The Year of the Woman has also been a year of advancing broader diversity and inclusion (D&I) through action. Building on the sustained momentum of Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March and immigrant rights efforts, D&I established new rules for engagement in the U.S. With the goals of greater representation, equity, and opportunity, there is a heightened expectation for individuals and organizations to understand increasingly complex dynamics. Failure to do so can and will lead to action that is organized, swift, and has a direct impact on reputation and public trust. In a year bookended by the launch of the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund and a storied midterm election, D&I became an essential lens — or filter — through which decisions, actions, and accountability are viewed and assessed. As D&I continues to evolve, it will be important to build on lessons learned in order to navigate the pressures will persist and potentially intensify.
This year, despite some progress in a few areas, some have continued to struggle to find their footing on the issues and given way to new insights. In an environment with nuanced pressures and growing expectations, there were still high profile hirings and firings but we saw the rise of even more engaged, emboldened and less tolerant stakeholders that were quick to mobilize in business and social spheres. In tech, for example, employees added to pressures over compensation disparities, organized a global walkout over sexual harassment, and publicly exposed some of the explicit and implicit barriers to success for people of colorin the industry. The emergence of a more vocal employee base is a factor that the tech sector [and others] will need to step up to meet with greater transparency and accountability.
In the broader business community, we saw external forces reshape corporate engagement all together. Months after announcing it had closed the pay equity for employees of all genders and races in the U.S., Starbucks was involved in an incident of race discrimination that required a precedence-setting response. Although the company had invested 10 years in closing the pay gap, and cultivated a long-standing reputation for responsible corporate citizenship, this moment demonstrated that even an actively engaged company like Starbucks isn’t immune to D&I challenges. However, the company’s response — which entailed positioning the CEO front and center on accountability, issuing a public apology, and closing stores to do bias training with 175,000 employees — has set a new bar for the effective crisis management and business leadership in D&I.
Some of the most dynamic D&I lessons for business — and society — came through successes in the entertainment industry. The TIME’s UP Legal Defense Fund has become a leader in advocacy and a fundraising force for legal services and groundbreaking issue campaigns. The film industry, often plagued by criticism for lacking racial and ethnic diversity (in front of and behind the camera), finally came to the realization that investing in diversity is a game-changer. Staggering box office results delivered by Black Panther, which has grossed over $1 billion, and Crazy Rich Asians, which became the highest crossing romantic comedy in a decade, have proven that D&I can yield financial success while delivering culturally relevant content with casts stacked by people of color on both sides of the camera. Despite these wins, however, entertainment has a way to go on its D&I journey. The recent announcement that comedian Kevin Hart would host the upcoming Oscars ceremony was met by revelations of past homophobic tweets and public demands for an apology. Although Hart ultimately withdrew from hosting, the incident underscores a lot of what we have learned in this year of empowered D&I accountability — stakeholders are increasingly vigilant, vocal, and organized in demanding action. In this case, it’s also important to note that accountability was retroactive as the comments were made in 2009 and 2011.
But perhaps the most difficult moments for D&I came in the political arena where immigration and the #MeToo movement revealed deep divisions in our country. On one hand, immigration emerged as a polarizing issue when the devastating impact the family separation policy was exposed. Although the policy was eventually challenged and most of the children were reunited with their families, the tensions around immigration intensified and became a wedge issue in the midterm elections and a steady pillar for the President’s agenda. On the other hand, the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court created a politically-charged environment that dealt the #MeToo movement a devastating blow and intensified divisions along gender and political lines. While Kavanaugh was eventually confirmed, it is fair to say this moment revealed a lot about the #MeToo movement’s growth and organizing capabilities for direct action. Mending a country divided — and far more sensitive issues of diversity and inclusion than we were even a year ago — won’t be easy but the record number of women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community recently elected to public office is a step forward.
What to Watch in 2019:
· As stakeholders, engagement and accountability grow and evolve, how will they shift to build more intersectionality between people, issues, and solutions?
· As D&I efforts in the workplace advance, what will organizations do/do differently/stop doing? Will any of these actions rise to a level of being “best practices”?
· What will be done to drive change in leadership — particularly in Executive leadership and Board Appointments? Will targeted initiatives like the Catalyst CEO Champions for Change — and others — help accelerate change in leadership?
· How will the newly elected members of Congress [116 women; 23 people of color; 10 members of the LGBTQ community] begin to influence inclusion in/through policy making?