on this, is when there are more than one woman in a diverse team, that women are more likely to speak. The more isolated a woman is, the more quiet she is likely to be.

We can see similar kinds of outcomes with people of color. It's not always the case. It's not always the case. There's some times when a singular individual can rise to the top and be very outspoken. These things are not prescriptive, but they are observational. We can see those kinds of things in observation.

How do you change that? You need to have internships. You need to make sure that you don't fire your intern because they're five minutes late or because of whatever. That means that you're having conversations with this person about what it means to do this and what it means to try. That means when people are quiet, you ask them to speak up.

You encourage them. You give them a chance to make a mistake, and the mistake is not deadly. That is one of the privileges of white male-hood. It's not for everybody. There are white men who make a deadly mistake at the beginning. Here, I know I'm using the term deadly, but I mean career-wise, not physically.

Mark: Or reputation-wise is all.

Valeria: That's part of it. In one of my previous positions, I felt like there was an unspoken rule. Sometimes, people would share things with me. I wouldn't know that I shouldn't repeat them. I thought if you're telling me, I should tell everybody. It's my personality. Not a secret, but a strategy.

How do you get a promotion where you go on the job market? You establish your value out on the job market. Then somebody here will say, “You're great. We're going to want to keep you.” We create competition.

I repeated this to other people. I didn't know that I shouldn't have because it was really private, but that person never came to me to say anything to me. They just stopped talking to me. It was so perplexing that I didn't understand what happened for years.

One of the things that I say…We do this workshop on building inclusive research environments. It's called IRE, which I like because it's funky, Caribbean. When you're building an inclusive research environment, one of the things that you have to do is make implicit norms explicit.

If there are things that you were doing quietly, that you would have conversations with someone over coffee or what have you, I'm not saying all of that goes away, but you've got to make those things more explicit. What are the norms of my lab? What are the norms of my office? What are the norms of the department?

You have to pull, sometimes, people aside and not say, “Well, they should have known.” Instead you say, “I don't know if you were aware of this.” You help people to navigate because part of the reason why some people are perpetually privileged is that they have knowledge of the inside game.

If you don't have knowledge of the inside game, then what you really think is “Boy, if I just work harder and I do more and I get more degrees, that's what's going to protect me.” That is not necessarily the case.

Part of it is really those allies and those sponsors who are going to help you to understand and interpret what you're hearing. We're going to need that besides, but it's most important for the women and the people of color who have typically been on the margins. That's how to change that space.

It's no different in academia. I study Congress. Congress is 85 percent white and male. That's astounding. That represents the entire nation. How do we change that? These are sticky problems. They're sticky problems, but they're not impossible ones. There are strategies out there already about how to do it.

Christopher D. Chapman: I was just thinking about something I've heard Val say. Who's not in the room? Who's not at the table? As you look at Lean steering committees, as you look at kaizen team, as you look at who's leading the performance huddles and who's taking part in that, who's under-represented, who's not at the huddle, at the table.

There's all sorts of opportunities when you begin to ask that question and reflect on it. As a consultant, I lead those kaizen teams. I help designate who the leaders and co-leaders are for those rapid improvement events. I can begin having that conversation with leadership to say, “Hey, who might we give an opportunity to lead?”

Valeria: If I may, because those kinds of conversations are difficult, we can think about it right now, but doing it in action… How might you do that in action? You say, “Who is missing from this table, and why are they important?” Part of it is who would bring a valuable perspective that we don't have, that is instrumental here.

Another thing, I helped to create an organization where there were a lot of women who were running the organization. This was undergrads. Boy, they were so intolerant with the male student. He was captain of football team. He's clearly a leader, but he would not respond to the emails.

These girls sent 75 emails. They were emailing all the time or texting each other. They wanted him to be part of this communication stream. He hated it. He wanted to be the person to come in. When are you making a decision? I'll help you make [laughs] a decision, but I'm not going to do all of the debating.

