#SHRM22 Speaker Interview: DEI&B Series Part 2: Dr. Jarik Conrad: 13 Brutal Realities Stalling DEI&B Efforts


​It was such a privilege to connect with Dr. Jarik Conrad this past week to discuss his #SHRM22 session, “13 Brutal Realities Stalling DEI&B Efforts.” There are several things he shared that were incredibly impactful. One that stood out to me is how he uses his background in engineering and science to approach Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEI&B) and culture topics. He uses that scientific framework to help organizations, leaders, and HR understand how they got to this point, which is the foundation then to making changes to improve.

Thank you for the opportunity to connect! I’d love to get to you know you a little bit. How did you start your career?
What’s important for people to know is I grew up in East St. Louis, IL. It’s a challenging community. I grew up having questions around why I was seeing what I was seeing - why were most of the people in my city black, why was there so much crime, and why was the community so distressed? It didn’t sit right with me at a very young age. So I started studying people.
I have always been a person who speaks my mind. I feel like I could say things in a way that connects with people differently, or in a way that connect the dots. I’m a problem solver. I like to say I’m a scientist by nature and a teacher at heart. That’s where writing and speaking come into play.
Human behavior is all about science. Talking about how the brain works - the amygdala, the wiring the contributes to behavior, our fight or flight response. I feel like there is an answer here. I’m compelled to ask why does this happen and what does it mean? I think about the impacts of it. If we understand this, there is a probability of change. I take that scientific framework as I try to diagnose what is happening with people and situations. I’ve been able to draw in audiences that don’t necessarily want to hear DEI&B. But when I talk about how the brain works, people are more interested.
DEI&B has been a topic in organizations for many years, and it doesn’t seem like much progress has been made in most organizations. What are the most critical challenges that prevent organizations from changing their culture and having a positive impact on not only DEI&B efforts, but importantly, addressing disparities and the experiences of underrepresented groups?
As a foundation, one thing that organizations are going to have to come to terms with is that we can’t just deal within the walls of the organization – not just the things that happen inside the business. There is an increasing appetite for how we interact in society. When people leave work, the have to drive home, and if they are more likely to get pulled over because of the color of their skin or go to a dilapidated community, it is deeply important that organizations have a broader sense of the societal issues that affect their business.
Organizations want answers. They want “what are the 10 things…” I can’t do that. If I can help you understand how you [the organization and society] got to this point, then we can talk about how we can change the system and can agree on how we can move forward.
It’s uncomfortable but the reality is that because we have a dominate population, for the math to work, you have to be aggressively intentional to bring in underrepresented groups.  (I will talk about the math of this in the session!)
People can get behind the language and the narrative around equity and fairness. People know that certain people shouldn’t get ahead based on color. But the macro ideal sometimes comes in contact with micro realities. We have to deal with that.
How might HR be contributing to these challenges in organizations?  
People in HR are well intended. They like people and they want to connect. But great intentions without awareness, education, and skill doesn’t necessarily move the needle. This issue isn’t about being kind. It’s about having a fundamental understanding of how we got to this place and how we can move forward.
We’ve done ourselves a disservice by focusing attention on unconscious bias. It’s like they didn’t know. Where is the accountability for that? That’s BS. These are unconscious behaviors that give away conscious bias. Behaviors are an extension of what you believe. We have to accept that we have people in our lives that we cannot excuse their bad behavior. We just have to be honest about that.
Where does HR begin address these challenges?
If employees are the life blood of the org, then HR has to be the heartbeat. HR is uniquely positioned in the organization to address these issues. But we have to understand this stuff – not just the needs of underrepresented groups. We also need to understand why people are resistant.
What is one thing you hope attendees of your session will take back to their workplaces? 
I hope it inspires someone to move. To do something. I hope that it isn’t the session that you sit in, it’s interesting, you get credit, and you walk away. I hope that people will focus on just one brutal reality, and commit to overcoming this in their organization.
The above was a snippet of our conversation. There was so much more to this dialogue, and I cannot be more excited to attend Dr. Conrad’s session - offered in person on Monday, 6/13/22 from 10:30-11:30am Central. Make sure you add it to your calendar!
Additionally, consider picking up his books: The Fragile Mind: How It Has Produced and Unwittingly Perpetuates America’s Tragic Disparities, and In Search of Humanity: Why We Fight, How to Stop, and the Role Business Must Play. 

It’s not too late to register for #SHRM22 Annual Conference & Expo in New Orleans, from Jun 12- 15, 2022.

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