by Rachel Reiss

The social unrest of 2020 has undoubtedly revived a movement that champions Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Companies are now prioritizing DE&I as a core part of their strategy, and leaders are seizing every opportunity to create spaces for difficult conversations and advance opportunities to promote these values. Many of us conscious consultants feel a sense of responsibility to ensure that this movement is not just a fleeting moment in time, but results in enduring cultural change, which is why IBMers have come together to form a multitude of DE&I task forces, councils, and resource groups with a common mission. The particular group I belong to — our Talent & Transformation (T&T) Diversity Council — is a small but mighty force in this space. Through our recent “Be Equal Challenge”, we brought together IBMers from all of these communities to advance our Allyship journeys, together.

The Be Equal Challenge is a month-long challenge consisting of daily tasks to recognize and address unconscious biases, and take action to promote a culture of equality. Less than 1% of IBMers have their Be Equal Ambassador badge, a credential indicating their commitment to Allyship. However, earning the badge (truly “earning” it) requires deeper commitment than awareness — it requires engagement. The challenge was designed to earn their badge in a new, gamified way, and provide opportunities for IBMers to learn, act, and advocate.

The idea for the Challenge began as a brainstorm among a few of us as part of the T&T Diversity council. A colleague and council member, Alexis Politto, had suggested we create a sort of “Racial Equity Challenge” as a way to build positive habits and inspire healthy, collaborative competition. As we began to compile our calendar of activities, we realized there was a lot of overlap with the requirements for IBM’s Be Equal Ambassador Badge, and figured it made sense to provide an accelerated path to earning the badge. Since the activities went beyond the premise of just racial equity, we branded it as the “Be Equal Challenge” and decided on an approach: two weeks of daily tasks, and two weeks of free time to complete self-paced virtual learning.

While many of the tasks included a learning component, they were also action-oriented. Some, such as setting D&I Checkpoint goals and joining a Business Resource Group, fulfilled the Be Equal badge criteria. Others inspired conversation through the introduction of podcasts, TED Talks, and other external resources. What made it a “challenge” was the gamification piece: each activity was worth a certain point value, based off time and effort required. In order to be considered a challenge winner, one must complete all the challenge activities to maximize their points, and apply for their Be Equal Ambassador badge. The Challenge offered a unique opportunity for us to leverage some of our own IBM technologies. We partnered with the Transformation Engagement Platform (TEP) offering team, who built a customized portal for participants to track their progress and log completion. We also developed a manual Excel tracker for once the TEP exceeded user capacity, and set up a challenge Slack channel for updates, tech support, and ongoing conversation.

Since many of us had connections to other parts of IBM, we decided to open the Challenge up to everyone. As word spread and we were approach with interest, we soon realized that we couldn’t be “inclusive” and not allow for anyone to participate. Since the Challenge is voluntary, we were expecting 100 participants at best. Instead, we were joined by a family of over 800 IBMers from nearly every continent, including people who had already earned their badge and wanted to do more. We had everyone from new hires to executives, and representation from GBS, GTS, CHQ, and EO&S. The enthusiasm leading up to day one was inspiring, but even more inspiring was the way in which this enthusiasm sustained throughout the four weeks.

While we are still determining how to recognize our winners — many more than expected — we are also looking to the future, and how we can continue building off the momentum that exists today. It doesn’t just stop with the badge, and it doesn’t just stop with the challenge. As a T&T Diversity Council, we’ve embraced the concept of inclusivity and continue to open up our initiatives to an IBM-wide audience. Our team has compiled a crowdsourced, virtual library where IBMers can share their favorite DE&I resources, and continues to promote opportunities for volunteerism and advocacy. We have also taken the Challenge framework, and are working with the IBM Diversity and Inclusion team to make it available to anyone to self-organize a Be Equal challenge within their teams. After all, while we did have 800 Challenge participants this time, they represent the less than 1% of IBMers who have earned their badge and committed to “Being Equal.” We’re ready to inspire the other 99%.

Special thanks to the entire Be Equal Challenge core team: Alexis Politto, Allison Jennings, Vanessa Gillespie, Beyonka Smith, Samuel Sidner, Anna Burda and our fearless sponsor, DE&I champion Jessica Outer. This was not me — this was us!

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