In episode 35 of Mission: Impact, Carol, her cohost, Peter Cruz, and their guest, Nathaniel Benjamin discuss diversity, equity and inclusion and its intersection with human capital management. This episode is a release of a podcast Carol planned to start with her son-in-law and has many transferrable ideas and concepts to the nonprofit sector. We talk about:
Nathaniel Benjamin approaches the space of Diversity and Inclusion as not only a profession, but as a passion that’s taken hold of his life’s work. As a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, his educational endeavors led him into a marketable career in Human Resources -- working in the C-suite level --managing workforce planning, strategy, policy and talent management. But to “really” understand how an organization works, he later found that you must understand its people… the diversity of those who make an organization thrive. He brings 17 years of experience as an organizational Change Agent and a D&I Strategist, ready to exceed your organizational needs.
Nathaniel Benjamin:Peter J. Cruz:
Carol Hamilton: Today’s episode of Mission Impact is a little different. As with episode 33 where I had on Stephen Graves and Peter Cruz – this is another of the series of interviews I did with Peter on diversity equity and inclusion. I worked on a short project with my son in law Peter Cruz and New family obligations in the form of his son, my grandson and new career directions meant that we just did 5 interviews and 5 episodes. I am going to feature those episodes on my podcast feed. While each of the people that we talk to in this series do not necessarily focus on the nonprofit sector, there is a lot to learn from each conversation. Today Peter and I talk to Nathaniel Benjamin. Nathaniel is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, His career has been in Human Resources -- working in the C-suite level --managing workforce planning, strategy, policy and talent management. With a special focus on diversity equity and inclusion
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Peter Cruz: So this week we have Nate Benjamin. How are you doing Nate? I am. Well, how are you, Peter?
Nathaniel Benjamin: I'm doing well. I'm doing really well. I'm halfway there halfway to feeling very well.
Peter: So for our audience, could you introduce yourself and your professional background?
Nathaniel: Absolutely. So I'm Nate Benjamin. I am, I have been in the industry for about 17 years. worked in the space of human capital as well as inclusion, equity, and diversity. I do small projects with my business Benjamin and associates consulting group. But from a full-time perspective, I am a senior executive for a federal agency.
Peter: The industry that you're talking about is diversity equity inclusion, right. And hence your presence here. I think one, the first question that we want to start off with is, So I've been recently unemployed, due to budgetary cuts as a result of COVID and have been trying to make the switch over to becoming a diversity equity, inclusion professional, and having that be like my main function. but in my search, I found that these roles exist in different departments, whether in the for-profit space, government space or nonprofit space, but mostly they require some human resource experience. So, from your perspective, do you think that DEI strategies and their rollout and that whole part of their infancy belongs or should be responsible for human resources are probably living in different departments.
Nathaniel: Yeah, that's a good question. So I think part of it is, I do think it depends on your organization, right? So, I do think that based on organization, there are times where it should be aligned with your human capital or human resources program, but then depending on the organization, maybe things that are going on, culture as well, there are times where I think that DEI should be aligned directly direct report to your, to your senior leaders, to your CEO or your, your team operating officer, if you will. So I do think that they belong somewhere together. We'll tell you where I don't think it belongs if I can go there. Against it being within the equal employment opportunity space because this organization that is focused, oftentimes in EEO is, is a needed function, but it's very compliance for, and I am very, this is a part of the organization its culture, it's what we're supposed to be doing. And so it impacts your human capital. So you have to be able to take it out of a compliance exercise and put it in a place where it can stand on. and if it's within human capital, it should still be a function that's supporting your overall human capital strategy because diversity is about your people. And it's about the experiences that these people leverage. So for me, if I were to create the perfect organization, your human capital in terms of your processes, then you look at culture, you look at engagement and belonging, and then you look at diversity. And all of those areas together to me is the, the, the strongest framework to create a human capital, centric culture.
Peter: That makes a lot of sense. I think from some of my personal experiences that the human resources staff at an organization is very minimal. and they are responsible for a multitude of different things and to add on diversity equity inclusion on top of that just doesn't seem to work at all. So in, in like, yeah, going backtracking, Is it more of a development and training type of function that they should live just so it promotes that internal exercises and then builds those internal muscles that we should have?
