Former Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer on Talent, Not Tokenism with KPMG

by Isaiah E. Bailey | on 25 December 2020 | Originally published on LinkedIn 26 September 2020

Key Points:
  • The root of inclusion is engaged in constructive conversations across diverse groups of people - being able to do that in a meaningful way with experienced facilitators helps design a program that drives transformational thinking and change.

  • Corporate leaders have failed to step outside of their 'comfort circle' to hire, promote, compensate and otherwise treat Black people the way they've earned to be treated.

  • Corporate leaders oftentimes fall into the trap of creating a success profile which precludes leadership from considering the diverse talent that's out there.

According to a 2017 Forbes article, the 3 richest Americans hold more wealth than the bottom 50% of Americans combined. If wealth trends in America are as they historically have been, I am certain 2020 bears no difference in the 3 years that have passed since Forbes' publication of such a startling data point.

This wealth disparity is echoed further and more harshly within the Black community where opportunity for hire, promotion and overall career advancement is usually slow and oftentimes negligent to arrive altogether. So what do we, Black people, want in response to such a travesty? What we don't want is tokenism.

Joining the KPMG Board Leadership Center’s panel discussion titled ‘Race and Accountability in the Boardroom,’ Gwen Houston, former diversity and inclusion leader at global institutions like Microsoft, Nike and Campbell Soup Company, stopped by to share key points of focus for corporate leaders to consider as they transition into a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone

Time and time again we are dealt the ‘talent shortage’ card and told there simply isn’t enough Black talent available to fill the vacant leadership roles across corporate America. Well that simply isn’t true. There is no talent shortage. The problem is business decisions about people are based on comfort.

Companies usually lean towards what’s comfortable over what’s right when it comes to the hiring, retention and promotion of the Black workforce. This comfort is evident when decisions are based on people who are members of ‘certain networks’ that are limited to ‘certain circles.’ Corporate leaders have failed to step outside that circle to hire, promote, compensate and otherwise treat Black people the way they've earned to be treated.

Rethink Your Success Profile

Corporate leaders oftentimes fall into the trap of creating a success profile which precludes leadership from considering the diverse talent that's out there. The success profile is oftentimes reflective of what's already been in place, which is usually a White male.

If a company doesn't have a good track record of bringing in diverse talent, sometimes it has to look at alternative sources of sourcing to shake things up a bit. This shaking can include strategies like using alternative search firms to see how well they all do at bringing in great talent and creating opportunity for the best and brightest out there with the complement of diversity.

Diversity should also be part of the interview and assessment process for leadership positions as to whether the candidate has the technical capability for the role but also the persons mindset with regards to diversity and inclusion - understanding how it helps define their leadership style.

“Black leaders are exhausted constantly having to prove themselves and dealing with micro-aggressions.” - Gwen Houston

 

Diversity Does Not Equal Inclusion

Anti-bias training, a 20 year old practice, is the baseline. This training really hasn’t changed things much. You can hire diversity and show all the representation data but that doesn’t mean you have an inclusive culture.

The root of inclusion is engaged in constructive conversations across diverse groups of people - being able to do that in a meaningful way with experienced facilitators helps design a program that drives transformational thinking and change.

Intent Versus Execution, Perspective is Everything

Some have suggested an extra referral bonus for certain types of talent (basically more money for Black people); however, this practice starts to change the energy, attitude and perspective as if it were a bounty on Black and Brown heads - as if the only value a candidate has is the extra money and that's the opposite of what we want to create.

Tokenism is the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to be inclusive to members of minority groups, especially by recruiting people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of racial or sexual equality within a workforce.

Corporate leaders have to be careful about sending the wrong message. You don't want people to come in feeling as if they only got hired because of diveristy goals and not their talents. You want a genuine approach to diversity and inclusion that allows you to capture new markets and introduce innovative thinking. It’s about a commitment over the long-term to see the progress through.

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Isaiah E. Bailey

Founder, Black Accountants Talent Network (BATN)

I am passionate about creating constructive conversations aimed at improving and implementing actionable and impactful diversity and inclusion strategies applicable to all industries. I am also a dedicated mentor to high school and college students across the Greater New York City and Philadelphia areas.

 

I am an experienced accounting and auditing professional with over 5 years experience auditing financial statements and documenting, validating and assessing financial systems, strategies, and controls that significantly improve business operations. I have a strong ability to analyze and organize data and communicate results across all levels of an organization both verbally and written.

I have experience providing financial statement audit, carve-out audit, single audit, audit of internal controls over financial reporting (ICFR) and IFRS quarterly reviews for engagements both domestic and international, ranging from start-up to billion dollar companies both private and public.