Episode 5: Creating Inclusive Communities In The Digital Age With Scott Blair
The COVID pandemic brought people out of the office and into the virtual workspace. This can bring about opportunities and challenges when it comes to inclusion and diversity in the workplace. Just because you’re virtual doesn’t mean you should just forget about diversity. Businesses need to let everyone feel welcomed and valued because that can improve work quality. Coming in to the show is the Chief Diversity Officer of B. Braun Medical Inc., Scott Blair. Scott has served as a DEI professional for roughly 10 years in a variety of capacities. Learn how the pandemic affected inclusion and diversity in the workplace since everything is online now. Find out why people need to be adaptable to change whether that’s with working with people in person or online. Discover why it’s important to make people feel valued in your community so everyone works to their full potential. Don’t be afraid of DEI conversations and start talking about that today.
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Creating Inclusive Communities In The Digital Age With Scott Blair
Scott, it's lovely to have you joining us to talk about inclusive communities. I want to pick your brain a little bit more about your role and what you are doing. First, why don't you introduce yourself and tell us a little about you and your career in the DEI space?
I serve as the Senior Director for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at B. Braun Medical of North America. My journey into this work first starts on the personal side of things. I was born in Venezuela. I'm a person of color. Professionally, that's where I am now in a lot of ways. It's because of my upbringing and what I was brought into. It's my experience being a person of color in America as a child and all the way through as a college student. I have been doing the work of a chief diversity officer for a few years now. I was doing work in higher education for a couple of institutions before I moved here to B. Braun this past spring of 2022.
You have been working in the DEI space since 2014 or so, which is somewhat unique because a lot of organizations are now incorporating a chief diversity officer or something like that into their strategic plan and some of their leadership roles. What does that mean? Talk to me about what projects and what does day-to-day look like? What does a chief diversity officer focus on? What is their role in the organization?
I had a colleague share with me when I started in this position, “Scott, you're the person of the people.” That's a good way to describe it. It's making connections with our community. When I say community, in this case, we're talking about the company. Let's define some things here. Diversity is acknowledging that there is variety in our community, whether it's gender, race, ethnicity, or background, go down the list.
The Chief Diversity Officer is the person of the people.
A colleague who does this work shared with me, “Scott, we are all unique. We all have our own fingerprint.” Having a one size fits all approach to how we connect with one another doesn't make sense because of that uniqueness. That gets us to the word inclusion, and that's the work of creating those pathways of belonging and welcomeness. What does that look like? Maybe it's employee resource groups in which we are bringing together communities of color and other identities. That's one example.
For example, are there any inequities in policies, procedures, and dress codes? Maybe patriarchal structures might exist in the dress code. It's looking at things like that that can minimize an individual's ability to be their full authentic self in the workplace environment. The more you are connected and comfortable to be yourself, the more empowered you are to do the work.
The more you're comfortable with being yourself, the more empowered you are to do the work.
You touched on something interesting in contextualizing what the word community means. In your case, you are talking about company culture and the people culture with your company. When we are talking about community in general, sometimes that's externally. You could have a customer community. Would you consider an employee resource a subset community of the larger group?
That is a good way to articulate that and how an employee resource group fits within the community structure of a company. I would be remiss not to acknowledge that and to not reference the fact that as a company, college, and university prior to my time here at B. Braun, we cannot look at our organizations as if they exist in a vacuum because we are a part of a larger ecosystem. In our case, our corporate headquarters are here in the Lehigh Valley.
We need to think about that because, for example, as an employee, you may feel comfortable working 9:00 to 5:00 in the office, but if you go home in that same sense of belonging, and welcomingness does not exist in the community that you live in, that is going to have an impact. If you have children and they are not having a favorable experience in the school district, that is all part of this conversation as well.
Prior to COVID and the pandemic, the word community lot of times meant a geographic community. Who is in your neighborhood? Who is in your town? Why we're talking now is talking about inclusive digital communities and what that means. When we add the word digital into this conversation, what does that look like for you? In the age or lens of DEI, what does digital communities, and how does that lend to some more inclusive environments for you?
