Backstage with Chaveso Cook: Q&A with a 2020 Inclusive Diversity Conference Speaker
Optimize Your Talent Strategy
organizations today aren't just fighting for talent. They're fighting for their talent--for balance, gender equity, fairness, and inclusivity in the workplace. In fact, HCI research shows that 84% of organizations agree that "diversity and inclusion is a strategic opportunity rather than a problem to be solved." But where do we begin?
Let's lay the foundation for mutual understanding by clarifying what we really mean when we use key terms like diversity, inclusion, and equity. To help us, we invited Chaveso "Chevy" Cook, Executive Director of MilitaryMentors.org, to join us on an episode of our podcast, Nine to Thrive HR. Chevy presented To Live is to D.I.E.: Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Lessons from Special Operations on Day One of the event. In this brief interview, Chevy shared some guidance on how we can understand these key terms and why they're so important.
In your opinion, what are the distinctions between diversity, inclusion, and equity? What do you mean by each of those terms?
CHEVY: In short, diversity to me is having a difference of people and experiences. It’s bringing a plethora of people to the table. I would say inclusion is the next step. It’s ensuring connectivity and receptivity between those people. They’re all at the table and they’re able to speak with each other. They’re open to everyone else’s opinions, backgrounds, and experiences.
Third, equity. A lot of people confuse equity with equality. Equality is more along the lines of equal opportunity, chance, or choice. Equity is about leveling the playing field. A simple way of looking at it is to think in terms of accommodation.
Consider another analogy: imagine a bicycle. Diversity is assembling all the different parts and pieces—tires, chain, pedals, brakes, handles, everything. Inclusion would be using all of those pieces for their designated purposes, but also recognizing that you can have different types of tires. Mountain bikes and racing bikes both need tires, just not the same kind.
Equity is realizing that the pedals are just as important as the seat, which is just as important as the chain, which is just as important as the handlebars.
Imagine the bicycle has one flat tire. Equality is adding the same amount of air to each tire, even though only one is deflated. Equity is inflating the one tire that needs it.
Why are these topics important to you, personally?
CHEVY: My background is in the special operations community. Of my 16 years of service, 12 were in special ops. Often, we take very small teams and place them around the world to do a lot of interesting things. To accomplish important missions on these small teams, the team members have to be tight. They have to be diverse, inclusive, and very equitable.
I’m also currently a doctoral student studying human development. I try to couple the science and the development of people, and I’ve had quite a bit of experience doing so as the Director of Learning & Development at a nonprofit and currently as the Executive Director of a nonprofit called Military Mentors. As I got deeper into the art and science of it all, lots of these experiences helped me better understand myself.
I’m a multicultural individual, and I’ve been in a lot of spaces where maybe I’m the only one that looks like me or the only one from my background. I’ve had to reach across the aisle and connect with folks—both in foreign countries and in my professional work. I’m definitely interested in this work to help me figure out who I am. But it’s also about giving a voice to people who look like me, and broadening the ideas of what diversity could be. Often, diversity conversations focus on black or white, male or female. It’s easy to skip over diversity of experiences. Teams can include people with MBA’s, people with law degrees, people from the Midwest and people from upper Maine. All these different experiences bring richness to a team, and I’ve leveraged that both in wartime scenarios and stateside.
I’m just kind of really into it!
What are some insights our 2020 Inclusive Diversity Conference attendees can look forward to in your presentation?
CHEVY: We’ll talk about a couple of things. First, I’ll share how special operations teams select and optimize for diversity, inclusion, and equity. We’ll learn about how to select the right folks, how to build them up through development, and how to optimize them in certain conditions.
Some might say, “We’re not on special ops teams! We’re not asking our people to jump out of planes or go into war zones.”
But it’s really about how to lead in high stress, high capacity situations. It can be anything—negotiating a merger, going bankrupt, laying off part of the workforce. They’re all high stress situations and leading through those situations is important when it comes to selecting and optimizing teams.
There is one more key topic I’ll address—why I think the civilian sector has an advantage over the military. I think people who are not leading teams in combat can accomplish more than we can if they really focus on diversity, inclusion, and equity.
What do you think everyone should know about attending an HCI conference?
CHEVY: It’s hard to create a learning environment at a conference because many people are focused on networking and connecting with others, but HCI does it. Everything—speakers, sessions, activities—was built around the theme of learning, being open, pressing your own limits. The recurring theme throughout the event was open-mindedness. We connected with speakers beyond what they were presenting. I felt very connected, and the type of crowd at the event really connected with others at their tables. It was a really cool experience for me.
Listen to the full 13-minute interview with Chevy Cook HERE.