Nichole Pitts of Ethintegrity: 5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society
Allow Unfiltered Education. The quote, “history is written by the victors,” comes to mind. What we learn in school is highly curated. And the current focus on banning Critical Race Theory (CRT) from schools because it will make students “uncomfortable” sends the wrong message. How can we move forward and understand how historical trauma has shaped the lived experience of certain marginalized groups if there is no open discussion on it? These lessons aren’t about placing blame; it’s about informing children of how historical actions have created inequity in our society. We can’t achieve equity without understanding why it’s needed in the first place.
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Nichole Pitts.
A prominent international senior executive and thought leader, Nichole has established her global reputation with cross-sector organizations, helping them advance their diversity, inclusion, and ethics agendas. Culturally aware, Nichole understands the nuances, requirements, and challenges companies face, applying creative ideas to boost awareness and deliver sustainable compliance & DEI programs. Nichole holds a Doctorate of Jurisprudence from Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law. She has written ‘Moments Add Up: Building a Culture One Meeting at a Time,’ published in Ethisphere Magazine’s Q2 2017 edition, and ‘How Unconscious Bias Affects Your Speak-Up Arrangements’ published by EQS (Q2 2021). In addition, she filmed a course titled ‘Developing Effective Emotional Resilience in the Workplace’ published by The AllBright for their Academy in Q3 2020. Speaking at many international conferences, Nichole commands diverse audiences, discussing varied topics, including Creative Approaches to Compliance Messaging; Training and Communication Innovations That Drive Culture; and How to Use Storytelling & Branding to Create an Inclusive Workplace.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I was raised in Columbus, Indiana, as the oldest of two children. My parents were hard-working, prioritized family, and highly protective of their children. My mother was an accomplished business executive as the EVP of Human Resources for a Fortune 500 company, and my father taught me the value of understanding details and striving to be the best. While my core family unit was small (there were 4 of us), my extended family was large, and we were always together, so I was surrounded by a lot of love, laughter & no shortage of advice.
Throughout my childhood, I focused a lot on how to “fit in.” As a brown girl in a predominately white small town back in the 1970s and 80s, there weren’t many people who looked like me that I could look up to. In the end, I just wanted to belong, but there wasn’t a perfect box that I fit into.
When I arrived at Indiana University, that was the first time I felt like I had found a community where I truly belonged and felt understood. It also allowed me to develop my uniqueness and spread my wings. As a History major and then a law student, I leaned into being inquisitive and challenged a lot of what we learned as fact.
I’ve been blessed to have a career that has allowed me to see the world and live in some fantastic cities (Atlanta; Washington, DC; Paris; and London). And what I found during my career adventure with ethics & compliance and DEI is that I found my voice which has helped me to empower others to find their voices as well.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
A couple of years ago, I read this fantastic book, “Set Boundaries, Find Peace” by Nedra Glover Tawwab, which is a comprehensive guide on understanding and establishing interpersonal boundaries. I’ve always been inquisitive and sometimes get too attached to a stance or topic. And that is difficult when you operate in the diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) space as you have sensitive conversations daily. Navigating others’ emotions without internalizing their feelings was hard. This book provided some great tips on how to interact and have challenging and thought-provoking discussions from a more neutral place so that I could hold space for opposing opinions and find common ground for the group to communicate effectively and talk to each other instead of at each other.
This book has also helped me set and enforce boundaries professionally and personally. When I started my business, I felt I had to say “yes” to everything…even when it didn’t serve me or further my business goals. As I’ve become more confident in myself and my company, I’ve been able to identify and lean into my UVP (Unique Value Proposition), which makes it easier to say “no” to opportunities that aren’t aligned with my current goals and mission. Setting and enforcing boundaries has allowed me to operate from a position of abundance instead of scarcity.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
Whenever there was a challenging situation, I remember my late paternal grandfather saying, “This is your little red wagon. You can choose to push it or pull it.” As a child, I was puzzled because I was thinking literally. Like, “what does a red wagon have to do with my problem?” But as I matured, I realized that the wagon represented the issue, and I had the choice of how I would handle it. I could tackle it head-on and push through it or ignore it and drag it around for years and not learn the critical lesson I needed to grow.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership should include four key facets:
- Inspiring others by showing up authentically and treating each person with respect, regardless of their place in the organization;
- Making all staff feel seen & heard;
- Taking in diverse opinions to ensure there is a fully fleshed out solution/product; and
- Creating a space of belonging where people can show up as their authentic selves and contribute in a valuable & productive way
Many people see leadership as how much you know, but a good leader has excellent soft skills and EQ. They know how to get the best out of their workforce by being inclusive, thoughtful, authentic, and inspiring. If the focus is on your workforce & what your company contributes to society, then profits will follow.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. In the summer of 2020, the United States faced a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on what made the events of 2020 different from racial reckonings in the past?
