Expert Helps Businesses Make Their Way in the DE&I Space

Sandy Harvey

Sandy Harvey’s introduction to the issue of diversity and equity came early in life. When Harvey was a 4-year-old asthma sufferer growing up in the Fort Worth, Texas, area, her pediatrician recommended she start playing soccer. But it was the early 1970s, and Harvey was the only person of color for years, lived in a mixed neighborhood and spent a few years in private school and magnet schools.

The experience taught Harvey, now the founder and president of Exodus Consulting Group — a consultant on a variety of issues, including diversity and leadership matters — about how one’s personal experience can make them different.

“Often times, we unconsciously assume that others’ experiences are similar to our personal experiences,” Harvey said. “We miss so much about one another if it is only framed in the context of our own life.”

That experience helped Harvey figure out what she wanted to do with her life.

“I am doing what I have always wanted to do; however, it took me a little time to figure out how to do this work that I love,” she said. “I truly feel like a rock star some days, when I see enlightenment on faces because of something that I have probably shared 100 times before. Inclusion is a journey and it takes time; however, we can continue to grow and expand our awareness and knowledge.”

Harvey, who earned a bachelor’s of business administration degree and masters degrees in evangelism and church planning and organizational management, offered her perspective on a variety of issues:

Corp! Magazine: There are statistics that show job-seekers, particularly the younger generation, are looking to work for a company that has strong footing in the DE&I journey. Do you find that to be true?
Sandy Harvey: Absolutely!

Corp!: Why is that?
Harvey: Our younger generations are looking for a “space” where they belong — this includes where they work. These job-seekers are discerning in many aspects of their lives; now this same discernment is seen in our workplaces. Workers want to contribute to the efforts and successes of the company they work for, they want to know that what is expected of them is also expected of everyone else, including leaders, they want open and honest communication, and they want to feel respected. They are looking for DEI on the company website, even before the interview. At the interview they are asking HR and hiring leaders about DEI to ensure there is transparency and consistency.

Corp!: Are you finding that companies are taking that seriously?
Harvey: Yes and no! Some are taking DEI very seriously and understand the negative impact it could have on their business if they did nothing. I saw an uptick in “interest” after the death of George Floyd; many organizations were outraged at his death playing out on TV.

Initially this resulted in an increase in company leaders scripting DEI statements. Unfortunately, this intensity waned, and statements lacked commitment. Those companies who were serious about their efforts started to develop a strategy to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in their workplace.

Corp!: How effective is it as a recruiting tool if a company has a diversity plan?
Harvey: Extremely effective. When there is a diversity plan and it’s a good plan, the expectations of the plan are known by all. This means that there is open communication about the plan at all levels and team members are encouraged to openly share their experience.

Organizations that are successful with their diversity plan and have this as a focus of recruiting have a robust careers page. They may even publish their DEI goals on their website or include a video or message from the CEO. There are so many opportunities to connect DEI to recruiting — even employee resources groups (ERGs) can provide support with recruiting.

Job-seekers are seeking transparency — this means whatever the DEI plan a company has, everyone knows about it and actually “feels” it, regardless of the team they work on.

Corp!: How important is it for companies to establish a culture where DE&I efforts are taken seriously?
Harvey: For those committed to DEI, they understand culture matters! Traditionally, we have led HR partners and senior leaders to primarily focus on employee engagement. I share with my clients that an engaged culture is a step in the right direction, but an inclusive culture is ideally where we would like to be, which requires action and accountability for inclusion at all levels.

Engagement is about how connected a team member is to the company. I like to take it a step further — when considering an inclusive culture, it is the ideal workplace where there is a respected and collaborative environment. Inclusion helps to connect people to people.

Corp!: What are the first steps companies need to take to start that journey?
Harvey: Having worked with many different sized companies in many different industries, there are a few steps that companies can take to start their journey — they can establish a DEI committee comprised of DEI champions that are committed to advancing the cause of DEI internally.

Another recommendation is developing common language around diversity, equity, and inclusion. For example, I have a client that didn’t want to use the word “equity” and instead they used the word “access.” They had defined access very similarly to equity.

As you can imagine, these terms mean something different based on your perspective. Equity will generally mean something based on gender, race, sexual orientation, being differently-abled and more.

Corp!: What’s the most important thing a company can do when developing a DEI plan?
Harvey: One of the most important crossroads in developing a DEI plan is accountability. As I start this journey, I usually start with asking the CEO, “how will leaders be held accountable of inclusion at said company?” If this question is not answered, usually this means the plan may lack commitment and substance.
In some cases, senior leaders need a little time to figure this out. Of course, it is not just leadership accountability, but overall accountability to the DEI plan.

Corp!: What’s the biggest mistake they can make?
Harvey: I am often asked to facilitate DEI training. While training is a seemingly easy and innocent approach to developing a DEI strategy, remember training is not a strategic solution. Many organizations believe training alone will change their culture. This is a huge mistake.

Starting this work with training and having the expectation that behaviors and actions will change is not a proper approach to training as a reliable resource. Hopefully, I can add one more.

My other very important consideration is that a DEI plan is not another HR initiative. If the CEO is not onboard and engaged with this work, a DEI plan is likely to fail or not be an organizational strategic initiative.

Corp!: More and more, companies want to partner with other companies who are strong in diversity. Can NOT having a strong diversity culture be an impediment to business?
Harvey: I totally agree with companies paying more attention to who they are partnering with. It is becoming more common, now more than ever, for an RFP to ask for a company’s diversity statement, values, or whether or not the company is a certified business. Supplier diversity is one component of a strong DEI plan.

Corp!: Where has your career taken you? What did you do before starting Exodus?
Harvey: I have been fortunate to have a diverse professional career. I started in financial services as a high school intern. My first role was as an international/wire transfer representative. I provided currency exchange rates for small banks and those looking to exchange currency. This shows you how long ago it was.

I worked my way up through different disciplines of banking, and even worked for credit unions. I have also worked in leadership for nonprofits. In addition, I am an ordained minister and provide coaching and consulting for pastors. My technical expertise began with developing and facilitating training, which led to human resources. I was most recently the vice president of human resources for a large nonprofit in Detroit.

I actually started facilitating diversity training almost 25 years ago, when it was considered diversity training — a lot has changed since then. I started Exodus Consulting Group in October 2017 to help companies design, develop, and successfully launch a customized diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic plan.

Corp!:: Now you’re a consultant in the diversity/equity space. How did your journey down that path come about?
Harvey: Being in HR and being an organizational development facilitator, I have always enjoyed sharing information and knowledge with others. Diversity, equity, and inclusion was not a new topic for me and something that I have facilitated for over 20 years.

I feel like I was born to do this work. I have always been fascinated by the different experiences that we all have. We all go to a workplace, or wherever the space is, and there are so many around us that have experiences that are different from ours.

I have been in this space for years and have realized that we “show up” to common spaces with individualized history and experiences, which makes sharing spaces complicated. I realized that helping organizations create inclusive spaces was the work that I wanted to be committed to.

This is the essence of inclusion — my goal is to share how we can share common spaces, work effectively and productively together, be heard and respected — even when we do not necessarily understand others. I look back over my work experience and can recall situations where I had wished DEI was more prevalent.

Corp!: What is the best advice you can offer to others?
Harvey: There is always something new to learn — be a lifelong learner while being kind to others!

Corp!: What is the most important lesson you have learned in business?
Harvey: To focus on what I do and to do it well! I sincerely care about DEI work. When DEI is done poorly — people are hurt, trust is diminished, companies flounder and may fail. My goal is to help companies be more profitable.