Simone D. Ross is a Colorado native who grew up in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood. Simone’s upbringing instilled in her a strong sense of the importance of community, family, and building through investing in the success and dreams of one another. In an effort to catalyze change, elevate and add visibility to issues of workforce equity, and operationalize inclusivity in business. Simone founded Simone D. Ross, LLC, a consulting firm with the vision of catalyzing human thriving through effective and integrative change management.
Simone uses her 15+ years of corporate experience to crystalize business operations strategy, and bring voice to the importance of creating equitable and sound enterprises. Simone also brings a refreshing voice and insight to many events as CEO of SDR Events. She facilitates inspiring experiences, content, and presentations, to “ignite the light” in the participants at the events she hosts. She is also the Founder and CEO of Youth United University, an anti-racist education program for kids grades 6 – 8. Throughout Simone’s extensive corporate career she has led expansion and operations in Denver and Minneapolis for The Riveter; worked in mergers and acquisitions as Director of Strategic Business Initiatives at SCL Health; founded and operated the SpringRock Dental oral health corporation, a subsidiary entity of Delta Dental of Colorado; and pioneered Kaiser Permanente’s business development and market expansion efforts. Simone holds a Master of Arts, and Master of Business Administration degree from Colorado State University.
She has been recognized by the Denver Business Journal as a “Outstanding Women in Business” honoree, and a “40 Under 40” business leader; the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce as one of the Top 25 Most Powerful Women; the Association for Corporate Growth as a David Sloan business scholar; and was recognized by the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce as a community service champion. She is a graduate of Leadership Denver, the Colorado State Chamber of Commerce CACI Executive Leadership Program, and is an Urban Leadership Foundation Chamber Connect alum. Simone is most proud of her two amazing children. She is motivated by watching them grow, thrive, fearlessly create, and explore the world.
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Speaker1: [00:00:08] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for workplace wisdom sharing, insight, perspective and best practices for creating the planet’s best workplaces. Now here’s your host.
Speaker2: [00:00:30] And welcome to workplace wisdom Stone Payton here with you this afternoon, and you are in for such a treat. We’re going to get a chance to visit with Miss Simone Ross. Welcome to the show.
Speaker3: [00:00:44] Oh, well, thank you so much for having me. I am. This is daunting workplace wisdom. I hope I have some wisdom.
Speaker2: [00:00:53] Oh, I am sure that you do. So, yeah, let’s start there, though. Mission purpose. What are you really out there trying to do for folks among,
Speaker3: [00:01:05] You know, so my my tagline and if you want to call it that is ignite the light. And so that means a few things, right? It means within the work I’m doing with strategic business operations is shedding light on areas where the business can be more operationally efficient. It can be shedding the light on areas where talent can be fortified or utilized in different ways. It can be kind of shining a light on really that big strategy. So I oftentimes serve as a as a visionary integrator for leaders where they say I have this big idea, but I don’t know the how to get to the finish line. And really recently, with businesses taking this newfound approach to how they want to create equitable spaces in their workforce, it’s operationalizing equity and and taking it from a space of not just being but doing. And so that’s that’s really what I strive to do, which is ignite the light by by doing all of those things for my clients.
Speaker2: [00:02:13] Well, I don’t want to suggest for one minute that that you don’t have plenty of challenges in your line of work. I’m sure that you do. But it just it occurs to me, it seems like it would be very rewarding work.
Speaker3: [00:02:26] It is. It is very rewarding work. It is. It is different work, though, and I always tell people that the reward is really finding the pain points, finding the triggers, having those difficult conversations and doing the internal work to create a workforce that supports equity and inclusivity and intersectionality, most of all. And so heck yeah, it is 100 percent rewarding and it’s, you know, just getting there.
Speaker2: [00:02:59] So I got to ask backstory, how does one find themselves getting to do this kind of work? What was your earlier career like if you’re willing to share that with us?
