Resonant Leadership for All Leaders

Dr. Patricia Arredondo
Arredondo Advisory Group

Emotional intelligence and cultural competency are integral to leadership in organizations. With heightened conversations and plans to centralize DEI efforts in organizations, theoretical foundations also matter. The people leading the way require a mindset for transformation and possibilities but also means to engage the majority to come along. DEI efforts are often controversial because they create new learning curves and emotional discomfort, thus leaders require effective ways to communicate about priorities, approaches to change, and expectations of the workforce.

Cultural Competency

Models of cultural competency present a tripartite approach to DEI leadership: cultural self-awareness, knowledge of others, knowledge of contextual factors (i.e., societal and political), and how these contribute to responsive behavior in a diverse workforce. For example, 2020 introduced an interplay of societal conditions that differentially affected individuals. Women assumed more work and family responsibilities, persons of color in service roles became unemployed sooner and had greater health risks, and younger workers faced threats of unemployment because they were the last hired. Leaders must be aware of these scenarios, how they think and feel about them, and the behavioral approaches they will take to support and make the necessary changes for their organizations through a DEI lens. 

Resonant Leadership

The model of emotional intelligence is applied widely in organizations and often related to inclusive leadership. The four tenets are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management, aligning well with a cultural competency mindset. Leading inclusively in a diverse workforce of individuals with intersecting identities requires a heightened attention to relationship management. A resonant leader attends to relationships, is people-centered and skilled in listening and expressing empathy. Although often considered soft skills, because relational matters are often attributed to women, when it comes to leadership, everyone requires social awareness and empathy to create a fair, respectful, equitable, and inclusive work environment. In my study of Latina leaders, I learned that their leadership was resonant, based on their values, social awareness, empathy, and relationship management.

Inclusive Leadership though a DEI Lens

The DEI spotlight in organizations has introduced terminology about inclusionary practices. What we know is that inclusive leadership practices require intentionality with plans for transformation informed by all sectors of the internal organization and other constituencies. At universities, student voices matter; hospitals need to hear from their patients as well as their employees; city governments have to know how services are delivered and their equitability to different demographic groups; and  corporations need to take a pulse of their diverse customer base. Inclusive leadership through a DEI lens is not about delegating but about participating, modeling, and demonstrating that collective energy and efforts are needed to advance equity and inclusion plans for the immediate and the long-term.

Chicago State University Researchers Sheds Light on Structural Inequality Precipitated by An Equal Opportunity Coronavirus

Derrick Collins
College of Business, Chicago State University


Empirical analysis performed by economic and financial researchers, Drs. Ernst Coupet and Dr. Ehab Yamani, in their recent study, Economic Report on the Impact of the Coronavirus on the African American Employment in Chicago, predicts inequitable unemployment impacts on African Americans and Latinos in the City of Chicago as a result of the onset of the novel coronavirus,Covid-19. Moreover, this predictability of unequal impact aligns with long-held anecdotal beliefs common in the African American community.

Since the Age of Enlightenment, the arc of human progress has been advanced by the analysis of empirical data, however, four centuries later a biological contagion serves as a catalyst of reason.

A novel coronavirus with the utilitarian name, Covid-19, revealed in stark relief the structural inequity undergirding U.S. employment practices and the predictable negative consequences of this behavior.  A companion pair of research essays conducted by two finance professors from Chicago State University, correctly predicted that African Americans will suffer disproportionately as a result of a virus which, itself, exhibits no racial bias.  Dr. Ernst Coupet and Dr. Ehab Yamani co-authored the, “Economic Report on the Impact of the Coronavirus on the African American Employment in Chicago” for the purpose of examining “the effect of the virus may have on the state of inequality among the African American labor community.” 

What is so striking about the Coupet/Yamani research compilation is the sheer predictability – the fact that racial bias in the U.S. is so pervasive, and so persistent, it can be mathematically modeled.  A set of actions and reactions that are ugly and cold, but nonetheless are orderly, predictable, systemic and thereby can be reduced to an algebraic equation.  Such a dynamic is the definition of structural bias.  The second-most striking thing about this body of research is that the data analysis provides empirical evidence for some common axioms, regarding race, which African Americans have quoted for decades.  This “common knowledge” was provided quantitative support by the Coupet/Yamani study, as it validated the insight of generations of elders in the African American community.

“When White Folk Catch Cold, Black Folk Get Pneumonia”

The researchers studied the employment impacts caused by the September 11, 2000 terrorist attack and the 2007 – 2008 recession, and used this history, combined with higher-order mathematics, to illuminate a clear racial bias in the U.S. and Chicago labor markets.  The rationale for studying these two events to predict the impact of Covid-19 on employment is that these events were unplanned and sudden external shocks to the economy in a fashion similar to the sudden onset of the coronavirus on the country.  In both cases, the national unemployment rates for African Americans were higher and more volatile.  The 2007–2008 “Great Recession” was quite an impactful event as the African American unemployment rate peaked at 13.56%, in contrast to the white unemployment rate which peaked at 7.44% during the same time period.  Moreover, African Americans experienced more volatility during this time period as reflected in a standard deviation of 2.75%, while the standard deviation of white unemployment was 1.75%. Again, a disproportionate impact on black folk during a painful economic time period.  

African Americans in the City of Chicago during this time period suffered a more acute impact as evidenced by a mean unemployment rate of 13.90% and standard deviation of 3.92% – roughly double the white unemployment rate of 6.28% and standard deviation of 2.20%.

“Last Hired, First Fired”

Delving deeper into this analysis of unemployment following the exogenous economic shocks of 9/11 and the Great Recession, the data appears to show that there is an actual preference for white employees over African-Americans and Latinos.  In general, African American unemployment rises quicker and higher, and lasts longer, than white unemployment following an unplanned and sudden “shock event” similar that of a 9/11 or Great Recession.  The researchers found that the data indicates, “a long-run association between white unemployment and African American unemployment, in the sense that unemployment is first decreased in the white sector, followed by a lagged unemployment decrease in the African American labor market.  This finding suggests that most of the unemployment in the white sector are of the structural and frictional forms, while the African American unemployment is largely cyclical in nature.  Put differently, the African American labor market appears to serve as a secondary labor market to the white sector that fills in during expansionary times but suffers great losses during economic downturns.”

“It’s Not What You Know, But Who You Know”

When discussing unemployment rates and race, the impact of education is usually invoked as it has been proven to have a significant impact on employment and income.  The researchers acknowledge the longstanding academic literature that correlates educational attainment with earnings – generally speaking, the higher the educational attainment, the higher one’s earnings.  However, the Coupet/Yamani study validates that beyond education, the factor with the most impact on unemployment continues to be race.  In the subject study, the researchers compared 24 specific community areas on the South/Southeast sections of Chicago which are primarily African American and Latino to the 77 neighborhoods that comprise the entire city.  In 2019, the mean unemployment rate for the City of Chicago was 8.5%, whereas the South/Southeast sides’ rate was 12.6%, which is 48% higher than the city, as a whole.  Similarly, the mean of median household income for Chicago during this time was $53,392, as compared to the South/Southeast side result of $37,477, which is 30% lower than the overall city result.  

These statistics appear unsurprising at first glance, until the context of educational attainment is considered.  Citywide, 16.2% of Chicago households have less than a high school diploma, as compared to the 15.1% of South/Southeast households, which fared approximately 7% better than the city’s results.  City households with a high school diploma and some college coursework comprise 51.2%, as compared to the South/Southeast side where 58.4% of households attained the same level of education, which equates to a 14% better level of attainment than the overall city households.  Chicago households with a college degree represent 32.7%, compared to 26.4% of South/Southeast households.  Thus, the educational attainment of households in African American and Latino neighborhoods in Chicago is better at all levels other than a modest differential in college attainment.  This brings the analysis back to race to explain the disparities in the categories that really matter, such as employment and income.

“Lift Every Voice”

Sometimes data can be shocking – this is one of those times.  Numbers are typically dispassionate, sterile, and cold to the touch.  However, on rare occasions, a sequence of digits will glow like embers – illuminating objects in close proximity, while emanating heat and invoking passion.  Most people, with a basic sense of fairness and logic, understand that a random collection of numbers can show almost anything – once, maybe twice.  However, something is terribly amiss when the dice are thrown and the combination of digits add up to the same seven or eleven for white individuals, while the dreaded “snake eyes” is the reliable and consistent result for black and brown folk.  Every. Single. Time.  This is not only unfair – it’s unproductive and suboptimal.  The strength of diversity is just that – strength.  It has been empirically proven that the inclusion all builds a stronger whole, nevertheless, more work is needed to make this a realistic norm.

The analysis performed by this diverse team of researchers (African American of Haitian lineage and Egyptian) illustrates the systemic – alas, predictive – disparities in the U.S. employment sector.  This structural inequity must be addressed with a structural process that makes awareness of diversity a positive element, as opposed to being a trigger for negative response.  To make this happen will require the intervention of awareness and education to remove the structural inequities and improve the outcomes of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) among all citizens.  Given this need, the work of DEI professionals will only become more important, more impactful, and more necessary as we seek to move mindsets, and a country, forward into a more diverse, equitable and inclusive existence.


Coupet, E. & Yamani, E. (2020).  Economic Report on the Impact of the Coronavirus on the African American Employment in Chicago.  Chicago, Illinois; Chicago State University.  Downloaded from:

No Excuses: WFH Means It’s Time to Accelerate Diversity

By Ed Kopko
CEO & Publisher, Bold Business
Chief Technology Strategist
Diversity MBA Media & Diversity Learning Solutions

Prior to the pandemic, 17% of the workforce worked from home. That number jumped to44% in 2020 1, and recent surveys reveal that 74% of companies plan to make certain aspects of that workforce shift permanent.2 Why? Because the transition to work-from-home (WFH) life was nearly seamless, which showed that, regardless of where employees live, a good Internet connection ensures businesses can go on as usual, and even thrive. In fact, a recent study by Hubspot found that 91% of remote workers say they are more productive than when working in their office.3 This bodes well for productivity, and it also means that by breaking down the “distance barrier” and taking geography out of the equation, there is virtually nothing standing in the way of companies expanding the diversity of their workforce. WFH reduces location bias, increases job accessibility… reduces excuses!

“Work From Home has radically altered the diversity hiring equation by reducing location bias and expanding job access for all across the diversity spectrum.”      -Edward Kopko

Recruiting and hiring has long been done by plumbing the depths of the local talent pool. If a company’s office was in Manhattan, NY, or Miami, FL, or Billings, MT, then employees came from within commuting distance. If a city lacked diversity, the company was somewhat off the hook in terms of finding a diverse workforce. How could they find BIPOC candidates if there were none within range of car, bus or subway? It was one of the top reasons companies cited for not meeting diversity goals. This geographic impediment to diversity hiring is a form of location bias, and as per Recruiting Daily, “remote work helps defeat location bias… and opens the door to new and transformative opportunities.” 4

With WFH more prominent and viable, companies can tap into a talent pool that extends throughout the world. A workforce logging in from home means nearly limitless job accessibility, and “[b]y embracing remote work, companies can take on all types of workers they would otherwise miss out on.”5 This broadening of the diversity spectrum means more qualified candidates who would otherwise be excluded based on gender, disability, or more. Global hiring also means companies can accelerate their diversity by working with partners with international footprints. After all, global hiring gives the added benefit of true cultural diversity (and transforms managers with culturally-homogenous management skills to those with true cross-cultural leadership ability).

