Ayana King took a job in senior living almost by chance, while finishing her degree in communications. Like many who enter senior living, she fell in love with the industry. Before a year was up at her new job, she was promoted to corporate level.
Now she is CEO and founder of her own business, Maximum Communications, LLC (getmaxcomms.com), a consulting agency in public relations and media—and hosts national workshops on diversity, equity, and inclusion for corporate executives.
In a recent interview, she shared some highlights of what she’s seen change in the DEI world since this summer, the value of getting back to basics, and what companies do right (and what they get wrong).
Q. As we were corresponding, you mentioned that people often don’t understand the basics of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Can you share some of these fundamentals?
A. When I think of diversity, I think of representation—as many voices and as many experiences as possible.
We all have in groups and out groups. It’s perfectly natural. Inclusion is purposefully bringing folks from out groups inside.
Often people incorrectly define equity as equality. Equity to me is the precursor for equality. People who are serious about adapting a strategy that embraces and encourages equity understand that fairness is not going to happen naturally; we are going to have some biases that keep us from really seeing people as equals. Equity is all the things that you do intentionally to make sure that equality is attainable in your organization.
I have an analogy that I use in my workshops: I’m a foodie, and I often use examples designed and created around food. I think of diversity as the dinner invitation. Inclusion is your place setting, your seat at the table. And equity is all access to the menu.
If you come to my house for a dinner party—we’re carnivores, we eat all the meats. We love seafood. But I’m also going to have a ton of vegan options available. Because anybody who comes to my party and sits at my table knows that this menu is for you, too.
Q. That is a great analogy. How does that play out in practice?
A. Maybe it means looking at how you hire and who you partner with. We say we want diverse teams, but do we have a way where we are now going to engage our team members, especially those from marginalized groups, and put them to on a path to success? Are we looking at the ways we interview folks? I tell people: Unconscious bias shows up before your candidate does.
Q. With so many paying attention to their diversity programs in the wake of the year’s grief, can you point to both one big mistake and one big correct move you see organizations tend to make?
A. What really spearheaded the changes was the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. Organizations started making statements or put up the black tile instead of their profile picture. I think they were well-intended. They made statements—and sometimes empty promises. And when your team members leave, they talk about that happening.
But on the flip side of that, some organizations, both in and out of the senior living industry, did very well. They didn’t put up the black tile, they didn’t make a statement. What they did instead was some self-reflection. They said: This is not something that I’m an expert in. It’s not something that I understand very well, but I want to understand.
Having that awareness and having the humility to have these kinds of conversations and engage in the conversations with professionals as a team, and especially with the C-suite as executives, was so very valuable.
When we look at diversity with our eyes only, we forget about all the other types of diversity. There’s socioeconomic status, of course, the LGBTQ-plus community, workers who are differently abled workers who are older—we might leave these other areas out.
You remember my dinner party analogy. It is inviting those folks to the table, valuing their opinions, asking them what they see.
We get caught up in thinking, well, now I have to know everything about the Black community, or now I have to watch everything I say around women. We’re thinking about it in the wrong way.
When we embrace inclusion, and we take all of these different types of representation, all of these out-groups, and bring them in, we learn naturally—because we are in community together. So when you commune with someone, when you include them—when you make trust and empathy as important as your bottom line—your teams benefit from that.
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