Nathaniel: So, I think there needs to be partnership with your learning and development group. It should live there at all. generally I always look at learning and development as a part still as a subset. I mean, And then if you diversity and inclusion under learning and development, you are devaluing the actual program because you're saying that it belongs under two layers under your human capital strategy. So me, I would want to see either diversity and inclusion equal to your human capital or infused into your human. But to put it lower in the organization, it sets a tone, even if that's not beaten. And then going back to something you said in terms of the human resources, generally being understaffed, which is a common theme across the industry. But if an organization is committed to diversity and inclusion, then they have to be able to. Find the resources, the best support, because DEI should not be an ad hoc responsibility. It should be of your organization. And so when you have your, whatever, your mission is, your human capital strategy is going to align to your overall organization. A DEI is missing from that. Then you're missing the opportunity to hit the mark when it comes to whatever your mission is focused it's as well. So we can't put it in like a backroom activity. It needs to be on the forefront and it needs to have the exposure.
Carol: Yeah. In terms of. To really have it infused throughout the organization, not just throughout the human capital strategy really is talking about, in, in most cases I would guess, some sort of culture change and, and that, that's a, that's a huge endeavor. I was listening to another podcast where the person talked about, I'm always listening to Brene Brown's podcasts. So it was probably one of hers. And, she was saying the, how, if, if they're going into an organization and working with an organization, if DEI is not infused, and if the HR folks are not on the leadership team, they're not working with the organization because that structure alone just shows how it's either valued or not.
Nathaniel: Correct. And, and even adding into the human capital stress. Diversity and inclusion needs to be a part of every segment that you have in human capital, bouncy your management. if you break out the layers of human capital, you have things that are dealing with your executive space, your culture, engagement and belonging. You have your performance management, your employee relations, or labor relations, all of these subsets of HR. And you have to use the DEI in that. So. You have supervisors who don't necessarily know how to manage a diverse workforce, right? So how are you holding them accountable, but then how are you also giving them the tools to be successful? So just that sentence alone, you talk, we've talked about diversity and inclusion, learning and development and performance management all in the same breath. So if you start with diversity and inclusion and separate from human capital things are disconnected.
Peter: Yeah. And I think speaking for myself and I probably Carol as well, like being, an entry level brown man and really experienced about when you have. People who don't share your perspective or from a different generation or from a different workforce generation, or you could say, just have a difficult time connecting and, and not really, I guess, being so open with feedback in general, which and I think we'll talk about this in a future episode, but forces you to assimilate in different ways that. Would be a detriment, not only to your career, but also to their progress and furthering themselves and trying to become a better leader or et cetera, et cetera, whatever they're looking for. the question, my next question, cause it seems like we're, we're leaning towards that now. For organizations or for-profits that may be starting this work and a response to 2020 in general. and the previous administration, they're starting to establish DEI, an entity at their organization where it's going to live. And I think that's, we touched on that already, but we're not to put it, whether where, what are some signs. that you would recommend or not signs that you would share that, they are on the right path, that the work that they're starting out to do seems to be working. and what are some things that they would probably want to avoid, when beginning this work?
Nathaniel: Yeah. So, good question. I think it still goes back to the culture of the organization and I think a way to be able to know where you're going and your progress is to incorporate your feedback mechanisms. Right? So what are ways that you are assessing your org? Because what works for organization A might not work for B, but you have to put, to truly do some type of feedback mechanisms and assessments. And so for instance, there are activities that people use that I've used such as stay interviews, right? Stay interviews are a great way to know what's going on in the pulse of your organization and ensure that questions that you have within your stay interview. Are aligned with the segments of, either areas that you want to see growth in or areas that you have concern. And so if you have a view that has 10 questions, how are those questions linked back within your organizational strategy, right? Looking back into your organization. So if you're looking to see, how, how competitive are we with pay? You want to ask questions that are compensation. If you're looking for clues and questions, then you want to make sure that you're asking questions that can best measure, the, the, the inclusion response of those within your org as well. So I think stay interviews are a great way. They're, they're super easy. And they also show that you as an organization have a commitment to your human cap. And you're not asking the questions when people are walking out the door, hear about you now, and I want to see your success. And so give us feedback to tell us what we can then do.
