Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace, Post 2020

Diversity And Inclusion In The Workplace

Corporate culture is reflected in how we handle uncertainty and change -- and conversations around racism, inclusion, harassment, and more are taking place in companies across the country every day. To help us turn these challenges into opportunities for growth is Katie Van Horn, CEO of VH Includ=d, a consultancy committed to changing the world by creating awareness of the need for equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Here, she explains:

  • The need for corporate response during critical events
  • How some companies addressed social injustice in 2020
  • How companies can strengthen their corporate culture by making equality, diversity and inclusion a priority; and
  • How you can turn social awareness into action!

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The Need for Corporate Response

  • The social justice events of 2020 made many people realize that there were and are real issues in the United States when it comes to equality and social injustice.
  • Many companies felt the need to address these issues to be in touch with and support their employees, as well as the public at large. 
  • Throughout 2020, we witnessed some companies do great things in response while others either did not do enough or did not provide the appropriate response. 
    • Target was one particular company that came out with a strong sentiment that people matter more than profit. 
    • Target was often linked to the George Floyd murder due to the fact that Target is headquartered in Minneapolis, MN. 
  • Corporate response, in light of these events, was important - for many organizations, no response or a poorly executed response could deeply impact employee retention, trust and brand image. 
  • As a result, 2020 also saw many companies become more aware and more involved in social justice movements, including Black Lives Matter.


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Taking Action

  • Ben & Jerry’s did a great job in addressing the social injustice events and committing to the cause of racial justice.
  • Companies who made actionable plans as opposed to just a generic statement of support for the social injustice movement also saw positive responses. 
    • These actionable plans showed true commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
    • These companies stood out over the rest and were held accountable for those action plans. 

Supporting The Company, Supporting Employees

  • For many organizations, there were a few different things that had to be addressed.
    • The first was to address the fact that these social justice issues were about people, and people first. The employees and customers of these companies are people before anything else, and that was a good start to any corporate response.
      • Companies that focused on their people by offering things like mental health resources and support systems are the ones that truly stood out above the rest in 2020.
    • The second was that these events could have caused some internal financial issues that could affect the wellbeing of the company as a whole. 
    • Finally, throughout these events, companies also had to remain aware of the current pandemic, from a standpoint of safety for their employees and customers.

Strengthen Your Culture

  • Companies have to figure out what truly makes a plan actionable. An actionable plan requires three steps:
    • Assess areas in which they are equitable to their customers and employees and areas where they might not be. In many cases, that starts by simply talking to the customers and employees and getting their input.
    • Determine what kind of actions and responses might make a genuine difference within the company culture and surrounding community, regarding systemic racism and other pertinent social justice issues. 
    • Evaluate and change processes in response to your assessment and your determinations, to improve the experience for all employees and customers. 
  • Communication with employees is essential to making real changes to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace and to the overall company culture.
    • Engage employees in a discussion of the employee life cycle at your organization to get a true understanding of what it feels like to work at a company. 
    • Take action to make impactful changes. Even if the action isn't perfect, the attempt to improve company culture based on employee experiences will go a long way to developing trust from employees.
    • Achieve Leadership Buy-In - if senior leadership is focused on making actionable changes, those changes will trickle down throughout the company and everyone will reap the benefits.

Corporate Financial Support

  • Corporate Financial Support of Social Justice Causes
    • Financial pledges are good ways to support certain causes, but companies do need to have a further agenda beyond financial donations.
    • Financial pledges that align with a company’s customers and goals are usually the ones that are the most impactful (such as, a rental property company that gives to a relief fund supporting people who cannot make their rent). 
  • Corporate Financial Support of Employees
    • It is important that companies are thoughtful, transparent, and honest about what is going on financially with their employees.
    • This is especially important in a time in which so many have been laid off, furloughed, or had hours cut.
    • This transparency and honesty must extend to when things go back to normal for the company financially (foe examples, re-hiring laid off employees, etc.).

