The Bottom Line: Inclusion Matters in the Workplace and the Marketplace

Michelle Lu Yin, PhD,
American Institute for Research

For working-age people with disabilities, employment and earnings challenges are a fact of life. People with disabilities are less likely to participate in the labor market and less likely to hold a job than their peers without disabilities. Even when they are employed, people with disabilities at every level of educational attainment are paid less. In the marketplace, however, the story is different. People with disabilities—and their families, friends, and advocates—wield considerable spending power for high-quality products and services. This underrecognized market sector offers tremendous potential.

These challenges and opportunities are interrelated, with consistent, mutually reinforcing implications for employers, policymakers, and researchers. For employers, there is a strong business case to make for strategically targeting this market sector. To serve this market well, employers need to hire more people with disabilities to better understand and innovate for the market. Not only can people with disabilities offer employers valuable insights on products and services, they also can help employers foster more diverse and inclusive workplace environments.

There has never been a better time for employers to move in this direction. Low-cost accommodations and advanced technologies ease the barriers to employment that people with disabilities historically have faced, from getting to work to navigating the workplace to making meaningful contributions.

About Our Research

Our work at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) provides new evidence on how adults with disabilities fare in the workplace. Specifically, we have analyzed the labor force participation and earnings of adults with disabilities compared to their non-disabled peers with similar educational attainment. We also have analyzed gaps in access to employment through the lens of different types of disability, and in different regions of the country. Most recently, we have measured the purchasing power of adults with disabilities. Each of these studies explored uncharted territory, giving us a more coherent and comprehensive view of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Our research addresses both the challenges and opportunities for working-age adults with disabilities and for employers who care about diversity in the workplace. It also points the way to evidence-based solutions that would improve people’s lives and benefit employers. This is a win–win proposition. On the labor side of the equation, employers can use research findings to improve their recruiting, hiring, retention, promotion, and compensation practices, as well as their support for employees with disabilities—and unique abilities. For employers, more inclusive practices—from diversifying the talent pool to developing new products and services for people with disabilities to enhancing brand image—can yield bottom-line benefits.

Income Disparities—and the Fallout Effects

Most of us take it as a given that education is the ticket to success. In general, this is true: According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “More education leads to better prospects for earnings and employment.”

However, data about the general population mask the reality for the nearly 10% of working-age adults who have disabilities. Despite increasing national interest, policies, programs, and incentives to move people with disabilities into postsecondary education, training, and work, people with disabilities often come up short on payday.

Our report, An Uneven Playing Field: The Lack of Equal Pay for People with Disabilities (Yin, Shaewitz, & Megra, 2014), presents the findings from our comparative analysis of the incomes of full-time, working-age adults (ages 16–64) with and without disabilities. What we found is alarming: Despite equivalent educational attainment, earnings inequalities exist between the two groups—and, surprisingly, the gap actually widens as educational attainment increases. The greatest earnings inequalities occur among those with a master’s degrees or higher.

The number of individuals and families affected by these earnings disparities is not insignificant. By our conservative calculations, more than 4.8 million adults with disabilities who have high-school or equivalent degrees, more than 1 million with bachelor’s degrees, and more than 450,000 with master’s degrees or higher were employed full-time in 2011. Millions more with less than a high school credential were working as well. These estimates likely are higher today, because the U.S. population has increased and employment has rebounded in the recovering economy.

For context, adults with disabilities are less likely to be employed than their non-disabled peers. In 2017, about 37% of working-age adults with disabilities were employed, compared to about 79% of those without disabilities (Erickson, Lee, & von Schrader, 2019). People with disabilities tend to earn less because of work limitations. This population as a whole tends to be older, and to have higher numbers of minorities, and have lower levels of educational attainment. In 2017, about 34% of working-age adults with disabilities had only a high school or equivalent degree, compared to 25% of those without a disability. About 15% of working-age adults with disabilities had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to about 35% for those without disabilities (Erickson, Lee, & von Schrader, 2019).

Even so, we would expect greater parity in earnings between workers with similar educational attainment, with or without disabilities. We tested whether workers with disabilities face greater economic discrimination than those without disabilities. Results of this analysis showed that people with disabilities do, indeed, face a level of economic discrimination similar to that of female employees—that is, 37% lower pay for people with disabilities compared to 35% lower pay for women.

These findings should concern us all. Earnings inequalities for people with disabilities translate into lower pay—and the pay deficits accrue over a career. In 2017, the median household income for households that include any working-age people with disabilities was $45,500, compared to $71,000 for households that do not (Erickson, Lee, & von Schrader, 2019).

Lower rates of employment and educational attainment directly influence earnings for all workers, but poverty looms more heavily over the disabled population. In 2017, the poverty rate for non-institutionalized working-age people with disabilities was 26%, compared to 10% for the those without disabilities (Erickson, Lee, & von Schrader, 2019).

Education and employment are not enough. Equal pay for equal educational attainment is key for economic independence and security. Moreover, it’s not just people with disabilities who are losing out. Employers are missing a great opportunity to leverage their talent, as the next set of findings on the market sector demonstrate.

The Power of the Purse

Any employer committed to hiring people with disabilities is likely familiar with some of the business benefits—a more diverse workforce, with employees who bring unique insights and diverse skills sets. Employing people with disabilities also enhances public image. The vast majority of consumers have a more favorable perception of companies that hire people with disabilities, and about a third of consumers prefer to give their business to such companies (Siperstein, Romano, Mohler, & Parker, 2006). Societal acceptance of people with disabilities continues to increase.

What you might not know is that the economic clout of the 22 million working-age adults with disabilities is substantial—and most employers are not taking advantage of this market. In The Hidden Market: The Purchasing Power of Working-Age Adults With Disabilities (Yin, Shaewitz, Overton, & Smith, 2018), we calculated the purchasing power of this market segment:

  • The total after-tax disposable income for working-age people with disabilities is about $490 billion, which is similar to that of other significant market segments, such as African Americans ($501 billion) and Hispanics ($582 billion). (Disposable income is the amount of money available to a household for both saving and spending, after taxes.)
  • Discretionary income for working-age people with disabilities is about $21 billion, which is greater than that of the African-American and Hispanic market segments combined. (Discretionary income is the money remaining after deducting taxes, other mandatory charges, and spending on necessities, such as food and housing.)

Let’s put this half-a-trillion-dollar market in context. The U.S. Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) notes that people with disabilities are “the third largest market segment in the United States” (ODEP, 2012). Moreover, this market size more than doubles if we consider that family members, caregivers, friends, colleagues, and others who are connected to consumers with disabilities prioritize goods and services that are inclusive of them.

Even though people with disabilities generally have less disposable and discretionary income than people without disabilities, they still have sizeable resources. They buy high-quality services and products, ranging from financial products to homes, cars, and furniture to accessible technology, long-term care services, and other disabilityrelated products and services.

There’s also significant variation in the market size in the states, as measured by disposable and discretionary incomes. Population size factors into this variation. California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania have the largest number of citizens with disabilities, as well as higher total amounts of disposable and discretionary incomes.

Our research confirms that this is a large, underrecognized market ready to be tapped. The time is right for employers to strengthen inclusiveness as a smart business strategy in hiring and in the marketplace. Low-cost accommodations and advanced technologies can reduce the barriers to employment. Our third study examined these barriers.

Diversity of Disabilities, Diversity of Access

Since at least the mid-1970s, policymakers and forwardthinking employers have promoted workforce training, accessibility, and employment for people with disabilities. Today, the economy is doing well. Unemployment is low. Labor markets are tight. So why do millions of workingage adults with disabilities who are willing to work remain on the sidelines?

The answer is, it’s complicated. Overall, the labor force participation rate of people with disabilities is substantially lower than for nondisabled people. About a third of people who aren’t looking for a job are disabled—and this figure continues to rise, despite the economic recovery. But people with disabilities are not a homogeneous group, as we report in One Size Does Not Fit All: A New Look at the Labor Force Participation of People with Disabilities (Yin & Shaewitz, 2015). Our data analysis revealed a more nuanced story behind the overall labor force participation rate. Among the key findings:

  • The employment rate for all working-age people in 2013, in the midst of the Great Recession, was 70%. The employment rate for working-age people with disabilities as a whole that year was 25%.
  • For people with disabilities, the employment rate varies considerably depending on the type of disability, from 45% for people with vision or hearing difficulties, to 22% for people with ambulatory difficulties and 21% for people with cognitive disabilities, to 14% for people with self-care difficulties.
  • For people with disabilities who remained employed during this period, the type of employment they were likely to find tended to be low-income jobs with poor or low benefits and few opportunities for career progression. This suggests that people with disabilities face long-term reverberations for career advancement, benefits, and living wages, which may explain why many are discouraged from seeking employment.
  • Labor force participation for people with disabilities also varies widely in the states. Midwestern states tend to have higher participation rates; Southeastern states tend to have lower rates. There are many variables at play here—the size and concentration of this population, state economic health, and state provisions for empowering people with disabilities to join the workforce.

Waves of retirement among older workers are expected to open up tens of millions of jobs in coming years. There’s growing employer interest in expanding the talent pool to people with disabilities to fill these jobs. Scaling opportunities for people with disabilities to join the workforce, and stay in it for the long term, will take targeted, multipronged strategies.

Implications for Employers, Researchers, and Policymakers

Research is more than an academic exercise. We want to help employers, policymakers, and community leaders understand the challenges and opportunities of engaging adults with disabilities in the workplace and in the marketplace. Evidence can inform policies and practices designed to improve people’s lives. To that end, we strongly encourage employers to participate in data collection and research. More research would benefit employers and help all of us better understand this complex labor and consumer market, which is both significant and diverse.

Already, though, our research suggests that there are many ways for employers to better serve people with disabilities in the workplace and the marketplace.

Implications for employers Increase job opportunities for people with disabilities.

In an increasingly tight labor market, employers are finding that with inclusive practices and low-cost accommodations, they can increase their supply of highquality workers with disabilities. Hiring people with disabilities opens up a great source of talents to meet market demand and provide creative thinking and design ideas that will propel innovation forward.

Close earnings gaps.

Employees with disabilities who have the same education or training as those without disabilities should be compensated fairly. Lower earnings compromise their quality of life—and may make them feel undervalued.

Differentiate opportunities and supports.

People with disabilities have different needs, depending on their disability. Employers should take the time to understand their workers’ disabilities—and encourage them to ask for the support they need. Disability resources and awareness training for all staff can help employers better serve and work with people with disabilities.

Reassess your business strategy for inclusiveness.

Employers on the vanguard of inclusiveness do more than hire workers with disabilities. They target the geographic regions where people with disabilities are concentrated, for both hiring and marketing of their products and services. They design and develop their products and services in collaboration with people who have disabilities, thus broadening their reach. And they build their brand image and loyalty by featuring people with disabilities in their marketing and advertising.

For example, assistive technologies such as voice recognition devices and software were once targeted for people with disabilities. Today, Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google’s Assist are mainstream products. Applying universal design principles to any product or service development is a smart strategy, saving the cost of retrofitting down the line and expanding the market to people with and without disabilities as customers. Some people with disabilities are considered extreme users—first adopters who discover new ways of using advanced technologies and spark innovation for all consumers.

