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Improving diversity, equity and inclusion at our company—and supporting others as they do the same—is a top priority for Cornerstone, and we recently welcomed a new leader to our team to help further our efforts. Noel Hornsberry has joined Cornerstone as senior director of global diversity, equity and inclusion, and I’m eager to work with him in an effort to foster diversity in a changing career landscape. 

In our recent webinar, “Build a Stronger Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Recruiting Strategy,” we discussed common pitfalls in achieving diversity, equity and inclusion within a company and Hornsberry shared insights from his long career in DE&I.

The Role of Mentorship and Sponsorship in DE&I

With regard to recruiting and talent acquisition, the first step toward a diverse workforce is to identify advocates within the company, and failing to do so is a potential pitfall. 

According to Hornsberry, these players don’t “post and pray” in hopes of cultivating a diverse candidate pool—they use LinkedIn, attend conferences and workshops and actively seek out potential new-hires. 

The second potential pitfall? Mentoring without sponsorship. While both have similar goals, mentoring and sponsorship do have distinct differences. Mentoring, as Hornsberry explained, involves one-on-one conversations centered around career and development opportunities. Sponsorship is a leader—someone at the table—speaking on the behalf of an individual who is not in the room.

In encouraging diversity, a company might create resource groups that put on events that foster learning, engagement, and cultural awareness. For example, there can be resource groups for African Americans, Latinos and veterans as well as ones for young professionals, parents, and women. 

For Hornsberry, a company that uses resource groups well is one that has executive sponsors for each group and makes sure they all have open membership. For example, women’s groups should not be exclusive to women, and individuals of varying backgrounds can join an African American resource group.

Fostering Open Communication

Continuous communication between leaders, or managers and employees, is another critical component for any successful DE&I program. “An annual review is not a relationship-builder,” explained Hornsberry.  

If an employer is giving feedback just once or twice a year, they are not building a relationship with the employee, Hornsberry said. Building relationships requires ongoing communication so that it’s easier to have deeper, more complex conversations later. 

Sometimes, building relationships and promoting employee retention is about leaders looking for opportunities to grow outside of the workplace. Hornsberry gives the example of a former male colleague who was having difficulty retaining women and people of color. After asking his colleague a series of questions, Hornsberry found that he lived in a predominantly white community and was not often around people of color. He also regularly played golf with his male friends, but did not often socialize with women. 

With this context, Hornsberry gave the following recommendation: Become an advocate, and start volunteering. And the colleague did: He started volunteer work with the Hispanic social service agency Casa Central and donated to scholarship programs for recent high school graduates. He also set up a program that brought students from Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico to visit his company’s global IT facility over Zoom. This initiative exposed the students to the opportunities within STEM-related fields and potential career paths. 

DE&I Efforts Must Extend Beyond HR Practices

Employers can also strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion efforts by offering opportunities for employees to expand their perspectives and worldview. And according to Hornsberry, the best way to accomplish this is through learning. Training programs, like Cornerstone Cares, can introduce employees to new perspectives through lessons on unconscious bias and how it appears in the workplace. 

In addition, companies should look for opportunities to take on experiential work projects. At Cornerstone, for example, Hornsberry is helping launch an internal gig program that pairs employees with global project teams that work to address different social justice and equity issues around the world. This kind of program will hopefully allow for growth through experiential learning—the sort of growth that can influence both recruiting and retention. 

Examine the Communities Around Your Company

Moving forward, as companies review their diversity, equity and inclusion practices, Hornsberry pointed out what’s also important, but easily forgotten: Looking at the community within and outside of your organization. 

Ask questions like: Does my workforce mirror the communities in which they live, work and play? Does my workplace have a healthy culture, or is the workplace filled with cliques and toxicity? Does my company market its products, services or offerings to diverse groups of people? Do we work with Black-owned businesses or businesses owned by women, LGBTQIA+  individuals or veterans? Are we doing enough to give back to the community around my company?

“Volunteerism is a great way to make sure your company is giving back to its community,” said Hornsberry. “And it’s also a great way to help you recruit.” Hornsberry also noted that volunteerism is attractive to prospective employees. 

He also advises company leaders to align themselves with organizations that will help them to build their workforce and serve as sources of reliable information. Becoming involved with Black or Hispanic chambers of commerce, and recruiting from historically Black colleges and universities or the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities can help companies get started.

Click here to watch the full webinar with Noel Hornsberry and Brianna Foulds. And to learn more about best practices and how to get leaders on board, explore Diversity Best Practices or join organizations like the Society of Women Engineers, the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers or the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers