November 17

Episode 101: DEI: A Strategic Reframing with Erica D’Eramo


Erica D’Eramo founded Two Piers Consulting to support underrepresented communities in the workforce and provide companies with the tools & strategies to effectively create and grow truly diverse & inclusive workplaces.

Erica D’Eramo‘s Biography

Engineer by trade. Diversity, equity, and inclusion professional by choice. With a successful two-decade career in the international energy industry and having been one of the few women in my field, I have made it my life’s work to create diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplaces through research, best practice, and lived experiences. Passionate about reconciling the academic perspective with practical application to enable organizations to elevate their DEI efforts and change the workplace landscape through those activities with the greatest impact. In 2016, I founded Two Piers Consulting to support underrepresented communities in the workforce and provide companies with the tools and strategies to effectively create and grow truly diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Questions in This Episode

In today’s episode, Mike talks with Erica D’Eramo. Erica is an Engineer by trade … Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Professional by choice. Let’s learn more about DEI together.

  • What do we mean by Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?
  • Why do you see DEI as being a strategic imperative for businesses?
  • What is the cost of not getting DEI right?
  • What are some of the key challenges when implementing DEI programs?
  • What are some of the key myths about DEI?
  • What can leaders do to more effectively create diverse, equitable & inclusive organizations?

Links & Resources Mentioned…

Read The Transcript

Mike O'Neill: [00:00:00] Welcome back to the Get Unstuck and On Target podcast. I'm Mike O'Neill with Bench Builders and we work with growing companies, especially manufacturers, improve their people process and planning systems so they can scale faster and scale smarter. Joining me today is Erica D’Eramo. Erica is an engineer by trade. Diversity, equity and inclusion professional by choice. With a successful 20 plus year career in the energy industry, and having been one of the few women in her field, Erica has made it her life's work to create diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplaces through research best practices, and lived experience. She founded Two Piers Consulting to support underrepresented communities in the workforce and to provide companies the tools and strategies to effectively create and grow truly [00:01:00] diverse and inclusive workplaces. Welcome Erica. . 

Erica D’Eramo: Thanks Mike. It's great to be here. 

Mike O'Neill: I also wanna thank my friend Thomas Gillman. It was Thomas who has been on this podcast with Schooly Mitchell, who recommended that you would be a good choice for the podcast. And I couldn't agree more because we've had a chance to chat about this topic. It's something that we see a lot of DEI for short. Um, why don't we just jump right in. And that being said is, what do you mean by diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Erica D’Eramo: Yeah, that's a, a great place to start because I think a lot of times while we see conversation about DEI, we're not all on the same page about what that means. So for me, um, while I'll use the acronym DEI to communicate quickly, really these are three very separate things, [00:02:00] diversity. Kind of a lagging indicator that tells us how much, you know, diversity we have within an organization. And that was really the starting point that we heard about years ago, like 20 years ago. There were diversity committees. Um, but to me diversity is a representation, a snapshot of a current state. And like I said, it's a lagging indicator. It kind of tells you how you're doing in the moment, but in and of itself, um, it's not it's not the goal necessarily in and of itself, and it's not, um, you can't just like make it happen. It is the result of many other things. And so I think we started to look more upstream of diversity and say like, Well, what fosters diversity? We know diverse workforce give us better results. Um, so what would lead to that?

And we realized that inclusion is a big part of that. So you. Certainly bring in diverse talent, but if you are expecting them to [00:03:00] conform to like the status quo, you're losing all the benefit of having that diversity there. So having an inclusive environment. It makes the most out of the diversity that you have and helps foster it so you can retain that talent, um, and get access to all the bright ideas that they have and their true selves. And then neither of those are really sustainable if you don't have equity within the workforce. So if you're bringing people in but not paying them equally, or there's disparity in the workplace, then. . Not only is that problematic from an ethical standpoint, but you just won't have sustainable results. So you won't have retention, you'll, you won't have the full engagement with the workplace. So, So DEI is kind of like the combination that's a. Creates this sustainable change and now you're even hearing about D E I B or dibs, and that B is for belonging. So another like lens to [00:04:00] look at this through, you know, how how much do people feel that they belong with that team or with that group.

Mike O'Neill: I will use DEI just cuz it's easier and quicker. Yeah. But in terms of what we'll call this episode, I really liked when you suggested that we should call this DEI a strategic ream. And I, I love that. And so let me just jump right into, and that is, why do you see DEI as being a strategic imperative for businesses?

