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INTERview





Automation Workz created the Diversity Culture Audit to Stimulate Revenue Growth


Ida Byrd-Hill

CEO


Automation Workz


https://autoworkz.org/


Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor

CEOCFO Magazine


Published – April 12, 2021


CEOCFO: Ms. Byrd-Hill, the first thing I see on the Automation Workz site is, “Your company’s future is dependent upon automation, processes and diverse people.” Would you give us a general overview of that concept?  

Ms. Byrd-Hill: First of all, technology used to be, what we call, a solo industry; you go into software, engineering and so on. However, now technology is across every industry and it is revolutionizing every industry anywhere from healthcare to customer service, and just any industry you could name. Right now, in America, technology is the basis of much of the job creation. Therefore, we figure that most companies are growing and they are growing faster because they are adding automation or technology as one of their two bases, as well as having diverse people and processes.


We put the word “processes” in our tagline, because initially, when technology and automation came out, people would use the same processes and then just put technology on top of it, which did not really generate any efficiency. However, when they add technology now, they ask “how do I change the process accordingly and make it accessible for all of my people?” to be able to utilize technology to make it more efficient to do business.   


CEOCFO: Diversity, where does that come in?

Ms. Byrd-Hill: Right now, the world is very diverse, probably more so than people think. Right now, when you look at the US market, after people pay taxes, seventeen trillion dollars, approximately, 52.9% of that is spent by diverse people. Whether it is women, people of color, LGBTQ, veterans or the disabled, they spend about $9 trillion. Therefore, if a company really, really wants to be successful they can no longer ignore the diverse market place, they are spending so much money, because if you ignore them that means that you are not at the table where the money is being shared and spent.


CEOCFO: Are companies recognizing this more and more? Is it becoming mainstream? What have you seen and how are you helping to change the mindset?

Ms. Byrd-Hill: Diversity is becoming the main stream. The last year of so, with the pandemic, the protests, and then just yesterday with the Asian murders, it has really put diversity at the forefront of discussion in America. That is because in the past people never talked about diversity. Even in the connotation of the conversation of diversity, diverse people were always considered “minority” and when I hear that word I cringe, because that means that I am “less than.”


I have never called myself a minority, because as a diverse person I am not less than. In the last year the conversation has shifted from having a conversation of someone being less than, to being just who they are and accepting them as they are and understanding that they are becoming bigger chunks of main stream America.  


CEOCFO: Where are some of the areas companies are missing in marketing to a diverse community?

Ms. Byrd-Hill: I will tell you that the biggest thing that I find that they are missing is that they do not have individuals that get to know best those individual markets. That is the markets, even within the markets, are diverse. I will use “African American.” When you say “African American”, that includes anyone who has dark skin, but there is also diversity within that market. it has some people who are from the Caribbean that have a whole different culture. You have some people who are directly from Africa; they have a culture. You have some people who are highly educated and wealthy; they have their own culture. You have some people are maybe lower income and they have a different culture. Some live rural; they have their own culture. Others live urban; that is a different culture.


I find that many times companies do not spend time to get to know each one of the diversity chunks or segments and get to know what makes the people unique within those segments and then try to identify with them as it relates to their product. I will give you a good example. Proctor & Gamble is one very large company. It is very good at market segmentation and they get to know their customers, even in each diversity market, very well. Therefore, many of their products as segmented specifically for those customers. When you do that you find that you tend to see a lot of product, because you identify with that segment and understand what are their pains, their glories, their triumphs and the struggles, because that is how you sell products. People have to identify with you personally and understand that you understand their needs.


Often times, companies tend to just shoot things out and they make faux pas that are just very terrible. For example, a couple of years ago Gucci put out a hoodie, and man, when I looked at the hoodie it looked like a Ku Klux Klan outfit! I said, “Oh my, who allowed them to put that out to market like that!” Obviously, because they did not have people on their staff, because anyone that is of any diverse culture, particularly African American, would have said, “Time out! You cannot use that! If you put that out in the market, they are not only not going to not buy that from you, they are not going to buy any products from you, and that would be a death knell!” And I have to tell you, it was a death knell, because I bought a lot of Gucci and when I saw them put out that product, I have not bought a product since! It says to me that you did not invest the time to get to know the diversity market, to know that I would be offended by such an activity. Some companies do that quite a bit without making investments, getting to know the population.


CEOCFO: How do smaller companies encourage a diverse staff and also encourage a diverse staff to speak up?

