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‘Diversity and inclusion’ can be a meaningless catchphrase. Experts share 3 takeaways to actually drive change in your company.

In a recent Insider video panel hosted by Marguerite Ward, diversity experts shared their top strategies for driving corporate change.


  • Diversity measures have thus far failed to produce the changes they promised, experts have said.
  • Inclusion experts from Danone and Brex shared top strategies to advance diversity.
  • This was part of Insider’s “Leading Into the Future of Work,” presented by Adobe, on Jan. 20, 2022.  

A great CEO awakening happened after George Floyd’s murder in 2020. 

“I am ashamed to say I do not have a single Black employee who is at Director level or above,” Anne Wojcicki, the CEO of 23andMe, wrote in a public memo. “Our product is euro-centric but must expand to be inclusive and equitable.”

“It’s time to start having conversations about racism,” Intuit CEO Sasan Goodarzi shared on LinkedIn. “I want to learn more; we need to learn more.” 

“George Floyd’s death is shocking and tragic proof that we must aim far higher than a ‘normal’ future, and build one that lives up to the highest ideals of equality and justice,” Apple’s Tim Cook wrote in a memo that Bloomberg published.  

But corporate diversity and inclusion aren’t new concepts.

Consultants in diversity, equity, and inclusion have been working for years on the issue. For decades, people of color, women, and queer folks have asked companies for better pay, promotions, and more inclusive benefits. Even within companies, leaders have been working on DEI projects for some time. Job postings for diversity and inclusion roles grew 36% from 2016 to 2018, according to Indeed. In 2019, 234 of the S&P 500 companies had diversity professionals, according to Strategy+Business.  

Yet many business consultants and professors contend that corporate diversity and inclusion efforts have failed so far. The proof, they say, is in workforce demographic data that shows the lack of diversity in workplaces and management. 

Implementing DEI initiatives is hard work, diversity experts told Insider. It requires balancing people’s emotions while remaining professional and creating a sense of justice while advancing those who have been marginalized. But certain strategies can help make the work less difficult. In a recent live video-panel event, Insider spoke with Danone North America’s chief diversity officer Terrance Irizarry, and Jeanine Suah, an expert-in-residence at Brex, a financial-services startup valued at $12.3 billion. Both shared their top learnings for leaders. 

Invest in your mid-level managers 

Implementing diversity and inclusion policies comes down to mid-level managers, both Suah and Irizarry said, so investing in them matters. 

“Most of what an employee experiences at work is impacted by their direct manager,” Irizarry said. “So the work I’ve been doing is about how am I equipping leadership to be able to lead inclusively?” 

He added that funding substantial leadership training can yield higher employee retention, calling it a “competitive advantage.”  

Suah agreed, saying that the role of a manager should be like a coach, guiding talent forward. 

“It’s so important to have a hiring manager who understands the ranks of building a team and understands where one person may be stronger, and another person may be weaker, someone who figures out how to mesh them so that the team is moving effectively,” Suah said. 

Use the ‘head or heart’ method for buy-in

In order for corporate-diversity plans to take shape, leaders have to be passionate about the topic, said Irizarry, who’s been in the field for over a decade. While he said he has the full support of his CEO, Shane Grant, he’s used an easy method to get other leaders onboard over the years. 

“You have to figure out and meet executives where they are,” Irizarry said. “You have to figure out if it is the head or the heart, or a little bit of both?” 

The “head approach” is about showing analytics and reports supporting the business case for diversity, while the “heart approach” is about appealing to a person’s emotions.   

“Do I need to show you analytics, the spending power of diverse communities? Do I need to show you the impact a higher level of engagement can have on productivity?” he said. “Or do I need to tell you if someone doesn’t feel included, how does that make them feel?”

Show employees that you actually care about them 

Another crucial part of DEI work is making sure your company’s plans aren’t cursory but truly meaningful, said Suah. 

“People want to work for companies who give a shit about them,” she said. “When you feel truly connected to the brand, and when you feel like the brand actually cares about you, you are more likely going to want to work for that company.” 

Suah said DEI initiatives have to be more comprehensive than just quarterly town halls or online unconscious-bias trainings, which are common in the industry. Instead, they should include changes to hiring practices, pay, and benefits. 

“People want to work for companies that give them the freedom and flexibility to spend time with their families, to where they don’t feel like they have to go to the office every day,” she said. “Also investing in their knowledge, in their education is important, too.”

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