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Transcript: Interview With Tracie Daniels

August 6, 2020

In our latest podcast episode, Maureen talks with Tracie Daniels, president of Synergy Consulting, a human capital management consulting firm, about diversity, equity and inclusion — why these should be a focus for businesses and how to get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations. Listen to the full podcast here.


Maureen: Welcome to leading forward the Virginia Society of CPAs podcasts, where we focus on innovation leadership and the CPA profession. I'm your host, Maureen Dingus. And I invite thought leaders for sure, casual conversations on topics and trends important to the success of the CPA profession. This episode is part of our series on how the VSEP members are managing and even thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks for listening, and I wish you all could help. All right, welcome to leading forward today. We are talking with Tracie Daniels. She is with synergy consulting and Tracy joined us at our leader summit back a couple of months ago and did a great presentation on diversity inclusion and why it matters. She is working with our members on a lot of different projects in this area coming to talk to us about this topic, and she's been gracious enough to live with some more of her time on this topic.

Maureen: So, welcome Tracie.

Tracie: Thank you. Maureen. Happy to be here talking to you. It's a wonderful subject.

Maureen: Tracie, give us a little bit of a background on your company, and then while you're at it, a little bit of your leadership journey, how did you get to where you are today with what organization?

Tracie: Excellent. Thank you. Thank you. Well, my company, I should mention synergy consulting and we focus on human capital management. What that means is we focus on the people and the structure for the purpose of the organs. So we do a lot of consulting and training in leadership development, strategic planning, diversity and inclusion, change management, and organizational development and design. So we touch a lot of areas. That's really rooted and grounded in the OT space, which is kind of where I got my start. So my story dates back to over well over 20 years I've always been in the training space and I've worked in a number of sectors, right?

So I've worked from everything to financial services, mortgage banking, telecommunications, nonprofit and even governments in some, in some cases. And so, but through my journey in those sectors, I've always been in the ODI and human resources space. So I'm always connected to the people side organization. And so when you say ODI, you mean organizational development, organizational design, organizational, sorry, C. So we use resources, we use acronyms so well, you know, we're the CPA world, so we have our fair share too. So, all right. It is you, we just don't know you're fine. The same page. Absolutely. Thank you, organizational development. And so I've always been in that space and my journey to leadership and what took me to open my own company or start my own company was a pretty lengthy one, but a pretty exciting one. Again, I've worked in a lot of sectors doing a lot of wonderful work in organizational development and training and strategic planning.

I had the opportunity with one of mine for years to work on a national level program. And I don't know if you all might remember the mortgage crisis of 2008, right? That was such a critical and hardship time in our country as a result of that car, the mortgage crisis, the Obama administration developed a HAMP program or making home affordable program all MHA. And at the time I was recruited by Fannie Mae. Cause I can say that Fannie Mae because the government had partnered with anybody in Freddie Mac to be sort of the, to spearhead the program. Right? And so my role at Fannie Mae was to oversee the education awareness piece of it. And so that was exciting for me because I got to really touch the people that we were making a difference in. We would go to different bar outreach events, where individuals who were having trouble with their longs or trouble staying in their home could get immediate help from the lenders.

And it was just a wonderful experience. And that really changed the way I viewed learning and development. And so I'd left any may. I went on to work in other organizations, but I had a different, I that point I started thinking more about diversity inclusion, all of those things that make organizations great. So at my next job, that's with a mortgage servicing company, I stood up the diversity and inclusion program. And so I just started operating in that space a lot. And during that time I managed to get my master's degree in counseling. So I performed as operating as a therapist part-time, I get extra time, right. My expertise, right. Again, people connections. So I was always drawn in and am drawn to the connection with people. So it's not surprising that I created a firm that focuses on human capital and that people connection. That is what drives me. It is what continues to drive me. And it's what I'm most proud of and excited about. Yeah.

Maureen: Yeah. Well, that is your passion definitely shines through. So what I w what I hoped that we could talk about today is the leadership imperative, the leadership role in making diversity and inclusion counts. You know, you mentioned you had worked in a diversity and inclusion program. A lot of organizations have had initiatives, or they've had discussions, and now we're, you know, it's July 2020, and it's, it's different, it's a different world. Everything's changed. This has come to the forefront. I don't want it to hear a little bit from you about, I think that we know why it's different, but how is it really different? And how has leadership's role changed from maybe when you were having these discussions with organizations a year ago? Right. Right.

