As the focus on diversity, equity and inclusion rises rapidly, Melba Hughes, executive director and national in-house diversity practice leader at Major, Lindsey & Africa, shares steps leaders can take to advance their DE&I initiatives.
Markiesha Thompson, Associate Editor, Monitor
“DE&I is about building corporate strength and success, embracing the future and embracing the talent that will lead to the ultimate success and longevity of an organization.”
Melba Hughes began her diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) work three decades ago. With the encouragement of clients such as GE, she made a commitment to present a diverse slate of candidates for every job she was hired to fill. In 2012, she joined Major, Lindsey & Africa, a recruiting firm for the legal industry, because the firm’s diversity and inclusion views and goals aligned nicely with her beliefs.
During her early days as a diversity recruiter, Hughes encountered employers who struggled to find and recruit diverse talent because they felt there were no qualified people of color available. However, she knew that was untrue, as she personally knew may talented people of color who were graduating from Yale Law School when her husband was a student there. She made it her mission to make sure she was introducing employers to these smart, capable lawyers from then on.
Today, recent events, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, have made people more aware of the need for improved efforts in the DE&I space. Companies understand that a diverse workforce means a stronger workforce, and with this heightened awareness, the demand for a more diverse slate of candidates has increased. This is a pivotal movement in time for people of color to be able to grow and maximize their potential and to capitalize on the availability of opportunities, according to Hughes.
The Importance of Senior Leadership
According to Hughes, if senior leaderships wants to make a meaningful and successful impact, they must hold each other accountable, lead by example and give a voice to the DE&I value of their organizations. The first step to improving a company’s DE&I efforts is to take an honest assessment of where the organization is on its DE&I journey and its DE&I initiatives. The organization needs to know where it is today and define where it wants to be going forward in order to make any progress.
Then, there must be buy-in from the leadership team, explains Hughes, noting that DE&I efforts will not be successful unless senior leadership is fully committed to making them happen and achieving success. Hughes says companies should complete an honest assessment of senior leadership and its stance on DE&I because they will set the example and lead the necessary cultural shifts.
To do this, senior leaders must have a consistent and unified message and a plan to maintain accountability. They must also perform a systematic and regular review of DE&I initiatives to ensure they are getting to where they want to go as an organization. Then, leaders must focus on building on the strengths of the DE&I process and address any gaps that may become apparent. Ultimately,
DE&I must remain a priority for an organization to succeed.
DE&I Belongs to Everyone
While DE&I efforts must start at the top, everyone in an organization is responsible for creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. Checking a box and hiring a DE&I consultant or employee is a step in the right direction, but it is not the answer to having a more diverse and engaged workforce. There are different elements of diversity, and everyone should be intentional about learning about what makes each of us unique, Hughes says. When people get to know people who look differently from them or come from different backgrounds, they can expand their knowledge and understanding of different cultures and perspectives. This can be done by simply inviting someone to lunch or including someone in a project. Take it a step further and act as a sponsor to advocate and help another person navigate their career path to success.
It is hard work to foster and maintain a diverse and inclusive environment. DE&I is a daily discipline of making intentional decisions about hiring and utilizing a diverse range of employees. Invite people to the table, offer them opportunities and visible assignments and show you believe in the people you’ve hired.
DE&I is about building corporate strength and success, embracing the future and embracing the talent that will lead to the ultimate success and longevity of an organization.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Markiesha Thompson is associate editor of Monitor.
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