Headshot of Rosanna Durruthy, Global VP President of Diversity and Belonging, LinkedIn.
Rosanna Durruthy, Global VP President of Diversity and Belonging for LinkedIn. — LinkedIn

Three elements of an effective diversity strategy, according to Rosanna Durruthy, LinkedIn’s Global VP of Diversity and Belonging:

  • Train leaders so that they are skilled to create “psychological safety” for underrepresented groups, and who manage from a place of “cultural humility,” Durruthy said.
  • Go beyond hiring employees from diverse groups to creating a clear path for professional advancement by offering mentorship and sponsorship programs, career training, and opportunities to master skills by shadowing senior talent.
  • Create networking events that foster career connections and community among underrepresented groups.

Rosanna Durruthy had her sights set on Harvard when the straight-A student met with a high school academic adviser to discuss college as a 15-year-old in her junior year.

The then-student body president, who’d skipped two grades, told the advisor that Yale and Columbia ranked as her second- and third-choice schools.

The counselor was taken aback. “‘Wow,’ she said,” recalled the Global VP President of Diversity and Belonging for LinkedIn. “‘Those are really great schools, but perhaps you’d like to consider other schools,’” steering Durruthy away from the ivy leagues toward lower-tier schools.

No matter: Durruthy, a Hispanic woman of color, entered Harvard as a 16-year-old freshman.

But that moment with the adviser who vastly underestimated her potential was “an inflection point,” she told CO—. “What surprised me was a lack of expectation. A presumption that for any number of reasons, she felt I should lower my expectations,” she said.

The experience, which has “given me a bit of fuel in the belly,” informs Durruthy’s work today leading the nation’s biggest professional network’s efforts tackling the inequities that thwart career advancement and business opportunities for marginalized groups with internal and external diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

‘It’s inspired me to think about the ways in which we as leaders sometimes presume individuals are not equipped,” she said. “The big difference can be that one leader who looks up and sees someone for who they can be and not just their circumstances based on the color of their skin, socio-economic background, or any of the number of things that we may, with our own bias, judge as limiting the opportunity for that individual.”

Today, Durruthy is leading LinkedIn’s mission to create equal access to professional opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses to big companies, with solutions ranging from DEI training sessions on topics like unconscious bias to grants for entrepreneurs of color.

The professional network’s mandate underscores what Durruthy, whose decades-long career leading DEI at companies ranging from Cigna to Merrill Lynch to LinkedIn, counts as foundational to an effective diversity strategy: leaders that are skilled to create “psychological safety” for underrepresented groups and who manage from a place of “cultural humility,” she said.

[Read: Diversity Leaders from WW, LinkedIn and Seattle Seahawks on Building—and Retaining—Inclusive Teams]

Stoking change from within: Success means ‘creating access to opportunity in your own workforce’

Integral to LinkedIn’s investment in DEI initiatives is advancing diversity within its own ranks, Durruthy said. So, the network is pacing ahead of schedule on its 2021 commitment to double the number of Black and Latino leaders on its U.S. team in five years, growing its ranks of Black leaders by 35.0%, and the equivalent Latino population by 20.3%, she said.

(By contrast, Black professionals hold a mere 1% of CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies.)

“Here in the U.S., the growth of the Latino and Black populations [compared to their] access to opportunities in industries like tech have not always been forthcoming,” she said. “So, we recognize that success in organizations like ours means helping our members realize those opportunities, but it also means creating access to opportunity in your own workforce.”

[Read: Top Diversity Executives from 3M, KPMG and Fidelity Reveal Inclusivity’s Return on Investment]

And as entrepreneurs of color founded businesses at a faster rate than other groups amid the pandemic, “companies must grapple with the fact that they have employees with entrepreneurial aspirations” in their ranks — so they would be wise to support them, Durruthy said.

Paving paths to entrepreneurship for the BIPOC community via grants and networking hubs

Just as Black entrepreneurship surged amid the crisis, according to LinkedIn data, the post-pandemic socio-economic landscape has laid bare the systemic inequities and hurdles facing underrepresented groups.

The pandemic exacerbated those obstacles: McKinsey Research shows that due to systemic institutional and societal inequities, 58% of Black-owned businesses faced financial hardship pre-pandemic, compared to 27% of white-owned companies.

LinkedIn has made it a goal to help dismantle obstacles Black entrepreneurs face, like raising capital, as a mere one in four Black business owners have received funding, LinkedIn data revealed.

To help reach that goal, it’s offering more than $500,000 in grants to organizations that advance and accelerate Black entrepreneurship. “We’re working with our partners to help unlock access to those opportunities, so that they can more readily scale to [people of color] who are in the community and are already engaged in seeking that chance,” she said.

Black entrepreneurs also cite lack of access to a robust network, mentors, and advisors as a major obstacle to career growth.

That’s why LinkedIn hosted live events like its Black Entrepreneurs Summit with LinkedIn Learning instructors, featuring topics like “Allyship in Action” and “Unlocking Community and Resources to Thrive.”

As Durruthy sees it, there’s never been a better time for underrepresented groups to pursue entrepreneurship. “One of the great things about the moment we’re in is whether it’s through meetup groups or it’s connections you’re making on LinkedIn or other elements of social media, communities are growing, and the doors are open for individuals to invite themselves in if they look up and look around,” she said.

‘Companies must grapple with the fact that they have employees with entrepreneurial aspirations’

While underrepresented groups must find ways to forge access to business opportunities, it’s incumbent on the corporate world, Durruthy said, to create meaningful paths by educating their leaders and workforce on concrete and measurable DEI initiatives that nurture both career advancement and entrepreneurship for workers from marginalized communities.

LinkedIn Learning’s diversity and inclusion courses are designed to do just that, she said. These are training sessions by experts on topics ranging from addressing unconscious bias to understanding and supporting LGBTQ+ employees to marketing with inclusive language.

And as entrepreneurs of color founded businesses at a faster rate than other groups amid the pandemic, “companies must grapple with the fact that they have employees with entrepreneurial aspirations” in their ranks — so they would be wise to support them, Durruthy said.

“In some cases, those aspirations can be supported as a side hustle, in some cases those aspirations can meaningfully be supported through sponsorship and mentorship that can help individuals build networks,” and even access to capital, she said.

Big companies are in a unique position to forge those connections, she said. “As we think about companies and their leaders, they not only have access to the network connections they build at work, but through memberships and professional associations,” Durruthy said. “So, the power of networks and being connected and supporting each other becomes really consequential to growing the trust of employees, but also growing the trust of future business leaders [from diverse groups] in our communities.”

It's not just about recruitment: ‘You have to create an environment where your talent can experience growth and development’

And when it comes to fostering meaningful career growth for employees from marginalized groups, businesses must go beyond recruitment. “You have to create an environment where your talent can experience growth and development and can see the path to what that growth may look like, whether it’s in lateral career moves and mobility or whether it’s upward mobility,” Durruthy said.

Providing employees from diverse groups with mentorship, sponsorship, and professional training — be it formal training or shadowing senior workers to learn their craft — is critical to nurturing talent from marginalized communities, Durruthy said.

That’s starting to bear fruit amid “the great reshuffle,” whereby workers are transitioning to roles that better suit their needs at record rates, she said. “Business leaders have come to regard DEI as something more critical not only for attracting, but for retaining, talent.”

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