Leigh sits down with Celeste Duke to discuss the impact of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) on employee retention. Celeste explains why DEI should be prioritized at every organization and what happens when it’s undervalued. She and Leigh explore simple ways that leadership can make an impact and how leaders should handle missteps. Celeste closes with an inspiring story of how one New Orleans hospital couples DEI efforts with community outreach and retention efforts.
About Celeste Duke
Celeste Duke, SPHR, is a Managing Content Specialist overseeing BLR’s HR content team. She understands the existing and emerging needs and challenges of human resources professionals thanks to several years of experience managing, writing, and editing key publications for BLR.
Her areas of concentration include diversity, equity, and inclusion, workplace trends, and employee training. Before coming to BLR, she was the business editor for The Daily Herald in Columbia, Tennessee. Celeste earned her bachelor’s degree from David Lipscomb University and a master’s from Middle Tennessee State University, where she also taught writing.
- [5:38] Celeste discusses the consequences of not prioritizing DEI and why this is especially bad
for healthcare organizations.
- [11:13] Leigh and Celeste discuss the fact that mistakes are inevitable and what leadership
should do to amend these missteps when they occur.
- [15:55] Celeste explores the issue of income equity and why it’s a critical factor in why people
stay on or leave an organization.
- [19:56] Celeste closes with a story about how one New Orleans hospital invests both in its
organization and its community.
Welcome to the Vitals and Vision podcast. I’m your host, Leigh Steiner, a partner for Behavioral Health Solutions at Reliance. Today’s episode is going to focus on the powerful connection between diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, and its impact on staff retention. We’re excited to be joined today by Celeste Duke. She is a senior professional and human resource and managing editor overseeing the H.R. team at BLR, an industry leading provider of management software and corporate training.
I know Celeste is going to have some great insights for us today. With 18 years of managing writing and editing publications for BLR with a concentration in DTI. But before that, Celeste worked as a business editor at the Daily Herald in Columbia, Tennessee. So Celeste, how did your time with the Daily Herald lead to your work at BLR?
Well, you know, I loved working at the newspaper, but the hours were long and the pay was not great.
And I came to BLR, and the pay was fair and the team was wonderful, and I started studying HR and diversity and I really just enjoyed it. It wasn’t something that I ever expected but it kind of all dovetailed. I was a philosophy major in undergrad, so I think diversity kind of folds in with that also.
But it’s really… And I think that this is a great example of engaging in retention, right? Like, at every turn, at first they paid for me to finish my masters, because I had stopped working on my masters when I went to work for the newspaper. But I wanted to finish it even though I wasn’t going to teach. So they paid for me to finish my masters in English even though it wasn’t an HR degree, right? And then when I was ready to do my SPHR, they paid for that and they supported me through that. They sent me to conferences, they’ve sent me to just all the learning opportunities that I’ve ever asked for. And that’s just one of the many reasons that I like this company and I’ve stuck with this company for 18 years.
And I think that’s one of the things I love about studying HR and DEI – it’s that in your job as an HR person, you really do have the ability to effect a lot of change for a lot of people. And it’s best when you have leadership buy-in. But even when you don’t have leadership buy-in, there are things that you can do to make your workplace fairer, more equitable, more inclusive. I just really enjoyed learning about that and pursuing that. So that’s the long answer to that.
What a great response. Thank you, Celeste. And there are a number of things you said there I thought we need to jump into, including especially that thing even without leadership buy in, you can still make a big effect in your work and in the organization. Let’s come back to that one. Go back to you. You talked about DEI being really a core component of an organization’s business strategy. Can you talk about that and the importance of that and the relevance of that also in healthcare?
If you get your DEI right, you’re engaging people. Like the inclusion part, right? Like if people feel included, if people feel the equity, if they feel like you’re a fair employer, they’re going to stay with you and they’re going to tell other people about you; they’re going to be a marketer for you.
And when you get DEI right, you have people that are engaged, that are happy to be at your work. And that, I mean, that’s why I’m still at my job when I didn’t start off thinking, “Oh, I want a career in HR.” But it was because I felt pulled into this company and I was excited about the enthusiasm for everything that they did, and that’s part of DEI… making everybody feel included. It’s that inclusion.
