The Latest Approach to Meaningful D&I

Executives who make diversity and inclusion a part of the way they operate—rather than a requirement to fill—are finding success for their people, and for the growth of their organizations

Companies with successful diversity and inclusion strategies have one big thing in common: they invest in these strategies and build them into how they operate. D&I doesn’t just live in the HR department. Creating a diverse, inclusive workplace and corporate culture is a job for every employee, and especially for managers and executives. Here, executives share their wholesale approaches to D&I and why they make an impact.

Invest in an inclusive culture rather than one-off efforts

Programs and diversity initiatives can provide great starting points for creating an inclusive workplace, but for those efforts to have a lasting effect, companies have to go deeper in instilling D&I into the culture.

At business law firm Greenspoon Marder, women account for 60 percent of all employees and hold leadership positions in every department, including HR, accounting, legal, and marketing. Compare that to the US average for the legal field: women make up 45 percent of private practice associates, but only 22 percent of partners, according to a report from the American Bar Association.

“Our firm didn’t recruit and retain all these women from a diversity program or based on a strategy per se. It happened organically,” says Michelle Martinez Reyes, chief marketing officer for Greenspoon Marder. “It happened by selecting the talent and the individuals who were the best fit culturally.”

But that doesn’t just happen without intention; the firm has worked to foster a culture in which women are considered on an equal playing field and can be hired and promoted based solely on talent and skill. And that culture speaks for itself among employees.

“In the legal profession, I have found that there is so much talk about diversity and the advancement of women. We’re dragged into conference rooms, and we’re shown PowerPoints,” says partner Deborah Baker-Egozi. “We’re tired of PowerPoints, and we’re tired of diversity programs. During my interview at Greenspoon Marder, [there was] a woman who is younger than I am, and she said, ‘What can we do to have you and your clients succeed?’ They demonstrate that without a PowerPoint and without some ridiculous education program. There are no glass ceilings here.”

TAKEAWAY: If your organization doesn’t support and promote women and minorities into leadership positions, employees will view D&I initiatives as meaningless. Ensure that your own organization is practicing what it preaches in terms of D&I.

Create better opportunities for diverse candidates

A proactive approach to fostering a talent pool with diverse backgrounds can help reach D&I goals far into the future.

As the vice president of corporate responsibility at Moody’s, Jennifer Stula Rivera embraces a three-part strategy for enacting the financial firm’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals. One of those parts is about helping young people reach their potential by opening greater opportunities for untapped students and young adults ages fifteen to twenty-four to prepare for successful careers in technology, economics and finance—as well as developing a diverse and inclusive talent pipeline.

Moody’s employees mentor students of all ages and a range of backgrounds to support their early-career talent and professional development. For example, Moody’s partners with Girls Inc. of New York City, on the Moody’s Generation Giga Girls (G3) Data Analytics elective course, which teaches high-school girls about data analytics and critical thinking.

“With these programs, we want to build a fairer and more just society,” Rivera says. “This is building social fabric and belonging for people who live in the community. It’s also lending to diversify the workforce in five, ten years, when these girls go on to college and aspire to study technology. We know that there is a gap for women in tech careers, and Moody’s is committed to helping close that gap.”

TAKEAWAY: When planning D&I strategies, think about future as well as current needs. Look for opportunities to foster future talent and create new pathways for candidates from different backgrounds.

Encourage all employees to get involved 

Meaningful D&I approaches don’t stop when a person is hired. To create a truly inclusive organization and workplace environment, all employees should find ways to contribute—whether that’s by committing to plans to foster diversity of background and perspective within their own department, or contributing to organizations and initiatives that are meaningful to them.

At New York Life Insurance Company, Cheryl James is associate general counsel, but she gets involved in far more than just legal matters. James is invested in promoting diversity within the company and in finding ways to connect to and help the community of women of color in the legal field.

She works with the nonprofit networking organization Corporate Counsel Women of Color, which has inspired more than three thousand women in the United States, Canada, Asia, Africa, and Europe to support mentorship and global diversity in the legal world.

“As a woman of color, there are barriers to feeling like you have a seat at the table—we all deal with a bit of imposter syndrome,” James says. “But this community really breaks through that. You are exposed to all of these phenomenal women of color who are at the top of their field—general counsel, law firm partners, and directors of nonprofits. They make you realize that you too can achieve great things.”

James credits both her background, which emphasized giving back to her community, and the culture at New York Life with giving her time and motivation to do pro bono work and to get involved with diversity initiatives.

“Diverse life experiences create new ways of thinking,” James says. “You get such a wealth of information from different viewpoints, and when everyone has the opportunity to express themselves we can innovate and solve problems in the most effective ways.”

TAKEAWAY: Support employees bringing their whole selves to work, and give them the ability to contribute both within your organization and to other communities through volunteering, mentoring, or other activities.