You can learn a lot from a fast “Google Trends” check. Take the key phrase “diversity and inclusion.” Prior to mid-2020, it was a blip on the search engine radar. In June 2020, it skyrocketed in popularity—just as news of George Floyd hit the airwaves. Suddenly, people everywhere began to think more deeply about the topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion. One result of their discussions was the prevalence of corporate DE&I initiatives.
Though still in its relative infancy from an organizational standpoint, DE&I has gone mainstream in many industries. To find out more about the present and future of DE&I, I spoke with Nickoria Johnson, the Chief Diversity Officer at Credera. Her insights show that DE&I has the momentum to make tremendous changes across the business landscape.
Serenity Gibbons: Let’s first take a 30,000-foot view. What’s happened in the DE&I space since the devastating Floyd case rocked the nation?
Nickoria Johnson: Many companies “woke up” and recognized how important it is to better support and understand the plight of and uplift Black and Brown communities. In turn, most companies began to invest in more resources, both financial and people resources. Over the last two years, organizations have realized more and more the benefit of having diverse and inclusive workplaces. For example, innovation is accelerated, retention is lower, engagement is higher and respect for their brand becomes a competitive advantage.
Gibbons: How are younger workers—the ones some people see as positive catalysts of the Great Resignation—driving the need for robust DE&I efforts?
Johnson: While we are in the middle of the “Great Resignation”, companies must pay attention to what employees really want. Studies have shown that creating a sense of belonging, value and recognition, high trust, and a flexible work schedule are what employees truly desire.
The millennial and GenZ populations expect their employers to allow them to come as they are… to be their true selves at work and transparency and proof of fair and equitable policies and compensation. They also want to have an opportunity to affect change and to be heard. Companies that are getting it right have higher engagement and more sticky employees. They are also building for their future since these are tomorrow’s leaders.
Gibbons: That’s a good way to illustrate inclusiveness in action. What’s another benefit to building a workforce made of people from a variety of backgrounds?
Johnson: Having diverse voices around the decision table will provide more creativity, innovation, and deep thinking. Companies win when they can innovate at scale; they lose when they can’t remain competitive, especially in this ever-changing global landscape we live in today.
A survey showed that over 75% of job applicants report that having a diverse workforce is an important factor when deciding where to work. That number is higher among historically underrepresented groups, including women, Black, Hispanic, and LGBTQ job seekers. In fact, the same survey also showed that 41% of Black and LGBTQ job seekers will not apply to a job when the company lacks diversity.
Some companies don’t even realize they have a DE&I issue and/or are not aware of how they are viewed as a brand and as an employer.
Gibbons: Why can this type of disconnect happen to even the most well-meaning leaders and their companies?
Johnson: They view DE&I through a compliance or regulatory lens. If a company is seeking to meet quotas and/or do just enough to make sure they are not sued for bias, harassment, or a hostile workplace, they are getting it all wrong.
Gibbons: It sounds like a DE&I “litmus test” might be a good answer. What has Credera suggested to establish a progressive, productive environment where DE&I can thrive?
Johnson: One of the reasons we have been able to go deep with DE&I is because we have the sponsorship and support from our CEO and our executive leadership team. When I took on the role of CDO, I wanted to make sure we were not limiting ourselves to surface-level programming and tokenism. [So] we created our five-pillar framework to ensure we are weaving DE&I into the fabric of our company. The five pillars include recruiting, retention, strategy, marketing, and learning and development.
By using these pillars to center all of our investments, priorities, and work efforts, we clearly set the expectation that we are focused on more than just a singular aspect of DE&I and that within each pillar, there is deep work to do.
Gibbons: What do your clients say about your drive toward a comprehensive DE&I? Have you had any feedback?
Johnson: Some of our largest clients are asking us to disclose information about our DE&I commitments, diverse supplier spend, and even requesting that we provide teams that have a certain level of diversity; These are real asks and could negatively impact our ability to generate revenue if not addressed. Those asks are helping to hold us accountable; That’s one of the many reasons we’re so focused on DE&I as an organization, but the main reason is that it’s good for our people and the right thing to do.
We are also investing time and our team’s talent to engage in our client’s DE&I efforts, helping them better shape their own strategy and bringing another voice to the table to support what they are doing. I’d say this level of engagement brings deeper relationships and forges more lasting partnerships with our clients.
Gibbons: We’ve talked a lot about the DE&I of “now.” What do you predict will happen for DE&I down the road?
Johnson: In five years, I hope that we no longer have to “sell” the value of DE&I to companies or to people; the work that is being done now should create significant outcomes and reshape the future. As the population continues to shift towards being predominantly multi-cultural and more diverse in general, most companies will have more strategic investments in DE&I because it is core to them doing business.
We will know we have been successful when the next generations can look up and look around and see people that look like them at the leadership ranks. When you can see yourself in others and see that they are succeeding, that provides validation and encouragement that you can also get there.