“If you can see it, you can be it,” says Korryn Williamson, Insight Global’s first director of DE&I. As the third-largest IT staffing firm in the US, Insight Global and other staffing firms like it are in a perfect position to help contingent workforce programs close the opportunity gap for diverse talent. Williamson’s mission is to increase representation for underserved communities while changing mindsets and behaviors around diversity both internally and for clients.

But achieving DE&I in the workplace is not an overnight task. It takes planning, education, self-reflection and patience, says Williamson, who was named to SIA’s 2022 DE&I Influencers list. She shares common pain points organizations experience in their DE&I initiatives and how to overcome them.

Korryn Williamson, Director of DE&I, Insight Global

As director of DE&I at Insight Global, what is your mission?

Our mission is to create more equitable and inclusive workforces through diverse practices. As one of the largest staffing companies in the United States, we have a huge ability to impact what the workforce of the future will look like.

So, Insight Global’s purpose is to be the light, to enable economic mobility by providing them not just with a job, but a career that they see themselves growing and providing opportunities in the future.

When and in what way does diversity impact people?

It goes into representation — being able to see people who look like you or you can relate to in successful roles makes it that much more tangible to yourself.

I also think with diversity, you have people around you, an environment where you don’t have to code switch, you don’t have to change the way that you talk or speak. For women, having other women in leadership, you don’t have to fear raising your hand and your voice.

As a Black woman, representation is important even for hairstyles. There are 35 states right now where I could be fired for wearing my hair the way that it grows out of my head. There’s something I’m super passionate about — anti-hair discrimination legislation called the CROWN Act, which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. Only 15 states have passed this legislation, beginning with California in 2019.

Representation is just as important. So, whenever I’m doing appearances or pictures, I make it a point to have natural or protective styles so other women can feel more comfortable bringing their full selves to work and just creating a more comfortable environment for everyone to be able to excel and grow.

Representation is important in different ways, too. I always say, “If you can see it, you can be it.” And representation helps you to be able to see yourself in a higher role. To see different glass ceilings be broken that you didn’t know could be. Representation enables you to be empowered through other people.

Also, it’s important in terms of who has a seat at the table when decisions are being made. Do the decision-makers have the perspectives of the communities that they’re going to be impacting? Race and gender are commonly talked about, but what about age diversity? I’m definitely the youngest person on the executive team, and there’s different strengths that I have by being able to connect to the younger generations in the organization in a different way.

When it comes to decision-making, have representation at that table from those people that are going to be impacted or affected by your organization, policies in place, and things along those lines.

You recently spearheaded the launch of a DE&I consulting arm. What are the client’s pain points in that, and how do you approach them?

The most common pain point I see is, how do I get diverse candidates here, and once they are here, how do I make sure the culture exists for them to be able to grow and to flourish? For us, we try to hold ourselves accountable as well as our clients. That means evaluating what types of candidates are being submitted, what types of candidates are being interviewed, and then what types of candidates are being hired. That way, we’re able to look at inequities that exist in the talent lifecycle. For example, are women leaving technical interviews feeling defeated while the men feel like they nailed it? Those are things that we talk with our clients about.

And our job seekers are also our customers, so for them, we make sure that they understand the organizations and the opportunities presented to them. Women often do not apply for roles unless they feel like they’re 100% qualified, but we’re active recruiters. So we’re going out and searching for that talent.

We solve those pain points by providing that diverse talent pool, helping companies with their interview practices and making sure that the hiring and onboarding is inclusive. In addition, we provide two different trainings, each of which is a three-part series. The first one is Spark Diversity, which is how to attract the diverse talent. The second one is Ignite Inclusion, which is how to make sure that clients have the necessary culture of belonging once the talent is on site.

What have you implemented that has changed the way that people think about diversity?

I like to break the idea that DE&I is only important for Black people or for gay people or for people with disabilities, because realistically, it’s important for everyone. At the end of the day, who doesn’t want to work in environment that is inclusive? I think everyone wants that culture of belonging, everyone wants innovation and accessibility.