In addition to opening up the talent pool, WFH means a far easier implementation of tools used for diversity hiring. As per, “Diversity hiring is hiring based on merit with special caretaken to ensure procedures are free from biases related to a candidate’s age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and other personal characteristics that are unrelated to their job performance.” 6 The tools of diversity hiring include blind hiring, in which a candidate’s personal information is scrubbed to reduce unconscious bias, and intelligent shortlisting, which utilizes automated software to screen qualified candidates.

According to Diversity Jobs, “beginning in September of 2020, women were forced out of the workforce at four times the rate of men.” 7 With women worldwide shouldering the bulk of homecare responsibilities, it’s no wonder that they’ve departed from the workforce in such numbers. However, this expansion of the gender gap–which is an enduring impediment to workforce diversity–can be fixed. “Despite the challenges of homecare duties, there are studies that have shown that WFH’s flexibility allows mothers to continue working normal hours after childbirth–if they wish–letting them maintain well-paying jobs and remaining in the workforce even in more demanding times for their families.” 8

Prior to the pandemic, I wrote in the Diversity Business Review that “[w]hen 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.” 9

Thanks to WFH, every company can go–and should already be–global. Which means that there is nothing truly stopping a workforce from getting a healthy dose of diversity.

Don’t forget diversity (or equity and inclusion) during this time, especially if it feels like your business is in limbo because every employee is working from home. A WFH posture opens up a world of possibilities when it comes to making a workforce more diverse. And if you need guidance in navigating these waters, there are consultants and training videos available to help you, courtesy of Diversity MBA and Bold Business.

The bottom line is that WFH reduces excuses and expands possibilities. With working from home, it’s time to accelerate DEI initiatives!



Edward Kopko currently serves as CEO and Publisher  Bold Business LLC, , a  global outsourcing and technology solutions company that operates on an international level, with offices in New York City, St. Petersburg, FL, Raleigh, NC, the Philippines and India.  Ed previously 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 long-term business success, and managed a global workforce of over 4000 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 is a graduate from Columbia University with a Master’s degree in Economics. For his work promoting DEI issues, he was given the 2019 Diversity Impact Award, and his book, PROJECT BOLD LIFE: The Proven Formula to Take on Challenges and Achieve Happiness and Success, has been described as a “must read text for those facing diversity and inclusion challenges.” 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.






4 Recruiting Daily,

5 Seekout,


7 Diversity Jobs,

8 Diversity Jobs, ibid.

9 Diversity Business Review,

Coaching as a Catalyst to Build Executive Presence in the DEI Space

By Dr. Linda A. Liang,
Organizational Resources, LLC

I was 26 years old, one year in my job as a statistician at a non-profit in downtown Chicago. Relatively new to the professional world, I was promoted to the Manager of the exam unit, now leading a team of 9 employees, with two degreed professionals. My promotion was a surprise tome, even though I had recommended myself for the job. I asked the Director why I was promoted, and she said, “you look like a manager.” Another way to describe what she said is “executive presence”(e.g.,neat, professional clothing, and well-spoken)

After coaching more than 300 leaders, including over 100 leaders from diverse backgrounds, I find that Individuals often seek coaching to increase their career opportunities, executive presence, power, and visibility at work. Performance is comprised of two major components: How you are perceived and what you produce. We tend to focus on what we produce, but research shows(Hewlett, 2014) that to be considered for positions of authority you have to display executive presence, in other words how other people perceive us, e.g., the ability to command a room, be noticed and attract others. Make no mistake, performance matters.

Executive presence is comprised of three components: gravitas(how you engage others),communication(how you speak)and appearance(how you look).How you look is comprised of being polished and groomed, physically attractive, simple stylish clothes such as those needed for the next level up, being tall, and displaying energy. Of course, the workplace norms also playa part of what is expected in terms of physical appearance. For women, Hewlett’s research study indicates that having visible, but not too much makeup is associated with being a leader and having moderate makeup is associated with being trustworthy (Hewlett,2014).One must wear clothing that is neat in appearance, pressed and appropriate for the audience. Note that this may vary depending on the individual, and usually our instincts are our best guides.

Coaching is a powerful tool in which you and a coach “co-create” your path and progress. The coach is there to guide you, you are there to do the work. The coach provides a safe sounding board, to take risks, try on new ideas, so that you can be completely honest with yourself and focus completely on yourself and your priorities. Coaching helps you to identify your leadership strengths and blind spots, to enable you to fully utilize your gifts and talents. In the diverse workplace, we need to attend to ourselves and the individuals with whom we engage. Following is an example, based on a composite of my coaching clients, of how coaching can empower you to be more visible and present.

I was coaching an African-American leader who had been selected to be a representative of her organization on a national committee. She did not recognize her leadership strengths, and felt unqualified, and reluctant to attend the committee meeting. She completed a 360-degree review of her strengths and was surprised to learn that she had many leadership skills,(e.g., teamwork, empathy, strategic thinking, etc). She decided to attend and just listen. She feared that her ideas would be different, and that she did not really know how the committee worked–who were the power players and what were the expectations. By discussing with me all the “what ifs”, why she had been selected, what her strengths were, and what, perhaps, she might be able to contribute, she realized that she had a place there, and could contribute to the results of the meeting. She attended, spoke up and was soon tagged as a “leader” for her different point of view and diplomatic way of leading the conversation. She was soon asked to chair a more highly visible and powerful committee. If she had been quiet, as she had planned, her talents and contributions would have been lost. Note that this example is a composite example of individuals I have coached. One of the lessons learned is that a coach can guide you to address self-doubt and affirm your capabilities. This guidance can be a catalyst to strengthen your executive presence and opportunities.


Hewlett, S.A., Allwood, N., Sumberg, K.,2014.Cracking the Code: Executive Presenceand Multicultural Professionals. Center for Talent Innovation.

Hewlett, S.A.(2014).Executive Presence.New York, NY:Harper Collins Books

Dr. Linda Liang is a leadership expert and executive coach, (certified by the International CoachFederation). She has spoken often on Building Power and Executive Presence, and Power andInfluence. She holds a Ph.D. In Industrial/Organizational Psychologyand coaches leaders forpresence, power, passion, and prosperity. She is the President of Organizational Resources,LLC. To continue the discussion, contact her at

Focus on the NEXT!

By Diana Starks,
Vice President of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, And Opportunity
Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland


The work of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is integral to successful outcomes in a variety of disciplines and industries, none the least which include business, education, healthcare, service and hospitality. The pandemic required many industries to reimagine how they would operate, while others were unable to survive and have since closed their doors. The strain and impact of hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and deaths amid seems like a growing anxiety among many, impacting for some their psychological safety. The global pandemic was a precursor to a next pivotal moment in history–civil unrest and attention on over four hundred years of systemic racism. Amid the turbulence, there arose a surge of career opportunities for DEI professionals. For-profit corporations began to see the need as integral to their market share. For others, the outcry of their employee base and stakeholder interest began to drive an increased focus on DEI. Despite the interest and heightened attention, those that are looking for an immediate remedy need to focus on transformative change to address short-term needs that lead to long-term sustainable gains. These are not just improvements related to business profits; the need is for gains that are grounded in principles and values of justice, access, and equity for all.

So, what is NEXT?

I appreciate the opportunities to talk with other thought leaders and advanced DEI practitioners as it is another foundation for birthing ideas that may lead to sustainable actions. During one conversation in early December the concept of looking for the NEXT prompted an explanation of the acronym–New Engagement to Xchange Together. NEXT is the new experience to collaborate and work together. Industry thought leaders and DEI advanced practitioners are not dwelling in the past or pre-pandemic conditions; they are looking ahead to the NEXT. Our focus is on the opportunities that are hidden and those to birth amid uncertainty. We can achieve more together than we can individually.

This is the call to action: Look beyond what was; look to what needs to be in every area to ensure equity for all.

The opinions expressed here are solely those of Diana Starks and are not the official statement of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland is one of 12 regional Reserve Banks that along with the Board of Governors in Washington DC comprise the Federal Reserve System. Part of the nation’s central bank, the Cleveland Fed participates in the formulation of US monetary policy, supervises banking organizations, provides payment and other services to financial institutions and the US Treasury, and performs many activities that support Federal Reserve operations Systemwide. In addition, the Bank supports the well-being of communities across the Fourth Federal Reserve District through a wide array of research, outreach, and education activities.

The Cleveland Fed, with branches in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, serves an area that comprises Ohio, western Pennsylvania, eastern Kentucky, and the northern panhandle of West Virginia. For more information, go to or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.

Collecting Social Needs Data to Drive Equity and Performance

By Knitasha Washington
President & Founder
ATW Health Solutions


This article suggests that a data-driven approach to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is essential when companies are seeking a global workforce and consumers. The diverse needs of both the workforce as well as consumers need to be considered in strategic plans to improve DEI. When it comes to equity, health equity plays a role in business and demands the attention of DEI business leaders. A health equity strategy can be interwoven into all businesses—from the factory floor to the office cubicles all the way up to the board room—to address causal factors effecting health outcomes such as housing, food, transportation, and financial needs. Achievement of business outcomes and revenue targets require the integration of human and operational factors that drive the entire ecosystem in a global marketplace. Business leaders are increasingly acknowledging employees’ social factors affects their health, which in turn affects multiple business factors including employee and business productivity, benefits, and insurance costs; all of which affects the organization’s financial performance. People’s social factors impact80% of their health outcomes and are known as the social determinants of health. These social determinants of health become more significant in communities that are geographically located in urban or rural areas that employ a disproportionate number of lower-income workers. This article highlights the social determinants of health and the use of an innovative e-tool to capture data as part of an equity strategy to improve the health of workers and consumers to drive organizational performance.

Key words: equity, health equity, social determinants of health, data collection, health care quality

Collecting social needs data to drive equity and performance

Research shows social determinants account for up to 80-90% of a person’s health outcomes (Magnan, 2017). Whether an employee is struggling with transportation to work or is living in a food desert, the focus on capturing real-time data to identify and address social needs is pivotal to improved productivity. Achievement of business outcomes and revenue targets require the integration of human and operational factors that drive the entire ecosystem in a global marketplace. Understanding diverse cultures, communications and communities is an imperative to ensure business success. Organizations ranging from large private commercial entities that are self-insured to smaller community-based organizations, business leaders need data-driven interventions that support the workforce as well as the consumer and local community. Within health care institutions, this is further complicated when geographically located in underserved communities that reside both the workforce and the patient populations.

To define many of the social factors that impact health outcomes, the World Health Organization (n.d.) refers to them as social determinants of health (SDOH) as “the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live and age and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life.” The SDOH includes housing needs, food and clothing insecurity, lack of money or resources for medications, utility bills etc. Health inequity, also referred to as health disparities, is defined by the Institute for Health Equity (n.d.) as, “Unfair distribution [of power, money and resources] creates avoidable health inequalities…”

In the United States rural, low-income and racial/ethnic minorities experience decreased access to high-quality healthcare as evidenced by decades of research citing health disparities, and policy decisions that had a disregard for social determinants.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reports that the social determinants of health(SDOH) account for as much as 80% of health outcomes (Manatt & Phillips, 2019, p. 1).These factors negatively affect State Medicaid programs (the U.S. safety-net insurance program) and their ability to control the cost of healthcare delivery. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) (2019), healthcare is one of the largest vertical business markets in the United States and accounts for $3.8 trillion and17.7% of the gross domestic product. This further magnifies the importance of DEI business leaders to understand and recognize the importance of capturing and addressing social needs of employees.

