As a project manager, you’re in a unique position to shape company culture. So how can you use that influence to build a diverse and inclusive workplace? It starts with the way you show up for and lead your team.
In this episode of Time Limit, Brett talks with Yvette Pegues—a DE&I executive and keynote speaker and the cofounder and CEO of Your Invisible Disability Group—about how to create an organizational culture that’s intentional about diversity and inclusion.
Listen to their conversation to learn:
Yvette Pegues, Ed.D.(c), began her career as a scientist and left an activist. She is a DnI Executive and Keynote Speaker, co-Founder and CEO of Your Invisible Disability Group - whose mission is to “Empower, Equip, Educate and Include Individuals with Disabilities” at the intersection of access and opportunity.
Her MCSE, IBM Engineer-to-Executive career and personal experience as a disabled professional with neurocognitive barriers prepared her for award-winning Adaptive Engineering, Adapted Sports and Assistive Technology proficiencies in prominent corporate, workplace, marketplace and education spaces around the world.
In addition to C-Suite Advisory duties and strong tradition of activism, she sits on, chairs and supports multiple social impact projects, ADA and executive boards; consults on affinity and diversity group development teams, advises on state, government and federal partner incentives for inclusion; and advocates for the community she lives and serves through her 501c3/non-profit neurodiverse programs - all from her height-adjustable, battery-powered wheelchair.
Brett Harned: Hey, welcome to Time Limit, I'm your host, Brett Harned. So on the show we talk all about leadership, project management and productivity. Today's episode I think covers all of those things in an overarching important way. I invited Yvette Pegues on the show to dig into culture, diversity and inclusion and how leaders can actually work on building spaces in-person or even remotely, spaces that are positive and inclusive for everyone.
Yvette is a DNI executive and keynote speaker, and she's the co-founder and CEO of Your Invisible Disability Group. Their mission is to empower, equip, educate, and include individuals with disabilities. I first met Yvette at a conference I curated in London and I was just blown away by her keynote. She's an extraordinary human doing really important work. I hope that you enjoy this conversation and maybe even pick up a thing or two. Yvette Pegues, thank you so much for joining me on Time Limit today, how are you doing?
Yvette Pegues: Just wonderful, how are you today?
Brett Harned: I'm doing well, thanks. 2020 as well as we can be doing, right?
Yvette Pegues: Right.
Brett Harned: I'm really looking forward to catching up with you to digging into a topic that I think is important to everyone really and that's really culture and inclusion. And I know that's a super wide topic, but I really want to focus in on how project managers can take on responsibility to build that inclusion on teams. And because we're in the middle of this pandemic so many people have been forced to work remotely, so I'd like to get your thoughts on that too. Does that all sound good?
Yvette Pegues: Oh, wonderful, thanks for that.
Brett Harned: Awesome. Well, to kick it off, maybe you could just share a little bit about yourself and your passion really for setting organizations on the right path when it does come to inclusion.
Yvette Pegues: Absolutely. I tell people a lot I started out as a scientist and now I'm an activist. The scientist piece comes from being a networking and systems engineer and program manager at IBM for quite some time, the advocacy and the activism comes from suffering a brain and spinal cord injury in the middle of my engineering career. And because of what I knew and what I now know as an individual and executive working and leading with a disability, the inclusion and the culture piece of it is so much more important.
I think the culture was invisible before, it wasn't something that was prominent. But coming into the workplace with all of these intersections, being a woman, a woman of color, a woman of color with a disability and a woman of color with a disability living in the COVID era where our culture is even more important. So for me, the importance is critical, it's mission critical. It's just as important as the products and the services that organizations have to supply and make available to individuals, not just with disabilities, not just with the need, but with all individuals looking to co-create and make the magic happens in the middle of this tragic that's happening.
Brett Harned: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So you said that culture is something that you haven't seen, I'm not sure if I'm paraphrasing properly, but I'm curious if you could talk a little bit more about that, the blindness, the culture, maybe.
Yvette Pegues: Sure. I think culture was individualistic, maybe by department, maybe based on your role in the organization in that hierarchal environment. But I don't think culture was as big when I was in the engineering field as it is now, I think we're very conscious of it. In other words, we're more intentional. I think you kind of walk into the culture that was as opposed to making an impact and being invited into a culture that can be, I just don't think that, and even today in some organizations, culture is just what it is, what it has been. Sometimes it's dated, sometimes it's isolating and exclusive and I don't think anyone specifically is looking to speak to culture unless of course that organization is intentional about diversity and inclusion.
Brett Harned: Yeah. I think for me and in my experience, I feel like the term culture it's used a lot now, right?
