Mar 27 2024
Clare McKinley

Lois Castillo on What Leaders Get Wrong About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)


In 2020, many leaders committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at their organizations in response to the movement for racial justice set in motion by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Four years later, some those commitments appear to be wavering, with forecasts estimating that organizational DEI investments will fall by 13% in 2024 compared to 2022. In the advertising sector specifically, recent layoffs at Google and Meta resulted in downsized DEI programs, and investment in diverse-owned media companies has slowed.

It seems that for many companies, amidst continuing economic uncertainty and in the lack of acute public pressure such as that felt in the wake of Floyd’s murder, DEI has been relegated to a “non-mission critical” investment.

Despite these trends, much of the advertising industry remains committed to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, and there is ample opportunity for continued prioritization and growth of DEI efforts.

To further explore how leaders can make meaningful strides toward DEI at their organizations, we sat down with Lois Castillo, Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Basis Technologies. Lois, a veteran of both DEI and advertising work, recently wrapped up Basis Technologies’ first virtual IDEA (inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility) summit, an event aimed at integrating IDEA principles more deeply into Basis’ organizational culture. Below, she shares what companies can be doing better in their DEI work, how DEI leaders can anchor themselves amidst the complexity of that work, and how the IDEA summit served to advance Basis’ DEI-focused goals.

What are leaders getting wrong about DEI work in 2024?

Lois Castillo: First, the obvious answer: Not doing it.

By this point, leaders should understand that DEI is not just an ethical imperative, or good for business, but something organizations can’t survive without. The world is a diverse place that’s only getting more diverse, and if companies don’t reflect that increased diversity, they’re just not going to make it. When businesses don’t change with the times, they perish—for example, look at what happened to Blockbuster’s once streaming TV became the norm. The same thing goes for leaders: If you’re not doing your own work and development around DEI and bringing that into your organization, you’re not going to be leading for much longer.

When it comes to companies taking action, a common mistake I notice is treating DEI as solely the responsibility of HR. While fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion among employees is crucial, that’s just one aspect of the work. Companies that fail to make a real impact are likely fixating solely on this aspect instead of adopting a holistic approach that extends beyond their own workforce.

My team takes a three-pronged approach, addressing DEI in the following areas:

  • The workplace: This includes hiring and retaining a diverse staff across all axes of diversity (i.e., not just gender and race, but also age, ability, neurodiversity, and more), ensuring pay equity, and making sure the workplace is inclusive and accessible.
  • The product: This includes making sure that we’re building a product that is accessible and inclusive of diverse teams (which means that it must be built by a diverse team).
  • The marketplace: This includes everything from securing our platform’s ability to reach diverse markets, to working with a diverse group of vendors and partners, to running accessible ads.

Additionally, I think it’s worth noting that companies that don’t include accessibility in their DEI work are missing the mark. To be truly inclusive of diverse team members, we need to work towards an accessible workplace—one that considers the spectrum of ability and neurodiversity and works to ensure that everyone on those spectrums can succeed.

How do you approach the vastness and complexity of DEI work?

LC: Well, I start with transparency and honesty—I don’t pretend I know everything. But I love people, and I’m curious about people, and I’m committed to constantly learning about the issues that people experience so that I can better address them in my work.

It’s true that all the axes of diversity among us can get overwhelming if you start to think about it, and that there’s a lot of work that must be done to address those axes individually. At the same time, there are ways we can address all of them at once, like creating shared language and behaviors for interacting with each other in the workplace that are rooted in respect and accountability—for example, calling someone in instead of calling them out when they make a mistake.

This isn’t easy work, that’s for sure. It’s not for the faint of heart. But that doesn’t mean you give up!

Tell us about the IDEA Summit. What was your main goal in organizing this event?

LC: First, let me break down what the summit looked like. We organized a variety of sessions, each with an expert speaker who shared stories and insights based on a specific aspect of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA). We had sessions on topics including how ageism shows up the workplace, how to foster inclusive environments for neurodivergent folks, and what great allyship looks like in practice. In addition to presentations from our experts, the sessions provided space for dialogue, where our employees could share personal experiences, ask questions, and engage with each other.

One of my main goals behind the event was to help move our culture forward by grounding everyone in the same language and knowledge. There are so many people with so many different life experiences at our company, and I wanted us to get grounded around the complexity and the multifaceted nature of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I think when people hear the word “diversity,” they’re often thinking of gender and race. But we’re diverse in so many ways, and they all intersect. So, advancing our people’s knowledge and vocabulary of those differences was a big part of the event.

What do you hope people took away from the IDEA Summit? And what was your favorite part about the event?

LC: I hope people walked away with curiosity about all the different ways people exist in the world, and with actionable tools that can help them in their own learning journeys around inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility. Many of the topics at this specific event were geared around self, encouraging people to investigate their own experiences. I hope the sessions inspired people to get curious about their own experiences of difference in the world, as well as their triggers, blind spots, and biases. It’s important to get curious about yourself, because that will more than likely translate into curiosity about others’ experiences.

I think my favorite part of the summit was just watching the chats in these sessions and seeing all the engagement and the different questions and contributions people had. I loved seeing how participants felt free and safe enough to share their vulnerability. It’s really meaningful to see presentations and conversations resonating with people, and to see them feel secure enough to bring their personal lives and experiences into conversations with their colleagues.

Learn more about Basis Technologies’ commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility here.

DEI at Basis Technologies