Tracie: That's such a fantastic question because I w I was having conversations with organizations a year ago, talking about diversity and inclusion and for a number of them that wasn't a priority. It was, Oh, leadership is great. Let's, let's do leadership. Or I think we need change management, or let's focus in strategic planning, but diversity and inclusion just was not in the forefront of their organizational landscape or mindset. And I was curious as to why, because as I look around organizations, I know we have a problem with, you know, a disproportionate number of professionals of color represented. And so that should always be a concern, an issue, something that is raised now in this climate it's right in front of us, and we can no longer ignore the audience. And so now that it's right in front of us, what are we going to do? And so the difference is before there was nothing really forcing a change, there's nothing really, you know, the executives were thinking, yeah, it's important, but there are a lot of other things more important. Now that is the most important thing. And not just one executive is saying it, but hundreds of executives, everyone is saying it. And so, you know, that whole let's join in with what everybody else is doing is taking, is taken hold and having an impact. And that is the biggest difference.

Maureen: Yeah. And from what I can see, it's they're taking notice because their customers are taking notice their staff and their employees are taking notice that their family members are taking it.

Tracie: Absolutely. It is. It is one of those things where when you start seeing sponsors drop you or things like that's when it becomes like, wow, this is something that, yes, we should have been paying attention to years ago, but now we really have the blinders have to. Absolutely. You know, and so now what, right. So now that the blinders are off, how do we move forward? What do we do? How do we begin? And those are the conversations I'm in now with barriers clients, how do we get started? Where do we start? What is diversity and inclusion? How much money should we put in our budget? What should our budget looks like? You know, those types of questions, which are great questions, but the most important question is where do we start?

You know? And that's where we can have the greatest impact. So when we work with clients and talk with clients about a starting point, it's different for every client, because some organizations have been doing a little bit of work. Others haven't done anything at all. And some have really progressed, you know, to the point that they have a department or in a chief diversity officer, but the efforts aren't as robust as they can be. So there's their clients and organizations and companies are at different stages with this. And now it's, how do we get better? What do we do? How do we get better? I was talking with a colleague just last week and she was talking about people in her sector. We going to somewhere, her crawling somewhere, walking somewhere running's, but they all wanted to go to that next place. It's just like, what you're saying is how do we get better at this?

How do we give this more attention? Yes. And that's the critical question because that's a loaded question, right? Because I was just actually a part of you know, sort of a, an ad hoc grassroots zoom call, where we talked about the social injustice and really talk candidly about race with just a random group of colleagues and colleagues of colleagues. And we all came together and we talked about, you know, the social justice or social injustice movement that's happening and how we felt about it. And let's really candidly talk about race. And it was interesting because I come from the perspective of being a minority and working with organizations in the diversity and inclusion space. My question is after the protest, right? And after the statutes are pulled down or whatever. So in two, three months, two to three months, what then, what are we, what will we be doing? How do we make what we're doing now, sustainable? How do we make what we're doing now important enough to stay around? And so that's the question now. So instead of what, what do we do now? It's how do we make what we do count and last because we don't want this to be a trend. You know, you don't want this to be a hashtag or it's more than just a hashtag. So how do we have, how do we implement strategies that will provide lasting and sustainable returns on our diversity equity?

Maureen:So when you're maybe meeting with leaders or just thinking about leaders, are there certain characteristics that are making people more successful just in their, their leadership suite? Or are there maybe a better question is places where they're challenging themselves personally, to move the, move the needle on this in their organization. And I'm just wondering if maybe someone's looking to themselves, I'm wondering, where do I need to grow? How can I be personally affective in leading my organization,

Tracie: Yeah. And that's a great, insightful question because leaders have had to ask themselves, they've had to look inward. And so self-awareness has become a critical byproduct right. Of what has been happening in the past two months. And so leaders are, have different perspectives, but all of them are now forced and have been forced to pick up some self-awareness, particularly if you're a Caucasian leader, you know, and your lookout at your organization or company, and say, how do we get here? You know, some organizations may be predominantly Caucasian. And so you'll see maybe some, or there's little to no minority representation in leadership. How did we get here? Right. And it's clear how we got here. And that's just because, you know, a bias that happens. And we talk about that a little bit, but now what, in terms of introspectively, what do I need to do to change the world around me?

