How I Help Coworkers ‘Show Up for One Another With Compassion and Courage’ as a DEI Leader

Sponsored by KinderCare Learning Companies

Tamara Payne-Alex. Photo courtesy of KinderCare Learning Companies.

Tamara Payne-Alex. Photo courtesy of KinderCare Learning Companies.

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What’s something that every successful diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) leader needs to prioritize? According to Tamara Payne-Alex, senior manager of DEI at KinderCare Learning Companies, “investing in trusted relationships at all levels of the organization is critical in DEI.” Ensuring that you make time to foster these relationships comes with an additional perk as well — being able to always “listen, learn, and laugh around the edges of the day,” shares Tamara!

It’s no surprise, then, that Tamara lists strong communication, facilitation, and conflict management skills as imperative for a successful DEI career. But what else is important? “Patience, self-regulation, optimism, and a sense of humor all help from a temperament perspective,” reveals Tamara. She also emphasizes how important it is to work on the often-overlooked skills of research and analysis. 

Here, we caught up with Tamara to learn more about her career in DEI, including what she finds the most challenging and rewarding about it, her greatest accomplishments, and how she’s been supported during her journey. 

Let’s start at the beginning. Why did you decide to pursue a career in DEI, and what attracted you to this field?

I am biracial and, depending on how my race is perceived, have experienced both light skin privilege and racial discrimination. These experiences allow me to recognize how frequently organizations do harm when perpetuating unexamined practices that affect groups of people differently. Often, these unexamined practices are not in the best interests of the organization either. 

I love working to align an organization’s outcomes to their values, discovering systems and processes that are producing inadequate or undesirable outcomes, and leveraging an organization’s structures and practices to work better for all of us.

What advice would you give to someone else who is just starting out in the DEI field?

My advice to anyone just starting out in the field of DEI is to take the time to learn the theories that undergird identity development, social and cultural dynamics, and organizational change. This helps provide a framework to understand what is happening in your organization, pivot to other pathways when you run into obstacles, and depersonalize predictable dynamics that occur when trying to influence change.  

What do you find are the most rewarding and challenging aspects about being in DEI?

The most rewarding part of being in DEI is creating opportunities for people at all levels of the organization to show up for one another with compassion and courage. This creates an energy that spills over into all other aspects of the business. 

The most challenging part of being in DEI is that the way things currently are often feels normal and right to folks successful enough to be in decision-making roles. As a result, they often perceive no action as less of a risk than doing something new. It takes patience, compassion, and creativity to work through those cost and risk assumptions with leaders.

Do you have any recent projects or accomplishments that you are particularly proud of?

Four of our senior leaders traveled to the Whitney Plantation last month to learn more about the history and legacy of slavery. On Juneteenth, the leaders joined a panel to discuss their experience and what they learned. In doing so, these senior leaders modeled a willingness to learn about and discuss difficult things. They took time to invest in their own personal DEI journey. We benefit from that type of leadership.

In your current position, how does KinderCare Learning Companies support you?

KinderCare Learning Companies funds two full-time, dedicated DEI positions. KinderCare also provides resources for conferences, speakers, and supports our Employee Resource Groups. Less concrete, but incredibly valuable, is the willingness of senior leaders to show up, learn and commit personally to their own DEI work.

And, more broadly, how does KinderCare Learning Companies foster a culture of equality and fairness?

It starts at the top. There is a strong leadership message to do what is right, and we can see that value modeled. We also have talented and committed people looking at things like wage investment and benefits that affect employee quality of life. Departments and teams across the company are intentionally seeking ways to align our DEI values with their work to foster a culture of equality and fairness.

Interested in taking the next step in your journey at KinderCare, which Tamara says has DEI “deeply rooted in our culture”? 

Fairygodboss is proud to partner with KinderCare Learning Companies. Find a job there today!