Illustration by Theresa Stoodley.
Having diversity, equity and inclusion that is well-incorporated with an organization’s overall business strategy, as well as having someone at the helm of the function, has been a goal for leaders for some time now, but recent social unrest has escalated these efforts across the United States.
Who is a part of these DEI functions? Similar to learning leaders, those who lead DEI go by a number of different titles — director or program manager, vice president or head of DEI are all common, as well as chief diversity officer.
There has been an influx of organizations bringing DEI leaders into executive roles and into the C-suite. Earlier this year, real-estate firm CBRE Group Inc., General Electric Co. and Zoom Video Communications Inc. all announced they had hired new CDOs, according to The Wall Street Journal.
According to data from business data and software provider ZoomInfo, over the past five years, there was a 133 percent increase in executives with diversity and inclusion titles, and nearly 40 percent of Fortune 500 organizations have hired executives to focus on DEI. Glassdoor research from last year shows that more job-seekers are also looking for opportunities to work on DEI issues today — up 35 percent in the U.S. and 19 percent in the United Kingdom
But DEI cannot be the focus of just one person or one team, says Christyl Murray, VP Academy lead and vice president of firmwide talent development for JPMorgan Chase & Co.: “DEI is both a business strategy and part of the people agenda.”
DEI leaders — specifically chief diversity officers — currently face a huge turnover rate. Apple Inc.’s former head of inclusion and diversity, Christie Smith, was the third person to vacate the position, which she held for less than three years, The Wall Street Journal reports. The average tenure for CDOs is about three years.
“While having a CDO is better than not having one at all, tasking one individual with the job of changing toxic workplace culture, implementing employee resource groups, developing strategies to attract and retain diverse talent and figuring out how to create a more inclusive environment for employees is a lot, to say the least,” senior Forbes contributor Janice Gassam Asare wrote in 2019.
DEI requires commitment and follow-through, says Loreli Wilson, director of inclusion and social impact programs at Veterans United Home Loans in Columbia, Missouri. “This includes sourcing for professionals of color, engaging diverse employees in the development and execution of trainings, being intentional in including diverse perspectives and simply reaching out individually to invite employees of color to participate in developmental opportunities.”
Organizationally supporting DEI
A sustainable, long-term DEI initiative is one that is adaptable to the evolution of your workforce, Wilson says. “Each new individual added to your culture will influence it,” she added. “You have to be OK with changing programs and adjusting them accordingly.”
At Veterans United, Wilson ensures the organization continues its efforts to be internally inclusive and to positively impact the community it serves. Her team is involved in a number of different programs across the organization, such as diversity recruitment and internships, training, employee programs and maintaining relationships with community nonprofits.
Wilson, who reports directly to the organization’s chief people officer, says buy-in from the executive level is essential for a successful program. “Folks in diversity and inclusion are battling heavily ingrained beliefs and implicit biases daily. A program that does not have the support of their executive team and has to take additional time to justify its actions to leadership is destined for failure.”
Many organizations that were surveyed in Human Capital Media Research and Advisory Group’s “2019 Diversity Value Index Benchmarking Report” said that the head of the diversity function reported to the chief executive officer, with the second highest response being the chief human resources officer. This is possibly due to diversity often being a part of human resources at many organizations, the report notes.
“A top-down commitment from senior leaders is foremost and almost goes without saying, but that is the first imperative,” Murray says.
But DEI efforts also need to be important to employees at every level of the organization and well-integrated with the rest of the organization’s mission and goals.
Murray suggests having a strategic and targeted approach to DEI — standing it up like you would any other business problem. “If you state that DEI is a business imperative, then all leaders have responsibility and should be tracked on progress toward your stated and specific DEI goals — on a dashboard for their business.”
“Define your specific opportunity areas, setting baselines and targets,” she adds. “Set your success metrics in advance so you can quantify and measure your movement on intended outcomes, such as attraction and hiring, retention, internal mobility, program favorability, engagement, promotion, etc.”
Wilson says to look to those who influence hiring, promotions, terminations, employee development and retention for support in these efforts.
“This work cannot fall solely on your [DEI] team,” she says. “This is a company-wide effort that needs the help and support of many. Identify teams for allyship, grow those relationships and amplify your efforts and broaden your reach.”
DEI and L&D
Leaders in learning and development play a supportive role in DEI efforts. The L&D function oversees training, skills and career development, and learning leaders have a large stake in workplace culture and the talent the organization attracts.
Andrew Rawson, chief learning officer of training and compliance company Traliant, said in a July interview with CLO that one of the most important things a learning leader or chief learning officer can do to support DEI efforts is to make sure training is well-aligned. Diversity training can “hold up a mirror and encourage employees and managers to think about difficult and uncomfortable topics like racism and reflect upon their own attitudes and behaviors,” Rawson says.
At JPMorgan, the VP Academy is aligned with the firm’s DEI mission and provides training, guidance and coaching in support of leadership and development and career advancement, Murray says. “[It] works in furtherance of our firm-wide strategy of attracting, retaining and — most intentionally — developing our diverse workforce at the VP level.”
Murray says L&D is influential in training and institutionalizing the types of behaviors we want to see in our workforce and cultures. “And celebrate, recognize and reward managers, teams, departments or individuals who exemplify positive DEI behavior,” she adds. “Valuing DEI should be infused into standard leadership and manager excellence training.”
Wilson says learning leaders should make an effort to diversify their forward-facing leadership and leadership development opportunities, which can lead to the creation of more inclusive workplace programs.
“Representation matters,” she says. “With diverse representation comes the added benefits of their individual development and diverse perspectives for more inclusive programs.”