Andrea Hoffman, the Founder and CEO of Culture Shift Labs, a management consultancy, strategy and activation firm whose expertise intersects diversity, inclusion and innovation. As an ally for communities of color, Hoffman is on a mission to fix the diversity problem that plagues many companies (especially in Tech). Activating a special formula of Knowledge + Network (along with the right partners and a strong team) for D&I, her boutique consulting firm generates real, quantifiable results that change the paths of both companies and talents of color on the micro and macro level. Read on to find out how she’s creating solutions for diversity, and what companies need to do to get D&I right:
How did you find yourself doing the work that you’re doing today, being a champion for cultural diversity?
When the Universe presents you with an opportunity, you either act on it or you don’t. In my case, I acted on it. The work I do now is an evolution of my time working for an agency back in the year 2000. I was working on a luxury auto account, and worked with a team that led the multi-cultural marketing strategy and activation. There was a lot of work done to provide the client with data on demographic shifts. I fell in love with target marketing, and became an expert at it.
Eventually, it evolved into B2B consulting. I learned that the work had to be done on the management level to inform strategies that would help them find new markets. My work in target marketing and activation evolved into the work I do now.
What is the method behind the Culture Shifting Methodology?
We don’t categorize the firm as Diversity & Inclusion proper- the bucket we align best with falls under sustainability and social impact. As companies are thinking about sustainability, they’re also thinking about, how do they win the war for talent? How do they become the employer of choice among women and people of color? How do they think about diversity and innovation that support commercial priorities? How do you become deliberate about intersecting DEI in corporate development, corporate social responsibility, corporate venture, mergers and acquisitions? In those conversations, DEI needs to be more present.
So, our mantra at Culture Shift Labs is: there is profit in diversity. Diversity improves business and society. We engineer strategies and activations where financial returns and positive social outcomes can coexist. Because of our “activation” expertise (where the needle actually gets moved towards outcomes), it’s what makes us different as a consultancy. I affectionately refer to it as “disrupting McKinsey”. A lot of companies make the moral argument about DEI, but seem reticent to discuss financial returns. However, there are many case studies that show these two worlds really can exist together.
My firm has built the Nation’s largest database of Black subject matter experts (starting in 2000), and we’re expanding that to other groups.
Without the “network”, companies can only get halfway on their goal (on a good day). You can have the best strategy in the world, unless you’re activating with the right people, the right relationships and partnerships, your intentions and your goals will fall flat. At the core, our client success stories are rooted in our Knowledge + Network Formula™.
Can you share an example + case study of one of your most successful projects with a client who was challenged and/or resistant to D&I?
One client was looking to develop a pipeline for Black talent. They are a world-class tech company, but they were not finding the talent themselves. We ended up curating a room of 100 mid to senior level professionals (global heads of sales, heads of marketing, heads of innovation), who changed the game for the company’s talent acquisition team.
Our experiential design includes providing guests with a safe space to talk about their experiences, and in many cases, they are first-generation college graduates or first-generation immigrants but you would never know that by looking at their accomplishments. For them, their POV is, “When you hire, retain and promote me, people in my family and in my community get to see that people like me exist and now I can also pay it forward in ways that support my family & community.”
Social impact is very nuanced – you can solve poverty as one example, but you can also move the needle by simply providing role models that change the trajectory for current and future generations. The more you do this, the more people of color we can include in the history books and the bigger kids can dream and achieve.
How do you challenge your clients to pursue D&I in meaningful ways?
The first thing we collaborate on is to set up conditions to make employees feel like they belong and can meaningfully contribute. The questions I ask include, “Are you inviting diverse groups to the table? Are you providing entrepreneurs of color access to your venture fund? What do your incubators or accelerators look like? The list goes on, but it’s part of our methodology for getting to outcomes 70% faster.
There is so much talent out there. But often companies say things like, “We don’t have the money for it. We tried and it failed.” The thing is, if you’re looking to get something done fast, it won’t work. All change, transformation or sustainable efforts take time to build. It requires the right team, the right resources and the right partnerships.
How can talent of color be found?
You need to build a team who does internal work and external work. The external work includes partnering with organizations to build a diverse ecosystem. It’s not something that happens overnight. CSL is building a tech platform that not only helps companies assess their inclusion efforts, but includes a marketplace where hundreds of these resources exist. It’s called Katapult.
If a company was interested in D&I, what should they NOT do? In other words, how can they be real allies?
At CSL, we share with our client’s worst practices—red lights vs. best practices – green lights. In our view, worst practices include:
- Not using tools and technologies as metrics to assess efforts. You cannot be subjective about this. Use an objective tool that systematizes the work.
- Saying, ‘we couldn’t find anyone’ (people of color) is not true. If you did it right, you wouldn’t have failed. If you look for the talent in the right places with the right partners, you’ll succeed.
- Never ever say in the same sentence, “We want diverse talent, but we want them to be qualified. It’s almost like saying, we want diversity, but we don’t believe they exist.
It’s important to note that work needs to be done between both the company and the talent. The company must invest in the talent; all of the trainings that help create a healthy work environment and thriving employee. It’s like being married and not investing in the relationship. Leaders have to invest in their people to achieve a true culture shift.
The talent also has to invest in themselves. Doing so allows them to determine if the company culture is bad for everyone vs it being personal. Determining how to rise above bad situations so that you can thrive in your career. Talent should invest in social and emotional skills including finding a coach, mentor or sponsor) to more effectively navigate difficult situations and opportunities.
Your work has been so phenomenal, and you’ve created results for big companies that have committed to a culture shift. Do you ever get challenged on the fact that you are not a person of color?
I’ve led over 250 engagements. I’m a recognized problem solver. Leaders who want to get their diversity and innovation right, call us. I’ve dedicated my life to this work since 2000 and all of our client’s respect that. I’m sure there are some leaders who are curious as to why me. I invite them to call us. Those who have challenged me, always result in some sort of collaboration or even, friendships. I had one person actually say to me “why do you give a sh*t.” That was 6 years ago, and he’s not only a good friend now, but our conversation inspired him to do more at his company in a very meaningful way.
What excites you about being involved with SVC?
Everything. First of all, my attorney Seth Perlman couldn’t speak more highly about Valerie- she’s the person who’s going to change the game for the industry. She’s a visionary and fellow culture shifter.
As I get to know the organization, it’s a world I really didn’t know before, and didn’t realize I needed or wanted. It’s a place I’d like to add to and extract value from. I think there’s so many good people in the world who want to open doors, write checks, invest in people, and who are creating this kinetic energy. Who wouldn’t be a part of that?