The Evolution of Workplace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Era of Social Justice, Part One

The views expressed on today’s program are those of the speakers and are not the views of Today’s Workplace, the speaker’s firms or clients, and are not intended to provide legal advice.


In season two of Today’s Workplace, we will examine diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.  These three concepts are fundamental in creating an environment in which employees feel a real sense of belonging.  for both current and future employees in order to promote a sense of belonging within the various industries that they may find themselves in.


After the death of George Floyd in 2020, many organizations issued anti-racism statements, held town halls and  and made donations to social justice organizations. Now, organizations are looking for guidance on how to best address systemic racism in corporate America and make good on their promises.  


Most organizations started creating DEI programs out of an interest in complying with state and federal anti-discrimination laws such as  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, oThe Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Program (OFCCP) regulations. However,the best approach to ensure success in this area is to develop a comprehensive DEI strategy designed to result in cultural transformation.  


During season two, we will hear from two human resources executives about how they addressed employee concerns after the murder of George Floyd and their renewed focus on DEI.  They will discuss both the business and moral imperatives for organizations to embrace the opportunity to develop strategies around DEI.


In reality, there is intense competition for talent.  Employers who fail to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion into workplace culture , allowing their employees to excel. A large portion of job seekers consider this as one of the most important aspects that they look for in an organization before they make the decision to join.


In season two, Today’s Workplace will explore how  diversity, equity, and inclusion is viewed among generations because Millennials often hold a different view about DEI than their baby boomer counterparts in the workplace and a different set of expectations.  Two of our guests will discuss the importance of understanding these generational differences when designing effective DEI programs. understanding those generational differences will also assist employers in putting together programs that work in the favor of their employees.


Diversity is an important aspect of a DEI program, and often employers focus their efforts on diversity but fail to address inclusion and equity.  Human beings desire to belong and although there is a need for diversity, emphasis on inclusion and equity is more important than focusing on recruitment.  


As with any other business initiative, the key to success is developing a well-planned, comprehensive strategy.  This strategy should contain both qualitative and quantitative elements. During season two, our guests will provide valuable resources for the development of effective DEI programs.






00m 01s Disclaimer for listeners

01m 03s Podcast Introduction

01m 32s Discussing season one of the podcast

03m 33s What is diversity? What’s equity, inclusion, belonging?

08m 03s What has been Belinda’s journey as far as helping employers in this space?

12m 17s What was Barbara’s journey into being exposed to the diversity programs within companies?  

16m 22s How did the social justice and reconciliation events of last summer change the way organizations respond and approach diversity and inclusion?


Barbara: Season one of Today’s Workplace addressed the COVID-19 pandemic, but we know that there is another pandemic that this country is experiencing. It’s a pandemic of racial injustice, and arguably this pandemic has been going on for hundreds of years, but last year, because of the tragic murder of George Floyd and a video of a black man who died with the foot of a white police officer on his neck, the world paid attention within days, hundreds of corporations issued statements, promising to support black lives matters to do better. These are the same corporations that have had diversity and inclusion programs for years and have pledged their support of diversity. Billions of dollars have been spent on consultants for decades now, but what have the results of these efforts been? There’s been improvement in some areas, especially with respect to women, although there is a long way to go, but overall, we can all agree that most of these efforts have fallen way short, in terms of making real and sustainable progress. For season two, we are very excited about tackling the issue of workplace diversity, equity and inclusion. We will be taking a look at the history of these programs, the challenges and opportunities employers face, and speaking with amazing experts. Today, we will share our perspective as black women, employment attorneys, who have assisted organizations in creating diversity and inclusion programs and who have experienced the workplaces as black women. Belinda, let’s start by defining a few terms. What is diversity? What’s equity inclusion, belonging?


