Ten years ago today, Ericka Hines, JD, officially launched Every Level Leadership, a consultancy dedicated to helping socially responsible businesses and organizations develop leaders, create diverse and inclusive workplaces, and employ emotional intelligence. With a reputation for collaboration, delivering creative, innovative programs and results-based solutions, Ericka is a sought-after expert, speaker, facilitator, and leader.
At TCS we are indebted to Ericka for her insight and close collaboration during our recruiting and hiring initiatives in which diversity and inclusion were central goals. We could not have been happier with the results achieved through the strategies Ericka helped us to map and implement.
This month we celebrate Every Level Leadership’s business anniversary and Ericka for her expertise, foresight, and dedication. We are honored to have interviewed Ericka about her work, and we hope her thoughts inform and inspire other business leaders seeking insight on diversity, inclusion, and leadership development.
Q: What inspired you to launch your business ten years ago?
From early on I was drawn to social justice, and this was one motivator for earning my law degree. When I was a child, my mother was a telephone operator and a member of a union. Every few years, her union, Communication Workers of America, would go out on strike and walk the picket lines. Being out on the lines with her, I learned about what it meant to collectively bargain and commit to social change.
After graduation and with over 15 years of work experience under my belt, I initially launched my business intending to elevate women in the workplace. But as time went on, I had an increasing number of opportunities to work in diversity, equity, and inclusion, which I embraced. For the last five or so years, that has been my professional focus.
Entrepreneurs often start businesses to achieve something they have always wanted for themselves. As a Black woman having worked in several organizations throughout my career, I was familiar with this lived experience, and I was drawn to diversity and equity solutions as a way to solve problems that I had experienced. Very quickly this work became more of a vocation as opposed to a job, which is a good sign you are on the right track as an entrepreneur.
Q: How would you describe the focus of your work?
I like to say that my sweet spot is providing guidance on the “how.” I help organizations align their stated commitments to diversity with the next best, right actions so that they don’t spin their wheels pursuing steps that won't let them achieve their goals.
Q: How does this tend to unfold in your relationships with clients?
While every organization is different and requires solutions that are crafted to fit, there are a lot of commonalities that can be addressed. For example, in recruiting it is par the course for employers to leverage their networks when seeking candidates. But if your network looks like you do—true for most professionals—your results will be to get what you’ve always had. I help to teach executives to be mindful when expanding their networks; to work to do this in an intentional way. And I help businesses expand their networks and reach by partnering with professional associations that are affinity-based.
Interview processes are another important focus for me. Cognitive bias often steers us to prefer people who look, speak, think, and act like us. If companies want to lean into the work of diversity and inclusion, as much as possible they must create processes that are blind, merit-based, and remove as many biases as possible. This will help to ensure a diverse array of people enter and move through the candidate pool.
Much of my work is focused on teaching understanding empathy and allying by inviting people to explore and share aspects of their own identity so they can begin to feel comfortable talking about these things. When you show up for work, who is walking through the door? Not just a professional with x years of experience…there is so much more; there is religious ideology, sexual identity, political identity, sense of humor, family history, likes, dislikes, different lived experiences, and so on.
What is true in society is that some identities have been valued more than others. Being a man has traditionally been more valued than being a woman. But being a woman is more valued than being transgender or genderqueer, and so on. We rarely, if ever, talk about these realities in the workplace but we ask our colleagues to show up authentically. But they are there, under the surface, influencing behaviors, and they should be addressed if we are to break down barriers. So, I work with teams and individuals to do this; to facilitate discussions about individual lived experiences, identities, getting people to open up, step outside themselves, and trust.
Q: What are your thoughts and experience when it comes to the recent uprisings as a result of racial inequalities and the murder of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement?
It is a time of awakening for many white people; of course, not for people of color whose lived experience has been shaped by inequity. The uprisings are shedding light on the evil that has always been there.
From a business perspective, it has been very busy for my team, and I view this as a positive. For various reasons, a lot of organizations are genuinely trying to improve diversity, inclusion, and equity. In some cases, companies are being called out for not acting in accordance with their words, and in trying to take steps to rectify this, ask for tips, tricks, and tools. But it is very important to remember that this work cannot be done overnight. There is no shortcut. It takes sustained action, investment, deliberate work, organizational and behavioral change as well as changes to the way the companies fundamentally operate.
This work is more important than ever. Apart from the morality of it, there are very real business implications. Diverse teams tend to achieve better results. Consumer and client attitudes are changing and demanding diversity and equity. Demographics are changing—within the next 25 years the majority will become a minority, and this will be reflected in the people you sell to and the ones you hire. Companies who continue to just pay lip service to the issues of equity will lose competitive advantage and will be left behind.
Q: Any final thoughts?
Yes, don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. I tell clients that in their approach to this work they should be humble and should be ready to bumble. You will make mistakes, and when you do, just get up and try again. The work of equity is a daily practice; you have to wake up every morning and decide to live your life by your ideals. If we all do this, things will change.
Over the years I’ve been doing this work I have seen many organizations successfully transform their organizations including their hiring programs and overcome many of the problems that were holding them back. One of my overarching philosophies is: “embrace change,” and I’m excited and optimistic that diversity and inclusion are playing an ever-greater role in the workplace.
Visit Every Level Leadership here: http://www.everylevelleads.com/