How do we move forward with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in a time that has been so turbulent for the world? Day two of the Women & Worth Summit explored this complicated topic in a panel discussion. The day’s final discussion was moderated by Juliet Scott-Croxford, CEO of Worth Media, and included speakers Michelle Gadsden-Williams, head of DEI at BlackRock, Sandra Bang, chief diversity and talent strategy officer at Shearman & Sterling, and Julie Turpin, chief people officer at Brown & Brown.
To start off, Gadsden-Williams highlighted how DEI has shifted in the wake of 2020. She stated that last year served as a reflection point for many stakeholders in equity work. This discussion altered the discourse of race and social justice in the workplace and led to greater accountability for companies to discuss these issues. She highlighted that now there is a focus on action rather than words compared to the past. She stated, “We have evolved in a positive way. We have gone from DEI being defined in the moment to a real movement in most organizations.”
Echoing Gadsden-William’s points, Turpin added how DEI has evolved at Brown & Brown. She stated that they have always valued diversity, but in 2020, they got the opportunity to be more deliberate than they have in the past. Turpin added that listening and understanding are the most important themes at Brown & Brown for the future. She noted that 2020 emphasized the importance of “just telling the truth.” To be transparent about where you are as a company is important to move forward and reach your end goal, Turpin said.
Bang then shared her thoughts on the evolution of DEI. According to Bang, taking real action should be a responsibility for companies. “In the legal industry for too long, DEI was off on the side,” she explained. In 2020, Bang revealed that the level of engagement in DEI skyrocketed. “For the first time in a very long time, I’ve seen competitors come together to talk very openly about what has not been working and what has been working,” she said.
In response to how BlackRock ensures DEI accountability, Gadsden-Williams stated that BlackRock sees it as a critical business enabler. She said, “For most organizations, the easy part is getting the talent to come into your door, the hard part is the retention.” She said that for retention, employees need to feel like they are part of a whole and have mutual respect for one another. Most importantly, Gadsden-Williams said to look for “the courage to act, the commitment to lead and the courage to change.”
Turpin then shared how Brown & Brown is implementing DEI action. She emphasized the importance of surveying your employees. From these employee touchpoints, the organization identified their areas of needed improvement in equity work. She touched on the lasting change she wants to see from DEI: “I want this to be a legacy, not a program.”
Bang further elaborated that data is critical in the implementation of change in DEI. She emphasized the importance of data collection instead of “gut feel.” Bang said, “You can’t set a goal of where you want to go if you don’t know where you’re starting off.” In response to making sure change is a priority for organizations she says, “It’s not just the right thing to do, you need to show people how this affects your business; to tie it into the bottom line is key.”
As a high school student looking ahead to my future in the workforce, this shift in DEI is reassuring that the workplaces of tomorrow will be more inclusive and equitable. In light of 2020, more companies are “walking the walk” and proving that DEI is the backbone of their organizations.