Health inequities account for millions in annual losses to the U.S. economy each year. According to Turner (2016, pp. 20-29),

“Healthier workers have fewer sick days, are more productive on the job, and have lower medical care costs. A healthier population saves everyone in insurance premiums and health-related public spending. Beyond the toll in avoidable human suffering, we estimate disparities in health in the U.S. today represent $93 billion in excess medical care costs and $42 billion in untapped productivity, for a total potential economic gain of $135 billion per year.”

A recent example of the application of social determinants of health intervention is illustrated by UnitedHealth’s recent purchase of apartments near Phoenix, AZ for 60 former homeless persons enrolled in Medicaid, to lower the cost of healthcare by taking care of their members’ social needs. UnitedHealth is America’s largest health insurer with a market capitalization of $240 billion ranked 7thon the 2020 Fortune 500. This demonstrates the organization’s understanding that an individual, whether an employee or patient, social needs cost the healthcare system a significant amount of money and decrease revenues for their business.

States can mandate business leaders of Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) to integrate social support into health plan care management and address the social needs of their members as part of their healthcare management obligation. Clearly, this has a financial impact that demands attention and creates an opportunity for CDOs to leverage a culturally and linguistically appropriate strategy to address equity. Currently, 24 states require MCOs to perform social determinant screening for their beneficiaries as part of their care management recognizing that addressing the social needs of their constituents has a positive effect on health outcomes.

Historically, the United States healthcare payment system was driven by a fee-for-service payment model which pays a medical provider for the amount or volume of medical services provided. Therefore, most physician offices have a medical model of care that does not actively address social needs of patients. New policy reform is now driving payment based on quality of care, referred to as value-based payment, which can result in shared savings payments to providers. Value-based payment models pay for quality care which requires providers to achieve targets specific to a defined set of health outcome measures. The shift from fee-for-service payments to value-based payments makes screening for social determinants imperative, especially for those beneficiaries with high-costs and high-needs. However, many solo and small practices are challenged to integrate the requirements to transition to value-based care because of the lack of technology, qualified, well-trained staff, unreliable revenue cycles, private vs. public insurance mix and high percent of unpaid receivables from uninsured patients.

The Issues

Business leaders are increasingly acknowledging employees’ social factors affects their health, which in turn affects multiple business factors including employee and business productivity, benefits, and insurance costs; all of which affects the organization’s financial performance. Therefore, capturing SDOH data for vulnerable patients who may also be members of the workforce improves health as well as business outcomes. Additionally, the shift to value-based payments for health care providers creates a business case for collecting this data. SDOH data provides a more holistic view of patients by looking at factors that influence well-being in tandem with medical care to decrease costs and improve quality.

Given the profound impact social determinants have on health outcomes, it is also important to understand the issues related to data collection and integration into ambulatory workflows and electronic medical records. Healthcare providers today are becoming increasingly aware of social determinants for health and the need to utilize both individual and population health aggregate data to assist in understanding the underlying challenges at the point of care. While many providers express concern that social determinants are not within their span of control, acknowledging the need to collect and use SDOH data to better understand the challenges patients face is widely accepted. Limited results have been documented supporting the collection of SDOH data and the integration of both social and medical data to improve outcomes.

HealthCare Dynamics International (HCDI), a healthcare management and technology firm committed to quality improvement, leveraged its experience, began to address this issue in collaboration with CMS’ Transforming Clinical Practice Initiative (TCPI), a large-scale quality improvement project to improve outcomes in ambulatory care environments. HCDI focused on working with clinicians and medical practices across the country through a pilot program to prepare their business for alternative payment models by implementing an e-tool, called Caring for Your Health (CFYH), for SDOH data collection. Since research shows patient outcomes are significantly influenced by SDOH, one of the CFYH e-Tool integration goals was to make SDOH data collection and utilization easier to integrate into a clinical workflow in the ambulatory medical practice setting. The purpose of using the CFYH SDOH e-Tool for the pilot program was to understand challenges and successes in workflow redesign and real-time data collection to capture actionable social needs that supports person-centered care coordination of SDOH support services. The primary objective of the pilot was to identify the SDOH issues that patients were experiencing and develop strategies to integrate patient’s needs into their care plan thus addressing health disparities.

Method & Procedures

HCDI piloted a patient-facing social determinants screening e-tool, the Caring for Your Health (CFYH) SDOH e-Tool, across multiple medical practices to identify and address social determinants of health and health equity. The CFYH SDOH e-Tool was initially designed by HCDI in its work supporting primary care small business practices to address the social needs of patients with diabetes. HCDI’s CFYH SDOH e-tool was designed to capture real-time social needs that impact patient and population health and supports implementing data-driven, targeted interventions aimed at improving health and wellness. The CFYH e-tool captures up to 23 data fields organizing patient level data that can be easily mapped to ICD-10 Z coding system (CFYH Tool and Z codes: Z55-Z65 persons with potential health hazards related to socioeconomic and psychological circumstances). This pilot study was not an IRB approved research study but data collected with a rapid-cycle improvement project for the purpose of learning and sharing.

SDOHData Collection and Utilization

During the pilot program, HCDI partnered with medical practices across the United States implementing CFYH SDOH e-Tool for data collection and utilization. The licenses for the CFYH SDOH e-Tool were provided at no charge to the pilot participants. SDOH data related to housing, access to food, access to medication and transportation resources was collected from patients in clinic settings using three primary source points: 1) an iPad 2) integration with a patient portal via an electronic medical record (EMR) or 3) paper surveys. For each SDOH data element, validated questions were asked to assess underlying factors influencing chronic conditions. After SDOH data was collected, information including patient demographic data such as Race, Ethnicity and Language (REaL) data was compiled by the care team along with the patient’s location, chronic health conditions and community resources utilized.

Research was conducted regarding the availability of Government and community resources for the pilot program sites. Information about these resources were grouped using categories of temporary housing, food resources, transportation services, health insurance enrollment, county resources, utility assistance, veteran services, referral services, and easy access pharmaceutical needs. Phone calls were made by the care team to confirm the legitimacy of the resources identified as well as the qualification process for the patients to receive services. Once confirmed, the information was then categorized into sub-sections for care team member’s use with patients who screened positive for SDOH needs.

Members of the care team known as care coordinators contacted patients and provided literacy and navigation assistance and a plan to access community resources. A timeline was established to give patients an opportunity to engage and obtain the resources provided to close the gaps of specific social needs. A follow-up call was implemented by the staff to ensure the patient followed through with the given resources. Prompt communication and frequent follow-ups were part of the support process to successfully close each identified gap.


A total of 3,510 patient assessments were made using CFYH SDOH e-Tool during the pilot period across four physician practice networks. More than 45% of the patient population in each participating pilot site reported at least one SDOH and one site reported 90% of the target population reporting at least one SDOH. While the top reported SDOH’s varied by site, food insecurity was consistently identified as one of the top three SDOH concerns.

Gap closures for the targeted population averaged 30% of all cases. The lack of sufficient updated patient contact information was cited as a concern and limitation to increasing the number of gap closures. Examples such as the incorrect patient phone numbers, disconnected phone service, or full voicemail boxes, made it challenging to reach the patient.

Improved outcomes for the clinical practice sites were also demonstrated. Table1summarizes the results of one of the four participating sites that reported promising results in three performance measures including,

  • a decrease of 10.34% in non-emergent emergency room visits (NER),
  • inpatient utilization (IPU), down nearly 25%, improving performance from <25 to25th compliance rate percentile, and
  • an increase of nearly 6% in 14-day follow-up visit after inpatient discharge(FU14).


Optimal strategies to improve employee and patient health outcomes are ones that are well informed with data rooted in human centered, actionable and real-time data collection. This enables a comprehensive strategy that best meets the needs of the workforce who then are best equipped to serve the needs of the consumer and the community. This builds good will and business brand. In the TCPI pilot, the CFYH SDOH e-Tool demonstrated its effectiveness in capturing real-time actionable data from patients in a medical practice. The CFYH SDOH e-Tool provides one example of a way in which SDOH data can be collected that minimizes administrative staff time and preserves the integrity and privacy of the consumer patient.

It is hypothesized after a continued process of consistent screening for social determinants, patients’ social concerns will be improved as well as overall clinical health outcomes. With results showing that up to 80-90% of health outcomes are a result of social, behavioral and economic factors, identifying and understanding social determinants of health has the potential to drastically improve quality outcomes.

The ease of application of the CFYH SDOH e-Tool within medical practices with low resources suggest its purpose can be applied across multiple business types to capture real-time social needs data on a workforce in multiple locations. In light of the trend of working from home due to COVID-19, the CFYH SDOH e-Tool may be privately deployed for employee assistance programs to glean data to support employees achieving greater work satisfaction. Creating an atmosphere that offers employees the opportunity to share their social needs builds staff loyalty and retention. The CFYH SDOH e-Tool questions may be customized to address specific needs unique to an organization’s workforce due to the geographic location, industry, season of the year or health needs.

Efforts must be made to better understand the underlying factors that influence health disparities as well as health outcomes. The collection and use of SDOH data is a promising practice that can be used to improve overall health outcomes. The implementation of the CFYH SDOH e-Tool alone raised awareness of the pervasiveness of issues related to patient outcomes. The use of care team members to collect community level data and perform patient follow-ups created a systematic approach to the work by eliminating or decreasing social concerns which resulted in health improvements. This is a critical element required in a value-based care delivery and payment environment.

These efforts are a start but are not enough. If all States mandate MCO’s to help low-resource providers address social needs this would be a step in the right direction for addressing health disparities, equal access to high-quality care and lower costs. U.S. policymakers need to confront the real and perceived barriers to healthcare and find systemic solutions to provide equal access to quality healthcare for all. Chief Diversity Officers leading organizations across a broad spectrum of industries are summoned to drive health and well-being in an equitable data-driven way for a growingly diverse workforce.

Summary and Recommendation

As healthcare continues to transition to a value-based care system, the CFYH SDOH e-Tool aligns with a systems approach to collecting SDOH data and addressing social needs that impact health outcomes. Doing such not only improves patient outcomes but also performance outcomes in medical practices providing a return on investment. Improving both patient outcomes and organizational performance can ultimately have a positive downstream economic impact as well.

Whereas the CFYH SDoH e-Tool was initially piloted in medical practices, it can also be used for staff in non-medical organizational settings. It is proposed that by electronically screening for and addressing social determinants, people have a higher probability to achieve improved health and well-being. Due to the significant influence social determinants have on overall health outcomes, this can translate to improved worksite productivity.


Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (2019).National Health Expenditure Accounts.

Institute of Health Equity. (n.d.)Action on the Social Determinants of Health.

Magnan, S. (2017). Social Determinants of Health 101 for Health Care: Five Plus Five. NAM Perspectives. Discussion Paper, National Academy of Medicine, Washington,DC.

