Category Archives: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

How to Set a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Meeting Agenda

The first step on your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion meeting agenda should be to welcome everyone. Greet each participant by name. Make sure to use

diversity equity and inclusion meeting agenda

The first step on your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion meeting agenda should be to welcome everyone. Greet each participant by name. Make sure to use inclusive language. Inclusive language means, for example, saying “Welcome everyone” instead of “Ladies and gentlemen,” which assumes that everyone present identifies as either a man or a woman. Making sure everyone feels welcomed and included can go a long way in making sure everyone feels comfortable participating in the discussion.

Then, offer introductions for new members and guests. After a brief introduction and short bios of new members and guests, the next step on your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion meeting agenda should be the introduction of the discussion. First, introduce the topic at hand: why diversity and inclusion are important for your organization. After introducing the topic, lay the ground rules for the discussion. 

The ground rules for your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion meeting should have the ultimate goal of making the discussion a safe space. Any information that is shared should be confidential. Also, establish a ground rule that everyone will actively participate in the conversation. Every person’s contribution is important. Establish a rule that everyone should listen without judgment. Also let people know that they can offer their opinion without fear of retribution. This will encourage a safe environment for discussion and learning. Remember, the goal is for everyone to acquire knowledge and set in motion positive changes as a team.

As the leader of the discussion, you should pay attention to both interrupters and people who try to dominate the discussion. If one person tries to dominate the narrative, redirect the conversation back to the group. Do not let anyone derail the discussion.

Discussion points for a Diversity Equity and Inclusion Meeting Agenda

The majority of your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion meeting agenda should be dedicated to guided discussion points. We have put together nine discussion points that will help your group organically develop a set of DEI priorities. As a leader, you should remain engaged throughout all the discussion points. 

1.) How do we define diversity, equity, and inclusion? 

Diversity refers to differences in people that account for disparities in personal experience and worldview. These differences include including age, disability status, race, gender identity, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, language, socioeconomic status, neurodivergence and others. 

Equity refers to actively dismantling barriers to entry for historically underrepresented groups. Equity as a concept is distinguished from equality, which means providing the same thing to all. Equity means acknowledging that we come from different, unequal places and we must make adjustments to these imbalances, including barriers to entry that arise from unconscious bias or systemic injustice.

Inclusion refers to actively creating an environment that is welcoming and supportive to diverse individuals and groups. At the C-suite and board level, this means the degree to which diverse individuals are able to fully participate in the decision-making process of the organization.

According to professor and Social Justice expert Dafina-Lazarus (D-L) Stewart, “Diversity asks ‘who’s in the room?’

Equity responds, ‘Who is trying to get in the room but can’t? Whose presence in the room is under constant threat of erasure?’

Inclusion asks, ‘Has everyone’s ideas been heard?’

Justice responds, ‘Whose ideas won’t be taken as seriously because they aren’t in the majority?’

Diversity asks, ‘How many more of [pick any minoritized identity] group do we have this year than last?’

Equity responds, ‘What conditions have we created that maintain certain groups as the perpetual majority here?’

Inclusion asks, ‘Is this environment safe for everyone to feel like they belong?’

Justice challenges, ‘Whose safety is being sacrificed and minimized to allow others to be comfortable maintaining dehumanizing views?’”

After defining the words and reading the D-L Stewart quote, lead the group in a discussion about what it means to them. You could even discuss point-by-point the D-L Stewart quote and how it applies to your organization. Make sure everyone contributes. 

2.) Why are diversity, equity and inclusion important?

When a workplace culture is better, performance is better. DEI initiatives are integral to creating a healthy culture that aligns with the values of the organization. You could steer the discussion toward defining your values as an organization and how they relate to DEI.

3.) How will diversity, equity and inclusion help us to accomplish our goals?

In addition to making the world a better place, DEI is tied to business outcomes. Research shows that companies that value DEI outperform their competition by 400 percent. What’s more, these companies thrive even during a recession.

