How companies should build a diverse workforce in 2021

Panelists at PRWeek’s virtual Racial Equity Summit talked about making staffs more inclusive.

How companies should build a diverse workforce in 2021

NEW YORK: “Where are the people who look like me?”

That’s the first question a Black person often asks when they enter a workforce, said Lenovo comms leader Torod Neptune on a panel at PRWeek’s virtual Racial Equity Summit on Thursday. 

Recruiting diverse employees is important, but companies must also work to retain them. This can be a challenge because many times Black employees don’t have any visualization of a possible career path at a company. 

“That is a daunting consideration,” he said. “Many of us who have done well in the industry in many instances did it on the sheer strength of our commitment to prove people wrong.”

One way to solve this problem is by getting diverse talent into positions of decision-making power, Neptune noted.

“It all boils down to those of us in the industry who sit in seats of power and authority to determine where we will invest our energy and effort and drive the system change,” said Neptune, Lenovo’s VP of worldwide communications and chief communications officer.

Lenovo prioritizes diversity during agency reviews, asking participating firms to provide statistics on minority representation on their staff.

However, Neptune said organizations need to do more work to ensure they have a diverse workforce.

“If an agency leader doesn’t deliver against business growth and client retention [key performance indicators], we know the outcome,” he said. “We have not yet seen that same degree of discipline and rigor when it comes to leadership that is not committed to and demonstrating true commitment to this diversity issue.”

Carmella Glover, executive director of the Diversity Action Alliance, a coalition of industry executives working to increase diversity, said leading by example is a powerful tool.

“As communicators, we want to always be scripted and make the right decisions,” she said. “The CEO and CCO having an unscripted, uncomfortable conversation will empower line managers to do the same things within their smaller teams.”

That will lead to companies evaluating their policies and processes, Glover said. 

Not only is having a diverse workforce “just plain old the right thing to do,” said panelist and PwC chief communications officer J.C. Lapierre, but companies that are diverse also perform better and tend to be more innovative.

“When we focus on D&I, we help economic empowerment and create a more thriving economy, which we all want and need,” she said.

Lapierre added there has been progress at her company. In 2017, PwC U.S. chairman and senior partner Tim Ryan cofounded CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion. Since the death of George Floyd in late May, the number of companies working with the coalition has grown from 800 to 1,400.

“The number of named D&I leaders across those organizations has also grown,” said Lapierre. “There has been an increase in open and honest conversations and leading by example. We see many more CEOs working with the board on inclusion and engagement.” 

Nasdaq said this month that it wants to require companies listed on its stock exchange to improve boardroom diversity by appointing at least one woman and one minority or LGBTQ+ person to their boards.

Company pledges and commitments are helpful, but for there to be genuine change, Glover said she wants to see organizations step up and go above and beyond next year.

“I want to see more companies state publicly what they intend to do to hold themselves accountable,” added Lapierre.

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