And how will that have an impact on my leadership of this organization? So a lot of leaders are asking for input, which again was not happening to 30 years ago. So now they are willing to be humble and listen, and not just listen or try and make something happen from what their employees are telling. Right. That's, that's what I've been seeing. And that is the, that's another piece that's going to make the difference in really helping this movement to be sustainable.

Maureen: You hear a lot about people talking and saying we need to be more comfortable having uncomfortable conversations. And you know what, I think that I've started to have some that, you know, maybe intentional or not, but how, I mean, what does that even look like? Is it, you know, we have a staff meeting and we bring up a subject or I meet with an individual. What, how are these uncomfortable situations or uncomfortable conversations happening right now that you've seen and are bringing fruitful you know, bringing good things after the uncomfortableness assets.

Tracie: So I think the, you know, what makes the uncomfortable conversations uncomfortable is that people don't know how others are going to react or respond to what they're going to say. So this whole idea around political correctness and what to say and what not to say, particularly in the workplace, right. Has been, you know, really strong over the past 10 years. So we have to watch what we say in the workplace that along with now, when you have racial injustice and you understand that the blinders are off with the systemic racism that has been in place even before we were here, right. How do you have those conversations and what those conversations look like? Well, they look a lot like talking about race as, as you see.

So I'm a black woman. So let's talk about what it means to be a black woman working in this organization, you know, and I could be talking to a Latino coworker an Asian coworker, a white coworker, well, let's start talking about what it means for me and how my experience may be different than yours. And here's why I'm a woman also. Right. And so what might that look like when I'm talking to a male counterpart and my experience in this ordinance? So it's just making sure that we can be open with our diet and our lingo without people looking at us. And I think, I think the stigma is now starting to be slowly removed because people are more comfortable saying you're a white man, and it's okay to say that, you know, you're a white man or you're a gay man, or you're a gay woman, and let's talk about, or your trans woman.

And let's talk about what that means for you in this organization because we want to be accepting and we want to value all differences. So I think the first part of making those uncomfortable, uncomfortable conversations, less uncomfortable is to get rid of the stigma associated with the lingo that we were scared to use. So it's just being open and talking and addressing people as they are. And, you know, and that makes you feel more comfortable. That starts to make you feel more comfortable. And then you can start having conversations about what kind of work do you do? Well, I've been doing this well, great. If you go to college and you start finding differences, right. And you might find that your counterparts probably didn't have the education, you didn't grow up the way you grew up. And so that begins a long dialogue on, okay, now I understand. Or at least I get, I have some awareness of your world, which hasn't happened in organizations in probably forever. We haven't been comfortable having.

Maureen: Yeah. Yeah. I definitely hear what you're saying about the nervousness around the lingo and it's, you know, going to the extreme of not just being so bland. And so everything's the same when it, when it's, when it's not it's you, are you that's all right. And I'm me, and we want to be those things, but we want to be treated in a fair way. Totally. Yeah, absolutely. What are the questions that I hear quite a bit around diversity and inclusion is the idea of adding the word equity. So that's more, I'm hearing that more and more diversity equity and inclusion, and I'd love to hear, just help us understand those words. How do they play together? How are they unique? How do we need to think about them?

Tracie: Yeah, no, that's great. And, you know, it's interesting because the work that we have been doing committee. We are setting up in different organizations typically are called DNI committees. So diversity and inclusion committees, and then you know, clients who say, well, should we include X student would be that diversity, equity and inclusion.

It's almost like, okay, but the, you know, the, you see, right. The political correct is let's make sure we call it what, what would mean to call it. And that's fine. But the, you know, the, the reality is equity has always been a part of diversity and inclusion. It just hasn't been out, but it's always been a part. So you have the diversity piece, which speaks to what I like to call the quantitative side. So it's a measure of how much of your differences you have represented in your organization, whether that's gender, race, ethnicity, et cetera, right. That is the quantitative side. And you have inclusion, which is that qualitative side. It's that piece that you can't quite touch. It's that feeling of connectedness is that feeling of having the employees understand and accept that I can be my authentic self. Is that feeling of respect, is that feeling of being included?

