Episode 310: Measuring DEI and Systemic Change With Traci Dunn
Jessica Miller-Merrell | Podcast| By
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Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader, H.R. and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now, here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.
Episode 310: Measuring DEI and Systemic Change With Traci Dunn
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:26.73] Welcome to the Workology Podcast. This podcast is part of a series that’s focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, and HR. The Workology Podcast, is sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace the HR Exam. The DEI series on the Workology Podcast is powered by Align DEI and Ginger.com. Diversity, equity and inclusion are not new ideas in the HR and corporate arenas, but in recent months, the importance and significance of DEI in the workplace has gotten leaders throughout corporate America to think about what doing the right thing in the community looks like. For many of us in HR, this means we’re not taking our DEI initiatives to stakeholders. They are coming to us and they’re looking for answers. So we must be ready to respond. Today, I’m joined by Traci Dunn. She’s the Chief Human Resources Officer and head of diversity, equity and inclusion at Village M.D.Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at VillageMD. Traci has more than 25 years of HR experience with a proven track record of identifying, developing and leading the best and next practices and talent strategy. Prior to VillageMD, she was the vice president of inclusion, diversity and corporate impact at McKesson, where she was responsible for inclusion and diversity, culture and engagement and corporate impact. Traci, welcome to the Workology Podcast.
Traci Dunn: [00:01:46.47] Thank you, Jessica.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:47.70] Let’s talk about your background, because I feel like it’s an interesting one. You have worked in HR leadership in a variety of industries for the past 25 years. How did your early experience lead you to working in DEI?
Traci Dunn: [00:02:00.60] Yes, I’ve always had a personal passion for the DEI. You know, growing up on a military base enabled me to see the value very early on of having a variety of people, backgrounds and experiences. So when I started working in HR, I always just naturally volunteered to help with diversity efforts. Or you know, just use the diversity lens to all the things that were within my remit. And here’s one example that I was thinking about from very early in my career when I was a campus recruiter. I recruited at both HBCUs, historically black colleges and universities, and PWI, predominately white institutions. But I always had the largest amount of diversity hires from all of my campuses across the board, because I was always very intentional about casting the net wide. I wasn’t one of those, as I like to call, postin prei type of recruiters. I always went that extra mile to network with diverse organizations, professors and administrators, you know, to build that pipeline of diverse talent. And that success of doing this work kind of, you know, side of the, side of the table, so to speak, really led to my first full time role in diversity. And from that point on, I just couldn’t stay away from the DEI work. Even though I’ve led multiple aspects of HR, I will always be a DEI practitioner at heart.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:25.11] I love that you have all this experience and I love that you’re mentioning intentionality, because that is really critical. And for myself, like in terms of podcast guests, like we have been very intentional. I have been very intentional about ensuring that we do have diversity of experience and backgrounds. And it is, it takes time and a focus to be able to do that.
Traci Dunn: [00:03:52.08] Absolutely. Absolutely.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:54.72] One of the things I want to make sure we talked about is that you have been a consultant at leading companies, as well as a practitioner. What’s the difference in these roles in your experience?
Traci Dunn: [00:04:04.92] Yes, I found that, frankly, I was able to get a lot more done, much faster as a consultant. You know, when a company is willing to pay top dollar for you to come in and fix a problem or create a strategy, they tend to listen to you. You know, they’re already further along the change curve when they bring you in, therefore, they’re, they’re more often willing to engage and do the work. The challenge in that environment, though, is that I didn’t always get to see the work through. So on the flip side, when you’re in an organization, it sometimes can be challenging to create the demand for the work. And it often takes quite a bit more time to ensure you have the, the organizational readiness before you dive in to driving the work. So, you know, I have to say, I love being a practitioner and being able to make all of those systemic connections and truly build DEI into the fabric of an organization. That is just what’s so incredibly gratifying.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:10.38] I have been a practitioner and a consultant, too, and not on the DEI side of things, but in general and executive HR roles. And I, I was just curious how it is different. But it sounds like it’s kind of similar to my experience. So you don’t really get to see everything through.
Traci Dunn: [00:05:29.16] Right.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:29.91] You come in and help make the change happen and have those conversations so that they can progress to that next stage.
Traci Dunn: [00:05:37.14] Absolutely, and there’s some excitement in that as well, just being able to have the variety of experiences and to be able to work with multiple organizations to help them advance in their journey. So there certainly were just great experiences that I was able to have as a consultant. I think I just kind of lean and gravitate a little bit more to just making all of the systemic changes and really putting things in place that that ultimately drive that, that ongoing change and ongoing impact.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:07.95] I also wanted to ask you about what DEI, or what the Biden administration is also calling DEIA, which is diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.
