Q&A with Shalynne Jackson, Oklahoma City’s First Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer

Learn how Shalynne Jackson is making the city a more equitable place for all residents.

Shalynne Jackson didn’t set out to become a champion for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. She discovered her calling through years of experience in the corporate world, where she recognized a need and strategized how to work for the betterment of her coworkers. Now, she’s sharing what she’s learned along the way to becoming Oklahoma City’s first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer.

 

Candor recently chatted with Shalynne about the importance of providing people with the different tools they need to succeed, how leadership teams can make diversity & inclusion (D&I) a priority and why inclusivity takes great effort.

 

How did you first become interested in the D&I field, and why is it important to you?

 

Shalynne: I didn’t even know D&I existed until six years ago. I was working as a recruiting specialist for an organization and was close with a program manager who became my mentor. We built a strategy together, and I moved into a D&I role full-time. I spent five years at that company and fell in love with the work.

 

It’s important to me for multiple reasons. I have alopecia and know what it’s like to have my productivity impacted by the societal pressures of what I should look like. I’ve worked through this and want others to also be liberated from whatever society tells them they can’t do.

 

My work also helps organizations understand the difference between equality and equity. Many people focus on equality in the workplace — ensuring employees have the same resources — but different people need different things to succeed. It’s not about handouts or giving people an advantage they don’t deserve. It’s about giving people what they need to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities.

 

What are some of your top goals as Oklahoma City’s first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer?

 

Shalynne: Before we can roll out our full strategy and specific goals, I’m meeting with department heads and employees to understand what they need most. We’re working with human resources to look at how internal policies and procedures can be made more inclusive. People have expressed the desire for mentorship opportunities, so we’re seeing how to incorporate that throughout city departments. Additionally, we’ll be working closely with the communications team to share information with the business community and express the importance of D&I to both our organization and the city.

 

How will your work in government trickle out to the broader community?

 

Shalynne: A lot of this work will be done by ensuring we’re first and foremost an inclusive organization for our employees. They touch the community more than I ever will. I want to make sure they have a sense of belonging so they can lean in to provide the best service and experience possible. The better we take care of them, the better they’ll take care of our community.

 

What is your advice to companies and business leaders who want to make diversity & inclusion a priority, but aren’t sure where to start?

 

Shalynne: Ask a lot of questions and get plugged in. There are a lot of great consultants who can perform assessments for companies to help leadership understand what organizational and cultural changes need to be made.

 

If possible, the best step is to hire someone for a D&I role. Let them be a true disrupter in a respectful and impactful way, allowing them to share the “ugly truth” while helping reach a solution. This isn’t an entry-level position — this person needs visibility, direct access to top company leaders and appropriate funding. I’ve seen plenty of organizations create a D&I office but put practically no funding behind it. This really shows how dedicated they are to actually enacting change.

 

Why is it vital to focus on not just diversity, but also inclusion, in the workplace?

 

Shalynne: I like to say diversity is the noun and inclusion is the verb. Even if you hire a bunch of black and brown people and people of different sexual orientations, that doesn’t mean an inclusive culture will just happen. Inclusion is the actions and behaviors which express a company wants to create a culture where employees truly feel comfortable. They can grow in the organization and see themselves at the top, if that’s where they want to be. They don’t just have a seat at the table — they have a voice at the table.

 

What else do you want people to know about D&I?

 

Shalynne: I want to stress everyone should know they belong in this work, no matter their religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or diversabilities. I know a lot of people fear what D&I means for them and their particular identity. My answer to them is, “You’re just as involved in this as anyone else.” It’s about education and awareness and really coming together to help each other.

 

For Oklahoma City specifically, I look forward to being truly accessible to our community and inviting people to share their ideas. I want our city to be a welcoming place where all individuals feel they belong and can live, work, play and be happy.

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