During Turbulent Times, How Does Diversity & Inclusion Best Serve Its Workforce?

diversity inclusion workplace

This past year and presently, we’ve seen the country divided across issues of racism, sexism, bigotry, xenophobia, immigration and more.

These issues have implications in our workplace.

It used to be an environment where we checked our personal life at the door when we walked into work and checked out of our work life when we left for home in the evening. That’s history now! Not only have work and personal life melded and blended together, but also we are increasingly bringing our value system, religious beliefs, and cultures into the workplace and we are demanding that our companies align with them and reflect them.

So, what responsibilities do we have as executives to address these issues in the workplace?

At Diversity Best Practices, we work to meet these current challenges and come up with strategies, research and solutions to support our member organizations and their employees during these turbulent times. In our latest research undertaking, Workforce 2025, there were 4 major findings:

    1. Companies are structurally moving D&I two levels away from the direct oversight of the CEO or the Executive Leadership Team. Often they are layered under the Talent Management function. Achievement of diversity and inclusion efforts are thwarted when they are not adequately measured or when they lack necessary financial and human resources, and are not tied to accountability and compensation. Research proves, time and again, that business results improve when tied directly to metrics and accountability.
    2. There is a move to focus more on cognitive diversity — diversity of thoughts, perspectives and experiences, and less on measuring accountability and change. This has grave implications for progress on D&I because we are moving on to a new issue without having solved the first one. We haven’t solved the issue of representation of women and minority communities at senior levels and on boards of our companies and we have embarked on bringing more cognitive diversity into the mix. We have to do both. It’s not either or; it’s representation and cognition.
    3. Over the next 5 to 15 years, an unprecedented number of corporate leaders are set to retire — 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every single day for the next 15 years. Can you imagine the opportunity this presents? It gives us a tremendous opportunity to advance diverse talent into those roles at similarly unprecedented numbers. D&I champions must ensure that unconscious and conscious bias throughout the talent process does not threaten to erode these opportunities. Our ability and willingness to remove bias in our recruiting, promotion and compensation processes will make ALL the difference.
    4. This generation of young people is creating the biggest social justice movement since the Civil Rights era. We have a unique opportunity to harness their passion and energy and shine a light on the need for accelerating change.

As we think about all of the above issues and challenges, this is what we recommend. For the executives who run U.S. companies, we should consider actively promoting workplace discussion about the issues facing our country. They are impacting us, whether it’s the strong divide of perspectives or policy changes and implications, or simply, the information overload. The purpose is to open dialogue across your organizations and with stakeholders. Make the concerted effort to focus on “popping our bubbles and getting people to come outside their echo chambers” — engage and understand the opposing or silent perspective (we simply cannot change the things we don’t see or hear).

Also read: Leveraging Diversity for Optimal Team Performance

Prepare for potential policy changes and impacts to business (e.g. thinking through religious registry implications, pipeline implications, impact to health benefits). Consider examples/opportunities for collaboration across industry and sector — leveraging collective power to influence or message. As an example, we have seen universities come together to discuss the issues of immigration bans and student privacy — and how to solve them collectively. We have recently witnessed nearly 100 tech companies, including Facebook and Apple, join forces in court to oppose President Trump’s ban.

Now is the time to identify and highlight these values and leverage the opportunity to tie a company’s culture with your external voice.

About the Author

Subha V. Barry is the Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Working Mother Media. She joined the company in January, 2015 as Vice President and General Manager of Working Mother Media. Subha oversees Working Mother magazine, workingmother.com, Diversity Best Practices, the leading corporate membership organization supporting diversity and inclusion and the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE). Previously, Subha was Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Freddie Mac. During more than 20 years at Merrill Lynch, Subha was Managing Director and Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion.