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Odessa Jenkins of Emtrain & Founder, Women’s National Football Conference

Make Every Day Your Masterpiece. I believe that fear is at core of why we are not a more inclusive world. Fear of loss, fear of hurt, fear of transparency

Make Every Day Your Masterpiece

OJ, How did you start working in Diversity and Inclusion? 

I’d say that I started my career in DEI when I first became a people leader. Early on in my career, I was faced with the realities of the decisions that I made, and how those decisions impact the way a company looked and how employees experienced the workplace. I didn’t need a certification or someone to add it to my resume. As a black, lesbian hiring manager, I took on improving Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in my company as a key performance metric. Through my work at YourCause (Corporate Social Responsibility Tech), and later found the Women’s National Football Conference I was thrust into spaces (High tech and American Football) that required activism as well as business acumen.

https://emtrain.com

Tell us about a personal experience on why our world needs more Diversity, Equity and Inclusion? 

Fear. Simply put, I believe that fear is at core of why we are not a more inclusive world. Fear of loss, fear of hurt, fear of transparency. I have experienced instances in my life where I let fear keep me from saying the thing that I thought needed to be said, or doing the thing that I needed to be done. And I am a pretty open, outspoken person. Yet, I have been in rooms and spaces so closed off to me and my existence, that I failed to share or do something that would make us all better. Specifically, in the workplace, when there is no room or space made for a diverse conversation, or point of view, or inclusive understanding, people become mute. If I do not feel welcome, I am less likely to participate. WHY? Because of fear. Lack of participation and lack of engagement cost us more than billions in unproductiveness, it costs us innovation, it costs us growth.  

What do Diversity and Inclusion mean to you?  

DEI means that we pass what I like to call the “eye, heart and money fairness test.”  We represent that everyone (in spite of their differences) has a fair chance to work with us and for us by the way we look, we show fairness and belonging in our policies, and we demonstrate a clear track record of investment (dollars and tools) that reinforces belonging.

What is your proudest moment as a DEI leader? 

I have many, but my two proudest moments thus far are creating an inclusive environment at YourCause and Founding the WNFC. Being in technology, it can be hard, but we managed for several years to be diverse in the way we looked, we hired and promoted diverse talent, and instilled policies that kept us agile for when we got it wrong. We knew that the formula for DEI could change, and we changed with it. By the end of my tenure there, we were more inclusive than most tech companies in America. The Women’s National Football Conference is operated by a team of all women, we have multiple women and BIPOC owned supplies, and the majority of our leadership team are openly LGBQT+.  I am also very proud of the newly formed Pride ERG (LoveTrain) started by the employees of Emtrain. Like most of the achievements in my career, this all happens with a great team leading the way.  

Why is DEI important to OJ as an individual?

I want people who look like me, and come from where I come from to experience a fair shot at success in all facets of life. Without DEI we don’t reach our full potential as humans in this world. I do not like to underachieve.

If you could change one thing in terms of DEI, what would that be? 

If I could change one thing in terms of DEI, I would make the truth more palatable, so that we can get to real change. The truth is too often so painful, embarrassing or disruptive that some would just not bother. No one wants to be second, yet there is almost no one who is first in DEI, so we see meaningless actions to show “activity”. 

Telling the truth should be acceptable. 

What is stopping your community, organization or company from achieving a more equal and equitable world? 

In this case, I’m going to identify my “community” as tech companies, which have come under fire for lapses in diversity, equity, and inclusion. And rightfully so. That’s in part because I think a lot of tech companies are taking a very “tech company” approach to doing it. Right now, if they’re focusing at all on this issue, they’re just focusing on the “D” in DEI. Just diversity. And that’s because in some ways it’s a black and white (pun intended) issue. If we don’t have enough of X, we should just add more X. They see the complaints that their companies and executive boards lack diversity, so their approach is to simply say, “well let’s hire more diverse people.” That’s a start, but it’s not enough. 

In addition to making companies more diverse in number, the tech community has to work harder at equity and inclusion. That means shifting power, it means changing who you listen to and who you give seats to at the table. And it means truly working to make sure that your employees feel they can be included and can be authentic. We have a lot of work to do here. Data from our surveys of more than 80,000 employees found that only 43% of employees feel like they can be their authentic selves at work. We need categorical change beyond just the numbers. 

OJ, If you could say one thing to the leader in your community, organization or your company about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, what would you say?

Have courage and confidence as you go about addressing DEI issues. Do not be afraid of mistakes because you WILL make them. That’s ok! But you have to begin the journey. It’s good for business and it’s good for people. Lead.

Anything you want to share with your target audience?

Never let fear stop you.

The interview is part of our EDII Thought Leadership


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About the author

Susanne Ricee

Susanne Ricee is the Diversity and Inclusion Specialist and Researcher at Diversity for Social Impact. Sue brings over 15 years of HR and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion consultation experience.
Sue's previous experience includes Microsoft, Target, and Kraft. Sue is also the manager of Diversity Leadership Directory