May 11, 2021
His Excellency Mohamed Abdel-Atty
Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, Arab Republic of Egypt
Senior Vice President of Strategic Alliances and Outreach, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
The fight for equality in opportunity, especially in business, is ongoing with many organizations prioritizing their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies above other parts of their business. While progressing in DEI and measuring its impact is difficult, it’s important for business leaders to approach their efforts with rigor.
In a discussion with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce about equality of opportunity, experts shared ways organizations can retain and advance diverse talent in the workplace.
Employers and Institutions Must Prioritize Racial Equity and DEI
In order for racial equality to take root in America, employers and business leaders must prioritize DEI efforts and create a framework for equality of opportunity.
“Employers are the most important pathway for all Americans to achieve the American Dream of socioeconomic mobility and financial security,” said John Rice, founder and CEO of Management Leadership of Tomorrow. “We think that both the institutional front and the employer front are critical frontiers for not just racial equity, but really the current frontier of civil rights work that our country is going through right now.”
“Even the best companies … in too many cases are not applying the same level of rigor to their DEI and racial equity plans as they require,” Rice continued.
He added that most organizations approach their DEI strategies with a mindset of "let’s do better than last year."
“No one would accept [that approach] in any other part of the business as a strategy,” Rice said, explaining that this attitude leads to “random acts of diversity,” which is not enough to achieve true equality of opportunity.
“The only way you can get there is [to] have the commitment and courage as if it’s the most important strategic priority for the company,” added Frank Cooper III, senior managing director and global chief marketing officer at BlackRock.
To Achieve Real Progress, Business Leaders Must Hold Themselves Accountable
While there has been some progress over the past few decades to improve DEI initiatives, there is still a lot of work to improve racial equality in the business world.
“The uncomfortable truth is that we actually have not seen enough progress over the last … 40 years,” said Cooper. “If you look at just the numbers of Black and Latinx executives in senior positions in large firms … it’s nowhere near where it should be.”
Cooper added that DEI is hard work. To achieve real progress, Cooper’s team follows this strategy: “Keep setting the goals, keep meeting the targets, hold people accountable and the proof is in the progress,” he said. “If you’re progressing, great. If you’re not, people need to be held accountable and you need to iterate and make changes to make it better.”
Employers Should Acquire an Intellectual Equity Mindset
Rice noted that an intellectual equity mindset is an important starting point, as it leads to action items that encourage leaders to act on and hold themselves accountable.
“We have to start moving from a moral equity mindset … to an intellectual equity mindset,” said Rice. “We’re going to be incredibly well-informed about why we are where we are and what we need to do to move the needle. And then we’re going to approach this with the same level of rigor that we approach everything else.”
Cooper added that, in many cases, Black and Latinx employees need something slightly different to succeed. Treating all employees “equally” isn’t necessarily providing them with the exact opportunities.
“Some people interpret [equity] as just fairness or equality, but … it’s really about giving people what they need to fulfill their potential,” he said.
Companies Must Open up the Dialogue for More Real Conversations on Inclusivity
Javier Rodriguez, CEO of DaVita, Inc., noted that in today’s highly political world, many people want to get involved and do their part but simply don’t know how to do it.
“We’ve hired coaches and we’ve taught people to have that conversation,” said Rodriguez. “We’re leaning into different chapters [each] month on privilege, on power, on all of these topics that are very rich.”
“The more you talk about it, the more comfortable you get about bringing up the real things, and the more progress you get,” he continued. “The world right now [has] got a lot of momentum and a lot of energy, and let’s take advantage of that.”
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