Manatt, P., & Phillips, L. L. P. (2019).Medicaid’s Role in Addressing Social Determinants ofHealth.,services%20not%20covered%20by%20Medicaid.

Turner, A. (2016). The business case for racial equity.National Civic Review,105(1), 21-29.

World Health Organization (n.d.).Social determinants of health.

Critical Success Strategies for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Initiatives

Tamika Curry Smith
DEI Strategist and President, The TCS Group, Inc.


This article examines corporate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts, exploring the issues that may be unintentionally impeding companies’ desired progress.  It considers evidence that demonstrates a consistent gap in representation and other outcomes for underrepresented groups, like women and people of color, in Corporate America. This article leverages research and professional insights to highlight a DEI approach that can be utilized to make more substantial inroads within organizations. The principles and focus areas outlined here can help organizations make the necessary pivots to honestly assess their efforts to date and change their approach to DEI work. This article will be helpful to Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs), and any leaders within companies who are looking to drive DEI progress and achieve sustained results over time.

Keywords: diversity, equity, inclusion, strategies, results


Critical Success Strategies for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Initiatives

The data and research are clear: diversity drives innovation and creativity and leads to better business outcomes (Picincu, 2020). McKinsey & Company noted that “diverse companies are better able to attract top talent; to improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making; and to secure their license to operate” (Hunt et al., 2018). Catalyst research (2020) also affirmed that diversity and inclusion are key to healthy businesses in areas such as talent, innovation and group performance, reputation and responsibility, and financial performance. Most business leaders acknowledge the research findings. 82% of CEOs in a recent survey stated they believe the data that links diversity to positive business results such as profitability, return on investment, and innovation (The Moxie Exchange, 2018).

However, the pace of change in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) space in Corporate America has been slow. White men held 96.4% of the Fortune 500 CEO positions in 2000, and still held 85.8% in 2020 (Zweigenhaft, 2020). Furthermore, since most of the seats lost by white men were gained by white women, 92.6% of the Fortune 500 CEOs were still white in 2020 (Zweigenhaft, 2020). In addition, the boards of the 3,000 largest publicly traded companies remain overwhelmingly white. Underrepresented ethnic and racial groups made up 40% of the U.S. population, but just 12.5% of board directors in 2020, up from 10% in 2015 (Jamali, 2020). Additionally, in 2020, nearly 10% of public boards had no women (Jamali, 2020).

In the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others, there has been a flood of job postings and new appointments of Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs). While it is encouraging to see more organizations focusing on DEI, if they want to see true progress and results, it is time to take a different approach. Simply adding a CDO role or changing the person in that role will not be enough.  Without a true paradigm shift in the DEI space, CEOs and CDOs run the risk of once again failing to make the progress they desire and have committed to. By altering their approach and adopting the following strategies, organizations, CEOs, and CDOs will position themselves to achieve real change.


Taking a New Approach: Strategic Focus Areas

In this section, I identify several critical strategies for driving successful DEI initiatives. The strategies are based on data and research, as well as the collective experience of numerous DEI leaders who have shared their success stories and lessons learned. Some of these strategies will require a different mindset, organizational structure, and approach to DEI work; however, it is important for organizations to revisit old DEI paradigms and make intentional pivots to achieve lasting results.


Show the Commitment from the Top

Although most CEOs say they believe the business case for diversity, only 32% of CEOs in a recent study reported DEI being a top five strategic priority in their company (The Moxie Exchange, 2018). If organizations want to have impact in the DEI space, making DEI a priority to the Board of Directors, CEO, and the entire executive team, and taking concrete actions are necessary to drive change (Cox and Lancefield, 2021).

Having a proactive, long-term mindset as it relates to DEI rather than reacting to external events (e.g., George Floyd’s murder) is vital to achieve ongoing and lasting change. When organizations step up their DEI efforts in response to external pressure or litigation issues, it leads to a short-term mindset that DEI is only helpful if an organization is dealing with acute challenges.

Truly making DEI a top priority will require companies to move away from a “legal compliance”, “nice to have”, or “as needed” DEI mindset. Instead, a strategic shift to link DEI to an organization’s business strategy, performance goals, culture, and values is essential, so it can be leveraged as an enabler to help achieve its mission and vision (Cox and Lancefield, 2021).

Given that CEOs are responsible for the overall operations of a company, ownership for DEI progress and outcomes also should ultimately reside with the CEO. Furthermore, it is important for the CEO and executive team to be visible in their support of DEI, actively engaged in the organization’s DEI initiatives, and communicating about DEI to their teams on a regular basis. The CDO cannot be the only one out front advocating for DEI.

Recommended Actions:

  • Make a long-term commitment to DEI and make sure the commitment is sustained over time regardless of business results and external events.
  • Join CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion ( This CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace was launched in 2017 and now has pledges from nearly 2,000 CEOs.
  • Include DEI as a regular topic at executive team and board of director meetings. Discuss company progress throughout the year, with a detailed deep dive at least semiannually.


Adopt a Holistic DEI Mindset

For decades, DEI efforts have been viewed as the right thing to do, a moral imperative so to speak.  In most cases, DEI reports to human resources, and many business leaders view the work as solely an HR function.  By placing DEI within HR, organizations unintentionally may be undermining their efforts because it provides leaders and employees with an easy excuse to absolve themselves of responsibility and puts the onus on HR for “fixing” DEI issues. In addition, organizations often focus their DEI initiatives solely on employee-related topics that fall within the realm of HR.  That is a myopic view of true DEI work, which transcends HR.

Research supports that DEI is a driver of profitability and other positive results (Hunt et al., 2018). Several studies also confirmed that diversity leads to increased productivity, innovation, better decision making, increased employee satisfaction and lower turnover (Picincu, 2020). While DEI certainly is the right thing to do, an important shift is necessary to position DEI as a “yes…and” endeavor. By highlighting DEI as a growth driver and business imperative that creates competitive advantage, organizations will be able to get more cross-functional support, engagement, and partnership.

According to Cox and Lancefield (2021, para. 17) writing in the Harvard Business Review, “D&I is far more than an ‘HR issue’. It should be a core ingredient in the design and execution of business strategy and embedded in the activities of the organization day in, day out.” A holistic DEI strategy should be enterprise-wide and encompass both end-to-end people and business matters. DiversityInc (n.d.) utilizes a comprehensive framework to determine its Top 50 Companies for Diversity and it can be leveraged as a guide for all organizations on how to effectively position DEI initiatives.

For all the reasons outlined previously, it is a best practice for DEI to report directly to the CEO. If DEI does reside within HR, then, at a minimum, it should have a strong dotted line reporting to the CEO or someone else in the C-suite. When CEOs do not directly oversee the DEI function, it will be even more important to engage leaders throughout the organization and embed DEI into the company-wide goals and expectations for leaders and managers to drive action and accountability outside of the HR function.

Recommended Actions:

  • Ensure the CDO reports to a C-Suite business leader (ideally the CEO or COO), instead of the CHRO. If there are valid reasons why the CDO reports to the CHRO, she/he/they should also have a strong dotted line to the CEO.
  • Elevate the CDO to be a true C-Suite leader by providing her/him/them with a seat at the table and including her/him/them with the rest of the executive team in key business and people decisions.
  • Develop a robust DEI strategy whose scope includes workforce (employees), workplace (culture), marketplace (business), and community.
  • Talk about and position DEI as a business initiative that is championed by the CEO, executive team, and senior leaders, as well as HR.


Invest in DEI

Cutter & Weber (2020), writing in the Wall Street Journal, noted that the average tenure for CDOs is three years. They attributed the high turnover to lack of resources, unrealistic expectations, and inadequate support from senior executives. To minimize this costly turnover, companies need to do their homework before appointing a CDO.  Organizations should first determine their goals and think through what success looks like when it comes to DEI.  Then it is critical to assess their current efforts to ascertain what is working well and where they have opportunities to improve.

In addition, it is crucial for organizations to understand the competencies and professional experiences that are important for CDO success. Russell Reynolds Associates, the global leadership advisory and executive search firm, highlights many of these areas, including previous experience in HR and DEI, a business background, communication skills, strategic execution experience, ability to both influence and disrupt, savviness with data, and others (Shah Paikeday et al., 2019). By investing the time to go through an evaluation in advance of filling the CDO role, CEOs have a better chance of appointing the right person to get the job done.

Many organizations also do not provide their CDO with the resources to be successful. Putting a CDO in place is not a silver bullet and thinking that alone will advance your efforts is not realistic. DEI work is challenging and multi-faceted, and one person cannot do it on their own. New initiatives that businesses roll out always require resources. Just as companies invest in other business strategies that are tied to their success, CEOs being intentional about investing in DEI is a critical success factor.

CDOs have many responsibilities, yet nearly half said they are not resourced to fulfill them. 47% of CDOs in a recent survey stated limited staffing and budgetary constraints are the biggest challenges to achieving DEI goals (Weber Shandwick et al., 2019). Structure follows strategy, so once CDOs have developed the DEI strategy, CEOs should ensure all DEI efforts are adequately resourced by allotting headcount and budget based on the company-wide remit.

Recommended Actions:

  • Appoint experienced CDOs to drive your efforts. DEI work requires competence and subject matter expertise, like other functional areas.
  • Allocate headcount to build the DEI team and expand it over time as the strategy is rolled out.
  • Set aside an appropriate enterprise-wide DEI budget that will enable the desired impact.
  • Bring in external DEI consultants and partners as needed to help with additional expertise and capability.


Focus on Systemic Change

For years DEI efforts have centered on increasing diversity and fostering a culture of inclusion. Both goals are fundamental to DEI, but many organizations have failed to focus on the “E” in DEI: Equity. DEI is not about merely putting programs in place to prove you are “doing something”. It is not about having window dressing to look good or simply managing risk. DEI is about driving systemic change, which means organizations making a commitment to peel back the layers of the onion to examine what is happening within their walls, then actively working to address any inequities is paramount.

To accomplish this, organizations focusing on structural inclusion (processes, polices, practices, etc.), working to remove systemic barriers, ensuring bias-free decision-making, and intentionally building equity across the enterprise is key. According to Human Resource Executive, the purpose of structural inclusion initiatives is to “build equitable and transparent structures, processes and practices that work for all employees and customers” (Polonskaia & Royal, 2019).

Equity work is truly a cross-functional effort, which is another reason why having CDOs report within HR can be problematic.  From an internal equity perspective, CDOs need to work closely with all HR functions, employee relations, legal and other key constituents to review and assess systems across the entire employee life cycle (i.e., talent acquisition, compensation and benefits, onboarding, learning and development, talent management, departures, retirement, etc.). The role of a CDO is to help identify and address inequities that have existed in those HR systems for years, and that can present a conflict of interest if she/he/they report up through the HR pipeline. In addition, CDOs need to take a similar equity-based approach with business leaders across the company that are driving marketplace initiatives, including products and services, operations, sales, marketing, customer service, communications, etc.

Recommended Actions:

  • Have an external firm conduct a DEI audit to identify areas of inequity and opportunity, and then act based on the findings.
  • Empower the CDO and the DEI team to do work across the enterprise to drive towards equitable outcomes.
  • Form a cross-functional DEI Council with leaders from key areas to ensure DEI continues to be addressed and embedded throughout the organization.


