Meet Joy Mason, the keynote speaker for BEI’s event ‘Standing for Change: Clearing the Path Forward’

A Scientist’s Odyssey to Equity


Joy Mason is a scientist, through and through, and in many ways, science has been a guiding light throughout her professional journey—blending her insatiable curiosity and her fervent desire for transformative change. Born and raised in the heartland of Indiana, Joy’s upbringing was steeped in the rich tapestry of Midwestern values—hard work, perseverance, and a deep sense of community. But beneath the surface lay a stark reality—a landscape marred by systemic inequities and entrenched disparities.


With a passion for discovery and a scientist’s toolkit of analytical and critical thinking, Joy began navigating the labyrinth of diversity and inclusion—a realm fraught with complexity and nuance. Her journey began amidst the hallowed halls of Eli Lilly & Co., where she immersed herself in the rigorous discipline of inquiry. Surrounded by a cadre of brilliant minds and guided by the tenets of evidence-based decision-making, Joy delved into the intricacies of quantitative analysis and change management—methods that Joy would leverage well beyond her time in quality control and quality assurance.


Rooted in Science


“After the summer of 2020, when racial injustices reached a tipping point in the United States, I was called to action,” Mason said. “I realized then that my scientific approach to the complexities of inequity might provide a different perspective, especially as companies look to do the most good for business and their people.”


As a Black woman, Joy had firsthand experience with the racial inequities that plague the community—and she realized the power of drawing upon her scientific methodology to provide an innovative framework to address equity and inclusion in corporate America. After a 30-year career in the life sciences industry, Joy boldly decided to create a new path.


Thus, the Six Sigma Racial Equity Institute (SSREI) was born. SSERI blends data-driven insights with human-centered solutions to address society’s deep-seated inequities. With Joy at the helm, SSREI charted a course toward equity, armed with analytical tools, process improvement techniques, and a steadfast commitment to social justice. Since its launch in 2021, SSREI has trained over 80 Black and Black Latina women, certified nearly 40 as Green Belts, and facilitated almost ten projects that helped address inequities right here in Central Indiana.


“At Six Sigma Racial Equity Institute, we’re very intentional about equipping Black women with the support they need because that’s what the data continues to tell us,” said Mason. “Black women repeatedly rank lowest in hiring, promotions, competitive pay, and beyond. However, over time, I’ve realized that it’s not enough to equip Black and Black Latina women with the education and skills they need to advance themselves. It’s critical that companies also have guidance as they look to be more inclusive and equitable for all employees—and through Optimist Business Solutions, our team can do just that.”


Recognizing the need for holistic solutions that transcended organizational boundaries, she founded Optimist Business Solutions (OBS)—a training and consulting firm dedicated to empowering businesses to drive meaningful change. Grounded in the principles of Lean Six Sigma and organizational change management, OBS offers a suite of services, from organizational assessments to process mapping and continuous improvement initiatives—a comprehensive toolkit designed to catalyze transformational change. This holistic approach allows my team at OBS to achieve sustainable system changes that simultaneously improve equity while driving business productivity. It’s truly a triple win as individuals, companies, and communities all benefit from better workforce practices.


Equity in Practice


In 2021, the JPMorgan Chase Institute shared that Black-owned businesses commonly face lower revenues, profit margins, and access to cash compared to their white counterparts. Unfortunately, this statistic means that Black-owned businesses face greater challenges paying employees and paying for daily operations. Under these inequitable conditions, account receivables that exceed 60 and sometimes 90 days can become the straw that breaks the camel’s back. In other words, Black businesses do not typically have the cash flow to sustain business operations to accommodate 90-day—or greater—payment terms. For this reason, SSREI gladly accepted a supplier diversity on-time payment project for a local organization to decrease requisition processing time by one month, or 30%. Over six months, the SSREI team worked with the employers’ procurement experts to refine the problem statement, analyze data, identify root causes, and pilot solutions. As a result of applying the framework, 483 current vendors registered for payment via ACH direct deposit. Of the new ACH vendors, 37 were Black-owned vendors. In addition, the requisition process time decreased by almost 70% during the pilot period. This stark improvement translates to faster deposits for 37 Black vendors and 446 other vendors who were not Black! With our framework, the Black inequity pulls the Institute into the project, but the institution’s process focus ensures that everyone benefits from the improvement


An Invitation from BEI


Initiatives like Business Equity for Indy (BEI) are helping to position Indiana at the crossroads of possibility and potential. As businesses across the state grapple with the complexities of diversity and equity, there are resources to help educate, empower, and support them at every stage of their journey.


This May, BEI will host Standing for Change: Clearing the Path Forward on May 8, 2024, from 8:30 to 11 a.m. at Martin University. The annual event will explore innovative approaches to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and Joy will serve as the event’s keynote speaker. We invite you to save the date and register to attend the event here.


Joy’s pioneering work in leveraging Six Sigma methodologies to drive equity and inclusion has revolutionized the landscape of diversity initiatives. As Indiana companies and business leaders strive to navigate the complexities of equity evolution, programs like SSREI and OBS offer invaluable guidance and support. By investing in these initiatives, businesses can enhance their bottom line and foster a more inclusive and equitable workplace for all.

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