Carol: Go ahead. I think people are very familiar with the exit interview. Can you say a little bit more about what the stay interview is?
Nathaniel: So the stay interview, it's really a pulse check and you can decide at what point you want to have it. So for instance, if you want to do a stay interview at six months, you joined the organization in January and now it's June. I want to do a pulse check with you to see how things are going. And then I want to be able to assess this data based on this information. And that information is what you're seeking. Now what you also have to do, which is extremely important, is not just to do the state interviews, but what are you going to do with the data? Right? Because if people don't trust that anything will be done, then they're not going to be receptive in providing the feedback. So it's going to be able to say, this is the information that we've captured over X amount of time. And so from this amount of time, this is information that you've told them. We've heard you, these are actions that we put into place as a result of what you said and what that does is it fosters, it fosters buy-in and more people will be prone to be responsive because people know that their words help result in changing or at least shifting organizational [culture]. But human capital space if you lose someone, right? If you're losing your employees the amount of time to be able to backfill the position with a fuse, then with the amount of time that it takes to train someone up to the proficiency level of the person that was in the organization before that's. Right. So you can look at what those dollars and what those costs are, and that can range from anywhere from 30 to 60%. And so if an organization wants to be able to best keep their knowledge management within the organization and to be a talent, then the best way to be able to do this is to be able to, leverage your people, keep your retention low and be able to foster an organization that is inclusive. And here's the needs of the organization.
Peter: And this is different from a three month probationary period where your supervisor just brings you in just to see how, whether or not you're sufficiently getting used to everything. It's really getting a deeper knowledge and understanding of that. It's like a, it's like a reverse evaluation of the 360 evaluation at that point. Right. It's like how they are looking back at you if I'm not mistaken, right?
Nathaniel: Yeah. That's a little bit of. looking at it from, from the organization. So it's more macro than mine. And so from a 360, you're looking at it where, what is the feedback from my peers? What's the feedback from, my, my boss and maybe what's the feedback of someone that's one level below. This is looking at the organization in March. And so if this is Peter Cruz enterprises, how does Peter Cruz enterprises? Because there might be 10 different offices or sub organizations, but how does the organization work? And so you're not just doing this bay interview just for your boss and for your staff. You're doing it in, you're trying to measure this across the organization. What also happens with. Is that you're able to then get the data so that you can do comparison breakouts as well. And so for instance, if you have 10 organizations and nine of those organizations have, let's say, let's stay interviews because the attrition is low and then you have one office where the state interviews, we're doing more of them because there's a revolving door. And then we're getting data that shows that these are some of the same issues that we are reporting. Every time someone comes in the door, we now may be able to use the data. Well, we will be able to use the identity, the data to identify things in particular problems that may exist. There may be, it may not be the result of a supervisor. It may be. It may be, we're not really using the smart use of technology. There may be different reasons why people are staying or going, but you're taking the time out on the front end to diagnose what issues you have so that you're treating the disease. And not this.
Peter: So well, first I want to say like, now I need to get a Squarespace or something for Peter Cruz enterprise and before someone else takes that. How regularly should these types of stay interviews?
Nathaniel: So I'm going to go back to the, it depends because you really want to look at organization, right? If you have a turnover of, the average FTE stays within the organization for 18 months and you probably want to do it sooner. Yeah. If you have an organization where the normal turn is five years, maybe you don't want to do it in the first three months. But I would say that that's where human capital and diversity inclusion have to come together because you have to look at the data from the human capital systems perspective to understand like, okay, attrition is telling me this, right? So that's the human capital folks. Now as a diversity expert, what is this data system? And so now that I have this data and it's suggesting perhaps. When we look at our state interviews that this demographic is unhappy in XYZ and the third, well, why are they unhappy with XYZ third? So at that point, the next step may be okay. I'm seeing that this demographic is experiencing these challenges and is likely to look for a new job within the next six to 12 months. So maybe I then do a deeper dive and focus. And that focus group comprises everyone because we're inclusive. But in that focus group, let's kinda like to hear a little bit more and maybe it's bringing in that third party or that outside facilitator where people will be more candid and open and not have the feelings of, there's any type of retribution should they say? And then that information is then taken and synthesized and then leaders can now say, okay, I have, it's not just anecdotal. I have this information that shares that this is what's going on within my organization. So as your diversity leader, how are you now championing your senior leaders to invoke change? And then that helps you drive your strategy. So that's why going back to what I said before, human capital and diversity have to be. Because there's so much overlap. Can't do it by itself. We can't use diversity as a way where, okay, we're coming up with programs that we're coming up with ideas, but what is your strategy? Because if you don't have the connection to your human capital programs, then you're doing activities for the sake of doing activities without ensuring that there is a clear strategy for your organization.