You might cite studies that show that DEI grows market share. You could also point out that DEI initiatives lead to better retention and recruitment, which will save money.

You could cite this poll from May 2022, in which 78 percent of respondents reported that diversity was an important factor when choosing to work for a company. Thirty-six percent of the executives polled reported they walked away from an offer because the organization lacked diversity in leadership, with 55 percent reporting it would be very unlikely for them to work for a company that had no women in a Vice President role or above. Forty-one percent of respondents said it would be very unlikely for them to work for a company with no historically marginalized people in a VP role or above.

Of course, you do not have to include all of these statistics, but maybe pull one or two to reinforce the idea that investment in DEI pays dividends. It will even help recession-proof your business.

diversity equity and inclusion meeting agenda

4.) What do we need to change in order to become more diverse and inclusive?

Have the team brainstorm ways your organization can achieve diversity and inclusivity. Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompsons suggests reaching out to colleges that usually have a more diverse student population, e.g. HBCUs and community colleges. Mentoring and training, he suggests, create an expanded personal network, which will lead to a more diverse talent pipeline in the future. Switching to skills-based hiring practices is a great way to be more inclusive at the entry level.

5.) Do we welcome people of diverse backgrounds?

If your team is homogenous, meaning everyone is from the same demographic, remember that there are elements of diversity beyond race, gender and sexual orientation. Diversity can also mean disability status, cognitive style, socioeconomic background, veteran status, education level, and more. What different geographic locations are people from? How does the team show diversity of thought? These questions will open up the discussion to have a broader definition of diversity. 

What’s more, it is better to weave DEI education into workplace culture now than to wait until the staff becomes more diverse. DEI proficiency is an integral part of workplace competency. 

6.) How do we, as a board, define our culture?

It is important to know the current culture before you can change the culture. Is there an in-group of homogenous employees or employees who share certain commonalities? Does this in-group dominate discussions? 

7.) Can our culture be seen as biased or exclusive?

Does the hiring process rely on recruiting people who are similar to us? Do certain groups feel shut out in meetings? It is especially important to hear the perspective of women, minority, LGBTQIA+ and other diverse staff on this last question. If someone is interrupted, step in and ask to hear more from the person who was interrupted. (This also applies to the meeting as a whole.)

8.) Is the board committed to DEI? Is our CEO committed to DEI? If so, how are we acting on and signaling that commitment?

Employees and stakeholders value empathy from the CEO. As a leader, the CEO should establish a precedent of meetings where diverse employees have an equal voice. 

Other things to consider: does your company have a chief diversity officer (CDO)? If not, how might you go about hiring one? Once hired, how might the rest of the board aid them by being engaged with DEI initiatives? Will the CDO have a team around them, or will they be a department of one? How will progress on diversity initiatives be assessed?

9.) What are the potential challenges that may arise on our mission to become more inclusive?

Work-from-home may be a challenge for your organization when it comes to changing or establishing a workplace culture. It may be awkward for employees to discuss sensitive issues over Zoom or Slack. 

The next step on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion meeting agenda should be to appoint a committee dedicated to DEI matters. Be clear about the purpose of the committee. Also, be aware of the skillset of committee members. If diversity, equity and inclusion are outside the purview of some committee members, consider cultural competency education from online resources like LinkedIn Learning via Rutgers University. If you do hire a Chief Diversity Officer, their success is dependent on whether you also change the workplace culture by having the entire C-Suite and board participate in DEI training.

DEI should be woven into workplace culture. To learn more, read Donald Thompson’s article “Inclusive leadership in action: how to lead meetings, give feedback, and more.”

The final step on your workplace diversity equity and inclusion meeting agenda is to follow up with the participants. Thank them for joining the meeting and ask for their feedback. 