Yeah, just a little bit more about that. You said when you get DEI right, what does it look like when you get it right?
It’s engagement, that’s what it looks like. DEI done right looks like engagement. It looks like people feeling like they’re in a safe spot where they can be themselves, where they can bring their ideas, where they don’t feel like they’re going to be shot down. I think that’s what, to me, that’s what DEI looks like.
Well, talk about, you know, when DEI is not prioritized, what happens?
Right. Oh well, I mean people leave. I mean, not, okay, your best people leave. Not, and that’s the thing, like when DI is not prioritized, what you see is that the people who are your best thinkers are your… that are bringing the new ideas, that may not feel safe, they’re the ones that are leaving. The people who are not leaving are the people who are fine just with the status quo, like maybe you don’t like to be challenged, and that might work in some situations, but that’s not where you’re going to get your best employee feedback, engagement, work, and it’s just not going to push you to be the best company that you can be, the best organization you can be.
But no, and I think when you, right, when you get DEI wrong, or when you don’t focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, you just get a homogenous group that thinks like each other. It’s the echo chamber, right? And… it’s like well why can’t we retain people? Well we can retain people that look like us, because we know what we want, we know what works for us, but you know all of these people that we work so hard to recruit that are different than us or have a different perspective than us because we know we need different perspectives to thrive and to grow, they keep leaving. That’s what it looks like when you get DEI wrong. And sometimes it even looks like you get a bad reputation publicly.
And so, not only can you become known as a bad place to work, you can become known, you know, as a health care facility, right? Like you don’t want to become known as the place that doesn’t value, you know, different, in quotes, opinions or different perspectives. That can be not only off-putting, but really dangerous in healthcare. You need to be able to listen to different people in different experiences and understand those things and grow from those things, so that you can offer the best health care to a broad and diverse segment of the population.
Yeah, I know that so often the first response maybe is, or certainly has been, let’s do some education training for everybody. Right? And, of course, that as a foundation is important. But it’s insufficient in and of itself. And I know you’ve written and researched about development and training and mentoring. Can you talk about those aspects also of what DEI can look like in an organization?
Well, you know, I think all of those things are really important, especially mentoring. I really like the one-on-one relationships. But I think that one thing that I always say, to back up and start with, is to make sure that you’re looking at who has access to all of those things.
So, as an HR person, what you can do is look at who gets the training opportunities, who gets the conference opportunities, who gets the travel opportunities in your organization. And if you see that there is some sort of homogenous theme happening, talk to your managers about why.
I love the picture that you’re creating. You can understand clearly why this would be scary in an organization because it may be different from what makes me uncomfortable. But, as you were talking about how you’re building all of these, I was thinking of bridges. Bridges from every staff to other folks so they can say, “I would like that opportunity too.” From HR to leadership so that leadership is listening to HR as they note, “Hey, have you seen that you’re only sending this kind of person to these conferences? We need to broaden this out”. So, your story there really talks about an environment that needs to be open and trusting and energized.
Right. And transparent, right?
I think that something that maybe people don’t quite realize, you know, like in my own story, right? Like I told you, every education opportunity that I asked for, I was given.
There are people that never think like, “Oh, I can go to my employer and ask them for this.” Right?
Because that can be a cultural thing. That can be just based on the life that you’ve lived, the experiences that you’ve had. Like if you’re the kind of person that’s had to fight for everything and pay for everything yourself and do everything yourself, it may just never occur to you that like, “Hey, I should ask the employer, my employer, to do this $3,000 course and see if they would do it for me.” So, making sure that everybody understands that they can have equal access, I think that that’s really important.
Do you have any insight into… it seems to me that healthcare leaders or managers may be afraid of making mistakes, entering this world and trying to create this equitable environment. So, I mean, what mistakes do we make and how potentially could we avoid them and when we make them, how do we get back on track? Thoughts about that?
You know, I think that the biggest mistake that I see in different forms, people talking about experiencing from the employee side, and you know, just kind of the academic discussion, but is to discount people’s perspective, right? Like, you go into it, and you go into whatever program that you’re doing saying, “I’m going to create something great for my team. I’m going to create this equitable solution and it’s going be awesome.”