Tracie: So that's the, what I call it then the qualitative side. And then you have equity, which is interwoven in all of those things because you cannot have diversity without examining equity, when you certainly can't have inclusion without looking at how equity plays a role in that. And so calling it out, I think, is the right thing to do. But it's always been there. You know, equity has always been there because when you go in, let me give you an example, when you, you can have diversity without inclusion, right? And this is what I typically say, but you can't have inclusion without diversity. And here's an example of diversity without inclusion. So you can have a good mix if you will, of differences represented, and we'll use professionals of colors. We'll use people of color. You can have, I don't know, 30% of your organizational population being people of color, but you can also have zero people of color and leadership, zero people of color in front-facing positions.

So you might have them, you know, and administrative side. And so that is not inclusion. When you want to see is the diversity out. You want to see that inclusion and that equity that's where it comes in the equity too. And so when, when we think of equity and I want to call this out to equity does not mean equal equity means fair. I just wanna make sure because, and what that means is what you're doing on this side should be done on this side. So if there are pay increases for this set of these groups, there also needs to be paying increases for these groups. So it's about fairness and it, and, and, and, and, and, and focused on how we shift our thinking around promotions, our thinking around who we hire our thinking around, Hey, you know, that, that is where the equity comes in. We've been talking for a long time, right. About equal pay for the same work. That is the classic definition of equity. And we're getting there, we are getting there, but there is still, you know a difference in how much women get paid versus, or in relation to men. But that's not a work in progress. Right. We're going in the right direction. Right.

Maureen: Right. So you know, you touched on a little bit with the hiring, the promotion, the pay, it sounds like that's something that just that organizations could take a step back and to look at, look at that. I mean, that's, that's no small thing to just have some insightfulness about maybe they, they don't realize that they're only hiring their friends and that's, what's horrible. Their, their lack of diversity and inclusion, but they feel like, well, you know, this is a safe hire. This is they fit the culture.

Yeah. Yeah. Well, wait. So when we do DNI examinations, there are sort of five core areas, right. That we want to look at. So there's recruitment selection, there's compensation promotion, and then there's organizational culture. Right? And so the recruitment selection, compensation and promotion tend to be those areas where we see a lot of inequity and a lot of exclusion. Because you said people not so much, yes. They hire their friends, but they ha is that affinity bias at work, right. They hire people that are in their circle that remind them of them that look like them, you know, and it just perpetuates. And what's equally important to realize is no matter what mix you have, you could have a predominantly black or predominantly Asian organization. And that affinity bias will still be at work. Right. So we're just not talking about you know, white people have an affinity bias.

Everyone has it. Everyone has to, because you tend to hire those that look like you, or those that remind you of you. And so, because our, most of our biases, right, are unconscious, it's systemic. It just happens. And so diversity and inclusion efforts have to be deliberate. It has to be intentional, which means you have to have some type of intervention. That's going to come in, stop the cycle of that. I'll give you an example. Employee referrals sounds great. Right? A lot of small companies thrive on that because they're thinking, Oh, the best way to grow is hire people. You know, employees hire they trust, but what does that do that perpetuates this affinity bias hiring. And so we come in and say, Nope, you're going to have to make sure employee referral program, because that is working again, right. Your diversity and inclusion efforts are things to sort of adjusting to because that's something that's been a part of their culture. And I love employee referral. So I think if you're large enough, right. If you're a large enough organization to absorb that, then yeah. Employee referral programs are great, but if you're smaller, they impede your progress or promoting diversity.

Then you have to think about whether people want to come to work for you in the first place. Right? So that's part of that recruitment selection. And a lot of that has to do with, with how you brand yourself, pictures on websites, pictures of all the executive team or pictures of all the board of directors may maybe looking, or someone may be looking saying, wow, I don't see anybody that looks like me there. I wonder if the whole organization, so organizations and leaders, we have to be mindful of that. We have to, especially with the millennial population, I love talking about this group, but the millennial population will make up 75% of the workforce. And just for sure. And they are very different than any other generation in that they are deliberate about where they want to work and they have high standards and they look for diverse workplaces. So they're going to your website, they're looking up your ward members and they're looking up the, you know, the bios and then they're making the decisions that way the organizations really have to be informed about even getting to even, excuse me, even having people get to you, you know, how do you present yourself? How are you representing yourself?