Yvette Pegues: Yeah.
Brett Harned: But I think it's been blurred by some organizations, almost people consider things like perks and benefits to be what the culture is. Like I can remember in my experience interviewing or working in startups or even digital agencies and them saying things were cultured were like having a beer fridge or ping pong tables, things that are not really culture. Those are things that they might have and those things don't make the culture. Not sure if you agree with that or maybe if you could just talk a little bit about how a culture is defined.
Yvette Pegues: Really good point there. As I mentioned, and I think I hear you saying culture was not intentional and the understanding and idea of culture had to do with things and people, right?
Brett Harned: Right.
Yvette Pegues: ... And social responsibility and just the bigger things that I believe organizations are paying a little bit more attention to. As far as culture is concerned, culture starts with the people, not the product or the service. And it starts from the top down with leadership, starting at the top down and the culture, especially with programming project managers. They are the culture that our resources and those that we manage under the project management umbrella look to. So I focus a lot on belonging as far as that hierarchal need that culture creates.
A culture in itself is something that has to be intentional, it has to start with the people and only end with the product. If the people creating the product and the service feel like they belong, and that's how I tie the two together, but there's several pieces in between belonging and actually having a culture that I think is a conversation I have with my leadership and managers.
Brett Harned: Yeah, that's an important conversation to have, I mean, if obviously culture is something that really comes from the top down, or at least building that culture, and then to your point, it's really part of a project manager's role to maintain that culture or maybe even build more of a unique team culture as a micro part of the larger organization culture. Does that make sense?
Yvette Pegues: It does, but I don't think it's taught in our PMI courses, right?
Brett Harned: Yeah.
Yvette Pegues: Nobody teaches it and unless the organization itself almost requires it or models it then you might not find a project manager or a program manager who is intentionally managing with culture in mind. And with culture it requires that you know your team, it's not just something you bring in, it's not just a hammer or a gavel that you bang on your desk. It means that you have to now align yourself with your team who they are as people and how they perform as professionals because those two are absolutely tied together.
Brett Harned: Absolutely, I agree with that so much. And I think the part that we haven't included in this yet is this feeling of belonging and connectedness, and inclusion really is what I'm talking about. And I'm wondering, of course on the organizational level things can be done but I'm really interested in this personal level because like you said, project managers need to get to know their team members. They need to build good relationships. But, what are some of the things that you think a project manager or a team lead could do to build that momentum or even build a feeling of belonging and connectedness within the team?
Yvette Pegues: That's a great question. Now, Brett, that's a great question. Using conscious culture and inclusive thinking, which by the way, jobs, innovation, I would start with empathy. In a conscious culture you have to recognize empathy is different than sympathy. In some of the disability I get the difference is not about feeling bad because I have a disability but recognizing that I'm an individual with challenges and being able to support those challenges by just recognizing them as simple as respecting the focus. We don't want to take what the corporate structuring needs are out of the picture, we definitely need to be hard on the problem and soft on the people, recognizing that even though they intersect at some point they are different.
Inclusive AI is part of conscious culture in my opinion, including diverse set of AI creators and the skillset that everyone is using in the area of AI because AI in and of itself can speak to different cultures and beliefs and dispositions. Another is recognizing exclusion. I think the corny statement people make is, "Hey, if you see something say something." But truly diversity without inclusion is exclusion, so to ignore and to believe that there is no culture is excluding the opportunity to bring someone into a new culture or a living breathing culture, it's not a static.
Another area in conscious culture is solving for one and extending to many. That's huge because you're moving from a single solution to an inclusive solution. I always say that if you create for someone with a disability then everyone else will get it by. Sometimes you have to create at the level in which everybody understands and that makes it so scalable and so inclusive. And finally, what we learn from disability, avoiding diversity without inclusion really limits the talent that you can not just recruit but retain. As I support these organizations and their working on retention and recruitment, they're so confused as to why with such a great job with great pay that they don't have as great a retention as they should.
And a lot of times the first place I go is I look at their culture and I can see pretty easily and pretty quickly how there's a problem there. If you're bringing someone in from a totally different culture or country it's great to pay them well and to make sure that everything within the building is inclusive. But sometimes as soon as they leave work they get homesick because they don't recognize their surroundings and they're not given resources outside of the place where they spend eight to 12 hours a day, and so they come back the next day with this sense of being outside of their expertise. So with that, when we talk about culture, I have to go to something very basic when I talk about belonging, but before I do that, what are your thoughts on the conscious culture leading into the sense of belonging?
