JUNETEENTH REFLECTIONS: The Diverse Boardroom and path to Overcoming Challenges for Inclusion in Corporate America

Happy first official Juneteenth holiday — June 2021.

The corporate workplace has collided with social racial issues in the last year in a very loud way. Organizations have gotten comfortable with keeping the social separate from the professional for a long time and Americans who are black have had to deal with racial discrimination in the workplace. Although the compliance laws made an attempt to protect minorities in the workplace, they have also provided a way for organizations to hide a lot while continuing to move in micro-steps or in some cases in circles. The compliance laws did make a difference and made the hiring increase. However, it didn’t make the inclusion and belonging aspect any better.

In 2019, the California law on board diversity was enacted, and in 2020 NASDAQ filed a proposal to require board diversity statistics disclosure. There has been progress made in board diversity in the last year and we can credit the laws and forced accountability from social unrest. However, It took this long for a major milestone like slavery freedom in America, which has been celebrated for years but never officially acknowledged to become a Federal holiday. How long will workplace inclusion and belonging truly take? I don’t mean diversity in hiring numbers but diversity in organizational leadership and the inclusion and belonging that truly empowers the individuals. The years don’t need to pile up. Diversity on your board is a great start and this is not something that would happen overnight but begins with shifting mindsets.

There are laws and these are needed, law changes are foundational and absolutely made a difference. However, we can move forward faster if organizations move from doing the bare minimum required by law. Authentic change comes from a true individual commitment to being inclusive and building inclusion into all areas of your organization’s operations. The culture has to change to promote transparency, Inclusion, and belonging.

As the freedom celebration continues, let it take a new meaning for your organization and the corporate workplace culture. Reflect on where you have been, where you are, and commit to set actions. Here are some tips:

Analytics Culture: In this era of big data, leveraging data analytics to assess an organization’s true state and extract unbiased information for goal setting and alignment with the overall business strategy would drive competitive advantage. Have the right tools in place and set up efficient analytics teams across the business.

Pay Equity: Schedule and Conduct Pay Equity Assessments and resolve to close the gaps. Then build equity into new hiring and promotion processes.

Leadership Accountability— What you want to dominate your culture starts with the leaders. The systems cannot operate independently of individuals with hidden biases. Accountability starts from the top. Authentic leadership and management cannot be hidden but they can be cultivated and that is what truly shapes the employee experience.

Succession Plan and Internal Promotion: Hiring needs a lot of focus and changes to be inclusive but simultaneously, review your process for successions, promotions, and internal sourcing.

Listen. Listen. Listen: Establish a speak-up system and culture that protects all employees by actually listening and responding. I would always advocate for Employee Resource Groups but it needs to be supported and set up to align with the employees and organizational goals.

Juneteenth becoming a holiday has incited a varied range of reactions from different perspectives.Itdoesn’t mean there is an end to the walls to pull down in America.

Juneteenth as a federal holiday is a sign of hope and more importantly a highly visible sign of progress and encouragement to forge on in the battle for inclusion and antiracism.

Similarly, requiring diversity on the corporate boards to include both gender and ethnic diversity would be a visible sign of progress in corporate America.

However, even if we make laws, the adoption in corporations would depend on each organization. Leaders need to build on the foundational framework or proposals at federal levels and define a visible goal for the employees who need more than PR words but action. Hopefully, the journey to diversify our corporate boards to a representation similar to the country demographic goes at a faster pace than America and racism. The path to meaningful, inclusive, and lasting changes in corporate America runs parallel to the American racial journey and we would always celebrate every win.