Redefine the Meaning of Leadership

In many organizations, there is a disconnect between their words and actions regarding leadership.  Companies say they are people-first, but then reward leaders who are business-first and give them a pass when they do not focus on people. Organizations say they value inclusion, but then fail to act when engagement survey data and qualitative information show leaders are not inclusive. For DEI efforts to bear fruit, it is vital for organizations to evaluate the gap between intentions and outcomes and to change the way they define leadership.

Inclusive leadership is a relatively new approach to leading and it has a unique application to DEI efforts. According to Chalk & Cheese Consulting (2019), inclusive leadership “is demonstrated when an individual’s belief in the social and economic importance of diversity motivates them to focus energy on adapting to and empowering diverse talent, as well as harnessing people’s differences to create value.” Inclusive leaders create an environment where authenticity thrives, where belonging is possible, and where business outcomes are amplified.

The Inclusive Leadership Compass (Chalk & Cheese Consulting Pty Ltd., 2019) is one of numerous frameworks that can be leveraged to infuse inclusive leadership skills into an organization. The four-prong framework highlights the actions required of leaders to drive inclusion for themselves, others, teams, and organizations. The goal is to embrace difference, empower diverse talent, enable diverse thinking, and embed DEI across the organization. As the focus on inclusion and belonging becomes more widespread, organizations need to shift their mentality and set new expectations about what represents leadership.

Recommended Actions:

  • Carve out time and space for the CEO, executive team, and senior leaders to educate themselves about critical DEI issues and inclusive leadership so they can walk the talk.
  • Embed inclusive leadership measures into your performance evaluation processes (e.g., mid-year and annual reviews, etc.) and feedback mechanisms (e.g., engagement surveys, 360° surveys, etc.).
  • Hold leaders and employees accountable for inclusion and belonging and act when individuals fail to exhibit inclusive behaviors.


Align Internal and External Efforts

Driving workforce and workplace DEI strategies is paramount for organizations to achieve true change internally. However, many times organizations become so focused on their internal efforts that they neglect to extend their efforts externally. Companies need to include initiatives like supplier diversity and DEI-focused philanthropy in their DEI strategy. Supplier diversity efforts have shown to help address economic inequality in underrepresented populations and philanthropy and volunteerism are critical to help uplift underserved communities.

Younger generations care about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and they want the chance to do good while they are working. For example, 75% of Millennials indicated they would take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company (Taylor, 2019). There is a war for talent and candidates and employees have almost unlimited opportunities in today’s distributed world. They expect organizations to give back to and support the communities in which they operate.

Many companies tend to shy away from disclosing details about their DEI efforts because they recognize they are not where they want to be. However, it is important for organizations to be transparent and communicate externally about their DEI initiatives.  The world is watching, and companies are coming under increased scrutiny from the media, customers, investors, and other stakeholders for organizational practices that used to be hidden from the public (Lee Yohn, 2018). For example, in the summer and fall of 2020, many organizations made external statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, only to be criticized for failing to address the inequities Black employees face internally.

In addition, environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria are an increasingly popular way for investors to evaluate companies in which they are considering investing (Chen, 2020). Even if organizations are not pleased with their progress, being upfront in sharing where they are, but more importantly, outlining their plans to close the gaps can help build trust and credibility.  At the end of the day, organizations’ internal and external DEI efforts feed each other and therefore must be in alignment.

Recommended Actions:

  • Visibly show your commitment externally through supplier diversity, community, and philanthropic efforts.
  • Keep a pulse on current events and be ready to respond thoughtfully. Leverage employee resource groups to better understand what is happening externally.
  • Balance your internal and external DEI efforts. Do not become too insular or conversely allow your marketing to be disconnected from the reality inside.


Drive Measurement, Accountability, and Transparency

All organizations have business goals, whether they be related to revenue, profit, market share, customer satisfaction, etc. In addition, all leaders have quantitative goals that they are measured on and held accountable for. Unfortunately, the same rules often do not apply to DEI. As it relates to DEI progress, Richard Kerby, general partner at Equal Ventures said, “You’re not seeing movement because it’s not being tracked or monitored – there’s no incentive alignment for someone to improve on the numbers” (Rooney & Khorram, 2020). The facts back up his assertion.  According to a recent CEO survey, only 31% stated that increasing diversity and inclusion is a performance objective for someone on their executive team (The Moxie Exchange, 2018).

Progress in terms of representation has been slow in corporate America and even in organizations with metrics in place, only incremental gains have been made. In 2020, McKinsey & Company and Lean In (2020) reported that white men represented 35% of entry level positions, but 66% of C-Suite positions. According to Bari Williams, former executive at Facebook, “…companies are data-driven, but if people are not hitting their diversity metrics, where’s the downside? You have metrics, but no consequences.” (Rooney & Khorram, 2020, para. 11)

Like any critical business area, achieving DEI results requires data and analytical rigor. It is important for organizations to put metrics in place, build DEI dashboards, regularly share DEI data with HR and business leaders, and most importantly, drive accountability just as they do for other business initiatives. As the saying goes, “You get what you measure and what gets measured gets done.” In addition, organizations need to improve communication on their DEI progress both internally and externally via annual reports, websites, and other communication mechanisms.

Recommended Actions:

  • Build a strong data-analytics function that partners with DEI to review, analyze, and report DEI data throughout the organization.
  • Set DEI workforce, workplace, marketplace, and community goals and hold leaders accountable for key metrics as part of their performance review.
  • Focus on and develop a plan for improving the diversity of the executive team and board of directors in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and other dimensions of diversity.
  • Provide regular internal updates on your DEI progress and report externally annually.


Summary and Implications

As this article demonstrated, Corporate America is at a crucial crossroads when it comes to DEI. Statistics reviewed in the article highlight that despite having the best intentions, many organizations have failed to make substantive progress with their DEI efforts as it relates to people and business outcomes.  Creating and executing an effective DEI strategy is no small feat and requires strong, sustained, and inclusive leadership. The recommendations outlined here include positioning DEI leaders at the C-suite level, building a strong partnership with human resources, investing in DEI team headcount and budget, ensuring all initiatives incorporate an equity lens, and driving measurement and accountability. These strategies can be viewed as a roadmap for organizations and leaders with a commitment to DEI. Companies that alter their approach and follow the guidelines shared here have a real opportunity to achieve their desired outcomes and create competitive advantage.

In the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others, maintaining the status quo is no longer an option. Unless and until organizations, CEOs, and CDOs make an intentional pivot in the way they approach and resource DEI efforts, change will continue to be slow and substantive progress will continue to be fleeting. The business case for DEI is clear. The time for change is now.



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Global Considerations When Developing a DEI Strategy

Sharmila Fowler-Pos
Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Echo Global Logistics


Many DEI leaders in multinational corporations tend to have a narrow view of diversity when it comes to developing global DEI strategies. These leaders define diversity within the context of their home countries, ignoring to a large extent, the need to develop a global mindset on this topic.  This practice can lead to challenges when deploying strategies around the world. This paper discusses how to create a global DEI strategic framework which aligns to the overall corporate strategy and at the same time, provides a structure for local markets to create their own DEI strategies.  Also, it provides key factors to consider from both the market perspective as well as the corporate headquarters perspective.  By following these recommendations, DEI leaders may be able to develop more impactful and relevant DEI programs across all their geographical markets.

The Global/Local Challenge

We live in an interconnected world where global workplace diversity is in fact very local, shaped by a myriad of factors which include historical context, societal norms, shifting demographics, evolving cultures, changing political conditions, and varying government policies.  While diversity has become a global imperative, it is important to note that the field of diversity management has its roots in the United States where it has been shaped over the years by the laws of this nation as well as the intentionality of business leaders.  For instance, in 1938, President Truman issued an Executive Order officially making discrimination based on “race, color, religion or natural origin” illegal for members of the armed forces. By 1964, the Civil Rights Act made it illegal for any business, private or public, to discriminate specific to employment as well as education. (Brazen, 2016).  

With close to 72% of diversity literature published by researchers in North America (Include-Empower, 2015), it is no wonder that diversity topics have typically taken on a U.S.-centric view focusing primarily on addressing race, ethnicity, and gender.  However, these perspectives do not necessarily serve organizations well when launching global DEI strategies as many of these topics are not key priorities once you cross borders. “People with disabilities” is not a protective class in many countries, for example. It is important to understand that diversity issues vary considerably from one country to another. 

Despite the rapid pace of globalization and international business expansion, many companies initially built DEI plans through a domestic diversity lens, typically overlooking global diversity issues.  These companies have grappled with how to build diverse and inclusive workplaces in their own backyards first.  When these same organizations are at a point to scale corporate DEI initiatives globally,  they encounter added complexity and challenges. When DEI strategies are deployed globally without consideration to local contexts, they may face resistance and can risk failing. This is because DEI professionals at corporate headquarters may appear as if they are imposing a “one-size-fits-all” DEI strategy on market leaders with no regard for local input.

It is vital to create a global DEI strategy that includes the range of diversity found around the world, both the visible such as gender, race, ethnicity, age, and so forth, and the invisible such as sexual orientation, educational background, language ability, thinking styles, geography, and cultural context. So, how does one develop a successful global strategy within a multinational corporation?  The best option is to create a DEI strategic framework, aligned with the overall business mission and corporate strategy and adaptable across multiple global cultures. This framework should enable each market to link to the corporate priorities while offering some level of local flexibility. Creatively speaking, it provides each market “freedom within the framework”.   

Corporate Perspectives: Key Considerations in Developing a Global DEI Strategic Framework

There are several factors that Corporate DEI professionals at home office must be mindful of to ensure success as they create a global DEI strategic framework. These are discussed below.

Maintain a global mindset

Everyone in the organization must open up to a global way of thinking, moving beyond their own familiar definition of diversity.  While U.S. diversity is heavily focused on race, ethnicity, and gender, there is a need to develop a broader diversity lens focused on operating globally. This lens should encompass an openness to recognize other cultures, customs, values, beliefs, and assumptions along with an expanded definition of diversity. Companies can support their employees in developing this global mindset using a multi-faceted approach. Some examples are suggested. Ensure that corporate-wide projects are comprised of global team members as this can begin the process of establishing trusted relationships across markets. Reinforce global awareness and education through company meetings, events, webinars, and trainings (virtual or in-person). Provide a list of resources and links to books, articles, movies, and websites that provide awareness and/or historical context for understanding aspects of diversity and culture. Experiential learning opportunities are also critical. Encourage employees to participate in ERG (employee resource group) events where they can join as allies and expand their knowledge base.  Also offer opportunities for employees to volunteer or attend external cultural and community events sponsored by the company or, if possible, allow them to experience markets first-hand through business travel. Consider one-on-one coaching in conjunction with such activities to empower individual actions and to create accountability. “When combined with other DEI efforts, coaching is a powerful and effective method that helps leaders and managers arrive at their own solutions instead of being told the steps they need to take” (Wilkins, 2020).

