Why the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion Initiative could have a Real Impact

Earlier this month, the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion was unveiled. It is described as, “the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace.” When I read about this, my first reaction was “bravo!” Then I thought, “This is 2017. Why are we still having this conversation and seeing little impact?”

Workforce diversity is something I have followed since the 1990s. This is where the “bravo” comes in. If you look at how most diversity initiatives came about, you will see they were, unfortunately, a result of lawsuits and not from companies being proactive or visionary. This also may be the reason many diversity programs have not been effective. Here is a great article from Harvard Business Review on why these programs fail. That is where my second point comes in: 20 years later, we continue to see little impact. Just look at the numbers in this same article:

“Among all U.S. companies with 100 or more employees, the proportion of black men in management increased just slightly—from 3% to 3.3%—from 1985 to 2014. White women saw bigger gains from 1985 to 2000—rising from 22% to 29% of managers—but their numbers haven’t budged since then.”

I have had the privilege of working with CEOs and managers that value diversity, in companies such as Fleishman-Hillard and Univision, and on the agency side, with clients such as AT&T and P&G. Today, I work at a startup that leads with diversity. Genius Plaza is part of Project Include, and I am proud to say our numbers reflect our commitment.

Currently 42% of our full time employees are non-Hispanic white and 58% are Hispanic, African American, Asian, or two or more races. In addition, our three most senior executives are women of color, and the leadership team includes individuals with Dominican, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Cuban, Iranian, Spanish, Italian, African American, and Irish backgrounds. We are very proud of these numbers, but we know they take work.  Here is a recent interview with our founder and CEO, Ana Roca Castro, in which she speaks about these challenges. That is why Genius Plaza was an early signer to Kapor Capitol Founder’s Commitment.

As a result of my experience, I find that the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion initiative is impressive for a few reasons:

1) It is not reactive.

2) It is CEO-led.

3) As Fortune points out, it makes both the business and moral case for diversity.

4) The sharing of best and worst practices will require transparency.

5) The fact that leaders in organizations such as The Executive Leadership Council are working with this initiative.

There is a lot of work to be done by these companies and CEOs, including benchmarking, goal-setting, and ensuring accountability. Yet I am hopeful that efforts like Project Include, Kapor Capitol Founder’s Commitment, and CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion have a transformational impact, and that 20 years from now, we will be having a very different conversation on diversity and will see a significant improvement in diversity and inclusion numbers across all levels and industries.

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