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Progress Over Perfection: A Q&A with Our Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging

“Progress over perfection”—a guiding principle we use to remind ourselves of the resilience required to champion diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB). In our journey of growth and collective learning, we understand that the key to creating a more inclusive society depends on our willingness to engage in courageous conversations, form meaningful partnerships—and above all—prioritize people first.

In an insightful interview with Jo-Jo Jones, our director of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, she shares innovative approaches to advance DEIB and tools to measure progress. She also explains how a people-centric approach to DEIB is essential to creating transformational and lasting change.

Together, we can navigate the path from awareness to action, knowing each of us has a crucial role to play in shaping a better tomorrow.

Michaela Guffie: How do you assess an organization's culture and its impact on DEIB?

Jo-Jo Jones: Assessing an organization's culture involves engaging in open conversations, active listening, fostering moments of connection, and promoting accountability. It requires prioritizing respect for individuals and empowering them by amplifying their voices. Additionally, leveraging Employee Resource Groups and Special Interest Groups allows for valuable guidance from historically marginalized communities—fostering a more inclusive and diverse environment. Understanding and evaluating these aspects help to gauge the organization's culture and its impact on DEIB.

MG: How do diversity and inclusion initiatives contribute to the growth of an organization's bottom line and overall revenue?

JJ: When an organization adopts a DEIB approach, it becomes ingrained in all aspects of the business—encompassing products, people and services. This comprehensive integration allows the organization to tap into a broader range of perspectives, experiences and talents. By leveraging the power of diversity, the organization can access new markets, identify unmet needs, and develop products and services that resonate with a wider audience. Consequently, this holistic DEIB approach contributes to the growth of the organization's bottom line and revenue by driving innovation, strengthening partner relationships, and expanding market share.

MG: What tools do you utilize to measure DEIB progress?

JJ: To measure our DEIB progress, we collaborate with several partners that offer valuable insights. Dandi is one of the tools we use, integrating with our HRIS platform to provide real-time metrics. This allows us to track our DEIB goals at both the organizational and departmental levels, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of our progress.

Additionally, we leverage Korn Ferry, a DEIB audit tool that generates specific questions related to DEIB and representation. These questions are then distributed throughout the organization, enabling us to assess our position in the DEIB journey. It's not just about tracking the data; we also prioritize understanding if employees feel comfortable being their authentic selves in the workplace. This combination of data-driven metrics and employee feedback helps us develop a more inclusive and supportive environment.

MG: Aside from data, how can we effectively promote DEIB without overwhelming with statistics?

JJ: Changing people's minds, hearts or perceptions about DEIB requires a multifaceted approach that goes beyond presenting data. One powerful way is through storytelling and personal narratives—sharing the experiences of individuals who have faced challenges and triumphs related to DEIB. Humanizing these issues creates empathy and fosters understanding. Additionally, creating opportunities for meaningful dialogue, such as workshops, panel discussions, and diversity training, allows for open conversations that challenge biases and promote reflection.

Encouraging diverse representation in leadership and decision-making positions also sends a strong message about the organization's commitment to DEIB. By combining these approaches, we can effectively engage people on an emotional level, sparking genuine interest and support for building a more inclusive and equitable environment.

MG: How do you navigate the challenge of driving long-term transformational change while addressing the immediate needs of underserved groups?

JJ: As a director with my unique intersectionality as a Queer Black Muslim and a mother, I deeply understand the challenges marginalized and underrepresented individuals face. Empathy is ingrained in my approach, and I have made it my mission to create an environment that fosters safety and understanding.

Balancing the need for transformational change, which takes time, with providing immediate support is a delicate journey. I recognize that asking marginalized individuals to use their voices requires ensuring they feel safe enough to do so. The workplace has historically caused trauma to underrepresented groups, and it's crucial for me to remain honest, vulnerable and open to set an example for everyone within the organization.

By sharing my own experiences and struggles, I aim to create a sense of trust and connection that encourages others to come forward and seek support. I prioritize accessibility and active listening, making myself available to those in need of immediate assistance, guidance or a safe space to express their concerns.

While transformational change may take time, it is essential to address immediate needs and create a culture of inclusivity where everyone feels valued and supported. Through ongoing efforts and an unwavering commitment to DEIB, we can pave the way for lasting positive change and empower individuals from all backgrounds to thrive within the organization.

MG: Can you share some of the DEIB initiatives you're most proud of?

JJ: One of the DEIB initiatives that I'm most proud of is the inaugural Emerging Leaders Fellowship Program. When I joined the organization, I enthusiastically took part in this program, which was made possible through Lowe's sponsorship. The initiative brought together 15 talented students and recent graduates from various Historically Black Colleges and Universities across the country.

The program served as a career accelerator, providing them with invaluable experiences through a rotational program. They received ongoing mentorship and targeted training across multiple business functions within the Ad Council and with our selected business partners. Witnessing the impact this program had on the fellows was truly inspiring, and it was an honor for me to contribute to building and nurturing those meaningful connections. This initiative not only benefited the fellows but also left a profound impact on me, reinforcing the importance of creating opportunities for diverse talents and fostering an inclusive and supportive environment.

MG: Discuss your DEIB motto and its influence on your approach to diversity and inclusion?

JJ: Our motto regarding DEIB is "Progress over perfection." We firmly believe that advancing this important work requires us to embrace imperfections and not let fear hinder our actions. By prioritizing progress, we continuously strive to make meaningful changes and create a more inclusive environment. We understand that the journey towards diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging is ongoing, and we remain committed to showing up with determination and openness to learn and improve.

Photo by Alexander Suhorucov / Pexels

Michaela Guffie
Michaela Guffie is a community builder at Agnes Scott College and a former DEIB intern at the Ad Council. Michaela champions for equitable access for Black and Brown creatives. She enjoys taking on freelance projects and sharing her love of yoga with others. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
Aleta Edwards
Aleta Edwards is the Director of Brand and Communications at the Ad Council. She has a heart for storytelling, elevating diverse voices, and connecting communities with the resources necessary to thrive. Connect with Aleta on LinkedIn.


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