And then somebody who is not like you, and they may be from an underrepresented group, says, “This doesn’t work for me because of X.” And the people who put all this work and heart and good intentions into this program immediately put up a wall and are like, “Well, you’re just not seeing it right.”
You’re not, you know, like, not hearing somebody else’s perspective, even if it’s hard for you to hear, because it’s not what you thought you were doing, you know? Then you’re missing an opportunity. You’re missing an opportunity to learn and grow.
And I think not actually listening to the people that you’re trying to help is ne of the biggest mistakes that I see.
Oh yeah, I think, I teach a course to master’s degree counseling students at a university and I go into every one of those classes, and I’m in my 70s now, so I go into every one of those classes saying to kids, “I’m going to use language at times that may be antiquated even though I learned it last year. And I need you to tell me if I say something, I need you to tell me with respect, but I need you to tell me if I say something that offends you or is out of date now.”
And it seems to me that if you’re a leader or a manager and you are invested in creating an equitable environment, that transparency, that humility is just essential.
100%. And it’s one of the hardest things for people to do, but it’s both super hard and super easy just to say, “I’m so sorry, that is my bad, I did not mean it that way, thank you for telling me differently.”
And it’s easy for me to say that to you right now when I’m talking about, you know, the theory of it all. But it is hard when you feel like you might be being called out.
But yeah, that’s I think the biggest lesson that HR managers, anybody who really wants to get DEI right, is to be ready to be told that you’ve said it wrong or done it wrong and be ready to say thank you and mean it.
And again, I think going back to what I was saying before, the straightest line to that for me, when somebody says that to you, is to remember that they would only say that to you if they felt safe. And, like, you know, you’re at your choose your own adventure fork in the road here: do you reward them for that and make them feel safer and create a more inclusive environment? Or do you react badly and shut them down make them feel unsafe, and then wonder in six months why they found a new job?
Right, right. And I was also thinking when you were saying this, you know, I can treat the people that I work with or who work for me, even if I’m not necessarily treated that way myself or I don’t see it in other units, I can still practice what I believe to be an equitable environment.
100%. Modeling, I think, at every level is huge. Anybody who’s interested in DEI, just bringing it into the workplace, modeling it is one of the first places that you can do it. And, if you do it well, hopefully people will start coming and asking you about it and talking to you about it.
Yeah, yeah. Let’s talk a little, and I know our time grows short here, but let’s talk a little about pay equity as a factor of this. I love your story from the beginning of what you were being paid. That may not have been unfair, it just was what the going rate was.
But obviously, you needed to move on to something where you could make enough money to support yourself. So, let’s talk a little about pay equity as a critical factor in employee retention.
You know, I think to me, it is one of — just short of like a workplace that’s untenable because it’s just so tense or something like that, like just really bullying or something like that — pay equity is a top tier reason that people stay or people leave.
And there’s a lot of intersectionality with pay equity. A lot of research has been done around gendered pay equity. But you know, it’s just one of those things that it builds throughout a career, right? Like you can move from one place to the other and it’s the thing that you take with you — that if you weren’t paid fairly in the last position, you might not be paid fairly in the new position. Because often your pay is based on what you made in the last position.
So when, somebody new comes in you ask them, “Well, what did you make?” And so you feel like if you can give them 5% more, 10% more, whatever, then they should be happy. But, really, you could be perpetuating pay inequity from before and if people — not if, but when — people start talking and start finding out what other people make for the same position, there is nothing I can think of that will lead to dissatisfaction and grumbling and disengagement quicker than finding out that somebody in a very similar position is making significantly more than you.
And pay equity is becoming the law of the land in some states. A lot of times… there are several states where you have to put out your salary range and stuff.
So again, not only are the people who are looking at your job advertisements going to see it, your internal people are going to see it. And how demoralizing to see that you’re hiring somebody into a position that I currently hold, but you’re going to pay them more and I’ve been working for you for five years. Like that is just an immediate, like, on-off switch off, right? Like these people don’t value me, I’m not going to value them. And even if it’s, again, like even if they don’t immediately jump to a new job, who wants to put in as much effort and heart to a job where they find out that they’re not valued like that?
But also, discussing wages, in terms of employment, like, that is a protected right under the National Labor Relations Act. So even if you’re not a unionized employee, Section 7 of the NLRA applies to pretty much all employers because that’s the section that allows employees to have the discussions that lead to unionization. And often, one of the things that leads to unionization is talking about your wages and benefits and how you don’t think they’re fair, right?