Speaker3: [00:03:13] This is interesting. I sometimes have moments of being a whole hippie. And so this is I’ve been getting asked this question more and more frequently. And so it’s opening up opportunities for me to get introspective about my own professional journey. And I usually tell people I’m a recovering C-suite executive. I worked at the private sector for over 15 years. I actually started in health care sales. I worked for for a large health plan and I ran a sales department. And so that was certainly exciting, especially when we were on the cusp of health care reform. Managing and leading that sales team. And so then from there, I got to understand the engine and vehicles that were that company’s sales. And so I want it to build it better. And so that kind of got me really inquisitive about how do you build a business better? And I found that in doing a gap analysis that they needed an actual business development department where we were able to work with doctors and community benefit. And so I created a job description. I did the boldest, maybe stupidest, but I’ll I want to encourage people to kind of lean into it. I bypassed the leadership framework. Yikes. And I created a job description in business case white paper and presented it directly to the the CEO of the firm.
Speaker3: [00:04:36] And this was the second largest health care firm in the entire state, and I told them that I’d identified gaps within their business and I’d created a strategy that I needed to lead to fill those gaps to increase market expansion and sales. And you can only imagine the body language in that meeting. And they followed up with me a few months later after I’d earned my MBA and they said, You know what, we we actually do want you to do this work. And so that’s really where kind of that visionary integrator piece came in. I was building medical office buildings and moving into new markets and working with people from an interdisciplinary standpoint. And then that also started to get my my cogs going about the space of equity because being a having the identities of being a black woman in. Spaces, I had some different levels of reception and trying to be seen as a valuable, incredible leader, and so I kind of on the back end started researching root cause of those things. And then I moved in to just being the vice president of development for a large company, starting some subsidiary entities and again finding those gaps and creating the vision and mission.
Speaker3: [00:05:51] But you know, again, kind of playing in the back was I possess the identities of being a black woman. And so understanding how that plays into the reception and perception and bias and all those things oftentimes that we all experience. And so I just continue to do that work and found that I was really good at integrating business vision, but also that the world only saw my identities and oftentimes I was met with challenges in the boardroom being again, a black woman. And so that’s really kind of where all this was married was was starting those firms, and I had an opportunity to bring a new brand to Minneapolis and in Colorado called The Riveter, which was a co-working space for four women built by women for everyone. But it had a heavy female focus and then a focus on BIPOC people and BIPOC women and work. And so it gave me more opportunity to research BIPOC women and work. And here I am now, kind of putting all of those skills to the use to to better business, to have some courageous and provocative and intimate conversations, and to to move the dial on equity and seeing it as a strategic imperative for businesses.
Speaker2: [00:07:14] So as a sales and marketing person, or that’s sort of my default mindset, right? That’s my most comfortable comfort zone, if you will. I can immediately get my arms around the the internal and external marketing value messaging value, if you will, of, if not the concepts, at least the words diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. But I mean, how do you like, are there some key disciplines, some early steps, some fundamentals that you just have to put into place to truly get these things integrated into operations and inculcated throughout the workplace?
Speaker3: [00:07:59] There are some fundamental steps, and really I work with executive leaders in creating a thinking shift. Oftentimes, I’ll ask, Well, why do you why? Why do you manage your hiring process this way? They say, that’s just how you do it, I said. But why? Why do you do it this way? Let’s just how you do it. We’ll look at a job description. We’ll say, why is the job description written this way? Why are these preferred qualifications there as preferred qualifications as it pertains to the position? Why? Why is it like that? They say they’ll say, Well, this has been grandfathered in, right? We’ve been using this job description for the past 20 years. And so I do a lot of mindset shifting with leaders where we ask some critical questions. We say, OK, well, based on the internal processes that you currently have. Who has been left out of the conversation and then we’ll run that list. So, OK, so these are the people that have been left out. Well, now let’s think a little bit deeper, who historically has been left out of these decisions will draw. You know, I’ll get all kinds of answers. They they might say an ethnic group, they might say a skill set based group and we’ll talk about the whys and then the cogs start going a little bit more and we say, well, well, what if you built something to where the people who’ve been left out of this decision, it could be an app. It could be an internal process, it can be a new strategy. He said. So what? What happens, though? How do we get them involved? And so don’t throw up some ideas.
