Dr. Tiffany Jana and the power of putting your people first

August 25, 2022 6:46 am
Written by: StartOut

In the era of the Great Resignation, Dr. Tiffany Jana (they/them) is siding with the workers. For more than two decades, Dr. Jana has worked in the field of people consulting with top organizational leaders and creating long-lasting change in the workplaces that need it most. To Dr. Jana, today’s mass exits from top industries are simply the beginning. 

“Workers are being exploited in many ways – in every work sector and industry. People are being treated like machines, and it’s disgusting. We are sacred regardless of your beliefs about spirituality, and we deserve dignity, joy, freedom, and respect in our workplaces.”

Today, Dr. Jana is the CEO of TMI Consulting Inc., a diversity and inclusion strategy firm based out of Richmond, Virginia, which helps organizations and communities ’optimize inclusion and cultivate radical belonging.’ In 19 years, TMI emerged as pioneers and leaders of DEI, ROI, and accountability.

But despite the progress made, Dr. Jana understands the many complexities of these movements and recognizes that more people need to buy in to see global results. 

Dr. Jana, how did you first get involved with DEI work?

It all started with my mother, who had been in DEI for decades. I had the great good fortune of being an Army brat with my dad serving as a doctor in the service. We traveled all around the world during my formative years, from West Texas to Germany, and that helped instill in me that we are so connected as a human species.

My mother was one of the trailblazers of DEI. She stood up multicultural affairs offices and led the very earliest days of diversity training within government entities like the National Institutes of Health. I followed her around during her deployment assessments and saw firsthand her work’s impact on folks.

I started the first iteration of my business by helping nonprofits and entrepreneurs with their marketing and BD needs. Neither group had a ton of money, but the mission fueled me.  I also worked part-time as a performance artist, translating well into my public speaking and training roles. After the economy crashed in ‘08, my mom encouraged me to leap into diversity training, so I did. I’m a proud protégé of my mother. 

What was it like diving into the DEI world when it wasn’t as well-known?

It was challenging but never without reward. In 2003 when we launched, we weren’t quite sure what our long-term mission was other than helping people connect better. My first pivot in 2010 focused exclusively on DEI, and people often asked me precisely what I was doing. People didn’t understand or want to understand what DEI was all about. In 2012, we became a B Corp, and folks started hearing the term ‘corporate social responsibility’ more often.

In the beginning, most companies only landed on our work because they lost litigation, and they lost and got sent to DEI detention which was difficult because we knew those folks weren’t with us for the right reasons. Over time, you saw more proactive people reaching out because they wanted to and not because they were forced to.

How has your experience helped shape TMI’s current operation?

What’s nice about having been in the game as a stand-alone shop for so long is that we get to be highly discerning about who we work with. We only take long-term clients and don’t do dog and pony shows. If we choose to work with an organization, it’s because they understand that real, authentic DEI work takes time and hard work.

Our most common packages are 12, 18, and 24 months and focus on quantitative and qualitative data to provide a clear picture of what’s happening in the organization. Our goal is to understand the infrastructure, the policies and procedures, the culture, and everything else that makes up an org. It’s all about building trust.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing DEI work?

The biggest challenge in the industry is that if you have a limited view of what’s happening, you cannot accurately diagnose what’s happening in an organization. Many people think they can bring in a speaker to workshop with their employees for a few hours and it solves their problems. That just doesn’t work.

We have to dive deeper and get granular. We have to ask ourselves: what does success look like? How many people are getting pay raises and promotions? What are we offering in our performance reviews?

These are the questions that take more than a day to find answers to. Our goal is to look at what we’ve done in a year, two years, and longer and say, “here’s what we’ve done better, and here’s what we still need to work on.”

The good thing is that we see more DEI warriors emerge daily, and we need all the help we can get. There’s plenty of racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc., to fight back on. 

How does your internal company culture set you apart and help with your external goals?

Radical compassion in the workplace is the only way forward. Everyone in my company knows that if something comes up in your personal life, it’s automatically more critical than whatever is going on in the company. Your wellbeing is more important than anything we ever do at TMI consulting. I always tell my people to take the time they need, and the work will be there when they return. Our team relies on each other to pick up the slack if anyone needs to tap out. 

If the choice is between your safety and wellbeing and your work, the answer is always to protect yourself first. I don’t want departures to feel like betrayals or surprises – if it’s time to move on, we will help you transition out. 

We have every other Friday off, and one of the ‘on’ Fridays is a choose-your-own-adventure professional development day. My team is fully remote and composed of the hardest-working folks I know. I am excited to be the CEO and Founder and focus on executive decisions, and I trust my team to get the job done in a fulfilling way.

I always ask my employees how they can calibrate their days towards joy. We need to infuse more fun into the workplace and allow people to appreciate spaciousness. Conscious co-creation should look peaceful and joyful; I will stand by that forever.

You can learn more about Dr. Jana and their upcoming projects at tiffanyjana.com and follow our blog on Medium for more monthly founder stories!