Erica D’Eramo: Well, I'm gonna put my engineer hat back on for a moment. I mean, you could take the girl outta engineering, You can't really take the engineer out of the girl. So I, I, when I look at DEI and I look at specifically diversity metrics, I don't see. And just a one lens issue. I, like I said, I see a symptom of a broader issue, and if I see numbers that don't look representative of what I [00:05:00] know, the talent pool is, the first question that comes to me is, Hmm, what's happening with our talent selection?

What's happening with our outreach? What's happening with our pipeline? And what barriers are in there that is resulting in a disproportionate. And those barriers are affecting all of the different elements of the business. They're affecting not only your access to top talent, but like how competitive you are. It shows that there's a vulnerability in the system that's not being addressed, and there's a lot of reasons we won't address, you know, that it gets looked over, it doesn't get addressed, and we can talk about those later in the episode, but, I, I think of it almost as an analog to safety. So having worked in energy a lot, or construction, you know, you'll say the safety metrics tell a whole story about the operation of a company.

And we don't just do safety because it's like the nice thing to do. Certainly it is the ethical thing to do to make sure everybody goes home with all their fingers and toes that they showed up with. [00:06:00] But you can read a lot into, it's like the tea leaves almost of a company, because if the safety metrics aren't there, if the first state metrics aren't there, if the little things aren't in place, then that tells you that there's systemic issues around either, you know, systems and processes, operational discipline. And so I see diversity, equity, and inclusion as being similar. If that's not on track, it speaks to all of the different elements of how the company operates from promotion, from like how people are rewarded. All of those elements are affected, but fundamentally, the competitiveness of the business and how it achieves its mission is under my mind. If DEI isn't, you know, properly handled. 

Mike O'Neill: You know you have gone to. Engineering roots and we're looking at at root causes and metrics. Yeah. One of the metrics of business owners is [00:07:00] cost. Yeah. If you were to kind of, if you don't get DEI right in an organization, what is the cost to the organization? 

Erica D’Eramo: Yeah, I think this is such an interesting conversation because you can look at it from a proactive stance or a reactive stance. If we're looking at it from the reactive stance, which is what I think we often see, you know, in the media we kind of see like stuff around cancel culture or lawsuits. I, that's, That's the most obvious stuff, right? If you really don't get it right and you have a toxic work environment that is not equitable, is not representative, then certainly there's a direct correlation with, you know, the risk of lawsuits.

But I think that there's also so much cost around not accessing the full spectrum of talent that is out there for the competitive nature of your business. not keeping up with the market. And so there's no [00:08:00] cap that you can put on that, right? Like the opportunity cost there is just endless. Um, but there's also a lot of intangibles. So morale, you know, sometimes we see companies that are well intentioned and they want to put diversity program diversity, equity, inclusion, programming in place. , but maybe in misguided ways or they don't understand how to effectively implement those changes. And so that ends, ends up with, you know, like morale issues, people feeling like it's a zero sum game, like they're losing out.

You know, we hear a lot now that there's so few opportunities for straight white men because, you know, everybody's a diversity hire these. . And that to me is an indication that DEI wasn't handled properly, if that's the sentiment in the, in the company. And so not handling it properly and having really performative, you know, programming that doesn't tackle the root [00:09:00] cause, that doesn't actually look at impact can result in that. You know? And so certainly there's a cost of not looking at your diversity metrics, not looking at whether you have an inclusive work environment. But there's also a cost of doing it ineffectively, you know, not, not executing it in a way that supports the mission of the company. 

Mike O'Neill: You know, as I look at the websites, particularly websites of larger organizations, they include language, specific language. Let's speak to our listeners who own or running smaller business. That may not necessarily be publicly held, but they, they know they should be doing these kinds of things, but they're not quite sure where to start. If, if you're speaking to an organization, a leader of an organization who says, you know, where should we [00:10:00] start with this? What do you advise them? 

Erica D’Eramo: I usually bring it right back to the basics of like, well, what are you trying to do with your organization? You know, what's the mission? What's your why for the organization and how can you effectively do that? And if your why is construction, right, is building excellent construction projects for your clients, then focusing on how DEI supports. And in what ways you are going to access better talent, retain better talent, have less turnover if you're really looking at it from that perspective to make sure that you're connecting with your clients because you have people within the company who represent the community that you're working in.