People with disabilities also can bring unique insights into the challenges of everyday products and services. The fashion industry is out front in this regard. Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, and Zappos offer accessible, fashionable attire for a broad range of physical and mental disabilities, such as wheelchair-friendly adaptive clothing, shoes, and sensoryfriendly clothing for people on the autism spectrum and those who live with nerve pain and tenderness. More companies are making the hidden market of people with disabilities more visible in their advertising as well. Microsoft, Nordstrom, Procter & Gamble, T. J. Maxx, Target, and Walgreens are among the companies that feature people with observable disabilities in their ads.

Implications for researchers

Our research provides new evidence of how people with disabilities fare in the workplace and the marketplace. But we need to know more. For instance, future studies could explore more deeply how pay gaps vary by disability type; by educational attainment and expertise; by industry; and by geographic region. Future studies also could analyze why these pay gaps exist.

Implications for policymakers

Despite an array of policy measures since at least the mid-1970s, such as explicit work incentives, vocational rehabilitation services, and more accessible workplaces, labor market outcomes for people with disabilities have not improved in more than 40 years. The evidence suggests it’s time to move in new directions:

  • Reconsider one-size-fits-all policies. The needs of people with disabilities are different, depending on the type of disabilities. Targeted approaches—for people with different cognitive, ambulatory, vision or hearing, and self-care difficulties, with different levels of educational attainment and skills, and at different ages—could yield better outcomes.
  • Look to the future and leverage technology. The fourth industrial revolution is transforming the disability market. Automation, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things can provide people with disabilities with greater access to the labor market. For instance, transportation is the number-one barrier that people with disabilities face. Today’s technologies allow many workers, including those with disabilities, to work from home. Autonomous vehicles will soon be another common alternative.

About the American Institutes for Research

The mission of the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is to conduct and apply the best behavioral and social science research and evaluation towards improving people’s lives, with a special emphasis on the disadvantaged. Our recent research on improving the lives of adults with disabilities, especially in the workplace and the marketplace, is in keeping with this mission.

At AIR, diversity and inclusion are missioncritical. Several years ago, AIR leaders made an organizational commitment to live this value much more deliberately. AIR made a long-term, systemic, and comprehensive investment in diversity and inclusion. Diversifying our workforce is not enough: Equally important is creating an environment where people can bring their full selves to work every day, so we can fully leverage every employee’s talent and skills.

AIR now has a full-time chief diversity officer, a Diversity and Inclusion Department, and a Diversity and Inclusion Council. We conducted organizational, national, and international benchmarking of best practices. We developed a strategic plan, modified polices, and developed change management and communications strategies to promote diversity and inclusion. We support vibrant, popular employee resource groups, including Access AIR for employees with disabilities, to promote cultural awareness, professional development, collegial support, and greater visibility for diversity at AIR. And we launched a multiyear professional development program on diversity and inclusion that is required for every employee. For these efforts, Diversity MBA magazine selected AIR for the first time as a “best in class” organization on its 2018 50 Out Front list.


Dr. Michelle Lu Yin is a principal economist at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), where she focuses on labor economics. She has led a range of research studies using quasiexperimental designs in the areas of disability, secondary and postsecondary education, and science policy. She has a strong background in policy evaluation design, survey design, and statistical analysis.

Dr. Yin’s research with her AIR colleagues has deepened our knowledge about people with disabilities as workers and consumers. She has explored gaps in the research on labor force participation, finding alarming earnings disparities between disabled and nondisabled workers that have significant economic impact. Her analyses of labor market data challenge assumptions that people with disabilities are one homogeneous group, suggesting a need to account for diversity in policies and programs to improve labor market outcomes. Most recently, her research on the purchasing power of 20 million workingage adults with disabilities revealed two opportunities for business: a significant and underrecognized market segment, and a largely untapped sector of the workforce whose diverse skills sets and unique insights could contribute to the design and development of new products and services.

Dr. Yin is currently the principal investigator of two evaluation projects for Special Olympics Unified Champion School programs with a focus on high school students with and without intellectual disabilities. She also is the principal investigator of an evaluation study of a Transition Work-Based Learning Model for youth with disabilities in the state of Maine.

Dr. Yin’s professional experiences also include leading projects on teacher effectiveness and student labor market outcomes in adult education, design and labor market consequences of accountability in adult education, and higher education finance and accountability. She has served as lead methodologist on impact evaluation projects at both state and national levels. In these projects, she designs and conducts impact analyses of program interventions and randomized control trials.

Dr. Yin received her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Florida. She was a visiting scholar at Northwestern University prior to joining AIR. She is a U.S. Department of Education What Works Clearinghouse certified reviewer.

Inclusion and the Brain: Building Trust Across Differences

Mary E. Casey, 
Principal & Co-Founder,
BrainSkills@Work, LLC

Shannon Murphy Robinson, 
Principal & Co-Founder,
BrainSkills@Works, LLC

It is now an undeniable fact that the diversity within organizations will increase significantly over the next 10 years1 . Whether these differences are related to multiethnic, multi-generational, cross-cultural, gender identity, religion, race, or other identity factors, organizations are now faced with building a workforce that is able to listen and communicate effectively with others who are very different from themselves – and who are often outside of their comfort zones. In a recent report on global workforce trends, the authors stress that for organizations to benefit from this growing diversity, they need a workforce that is highly skilled in “building relationships and working effectively across differences.” Interestingly, towards the end of the report, one of the authors laments that, “We certainly all have the mental capacities to envision this possibility, but do we have the brains that can actually carry it out?”2 Indeed.

Dr. Srini Pillay, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Business School Professor, in his book, The Brain and Business, presents hundreds of neuroscience-based studies validating the effectiveness of a neurosciencebased approach to leadership effectiveness.3 Interestingly, many of these studies also provide key links between neuroscience and how to develop inclusion skills and abilities. For example, we now know that the brain either helps us engage in inclusive perspectives and behaviors, or it directly interferes with our ability to do so. One main way this happens is through the brain’s built-in threat response. According to Dr. Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist and founder of the Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health, within each of our brains is a deeply embedded survival-based threat response that impacts our behavior on a daily basis, yet operates mostly outside the radar of our conscious awareness. Dr. Hallowell states: “There may not be lions or bears roaming the halls of your organization, but people’s brains are oriented to perceive threats.”

Moreover, the brain does not differentiate between threats to our physical safety and threats to our social need for inclusion, belonging and social connection. In fact, some neuroscientists now question the validity of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, explaining that in order to survive and develop properly, the brain must first experience belonging and the safety that comes from being accepted into a social group.5 From a neuroscience perspective, inclusion is a primary need that must be met for the brain to develop properly, and is not considered a third level need as in Maslow’s Hierarchy.

By understanding a few of the underlying brain dynamics that govern our human need for inclusion and social belonging, we gain new appreciation for the very personal and negative impact of microinequities and other messages of exclusion and marginalization in the workplace. This also helps us understand that no matter how strong, professional or mature someone appears, when they experience comments and behaviors that question their value and importance to the team, it can trigger a deeply embedded threat response, thus upending their ability to be positive, focused and performing to their highest level.

Dr. Matthew Lieberman, Director of the UCLA Social Cognitive Neuroscience lab, makes clear in his book, The Social Brain, that in order to effectively build a sense of belonging and trust with others, we need to understand the role of oxytocin in the brain.6 Often referred to as the “love hormone” or the “moral molecule,” oxytocin in the brain determines whether we will feel motivated, willing, and able to actively engage in building trust with others.7 The ability to develop trusting relationships with others is crucial to create psychological safety within organizations and leverage the strengths diversity brings to drive performance, innovation and creativity. A number of interesting studies demonstrate this fact with astonishing clarity.

In one study establishing trust with others,8 the levels of oxytocin in the participants’ blood was measured directly before and after they made the decision to send or to receive money from someone else. To ensure the participants would not consciously try to influence their own levels of oxytocin, they were not told that their oxytocin levels were being measured when their blood was being drawn. At the end of the study, researchers found that the amount of oxytocin recipients produced when they decided to receive money completely predicted how likely they were to demonstrate trustworthiness toward someone else and send the money going forward.Concerned that this might be more of a correlation than a “cause” of trustworthiness, the researchers then decided to test their findings using a more direct and irrefutable means – that is, by providing small doses of synthetic oxytocin to participants’ via a nasal spray. Comparing participants who received a real dose of oxytocin with those who received a placebo, the researchers found that giving people 24 IU of synthetic oxytocin more than doubled the amount of money they sent to a stranger. According to the researchers, “oxytocin appeared to do one thing—reduce the fear of trusting a stranger.”

In working effectively across differences, it is vitally important to keep oxytocin available in the brain, and yet this is easier said than done. When the brain perceives a threat in the environment, (real or perceived) this activates the fear / threat circuitry in the brain. When this happens, it creates a compounding problem. Once the fear circuitry is activated, the brain can no longer produce oxytocin, and our ability to create trusting relationships is significantly impaired – and if it is a very strong threat response – may even be impossible. Adding to this challenge is that our workplaces can also contribute to the threat response being activated. Unmanaged stress, pressure, urgency, uncertainty, being on the receiving end of microinequities, or feeling excluded, can all activate the threat response in the brain and take oxytocin offline, which negatively impacts levels of trust within organizations. As we can see, these brain dynamics happen mostly outside of our conscious awareness, and directly impact our ability to build trusting relationships across differences.

Another underlying brain dynamic interfering with our natural ability to be inclusive is the brain’s unconscious preference for similarities – and the speed with which it happens in the brain. Studies show, for example, that young children, even infants, recognize faces of their own race more quickly than those of different races.9 Significantly, this built-in bias of the brain towards familiar faces also extends into adulthood. For adults, it takes only 200 milliseconds to unconsciously register whether a face is familiar or not, and this means we process familiar faces with almost double the efficiency than unfamiliar faces.10 The brain clearly responds more quickly to those faces it recognizes as more familiar, and it this determination entirely on its own, with no conscious participation on our part. If we don’t learn how to override these tendencies, we will continue to be unconsciously drawn to those who are most similar to ourselves, and not even see opportunities to intentionally move toward someone who is different from ourselves, let alone build trust with them.

From these brain dynamics we can see how conflicts, misunderstandings and exclusionary behaviors easily occur and create distrust across differences. These dynamics also help us understand why conversations to resolve them are often difficult and even at times unhelpful. These brain dynamics are no small event, as they make building trust virtually impossible for the brain, and quickly erode any pre-existing trust within a relationship.

The Good News

The good news is, however, that there are other brain dynamics and mechanisms that work for us in building inclusion skills. We can learn brain-based strategies and tools to consciously and intentionally work with the brain to increase inclusion skills and build more inclusive work environments.

One important area of the brain that supports our ability to be inclusive is the prefrontal cortex (also called the higher brain). It is considered the seat of our executive functioning in the brain,11 and it is what gives us the ability to access higher levels of thinking, see new possibilities, make conscious choices, and successfully integrate longterm behaviors changes. From the prefrontal cortex, we have access to the highest levels of self-awareness, the greatest ability to consciously manage discomfort with differences, as well as the ability to engage empathy, and consciously show appreciation towards others’ needs, beliefs and perspectives. (Note: It is also true that the prefrontal cortex is easily destabilized by the brain’s threat response, requiring other brain-based skills not addressed in this article.) Overall, it is from the prefrontal cortex overall that we have the capacity to effectively and more consistently override unconscious biases, choose behaviors of respect and inclusion, and build trust with others.