Traci Dunn: [00:06:18.33] Yeah.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:19.11] What does that mean to you?
Traci Dunn: [00:06:20.79] Sure. I’m asked that question a lot. And let me share the best way that I think I’ve been able to explain my, my point of view. And it’s pretty simple for the D and I. And it’s that diversity is the mix. It’s all of the things that make each of us unique, all the things that we bring with us to an organization, to, to the table. Inclusion is making that mix work. So it’s creating the right culture. It’s creating the right environment that enables that diversity to be valued, to be leverage and just the intentionality of seeking it out. Equity, though, is perfectly centered in the middle because it’s about ensuring that your mix has the exact resources they need to achieve their greatest potential. Equity, though, is different from equal. It’s about fairness for the mix. So let me describe an illustration to help you understand the power of equity. So bear with me for a second. Imagine you’re sitting on a park bench. You look across the way to a fence that’s separating the park from a ball field. Up come to little kids that hear the excitement on the other side and they want to peek over the top of the fence to watch the game.
Traci Dunn: [00:07:44.54] So someone walking by as well sees the kids trying to climb up, so he decides to help them out. He gives them both a ladder with three rungs. It was equal. So he felt good. However, one of the kids was five years old. The other one was 10. The 10 year old used just two of the three rungs and could clearly see over the fence and watch the game. The five-year-old was quite smaller. So even though he was on the third rung, he couldn’t see over. So, yes, he gave them the exact same thing. But the five-year-old needed a ladder with a few more rungs to enjoy the game with his friend. So equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity, and why it’s so powerful in combination with D, I and accessibility is equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities that’s needed to reach an equal outcome. So I oftentimes tell similar stories like that. Sometimes it’s, you know, picking apples from a tree and others, but it’s really understanding that nuance that, that makes the difference in this work.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:08.24] Thank you for helping paint that picture for us. And I think the story behind it is, is important for people to be able to visualize in their own experience.
Traci Dunn: [00:09:17.51] Absolutely.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:19.70] When we spoke initially, you brought up one of my favorite topics, which is design thinking. And I wanted to ask you to talk about how you apply design thinking to the work that you are doing in DEI.
Traci Dunn: [00:09:31.46] I love using design thinking methodology, especially when approaching DEI. You know, first and foremost, because it forces you to get crisp on what you’re solving for. And with those clear problem statements, you’re able to ask yourself, you know, how might we? And it’s that rapid ideation around how might we solve those problems and, and truly turning over every stone is, is what I really, really love about, about this process. You know, no idea is a bad idea. But we are ideating around a singular problem that, that we’re solving for. I use design thinking as just a critical part of my discovery process. When I joined Village just a few months ago, I spent quite a bit of time framing the challenge. We did deep dive sessions around all aspects of the DEI with the intent to discover and truly understand the current state. Then building on that, describing the opportunities and some of the gaps. And that led us to a place where we could very clearly see, you know, what we needed to solve for. The piece about design thinking that I think I love the most is that it’s collaborative. It’s an inclusive process. It’s one that enables you to just cast the net wide and bring a variety of people with experiences and perspectives to the table to, to co create solutions. And just in my experience, not just at VillageMD, but in other organizations, I’ve found it to be a really key way to kind of launch a diversity initiative, because it enables you to just really, like said, uncover and turn over every stone and understanding the opportunities that you’re solving for.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:11:26.45] I love it. And and I, I just feel like design thinking was made for, for DEI and especially for different perspectives and that inclusion piece where you can talk through and, and have those really discovery conversations from a, of a very diverse group of people.
Traci Dunn: [00:11:49.10] Absolutely. And I encourage this methodology just across teams, because, you know, one of the challenges that you have to truly leverage diversity is taking the time to let every voice be heard. And that design thinking, just the process of it, allows every voice to be heard, allows every idea to be considered. And so, whether it’s using this methodology to solve for DEI or using this, this methodology just to be inclusive and to be able to leverage diversity. It’s it’s a truly powerful tool.
Break: [00:12:25.93] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell, and you were listening to the Workology Podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace the HR Exam. This series is powered by Align DEI and Ginger.com. This podcast is part of our DEI series where we talk about diversity, equity and inclusion. And we’re talking with Traci Dunn. She’s the Chief Human Resources Officer and head of diversity, equity and inclusion at VillageMD.
