Let me put this upfront, at the risk of losing both clients and readers: I support diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) and I put my money where my mouth is. So this next bit of news is sad, because it appears folks within the very community that need DEI programs to succeed are cannibalizing their own, and taking advantage of people who actually need help. I might be wrong — and let’s hope so — but so far, the facts suggest otherwise.
Meet Inclusion Score, a certification body that offers “ISO 30415 certification” for both companies and persons.
The first red flag that caught my eye was the idea of certifying anything to ISO 30415, which is called “Human Resource Management –
Diversity and Inclusion.” The standard is not a management system standard, but instead a guidance document that does not contain actual requirements or “shall clauses.” Instead, the text within ISO 30415 is presented as suggestions, saying, “the organization should” do something, or “can” do something. Not “shall.”
That matters because when using a standard for third-party conformity assessment, that standard must define requirements, not suggestions. This is why ISO did not make 30415 a “Type A” management system standard, intended for certification.
That doesn’t stop people from trying to make money certifying things to guidance documents anyway. As we have seen, companies continue to market ISO 31000 risk management certifications even though that standard is also not a Type A MSS. But when companies do it, they are quickly flagged as shady, and the certification schemes rarely get off the ground.
Inclusion Score not only claims to certify companies to ISO 30415, but also people. This, too, makes no sense since the standard is targeted a “organizations” and not individuals.
But while pop-up CBs suddenly certifying to ISO standards not intended for such activities aren’t new, Inclusion Score takes things much, much further by making a series of bold — and frankly batshit crazy — claims that push them into potentially deceptive advertising.
They Really Like The Number “1” A Lot
First, Inclusion Score claims it is the “#1 Certifying Body on the Planet.” Clearly, that’s not true, since even medium-sized CBs are much, much larger than Inclusion Score, and have more clients. There is no way, for example, that Inclusion Score is “#1” over BSI.
Now, keep in mind that there are a huge number of competing diversity certification programs already in play, from organizations such as AIHR, Cornell University, the American Management Association, and more. Then you have the Institute for Diversity Certification (IDC) which claims to be the “leading DEI certification program.” So if IDC is the “leading” program, but Inclusion Score is “# 1,” which is better? I suspect they might both be full of shit.
Over on LinkedIn, in response to some Inclusion Score spam posts, I challenged one of their reps, Tawana Rogers, about their claims of being the “#1” CB in a world where BSI and Ernst & Young exist. Rogers said they meant # 1 within the “diversity” realm. But that’s not what the website says; there’s no such caveat. They just claim to be the #1 CB “on the Planet,” period. Bullshit.
They don’t stop there, either. Inclusion Score claims that its personnel credential program is provided “In Partnership With the #1 Business School for Risk Management.” That school is Terry College of Business, University of Georgia. The only problem is that Terry most likely isn’t the “#1” school for risk management, since other schools — including Manhattanville and Columbia and even freaking Harvard, for heaven’s sake — have more developed RM programs that have been around a lot longer. Terry College itself doesn’t claim to be “#1” … only Inclusion Score does.
The hyperbole goes on. Inclusion Score claims to have “helped every type of organization globally,” I asked Rogers if that included rooster farmers and sex workers. She admitted they hadn’t worked with sex workers, and didn’t mention rooster farmers at all, but her admission essentially disproved their false marketing claim outright. They have not worked with “every” type of organization.
The group’s LinkedIn profile shows Inclusion Score claiming to be the “World’s #1 Auditing, Workflow, and Insurance Platform for Diversity & Inclusion.”
The problem with this level of ridiculous hyperbole is that it’s so transparent. Of course Inclusion Score isn’t the world’s largest CB, and of course they haven’t served every industry on the planet. The claims are so ridiculous, you’d be forgiven for thinking their webpage was parody. But it’s not, and they are making money off the people who believe this stuff.
But we’re not done, not by a long shot. Inclusion Score also claims to be “the World’s Foremost Experts on D&I,” as if they also live in a world where Ibram X. Kendi doesn’t exist. They also claim to be “the leaders of the leaders that wrote the standard of standards,” which doesn’t make a lick of goddamn sense since there is no such thing as a standard of standards. Plus, they didn’t even lead the US TAG committee that wrote ISO 30415; that committee was led by Michaela Miller of ANSI.
The personnel credentialing course is, like those shady risk management certs we saw floating around a few years back, given after you pass an “open book test.” That sort of thing doesn’t inspire confidence, but it’s typical for certificate mills. Like the sketchy AF group G31000 that sold “easy” certs based on “easy” tests, certificate mills need to make money by making their certificates impossible to not get. They realize that if they actually did things properly, some folks might fail, and might not pay their bills. If you have an easy credential that anyone can get, you make more money, even if the resulting credential is largely useless.
Next, Inclusion Score is in the insurance business, which should not only raise red flags, but turn them bright neon. We remember what happened with the shady SN9001 scam, where ANAB got together with Smithers and a consultant to create a “Snow 9001” certification scheme, and then partnered with an insurance company to (falsely) claim it would reduce premiums. The thing ended in silence, and everyone who invested in it lost money.
And — you knew this part was coming — of course, they sell the consulting service you’d need in order to get certified, without any regard for conflicts of interest. When I pressed Tawana Rogers on this — multiple times — she just ignored the question outright. Which of course she has to do, since it can’t be answered.