Dr. David Amodio, Associate Professor of Psychology & Neural Science at NYU, studies the neural and psychological mechanisms underlying our social behavior, particularly in the context of intergroup relations, prejudice and stereotyping. His research shows that while it may be impossible to eradicate our biases, the brain is thoroughly equipped and capable of overriding them.12 He explains that we can learn to work with the brain to build and strengthen our capacity for connecting, collaborating and building trust across differences. Dr. Amodio identifies the role of the higher brain in the process and that in order to become more egalitarian and successfully override biases and prejudices in the brain, “we need to train ourselves to help the neocortex do its job.

A main brain-based strategy for increasing the capacity of inclusion in the brain is to engage the power of appreciation and other positive feeling states. Historically, studies on emotions focused on negative emotions because of their demonstrated detrimental effect on health and wellbeing. In the past fifteen years, however, there has been a growing trend to research positive emotions, and the discovery that positive emotions have incredibly positive and beneficial effects on health and wellbeing. Research shows for example, that appreciation and positive feeling states increase the brain’s capacity for connection with others.14 Positive emotions also increase attention and broaden thinking, while also causing us to consider and pursue a wider, more creative range of ideas and possibilities.15 Additionally, studies show that positive emotions and positive feeling states help stabilize the prefrontal cortex where our greatest capacity for inclusion lies.

The new findings on positive feelings also show that positive feeling states are available to us whenever we choose to activate and experience them.16 It is now well understood that by consciously activating positive feeling states we can bring oxytocin online, and with it, the motivation and ability to engage in attitudes and behaviors that demonstrate an authentic concern for others. And just like in the trust study mentioned earlier, when we receive trust from others it increases oxytocin in our own brains, and thereby increasing the amount of trust we are willing to give back (as demonstrated in the study when subjects received more money, they gave more money back.) We call this creating an upward spiral of trust.

Working With the Brain for Inclusion Success

Science now provides a new way to advance inclusion skills by building an upward spiral of trust and increasing the possibility for a new level of success. Using a brainbased approach to developing inclusion skills, we can build on the many ways the brain can work for us in creating opportunities for cooperation, connection and compassion across differences – while minimizing the brain’s counter-productive tendencies. It is through brainbased tools, strategies and skills, that we can significantly improve our inclusion capabilities, and create work places where people – regardless of their differences – feel heard, validated, and safe to share who they are, what they really think, and fully contribute to the success of the organization.

1 Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report for 2019. Retrieved from https://www.
2 Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy. (2010). Shaping the future: Solving social problems through business strategy. Pathways to Sustainable Value Creation in 2020. Retrieved from pdf ?redirect=no.
3 Pillay, Srini (2011) Your Brain and Business: The Neuroscience of Great Leaders, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education

4 Hallowell, E., MD (2007) Crazy Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for Handling Your Fast-Paced Life, New York, New York: Ballantine Books
5 Rutledge, Pamela B Ph.D (2011 November) Social Networks: What Maslow Misses, retrieved from social-networks-what-maslow-misses-0

6 Lieberman, M. (2013) Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press
7 Kosfeld M., Heinrichs M. (2005, June 2). Oxytocin increases trust in humans. NCBI Resources. Retrieved from
8 Zac, Paul J. (2017, January-February) The Neuroscience of Trust, Harvard Business Review (pp.84–90). Retrieved from uploads/2017/03/hbr-neuroscience-of-trust.pdf.

9 University of Toronto (2017, April 11) Infants show racial bias toward members of own race and against those of other races. PHYS ORG. Retrieved from news/2017-04-infants-racial-bias-members.html
10 Pillay, S. (2014, March 13) How to Deal with Unfamiliar Situations. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

11 Hikaru Takeuchi et all (2013, July). Brain structures associated with executive functions during everyday events in a non-clinical sample. U.S. National Library of Medicine, NIH, Retrieved from PMC3695328/#CR78
12 Amodio, David (2010, August 31.), The egalitarian brain, Greater Good Science Center, Retrieved from|
13 Ibid

14 Bethany E. Kok et all (2013, May 6). How Positive Emotions Build Physical Health: Perceived Positive Social Connections Account for the Upward Spiral Between Positive Emotions and Vagal Tone. Psychological Science. Retrieved from https://journals.
15 Fredrickson, B. L. (2009) Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals how to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive, New York: Crown
16 Positive Emotions Broaden the Scope of Attention and Thought-Action Repertoires

The Path To Belonging: Ensuring Our Work To Enhance Diversity Generates the Intended Outcomes

Kirsten Marriner, 
EVP & Chief People Officer,
The Clorox Company

Dalia Ballesteros-Torres, 
Inclusion & Diversity Specialist,
The Clorox Company

Countless organizations in the United States have devoted significant resources to improving diversity. Over time, diversity has become a broader concept, evolving from traditional representation to also considering differences of background, style, perspective, preference and more. And, just as there’s much more work to be done, there are many advancements to highlight. At Clorox, we’re on our own journey – with our own unique learnings and successes.

For example, we have learned that diversity itself is not enough – the right environment and culture are essential to nurture and preserve the breadth of diversity within our organization. So, several years ago we began to emphasize inclusion as part of our work to create a cohesive culture across our geographic and functional boundaries. We’re working to create a stronger sense of belonging for our people, a feeling of being at home while at work in the midst of today’s societal polarization.

We’ve also learned that, no matter how much progress we have made, the I&D space will continue to evolve and we must grow with it. Just like a personal health journey, we can never lose focus — we must make good choices and take the right actions every day to generate and maintain progress.

How do organizations go from pouring resources into increasing their representation numbers to building an inclusive workforce where its members feel a sense of belonging?

Before we dive into our journey, our lessons and the work we continue to do, let’s start by grounding on what diversity, inclusion, and belonging mean at Clorox.

  • Diversity began with representation and has grown to reflect the infinite differences innate in our people, both inherent and acquired attributes. As a consumer-centered organization, we strive to reflect the diversity of our consumers around the world, only some elements of which can be seen or measured.
  • Diversity cannot fully thrive without inclusion, which creates opportunity for all those diverse voices to actively participate in the conversation. Research (Cloverpop) has also demonstrated the link between inclusive decision-making and better business results:
    • Inclusive teams make better business decisions up to 87% of the time.
    • Teams that follow an inclusive process make decisions 2X faster with 1/2 the meetings.
    • Decisions made and executed by diverse teams delivered 60% better results.” (ModelExpand)
  • A sense of belonging results when diverse ideas are not only listened to but are valued for what they bring to the table. When done right, inclusion helps to create a sense of belonging in which everyone feels encouraged to be exactly who they are. As Wharton’s dean Geoffrey Garrett said in an opinion piece, “all members of our organization should have the confidence and support to contribute their unique perspectives to every aspect of our organization”(Garrett (Wharton)).

At Clorox, we have made interdependent choices to continue advancing our progress toward a culture of belonging. Some of the items below are long-standing and effective traditions for us and others are newer; for all, we’ve learned and refined along the way.

  • Tone at the top. When leaders in an organization truly believe in the value of creating a more inclusive place to work where people feel like they belong, then it becomes a clear priority throughout the organization. It is equally important to build a sense of accountability throughout the organization at all levels. When the core DNA of an organization is tied to core values of compassion and empathy, it makes it a lot easier for people to be on the same page. (Eric Solomon)
  • Inclusive behaviors. These are embedded in our Core Values and leadership model at Clorox. It’s a clear expectation for every one of our employees. In fact, we’ve built it into our performance expectations as a critical element of “how” our people deliver results. “Inclusion is necessary to access the power of a company’s diversity. Behaving inclusively is a skill that can be learned; you don’t have to be born with it (Jonathan McBride).”
  • Army of allies. More likely than not, you have countless people who could serve as allies throughout your organization. Recruit those passionate and enthusiastic about inclusion, diversity and belonging to become your internal champions. Cast a wide net. Invite many, as the acceptances might be pleasantly surprising.
  • Be bold. Change is uncomfortable, and it can incite fear. Only by leaving our comfort zone can we stretch it. Providing support and tools to make inclusion, diversity and belonging an integral part of our culture will make it safer and more familiar, and ensure these behaviors become second-nature to every decision we make. We’ve provided many tools, and some of the most effective have been grounded in neuroscience, including the SEEDS ModelTM (Lieberman, et al.(NLI)) – a simple and practical framework for identifying, labeling and mitigating unconscious biases.
  • Think global. As a global organization with people in a couple dozen countries and consumers in over 100 countries, we understand cultural differences and the complexity of translating ‘belonging’ into something meaningful for every one of our 8,800 employees. Dimensions of diversity don’t look the same in every country. As Jonathan McBride learned on his first trip to Asia, “there is no word for ‘inclusion’ in Japanese.” So, it’s important to balance our enterprise priority and values with meeting specific needs throughout the organization and around the world. We anchor to a set of core initiatives but have the flexibility to adapt and localize the approaches to make them effective around the globe.

As a consumer company that is inherently people-centric, we realize that just as the societies in which we operate keep changing, so must we. Some of the lessons we have learned:

  • There’s a domino effect. It starts with having representation at all levels of an organization. We have heard again and again that “it is really hard to be something you cannot see.” Improved representation plus the right initiatives to drive inclusion and belonging can have a profound effect at all levels of an organization.
  • The future is here. For the first time, we have five generations in the workplace. These newer generations bring modern norms and expectations related to diversity, inclusion, and belonging; they can help drive the change. Long gone are the days where organizations simply set minority and gender representation goals.
  • Be creative and flex. Inclusion and belonging are abstract and deeply emotional concepts defined by our personal beliefs and experiences. As such, one size does not fit all. Flexibility and “freedom within a framework” allow a wider reach and enable a greater sense of belonging while remaining true to organizational priorities and values.
  • Use storytelling as an accelerator. It can be difficult to bridge gaps. But, sharing your personal experiences with others is a sure way to quickly find commonalities and build familiarity, comfort and trust. On those foundations, we’ve leapt forward toward inclusion and belonging.
  • EVERYONE plays a role. Well-intended efforts can get stuck when initiatives don’t reach the entire organization. Establish a common language at all levels, and set and reinforce the expectation that everyone is accountable. We are a company that cares deeply about our people. Not surprisingly, we have had a long-standing commitment to diversity. In recent years that commitment has expanded to consider more dimensions of diversity, and to leverage inclusion and belonging to get the very best out of our diverse community. The outcomes we seek are both quantitative and qualitative, and require the engagement of our entire organization. We’ve found success, we’ve learned and evolved, and we continue to strive for excellence. This is a team sport, and we work every day to win.


Cloverpop, Hacking Diversity with Inclusive Decision Making, Cloverpop, 2017.

ModelExpand, The Basics: What is the difference between Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging? May 3, 2018.

Garrett, Geoffery. Why Diversity Is About Much More Than Numbers, LinkedIn, August 30, 2018 and KNOWLEDGE@WHARTON, August 30, 2018.

Eric Solomon cited in Beyond Diversity: How Firms Are Cultivating a Sense of Belonging, KNOWLEDGE@WHARTON, Mar 26, 2019.

Jonathan McBride cited in BlackRock’s Diversity Chief: Do Your Employees Feel They Belong? KNOWLEDGE@WHARTON, May 16, 2018.

Lieberman, M.D., Rock, D., Halvorson, H. G., and Cox, C. BREAKING BIAS UPDATED: THE SEEDS MODEL™, NeuroLeadershipJOURNAL VOLUME SIX | NOVEMBER 2015.

Jonathan McBride cited in BlackRock’s Diversity Chief: Do Your Employees Feel They Belong? KNOWLEDGE@WHARTON, May 16, 2018.

