Making Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion a ‘Business Imperative’
The murder of George Floyd last year opened many eyes to the need to provide equal opportunities for everyone—and the role that businesses must play to drive long overdue change.
For companies like Raytheon Technologies, that meant coming to terms with the fact that women and minorities are underrepresented in leadership positions throughout corporate America.
Raytheon’s response was quick: It hired Marie Sylla-Dixon as its first ever chief diversity officer and committed to Paradigm for Parity’s goal of achieving gender parity among leadership by 2030.
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion is about our employees, it’s about our customers, it’s about the communities that we serve,” Sylla-Dixon said May 26 at CBIA’s When Women Lead conference.
“We know that diversity fuels innovation, and that innovation is fueled by diversity of backgrounds—diversity of perspectives, ideas, and thoughts.”
Sylla-Dixon and Leander Dolphin, co-managing partner at Shipman & Goodwin, joined CONNSTEP president and CEO Beatriz Gutierrez in a conversation about diversity, inclusion, equity, and race.
While many companies have been working on diversity for years, Dolphin views Floyd’s murder as a watershed moment.
“It feels like there is change happening every day and it’s because companies like Raytheon are appointing people like Marie, people with passion, with the data to back up the good business of diversity, equity, and inclusion as a business imperative,” she said.
Some of that data show that there are only 33 women, 11 Latino, and four Black Fortune 500 CEOs, and that only one in 25 senior leaders in corporate America is a woman of color.
“Corporations have a huge opportunity right now to leverage their platform and their people to make systemic and generational change so the next generation does not have to face the challenges we face today,” Sylla-Dixon said.
In addition to its commitment to promoting more women to leadership positions, Raytheon will double the number of people of color at the senior, executive, and management levels, she said.
“It’s important for our team members and our employees to see leaders who look like them,” Sylla-Dixon said.
“It’s best to make sure our workforce is reflective of what we are—we’re a global company—and the communities that we serve and live in.”
‘Hear My Voice’
From Dolphin’s experience, Shipman & Goodwin has always sought diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The firm recruited her out of Howard University law school and she was among six women the firm hired in 2004.
She’s been with them ever since and is now a co-managing partner.
“I was tapped early on by leaders in the firm as someone who had leadership qualities,” Dolphin said.
“They wanted to hear my voice.”
She was named to the firm’s diversity, equity, and inclusion committee, and she notes the distinction among diversity, which is about numbers, inclusion—”being in the room”—and equity, “which is being fair in all our decision making.”
Dolphin said her progression at Shipman & Goodwin sends a clear message.
“It tells our employees, our community, and our clients that we see leadership differently—that we welcome inclusion as opposed to a culture of exclusion.”
Dolphin said companies can’t just say they value diversity.
“They have to be intentional,” she said.
“It starts with identifying talented people who might be underrepresented—women, women of color, people of color—inviting them in and trying to do whatever you can to retain them.”
You retain them by offering “true equity,” she said.
“You offer them opportunity, you offer them training and development.”
Sylla-Dixon said change only happens with leadership accountability, noting “we have to be sure that as we go on this journey that we embrace and welcome change.”
“The expectation of all of our leaders is that they be inclusive,” she said. “They must reflect our values.”
While Raytheon is making internal efforts to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion, it also has the clout to make them externally, Sylla-Dixon said.
“In Connecticut alone, we spend about $2 billion annually with local suppliers, so it’s important that we also invest in women-owned businesses, diverse-owned businesses, veteran-owned businesses—because we know these are the companies that are serving and creating jobs in underserved communities, where it has an economic impact,” she said.
Raytheon is also speaking out on public policy issues that impact the workforce of tomorrow.
“We’re weighing in on education equity issues, weighing in on STEM equity issues at the federal or state and local level,” Sylla-Dixon said.
“We know that especially right now our Black and brown children have been highly impacted by COVID, so it’s important that issues like education equity are addressed and that we’re speaking up because these are our future innovators, our future workers.”
Shipman & Goodwin recently adopted the Mansfield Rule, a Diversity Lab project with the goal of diversifying law firms.
It requires firms to consider underrepresented lawyers at every stage—hiring, promoting, leadership selection—and holds them accountable for diversifying.
Dolphin said it’s good that the firm has surpassed its Mansfield Rule goals but the effort must continue.
“We need training to push implicit biases out of the room where it happens so that when people are making decisions—about pay, about promotions, about evaluations—we are not allowing stereotypes or other biases to get in the way of giving equity and equitable opportunities to other folks in the firm, especially underrepresented people,” she said.
Dolphin said companies that ask why they failed to reach diversity, equity, and inclusion goals get a better result.
“They end up with more diverse leadership,” she said.
“They end up with a more diverse workplace because they are intentional, they are measuring, they’re not shy about the fact that this is an important goal, and they’re not shy about sharing where they’ve done well and where they haven’t.”
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