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.
Hundreds of corporations pledged to renew their commitment to addressing racial inequality in the workplace following the George Floyd murder. Shortly thereafter, the Trump administration responded by issuing an executive order curtailing the type of education that has been recommended for effective DEI programs. Even though the executive order has been stayed by the courts, questions remain as to the effective elements of a comprehensive DEI strategy. In addition, their concerns about claims of reverse discrimination, there are concerns about the effectiveness of DEI programs and anticipated pushback from a possibility equity agenda.
During the second season of Today’s Workplace, our audience will hear from experts who will discuss elements of effective and sustainable DEI initiatives. Our audience will learn about DEI challenges in several types of workplaces such as law firms and healthcare organizations and practical solutions for moving the DEI needle.
Join our hosts as they talk with leaders of several organizations that promote diversity and inclusion and the role that these organizations can play in assisting employers in meeting their DEI objectives. They will be conversing with the plaintiff’s attorneys who will share with us the DEI landscape from their perspective, as attorneys who represent employers.
00m 01s Disclaimer for listeners
01m 03s Podcast Introduction
04m 57s What are some of the approaches Belinda, that you have found to be most successful in moving the needle?
08m 48s From an outside counsel perspective, what might be some of the things that you’ve helped employers do Belinda?
10m 59s What’s realistic to expect in terms of what a diversity and inclusion officer can and cannot do?
Barbara: One of the reactions, shortly after the Black Lives Matters movement protest, was a government cracked down, to some extent, on diversity and inclusion programs through an executive order and that executive order really put employers in a quandary, between a rock and a hard place, because at a time where the public was demanding action, there was an executive order on the books that said no training that shames people, whatever that means, and just a lot of rhetoric in the executive order that gave employers pause. It’s my understanding that that executive order is now on hold and we do expect that there’ll be a rollback and an emphasis on, once again, education within the workplace on these issues. But there is still concern around reverse discrimination and the reaction of employees in the workplace who do not want to see this kind of progressive agenda. Realistically, there may need to be a legislative change in order to give employers the support that they need to put in place the strategies that we’ll be talking about in season two, and we will actually have a speaker during season two who’s going to talk about what some of those changes actually might look like. There was a lot of excitement about putting new programs in place, executive order, hesitation, and employers figuring out how to do a workaround. Now, It looks as if the workaround will not be necessary and that there may be some federal regulation or federal action that will enhance an employer’s ability to implement effective programs.
Belinda: Yeah, when that executive order came out, it was interesting to me to see the response by different companies, because some companies immediately stopped what they were doing, but others said this is important. We’re going to find a way to do this. With all due respect to this executive order, because I think many probably saw it as being a little bit political, related to the political discourse over the aftermath of our social justice. But what I found really helpful from a variety of outside counsel and firms, are they actually took the time to kind of really explain to employers what the restrictions in this avoid terms, set certain terms, you know, and when you’re talking about this, they explained it. The outside counsel explained it for us and they kind of provided companies with a road map to continue moving forward, but not violating the order, but now the order has been suspended. Is that correct?
Barbara: Yes, it has.
Barbara: Okay. So what are some of the approaches Belinda that you have found to be most successful in moving the needle?
Belinda: I think some of the approaches that I’ve seen are without getting too granular, well, first let me give you 30,000 foot in the approach, because the approach is really important. An organization can engage in a whole bunch of activities and not make any progress whatsoever because they don’t have a defined strategy that makes sure that they cover some key areas. But the approach needs to start with an assessment, if you haven’t already done one. An organization absolutely needs to know where they are before they start plotting out or planning where they’re trying to go. So where were you starting from? Where your areas of greatest opportunity? And then, once they have an idea of that, and that can be done through qualitative means as well as doing a cultural audit where you, through quantitative means and looking at data, but also qualitative means, where you do a cultural audit and you’re talking to key individuals and you’re looking at policies and practices and that sort of thing, or you’re doing like a survey, an employee survey. So, that’s what gives input to the direction that a company needs to follow. And so, for most companies that have really taken that step and take the time to take that step, they’re going to be more successful. And then, it’s looking carefully at certain key processes, like hirings and promotions and succession planning and development programs and who’s being mentored, who’s being sponsored and also attrition. How are your policies on terminations? How are they impacting or are you looking at the rate at which certain underrepresented groups are leaving the organization? Because you could be diversifying really well on the front end, but if you’re not paying attention to the inclusive environment and ensuring that people feel as if they belong, then you’re going to have a high attrition rate and it’s just going to be a churn that’s going to get you nowhere. And so, companies that can look at all of those things, I’d say one of the key and critical areas, is the talent area though. In terms of talent acquisition, who are we recruiting? Who are we able to recruit? Referencing back to the statistic that I gave you, around two-thirds of job seekers, wanting to know and see evidence that a company values, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. That information really weighs in terms of your ability to attract the talent. And so, organizations not only look at their numbers in terms of representation, who’s in the talent pool, but they’re looking at every single step of their talent acquisition process to ensure that they are conducting that process in a way that will increase their chances of being able to hire diverse talent. And they’re also looking at their talent management systems and ensuring that opportunity is being given to early and mid career professionals within the organization, that would equip them with the experience necessary to make them competitive when the senior level positions come open. Those are some of the things that I’ve experienced and actually help an organization build internally. But I’d like to know, from a outside counsel perspective, what might be some of the things that you’ve helped employers do?
