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Forget Seats at the Table – We Need a NEW Table

By The CECP Diversity & Inclusion Team, Nandika Madgavkar and Ella Snow

Photo credit: The Atlantic’s Inclusion in the Workplace event, underwritten by Lenovo; photo by Elena Olivio


In corporate America, one in five C-suite executives is a woman. One in twenty-five is a woman of color. Approximately one in ten people living with disability, and one in seven people who identify as transgender are unemployed.

While we have made significant progress toward a future where diversity and inclusion are truly prioritized, there is still a long road ahead of us. Increasingly, businesses are seeing the positive impact of a diverse and inclusive workplace on their bottom-line and the CDO, or Chief Diversity Officer, is becoming a person of interest to the C-suite. We’re noticing a gradual and exciting shift in the conversation from ensuring marginalized people a seat at the table to rebuilding the table, and from ensuring access to leveraging technology. The Atlantic’s “Inclusion in the Workplace” conference earlier this month was an inspiring and aspirational look at just this.

A common sentiment expressed by the speakers was that women, especially women of color, are at a disadvantage in corporate America in part due to the lack of representation of those marginalized communities in the upper echelons of management. If you don’t see people like yourself at the top, how are you expected to envision yourself there? The scarcity of senior people of color/female leaders means fewer mentors and sponsors, which begins the cycle of exclusion.

Though there seemed to be a consensus among the conference presenters that corporate diversity statistics are climbing, inclusiveness remains elusive in many places. Bringing your authentic self to work, whether as a mother, an immigrant, a trans person, someone living with disability, or any other historically underrepresented identifier, is easier said than done. Unless leaders within an organization create effective “brave spaces,” the chances their employees will feel comfortable engaging in personal, authentic conversations is going to be slim.

Companies committed to embedding diversity and inclusion into their work culture can implement some of these strategies as outlined by Lenovo:

  • Arranging for employee inclusivity training
  • Fostering inclusive policies and practices (eg. Developing parental leave “returnship”)
  • Hiring a diverse slate of employees (and broadening the internal definition of “diversity”)
  • Setting measurable goals and regularly evaluating progress
  • Encouraging employees who want to be better allies to their coworkers to “Ask questions, Listen to responses, Show up for them, Speak up on their behalf when appropriate”

The proliferation of Employee Resource Groups and Allies has also led to increasing readiness among employees to speak up regarding uncomfortable/problematic experiences they’ve had at work. Some of the tactics that can be used to infuse a sense of inclusivity include:

  • Lean-in circles
  • Monthly meetings to resolve tricky issues
  • Mentorship
  • Ongoing manager training

What role does technology have in all this? During a panel entitled, Bias-Free Hiring, a group of top executives from IBM, Viacom, and Pymetric spoke about leveraging AI to remove biases in hiring practices. To ensure that AI is intrinsically free of bias, these companies are hiring a diverse pool of programmers and leveraging a diverse data set to build algorithms that are coded to eliminate biases and search for candidates based on their skills and not their race, gender, or age. While there is an array of introductory online tools available to help with this process, these two were noted as particularly useful:

While the conversation surrounding diversity and inclusion in the workplace has undeniably picked up momentum over the last few years, there is still so much more to discuss and to do. At CECP, we have taken on that challenge by trying to better understand the issue and sharing our findings in our most recent whitepaper. But we have done more. We have taken that knowledge and the questions raised and brought it to our companies through our Accelerate Community on Diversity & Inclusion. That journey has been so insightful as we grappled with the nuances around this very important topic – from talent pipeline to racial justice to applying the equity lens to philanthropic giving and social investments. We have learned that not only do we need more diversity represented in the top tiers of management, but we also need to ensure that those diverse voices are welcomed and heard. Let’s encourage those with the tools to do so to dismantle the table and rebuild it bigger and stronger than ever.


Watch videos from the AtlanticLIVE event, Inclusion in the Workplace on YouTube here.