Diversity in the workplace has come a long way. Carolynn Johnson explains why there’s still further to go.

Workforces are changing. Diversity initiatives and the empirical data behind them have helped companies better understand and pursue a more inclusive work environment. One organization spearheading this effort is DiversityInc. Since 2001, DiversityInc has hosted its annual Top 50 Competition, which recognizes companies for making strides on their inclusivity and leadership accountability.

DiversityInc CEO Carolynn Johnson was on the Wharton campus to give a talk to students as part of Assist. Prof. Stephanie Creary‘s “Leading Diversity@Wharton” lecture series. Carolynn stopped into the Wharton Business Daily studio before her talk to discuss the future of diversity in the workplace with Al Gardner, who was filling as host. 

Interview Highlights

1. Diversity is not just about morals — it’s also about profitability.

“(Working to make your workforce more diverse) is the profitable thing to do. It’s the competitive thing to do. We don’t have CEOs talking about this. We don’t have companies giving us their data because it’s warm and fuzzy. There are a lot of organizations that have connected better business return-on-investment to proper diversity and inclusion strategy. So, this is about profitability. This is not about the happy, nice, warm and fuzzy thing to do.”

 2. More people are using diversity measures to aid their job search.

“It is not just about people in the workforce now. It’s about people who are paying for college, taking out those loans, and working on going on to the next stage of their life. I want them to (think about the best place to work) for them – not because a company is recruiting them heavily and has people on campus all the time. But (instead ask) ‘Is this best for you? Will you get the opportunity to compete fairly by going to work at these companies?’ That’s what the other side of this is.”

3. Representation should exist at all levels of management.

“We are actually for the first time, in 2020, looking at the makeup of the board of directors. There was a time when people would say, ‘We have women’ or ‘We have different races.’ Okay, but now we’re taking it a step further. What committees are those board members on? Are they on compensation or audit committees? What power on that board do they actually have, or are they simply there to be the gender or ethnic diversity on your board?”

“You’ll make sure that your board has proper representation of what you want your company to look like – which is really what the United States right now looks like – if you’re managing this appropriately.”

Eight women pose in front of a banner with the Wharton logo.
Carolynn Johnson (center) takes a photo with students and Wharton Prof. Stephanie Creary (far right) during a “Leading Diversity@Wharton” lecture on February 24, 2020.

4. The most effective diversity initiatives focus on the long game.

“That’s why competing (in the DiversityInc Top 50 competition) year over year is important. Because you can separate the organizations that look at this purely as a PR effort versus a true business imperative. That’s why I believe when you talk about the impact that DiversityInc’s had on this space over the past 20 years. We’ve gotten people a lot more comfortable and used to being measured.”

5. Always be willing to learn.

“You have to have an appetite to understand. (You have to be) willing to hear it and not be offended by it. I think that’s the start of it. It all begins with who you have around you.”

“You’ll make sure that your executive leadership team are people who will come to you and share perspectives that you might not have or perspectives that you never even thought about. But you also have to make sure that you are honest enough with yourself to say ‘I don’t know’ and you have to be well-read. There’s more than enough research out there, so that the answer of ‘I don’t know,’ is not acceptable.”

— Angela Lin

Posted: February 28, 2020

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