Dr. Tita Gray has over 25 years of corporate and higher education experience.
She currently services as the Senior Vice President of Access, Diversity and Inclusion at the American Dental Education Association. In her role, she works with the ADI team and other ADEA staff to develop new diversity and inclusion resources to support ADEA dental schools and allied dental programs in the U.S. and Canada. She also works with ADEA members to increase programming in gender equity, unconscious bias, cultural and structural competency to support historically underserved communities of color and women in dental education.
She formerly served as the Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Vice President of Student and Alumni Affairs at Maryland University of Integrative Health. Where she managed all equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives and academic and career advising, career services, student support services. Dr. Gray served in positions at San Diego State University as Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Director of the Business Advising Center in the Fowler College of Business. She has taught numerous business and leadership courses and awarded multiple Outstanding Faculty and other prestigious awards, and Miami Dade College as Director of Advisement and Career Services.
She is a certified Career and Life coach and has practiced as a consultant, coaching senior executives. She is an active advocate for LGBTQ issues. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Baruch College in NYC, an MBA from San Francisco State University, and a Doctorate of Education from San Diego State University. Furthermore, she completed the coveted Harvard Institute for Management Development. Dr. Gray has a TEDx called “My Greatest Fears Created My Strongest Values.” She is the author of a career planning book called Follow Your Purpose. She is a highly regarded motivational speaker and an avid sports fan.
Q: Why is diversity, inclusion, and equity important to business?
There are so many valid and significant reasons why DEI is important to business success and particularly startups. I’ll base my answer on the business imperative. It is people potential that drives business, organizations, and organizational change. According to research from Pew Research Center, the “post-millennial” generation entering the workforce will be the most diverse in history. That is a basic fact regarding substantial groups of people, behind significant and influential workforce trends, that should not be ignored. In addition, according to the McKinsey & Company insights, there is $12 trillion in additional GDP available if we commit to closing the gender gap by 2025. And there’s $2 billion in potential revenue if we can expand targeted efforts to extend more services to Black Americans.
A study conducted by McKinsey & Company, evaluated the performance of companies with different levels of workplace diversity. It revealed that companies that value ethnic and gender diversity are, respectively, 35% and 15% more likely to outperform less diverse peers. The same study found that organizations with more gender and racial diversity have more customers and higher profits.
Overall, businesses do not run in a vacuum, and because of the attention that’s now focused on the racial bias and practices of discrimination in this country, people are becoming more aware and discerning about who they choose to work for, how they want to do business and with whom. In other words, historically marginalized groups have choices, and they are making it obvious.
Q: What tips would you give startup founders to ensure that DEI are embedded in their company culture?
A business owner’s main responsibility should be creating a mission and vision for their company that begins with a diverse and inclusive culture. A company’s culture drives everything, including hiring, retention, sales, marketing, communication, financial growth, risk-taking and innovation. So including DEI in every aspect of organizational development and behavior is paramount.
It’s simple: a leader who values all people will gain business from all people. A leader sets an organizational culture, which states for everyone how the organization conducts business, how the organization interacts internally and externally—specifically with their customers, employees, partners, suppliers, media and all other stakeholders.
Organizational cultures that embed diversity, equity and inclusion throughout every facet of their business demonstrate the way they do business. An organizational culture simultaneously highlights identity and image, which means it determines how the business is perceived by all employees, customers and other stakeholders.
Q: When hiring, how should companies approach interviews and candidates to maintain a culture of diversity and inclusion?
My first recommendation is to review the ADEA Faculty Diversity Toolkit (FDT) which really explains and shows the importance of embedding diversity and inclusion in search committees recruiting and hiring. Although the FDT is geared towards faculty hiring, its main premise can apply to any industry or field.
Next, everyone involved in the hiring process should be trained in basic HR protocol and processes and that those processes are broken down in three parts: 1., Recruiting, 2. Interviewing and 3. Hiring. Equally important is building cultural competency into the hiring process for the areas of diversity defined by the organization (does the organization define diversity as mainly race and gender, or does it include age, sexual orientation and identity, and disability?). I would suggest reviewing the ADEA FDT to gain valuable insight into the topic of cultural competency.
Also, I suggest evaluating the type of technology that they plan to use to recruit and assess prospects. Today, many companies have been scrutinized for using artificial intelligence-based software that has discriminatory results.
Q: Is there anything that employees can do to tackle inequality and put pressure on their company to become more diverse and inclusive?
First and foremost, know their rights. Also, employees should be aware of and thoroughly understand the business case for DEI and how it impacts their company. Creating a DEI committee, council or employee resource group provides a collective voice to educate leadership. Employees must be able to discuss microaggression, unconscious bias, and inequality and how such things impact their ability to work productively. Also, giving examples of comparable companies that do embrace equity and are successful can sometimes open the door to an amicable conversation. If nothing else works, at times the best way to tackle inequality is to leave a company and post a review about the experience on online sites like Glassdoor.
Furthermore, employees should feel a sense of belonging at their company. It is incumbent on leadership to prioritize policies that allow employees to feel like they can express who they are at work and that celebrate them for those attributes. When employees feel that they must mask or hide core parts of themselves at work, it can impact engagement, motivation, satisfaction, and retention.
Q: How has DEI in the workplace changed in the past ten years?
In 2010, some of the main DEI topics that were on the frontline were cultural diversity at work, remote work, hiring and retention of people with disabilities and generational diversity. Recently, the topic of gender equality has made leaps and bounds as you see more and more companies embracing the use of new pronouns and gender-neutral bathrooms. The transgender community has been very active in making sure that their rights are heard, and the Biden Administration is passing legislation to support that community.
Overall, diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace has been a controversial topic for nearly two decades now. However DEI initiatives in the year 2000 looked very different to those we now have in the year 2021. From gender to culture, I believe employers have a better understanding of the value of DEI initiatives so much so that many are looking for even more ways to diversify their workforce.