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Making Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion a Reality

Catherine Hanaway, Chair, Husch Blackwell

Husch Blackwell’s Chair Catherine Hanaway is joined by Larry Leverett, Johnson Controls, Inderpreet Sawhney, Infosys, and Alan Nevel, The MetroHealth System, to discuss ways to institute enterprise-wide DEI efforts, the various stakeholders involved, and strategies to engage them and recruitment and retention activities. This Q&A features excerpts from the 2022 Global Ethics Summit panel session “Making Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion a Reality.”

Catherine Hanaway: There has been a lot of focus on DE&I initiatives and activities recently. Could you speak to how we can make DE&I matter across our platforms? How can we move the emphasis on DE&I from its own lane to be part of the culture of an entire organization? And finally, is this a moment or a movement? What can we do to make our DE&I efforts persist throughout the entire organization?

Alan Nevel, The MetroHealth System: We have started to look at how we market and brand ourselves to reflect our mission. The MetroHealth System has focused on solving the social determinants of health since our founding. If you don’t have adequate housing or lack gainful employment, or you live in a food desert, research shows you are going to be sick. Within our organization we feel we have a moral obligation, not just to get our house in order, but to engage other organizations. The only way to change the narrative and to make a lasting impact is to bring all industries together.

Larry Leverett, Johnson Controls: DE&I efforts need to be about culture instead of discrete programs and initiatives. How do you build culture? One of the most fundamental ways that I’ve seen success is a very simple tool called ‘talking about it’. Change and transparency is driven by communicating openly and intentionally about these issues and building out vernacular and vocabulary around issues the collective body knows are important. At Johnson Controls, we launched a program called “Perspective Sessions” about 18 months ago. I participated in the inaugural session featuring a panel of people with different backgrounds where we simply talked about being dads. I shared a story about my son during that session, and people still talk to me about him. Open conversations such as these drive a level of transparency, normalize people’s stories, and create vocabulary. This helps us all see who we are and see ourselves as under the same tent – that’s the way we drive culture. That’s the way we transform this opportunity from something that happened, to how we do things, to this is our culture.

Inderpreet Sawhney, Infosys: We’re a technology company, and we feel that if we can get people upskilled and reskilled to become part of the technology workforce, whether they come to work for us or go work for someone else, that is probably the best way we can make a difference to people who would otherwise not have access to those skills. Internally we ran a program called ‘I am the Future’ with the idea to take the top 300 women across the organization and provide them with career support and feedback. Similarly, we just did a partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to hire people from historically black colleges and universities so that we are bringing in another group of people who otherwise might not have joined our organization. We have made training material available to whoever wants to participate and reskill themselves. These little programs are like puzzle pieces, and hopefully there will be so much conversation happening in different parts of the organization that the bigger picture will start to look like what we want to see: diversity, equity and inclusion.

Catherine: In 2019, The Business Roundtable kicked off a hyper-focus on ESG by stating that the purpose of business was no longer solely to benefit shareholders, but to look out for the benefit of all stakeholders. How have your organizations reacted? Who are your stakeholders? And where have you been feeling pressure to accelerate and invest in your DE&I efforts and culture, since that’s what we’re all shooting for, a culture that is diverse, equitable and inclusive?

Alan: Employees have choices, and we are now fishing for talent differently than we have in the past. This has been demonstrated by the ‘Great Resignation’. A lot of able-bodied folks who were not of retirement age decided to follow their hearts and do something different. We are now looking for talent in non-traditional schools and organizations. Due to the competitive nature of the job market, we have to be tied into stakeholders to survive.

Inderpeet: We view our stakeholders as customers – who are going through the same process and are asking about our ESG efforts – and employees. The Millennials for whom we are vying are concerned with our efforts. Investors are asking as well, and every organization needs to be reactive to them. Vendors are asking if their supply chain – which we are part of – consists of organizations that they want to partner with. Finally, the community that we operate in. Companies are responding, and those that are not won’t continue to flourish.

Catherine: We are also experiencing that from clients – a demand for legal services teams to be diverse and inclusive. These diverse teams are a good thing for clients, for creativity, for problem solving. A space we’re in competition with many others is in the war for talent, both recruiting and retaining talent. You both previously made points that this generation is different and is looking for economically rewarding careers that also provide a sense of purpose and mission. Many younger people in the workforce want to be sure the organizations they devote themselves to are similarly committed to a sense of purpose and mission. What advice do you have to best attract, retain and promote diverse talent?

Larry: Three things come to mind in response to your question. 1) Be credible, be the type of organization that the talent you’re trying to attract wants to work in. The younger generation will ask questions and have higher standards on work culture. 2) Pay attention, engage people and help them be the authors of their own careers. 3) Loosen up where you go, that is, go to where the diverse talent is. Additionally, go into communities to engage future workers when they’re young. I have a son who is 12, and when he does think about college, Morehouse will be on his list because he has uncles and family friends who all went to Morehouse. From the time he was a little boy, it has had a presence in his life. If he ends up going to a different school, they will have to persuade him away from Morehouse. Companies can use that same model. Be a presence in communities. Be a brand that diverse communities recognize and where members aspire to work. Catch them before they join the workforce, and then be credible and pay attention when you get them into your organization.

Inderpreet: When you go to where your talent is be honest about your demographics. Don’t send every African American in your organization. Be honest and show you’ll be welcoming. Once you’ve invited them into your organization, make sure they are involved and not simply sitting at the edge of room. Make sure you’re giving them a seat and a voice at the table; otherwise, you’ll just be ticking boxes instead of breaking boxes. If your intent is to be truly diverse, then a seat at the table has to be one that is empowered in order to create representation and form magnets of people to attract others from those same communities into your organization.

Larry: That’s inclusion. What you just described is the inclusion piece. When people feel included, when they feel empowered, when they don’t just have a seat at the table, but a voice that matters it starts to beg the question “why would I leave?”


About the Experts
Catherine Hanaway is Chair of Husch Blackwell. A former U.S. Attorney and Missouri House Speaker, Catherine defends clients nationwide, helping resolve their toughest and most sensitive legal issues.

 Larry Leverett is Vice President and Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer of Johnson Controls.

 Inderpreet Sawhney is the Group General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer of Infosys.

 Alan Nevel is SVP, Chief Equity Officer at The MetroHealth System.

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