Diversity And Inclusion In The Workplace Can Start at the Top

  • There should be a sense of urgency in improving diversity throughout a company -- but improving diversity at the senior-level positions is critical.  
    • Many companies will often take the “bottom-up” approach to improve diversity and inclusion. While this is by no means a negative move in companies that promote from within, it takes time to foster change with that model.
    • The more diversity at the top of the pyramid, the more likely there will be diversity throughout the company as a whole.
    • When candidates do research on where they may want to work, they will notice who is on the leadership team at a company, and that can impact their opinion of the opportunity. 
    • Having diversity in powerful roles is more than just a visual concept. When there is more diversity in those roles, there are new perspectives and unique ideas that circulate and can make the company better. 

Diversity And Inclusion Is About More Than Just Combating Racism

  • Building a diverse and inclusive workplace is about much more than just combating racism -- the goal is to create a more equitable workplace overall.
  • Equitable workplaces do, of course, include efforts to fight racism, but those efforts are more than just “one and done” programs -- and the more successful efforts make equality a key part of their corporate culture.

On Talking About Racial Inequality

  • The events of 2020 made it clear: Systemic racism continues to be an ongoing issue within the United States, and it’s something we need to address as a people - and addressing this issue will require ongoing effort on the part of the American people.
  • “We can talk about politics, we can talk about a lot of different things that have really had that spotlight on them this past year, and you know, a lot of people say there are two sides to the coin, especially with very charged issues. But when we shift and think about it as a diamond and the different facets of a diamond and how, you know, so many different things that contribute to the facets of the diamond. It's not just a black or white issue. There are a lot of different dimensions here and we need to be thoughtful about that and we need to keep going and keep learning.”

Turning Awareness Into Action

  • Leaders of an organization should talk to employees about what’s important to them, both within and outside of the workplace.
    • Gaining awareness by talking to people directly not only is genuine, but it also can shed light on some topics that may not show up in any metrics.
  • Leaders should make a true commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
    • There is now quantifiable data that shows that a more diverse workforce is often more productive and successful, and leaders that understand this and embrace it are the ones who will better their company and the lives of the people who work for that company. 
  • Leaders need to “do something.” 
    • Plan an event, or meet with employees -- regardless of what the action is, action must be taken. Talking with people is  a great first step, but action is what will make a difference in the end.
  • HR should perform an audit of the entire employee process. 
    • This will allow for the collection of data on what a day in the life of an employee feels like and how each employee’s experience differs, and should track the employee journey from job application through exit interview.

Corporate Introspection

  • Companies should absolutely take a long, hard look at their organization. 
  • Diversity and inclusion in the workplace may be hard to come by if a company has policies in place that don’t support it from the start.
  • What are the practices and policies that might support diversity and inclusion and what might hinder it - and what policies does your company currently have in place?
  • How are you encouraging inclusion in your workplace? If a company does not have an inclusive culture, even if diverse candidates are hired, they won’t stay long - so be sure to examine inclusivity as well.

Education’s Impact On Diversity And Inclusion In The Workplace

  • When it comes to education and training, many companies simply conduct mandatory bias training and check it off the list. This is not enough. Companies should examine their entire education, training, and onboarding process with a critical eye. 
    • That critical eye should include content, yes, but it should also address employee representation in training materials as well! 

VH Includ=d

  • VH Includ=d helps companies design practical solutions to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
  • They utilize consulting and coaching to assist companies in building a strategy. This process includes a full assessment of where the company currently stands, and builds a roadmap of where the company wants to go.
    • This roadmap includes coaching executives and leaders on how they ended to show up and work within the organization and build a more inclusive culture.
  • The goal is to help organizations change and evolve into something better.
  • There is not a set endpoint, the evolution of the organization's culture is ongoing. 

Katee Van Horn Background

  • BS in Business Management fromThe University of Phoenix.
  • Ms. Van Horn has worked for many notable and well-known companies in her career including: JP Morgan Chase, Target, and GoDaddy.
  • She is currently the CEO of VH Includ=d 
  • Ms. Van Horn is also a co-host on the InclusiveAF podcast with Jackye Clayton.


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