Technological, demographic, economic and geopolitical changes are dramatically transforming the workforce, workplaces and consumer markets. Those forces mean that the importance of a diverse and inclusive culture to business success has never
“These issues are core to our future – as a business school and in our role in equipping students with the understanding and skills to lead in this turbulent era,” said Doug Shackelford (BSBA ’80), dean and Meade H. Willis Distinguished Professor of Taxation at UNC Kenan-Flagler. “Because corporate America is at the forefront of addressing diversity and inclusion in their organizations, we created a new board to help us prepare our students to lead in increasingly diverse workplaces at a time of unprecedented change.”
UNC Kenan-Flagler convened its new Corporate Advisory Board on Diversity and Inclusion for its inaugural meeting – a day of conversations with students, faculty and staff and a community Town Hall – on Feb. 26, 2019.
Leading the board are Shackelford and Jim Johnson, William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship and director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center. Members
“The meeting was just the beginning of our conversations with this powerhouse of corporate leaders, who already have made a difference at UNC Kenan-Flagler by sharing their expertise, insights and time with us and we,” said Shackelford. “I also value the leadership of Jim Johnson and Rumay Alexander in making UNC a more diverse and inclusive organization.”
“We asked our board members to discuss the roles that diversity, inclusion and belonging play in talent development, acquisition and retention in their firms,” said Johnson, who moderated the Town Hall. “We also asked them about the changes we need to make – as business educators – to ensure our graduates are fully prepared for the new world of work.”
The wide-ranging and frank conversation on “How Diverse and Inclusive Cultures Drive Success” showcased key insights.
Success in creating a diverse and inclusive organization starts with leadership and requires a sustainable strategy. Some companies are intentional, but not strategic. Some are intentional and strategic, but haven’t developed a sense of belonging for diverse employees. Many have diversity in their workforce but not in top leadership roles or on their boards. In the end, every aspect of the corporation needs to be inclusive.
Research and data have long demonstrated the business case for diversity. Companies with diverse leadership outperform their competitors. Simply put, it’s about attracting, developing and retaining talent to drive growth and success for the company. Organizations need diverse perspectives to solve business – and to harness that talent, they need to create cultures in which everyone can bring their whole selves to work.
Diversity is about talent. Inclusion is about a culture where people feel they have a voice – and their ideas and opinions are valued. Both drive corporate growth. And for retention, executives need to advocate for and sponsor their diverse workforce. Also critical are transparent, clear and consistent processes and access to information.
Companies want to reflect and represent the customers and communities – locally, nationally and globally – they serve at all levels of leadership. With diverse teams come different experiences, backgrounds and cultures that lead to different ways of thinking and innovative approaches. If you ask questions and have conversations to learn about those differences, you can leverage those differences for innovation and growth.
Diversity and inclusion are about relationships, not about numbers. Get to know people who are different, and seek their insights and opinions. Building relationships leads to trust, and with trust you can talk about anything. And with that learning, change and innovation can occur. Everyone might not agree, but it’s “really hard to hate up close.”
The corner office doesn’t have all the answers – answers can come from all levels of the organization.
Everyone needs to advocate for change and a more inclusive environment. Ask questions and make it possible for others to have a voice.
Be an advocate for others. Think about every issue in terms of how it affects someone you care about. Why wouldn’t you advocate for something you would want for a family member? It’s not a zero-sum game – everyone benefits.
Leadership is not about you, it is about others. You need to be an inclusive leader to succeed in corporations – at all levels and throughout your career. To succeed in a global corporation, you don’t have to understand every culture. You do have to understand how to ask the right questions so that you understand how to get out of every culture – from its workforce to consumer markets.
We need to engage with people who are different to understand their perspectives and learn from them. Yet even in diverse cities such as New York, Americans live in segregated neighborhoods. Corporate America can create opportunities for employees to come together for important conversations that can create empathy and understanding about differences.
Societal issues and concerns don’t stop at the entrance to the office. When tragic events occur, people in your organization are affected and look to their leaders, so companies have convened conversations through “days of understanding” and webinars, for instance, to talk about and understand different viewpoints.
Faculty need to create and manage an inclusive classroom, and students need to bring issues of diversity and inclusion to the attention of their professors. During the process, we must honor and preserve each other’s dignity – to attack issues, not people. Organizationally, we can change systems and processes. Just as diverse and inclusive cultures aren’t built by a single office or role, everyone needs to do their part. A single class can’t prepare students; diversity and inclusion need to be threaded through the curriculum. We need to allow people to be human and make mistakes, and then have courageous dialogues to clear up misunderstandings and understand differences. It’s an exchange, not a one-way process.