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Top Diversity & Equity Leaders Answer 4 Tough Questions

Posted by Lauren Kendall on May 8, 2019
The Bowdoin Group, in partnership with Marsh & McLennan Agency, hosted a panel discussion on diversity, equity, and inclusion last week.  The event was the seventh installation of the invite-only HR leadership panel series, Building Cultures of Innovation and Accountability.  The Bowdoin Group’s Founder & CEO, Dave Melville, said that it was “one of the best and most important panel discussions we have had to date.”

The panel brought together diversity, culture, and people operations leaders, including: Paul Francisco, Chief Diversity Officer at State Street GlobalGabriela McManus, SVP of People Operations at Drizly, Sandra Brown, VP, Intellectual Property/Legal Affairs, Akili Interactive Labs, and Vitri Bhandari, VP, People Ops & Strategy, Klaviyo.  Karen Walker Beecher, COO of The Bowdoin Group, moderated the insightful and engaging panel discussion.

The group talked about how we can all work to build more diverse and inclusive teams. Here are the four toughest questions and how the panel answered them:

  • 1.) How do you handle questions like, “Your executive team is only 20% women.  Why is that and what are you doing to add more diversity?”  Many companies struggle to achieve diversity and equity in the upper levels—unfortunately, HR often has to provide the explanation.  Vitri Bhandhari commented that honesty is the best policy regardless of the topic.  She always tries to paint an authentic picture because people can see right through lip service. They want to know whether you’re just checking a box or if you are making a genuine effort towards solving diversity, equity, and inclusion issues.  Prospective candidates, in particular, want to understand whether this is a place they can build a future for themselves.
  • 2.) How do you measure diversity, equity, and inclusion? The panel cited a few top metrics to measure whether diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are successful within your organization. Measure each of these metrics for diverse and non-diverse populations and see if one is outpacing the other: a.) Attrition rate, b.) Hiring rate, c.) How people are progressing within the organization, and d.) The make-up of your leadership team and your board.

As a complement, ensure you understand what’s competitive in your industry as a benchmark.  Strides forward in these metrics contribute to the health of a company which can be reflected in business gains, new client acquisitions, client retention, and revenue—so pay attention to those metrics as well.  For example, diverse companies produce 19% more revenue than non-diverse companies.  Check out our infographic for other interesting stats about the benefits of diversity on company performance.

The panel also agreed that measurement over time is critical. Paul Francisco cited that State Street has three and five-year goal periods because it’s difficult to move the needle within one year on many of these metrics.

  • 3.) How do you build your network of diverse candidates and prove that your organization is worth consideration?  One panelist commented that when it comes to diverse populations, those communities are sealed until you can prove yourself to be trustworthy.  Here are three essential steps to uncover and unlock access:
    • Audit your network and identify gaps – This includes your board, leadership team, your employees, your trusted advisors, and your consultants.
    • Pay attention to the actions of diverse people that currently work for you – Do you know through engagement surveys or anecdotally how they feel?  Are they willing to refer others?  Are you leveraging their networks?
    • Determine where you need to go fishing from a talent acquisition standpoint and network – Think like a marketer—where do you need to go to intercept your desired audience?  Panelists commented that showing up to events in person can be very powerful.  Events can include anything from meetups to events held by associations (Chambers of Commerce, National Black MBA Association, etc.).
  • 4.) What are some easy-to-replicate programs you’ve put in place to make a difference?
    • Hosting Lunch & Learns – Every third Thursday, one company does a lunch and learn that covers a diversity, equity, or inclusion topic like micro-aggression or unconscious bias. This is building momentum around the conversation. People have even started to raise their hands and say, “I know someone who can speak at the next one.”
    • Making “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” required reading – One company that consisted of many white male millennials asked its employees to read Peggy McIntosh’s famous article from 1989: “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”  The article started a dialogue and created a safe space for a discussion around privilege and the effects on diversity efforts at that company, with one person saying, “I truly didn’t realize how much privilege I had until I read this.”
    • Celebrating good intention – One company wanted to attract more caregivers, so the marketing team decided to create a Halloween event where parents could bring their kids to go trick or treating. The event was scheduled for Halloween night at 6 pm. This meant that parents would have to go pick up their kids from the suburbs and bring them back into the city for a 6 pm arrival. Not surprisingly, between timing and logistics, it was not well attended, but their intentions were good. Commend those who are trying to make headway and help them tweak things for greater impact down the road.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion continues to gain steam as organizations realize the vast benefits—and it’s about time.  Many firms are now putting the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) role in their C-Suite, like our panelist, Paul Francisco.  When we asked just what a CDO does, Paul said that the CDO role is fairly new and, as a result, is still evolving.  He is finding that he is increasingly part of conversations to guide the strategic direction of the business.  At State Street Global, he spends his time:

  1. Being the constant thread and spokesperson for diversity for all company initiatives
  2. Helping HR colleagues support diversity from a talent development standpoint, including recruiting, retention, succession planning, and more
  3. Working with business leaders to quantify and qualify how diversity and inclusion will help them grow their businesses
  4. Leading the measurement of diversity, equity, and inclusion metrics

Read highlights from the prior event in this series and learn more here about attending future events and receiving best practices and insights from the Bowdoin team. Request to join the HR Leadership Online Forum to exchange ideas around important topics like this one and ask questions of your peers.