Like that lens is so much more empowering than the lens of shoulds, right? When I hear like, we really [00:11:00] should do this, It's pretty hard to get motivated around something that brings like guilt or shame. And so I think there's certainly a level of like, you know, being accountable for the impacts we've had in the world. But I don't find that the guilt and shame lens really helps. So that's what I would say. That's where to start, is like figure out what you're trying to do with the company, verbalize that, and then understand how DEI fits in that. And maybe you. Look at some of the historical trends in, in the company. Not everyone is the same, so I don't think that, um, there's like a one size fits all for what works for different entities, what works for different industries. And I would certainly say there are so many experts and so many resources out there. So you don't have to do it alone. There are people like me that you can reach out to who can. Help you take a a look at your baseline and figure out what's [00:12:00] gonna be most effective, what's gonna be most impactful for you.

Mike O'Neill: So Erica, you've worked with leaders across multiple industries. As you kind of step back and look at those organizations that really want to go implement DEI programs, I hesitantly even use the word programs because it sounds, Yeah. Um, like it has a start middle. 

Erica D’Eramo: It's like a safety program, right? Like you wouldn't just do a safe, it's embedded in the, in the mesh of your entire organization. Yeah. 

Mike O'Neill: So let's assume that the organization says we wanna do it, right? Mm-hmm. , but we also want to avoid some of the pitfalls that others have experienced. What have you found to be some of the challenges of implementing DEI? 

Erica D’Eramo: Um, I think. I think it can be a little scary. You know, I think there, it's natural for anyone in a position of leadership who has excelled in the [00:13:00] current paradigm. You know, they've excelled in this environment. Um, it can be a little scary for those decision makers that hold the power in an organization to look and say like, Okay, we're gonna change things and how is that gonna affect me? Like, that's the agency problem, right? We all deal with how is it gonna affect me?

Um, . And so I think being like real and honest about that is sort of a prerequisite, getting clear on what the stories are that we're telling ourselves. Because otherwise it's pretty tough to get full engagement from the leadership. Um, and then I think one of the other key challenges for diversity, equity, and inclusion and implementing change is going to be what you're measuring, right? Like we all know that. You get what you measure. Mm-hmm. . And the easiest things to measure are some of these lagging indicators, but they can tell a very strange story sometimes, and they can drive unexpected [00:14:00] behaviors. So if you're just measuring how many, you know, percentage of women in the company, um, it will incentivize you to hire people that you know to meet that metric and really, Meeting that metric is not what is important to the business.

Having a diverse set of thoughts and experiences and representation is what's helpful to the business. So I think companies sometimes in the effort to move quickly and to change quickly will focus on a metric that they feel that they can impact and end up with some unintended consequences. And that that's sort of the secret sauce of like, Consulting or where some of these best practices can come in and help you understand some of the unintended consequences of just focusing on the high level metrics. And some of the better ways to do it. 

Mike O'Neill: Gotcha use the term lagging indicators. 

Erica D’Eramo: Yeah. 

Mike O'Neill: Are there non lagging indicators when it comes to DEI. 

Erica D’Eramo: Yeah, certainly. I mean, some of those stuff [00:15:00] that's harder to measure, you know, things. How inclusive are our environments? How, how much do people feel that they have line of sight to, um, development opportunities, development pads, some of those metrics, again, harder to measure, sometimes require open-ended answers. Not as easy to pull from your, to pull from your like HR system, but those are some of the leading indicators and certainly looking at your pipeline, you know, understanding. Your retention numbers to, you know, to some extent everything is a lagging indicator, but that will definitely tell you the health of your system in a more effective way.

So, um, you can make some changes, you know, and, and going as far upstream as possible in your pipeline will start to, um, give you better information. . So like how many, how many people are clicking on our job [00:16:00] advertisement, right? Like, can you see, can you see any information about how, how is this job advertising advertisement resonating? Do we have language in it that it, you know, really appeals to a certain subset of people, but not to a diverse subset of people? Do we have, um, requirements in our job posting that are not really necessary and end up deterring a lot of potential candidates? Stuff like that. 

Mike O'Neill: So you've given us a little bit of sense of what the cost might be for not doing this. You've kind of talked about some of the challenges of doing this, but dei um, you know, I come out of an HR background and um, there's just a lot of myths out there about dei. You kind of hinted it one a few minutes ago, but what might be some of. Those myths out there that you want to help debunk? 

Erica D’Eramo: Yeah, [00:17:00] I definitely think the, this like association between DEI as being some sort of kind of nice thing to do or it's, you know, political correctness or like wokeness or, you know, related to cancel culture. I think that is a huge myth. Um, this. The whole concept is that you want to have a workplace that is effective and is welcoming and you want access to talent. And so I sort of like to flip it around that like strategic reframing is not so much about like, we need to be nice to people or you know, if you look at your system now and you see that you do not have diversity, you lack diversity, that is a fundamental.

