Lessons Learned with Ella McCann - Tomlin: The Transformative Power of Diversity
Ella McCann-Tomlin is the founder & CEO of DEI consultancy, Ardent. Born in Leeds to Jamaican and English parents, her diverse heritage allowed her to experience varied cultural experiences. In this School of Startups podcast, we hear Ella’s lessons learned about the transformative power of diversity and being a solo founder.
Ella had an eclectic educational upbringing, attending different schools and qualifying for different scholarships throughout her studies. In her time at these different schools, she noticed the spaces had 1 thing in common: a lack of diversity.
The only person of mixed race, in this talk, Ella recounted that her experiences differed to her peers because of this fact. People are quick to notice changes, and there is a noticeable difference in the level of comfort of how a person of mixed-race interacts with their surroundings.
Ella understands that it’s difficult to articulate, being different from everyone else. It has more to do with power dynamics and an inherent imposter syndrome. So, it’s not always easy to understand the concepts that revolve around diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Having a 10-year of experience in a tech company along with organisational management and leadership skills, Ella decided it was time to accept the challenge of DEI. In this podcast hosted by Wes Rashid, he tries to uncover the transformative power of diversity through Ella’s experiences and learn how she manages Ardent as a solo founder.
What is Ardent?
Ardent is essentially a consultancy that works with clients in two key areas: DEI (Diversity, equity and inclusion) and leadership and management culture.
Ella explains how two things are interlinked with each other, even though they’re positioned as two separate things. Ardent helps companies worldwide begin their journey with issues related to diversity and leadership. Considering that Ella was working as the Director of diversity and development in her last role, the idea of creating Ardent felt like a natural progression to her.
The biggest challenge with DEI implementation
The question of DEI implementation being business critical is one of the hardest battles when it comes to working in the diversity and development sector. Usually, DEI implementation is pushed to the bottom of the priority list. Because of this, you need to fight for investment and convince people of the impact that DEI implementation can have on their organisational culture. For Ella, this was the most challenging aspect of the experience.
The catalyst for change: Black Lives Matter
“The surge in DEI that has happened is ultimately here to stay”. Ella referred to the Black Lives Matter movement as a catalyst for change. The Trevor Martin murder, the George Floyd murder, and the “explosion of protests around the world” put companies came under pressure from employees to establish and implement their stance on diversity and inclusion.
Scope of DEI
Diversity is questioning how diverse your organisation is from top to bottom. There are many technicalities with it comes to the proper implementation of DEI. Ella gives an example of how some businesses may claim that they have a lot of women, but they might not be included in the executives' list. So this is still a problem.
According to Ella, “diversity of thought makes you more innovative, makes you more profitable, there are loads of positive business outcomes.”
Equity “is the most political element of DEI.” It involves identifying the barriers that some people face more than others. It also involves figuring out what the organisations can do to support them actively.
Ella believes inclusion involves creating a culture where people feel they belong. They can be themselves, and they don’t have to turn on a particular personality when they have to show up at work.
Implementing a DEI strategy
“Start from within.”
According to Ella “hire somebody who knows what they're talking about and whether that is you have somebody who's got a role in the organisation like my previous company had, and you promote someone from within, or you hire someone externally into that role. Either have someone be responsible for it or hire a consultant.”
Measuring the impact of DEI
“There are some simple enough ways to measure impact. So one of the first things I say to organisations that they should always do is survey the organisation in some way. So when you embark on your DEI journey, you need to collect some data from the organisation. And that typically looks like looking at demographics.”
Hence, asking people those questions about their ethnicity, around their sexual orientation, all of these things should be voluntary, and they should be communicated very sensitively. But getting that information is important, and cross referencing it with hierarchy and geography is also important.
Advice for younger self
Ella has always suffered from imposter syndrome and admits herself a perfectionist. “My advice to my younger self would actually be to realise that you're better than you think you are. You're more valuable than you think you are, that you can push for those things that you think you don't have a right to push for, that your team and your company actually need you, and you've got more power and influence than you think you've got. And I think as well when you're earlier on in your career, and you feel a bit more junior, it can be easy to say, I've got no power in this situation.”
Tools to overcome imposter syndrome
Ella says “a good way to get over your imposter syndrome is to get yourself to do things and then to go, oh, I went on that podcast; it was just a conversation. Actually. It was quite nice. I didn't make myself look stupid. And the more you do that, you are just then building those skills. But the world is full of successful, bold people who are not necessarily as impressive as you. Crack on.”
You can check out Emma’s business at www.bemoreardent.com
Follow her journey on LinkedIn.
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