Opportunities in the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) industry are exploding. Over the past few years, more companies have been looking for people to diversify their employee base, according to expert panelists at the Ladies Get Paid event Saturday in Brooklyn.
The “Diversity Is Not a Buzzword” panel featured Mini Timmaraju, Comcast Corporation's executive director of Diversity and Inclusion; Amy Nelson, CEO and founder of the women’s equality organization The Riveter; Daisy Auger-Dominguez, a workplace culture strategist; and Dr. Akilah Cadet, founder of the Oakland diversity organization Change Cadet.
The group discussed diversity and inclusion, and how corporations have invested human capital to reflect its growing prioritization over the years.
“These jobs exist,” said Timmaraju, who went from being the only woman of color in political campaign work to being the leader of a diversity task force. “So if you have a passion for this work, I would encourage you to consider it professionally because more and more companies are investing.”
Here are the major takeaways from the panel:
1. Companies are learning that diversity creates better products.
According to a recent study, diverse companies make 19 percent more revenue than companies that don’t value diversity. At Comcast NBCUniversal, executives are investing in diversity more than ever, according to Timmaraju. The motive is practical as well as ethical.
“We are not looking into diversity as a nice to have, but looking at it as essential to the way we're building our workforce, our products,” said Timmaraju. “...We say diversity fuels innovation...it makes our products better. If we don't have a diverse workforce producing the content behind the camera...it's going to show in the quality of the product, right? And if we don't have a product that resonates with our customers, we're going to fail as a business.”
2. Companies need the push and guidance.
Many corporations want to be diverse, but they don’t know how to begin. They seek the help of consultants, such as Auger-Dominguez, to find their starting point.
“I’ve worked with Fortune 500 startups and social impact organizations, and I like to tell them: ‘I'm here to help you reduce the gap between the values that you're espousing and the experience of your employees and the products that you're creating, your consumer experience. And in order to make progress, we have to first acknowledge that there's going to be some discomfort here,’” said Auger-Dominguez. “That this isn't going to be business as usual.”
Nelson said that she’d experienced first-hand how difficult it is for companies to start diversity initiatives on their own.
“I've learned over the past two years is that my first job is to listen. And I haven't always been good at it ... It's hard to hear sometimes. It’s hard for your business,” Nelson said. “It's hard to acknowledge what you're doing wrong, what you need to do better.”
3. Employee retention is a concern.
A lack of diversity and inclusion leads to employee turnover, which is devastating for companies. In tech, which is dominated by white and Asian males, women quit at twice the rate of men, while black and Latino employees quit 3.5 times more than whites and Asians. The diversity turnover is directly related to workplace culture, and it costs the industry $16 billion per year.
The Center for Talent Innovation found that employees at large companies who perceive prejudicial bias are about three times more likely to be disengaged at work than other employees. Gallup estimated that disengagement at work costs companies up to $550 billion per year.
“If you still have a revolving door of women deeming of people of color leaving and women of color leaving, those who are disadvantaged, disabled, leaving, that means they don't necessarily want to work on those issues,” said Cadet.
Cadet said that she left the corporate world because she was tired of feeling discriminated against because she is black with natural hair. She stressed that diversity isn’t just about numbers, it’s about a sense of belonging, and many companies are missing the mark.
“Belonging means that regardless of who you are, whether you are the mediocre white guy or you're a black woman with a lot of hair and you wear it naturally, you can show up to work.”
4. Diversity is a major commitment that requires a team.
Companies are learning that diversity is not a “symbolic gesture,” said Auger-Dominguez. It’s a hard, ongoing job that involves analyzing every facet of management and hiring practices. A consistent focus on metrics, transparency and accountability is required to keep the effort moving, according to Cadet. Furthermore, the job is never really done.
“It’s never really enough...It never stops,” said Timmaraju.
The Riveter has a strong diversity and inclusion ethic, according to Nelson, and it requires constant tending.
“It's hard to do it when you're a venture-backed start up....and sometimes we move really fast. It doesn’t always jive with doing the right thing for inclusivity,” said Nelson. “And then you have to make a decision, and it's hard … What I've learned is that it's also very necessary, and it's work that I care about a lot. It's work that my team cares about a lot, and I think we collectively think there's no point in doing what we're doing if we don't get into this work.”
5. There are endless opportunities to learn and make change.
Corporations have a long way to go before they achieve parity. Women, and especially women of color, lag far behind in leadership roles. Mothers are excluded from companies with poor work-life balance. People with disabilities have been largely excluded from diversity considerations, according to Timmaraju.
“I'm challenging myself to do better with by people with disabilities. The LGBTQ community. Our team just went to a [transgender wellness conference] to understand better what we need to do there,” said Timmaraju. “...The growing and the learning never stops if you decide to make this your life's work.”