Vulnerability. So removing that vulnerability and understanding what pressures you have on your system that are impacting your ability to get and [00:18:00] retain top talent and have them fully engage in the workforce. That's what DEI is about. It's not about punishment, it's not about canceling people. It's not about like having fewer street white men. That's, that's fundamentally not what it's about. So I think sometimes when people see that they. Have to compete with more people. You know, they might have to kind of change the way they do things or maybe be more intentional about their language, then it could be a little scary. But, um, DEI is really about growth and, and improvement that's all. 

Mike O'Neill: One thing that attracted me to you to bring on the podcast is what I find is that when this topic comes up, depending on what circle I'm in, it seems as if it evokes emotion. Yeah, yeah. Um, the full spectrum of emotion. Mm-hmm. , [00:19:00] but we're having a conversation about a topic that evokes emotion, but you're speaking to it in a very kind of matter of fact.

Way. Um, yeah. Do you feel that has helped you as an engineer working with companies because of it? Almost, it sounds, and I'm watching you, it sounds a bit more objective in mm-hmm. , your description. Um, does that differentiate you from perhaps other people who advise companies in this topic? 

Erica D’Eramo: Um, I, you know, I think that there's somebody out there for everyone, right? So , I think I can be a really good match for people who share that kind of steel-toed boots background, because I share that language, right? I share that lived experience, um, and. , Yes. Come at it from a very pragmatic viewpoint. And [00:20:00] I would challenge anyone who says like, Oh, this is all like soft gushy stuff. We, we just need to focus on business. We need to focus on the real stuff. Like, no, no, no. Actually, it's our emotions and our fears right now that are getting in the way of us being super practical about this. Right? Like if you have an a non-represented workforce, then that just doesn't make sense.

Something's happening, right? So, um, that I think that framework people, people who made me feel a little bit uncomfortable about this, they can, they can, you know, speak more freely in that way. And it doesn't mean that I will coddle anyone because I'm not interested in not hurting people's feelings. I think, you know, I want engagement. Like I said, I don't want guilt or shame. Um, but I'm still a pretty straight shooter and I think that that also probably resonates for people who have [00:21:00] spent their, their careers in coveralls or, you know, working with folks in coveralls. 

Mike O'Neill: You know that our listeners are oftentimes leaders, leaders who are listening to you describe this and they're saying, Okay, I really wanna do this. I've learned a little bit more about some of the myths out there. I've learned a little bit about why I should be doing, uh, this. But in terms of practical things that we should be listening for, things that we could, in our mind right now, kind of go down a, a mental checklist. What might need to be on that mental checklist. Things that we should be doing as leaders to be more. In creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization? 

Erica D’Eramo: Well, I would certainly check the health of your systems that are providing you information. And I know that's a pretty dry way of saying like, how do you know what's happening in your business? You know, [00:22:00] like, how are you getting your information? Is it at the water cooler? Are people being honest with you? Do they feel the psychological safety to be candid? I always said like an all green dashboard is a dash is a bad dashboard, right? Like we don't believe an all green dashboard. If you don't ever hear bad news, don't know what's going on in your organization.

So that's the first check about dei. You know, understand what data you're getting. If you're serving people and it's anonymous, but they have to put their gender and what facility they're at or what, you know, workplace, they're. , how anonymous is that really . You know, if you only have like two women at site, um, it's not very anonymous. So again, understand whether you even have accurate information because that's gonna affect your baseline. You won't even know where you're starting from if you don't have good, accurate, truthful, honest information. Um, so that's one very practical, like maybe introspective thing to. . And then I would also say, look at what you have in place right now. And if that, you know, for the larger [00:23:00] companies, sometimes they'll have what they call BRGs business resource groups, and I have very mixed feelings about BRGs. I think it's great to give people an environment where they can see people who look like them, interact, have shared, lived experiences, and also, Change needs to be owned at the leadership level, right? Mm-hmm. , you can't say that. Ugh. Let's just leave it to these groups who are already impacted, marginalized, who have less political and economic power in the company, and they'll fix it, right? That's, that's not enough. It needs to be owned by you. And the way to do that is to elevate the voices of the people who have the lived experiences.

If you are not , you know, within that marginalized group, maybe don't speak on behalf of them without checking in to see that that's what is gonna be most effective for them. You know, even well intentioned changes sometimes are not, um, effective [00:24:00] changes. And then make sure that when you do hear from those groups and you do get the advisory information, Considered and it's acted on to the extent possible, you know, to build that trust. Um, so that's, you know, that's one of the other I guess initial things I would say is like, look at what you have currently for DEI programming or resources, and maybe check to see how effective that is. 

