DEI Strategist TaChelle Lawson on Smart DEI Strategy
September 7, 2023
With over 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry with an emphasis on food & beverage and luxury retail, TaChelle Lawson brings a fresh, no-nonsense approach to diversity, equity and inclusion. She is a dynamic public speaker, award-winning entrepreneur, and enlightened business leader laser-focused on aligning DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) with business and brand goals to help build client revenues and strengthen brand equity.

As Founder and President of FIG Strategy & Consulting, Lawson counsels senior leaders, human resources professionals and communications influencers on DEI and business alignment to address challenges with employees, customers and the community. Her services include brand strategy, business management consulting, culture transformation, leadership training, DEI training, and strategic sourcing. As a strategic planner and organized problem solver, Lawson has lent her extensive expertise in business analysis, strategy and communications management.

What is diversity:

Diversity is all about the individual differences. It's all about celebrating the differences. It's about making sure that everyone's voice is heard. Diversity is very simply put. There is nothing anyone on Earth, no matter how powerful, how influential you are, nothing anyone can do about diversity.

We are going to walk out of our homes and encounter someone who has more or less education than we do, raised in a two parent or a single family home, black, white, Hispanic, gay, lesbian, Muslim, Catholic, these are all facts. Whether we like it or not, diversity is a fact. Our disability status, our family backgrounds, education, that all contributes to diversity. Equity, however, is different.

What is equity:

Equity encompasses quite a few things, but it's one of the hardest to grasp, because we have to acknowledge that we have been doing something wrong. And. equity is the part of DEI that we struggle with the most because it acknowledges that we are not all starting on equal ground. Equity is a choice that says I have to acknowledge that although TaChelle is intelligent, she may not necessarily have all of the tools or the support in her home life. She may not have all of the education, or training etc, to help her get to this next level. Although she may be qualified, she may require a few additional steps, whereas my counterpart may not require those additional steps. Equality would say we're going to treat both candidates the exact same, we're going to treat both customers the exact same. That's equality, but that does not necessarily mean that we're given the resources that we need to be successful. That's the equity part.

What is inclusion?

Inclusion is a choice. It is me showing up and making sure that you feel seen, you feel recognized, you feel respected. Inclusion says that you and I don't have to agree on everything, you and I don't have to have the same background, we don't have to have the same training, we don't have to have the same personal values. But we can show up into a space and have our opinions shared, have our voices heard and be respected.

It doesn't mean that your idea is going to make it all the way up to the C-suite and be the catalyst for changing the direction of the company. But in an inclusive environment, you are safe enough to make that suggestion.

We have to acknowledge that diversity, equity and inclusion is real. Not because of headlines, not because what the media is saying, but because we're talking about people, we're talking about human beings, we're talking about feelings, we're talking about emotions, we're talking about our ability to contribute. The importance of DEI is real, and it matters to everyone.

Strategy is data driven. Everything that you do on a strategic level should have data and evidence that you can use as a baseline. It is about numbers.

The reason that we emphasize those two differences is because we tend to blend DEI all into one. It becomes one big issue. And then we focus on either the D or the I. When we think about diversity, back to let's hire more people of color, we need to create more jobs and make sure that we have more people of color in those roles. We're not necessarily thinking about when that person arrives at the company. And this is where the inclusion part step comes in. We're not necessarily thinking about whether or not that space is encouraging, is welcoming for that person of color or for that person who may need wheelchair access or for this person who may be transgender. So we're doing all of this work saying, hey, we want this. This is great. But we're failing to think about the choice part. Did we create an environment that is inclusive? Did we take the steps necessary to really understand that this person's first language may not be English?

Lead with a DEI Strategy.

When you focus on aligning your DEI goals with your products or your services, you build trust and you build credibility, as opposed to just responding to diversity, equity and inclusion. Strategy means that we are looking at business trends, market disruptions, what is the future going to look like and how does diversity, equity and inclusion fit in there?

For example, think about having a particular customer, and you realize that our sales are down in the women segment. Okay, well, that's a pretty broad segment of business. Which women? Are they women within the ages of 21 and 35? Are they mothers? Are they single? Are they traveling? When we start to break down what the customer problem is or where that challenge is, then you start to see where those opportunities to weave diversity, equity, and inclusion in authentically, which is a huge difference.

