Leading Foward

Leading Foward

If DEI fatigue sets in, that's the time to step up the work.

Companies are quick to issue a media alert when they partner with a BIPOC-led business or make a donation. They tend to be a lot quieter about eliminating their DEI officer or letting DEI programs fall by the wayside.

Yet nearly three years after we were forced to confront racism and inequities head-on in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, such corporate decisions are being whispered about in our business community. The DEI experts I talk to are tired, and not especially encouraged by our progress. Sure, there have been some big wins—key leadership appointments, grant dollars. But have we fundamentally changed?

Seena Hodges
Seena Hodges

Seena Hodges says no. Founder of The Woke Coach, a DEI consultancy in Minneapolis, Hodges knows the hard work some companies are putting in to become more equitable and inclusive. But she also sees others taking a more performative approach, which led her to write the forthcoming From Ally to Accomplice: How to Lead as a Fierce Antiracist. Hodges has graciously agreed to serve as editor at large of TCB Forward, a newsletter designed to create a safe space for open dialogue about working toward equity and inclusion in our business community. It launches Feb. 15. And you can be sure Hodges won’t hold back.

“We’re in this place of feeling pretty proud of ourselves because we’re not where we were, while knowing deep down inside that we’re not where we need to be,” Hodges says. “I have companies saying to me, ‘We don’t have any transgender employees—why do we need to discuss pronouns?’ I tell them, some of your employees have trans kids. And in 10 years, that’s who you’re going to be trying to recruit to your office. There’s no harm in being inclusive, and the consequences of not doing this work are huge.”

“We’re in this place of feeling pretty proud of ourselves because we’re not where we were, while knowing deep down inside that we’re not where we need to be.”

—Seena Hodges, The Woke Coach

TCB Forward will include advice and examples from Hodges’ work, suggested readings and podcasts, and perspective from other local leaders on the same journey. I asked Hodges to share some thoughts on the initiative.

What motivates you?

Seena Hodges: I see this work as the responsibility of everybody. One of my core beliefs is that racial equity is the defining issue of our time. If you see something that’s wrong, you have to fix it. To move away from that is unethical. We have to figure out how to create environments and company cultures that foster positivity, high levels of collaboration, the ability for people to show up as their full self so they can be better [for] the people they seek to serve.

What’s your goal for this newsletter?

SH: Minnesota is one of these states that masquerades as this wonderful, idyllic place. When I moved here, I thought, “These are the best white people I’ve ever met!” Then you start peeling back the layers and see we have some of the largest disparities in the country. This newsletter is an opportunity for people to be more reflective, to stop saying things are OK when they’re really not.

What’s different about the calls you receive today versus in the summer of 2020? 

SH: In 2020, there was urgency to engage in the work as quickly as possible so you could convey that to your customer base. [DEI professionals] were like, “Welcome. Thanks for finally showing up.” Now the calls come from some who still haven’t started the work and realize they’re far behind, some who are realizing their approach wasn’t strategically aligned, and some who want to continue adding to their tool kit.

What do you tell the companies that think they checked the box and can move away from DEI work?

SH: The truth of our circumstance is that change and progress take time. If you divest from this work today, you’re going to feel the reverberations five years from now, and by then, you’ll be even further behind than when you started. Stop focusing solely on metrics if you haven’t worked to change culture.

What gives you hope?

Read more from this issue

SH: I have hope every time I see someone is a “first.” It’s an indication of progress, and I want us to keep naming them to spotlight, “Wow, we’re that far behind? We never had that?” Now we have that. I’d love for folks to take greater accountability, to stretch beyond their wildest dreams around equity and inclusion.

You can sign up for TCB Forward at tcbmag.com/newsletter-sign-up.