Brett Harned: There's so much good stuff in there. So many great points, but one thing that I zeroed in on was you have to be hard on the problem not the people. And I think that's so important and that's all about just leading with empathy, that was really interesting to me. Another thing that came to mind while you were talking is how does that culture manifest itself? What have you seen in organizations in terms of culture? Writing down statements about culture doesn't feel really genuine to me. The act of being inclusive and the act of working hard and putting the work in to do the right thing feels more important to me. But I'm wondering if you can maybe talk a little bit about how organizations are defining and I guess, maintaining and managing culture.
Yvette Pegues: I'm so glad you brought that up because I guess in the last six to nine months so many missions and visions are being challenged. And I believe that in some ways the mission has to be solid because that's the bottom line. But the vision can change and the vision needs to include the people in the organization. And you're right, so many people are sharing solidarity statements but nothing is changing behind the doors of that organization and I really do believe that leadership have to make sure that the health of their vision and the organization is visited often. And it's, again, I think COVID and some of the critical social issues that are having is a great example of how your mission can be the same, but your vision can be stronger and it can adapt to the organization's desires to support the country or the nation or the city that they serve.
Because at the end of the day, I really love your product but I may not like your presence on our social platforms or your surroundings. You don't want to be a flower in the desert, you want to be able to have branches and leaves that help the country and the organization and the cities that you live in. And that happens with foundations and other areas of the business but it also happens with your organization. And to your question, get your team involved, take temperatures very regularly and communicate that it's okay not to be okay. I think companies are recognizing that remote work is not as bad a thing as they thought it was maybe a year or two ago so the infrastructure has been built. And my hope is that it continues to be made available for those who need it not just those who deserve it or have worked for it.
And when you talk about building a culture within an organization, it's the heartbeat of every individual from facilities to the vice president, and if those conversations aren't had, whether it be through constant and ongoing surveys, then really there's no way of knowing what your organization says. What is the voice of your organization through the individuals that work there? Right. So management, what I found a lot is a great example of that is bringing individuals with disabilities into an organization. I actually walked into an organization, all puns intended, in my wheelchair and I posed if you will, as a new disabled employee. The first couple of weeks were great, probably by the second or third month, I would roll into a conversation at the water cooler and everyone would walk away.
And what I found out later was they saw me as the token, they saw me as kind of the company doing something good for the world. But HR had the intention of bringing me in for diversity purposes and allowing me to use my experience to help create products for an $8 trillion industry where one out of every four individuals have a disability whether visible or invisible. They wanted to support that population, and if that was not communicated to the rest of the team then of course they're going to think something different and that culture was different.
No one made the huge announcement that we're going to include differences in our organization, whether that be LGBTQ, whether that be race, culture, or everything in between, no one else understood that that was the direction the company was going in. At which point they could communicate their concerns, stay, leave or thrive and no one was given that choice. So in a lot of ways although I felt horrible as a person, I didn't feel comfortable speaking to management that were specifically managing me, because again, this was an HR and a VP initiative. No one else really knew what was going on, but I had to really speak out at the executive level and the C-suite level and they were oblivious to what was going on because they never asked.
Brett Harned: Wow. But first I'm sorry that you went through that, I'm sure it's one of many experiences you've had in your career but that just sounds pretty ridiculous to me as just a generally caring human being to think that people would just ignore someone for a disability is just unbelievable. And that the organization didn't see it happening is disappointing to say the least. But it makes me think about that this is a very personal thing, culture isn't just about the organization it's also about the people who make up the organization. And I'm wondering, what should we be doing as individuals to make sure that we are being inclusive or at least that we're recognizing the exclusion, like you said?
Yvette Pegues: Right. Well, there's architectural barriers and then there's attitudinal barriers. And most organizations are very good with looking at some of the architectural barriers. Again at the largest private organizations that I worked in they had some architectural barrier issues, but for the most part recognizing and calling it out, getting the affinity groups involved. Here's a great example in what I've done recently, is if you're bringing someone in and you don't already have a BRG, a business resource group or an affinity group, create one, so that as you recruit individuals with differences, let those individuals that are already working there within a group that finds some similarity in the disposition of someone coming in, include them. Bring them into somewhere that they already feel safe and that they can have these conversations. Use the people in leadership in these BRGs to welcome and maybe even mentor an individual coming in with similar issues and concerns.
I have had the opportunity and pleasure to help build and create business resource groups and affinity groups at organizations where they didn't think it would help at first, it's not just a place to have spaghetti lunches once a month but it's also a place for advocacy and visibility. And to include them in some of the corporate talks that you have, not just help them like you said, on paper, but getting involved in them. Have C-level guests come in and not just to speak but to sit back in a seat, to learn, to grow and recognize what that part of their organization is looking like and what their needs are, and just be supportive of that organization and that group.
