At our core, we are a diversity company. Our specific focus at Herrmann is on cognitive diversity, but ultimately, our technology and tools are about helping people value and leverage diversity and create more inclusive organizations. This is what we do for clients, and it’s something we’re continually working on internally as a fully remote team ourselves.
Over the last six months or so, we’ve had some candid and eye-opening discussions as a team about diversity in all its dimensions and what it means to be equitable and inclusive, both at an individual level and as an organization.
We’ve seen firsthand how powerful it is when you give people a safe space for these sometimes difficult but necessary conversations and the opportunity to expand their worldview.
Our weekly “Inclusion Impacts” meetings, as well as a dedicated Slack channel for sharing dialogue prompts, articles and personal insights, prove that you don’t have to be in the same physical location to be vulnerable and gain a greater understanding of what different people are going through.
Even — and maybe especially — for a remote team, it’s so important for leaders to create an environment that allows open and honest sharing about these issues.
You can’t just expect it to happen; you have to engineer it.
In our case, it’s allowed us to give “voice” to those who may not always be heard. It’s opening the team up to new and different perspectives and strengthening individual relationships in the process.
And it all began with the courageous commitment of one of our leaders, Kevnie Tolliver.
Since joining Herrmann in 2018, Kevnie’s positive influence has been felt throughout our business and specifically with our clients in her current role as VP of Client Experience.
Now she’ll be adding to her impact as she takes on new responsibilities as Head of Equity & Inclusion.
In this combined role, Kevnie will bridge both internal and external elements of inclusion, helping us become a “beacon on the hill” for best practices in leveraging cognitive diversity to become more equitable, more inclusive and, as a result, more successful.
Now more than ever, inclusive leadership is essential for organizational success. And Kevnie is showing us what that means in practice.
As Kimberly Sullivan, our VP of People & Talent, recently said, about Kevnie’s leadership so far on this journey, “Her own strength in being vulnerable drove forward robust dialogues that increased understanding and action. We are a more inclusive organization today due to her courage.”
Here’s what Kevnie herself had to say about her thoughts on championing diversity and inclusion at Herrmann.
First, can you share a bit about your professional background and how your career has evolved over the years?
My professional background is rooted in integrated marketing, which was my focus for 20 years.
During that time while I was building marketing programs and campaigns, I discovered that I had a genuine love for what is now known in the world marketing research as Voice of Customer.
For me, it began as a quest to understand the individual and corporate motivations for purchasing behavior. It evolved into a genuine desire to more deeply understand and empathize with customer pain. I’m sure that evolution was largely fueled by my own thinking preferences. I love and appreciate the opportunity to first listen and then share those voices to help build messaging and products that resonate.
It’s how I began my time at Herrmann: listening.
What was the genesis of the Client Experience function?
Herrmann has a unique combination of the most dedicated internal (employees) and external customers I had seen in my career. But Karim, our CEO, wanted to do more — to give customers more — so when he hired me to assist with the company’s Product Marketing initiatives, I asked lots of questions and I listened.
One thing I heard loud and clear was that Herrmann had the opportunity to build continuous sharing and feedback.
So, over time, my focus shifted to helping develop those processes that enabled our customer-facing team members to have more consistent, deeper engagement.
The first iteration of that was through the development of the Herrmann Client Success Team. Then this year, we integrated Client Success into the broader functional area known as Client Experience.
Now you’ll be leading up our diversity and inclusion efforts in addition to your existing responsibilities. What do you hope to accomplish with this dual role?
As VP of Client Experience and Head of Diversity and Inclusion, I hope to open up new pathways to listening for our employees, our customers and our entire Whole Brain® Thinking community.
I want to facilitate the conversations that make deeper awareness, listening and engagement possible — and that help our companies and other companies create a sense of belonging for everyone.
On a personal level, why was it important to you to take this on?
On February 26, 2012, almost exactly three months after I gave birth to my son, I watched the news as the world was introduced to the tragic and unfair murdering of the 17-year old Trayvon Martin.
My son is now almost 9 years old and he is still not allowed to wear a hoodie.
Three years later, around the time that I was teaching my daughter how to drive, Sandra Bland, a Black woman, ran a stop sign and was arrested and then found dead in her jail cell. And every time my baby girl would take the car, I would lose a sense of peace until she got back home.
Since then, there have been countless senseless killings and countless injustices perpetrated, with little to no repercussions. Many, many times, people of color — people like me — were on the receiving end of those injustices.
And every time I would hold my family a little tighter, pray a little harder and be more careful than I was before.
There came a point when I just grew tired and fearful. Weary. But I always wore the brave face at work — because that’s what I thought was required of me. It’s not right. None of it is. It’s not healthy. It’s not enough. I wanted to do more. I wanted everyone to do more.
Eventually, you decided to reach out to a colleague. Tell us about that.
After the murder of George Floyd, I was so pained. I was raw with emotion. I could no longer put on the brave face at work. I felt my personal world and my work world colliding, and I was not OK.
So I took a chance and opened up a colleague, Kimberly Sullivan (who also happened to be the VP of Talent) about how I was really feeling. And she listened. With empathy.
She and I found virtual safe space in our little remote environment. In the midst of our busy work lives, in the midst of running our own functional areas, we managed to carve out 30 minutes on Zoom to talk about inclusion, racial inequities and other social injustices, what true allyship looks like and how Whole Brain Thinking could help create better conversations.
How did that grow into the “Inclusion Impacts” initiative?
As Kimberly and I shared what we learned from each other, I began to wonder how many others at Herrmann could benefit from time like this, dedicated to telling their stories, being heard and to really listening to each other be our authentic selves. My deepest hope was that listening internally could somehow shift the tide externally and lay the groundwork for real change in our communities. Thus, Inclusion Impacts was born.
What’s the process like?
We meet every Thursday, and anyone can join, but no one has to.
Our Slack channel is important for setting the conversational tone, as topics are posted weekly and support our learning around diversity and inclusion opportunities, like supporting the Black Lives Matter initiative, mental health awareness and embracing LGBTQIA. Our ultimate goal is to provide a safe place to talk, build awareness and belonging.
What has the reaction been like so far?
I have been absolutely overwhelmed and humbled by the response. We routinely have anywhere from 35-45% of the company in voluntary attendance, from across all functions.
Our executive-level participation is remarkable. Ann (our Chairwoman) and Karim consistently attend and participate in a peer-to-peer capacity with our team members.
Everyone is encouraged to communicate in the way that they feel most comfortable, whether it is in chat or verbally. Our conversations are slated for 30 minutes, but almost always run over.
How do you see the diversity and inclusion efforts connecting with your Client Experience work?
The Client Experience division will have a remarkable role to play in delivering this message to our customers — through every interaction and by helping our customers strengthen their inclusion initiatives through the use of the HBDI®, understanding of Whole Brain® Thinking and organization-wide adoption of the Herrmann Platform, which will enable each Thinker in an organization to tell their own inclusion story.
If you could peer into a crystal ball, what would you like to see in the future as a result of this work?
I want Herrmann to be that beacon on the hill: the company that other companies look to and say, “Now that is an inclusive company!”
I want us to speak the language of inclusion in our internal, customer and community interactions.
I want everything about us to say to others: You belong. You are honored. Your story matters. There is room.