Break: [00:12:52.50] Every employee has different mental health needs from preventive behavioral health coaching to therapy and psychiatry. Ginger offers effective, convenient mental health care for any level of need, all from a smartphone. Learn more, visit Ginger.com.
How DEI Metrics Contribute to Organizational Change
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:13:10.85] I wanted to move over to another area that I think is a challenge for not just DEI practitioners, but HR in general, is how do we get this tangible traction and accountability around DEI? I’m hearing a lot of I have I had several questions in my inbox over the last several weeks where individuals at large organizations are saying that they’re doing all the things, but nothing is happening when it, when it comes, or it’s not being measured. So I wanted to ask you about that.
Traci Dunn: [00:13:44.54] Yes, absolutely. You know, when I, when I think about accountability, specifically leader accountability relative to this work, it’s just foundational to its success. And when I think about gaining traction, I really think about it very simply in tell, teach, measure. You first have to be really clear on what inclusive behaviors advance your culture. You know, what inclusive behaviors truly embody your values and drive results. And then when clear, you have to tell your leaders what you expect. So it’s not enough just to say, yes, we value diversity, we value DEI, but you have to go further and teach them. And not with that check-the-box diversity training. You need to truly embed DEI in all aspects of your training and learning materials so people understand in context why inclusive behaviors are so important. So if you’re teaching a class on performance management, you know, including how to effectively provide feedback across different would be a helpful addition. Ensuring the inclusive behavior that that learning is, is just in time so you can create the right habits over time. So once you’ve told them and you’ve taught them, now you need to measure. And that is such an important piece of, of this, this journey of, you know, individuals’ DEI efforts. It’s, it’s only through measurement that you get to the true accountability. You know, you’ve heard that saying, what gets measured gets done. And it’s so incredibly true as it relates to DEI.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:15:36.64] It’s really complicated, though. You’re, you’re adding this piece in your example to poor performance management training or conversations.
Traci Dunn: [00:15:44.81] Yeah.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:15:45.31] That might not be something that the executive team has thought about. They say, hey, I want to hire somebody to head up the DEI program at my company, thinking that maybe they’re just going to do some anti-discrimination training or different kind of check-the-box type programs. But what you’re talking about is so much more nuanced and complex.
Traci Dunn: [00:16:09.67] Absolutely. And it truly will make the difference between something that’s a point in time versus something that systemically changes the culture and systemically embeds this into just part of the DNA of of an organization. That’s the only way to get tangible traction and tangible results, because otherwise it would be just that point in time.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:16:36.25] Let’s talk a little bit about intangibles, because, you know, HR, DEI, I feel like there’s a lot of intangible factors that come into play. How do we use metrics in DEI to help us do better in those intangible areas?
Traci Dunn: [00:16:51.12] Yeah, the DEI metrics are a tool to truly drive the outcomes. But I am a firm believer, as you know what we just talked about. I’m a firm believer that you have to start with the tell and the teach before you get to the measure in order to have systemic change. But you have to have both the carrot and the stick. DEI measurement shouldn’t just be showcasing the gaps. And as I like to say, admiring the problem, because the outcome measures often they don’t change that fast. So in addition to the outcomes, you should be intentional about celebrating the progress measures. For example, if you only look at attrition overall, you might spend quite a bit of time admiring how slow it takes for that number to change. But if you measure attrition parody, then you can celebrate the successes of closing the gap between diverse and non diverse losses. You know, you want to bring people along with the metrics. You want to use them as an enabler of the right actions and behaviors. But oftentimes, I see folks when they’re tackling diversity metrics, they’re going straight to the punitive. If you don’t hit this, your pay is going to be docked. And there’s a place for that. Don’t get me wrong, but I have found in my experience, when you look at those areas where you can make progress and you celebrate that progress along the way, then you’re really bringing people along and you’re really making some of those truly tangible changes to the environment that helps to lead to those outcomes.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:38.08] I think we need to take this particular response and our conversation for the last couple of minutes and send that to every CEO, to every executive leader who is not sure how it can be measured, and thinking that there is a one size fits all strategy or the belief that we’re just going to magically make our organization more diverse.
Traci Dunn: [00:19:05.17] Right.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:19:05.65] In 6 months or 12 months or 24 months or even more.
