e044. Integrating DEIA with Ellen Rice Chever

My guest today is Ellen Rice Chever (she/her). Ellen is the Principal and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Leader at LMI. LMI is a consultancy dedicated to powering a future-ready, high-performing government, drawing from expertise in digital and analytic solutions, logistics, and management advisory services. LMI employs 2300 employees across the U.S., headquartered in Tysons, VA, with regional offices across the country. Ms. Chever is also the co-founder and co-host of the Unscripted Her podcast, which features uplifting, honest, and smart conversations on issues facing women, working mothers, and people from underrepresented backgrounds.

Including You Interview with Ellen Rice Chever

e044. Integrating DEIA with Ellen Rice Chever

[00:00:48] Amy: Welcome back to Including You. I’m Amy C. Waninger, your host, the Inclusion Catalyst. And today my guest is Ellen Rice Chever. She’s the principal of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility[00:01:00] at LMI. LMI is a consultancy dedicated to powering a future-ready, high-performing government, drawing from expertise in digital and analytic solutions, logistics, and management advisory services. LMI employs about 2300 people across the US and is headquartered in Tyson’s, Virginia.

Ms. Chever is also the co-founder and co-host of the “Unscripted Her” podcast, which features uplifting, honest, and smart conversations on issues facing women working mothers. And people from underrepresented backgrounds. We have so much to talk about today. Ellen, welcome to the show.

[00:01:38] Ellen: Hi Amy. Thank you for having me.

It’s exciting to be here with you all and your listeners today.

[00:01:43] Amy: Thank you. So I just wanna get us started with why as a government contractor- ‘cause I think a lot of people have this notion that once you’re in a government contractor, you’re set. Why once you’re, as a government contractor, why the focus [00:02:00] on creating an inclusive work?

[00:02:03] Ellen: Yeah. Thank you so much for the question. Being a government contractor, what we do is we identify with the mission, of the federal government. Those are our partners, but who does the federal government serve? It serves people, that’s what’s all about. And, and particularly, it also serves, right, underrepresented communities.

And so for us, it’s really important to build what I, we like to call, and the federal government calls it too, diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility into our workplace. As a federal contractor, we believe it’s something that aligns us, of course, with our customers, which is really important. Our clients, our partners, the federal government. We also believe that’s who we are as an organization.

If you look at LMI, values of leadership, mission-focused and innovation, it’s the right thing to do. We unequivocally believe this is the right thing to do. We also know that it’s great for our people. Our people are our greatest [00:03:00] strength. We say that over and over again, and this is what drives our people.

This is what enables their performance. This is what, keeps them going and filled in the workplace. But then, there’s also this aspect to it, and I think it’s important to talk about it as well. We also know that it enables our performance. As a government contractor, we’re still accountable for our growth, for our performance, for being innovative, being solutions-driven, products-driven, and we believe our diversity and having engaged in a workforce enables our performance, enables our growth, enables us to innovate.

So for all of these things, aligning ourselves with our federal partners, understanding our values for who we are, knowing that. For our people, people are our greatest strength. And understanding this also enables our performance and our growth for all those reasons and many, many more.

You know why we put DEI&A, at the core of who we are as an organization and as federal [00:04:00] contractors.

[00:04:01] Amy: I think it’s so important the way you talked about that. It’s not just an external piece, but it’s internal. It’s, you’re in the same talent market that all other companies are in.

You, you may not have the same consumer market but your talent market is the same. And absolutely. Yeah, to attract and retain the employees that you need to do your job effectively. As a contractor.

[00:04:24] Ellen: I think you bring a good point, we’ve seen movement right in the tech industry, for instance.

With big tech companies and big changes in their workforce, where are those employees going? And I will tell you at LMI, we have a leading digital analytics solution group and we’re doing some really cool, innovative things around product development and solutioning. And so you’re right that workforce.

We have those top workforce right here at LMI. That’s so important. And so you’re right, we’re still in that same consumer market, that same employee market. We’re still, it’s really important to attract and retain the best [00:05:00] talent. And those that can innovate and come up with diverse solutions while working collaboratively together.

So yeah, we’re, we’re still in that same marketplace and we’re seeing, as, a lot of movement in the marketplace.

[00:05:11] Amy: That’s great. Now, when you think about what you do at LMI, what is it, do you think, what one initiative or combination of initiatives do you think has really moved the needle for LMI in terms of the DEI&A focus that you have there?