But one of the best things that we've been able to do with our BRGs is to allow leadership to grow because if you're not growing in your profession you can still grow within a BRG and find that leadership skill, develop it so that you can now create and find opportunities within the company, because sometimes it takes building a leader to lead in other areas. And because it's a safe place I know that's been one of the most successful ways to create a culture within a culture. It's okay to have layers of culture that align and intersect with themselves. You have to first feel safe, you have to feel heard, you have to feel like you belong to increase an individual's commitment to working towards a common goal in synergy with others. So that's the thing I think I might've left out with creating cultures within cultures as long as there's synergy.
Brett Harned: And creating opportunities for individuals too, opportunities for growth not just in leadership but growth as human beings, it sounds like.
Yvette Pegues: Oh, yes. That is definitely a benefit of the organizations and teams. Okay.
Brett Harned: Absolutely. Okay, so we've mentioned the whole 2020 pandemic thing already, how can we not? It's it is our lives. But I'm curious to hear what you've seen in terms of inclusivity and culture when it comes to that pivot to remote work, because so many knowledge workers were really just thrust into remote work very quickly, changing the face of what the workforce looks like for a lot of people. And I'm wondering if from your point of view, are teams being forced to be more inclusive because there's now a level, or more of a level-playing field now that we're all just online. Or just, what have you seen in general?
Yvette Pegues: Well, this perfectly leads into what we talked about where belonging is so important, right?
Brett Harned: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Yvette Pegues: The need for esteem or recognition and being brought into project teams, that optimization of performance is required for someone to have a sense of belonging. And let me just take it to another level. I don't want to get too psychological, but if you're familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, we know that at the end of the day we have basic needs, we have psychological needs and we have self-fulfillment needs. I think because of COVID, because of us working remotely, we are definitely working in this pyramid-shaped hierarchy of our own personal needs. I think it's easily hidden in the workplace but I think this motivational theory of psychology in this five tier model of human needs is not always depicted in the workplace.
And when we look at it now that are very sensitive to mental health, we're sensitive to cultural inclusion, and we're very sensitive to what's happening outside of the workplace for the safety of each individual who are dealing with loss, who are dealing with human loss, personal loss, emotional loss, and just sometimes just even the loss of this life that they were used to. Even if it's just getting up in the morning and getting into your car and driving for an hour, as horrible as it seems while you're doing it it's still muscle memory.
So when you talk about the hierarchy of needs, I'll just go through that really quickly, you have the physiological needs, the food, the water, the rest, the warmth. And then you have under your basic needs, safety. Here we're talking about an individual in the midst of COVID and performing at their optimal level and feeling safe in a remote workplace. I think that falls into the basic needs, even though safety and security prior to COVID was very physical, it was very daunting, it was very personal. But it is now a very much part of what everyone is feeling behind those screens whether they're physically in the building or otherwise.
And then under the psychological needs is where esteem and belonging and intimate relationship and friendship comes in. Because a feeling of accomplishment maybe as simple as maybe a manager setting up a time for everyone to come online and play bingo or do something that may not seem work-related but gives that person a little bit of ease in an otherwise really tense day and scary world. And then there's self-actualization, just achieving one's full potential and including creative activities. I just want to believe that everyone wants to go to work and do their very best, but not everyone is working at the same level of struggle and same level of challenge.
So recognizing these three major areas of basic needs, psychological needs and self-fulfillment needs means that you need cultural intelligence to get to the next level and to make sure that the project manager in this case, or this example, understands the power of team belonging. Again, this is a microculture within a macro work environment. I really do believe that the team increases an individual's commitment to working in synergy with others when they feel like they belong, when they feel like they're being heard. And social belonging has always been there, right?
Brett Harned: Right.
Yvette Pegues: Back to that original culture question. It's like, well, what is culture? It's always been there but I think it's being recognized a lot more because it can present itself in different forms. It doesn't mean being at the center but part of the decision-making and implementation of whatever work, product, or service that's being created.
Brett Harned: Yeah, I agree. There's a report I think by the McKinsey Global Institute and it's not super current but I remember reading this. It always has stood out to me that a feeling of belonging or connectedness, when teams see that there's a 25 to 35% increase on productivity and output because people just feel so much better. That absolutely makes sense, and thank you for breaking it down that way, really enlightening. And I think what it comes down to that we're talking about right now is leaders or managers, or even project managers have to have empathy.
