AMA with Marquis White: Practical advice on diversity, equity and inclusion

Jimmy Daly
April 13, 2021

Marquis White is a diversity strategist. He consults as part of the Byrd Career Consulting and is also the Diversity Recruiting Program Lead at Attentive. I'd highly recommend checking out his personal website and following him on Twitter. Marquis is a wealth of very practical knowledge on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. It was an honor to have him in for an AMA.

When we spoke a few weeks back, you mentioned that "hiring is the last 20%." what's the other 80%? what are a few ways that companies create an inclusive culture so that diverse hiring becomes the norm?

Marquis: Good question. I'll ask you this... what is a good recruiting process if candidates start and aren't psychologically safe to be?This is really doing an equity audit and creating a strategy for employees --> making sure processes, policies, structures are set up for the success of employees.

Could you expand upon what an equity audit might look like? Any examples?

Marquis: It's auditing each part of the employee lifecycle for equity. A few areas of consideration:

  • total comp
  • diversity of staff (#s)
  • policies around performance
  • how you report issues

A company that does this really well is Beloved Communities based in New Orleans:

You want to audit promotions and how people are able to grow at your company -is one group being advanced in more equitable ways than another?

What do HR professionals get wrong about building D&I programs in their companies?

Marquis: They start trying to do 1000000 programs with no real strategy or structure. A diversity training (cough: unconscious bias training) won't solve all your issues. Start with a structure/strategy and make sure your policies and practices are aligned first. Then add on programs that will help you get to the goal.

Do you think mentorship programs in companies are beneficial to D&I programs or are they just for show?

Marquis: If done well, yes. True mentorship should also include sponsorship. I stood up our coaching program at my last role. The engagement went as a result of that. Look into how to effectively host one. Folks need to have advocates at all levels!

What's the difference between mentorship and sponsorship?

Marquis: Sponsorship is usually from someone more senior advocating for the more junior person. Such as a director advocating for the advancement of a specialist. Typically the sponsor has more power in the company and uses that to be an ally. Race, gender, seniority are all areas to consider.

What are employees looking to get from DEI initiatives at a company? Does this align with the overall focus on the business? How do you balance employee needs vs. business needs in a DEI program?

Marquis: There should ALWAYS be a balance. ERGs (employee resource groups) should always align with the business. Employees are, often times looking to be seen, heard, and made safe in their employment. Covid has changed the way we can even look at work. Think of ways you can include a diverse perspective. Can you have members of an ERG sit in on a new product launch, test a new training, sit on a hiring team for an exec. Those are all business initiatives.

I expect my team to grow in the next year and I want to make sure we do the right thing when it comes to D&I. What are the basic must haves to have candidates from all backgrounds feel safe, appreciated and fairly evaluate them?

Marquis: Simply put, be as objective as possible! You always want to fairly assess candidates in the interview process. Understand and recognize your power, privilege and biases and manage them as you're interviewing. Be sure to train your team and commit to diversity. Slow down and set a goals for hiring diversity, ex: I want to hire at least 2 women, 2 BIPOC, etc in this round.

Any recommendations on finding candidates from diverse backgrounds. My LinkedIn network is a white middle class echo chamber, so that's not the best place. I really want to not just hire a copy of myself. But I have 0 experience in this area, so no clue where to start really

Marquis: Tons of places! Just like The Mom Project. There are so many communities you can post jobs on (Diversify Tech, AfroTech, Black in HR) etc. You also want to position yourself as an employer where people want to come to.
Maybe this looks like soliciting partnerships with some of these organizations.

What learning methods work best with D&I? Or what do you recommend? If it is highly variable based on situation, what upfront work can be done to narrow the approach?

Marquis: Learning and DEI... my jam! You definitely want to look to change behaviors and attitudes. Focus on what the individual can do rather than what all the issues are and make it actionable. I prefer a model that includes in person/virtual session + some follow up. And not just a one and done model. Bonus points for having some sort of coaching framework built in!

I'd love to hear how you're seeing DEI involve from the front lines and what it'll look like in a few years' time

Marquis: It will be ingrained in all aspects of the biz, not just HR. You'll see roles like diversity sources, diversity marketing, diversity product, etc.I also think folks are going to continue to get called out for their performative actions and employees are going to demand accountability!

Is there anything in particular that small companies with an overwhelmingly white, cis staff can do to make our culture more genuinely inclusive?

Marquis: To build an all white staff, that's intentional. Meaning these are friends, family, former coworkers, college buddies, etc. You have to be just as intentional about building a diverse team. Get to where diverse candidates are. Make sure folks are genuinely supported when they come to your company. Audit the policies and practices to make sure they're inclusive. Ex: Do your benefits cover someone who wants to adopt or use a IVF? Do you have an anti-harassment/racism policy? What happens if you have a client who is overtly racist, is there a structure in place to protect your employee in that and off-board that client? Recruiting is one part, inclusion and belonging is the other. Diverse teams are intentional, and we have to be when we're looking to grow and diversify. Be clear about where you're looking for more diversity.

I have a B2B client whose core focus is DEI for next generation talent. However, we have to be very careful not to come across as “preachy” in the content we write. He doesn’t want to be perceived as a diversity expert, more that he is impacting DEI itself. How would you recommend approaching content talking about DEI on LinkedIn without positioning the client as a DEI expert, or compromising his authenticity?

Marquis: I think the key is to come from the perspective of what can you do to impact diversity? Is it a huge network they'd be able to tap into? Is it developmental opportunities? Is it career coaching partnerships? Without knowing more about your client or their offerings, you can say a lot about diversity without having to say diversity explicitly.

Could you point us to good resources on allyship? Occasionally there are obvious situations that require action. E.g. If someone makes sexist or racist posts in this community we'd boot that person. But the day-to-day is less clear to me. I often find myself thinking "am I doing this right?" or "could I do more?"

Marquis:  Allyship is going to depend based on what group you are being an ally to.

One thing I do is follow accounts on social media who are highlighting some of these folks.

We found some pretty troubling discrepancies in our most recent salary report. $91,155 average income for a white man vs $79,996 average income for a black woman. Our data set wasn't huge but this does seem to match up with salary reports in other industries. Two questions: Do you agree with location-based salaries? (e.g. paying your SF employees more than your midwest employees). I wonder if this contributes to pay gaps, assuming that big cities like SF are home to more white people. And do you think companies should publish salaries along with job descriptions?

Marquis: Wait til you factor in Latina women! I'm not a total rewards/comp person.

  1. I'd suggest the comp by standard for role and not location.
  2. I don't have a hard stance on this. I've seen a lot of people advocate for it.

I think the real thing comes down to making sure people are paid fairly. Hire a comp person in and don't guess or just make up numbers to appease candidates/hiring managers. And pay folks in an equitable way.

Cookie Consent

By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.