[00:05:25] Ellen: That’s such a good question and a hard one to pick one. So I’m gonna curve my answer, but I think this is so important. What it is is- it’s not necessarily one initiative to me. It’s taking them all, which, I can walk you through some of the, the great ones and, and some of the work that we’ve done and integrating them into our organization.

It’s, it’s taking all of them and working with partners ‘cause DEI&A doesn’t just rest with, your DEI&A leader, your CDO, or your DEI&A [00:06:00] executive and that…It works when it’s embedded. So it’s taking all your initiatives and working seamlessly with recruiting, with your folks driving business development,

when you look at who you partner with in business, with your strategic partnerships or your academic partnerships. So it works really when in pay compensation, all those things- pay equity, all those things go into DEI&A. And so, it’s really taking, if I could say one thing, it’s taking all those things and in it systemically,

and strategically integrating them in your organization to see that cultural transformation on DEI&A.

[00:06:40] Amy: I love what you just said because I am constantly talking to clients and prospective clients about diversity, equity, and inclusion and accessibility and belonging are not things that you bolt onto what you’re doing already.

You don’t give your managers another job, where you do everything you’re already doing and then tack this [00:07:00] onto it, stick it on the side, a little sidecar of DE&I to go down, to go through your work. Yeah. What you have to do is you have to dismantle the whole thing and put it back together with all those pieces in it.

Yeah. So when they’re going, they’re taking all of that with them. It’s like, it’s like building a Lego car outta two sets of Legos. You gotta combine ’em to make it work.

[00:07:18] Ellen: I love that. Your analogy is so real. My biggest job, being a wife, a mother of three, and I got a three-year-old and one-year-old, and my 11-year-old is phased out of Legos.

But Legos, I’ve, I’ve got three boys in my home. Legos are hard. Big thing in our home. And so I know what you mean, especially my three-year-old with dismantling and putting it back together. It’s funny, the parallels that I could see between my personal life and my professional life. But I also love something you just said, building, building, building.

With me and my background. I’ve got an MPP and an MBA and some people are like, you’re doing diversity and inclusion with your MBA? Yeah because I’m building, I have a background in policy and ops. So it’s about taking all those [00:08:00] pieces looking at, what you need to do, moving things around, and being strategic to build it back up.

And I also too love what you said about the dismantle. I was just talking to a colleague the other day about, preparing a presentation for mentoring a company about starting a DEI&A program. And what would you tell them? And one of the first steps I said is, you have to assess your organization,

and then sometimes you have to revamp. We’ve done that with ourselves, with LMI. We’ve revamped our program. And that’s that kind of okay, moving some pieces, putting things down moving, moving it around a little bit to build it back up. And I think that assessment and the rev- the revamping especially to be relevant and by the way, you always have to do that.

Iterative and in this world is always changing. It’s one word today. It’s another word tomorrow and that’s okay. People are always changing. Life is always changing. I love what you said about the Legos, the building, and that breaking down, revamping [00:09:00] to really build it back up so we can really move the DEI&A forward.

[00:09:05] Amy: Thank you for saying that about it’s always changing because I think there’s a lot of frustration in general that people have when they’re talking about diversity and inclusion, equity, accessibility initiatives. Because they say you know what I, last week you told me it was this, and this week it’s this.

Or five years ago or when I started in business, or whatever the thing is, and my question is always look around you. What has not changed in your business? Hmm. Yeah. Your client, your customers, and clients and consumers have changed. Your marketing tactics have changed you, or sales process has changed.

Your internal operations have changed. Yeah. How you work with each other has changed. The ways we collaborate the technology. Every piece of your business has changed except probably for the way you lead. Yeah. When are you gonna catch up?

[00:09:57] Ellen: Yeah, [00:10:00] that, that is so true and, the ability to pivot and also I think, grace in this space, I, so I’m gonna come back to what you said about the kind of, it’s always changing.

You said it was this and now it’s that, ‘cause I got, I have a cool nugget to share about that. But it’s also, and I tell people this all the time: it’s always changing. And candidly, there’s no perfect answer to this, it’s, and I, that’s difficult for people. I will tell you, I’m a very fast data-driven person.

I have a statistical mind. I get it. But, and so that’s why after I worked in kind of the consulting management advisory services before I switched over to a, the HR side. But I will tell you, it, it’s just, it’s squishy. And there are just, the reality is there’s no manual on this.

There’s no manual, there’s no book. And it needs to be adapted for your organization and your culture. Yeah. There’s best tips. There’s techniques. Absolutely there are approaches to the methods and, and some [00:11:00] things, cons like metrics, et cetera. Play research groups, things that we, we do within each organization, but it, you really have to find the right answer, find what works, and then like you said, adapt it.

