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To get serious about diversity, make it as fundamental as quarterly financial filings

January 22, 2021, 11:30 PM UTC

Proclaiming support for diversity in the workplace is easy. It’s hard to find a company that hasn’t professed support for the idea of an inclusive workplace this year.

The death of George Floyd over the summer galvanized a nationwide conversation around racism, one that also elicited renewed calls for racial equality within all parts of the country, including the workplace. But tangible progress has been slower to come by. As of now, just four Fortune 500 companies are helmed by a Black CEO.

The key to keeping the momentum going lies in taking diversity as seriously as quarterly financial reports, said panelists at a Thursday roundtable discussion centered around how businesses can better foster a diverse workforce. The event was co-sponsored by Fortune and Future Forum by Slack.

“Every other business initiative and strategy has resources and milestones. It has accountability,” said Billy Dexter, a partner at executive search firm, Heidrick & Struggles. “Why should this be any different? One of the things missing is the connection to the relevancy to the business.”

While its common for organizations to have diversity and inclusion initiatives, they often lie outside of the company’s core goals and aren’t connected to financial metrics, Dexter noted—a view echoed by Crystal Ashby, interim president and CEO of the Executive Leadership Council.

“In order for diversity and inclusion culture to work, it has to be built as sustainable—and we do not do a really good job of staying the course and making sure this is now a part of the fabric of the organization and not just this particular CEO’s agenda for the year,” says Ashby. Often, she says, “it’s not part of any person’s performance contract so no one’s got accountability and it’s not being measured.”

Kim Seymour, chief people officer at WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers), says she approaches the issue as if she’s launching a product where analytics and metrics come into play. It’s also not just about hiring say an intern with diverse backgrounds, It’s also about taking the “moonshot” bets and putting in long-term talent pipelines, she says.

“What Historically Black Colleges and Universities are you reaching out to beyond the five everyone already know?” she asked. “I love my Howards, Spelmans and Morehouses. But they are pretty well funded right now. How about you find one that is a small liberal arts one. There is so much out there and so much to do.”

Added Seymour: “The hashtags are over, the media presence is a little less and Black History month will have gone by. If you’re still committed in March 2021, then I’ll pay attention to what you’re saying. Because until then, it’s all a bluff as far as I’m concerned,” she said.

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