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Diversity and Inclusion

What’s New in Corporate Diversity and Inclusion?

When diversity and inclusion (D&I) shifted to IBM’s top strategic priority, Laura Sewell realized she had to broaden her role as IBM’s global HR director. Employees increasingly asked for her counsel, unsure how to respond appropriately to the growing voices of the #MeToo movement. “Business leaders want to talk about D&I more” now, Sewell said, “because they are aware of and have experienced how it improves business results,” too.

During Forté’s MBA Women’s Leadership Conference, Julie Morton – Associate Dean of Career Services and Corporate Relations at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business –moderated a panel of D&I leaders from Bank of America, Bloomberg LP, and The PNC Financial Services Group, in addition to IBM.

Panelists shared new approaches their companies are taking with D&I and the rise of transparency in disrupting the status quo.

New approaches to diversity and inclusion

Caitlin McLaughlin, EVP and Director of Talent and Total Rewards at PNC, said that men in particular struggle with how to respond to workplace challenges around gender. PNC is now working with Forté to develop a corporate version of Men as Allies. “We have three cohorts going through a nine-month program right now… men figuring out how to play in this space,” she explained.

Cynthia Bowman, Chief D&I Officer at Bank of America said they focus on male leaders, but they also look at all “individuals in positions of power who have the ability to drive a more inclusive organization,” she said. Bank of America’s approach is to address culture and accountability through learnings that get at “the heart of the issues.”

Last year, for example, 200,000 employees participated in inclusion learning at Bank of America, up from 26,000 the year before, a success Bowman attributes to honest, real talk about inclusion issues and what managers can do to drive a more diverse and inclusive organization.

Erika Irish Brown, Global Head of D&I, said that Bloomberg LP is unique in that each business unit has its own diversity and inclusion business plan, with innovation being a key driver. “Whether it’s creating a new live event or new media content or leveraging trading platforms with minority dealers,” thinking of creative ways to be diverse “adds another element of understanding and engagement and accountability around D&I,” she said.

Sewell said IBM has an executive-led program called “Mirror the World,” which encompasses three key pillars: policy and structure; market reputation; and culture, “which we’ve found is the primary limiting factor in terms of improving our internal diversity,” she said. Rather than just being a think tank, Sewell explained that the program considers “not just what we’re thinking and doing, but the progress and results that it’s driving.” 

Courageous transparency

Some of the panelists said that transparency has become essential for employees to understand and embrace a diverse workplace.

Brown explained that because “employees’ lives don’t end when they walk into the four walls of our institution,” Bloomberg has been facilitating conversations about courageous topics such as Black Lives Matter, mass shootings, and gender inequality, to name a few.

The dialogues have been very popular with thousands of employees participating, which Brown said tells her that people don’t always know how to engage in a transparent way around difference, and these conversations are creating more empathy and understanding.

Bowman said seasoned professionals host conversations at Bank of America that are similar to the ones Brown described at Bloomberg. “We found that they’re taking off and becoming part of our culture so we created a toolkit to allow individuals to implement [them] at a local or management level,” she explained.

While she acknowledges that companies have to consider any legal issues before having these kinds of conversations, Bowman encourages them wholeheartedly. “Conversation is healthy, and [legal issues cannot] serve as a barrier for having these critical conversations and dialogue within our institution,” she said.

Brown confirmed the potential controversy of some topics, which comes from the blurring of lines between the professional and personal. As she explained, “There is so much now that is being dealt with in the workplace, which in the past was taboo. You just didn’t talk about religion or police brutality…that was [conversation for] outside the workplace. But when you’re telling people they can bring their authentic selves to work, [you recognize] they are impacted by things outside work,” she said.

McLaughlin said that PNC’s CEO started writing a blog a few years ago and, in 2016, he came out against the state of North Carolina’s decision not to allow cross-gender access to bathrooms. Reactions were across the spectrum, but by blogging about a controversial issue, the CEO made his and the company’s stance clear, which McLaughlin believes encourages others at PNC to state their opinions without fear of retribution.

All panelists agreed that the #MeToo movement has spurred momentum in developing new ways to create truly diverse workplace environments where everyone feels comfortable. There is also less rigidity around topics that were previously deemed controversial, and courage has led to more transparency.

As Bowman said, “One comment sometimes leads to a significantly different outcome. So to drive real progress around these issues, you have to agitate a bit and be willing to disrupt and ask these uncomfortable questions.”

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