Ebonee Davis Ifeobu, Executive Director of Talent, Culture and Diversity at Bridgestone Americas, explains why it’s important for corporations to focus on building sustainable change with equity at the center.
For Ebonee Davis Ifeobu, the longevity of change matters more than the speed that it’s implemented. As executive director of talent, culture and diversity at Bridgestone Americas, she’s seen firsthand that creating a more inclusive, equitable work environment takes time.
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” she explained. “This did not happen overnight, so getting us out of this situation is not going to happen overnight. It is going to take time to undo the years, decades and centuries of racism. And we have to make sure that when it’s undone, it’s sustained.
In this episode of Speak Up for Equity, Tennessee Diversity Consortium Executive Director Robert Lawrence Wilson talks with Ifeobu about the work Bridgestone is doing to promote diversity, equity and inclusion at all levels of its organization. Ifeobu also discusses her experience working in DE&I as a Black woman in 2020.
Responding to the Events of 2020
While some corporations were quick to respond to the unrest sparked by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans, Bridgestone’s leadership decided to take some extra time to plot out a long-term course of action.
“The response of Bridgestone was very measured,” Ifebou explained. “We don’t just do something because it’s cool or because the industry is calling us to do it, we do it because it’s meaningful and impactful for our business and for our culture.”
Since Bridgestone’s leadership team is predominantly made up of white men, they reached out to Black leaders to try to better understand how people were feeling and learn more about how to respond appropriately.
Bridgestone’s CEO also sent out a message to the team acknowledging the pain many people were feeling and committing to work at creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive company culture.
“He sent out a note that acknowledged that Bridgestone is not where we need to be, but we are committed to providing that safe and comfortable environment that our teammates can come to and be their authentic selves, regardless of what’s going on in the world,” Ifeobu shared.
Challenges of Working in DE&I as a Black Woman
While it was encouraging to see her company working to address issues of race and inequity, Ifeobu also found it exhausting to be having all of these heavy conversations at work while also dealing with the fear that 2020’s events had brought up in her own life.
“You do have a fair amount of people, that although their intentions are right, they’re sometimes looking for you to create a solution to the problem that you didn’t create”, Ifeobu explained. “So what happens is you find yourself carrying this stuff and trying to educate and trying to have empathy for people that have sympathy for you. So it’s this thing where you’re constantly in this battle of trying to do the right things and trying to make sure you show up correctly, because the color of your skin is already under a microscope.”
In spite of this, Ifeobu found hope in seeing her colleagues embrace the commitment to improve at all levels.
“It really was exhausting, but at the end of it, I felt like, ‘OK, Bridgestone hears me,’” she shared. “I realized that I was in a place to make a difference, and I am committed now more than ever to make a difference.”
The Importance of Lasting Change
As she looks ahead to Bridgestone’s future, Ifeobu wants to make sure that any changes the company enacts now are sustainable.
One of those changes was to create unconscious bias training to help company leaders understand privilege. This training will also be used to inform performance assessments moving forward. Additionally, Bridgestone has implemented policies against asking about criminal history or previous salary on job applications, because they understand that both of those factors are often influenced by race and gender.
“I don’t want this to be a fluke. I don’t want this to be the hot topic that was only a hot topic for five years. I want diversity, equity and inclusion to just be the DNA of who we are as people. So for me, making sure that we do it in a methodical way that is sustainable, is more important than the pace of change.”
To learn more about the ways you can get involved with the Tennessee Diversity Consortium, visit tennesseediversityconsortium.org/join-tdc. And be sure to subscribe to Speak Up for Equity wherever you listen to podcasts so you never miss an episode.