Speaker3: [00:09:33] Well, what happens if we don’t have their involvement? And then we do a little bit of risk analysis, and usually it comes down to retraining the brain to say, OK, wait, we’re doing this thing. Who? What identities are not being honored? How historically, how have they not been honored and how do we bring these identities to the table so that our product, our service, our strategy, our process, our policy can reflect them? And so that’s really kind of the first. The first phase is retooling everything. And, you know, I found some, some wildly successful things that have come out of it. I’ve worked with boards of directors where we’re looking at their governance responsibilities and they say, Well, wait a minute now that we’re thinking along this, this line, we haven’t actually said that we have a duty of belonging. Oh, that’s different thinking, right? We’re thinking about compliance and conflict of interest. But maybe we do have a duty of belonging. Or maybe we’re looking at an app and we say, Well, typically this app doesn’t serve these particular people. But what if we did an intersectional beta test so that we can learn what we’re missing and then we would create a more robust product? And so it starts with that thinking and that shifting and that acknowledgment and recognition that we leave people out of conversations that are vital to creating something that works well for everybody. And then we start moving down processes and and we start looking under the hood to find areas in the organization that could suppress voices or oppress the different communities. And that’s when the magic happens.
Speaker2: [00:11:19] This is one of the things that I love so much about doing this show. I just brought a seventy five hundred dollar consulting day to my listeners in the space of four minutes for free. No, seriously, those and I don’t know, maybe you get so close to it. I hope you don’t. But I think sometimes people who are bringing the kind of value you aren’t organizations with your knowledge and expertize, you may sometimes get a little anesthetized and not realize the value you’re bringing. If you can get people of influence in an organization to just ask those three questions who’s been left out, who’s historically been left out? And then, you know what, if? What if we don’t get their perspective? What if we don’t get them involved? I mean, what a. I mean, that’s magic. Thank you. I’m glad I asked.
Speaker3: [00:12:10] I’m glad you asked to. And it is because it’s just a different way of thinking because it seems like we come in and we get a project and we immediately have those messages from how we’ve always done things. And that’s where I say it’s internal work to. It says, Well, why do we do things like this? And that’s when we get down the labyrinth. And that’s when I’m seeing these CEOs crying, because then they’re having an even deeper conversation of, I am doing something that is always been. And then they start looking at systems and they look at systems of exclusion and they look at the way their business or the way their mindset or the way their decision making has supported systems of exclusion. And then we have those deep and robust conversations and these shifts. I like to tell the people I work with when we’re creating an operationalizing equity and work. It’s not like a simple systems migration, right? You can’t download a CSV file and send it along for somebody to plop in the new system. It is actually we’re downloading how we grew up. We are downloading our belief system and we’re questioning it. Then sometimes it might even make you question the things and the people that informed that belief system. It makes you question what you’ve watched on TV, the music you listen to, how you read headlines and newspapers, and how that feeds your brain. It questions, you know, why you’ve made certain hiring decisions, why you’ve made certain termination decisions, why you’ve even weird. We’re doing some work and building inclusive workspaces like the actual workspace. Why are the desks this way? What does this look like? Why did we name the conference room this name? Well, how can we create a sense of belonging, even with the naming something as simple as the naming of a conference room? But how do we let people know you belong here? We see you, and we want to honor the complexities of your identities. And so that’s where that’s where we start seeing folks cry and seeing shifts as well.
Speaker2: [00:14:23] This may be a very pedestrian question for someone of your accomplishment and the depth of work that you’re doing. But I’m going to ask anyway, I’m a small business guy. It seems like once you’re in and once you get a chance to ask a handful of these questions and people’s job starts to drop a little bit like mine is great. But how does the whole sales and marketing thing? How do you get in? Or is that a? Challenge, even for someone like you,
Speaker3: [00:14:54] As far as getting in with clients, like
Speaker2: [00:14:56] Getting just getting, just have the first few conversations, like getting the business.