Covid-19 changed our daily lives and forced us to slow down as we were required to stay home. This meant using technology more to work from home, spending more time with those we live with, increasing social media usage, and watching the news to stay connected with the outside world.
We didn’t have the distractions of going out to dinners or on holidays, which could allow us to ignore the inequalities in the world collectively. Covid-19 allowed a captive audience to see and listen to what was happening in real time.
One thing I noticed was that on Instagram, people were going “Live” more than anything else. People felt more empowered to speak up. It also allowed people who couldn’t connect with their circle in person to connect with strangers, and as they joined, they became more involved because their feeds were inundated with BLM updates.
Once the world started to open up a little, we saw people gathering to participate in protests worldwide. And you saw them not only protesting the murder of another black man in the US…but raising awareness about the injustices in their own countries. This caused a shift in how we collectively responded. It was like a drop of water that made the glass overflow.
Since there was so much coverage about BLM, you started seeing companies making statements about diversity, inclusion, and justice. While I believe it started with good intent, we quickly saw a considerable uptick in companies rushing to issue statements on social media. I like to call it jumping on the “brandwagon.” Many companies were engaging in what we call” performative activism,” where they publicly support a cause but engage in problematic behavior privately.
People were paying attention. Especially millennials and Gen Z, who started holding brands to a higher social standard than before and calling them out for their seemingly insincere messages.
Social trends are happening around the world. This reckoning has empowered both the marginalized and the allies to speak up. We’ve seen a shift in both employees and society, holding companies and organizations responsible for addressing workplace injustices. There are different challenges from both the political and societal fronts, and the world of work could no longer say “park that at the door.”
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
I first started intentionally using DEI initiatives when the company I was working for in 2015 moved me to Paris to head up the compliance department for their international business. I found that I had to rethink my entire strategy in how to connect and engage with my global workforce. The tools I would use in the US did not always translate or have the impact I anticipated in certain countries. So, I started over and went out to visit our staff in the countries where we operated, which allowed me to learn more about their culture, their wants & needs, what works for them and what doesn’t. By having an open dialogue and being culturally curious, we were able to create connections and embed sustainable & impactful change.
I took this mindset with me when I started my company in 2018. I feel that DEI work should be collaborative, and listening is a critical skill in developing and implementing a tailor-made program that will address your workforce’s specific risks and issues.
I’ve been blessed to work with many phenomenal organizations, from global film companies & major music labels to intergovernmental organizations and some of Inc. Magazine’s Fastest-Growing Companies in America. However, while there are certainly DEI “trends,” each client had a unique culture that required a custom solution.
One of the biggest challenges organizations face is getting their employees to care and engage. There is so much going on daily with just their roles & responsibilities that adding more content increases their anxiety.
I advise my clients to think of their program as a product they need to sell and their employees’ time and attention as the currency they want them to spend. You’re trying to break through the noise of everything the employees deal with on an ongoing basis. So, how do you get your program to stand out? How do you incentive people to spend their “currency” on your initiatives?
One of the most effective ways to promote DEI initiatives is through branding & storytelling, as diversity is weaved into all aspects of our lives. Use branding to intentionally & effectively connect your organization with your workforce in an inclusive & authentic way. Do market research with your workforce to find out what is and is not working. Figure out how to create messaging to show them why they should care about your initiatives. People are driven by emotion and “buy” things because of the emotional impact or advantage they offer. This means showing how your DEI initiatives can improve the employee’s life.
You can do this through branding parts of your program (i.e., processes) to make it stand out.