Maureen: Yeah. I had a conversation with a CPA member who really wanted to he, you know, he was committed to having a more diverse firm and he made the comment of, they were all white male and female mix, but he said, why, why would I want to work here if I came for an interview and I was a person of color, what in the world would make me take that leap? So he felt kind of stuck in this. I don't know how I'm going to get past this, even though it was something that he, he talked a lot about and wanted to, to breakthrough. So I, how, how does a small company who maybe has that kind of that insight, what would make me want to work here with when there is a diversity right now?

Tracie: Right, right, right. And so the strategies, again, diversity inclusion has to be deliberate. So your sourcing channels have to change. You cannot use the same sourcing channels. You have to be very targeted and deliberate in your searches. You know, are you looking at minority affiliation? How are you tapping in to get those human resources that you're trying to get? And so LinkedIn, everybody uses LinkedIn. Linkedin has pictures. Listen, I love LinkedIn, but LinkedIn has visual pictures and right away I assist kick in on those visual cues. And so we'll see a resume come across your desk. Our managers are likely to look them up on LinkedIn, right? Visual cues bias, kicks in. So it's important that you do more than just LinkedIn, more than just indeed. You have to do some true targeted channels to get at the, or get at the population you're trying to attract. The accounting profession has a number of minority affiliations, right? Whether it's Asian, Latino black reach out, get connected and built, just reach out and get connected, but partner develop a relationship. So that the only time they're not hearing from you is when you need people, you know, have a relationship with those entities. And that is really gonna foster your diverse pipeline. So really understanding and having a broad net with your sourcing strategies and developing relationships that you didn't have before with partners that have people in the areas of interest.

Maureen: Right. I love the idea of developing the relationships because I think that it's I heard I was talking with another expert in this area and she said, you know, you, you can't just show up and expect it. You know, you need to use the term, you need to show up where they grow up, you know, go to the students, go to the universities and foster relationships. It's, it's not it's you, you've got to put some work into it.

Tracie: Absolutely. That's great. I like that girl where they show up. When I grew up in the counseling profession, we would use meet them where they are. Right. So, you know, same difference. Right? You gotta get it. And that's a deliberate tactic, right. That is a deliberate tactic. And so if we continue to use what we've done in the past, it's not going to work. Right. So we have to change that and we have to change that drastically. And it has to be.

Maureen: Well, Tracy, I know that we could talk all day about this, but I have chatted a few times already and I learned something every time. So I really want to thank you for your time. But before we sign off, I know that a lot of us have been managing through being locked down and living a new world and living a new life. I'd love to hear from you of what you've done to manage through the stresses of the world that we're in right now.

Tracie: You know, it's interesting. Because I'm a people person and I haven't been around a lot of people. But ironically, I had to deliver, I was asked to deliver our stress management workshop about a month ago. And you know, it's almost like practicing what you preach because I learned a lot in my research in developing that workshop. But the big takeaway for me was really identifying the source of the stress that is so important, identifying the source of the stress and dealing with that soul. Because if you ultimately haven't identified it, it's never going to go away. It's just going to mask itself and you'll show up in different parts, whether it's physiological, mental, physical, right. It's going to show up somewhere. So identify the source of that stress and all the research that I've conducted on stress management. Two strategies came out over and over again, and that was exercise and sleep. And I know people hear that all the time, but through this, through this experience in my research, I understood why the exercise and sleep connection was stolen and not so much that it helps release stress.

It does because it releases endorphins and all of that stuff. But the physical exercise and the sleep can help safeguard against the physical things that step, the stress can put on your body, the mental impediments that stress can have on your body. That's why exercise and sleep are so important. So it safeguards your body and your mind against those stresses. So that was like light bulb went off like, wow. You know, and that's why it's so important. So I've been exercising and I've been getting my sleep when I can, because I know that those two things are important. And this has sort of become a way of life right now. And I know that it's going to get better, but you know, just as anything else we're resilient. And so you manage through it and you figure out a way to work within that change.

Maureen: Right. It's really sleep and exercise. And a lot of other things we've gone back to the simple