Increasing Inclusion Through Employee-Driven Storytelling
Janeen Williamson is a diversity, equity, and inclusion practitioner. She formerly led business partnerships at Long Dash and NPR.
As brands explore how their values align with what it means to build a more equitable society, one place to start is to look inward. Earlier this month, we shared on Altered the lessons we learned from reviewing our editorial process and asking ourselves if we were being inclusive in the stories we tell. I recently sat down with Tracy Chen, Director of Media Strategy at Lumina Foundation, to pull back the curtain on their process for creating a powerful equity narrative video series.
More and more audiences are looking for and trusting brands that embrace the values of DEI – diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, they don’t want organizations to just say they believe in DEI, they want to know what you are doing to live out those values across your organization. Your employees are your greatest brand ambassadors and their experiences are a true expression of your values. Each and every person has a unique lived experience and story to tell. How are you including your employee’s voices in your brand values and DEI journey? It may be time to ask your employees: What’s your story?
Lumina Foundation is a private foundation in Indianapolis that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all.
This is Episode 1 of an ongoing series focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. For full transparency, Lumina Foundation is a client of Long Dash.
Watch Lumina Foundation Stories Our Racial Justice Story
Read Lumina Foundation’s National Survey Findings & Racial Equity Framing Research
Get Help Talking About Racial Justice
Take Lumina Foundation’s Equity Self-Assessment
Read Tracy Chen’s personal reflection on the spike in Anti-Asian violence.
The transcript is available below.
Janeen Williamson: Thank you so much for joining me today, Tracy. I’m excited to have this conversation with you about telling diverse and inclusive stories. Can you share your background and current role at Lumina Foundation?
Tracy Chen: My background is actually all in TV news; I’m a former journalist. Before joining Lumina, I was an executive TV producer for a show called Inside Indiana Business, which was a statewide business show in Indiana. Prior to that, I was in local TV news as a producer in Indianapolis and in Pittsburgh. I came from a background of storytelling, but in a different environment. Now I’m learning about philanthropy and its intersection with higher education.
When Susan [Johnson, Lumina’s Director of Operations and Grants Administration] came to us and said she wanted to share an equity narrative, we asked ourselves: “What is that exactly?” We didn’t know what it was going to look like. Originally, we thought she was just going to write a blog. But we had this seed that could really blossom into something else. It really turned into an intimate, important project for Lumina.
I felt really privileged to bring my video experience to this type of project. And when you read her blog and then watch her video, they’re two completely different products, even though they’re the same story. But they’re powerful in their own individual element.
Janeen Williamson: When I watched her video for the first time, I was just so moved. When you sit down with someone to tell a story that’s so personal, how do you help someone tell that story in a way that’s concise, but also compelling?
Tracy Chen: The first thing I’ll say is that it’s done on a volunteer basis. These are incredibly personal stories, so it has to be up to the individual if they even want to tell their story. There’s no obligation or pressure for them to do it. It really has to be from their own willingness.
Then the coaches come into the picture in order to keep their stories concise and compelling. We have fantastic writing coaches who help get your equity narrative off the ground. What they’re really trying to get at is an outline for your story. Everyone is going to be on a different journey and people may not know exactly what their story is going to be. They may start by asking you to jot down a few ideas or a theme or a moment just to get you moving—maybe it’s a word or a sentence.
They also have this really cool trick they call the rule of three. You jot down three words that have something about the start, middle, and end of your story. It doesn’t have to be in chronological order. For instance, they’ll ask, “what’s your moment of truth?” Then they ask, “what followed after that?” And finally, “what did you learn?” It can also be something along the lines of identifying a moment when you realized something, then how it changed, and why it’s so important to you. From there, you can fill in the holes and start the storytelling part.
You’re going to go through several drafts and iterations. But in the end, it’s pretty amazing to see where you start and then what you end up with.
Janeen Williamson: How does this specific initiative connect to other communications you’re doing within the organization? How is it the same? How is it different?