Belinda: Well, Good Morning, Barbara. First understand that many, many organizations are incorporating diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Many more than had previously paid attention to it, and not only domestically, but globally. Technology has allowed so many organizations to operate on a global basis and they have all found a shared interest in incorporating concepts of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging across their global enterprise. And so, everyone has their own spin of what these definitions mean. So I’m going to offer up kind of like a basic baseline of what we’re talking about when we reference diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in a workplace setting, okay. So let me start with diversity. Diversity refers to individual characteristics that a person has that makes them unique and it’s really interesting because it has evolved over the years that diversity can be either visible, something like race, gender, age, body type, or it can be an invisible form of diversity that makes an individual unique. And that types of invisible diversity are like sexual orientation, religion, your social-economic status, your family status, those things. And then when we’re talking about equity, we’re really talking about ensuring justice, fairness, and impartiality in your procedures and processes. So ensuring that those processes, particularly in the workplace, things like hiring, promotions, succession, planning, development, attrition, all the policies and practices that underlie compensation; those things. All the policies and practices that underlie those things are what we really need to look at really, to ensure that everyone is able to experience the benefits of those processes, but is not harmed by those processes. And many times when we’re talking about structural racism or structural discrimination, that’s what we’re talking about. Driving equity, by looking at those and making sure that everyone can experience those in a fair and impartial way. Inclusion refers to the environment. So anytime you hear about inclusion, think about the environment and that’s the environment in which all employees are treated fairly. They have equal access to opportunities and they’re able to contribute to an organization’s success. So everybody is able to, what we say, bring their whole self to the table because the environment supports everyone being their whole self. And then, this concept of belonging is one that has come to the forefront over the last couple of years, and belonging is about ensuring that everybody feels secure. Inclusion is about the environment and making sure that the environment is good, but belonging refers to the feeling of security and support. Everyone feels accepted, they feel respected and it basically means just being accepted and included by those around you. So again, those are the basic definitions of all of those, and every organization takes an additional step to really define it, according to what works for their organization. They define it along those lines, but they have their own wording that they enhance that definition with and they put it out there in front of the entire organization and all of their external stakeholders like shareholders and community partners because they want their organization to have a shared, just understanding, in a shared language around these terms.


Barbara: Now, most organizations started their DNI programs out of a need to comply with federal or state laws, whether it was the title seven of the civil rights act of 1964, section 1981, the Americans with Disabilities Act, The Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Program Regulations that require affirmative action. There was a compliance focus. The corporate approach has been evolving since then into a business strategy. Belinda, what has been your journey as far as helping employers in this space?


Belinda: Yeah, so I basically, and you’ll find that so many diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging professionals and experts, they come up through one of a few different channels. And I particularly came up through the compliance channel because I started out as a management side employment attorney. And in doing that, you do learn a lot about some of the laws that you mentioned that were put in place by governments to drive more equality in the workplace and to make things more even. And so, that was the very earliest start, but I will say, following a compliance pathway really just establishes the bare minimum of what an organization is finding that they could or should do. Because as this concept of diversity, equity and inclusion has evolved in the workplace, businesses have determined that, Hey, this is a business strategy. And so, they make sure that they respond in a way and that they approach their programming in a way that meets the legal requirements. But then they go beyond that in certain ways, as it relates to the type of work environment that they have to build, how they ensure employees feel like they are belonging because enhancing that then delivers benefits to the business success that diversity equity and inclusion has been proved to be able to do. But one of the other pathways to becoming someone who’s expert and can guide an organization in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging are those individuals who have started out their careers working in the diversity area or individuals who have some type of organizational behavior or organizational development background. We also have seen over the years that there are individuals who started out on the business side in a professional and leadership role in some of the business related functions, and they then take an interest. They understand how to use diversity, equity, inclusion as a business lever and so, then they move over into leading that organization or leading that function for an organization because they understand how to, they understand the business so intimately that they can really support integration of the concepts of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and all that the business functions. And they can speak the language very fluently on both sides, on the business side and on the diversity side. And so, there’s a number of ways that individuals get there. My way was just being an employment attorney that took an interest and then really helping the business, not only providing advice to the business, but helping the business build the type of practices and processes that would create a greater diversity in the workforce and inclusive environment and help everyone understand the behaviors that were needed to ensure everybody supported the culture of belonging. So, that was my pathway, but I’d really be interested in hearing about your experiences outside counsel, because I know that you’re often sought by clients to provide diversity expertise. So what does your journey look like from that perspective?


