How do you hold apathetic CEOs accountable to diversity, equity and inclusion goals? It’s a million-dollar question that DEI thought leaders gathered — via Zoom — to hash out, at the invitation of MIT’s Sloan School of Management.
Speakers included Color of Change President Rashad Robinson, Rapid7 CEO and Chairman Corey Thomas, Exelon VP and CDEIO Robert Matthews, Known Holdings Managing Director Nathalie Molina Niño and 1863 Ventures Founder and Partner Melissa Bradley. The conversation was spearheaded by Malia Lazu, a lecturer at MIT Sloan and the founder of DEI firm The Lazu Group.
The summit was born from Lazu’s desire to hold space for DEI professionals — particularly after the passage of Georgia’s restrictive voting legislation, Black Lives Matter protests and the corporate allyship boom that happened parallel to these events. "Georgia was a perfect example of actions that can happen and still miss the point," Lazu told HR Dive. "You had this enormous corporate outcry about a Jim Crow voting law and corporations were circling up a day after, to talk about how to respond."
Co-produced by the Affinity Group Alumni Council and the Inclusive Innovation Economy, the conversation ranged from the pitfalls of performative allyship to the business case for diversity and inclusion initiatives. Here are Lazu’s takeaways regarding DEI and methods of holding companies accountable.
Be proactive, not reactive
It’s just good business to be tapped in. "What executives want to remember is: They're leading a company that is reflective of what's happening in their community, their region, their country, around their globe. And so it would behoove them to know about it," Lazu said. Her prime example: Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his matter-of-fact approach to critical race theory.
Earlier in the day, Robinson from Color of Change had reflected on the astonishment of non-Black folks at Floyd’s murder and their surprise at the harsh realities of police brutality. "You know, the shock and awe is of one community. Not the shock and awe of America," Lazu said. Acknowledging that every person’s lived experience is their own, she added that the people closest to horrific, hateful events live the narrative every day.
"'Oh my God, how could George Floyd happen?' Well, a man just got shot jogging a few weeks ago. Maybe that's how it ends up happening. Obviously, killing Black people is acceptable. So I think that's how it happens," Lazu said. "If you're shocked and awed, you haven't been paying attention."
Break out of your narrow circle
From Lazu’s perspective, HR plays a "very powerful role in a company." Why not use that power for good regarding DEI goals?
"I think HR a lot of times can get a bad rap. For people who are in HR who want to make a difference: Understand where the most opportune spaces are to make hires, either internally or externally. Understand where you can leverage these moments, and how to leverage them," she said.
A problem raised in conversation with Thomas from Rapid7 and Matthews from Exelon was HR’s lack of integration into different communities. "HR folks should have time within their job description to be beating the streets," she added. "I think that there's a lot of pressure put on HR people and if anything, I think HR needs more budget and more permission to experiment."
If you're shocked and awed, you haven't been paying attention.
DEI strategist & MIT Sloan School of Management lecturer
Say talent acquisition or people operations does get the budget and bandwidth to experiment. What happens next can be intentional outreach to marginalized communities. As discussed in the summit, HR folks can use their existing networks as a jump-off point to branch out.
"This isn't all deliberate speed. But recognize that when you work on a fast track, no one else can jump on your train. You say you want other people to get on your train, but you're not slowing down enough to let them get on your train," she explained. "You need co-creation time — to map out that audience, to figure out the best ways to reach them. And that shouldn't be done because you have to make a hire tomorrow."
This led to discussion of Lazu’s most notable pro tip: Plan ahead.
"No one does a hire without talking to HR, right? If you know you know retirements are coming up or you know an acquisition is coming up, you know the influx of who you need to bring in," she said. Do the work ahead of time to "get the pipeline going" regarding diverse talent who could fill these soon-to-be-empty positions. "You can definitely start setting up some of those systems beforehand."
And that’s what she means by saying "take your time." For example, HR teams can take a month to outline how they’ll embed themselves in a community — the same way they would for any other workforce development program, Lazu said.
"Don't forget the people inside, too," she added. "A lot of times there's talent sitting there that may also be overlooked, because of bias that sits within your own company."