When we start to think about where diversity, equity and inclusion initially starts, which is human resources for the most part, we think about, hey, again, we need to hire, we need to post, we need to make sure that we are representing more diversity. The bigger opportunity is making sure that the diversity is well represented throughout the entire business. So from your hiring practice, which is important, but down to your customer.

Have you thought about how hiring diverse employees is going to help you hit this new target market?

That's strategy, where we're looking at the big picture. We're also looking to see that, okay, of that target market, again, 21 to 35 age range, are they trending in this way nationwide? Are they trending in this particular way, within our specific industry? Are they trending this way because of market disruptions, including supply chain issues? Are they trending this way because they're at that age where they're just not interested in our product or service anymore? Are they looking for something a little bit more elevated? Strategy encompasses all factors.

Hiring the person of color is literally only one. And I'm going to be painfully honest and say, no company should be hiring a person simply based on their race or their gender. It is beyond offensive. And it's typically very ineffective.

However, when you look at bringing someone on because they help you tap into a new market, or they have a very keen understanding of a specific problem, that's different, that is strategy. When we're looking at just performative hiring, performative DEI measures, which I'm pretty sure a few of you have witnessed before, it has far less impact. More importantly, it definitely costs the company and leadership trust.

Strategy is data driven. Everything that you do on a strategic level should have data and evidence that you can use as a baseline. It is about numbers.

Whereas DEI programming tends to bring in a lot of personal perspectives. Back in 2021, I was hired by a hospitality company. I was brought in after a previous Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant. They had worked with that consultant for about seven months, very little was accomplished. One of my requirements when I take on a new project is I want to see what DEI work you've done before, what were those recommendations, did you implement any of those recommendations, why or why not, etc. So I get the report back, and I look at the report. And simply based on this report, I could tell three things. One, I could tell it was a woman. Two, I could tell that she was black, and three, I could tell that she was lesbian. I should not be able to tell any of that if we're looking at a strategic plan. None of that should be the core.

How did I know that? 

Number one, all of her issues were about gender. One, you don't have a gender neutral restroom. And you need to have a gender-neutral restroom. So, you need to build gender neutral restrooms in all six of your bars. Two, everything was about the black employees and how few black employees, specifically black employees, were not in leadership. How few black employees were in their Denver location. Denver, which is a city that's like 91% white, so that was there. And then three, that they had no lesbian or LGBTQ initiatives. Let's break down that versus strategy.

Number one, we look at the customer. So my first question to them was, did you install those gender neutral restrooms? No, but we're looking into it. Okay. How much is it going to cost for you to install those gender-neutral restrooms? One of their locations, the cost would have been a little over $200,000. Six locations. They would be looking at over a million dollars to revamp these restrooms. Okay, that's a lot.

My next question was, what percentage of your customers would identify as gender neutral? Literally crickets. They had no answer to that, okay. When we look at national data, and I'm talking national, since you don't have the specific local data, we're going to look at national data. And say that less than two and a half percent of this country is comfortable with gender neutral restrooms, less than two and a half percent. So unless 90 plus percent of your customers fall into that category, that is not a smart move. It's not cost effective. More importantly, you risk potentially alienating your existing customer.

Three, let's look at your demographics. 

Where are you located? 

In Denver, Colorado, not having very diverse employees. That makes sense, because you're in Denver, Colorado. Your numbers in New York City, however, very different. Your locations in Miami, very different. That's strategy. We're not just looking at what we think it should be based on our personal feelings. And I want to emphasize, I am not against gender neutral restrooms. I am, however, pro making sure it makes sense for your business.

The reason I emphasize that is because we all have tons of personal thoughts, ideas, opinions, that what keeps it neutral, is making sure that you're doing what's in the best interest of the business. Now, if your customer falls into this particular category, if your customer is in that 2%, then heck yes, you want to make sure that your restrooms are gender neutral. But if they don't, let's look at the cost. That's the difference between DEI and programming.

Programming is just doing something for the sake of doing it. Programs can be a result and implementation of strategy, and that's how they should work. But what a lot of you probably see in day to day interactions is program.


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