2020: Increasing Focus on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity

We are entering a new decade. As with any new milestone, we look back and we look forward. As I looked back, I contemplated how far we have come in terms of equity in the workplace AND how far we still have to go.

Some of the important pieces of legislation that stand out to me in our national quest for equity, diversity and inclusion in the workplace include:

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 that creates the right to a minimum wage;

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 that mandates equal pay for equal work;

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that promotes racial equality in the workplace by prohibiting racial discrimination in applicant recruitment, candidate selection and employee retention;

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life;

The Family and Medical Leave Act entitles employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons; and,

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 bolstered worker protections against pay discrimination, allowing individuals who face pay discrimination to seek rectification under federal anti-discrimination laws.

These important milestones were driven by the recognition that the status quo was no longer acceptable, that we can do better as a country and, for some pragmatists, a conviction that companies do better when employees are treated fairly.

And those pragmatists were right. According to Josh Bresin, Principal and Founder, Bersin by Deloitte, companies that embrace equity, diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business, absolutely outperform their peers by every measure.

I believe that in 2020 there needs to be an even greater focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. Our talent pool is changing, and we need to be prepared to recruit, fully engage and retain talent that looks and thinks differently than our talent of the past—a workforce that helps us succeed in our future of “known unknowns”.

In thinking about this, I found that unpacking these terms can be helpful. Robert Sellers, the Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Michigan described them as: “Diversity is where everyone is invited to the party—we do not discriminate by race, color, or creed. Equity means that everyone gets to contribute to the play list—we understand, accept and value the differences between people. Inclusion means that everyone has the opportunity to dance–we have fostered a collaborative, supportive, and respectful environment that increases the participation and contribution of all employees. And when everyone has the opportunity to dance—this is when businesses thrive.”

A study of global enterprises by Forbes concludes that increased diversity, equity and inclusion ties directly to increased innovation and creativity. “This is not only because people with different backgrounds bring new information. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to better understand the dramatically shifting marketplace.”

As leaders, we need to create opportunities for discussion and education with our boards and our staff around best practices in diversity, equity and inclusion. We need to set goals, design a structure and implement policies that support those goals, and we need to monitor our progress.

I welcome your thoughts.