3 ways to advance corporate diversity, equity and inclusion

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Lesley Slaton Brown, Chief Diversity Officer, HP Inc.


  • Since 2020, employers have stepped up their efforts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • This means empowering employees to have uncomfortable conversations, and taking active steps to increase board diversity.
  • Experience is showing that virtual diversity networks cannot replace meeting colleagues in person.

Every February, we celebrate Black History Month in the US and Canada. It is not only a celebration of the contribution the Black community has made to our society, but also a reminder that we must constantly evaluate our progress and take more action toward racial equity. Since the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the business community has been taking a hard look at where it falls short on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

Many companies, including HP where I work, recommitted themselves to promoting these values. With more than 3 billion people in the workforce worldwide, employers have a significant role in advancing DEI. When we can improve the workplace, we can reduce the racial wealth gap and build a stronger global economy that benefits all. However, the journey towards racial and gender equity is sometimes far from smooth. Here are the valuable lessons we’ve learned so far:

Get comfortable being uncomfortable

It’s our responsibility to empower employees to speak out, and to listen to what they have to say, even when the resulting conversations can be complex and sometimes tense. We need to embrace that tension, knowing that the best solutions come from raw, honest dialogues between people with a broad range of perspectives.

At HP, we convened a Racial Equity and Social Justice Task Force last year. This is made up of hundreds of employees from every division, working together to actively shape our DEI strategy. One of those volunteers came up with the idea for our technology conference at historically Black colleges and universities, which helps Black students gain more competitive skills while providing the latest insights into digital transformation for the institutions. The inaugural event allowed us to build connections with thousands of students across 74 institutions.

Those connections are critical. As anyone working on corporate diversity knows, there is no shortage of diverse talent. The problem is often a lack of investment and commitment to finding talent and then cultivating that talent to succeed in the workplace.

That’s why HP has dedicated far more resources to diversifying our team at the executive level. The results speak for themselves: after just one year, we are at 33 percent of our goal to increase representation of Black executives. We also launched the Hire: EQ training program to reduce biases in our hiring process. And last year, more than 60 percent of our new U.S. hires were from historically excluded groups, including women, people of color, veterans and people with disabilities.

Board diversity matters

Last year, the S&P 500 board of directors reflected its most diverse class ever: 47 percent of all new directors are from historically excluded racial or ethnic groups. We should celebrate this fact, while also recognizing that board diversity is only a first step.

In 2015, when HP Inc. separated from Hewlett-Packard Company, we set out to create one of the most diverse boards in the industry, in both its internal composition and approach. One practice we put in place was a “reverse mentorship” program, where board members were paired with senior leaders in the company and encouraged to keep us accountable to meeting our goals. We also set up meetings between board members and employee resource groups to hear their unmediated perspectives – a tradition that will live on virtually as we transition to hybrid work.

HP board member Stacy Brown-Philpot recommended All-In, a Black woman-led recruiting firm that has helped us add more diverse talent to our cybersecurity team. The Board also advised us to invest in the development of diverse talent through programs like McKinsey’s Black Leadership Academy, the Stanford Black Leaders Program and ITSMF’s Management Academy for Black leaders. As a result of some of these initiatives, retention of our Black employees has already increased. We’re seeing success with ITSMF alone — 80 percent of employees who participated in the program over the past years have been promoted.

It’s still important to meet colleagues in person

We set a goal to increase the inclusion index rate for Black employees from 84%to 90% by end of 2021. We launched the first-ever Black remote employee resource network, an Inclusive Leadership Workshop for senior leaders and a Reinvent Inclusion Training. However, the inclusion rate remains unchanged, illustrating the need to do more.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent social and political unrest have created a profound sense of urgency for companies to actively work to tackle inequity.

The Forum’s work on Diversity, Equality, Inclusion and Social Justice is driven by the New Economy and Society Platform, which is focused on building prosperous, inclusive and just economies and societies. In addition to its work on economic growth, revival and transformation, work, wages and job creation, and education, skills and learning, the Platform takes an integrated and holistic approach to diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice, and aims to tackle exclusion, bias and discrimination related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and all other forms of human diversity.

The Platform produces data, standards and insights, such as the Global Gender Gap Report and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 4.0 Toolkit, and drives or supports action initiatives, such as Partnering for Racial Justice in Business, The Valuable 500 – Closing the Disability Inclusion Gap, Hardwiring Gender Parity in the Future of Work, Closing the Gender Gap Country Accelerators, the Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality, the Community of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officers and the Global Future Council on Equity and Social Justice.

This is disappointing. But we’ve realized that the goal itself wasn’t inherently unrealistic; only the time frame was, due to the long tail of pandemic-era remote work. We’re hoping that once it’s safe to return to the office in greater numbers, our hybrid work model will help us continue promoting greater inclusion.

There’s no manual that explains exactly how to advance diversity at any company. The work is complex, multifaceted and requires changes at the individual and systemic level. But some common themes have emerged in our efforts to date:

  • Employees across the company, from entry-level associates to C-suite executives, must be empowered to create change.
  • We must continue to regularly question our processes and reflect on our progress.
  • We must continue using specific, transparent metrics to hold us accountable.

When it comes to increasing diversity and equity in the workplace, it’s not about doing what’s easy; it’s about doing what’s right, even when it’s hard.

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