The other piece to your point about, it being, you said this and now it’s different. I was meeting with a group of DEI&A executives and we had a CEO come and talk to us and the CEO was giving us like CEO’s perspective on DEI&A and what we can do as diversity leaders to support CEOs.

And one of the things he said it really stuck out is one of the biggest things that he needs help are difficult conversations and/or what my colleague, I love, she calls it productive conversations because she wants, quest- to flip it into how, how do we get meaning and impact out of this conversation?

And it’s so true. He was sharing, it’s how difficult and uncomfortable it is to have conversations [00:12:00] around these topics and it’s hitting our CEO’s office and then it’s hitting our executives and what do we do to help them have these conversations and it filter down. And I just thought, you’re thinking metrics, you’re thinking, learning and train-

You’re thinking all these things. And he, and he said, you know what, DEI&A, we need help having a conversation. So I just, it’s, it’s so true. Why? Because things are always changing.

[00:12:23] Amy: Absolutely. I think too though, there are so many difficult conversations people have to have as executives.

You’re having performance conversations all the time. You’re having budget conversations. There’s always conflict. There’s always different perspectives. And I think this notion of all of a sudden we’re having difficult conversations, no, we’re having difficult conversations about different topics.

 I think CEOs have always had difficult conversations.

The conversations may have been difficult around budget or about strategy or about the product mix, or how we’re going to market, or who we’re going to market to. Who’s getting laid off, who’s getting promoted, who’s being [00:13:00] mentored? Where are we sourcing, our candidates, who are, what’s going on in our supply chain?

These are difficult conversations CEOs have all the time. And so I think they’re, they’re being asked not to have, not to develop a new skill, but to apply an existing skill in a new context. And to your point, when everything’s integrated, when the DEI&A is integrated into all of those other things that we’re doing now, those conversations can happen more naturally and they can be more nuanced along the way.

What do you think about that?

[00:13:31] Ellen: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. I think when it gets to be integrated, that’s when you see the cultural transformation because it’s hitting on all fronts. And you’re right, our CEOs, they’re really busy. Executives are busy. They’ve got performance review, they’ve got the bottom line, candidly.

They’ve gotta deal with economic pressures and pressures to, to be accountable to, whether their owners or shareholders or whoever they’re people. And so when we [00:14:00] integrated in, it’s not the DEI&A leader saying, Hey, did you do this? Did you do that? But it becomes organic.

It’s, I’ve seen such great examples within our organization where, leaders are looking at situations saying, Hmm, that didn’t seem right. No, let me look at this. And they go and they solve the problem. Or, Hey, I’d really like to bring training to, this group to really help strengthen what we’re doing and build out, inclusive leaders here.

And they’re doing it on their own. As leaders or a colleague says, hey, maybe they heard something in the workplace and they, they know because they’ve had bystander training, they’ve had anti-bullying training, and they do it at the employee level and say, “Hey, I heard what you said and could you explain to me what you meant by that?”

Or, “When you said that I was slightly offended, and here’s why.” And they can have that conversation. And so it’s, it starts to be organic. And then the really cool thing is it spreads. Like I’m obsessed with exponents and Xs and Ys. I live, I think I told you, I’m statistically minded.

I think about formulas, all these [00:15:00] things. And I always tell people as someone who has a change management background, I look at changes. X and then it’s raised to the exponent. And the exponent are like the number of changes or things that are happening. But where I’m going with this is the exponential impact.

It’s, it just builds and grows and grows and grows. So once it’s integrated and she’s doing it, he’s doing it, they’re doing it. It just starts to grow organically and the impact becomes bigger when more and more people are doing it has an exponential impact in your organization.

[00:15:33] Amy: And this isn’t just theoretical for you, you’ve actually seen these results at LMI.

Can you talk a little bit about what you’ve experienced there, what the company has experienced because of the way you’ve integrated these, these concepts into the work that you do?

[00:15:48] Ellen: Yeah, I’m really proud of what we’ve done in LMI, we are really, really moving the needle and our, and our people are excited about it.

Our partners are excited about it, our, our clients are [00:16:00] excited about it, and, some of the, the successes that we’ve had is, we’ve introduced of course, learning and, and all those things, but we don’t, not just one and done. We do it continually. I’ve sat with executives who’ve gone through this learning and they’re involved and engaged.

We of course have the metrics and, and we’re tracking on those things and we have succeeded and increasing representation in our workforce among underserved communities. We have succeeded in increasing women at the top level of leadership in our organization. We, one of the things I’m really, really proud about is what we’ve done around accessibility, and supporting people with disabilities.