From Diversity to Equity

Frederick Douglas Hobby, 
CDM, Chief Strategist,
CulturaLink, LLC

I hope this article will generate an honest discussion about the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in healthcare leadership and governance, while identifying what it will take to transform healthcare organizations into the inclusive industry it needs to be. This article is intended to build bridges, not burn them. That is a fine line. It is my hope the article will be received in the spirit in which it is intended.

For more than twenty- five years, achieving diversity in the workforce, especially in the C-Suite and governance structures, has been cited as one of the healthcare industry’s most important commitments and has frequently been referred to as a national strategic priority. I have watched as the commitment to address the lack of diversity in the healthcare workforce began with strong momentum, receiving unparalleled focus, monetary support, and human resources. But I have also seen the more recent, subtle demise of the industry’s focus and an overt retreat from the commitment to racial and ethnic diversity. Instead, emphasis has been placed on achieving goals of health equity for disparate populations. Although no one can object to this need in the healthcare system, the issue is that neither is mutually exclusive; in reality, health equity cannot be achieved without diverse representation in senior leadership roles.

During the 1990’s, the ability of private companies to display cultural sensitivity in advertising and ethnic marketing often resulted in increased market share and profitability. The private sector produced several publications, which collected diversity-related data through voluntary surveys and published the results, creating a competitive platform for corporate recognition. Companies held that promoting minorities to executive levels and increasing minority representation on corporate boards increased the awareness and involvement of racially- identifiable consumers and stakeholders creating/enhancing a new stream of revenue referred to as “emerging markets.” This strategy for creating brand preference within emerging markets just made good business sense (Kochan et al., 2003). However, by no means am I suggesting that people of color, who were promoted or recruited to provide leadership in large corporations, weren’t qualified. These were not token promotions driven by Affirmative Action goals. Quite the contrary! Many of these “promotable” individuals, including Caucasian women, had been groomed for years and quietly worked their way up the corporate ladder over the course of their long careers.

As the ethnic demographic shift continued to increase (Sundstrom, 2008), private sector companies found a healthy return on investment from products such as lime and hot sauce flavored chips, darker skinned cosmetic products, ethnic enhanced baked goods and food, and the use of minority celebrities to promote beer, liquor, automobiles, athletic shoes, and so on. Investing in this “Illusion of Inclusion” proved to be a very good business strategy for Fortune 500 and private sector businesses. This business strategy even gave rise to a new corporate executive title and function – the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO).

My point is, the focus on expanding diversity and minority representation by private sector companies was simply a customer expansion and cultural recognition tactic in emerging markets. It was a symbolic expression of an appreciation of cultural differences, and an enabler of new sources of market share and revenue during a period of rapid demographic change.

Regardless, the success of the private sector created the demand for making the “business case” for diversity in healthcare (Chin, 2000). Beginning in the mid-90s, healthcare attempted to mimic both the business practices and marketing tactics of private companies. Unfortunately, diversity management and the minority representation tactic created by Corporate America could never be effectively transferred to a healthcare model, no matter how hard the healthcare industry tried to make it fit. Even though we have seen examples of progress, by no means has the healthcare industry been successful (Chin, 2000). Yet, in my opinion, the diversity representation commitment in healthcare was destined for eventual failure. Rather than maintaining its original mission based platform for diversity in healthcare and improving medical outcomes among minority patients, the industry chose to mimic the private sector’s diversity model by expanding market share to increase profitability. However, the private sector is in the business of selling products or services for a profit; the healthcare industry is in the business of improving health by providing life-extending services as part of their not-for-profit mission, while generating a margin in order to be sustainable. There is a distinct difference, and for this reason, the much sought after return on investment did not occur.

It is important to draw attention to the fact that diversity goals are workforce-related and equity goals are patient safety and quality-related. Neither is mutually exclusive; they are equally important and should co-exist. However, it seems that the healthcare industry has quietly and systematically retreated from promoting its commitment to racial diversity in leadership, substituting patient-centered, safety and quality initiatives, for a couple of reasons.

First, the hospital industry has consistently expressed different issues with increasing minority leadership (diversity) in the C-Suite. Over the past 2 ½ decades, hospitals have offered various excuses for not being able to increase minorities in senior leadership. In 2006, the industry was still alleging a “shortage of ‘qualified’ minorities” in the pipeline (American College of Healthcare Executives – ACHE, 2002). Yet, during the same period, the Association of University Programs in Health Administration concluded minorities represented 30% of the students pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees in health and hospital administration, and was up to 42% by 2009 (ACHE, 1990).

The hospital industry has also asserted that senior minority recruitment was just too costly. In other words, because so few minorities had been accepted into the senior ranks of management, competing for them was just too expensive. But nineteen years after it was revealed that minorities were less than 2% of top management positions (ACHE, 1992), the Institute for Diversity in Health Management’s bi-annual Benchmarking Survey of 2015 revealed that only 23% of hospitals even had a “documented plan to increase the number of ethnically, culturally and racially diverse executives on the senior leadership team” (IFDHM 2015). It appears the only explanation that hospitals didn’t offer was they just didn’t want minorities in leadership.

Of course, there were exceptions. Large multi-hospital companies and some faith-based systems that owned or managed facilities in urban or minority-dominated communities placed greater value on having minorities in leadership. There were leaders like George Halvorson, President and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, and Jack O. Bovender, President and CEO of HCA Healthcare, who understood the importance of being inclusive in business. The practice of excluding minorities from leadership opportunities eventually created a dynamic tension between hospitals and the membership associations that represented them.

In fact, it was the recognition of this culture of exclusion that caused ACHE, the American Hospital Association (AHA), and National Association of Health Services Executives (NAHSE) to collaborate and create the Institute for Diversity in Health Management (IFD). The Catholic Health Association (CHA) joined the collaboration a few years later. Simply put, the IFD, later renamed the Institute for Diversity and Health Equity (IFDHE), was created in 1994 to “work closely with health organizations…to expand leadership opportunities for ethnic minorities in health services management” (IFD, n.d. A). According to the AHA’s website, the Institute’s Mission was “to increase the number of minorities in health services administration to better reflect the increasingly diverse communities they serve, and to improve opportunities for professionals already in the health care field” (AHA, n.d.). There was never a mention of ROI.

With the help of a limited number of committed hospital executives as partners and the American Leadership Council for Diversity in Healthcare (ALC), minority leadership in C-Suites grew from less than 2% in 1992 (ACHE, 1992) to 12% by 2011 (IFDHM, 2015). However, the 12% milestone had dropped to 11% within the following four-year period (IFDHM, 2015). This decline should have been a red flag that something was changing. The percentage of minority trustees on hospital boards reached 14% by 2011 and remained there until 2015 (IFD, 2015). It is not a coincidence that details for the 2017 bi-annual Benchmarking Survey are still forthcoming (IFDHE, n.d. B), yet no one seemed to complain.

The second reason for retreating from diversity representation was the healthcare industry’s inability to achieve the metrics it had set for itself. The healthcare industry’s National Call to Action Initiative in 2011 resulted in three specific goals or areas of concentration along with metrics for measuring the progress of each goal. Areas of concentration were (1) Collection and use of REAL Data, (2) Increased Cultural Competency training, and (3) Increased minority representation in the C-Suite and on hospital Boards (IFD, 2015).

The Collection of REAL (Racial Ethnic and Language preference) Data increased considerably between 2011 and 2015. The use of the collected data only increased marginally, except for declines in Religious awareness, disability status, and sexual orientation (IFD, 2015).

Cultural Competence training increased considerably to 79% “among all clinical staff” (IFD, 2015).

During the same four-year period, diversity on boards remained flat at 14%, while diversity in the C-Suite declined (IFD, 2015).

The 1% decline in minority representation in the C-suite in 2015 chronologically overlapped with the healthcare industry’s efforts to get all hospitals to sign the #1,2,3 for Equity Pledge to Act Campaign. While as many as 1767 hospitals signed the Pledge, some CDOs admitted to me that ‘guilt rather than intentionality’ was the real driver; the potential for public embarrassment was too great to ignore if your hospital was not listed on the Pledge.

Despite being guided for decades by the Sullivan Report, the Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Service (CLAS) Standards of the Office of Minority Health, the Institute of Medicine’s 6 AIMS (which were quietly reduced to 3 AIMS by taking a solely patient-centered approach), and numerous other publications, the healthcare industry’s commitment to achieve racial diversity in the C-Suite by reflecting the demographic makeup of the communities and patient populations being served, seemed to have vanished by 2016. By 2017, it seemed that hospitals, and the associations that represented them, were no longer willing to commit to goals that disrupted the status quo of the Anglo-dominated C-Suite. The healthcare associations’ inability to influence their members, or perhaps the hospitals’ unwillingness to achieve the minority representation goals established by the industry’s leadership and the National Call to Action, gave rise to the benign neglect that has become the default behavior of today.

In order to make the industry’s retreat from its failed commitment to racial diversity more palatable, it was replaced by commitments to achieve equity goals, which are patient focused. The #1,2,3 Equity Pledge to Act provided a convenient segue for the retreat from diversity. Based on the irrefutable quest to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in care and improve medical outcomes, how could anyone object? This subtle substitution could not be criticized privately or publicly. After all, who could argue that improving the health status and medical outcomes of minority patients was not important given the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) publication, “Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care?” Some of my peers and colleagues have remained silent as they witnessed this bitter-sweet behavior. Others attempted to question this shift in priorities and commitment only to be made to feel that they were behaving selfishly or “not like a team player.”

The healthcare industry has moved from a cultural conversation to a clinical conversation because achieving minority representation in leadership and on hospital boards has proven to be too difficult; the resistance to fairness, inclusion and change now seems insurmountable. As one diversity practitioner framed it, “we [people of color] are always so willing to allow the dominant group to change the direction of the conversation when they become uncomfortable”.

Now is the time for discussion free from the shadows of rumor, speculation, and whispers. Now is the time to let it be known that the departure from diversity has not gone unnoticed; progressive leaders are not naïve to the shift in conversation and action. However, regressive leaders against inclusion should realize that eliminating disparities and achieving the goals of equity cannot be successfully accomplished without minority representation and leadership. As the nation’s demographics continue to shift from majority to minority, now is the time to make real efforts and major strides in both diversity and equity. Challenge your leadership team to consider the following:

Action Items

  • Conduct an internal audit to determine if your board and leadership team reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the communities they serve.
  • Include diversity recruitment as a strategic priority and present updates at each board meeting for approval.
  • Use equity as a metric to ensure improved patient outcomes and opportunities for minorities to serve and lead.
  • Begin a meaningful and honest discussion about the racial and ethnic diversity on your board and in your C-suite.


Frederick Douglas Hobby, former President and CEO of the Institute for Diversity in Health Management and generally regarded as the first full time Chief Diversity Officer in a healthcare setting


Joy Milner Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Frederick Hobby, contact:


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American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE). (1992). A racial/ethnic comparison of career attainment in healthcare management. [Print].

American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE). (2002). A racial/ethnic comparison of career attainment in healthcare management. Retrieved from https:// pdf ?la=en&hash=544111D139A15CFEDD156AA33F6BEED63F4626EE

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You’re a New Chief Diversity Officer…Now What?

Celeste R. Warren, 
VP & Chief Diversity Officer

You’ve prepared, you’ve sacrificed, you’ve made the necessary career moves and now you are the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for your company. The announcement has gone out and the congratulations emails have filled your inbox.