Ms. Byrd-Hill: Many times, it is very difficult to get people to speak up, because they are afraid of what could happen to them if they are honest. Companies have to understand that, particularly if you have a diverse person there, that person is an ambassador. It is not different than if you went to China, you would get a Chinese ambassador and they help educate you on the Chinese culture. Your diverse employee is the same way. They are your ambassador. Companies have to look at them, not just as employees that are working for me, but they are an ambassador to a market that I may not necessarily cater to now, but if they educate me appropriately then I could.


For example, I worked at an engineering consulting firm and they had about two hundred and fifty employees and they wanted to get business from one of the largest counties in Michigan and that county had black leadership. I basically said to them, “No offence, but you have to go find a black engineer. At the time, we had none, so I scoured the country and found a great woman civil engineer who had a wonderful personality and said, “You need to hire her.” When they went to hire her they were hemming and hawing and hemming and hawing. Then I had to ask the question, “Do you really want the business, because you cannot relate to them and even though you have been around for fifty years you have never gotten business from that county. She will go in and can relate to that leadership and will take the business off of the table, because they can identify with each other.” They eventually hired her and she picked up that county in about sixty days flat, because not only was she very smart and articulate. She was beautiful, so connecting with the men in that facility, they enjoyed her company. It was so unusual to find a black woman in civil engineering, that they signed up with her because they figured that she obviously must be quite knowledgeable. Therefore, you have to look at the employee as an ambassador.


With that being said, if you see the employee as an ambassador, you have got to let that employee be free to be whoever they are. That is because they can teach you about the market that you do not know, because there are some things that will hurt you. For example, Adidas made a tennis shoe that had an anklet around the ankle. When I saw it, it looked like something you would put a slave in and they should never have made that mistake. However, because they did not have any marketing people who were African American or any product designing people who were African American, they made a faux pas. You have to be able to allow the employees to tell you how they feel, even if you do not agree with it, because sometimes they will lead you to an innovation that will create lots of business for you. However, you have to allow them to do that and to be able to speak freely, whether you agree with their statements or not. That is because they are teaching you about a market that you do not already know about.   


CEOCFO: How are you at Automation Workz helping companies solve these problems?

Ms. Byrd-Hill: In 1990, I had picked up General Mills as a client and had created something called a diversity culture audit, because they had hired a new attorney to reduce their litigation costs. I told them, “One of the reasons why you have such litigation costs through the roof is that when your attorneys speak to diverse customers, instead of handling the situation smoothly, they actually offend the customer, which now makes them go gird up and get an attorney, which is why your litigations costs are through the roof. Therefore, you are going to have to find some attorneys that can identify with diverse populations, so that you can bring down your litigation costs.”  The first attorney was a Native American, they is the main diversity segment in Minneapolis. Then they hired an African American, and then they hired a Hispanic American and then three women. Their litigation costs dropped significantly, because they were able to identify with the clients who were potentially going to sue General Mills for some reason.


I created the audit to be able to show them where they needed to put the attorneys and how best to utilize them. When the protests broke out last June, I took the audit back out, expanded it so that it not only just covers an individual department, but it covers an entire company. The bulk of the companies that we have been doing these audits for have been midsized companies. We look at all of their data, interview all of their top executives across the company, pool all the data together and present a report on where we think they are having shortcomings and then provide recommendations on how to improve specific departments. We have found that that has just been so eye opening to the companies who have submitted their information and participated in the audit. First of all, it gives them a road map of where they should go. However, it also gives them a definitive result of what types of biases that they are having internally that they may be blind to, because they do not see it themselves. We have found that that audit has been so critical in helping companies to improve recruitment, in their hiring, in their employee relations, in their marketing; all across the board.


I recommend that every company, particularly mid-sized companies; if they really want to outdo their top company competitors, they need to fine tune their operations and figure out, “How am I going to get diversity clients and how am I going to be able to utilize the diverse employees that I have, as ambassadors to get me to their business.” Therefore, the diversity culture audit starts the process and our employees help them bridge the gaps to get to that market.          


CEOCFO: What about political diversity?