They viewed that as him not showing interest and not being committed. It was a misinterpretation of the moment, but because the girls had power, they kicked him out of the leadership team. That's an unusual kind of circumstance, but it's not so unusual in terms of how we evaluate.

What will often happen is we'll lock onto something that this person does differently from us. We'll say that that thing is the most important thing to determine the outcome. We'll do it perhaps without being aware. That's the implicit kind of bias.

One of the ways that we see it, if I may, just really briefly, is that we sometimes see it in classrooms. Again, I have two black sons, so I see how it plays out. I know that they get noticed for bad behavior. They are going to roughhouse. They're going to do whatever it is that they do in school.

They will be singled out from time to time. They're good kids, I'll [laughs] say that, but they will sometimes be singled out. I will have to go in to say, “Who else was at the table? What kind of punishment did they receive? What kind of reprimands did they receive?”

It will often be the case that the reprimand is different. I will need to bring it to someone's attention because they are unaware. What I say is that the statistics are telling the story. It's not about you individually.

If I look at the statistics of what happens in public school education, it is that black students are more highly disciplined than white students, that they are more likely to be expelled or suspended or to have other kinds of consequences.

This is not accidental. It adds up. It aggregates from individual acts that people are engaged in without review, without check. These are the kinds of things that we need to pay attention to.

Mark: Maybe just one other question on the conference gap, the diversity and inclusion gap. If I were running a conference… Well, conferences aren't happening right now but a virtual conference, or…

Valeria: [laughs]

Mark: …I'm starting a new podcast. I'm looking to make sure I don't have blind spots and just invite the white males I know and work with most. Let's say with any of these settings. People will balk at the idea of, let's say, quotas. What would you recommend?

I'll personalize it. What should I do to make sure the people on stage reflect American society, that the guests that I have on a podcast reflect society? I'll give credit… one conference that has at least make good efforts — I don't know their outcomes — the Lean Startup Week event run by Eric Ries and others, they've made statements — I can find them on their website — saying, “We value diversity and we encourage…”

How much should we just encourage people of all ethnicities and genders and race and all elements of diversity, specifically say, “You are welcome,” or how much do we have to actively go out and network and seek out diversity?

Is it enough to say like, “Hey, diversity is welcome”? Again, Lean Startup Week, I know they've made those. We are going to actively try very hard to find those people because we know they're out there. What would you recommend? What should I do? Again, I'll…

Mark: What should I do?

Valeria: I hear you. I love the question. I love some of the insights that you've already provided. One of them is how do we end up with homogenous kinds of outcomes. It's because we go to our own networks. Our networks are often fairly homogenous. They're filled with people who remind us of ourselves. That's part of why we like them.

When we go only to our own networks and our networks are not very diverse, these are the outcomes that we end up with. One of the things that we often hear in engineering or in higher education, perhaps in nursing or in medical schools, all over, is this notion of a pipeline. They're like, “Oh, we need to build a pipeline.” I'm thinking, “No, there's a whole pool out there.”

You can find it if you're looking. You have to have some intention. You do have to have some intention. You have to recognize that oftentimes we perceive risk to be one-sided, so that a company will say, “Well, we're going to take a risk on this person. They may not be ready.”

I'll put it in terms of gender. We've never had a woman in this role before. We're going to take a risk. That means that person is on constant audition, constant audition. What we don't recognize there is that that individual is also taking the risk because they're walking into a culture that is not necessarily prepared for them.

They're walking into an existing culture that says, “I'm not sure that this new outsider belongs in this space.” We need to recognize that there is risk-taking, and there's trust-making on both sides of this. There may be some errors. Part of it is networks. Part of it is culture.

The other thing is that the assets and the talent that you have that is embodied in people who are people of color or women, the assets and resources that are embodied in them are not only directed to other women or to people of color. These people have lots of ideas. We need to not pigeonhole people only in talks about race. Let's explore the degree of expertise that people have.