And I think that because we are about nine months into this thing now it's easy for people to just forget the COVID thing and to forget the fact that everyone is impacted by this in a different way on all of those different levels, so I really appreciate that breakdown. Just curious, do you have any tips that people should be taking to make sure that that's top of mind to make sure that inclusion is a part of your daily work life, if you do need a reminder?
Yvette Pegues: Well, you said it best earlier that inclusion has to start at the top. I believe and have communicated that belonging is an outpouring of diversity and inclusion, you can't really have one without the other and the result of diversity equity and inclusion is belonging. And you can't feel like you belong if there's no diversity, equity, and inclusion in your workplace. That's the beauty of knowing that those building blocks will lead to high and effective work product, they intersect.
And when you look at architecture with technology or humanity with social responsibility, abilities with assets, those are the ingredients, if you will. And so I think a tip first will make sure that upper-level management gets it. Even if you are at the bottom of the corporate totem pole, if you will, recognize and support and advocate for inclusion. Much like in my case, I have to say that I was innocently ignorant to the disability community and their needs because I just didn't have any experience. So it wasn't like I was intentionally being that way, but the advocacy is required from all individuals, not just those with disabilities but you have members of your team who may have family members with disabilities.
So again, this comes with making sure you know who you're working with and working for, recognize both cognitive and identity diversity, and I'll break that down a little bit. Cognitive diversity is more about information, knowledge, heuristics, maybe rules of thumb, casual models and frameworks, but then your identity diversity is race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and physical disabilities. And when you have all of those people at the table, whether you are having a social event or whether you're having a brainstorm, that is one of the things that I recommend. And including people who have different styles of problem-solving to create a unique perspective, because they all think differently. And that's under the cognitive diversity column, but with identity diversity you're describing the way that individuals and groups defined themselves.
And they're defined by others based on their race, ethnicity, religion, language, sometimes, and culture. So today you're looking at a one-to-one collaboration for diversity of thought and for true growth, there needs to be a collaboration of ideas. So that's a great place to start and where I've found a lot of inclusion and success. And from that, of course you get individuals who are now educated in those areas of diversity. So now that you know what they are get educated in both cognitive and identity diversity.
A simple response to that or a simple example, if you will, is to make sure that you're doing things remotely that don't necessarily look like what you would do in the workplace. Be creative and take polls, see what people want to do. I think I've seen a lot of Zoom lunches and anonymous entries of concerns, and beef up your mental health and support areas within the workplace because there are individuals who've never even considered mental health but are living through it because of all of the emotional pressure that they're feeling, whether it be at home or watching the news or just living in the country today.
Brett Harned: Right. Wow, so much to pull from there but also a lot of good just actionable ideas, and really just saying that you've got to pay attention to this stuff. We've got to remember that we're working with people, even though we might only see them through tiny screens or screens in general, they're still people on the other side and we need to consider those people in all of the work that we do. So, thank you so much for joining me today. This has been very enlightening, very interesting and I always love hearing from you, so thank you.
Yvette Pegues: Likewise, you're just amazing and I'm so excited about what you're doing and even the way that you're doing it now. I love that you're expanding your voice and your purpose and bringing other people like myself and some of your other guests to help support technology through humanity, and I think that's the piece that we may not have made as much about, made as much noise about before but it's really important now to have emotional intelligence. And I love that technology is starting to look like the humans that create it.
Brett Harned: Yeah, me too. That's exciting to me. And it's just so hopeful when you talk to somebody else who gets it, who understands that. We've let the technology go too far, let's take a step back and focus on each other because that's going to make the technology even better.
Yvette Pegues: Right. It sounds crazy to take two steps back in order to move 10 steps forward, but hey, we're living in an upside down world.
Brett Harned: We're here, we are in it. Well, Yvette, thank you so much. Again, always good hearing from you and I really appreciate you joining Time Limit today.
Yvette Pegues: It's been a pleasure, thank you for having me.
Brett Harned: All right, bye.
Yvette Pegues: Bye-bye.
Brett Harned: All right. There's so much information in there for you to digest. At the end of the day I think if you're working in an organization or in a team that needs help when it comes to culture, diversity and inclusion, you can do that work, you can be a part of that. Like Yvette said, some organizations aren't working on actively or even teaching their stuff, but that doesn't mean that you can't learn more and act on it, I know I certainly will be.
I definitely think that that provided some great recommendations on how to get started and things that you can do. So, hey, if you're interested in hearing more about Yvette, definitely check out the show notes over at teamgantt.com/podcast, or really check them out wherever you're listening to your podcasts. And while you're at it, please give us a thumbs up or even a review, and I will be back soon with another interview focused on becoming a stronger leader. Thanks so much.
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