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DEI Feature: Meet Robert Doore

October was our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion month here at Startup Grind, a 31 day initiative focused on amplifying the voices of those in underrepresented groups. DEI is a theme that deserves far more recognition and is simply too crucial to the integrity of businesses to fit into a mere month.

We were privileged to sit down with Robert Doore, the President and CEO of Diversity Programs at Chief Mountain Sports and Consulting. Prior to his current positions, Robert also made history as the first Indigenous Senior Executive at the National Football League. Currently, he is following his passions for DEI and providing strategic leader training for executives to better understand the importance of inclusion in the workplace. His notable accomplishments surpass our wildest expectations, and he continues to work tirelessly to provide a voice to those that have gone unheard.

Discussing DEI and the current climate facing Native people with Robert was a true honor. With his finger on the pulse, he is single-handedly implementing positive change on a monumental scale.

Visibility is truly game changing when it pertains to a societal issue. What do you wish people on a global scale were more aware of when it comes to the lives of Indigenous folks?

Robert: I’ve been in DEI all my life, which means I’ve lived in a balance of two worlds as a person of color. As an Indigenous person, I’ve noticed that because we don’t make up much of the population, our history doesn’t necessarily allow us to talk about the problems we face. The challenges we see today are the same challenges that people of color have faced for centuries, that’s how prevalent it is. If there are only 2 Indigenous people out of every 100 people born, it’s no wonder that we don’t see them in board rooms or represented by the mainstream media. The challenge that we face as Native Americans is uniquely our struggle. There are some fantastic success stories out there, however, the issues are below or equivalent to that of a third world country… yet the American media doesn’t want to cover it. So little is being taught about Native people, and our challenges need to be explained. There are almost 700 different tribes in America alone, all independently unique, speaking their own language, with their own governments, and cultural nuances. It’s very complex in terms of one voice, and one particular issue, because there are so many voices in this.

Small steps being taken may be helpful, but there still needs to be massive change. What else can we be doing?

Robert: For many Native Americans, it doesn’t matter what the issue is, it’s about being included. For so many years we have been on the menu, but never at the table ourselves. For me, it’s important to put us on the map, because my successes or failures carry a lot of weight. If I fail, a lot of people will then judge every Native American man based on that experience. If I succeed, they’ll ask, “are there more like you,” like an animal. I’m simply trying to pave the way for opportunities, and that all has to start with education and awareness. For example, the Gabby Petito case has garnished national attention. Where was that for Selena Not Afraid, or Ashley Heavyrunner, both Indigenous women that disappeared in Montana? According to the FBI, there are 6,000 more names of missing or murdered Native women since 2018. There have been millions of dollars spent searching for Gabby, whereas a search for a Native woman can only gather family members to search for them. This is just one example of the inequalities that are handled by the media, but as a whole, our society is just unaware. I find myself constantly having to educate professionals about the inaccuracies in “myths” about Native folks: high cheekbones, free education, free healthcare, or that we don’t pay taxes. There is so much to teach, so it’s important to learn about the original Americans in this country. Once you understand our culture, struggles and strife, then we can start talking about how we can help.

Indigenous people have faced hundreds of years of oppression, however, our current society faces new challenges with COVID and beyond. How have you been able to successfully maintain a business during such turbulence?

Robert: The key for anyone right now is to reposition their business “post” COVID. It’s important to pivot and still use this time as an opportunity to network and educate, upskill, and ultimately position your business to be successful. The needs of businesses have changed, and with remote work, you can now hire talent across the country. The right candidate is now accessible everywhere, making this a really exciting time for business owners. The internet allows you to have it look like we are all in the same place, even though we may be coast to coast. This enables us to remain connected, not dropping off at all, while maintaining a work-life balance. The “old school” way of going about business was you dedicate and sacrifice so much for your jobs. Work-life balance was so cliché and never really existed, but now, in order to run any successful business, you need to make sure you know the people themselves. It’s important to know what motivates, inspires, and drives each individual; this will allow productivity to soar because people have the freedom to take care of their own needs. There wasn’t always room for that, and in the past, it was: you are mine, 24/7, 8–5, no matter what comes up. Now, successful companies are blending that.

The other component that is really exciting is leadership for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The most successful businesses start from strong leadership, those are the ones that have to be behind it. It’s no longer a cool brochure or statement of solidarity- it’s really focused on committing the support and mentorship. Support is long term, commitments to training, and long term human resources. DEI is nothing new, but it’s more at the forefront of company initiatives now. Diversity is so broad now, that you have to look at your practices, processes, hiring, and recruiting. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in hiring those that “lived in their neighborhood,” people they were comfortable with. There’s a fear factor in hiring someone that doesn’t look like you. It’s not racism, it’s unconscious bias, though still discrimination. In order for businesses to be successful, they need to be giving chances and thinking outside the box.

There is so much uncertainty and instability in the world today. What have you found brings joy to people right now?

Robert: What has brought me joy, personally, has been giving a hand-up, not a hand-out. Helping other professionals ascend in their careers. For me, it’s not about me anymore, it’s about uplifting someone else’s success. If I can help, I’m much more aware, and it’s a personal, professional, and even uncomfortable growth. Giving someone new a chance, someone with merit and talent, then empowering them to be able to fail when they need to. Encourage folks to FAIL, just means First Attempt In Learning. Giving someone the space to make mistakes; some of my best hires in the NFL were people of color, young professionals coming up, that never had the opportunity before. I love having the success of someone else as my own success. There’s a lot to be negative about these days, but there’s so much more to celebrate. A thank you note is far more special to me than any award out there.

You have clearly managed to overcome adversities that most people cannot even begin to imagine. What do you want to share about your experience?

Robert: Don’t quit. I came from a community where the success ratio was about -2, and unemployment peaks around 90%. The odds were set up against me to fail, but for me to rise up in this position in the NFL, was very special. There were a lot of sacrifices that needed to be made simultaneously. Everyone wants it easy, but you have to work your tail off. Appreciating those “stormy” times is equally important, my best advice would be to never give up. You are going to face adversities, it’s inevitable; for me, my rise came from climbing that mountain, then looking around and realizing that there are other mountaintops. There are other people climbing those other mountains, so how was I going to help them as well? My passion was really fueled by that drive. I come from a people that were nearly eliminated by the government, literally slaughtered; so for me to be here, sharing my success, as well as others, is worth celebrating. I owe it to my elders, all the trials and tribulations they faced, all the racism, and oppression… I owe it to them to be successful. I hope to repay them for their struggles and repay society by continuing to work hard. It’s all about working to be better.

A strong drive behind any major project is crucial to ensure its success. What is your greatest inspiration?

Robert: I love the underdog; from sports, to professionals, to just classic rookie stories. I love the struggle because my story is that of struggle. I’ve faced a lot of demons, a lot of adversity, but when you come out in the end, that’s what truly inspires me. I love reading stories of those overcoming obstacles, famous people weren’t always famous, there’s a story to how they got there. At the end of the day, it’s about faith, I am a man of faith, I’ve gotten through so much with my relationship with a higher power. Other stories of success are what inspire me most.

Robert’s efforts to spread awareness and increase visibility for Indigenous people is remarkable. He is working to build a world where Native folks are not only included in the conversation but empowered to speak up and demand profound change. Uplifting the voices of those accustomed to silence is an ambitious goal, but Robert refuses to quit. He may be inspired by the triumphs of others, but we are inspired by him.

Enjoying these articles? Passionate about integrating this into your company? DEI month may be over, but the spirit and tenacity of these initiatives are operating all year long. Spark up these conversations and see just how far your business can go.

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