RALIANCE Managing Director Yolanda Edrington has always been a helper. “My parents say that helping others was just in my nature,” said Edrington. “All my work stems from the instinct to help.”
One of Edrington’s earliest jobs, in an all-male community corrections center, demonstrated that the world needed more sexual violence prevention. The center’s residents often disclosed that they were survivors of assault, but there was a stigma around seeking support and few resources even when they did. “I realized this was preventable,” Edrington explained. “Years later, when I saw the opportunity to join the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and RALIANCE and work on sexual violence prevention, I jumped at it.”
We sat down with Edrington to discuss her journey to RALIANCE, as well as her views on how corporations and allies can improve their practices to ensure equitable workplaces, particularly for women, including women of color and LGBTQ+ women.
RALIANCE: What do you think is most important for corporate leaders to understand about equity and culture change?
Edrington: When corporate leaders think about culture change, they often think specifically about their internal workplace culture. What they don’t realize is that internal workplace culture inevitably leads to broader societal change. In that context, committing yourself to building a more equitable workplace culture is actually about a much bigger picture – it’s inspiring. Here’s an example: I had a summer job when I was a teenager and was technically considered a “transient” employee. But the values the company instilled in me about customer service and teamwork are still with me today. By creating a positive culture, companies can have a massive impact on broader culture through their people, even those who are only there a short time.
RALIANCE: What would you say to allies who want to help lead culture change and create better working environments?
Edrington: Action is the most important step you can take as an ally. That means using your power to stand up against injustice or handing the mic over to those who are underrepresented. The best place to start is to look internally. How have you contributed to inequality? What do you know needs to change? How much power are you willing to give up to lift others? And when you do take action, don’t be a box checker. It’s not only about hitting a diversity hiring goal – it’s about making sure you’re creating an equitable environment as you hit these actionable milestones.
RALIANCE: Are there any specific burdens women of color and the LGBTQ+ community carry that you feel workplaces don’t sufficiently acknowledge?
Edrington: Absolutely – we currently see a lot of focus on diverse hiring, but workplaces need to take care of the people they already have, especially women of color and LGBTQ+ folks. Members of these communities feel they have to work twice as hard to get ahead or be seen as a valuable. People in these communities tend to be overworked with no compensation, whether it be through pay, acknowledgment, or time off. Corporate leaders need to truly see these employees and work to meet their needs.
RALIANCE: RALIANCE is deeply focused on helping corporate leaders navigate and lead culture change. What progress have you seen at the corporate level? Where does the most work remain to be done?
Edrington: I do believe that many corporations have stepped up their work on diversity, equity and inclusion and are beginning to build that type of culture. The part that remains is actionable steps. I would like to see more self-awareness in leaders, and I’d like to see DEI practices hitting all parts of an organization, from entry-level workforce all the way up to leadership. Additionally, organizations should be measuring where they are struggling or succeeding. By doing a temperature check of how people are feeling, leaders can better determine where to lean in and push for more progress.
RALIANCE provides consulting, assessment, and employee development services to help build more equitable workplace cultures and create environments free from sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse. We stand ready to support your organization’s goals – contact us today at [email protected] to get started.