Traci Dunn: [00:19:11.08] Absolutely. It’s a journey. We’ve been at this for 30+ years, and we’re still dealing with some of the same challenges today. So this is not something that is an overnight fix. That is definitely not something that we have a silver bullet for. You know, it’s a journey. And we have to be very intentional about tying this journey, because DEI is such a critical element of the right kind of organizational capability that’s needed too to drive this strategy.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:19:40.90] All that you’re saying is the exact reason why I wanted to start this series, because they, everyone thinks that, like you said, there’s a silver bullet, there’s one answer, or there’s going to be one training to come in to fix that. But like you said, this is this is a journey and it doesn’t happen overnight. And as long as you’re making meaningful progress, and then you work to celebrate that, you’re moving forward.
Traci Dunn: [00:20:06.84] Absolutely, absolutely.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:20:10.23] I want to talk to you about some of your planned DEI initiatives or those you’ve worked on since starting at VillageMD earlier this year.
Traci Dunn: [00:20:19.05] Sure. You know, it’s important for us at, at VillageMD to have the right foundation so we can effectively scale, you know, our DEI initiatives over, over time. You know, we defined our problem statement as how might we ensure a long term and sustainable commitment to building a culture of inclusion and belonging while advancing health equity for our employees, patients and the diverse communities we serve. Our focus is on those three key areas, our people, our patients and our communities, and so relative to our people. We were initially focused on and currently in the process of aligning the organization around a shared vision for, for DEI, so we can then be intentional about attracting, developing, retaining and advancing, you know, top diverse talent. A key initiative that that we’re focused on in that space is, is sitting around communications, you know, to share that vision and more importantly, create a continuous feedback loop to stay grounded in the reality of, of our folks. We’re new in this journey. We’re, we’re kind of babies in the DEI journey. And so we want to make sure that we are co-creating our initiatives and our strategies and that we’re truly meeting the needs of the organization. It’s not, you know, here’s this laundry list of things that I’ve done in other organizations, and let me just dump it here at Village. It’s really about, you know, meeting the organization where we are and, and being intentional about putting the right things in place to just really help everyone come along in the journey. Additionally, we have a robust project underway to conduct a systemic review of our data to help us prioritize the greatest areas of opportunity.
Traci Dunn: [00:22:19.34] One of the things that is so very important, not only in DGI, but I think just in HR and talent in general is making data based decisions. There’s, there’s a lot of, you know, kind of anecdotal things you hear a lot, oh, we should do this or we need to do that. What does the data say as the greatest opportunity? What does the data say, you know, are the, are the areas where we need to be the most intentional about? Or the areas in which we need to prioritize? You know, being a health care company we’re, we’re keenly focused on how might we put an inclusion lens on our model of care, ensuring health equity. And then finally, and this is one that’s just personally so, so critical to me. We have to externalize that commitment to DEI in the communities where we work and live. We have a project underway right now to explore ways for our associates to volunteer both in mass and individually, and with the feedback from our people and the output of that review, that systemic review that I mentioned, we’re, we’re working to finalize our plans and all of the initiatives going forward. But as we just talked about, it’s a journey. And what I want to do is just get the right scaffolding in place and then we can start building. We can have grassroots things that, that emerge. We can have, you know, other, you know, leaderled kinds of things that will emerge. But, but really grounding in that shared vision is, is what’s paramount for me right now.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:23:55.03] I can’t wait to catch up with you in a year or six months to hear like an update of where you, where VillageMD and, and you have, have came and the progress and, and the results of the change that’s happening over there.
Traci Dunn: [00:24:10.72] I’d be so excited to share. I’m so thrilled. I’m very lucky as well. I have an amazing team and very, very excited about the journey that we’re on.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:24:21.34] A lot of the conversations I’ve been having around DEI are centered around getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. And I’m having a lot of those conversations with leaders in organizations. And I wanted to ask you what your approach was to getting comfortable with being uncomfortable when it comes to working with your leadership team.