Boardroom Diversity Without Marginalizing Anyone

By Janice Ellig, CEO, Ellig Group C-suite and boardroom diversity in 2022 America While women have come a long way, we still have far to

By Janice Ellig, CEO, Ellig Group

boardroom diversity

C-suite and boardroom diversity in 2022 America

While women have come a long way, we still have far to go before we reach gender parity at the top levels of corporate America. As CEO of a certified women-owned search firm with an unparalleled 20-year track record of placing women and members of underrepresented groups in boardrooms and the C-suite (85% and 80%, respectively), I am deeply engaged with this particular struggle on a daily basis. Given that, what I am about to say may sound like an oxymoron, but it is not. While diversity must be considered a top priority in selecting corporate leadership, it should not be the sole criterion on which a selection is based. Rather, priorities have to be balanced to achieve the best outcomes for good corporate governance.  

Pendulums often swing far to the right and far to the left, spending little time in the center. With the death of George Floyd, a pandemic, a contentious presidential election, inflation, supply chain issues, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, social unrest has reached a high point, and companies are trying to do the right thing to level the playing field. Hiring of women, BIPOC, and other underrepresented groups is currently on the minds of all CEOs, boards, Chief Human Resources Officers, and other leaders – as it should be.  

Crawling towards gender parity

In 1995 there were only 10% women on boards; by 2021 in the S&P 500 the number had risen to 30%. In 26 years, that is a rise of less than 1% per year – hardly an impressive number. However, the greatest progress occurred recently, 2020-2021, with a 2% increase year over year. In short, change, but the pace is still far too slow.  

I have followed this progress closely and was heartened when in 2003 Norway became the first country to pass legislation mandating a 40% quota for women on corporate boards by 2008, and then in 2010, when Dame Helena Morrissey and Lord Davies spearheaded the launch of the 30% Club in the UK. As encouraged as I was at the time by these advances abroad, the fact remains that in the U.S., the pace of change over the past decade remains glacial with the U.S. slipping to #14 globally for women on boards. 

Lose the Boys’ Club, not the boys

Progress for women and underrepresented groups is something mostly everyone supports, at least in theory. Many, like me, would have preferred to see greater acceleration over the last decade rather than just over the past year. The time has come and I believe it is crucial that we continue to push for diversity, but we do so in a manner that prudently moves the needle without excluding any qualified candidates regardless of gender or background.

boardroom diversity

With Ellig Group’s diversity placement record, we welcome and are honored to work with progressive companies who want to change the landscape. That is our objective as well: diversity, equity and inclusion at all levels, starting with the boardroom and C-suite. That said, we also recognize that even the companies with the best intentions can push so hard as to create unintended, counterproductive consequences. Just as companies need to demand panels of highly qualified and diverse candidates, search consultants must have the courage to push back when they feel a more appropriate candidate is being overlooked due to diversity concerns. Our ethical obligation is to ensure that we present slates of exceptional and highly diverse candidates so that our clients have multiple choices, regardless of a candidate’s gender identity, race, national origin and/or sexual orientation. 

Parity in, parity done

In 2015, Steve Odland, now CEO of the Conference board, was a speaker at the Women’s Forum of New York Breakfast of Corporate Champions, an event I founded in 2011 when I was the President of the Women’s Forum of New York, to accelerate progress for Women on boards. Steve made a “clear and present danger” call to action to all CEOs and Board Directors: “The solution is simple […] select a woman for every other opening and your board will reach parity by 2025.” Steve’s math was simple and correct. With approximately 5000 board seats and ~19% held by women at that time, filling about 200 of the 400 S&P openings each year would get us beyond parity. Or, to put it another way, achieving gender parity is absolutely doable without shutting out men. As Deanna Mulligan said at the 2013 Breakfast of Corporate Champions, “This is not rocket science. If we can put a man on the moon, we ought to be able to put more women on boards.” 

What I have learned from my corporate career and from the past 20 years leading an executive search firm, is that achieving a goal is a matter of making it a personal objective. With focus and intentionality as our driver, we can reach gender parity and equitable representation of underrepresented groups in the boardroom and throughout an organization. It is not only the right thing to do, for our employees, our customers, our communities, and our investors, it is a business imperative and good corporate governance. Board diversity can absolutely be achieved without marginalizing anyone.   

