Diversity experts from Deloitte, the NBA, and Jones Day joined Prof. Stephanie Creary to discuss how innovative organizations are evolving in response to movements like #MeToo and #TakeAKnee.

Prof. Stephanie Creary’s latest panel on December 3, “Building Inclusive Workplaces in an Era of Discord: Insights from Diversity Experts,” drew a packed room at Steinberg-Dietrich Hall, where her three guests spent the hour fielding hard-hitting questions.

The panelists — Wendy Freeman Carr, W’92, managing director at Deloitte Consulting; Oris Stuart, National Basketball Association’s (NBA) chief diversity and inclusion officer; and Martin L. Schmelkin, JD, labor and employment partner at Jones Day — surveyed some of today’s most pressing social issues and their far-reaching effects, as well as strategies to help companies and employees navigate an increasingly sensitive workplace. Rather than be-all end-all solutions, their discussion highlighted the importance of being open to growth in an ever-changing climate.

Prof. Creary and three panelists sitting in front of a presentation screen in discussion

Invest in inclusive practices.

More than ever, organizations need to consider how diversity and inclusion can impact their success and long-term sustainability. Updating existing or outdated policies is just the beginning.

“A variety of new state and local laws now require employers to have certain criteria and language within their EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) and anti-harassment policies,” said Schmelkin, who works closely with a broad array of clients, many in financial services. He’s seen an increased focus by investors in the EEO policies and practices of the funds in which they invest. “They want to know, ‘What kind of organization are we about to commit capital to? What are you doing on training? What are your communication channels?’”

The current generation of recruits is also paying more attention to the track records of organizations concerning harassment, discrimination, and EEO. To the undergrads and MBAs in the room, Schmelkin advised: “If you hold the organizations that you’re considering accountable based on their commitment to diversity and their EEO policies, that will raise the bar for those organizations and lead to increased focus by them on this important issue.”

Dare to reframe your perspective.

Some innovative organizations, like Deloitte, have continued to evolve their approaches to fostering an inclusive culture. Last year, the firm launched Inclusion Councils in addition to their existing ‘affinity groups,’ providing opportunities for people of different backgrounds and perspectives to learn from each other and share common passions and interests.

Carr, a managing director at the firm, said affinity groups already offer valuable connections for individuals based on demographics or background, as well as opportunities for courageous conversations in the workplace. The new Inclusion Councils, which have been successful in Deloitte offices across the country, encourage employees to diversify their connections even further.

Back view of a room of students watching Prof. Creary and three panelists at the front of the room

Help each other be the best you can be.

The NBA has dealt with protests a bit differently than the NFL, partly due to the existing framework of their Collective Bargaining Agreement with athletes, which codifies appropriate behavior during the National Anthem. Stuart believes the practice of encouraging individual expression has also set the NBA apart.

“Before Colin Kaepernick, we had four players on the ESPYs stand up and make a statement akin to Colin’s about what was happening in the summer of 2016. Before that, there were women in the WNBA that made similar statements,” Stuart said. “I think they have the platform, and we support and celebrate their ability to use that platform.”

Off the court, the NBA has also developed their own custom learning experience. ‘Everyday Inclusion’ lays out skills and behaviors in the workplace to interrupt both conscious and unconscious bias and how to act inclusively. In meetings, for example, employees are advised to give credit where credit is due for a good idea, or to publish agendas in advance to give introverted employees a chance to prepare.

Meanwhile, leaders at Deloitte have been “setting the tone” for more authentic conversations by sharing their own vulnerabilities and personal experiences.

Carr emphasized the importance of leaders modelling inclusive behaviors. The key, she said, is creating ways for people to connect and relate. “When leaders can be authentic, then practitioners feel like there’s a place where they can be authentic as well.”

Deloitte has also emphasized the importance of leaders mentoring and sponsoring individuals from a wide range of backgrounds and giving everyone an opportunity to have visibility to leadership.

Break through your boundaries.

Despite recent inclusion efforts, there’s currently no federal employment law protection for LGBTQ+ employees, many who may fear retaliation for identifying themselves at work. In Schmelkin’s opinion, that’s a legislative void that companies can fill through policy.

“More and more organizations have EEO policies in their employee handbooks which often go beyond strict legal requirements,” he said. “It goes back to making sure that your employees can bring their full selves to work, that they feel safe, and that there’s an inclusive ethos about the organization.”

And that ethos should extend to day-to-day behavior. Stuart suggested that if male employees are worried about approaching workplace interactions because of the #MeToo movement, they shouldn’t be. “If you feel like you’re going too far, or if a comment might be out of bounds — don’t make it. Build relationships, build kinship, and that’ll guide you to where the boundaries are.”

Carr warned students against creating obstacles to their own development.

“In my own experience, I’ve tried never to let that I’m an African-American female dictate what opportunities I should pursue,” she said. “These conversations around inclusion are new to a lot of people. While I think it’s important to strike the right balance between holding ourselves and other people accountable for what they say and do in the workplace, also have some forgiveness and empathy because we’re all learning. Hopefully, we’ll evolve together.”

— Gloria Yuen

Posted: December 17, 2018

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