Now the dust has settled, you’re sitting at your desk in your new office and it’s quiet, very quiet. Then a rash of phone calls comes in, the CEO wants to meet with you, the CHRO wants to understand how you will integrate human resources policies and practices into your planning, everyone wants to know what direction you will be taking with diversity and inclusion now that you are the leader

So, you ask yourself “what direction will I be taking D&I and how do I even get started?”

It’s not uncommon when you become the leader of any organization that you feel a little “buyers’ remorse” when you get started but there is hope and a light at the end of the tunnel.

When you are first taking over the CDO role, you should have a deep understanding of the organization. What are its strengths and areas of opportunity as it pertains to diversity and inclusion? You should also have a strong vision of where you would like to take the organization. Once you have the organization’s current state and a vision of the future, you have to ensure that you have the resources to take the organization from where it is to where you want it to be.

Assessing where the organization is as it pertains to diversity and inclusion is a very important start to developing your strategy. If you don’t have that foundation, then you may be applying solutions to the wrong problems. You should assess the organization holistically, looking at:

  1. the people and their needs, aspirations and desires;
  2. the processes, systems and policies to determine if they are aligned to meeting the needs of both the people and the business;
  3. the actual practices to determine if they reflect the spirit of the policies and processes developed by the organization;
  4. the culture and subcultures to determine if it is an enabler or barrier to the needs of the people and the business;

In addition to assessing your organization internally, you also have to assess your organization from an external standpoint. Understanding where the company stands on diversity and inclusion issues is important as well. How has the company responded to issues in the external environment, whether they be political, economic or social? Where have they taken stands and spoken up on external issues? Have the CEO spoken out on specific issues?

The company may have signed on to coalitions with other companies with specific commitments. If your organization has done this in the past, what were some of these coalitions? A good resource to help you understand this is your Corporate Responsibility organization, your Government Affairs/Policy organization as well as your Communications/Media Relations organization. Once you have this information, it can help you understand where there is misalignment between the company’s internal values around D&I and its external presence and voice that would support its internal values and standards. Correcting this misalignment should be a component of your diversity and inclusion strategy.

Another very important assessment that has to take place when you first become a leader in diversity and inclusion is a review of the DI team and the supporting infrastructure.

When you get an idea of the gaps that need to be filled within the organization, you have to ensure you have the right personnel in place to develop, implement and sustain the strategy. Evaluating the individuals’ skills and capabilities is a crucial part of the role. Some not familiar with this work might think that D&I practitioners should only have “soft skills” like collaboration, empathy, listening skills and such skills are important for your team members to have, but also as important are other skills. Project management, organizational change, influencing and impacting leaders, strategy development and business acumen are extremely important in D&I employees. Taking an inventory of the skills of your team and putting together development plans for them to ensure they have the ability to drive D&I across the organization is important to the overall success of D&I within the organization.

In addition to assessing your team, you should also review the D&I infrastructure. What support and resources outside of your immediate team are in place as you work through the D&I strategy. Some D&I leaders leverage employee resource groups (ERGs) or affinity groups. ERGs can help to provide a continuous feedback loop. They can give you information on the pulse of the employee base segmented by the relevant constituency group. They can provide input into business initiatives, people strategies and new initiatives being planned. They can also be leveraged to help provide information to employees as it pertains to D&I. Other infrastructure might include Diversity Councils, or other diversity teams that may exists within the company. One of the things that is important to successful implementation of a D&I strategy is alignment. Ensuring the alignment of activities and initiatives to the overarching D&I strategy is critical for success.

Infrastructure also takes the form of partnership with other areas of the company such as Human Resources (talent management, talent acquisition, compensation and benefits, learning and development, etc.) Marketing (cultural alignment in marketing strategies), Communications (integration of key D&I messaging into internal and external communications) as examples are critical to the successful implementation of the strategy.

Infrastructure can also be described as systems and processes which support the D&I efforts. For example, is your IT accessible to persons with disabilities, are your facilities’ open space practices inclusive of employees diverse working styles?

Are the management policies and practices aligned with the company’s diversity and inclusion values? These are all aspect of the infrastructure that will need to be aligned to your strategy

One of the most important items that needs to be assessed is YOU as the leader of the organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts. What are your personal challenges, unconscious biases and blind spots?

Understanding these aspects of you along with any functional capabilities that you will need to develop will be crucial to leading the organization on its D&I journey.

Take an inventory of your skills, capabilities and experiences in both your professional and personal life.

Professionally, your experiences contribute to the type of leader you have become. Think through the skills that you have and also those you have not been able to acquire or those that are not as strong. Likewise, your personal experiences contribute to the type of person you have become. Take a hard look at your biases, your upbringing, your cultural paradigms. This focus inward will help you to understand how you need to grow and expand your own horizons as a diversity and inclusion leader. It will explain your reactions to issues that are happening both inside the company and outside in the world and help you to recognize them and understand how it might impact the decisions you make the direction you give your team. Blind spots in these areas are very detrimental to D&I leaders as you attempt to lead your team and the organization on this journey.

Once you have done your own personal assessment, you can begin to put together your development plan that will close the gaps across the spectrum of business, leadership and D&I capabilities needed to be successful in this new role

You’ve now completed your assessment of the organization, the D&I team and supporting infrastructure and yourself as a leader, you can begin to put together your strategy for the organization.

You should determine the organization’s and your D&I vision for the company. What are your aspirational goals for the organization? Creating a purpose statement helps in setting the direction for your strategy. A well written purpose statement helps to ensure that you stay focused on the priorities that will help you achieve your strategy. Whenever you are questioning whether an initiative, approach or plan helps you to achieve your strategy, you can fall back on the purpose statement to ensure that you stay on track. It also helps to maintain alignment to the strategy.

Your diversity and inclusion strategy should be holistic. Foundationally, it should include a strategy to achieve, maintain and/or grow a diverse workforce. Working with leaders within the Human Resources organization is critical in this aspect. Recruiting and Staffing, Learning and Development, Talent Management and Compensation and Benefits are four areas within HR where partnership is critical to being able to create a diverse workforce. As a diversity and inclusion leader, it becomes extremely challenging if you haven’t cultivated strong relationships with your colleagues within human resources to integrate your D&I strategies into the people policies, practices and procedures.

Another aspect of your diversity and inclusion strategy should include plans and initiatives to create an inclusive work environment. It’s not enough to have a diverse workforce, you have to be able to leverage that diversity to drive business outcomes. Strategies to create inclusive behaviors within leadership and managerial teams is important in driving inclusive environments. Leveraging data from employee opinion surveys and other pulse surveys is also a good source of information in determining areas of the organization that may have challenges in this area.

Linking diversity and inclusion directly to your business is also a critical area component of your strategy. I have said many times that at the intersection of diversity and inclusion and business performance, a company does create a competitive advantage. As the leader of your company’s diversity and inclusion, you have to understand the salient components of the company’s business strategy. D&I cannot be viewed as an entity that sits outside of the business, that is not creating value to the business and helping to drive shareholder returns. Working with the different areas of the company and establishing relationships with those leaders is important in integrating D&I into the fabric of the organization. Do you understand the marketing, manufacturing, research and development strategies? Do you know how to read the financial reports and understand what is driving the revenue? Do you have insights into what are the top priorities for the company, the CEO, the management team and the board of directors?

Once you have developed your diversity and inclusion strategy, you have to align your resources to drive that strategy. These resources include human, financial and any others resources you will need to implement your strategy. As you go through your company’s budgeting process, you will need to ensure you have enough funding to implement the different initiatives required to drive your strategy. Many D&I plans have fallen short from not having enough finances to drive critical initiatives.

Writing and implementing the diversity and inclusion strategy involves creating an organizational change plan as well. Outlining a change management and communications plan is instrumental in enabling the successful outcomes of your strategy to create the inclusive culture for the organization. Diversity and inclusion are about mobilizing the organization to create change. Research has shown that a large percentage of strategies fail because they don’t implement a change strategy. Also, partnership with communications organizations is critical as well. A well thought out communications plan to share the strategy is important, so employees, managers and leaders know the company’s values around diversity and inclusion. The communications plan also helps to let them know the role each of them can play to drive the strategy.

Finally, the journey is an evolution. You and your team should periodically revisit, refresh and course correct so you are consistently driving the change you are trying to see. My experience of developing Human Resources strategy over twenty years is remarkably align with Porter’s handling of the 4 Forces that determine success. Companies, industries, external socio-economic factors are always changing, and your diversity and inclusion strategy will also need to evolve with those changes. Your strategy has to be agile to adapt to these changes both within and outside of the company

Becoming a Diversity and Inclusion leader is a great accomplishment. It is something to be proud of and to celebrate. As you go about implementing your strategy, take the time at certain milestones to celebrate the successes. Whether that be after finalizing your strategy, when you been able to implement some of your plans or even when the teams need a little bit of uplifting, taking the time to pause and celebrate helps to keep the team engaged, revived and ready to continue the journey


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12 Wheeler, Michael L. The Diversity Executive: Tasks, Competencies, and Strategies for Effective Leadership, The Conference Board, 2001. Diversityexecutivereport-1.pdf

13 Gurchiek, Kathy. 6 Steps for Building an Inclusive Workplace, SHRM March 19, 2018.

14 Mayhew, Ruth. “How to Align the Diversity Process With Strategic Business Goals.” Small Business –, Accessed 23 August 2019.

15 Bürkner, H., Fæste L., and Hemerling, J. The New CEO’s Guide to Transformation -Turning Ambition into Sustainable Results, BCG, May 15, 2015.

16 Aileron, 10 Reasons Why Strategic Plans Fail Forbes, Nov 30, 2011,

17 Smith, Christopher. Management of Change: Why Do Change Management Strategies Fail? CHANGE MANAGEMENT, AUGUST 23, 2018.

18 Ankli, R. E., Michael Porter’s Competitive Advantage and Business History, BUSINESS AND ECONOMIC HISTORY, Second Series, Volume Twenty-one, 1992.

Latina Administrators Applying Resonant Leadership Practices in Higher Education Settings

Patricia Arredondo, PhD
Arredondo Advisory Group

The purpose of this brief article is to highlight resonant leadership practices as applied by Latina administrators in varying higher education positions and institutions. With resonant leadership leaders work from their values and self-awareness and evoke emotions of people around them through the use of empathy, attentiveness, and encouragement (Goleman et al.,2002). Resonant leadership is an application of emotional intelligence. The data reported come from a qualitative study using appreciative inquiry methodology. Participants provided written responses to 10 questions inquiring about their experiences managing adversity and microaggressions, their use of authority, and the role of their identity and cultural heritage in enacting leadership. Latina cultural socialization, expectations about “niceness”, and walking the borderlands constructs are introduced.

Leadership Paradigms
Leadership models have been male-centric for many years with male’s styles of leading held up as exemplars to emulate. McGregor (1960) described Theory X and Theory Y type male leaders as individuals who are autocratic and exert command-and-control style of behaviors. McClelland, 1975) indicated that a leaders’ need for achievement and power would motivate them to be more authoritative and in control; women were not all part of leadership discussions. In a ground-breaking book, Men and Women of the Corporation, Kanter (1977) reported the need to recognize that gender socialization and stereotypes affected how women were perceived as managers and leaders. Her position was that women could not be compared to men nor could they have the spotlight on them constantly.