It speaks to opportunities and challenges. There's an interesting exchange I had with a colleague of mine. It was several years ago. I was running some DEI-related workshops. The individual came up to me and said, “Scott, do you ever give any thought to delivering these virtually?” This was pre-COVID. I said, “No, it needs to be in person.” COVID happened, and we had to isolate. I say, “Hold on a second. I got to think about how to do this.” What I found, and not just me, but many others too, is that there are some benefits here in Hollywood Square that we're in. We are in this new territory.
What are the opportunities? We can connect with anyone within our company at a click of a button. I work at a company in which we are a global company. In our North American operations, we have spaces and places like California, Texas, Florida, St. Louis, and Missouri. In the past, I have to get on an airplane and go there. We still want to do that because there's value in face-to-face, but now it's just a click, and we are talking. In this case, we are doing that now. You're in Montana, and I'm in Pennsylvania.
What are the challenges? A colleague and friend of mine, Dr. Sean Harper, noted in Forbes. He had an article talking about the virtual environment has helped professionals of color because we're not in the office now as much as we were before. Because of that, we're not experiencing the microaggressions and all the other things that maybe we experienced when we were in person. Those are some of the items where we need to take a step back and ask the question, “What are the opportunities? What are the initiatives that we can build based on some of the experiences we have had over the last several years?”
Having digital opportunities now like we're doing right now, how does that lend to your plan, strategy, and some of the projects that you work on, as the people of the people in building those communities and some of the initiatives you work on? Is this part of your plan? Are you actively thinking about digital engagement for your community with the lens of making environments more inclusive? Is this a beautiful byproduct of all the initiatives you are already doing?
The answer to that question is, "How do you do this?" It's because it's complicated. I had a call with some colleagues speaking to the fact that not everyone has access to technology in the way that maybe you and I do. If everything is living on the web, virtually, and on Teams, maybe you have to connect to it with a specific internet connection. "If I don't have a company email address and if I'm an hourly employee, how do I connect with the material?" These are questions that I believe now that we are in this new space. If we don't have answers to it, that's okay, but that doesn't mean we can ignore it.
How can we become a little bit more innovative, recognizing that there are some benefits to this new mode of connecting with one another? At the same time, also acknowledge the value of being able to see each other face-to-face. Some of those may be nonverbal that even maybe a virtual engagement doesn't provide. I hope I'm answering the question.
It's hard to answer it. There is so much uncertainty because we are learning, and this is part of the equity work. We make the assumptions that everyone got a cell phone and a laptop. That's not the case. Maybe you have it, or you don't have a strong internet connection. These are the things in which we need to be a little bit more nimble.
I thought about that a lot when a lot of the school systems went digital. How many students don't necessarily have a laptop, iPad, or internet connection to be able to participate with their other classmates to that equity piece that you talk about? Something else you touched on that I don't think gets enough attention in this conversation of DEI and inclusion but accessibility.
I have a visually impaired parent. The way my dad navigates the world is different, and the way he thinks about it. I have such a different appreciation when we're talking about inclusion and diversity from an ADA standpoint. I don't know that we talk enough about that in this DEI space. Accessibility, to your point, is equally as important to that equity piece in DEI.
Going back to one of your earlier questions about how this work and what you do, one of the first things that I try to mobilize on is defining what these terms mean. In that way, it allows us to give grace and space to the number of different identities we are looking to support. Accessibility is one of those. In doing so, we also need to acknowledge that there is a reason why race, gender, and ethnicity are generally the first two things that come to mind.
They are also the most obvious.
That's part of telling the story of what diversity is and being able to recognize it. It is that, and we need to focus on those items, but it's also things such as accessibility, let's do the work.
Something else you touched on here was the technology piece and how we can leverage technology in an equitable way. Just because someone has a cell phone doesn't necessarily mean they have the internet or the bandwidth to go and download all of these resources. As good of intentions are, how do you look at technology in this space and use it to achieve the goals and initiatives you are trying to accomplish?
Some of us have commented, “What is old is new again.” I remember there was a time a couple of years ago where QR codes were a thing. They showed up for a hot minute, and they went away. Now they are back.
I'm with the Baby Boomers on this. I'm tired of putting menus on a QR code. I saw a meme about that, and I was like, “I get it. I won't be doing menus again.”
The company, my former university, and others look at things such as what is our access to technology and what are devices our people have. They may not have a laptop, but the vast majority of people do have a cellular device. The opportunity there to your question is you may not have the laptop to be able to sit down and do the work necessary that way, but you have a cell phone. We can have some digital materials we can put onto our website and things of that sort and provide a QR code.
