Some of the biggest challenges top executives face are addressing social justice issues and moving the diversity needle, says Anise Wiley-Little, chief human capital and diversity officer, for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
“We have to face those issues because our employees are facing them. They have questions and want to know where their organizations stand,” Wiley-Little says.
In order to address the issues impacting many of our nation’s leading corporations and institutions, nearly 200 chief diversity officers and human resource officers participated in the second Kellogg’s Chief Diversity Officer Summit this past October. The summit was hosted in partnership with the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE), a national organization that provides research, networking and other related resources for chief diversity officers in higher education
Recently, several CEOs have been publically criticized for perceived actions (or inactions) with regards to their stance on issues related to diversity. This year some executives made bold moves like walking away from President Trump’s business advisory group, the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative. Executives received constant pressure from customers, employees, shareholders and board members to take a position and separate from Trump’s councils. The group began to come apart following Trump’s lukewarm response to violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA.
“We have to be open to addressing those issues,” says Wiley-Little. “They’re on the news each evening and they’re coming into our workplace.”
Wiley-Little, brought in executives from multiple sectors: nonprofit, corporate, higher education, military and the community. This was important she stressed because it was an ideal opportunity for leaders in all sectors to share best practices.
She says that for organizations to be more impactful, it is crucial that its leaders begin having honest conversations and identifying their own values. The three-day conference gave them that opportunity.
“This summit provided an excellent opportunity for these diversity officers to come together, to learn about new and best practices in their field, and to be inspired as they continue to do the necessary work,” she says. “We enabled them to be in a place where they were encouraged to be very honest and direct in their conversations.”
The summit hosted several high-profile speakers and influencers including:
- Johnnetta Betsch Cole, a Northwestern alumna and an American anthropologist, educator and museum director. Cole, who is currently principal consultant at Cook Ross, a highly regarded implicit bias consulting firm, was the keynote speaker.“The work of chief diversity officers has always been important,” says Cole. “However, in these challenging times in our nation and around the world, the work of these colleagues is especially important.”
- Edward Ned Smith, an associate professor of management and organizations at theKellogg School of Management, shared his findings on the effect of investor diversity on the price discovery process in financial markets.
- Galen Bodenhausen, Lawyer Taylor professor of psychology and marketing and co-director of the Center on the Science of Diversity, presented research on diversity and inclusion, and provided information on implicit social biases.
- Alvin B. Tillery, associate professor and associate chair in the department of Political Science at the Weinberg College of Arts at Northwestern University, discussed why affirmative action is both just and good.
Breakout sessions exploring ways corporations can create a more inclusive work culture, were also conducted amongst summit participants.
“As chief diversity officers, we are well-positioned at a positive inflection point to guide the course of business, of education, our military, and our communities,” says Wiley-Little. “We must continue to embrace diversity, challenge older existing ways of doing things, and operate with speed, transparency and above all know our purpose. The next steps are to continue creating opportunities to discuss challenges, but also continue to work on being more direct, honest and transparent.”