The second day of Advancing Diversity Week was devoted to Belonging + Retention. The focus of the day was to call attention to the glaring lack of retention for African Americans and people of color within the adverting and marketing industry. As much as a seductive story permeates the industry that lays the onus for the lack of diversity on a pipeline problem, the reality is, that is a smokescreen. Focusing on the mythological "talent pipeline" allows the industry to obscure the lack of retention while also bringing in younger and thereby less powerful employees, all in the service of "diversity." The panel titled "Belonging and the Employee Experience" directly tackled the retention issue by linking it to the lived experience of employees of color. (You can watch the entire panel in the video above.)
This conversations about retention put the attention where it should be. Mid- to lower-senior-level talent that lacks institutional support is stymied by the very systems that pretend to care about diversity. Corporate structures have a direct correlation with an employee's experience. Legacy -- and seemingly benign -- practices can create a culture of “dis-inclusion," fostering a workplace where not all employees feel like they belong. What are some ways to focus on the employee experience through the lens of belonging?
The panel was moderated by Sade Muhammad, Vice President, Representation and Inclusion, Forbes, and included Whitney Maddox, Inaugural Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager, NPR; Chequan Lewis, Chief Equity Officer, Pizza Hut U.S.; Mary Watson, Vice President, Culture and People Experience, Mediabrands Worldwide, and DK Bartley, Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer, Moody's Corporation.
The tone was set when, in response to Muhammad's initial query regarding what inclusion meant, Maddox stated, “The work of inclusion and therefore belonging cannot happen until we talk about what is preventing me from being and feeling included in the first place. At NPR, we have been having candid and vulnerable conversations about race, racism and privilege.”
"One of the things that Pizza Hut has looked at is a differential in the employee experience," Lewis added. "What we have identified is there are meaningful statistical differences in the ways that a Black person may experience the workplace as opposed to a white peer, with some of the same inputs."
These two initial perspectives made clear that the employee experience is occurring on at least two levels. On one level, some elements are measurable, and then others are more elusive. Inclusivity and, by extension, belonging requires honest and often hard conversations while at the same time requiring quantitative metrics to measure progress.
The employee experience isn’t something that happens in a vacuum. It requires intentionality and leaders that are driven to engage deeply in this kind of work, often at high personal cost. Focusing on inclusion involves a depth of knowledge and expertise to drive measurable business results while at the same time it is emotional labor of the highest form. As a result, several panelists discussed the toil that it could take and the willingness to persevere for the greater good.
This panel is an essential listen for all organizational leads committed to delivering for their employees across all meaningful ways we engage.
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