Tracy Chen: Well, these equity narratives are obviously very different, because it’s personal. It’s your intimate story. You may have never even told this story before. Maybe you’ve told it to your really close family and your really close friends, but now you’re telling it to your colleagues in a place of work. So, it’s very different.
A lot of our colleagues write blogs and reports. We’ve got some really smart, intelligent people working at our foundation. However, they’re writing for a different type of audience. Speaking about racial equity from a personal lens is a different approach and tone. You’re really doing some storytelling about your life. It’s always integrated with our equity-first approach, so in that sense, it’s the same as other communications we do.
Sign up for On Brand
Our weekly digest featuring ideas on the future of brand.
Janeen Williamson: How do you tell a cohesive story when you have varying voices? How do you make sure they can coalesce around one theme—and especially a theme like racial equity and education?
Tracy Chen: Well, for this particular exercise, it’s about an equity narrative, so it’s very focused. We didn’t give you a lot of opportunities to go into different topics. This is your personal story. It’s your own story. We’re really not trying to drive it for you in any way.
The resources we’re bringing in for you—whether it be the speechwriter or speech coach—are just people helping you along the way. They’re not trying to put words in your mouth or drive the narrative in a certain way. We’re not thinking about the audience in terms of clicks or engagement metrics. It’s very different.
As long as you’re just telling a real authentic personal story, I think that’s all that matters. Everyone loves a really good story. And when it’s personal, people want that connection. If it doesn’t move somebody or have a personal connection, then you’re most likely going to just read and forget about it. But if you can have that emotional attachment with somebody, that’s what you remember in really good interviews. Maybe you remember one grand statistic that is really outrageous, but you’re not going to remember all the little details. The emotion behind the story is what ensures that you’ll get to the guts of it.
Janeen Williamson: How do you think this storytelling and DEI work has enriched Lumina’s external work in higher education and the internal culture?
Tracy Chen: We can’t just preach the message without doing our own work. A majority of our work focuses on what’s happening in the field, but we needed to turn the camera on ourselves and look at how racial injustice has shaped our lives and careers. These equity narratives give the outside world a human look at us. They get to see how we first encountered racial differences and understand how our personal upbringings and values influence our thoughts and, ultimately, our work in the foundation.
Many of our Lumina colleagues took the courageous leap to share their stories publicly and we hope more of our co-worker will be inspired to do the same. We’re also encouraging grantees and organizations, including organizations who may have never heard of Lumina, to share their own equity narratives internally or with the world.
Janeen Williamson: What was the difference between the blog and having someone tell the story on video?
Tracy Chen: It is a very different approach when you put yourself in front of the camera because you’re telling your story out loud. You’re putting yourself in a very vulnerable position. It can be somewhat emotional.
For this project, we used our go-to videographer. We have a very good relationship and we trust him. I spent a lot of time talking to him in advance to share that we’re talking to Lumina colleagues, not people in the field or within institutions, like we normally do. These are my colleagues and they’re about to share very personal, heartfelt stories. We have to really take care and be mindful of how we treat it. We went over the backdrop, the vibe, and tone.
We collaborated afterwards on the sound bites, text, and music. We were very diligent every step of the way.
Janeen Williamson: I certainly was inspired by these videos. I really appreciate the care and craft you put into creating the series.
Tracy Chen: Thanks. We did these stories pre-COVID when we could sit one-on-one with our speech coaches in-person. The world is different now, and I’m so glad we have these and produced them before. We’re now thinking about how we can make these stories still come to life in the new environment we’re in.
I want to also say that Lumina had a lot of resources to prepare storytellers and produce the series but anyone can share their story—whether you’re a foundation, small company, or work for yourself. Everyone has a smart phone these days if you want to record video. Just look at the camera and tell your honest story.
Janeen Williamson: Thank you so much, Tracy, for sharing that with us. This was really helpful and I hope others are encouraged to share their stories too.
Tracy Chen: Thank you for thinking of us.