How to Find and Fix Blind Spots in Diversity and Inclusion: The Essential Guide

What are diversity blind spots? All species of swan outside Australia are white. Before Europeans explored Australia, they assumed all swans were white – absence

Blind spots in diversity and inclusion

What are diversity blind spots?

All species of swan outside Australia are white. Before Europeans explored Australia, they assumed all swans were white – absence of evidence was treated as evidence of absence – and thus the term “black swan” came to connote something that could not possibly exist. Then when it was discovered there were actual black swans in Australia, a “black swan” came to mean something incorrectly believed to be impossible or nonexistent. 

Blind spots in diversity and inclusion are sort of like black swans: leaders and designers make decisions that they assume to be unproblematic because the problems are outside their frame of reference and personal experience. 

Another analogy: if you’re right-handed, try writing in a spiral notebook or three-ring binder with your left hand – uncomfortable, right? Now imagine being in a class that requires you to take notes in a spiral notebook. The right-handed teacher/professor who made that rule probably had no idea it was burdensome to left-handed students because handedness had never caused problems for them in the past. Now realize: it has never caused problems because everything is designed for right-handed people. In this same way, people who benefit from white, male, class, and/or able-bodied privilege are oblivious to certain issues because of their unconscious assumption that their experiences are universal.

Our brains are wired to make assumptions, and these can often be riddled with unconscious bias. In order to improve our diversity intelligence, we must overcome blind spots.

Blind Spots in I.T.

How does unconscious bias affect the workplace? One example of a blind spot is in IT. For example, a software system (e.g. for onboarding) may not be able to account for the possibility that a new employee’s gender is different from the one on their ID documents, or that requires every employee to select “male” or “female” to proceed to the next step.

Another example would be legacy database systems with name entry fields that do not allow spaces, hyphens or apostrophes (so if your name is Soo Jin or Da’Shaun, you have to misspell your name just to get it in the database). In these systems, the basic design excludes people not out of malice, but because of the designer’s unconscious assumptions that gender is binary or that names do not include apostrophes.

One example of a company overcoming blind spots in IT is Apple’s built-in accessibility feature VoiceOver, which allows people with disabilities to use platforms according to their needs. For example, people with low vision can use audio narration and Braille output. 

Blind Spots in Workplace Policies

A blind spot in diversity and inclusion is a lack of awareness or prejudice. When enacted into policy, these “blind spots” become a form of discrimination. One example is workplace policies affecting black hair, a blind spot that became a civil rights issue. A Eurocentric view of hair styling has led to discriminatory policies that penalize natural black hairstyles. As of January 2022, 12 states have passed legislation preventing discrimination based on hair texture. 

Another example is workplaces failing to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. Current disability law mandates that physical spaces be designed with disabled people in mind; however, non-physical spaces are more contested. Accessible technology is not available to everyone. While the ADA – and companies like Microsoft and organizations like MIT – are working to make technology more accessible to people with cognitive and physical disabilities, it remains a murky legal gray area.

black swan theory

Blind Spots in Data Collection

Lumping in all identities can conceal problems. For example, if your company has trouble retaining Black employees, this may go undetected if you are only collecting stats on “people of color.” 

Another example of a diversity blind spot in data collection is the complicated relationship between disability and privacy. Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires federal contractors to take affirmative action in hiring employees with disabilities; however, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, employers are not required to disclose the number of people hired and retained by contractors. This lack of data prevents reaching a better understanding of disability discrimination, especially intersectional discrimination.