Barbara: Well, like you, Belinda, I started out and still am a management side, labor and employment attorney, and so the beginning of my journey in this area was with helping employers on the compliance front. And so, many diversity programs, inclusion programs arose out of the compliance area. Understanding title seven obligations, doing the training. And then eventually it expanded as companies started to recognize there is a business imperative with respect to diversity, equity and inclusion as well, and so companies started hiring diversity officers, looking at numbers and started to do a training. Unconscious bias, training, lots and lots and lots of training, but candidly, I became really frustrated with what I viewed as a check the box kind of exercise. It was a matter of almost form over substance. The leadership of the organization didn’t really understand diversity and what it meant and the importance of treating it, developing strategies, as opposed to hiring someone and saying, you go off and you fix this for us. And so, I actually had stopped assisting employers, but recently, especially because of the events of last year, I am really reinvigorated if you will, because I think employers recognize now that something has to change if we’re going to have some sustainable movement when it comes to this area, and why? The reality is we’re in a race for talent and by failing to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion and removing those barriers that allow people to really excel at work and contribute to your workforce; you’re losing out on tremendous human potential.


Belinda: Can I underscore that point that you just made for a quick minute?


Barbara: Sure 


Belinda: I recently read some information in research that said two-thirds of job seekers today, rate diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging as one of the most important aspects that they measure in organization on, in terms of, evaluating whether they want to join that organization or not. Two thirds. And so, like I said, to underscore your point that you cannot win the war for talent, unless you do have impactful diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging integrated into your organization. I didn’t mean to interrupt-


Barbara: No. Just as a little teaser here, in season two, we are going to have figures who are going to talk about generational differences in how people view diversity, equity and inclusion. And it’s fair to say that many millennials have a very different view than baby boomers, like myself. And so, understanding those generational differences will also assist employers in putting together programs that work. But as I said, I’m truly reinvigorated. I’ve been working with a number of different companies, particularly with their leadership, because you gotta get the leadership on board. I mean, one of the knee jerk reactions I think many companies had was to kind of find a diversity and inclusion professional guy; to find a person. Well, that’s going to be helpful, but the change starts with the leadership.


Belinda: Absolutely. 


Barbara: Yeah. So what did the social justice and reconciliation events of last summer, how did they change the way organizations respond and approach to diversity and inclusion? What are you saying, Belinda?


Belinda: So, just with respect to what happened last summer in the reaction, there were a lot of organizations that immediately crafted anti-racism statements and they made large donations to social justice organizations. And like you just noted, they recognize the fact that they needed to do much more within their organizations. And so, they sought to hire a diversity and inclusion expertise. One of the things that I noticed as an expert already in that space is that, I saw organizations responding more to this, as something you mentioned and that I mentioned also, responding more to this, as this is something that can actually not only impact their business, if they’re silent or don’t engage in these programs in the appropriate way, but the companies recognize that they are missing out on an opportunity to really leverage diversity and inclusion as a way to get to business success. I remember, at the start of my career that there were so many research articles and the like out and so much time spent on, quote, establishing the business case for diversity. And now you don’t hear that companies or organizations spending a lot of time on evaluating the business case. In other words, trying to figure out the, should we do this? or why should we do this? Businesses already know. There is a tremendous amount of research and studies enough time has passed where it can actually be measured and shown that businesses that have effectively integrated diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, outperform, those who haven’t. And so, again, businesses now are going directly to the work, in terms of understanding, well, how can we make this work for our organization? They’re much more proactive. It’s almost like a child. The difference between the child who wants to immediately start kindergarten when they’re two or three years old, because they see their older brother’s sister doing it, and they want to burst out the door, going to the child who is kicking and screaming and dragging to the door of the school because it’s scary. They don’t know what it is and so they’re going to avoid it or try to avoid it. You don’t see that level of avoidance anymore. You see organizations jumping in. They don’t know exactly where they need to go, but they’re willing, more willing because they understand. We don’t have to spend the time helping them to understand, they get it. And then, there are organizations who have traditionally and historically- they jumped on the train early. So they’ve been doing this for a number of years and what you see from those organizations as a result of just the, really reawakening and reckoning around social justice and particularly discrimination, racial discrimination, those organizations that were already doing very well or were doing a lot, they’re re-examining the effectiveness and the impact of their programs and making some changes based on that. And just one other footnote, again, this isn’t just going on in the United States. I mean, that was the scene of the very difficult social justice moments we witnessed last summer. But, around the global environment, there are many companies too, recognizing that, in order to be a better company and in order to meet the demands of the talent and the demands of employees, they have to pay attention to this. And so, these programs that support diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are also being implemented in global organizations.