Breaking Down the Barriers: WhatNow Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Community Takes Action

Diversity, equity, and inclusion. If those terms sound familiar, it’s because they burst into the business headlines in 2020. As protests against racist institutions grew over the course of the summer, more and more organizations began to declare their commitment to diverse hiring practices and equitable workplaces. But simply saying something doesn’t make it true. What does it really mean to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)?

One local group, WhatNow DEI, has begun to explore those very questions. WhatNow DEI was started last March by ScriptDrop’s Brian Crosby, IT engineer and company culture expert. Brian recruited a diverse group of Columbus DEI enthusiasts from his personal network, and together they lead a highly-collaborative group focused on transforming ideas and education into action.

ScriptDrop: Hi Brian! What drove you to form WhatNow DEI?

Brian Crosby: I’ve always found Diversity, Equity and Inclusion events to be enlightening, given who I am and my experiences in life. But after these events, I would find myself asking,“What now?” I wasn’t sure how to use what I’d learned to create positive change around me, and I knew that I wasn’t the only person wondering how to take action.

I was looking for a group to discuss DEI right then. Already being a community organizer for a tech group and an organizer by nature, I decided to start recruiting for the community I was looking for. Luckily, I found people who felt the same way, and together we created WhatNow DEI. Currently, my fellow organizers are Lacey Nichols from We Can Code IT, Chase McCants from Olive, Amanda Lange from Mettler Toledo, Charlotte Chang from Industrial Logic, Sal Reedus from Five to Flow, and Lauren McCuen from Agility Partners.

ScriptDrop: What does WhatNow DEI have planned for 2021?

Brian Crosby: We’re still in the building phase at this time; we have been most focused on what we can deliver to the community. We’re interested in helping people learn how to respond to confrontations or push-back regarding DEI initiatives. That’s just as important as gathering knowledge.

We have also been working on our speaker pipeline so we can have folks lined up to present to the community and/or contribute content like exercises or blog posts, and we’ve been using our social media platforms to communicate who we are and to deliver content that supports our mission and message.

ScriptDrop: I know the group got started right before the pandemic. What have been some of the pros and cons of being a virtual collective?

Brian Crosby: We are facing many of the same benefits and challenges as other groups right now. Virtual meetings allow us to have a larger reach than before, and new speaker opportunities have opened up. Meeting remotely also allows us to be more flexible, which has increased attendance. By recording our meetings and presentations, more people can get involved and learn from the content.

Of course virtual meetings aren’t perfect. It’s harder to connect on a real human level, and interactions can be difficult to manage. People are burned out from being in front of screens most of the day. It’s also hard for a group of our size to pay for the software and tools that we need to be effective; we just don’t have the financial backing for that.

But even when it’s difficult, it helps to know that our group is needed, especially during the times we are living through right now.

ScriptDrop: In the past year, many companies have made statements about their commitments to diversity and equity. What are some ways to actually put DEI concepts into practice?

Brian Crosby: Companies can start by getting actively involved with groups like WhatNow DEI. This means participating in our events and community. Signing statements about condemning bad things in our society are great, but really don’t mean much without action behind it. We also believe that a company that is serious about supporting their employees and having a truly diverse company and culture will invest in that effort by hiring for roles that can take action and build what the company needs. That is, hire people who can develop employee resource groups, provide diversity education and training, give employees more opportunities within the company, and get involved with the community.

WhatNow DEI is also breaking down the barrier between education and action by equipping our members with the tools and information needed to effectively push change in the DEI space. We are especially excited to work with those working in Human Resources and those in organizational leadership positions – whether formally or informally.

ScriptDrop: Speaking of equipping members with tools for change: tell me about your first event, "Easy Ways to Increase Diversity" with Chase McCants, Director of Employee Development and Engagement at fellow Columbus startup Olive.

Chase McCants: Chase here! People are often intimidated when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. They are afraid they’ll say the wrong thing or be judged because they hadn’t started the work earlier. But as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The time is always right to do the right thing.” In my talk, I tried to lower the stakes for people who were nervous about trying to make their workplace more diverse, especially if they didn’t know where to start.

ScriptDrop: What are a few ways people can get started?

Chase McCants: Start with your hiring practices. Proactively reach out to diverse candidates to increase the diversity at the top of your funnel. The best way to recruit a wide range of candidates is to make meaningful connections with organizations that support minority groups. Get out of your comfort zone!

To learn more about your first step towards a diverse, inclusive workforce, check out this blog post on the WhatNow website.

ScriptDrop: Can you tell me about your upcoming event, the "Agenda-Less Lean Coffee conversation" on February 17? How can people register and what should they expect?

Brian Crosby: This event will follow the Lean Coffee model. Instead of having a single presenter, we’ll have a facilitated discussion and allow the entire community to talk about the topics they care about in a positive, supportive environment.

Attendees can bring topics they want to discuss, such as their current challenges and questions around diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is a great opportunity to have a meaningful conversation, and we hope this event will kick off discussions that will give us direction for 2021. Visit our webpage to sign up.

ScriptDrop: How can people get involved in WhatNow DEI?

Brian Crosby: These are the three easiest ways to get involved:

#1 - The first, and easiest, is to attend our events. We host them online on the third Wednesday of each month. People can RSVP directly on our site or through our Eventbrite page.

#2 - The second is to join our Slack community so that they can contribute their thoughts, ideas, opinions, and inspirations. The Slack community keeps the support and discussions going even in down times between events.

#3 - The third is to contribute to the WhatNow DEI blog. We know that we are not experts in this space so we are always looking for people that want to contribute a blog post. The sky’s the limit: they can write about something they learned and can help others, about a personal experience related to DEI, or maybe a review of something they read, watched, or heard in the DEI space.

Also follow our group on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates, discussions, and fun conversations!

Thanks to Brian and Chase for giving us a backstage tour of WhatNow DEI!

Regardless of where you live or work, there is more to be done when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s easy to get involved. Start with a Google search! All across the country, community activists and organizers have been doing this work for years. Now we can all become part of that work, and improve the workplace – and our communities in general – for all people.