The son of a Black football coach, Donald Thompson never saw many people in corporate America that looked like him and saw even fewer as he climbed the ranks. According to a study by McKinsey & Company, roughly two-thirds of Black professionals in America do not have sponsors to advocate for their career growth, despite the fact that 87% of companies surveyed have sponsorship programs.
Working with others in North Carolina led to the creation of The Diversity Movement, a platform to give back to people looking for mentorship like he was.
“I had to learn in my career to navigate being the ‘only’ and to not wear a chip on my shoulder. If you go into life and everyone’s your enemy, you miss your allies,” Thompson said. “That mindset helped me grow my career.”
In a conversation with Senior Executive Media, Thompson discusses learning tools for DEI and examples of how they can transform businesses. Read the edited excerpt below.
Senior Executive DEI Think Tank is a criteria-based membership community for chief diversity officers and senior-level DEI leaders at large organizations to share difference-making tactics, trade valuable resources, and seek the counsel of experienced peers in a private, confidential setting.Do you qualify?
Senior Executive Media: What are the training and digital learning tools that you provide your clients for DEI purposes?
Don Thompson: We have traditional digital learning courses, where you’ll get a certificate upon completion. So [that includes] 2-4 hour courses on unconscious bias, inclusive language, inclusive leadership, and the language of inclusion. We also have micro content, and we’re very excited to launch micro videos by The Diversity Group, and this platform was recognized as a 2022 world-changing idea by Fast Company. What we’ve done is we’ve created our Netflix for DEI, so we have over 600 2-3 minute micro video vignettes on various topics. Companies’ employer base can look up microaggressions, [ask] “what is Black History Month?” Questions that people have that they wouldn’t normally feel comfortable asking in a group of 100 people on a Zoom or in a group of 1000 people. It creates psychological safety but more importantly, it creates the ability to have DEI learning in the flow of work.
Most of us would struggle to find two to four hours for anything. We have five minutes for anything we want to learn about. That’s why YouTube is so big, or Vimeo, or TikTok. We’re all focused on bite-size content… We wanted to model our content the way that the macro society is now accustomed to learning.
“If you can get the business leader to change their language to be more inclusive, you can get the business leader to create and give better feedback.”
Senior Executive Media: Could you talk about a client’s success story and how it helped them on their journey?
Don Thompson: I can start with Bayada. 500 senior leaders took our Beyond the Checkbox DEI course which is a five-module course and had a 92% completion rate across the executives. If you think about how to create leverage, it’s educating business leaders. If you can get the business leader to change their language to be more inclusive, you can get the business leader to create and give better feedback. You can get the business leader to now create a more diverse hiring line. Those things have much more power in the organization and bottom-up, we should do diversity because it’s the right thing. We focus a lot on leadership education, which is the second pillar of why we’re being successful.
Another example is an organization we worked with is a $2 billion financial institution in Winston Salem, North Carolina called Truliant. They have adopted our digital video content for their organization of 700 people. In addition, they have quarterly educational DEI sessions that I work directly with their top 12 leaders in their organization. We also have DEI one-on-ones with those leaders. One of the last sessions that we talked about was why they should implement or consider implementing pronouns.
Businesses need to think about both the compliance aspect but more importantly, how do you grow, or think about disability and inclusion? We’ve all heard about the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). What people don’t understand, however, is if you build a better website for blind and low-vision consumers, your user interface is going to be better for all. When we think about DEI, most people think about the color of our skin, race, gender, sexual orientation, but disabilities, we now have Gen Z in the workplace, for that matter. Military folks that are transitioning into organizations. We have cultural diversity from a global perspective.
Senior Executive Media: What’s an industry you’re familiar with that needs more DEI support?
Don Thompson: Within marketing, there is an acknowledgment that growing an authentic brand requires DEI to be part of their brand strategy. Most marketing leaders are not fighting that but the struggle is how do we get there. The majority of people working PR and agency and marketing businesses are white. But they’re now charged with doing branding, marketing work for organizations that want a multicultural perspective in their brand marketing. This is an industry that is open-minded about change, but they don’t know how to get there. One of the things that we talked about when we’re talking to leaders that have an all-white team and they don’t just want to fire their team is that they want to make it work.