So, no, Inclusion Score isn’t accredited by anyone, and certainly doesn’t comply with ISO 17021 or any similar such standard. They sell consulting, certify their own clients, and then offer an “open book test” through a sucker university to make it all seem legit.
When I asked Rogers just how these organizational certificates are handed out, she appeared to answer with a confusing response:
We’re certifying in DISM (D&I Service Management) for ISO-30415. Those organizations just glance at the HR portion of the standard. We’ve reviewed their processes.
At first blush, yes, it sounds like she just admitted — in public — Inclusion Score certifies companies only after the client “just glances” at a portion of the ISO 30145 standard. That only sounds odd if you don’t know that this is exactly how certificate mills work. Remember, we’ve reported on other mills that certify companies without any audits at all, and even to standards that were never even written. So Inclusion Score is, if anything, slightly ahead of the mill industry by at least checking that their clients “glanced” at ISO 30415.
James Felton Keith II
So where did this company come from, and when? Official WHOIS records show the website (www.inclusionscore.org) was only created in 2020, just three years ago… again, making it a stunning stretch that they are claiming to be bigger than BSI which has been around since 1901.
The company is the brainchild of James Felton Keith, and reviewing his history starts to paint a fuller picture — and one keeping with the usual creation of any certificate mill.
Keith shows all the usual signs of a certificate mill operator and classic narcissist. He refers to himself in the third person, uses his name over and over (yes, he registered his name as a URL), has given himself a nickname (“JFK II” presumably not just a riff on his initials, but so you will confuse him with a Kennedy), and then makes impossible-to-prove claims about his experience and history.
For one, Keith claims to be an “award-winning engineer and economist,” but I couldn’t find any actual awards he’s won. When I sent a request to clarify this point to whoever operates his website, they never replied.
Next, Keith claims to have given “keynote” addresses in front of the United Nations. Again, there’s no evidence of this, and the only results that come up when searching for Keith and the UN just bounce back to the (multiple) websites where Keith makes the claim.
Keith also claims to have consulted for the “Board” at Rutgers University, but Rutgers wasn’t able to track down what board he might be talking about. He then claims to have “been appointed to the cabinet of Elected Officials,” but there doesn’t appear any such thing. (Seriously, what is a “cabinet of elected officials?“) Then there’s this word-salad sandwich about one of his companies, Data Unions:
As an author and activist, his Data Unions redifined [sic] the labor movement and personal data as the netural [sic] resource [sic] driving all corporate productivity.
Can anyone tell me what that sentence just said? Ignoring the typos (Keith’s material is rife with them, suggesting that despite his fame, he can’t hire an editor), how are the “labor movement” and “personal data” the “natural resources” of corporate productivity? Seriously… tell me how.*
Next, this would-be entrepreneur and business genius doesn’t appear to know his company is trodding all over a registered trademark from another company in Canada, Diversio Inc. Oops.
Keith also claims to be a “Board member” of the Democratic National Committee, which doesn’t appear to have a board. A search of the DNC website for Keith’s name came up completely blank.
Barbara Jordan Never Happened Either
Keith’s political claims are also dubious. Keith ran for Congress in 2018, seeking to represent the NY 13th district, but dropped out a few months later. He ran again in 2020, and lost during a primary. He has since branded himself the “first black LGBTQ person to run for US Congress,” which isn’t quite true. Technically, he did beat Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torress — who both ran and won in 2020 — but because Keith doesn’t clarify that he was the first “out” Black gay candidate, he’s ignoring some pretty big figures like Barbara Jordan.
(It’s likely not an accident that Inclusion Score seems obsessed with the idea of being “first,” and that obsession seems shared with Keith.)
Whereas the conversation with Inclusion Score’s rep Rogers went south fast (as these things usually do), requests for clarification on Keith’s resume and professional claims just went fully unanswered. Neither of these is a good sign.
To date, Keith hasn’t faced much media scrutiny, largely because he can’t seem to win an election, and has since relegated himself to a boring industry that no one cares about (ISO certifications.) But there’s a big whiff of George Santos going on here: a gay person of color, making exaggerated claims to boost his public profile, not answering questions about some of the more nuttier claims, and cannibalizing his own identified groups in the process. It could simply be that as a public figure, Keith hasn’t yet generated enough buzz to make him worth investigating. As a result, I think he should probably avoid politics moving forward because otherwise, people with more influence than me will be asking these very same questions.
But now he’s on the ISO patch, so he gets scrutiny for that. And until Inclusion Score can seriously answer sober questions about their seemingly impossible claims, they have to be viewed with caution.
Maybe there’s a legitimate and beneficial certification scheme underneath all the bullshit, self-promotion, and scummy marketing. Maybe. And if so, that would be great. But, damn, it really looks like this is just another certificate mill selling wholly-unrecognized credentials to dupes, and then roping them into buying some insurance.
*Upon further reading, apparently Keith is trying to say that workers’ personal data is being commoditized by big tech, and therefore workers should be paid for the use of their data. It’s an interesting idea for sure, but crippled by Keith’s copywriters’ inability to form a coherent sentence. Here’s what it looks like when someone else writes it out:
The Data Union belives all individuals are entitled to receive fair compensation from the income generated from the use of their personal data, their creativity, and their time.
About Christopher Paris
Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001 and Surviving AS9100. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.