Speaker3: [00:15:00] You know, that’s where I believe that this work is calling based because again, I told you just a moment ago, I grew up in sales and marketing, and I got to say I have no sales or marketing plan. Do not me, you’re probably cringing. Some of your listeners are like, Wait, what? But it really has come from this work for me, being being somewhat of a calling, and I get those amazing word of mouth references where my, my clients customers are saying, we’re seeing you operating in the space you’ve always been in, but you’re operating in a different way. And it speaks to the values based consumerism of their clients. And they’re saying, we’re seeing you speaking about yourself differently. We’re seeing you consulting with us differently. What? What happened? Where did that shift come from? And then it results in in a referral because I’m not just, you know, taking one thing and turning it into a new thing. My goal with my clients is to create a complete and total shift, a mindset shift, a workflow shift and that it shows up and how they’re doing their work and engaging in the World Day to day. And I hope that it’s having a larger impact. And so, yeah, I have I don’t have a business development plan. It’s just it’s referral based
Speaker2: [00:16:27] Well, and you don’t need one now. You got referrals and you’ve been on workplace wisdom, so that probably ought to just handle it.
Speaker3: [00:16:33] Well, thank you. We’re fingers crossed.
Speaker2: [00:16:36] There you go. So know some of your comments around systems and the complexity, the intricacies of this of this work. Remind me a little bit. At one point in my career, I was sort of on the periphery of some, some transformational change kind of work and one observation. It was something we were taught early on in the methodologies and the but the it was validated by observation. Even people who who had made that initial mindset shift, if you will, wanted to change were accepting the new order. It was still hard. You know, it’s it wasn’t like, Oh, well, if we get them to want it, then it’s going to be smooth sailing. It’s hard to change even when you want it, isn’t it?
Speaker3: [00:17:22] It is. It is. And you know, oftentimes I’ll work with organizations and they’ll say, So when are we going to see a change in our metrics? Because I also have a firm belief in putting KPIs in place for four organizations that are looking to make these shifts. And those KPIs can be measuring their attrition rates differently, not just we have a thirty two percent attrition rate, but actually breaking down to that demographic piece and saying this is the attrition rate. And so we’re putting in KPIs to really touch on the the the issue that they’re trying to solve for. But those KPIs are three to five year KPIs, and sometimes that’s still not long enough because you hit the nail on the head. That adoption rate, that change rate is different. And then depending upon the size of the enterprise, it’s it’s multilayered, right? So I’m working at the C-suite. But then we’ve got to start doing some things at the director level, at that mid level manager level. And that adoption rate gets even longer and longer and longer based on how large the organization is.
Speaker2: [00:18:26] So I find sometimes and I’m so blessed, I get a chance to talk with people who often will have a great deal of specialized expertize in a certain domain and almost without exception. There are some misconceptions about that body of work, and it occurs to me the same might be true about this body of work that you’re engaged in. Some, some common. I guess that’s the right word misconceptions, preconceived notions, myths, beliefs, false. So I don’t know what the right phrase is that you just see over and over. And if that is the case, I’d love for you to call them out a little bit for us.
Speaker3: [00:19:08] Yeah. Well, I think I struggle with the word diversity. It almost feels really weird coming off my tongue, to be honest with you, because I think we’ve surpassed diversity. And so I think a huge misconception for companies is that when you look at the makeup, people think that diversity excludes white people, and that’s a huge misconception and it’s barrier. And so I’d like to flip that and say, we’re not actually talking about diversity anymore. We’re talking about intersectionality where it’s we have the understanding and recognition that everybody has a multitude of layers of identities. And so we’re I’m. So the big misconception when I’m doing this work is actually shifting that thought from diversity because. That does sometimes create that mental blockage because people feel excluded. And so as you’re trying to progress equity, you don’t want to have that weird, counterintuitive elephant in the room that as we as we progress equity work, that we are still excluding people. And that’s a common misconception that I work really hard by really talking about intersections where you know, you’ve got a unique set of identities and that actually is what drives you towards success. That’s what gives you your magnetism. Sometimes you try to hide them, and I always let people know that you shouldn’t. You should always use them as a as a valued asset to what you’re bringing. And so I really like to flip that misconception that we’re excluding people by doing diversity work because I said, no, we’re actually wanting to honor intersectional identities and find ways to include identities as opposed to just a body that somehow diversity work has been seen to be like, It’s this body, it’s this person.