Mike O'Neill: Excellent. Erica, as you kind of reflect, Your career and working with clients, can you think of a situation where perhaps you or a client got stuck and what did it take to get unstuck?

Erica D’Eramo: Um, yeah, I think, you know, we had one case where I've sort of, I'm sort of already alluded to some of this, but we had a data issue and so things looked great at the top level. [00:25:00] and we were seeing that the client was measuring certain metrics, specifically in this case, representation of certain groups at certain levels. Um, but fundamentally, I think the, the effort. in this project, this program that was ongoing was to affirm that, you know, everybody was happy and everything was good. The effort was not, The intention of the effort was not actually to dig in and see what improvements could be made. And so, um, when we did kind of peel back some layers, we saw that, you know, like, Sure you had good representation at those certain levels, but the amount of time it took to get to one of those levels was extremely different for, um, the, like the straight white men in the group versus anyone who is either a person of color or a woman.

And so when you start [00:26:00] to slice, if you're truly curious, And you truly want to understand what's going on, and you're not just looking for like the first easy answer that affirms, you know, that confirmation bias. Um, there's, there's a lot of fruit there to, to harvest and you can do a lot with it. And so once you understand that, you can start putting development programs in place. And so we came up with. Some actions, some real low hanging fruit for how they could, you know, identify talent that was falling off the ladder that wasn't progressing as quickly and put development plans in place for them and have some accountability at the leadership level for how those were, you know, progressed.

So, um, so yeah, how, you know, your information is always going to be a fundamental first step. 

Mike O'Neill: Yeah, that's a perfect example. Whereas on the surface, things look. . Yeah. All green on the scoreboard. [00:27:00] Yeah. But when, if you're willing to dig and continue digging, it's quite revealing. Mm-hmm. . And, uh, that's, I appreciate you sharing that example.

You know, Erica, we've covered a number of aspects of DEI. What do you want our listeners to have as takeaway?

Erica D’Eramo: I think the biggest takeaway is, um, that this, this is really a chance for you to understand your business. You know, like digging a little deeper is a chance for you to find. Inefficiencies in the business. Find areas where you're bottlenecked and to Deb bottleneck them. Like this is something to get excited about and to feel like you can have an, like, a wonderful, thriving work environment. Um, it's not about, you know, [00:28:00] wrapping people over the knuckles cuz they said the wrong thing. I mean, I think that when leaders can see the opportunity there and really invest, As a strategic imperative, then they're on the right track. 

Mike O'Neill: You used the word find a moment ago if they're supposed listening to us and goes, Gosh, what Erica's sharing, This is great. I wanna find her. What's the best way for them to connect with you? 

Erica D’Eramo: Um, it would be through our website. So we've got lots of resources and content on our website. Two Piers consulting, so T W O P I E R S,, and we've got contact information on there. You can learn about myself, the team, sort of what some of our consulting offerings are, what some of our workshops are that we do, and some of our leadership coaching that we do. And yeah, you can access our podcast and our blogs and lots of fun [00:29:00] stuff on a website. So, 

Mike O'Neill: I've spent time on your website and reading your blogs. It's a great resource. We will include links to that website in the show notes. Erica, Excellent. Thank you for sharing what you know and the passion that you have developed for this topic with our listeners.

Erica D’Eramo: Yeah, thanks for having me. I really appreciate the discussion. 

Mike O'Neill: I also wanna thank our listeners for joining us today. We upload the latest episode every Thursday to all the major platforms, including Apple and Spotify. So if you've enjoyed this episode with Erica, please subscribe. I open this podcast with this type of reference, but if you're trying to grow your business and you wanna make sure you've got the right people, process and planning systems in place to grow smoothly, if that's. Let's talk head over to the and schedule a quick [00:30:00] non-sales call. We'll talk about your growth goals and we'll explore practical steps that you can take now to make sure that that growth happens. So I wanna thank you for joining us and I hope you have picked up on some tips for Erica that will help you get Unstuck and On Target. Until next.

This Quiz is Going to Assess you in 3 main Areas...



People is about making sure that you have the right people in the right positions in your company, and that you have a plan for how to retain and train your top talent.


Planning is all about knowing where you're going and having exact steps that you can take for how you're going to get from here to there.


Process is about having efficient systems in place to help you get ahead of your competitors faster and with fewer mistakes.

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