Culture Moments Podcast: Around the World in 20 Years with Akberet Boykin-Farr of Emerson

“If you want to make progress, you just have to move!” 

Today, we continue our Around the World in 20 Years journey with Akberet Boykin-Farr. Akberet is VP of Diversity and Social Responsibility at Emerson out of St. Louis, Missouri. She’s responsible for the executive leadership and management of the company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, management of the Emerson Charitable Trust, oversight of the company’s corporate social responsibility reporting, and serves as its community liaison in St. Louis – quite fitting as she currently serves on the boards of directors for the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis and City Academy in St. Louis.

At Emerson, we worked with Akberet on the development and rollout of the company’s unconscious bias training globally, which was the beginning of their D&I training. We talk a little bit about the broader and more robust D&I initiatives brought about by that training, and how leadership is taking more of an initiative to promote inclusion on their teams. But what is particularly valuable about this conversation is Akberet’s key advice to practitioners on avoiding perfectionism.

Listen to the conversation below (Run time – 10:27) or scroll down for the full transcript. 

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Show Notes & Highlights

(1:35) How unconscious bias opened the doors to more diversity training at Emerson

(3:53) How leaders are shifting from “tell me what to do” to “what can I do”

(6:00)  If you want to make progress, you just have to move!


Show Transcript

Tanya Stanfield:

Akberet, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We really appreciate your time.

Akberet Boykin-Farr:

It’s a pleasure. I’m looking forward to our discussion.

Tanya Stanfield:

I am too. So, maybe, we’ll just start off by learning a little bit more about you and your journey into the DEI field.

Akberet Boykin-Farr:

Yeah, absolutely. I have been in diversity for the last three years, and prior to that, my career was in human resources, in a variety of roles, in a variety of businesses, mostly as a generalist, and most recently as a leader of one of our larger businesses.

Tanya Stanfield:

So, when did you first begin working with LCW?

Akberet Boykin-Farr:

I would say right when I took the diversity role, I’d reached out to LCW to talk about the Managing Unconscious Program that they had put together for us as an organization. It was our first time doing diversity training, and I felt like they were a key partner of ours, and I needed to understand their perspective for the organization, as well as, I was also trying to formulate our go forward plan. Where do I go from here? This is the first time we’ve had someone that was dedicated in the role of diversity, and I really wanted LCW’s perspective and understanding of our organization.

Tanya Stanfield:

That’s wonderful. So, what type of training was it? The live Unconscious Bias Training or was it e-learning or how did that unfold?

Akberet Boykin-Farr:

Yeah, so the Unconscious Bias Training was the live session, about two-and-a-half-hour course, that we originally started with our leadership team. Our goal was to train all of our top leaders in unconscious bias. We really hadn’t done any type of diversity training prior to that. There may have been a few modules in some small sessions, some of our leadership sessions, but nothing significant. So, this was an in-house training, in-person training. And then from there, we worked with LCW to launch a Introduction of Managing Unconscious Bias, which was for individual contributors. So, less about how to approach this from a management standpoint, but just how it impacts day to day.

Tanya Stanfield:

Can you share a little bit with this partnership with LCW? What were some of the highlights or the impact that you saw from these programs?

Akberet Boykin-Farr:

Yeah, I always call Managing Unconscious Bias at Emerson, I always call it our permission slip to talk about diversity, and it gives people the language, the narrative, to share about diversity in the organization, when prior to that we really had been somewhat silent on the topic. So, I think it gave people an opportunity to share their experiences, to learn, to understand other perspectives, and it was really a springboard to other things that we were going to do in the organization. So, it led to expanding employee resource groups, diversity committees that we created. We began to create that at various locations. We’re a global multinational, and a lot of our organizations have their own culture and having these diversity committees was really important for us. So, I think it was really the start of more opportunity for diversity.

