Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) is important in testing. A positive test outcome can change a test taker’s life. It might be the start of a new career or open the door to a promotion. That’s why the tests we develop and deliver must allow for diverse backgrounds and experiences, remove unnecessary barriers, and be accessible to all.
A sharp focus on DE&I is important at every stage of the assessment lifecycle. From involving Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in your test development and design to test delivery and post-test analyses. However, if your testing provider doesn’t have a diverse workforce and inclusive culture, then your tests won’t be diverse, equitable or inclusive.
Shebbra E. Toussaint, our Senior Director, Client Services, is a DE&I influencer – both inside and outside the workplace. We spoke to Shebbra to learn more about her drive to empower others, and the professional and personal experiences that support this.
Tell us about your career journey in the testing industry
I started my career as a customer service representative. This gave me the opportunity to see first-hand the difference a positive testing experience can make to someone’s life – and the importance of making this experience equitable.
Working in customer service, I saw Account Managers coming into the call center providing directions for their licensing program and I knew that’s what I wanted to be. Even though none of them looked like me, I was determined to work my way up and after a few years I accepted an Associate Account Manager position leading to various senior level roles in Account, Program, and Project management.
In my role prior to joining PSI, I was a Senior Project Manager at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA). Then, towards the end of last year, a former colleague and friend Jo Anne Wingate reached out to me and mentioned she was retiring, and PSI would be recruiting for her role, which piqued my interest – and now here I am.
Joining PSI has been a blessing given this role is in line with my career aspirations.
What drives you in your work – what is your ‘why’?
What drives me, and what I am more passionate about than anything, is my experiences as a black woman – and the intersectionality of those two identities.
I have two daughters and I can show them better than I can tell them, so I try to be the change I want to see in the world. I want my daughters to be proud of me, not to emulate me but to draw positively from my efforts and my experiences. They are my why!
If I’d been able to see more women like me in senior positions earlier in my career, I might be POTUS by now! Therefore, I want to be for other women what I didn’t have for myself. Especially those that look like me, so they know they can do whatever they choose to do.
What inspires you in the face of challenge and resistance?
When I need inspiration and I am finding things difficult, I think about all the women in my lineage who have come before me who couldn’t use their voice. I think of my mother, who taught me to always speak up for myself. I am because she was.
Although it can be difficult to be brave and speak up, I do it anyway. I am passionate about who I am and that comes out in my actions. In short, I aspire to inspire. I will always do my best to send the elevator down so I can bring up more people from underserved communities who are qualified and just need to be seen.
What does a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion look like in the testing industry?
It’s often about using my voice and speaking up to ask questions to seek first to understand. I try to be curious not critical. For example, I attended a session on DE&I at a recent industry conference and the need for more diverse subject matter experts came up. However, it wasn’t clear “why” diverse subject matter experts were needed so I asked. It’s important to know what problem you are trying to solve in order to identify solutions. Diverse SME’s will help to ensure culturally sensitive test content is presented in tests.
If we want to achieve our DE&I goals, there needs to be an understanding of why it’s important. In healthcare, for instance, an item could refer to a white man presenting with a certain medical condition. Consequently, a black woman presenting to the test taker in the future with that same condition might be less likely to get an accurate diagnosis. That’s potentially life changing for someone. Therefore, being mindful of cultural sensitivity when building assessments is crucial to the integrity of the industry.
I’ve also found the people I work with are open to change and while they may not always understand, they are willing to learn and be allies, which is encouraging.
What would you say to someone who is skeptical about the importance of DE&I in testing?
When we talk about improving DE&I in testing it’s not about watering down the program to make the test easier to pass – whether that’s to gain a certification or a professional license to practice. It’s about permitting those who have previously been excluded to be included while continuing to ensure minimum competency.
Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s also an opportunity to expand your market and grow your program. If you can include more qualified people, everyone will benefit.
In addition, research shows that the more diverse organizations are more successful. If your data analysis shows that certain items are unfairly disadvantaging a group of test takers, it makes good business sense to explore why and take steps to address it.
How is your passion about DE&I reflected in what you see at PSI?
It is important to me that the organization I work for is aligned with my brand and who I am. When words are spoken about culture, I want to see it and more importantly I want to feel it. At PSI I can be courageously authentic for the most part and I want everyone that I encounter to know they are in a safe space where they can use their voices to advocate for themselves and others.
Recently, when I expressed concern that Juneteenth wasn’t acknowledged by the organization, I felt I was in a safe space to raise it. I was met with kindness, appreciation of my feedback, and a genuine desire to make things right.
In Client Services, our Most Valued Behaviors are honesty, leadership, perseverance, fairness and teamwork. This is a great place to start and if we do all those things then diversity in thought and action will follow.
What are some of the major career events that have contributed to your passion for DE&I?
Working with the DE&I group in another organization, we organized a screening of the documentary 13th. It’s a powerful and unflinching documentary by Ava DuVernay exploring the history of racial inequality in the United States. I approached the VP of our team about inviting my colleagues to watch the documentary at the office and bringing in an expert to facilitate a discussion afterwards. It was life changing. The feedback was incredible, and we created so many instant allies that day. Afterwards my former manager when reflecting on the events after George Floyd shared the following feedback:
“You don’t get that outpouring without the patient, lonely, exhausting leadership that paves the way. So, I want to thank Shebbra for that leadership, inspiring even me, someone who views himself as progressive, but cynical and a bit demoralized in my own way.”
Here at PSI, the client services leadership team have all completed unconscious bias training and we are rolling the program out to the entire client services team. It’s very important to me that my team are aware of UCB so that it doesn’t show up in their actions especially during the interview process.
Everyone needs to be open to learning and sharing. I will be focusing on the things that add the most value and will create the biggest shift. So stayed tuned!
Broadly as an organization this means being clear about expected behaviors and goals, and then being held accountable. This might be attending certain training or DE&I events – less about the words and more about the action.
Outside of our organization, the DE&I work we do means that a more diverse group of people will be licensed and certified. Therefore, the services they provide will be even more accessible to people from underserved communities. That’s how the PSI commitment to DE&I ripples out into the wider world.