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Diversity and Inclusion: Past, Present, and Future

By Laura Wise

As social movements across the country continue to shape global conversations around equity, the spotlight and opportunity have been thrust onto the business sector to reflect the values society cares about most. For the first time ever, this generation of the U.S. workforce is demanding a more genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion, one that represents the spectrum of our population and the various social movements happening in and across the communities they serve

The Civil Rights era, the fight for Women’s Rights, and countless other movements have laid the groundwork for how the business community engages in D&I today. In 1948, President Truman desegregated the armed forces with EO 9981, making discrimination based on race, color, religion or natural origin illegal for all members of the armed services. Nearly two decades later, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for any business to practice discriminatory hiring, or firing, practices. Fast forward some 48 years to Pao v. Kleiner Perkins: Even though Ellen Pao lost this landmark case, she succeeded in bringing gender discrimination in the workplace to the forefront of public conversation.

Since the advent of the dot.com era, technology, and tech companies as we know it, D&I has experienced a resurgence. The concept of the “whistle blower” was once reserved for issues of national security, ie: Watergate, WikiLeaks, and the Chelsea Manning case. However, in recent years the concept has been used to expose inequality in the workplace. In February 2017, Susan Fowler published the now viral essay, “Reflecting on one very, very strange year at Uber,” calling the company out for their sexist work environment. Google has come under fire in recent years as well when then Google employee James Damore’s erratic manifesto on ‘women’s neuroticism’ also went viral.

D&I is no longer black and white, it is now a part of a larger dialogue about equity for all who come to the table with diverse perspectives.

D&I is no longer black and white, it is now a part of a larger dialogue about equity for all who come to the table with diverse perspectives. While D&I was once conveniently buried deep within the pages of the annual reports of our top organizations, the public conversation has changed the way that companies across industries engage with the issue.

Earlier this year, Pew Research Center published a report on equity and diversity in the STEM workplace. They found that African Americans who work in science, technology, engineering and math fields are more likely than other STEM workers from other racial or ethnic backgrounds to say they have faced discrimination on the job. The experiences of women also highlight the glaring inequalities in male-dominated STEM workplaces. Not to mention that women - women of color in particular - have been well documented for shedding light on the reality that there is a glaring lack of funding for founders of color.

CEO of Marca Studio and Clinical Professor of Marketing for the Bard MBA in Sustainability program, Jorge Fontanez, shared three critical insights on the trends that we’re seeing in the D&I space today:

1. CEO leadership is an opportunity Fontanez points out that trust in organizations is at an all time low, but trust in CEOs, however, is up. This trust provides an opportunity for leaders to speak up and out about equity in the workplace. Fontanez shares a recent example, “CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff, was recently in a 60 minutes interview speaking to how Salesforce is attempting to create equity in respect to pay. They have invested something like six million dollars or more to make sure that women and men are paid equally in the post that they are in.”

2. Retention Representation is no longer enough. Success in D&I in the future will be centered around retention. Fontanez explains, “D&I in its name focuses on inclusion. It’s important to recognize that the focus on inclusion is as much about who’s at the table as it is to create organizations where employees wanting to stay.”

3. Culture It will be the role of companies now and in the future to create more welcoming workplaces. Often times companies recruit diverse talent, but don’t think to re-create a culture where diverse talent can thrive. Fontanez explains how retention and culture overlap, “This is a different dynamic, particularly for a generation who has in some ways navigated their careers going from one company to another and gaining experience in a very different way than the baby boomer generation who stuck around for 25 years until retirement; it’s leads to a lot of institutional knowledge being lost. Culture is what should be addressed as a result and more so over the next 20 years.”

More often than not, leaders within the D&I movement say issues of retention are about more than just cultivating a strong pipeline of diverse candidates. D&I should be about creating a company culture that not only brings in young, diverse, talent but also knows how to create avenues for success. Fontanez makes it a point to regularly ask his MBA students the critical question that many in the CR space often wrestle with, “are corporations responsible for advancing social progress?” Although there’s no one size fits all solution, it has been said that social progress is a topic this generation of the American workforce cares about, and wants to see reflected in their everyday work environment.

As millennials rise in the ranks of corporate leadership, office cultures will change. Looking ahead, the key to a thriving organization will be one that makes room for diverse ideas, backgrounds and experiences, and re-creates a model of success that redefines and strengthens opportunity for all.

Originally published in CR Magazine - Summer 2018
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Laura Wise writes and speaks about business, philanthropy, corporate social responsibility (CSR), technology, and entrepreneurship. You can check out her portfolio here

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