A Modern Approach to Building the Workforce of the Future

*Originally published in The Possible Woman magazine

It’s been over six months since the June Supreme Court ruling to halt affirmative action in higher ed. With my son actively going through the college application process last fall,  SCOTUS’ decision has been front and center for us. The SCOTUS ruling sent colleges scurrying to comply with the law and we have already seen organizations scaling back their DEI efforts in response to this fundamental change in policy.  

 Instead of running scared and panicking, we can view this as an opportunity to rethink our approach to inclusivity and redefine our teams. To build truly inclusive and equitable workplaces – workplaces that ultimately foster belonging – it’s essential to continue and even strengthen these initiatives, rather than stepping back.

I’m a big believer that every challenge presents an opportunity! Let’s use this opportunity to modernize the way we think about and elevate the work of  DE&I. We can lean into out-of-the box thinking to build the workforce of the future, where talent is really at the epicenter: who’s on your team, what is the extent of their knowledge and passion, and how much room is there for growth.

If you step back and really think about who your customers are, what your values are, who you are as a leader, what type of organization you strive for, and what you want to deliver — those answers will likely lead you to the fact that you need a workforce that represents America and showcases the many strengths that diversity has to offer.

Looking Forward: Creating Cultures of Belonging

We live in a global society and our workforce no longer needs to live in the same region or even country.  As I have written about before, Gen Z has different expectations of its employers and are savvier consumers and employees. As competition for talent becomes more fierce, those organizations who ensure that DE&I are a part of the DNA – the norms, practices, and culture and who prioritize employees and customers experiencing a culture of belonging will prevail.

In order to modernize our approach to DEI, we need to put a stronger emphasis on creating inclusive cultures within our companies and not getting sucked into tactical, short-term quick fixes. The goal should be to build environments where everyone, regardless of their background, can thrive and feel welcome. 

Companies can promote belonging in various ways. Here are a few examples to get started:

🟣 Hiring  from different sources, placing less importance on education level, maybe even offering second-chance employment

🟣 Developing well-rounded mentorship and sponsorship programs so that everyone has a chance to have an ally who is helping to advance and advocate for them

🟣 Continuing to invest and support Employee/Business Resource Groups (ERGs/BRGs) to allow for the members to have input and influence into policy and programming to create inclusive workplaces

🟣 Recognizing that flexibility in where, when, and how an employee works will remain a priority for employees, so ensuring control over their work arrangements is a key to a modern DEI approach

🟣 Truly investing in manager development and support will be critical to ensure they have the resources and skills to manage the differing needs of  a multi-generational team with empathy 

🟣 Assessing for and mitigating pay equity, as well as addressing and adopting pay transparency policies, both of which create an environment where people are paid fairly for the work they contribute

🟣 Rewarding, promoting and elevating those leaders who lead inclusively and make belonging a priority for their staff

🟣 Recognizing that hustle culture is a thing of the past and making mental health and wellness a way of life, and not just a benefit.  

People are at the center of everything your organization achieves.  Talent is your superpower – and just like a sports team has players with different skills, experiences and talent – a more diverse work team makes you a stronger, more innovative and profitable organization.

 While some companies have been cautious about their DEI initiatives since the Supreme Court’s ruling in June, it’s important to remember that the pursuit of a more diverse and inclusive workplace shouldn’t just depend on something like affirmative action. We (as a society, as individuals, and as leaders) need to address systemic issues and create inclusive cultures within our organizations to foster environments where diversity is a given. Times are changing, but our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion should remain unwavering.