So, I know that a lot of employers, I mean, I just know this because I have friends that ask me still and say, you know, “Well, my employer says I’m not supposed to discuss how much I make with my colleagues.” I’m like, “Well, that’s not really something that they should be saying to you.” Right?
Like, so the answer is not to squash the discussion. The answer is to make it so that when people discuss it, they feel good about what they’re hearing. And even if… and look, you know, I 100% acknowledge that probably 99.9% of us think that we should be paid more, right? Or we want to be paid more, I want to be paid more! Like, I feel like I’m paid fairly, but I would like to be paid more, who wouldn’t want to be paid more?
But… so it’s not about maxing out, you know, like… are paying like just these super high rates? It’s about when people discuss it, they’re not going turn over a rock and all of a sudden be super upset that they’ve been treated so unfairly.
Thank you, thank you. Is there anything as we wind up here that you go, “Ah, I really want the listeners to remember this, to focus on this.” Or perhaps something we didn’t talk about you that want to say.
I do, because, okay, so, the one healthcare example that I have that I love, that I talk about all the time, is there’s a hospital in New Orleans — and this goes to building your type your talent pipeline — so it’s recruiting, but it’s also retention later. There’s a hospital in New Orleans, that they go out to middle and high schools and they bring a bunch of different people and show these kids all of the different types of jobs that are available to them in this hospital system. So, it’s that representation that matters. If you can be it, you can see it.
And it’s also, you don’t have to just love science and want to be a doctor or a nurse to work in a hospital. Here are all the other different things. If you love math, you can be, there’s an accounting department, there’s an HR department, there’s all of these different functions in a hospital. And also, here are a bunch of different things that you can do with a certification or a two-year degree. Like you don’t have to go to a four-year college. We want you to come and work for us and here is the path for it. And I think that is playing the long game for sure.
But at the same time, if you’re available, if you’re able to do that, not only is it showing people, you know, these kids, that there are all of these opportunities for them at home in this hospital system, but it’s also becoming a member of your community, right? Like it’s just building, again, like you were saying earlier, building bridges.
And, so, if you can, any way that you can do that, if you’re looking to, I mean, just hire anybody really, but also really increase your DEI efforts, then you can partner with organizations that are very specific to the groups that you’re targeting. And yes, when you are hiring, you can send them your job descriptions and job ads, and they can post them on their boards or whatever way they use to communicate.
But also, if you can engage with them in other ways just to build those bridges, like that’s how you, when you do need to hire, you can be finding people. It’s not, you know, I kind of like to think of recruiting and hiring as different, right? Like when you need the position filled, you’re hiring, you’re not recruiting. You’re recruiting all the time when you’re going into your community, when you’re building bridges, when you’re showing people this is why you want to work here, this is how you can work here.
That’s recruiting and that’s like long term and it should be constant.
I think that’s a powerful story. Right, you’re not only desperate to hire people to fill jobs, you’re investing in the whole foundation of your organization, your healthcare organization, and your community. That’s beautiful.
And healthcare organizations are, they’re a part of the community. Like more than a lot of other businesses that I study and work on, these should be long-term partners with the community. And so, yeah, like that’s… Find ways to partner with your community so that they know who you are, and then I think that you end up having people come to you instead of just you going out and looking for people.
Celeste, it has been wonderful being with you today and hearing you talk about this important issue with such passion and knowledge and experience. Thank you.
Thank you. I’ve really enjoyed this.
Thank you for tuning in to this episode of Vitals and Vision. And we sincerely hope that you found our discussion about the impact of DEI on staff retention, both enlightening and thought provoking, and that it ignites meaningful conversations within your own workplace.
Remember that success starts with a clear vision and vital strategies. Thank you for joining us and we’ll see you next time.
Meet your host
Leigh Steiner, PhD, is a Partner for Behavioral Health Solutions at Relias. Leigh has extensive national, state, and community experience in organizational development, executive development, coaching, and consulting. She served as the commissioner for mental health for the state of Illinois from 1989 to 2002. Leigh has also served as an adjunct lecturer at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and as a lecturer at the University of Illinois at Springfield.