Successfully achieving and sustaining a work environment that fosters diversity, equity, and inclusion demands more than short-lived organizational initiatives; it requires developing and executing a cultural mindset that is sustainable through time and transitions in leadership.

During The Conference Board’s “Building a More Civil & Just Society” virtual meeting March 4, a panel of chief diversity and inclusion (D&I) officers discussed how they’re making strides in diversity, equity, and inclusion; explained the importance of senior leadership support and accountability; and offered tips for other companies interested in enhancing D&I within their own organizations.

“Take the time to understand your own personal diversity story: What does diversity, equity, and inclusion mean for you, your team, your business? Even if you think you don’t have one, that is your diversity story. Share it with people.”

Susan Johnson, Chief D&I Officer, The Hartford

“What is it that corporations, in general, are being asked to do today?” said Shelly McNamara, chief equality and inclusion officer at consumer products company Procter & Gamble, in kicking off the discussion. The answer: “It’s about being really clear on the importance of caring for, and caring about, humanity.”

Diversity, equity, and inclusion is part and parcel of broader heightened expectations around environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues today, which at its core is about companies taking a more humanitarian, purpose-driven approach. “This moment for P&G represents the next chapter of our work,” McNamara said.

During the virtual event, panelists shared the following key elements for successfully achieving and sustaining a work environment that embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion:

Have a strategy and be clear about expectations. Cultivating a workplace that respects diversity, equity, and inclusion requires senior leaders to be clearly committed to, and have a strategy around, the outcomes they expect. At P&G, that work happens organically, according to McNamara. “Our CEO is incredibly clear about the choices we’ve made and what outcomes we want,” she said. P&G has articulated publicly, for example, “We want to be the most innovative, diverse, and inclusive company in the world.”

Such a strategy requires having leaders that have the appropriate aptitude. “You need people in the company that have the skill set and experience to do the strategic work,” McNamara added. One key skill is change management: “What is required and essential for helping to transform an organization and to open up hearts and minds?”

Susan Johnson, chief D&I officer at financial services company The Hartford, noted she has started to see more intentionality around governance and transparency as it pertains to diversity, equity, and inclusion. “Our leaders are being a lot more proactive and doing a lot more genuine listening,” she said.

In addition to senior leadership, the board has a role to play. “It’s about having expectations,” McNamara said. At P&G, for example, “Our board has expectations of me as the chief equality and inclusion officer … and expectations of our leadership to make progress.”

“For P&G, we want to be a force for good and a force for growth,” McNamara said. Following that strategy, P&G published its representation data as part of its 2020 Citizenship Report, describing what work the company has done in the broader ESG space and how the company has progressed.

Make it personal. McNamara said the most progress she sees at P&G concerning diversity, equity, and inclusion is when senior leaders make the initiative personal to them by saying, “‘I am going to make a difference here.’”

Johnson stressed that point. “Take the time to understand your own personal diversity story: What does diversity, equity, and inclusion mean for you, your team, your business?” she said. “Even if you think you don’t have one, that is your diversity story. Share it with people.”

Look at outcomes in the context of equity. “Another concept we are focusing on at The Hartford is this concept of equitable talent outcomes,” Johnson said. Matters of representation, succession, internal talent moves, and retention are all looked at through the lens of equitable outcomes. “Of all women, for example, to what degree do they get promoted versus all men?” Johnson noted.

Hold people accountable. Diversity, equity, and inclusion goals are a good start, but they need to be accompanied by accountability and an occasional pulse check. Ask yourself, “‘Are we holding leaders accountable for building a diverse pipeline of talent?’” McNamara said. “Make sure there is transparency around that.”

At The Hartford, for example, all business units, effective as of March, must have in place a D&I framework, which they’ll have an opportunity to review with the CEO on a regular basis, Johnson said. As part of this initiative, “We have for the first time linked long-term incentive compensation to the progress against which we are moving the needle relative to representation,” she said. “So, not only are our leaders being held accountable for the progress within their unit’s D&I plan, but they will also have long-term incentive compensation tied to how well we move the needle relative to representation.”

McNamara noted a company doesn’t necessarily need a D&I officer to make strides, but it still requires the CEO and HR function to be totally committed. “If you don’t have the commitment internally to execute and hold people accountable, I don’t think you’ll be successful,” she said.

At P&G, one way leaders are held accountable is by tracking their progress as part of their overall performance assessment, McNamara said. She summed things up in this way: “You have to have clear expectations. You have to hold people accountable for progress, and then you have to make sure you are continually investing in that capability building, so that they’re constantly expanding their self-awareness on how to be a better inclusive leader and how to deliver a more healthy organization.”