Originally published on CrainsDetroit.com. To view the original story, click here.
Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are stated core beliefs many businesses value. It’s been 50 years since the Detroit ’67 riots, so I started to reflect on the status of DEI across the region. While there were many ’67 discussions over the last several weeks and months regarding the potential root causes for the uprising, I wondered where we are today — specifically, in business — what challenges remain and how to address them going forward.
With many well-documented events recently nationally and locally, have we seen marked improvements when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion? And what more needs to be done?
Throughout his 43-year banking career in Detroit, my late father, Aubrey W. Lee Sr., was a champion for diversity and always believed in inclusiveness. His core values centered around the diversity of people, thoughts and ideas while respecting everyone’s input and opinions. He, along with my mother, shared those values within our family and beyond.
With this backdrop, I wanted to get a perspective on the state of DEI across the Detroit region. Is it better, worse or the same and what will it take to continue to enhance DEI across the landscape, irrespective of business size?
I recently talked to Nikki Pardo, owner of Global Alliance Solutions, a Detroit-based diversity training company that provides a highly interactive experience while on a journey through unconscious/implicit bias and inclusion and arriving at acceptance.
Pardo, who describes herself as a champion and advocate for equality and inclusion, shared her thoughts with me recently.
Lee: What’s new since the last time we talked?
Pardo: My company and I have grown significantly, together. Although I started Global Alliance three years ago, I feel like I evolved significantly within the last last year and a half. It seems like the first year and a half I was in an incubation phase. I am glad I allotted myself that time. I have now landed very comfortably within the quadrants of law enforcement, corporations, nonprofits and school districts. As of this month, I have facilitated trainings for almost 40 clients and I am extremely grateful that Global Alliance is becoming synonymous with diversity training.
Recently, I have been told when the topic of inclusion and equality training surfaces, my name is one of the first consultants mentioned, which is amazing! I am now certified by the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES) and I can train any law enforcement agency in Michigan, I was appointed to the board of the Hispanic Police Officers Association-Detroit Chapter, and to the Multi-Cultural Advisory Council of the FBI-Detroit Division.
I have also added a community voice component to Global Alliance, which is The Pack. I host conversations throughout Detroit that cover topics related to race, community, integration, inclusion and acceptance. The Pack is now an official partner of The Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion and the Detroit Historical Museum’s Detroit 67 Project.
Lee: When you started, why did you focus on DEI?
Pardo: My focus has consistently been on diversity, equity and inclusion work. I have not, or will I ever, stray from this work. It is in my blood. My father was Father Cunningham’s financial henchman and helped him build the Focus: Hope Food Distribution Center and lobbied for funding from Washington, D.C., so Detroiters could have access to food while being treated with dignity and respect. While my father was a vice president of National Bank of Detroit (now Chase Bank), he fought tirelessly against redlining to ensure people of color had access to mortgages and equitable resources.
I actually started Global Alliance after working as an investigator for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights for almost a decade, hitting the glass ceiling, leaving and then working for an employer that “allegedly” discriminated against me. We settled and part of the settlement agreement was for me to resign, effective immediately. For my MBA, I created a diversity training and consulting company for my Capstone project, and once I started breathing life into my business plan, it took on a life of its own!
Lee: Please define DEI and its importance in today’s business environment. Are there still issues today?
Pardo: There are definitely diversity, equity and inclusion issues in the workplace today. I believe the election we just went through gave people the green light and granted them permission and freedom to say and commit racially offensive acts without the fear of consequences. It is inevitable that this same freedom spills into the workplace, communities, law enforcement agencies, school districts, health care industry, just to name a few. It’s the law of human nature.
However, it becomes detrimental to business environments if no training for staff, especially for managers, is brought in either to triage or educate them on ways to prevent a disastrous and costly situation from happening. I also do not think we have moved the needle on people of color having seats at decision-making tables. I charge leaders with the task of looking around their table and if everyone looks like them it’s time to either reset the table or make room to add more chairs.
Lee: What is the current state of DEI in across the Detroit’s business community?
Pardo: It is imperative that owners, C-suites, directors and managers keep in mind they are working within a city that is made of approximately 85 percent people of color and highly qualified residents beyond the 7.2 miles downtown. I believe more effort can be placed toward recruitment and the casting of a wider net to ensure inclusion on all levels such race, age, socio-economic, perspectives and experiences. Detroit’s business community is also changing. It is no longer just corporations, headquarters, chains and franchises operating in the city, but small businesses as well.
I teach for the small business incubator Build Institute and the graduates are almost 75 percent people of color with cohorts all over the city, so resources, capital and access has to be equitable across the board.
Lee: You have partnered with several organizations for diversity training. What types of services are offered and what makes Global Alliance Solutions unique?
Pardo: I have been fortunate enough to partner and work with almost 40 organizations, and even more have reached out and are eager to collaborate within the next few months! What makes Global Alliance unique is as a civil rights investigator I enforced civil rights laws through the Michigan Attorney General’s Offices and I was also on the other side of the coin and experienced discrimination personally. I work with clients to help them prevent discrimination-related lawsuits, grievances, EEOC charges, and brand destruction, and take their staff through a series of simulations linked to bias, stereotyping, inclusion, and acceptance.
I believe what also makes me unique is my ability to connect with my participants by creating a warm, welcoming, intimate space where they can be vulnerable and walk away with new perspectives. After every training, the evaluations always reveal an awakening and participants comments state they are more aware of their biases and triggers.
Lee: What would you tell people who believe it has improved relative to a decade ago, for example?
Pardo: In all honesty, I have not seen progress within the last decade. I left the Michigan Department of Civil Rights seven years ago and ethnic intimidation, hate crimes and allegations of discrimination seem to be ramping up. In fact, the MDCR had to set up a hotline number exclusive for schools to reports of intimidation and racial incidents. It is equally disturbing when I meet with clients and sometimes the things said and done are more offensive than what I heard while investigating over 300 allegations at the MDCR. I thought I had heard it all.
Since the election, my company is now booked through December and calls continue to come in for more reactive training and less proactive.
Lee: And yet, there are still obstacles. What are they specifically, and how are they overcome?
Pardo: The largest obstacle is not having your workforce adequately trained, from the C-suite to support staff. Instead of cutting the check on the back end, cut the check on the front end and invest in leadership development training. Do not wait for an incident to occur and then they are in triage mode. Although I do not mind doing crisis management, the best feeling is going into a company that is being proactive, there is no feeling of tension and positive vibes are flowing. Also, I recommend dealing with incidents immediately when they occur. Do not wait to dissect the layers because once resentment kicks in, innovation can gridlock, and your brand can be effected, which all can be hard to rebound back from.
Make sure you assemble a diverse team, have someone assigned to view things through an equity lens, not just racial, and make your employees feel valued and appreciated while working in an inclusive environment.