Photo Credit: Arthur Edelman

It has been amazing to see so many companies take a public stand against racism following the murder of George Floyd, and the subsequent protests against systemic racism.  

One of the key trends that has emerged to tackle this issue is the exponential increase in job listings for Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) roles, including Chief Diversity Officers (CDO).  In her insightful article on this, Linkedin’s Caroline Fairfield reported that in the 45 days since the start of the protests, postings for such positions were up nearly 100% compared to the 45 days prior to the wave of demonstrations.

However as Caroline also points out, referencing this article by Chip Cutter of the WSJ “too often diversity and inclusion experts are hired to turn around homogenous corporate cultures, only to find that they have little authority to do that.” Turnover of these leaders is therefore as high as the current demand for them.

This begs the questions:

  • Why are so many D&I efforts failing?  And, 
  • What else can be done?

To answer the first question, there are many well-known challenges that diversity leaders have been facing long before this collective focus on eradicating systemic racism. These include the below highlighted in Chip Cutter’s article:

  • One of the toughest demands of the job, many CDOs said, is persuading other executives to make diversity a priority.  
  • There are not a lot of best practices you can point to that are easy or quick. 
  • D&I “departments are often the smallest and least-resourced from a budget perspective and staffing levels, yet they are responsible for influencing and creating wholesale systematic change.” Per Kelley Johnson, a former CDO at J.C. Penney 
  • The coronavirus pandemic has further complicated diversity efforts as “Where you hire from, what types of jobs you hire from, all of that is going to now be different.” Per Facebook CDO Maxine Williams

So what else can be done?

While some excellent suggestions have been made continually over the years such as, to have diversity leaders report directly into the CEO, and, to treat diversity like a business priority, there is another key component critical to the success of diversity leaders that I think we could benefit from discussing and incorporating more.

In my opinion, based on over 20 years of dedication to radical transformation, this component is so crucial, it is absolutely necessary to have in place for any D&I leader, or initiative to fully succeed. 

It is this: the inspiration, and empowerment of the diverse individuals and groups that you are trying to help.  With the goal being that they truly believe, deep down at the subconscious level, that something different is possible, and that there are no real, or perceived limits that can prevent their inclusion and success in the organization. 

I must admit, I have hesitated discussing this publicly for some time, as this has been a very painful time for me, as a woman of color myself, and a mother raising two young black children.  I did not want to put something out into the public domain that could be misunderstood as we need to “fix people of color” or “fix the women”, or any other diverse groups for that matter; but my conviction was strong.

I know without a shadow of doubt through my experience, and work, that years of systemic oppression and pain of any kind can lead to conditioning, learned helplessness, and limiting beliefs that must be transformed for individuals to be fully able to embrace, and make the most of any policy changes, and the removal of glass or concrete ceilings.  

I am confident that such deep and necessary work can lead to diverse groups becoming a key part of the solution, by helping to shape policy in a way that benefits all.

I decided to test this hypothesis by creating an inspiration and empowerment fuelled training and coaching experience which I called “From Pain to Power”.  I took a group of women through it at the beginning of July with the goal of helping them transform all the pain we have collectively experienced this year, and the limiting beliefs they have caused, into power that transforms their world, and then the world.

In just 2 weeks I have been blown away by the transformation and results the women are reporting back.  Especially by this post by this a black mother of 2, which literally brought me to tears and convinced me to write this article. 

In two short weeks, this young mother went from wanting to bring about change but not believing she could, to improving race relations in her child’s school, and being an ongoing part of the solution for the greater good of all.  She will likely go on to impact other schools in the UK where she is based too, as her passion has been ignited.

That is the power of inspiring and empowering diverse groups; and I strongly believe it can be a very effective solution to many D&I Leaders’ challenges.  

As Ms Williams Facebook CDO rightly pointed out in Chip’s WSJ article, “being able to hire diverse talent to change the make-up of the organization is more difficult due to the pandemic”, so a quick win is to focus on the diverse talent you already have.  

  • How inspired and empowered are they?  
  • How supported are they in eradicating any limiting beliefs they may have so that their full potential is unleashed?
  • How are their empowered suggestions being harnessed to win the collective battle against systemic racism, and other forms of discrimination?
  • How is it all being tracked and measured?

To increase their chances of success, D&I leaders must be supported to engage, inspire and empower diverse individuals in this way because they: 

  • Can help with the persuasion of executives to make diversity a priority if necessary
  • Can help create, and shape new best practices 
  • Can support, and be powerful advocates of “wholesale systematic change” that CDOs and their typically small teams are responsible for.  

For diversity leaders to be successful, their definition of team must expand beyond the conventional definition to include as many people as possible in the organization, especially those they are there to help.

For more ideas on how to implement this in your organization, to set your D&I Leaders and teams up for long term success, feel free reach out to me at [email protected] to discuss what a successful “Pain to Power” roadmap could look like for your organization.