Diversity and Inclusion Strategy: Doing the Work with Torin Ellis

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My friend Torin Ellis describes himself first and foremost in human terms: a husband, a father, a grandfather, a brother and an adviser. But professionally, he is also an expert on diversity and inclusion strategy, a risk mitigator and a tremendous speaker. Torin wants us all to take a closer look at diversity and inclusion (D&I) than what we may have heard from training exercises that simply checked off boxes. And he isn’t afraid to challenge people to have conversations that push them out of their comfort zones.

I talked with him about personal setbacks with facing racism in his line of work and how these moments galvanized him to devote his life to focusing on diversity and inclusion strategy. He says, ”That becomes a bit of a tiresome journey, but it’s a journey that I feel I must remain on.“

Listen in on my conversation with Torin Ellis as we discuss challenging the notions people have about diversity and inclusion.

Blowing Up The System

When HR teams set out to fix issues in D&I and reevaluate their own complicity, too often they come out the other side with a retooled version of the same routine and with the same people involved. But maybe taking a more radical, transformative approach is more useful than merely aiming to fix what’s already in place. “I’m really trying to optimize how people see diversity and inclusion,” Torin says. “And if in fact it requires that we blow the system up, then so be it.”

He tells us that, in order to be successful at addressing issues, we need to break apart the components and evaluate every single aspect of what we call “work life” in these terms. Until we fully understand just how ingrained racism is in our institutions, we won’t have a shot at putting things back together in a way that is better for everyone.

“The ROI of D&I Is Greater Humanity”

What exactly is it that we should be doing once we’ve torn it all down? And what should companies be striving for? Torin defines this bucket of work as “bringing in the unusual, unfamiliar and unsuspecting together — confident that we can hit the goals and objectives, unafraid of our differences.”

Achieving this involves a mindset of constant learning, having the courage to address issues and learn from past mistakes. “I don’t want people to feel like they have to operate with perfection,” he says. “Be willing to make a mistake, own that mistake, and continue forward with being a better human.”

Breaking everything down and building it back up with a forward-thinking approach is the best investment that a business can make. And there’s no better reward than achieving a greater sense of humanity for doing so.

Win Big by Focusing on Every Individual

For Torin, a win on the consulting side is optimizing support for diversity and inclusion strategy not just in leadership and management, but throughout the entire ecosystem of a company. He believes that an effective approach can be to challenge leadership to serve as a good model in D&I so that the effects “cascade down through the organization.” Making sure companies focus on each individual employee directly is even better. Torin tells us, “In 2020, I had three organizations say, ‘We’re going to evaluate, we’re going to add to the performance evaluation, some component around diversity and inclusion to every single employee.’”

As a speaker, he also wins by challenging his audience, and he enjoys being able to address people at every level of an organization at once. “Everyone from the C-suite down to the janitor,”  he says. ”Challenging each and every one of them.” Each employee has a crucial role to play in support of the D&I mission, and Torin finds satisfaction in being a catalyst who effects change.

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