Greensboro, NC — Making a business case for diversity and prioritizing inclusion initiatives during tough economic times were among the topics addressed during a panel discussion at the Diversity Leadership Conference on Oct. 1 in Greensboro.
Dean of Business Steve Reinemund was joined on the panel by: Allison Green, vice president and chief diversity officer, Lincoln Financial Group; Kristi Clement Williams, director, diversity and inclusion, Cintas Corporation; and Johnny Taylor, Jr. president and chief executive officer, Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
Lenora Billings-Harris, diversity strategist, speaker and author of the book Trail Blazers: How Top Business Leaders Are Accelerating Results through Inclusion and Diversity, served as the panel moderator.
When Billings-Harris asked the panelists why they are personally committed to diversity and inclusion, Dean Reinemund shared a story about when he was a boy running for a student council treasurer position. The other boys giving their campaign speeches all wore suits and sports coats, but Reinemund’s family did not have the means to buy him business attire. As he got ready to step up on stage, a guidance counselor took off his own sport coat and put it on Reinemund. “I realized later what he was doing was leveling the playing field. I was fortunate to have people early in my childhood level the playing field for me.”
Reinemund also explained that later on in his career at PepsiCo, he was able to prove a business case to support diversity and inclusion initiatives. When the sales force better reflected the customer base, the company’s sales share improved. “Not only was it the right thing for business, it’s the right thing to do, period,” he said.
When it comes to the biggest areas of progress for diversity in the workplace, panelists pointed to entry-level hiring. “If there is ever a chance of changing the look of the c-suite, you need to get talent into the company. Bring in the best and brightest so they can be groomed from within, but make sure you bring in enough so you have a sufficient number of candidates around in 10 to 15 years,” said Johnny Taylor, Jr.
Allison Green also noted progress in marketing. “Advertising is appealing to different cultural markets. We understand that as the world changes, demographics change and customers want different things,” she said.
While universities are making huge progress in producing a diverse pool of talent, Reinemund said the economic crisis has taken a toll on the diversity initiatives at many companies. “Those that have stayed the course are doing better, picking up relative market share, in a large part to their unwavering commitment to diversity,” he said.
Panelists also discussed generational diversity in the current work force. “The younger generation often comes with a lot of technical knowledge and perhaps more education, but the baby boomers have much more business experience and can educate and mentor,” said Kristi Clement Williams. “We try to merge the different experiences together to find a common ground, despite a 30 year age difference.”
In closing, the panelists put forth ideas for accountability and keeping diversity on the table when a company is facing financial challenges.
“If we can't align the diversity work to show how it will add value, it won't hit. Keep it around what is front and center in the business,” said Green.
“Empower people to do what they are supposed to do. It cannot be just a human resources activity. Others need to take ownership,” said Williams.
“Lose the bureaucratic managerial approach and get personal,” said Reinemund. “It’s not about the numbers, it’s about people.”
The Diversity Leadership Conference was produced by the HR Group Inc., Greensboro Mayor’s Committee for Persons with Disabilities, Triad Careers-a service of the News & Record, and North Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation.