Speakfully Insider: Dannique Blake

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Welcome to Speakfully Insider, a weekly series featuring thought leaders on important topics surrounding workplace mistreatment, company culture, workplace safety, social justice, and more.

Please introduce yourself. 

Hi, I’m the founder of Cultured Insights, a company culture expert and diversity and inclusion enthusiast. I work with start-up and small to medium-sized businesses to create culturally enhancing and inclusive people-centric practices. My goal is to help leaders and employees to build relationships and create a psychologically safe and welcoming workplace environment.

What was the impetus for the creation of Cultured Insights?

Cultured Insights was born out of exasperation with the HR and OD departments’ nervousness and discomfort with transformative diversity and inclusion discussions. Using the companies 700-page employee handbook to shush away harassment and discrimination issues in the workplace ground my gears!

At the time, I’d been working for companies where employees struggled to find a way to address their workplaces’ real problems without fear of retaliation. In a rush to have a fun, Google-like culture, I had identified that companies missed the critical elements required for employee inclusion and unity. As with every success story, a little person (I’m tiny, 5’3), has to take drastic measures to be heard. So, I packed up my secure job in Canary Wharf, London, to start something that I believed would help shake up an unbeneficial status quo. I pulled up my brave gal pants, leaned on my human behaviour experience and organisational development expertise, and launched Cultured Insights in October 2019.

How did you decide to focus on startup leaders and their teams as it relates to creating a healthy workplace culture?

My observation is, established corporate structures are broken, beyond repair. Only Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer) can destroy and change this structure, cemented in unfavourable people practices. The leaders are faceless and unreachable; they rely so heavily on the bureaucracy that any kind of people-centric method would feel unproductive and unnatural. In my opinion, startups feel human, and most startup leaders care about their company, personal brand, and the people who work for them. The leaders are reachable and mostly open to learning ways to merge their profit-driven practices with people-centric processes. The startup leaders I work with are socially aware and interested in building relationships with their employees, in a way that corporate organisations dismiss as fluffy.

When Cultured Insights consult with an organization what is the process in identifying current culture discovery, and opening a dialogue regarding progressive inclusive culture in general?

We use various techniques to identify how leaders and employees view their company culture and employee experiences. We gather data from employees and use our analysis to identify areas to introduce more inclusive practices and policies to enhance their company culture. We carry out retrospective and introspective diversity and inclusion workshops across the entire structure to create unifying and inclusive procedures. Our initial discussions always begin with the leadership team. We recognise the leaders as the company’s authority and influencers, so it becomes quite challenging to sustainably implement new initiatives if they are not involved in conversations from the beginning.

In your opinion, how are HR departments being called upon to shift and evolve when it comes to culture, diversity, and inclusion?

Honestly, I feel the HR function needs a full reform; I know this will rattle many folks, but hear me out. HR is a crucial function within the business, but it’s been compromised through unclear management. The HR department is no longer the place where employees feel empowered to navigate problems, especially discrimination issues safely. For the majority, HR is where managers go to seek advice on keeping employees compliant and monitored. HR is tugged physically and emotionally to act as the internal company lawyer, bizarrely playing both defense lawyer and prosecutor for the employees and employers. It’s frustrating for everyone. The shift for the HR department from now looks like a return to its people-focussed roots. My hopes are the HR department becomes regulated at the board level or becomes accountable to private business investors instead of internal leadership teams. That way, HR can safely disentangle themselves from the practice of mitigating employees through internal payouts to disguise harassment claims and instead help employers to have zero tolerance conversations around diversity and inclusion, intentionally.

How do you define ‘employee happiness’ in the year 2021?

It will be a challenge to maintain employee happiness now that many employees are remote workers and nervous about returning to a workplace environment at full capacity. The way we can define employee happiness is a team who feel psychologically safe to say how they feel without the fear of it having a detrimental impact on their mental or financial wellbeing. Employee happiness in 2021 and beyond will be all employees communicating, agreeing, and disagreeing safely, and having a leadership team responsible for maintaining that type of environment through effective relationship building and equitable practices.

What steps do you believe will help in making workplace mistreatment and fear of retaliation a thing of the past?

‘The fish rots from the head down’.

Leaders need to be heavily invested and instrumental in creating a safe environment to tackle workplace mistreatment effectively. Processes, practices, and policies need to be clear and translatable to everyone in the company. Leaders must also be willing to remove anyone who doesn’t support their companies core values around harassment and discrimination, even if they are their best salesperson.

If you could sit down with a historical figure to discuss equal rights and civility, who would it be, what would you discuss, and why?

Can I say, my Grandma? My maternal grandparents arrived from Jamaica to the UK as part of the Windrush generation to help fill post-war labour shortages. Under the illusion of a warm and welcoming arrival to the UK, they had a rude awakening when they arrived to face what would be years of harsh and inhumane treatment by British people. Despite the abuse, my Grandma played a pivotal role in supporting the NHS’s launch and ensuring that minority patients and staff were treated as fairly as possible, in the early 1950s. My Grandma died in 2012, but I would have loved to discuss her career in more detail. I want to know what drove her passion for NHS staff and patient inclusion, and how she kept her composure, dedication, and commitment while being mentally and physically attacked.