See It to Be It: Kristina Smith, Diversity & Inclusion Strategist

By Amy C. Waninger

About the series: See It to Be It is an interview series highlighting professional role models in a variety of industries. The goal of this series to draw attention to the vast array of possibilities available to emerging and aspiring professionals, with particular attention paid to support systems available for people of color within the industry

This interview features Kristina Smith, who works with mid-level managers who are great at their job but are having a difficult time dealing with people who are different from them.

LC:     Can you tell me a little bit about how you got involved in diversity & inclusion consulting and what about it appealed to you?

KS:    First of all, I really love what I’m doing and I feel like right now is the time to be in this arena for many, many years. I started in the field of training and development and really enjoyed helping organizations move from one level to the next, whether it was working with a team of people or an individual through coaching or team building or strategic planning. I just love that kind of work. And yet all of my life being a woman of color, I was constantly aware of how people were impacted in school or in the workplace. So when I was growing up, I went from first through eighth grade, I went to a predominantly, actually it was an all black elementary school and then in high school I went to an all white school where there were 100 students, all girls and only for African American students.

So it was a dramatic difference. And I could see the privileged that people had when I was in school that I’d never experienced when I was in elementary school. I could see the privilege and how people were treated differently. Um, and the experience we’re just really opened. My eyes drop dramatically. So I carried a lot of, in my heart, this feeling of things need to be different and what. And I was always asking my self the question, what role can I play in this? Making things different. So I’m going through the training and development. I had a real passion for learning. That’s one of the things that just make me, me. I’m a lifetime learner. And then sharing information that I’ve learned with other people, I just love sharing information with people. So as I began to see so many organizations starting to be impacted by their lack of information about people who are different than mainstream and the impact it was having on their market share, uh, or the people that were being impacted, I just started my heart, started racing and I started thinking, this is the time, this is the time to really start to do this work that I’ve been carrying in my heart since high school.

Really. But the forces were really coming together and I just felt like, wow, this is so I’m so excited to, to have jumped into the pool and, and, and doing the work that I’m doing.

LC:    What has been the biggest surprise to you about the ________ industry that you maybe wouldn’t have thought of or maybe a misconception that you had before you were in the industry?

KS:    for all of the companies that have experienced, um, major full pause, major mistakes that they’ve made through marketing or, or you know, just some kind of advertising inappropriately, their brand that more companies would be actively saying we need a more diverse leadership team. We need someone that will help us not go down, fall down the rabbit hole. And so I’m really surprised prize that more companies are not actively reaching out. It’s like companies one after another or taken the ball and I have even posted in various social media platforms when our company is going to really wake up. Two, the fact that they have to be thoughtful, they need to retail to people who are different to help them build a brand that is not going to be negatively impacted or core caused them to lose market share because they make a mistake that they’re not even conscious of that it’s in many cases it’s a mistake.

LC:    If somebody is not in the ________ industry today or they are looking for a way to learn more, where would you recommend that they go?

KS:    So a couple of different things. The, it used to be called the American Society for training and development. They’ve changed their acronym now to atd, which is the American talent development, um, association. I guess it is a. So people can go do some research on that. Definitely there are all kinds of school programs now that have that offer training and Development Organization improvement, organization development. All of those are great forays into this area. But also even though I had done all this work and training and development for 15 plus years, probably 20, I knew that I didn’t want to just jump out there and start doing diversity work. I really did some research and decided to go to the institute, the Institute for Diversity Certification Institute for diversity certification and they have. And there are other organizations I just happened to like that particular organization when and studied with them. It was at that time it was a three and a half day class and then you take a national exam and then you have to do a project and the project was to be certified as a diversity professional.

So there are other organizations that do that, but the institute for diversity certification met my needs and I really enjoyed the process because it takes you all the way through the history of where we started. Where did this all start? Where are we now? And they do a lot of ongoing workshops and seminars to keep us abreast of what’s happening currently in the field and they’re constantly putting out articles and information that I find to be really, really timely and helpful. So I would say definitely reach out to one of those organizations. Now that same organization is doing online training so you don’t have to actually go out to Indianapolis. It was cool because I got to meet the people that now I can work with and if I’m in a situation where I’m pondering I can pick up the phone and call someone that I’ve made a connection with. But you can also do that training online. So I think that’s great.

LC:    Could you talk a little bit about your thoughts on the current or future talent needs in your industry?

LC:    What are some organizations that exist to help POC feel supported and connected within the ________ industry?

KS:    One is there’s the lack of association of human resources professionals that most of training, most of diversity work comes under the umbrella of human resources. So that’s a great place to connect with to, um, network with people who are actually responsible for hiring people. If you’re going to be an outside consultant, um, you couldn’t connect with that organization with another organization I was thinking about. I just had it. And then even if you wanted to just network with Sherm, the, the, um, the national organization, human resources professionals, there are lots of African American leaders who are in those roles. So that’s another option. And the, like I said, the American talent development organization as well. And within those groups they have networking groups. 

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