Moving Beyond the Pledge: Doing the Hard Work to Create a Diversity & Inclusion Breakthrough

Anyone in the business world with half a brain knows that the future growth of their customer base in the United States is going to come from a multicultural female. The buying power of women, according to Catalyst, will reach $40 trillion by 2018. Smart and savvy CEOs like Muhtar Kent are calling the time in which we live “the decade of the female.” Why then, armed with such powerful information, do we not see board members, CEOs, senior leaders, and industry leaders aligning to create a diversity and inclusion breakthrough? It’s simple. They don’t believe there is a sense of urgency to ensure they build a workforce that reflects their customers at all levels of the organization, despite the research that says organizations are more profitable when they have women represented at the top.

A CEO diversity pledge recently put the conversation about diversity and inclusion in the national spotlight again. More than 150 CEOs nationwide have made a commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace by joining CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, the largest CEO driven effort of its kind. “We are living in a world of complex divisions and tensions that can have a significant impact on our work environment. Yet, it’s often the case that when we walk into our workplace—where we spend the majority of our time—we don’t openly address these topics,” said Tim Ryan, U.S. Chairman and Senior Partner of PwC and chair of the steering committee for the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion.

I was so excited to learn of this effort. I saw it as a first step in the right direction. Then I learned that one of my own clients had not joined this significant initiative. I called to ask why and I spoke to a woman who I have known for many years. She heads up the Diversity and Inclusion office for this client who is a member of the Fortune 500 companies. When I inquired about her decision to not join the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, she said, “We are beyond making pledges. We are about doing the work. We want to make real change happen and that is where every company should be. We have been talking about moving the needle and creating a breakthrough for more than a decade. Yet we don’t see significant gains in representation, equal pay, cultural transformation and so much more. Enough with the pledges. Let’s start talking about how far you have moved the needle if we really want to achieve a breakthrough.” Her answer caught me off guard. I do sincerely applaud the leaders and companies that have signed on to take the “workplace diversity and inclusion” pledge, but I believe she is right. I have said for years that diversity and inclusion isn’t being taken seriously as a business imperative despite the rhetoric offered in glossy diversity and inclusion statements throughout North America. What board would allow a CEO to keep his job and underperform against goals for decades? What board would accept “aspirational goals” instead of hard metrics?

I am convinced that until leaders “feel” and make an emotional connection with diversity and inclusion, subpar results will continue to be the headline. I recently interviewed a senior leader who works for a large Fortune 100 organization. He is a white male. I asked him what it would take to get leaders to see and believe in the power of diversity and inclusion. He responded by saying, “a personal experience.” Tell me more, I probed. He responded, “If you had asked me 5 years ago if diversity and inclusion was important, I would have given you the standard response of, yes of course. That’s what leaders say, right? I didn’t have any true feelings about it one way or another. It didn’t really impact me. But today, I sit before you as a champion for diversity and inclusion because I had a personal experience.” I asked him to explain. “I have a teenage daughter who came home from school a couple of years ago crying. I didn’t know what had happened. She explained that she no longer wanted to become an engineer. As an engineer and people leader this was like a stab to my heart”. He continued, “The boys always get the good experiments and the girls get the leftovers. My teacher doesn’t listen to me and so I don’t want to work in a field where women are not respected or given equal opportunity. It hit me. My daughter is being discriminated against because she is a girl. Needless to say, I had a little chat with her teacher and the principal. And then I took inventory of my own team. I hadn’t intentionally left women out of the equation, or people of color, I just hadn’t intentionally focused on making sure that they were there.”

What if every business leader had a deep, personal connection to diversity and inclusion just like the senior tech leader and father of a future female engineer I interviewed? Would we even need a pledge or would companies just be doing the hard work of making real change happen? How do we facilitate a personal connection to diversity and inclusion for the leaders of the top companies in the world? How do we move beyond the pledge and into real change?

Here are five Courageous Call-to-Action Initiatives that can help you be more intentional about expanding your own diversity and inclusion awareness and improving your organization’s workplace equality:

Courageous Call-to-Action Initiatives

  1. Truly empower the Chief Diversity Officer and give him/her air coverage to drive meaningful and transformational change
  2. Form a cross functional Executive Council and use them as the conscious of the organization to closely examine measurable results.
  3. Research companies that have had diversity and inclusion successes. Invite representatives to come speak at your company and/or steering committee.
  4. Hold an “alternative futures” meeting. Invite representatives from all areas of the organizations and brainstorm what the organization will look like with a successful, measurable diversity and inclusion plan.
  5. Based on the “alternative futures” meeting, write a success narrative – imagine your company’s own success story 3 or 5 years from now and weave it into the company’s current culture:
  • Storyboard it
  • Publish the “story” or narrative as the company’s next chapter

If not you then who? If not now, then when? Its time!



Interviews conducted in conjunction with the forthcoming book EQUALITY: Courageous Conversations about Men, Women, and Race to Spark a Diversity and Inclusion Breakthrough by Trudy Bourgeois

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