Image of Business Instructional Facility

Feb 8, 2021 2021-02

Davis addresses workforce readiness during pandemic, civil unrest

Airies Davis is often called a business education unicorn. She seamlessly applies educational theory and practicum to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing business today. Davis founded WorkForcEQi LLC in 2013 to offer emotional intelligent workforce readiness solutions. She now finds herself instructing thought leaders on how to address everything from diversity and inclusion to civil unrest to employee mental health during the pandemic.

Davis commuted over an hour from near Midway Airport to Lindblom High School, a South Side college preparatory Chicago Public School. She attended the University of Illinois TRIO Bridge program the summer before her freshman year, designed for students to make the transition from high school, yet initially faced culture shock and academic challenges. She ultimately earned her undergraduate degree in Speech Communications, LAS ’93, and MBA ’13 and began her career as a business recruiter.

“After a few years as an emerging leader, I recognized the need to enhance my business acumen and better understand financial services to advance professionally and close the gender equity gap. Education is the great equalizer, no one can take knowledge from you. So, I did my research, looking for an academic institution where I would feel at home. I applied to the Executive MBA program at Illinois. I didn’t have high self-efficacy or the best undergraduate GPA, but they respected my real-world experience,” said Davis, who went on to earn her doctorate in education with honors from the University of Southern California.

Davis is a featured author in the recently published “Mission Matters: World’s Leading Entrepreneurs Reveal Their Top Tips to Success” featuring 18 women business leaders. Her chapter is entitled Emotionally Intelligent Wonder Women: Behold Our SHEro Leadership Powers at Work.  She addresses self-awareness, relationship management, social awareness, and self-management in the workplace. It is part of her focus on the Emotional Quotient (EQ) in business, which looks at how to control your emotions and respond to the emotions of others.

The author, entrepreneur, educator, and talent strategist recently shared how to apply EQ to some of the pressing issues facing employers today: 

Are some industry sectors better at addressing Diversity, Equity, Equality, Inclusion and Belonging (DEEIB) or is it based on the C-Suite of an individual company?

DEEIB is about authentic readiness and warrant, traits not specific to any industry or sector. It can start from the top down, bottom up or across the middle. However it initiates, all stakeholders need to be self-aware and included in the process. DEEIB is a business imperative.

You’ve cast what you believe is an inclusive team to work together. How do you address an outlier?

Give a name to the act of exclusive practices and address outliers in the moment. They can morph, making them not easily identifiable.  Use storytelling to share personal examples of conscious and unconscious bias, so they can see themselves in a different light. Make it a learning opportunity for everyone involved.

The Black Lives Matter demonstrations following George Floyd’s murder brought renewed corporate interest in addressing systematic racism. How do organizations get beyond committees and training modules to make it integral to corporate hiring and promotion practices from entry level employees to the C-Suite?

Create a ‘why’, not just for the in-the-moment feel good of the Black Lives Matter movement. Research projects by 2045 the majority will become the minority. Show the financial implications of not tackling BLM in a meaningful way, now. Start by acknowledging that the workforce is comprised of marginalized groups not being given the same level of racial and economic equity. This creates longstanding implications that transcend across cultures, not just those impacted. Simultaneously, layer in measurable consequences of not addressing systemic racism in recruitment practices, performance evaluations, and compensation, rewards and incentives.

How can employees best respond to issues in their work environment?
Don’t allow managers to include gender, race, sexual orientation, and differently-abled identifiers to discriminate with no consequences. Focus on impact versus intent. Stand in the truth. Ground your work environment responses in fact and research. Leadership cannot dispute truth-based history.  It curves the conversation toward topics of belonging and courageous outcomes.

The pandemic has created a feeling of isolation. Employees are working remotely, yet simultaneously see platforms like Zoom as invasive and stressful. How can you help yourself and your team to adjust to this dynamic?

Be mindful that the need to address mental health issues is legitimate.  Mental fatigue is real. Respect that online line work is work. So, we need just as much time for self-care. As a manager, create a safe space where an employee can show up as their whole and authentic self, instead of being required to present themselves (remotely) in a disingenuous manner.

As an employee, ask for what you want in the moment. Some days – even some weeks – are more of a struggle than others. Explain what’s happening and then speak up when you need emotional support and mental health resources. 

How would you recommend supervisors check in on the mental health or emotional fatigue of a co-worker without being intrusive?

  • Schedule a remote walk and talk. Avoid being on camera by jumping on a conference call and encourage those to walk and talk with you.
  • Create clear cut-off times as the lines between work and home blur.
  • Schedule regular wellness check-ins. Ask how someone’s doing and how you can support them. Don’t wait for an invitation or assume it’s not necessary. Check in with leadership too. Share that you value their leadership care.
  • Practice mindfulness. When feeling overwhelmed it can truly help to simply pause and breathe.

How do you apply “Business on Purpose” to your work?

Identify the why behind your work; center and create your career path based on what gives you joy. Give more than you get. Share guidance, direction, and support to those who may not have the same level of access. Surround yourself with people who will affirm yet give you honest feedback about your passions and business purpose. Live your truth.