You can take that cell phone, zap the QR code, and that takes you to where you need to go. Now you have access to those materials. Without that, you wouldn't have it, or at least it'd be a little bit more challenging to get there. That's an interesting item that has started to emerge. That is a way to be able to provide access.
The other answer I would give to your question is that we need to be adaptable and have a hybrid approach. We have seen that pendulum swing, and I shared that even in my story. Pre-COVID, everything is got to be a person. COVID happened for good reasons. Everything was virtual. Can we find that middle ground because, for some of us, we might learn a little bit better being in person?
That is the beauty of technology. The pandemic accelerated some progression in making it. Having the internet now is no longer nice to have. It's a have-to-have. Technology has now caught up and not only to access materials, but it has made our global world small. You mentioned earlier we are on opposite ends of the coast in the US, having this conversation about inclusive communities. That's pretty cool to be able to leverage technology.
I have many friends all over the country where I'm able to use technology and a number of different platforms to stay connected to that community, to my events friends, or to community friends who are running these brainstorming ideas. There are many subgroups that have popped up on Facebook and LinkedIn. If you run the gamut of how we are engaging with each other, it looks different than we did probably several years ago. Technology can be good, and it can also be a hindrance sometimes too.
One of the things you said earlier keeps resonating in my brain was giving grace and space and meeting people on the learning path where they want to. I have some people I work with that respond well to video and audio types of engagement. I have some people I work with that absorb information on the text, blogs, and reading as opposed to watching and listening. That goes through how we are approaching each other, learn, and meet people where they want to be met.
That is part of the conversation, even with remote and flexible work schedules. Being able to hold that space in grace to acknowledge that we do have some professionals that may work best from 9:00 to 5:00 in the office, physical location. Maybe it's a structural routine. Whatever the case may be for them, that's how they excel, and that's great to create those opportunities.
For some others, it's being virtual and being in their own space. It's even noise and less distractions for some, not all, when you're virtual at home. That provides them with the best opportunity to be their most productive, empowered, and all those different things. The work sometimes of a DEI officer is to be able to create those conversations to acknowledge that we have that variance. Part of the inclusive culture we are looking to develop is to honor all of those different ways in which we can do our work as professionals.
What are some of the goals for you or your organization around community engagement? I’m thinking about that engagement piece because, as you mentioned, so much of our work is hybrid now. Some people have an office. Some people don't. I work fully remotely. I don't necessarily see a lot of my colleagues in person.
Engagement looks different to me than my colleagues in the DC area who go to an office every single day. What are you guys doing with this flexible model to allow people to thrive in their best environment? How does that lead to a bigger conversation around community engagement and keeping them engaged with the organization and their colleagues?
We will first start by acknowledging that diversity, equity, and inclusion here are seen as a part of our imperatives, strategies, and main overarching goals for the company. In particular, to the parents’ side, a purpose-driven team. In my opinion and my background and experiences as an educator, for me to find a purpose in the work that I do, I need to feel valued, supported, and welcomed in the community and the organization that I'm a part of. That is where those items come together so nicely with respect to DEI.
One of the items we mobilized on, which started before my arrival at the company last year, is the creation of employee resource groups. This is well-documented in historically excluded communities. Communities of color and LGBTQ+ are often the only in their organizations, departments, and everything in between.
ERG helped create those spaces of community to come together with folks like yourself and build those relationships that we know are important. That can occur in person and virtually. We can build those relations here on the screen with the smile, the clap, and the kudos of, “You are doing good work. Keep going.” There is more to do, but that has been step one. Let's build those communities so that everyone feels that they belong, are welcomed, and are empowered to be the best professionals they can be here at the company.
I heard someone say to me about digital communities. It gives everyone an opportunity to have a seat at the table. What they choose to do with their voice when they have that seat creates a little bit more equitable play where everyone has that opportunity to participate in the conversation. Should they want to do that? That's fantastic.
That's where the work even lives too. It's talking about you might have a seat at the table, but what might prevent your ability to have that voice? It's not always the individual. It might be the environment. That's where the work lives.
