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What we learned from 6 conversations with DEI experts
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What we learned from 6 conversations with DEI experts

Cornerstone Editors

MAY 18, 2021

Diversity, equity and inclusion have been in the corporate vernacular for decades. But efforts to meaningfully address these issues have often been unsuccessful — to the detriment of both organizations and their employees.

A study from Citigroup found that since 2000, the U.S. lost $16 trillion in gross domestic product because of discrimination against Black Americans. That economic impact, combined with the collective push from employees to more effectively confront inequalities in the workplace, has oganizations ramping up their commitment to making a real change.

At Cornerstone we’re focused on providing organizations with the tools they need to create positive experiences for all employees over the course of their career journey. Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) in the workplace is a major piece of that — and it means we’re often in conversation about ongoing challenges and how to move the needle from intention to meaningful action.

Leading conversations about DEIB

To continue this work, we devoted Season 3 of Cornerstone’s HR Labs podcast to DEIB. We identified high-priority topics like pay equity, microaggressions and belonging, and sat down with DEIB experts to listen and learn. All six episodes are now available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.

We asked our hosts Jeff Miller, chief learning officer and vice president of organizational effectiveness at Cornerstone and Duane La Bom, chief diversity officer at Cornerstone, to hear their reflections on the season.

Cornerstone Editors: What really stood out to you this season? What was one of your biggest takeaways from all of these conversations?

Jeff Miller: There were so many different voices in this podcast season and so many ways to look at this — from Torin Ellis who brings a really unique perspective about unconscious bias to Frida Polli who looked at this from a quantitative metrics perspective. Bringing relevant, diverse voices to a conversation is a best practice of what we should be doing at work to embrace multiple perspectives in the same environment.

Listen to Recognizing and defeating unconscious bias w/ Torin Ellis: SpotifyApple

CE: What was one of the most memorable conversations for you?

Duane La Bom: I remember during some points in my conversation with Dr. Don Tomascovik-Devey about involving white men and middle managers, thinking, I wish I could get a copy of the recording right now and not have to wait for it to go live! He said some things that were really powerful.

Listen to Engaging white men and middle managers in DEIB​ strategies w/ Dr. Don Tomascovik-Devey: SpotifyApple

DLB: He said something about blame and guilt: About how we sometimes make managers, middle managers, white men either feel as if we’re blaming them personally for systemic injustice. We’re making them feel guilty for things that they believe are out of their control. But rather than assigning blame, we should help them understand how they can and should be part of the solution. We can’t get where we’re trying to go unless they’re part of the process. In order for us to be successful, we need them to be engaged and play a role.

CE: What do you hope HR leaders walk away with after listening to this season of HR Labs? What were some of the most important takeaways for continuing this work?

DL: I hope HR organizations realize that this work is more than just an extra responsibility to hand to one of your HR business partners. Especially when you start getting into mid-sized companies with thousands of employees, there are so many components that go into DEIB. What we did in six episodes just scratched the surface. There are multiple different focus areas we could’ve selected — and none are better or worse.

A lot of organizations don’t really give diversity programs the resources necessary to be successful — they give them enough resources to check a box to say they’re doing something. I’m hoping the topics we did talk about made those organizations realize, “We need to hire someone who has expertise in this area.” Or that it helps them build a business case to show the value of DEI as part of a strategy that aligns with their culture, their values and who they want to be.

JM: We need to look at fair practices — the starting place is with pay equity. And as we talk about equal pay, it’s broadening the conversation. I look forward to the day when organizations are just talking about equity rather than pay equity for women or pay equity for underrepresented populations. As we look at companies like pymetrics, I would love to see organizations leverage data to make better decisions.

Listen to Ensuring equal pay for all w/ Lilly Ledbetter: SpotifyApple

CE: What do you see as the biggest priority for organizations in terms of advancing DEIB initiatives today?

DLB: Two things: the first is inclusive leadership. Every organization in North America is trying to create a more inclusive environment, but they're not teaching managers how to do that. They’re just saying, “Be more inclusive.” Anyone can say that, but you really need to examine what that looks like from a day-to-day perspective.

The second is allyship. Being an ally is critically important in this work. So helping people understand what it means to be an ally and how to show up as an ally. Sometimes allies feel as if they’re supposed to have all the answers, and it’s the exact opposite. When you’re coaching someone or mentoring them, it’s good for you to have a lot of answers because you have experience when you’re helping someone. But an ally is supposed to listen, learn and leverage their strengths and privilege to help when it makes sense. They’re calling attention to the person they’re advocating for, not themselves.

Listen to Building a culture of DEIB 24/7/365 w/ Lorraine Vargas Townsend: SpotifyApple

JM: This is one step. This is where we get to recommit ourselves to DEIB. We’re finally seeing organizations being more human than we ever really have before. We’ve left the whole Mad Men era where it was all ties and suits and white men. Now it’s about committing to bringing more perspectives in and saying, “your perspective is valid.” We’re closer now to where we need to be, but we’re just getting started.

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