Unconscious bias in humans leads to biased datasets, which leads to biased AI systems through machine learning. This causes things like algorithms struggling to recognize and distinguish between black faces

Blind Spots in the Hiring Process

One study showed that “masculine”-coded language – such as “individual,” “challenging” and “driven” — in hiring advertisements can decrease the number of female candidates applying for the job by up to 10 percent. Whereas when job advertisements were worded with feminine-coded – “together,” “collaborate,” “responsibility,” – or neutral words, female applicants increased by 54 percent. Furthermore, the use of feminine language in a job description meant that women were more likely to be offered the job.

The hiring process is even more difficult for women of color: research has showed that traditional hiring questions such as quizzing applicants on their current salary disadvantage women, particularly black women. Underrepresented groups are less likely to apply to a position where they do not meet all the criteria; therefore, it is helpful to not ask that candidates tick all the boxes of an explicit set of criteria but rather to be able to identify potential. 

Research shows that implicit bias is ubiquitous in the hiring process: one study concluded that Asian and African American applicants who masked their names were more likely to get interviews than those who did not. 

Why Blind Spots in Diversity and Inclusion are a Problem

Because the brain is wired to make decisions with unconscious bias, inappropriate decision making is likely to occur because of a lack of conscious thought. These decisions can affect underrepresented groups day to day and even be woven into corporate culture. 

Workers who feel excluded or unseen are less happy and more likely to leave. If your corporate culture is seen as one that undermines diversity and inclusions, prospective candidates may not want to work for you in the first place. 

In some cases, blind spots can lead to legal action. One prominent example of this is Wal Mart. The company has been continually sued for gender discrimination, with plaintiffs arguing that unconscious bias was woven into corporate culture, putting women at a disadvantage. One case made it to the Supreme Court, with the Court ultimately finding that the plaintiffs were unable to prove unconscious bias. However, these ongoing lawsuits still lead to a great deal of negative publicity. 

Another company that has faced legal heat for accusations of unconscious bias is Google. When Google released its transparency report in 2014, it indicated a majority white, male and Asian workforce. Google has since been accused of setting quotas to try to remedy this imbalance. Google also makes efforts to train its employees on how to recognize unconscious bias; however, diversity is still not perceived to be part of Google’s core values.

The benefits of a culture of diversity and inclusion are well-documented. Diverse teams are more likely to exhibit objectivity, come up with more creative decisions than homogenous groups, and a climate of inclusion can decrease turnover. 

How to Overcome Diversity Blind Spots

Unconscious bias is a very misunderstood form of discrimination. Overcoming diversity blind spots first requires self-awareness. In 2018, the Mars brand discovered some harsh truths about female representation in their advertising. They partnered with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to assess their advertising, finding that men were nearly twice as likely to be shown working as women, with more male than female characters being shown having an occupation.

Mars has been running yearly audits ever since and announced in June 2022 that female characters now make up 45 percent of their advertising, nearing gender parity.

One of the simplest ways to overcome blind spots in diversity intelligence is to consult the people who are being affected by policies. That’s where Employee Resource Groups come in. Take advantage of ERGs to tap into employees’ views and make yourself aware of any blind spots in workplace policy. 

People naturally gravitate toward people who are like them. But making decisions in homogenous groups can cause tunnel vision and hinder innovation. In order to overcome their own blind spots, leadership should make a conscious effort to be more approachable. In order to overcome blind spots at the hiring stage, put together a diverse hiring team. 

James Dyson, head of global DE&I talent acquisition at Boomi, introduced the idea of the seven pillars of inclusion, a framework that provides companies a starting point for addressing blind spots in diversity and inclusion. The seven pillars are access, attitude, choice, partnerships, communication, policy and opportunities. 

Getting expert help can allow you to implement these seven pillars in all levels of your organization. Unconscious Bias training is commonly used to address how our brains have been trained to make discriminatory decisions based on a fear of differences.

Diversifying your board and C-Suite through DE&I-driven executive search is a good start, but there are many other services that could help depending on your specific needs. Ellig Group has built a network of strategic partnerships in the DE&I space for exactly this reason. By creating an ideal environment for creative talent to flourish, you can drive innovation in your company.