I heard this analogy on a Ted Talk once about ramps and how everyone can use them. They’re a lot easier, for example, when going through the airport with luggage. But why do we have stairs in some places when ramps are inclusive of everyone and stairs are only inclusive of some people?

That’s [my goal, to change] the idea that diversity is only important for certain groups when realistically it can help us all grow as a team, organization and society.

What would you say is the biggest challenge in spreading the word about the need for DE&I in the ecosystem?

I would say the biggest challenge is keeping people open-minded to change. Change is difficult, no matter what that change is. And we’re continuously evolving as a people and as a country. As New York Times best seller Frederick Joseph says, the first step of change is having the audacity to believe that you can do better.

Change is uncomfortable, but we have to continue to evolve. So, the challenge is getting people to be open-minded — not defensive — and coming together in unity. And I believe in leading in love as well, because that’s the only way we can really uproot evil and hate and come together as a people and as a team.

DE&I measurement provokes much debate. How would you suggest that firms handle this, and specifically, how does Insight Global approach it?

My approach is not quota-based; I’ve seen quotas be inefficient in organizations. One that comes to mind is the NFL’s Rooney Rule [which requires teams to interview at least two women and/or persons of color when seeking to fill prominent positions]. That’s been around [since 2003], but we still have seen little to no progress. While I do think it’s important to have goals and for leaders to be graded in their efficiency as it pertains to DE&I, I’m more looking for a change in behaviors and mindsets, not a command-and-control approach.

One of my favorite quotes is from artist and advocate Danielle Coke, who says diversity is the fruit and equity is the root. So if we have equitable practices, if we have that inclusive culture, diversity will come. It’s important to measure progress and see where inequities are happening, but just to give people a quota without having that full buy-in, having that behavior change and that mindset change, I just don’t think that’s the best way to go about measuring. That said, there are good measurements that you can put into place.

We measure who we hire, how they perform once they are here, and who is promoted into leadership. Then, we put specific programs in place to support our goals to increase representation. We also measure how different demographics experience our culture.

If you had to give one piece of advice to firms that are on the DE&I journey or planning it, what would that advice be?

I would just say to just get started; I think that’s the hardest part. When you first start out, it does feel like you have to boil the ocean. So when getting started, choose one or two, at most three things that you can achieve that are realistic within the year.

Insight Global is almost four years into our journey within DE&I — we launched our diversity council in January 2019. On day one, did I know this would be where we are today? No, but I had hopes. Going forward, we have goals for this year, we have goals for next year, but we’re thinking big picture, organizational change. And any change that is that significant or big is not going to happen overnight.

Why doesn’t everyone see the power of a diverse workforce?

I think some people see diversity as exclusionary. And I know I touched on this a little bit earlier, but if you’re not one of those groups — like Black or Latinx or someone with a disability or someone who’s gay — you think that it doesn’t impact you. And I think that can’t be farther from the truth. I think diversity only works if it’s inclusive and not exclusive, and that it’s equitable as well.

What are your thoughts on the workforce as a “salad bowl” versus a “melting pot”?

I hear a lot of the time people say, “I don’t see color,” or, “We’re a melting pot.” And I like for people to see my color. I love being Black. I love being a woman; they’re part of who I am and my identity.

When you have a salad, depending on what you like, you might like some tomatoes, you might like some olives, you might like some croutons — definitely a fan of those — some feta cheese. All of those ingredients are individuals, and they’re great alone, but when they come together, they create something even better. They don’t have to be pushed together; they can still exist as individuals with separate identities and be able to contribute to a whole dish in this analogy. So just being able to recognize people for who they are and to love them for who they are and to use their differences as their strengths and really just being able to appreciate diversity and taking that to the next level.

To learn how Insight Global can help you create a more diverse workforce, email DEILeadership@insightglobal.com.