There’s an industry benchmark and it could change. There’s somewhere around 5.5% of kind where you wanna be at for self-identifying people with disabilities. I can tell you LMI is way above that. When it comes to people with disabilities, we are three times, four times that.

And the reason is because [00:17:00] people have been empowered and they feel comfortable enough to identify as someone with a disability. They, they’ve raised their hand and said, I’m someone with a disability. And what has resulted in that? We have a new employee resource group, a disability resource group that we’ve launched at LMI.

We have an accessibility matters, a, a great community of practice of practitioners around accessibility. Employees are now driving, that’s another metric of success. Employees are now driving our DEI&A initiatives. And the other thing: we’ve been recognized. In 2021, we were recognized by Washington Post as a top workplace and larger organizations were in that category.

But why? A lot of that had to do with our culture. It was a top workplace place. Employees said, “I want to be there. I enjoy working here.” And, we were recognized again in Top Workplaces USA. Again: culture, DEI&A, employees are saying I want to be here. I feel included. I feel that I belong. My ideas matter. They’re [00:18:00] driving, solutions and products and really helping to meet, the needs of our customers.

And it’s fun. I like coming to work and that’s important.

[00:18:11] Amy: It is so important and it’s, it’s great to get the external recognition. Yeah. But I think what you started with is what really matters that the employees feel it. Yeah, yeah. And embody it and perpetuate it on their own.

[00:18:22] Ellen: Exactly, exactly. When it becomes employee-led and leadership-led as well, I feel like that’s when you’re winning.

When your leaders are taking this up on their own, and we definitely have that at LMI. When you’re executive VPs are saying, “I want more learning, I want more. I’m excited. I have expanded so much around DEI&A” you know when, when it gets put into your talent management strategy.

When you start thinking about metrics of success and how you observe and review the performance of your people, and you say, are you an inclusive [00:19:00] leader? Here’s what that looks like at LMI, and your metric of success also incorporates you being an inclusive leader, that’s success. That’s success around DEI&A.

[00:19:11] Amy: That is beautiful. So I’m curious with all that you’ve accomplished so far at LMI, what’s next for LMI in this space?

[00:19:20] Ellen: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I’m actually, I’m thinking about this day and night. But I will tell you when I think about DEI&A, I like to put it on kind of a, a maturity model.

So I think about awareness, adoption, accountability, sustainability, and scalability. And we’ve done, we’ve knocked out the park with. Awareness, adoption, accountability. Now, looking at tied DEI&A performance and how we do on our goals to executive pay, executive compensation. So now we’re getting the accountability, sustainability, and scalability is what’s next.

We are going to take this up to another level. So we’re gonna continue to [00:20:00] build on, our strategic partners. We’re gonna continue to, you know, have learning, that we have for managers and, and leaders, and we have really great blended integrated learning program that’s continual throughout the year that we do with executives.

We expand that. we expand that to mid-level managers. We expand that down to the workforce. We continue to bring in great speakers with our employee resource groups. So that’s what’s next really is continuing to scale up. So this is sustainable. So this is on autopilot, and then we can continue to iterate, of course, and adapt and change, but we really are moving to, We’re at accountability now.

Doing great there. Really freaking on scaling this up and really making this sustainable over time.

[00:20:43] Amy: I love it. I love it and I can’t wait to see what you are able to accomplish when you put some rocket fuel on this thing because it, it’s just, been going so well. Absolutely. I wanna, I wanna change gears just a little bit.

I wanna talk about your, your podcast if I can. Can you [00:21:00] talk a little bit about “Unscripted Her,” and kinda why you started the podcast, and what you hope to accomplish with it?

[00:21:06] Ellen: Yeah, so I’m so glad you asked about it. We had to put it on break for I had a baby. It’s funny, I had, I had two children during the pandemic. One kind of pre and one during, and so we had some things going on there, but we’re definitely working on bringing it back and bringing back season three.

So we’re so excited. The idea of “Unscripted Her” came with me and my family. My mother raised me as a single mom, but she was an attorney and she had done a lot of work in the technology biotech and really had been just a leader in what she’s done. She also integrated the public school systems in Hot Springs, Arkansas, she and my uncle.

And so they had been, really activist children in the Civil Rights movement. So, she has always been the one to lead change. And, as a woman, executive, a [00:22:00] black woman who came up in corporate America right in the eighties and nineties, what she’s had to go through and overcome to make a way for me personally, is just astonishing.

