How Leaders Are Tackling the Issues of Diversity, Inclusion and Equality
Amidst the social unrest and the inequities brought to light throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and more, the lens in which diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has been used by leaders has changed. From the boardroom to entry-level hires, how CEOs are tackling these issues is being watched closely. Yet, how do we ensure this isn’t just a moment in time and accountability is tracked?
“Firstly, it is about new learning and understanding, for myself and our organization. Ensuring all [our] workplaces are inclusive, diverse and anti-racist are critical commitments by me, our leadership and the company,” said Beth Ann Kaminkow, global CEO of Geometry, WPP’s end-to-end creative commerce agency. “Second, it is action over grand gestures and promises with commitment to see key actions taken that are sustainable and build over the long-term, followed by transparent accountability to measuring the progress.”
As a CEO managing staff and clients in 54 cities across 40 markets, Kaminkow is looking across the business to ensure her DEI efforts aren’t insular; she’s focused on creating work that helps people, businesses and society thrive and prosper, not just working with large clients but supporting emerging small businesses in need of services in order to survive. In June, amidst protests across the U.S., we saw many companies writing checks and announcing big diversity efforts; however, we must put our money where our mouth is and hold companies accountable. In addition to their own internal efforts around DEI, Kaminkow added, “for us, it is also about applying our business super-power to clients and prospects that are most in need. We are targeting Black and Brown owned small businesses and entrepreneurs that can benefit most from our services.”
Kaminkow isn’t alone in her thinking. Katie Klumper, founder and CEO of Black Glass Consulting, a marketing consultancy that is part of IPG and leads their first and only consulting business, agrees that this is no longer just about employees, but it’s a start.
“Where I see a lot of companies shifting is making DEI an entire organizational change movement. Not an employee resource group, not one C-suite leader, but a new level of accountability and action that is embodied at all levels,” mentioned Klumper. What this means for leaders is to now create ways in which they can help implement and support the change that their employees have long been trying to drive from the bottom. Creating space for employees and clients is critical to build solutions together versus the traditional top down approach. In addition to establishing fundamental change within an organization’s culture, and its ability to attract and retain talent, it also drives the business forward.
“For us, it has literally proven to impact the top and bottom line of the business. We will quickly become irrelevant if we don’t make our DEI strategy core to our transformation agenda internally and core to our external offer. We also run the risk of perpetuating biases in our work without diverse views, data and talent at the table,” said Kaminkow.
But not everyone is comfortable with the uncomfortable conversations that go along with creating substantial change. And while companies may struggle outwardly to make DEI an everyday strategy, it’s not always easy internally either.
According to Klumper, “A lot of my team members are struggling to digest and need space to be able to process. In addition to the pandemic, there is confusion [about] what to do and how to help; especially those on the opposite of the minority. But we have to talk about it. Continue to make it and the quest for equality an active part of company.”
Stephanie Hull, CEO of Girls Inc., a national non-profit inspiring all girls to be strong, smart and bold through direct service and advocacy, added: “What’s new for us, on the employee side, is the concerted effort to strengthen our internal culture of DEI, making it not just one of our values but our underlying truth. We are looking at creating accountability measures and finding ways to make professional development on DEI part of our everyday strategy.” Girls Inc.’s outward facing, girl-oriented culture has, for many decades, been at the forefront of DEI work—serving a diverse population and addressing not just DEI, but also intersectionality. Hull sees this moment as an opportunity to internally reflect the communities her organization serves. “National leadership, particularly during this movement, in the youth services area has inspired us to take a hard look at our staff culture and strive for the same level of expertise and accountability,” she said.
Much has changed for leaders during this time. Learning to manage remote work and the blurred lines between professional and personal lives of their staff, mental health of their teams, higher levels of stress, exhaustion and anxiety, as well as an economic downturn top the list of issues that many CEOs find themselves addressing on a daily basis. However, Hull, Klumper and Kaminkow all agree now is not the time to shy away from their critical focus on DEI.
“In my recent two roles, the big focus for our DEI efforts was that of gender. Both companies publicly stated that to move the needle on gender, they would make it the sole DEI priority. The events of the past several months sent a strong message across our industry that we must address a broader set of issues and work with a greater sense of urgency, fully committing to fast tracking permanent change,” mentioned Kaminkow. While Kaminkow is leading a more established organization and adapting from within, Klumper is building an organization—and a culture—from the beginning, having launched Black Glass just a few months ago.
“I have the benefit and curse of building this company from the ground up. What that means is I have an opportunity to build an organization that is equal and inclusive as a purpose and tenant of this company. It is also a huge responsibility as every hire changes the makeup of our team. I must continue to look for new networks and groups to recruit from, and not always lean on my “go-to” people,” Klumper explained. While easier said than done, having a leader that lives by her values and holds herself and her team accountable is a big step forward for any size or stage company.
Hull, who leads an organization founded in 1864, recommends taking a breath. “We need to step back and understand where others are coming from and be bold in taking an authentic stance and making an authentic commitment,” she said. “This is an instance where social media and the speed with which people have been asked to make a statement or write a check doesn’t always support accountability or depth; many organizations were immediate in their issuing of statements about the pandemic, about racism, about their DEI efforts, but not much has really changed beyond the flood of rhetoric. While it isn’t easy to pause and reflect, we must. When you say something substantive, you must intend to back it up with action.”
While we have a long way to go, these leaders are demonstrating that getting comfortable with the uncomfortable is a must. In order to embrace sustainable change, lead from the front and truly change the lens in which we view success around our DEI efforts, all voices must be heard and not only heard, seen, with follow up and accountability.