Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Sustained Change Doesn’t Happen Without Long-Term Commitment
Smarter GTM 03.11.2022

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Sustained Change Doesn’t Happen Without Long-Term Commitment

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This episode of Sunny Side Up highlights a company that has made Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion a focal point within the workplace – not just for now but in the future. C Space CEO Jessica DeVlieger and Kisha Payton, head of the company’s DEI Think Tank, walk us through their journey in the wake of the pandemic and Black Lives Matter. Their workplace program no longer checks a box or offers a bandage. Rather, Jessica has taken the trauma of George Floyd’s murder and used it as a springboard to make C Space a model for meaningful change. She and Kisha share their experience in starting difficult conversations and the internal work that had to be done before the company could even start to think about promulgating a DEI agenda among clients. They have put in place systems to advance authentic understanding and programs with actual teeth when it comes to things like hiring. Most of all, Jessica says, there is a firm, bold, ongoing commitment to making space for marginalized voices to be heard. Operating from a place of respect and communication makes good business sense, but at C Space, it’s also personal; something is woven daily into the culture’s core values.

About the Guests 

Jessica DeVlieger is the Global CEO for C Space, the Customer Agency, where she leads a globally diverse workforce situated across the USA, APAC, Europe, and South America – all with a shared purpose of making business more human. Prior to taking on the Global CEO role, Jessica was the President of the Americas, where she oversaw consistent growth and helped introduce a range of new services.

Contact Jessica DeVlieger

Kisha is currently Vice President, Diversity Equity and Inclusion Strategy at C Space, where she brings extensive experience building cross-functional teams that make change happen. Prior to C Space, Kisha served as a philanthropy fellow at the Duke Endowment and subsequently served as National Partnerships Manager of Citizen Schools, a national after-school program.

Contact Kisha @LinkedIn

Key Takeaways

  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion mean examining and acting:
    • D = Who are you including?
    • E = Is everyone being treated fairly?
    • I = How are you creating space for everyone to show up authentically?
  • It’s okay to take a corporate breath, but communication around DEI issues should be regular and demonstrate real, long-term commitment. Without teeth, it’s lip service.
  • Once the internal work is well underway, the focus can broaden to include clients and move the needle on DEI issues more broadly.
  • Clients will not always be aware of the relevance of DEI in their workplace or customer relationships, so it’s a process of education to the professional and personal benefits.


“The greatest privilege you can have is the privilege not to have to worry about what other people think and feel about you.” (Jessica)

“Even a misstep is progress because there are lessons to be learned.” (Kisha)

Highlights From the Episode

How did C Space evolve its commitment to DEI?

From a leadership perspective, George Floyd’s murder was one of the most impactful moments of Jessica’s career. It changed the way she sees the world, particularly when members of her “Allies Group” got candid about all that she’d been missing. It was a shocking, upsetting, eye-opening moment for Jessica, whose passion was ignited because she now fully understood the extent of her privilege – the privilege of not having to worry about what other people think and feel about her. Because of systemic exclusion, Jessica realized C Space was not getting a number of her employees’ full selves. Kisha adds: People were raw after experiencing George Floyd’s death in the midst of an already overwhelming time of the pandemic. It was also illuminating for her to recognize that while this particularly flagrant murder, caught on videotape, upset her white friends and the nation at large, it was nothing new in the world she had known. What Kisha believes had changed was the environment. Isolated and vulnerable, navigating Covid19 alone in their homes, people felt they had permission – were emboldened to seize the moment to speak more candidly than ever before. That set the stage for direct feedback and transparency about realities that senior executives at companies around the world might never otherwise have heard. It wasn’t important for leadership to have all the answers, but rather just to be vulnerable, listen and learn.

What did the first iteration of meaningful DEI change look like?  

First and foremost, Jessica recognized that long-term commitments with teeth had to be made to change hiring practices and increase meaningful representation among Black people and people of color (BPoC). The internal “Allies Group” clarified that significant internal work had to be done. In the past, DEI has often been a legal check-the-box gesture. Kisha is optimistic about increased awareness of systemic issues that must be addressed in-depth and over time if any meaningful change occurs. Leaders need to pause, take a breath, communicate and then demonstrate commitment to change over the long term.

What did the program look like as it was rolling out into 2021?

Once the internal work has begun in earnest, the focus shifted and broadened to:

  • Client education around DEI issues.
  • Helping team members extend workplace awareness into their personal spheres.
  • Creating decentralized DEI boards to ensure the conversation continues globally across the business.

How was the experience of bringing clients along with new DEI initiatives?

Many clients “got it” right out of the gate, particularly in the retail sector. Companies that sell B2B need more help understanding the relevance of DEI to their businesses, which can be direct or indirect. It has been a process of educating people to the many levels on which C Space’s clients might better connect – or fail to connect – with their customers. Customer experiences and priorities determine where DEI falls on different companies’ agendas, which offers a huge opportunity to demonstrate the transformational power of DEI in terms of both business and humanity. Data can be a helpful tool to support the mission.

Significant moments of illumination and/or change?


  • Listening to real voices – both people who have experienced marginalization and those for whom it’s unexamined terrain.
  • Making change is overdue in terms of justice, but it’s also the right thing from a business ROI point of view. People who are seen and heard bring more to their jobs.
  • Make concrete, long-term commitments that are bold and to which you’re accountable.


  • People who have felt excluded need to speak up, even if it feels daunting to be the one who cracks the door open.
  • Find advocates and champions within the enterprise to help advance meaningful DEI.
  • Change the lens and reimagine DEI not as an obligation but an opportunity for innovation, a path to deepening and enhancing connections.
  • Don’t be afraid of getting things wrong. Change doesn’t happen in silence. Even if you make a misstep, it’s an opportunity for education, and education is the way forward.

Recommended Reading/Resources


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Sunny Side Up

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