Management: Creating Diverse, Inclusive And Equitable Workplaces—What Holds Companies Back?

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What can we do to create a workplace that is more diverse, equitable and inclusive than the one we have today? Arlene Pace Green, PhD, founder of Dallas, Texas-based Enelra Talent Solutions, asked that question while speaking at PPAI Women’s Leadership Conference Direct-2-You in June. Her virtual presentation, “At The Intersection Of Diversity, Inclusion & Equity: What We Can Do To Advance Systemic Opportunity In Our Workplace,” was aimed at examining the key definitions of diversity, inclusion and equity, and how these definitions have changed over time, along with exploring what individuals can do to advance racial and gender equity in today’s organizations.

Green’s data reported that only six percent of S&P 500 CEOs are women, even though women make up 52 percent of the U.S. workforce. Likewise, one percent of these CEOs are African-American, while about 15 percent of the population is African-American, and about two percent are Hispanic, although this group represents about 17 percent of the working population. 

“We need strategies to bring a different approach, thinking and innovations to make a transformative change so, 20 or 30 years from now, we can look back and see that we’ve made a significant difference in the equity available in workplaces,” she said. 

Green went on to explain that organizations have traditionally thought of diversity as a binary construct based on establishing white males as the foundation and, for diversity, to pivot from there. “That is inaccurate and problematic for so many reasons,” she explained. “Organizations are moving beyond this binary construct to building a definition and understanding of diversity based on a much more multi-faceted foundation, and it’s not centered by any one category. That new way of thinking is more in line with the reality that we are seeing in the U.S. and globally. Instead of talking about wanting diversity, organizations should focus on under-represented groups and bring in people who add to our culture and give us new ideas about how to approach problems.”

But how do companies accomplish this and what is holding them back? To further the conversation, PPB spoke with Kathy Cheng, president of supplier Redwood Classics Apparel in Toronto, and Monique Erving, national account manager at distributor Bensussen Deutsch & Associates, Inc. in Woodinville, Washington (above, right)—both members of the PPAI Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force—to provide commentary on some of the most commonly-asked questions on this issue.

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What are the issues that hold companies back from building more diverse teams?

Kathy Cheng: I would say five things hold them back: lack of a healthy, diverse talent pipeline; lack of ownership of a DEI/supplier diversity strategy; lack of cultural intelligence, specifically cultural awareness, and experiences amongst teams have not been fostered, hence the abilities to see and relate to more perspectives and experiences are diminished; lack of communication (the value and importance of diversity has not been communicated top-down or bottom-up, and collective input, at all levels, is key); and resistance and fear of change.

Monique Erving: There are numerous issues depending on the industry. One of the main reasons is their unwillingness to seek out candidates that are different from their ideal employee.

What are some steps companies can take to begin to move toward diversity within their workforce?

Cheng: Recognize and acknowledge that this is a business strategy. Internally, it’s with your staff and externally, it’s about your customers and supply-chain partners. Research has proven that diverse and inclusive organizations are more profitable. Adopt clear communication of intent and expectations. Be clear and concise of the intent and expectations around the organization’s goals and objectives. If the fear of change or the fear of the unknown is a potential hindrance of diversity concept adoption, organizations can communicate and define goals and objectives for staff. Define your “why.” Not understanding why the intentional efforts of diversity can contribute to the resistance to change, so by clearly defining the goals and objectives across the organization may encourage diversity concept adoption. Break your habits. Let’s face it. No one really likes to disrupt their habits and routines, so human nature dictates a most likely encounter to resistance. With clear communication of intent and expectations for establishing new routines, that may lend comfort to those who may resist the change, while also empowering those who may embrace the change. Anticipate and acknowledge that change is not going to happen without resistance. When you anticipate the resistance, you will be better prepared to work through it during the implementation of this change process toward a more inclusive and diverse culture. Recognize that what gets measured, gets done. And people want to know what’s in it for them. Regardless of position within the organization, the motivation to change will come from recognizing how this change management will and can benefit them personally. It’s important to recognize that the learning process not only benefits the organization, but by benefiting the organization, embracing a diverse strategy will positively affect all members of the organization. Finally, establish the key performance indicators for compensation.

Erving: Organizations can start to invest in groups or organizations that are immersed in diverse communities in order to expand their net to capture a more diverse candidate pool.

What challenges should company leaders be prepared to face when working to create diversity within their teams?

Erving: Leaders should be prepared to face numerous roadblocks from employees, business partners and society as a whole. This is due to the fact that inequality in our nation has been driven by deep-rooted, long-term, unfair work practices.

What does equality mean in terms of the workplace and what are some ways to achieve it? 

Erving: Equality means to provide the same level of opportunity and pay for the entire workforce.

In your experience, what do companies struggle the most with in terms of creating an inclusive workforce? 

Erving: Companies struggle in creating an inclusive workforce because their HR leaders are not inclined or given the directive from the owners to be inclusive. Many of the corporate hiring directives are created to seek out candidates who resemble the owners. Because of these practices, most HR departments have very limited experience in building a diverse workforce.

What is the most important lesson to remember when working toward DEI initiatives in the workplace?

Erving: Always engage with an open mind. Be prepared to uncover the practices that are presented to be fair, but truly are unfair when you pull back the layers.  

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Kathy Cheng and Monique Erving serve on the PPAI Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force, which partners with PPAI staff to expand diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the promotional products industry and its workforce by creating education and networking opportunities. The task force also strives to increase the visibility of underrepresented groups within the industry’s workforce and inspire industry business leaders to embrace inclusive, unbiased business practices. In June, the task force produced its latest educational effort, a webinar discussing critical questions related to DEI and the workplace with members of the DEI Task Force. Listen to “DEI: A Roundtable Discussion” on-demand at onlineeducation.ppai.org/on-demand-webinars.

Task force members also include:
Johanna Gottlieb, Axis Promotions, Chair
Noah Lapine, Lapine Associates, Board Liaison
Nenette Gray, Lemonade Creative Marketing
Ed Hamner, Howling Print & Promo
Hugh Lawson, Staples
Joel Schaffer, Soundline, LLC
Cindy Tsuji, Image Source
Maurice Norris, PPAI Staff Liaison
Pamela Brown-Matthis, PPAI Staff Liaison
Bob McLean, CPA, CAE, CEM, PPAI Interim President

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  • In 2020, PPAI produced The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Playbook to guide member companies through the essentials of diversity, equity and inclusion, and help them identify areas for improvement and strategies for targeted initiatives. The book is free for download at ppai.org/advocacy/diversity-inclusion/diversity-equity-inclusion.

  • “A Look At Race And Diversity In The Promo Industry” is a PPAI PromoTalks podcast, presented by PPB, with guests Esmeralda Anaya, marketing manager at supplier Terry Town, and Bryan James, co-owner of distributor Corporate Specialty Insignia. This 50-minute episode, moderated by PPB Associate Editor Kristina Valdez, dives into what race and diversity look like in the promo industry. Anaya and James share their experiences with everyday discrimination and offer insights into how the promo industry can become more diverse.

  • Join PPAI’s ongoing DEI conversation by becoming part of the Diversity, Equity And Inclusion Promo Connect community. Designed to empower collaboration among industry professionals, this community is a place to connect with like-minded individuals, ask questions and share what you’re learning about the topic in the workplace. Find it at community.ppai.org/communities.

  • Find a full list of industry podcasts, articles and additional resources on DEI at ppai.org/advocacy/diversity-inclusion/diversity-equity-inclusion.

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Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.

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