Another thing particular that we find with women, one of the things… We can think about op-eds or promotions or the book Lean In that so many people read. Take a chance on yourself. Bet on yourself. Oftentimes, women will spend a lot of time. They will wait an extra 10 years before they will try to go up for promotion or try something big, whereas men…

I see it in my own classroom. I used to tell the students the best chance you're ever going to have is to speak in a freshman class because nobody really knows that much. I know that the guys at the end of the table are behaving as if they do, but you know as much as they do. It doesn't get easier from here.

It is a different kind of relation to the culture and to the space, a different sense of belonging. We're going to have to encourage people who may not feel confident to do it. For us in higher education, it would be post-docs or maybe internships. There maybe fellowships, rewards, recognition. Those are ways to get people to the table and to elevate them in ways that are meaningful.

I also think then that we also have to pay attention to measures. I'm keeping my eye on the time. How do we measure this? You mentioned… Oh my gosh. We can't set a quota. I've had some thoughts about that. I don't know exactly what the answers are.

What I love about Lean is Lean has measures. I'm expecting that we're going to find some creative ways to get at the pluses and minuses that are helping people move through to a system in whatever time period as a baseline and that are slowing people down from doing it. We have to at least be able to figure those variables out.

At the end of the day, if you want to change a one-way street to a two-way street, you say that's what we're going to do. There's not a whole lot of conversation about it. By some result of willpower, it gets done.

When you say that we're going to move, we're going to have wireless everywhere so that people can use wireless technology, you do it. There's not a whole lot of conversation about it. This is, to me, a matter of commitment and of stick-to-it-iveness.

Christopher: When you say you're going to increase sales year over year or reduce errors year over year, you put that stake in the ground. You go for it. Everyone's on board. Leadership says, “Hey, this is what we're going to do.” You fall in line. [laughs]

Valeria: You hold people accountable to it. What I loved about the safety example — that's what I couldn't remember earlier — is that I think the gentleman said zero accidents or something like that. I imagine, could you ever say zero racism, like no racist incidents. That is audacious. What if we could set that as a goal? Then we would leverage the resources to get there.

Christopher: That's a wonderful thing about Lean. Perfection is what we're striving to achieve.

Mark: If you look at, you mentioned earlier, Chris, Paul O'Neill. He's a very important leader. I was very fortunate to have met him briefly. He was a guest on the podcast here years ago. When he set that goal of saying, at Alcoa, when he was CEO, nobody should get hurt at work, the goal was zero.
Did they get to zero in his time? No, but I'll guarantee they reduced harm far more significantly than if he had been timid and said, “Well, let's try to get a five-percent reduction every year.” Incrementalism versus saying, “Hey…” I think I've heard him use phrases like moral obligation, but then there was clearly a business case.

Business case not in a direct way but in an indirect… Saying if we get good at safety, we will have what he called habitual excellence. Injuries plummeted. Stock price soared.

Now at the same time, it was fascinating to hear people he worked with recounting stories. He would tell the accountants, “Don't ever calculate an ROI on something we installed for safety.” He was like, “That kills my moral authority. I'll fire you if you do that.”

He had this balance of yes, it made great business sense, but it's more of a long-term… It's the right thing, and there's that longer-term outcome as a business. It seems like that's the connection to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Valeria: I love it. The more obligation piece really is measured in commitment. This is bigger than these other things. It's values. What are the values that we adhere to?

Mark: One thing I would suggest that maybe is helpful in these issues, Mr. O'Neill proved that the false trade-offs of people saying we can't afford safety, absolutely not true.

People in healthcare are now showing if anyone will say, “Well, we can't afford patient safety,” false trade-off. Maybe the same thing applies when people say, “Oh, well, we can't afford diversity, equity, and inclusion.” False trade-off.

Christopher: I would agree.

Valeria: Absolutely. Costly. The illusion of that trade-off is so very costly. The problem with it is that it's in the periphery of our vision. We don't necessarily see it, but it accumulates. doesn't become less costly over time.

It's even more costly to the people who are in those margins. It's not without cost for the people in the majority. It's not. You pay me now [or] you pay me later. [laughs]

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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