Denisha Jenkins is an experienced storyteller, and she uses stories to foster inclusivity in the workplace. After earning a master’s from Lesley University in intercultural relations, consulting, and management, she moved to Austin, where she has lived for nearly 7 years. Denisha—who is one of IDCL’s newest board members—is the founder and CEO of Kardia, an advisory group that emphasizes equity and diversity. As a management consultant who specializes in issues related to inclusion, she has worked for over a decade to improve the workspaces of her clients.
Denisha’s passion for workplace inclusivity stems from her own negative work experiences, which led her to focus on organizational systems in graduate school. She became interested in learning how people bring multicultural identities into a system, and how the systems themselves influence identities. Often, Denisha explained, her clients’ issues don’t result from broken systems but from being poorly designed. “Systems always produce what they are designed to do,” she said. “So it’s not that racism is this broken system, it’s that the system is just racist, and you’ve got to change power dynamics, decision-making, and leadership so that everyone is contributing.”
Denisha engages in an individualized process to improve her clients’ organizational systems, which always starts with an “inclusion health audit.” At first, she said, she will examine the various areas of company culture, which means “doing a lot of surveys, focus groups, interviews, and looking at policies and procedures.” Once the problem-areas are identified, she will help the clients determine what can be done and which changes are feasible.
Because many of these problems are systemic, she helps her clients in a multifaceted manner, from change management and corporate responsibility to leadership development and organizational policies. In systems that aren’t helping their employees grow, for example, Denisha helps clients through resource development and collaboration with other like-minded organizations.
But while resourcing and collaboration are solutions that Denisha and Kardia provide, she also emphasized the role that narrative and storytelling play in the advising process. She said that, in order to improve clients’ cultures, she uses storytelling to inspire productive dialogue. “When you’re working in isolation, all you see is what you’re doing,” Denisha explained—which is a fish-in-water type of situation.
“You don’t realize this is the normative framework until you hear other peoples’ stories and are exposed to other cultural identities,” Denisha said. “You get that from the stories that are told in your culture. We frame our reality through stories… so [in the same way] the stories we are telling can break down complex concepts and issues.”
In this way, Denisha’s work connects with IDCL’s mission, which is to advance inclusive public spaces through storytelling, research, and education.
Aside from Kardia and her role at IDCL, Denisha has served the Austin community in numerous ways. Currently, she is most involved with Mosaic Church Austin, where she takes on several roles, such as leading the “Gospel and Diversity Ministry.” Even in these areas of her life, Denisha remarked that storytelling and narrative are tools to create positive change. Through dialogue and storytelling, she said, “we created a space that had open conversations about race and culture, about politics… and our relationship has become much more authentic.”