Speaker3: [00:20:53] It’s saying, let’s let’s talk about the intersectional identities that are missing from our workflow. And so that’s definitely a huge misconception. And it’s a barrier and it’s a barrier to success. I think in business, whether you’re doing day to day ops or whether you’re a board of directors looking to have a more inclusive board that’s representing the communities that are being served, that’s it’s a huge deal. And then two is I think the biggest misconception is, you know, training versus strategy, and so a lot of organizations will say, we’re ready to do guy work, let’s get this training going. And I’m like, Whoa, there is. There’s an educational component and a lot of that. I do a little bit differently and that a lot of it again, is kind of like homework, right? Like work on this at home. Bring it back. And let’s talk about the application of it. Some of it could be creating shared language just because everyone is approaching this from a different level of understanding. But it’s actually really looking at your business from start to finish how it was founded, auditing policies, procedures and processes to find where inequity lives and rebuilding towards equity. And that’s that’s a huge misconception that it just stops at training because I actually I developed curriculum just to ease in the process of being able to create operations strategy. But Di isn’t about training. Its workforce equity is not and shouldn’t sit in the HR office. It should actually sit either in operations or with your your chief executive officer.
Speaker2: [00:22:33] Well, and you touched on this earlier in the conversation. But but if you would, maybe maybe we take a little deeper dove. The simple question and it’s not a simple question, but how does a business, how do the execs know if if the dibb initiatives that that they’re implementing are are working
Speaker3: [00:22:55] Well, they know right from doing some benchmarking right, calling out where the problems are that as they see them doing a lot of listening and kind of repeating those processes, they know if we’re measuring attrition, they know based on those measurements, if they’re seeing a decrease, they know that it’s successful really through a simple set of questioning as well. You know, do you feel like you belong and what does belonging mean? Do you feel a sense of psychological safety? They know when they have created an equitable workforce, they see psychological safety increasing because people are now bringing more innovative ideas, they’re now challenging things. I had a leader that said ever since we started creating psychological safety and restructuring our processes, I’m getting a lot more challenges to the ideas I’m bringing up. And that used to probably be irritating. But that lets me know that I’ve created the safety again for people to come to work and their full identity. So he’s like, I’m getting challenges and that’s good. And so you can see some of those behavior shifts. And then there’s just a few other metrics, right, that you can measure just from a net promoter score or job satisfaction kinds of scoring at the point you start doing those measurements and then you can look to based on hiring trends and seeing where people are being elevated within the C-suite, where they’re being elevated within middle management and how people are feeling about that level of elevation for team members.
Speaker2: [00:24:35] So what I’m hearing here is you don’t have to make up some soft cosmetic is what my business partner and I would call it a cosmetic metric. You don’t have to go make something up. I mean, these are real business imperative metrics that matter, right? Like, like attrition. And so it’s not like you got to go make up these things. I mean, this is this. This whole conversation is not parallel to talking about the bottom line. And I mean, this is this is the real conversation.
Speaker3: [00:25:06] It is. It is 100 percent the real conversation. And you know, it can be slight things to I’ll. I’ll have people do just a check test, right? It’s like, OK, so before we started this work, you just tick marks on a notebook. How many women were speaking up in meetings? Well, as you go through the process of creating where workforce equity are more women speaking up right or people who historically have been excluded, are they participating? In what way are they valued and seen as credible leaders? Are you finding that you have more innovative ideas? Sometimes very simple things where it’s just like you just got to notice it?
Speaker2: [00:25:46] Yeah. And listen and listen, that was the other thing I heard heard in your conversation. You have a couple, at least a couple of other irons in the fire, as my father would say. One of which is you’re the CEO of SDR events. Can you speak to that a little bit before we wrap?
Speaker3: [00:26:06] Yeah. So it’s funny. I I’m all about bringing healing content that is just again going to ignite the light, change how you think, change, how you process. And so when we all found ourselves stuck in the house. When the pandemic began, I was like, how do we create a space where people can just kind of feel some hope and so and talk about the hard topics and so having women, people of color talk about mental health and what that looks like, having people talk about exiting the workforce, why they exit it, what that looks like, talking about giving ourselves permission to just be in. So I started SDR events to bring forth that kind of content to a community at a time that really, really needed it. And then this is very bizarre. But I’m also an auctioneer, a nonprofit auctioneer, and so I know that’s weird, right? And so I do a lot of that as well through SDR events. And I started off auctioneering because I would go to all these galas and I didn’t see anybody that looks like me raising money and building that level of connection at at events. And I said, You know what? I want to, I want to do this. I want to be one of the very few black female auctioneers. And so I started doing it. And this event season, I got to say, is kept me very busy, but it’s been great to just bring about that level of representation. It’s been wonderful.
