Kimberly Jones is an entrepreneur, New York Times bestselling author, filmmaker, and globally recognized activist who has dedicated her life to helping bring organizations together with their communities for the betterment of everyone. Her passion and knowledge around all things social justice and community building have made her one of the most sought after consultants in the space of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Recently, she joined our Perspectives in Leadership podcast to share some ideas about how organizations can be more active in their own communities while also supporting their employees as they seek to do the same. What follows is a portion of that conversation.
Hear the full discussion by subscribing to Perspectives in Leadership.
*Answers have been edited for length and clarity*
Recently, Glassdoor named diversity, equity and inclusion as their top workplace trends over the past year. The things that individual contributors and workers say are the things that matter to most when thinking about organizational culture. To dive into the organizational aspect of our conversation, what are some of the things that you think organizations can be doing to improve how they connect with their employees on these fronts?
The number one thing that they should do is seek outside help. If you have not been successfully improving your DEI or you are just now starting the process of creating departments that are attempting to do this in-house, the first thing you can do is reach out to organizations that have been successfully doing this for a while, or even newer organizations that have experienced leadership that are creating pathways to equity.
I always say if we all stop wanting to be the person in charge and the person who's credited, we could actually get a lot more done. There is so much more that can get done if we're sharing the work. If we're sharing the responsibility, then we can accomplish so much more.
If corporations really wanna dig in and do this work, then the first thing you do is don't overwhelm yourself or your equity department by taking it all on yourself. Reach out to the organizations that are established in your community that have been doing this work and say, “how can we partner together and get more done and pool our resources.”
I'm so happy that you started with outside the organization. So often when companies and organizations think about improving their DEI, the first thing everyone goes to is employee resource groups. ERGs are awesome and they can be extremely beneficial, but they can run into a wall so often because if they push too hard for change they can start to be viewed as a negative thing. It can become a situation where it falls on deaf ears because it's within the organization and people may be less inclined to listen.
Are there tips that you have for ways that organizations can extend beyond their employees and start to be involved in their community?
People always say go home. I say go big and ideal first, but then scale it back. Start by reaching out to the trusted organizations in your community. Start with the March of Dimes or The United Way. Start with the Salvation Army or Goodwill. Those tried-and-trusted organizations that have been doing the work. They are usually connected to the more grassroots organizations that are doing a different type of work that might be more honed into what you want to focus on.
They have their ear to the street and know the grassroots organizations that you could work with. And you could even say to them, “Hey, United Way, we want to work with you, but we also want to work with a smaller grassroots group. Do you have someone you can recommend?” That is impactful.
Once you go big and start to scale back into what you want to support, I also tell corporations to get specific. It's okay to be specific! Realistically, if we're all being honest with ourselves and not living in this ethereal space, we're not going to tackle every problem in the world. A major corporation is not going to be able to tackle every ill in the matter of a day.
Find something specific to you that you could dig your heels on and create quantifiable data about the resource that you have. If you are a company that has proven to have a large carbon imprint, then you need to start working in some environmental spaces. You don't need to make the mortality rates of newborns your issue. Start carving out how your company is going to have less of a carbon impact, and then work with environmental organizations, grassroots organizations and support them in their endeavors.
If employees, individually, want to be more active in the community, are there ways that their organizations can (and should) support them beyond saying, “We'll donate this money and send an email out to the staff?”
I always suggest to corporations that, if you encourage your employees to do individual things in the community, then you need to add two things to your employment package: The first thing that you need to do is give them 10 hours a month, paid leave for community work. If I'm putting together a March of Dimes team and on Friday I’m out dedicating four hours to do that and improve the community, then those need to be a paid four hours. As long as it's verified and approved in advance and utilized for approved purposes, that time needs to be paid.
The second thing you need to do is add an annual nonprofit donation amount for each employee to the tune of about a hundred dollars. One hundred dollars that they can get from the corporation that they can use for something as simple as raising money for new uniforms for high school band uniforms. Or maybe they live in the Midwest and their community has been impacted by a tornado and they want to donate to a Red Cross.
Add those two things to your employee package for full-time employees. Ten hours a month of paid community service hours, and an annual hundred-dollar donation fee that they can donate.
There's this concept called tempered radicalism that states that activists working to make real change in the organizations can sometimes be seen as agitators, and it can end up as a detriment to their own career goals. Do you have any advice for people who do want to continue to be advocates within their organization while also furthering their career? Is it as simple as finding an organization that will support you?
I think the latter is always better because you're going to get authentic support in spaces where this is what they want to do, but that is not always an option that's available to people, right? So in the cases where that is not an available option, the advice that I would give to them is the same advice I'm giving to these corporations: pick a struggle.
Part of why you're going to get that reputation is by being all over the place and seeming as though you're just jumping on every bandwagon. What happens is people feel overwhelmed and then also overwhelm their organization because they begin to think about more things than realistically, in the chaotic world that we live in, that they are capable of. So pick a struggle. Whatever it is you want to advocate for seriously. The thing that really bothers you.
If childhood literacy rates and marginalized communities really bothers you, stick to that. If police brutality is really bothering you, stick to that. And when you stick to that subject, you will find that is where you can make real connections. Because even though she may not be marginalized, there's a mom somewhere in the building who just doesn't want to see that happening to another mom, and they’ll end up joining your cause. There's a dad in the building who lost a daughter to a mortality rate that's going to speak to her, and he’s going to show up.
5 keys to successful organizational design
How do you create an organization that is nimble, flexible and takes a fresh view of team structure? These are the keys to creating and maintaining a successful business that will last the test of time.Read more
Why your best tech talent quits
Your best developers and IT pros receive recruiting offers in their InMail and inboxes daily. Because the competition for the top tech talent is so fierce, how do you keep your best employees in house?Read more
Technology in 2025: Prepare your workforce
The key to surviving this new industrial revolution is leading it. That requires two key elements of agile businesses: awareness of disruptive technology and a plan to develop talent that can make the most of it.Read more