Diversity, Equity, Leadership - Diversity Deb for the Corporate Playbook — Deborah Augustine Elam

Deborah Augustine Elam

“Diversity is a measure, inclusion is a skill”

Having shattered the glass ceiling as GE’s first-ever Black female corporate officer, I know all too well the importance of representation in the workplace. Getting there took a lot of work. To be the first meant that, even with help, I had to forge the path to my own success. But once there, it meant that I could show others not only that it was possible to advance in Corporate America, but how best to give back while doing so.

That said, diversification has been a slow process. A recent study from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org, Women in the Workplace 2020, shows that women, especially women of color, remain underrepresented, with SVP roles only growing from 23 percent to 28 percent between 2015 and 2020. In the C-Suite, women of color — which included Black, Asian, and Latinx women — accounted for just 3 percent, while men of color made up 12 percent. This compared to white women at 19 percent and white men filling in the bulk at 66 percent. Moreover, in the 2021 Fortune 500 out of the 41 women running Fortune 500 companies, only two were Black.

Corporate boards have been showing more promise, with women and people of color representing 38% of directors on boards of Fortune 500 companies. This diversity represents almost four times the number of companies a decade ago.

Increasingly, companies are being measured by their diversity and inclusion data. How can they do better? By examining their external hiring and internal promoting practices and providing access to sponsorship and leadership opportunities. By being strategic in their philanthropic giving. By recruiting board members who possess unique skills, but also diverse backgrounds and experiences to create a more capable governance.

The culture of an organization flows down from the top. It is hard for employees — and executives — to feel included when representation is lacking at the leadership level. Moreover, it is difficult for those in the C-Suite to be effective when they are not in tune with the personnel. A business will succeed best when the leaders have a clear vision that growth is not a zero-sum game. That diversity and equity not only play a key role in the development of the workforce, but also in the bottom line of the company.

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