Speaker2: [00:27:29] What fun? And I don’t know where you find the time, I can see where you find the energy, and I think that is like a a a will with no bottom. I can see where the energy comes from, but you’re also founder and CEO of Youth United University and Mission Purpose. Theirs is around is around anti-racist education. Is that accurate?
Speaker3: [00:27:57] It is. It’s really critical. Race theory for kids grades six through eight when George Floyd happened and Amad Arbery and Breonna Taylor. I mean, I have two kids, a 12 year old and a six year old, and they had questions and I didn’t have good enough answers. And so I’m like, Well, if my kiddos have these questions and I don’t have good enough answers, there are other kids that have these questions and they need better answers. And so then I was just observing what I saw with the graduating high school class. I guess it would have been at that time what the class of 2020 and listening to their thinking. And it’s I got to say it’s so much better than ours. They are tearing down concepts and thinking about things differently and creating plans and pathways for social justice and change in ways that I think is going to rock rock this world. And so I said, Well, I got to provide my kid and his friends better answers help to facilitate thinking because they are going to be the bench that supports these amazing high school kids that graduated in the class of twenty twenty. And so I created Youth United University really to to strengthen the bench of of youth leaders in the space of inclusivity and equity. And it has been phenomenal just to hear their level of questioning their their ideas that they have to create a different world. And that’s where that came from. And it has been rewarding. Fascinating. Tremendous. Just to be in their company because they they’ve got a lot of the answers that I think we’re looking for.
Speaker2: [00:29:49] You may very well have just answered this question, but I’m going to ask anyway, because I have to believe that even you with all of your energy, with all of your your personality and I mean your your son shines through the microphone, I just got to tell you that it just does. I’m loving every minute of this. But where do you where do you go for inspiration? Is at the beach? Is it a book? Is it working with these kids?
Speaker3: [00:30:18] You know, it’s not such a good question, I was asking myself this this morning. You know, really, it’s talking to other people and listening to their ideas, and it kind of goes back to my my story. I like to find the gaps and find solutions and solve for the gaps. And so I always am incredibly inspired by just kind of having my my finger, I guess, on the pulse of what’s going on in the world around me and finding ways to make an impact. I have been doing a lot of reading, so at this point I know a lot about, I know a little about a lot, which is making me just smart enough to be dangerous. So digging into those things and asking a lot of questions. It is a time for a little self-care, so we’ll see what happens in the next in the coming months to just kind of re-energize. But I love reading and learning about things that I know very little about or things where I’m just like, I want to change this, but I need to understand why I want to change it. And so so I get inspired by my all of those things. I always tell people I am passionate about women. I am wildly passionate about women and work, and I have a relentless passion about BIPOC women and their advancement in work. And so anything that kind of speaks to those passions and ignites them, I’m here for.
Speaker2: [00:31:44] All right, if our listeners would like to reach out and I’m sure they would to have a conversation with you or someone on your team about any of these topics. Let’s leave them with some points of connection, whatever you feel like is appropriate. Linkedin email website whatever you feel is appropriate, but let’s let’s make sure that these folks can reach out and talk with you.
Speaker3: [00:32:06] Yeah, I mean, I’m pretty accessible via LinkedIn. It’s just Simone de Ross, and I’m that way on every social media platform. So Instagram, I’m Simone de Ross, Facebook. I’m Simone de Ross, and then you can go to my website if anyone wants to learn a little bit more or even just put a submit button to subscribe to my newsletter or work with me on projects, it’s just Simon Simoni Hyphen Ross R. Oscar.
Speaker2: [00:32:41] Well, Simone de Ross, it has been an absolute delight having you on the show this afternoon. Thank you so much for investing your time, your energy and your your warmth and your personality. This has been an absolute delight.
Speaker3: [00:32:57] I have enjoyed every moment, so thank you so much for including me.
Speaker2: [00:33:03] All right, this is Stone Payton for our guest today, Simone de Ross and everyone here at the Business RadioX family saying we’ll see you next time on workplace wisdom.