Barbara: It’s been very rewarding in a way to work with senior leadership of organizations, CEOs, and their executive teams in education because part of the challenge in this area is many leaders don’t know how to talk about it. They don’t understand the historical perspective. They don’t know how to talk about it. And so, having meetings with leadership teams and giving them an opportunity to, in a safe space, ask questions, understand the issues. And I’ve been really encouraged in a way, because the reality is, the American employer is extremely [inaudible 09:48] and creative, and can do so much, but we haven’t brought that same creativity to this issue historically. So, if companies understand the importance of using the same tactics and strategy to develop effective programs, as it takes to put a new product on the market, we’re going to see tremendous successes. And I think that’s what’s starting to happen, but first, you have to understand the issue. First, you have to understand the problem, and then you develop the strategy along the same lines that you were just discussing. And that combination of education, commitment, and strategy, I think, can and will result in us seeing change, where we haven’t seen any, despite a lot of churning in the pants.
Belinda: I definitely agree with that.
Barbara: Well currently, Belinda, I know you serve as a DNI officer for a company. What’s realistic to expect in terms of what a diversity and inclusion officer can and cannot do?
Belinda: Yeah. I think first and foremost organizations need to realize that, number one, that expert is in there to guide the organization. So, they’re not hired to come do quote unquote, do diversity and inclusion for the organization. They’re there to guide the organization much as any other individual would do. A senior leader in the marketing areas is there to guide the organization in advising and determining the actions they need to take to maximize all dimensions of marketing that they need to do for their particular industry. Well, it’s the same for diversity, equity and inclusion. The leader and their teams, they are there to guide the organization, setting out the strategic vision, understanding the business and understanding how to guide the business in making decisions for their organization, and then assisting them in really taking the tactical actions that need to be taken. And so, that’s one thing. And then also, what they need to realize is that there’s no real quick fix. This isn’t a once and done sort of adventure here. It’s not a quick fix, and in fact, it is, if an organization understands, particularly, leaders in an organization understand what it takes to establish the best culture that will help move the organization forward. It’s part of the same kind of process that you need to go through because this is a cultural change to a certain extent, it’s a behavioral change. It involves behavioral change, and it also involves structural changes. So effecting all three of those things, culture, behavior, and structural changes is something that requires a really effective short term, as well as long-term strategy that kind of hits all the important areas that will help give a diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, overall corporate strategy momentum. And that’s when you pay attention to communications and messaging, and you really do invest in education because like you said, leaders are not always fluent in understanding, or how to talk about this or how to incorporate the messaging that supports the culture in the things that they do. But there’s also engagement. There’s so many different ways for the employees, as well as the leaders to get engaged in all levels, not only within the company, among the different groups of employees that are unique, but also in helping to build the external partnerships with communities and professional organizations. But then they also have to really, as I mentioned before, be prepared to measure themselves and hold themselves accountable for driving results. And so, doing all of that requires some really clear assessment, some decision-making on where they’re going to put their focus and their energies and their resources, and then, really committing to that over the course of time, so that it becomes part of the regular cadence of the organization.
Barbara: One of the things that I’m really excited about with this season is that we are going to provide. We’re going to provide resources for organizations that are taking this journey seriously. We’ll be talking with the leaders of several organizations that promote diversity and inclusion, and they’ll explain how they can be helpful. We’ll be talking to experts who can help us understand the legal implications, the legal landscape issues around reverse discrimination. We’ll be talking to some plaintiff’s attorneys who will talk about class and collective discrimination actions. And we’ll talk to experts who can help companies look at some of the statistical analyses that can facilitate growth in this area. So I’m excited.
Belinda: Yeah, I’m excited too, because this is big and I’m just looking forward to hearing, from the vast array of professionals that support an organizational’s growth and an organization’s desire and aspirations to really insert diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in a way that really is going to show progress and really is going to help propel the company forward. I think the conversations are going to be great. I think it’s very timely. This is an issue that’s not going away. And I really look forward to hearing from one or more companies who- they’re still stuck in that space of, Oh no, what do we do? If they listen to this podcast, they will be able to know exactly where to start. So I look forward to season two.
Barbara: Same here.