Traci Dunn: [00:24:43.78] Absolutely. You know, the approach that I’ve shared with leaders really is all about resilience. You know, as we lead in this kind of post Covid world, we have no idea what might come next, you know, what challenge may be presented. And many of those challenges are, frankly, uncharted territory. So resilience is all about that bounce back. When you’re in that uncomfortable place, you know, what can you do to help return? And so some of the things that, that I often shared, first and foremost, is don’t run from what’s making you uncomfortable, but rather embrace it. You know, some of the most significant breakthroughs and I can speak to this personally, some of the most significant breakthroughs have come after being in that very uncomfortable place. Second, you have to be mindful. Don’t let those old tapes play. Your brain is going to automatically go to the last time you were in that uncomfortable place. But don’t play that tape. Be present. Be mindful, because your mindfulness absolutely breeds resilience. You’re staying in the moment. You’re not looking back and getting depressed. You’re not looking forward and getting anxious. But you’re being intentional about the moment right now and dealing with what’s in front of you. And then finally, especially in this time of uncertainty, self care is key. And I know sometimes when you’re talking to, you know, to leaders, they don’t always spend the time in focusing on self. But that, honestly, is one of the most critical areas to conquering resilience and being comfortable in that uncomfortable place because, you know, as leaders of teams, your team is going to look to you for support, guidance, empathy and even more during times of significant change or uncertainty. And this can be especially challenging when you’re processing your own reactions and your own feelings. So you want to be intentional about taking care of yourself and truly processing how you feel. So then you can in turn, model those behaviors that’ll help your team do the same.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:27:05.13] This is so timely and important right now because I, we’re, I mean, I don’t know if we’re coming out of Covid. Gosh, I hope we are.
Traci Dunn: [00:27:12.81] I know.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:27:13.08] I mean, I just got a slack as we’re recording here that Austin is going back to stage four effective Monday, which is where I live. So I’m like, ugh, I, you know, we’re just getting ready to, you know, have the best summer of our lives and fall. So whatever it is, I feel like people are really starting to come out of this place and they do need time to process all the change that’s happened, because it’s not just the pandemic. It’s so many other different things with, you know, like Black Lives Matter and the George Floyd murder and, and changes in our presidential administration, like so many different things.
Traci Dunn: [00:27:57.24] Absolutely. So much changing and we’ll continue to change. And that’s why it’s, it’s all about kind of establishing what the right kind of coping mechanisms that, that work for you. You know, those three examples are just examples that I’ve used, but there’s there’s lots of different approaches. The key is be intentional. Deal with what you’re feeling. And, and I know just personally, you know, over the last year, starting with Covid, going into, you know, all the things that, that happened throughout the summer, it it, was tough. It was exhausting. And, and I had to really, it was tough because, you know, here I am, you know, a DEI leader trying to lead my organization through all of this. And yet I’m struggling to get through it myself. And, and so when I say that I have leverage these things personally, I truly have, because it’s the only way that I can be at my best for my team and for my company is to take care of me and ensure that I am at my personal best.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:29:03.45] Agreed, and I want to encourage people to take time for themselves, to process, to, to work through, to take some downtime, because you need it to be able to support your teams, your families and your businesses or whoever you’re that you love and the passions that you have in your life.
Traci Dunn: [00:29:25.29] Absolutely.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:29:26.88] Well, Traci, this has been an amazing conversation. I really don’t want it to end. But but it has to, right? And I wanted to know where people could go to learn more about you and the work that you’re doing at VillageMD.
Traci Dunn: [00:29:40.18] Sure, absolutely, you can find me and VillageMD on LinkedIn, on the VillageMD.com site. There’s also additional information, and we look forward to updating our presence on our .com site to be able to share a little bit more about our journey and share updates along the way.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:30:01.84] Well, thank you so much, Traci. It has been a pleasure. I really appreciate you taking the time.
Traci Dunn: [00:30:07.39] Thank you.
Closing: [00:30:08.89] Conversations about leadership and culture are extremely important, and we need to have more of them because these conversations spark change. I love the insights that Traci shared today, focus on the tangible and intangibles and how to measure, how do we measure diversity, equity, inclusion, and where do we begin? As HR leaders, we can support our company leaders with resources and training and different programs and initiatives that open up DEI in a way that sets our company up for long term success. But as Traci mentioned, it is a long game filled with many milestones that we should be celebrating and sharing and discussing along the way. I appreciate Traci’s insights and her time today on the Workology Podcast, one of my favorite episodes for sure. Thank you for joining the Workology Podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace the HR Exam. This podcast is part of our DEI series. This series is powered by Align DEI and Ginger.com. The Workology Podcast is a place for the disruptive workplace leader who is tired of the status quo. My name is Jessica Miller-Merrell. Until next time you can visit Workology.com to listen to all our previous podcast episodes.
Closing: [00:31:25.90] Personal and professional development is essential for successful HR leaders. Join Upskill HR to access life training, community, and over 100 On-Demand courses for that dynamic leader. HR recert credits available. Visit UpskillHR.com for more.
Connect with Traci Dunn.
– Episode 307: DEI and Social Justice in the Workplace With Melissa Horne
– Episode 295: Second Chance Hiring and DEI with Cheri Garcia
– Episode 288: DEI Metrics and Benchmarking
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