The Conference Board hosted the 2022 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Conference in Brooklyn last week, where industry leaders from across the U.S. connected to discuss key topics in the DE+I space. The featured content sessions were designed for Chief Diversity officers, Human Resource professionals, Diversity Council members, and Employee Resource Group leaders to discuss the latest trends, strategies, and learnings in the field.
Clarkston consultants Brandon Miller and Sara Morris attended the two-day 2022 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion conference. I recently had the opportunity to ask them about their key takeaways and insights from the event:
What were three of your biggest takeaways from the 2022 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion conference?
- The role of your Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) is expanding: Throughout the conference, there were many references to the work and responsibilities of your Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) or DE+I Lead. Many of the roles that were appointed or created in 2020 after the death of George Floyd in an effort to promote corporate racial justice now have an important level of accountability to their organizations. With the direct tie between diversity, equity, and inclusion and your company’s bottom line, the role’s responsibility to your employees, as well as the importance of DE+I being embedded into all parts of the business, the CDO role needs an executive level of accountability and ownership. Elizabeth Morrison, Chief DE+I Officer at Levi Strauss & Co., shared how the CDO needs to work directly with all areas of the business, (e.g., marketing, procurement, R&D, HR, etc.) to be effective and drive organizational change.
- The decisions we make today will dramatically influence your organization three, five, and 10 years in the future: When thinking about our companies’ current state of DE+I, you have to think about the decisions, whether intentional or implicit, that have been made over the past decade. Whether it’s the make-up of your leadership team, cultural challenges, communities not equitably represented in HR policies, or other topics, your current state is based on your past decisions. Companies should be having strategic conversations on the culture and representation they want to have in the future and start making those decisions now. For example, speaker Sophie Guerin, head of DE+I APAC at Johnson & Johnson, highlighted how only 8% of organizations have a strategy for ageism although five generations are in the workforce. Speaker Smita Pillai, Global Chief DE+I Officer at Regeneron, highlighted how there are often micro-communities in your organizations that are seldomly addressed. Many organizations, specifically DE+I leaders within them, are having to unbuild systems that they didn’t create, which although challenging, will pay off down the road.
- Find your bold voice: Inaction is an Action: A sentiment that has challenged a number of organizations over the years is determining what issues to take a public stand on and when to do so. A number of the Conference’s panels highlighted the fact that an organization’s silence can be resoundingly loud. Your company has to have a position on issues that matter to your company and your employees. A strategy that was shared was that it’s important to let your organization’s guiding principles influence policy and answer questions like, “When should we respond?,” “Who should respond?,” or “Which vendors or clients should or shouldn’t we work with?” When it comes to taking a stand, companies should be purposeful, deliberate, and intentional, and if you don’t have experts in-house or an employee resource group that can serve as a sounding board, it’s important to bring in third parties that can provide perspective. In the words of Icema Gibbs, VP of Corporate Responsibility at Jet Blue, it’s important to, “Find your bold voice.”
- What isn’t measured isn’t managed: We talked a lot about the importance of DE+I metrics and goals and tracking your organization’s progress and building toward something. When it comes to DE+I metrics, we often see businesses are hesitant to keep track of this data for a variety of reasons – but a lot of it comes down to being anxious to see the current state in terms of data and what that means about your organization. At the end of the day, for businesses that are looking to build out and better execute their DE+I strategy, documenting where you are and where you’re looking to go is a must.
- Executive buy-in will propel everything forward: When it comes to moving DE+I initiatives forward, several speakers doubled down on the integral role that executives play in terms of getting things off the ground. What’s the best way to get this support? Data. Speakers emphasized the slippery slope that is making DE+I a moral dilemma and generally advised focusing on the business case when looking to get executive buy-in.
- Urgency is the enemy of inclusion: This is a saying that’s often used in the DE+I space, and last week was no exception. What does this mean in practice though? It’s often two-fold. The first is frequently referenced in the recruiting space, alluding to the idea that for organizations looking to grow and retain diverse talent, going out and quickly hiring a lot of people of color may not be the solution – and there isn’t a quick and easy fix. The second speaks to the fact that it often takes years to see the impact of DE+I decisions made. As speaker Khemari Cook put it, “representation is the result,” and we may not see the impact until 3-5 years down the line.
What are some of the top trends that we can expect to see in DE+I in 2023?
Brandon: One of the biggest areas of focus I see in 2023 is tackling talent management and development. For the longest time, we’ve focused diversity efforts on attracting and recruiting talent, but what we are seeing is there’s a retention problem often related to corporate cultures not emphasizing belonging and equity. We’ll continue to see a range of quiet quitting to increased attrition if organizations don’t double down in this area. Succession planning was also discussed and very much related to this trend. In thinking about the multigenerational workforce and lack of diversity in many organizations’ pipelines to leadership, focusing on intentional talent development for underrepresented populations is going to be the key.
Sara: I think we’re going to start to see more conversations in 2023 about what equity looks like in a hybrid work environment. For organizations that operate in a hybrid environment with some in-person workers and others remote, how can they be thoughtful about opportunities and not unintentionally pass by remote team members? It can be human nature to favor the people that are physically in front of you, but if organizations have made the choice to allow some workers to be fully remote, they should take extra care to not unintentionally penalize them.
What is a commonly overlooked DE+I topic that was brought to light during the conference that companies should consider?
Brandon: What I appreciated about the conference is that it brought a breadth of unique topics that are often overlooked when it comes to DE+I. There was an intentional discussion on antisemitism in society and the workplace, a topic which has been commonly discussed in news headlines and social media but rarely within organizations. It’s important for organizations to, in the words of Nichelle Grant, Head of DE+I at Siemens USA, to “Call In vs. Call out,” and create safe spaces to listen and learn on all topics, especially the uncomfortable ones, related to your employees’ diverse experiences and leverage “humble curiosity” to learn and enact change.
Sara: There are a few that immediately come to mind that I think the conference did a great job of highlighting. Often when we think about DE+I in the workplace, we immediately think about gender, race, and sexual orientation – and rightfully so. The conference also did a good job emphasizing the impact of some of employees’ more invisible identities that can often impact them at work. Another topic that especially resonated with me was thinking about how companies can be more mindful of supporting employees who are also full or part-time caregivers for family members.
2022 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Conference: Final Thoughts
The 2022 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Conference was filled with DE+I-focused sessions to help organizations and individuals improve their employee experience, continue learning, and network with other professionals in the industry. The event was an incredible experience to hear from top corporate DE+I voices and learn about what others are doing.
Whether it be our advisory, survey and analytics platform, trainings, or workshops, the time is now to take action in establishing and achieving your DE+I goals. For more information on our DE+I services, please contact Brandon Miller.