Creating Meaningful Change Through Formalized Feedback
The Sr. Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion shares how he is leading PRX in how we collect and act on feedback
In a speech delivered in 1967 called “The Other America,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “a riot is the language of the unheard.”
Ignoring the concerns and opinions of people with something to say creates a steam-valve of tension, distrust, anger, and pain. And when all those feelings come out — because one way or another, they will come out — the result can be destructive and divisive, like a riot. Fostering a safe space, time, and process for people to share what’s on their minds is integral to a healthy culture. Work culture is no exception.
Listening to understand is a critical step in any person or organization’s pursuit of equity and inclusion. Proper listening allows organizations to understand the expectations and desires of their employees and develop a clear target on how to make the organization better. Recognizing this was the first order of business for PRX’s new Senior Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Dr. Byron Green. Below, Dr. Green shares how he is leading the organization to collect feedback from employees and design a new way forward with how PRX shares and acts on feedback.
When I arrived at PRX, I knew the process for creating an impactful and sustainable approach to Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) would need to center around listening to the people that work here. To do this, I set off getting to know PRX through a series of semi-structured conversations. There were specific questions and topics that I wanted to explore with each conversation. Still, I also wanted to hear the impromptu stories that each of my new colleagues found essential to their experience. To make my way through the organization, I welcomed people to virtual coffees and engaged a snowball sampling technique where the last question is “who should I make sure to speak with.” I continued in this direction until I reached data saturation, the point in the research process when no new information is discovered in data analysis, and I began to hear similar themes.
The anecdotal data I collected on the listening tour gave me a preliminary understanding of the organization’s culture and growth areas. Still, to set a path with measurable goals, we needed to discern pain points at scale by establishing a quantitative base. Using the topics uncovered on tour as a springboard, we built a needs assessment using Culture Amp, an employee analytics platform specializing in staff surveying and analytics. At the close of the survey, we had established a response rate of 98%, which sets a more than solid foundation to speak and make decisions confidently.
Finding growth opportunities through data
Carefully listening is the first step. Next, I had to analyze the data. Appreciating that the survey focused on unearthing perception, which is personal, I wanted to approach the analysis with deep thoughtfulness. But first, let’s talk about trust.
Trust is needed twice for a process like this to be successful: employees must trust that they will have no repercussions for honest feedback, and everyone must trust each other to handle their vulnerability with discretion. Fewer than 100 people work at PRX, and privacy is crucial, which becomes all the more apparent as we break down the data from our survey to find stories.
Traditional means of establishing statistical significance tries to ensure that the result did not happen by chance. This is problematic because if marginalized populations answer the question differently, their answers may not be statistically significant or hidden within the larger aggregate. To tell a more nuanced story, we must compare cross-sections of data based on reported identities to the more significant findings. For example, say we found that 25% of our staff commuted to work on the bus. That would only be part of the story. The rest of the story is found by asking the data how that number compares between men, women, and non-binary people. We can take it further by layering race, religion, age, or any other demographic into the equation. What once was a single data point about how people commute to work is now several insights that can relay a bigger theme. This type of approach is commonly referred to as a decolonized research method. It’s also the crux of targeted universalism, the framework PRX has chosen to use for our IDEA strategy.
Because of PRX’s size, drawing insights that respect our staff’s anonymity is only possible when we reach a minimum of 5 participants per cross-section. For this reason, we employed mixed methods and collected both qualitative and quantitative data. Targeted universalism and disaggregation of data will enable us to create strategic priorities and goals that reflect our organization and its areas for opportunities.
Creating a process with intention
At the core of effective and sustainable change is properly auditing the problem. While we’re still figuring out just what to do with all the information we’ve heard over these last few months, PRX recognizes that our success in becoming a more equitable organization completely lies within how well and how often we listen.
Once our priorities and goals are established, we’ll create a road map that encompasses specific strategies to increase employees’ knowledge, awareness, and skills. Until then, we want to share with you two tips that have kept our journey on track:
1. Make a plan and stick to it.
One of the lessons we learned early was to avoid action bias.
“The action bias describes our tendency to favor action over inaction, often to our benefit. However, there are times when we feel compelled to act, even if there’s no evidence that it will lead to a better outcome than doing nothing would. Our tendency to respond with action as a default, automatic reaction, even without solid rationale to support it, has been termed the action bias.”
Throughout the process of listening and unearthing new challenges to equity in your organization, you’ll be tempted to get to work on “fixing” the issues right away. However, if you don’t have a full scope of understanding, you’ll run into “saviorism” — the idea that you know the best solution to other people’s problems of others — and offer self-serving solutions or otherwise create more frustration with the people you are supposed to be serving.
For PRX, having a plan to use and track data before starting the listening tour was an incredible tactic to combat action bias. The plan held us accountable for following through each step before taking any action. It also helped to articulate to employees where the information was going and how we’d use it.
2. Center on the human experience… and track conversations.
Routinely listening to the team gives an organization the chance to improve technique each time, and the only way to properly do that is with a detailed account of what you tried before. Iterate your feedback process as staff evolves, and external factors change.
Equity work centers the human experience and seeks to create space for all humanity. That means creating capacity for exploration and change. The foundation of any work that you will do must be grounded in a process that creates safety and affirms people’s belief that the information they share with you has value. For us, emotional intelligence guided our process of active listening and understanding the relationships we have within our teams. The first step is acknowledging our own emotions and their impact on conversations and mitigating that through mindfulness exercises before and after. Also, utilizing emotional intelligence can build empathy across differences. While racial equity is central to understanding the heart of inequity, using the relationships built through the process of data collection to explore the intersection of race with other identities allows for a more nuanced and richer understanding of the individuals that make up our company and how best to support the understanding that no monolith of identity exists.
Finally, I suggest scheduling checkpoints to measure satisfaction and knowledge acquisition as part of the plan. Proactively scheduling also allows what might be considered difficult conversations to surface organically. This provides an opportunity to ask questions and address blindspots before they accumulate and boil over.