Cheryl Ingram photographed in studio, July 13, 2018.

Image: Brandon Hill

Widespread bias plagues the modern workplace, says Cheryl Ingram, PhD. From attracting multicultural candidates to creating inclusive environments where they can thrive, we are failing to build businesses that reflect either their customers or their communities. In the wake of scandals at tech titans Uber and Google, some industry leaders have woken up to the problem, but they’re often ill-equipped to address it. As CEO and founder of consulting firm Diverse City, Ingram helps those companies understand and address their complex and insidious discrimination issues. And with software platform Inclusology, now the Nebraska native hopes to take her training worldwide. —Jessica Voelker

I was always a nerd academically. I really liked math and science.

I’m a first-generation college student. I went to this advisor, an older white man. He said: “If you like science, why don’t you think about social sciences?” He literally talked me out of pursuing a degree in STEM.

Communication studies taught me public speaking, and how to persuade people and make a really informative argument with data. I just always wonder, what could have come differently had I stayed on that track?

In grad school I started multicultural studies, and those courses changed my life. I [thought]: All these things happening to people around the world because of their identities, they’re happening right here.

I’ve never felt discrimination as prevalently as I have in Seattle. 

A year ago, I was presenting to a company. And after the presentation was over, this white male said to me, “You’re much smarter than you look.”

I was like, “Here’s why you should never, ever say that to anyone.” When you say things like that, all of my physical being comes into play. I’m wondering, What about me looks unintelligent? Is it race? Is it my gender identity? Is it my size?

Now that diversity has become such a hot topic, you see people saying, “We just need to get these populations in the door.” Actually, you’re not ready for that yet. Work on your culture first—on changing that—and then bring those people in. Because that will attract them organically instead of creating quotas and tokens.

We go into companies and create the lens to help them think about diversity, equity, and inclusion in a way that they may not have thought about before. I think about it in strategic plans, in departmental goals, in vision, in recruiting, in [employee] retention, in the way that you hire.

Inclusology is an enterprise software platform [with] a global process to assess diversity, equity, and inclusion through tech, and then create solutions within the system to push out to the company and say: Here’s what you should be doing.

The long-term vision is to build a community for people to share and exchange practices so that we keep equity going around the world. First, domestic, of course, to solve the issues we have here. And then to get global with it.

There’s this denial of discrimination. If you are in a space where you have a blind spot, and you think that it’s not happening, most of the time you feel that way because it’s not happening to you.

We [worked with] a company, and one of its directors said, “We don’t have a race problem because our entire staff is white.” I was like, “Can you say that again? Let me make sure I heard you.”

You definitely have an issue with your culture if everybody in it looks like you.

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