As a Black female executive working in DEI within global organizations, I am encouraged to see the energy, interest, and awareness around social and racial inequality. Still, I know profoundly that this increased attention is not enough. Leaders can and must do better in significant and tangible ways that will not only make our organizations stronger but also strengthen the social fabric that reflects our companies' cultures and core values as well. The companies that know and embrace this will thrive.
How can companies tap into this newfound energy and awareness to create real and sustainable change? How can leaders use this momentum to drive equity in their promotions, equity in the way they hire talent, equity in development and job assignment opportunities, and equity in performance ratings--while instilling equitable compensation practices?
How can we capitalize on this moment to address implicit bias, groupthink, and preformed stereotypes and frames of reference inherent in everything we say and do? How do we prevent this pivotal, powerful, and painful "moment" from being wasted and from fizzling out? How do we not return to "business as usual" until the next awful moment occurs? What part can we all play in stopping those moments from occurring in the first place?
Inviting Diversity to the Board Room
We can create change. That is the good news. Specifically, there are three significant areas where companies can and should focus. The first area involves increasing the recruitment and the internal development of Black and Latino talent at the senior leadership ranks, but that, in and of itself, is not enough. It should also improve the integration and onboarding experience of these executives to succeed in every way. Research has shown that when a person of color joins an organization at a senior level, they have a much harder time obtaining the much-needed network of support from peers and higher-ups, including mentorship, sponsorship, and advocacy.
Much of this is because the diverse hires, such as Black and Latino talent, are not immediately integrated into the organizational culture and connected to the unwritten norms within the organization to onboard and thrive successfully. This failed onboarding prevents these individuals from understanding the organizational dynamics and learning how to navigate the company culture effectively.
Action: As a seasoned DEI practitioner, I recommend focusing on increasing the representation of Black and Latino talent at the most senior levels to support them to stay and thrive by establishing onboarding programs to facilitate the integration into their business and the organization. This strategic enablement will address one of the most common findings seen where the tenure of the senior Black and Latino talent within the first three years of hire is often at half the tenure you see from a non-diverse or minority executive coming on board.
Championing Networks to Maximize Success
Second, we need to ensure a strong internal network of advocates and champions who support minority talent at every level within the organization. It is all too common to find Black and Latino talent who plateau at a level and find themselves stuck in a position for five to seven years with great external experience and strong performance at a significantly higher rate than their White counterparts. This ineffective promotion is primarily due to the lack of sponsors and advocates who are regularly exposed to their work, achievements, and successes.
Action: Deliberately create a heightened sense of awareness on your organization's internal data to address inequities where they exist. Use the data to clarify focus and develop a tailored intervention. Examples of tailored interventions may be ensuring that diverse talent does not slip through the cracks and is engaged through a sponsorship or mentorship program. Also, focusing on succession plans, key talent designation, and promotion rates are just a few examples of making tangible changes.
Cultivating a Culture of Belonging
The last area to focus on centers around creating a culture of belonging. Some questions to consider: How is your company's ecosystem being cultivated to invite Black and under-represented talent? How is your company making sure that Black and under-represented talent can work on high-profile projects, assignments, and initiatives? What is your company doing to ensure that your Black and under-represented talent can demonstrate their skills in a meaningful way toward the advancement and success of the organization?
Educating leaders on the positive impact they could have through fostering a sense of belonging is critical. This can be achieved by setting expectations for leaders to demonstrate inclusive behaviors that promote respect and openness through empathy and understanding of differences on a daily basis. Leaders must utilize these behaviors to make sure that diverse talent is engaged within teams and functions as well as across the matrix of the organization.
This is our new norm. The world is not only dealing with a health pandemic; we are experiencing a social pandemic as well. As it did with Covid-19, our behavior must change to survive the atrocities that have happened in the past and build a new world for our future.
Those of us in the DEI space are being called on to engage with our organizations in a new capacity that not only involves the above practices but also includes ensuring the well-being and psychological safety of our Black and under-represented communities--communities that are being re-traumatized in a way that many in the majority cannot appreciate effectively. We are being asked to educate and increase the emotional intelligence of our leaders so that they can respond in an empathetic, values-driven way that reinforces the culture of their companies.
This is an acknowledgment of our work ahead and the need for us to build off the energy of the moment. Let's honor this moment with action.