Relational styles of leading are often attributed to women in organizations. Research findings point to women’s collectivistic and interactive styles, coach and teacher-like that tend to be more people-centered and participatory (Eagly & Carli, 2007). The terms inclusive, relational, and transformative can characterize some women’s tendencies as leaders. Another paradigm widely used in organizations is the emotional intelligence (EI) model developed by Daniel Goleman (1995). The four EI domains are very similar to ones taught in multicultural psychology that promote cultural competency development (Sue, Arredondo & McDavis, 1992). They are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. The self-awareness domain is most critical in organizational behavior because it enables empathy and self-management, particularly emotional selfmanagement. Theoretically, leaders who are more selfaware of their biases, assumptions, and hot buttons can engage in more perspective-taking and empathy. With increased attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion as processes of change and best practices in organizations, culturally competency development is being positioned as a necessary learning process so that leaders can create a workplace climate where all can be respected and thrive.

Latina Administrators in Higher Education
Generally speaking, women administrators in higher education are highly underrepresented in roles of president, provost and deans and Latina leaders are an even smaller percentage (American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, 2018). For Latinas, rising through the academic ranks generally requires walking through the “borderlands” (Anzaldúa, 1987) that is, managing expectations from the white majority structures while maintaining their cultural integrity and performing the responsibilities of their position. The chilly climate (Sandler and Hall, 1986) and stereotype threat (Steele & Aaronson,, 1995) are just two of the dynamics that affect women’s retention as leaders. For Latinas and other women of color, the culture of whiteness is always present.

The cultural socialization process for Latinas is grounded in values and belief systems with expectations for caretaking, putting others needs first, and conceding their power (Arredondo (2011). These norms about Latina behavior are not so different than those of the majority of women perhaps, but because of their ethnic minority status in the workplace, prejudice, low expectations, and stereotypes about their capabilities are not uncommon, the bar to accommodate and perform is set higher. Two additional dynamics relative to Latinas in the workplace are the constructs of niceness and colorism. Expectations of niceness are also held for Latinas—pleasantness, friendliness, and lots of smiles. In his study of Latinas in educational and political settings, Alemán (2009) found the “politics of niceness” as ever-present, and as forms of judgment about the women. Being nice, subservient, and agreeable were expected leading to double-binds for women who had authority and a sense of their autonomy. Because of one’s national origin, Latinas cannot be typecast as looking one way or another. The construct of colorism comes into play because the lighter skinned one is, the likelihood for more positive assessments and privileges (Adames, Chavez-Dueñas & Organista, 2016). The culture of whiteness is ever-present and Latinas often integrate a department whether as a colleague, supervisor, or the “boss”. Further, Latinas have lower ascribed status than white women, regardless of their position (Eagly xxx. Examples will be shared in this article.

The Study
An appreciative inquiry approach (Cooperrider, 1987) was used for a qualitative study with Latina academic administrators. It is a methodology that focuses on strengths, vision, and hopes for the future. It invites narratives for further thematic analysis or follow-up questions. Data were gathered from 8 Latinas in roles of deans, provost, and directors, on average with 10-20 years of administrative experience. A 10 item questionnaire was used, inviting the women to provide descriptions of their leadership roles, scope of responsibilities, most and least gratifying experiences as an administrator, and influences on their lives. The data yielded themes and narratives about the women’s experiences in managing adversity, effective use of their authority, and the role of their identity and heritage in enacting leadership. A few themes and case examples of what I learned follow.

Key Findings
The findings overtly align with the EI paradigm and cultural competency framework of awareness, knowledge and skill. All of the women described their mind-set or cognitive skills for leading; they thought about and processed what they heard or were asked to do. They would listen and apply emotional intelligence practices of resonant leadership, particularly emotional selfmanagement and empathy. They engaged in selfawareness, other awareness, and then considered how to respond in the given context. Consider the case examples that follow. All names are fictious.

Ana, a graduate school dean spoke of being challenged her first day on the job by a supervisee who told her that someone else should have received the position because he had been there longer. Another supervisee did not know the Ana was close-by and stated she did not believe Native American students should receive scholarships. The man who did not receive the position spoke to the dean, now his boss, coaching her to not say so much at meetings because her predecessor rarely said anything. Ana indicated that she did not respond reactively or at the moment but thought about how to provide feedback in the particular context. Before arriving to the all-white department, Ana had heard that it was an “old-guard” type unit that wanted the status quo to persist, after all, they were the Graduate School. In fact her appointment was meant to challenge them . Ana described her meetings with the three individuals as firm and authoritative discussions, setting boundaries and reminding them that prejudicial comments about Native American students would not be tolerated in the office. She also invited the Chief Diversity Officer and the Human Resources Director to provide educational sessions to the employees on professional protocols and the laws on discrimination. Using available resources in and out of the department was a common practice of the 8 women. They did not go it alone.

Emilia had been both a founding department chair and academic dean. In her first meeting with Department Chairs that now reported to her, she received mixed responses. She was told that her predecessor did not have group meetings but met with each person one-toone. Emilia responded to the feedback and met with the five department chairs. This became a regular practice in addition to the monthly group meeting. In time the Chairs became more engaged and comfortable although one of the men remarked that working for a Latina was not what he was accustomed to. He went on to say that she was far too serious and a bit authoritative. Emilia decided this was a teachable moment for her direct reports and invited others to share their perceptions of her leadership. In so doing, she took a risk but one that she believed was necessary to model open and respectful dialogue. The discussion was pivotal, laying the foundation for honest and open dialogues. Rather than take the male Chair’s comment as an affront, Emilia used it to demonstrate that she was open-minded; she practiced resonant leadership. Often times, the Latina has to demonstrate patience, effective communications and empathy in order to shift the perceptions of those who have never worked with or for a Latina. Though Emilia admitted that taking care of those who were culturally unaware could be tiresome, she knew that as a leader, she had to shape behavior and create a climate of inclusion and respect. When it came time to hiring an associate dean, an African American woman was readily selected. The Chairs saw her as the best candidate and admitted proudly that their department was with only one in the College led by two women of color.

Latinas Leading Change with Cultural Integrity
Resistance to new leadership is not uncommon but when Latinas are part of the equation, the acting out of faculty and staff may increase. All of the women reported different and difficult experiences with resistance that they found disrespectful and racist, but they had to take the high road, applying their resonant leadership skills. Teresa reflected on her years growing up on the TexasMexico border and how often she heard racist language about Mexicans. However, her parents taught her that self-respect and relying on family members when such experiences occurred would be a form of strength. Thus, when she got push back about having diversity criteria for hiring of faculty, she listened and firmly stated why this was important for the department and the increasingly diverse student body. She used data to make her point and the faculty “got it”. Similarly, a dean at a Research 1 university also advocated for diversity statements from potential hires. This practice eventually became the norm for the entire university. It is likely evident that culturally integrity is embedded in the Latinas’ leadership behavior. They administer with firmness and authority, and a degree of persuasion.

The Latina administrators valued their cultural and linguistic heritage and used it as a source of strength to lead through adverse situations. Cultural self-awareness and integrity, recognizing one’s responsibilities, and keeping the big picture in mind were touch points all used. As one senior provost stated: “What kept me going was believing that I was making a difference in matters of equity and justice for faculty, staff, and students.”

Implications for DEI Organizational Initiatives
This qualitative study did not have hypotheses, rather, following the appreciative inquiry methodology, the goal was to learn about the administrators’ experiences through responses to a set of questions. There are several lessons learned about the Latina administrators’ leadership mindset and behavior that can be applied in academic and non-academic settings alike when it comes to positioning Latina administrators/leaders for success. A few examples follow.

  1. When conducting climate studies, 1-1 interviews should be held with Latinx or other underrepresented women administrators to learn about their individual and shared experiences. Too often individuals are expected to change, not the organization.
  2. Human Resource personnel and hiring supervisors need to attend to the talent they are considering when hiring Latinx women. Engaging in stereotyped assumptions about Latinas creates a reductionistic perspective about the women.
  3. Latina leaders have had to walk the borderlands and other tightropes to achieve; as the case examples demonstrated, intelligent and confident women are not going to play the “nice” Latina role. They are serious business leaders.
  4. There are differences among Latinas, thus, inquire respectfully if you want to know more about someone. Remember, Latinas have multiple dimensions of identity. They are women, professionals, of a certain age, national origin, geographic location, educational background, sexual orientation status, and so forth.

Organizational intentionality to promote diversity, equity and inclusion is stated widely in many work settings, including college and universities. However, the selection and appointment of Latinas and other persons of color does upset the status quo, no matter how talented the individuals may be. The implication for organizations is to ensure that the new leader have the resources and guidance to be successful and for senior administration to recognize that the appointment of a culturally different person creates cognitive and emotional dissonance. The examples shared in this paper are evidence of the overt and covert push-back the administrators experienced. Do not expect that Latinas carry the burden of managing everyone’s discomfort with respect to cultural differences because the end result may be burnout.

Leaders must ensure that individuals overseeing and supervising diverse hires engage in emotional intelligence and cultural competency development. In contemporary and future work settings, both global and domestic, these are skill sets that can support retention and success of all employees


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Alemán, Jr., E. (2009). Through the prism of critical race theory: Niceness and Latina/o leadership in the politics of education. Journal of Latinos and Education, 8 (4), 290-311.

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Global Diversity and Inclusion and the Perils of Ignoring Local Norms

Edward Kopko, 
CEO and Publisher,
Bold Business

When enterprises go global, diversity is inevitable. The simple act of engaging in commerce beyond the borders of one’s own country will expose a company to a wide range of people who might not share the same social values and beliefs. That’s just the nature of global business.

My first exposure to broadly defined diversity awareness came early in my business career when I became a chairman and CEO through an acquisition of an international company at the young age of 32. During my next 23 years as CEO, I oversaw several thousand employees across over 40 countries from which my company operated. Through my travels and interactions, I came to appreciate the many aspects of diversity. The global world is a wonder to behold. This diverse set of employees influenced my management approach and style and helped me grow as a leader.

It also taught me about unconscious bias that challenges the work of efficient teams. I personally faced such bias initially as many employees had difficulty accepting such a young CEO running a large organization, particularly one that did not hire them. Making matters more complicated were the cultural nuances that often added a wrinkle to the managerial equation, turning straightforward diversity and inclusion notions on their heads.

But ultimately, the diversity I was exposed to by helming a global enterprise was soon followed by the inclusion necessary for success. And it came with an important lesson: diversity and inclusion are great and worth aspiring to, but it is perilous to ignore local norms and values.

The Diversity Wheel

The term “diversity” usually conjures up notions of specific protected classes, like those mandated by government regulation, and they often include classifications based on gender, religion, race, and sexual orientation, among others.

However, true diversity involves much more, and to get a better grasp of the scope, one must consider “The Diversity Wheel”.

The Diversity Wheel was first introduced in Marilyn Loden and Judy Rosener’s 1990 book, Workforce America! Managing Employee Diversity as a Vital Resource. Today it has evolved to be a very encompassing tool to help understand how different and diverse we all are. The wheel evolution I like best is depicted above. It depicts five different layers of diversity. The layers are personality, internal, external, organizational and era. There are 28 different dimensions across the 5 layers. Each of the 28 dimensions has numerous possibilities.

For example, according to the United Nations, there are 195 countries of national origin. There are many gradations of age and generation, think baby boomers, millennials and gen z. Gender now is no longer just a 2 choice set. Every person can be (and usually is) many different combinations of some of the 28 dimensions. It is what makes many of us unique yet also similar. We can share some dimensions but mathematically it is virtually impossible to share all. We are all diverse and unique!