And she started at age eight when she integrated the public school systems. Then you bring in my aunt. My Aunt Linda is a family attorney and a political activist who volunteers. She’s an election judge and again, my aunt, she integrated the public hospital system. So she was the first baby of color to be born in Arkansas’s public hospital system.

When I was, I guess in my twenties, she came out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and she talks about, what she has had to overcome and, and her adversity. And then her wife, who was just an outstanding sales leader who is an award-winning bodybuilder, amateur bodybuilding.

It’s [00:23:00] just, Amazing and brings such good insight. So we just had a conversation and we were like, you know what? We’ve all, and she also was a single mom, and their daughters just, she’s just amazing now. She’s 19. Just amazing. We said we’ve all have really unique and special stories as working mothers, as women that have overcome all our adversities.

Whether, you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community, whether you were a member of corporate America in the eighties and nineties as a black woman’s single mother who would also integrate the school systems in the rural south. And even me in, in the things that I’ve gone through. I would tell you I’m often still the only in the room.

So we got together and said, “Let’s help others. Let’s share our stories. Let’s, let’s be candid, let’s tell them what we’ve experienced, in our unique situations. And then, let’s bring in some game changers.” That’s what I really like about “Unscripted [00:24:00] Her.” We bring in individuals that you may know,

but you peel back the layer, and they are changing the game. We brought in the first chief equity and racial officer for Arlington County. We’ve brought in teachers. We’ve brought in Emmy Award-winning producers. Again, people, you think, “Oh, she’s so cool. I like this person, et cetera.”

But you peel back the layer and you’re like, “You did what? How’d you do that? Girl? How did you, how did you accomplish that?” That’s incredible what you’re doing to change the game in your industry, given your perspective and your circumstances, and we’re sharing those stories and highlighting that to encourage others, to motivate others, to inspire others.

[00:24:42] Amy: That is awesome. I am, I can’t wait to listen. I, I didn’t know about this before we talk today, and I cannot wait to listen to this because it sounds like the kind of conversation that you would pay to be a part of and just listen to, and it, and it just so much history there, [00:25:00] but the fact that you all know each other so well, I’m sure breaks down a lot of the formality and breaks down.

It gets right to the heart of it very quickly.

[00:25:09] Ellen: It’s- we always say, talk to your aunties. You, you’ve got me, mom and my aunties. We are a fun group, so it’s always a fun conversation.

[00:25:17] Amy: That’s great. Ellen, I wanna thank you so much for being a guest on my show on Including You, and I look forward to learning and watching and following all of the amazing things that you’re doing at LMI and beyond.

Thank you. Thank

[00:25:31] Ellen: you Amy. And I just wanna say before we go, I see you, I’ve seen you, the awards that you’re getting out there. I’ve seen the growth in your podcast and it’s really inspiring what you’re doing. And I also wanna thank you. I really wanna thank you. Because you’re elevating the voice of diversity leaders. Sometimes we’re like, put in the room as a diversity leader, just, our voices, they have power and what we’re doing is so important and you, you have taken up the charge of elevating what we’re doing, telling [00:26:00] our stories, and sharing our insights to help people and organizations.

And so thank you for championing the work. You’re our champion. You help us, you motivate us. So thank you, thank you, thank you for what you’re doing, and keep going. You’re doing outstanding work in this.

[00:26:18] Amy: Thank you so much. It’s gonna take every ounce of willpower I have not to edit that part out. Cause you’ve got my face all red and I got a little tear in my eye. Thank you. That was so sweet of you to see me and acknowledge me in that way. I, I, I believe that 100%. Thank you. I really, part of my goal with this show is I wanted to create a space. We in this industry can celebrate our wins and we can celebrate what’s working.

Ellen: I mean it though.

Amy: I, I, I believe that 100%. Thank you. I really, part of my goal with this show is I wanted to create a space. We in this industry can celebrate our wins and we can celebrate what’s working.

Yeah. Because it is way too easy for us and for everyone else to point at the things that haven’t happened yet. Yeah. And say, yeah, but what about that? Why don’t you have these numbers? Why isn’t this person in charge? Why aren’t you doing it this way? [00:27:00] And just to give, to give everyday practitioners, everyday executives a place to say, you know what?

We made a difference for somebody last. Yeah, I think is so important. So thank you for being part of this.

[00:27:14] Ellen: Absolutely. Thank you.

[00:28:00] [00:28:03] Amy: That’s it for this week’s edition of including You. Join me next week when my guest will be Teresa Barnhill of ATB Consulting.

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Amy C. Waninger Author Bio

Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at www.LeadAtAnyLevel.com

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