Ensure commitment across all leaders

While senior leaders at Corporate may be committed to DEI, local leaders may not all be on board, and if they are, they may be so at varying degrees. Therefore, it is critical that the CEO visibly champion the DEI efforts to showcase commitment, transparency, and accountability.  This can be accomplished not only internally but also on the corporate website and through other external communications. Additionally, DEI should be embedded throughout the organization, not just in HR. “If your leadership team sees D&I as part of the overall business strategy, not just a standalone program, they’re more likely to champion it—and communicate it clearly” (Galvanize, 2020). Finally, internal messaging should be consistent to maintain credibility and should convey the benefits that the organization is seeking to achieve through its DEI focus. 

To ensure alignment among the local markets, it is important to describe the current state of the organization and identify key opportunities that will positively impact the business through DEI perspectives and practices around HR, marketing, supply-chain, and community engagement. Market assessments will then establish baselines in addition to providing direction for local priorities. Both quantitative and qualitative data can be collected and analyzed to assess the employee experience from attraction to separation. Gender data by level for each stage in this lifecycle can provide a global view of the organization, however, it will also be important to review additional data to understand the current state of each market. For example, in the U.S., a race/ethnicity analysis should be conducted to provide a richer understanding of differences by race/ethnicity within the gender category. In some markets, it may make sense to track by age or company tenure while in some markets, there simply may not be additional data available. Employee pulse surveys and employee listening sessions can also provide additional perspectives and a deeper dive into understanding feelings of inclusion and belonging. Taken together, these insights can help build the diversity pipeline, reduce bias in employee development and advancement, and help drive retention. In addition to analyzing the employee experience, it is equally important to analyze customer and supplier data as well as community engagement from a DEI perspective. A thorough analysis of the current state and needs of all stakeholders helps to paint a holistic picture of DEI within the organization and will help inform the DEI strategy.  In addition to “talking the talk”, leaders should be “walking the talk” by modeling inclusive behaviors and personally expanding their own global mindsets. For example, a leader leaving work early to attend a child’s school event is modeling inclusivity toward working parents.  A leader sharing new learnings from a cultural event they attended is modeling a global mindset.

Create a governance structure to include everyone 

Ideally everyone in the company should “own” DEI but realistically, it is often necessary  to create a governance structure to create, manage, and track DEI progress. Senior leadership should actively lead the DEI governance structure which will signal a strong commitment from  the company to the DEI strategy. The structure should also include a diverse, cross-functional group of employees from all levels representing various market perspectives to ensure representation and buy-in.  This group should be able to review the current state of the organization, help define opportunities for improvement, and suggest impactful DEI goals and timelines.  This input can then inform the Global DEI Strategic Framework development.  Lastly, the governance  group should be able to track and measure progress.

To ensure inclusion and allow for everyone to feel that they can affect change, DEI initiatives and progress must be communicated regularly and must reach all stakeholders within the organization. Not only to home country employees but to everyone in all markets. While communicating, keep in mind cultures and languages, including regional dialects, to make certain that spoken and written communications are not misinterpreted. Be aware of nonverbal cues especially when on video calls or during in-person meetings. In addition, avoid idioms used in the home country. For instance, phrases such as “a breath of fresh air” or “with flying colors” are familiar to Americans but may be misunderstood in other parts of the world. Lastly, invite local leaders to shape the messaging and/or deliver it to their markets.

Local Perspectives: Key Considerations in Aligning Local DEI Strategies to the Global DEI Strategic Framework

After creating a Global DEI Strategic Framework, Corporate DEI professionals must prioritize support for local markets in the creation and alignment of their local DEI strategies. In doing so, it is critical for these home office professionals to consider the various market factors at play.  These factors include 1) definition of diversity, 2) stage in the DEI journey, 3) cultural values, 4) legal considerations, and 5) data consistency issues. [Figure 1, Local Factors that can Impact a Global DEI Strategy]

How does each market define diversity?

“How do you define diversity in your market?” should be the first question asked of local market leaders.  You will find out that there is no single definition of diversity, rather, multiple definitions exist.  Each definition stems from each leader’s subjective framework and is influenced “by national context, political agenda, dominant culture, religion, and gender, among other factors” (Global Diversity Primer, 2011, p. 217).  While gender is generally an underrepresented group globally, it is not the sole focus. Global diversity necessitates understanding the organization’s global reach and the cultural beliefs and assumptions associated with doing business in any given country, especially as it relates to their perspectives on diversity. For example, while race is a key topic in the United States as well as many other countries around the world, linguistic diversity is prevalent in Canada and Europe.  Religion plays a big role in the Middle East, Africa, and India while migrant workers (who introduce  language and other cultural differences) continue to be a priority in many Western European countries, as well as in Australia and New Zealand (Galvanize, 2020).  

It is also important to  understand the terminology used in various countries, especially around race-based diversity. For example, “People of Color” and now BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) which is gaining in popularity, are terms used in the United States. BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) is the term used in the U.K. and “Visible Minority” is typically used in Canada.  Understanding local definitions and terms will help in prioritizing key DEI initiatives locally as well as aligning to the overall corporate goals.

Assess where each market is in their DEI journey

To recognize progress, it is important to understand the DEI maturity of each market and where they are in their DEI journey.  Since global DEI is a complex process and highly unique at the local levels, market leaders must assess internal and external factors to determine where they are in the DEI continuum and move at their own pace.  Diversity MBA, a professional business organization, has identified seven stages that organizations move through in their diversity and inclusion journeys. These seven stages begin with indifference, and then move through incentive, information, indebtedness, initiatives, influence, finally reaching integration. (McElvane, 2020).  A study of 800 leaders around the world, conducted by the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School and the Human Capital Media Research and Advisory Group (Ideas for Leaders, #625), identified five stages of DEI maturity within organizations: underdeveloped, beginning, intermediate, advanced and vanguard. Research findings indicated significant disparities in attitudes at both ends of the spectrum. For example, 77.2% of respondents in organizations with higher DEI maturity levels saw value in appreciating individual differences compared to only 40% in organizations just beginning their journey (Ideas for Leaders, #625).  DEI professionals must be attuned to each market’s stage in the journey keeping these types of models in mind and then support these markets where they are with the appropriate tools and resources. 

How do cultural values influence DEI focus and progress?

The concepts of DEI are much more understood and accepted in countries with high individualistic cultures like the U.S., Canada, W. Europe, and Australia where greater value is placed on individual achievement and uniqueness. The American proverb, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” illustrates the concept of individualism and the importance of speaking up and standing out. In contrast, collectivist countries such as China, Brazil, India, and Japan encourage group membership and conformity and may be less willing to embrace many concepts of DEI. The Japanese proverb, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down” highlights collectivist thinking and the importance of “sameness”.  

An HBR study on corporate culture assessed over 12,800 responses from around the globe on eight styles of organizational culture: learning, engagement, results, authority, purpose, caring, order, and safety. These styles were then mapped onto two dimensions: how people respond to change (flexibility vs. stability) and how people interact with one another (independence vs. interdependence).  While caring and results were the most salient styles overall, the study found remarkable differences between countries (Cheng, J. Y.,  2020). 

“Firms in Western Europe and North/South America were inclined toward a high level of independence. Western European and North American firms especially focused on results, goal-orientation, and achievement. Teams in South America showed a propensity toward fun, excitement, and a light-hearted work environment. In Asia, HBR found many firms that prioritized order through a cooperative, respectful, and rule-abiding workplace”  (Galvanize, 2020, p. 1).  

These findings point to the need to adapt strategies and processes across markets. A DEI approach that is highly successful in one market may not yield the same results in another.

What is the legal environment in each market?

Each global market has different rules and regulations around diversity. Numerous privacy laws exist in many countries limiting access to collecting and storing data about employees.  Countries such as the U.S., the U.K., South Africa, and Japan permit positive or affirmative action. However, there are limitations to these laws as companies in some markets like the U.K. cannot mandate diverse candidate slates (DLA PIPER, 2020). Many markets require legal reporting by gender and disability. France passed a law in January 2020 that obligates companies with at least 20 employees to ensure that 6% of total employees are people with disabilities (Shepard, 2019). In addition, not every diverse group has the same rights across markets.  For example, same-sex couples are criminalized in 73 countries (Galvanize, 2020). Working closely with the legal teams in each market is essential as laws continue to change.

Challenges with data consistency across operating markets

Data can vary across markets, thus, it is important to ensure consistency of data when rolling up to Corporate for the purposes of creating corporate scorecards and other tracking initiatives. For example, levels within the company may differ in title or rank across markets. A level 5 position in the U.S. may not be equivalent to level 5 in Australia. A VP in one market may be the equivalent of a senior director in another. Reaching out to local HR leaders can help resolve these types of data disparities.


Diversity issues vary greatly by market, making it important to allow for the localization of DEI strategies in order to reflect different cultural contexts. This can be accomplished by creating one global DEI strategic framework and allowing for multiple strategies to emerge across markets. Given that markets are at different starting points in their journeys, it is also important to have the desired outcomes in mind for the organization globally and locally.  Each market can then craft their own DEI work plans which ultimately ladder-up and align with the corporate strategy.

As Corporate  DEI professionals work with global markets to align strategies to the global DEI strategic framework, they should continue to expand their knowledge base by listening rather than dictating to local markets. They should be able to provide expertise, strategic alignment, and support while in-market leaders should offer market knowledge and sensitivity to local issues.  Market leaders should be able to share how their own markets define diversity, assess where they are in their DEI journey, provide cultural values and context, discuss legal issues, and resolve data consistency matters. These market leaders should be committed and aligned with senior leaders at Corporate on the importance of DEI, however, they need to own their narratives and be empowered to act in ways that make sense locally.  Lastly, all employees should be updated regularly on the company’s DEI progress, feel empowered to advance DEI within the organization, and be encouraged to participate in DEI education and/or initiatives to advance the cause and impact the organization.

A well-designed global DEI strategic framework which is aligned to the overall business mission and corporate strategy and allows for local DEI strategy customization should be supported by leaders and employees around the world and will certainly contribute to a sustainable competitive advantage.


Brazen. (2016, February 17). A Brief History of Diversity in the Workplace [infographic]. Brazen.

Cheng, J. Y. and Groysberg, B. (2020, January 8). How Corporate Cultures Differ Around the World. Harvard Business Review.

Cox, G. and  Lancefield, D. (2021, May 19). 5 Strategies to Infuse D&I into Your Organization.  Harvard Business Review.

Global Diversity Primer (2011, Chapter 14). Diversity Best Practices.

DLA PIPER (2020, December 18).  Be Global: Global employment law trends and predictions at the close of an extraordinary year.

Galvanize (2020, March 12). Achieving a Global Diversity & Inclusion Strategy.

HR Grapevine (2019, June 17).  Implementing a Global Diversity and Inclusion Strategy.

Ideas for Leaders. (#625). Diversity and Inclusion: Key Success Factors for Today’s Companies.’s-companies (2015, June 3). Best Practice Global Diversity Management. (2015, June 25). Does Your Organization Have a Global Diversity Strategy?

McElvane, P. & Ashton, D. (2020). Seven Stages of Inclusion (7SI) Maturity Model. Diversity Business Review.

Shepard, L. (2019, December 4).  French Law Requires Companies to Employ Workers with Disabilities. SHRM.

Steele, Rebekah (2012, May 30). Establishing a Global Framework for Diversity and Inclusion.

Steele, Rebekah (2012, June 8). Balancing Global and Local Interests in a Multinational D&I Strategy.

