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When it comes to DEI, promotion and pay equity matter as much as hiring, CEOs say

November 17, 2021, 3:15 PM UTC

Having a business case for increased action on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) can help leaders gain organizational buy-in, but it won’t be a silver bullet. Senior leaders need to set the tone for progress by tracking employee data, enforcing accountability around the results, and working to shift the mindset of frontline managers, according to the participants of a roundtable discussion at the Fortune CEO Initiative in Washington D.C.

Frida Polli, founder and CEO of Pymetrics, challenged corporate leaders to pursue “data and transparency” in order to further their DEI strategy.

Joseph Ucuzoglu, CEO of Deloitte, said one of the greatest barriers leaders face in driving DEI is that the imperative is often relegated to being a “sub-section of [HR]” and as a result many don’t see it as a priority. He said DEI needs to move into “mainstream corporate strategy.”

While making the business case can help leaders convince laggards to care about DEI, it is not necessarily the toughest part. With talent shortages popping up in every industry, and no company immune to The Great Reshuffling, widening the scope of recruiting efforts makes more sense than ever, multiple participants including Polli agreed.

“The business imperative is actually not the challenge,” Ucuzoglu explained. “The challenge is that we all operate within the context of a broader society that is very polarized on everything, including this topic.”

Measuring progress on diversity, equity, or inclusion can be tough, especially in measuring progress on the way to milestones around representation in leadership or other key roles.

“As I have conversations with clients, what I see them grappling with more than anything is how to lead people along the journey, how to continue to grow this business, and why it’s critical to retaining the very best people, and why it’s critical to serving customers,” said Ucuzoglu.

Another way to promote DEI is by addressing structural barriers, through an audit of company recruiting or promotion practices. For example, the requirement to have a four-year degree has been recently abandoned by Google, Apple, and others, but remains pervasive in the rest of the workforce.

Deloitte is a founding partner of OneTen, a nonprofit aiming to get one million Black Americans without college degrees hired, upskilled, or promoted over the next ten years. The organization was cofounded by a group that includes the former CEOs of IBM and American Express. Maurice Jones, the CEO of OneTen, shared that so far the organization, founded in December of 2020, is already 20,000 into its target of one million. 

While employers may be open to candidates with non-traditional backgrounds due to shortages and higher-than-average turnover, they also may be inclined to fall into old familiar patterns—including hiring mostly non-diverse candidates— if they need to fill a lot of openings.

“The current market is moving everywhere and salaries are inflating,” Emily McEvilly, chief customer officer at Workday, said. “It does put a different level of pressure on the decision,” where hiring managers will be tempted to say “this pattern works and I’m in a hurry.”

McEvilly, Poli, and others also highlighted that a lot of focus on diversity has gone into recruiting and hiring, but promotions, pay equity, and retention of diverse talent are also critical.

“Everything that we just said about hiring, you can also do internally,” Polli said. “There’s just as much bias in the internal promotion.”

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