Diversity Is Much More Than the Seven Internal Dimensions

Today, in the United States, much focus is on the seven internal dimensions of diversity: age, race, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, national origin, and physical/mental ability. The U.S. has gotten particularly aggressive with attempting to ensure that companies have diversity across these dimensions with regulations and laws that force them to comply with some regulatoror legislator-imposed diversity metric. For example, in September of 2018, the State of California enacted a law mandating that each publicly held company with a headquarters in the state must have at least one female on its board of directors. In addition, by 2021, every corporate board in the state that has six or more directors must have at least three female directors.

Even the National Football League has gotten in on the “mandated diversity” action. In 2003, the organization established the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to include ethnic minorities in the interviewing process for head coaching and senior operation jobs.

While the U.S. has seven dimensions deemed worthy of mandated protections, the U.K. has nine, with the Equality Act of 2010 adding pregnancy and marital status to the list.

But why do we have laws about gender, race, ethnicity and the like when we might be excluding other traits listed in the Diversity Wheel? How do we pick which class is more important than the other? Everybody has a different facet of diversity–why is one person’s particular facet of diversity more important than another person’s particular facet of diversity?

I learned very quickly that diversity is much more than just gender, race, age, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnicity and physical/mental ability. If I wanted to be an effective leader, I had to learn to be open to diversity across all dimensions. I also learned one dimension should not be valued more than another.

Across my company, we had employees who came from very different belief systems, religiously as well as culturally. I learned that I could not universally apply my U.S.-learned values and systems of understanding for my interactions with all employees across the world. They were different in many different ways and my leadership style had to adapt. One-size-fits-all leadership would simply not work.

For example, in India, our office layouts needed to be done with an understanding of our employees’ religious and cultural beliefs. Why? Because regardless of whatever religious harming policies may mandate, there were still deep-rooted, ingrained attitudes that caused friction between employees. Any managerial plan had to take this into account.

We even planned a prayer room in our Hyderabad facility, which was a practice that was spreading among other companies in the country as well.

There were other examples, as well

In some of our Asian offices, employees would not express a different opinion directly to a senior manager. They would nod acceptance regardless of if they thought the idea or plan presented was good or bad. This particular cultural foible had to be taken into consideration whenever necessary feedback was considered a foregone conclusion, as it certainly wasn’t a foregone conclusion!

I also learned very quickly that some of my sport analogies were simply not understandable to many of my employees. How could someone who never watched a football game understand that we are in the “red zone” or “it is time for a run up the middle?”

Any business that operates in other countries will inevitably become steeped in a culture that is foreign to the one it originates in, and that means a whole spectrum of diversity far more complex than the seven internal dimensions of the Diversity Wheel.

It also means that any regulatory mandates demanding diversity within the narrow definition of it are ignoring the bigger picture: there’s more to diversity than just those seven dimensions.

The Problem With Regulatory Mandates

How did we come to say that the seven internal dimensions are so important? Clearly, when it comes to global enterprises, they’re not the most important.

The truth is, everyone is diverse in different ways, ways that extend beyond the seven dimensions, and we should allow for diversity and inclusion to evolve based on a particular country’s own beliefs and values. While businesses in the U.S. may fall under the scope of various regulatory mandates that create protected classes and enforce diversity, it would be folly to apply that same prism of U.S. values to countries where such civil rights haven’t even been granted.

For example, in Poland, national attitudes toward the LGBTQ community make adherence to an inclusion policy involving sexual preference a tough prospect. Should a business that operates in that country blindly and rigidly stick to such a diversity and inclusion initiative?

And what of Saudi Arabia, where only very recently were women granted permission to drive a car, but the prevailing attitudes still keep them out of the workforce? Any business doggedly trying to enforce a diversity and inclusion policy based on gender would have a tough time finding success.

While someone with U.S.-based sensibilities might find the attitudes in these particular countries abhorrent, the real issue for businesses isn’t the local cultural norms and values. No, the real issue is the regulatory mandate that ignores these local attitudes.

Imagine having a business in Russia, Egypt or Iran, where LGBT tolerance is low, and trying to impose LGBT mandates that ignore those deep-rooted cultural values. How successful could a business be in trying to impose U.S.-based moralist attitudes on such places where those views simply aren’t shared?

What about promoting gender-based diversity and inclusion initiatives in countries that historically don’t share the same gender-equality views as the western half of the hemisphere? Such initiatives in global businesses set up in countries like Pakistan, Morocco and Jordan would likely be doomed from the start!

I came to the conclusion that trying to set mandates for diversity without taking into account the “lay of the land” just wasn’t a smart thing to do. In fact, for the sake of business success, it was actually quite perilous!

Local Values as a Guide to Diversity and Inclusion

A regulatory initiative born from a U.S.-based sense of gender equality or desire to combat ageism (or anything else viewed as impeding diversity and inclusion) can be a noble thing. But when applied beyond U.S. borders, local values can make such a unilateral application problematic–and even detrimental to the success of the business.

When it comes to global business, local idiosyncrasies need to play a role in shaping and setting diversity and inclusion targets. After all, why do you have to write laws that say this particular trait or aspect of diversity trumps that one? Should we have a law that says we should have a mixture of people with tattoos? You have to apply some common sense to this concept. It can’t just be some regulatory entity imposing restrictions and guidelines with neither a care nor grasp of what values and beliefs are in play in the business’ host country.

From my global perspective, I’m all for diversity and inclusion, but I’m not for mandates. I believe diversity and inclusion should be applied in a local way. With my time spent in offices far from U.S. soil, I learned that my values don’t necessarily always apply. Therefore, when you’re global, your diversity and inclusion should be local.

A one-size-fits-all mindset and unwavering moralistic attitudes simply do not work in a global company. Rules, norms and issues are different in various countries. For any measure of long-term success–whether it be for diversity and inclusion initiatives, or even just plain old business success itself–there’s no other way.


Edward Kopko served as chairman and CEO of Butler International for 23 years, overseeing a wide array of worldwide offices and sophisticated assignments. While there, he witnessed firsthand the importance of diversity and inclusion for longterm business success, and managed a global workforce that encompassed a multitude of diversity dimensions, ultimately supervising the integration of employees with extremely disparate backgrounds. In addition, he was the CEO and publisher of Chief Executive Magazine, a publication geared towards providing insight for and on C-level executives. His articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and numerous other media outlets. He currently helms the Bold Business Group, a multifaceted media, technology and business solutions company that operates on an international level, with offices in New York City, St. Petersburg, FL, Raleigh, NC, the Philippines and Costa Rica. He is a graduate from Columbia University with a Master’s degree in Economics. Ed is a firm believer in the notion that no true measure of business accomplishment on a global scale is possible without diversity, and that once inclusion enters into the equation, success will follow.

Speeding Up Women’s Herstory

Irene Natividad, 
Global Summit of Women

Whenever International Women’s Day comes around in March globally and Women’s History Month is marked in the U.S., the late women’s rights activist and former Member of the U.S. Congress Bella Abzug would say: “First they gave us a day, and now we have a whole month. Maybe one of these days, they’ll give us a year!!” Laced with her typical humor and sarcasm, the remark underscored the irony of cramming salutes to women’s achievement for just a month or a day.

Well, much has been achieved – women college graduates now outnumber men in many countries, (Bilton, 2018) and women make up 30-50% of the paid labor force. (International Labour Organization, 2019) Women have broken through glass ceilings in different professions (Hess, 2018; Doyle, 2019; Gillett, 2019) and every major leap of progress for women – every ‘first’ — is chronicled in March celebrations around the world. However, there is also an understanding that despite these groundbreakers, the pace of change is much too slow and progress is slim at the top of the leadership pyramid whether in business or politics in every country.

The numbers that attest the long road ahead for women in the United States, are clear — just 5.2% of CEOs, 29% of senior executives (Catalyst, 2019), 28% of board directors in S&P500 companies (Papadopoulos, 2019)and in politics, only 23.7% of Congress and 18% of governors are women (Center for American Women and Politics, 2019) Despite a communal ‘tsk-tsk’ from business and government, incremental gains are the norm. In every report conducted by Corporate Women Directors International (CWDI) of the 200 largest companies in the world since 2004, the rate of progress in women-held board seats in U.S. companies averaged .5% yearly!! (CWDI Reports 2004-2018, n.d.)

Well, Europe came up with its own speed-up mechanism – quota laws that require 30-40% of board seats to be held by women starting with Norway in 2003 (Ekin, 2018) and most recently in Panama, (Women on Board of Directors in Panama, 2018) which announced its quota of 30% women directors in 2018. This strategy has leaped borders and now, 28 economies have some form of quota laws in place not just in Europe but in Malaysia, the UAE and India! (Peacock, 2012)

Here’s the good news – quotas are working. Italy made a leap from only 1.9% women-held board seats a few years ago to 34.8% in 2018 (Corporate Women Directors International, 2018) an unprecedented rate of increase spurred by a quota that mandated 33% women’s representation on boards in 2011. Outside of Norway the best European story comes out of France whose blue chip companies (CAC40) have not only reached the 40% target mandated by law, but many have surpassed it, like energy producer Engie, whose board is 50% female and whose CEO is also a woman. In CWDI’s decade-long study of the 200 largest companies, those based in countries with quotas averaged a higher percentage of women’s appointments to board seats at 33% compared to 17.1% in companies based in countries without legal mandates.

Quotas evoke a shudder among U.S. corporate leaders, and it’s a strategy not likely to be adopted here at the nationwide level. Often, the fear is that mandates will bring in unqualified and incompetents just to fulfill the required numbers. That has not been the case. Magda Bianco, an executive with Italy’s Central Bank, pointed out that board nominations in her country have now become more professionalize with male nominees subjected to the same scrutiny as the women being interviewed for board seats. Her prognosis – the inclusion of women will improve Italy’s corporate governance in the long run as directors are now selected outside of old boys’ networks. CWDI took a look at 113 women appointed to corporate boards in France between 2009-2011, the period when the quota was passed in both houses of Parliament, and it found that the overwhelming majority were senior executives and major entrepreneurs with impressive accomplishments.

Critics point out that quota laws have not produced more women CEOs and senior executives, or addressed the pay gap and work/life issues afflicting women workers. (Bertrand, 2018) Well, quotas were meant to increase the numbers of women directors only, and they are doing exactly that. Besides, so many laws were enacted only recently so it’s too soon to gauge their impact, whether on corporate governance or women workers’ status overall. Clearly, there is an implicit long-term hope that women on boards will have a trickle-down effect that will affect women workers positively and speed up women’s access to leadership roles.

Whether the quota laws to date realize the percentage required, there will be a far larger pool of experienced women board directors as a result, appointed in a far shorter period of time than in prior years. Quotas are a legal ‘door’ that women can now push open to allow many qualified women to be ‘found’ because a law now requires their presence in the corporate boardroom. These mandates, however, do not mean that companies curtail their work in developing a pipeline of talented women to reach top leadership. It’s not an either/or proposition but rather both are needed – quotas for the short-term and pipeline building for the long term.

I have spent over 30 years of my life advocating for women in leadership roles, and I am delighted that there’s now a legal accelerant that will move the numbers faster than the old belief in a supposed meritocracy that has left many qualified women behind for decades. Why the need for speed in creating diverse boards? There is now overwhelming evidence through over 70 reports and studies showing that diverse boards correlate with better corporate bottom lines. Are there other strategies to move more women into corporate leadership roles? Yes, there are, but quotas have proven to be the most effective. So, instead of just a day or a month celebrating women’s achievements, the late U.S. Congresswoman Abzug will now get years’ worth of women’s business leadership in a shorter period of time, maybe not here in the U.S. but in 28 other countries.