Peter: And this probably echoes why this type of work should not exist within the compliance driven role, because it requires so much flexibility.
Nathaniel: Correct. And I will tell you, I have lots of friends that have it in their compliance role and, and, and I appreciate it, but if you're asking me for my opinion. I think that that's the wrong place I think is wrong. Is the graveyard for organizations.
Peter: I think we have just one more question. Carol, do you have anything to add?
Carol: No. I mean, I think it's, my experience has been with much smaller organizations, so HR, if there's even an HR person, unfortunately they've been, up to their eyeballs with just the compliance stuff. So, any looking at culture has had to be in a whole organization thing, just because the numbers are so much smaller than I think what you're talking about. but really moving over time it could be that the wording changes around calling it human capital or calling it human resources. Since that in many ways, objectifies people, it makes them objects just like machines and software and all the other things, rather than who they are people and what we want as a healthy culture in an organization. So it'll be interesting to see how those things shift over the next couple of [years].
Nathaniel: Yeah, I agree. If I've seen titles now shifting to more like chief people, officers, and I just think that. I mean, it's snazzy, a little cool if you will, but it's really encompassing what we do in this space. Like everything is about the people and if we don't have the people, you don't have your mission and you're not going to get your bottom line. So, I agree with you. I think that, and, and in an ideal world, I love titles. When I see chief people, engagement, inclusion, belonging. Those are the things that we really are assigned to do. Not necessarily look at, transactional, just resources and capital, because again, you objectify people to just being, a bottom line.
Carol: Yeah. And it probably feels maybe, I don't know, hip or whatever right now, but I'm, I'm my, my hope is that, over time it will just become.
Peter: speaking of overtime and becoming normal. The last question I have is ingrained with educational non-profits and educational institutions. what have, being that we've seen. And have become more and more increasingly aware of how COVID specifically has impacted disproportionally neighborhoods of color, public schools of color or predominantly. And what do you see from your experience and from your expertise may be long lasting effects from COVID in regards to facilitation and, and delivery of, lessons, et cetera. we'll start there.
Nathaniel: Yeah, it's scary. It's scary. my concern and I see it and, I have, I have children as well, and they're going through the pandemic and, interestingly enough, my, my wife was able to start working and she became a full term, homeschooling, parents last year. And so I sit in education, I sit in a seat of privilege, right? We were educated, we could give up one income and be fine, and our children are thriving, but that's one story out of probably a hundred where we're watching particularly, particularly black and brown people who have to not only still work during the pandemic, but are working with. And so when they're working on site, many of their kids are sitting home and they're left to their own devices. It doesn't matter how good their kids are, they're left to their own devices. And so when you look at the one, the lack of resources within black and brown, And then two, when you look at the absenteeism that's occurring, because parents are at work and children have to stay at home. The long-term effects of this is going to be crucial because one who's going to fail children during a pandemic. No one. So you're going to have children that are past the long, and that are going through the system that are inadequately equipped. And so what then happens. You create a pipeline of children that are missing the functional and technical skills that they need in order to succeed. And so then what happens when we get to the 11th and 12th grade SATs COVID is behind us, but the educational gaps are not. And so then you have people. Are ill prepared to go to college might, may not go to college. families are disproportionately impacted. They may not be able to afford college. and then when they get in college, you're systematically taking on some of those challenges. And so what ends up happening is you create a gap really between the haves and have nots. But those that are mostly impacted are those that are on the lower end of the financial total. And unfortunately we see that black and brown people are more represented in that space. So it's not whether or not they can. A pandemic has completely stretched the uneven playing field that already existed. And so what then happened? 10 years from now, 15 years from now, we look at the workforce and do we see people who are more diverse in equal playing fields? Or do we see that there are less people who had less opportunities during this time? So, I say that, all that, to say that I'm nervous. I am, I've seen it before the pandemic. I worked for an organization where we had, and I'll give you this quick example. We had an unpaid internship. And it was a very reputable organization, but most people that were black and brown did not come into the organization. Not because they weren't qualified. Well, it was because who is going to be able to give up for four months of their summer, not making any money only for an experience in Washington, DC where rent and everything else is, above the national average. So there was this ration of who got the opportunities at that point, who got the connections, who could be able to bridge into opportunities once they graduate versus those that couldn't. So now you couple COVID on top of that. You couple that, black and brown people will be disproportionately impacted by that. And you see a system that is not. If you see a system that's so there are organizations that are trying to mitigate that. Of course people are coming up with businesses, of course, where there's more, educational, tutoring and things like that. But like, when we go back to that, who's going to then be able to pay for it?
