Ericka Hines Of Every Level Leadership On How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Fotis Georgiadis
Authority Magazine
8 min readJul 25, 2022

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Increasingly we are moving technologically to more automation, but there’s still going to be a great part of the workforce that requires people. One of the ways that diversity, equity, and inclusion affect their bottom lines is with market share. Many people — whether they’re employees, clients, or customers — no longer accept buying from or working with entities that are all white or all male. They want to see themselves adequately reflected and represented inside of these companies and organizations, a demand that’s increased over the last six or seven years from being something that was “nice to have,” and now becoming a “need to have.”

As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ericka Hines.

Ericka Hines is principal of Every Level Leadership and an advisor and strategist who works with organizations to align their commitment to inclusion and equity with their everyday actions and operations. She has worked with government agencies, nonprofits, and foundations across the country to help their staff and stakeholders learn how to create inclusive culture. To date, Ericka has trained over 3,500 individuals in skills that will help them be more equitable leaders for their teams and organizations.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into the main part of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share a bit of your “backstory” with us?

I’ve been doing work around diversity, equity, and inclusion for the last 12 years since I started my company, Every Level Leadership. Initially my work focused predominantly on giving unconscious bias and “Diversity 101”level trainings. Over the years, however, this focus has morphed into developing more of an expertise around racial equity, and deeply helping organizations do work around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) with a particular emphasis on nurturing workplace environments where Black, indigenous, and people of color can thrive.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away, you took out of that story?

I’ve had lots of interesting parts of my career. The one that comes to mind is, when I first started my company in 2010 the first name that I chose was “Social Change Diva,” because I wanted to challenge people on what the term “diva” meant. Although the word diva in the operatic sense means the person who is in front of the room — it has come to have a negative connotation. I found that that name was off putting and at speaking engagements, people were actually introducing me as, “And here comes the social change diva.” I realized that the name was getting ahead of the work so decided to pick a new name that I thought was the clearest, most direct way of sharing what I believed in, which is Every Level Leadership, due to my belief that everyone has the skills and ability to be inclusive, equitable leaders at every level of a company or organization.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you tell us a story about how that was relevant in your own life?

The saying I’m personally most known for is, “Be humble and ready to fumble” as it pertains to doing diversity, equity and inclusion work. I often tell people that on an individual level, they have to give up being perfect and trying to be the most inclusive, equitable leader in their organization. The need for perfection is pervasive for most people, but you have to accept that you will make mistakes. To be clear, we do not want to cause deep harm, or do something that is incredibly hurtful to a person or a community of folks. However, we do have to accept that we will make mistakes, and be humble about that.

Particularly in the work I’m doing around “Black Women Thriving,” I am very aware of my own desire to present that work in a perfect way that does not cause harm. Still, I expect at some point I will make mistakes and will use my own advice to know when to say “I wasn’t right and need to look at this a bit further.” This is something I’ve done throughout my career, which is what makes us stronger leaders in our work, and specifically when doing DEI work.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

There are a lot of people who have helped me get where I am, but my aunt Karen — who was probably one of the first “professional” Black women that I was in contact with — has always gently (and sometimes not so gently) mentored, given advice and ideas, and really been a source of wisdom for me. She continues to be in the workforce and we now have a peer mentoring relationship, where I also mentor her and she learns things from me too. My aunt Karen has taught me about how and what to carry for myself with regard to my own values and strengths as a Black woman in the workplace.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

There are a lot of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion practitioners in the world right now. Personally, I’ve been doing this work for 12 years and have worked with a lot of entities. This vast experience has made me very confident in my skills to help organizations become more diverse, inclusive, and equitable, and more deeply anti-racist in holding that space, which can sometimes be very uncomfortable for an organization to navigate their way through. All of these experiences have primed me to work with these institutions on how to center Black women and help them thrive in the workplace, while also making sure that all employees are thriving.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

In early June 2022, Every Level Leadership released “Black Women Thriving,” a research report that gives groundbreaking data on how Black women and gender-expansive people are experiencing the workplace, and whether they are in survival mode or in thriving mode. In the report we give some definition and criteria to what thriving in the workplace actually means.

One of the places where a lot of DEI efforts fail is in not spending as much time asking those who are most impacted by their efforts, whether that be negatively or positively. In our research we specifically asked Black women and gender expansive professionals, what does it mean for them to thrive? Do they feel like they’re thriving now, or are there areas of their work life that would help them thrive more?

We also offer a set of solutions specifically written for corporations and companies to know what they need to do to help Black women thrive. I truly believe in not creating yet another set of solutions telling Black women that they have to learn additional skills in order to thrive in the workplace. Instead, this report says to their companies, it’s now your responsibility to do this work. Black women have done enough, it’s your obligation to carry out your end of the deal and create workplace culture, policies, practices, and procedures where Black women can thrive.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

The nature of my work is very much rooted in my commitment to social change, and I like to believe that the work that I’m doing now will have an impact on how we build a society that is more equitable and laboratory for all people.

Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line.

Increasingly we are moving technologically to more automation, but there’s still going to be a great part of the workforce that requires people. One of the ways that diversity, equity, and inclusion affect their bottom lines is with market share. Many people — whether they’re employees, clients, or customers — no longer accept buying from or working with entities that are all white or all male. They want to see themselves adequately reflected and represented inside of these companies and organizations, a demand that’s increased over the last six or seven years from being something that was “nice to have,” and now becoming a “need to have.”

Ultimately, organizations that aren’t focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion are going to become obsolete at some point. Domestically and globally, people of color are becoming the majority, which is a wonderful thing and something that employers must catch up with and have reflected in their own teams. For example, it is bad business optics and strategy to show up in communities or countries where your company or organization hasn’t made the investment to learn about their cultures, and made an effort to represent them in the workplace. People have always, and will continue, to put their money where their values are.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive?

First, I would advise them to actually figure out what thriving means. The research I’ve read around thriving in the workplace defines it as a place where you want your folks to feel a sense of vitality about their jobs — in terms of being energized and excited about what they do — and that they have access to learning opportunities. Too many companies aren’t focused on the vitality of their employees and what makes them feel energized, which is probably one of the unspoken underlying reasons we are continuing to experience the “Great Resignation.”

Additionally, when you are listening to your employees about what it takes to thrive, different people are going to give varied ideas based upon their identity (race, gender, sexual). Employers need to pay close attention to these different backgrounds and experiences, and build that awareness into how they manage, mentor, coach, and delegate within their teams.

What advice would you give to other business leaders about how to manage a large team?

It’s critically important for business leaders to allow, create spaces for, and encourage people on their team to show up as their full selves. However, you cannot have a cookie cutter approach about it. I understand that a major part of a manager’s job is to oversee large groups of people, which sometimes means that you prefer to have one solution that can be applied to everyone. Unfortunately, that’s just not how it works. My advice to managers is to stretch your people management muscles and gain deeper self-awareness about the ways in which you may be upholding a status quo that’s not as inclusive as it could or should be, or that you would like it to be.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)

For me that person is easily writer and author Roxane Gay. I have loved and admired her work for a long time; Roxane is one of the top public intellectuals that I follow, and I just love her mind and would love the chance to have a meal one day.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I encourage everyone to visit our website www.everylevelleads.com and read through and share our “Black Women Thriving” report. You can also find me personally on Twitter at @EveryLevelLeads, on Instagram at @blackwomxnthriving, and connect with me on LinkedIn.

Thank you for these excellent insights. We wish you continued success in your great work.

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Fotis Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market