Tanya Stanfield:

So, let’s switch gears a little bit from this programming to here and now, and considering your background in the DEI field and contrasting what you’ve seen in the past couple of years compared to this year where so much has changed. How do you think the DEI world has shifted or changed, particularly since you entered the field?

Akberet Boykin-Farr:

I think when I took the role, I felt like I was doing more canvassing, of recommending to leaders and business leaders that this is where you need to go, and these are some ideas, and you should try this or try that, and a lot of times I was willing for them to do anything, whatever it took; there was no prescription in my mind, but I will say, with the events of the last year, there’s more of that pull. What can I do? Before it used to be ‘tell me what I need to be doing’. If diversity is important, tell me exactly what I need to do, and now they’re willing to try any and everything, which was our goal all along is grow some things organically that are unique to your location and to your business that are important. So, I think I’m starting to see that more individualized interest and how they can make a difference.

Tanya Stanfield:

Wow. That’s really something else, quite a shift indeed. So, what do you think or hope this field will look like as we’re looking ahead to the next 20 years even?

Akberet Boykin-Farr:

Right. I don’t know if it’s a cliche or what, but you almost want the field to go away, and that it be just a part of everything that we do. I always try to say, we don’t want diversity to be a bolt on in the organization. We want it to run through every piece of it. We want it to run through all the values, our purpose, our goals. That’s ideal, but I don’t think 20 years is enough time for that, to be quite honest. But I do hope that it continues to be a necessary element in running a business. It’s not an afterthought, but it is something that is thought of alongside of everything that is done, in all the decision-making.

Tanya Stanfield:

Agreed. So what’s one piece of advice you’d share with any early stage or future DEI practitioners?

Akberet Boykin-Farr:

I was trying to, I think, come into the role and wanted to make sure everything was perfect. Make sure that I had every question that could potentially be answered, every potential outcome already addressed, and I quickly realized that you can’t just sit and wait till you have everything perfect in this space because you won’t, and the world will change, as we’ve seen, and things will evolve, and leadership will change, but you just always have to be in a constant state. So, you’ve got to be moving and you’ve got to be progressing. So, sitting and waiting for the right time or the stars to align or everyone to accept what you’re recommending really just impedes progress, and if you want to make progress, you just have to move. So, I think in my prior work experience, if you rolled out a new program, you had all the pieces together, you had every question that anybody could ask, and in this area, it’s not possible to have that; it just can’t be done that way. I don’t know if that’s the best advice, but that’s what comes to my mind.

Tanya Stanfield:

No, that’s great advice. I think, especially with everything moving so fast right now, it’s perfect advice. Like you said, you can’t always wait around to have the perfect plan or the perfect… If you did that this year, you were set back quite a bit. So, I think that’s perfect advice. So, anything else you want to add or talk about in this conversation or any parting words at all?

Akberet Boykin-Farr:

I think I would just say that I have been grateful for LCW’s work in the space. It’s been great to have a third party come in that’s not my voice, because when people hear me, I think it’s almost sounds like a broken record, but it’s great to have someone outside the organization who has credible experience and background with companies that we respect and as an organization to hear their perspective has been good. And I would even add that, in addition to that, having someone you could say it… Most of it is things you’re trying to navigate, and you’re just like, ‘I just experienced this, is this reasonable? What do you think? I know you’re here to do a train the trainer session, but hey, let me run this by you’, and so that’s been a nice thing to have, because certainly in this area you almost need that outside of the organization. Sure, you have those individual and champions within the organization that you can go to, but I think it’s also really beneficial to have that outside the organization. So, that’s been quite helpful.

Tanya Stanfield:

Yeah, and I would imagine, especially being a global organization, it’s pretty critical to have some sort of external advice or perspective. You certainly can’t figure it all out on your own with all the cultural complexities and everything.

Akberet Boykin-Farr:

Yes.

Tanya Stanfield:

Well, thank you so much for talking with us today and for your partnership with LCW. We really, really appreciate it and look forward to another 20 years.

Akberet Boykin-Farr:

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

 

 

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