- Create a mascot, logo, watermark for a consistent “look & feel”
- Use language to show them WHY this is important, and why they should care
- Address feedback from employee resource groups (ERGs)/workplace community
- Use a variety of methods to communicate & train
- Assess how accessible your program content & staff are
Also, use a modality & entertainment style that works best for your environment and company culture. I like to use the following methods to roll out DEI initiatives:
- Fun & informative videos (i.e., Mission Impossible)
- Podcast (i.e., where you’re talking about real-time topics that are of interest — could even use pop culture, etc. — this is a great way to partner with other groups & people)
- Newsletter (part of your organization or alone)
- Town halls / Community time where people get face time and feel like they can connect
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Each of us had blind spots. Both professionally and personally. We operate from what we know and can unknowingly make many decisions based on unconscious bias when we think we are using experience to help speed up decision-making. A diverse executive team ensures more opinions, knowledge, and viewpoints in the room across many diverse areas. I’m not talking just about race and gender, but also neurodivergent, disabilities, socio-economic, cultural sensitivity, etc. We may overlook a key point or make a significant gaffe because we don’t have the right people in the room to give feedback from their own lived experiences to tell us how an initiative will be perceived. Also, having a diverse executive team, allows them to reach into their own communities to ask for feedback and share with the group. If everyone around the table looks like you or nobody is challenging ideas that are brought forth, you need to take a hard look and add more diverse voices to that table.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”? Kindly share a story or example for each.
- Allow Unfiltered Education. The quote, “history is written by the victors,” comes to mind. What we learn in school is highly curated. And the current focus on banning Critical Race Theory (CRT) from schools because it will make students “uncomfortable” sends the wrong message. How can we move forward and understand how historical trauma has shaped the lived experience of certain marginalized groups if there is no open discussion on it? These lessons aren’t about placing blame; it’s about informing children of how historical actions have created inequity in our society. We can’t achieve equity without understanding why it’s needed in the first place.
- Address the Stereotypes & Inequality in Entertainment and Marketing. For thousands of years, products and services have been marketed to get people to want to be or look a certain way, feel a certain way, and ultimately be included. A lot of this marketing has been based on stereotypes. It’s in cartoons (Pepe Le Pew, The Simpsons, Speedy Gonzales, etc.), retail stores (Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria’s Secret, etc.), and many more. The media and entertainment drive the standard of beauty and what is “cool.” I found it interesting how the British media would constantly compare Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, with one being “perfectly imperfect” and the other being “too perfectly Hollywood.” By addressing our own biases and stereotypes that we have been raised on and inadvertently perpetuated, we can create a more inclusive standard of beauty, acceptance, and belonging.
- Ask Your Community for Feedback. You aren’t going to know all of the answers. That is why it’s critical to survey your society (be it your workforce or the community in which you live). Ensure you include all demographics and look for trends and outliers. Where are people feeling included? Do more of that. Where are people feeling invisible or excluded? Figure out how to create a solution-based plan with their input to address it. One example is how certain touchless faucets & dryers don’t recognize darker pigmentation so it’s harder for people of color to get the sinks and hand dryers to turn on. This is where the artificial intelligence used in the products needs to be updated in a more inclusive way.
- Be Innovative & Inclusive. There are so many creative ways to communicate, and due to the diverse nature of our society, we need various methods to communicate across all demographics. Tap into various communities to garner great ideas on how to ensure your messaging resonates with that particular demographic (i.e., those that are neurodivergent). Do you have messaging for those that are hearing or visually impaired? What about those who can’t read or don’t know the local language? Being innovative and inclusive also sparks conversation at a soul level where the discussion becomes more authentic and open.
- Hold Space. Sitting in silence and listening to someone else is the greatest gift you can give. People want to know they are heard. And by holding space for others to share their stories with us, it expands our understanding, compassion, and knowledge so that we can act in a more informed manner in the future.
We are going through a rough period now. What makes you optimistic about the future of the US? Can you please explain?
What makes me hopeful is that we are still having the discussion. And it has moved from the infancy stage of being performative to a more matured, nuanced approach. Change doesn’t happen overnight. And each of us has a lot of learning & unlearning to do as we listen to and hold space for others to share their lived experiences with us. That’s how we grow. It’s uncomfortable but all growth is. I am encouraged by the dialogue, company workforces holding their organizations accountable, and people being open to a conversation even if they know their mind won’t be changed. It’s the fact that the conversations are happening and you can see that the discussions have matured since 2020.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have a private breakfast with Michelle Obama. I connected with her life story in her book, “Becoming” and would also love to know some tips and coping mechanisms she used to endure trying times and attacks as FLOTUS. She kept showing up. And showing up poised and unrattled. It is a level that I aspire to.
How can our readers follow you online?
I can be found via my website, https://ethintegrity.com, or on LinkedIn under “Nichole Pitts”.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Nichole Pitts of Ethintegrity: 5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.