Wilkins, LaTonya (2020, March 27).  How to use Coaching to Support Diversity and Inclusion.

Figure 1

Local Factors that can Impact a Global DEI Strategy

Fostering Inclusion in an Extreme Remote Work Environment

Miriam Lewis,
Chief Inclusion Officer, Principal Financial Group
Proprietary and copyright; Diversity Business Review, A P&L Group Brand.


The COVID-19 pandemic profoundly accelerated the trend in utilization of remote work in the U.S., an abrupt transition that presented challenges for employers and employees. This paper discusses the challenges associated with creating and maintaining an inclusive work environment during a time of uncertainty and transition—a period the author refers to as an “extreme remote work”—and discusses the longer-term implications for inclusion efforts in organizations where work is done outside the traditional office setting. The paper draws on the research and observations of Principal®, a global financial services company with over 17,000 employees, and analyzes the findings reported publicly by other organizations. We conclude corporate inclusion efforts are equally, if not more, important in the extreme remote work and “normal” remote work environments. Employees working remotely have a strong desire to remain engaged with their employer, and they benefit from initiatives to foster professional networking and development. The needs of employees have shifted during the pandemic and will continue to shift, and employers must adapt accordingly to tap into competitive advantages offered by effective utilization of remote work.

Fostering Inclusion in an Extreme Remote Work Environment

Inclusive organizations strive to provide a respectful working environment where all employees feel welcomed and have an opportunity to thrive. Once synonymous with ‘office environment,’ the idea of a working environment has been shifting for decades as companies expand their global footprint and more employees do their work outside of a traditional office setting. 

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic profoundly accelerated the trend in remote work, stretching it to limits beyond what many companies thought their workforces could accommodate. Millions of workers were hurled into an unexpected remote work environment, with employees experiencing the stress and financial hardship of a pandemic; a lack of access to normal support systems like school and childcare; the cancellation of vacation plans and public entertainment options; and other factors that complicate the effectiveness of a virtual work environment; thus making it an extreme remote work environment.

This radical change of environment influences the way employees’ network, collaborate, innovate, and engage in professional development. Companies must continue to adapt to the current work environment, and plan for maintaining a culture of inclusion in a traditional – but greatly expanded – remote work environment once the pandemic ends. 

Rise of extreme remote work

Remote work has been on the rise for years, but never at the speed or scale ushered in by the pandemic. In 2016, about 22% of American workers (and 43% of American workers with advanced degrees) said they worked from home at least some of the time (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017). By late April 2020, 63% of American workers said they had worked from home at some point during the pandemic (Gallup, 2020).

For many companies, the transition was all-encompassing. At Principal , more than 95% of the organization’s global workforce was working from home as of March – a transition that largely occurred over just three days. Most of those 17,000 employees, located in 25 nations and territories, have not set foot in an office environment since.

Senior leaders at Principal and elsewhere were understandably concerned about the potential impact of the transition on employee morale and sense of inclusion, productivity, and ability to continue serving the customer. As the weeks and months passed, early indications were encouraging – productivity remained roughly the same or, in some cases, even increased as employees demonstrated significant resilience. 

In a survey of our global workforce in July 2020, 9 out of 10 respondents said Principal continued to serve customers well. Internally, this statistic speaks to our laser-focus on continuity of service, while also testifying to prior investments in people, processes, and technology that help us adapt to change. But the effectiveness of remote work here at Principal tracks more broadly with findings from Gallup, released prior to the pandemic, that “remote work not only improves outcomes and employee branding but is a policy that the most talented employees desire.” 

But it is unclear whether productivity and job satisfaction will persist as the extreme remote work environment continues. Although many companies have been impressed by the resilience and productivity of their employees during these early months, some cracks in the model are beginning to surface, including:

  • Employee burnout.
  • High stress and low morale, especially among certain areas of the workforce.
  • Challenges on-boarding new employees.

These challenges may increase as the current remote work environment continues. And even after the pandemic subsides, the work that companies do today will help to prepare them for any future crises that threaten the support systems for their employees. Most experts agree that the post-pandemic “new normal” will include far more remote work than we saw at any time prior to the crisis. 

Inclusion during this crisis: what we’ve learned so far

As a company with a strong commitment to inclusion, Principal has adapted many of our initiatives to support employee engagement and retention during this unprecedented time. We’ve also stepped up our communications with employees, adopting tools that allow us to survey the workforce more frequently, track responses in real-time, and tailor our responses accordingly. 

While it’s too early to know definitively whether our efforts have had an impact on retention rates (Principal has over 17,000 employees in offices in 25 global locations), we have seen an increase in employee engagement and satisfaction, and we have learned several lessons about how to support employees in the virtual work environment.

Employees who are working remotely want to be engaged.

Although we’re all going through this crisis together, social distancing measures have us feeling farther apart both physically and socially. Diversity & Inclusion teams can play an important role in sustaining community and helping employees adjust to the current reality. At Principal, we’ve traditionally hosted a number of cultural celebrations, courageous conversations, and other employee events that promote awareness, understanding, and appreciation of the value of diverse backgrounds and perspectives. These events have usually been held at one of our office locations, with employees in other global locations able to engage via live video feed, video recording, intranet articles, and other digital solutions. 

With the onset of the pandemic, we pivoted to a series of virtual events—on inclusion topics such as mental health awareness, race and social equality, and LGBTQ+ rights. One example is our Courageous Conversation following George Floyd’s death, initiating good conversation and employee response, including this anonymous employee survey response:

“This was the best event I have attended at Principal in 5 years. If we want to remain relevant to our customers, employees and partners we NEED to continue to have these kinds of conversations, and truly take them to heart.”

We also broadened our outreach about these events: we extended invites to all our employees worldwide, rather than promoting events primarily through our Employee Resource Groups. Our senior leaders readily engaged as presenters and were actively involved in promotion.

Overall participation in these events increased more than 500% over the prior year, with over 96% of attendees saying they learned something new, and more than 85% saying they would recommend the sessions to others. In addition to the changed marketing approach, we attribute the increase in employee participation to the need people have for an outlet to listen, learn and share their opinions; a way to feel heard and included. The lesson here is that employees want to be involved just as much, or perhaps even more, when working remotely and especially in an extreme remote work environment, as when working in an office environment. 

Employees need opportunities to collaborate and learn from one another.

In the midst of the pandemic, Principal decided to stay the course with a major inclusion initiative that we’d been planning for months: a Global Mentoring Program. This 10-month program is open to all 17,000 of our employees around the world and represents a major step in formalizing and expanding our mentorship programming at Principal. Since launch in July 2020, more than 2,000 employees are participating in the program, representing 12% of our global workforce. Numerous studies indicate the importance of mentorship and intercultural collaboration in fostering employee growth, business innovation, and heightened company performance. In a virtual/remote work environment, the program has an added benefit of helping to alleviate feelings of social isolation.

We’ve also implemented unconscious bias training. These sessions are particularly valuable in an extreme remote work environment, mainly because our leaders are facilitating dialogue with employees and implementing practices to mitigate bias. We are checking our assumptions, working more inclusively and ultimately, making better decisions.   

The extreme virtual environment increased the number of employees needing support. 

The current environment highlights employee groups that may need extra support at this time, including people living alone; single parents; working parents; people with depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses; people with barriers of language or technology; or people with disabilities. Even social extroverts may be at risk, as the office environment was an important opportunity for social interaction.

At Principal, about 40% of our employees have school-aged children – a revealing data point, as parents around the world navigate the challenges of teaching their children or getting their kids back into schools.  Some of our employees fell into the category of essential workers. Everyone was impacted no matter your background or experiences so identifying those key stakeholder groups has enabled us to listen more intently, ask more focused questions, and make tailored adjustments to policy and practice, mainly enabling more flexibility.

Next steps and pivoting post-pandemic

As the work environment changes, so must our strategies for fostering inclusion within our organizations.  We’re committed to accountability in these efforts and by tracking our progress, we can ensure appropriate attention and resources behind the policies and actions with the greatest potential to make a difference. Our initial experiences at Principal suggest that employees are ready to dive in – to remain engaged, to learn and grow, to collaborate across borders and boundaries. What they need is for their leaders to listen, to adapt, to model flexibility.

We surveyed our global workforce in mid-August, and across-the-board improvements in every area that we measure for our engagement index. As compared to the same time in 2019:

  • We had a 13-percentage point increase in employees who said they are extremely satisfied with Principal as a place to work (86% in 2020 vs. 73% in 2019).
  • We saw a nine-percentage point increase in employees who would recommend Principal as a great place to work (85% vs. 76%). 
  • We had a six-percentage point increase in employees who would stay at Principal if offered a similar position with comparable pay and benefits, at another company (75% vs. 69%).
  • 87 percent said they were proud to work at Principal, an increase of five percentage points over 2019 (87% vs. 82%).

Additionally, we asked employees an open-ended question: “What matters most in keeping you engaged at work every day?” Then we shared the responses with fellow respondents and allowed them to vote on the responses with which they agreed. We received 12,500 responses and employees cast 78,500 votes to prioritize those responses. The top themes that emerged were:

  • flexibility
  • having a great leader and team
  • feeling trusted, valued and respected
  • having the opportunity to do challenging and meaningful work.  

These responses, we believe, outline a roadmap for inclusion in the workforce today and of the future. Companies that successfully navigate this transition from the pre-pandemic “normal,” to extreme remote work, to a future that is almost certainly marked by a more sizable remote workforce, will have competitive advantages:  greater ability to collaborate and move projects forward; a larger and more diverse talent pipeline, less bound by geographic considerations; more satisfied employees, who have greater flexibility to balance their personal and professional lives; and a workforce that collaborates across geographic, cultural, and organizational borders. 

Miriam Harris Lewis is chief inclusion officer at Principal Financial Group®. In that role, she has global responsibility for designing, leading and implementing strategies that foster a more inclusive workplace, increase employee performance, drive better outcomes for customers, and ultimately improve business results.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily. (2017, June). On days they worked, 22 percent of employed did some or all of their work at home in 2016. Retrieved December 15, 2020, from

Gallup. Adam Hickman, Ph.D., and Lydia Saad. (2020, May). Reviewing remote work in the U.S. under COVID-19. Retrieved December 15, 2020, from 

Case for the “D” in Diversity to be included in the ESG Equation

Pamela A. McElvane, MBA, MA, MCPC
Chief Engagement Officer (CEO)
P&L Group Holding Company

Diversity MBA Media
3I Research Institute
Diversity Learning Solutions


There is increasing evidence that the link between Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) is a foundational part of companies’ performance.  Measuring diversity, sustainability and societal impact is becoming a central part of companies’ investment portfolios. Moreover, there is substantial empirical evidence that suggests diversity is a critical function in corporate performance results, therefore should be more than a consideration in the ESG equation.    

 The basis for this article is that “D” for Diversity should be recognized as part of ESG when prioritizing considerations as companies do for governance, environmental and social investments.  How companies perform in the execution of their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and strategies, has a direct impact on its retention and sustainability of its diverse workforce, and talent pipeline.  

The Business Case

The inspiration to further investigate why diversity, the “D”, should be a part of ESG, came to me after I read Alan Fleischmann’s article, …”How investors can support diversity with their dollars.”  Many investors already consider a wide-range of issues when considering how to deploy their funds, from how corporations respond to climate change to how they approach health and safety policies or worker protections”, says Fleischmann. 

