Interview: Kellie Wagner, Founder of DEI Collective, a D&I Consultancy
Kellie Wagner is the Founder and Chief Strategist of DEI Collective, a D&I (Diversity and Inclusion) Consultancy. DEI is hired by companies to advise them on how to create a more inclusive and equitable company culture – an outcome that has a positive impact on employees and companies alike. Kellie is leading the rapidly-growing D&I industry with her Boss Girl emphasis on collaboration over competition while bringing more diversity, equity and inclusion to the workplace.
Name: Kellie Wagner
Company: DEI Collective
Job Title: Founder & Chief Strategist
Based in: NYC
Originally from: Cleveland, OH
My ability to find commonalities with others, no matter how different they may seem.
Name a woman in history that you admire & why:
Ellen DeGeneres. She is a true example of changing people’s perspectives just by being a kind, amazing person. Even though her primary job is not being an LGBTQ activist, she has changed so many hearts and minds when it comes to what being LGBTQ means and looks like just by being herself.
Quote/piece of advice that you live by:
Clean your room, you’ll feel better.
What inspired you to start your current venture?
Being a woman of color in tech and finance led me to be an unofficial (and unpaid) advocate for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. I realized that I was doing this second job throughout my entire early career, advocating to include more people like me in my workplace. People were coming to me for advice, which led me to realize that I am passionate about D&I, and I’m good at it. I decided that I should be getting paid for this work!
What is your company doing to make history today?
DEI Collective is not only changing the way companies think about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, we are doing the work in a completely new way. We are able to harness the superpowers of ALL the amazing people doing work in the D&I space by working together as a collective to better support our clients.
What is one thing your company has accomplished that you are most proud of?
I’m super proud that our company has been able to bring together so many brilliant thinkers who are working to solve issues of inequity and discrimination in the workplace. We have enabled these people to collaborate in new, innovative ways. In the consulting world, there tends to be some competition and mistrust amongst those who are perceived as competitors. The way that I see it, there is SO much to be done in the D&I space that there’s no need to worry about having more than enough work to go around. Working together with other D&I consultants has allowed us to focus on developing our depth of knowledge about specific topics and identities, rather than simply knowing a little about a lot.
What is one project you are currently working on that you are most excited about?
I’m really excited to be working with a group of Venture Capitalists on an event series designed to help early stage founders and other VCs gain knowledge about building diverse and inclusive companies right off the bat! Founders listen to their investors, so VCs are in a great position to make a huge impact on the way we implement D&I into the workplace.
What, in your opinion, is one of the biggest challenges facing your industry today?
Diversity and inclusion is such a hot topic right now, but I don’t think enough resources are being put towards actually doing the work that is needed to move the needle. Companies say that D&I is one of their top priorities, but then they don’t want to allot a budget or human capital toward solving the issue. There’s a great opportunity to educate companies on the ROI (Return On Investment) of D&I beyond just creating a better company culture. Research has shown that building diverse teams leads to greater innovation and greater product-market fit. Putting resources toward solving this important issue is not only necessary to make real progress, but it’s completely justifiable from a cost perspective as well.
What is a trend in your industry that you foresee becoming popular in the future?
Companies that focus on people first. I think when you treat people right, they work harder for you and ultimately, they develop better products.
What is one of the greatest challenges you have personally faced at this job?
Definitely imposter syndrome. The D&I industry only recently exploded in popularity, so much of what makes people currently in this industry great at their work is based on lived experience and/or instinct. Unlike the many industries for which an advanced degree like an MBA can be an indicator of qualification, there aren’t a ton of undergraduate programs yet that focus specifically on D&I work. Because of that, my career path wasn’t as straightforward as my friends who work in other industries.
I had a few potential clients early on who questioned me as to what made me qualified to do this type of work, and that forced me question myself. I was tempted to fire back that being a black woman in America forced me to become good at this work – that I didn’t choose this career; it chose me.
What were you doing before your current role?
I came to NYC to become a non-fiction writer and did my MFA, but I quickly got sucked into the tech world. Prior to transitioning into my current work, I was in charge of accounts at a branding agency. At the time, it felt like a completely random shift for me, but in retrospect, it ended up preparing me to eventually run my own consultancy.
What is one piece of advice you’d like to give to other female founders & change-makers?
Trust your instincts and surround yourself with people who believe in you no matter what.
Fun fact about yourself:
I once got sucked into doing one of those cheesy MTV reality dating shows when I was in college. It was mortifying, and I regretted it as soon as they started feeding me corny lines to say.
For more information on DEI Collective, visit their website.