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Advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Systemically in Today’s Workplace

Donald Fan,
Sr. Diversity Director & Inclusion,


The challenge: Corporate America has been struggling in achieving sustainable progress in diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) at workplace for decades.

The approach: Adopt futuristic thinking, growth mindset, innovative approaches, a DEI ecosystem, and agility to well-position today’s workforce for new challenges in the digital era.

The impact: DEI transformation contributes to outperforming competition and propelling business success in the disruptive digital world.

We all witness this dilemma that after so many years of committed efforts, corporate America is still facing stagnant progress, racial/gender discrimination, DEI fatigue, apathy, and disparity at the workplace, whereas majority of us believe DEI helps close the division, accelerate innovation, advance performance, and becomes a critical driving force to win in the digital era.

A recent research study, conducted by economists from University of Chicago and Stanford University, indicates that less than one fifth of C-suite executives at large publicly traded U.S. companies are women, only twentyfour of the CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women, and only three are black. According to McKinsey, white women hold only 19% of C-Suite positions, while women of color only hold 4% of them. When Indra Nooyi retired from PepsiCo last year and Geisha Williams left PG&E, the list lost both the only Indian woman and Latina Fortune 500 leader in one fell swoop. There are no African American women leading a Fortune 500 company currently.

The same study by economists from University of Chicago and Stanford University also concludes that 50 years of economic history proves that inclusive workplaces make us all richer. The researchers estimate that if access to education was fully equal across groups and discrimination was to disappear, U.S. GDP per capita would grow by another 15 to 20 percent, making everyone better off.

That is where DEI efforts can contribute to the big picture. The puzzle here is HOW. As diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) executives and practitioners, we keep asking ourselves 1) what are the major barriers that prevent us from achieving sustainable DEI progress in corporate America, and 2) how can we renovate the traditional DEI toolbox and make it relevant and current to this fast-changing world.

By adopting the Theory of Algorithms, a conceptual framework for solving a range of problems, this article attempts to identify some blocks and contemplate how we can revisit DEI in vision, strategy, and practice, to unleash its full power to drive business success.

  1. Define a Futuristic Vision: Drive a Culture Change, Not Play a Numbers Game

Philosophically, we must affirmatively answer this worthwhile question: Is DEI a compliance-based number game or a culture change that engages and includes everyone to attain equality and justice? The reality is that many companies have been pivoting on compliancebased diversity because it is driven by the historical context and government regulation through legal means.

Historically, diversity originated from government initiatives. With the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, it became illegal for businesses to practice discriminatory hiring or firing practices. This focus on the moral obligation to address the impact of traditional discrimination led to affirmative action programs that were introduced in the 1970s. Now companies in the U.S. with more than 100 employees are required to report their diversity data to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on an annual basis. If diversity is imposed through regulation and compliance, corporations tend to direct their attention to number chases.

The length of CEO tenure can impact DEI. According to a recent Equilar study, the median tenure of CEOs at largecap (S&P 500) companies was only five years. The frequent senior executive shifts negatively disrupt the continuum of corporate DEI efforts. An inclusive culture will stop this phenomenon because culture tells us what to do when the CEO is not in the room. We depend on committed CEOs for the sustainable DEI success by embedding DEI into the culture.

Diversity without equity and inclusion will not attract and retain diverse talent, get them fully engaged, foster innovation, or lead to business growth. That is why we witness the common “leaking bucket” pitfall with women and people of color (POC) talent. We must transition our focus on addressing the root – nurturing an inclusive culture and inclusive leadership to sustain diversity.

Compared to data-driven diversity tracking and reporting, fostering an inclusive culture is much harder to accomplish. It calls for an unwavering commitment, strategic planning, intentional actions, and unwavering grit. It takes all functions and levels within the organization to work collaboratively for a mindset and behavior change. DEI must be owned by every employee from individual contributors through the CEO and C-Suite.

How to course correct:

• Obtain a strong commitment from the CEO and C-suite executives. The tone and message from the very top are determining factors for DEI success.

• Craft a narrative helps leaders articulate why DEI is a culture journey with shared interests. That requires everyone’s participation, rather than a silo call from the Chief Diversity Officer and Office of Diversity.

• Include the qualitative measures in the DEI scorecard that track the employees’ perception and experience of inclusion, such as an inclusion index (measuring the sense of belonging, uniqueness, and fairness) and a culture index (measuring the alignment between the employees’ experience and the corporate values practiced in the workplace).

• Transition DEI ownership to business areas and support business leaders with consultancy, expertise, resource, and tools. Hold business leaders accountable for advancing DEI, such as tying the DEI goals to their compensation and performance evaluation.

• Nurture an open environment to welcome and seek different voices, opinion and perspectives, in the meantime creating a compelling group identity that leads to greater cooperation and collective intelligence. The social neuroscientist Jay Van Bavel indicates in his research that diverse teams benefit the most from having a group identity. They can use their different insights to solve a problem together, without the conflict that normally would come from that.

  1. Design a Sustainable Strategy: Adopt Growth Choice, Not Margin Choice

The marginal choice eyes on the short-term needs and aims for incremental change. When the diversity numbers go down, the company strengthens its recruiting efforts to “buy” diversity. Marginal thinking leads to failure of achieving a culture change, continuous improvement, and sustainable progress. Whereas, growth choice invests in “growing” diversity in the incumbent workforce through purposeful development and eco-system that supports and advances diverse talent. Growth mindset helps transform “know-it-all” to “learn-it-all” as promoted by Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella; futuristic thinking that opens the door to non-stop advancement.

In the volatile and complex digital age, DEI becomes the strategic imperative and competitive differentiator. While advanced technology and new opportunities can accelerate business growth, there is no substitute for people. The innovation, new knowledge, soft skills, and agile nature that are wired into our human DNA will help us successfully navigate a rapidly changing marketplace. This long-term growth mentality will unleash the full potential of diverse talent and energize the company around agility, innovative thinking and continuous improvement.

To activate the growth choice, we must have a clear vision and map out a blueprint on what to achieve, where to bet, and how to win.

How to win the game:

• Form a DEI Executive Council to lead the journey, set objectives, connect all the touch points, and provide direction. Leverage their clout to invite and engage more leaders and employees to champion DEI efforts.

• Conduct prescriptive, descriptive and predictive analysis with leading and lagging indicators to better understand the DEI history, lessons learned, current challenges, and set up stretching goals for the future of work.

• Increase transparency of DEI data by granting access to business leaders. Leverage DEI data to uncover WHAT (issues that stand in the way), use insight and intelligence to explain WHY (root cause), and commit to HOW (SMART decisions to tackle the issues).

• Regularly converse with business leaders. Use Bayes’ theory to update our beliefs when we encounter new evidence and theories that conflict with what we already know. Validate pre-existing beliefs, while reviewing new evidence (data), by asking if the new evidence confirms our beliefs or if alternatives exist that better explain the challenges we are facing. Then focus on an action plan to tackle current missing links.

• Create an accountability system with explicit measures to gauge the progress on a regular basis. Neuroscience and psychological studies have demonstrated that it is not enough have evidence (DEI data) as an ace card. It takes a common motivation and shared purpose to move the needles.

• Link DEI with outcomes that matter to business leaders to secure buy-in and ownership.

• Convey the consistent message through all communication channels. Articulate the narrative at every possible venue and business meeting.

  1. Execute with Agility: Pivot on a Holistic Ecosystem, Not Standalone Programs

While conversing with Dr. Frank Dobbin, co-author of the Harvard Business Review article “Why Diversity Programs Fail”, we discussed the research findings based on three decades’ data from more than 800 U.S. companies and hundreds of line managers’ and executives’ interviews. Dr. Dobbin pointed out “It shouldn’t be surprising that most diversity programs aren’t increasing diversity. Despite a few new bells and whistles, courtesy of big data, companies are basically doubling down on the same approaches they’ve used since the 1960s—which often make things worse, not better. Companies have long relied on diversity training to reduce bias on the job, hiring tests and performance ratings to limit it in recruitment and promotions, and grievance systems to give employees a way to challenge managers. Those tools are designed to pre-empt lawsuits by policing managers’ thoughts and actions.” I agree many of today’s DEI programs are developed with the one-size-fits-all approach, mandatory requirement, or the command and control style. They are more based on fixing others’ beliefs. Because they do not aim to touch people’s heart and nudge for behavior change, they are doomed to fail from the start.

We know that standalone DEI programs and raising awareness do not change people’s mindset and behavior. Take the unconscious bias training as an example, Dr. Brian Nosek, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, indicates in his study of reviewing the state of evidence for implicit bias and implications pursuing effective strategies for DEI: “There is little evidence supporting the effectiveness of implicit bias training in improving diversity and inclusion.”

To close the gap between the conventional wisdom and effective outcome, we must rethink and redesign DEI programs by propelling mindset and behavior change, growing curiosity, and teaching management with ways to solve complex problems in the digital age. Purposefully establish an ecosystem where every programmatic effort builds on the success of previous ones. And more importantly, we need to integrate DEI into the talent lifecycle through the well thought-through policy, process, procedure, and practice.

How to bend the curve:

• Utilize design thinking, offer resourceful and supportive platforms that attract, motivate and retain a large base of employees, rather than standalone start-stop programs. Some examples include a mentoring/sponsorship platform with well-curated content and discussion guides, an ERG/BRG platform with executive support, a system of development with well-targeted learning and upskilling opportunities, and a social media platform where employees can share their stories, ideas, and experiences.

• Adopt an agile approach, develop and distribute action-based tool (minimum viable product) to help managers advocate DEI and make better decisions. For example, craft a de-bias card for each talent decision scenario (hiring, talent review, promotion, performance evaluation, succession planning) with implicit bias callouts, standard procedure reminder, and strategy to mitigate the bias.

• Create more immersive learning opportunities to encourage everyone to learn from people with different backgrounds to better understand their experience, and point of view. Leverage movie, social incident, historic site visit, TED talk and other resources to drive open and honest conversations in the team. Sarah Cliffe, editorial director at the Harvard Business Review, advised in her article “Race at Work” that educating ourselves about others’ experience is the first step to help close the racial equity gap in the workplace.

• Instead of pushing a mandatory DEI training, provide an education curriculum and menu for employees to choose and pull based on their personalized need. This approach helps reduce the sense of imposing and elevate a sense of ownership and relevance.

• Teach inclusive leadership (characteristics, competencies, behaviors), including how to role-model it dayin-day-out and how to lead a diverse team effectively and efficiently.

• Make DEI an integral part of every business and people decision, rather than an afterthought. Ensure we have the process and procedure in place to make it real. The goal of this effort is to infuse DEI as part of the DNA of our business.

To sum up, all the recommendations and lessons learned can be categorized into the four DEI success factors:

  1. Strong leadership commitment and role-model from the top
  2. Design thinking and new approaches relevant to today’s business challenges and employees’ career aspiration in the digital era
  3. Accountability with game-changing indicators that drive sustainable progress
  4. Broad engagement cross functions and levels to co-own and co-lead DEI journey

To leverage DEI to propel the bottom lines of planet, people, profit today and tomorrow, we must re-think and revisit the conventional wisdom and so-called best practices adopted in the past. We must constantly explore and experiment new ways of thinking and working.

We can achieve that goal because we believe in what we do, and our collective commitment and efforts will get us there.