Current events are one of the many aspects investors make when considering risk. Therefore, we can assume that the social and racial issues coupled with the pandemic in the past year have heightened the national consciousness around systemic racism. The reality is that if we want to change the systems that drive inequities, bias, and prejudice, then considerations of race and diversity inherently should be included in the way we choose to invest.

From an investment perspective, financial and diversity research demonstrates the financial benefits to companies that emphasize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) as part of their business strategies.  For example, the research from the DMBA Inclusive Leadership Index (ILI) identified more than 300 companies that made significant progress when they have advanced over 40 percent of women and people of color into leadership roles.  Additionally, the Pipeline’s Women Count 2020 report found that FTSE 350 companies with executive committees of at least 33 percent women had a net profit margin over 10 times greater than companies with no women on their committees.

It is important to understand how investors factor DE&I into their investment analysis. Companies have investment teams evaluating their portfolios for risk as it relates to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues.  And it is the Diversity executives under the auspices of the human resource function, that are left to assess the cultural environment of diversity and inclusion. Prudent companies already assess DE&I as sector agnostic and include it under both social and governance pillars of the ESG equation.  

In DMBAs 2021 ILI annual survey, we asked over 300 companies how and where they are factoring DE&I into their risk assessments of ESG. It was further validated that DE&I strategically drives corporate social responsibility (community investments); impacts supplier diversity (diverse supply chain); and drives board diversity (gender and diverse representation).  Thereby, public commitments made by CEOs to comprehensively embed DE&I into their overall business strategy requires a shift in thinking.  The results of their decisions will ultimately show up in their overall brand and reputation performance in the market.

ESG Investing

Understanding the basic principles of ESG investing further makes the case as to why DE&I should be a part of the equation.  There are very specific elements in each category that require consideration from DE&I.  So, the question remains, why not formalize it?  

Environmental refers to investing in the guidance, improvement, and sustainability of our environment.  It includes but not limited to the following concerns outlined below:

  • Climate change, 
  • Biodiversity improvement,
  • Energy efficient technology,
  • Waste management,
  • Water scarcity reduction, and
  • Air and water pollution.

While there are so many more areas to engage in environmental investing, it’s the basic concept of caring for human conditions and humanity.  It may appear the connection to DE&I is indirect, but the correlation to diversity and inclusion is the framework of our society and the link to humanity.

Social Investing refers to the principles or guidance to improve social sustainability as it relates to, but not limited to the concerns below:

  • Human rights, health, and safety,
  • Serving to fund underserved and under-represented communities and institutions, and community relations,
  • Employee engagement and relationships, and
  • Gender and racial diversity.

The inherent connections of social sustainability to diversity, equity, and inclusion are easier for companies to identify. For example, this is where employees engage in the activities that deliver the outcomes that make contributions to the community through employee involvement.  Based on the 2020 DMBA ILI participating companies contributed more than $200B to community sustainability initiatives.  This is more than a detached corporate initiative as it is an integrated part of the DE&I strategy execution.  Thus concluding, DE&I heavily influences how decisions are made in social investing.

Corporate Governance refers to the interests and concerns that impact shareholder values and alignment with company goals as it relates to, but not limited to concerns are listed below.

  • Tax strategy,
  • Execution remuneration,
  • Donations, political lobbying, and philanthropy,
  • Board diversity and structure,
  • Codes of Business Conduct, and
  • Risk and crisis management.

Corporate governance is how companies and organizations examine themselves for alignment through their policies and practices.  Governance data has been compiled substantially longer than environmental, sustainability and diversity; such that, the criteria for good governance has also been discussed, just through different perspectives.  Harvard researchers Gompers Ishii and Metrick calculated a governance index (G-Index 2003) that measured 24 governance provisions, however, did not include the impacts of diversity.  Today, the G-Index has diversity implications around representation variations.  However, the importance of the G-Index is that it ranks the good governance of companies.

A company that practices good governance can be characterized by a diverse board that is inclusive of women and people of color, transparency when it comes to financial reporting, and executive compensation that is tied to performance rather than arbitrary metrics.

Situation Analysis

We do, however, need to answer the question: why is ESG investing important for companies?  There are many kinds of arguments regarding the benefits and challenges of ESG investing.  The focus for this paper is on the key elements that align with diversity, equity, and inclusion.  

 According to Brian Chan, author of the Ultimate ESG Guide, companies with high ESG ratings are more crisis-resistant and achieve better performance marks on average than their peers.  Equally important, if a company shares your values and delivers socially responsible initiatives, then the community becomes an asset.  Nielsen’s research Diverse Intelligence Series (2015) found that nearly three quarters of millennials would pay a surcharge for sustainable goods and services.  And that GenZs are the fastest growing conscious focused group who are more ethically driven in their purchases.  As socially responsible purchasing becomes a critical factor in consumer decisions, it will require investors to pivot to manage future projects that could favorably position them as catalysts for change.  

Companies’ desire to have diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts transcend their organizational culture, but like anything else, it just does not happen without effort.  Historically, companies have struggled on how to quantify the financial impact of DE&I, but it remains the most popular business function. This means, oftentimes, DE&I is like a pillar they pull out of the box when needed.   

 Unfortunately, companies’ make decisions that are influenced by the social environment and community disarray, primarily, to ensure there is no reflection on their reputation.  Thereby, it is no surprise that discrimination and class action lawsuits have increased according to Equal Employment Office of Commission (EEOC).  For this reason alone, it is a business imperative for diversity, equity, and inclusion to be a major consideration in the ESG equation.  

Exploring why the “D” for Diversity should be a part of the ESG equation requires greater explanation.  As mentioned earlier, Diversity is in closer alignment to the “S’ for Sustainability and to the “G” for Governance.  With that said, let’s examine in greater detail the implications of sustainability and governance as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion. There are key indexes that rank and provide scores around the strength and weaknesses of how companies perform.  Harvard chronicled many researchers that have developed criteria to measure the sustainability and governance performance of companies.

Understanding what sustainability means for businesses today has become increasingly important to all sizes of companies as investors take an approach more aligned with values of people and not just profit margins.  DE&I has a direct alignment to sustainability through corporate socially responsible investing, influencing how talent management develops, retains and advances people of color and women, and creating equity within the practices, and policies.

The metrics for a long-term sustainable workforce are representation of diverse leadership and management, retention, low churn, equitable advancement of women and people of color, along with quality of culture.  These are just a few of the key performance indicators (KPIs) that must keep pace with the ever-changing workforce.

 The research from the DMBA Inclusive Leadership Index (ILI) provides further explanation and connection as to why Diversity “D” should be a part of the ESG equation and not just a consideration.  The DMBA ILI is conducted on an annual basis.  Over the past decade more than 30,000 insights has been compiled on how DE&I influences the structure of how organizations implement and execute strategies. More than 400 companies participate on an annual basis answering 240 survey questions on their DE&I and talent management strategies. 70 percent of the companies are multinationals with an average employee base of 35,000; and 30 percent of the companies are large regionals with an average employee base of 5,000.  According to the DMBA ILI below are key insights on how companies connect diversity to workforce and community sustainability and governance.  These insights are inclusive but not limited to:

  • 82 percent of companies participating in the index have both diversity and talent acquisition strategies directly aligned to the overall business goals of achieving a diverse workforce.
  • 85 percent of companies measure the effectiveness of inclusion and engagement within their environments.
  • 85 percent of companies train their workforce to support their principles of good conduct, respect of differences and more.
  • 71 percent of companies assess bias within their organizations, yet 36 percent of companies are implementing strategies of change.
  • Average employee retention among participants in the index is 83 percent in 2020.  Indicator of workforce sustainability.
  • In 2020 100 percent of participating companies’ CEOs have made a commitment to increase diversity, employee engagement and enhanced presence in the community.
  • 68 percent of companies participate in minority national supply chain programs with an average investment of 8 percent of their overall investment.
  • 87 percent of companies include incentives that influence behavior to execute diversity strategies.
  • In 2020, approximately $150B was invested into underrepresented communities for the purpose of creating social and sustainable communities.
  • 81 percent of company boards have diversity goals.
  • 85 percent of boards have intentional initiatives on diversifying their boards.
  • 89 percent of companies have DE&I strategies as part of their overall strategic objectives integrated across business functions.
  • 87 percent of companies require leadership accountability to ensure DE&I initiatives are executed.

Recommendations & Considerations

What we know is diversity is a growing platform for inclusion for investors when considering strong sustainable environments and determining risk.  Today, diversity executives are part of many conversations and decisions on how company strategies are executed.  In fact, if it were not for diversity executives’ influence, the notion of inclusion, belonging, and equity in the workplace, simply would not occur beyond cognitive diversity.

The next step for companies is to create a space for diversity, equity, and inclusion executives to have a seat at the table on a regular basis to provide guidance, insights, and high-level influence on how investments for sustaining ESG can be demonstrated.  In today’s environment Fortune 500 companies, large organizations, and the Biden Administration are reviewing the role of diversity in ESG investment decision making.   Moreover, more indexes, like Bloomberg, US Russell 3000, FTS Exchange, and DOW are requiring companies to disclose how they are leveraging diversity initiatives to influence ESG investments.  

In conclusion, here are some practical considerations so that diversity executives can begin to facilitate their journey to illustrate how DEI adds tremendous value as an integral part of the ESG equation:

  • DE&I strategies are foundational to the execution of cultural inclusion within companies and organizations.  DE&I executives can include the ESG analyst as part of their team when creating initiatives, so that they understand the practical side.
  • DE&I leaders can include key metrics required by ESG analysts to be a part of their scorecard and visa-versa. Aligning metrics on both sides will create accountability.
  • DE&I leaders with Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) can facilitate leadership retreat to help executives understand the impact and influence embedded diversity strategies have on the environment, sustainability, and governance.
  • Establish board/management scorecard that includes key initiatives for diversity, equity and inclusion among policies and governance for the board of directors to adhere to.  Leverage existing momentum of diversity on boards as a key indicator for success that is a part of ESG reporting.


Chan, Brian, The Ultimate Guide (2021); Diversity and Social Impact made Easy

Executive Matters, Process PA Governance (March 11, 2020) The Four Ps of Corporate Governance.

Fleischmann, Alan H.H. CEO of Laurel Strategies, Inc. (June 11, 2020) Turning ESG into ESGD: How investors can support diversity with their dollars.

Herold, Hannah, ESG Analyst, ESG and Investment Stewardship Team,  American Century Investments (January 20, 2021) How Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Inform ESG. and ESG/

McElvane, Pamela A., MBA, MA, Founder of Index, (data collection 12/31/2019) 2020 Diversity MBA Inclusive Leadership Index Benchmarking Report, annual application; 400 companies participating in primary research on annual basis; completing 240 question survey on the intersection of diversity, equity and inclusion and talent advancement strategies.

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP & Affiliates, Kathryn Gamble; (January 11, 2021); Governance Factor Beyond the Board; (Retrieved from google scholar),

Tang, Kelly, Director Global Research & Design, Dow Jones, (March 14, 2018); Exploring the G in ESG: Governance in Greater Detail – part 1.