From comedy to diversity

In his Inbound keynote, HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan had said: “We’re leaning in hard on diversity and inclusion.” Tissa Hami, a speaker at the conference, offers diversity, equity and inclusion training through her company Korsi Consulting. Nothing unusual about a diversity consultant, you might think: what’s unusual about Hami’s story is how she became one.

Her initial experiences are depressingly familiar. Hami joined a well-known white-shoe law firm out of college as a paralegal, she recalls that out of 100 partners, there were six women and one Black male. “No matter what good work I did, none of it got noticed,” she told us.

From the frying pan to the fire, she made a move into investment banking, where she found inclusion numbers “even more skewed.” Seeking a change, of course, she went to grad school to study international affairs and graduated right into the aftermath of 9/11. “Being Iranian, from a moderate Muslim background, was a hard identity to have.”

Make them laugh. There followed a period of unemployment, and then a plunge into a completely different world. “I saw stand-up comedy as a way to speak up and speak out, so I did it.”

Hami’s comedy set drew on her work experiences—to such an extent that she found people asking her whether she did speaking engagement and workshops based on the content.

So she traveled to 25 states doing just that. “As that wound down, I asked myself—what next? I had felt like I’d never had a chance, and I didn’t want anyone else not to have the career they wanted for those kind of reasons.” She hadn’t been calling what she did diversity and inclusion training, but she realized that that’s what it was. She founded Korsi Consulting.

Theater-based training. Korsi’s approach to training comes right out of her performance experience: it’s theater-based. She consults with her clients about workplace situations, writes scripts, and has actors play out scenes reflecting challenges and conflicts suggested by the consultation. “It tends to stick in people’s memories more [than conventional training],” said Hami. “They tend to see themselves in it.”

The performances are followed by Q&A sessions with the actors, still in character. The client’s employees, however, are not involved in the performance: “We’re not asking anyone to get on stage.”

Steps to take. We asked Hami how a company should assess whether it has a need for diversity training. “Every company does,” she said. “Nobody has it 100% right.” The place to start is with a salary equity audit. “Be prepared to pay what you need to pay,” she said.

If there’s a toxic work culture, it needs to be cleaned up before diversity training can be effective: “You cannot have inclusion with rampant sexual harassment or bullying.”

Companies should review all their policies and procedures, including job descriptions, performance reviews, and termination policies; and there should be metrics at each stage of the employee lifecycle—metrics that recognize differences between races rather than grouping all employees who identify as non-white as people of color.

As for hiring, Hami hesitates to recommend quotas. The usual HR approach, she said, is to ask who can be excluded from a pile of résumés; instead ask how people can be included. Be sensitive to biases in the recruitment process. “To do diversity hiring well can take longer,” said Hami, but it pays off by reducing employee churn.

“Companies need to catch up with the times,” she said. “White employees want diversity. Gen Z is asking about diversity and inclusion.” Ask yourself who’s missing, what perspective is missing, and why, she advised.

“The best time to work on diversity was yesterday. If you didn’t do it yesterday, do it now.”

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