There is a whole 2.0 conversation around what you do with your voice once you have a seat at the table. I have been invited to many things in the past where I was excited, and I’m like, “I finally got included. I'm finally in the community and part of the group.” I then got there and was like, “This is not a safe place for me to say the things that I want to. It's not an inclusive environment for me to speak up or speak my mind.” Even though I was part of it, I chose not to participate. That is a whole other topic for another day. It does lend to some of this.
One of the good things and the silver lining, if there is one, to come out of the pandemic is using and leveraging technologies to give people that space and inviting them to the table and having a much more diverse and inclusive point of view to make better decisions for your organization, group, or whatever it might be.
We work with a lot of groups here at JUNO that are diving into the community for the first time. A lot of them are thinking about DEI initiatives and how that play into the community. If there was one piece of advice that you would give to a group thinking about diving into digital communities, digital engagement, and how that plays into DEI initiatives, what would you say? Where do they start?
It's important for an organization, and I use that term broadly. Define what DEI means to you. It's important to have shared understandings so we do not have misunderstandings. What is diversity? For us, diversity is the uniqueness that we all have, identities, backgrounds, and experiences. Now that we know what diversity means, we can start to pull out some objectives from there.
It's important to have shared understandings so that there won't be any misunderstandings.
We can say, “This is diversity.” When we look at our organization, we see that we are not diverse when we look at X, Y, and Z identities. We now have some goals to be more diverse in those spaces. We can start asking the questions of, “What activities do we partake in to create belonging and welcomingness?” That's the inclusion piece. Those are two different activities.
One is recruitment. How do we engage and bring people in? Inclusion is how we keep you. What is the environment like? It's not the individual that might cause the disconnect. It might be the environment. Sometimes it's the environment more than the individual. You start there. I'm going to make a statement here. Some folks are not comfortable with the acknowledgment that we're not the same. I need some time to think a little bit more about where that's coming from. Some of it might be grounded in the melting pot, Americana, and things of that sort.
A colleague of mine shared, “Scott, we are all unique.” She kept going back to the fingerprint. That's not to create a power dynamic in any way. It's to honor that we all have our own story, and we want to be able to create environments that honor that. I don't want to treat you the same way that I treat everybody else I meet throughout the day because that's not honoring you. That is where the opportunities live. When we answer those two questions, that helps us in making sure that the commitment is sustainable.
When we're talking about diversity, some of it is the diversity of thought in extroverts and introverts. It's great getting invited to the party, but what do I do when I'm there? As an introverted person, I'm going to behave differently at the party than you would. What makes it fabulous is that we are all different, have many opportunities to learn from each other, experience different things, and have a little more empathy for each other because our whole life experiences are different. No one has the same at all. One final thought from you. If there would be one main point you wanted to make about inclusive communities, what would that be?
My main point is coming from the national narrative now around DEI. We answered this with the previous question. Do not fear the work and conversation around inclusive communities and digital communities. All the work is in the spirit of building better connections with each other. For some, maybe you want that private, and that is okay. That is part of the conversation.
It's to acknowledge that for some members of our community, we maybe not have created those pathways and spaces for you to participate in the ways in which we have for others, and we want to do better at that. That's what this work is all about. In doing so, we might find that there are structural inequities and things of that sort that we need to modify to help get rid of those barriers. At the end of the day, it's all about access so we can all succeed. Hopefully, when we lean into that, that is where the work is sustainable. We all see ourselves in work, and it helps bring us together.
That is a great place to end the conversation. There are tons of nuggets to take away and leaning into the uncomfortable. Some of this work can be hard to talk about and hard to tackle. You gave our audience some great tips on where to start. Where to even start these conversations with your own organizations, groups, associations, or whatever that community looks like for them. Scott, thank you so much for joining us. We had a great conversation. It's a masterclass in DEI, and I wanted to thank you. Any closing thoughts or comments before we wrap up?
I enjoyed the conversation. Don't shy away from the opportunities to learn a little bit more about each other. Thank you so much for the time.
Thank you, Scott, for joining us. Thanks, everybody, for reading. See you next episode.
About Scott Blair
Scott Blair had served as a DEI professional for roughly 10 years in a variety of capacities first in Higher Education and now current in the medical technology field. She enjoys advancing the work of Inclusive Excellence and holding space to listen to the experiences of those in their community to build dynamic communities for all of them to thrive.