Ms. Byrd-Hill: That is always a tough nut to crack. I have to say that, because it “chuckles” me. When we talk about diversity, most times liberals gravitate to the discussion of diversity. However, oftentimes conservative populations do not, which makes me, what I call, an oxymoron. I am a conservative who is preaching diversity. I say to people you have to be open-minded because at the end of the day, money is green. Therefore, if you decide that you want to expand your finances and your revenues, you have to embrace all diversities; liberals, conservatives, veterans, LGBTQs, religious, non-religious. You have to be open-minded. Each one of the diverse segments is going to teach you something new on how to fine tune both your marketing and your recruitment of employees to get to where you want to go.    


CEOCFO: How do you reach out to potential clients or are people coming to you these days?

Ms. Byrd-Hill: Actually, I run a CEO newsletter I send out something every other week, a tid-bit of information. We call it Automation Workz Insights. It is my view of things of the industry from a diverse lens. I have been picking up clients from that newsletter as people are reading and learning about things in diverse segments that they may not be aware of. That is where the bulk of my clients come from. However, we are always open to any clients.


Our whole goal is to educate the world on how to look at diversity from a revenue and economic perspective, and not just from a social justice perspective. That is because, at the end of the day, businesses are in business to make money and while you hope that they will have impact socially, at the end of the day, you want the impact to be economic.


To me diversity is an economic imperative, probably more so than it is a social justice imperative. Therefore, we are hoping that as people continue to add to the newsletter, that they grow and expand in the understanding of how diversity can improve and increase their revenue.    


CEOCFO: What has changed in your approach over time? What have you learned as you have worked with more and more organizations?

Ms. Byrd-Hill: What I have learned personally, is that more people than not, want to access diverse markets. They just do not know how. Number two, they are afraid to have the conversation about accessing diverse markets, because they feel like they are exploiting new markets, and they are exploiting new markets and it is okay to be able to do that.


We have found that people are more open to the diversity market and seeing diverse clients. They just do not know how to begin. That is where we come in. We facilitate the conversation of how to begin, how to look at the Asian market, how to look at the African American market, how to cater to women, how to look at the LGBTQ and be able to help you sidestep the liturgical landmines that you may face if you just go out and do it blindly.


I have just found that they people just tend to be more open than Americans give them credit, it is just the issue of “How do I best do it.”  


CEOCFO: There are many companies that can make a difference for an organization regarding diversity. Why take a look at Automation Workz? Why is Automation Workz important?

Ms. Byrd-Hill: What makes Automation Workz a little bit different is that my top management team comes from various industries as well. I specialize in Human Resources and automation. I have been in technology and HR for a long time. I have a person who has been in strategic communication, another person who has been in marketing and advertising, and a person who is in digital marketing as well as my cyber security and technology team. We try to bring those services, at the level of a large consulting firm, but at a price that is more reasonable.


On our last diversity audit; we just got back from San Diego and we presented to a $200 million revenue company, and we presented their audit, they were literally like, “Oh, my; this is at the level of a large accounting consulting firm!” Absolutely, because all four of us, as the top management, have served at large firms and large consulting firms, so we know what product they are going to provide. However, we try to be reasonable in cost and a little bit more personable. That is what makes us unique.


The second thing that makes us extremely unique is that because most of my team have twenty to twenty-five years of experience, there is a lot of people that we have seen in 20/25/30 years. We bring that knowledge to the table, which allows us to be able to compete with our larger consulting firms, and be able to deliver a great product, but more of a hands-on approach of how to move into the diversity market, diversity recruitment, in order to grow your revenue. Then lastly, because I am an economist, I believe diversity is an economic imperative and while I do understand all of the social justice movements and even have participated in it, at the end of the day, businesses are here to make money. Therefore, our guide is to help them use social justice and diversity markets to make more money.        


CEOCFO: You really enjoy what you are doing! That comes through very clearly.

Ms. Byrd-Hill: Thank you, because I do! I believe in it, I enjoy it, I enjoy the customers, but also the part that I love the most is the willingness of the customers to accept me telling them the truth. I try to tell people the truth, in love, because I think that is the best way you move across anything, and to help them best. Therefore, the customers have responded by sending me referrals and giving me larger contracts. I really do love what I do, as it opens the door to economic mobility, but the biggest thing that it does, it creates jobs. The more revenue that a company produces, the more people they can hire, which now impacts everyone in the country who are looking for a job, as they have a place to go and earn more.


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“Our whole goal is to educate the world on how to look at diversity from a revenue and economic perspective, and not just from a social justice perspective. That is because, at the end of the day, businesses are in business to make money and while you hope that they will have impact socially, at the end of the day, you want the impact to be economic.”
Ida Byrd-Hill


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