Carol: Yeah, the ripple effects as you lay them out. I mean, it's just, it could be, and obviously those gaps and impacts were happening before the pandemic. And of course it's just, it just made it so much worse. and yeah, we'll be, we'll be seeing the ripple effects and, and unfortunately, The U S is not very good at history. We're very good at forgetting real quickly, what happened.
Peter: Yeah, because the second part of that question was like, if there are any positive things that have come from it, like, what do you think will like, we'll. moving forward, like, well, being, accessibility is important. Like maybe remote learning, like blended models still exist in 2024, like who? but being that, like what Carol just said, we don't tend to forget about the immediate CMI go back to normal. Cause that's always like what we're seeking. but normal, as you mentioned, wasn't great to begin with.
Nathaniel: Even with the hybrid learning and the different forms of doing that. there may be educational advances that occur, but there's still the, it's the ripple effect. So with the future of work and the future of education, things may be more digital, but then what happens to the businesses that thrive on those, either schools or anything else that is close to that location. I mean, we look at DC right now, DC is half of DC's. And why is it boarded up? Because small businesses especially can't make any money because everyone is in the future of work, if you will. And so then what happens to school? The same exact thing, and who's impacted if you have less schools because you have a virtual model, you have those, the cafeteria workers and the janitors and all of those different people who now they don't have a job or a place to clean because you shut down buildings and impacts your real estate as well. So, I could go on and on and on about it, but it impacts everyone, but we've got to look at the data to see who. Even the greatest impact, and we know what the data is going to show.
Carol: Well, that, that is all true. And we try to, we try to end on a positive note. So I'm curious what, what, you're, what you're looking forward to, what you're, what you're hopeful about, as we move forward in this next year.
Nathaniel: Yeah. So I'm going to flip it because I do actually like to be half-full. I am excited about the future. I am excited about the smart use of technology. I think technology is going to do something for this, for this world in, in, in something that we have never seen. the fact that we can have this podcast and we're doing an interview at 11 o'clock and I have a briefing at 12 o'clock and I have a meeting with clients at one o'clock and I'm able to do all of this, literally from my home. I mean, before. We're literally driving from or flying from or going all of these places and really extending and burning ourselves out. Right. So I think that organizations have the opportunity to, if you seize the smart use of technology in the correct way, and you also are focusing on the culture and the health of your organization. I do think that there are going to be extremely positive, ramifications and impacts from. I'm excited. I'm absolutely excited.
Peter: That's what I mean. I am as well. I mean, if it seems like it's a great time to progress and the cause there's like, I think with a lot of change, that's been instilled over the past couple of months and there's sort of like a whole, like everyone's optimistic at this point, right? We've just been so severely impacted from last year that it's hard to be a pessimist at this point. you just got it just to motivate you. You have to be optimistic. I think that's it for today. So thank you so much, Nate, for joining us. like you mentioned being in a couple of minutes, we are not as important, but thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule, to speak with us and share your perspective and your insight.
Nathaniel: Thank you. This was a pleasure. I appreciate you so much.
Carol: Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with our guest Nathaniel Benjamin as well as my co-host for this episode Peter Cruz as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Nora Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. We want to hear from you! Take a minute to give us feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback.
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