Diversity and Inclusion Expert Gives Solutions for Racial Equity

Allison Manswell, founder of minority and woman-owned Path Forward Consulting, is focused on shifting behavior in the workforce from intention to impact. Recently named to HR Tech Outlook’s Top 10 Diversity and Inclusion Diversity Firms list, Path Forward is leading organizations onward through challenging times. Manswell, MBA, CPLP combines more than 24 years working in corporate and government settings with her expertise in employee, organizational, and leadership development. 

Black Enterprise discussed Workplace diversity and inclusion initiatives, Black Lives Matter, and specific ways to make the D&I initiative work for organizations. 

Diversity and inclusion have been a topic within Fortune 500 organizations for many years yet very little has changed. How do companies recommit in order to see the intended change?

To establish a degree of credibility, organizations must first address the proverbial “elephant in the room”— the fact that despite lofty goals, they have made minimal progress overall. Secondly, they will have to take a page out of the established success playbook and install the infrastructure to achieve the change they want. This is a combination of demonstrated senior leader commitment, support services for new processes, and new expectations of behavior. Finally, there must be sustained levels of accountability throughout the organization for the change to take hold.

We’ve seen organizations get behind Black Lives Matter and support racial injustice through various marketing campaigns. How effective is this approach and does this move the needle within an organization?

Publishing a statement of solidarity on your website and Twitter is just marketing and people know that. Many companies jumped on this bandwagon but failed to realize the follow-up requirement to install new ways of working. Some organizations give donations as the next-level marketing campaign. I am certain that the organizations that receive increased funding can track how the needle has moved because of the donations. For example, scholarships for students of color is a tangible start. The challenge is that although greatly appreciated, this strategy has a limited impact and doesn’t address the systemic nature of most of the challenges. Lip service to racial justice went out of style this summer. Organizations are now being held accountable to “walk the walk,” especially those that made statements and profit from diverse communities.

How important is behavioral change in the workplace as it relates to diversity and inclusion initiatives? 

Behavior change is not just an element of success as it relates to diversity and inclusion initiatives—it is the most critical element. In essence, what we are attempting to do is get masses of people to change their established behavior. The core problem is that we have never been committed enough to the new behavior to hold people accountable for it. So, we have sacrificed our stated goals at the altar of the status quo. The other problem is that we have been solving the wrong problems most of the time. Here are a few examples:

1) I often hear clients talk about the “pipeline problem” for diverse talent. I challenge them by saying that many times there is no shortage of diverse talent. There is, however:

a) a lack of ability to see talent beyond the current corporate majority

b) a dogmatic commitment to a narrow set of qualifications and experiences that don’t always represent the true capabilities for the role

c) a superstitious approach to talent management that causes companies to recruit the same profile of person over and over

2) We spend a lot of time, money, and energy doing employee engagement surveys and action plans (that are soon abandoned). I strongly believe that if we diverted that effort toward leadership engagement, we would get better results. If senior executives were honest with themselves, they would admit that many organizations have a cadre of leaders who may not be as well-prepared for their roles as we need them to be. In addition, investments in leadership development have been inconsistent over the years, which limits leaders’ ability to grow at the pace that the times have changed.

3) The long-term impact is that when we do attract diverse talent, the combination of ill-equipped leaders and a status quo culture make it difficult for them to be their best or flourish there. The resulting retention challenges are sometimes misinterpreted as “not a good fit.” 

What advice do you have for organizations starting D&I efforts and those that may need to reevaluate their current D&I initiatives?

1. Get a clean sheet of paper and a new pencil. Assume that what you did before will not work now. Look at the data analysis of your challenges but resist the urge to hide behind the assessment process. Most challenges are blatantly obvious from existing data. Listen to what (and who) your people are telling you are the problems.

2. Do not set up an infrastructure where one person is responsible for this initiative. Although you do need someone with C-level authority and influence to hold the organization accountable, the responsibility for the metrics on the outcomes needs to be disbursed across the organization.

3. Assume that you will need a more comprehensive solution in addition to training. Although we expect that leaders and employees will need to be anchored in a new skill set, you should expect that the change itself begins when they leave the virtual classroom.