Balancing the Playing Field

As companies talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, three recent incidents demonstrate there’s still a wide gap between words and actions.

  • I recently received an email from a company expressing its commitment to diversity.  It highlighted the value and importance of recruiting people with diverse backgrounds, why it’s important to their organization and ultimately, its business.Upon receipt, I went to the company’s website to check out their Leadership Team and other employees.Their actions didn’t match their words.
  • Additionally, I was scrolling through social media and noticed several panel discussions taking place across Detroit.  I paused and noticed the lack of diversity of the panelists, specifically, no Black people.Another stark reminder.
  • Lastly, a major Detroit-based organization, Rocket Mortgage, recently posted a picture of its 2020 marketing intern hires on social media. Needless to say, the picture was not a representation of this area’s diverse population.

My first thought was simple, how can this happen in a city where African Americans represent 80% of the city, 23% of the region and 14% of the state’s population?

Businesses are increasing funding to cause-related organizations, sharing videos and releasing commitment statements emphasizing the importance of having diverse and inclusive teams. While the intent is noteworthy, too often those words seem empty.  Those statements must be about more —  taking action, implementing change and making leaders accountable throughout the process.

“Companies need to be extremely cautious about declaring their commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement.  I am aware of companies that blasted it all over their website and social media, and it is now coming back to haunt them,” says Nikki Pardo, Owner, Detroit-based, Global Alliance Solutions, a diversity, equity and inclusion consulting firm. “Employees are now threatening to go public because there are no Black members of senior leadership, or even the second tier of management.

The country is indeed in unprecedented times.  COVID-19 is impacting everyday life and providing health care challenges probably never seen during our lifetimes.  And the social movement resulting from years of frustration over systemic racism continues to move societal issues front and center, including challenges within companies.

How do businesses continue to balance the playing field?

By identifying and addressing root causes deeply entrenched in corporate culture — and developing plans focused on resolving these longstanding issues.

It’s more than diversity training.  While many employees may go through diversity training, it’s another “check the box” moment while moving on to the next online training assignment. This does not address the deeply-rooted hiring practices that still exist in many companies.

As with any business, there has to be a plan, starting with the overall vision and mission. Critical objectives and strategies follow.  And with any plan, what are the key measurement criteria?

Pardo says, “Diversity training is not enough right now, especially after May 25, 2020, which is such a monumental date in our U.S. history. There now has to be a long-term Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategic planning process that includes metrics to measure progress.”

Additionally, there needs to be a longer-term organizational leadership and financial commitment.

It’s more than increased funding for the latest cause or another luncheon espousing the importance of giving back to the community, but a commitment to developing strategies focused on critical initiatives addressing systemic issues that still persist.

Whether it’s understanding implicit bias or challenging current hiring practices, these are fundamental issues that need to be confronted and appropriately addressed.

Having a senior leader heading up this critical area is important, but the position has to be strategy-based and have the autonomy to be a change-agent based on business priorities.

During economic challenges for example, Pardo says this position is usually one of the first to be eliminated, which can hinder the longer-term change needed to develop strong diverse teams while providing equitable opportunities for all.

Personally, I have been at many tables and mentored many employees and can unequivocally say opportunity does matter and can make a difference.

A former employee reached out to me recently with these words, “… I wouldn’t even work where I do without your support.  When others looked past me, even with the experience and more than enough education, you didn’t…”

And it makes good business sense.  A Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation.

It’s important leadership teams are a reflection of the communities served and employees who work there.

It shouldn’t be a knee-jerk reaction to any given circumstance, but as part of a well thought out plan by businesses that captures input from a cross-section of leaders, employees and communities they represent and serve.

If not, businesses will continue to fail the communities they say they are committed to serving and, as a result, this conversation will never end.

Mark S. Lee is Founder, President & CEO, The LEE Group, and can be heard “In the Conference Room”, Sundays, 11 am, on 910am. He hosts the “Small Talk with Mark S. Lee” podcasts at