Let’s Change the Headlines

Kara Helander
3 min readNov 10, 2017


“Silicon Valley’s Race Gap is Getting Worse, Not Better, New Research Shows”

“Unconscious Bias Training Perpetuates The Problems America Strives to Fix”

“More Companies Are Buying Insurance to Cover Executives Who Sexually Harass Employees”

“Women are Falling Behind at Work — And Its Not For Lack of Effort”

“It’s 2017 and Amazon Only Has One Women Among Its 18 Most Powerful Executives”

I am tired — we are all tired — of reading these headlines. For much of the last decade, I have met and collaborated with countless extremely smart, committed professionals working to make our organizations and our society more inclusive and diverse. Yet, progress remains excruciatingly slow, and significant human, organizational, and societal potential remain unfulfilled.

The good news is that, in my work with leaders, managers and teams, I have seen that most want to “do the right thing,” and we’re starting to see studies that show this[1]. The not-so-good news is that they tend to fall back into patterns of behavior and decision making that perpetuate the status quo — they just don’t know how to keep doing “the right thing.” As head of Catalyst West, I met with companies who genuinely wanted to develop a more diverse set of senior leaders, but kept giving the plum assignments to people who were similar to existing leadership. While I was head of D&I at BlackRock, we launched the Women’s Leadership Forum, a program that measurably expanded the leadership impact and scope of senior women in the firm [2] [3] . I noticed that even some of these incredibly accomplished women hesitated to share their contributions and achievements for fear of breaking with societal expectations that women should be modest.

The question of how to create inclusive cultures has become one of the most critical issues of our time. We urgently need new approaches and tools to drive change:

  • Change based on solid evidence about what works, so we are not reliant on one-off approaches and anecdotal evidence.
  • Change that leverages cross-sector insight and expertise.
  • Change to systems, practices, and decision-making processes so that people are guided to more inclusive behaviors.
  • Change that leverages the extraordinary communication and computational tools available to us today: social media, big data, and ubiquitous connectivity.
  • Change that guides and empowers allies to be part of positive change.

In short, we need change that is sustainable and scalable.

Now, more than ever, we can realize this kind of change. There is a fast-growing body of research that points to what really makes a difference. For example, I have worked with behavioral economists to identify small changes to recruitment processes that more than double application rates from Black, Hispanic and female professionals. This kind of evidence, combined with strong leadership and smart use of technology, is a potent tool.

In future posts, I will look forward to sharing some of the work being done to create those exciting headlines we are all waiting for.

[1] The 2017 McKinsey Lean In study on Women in the Workplace reports that corporate commitment to cultivating diverse and inclusive organizations is at an all-time high.

[2] BlackRock: Diversity as a Driver for Success, Harvard Business School Case Study by Boris Groysberg and Katherine Connolly.

[3] Sisterhood Is Not Enough: Why Workplace Equality Needs Men, Too, by Peggy Klaus, NYTimes, August 13, 2016.



Kara Helander

CSR and Inclusion & Diversity Strategist — driving transformational initiatives at the intersection of business and social impact