More than ever, today’s organizations are expected to make diversity in their ranks a top priority and to foster more inclusive work environments. But traditional approaches, such as training based on compliance, often fail. If training doesn’t work, what does?

On September 19, Matthews, Carter & Boyce CPA Firm in Fairfax, VA sponsored a panel discussion and networking event as part of its Women in Business Series. The event focused on the topic of fostering more diverse and inclusive workplaces, and empowering women to advocate for equity and advancement.

Featured panelists were Diversity & Inclusion experts representing a global consumer brand, a global public relations/marketing consultancy, and an international financial institution. The panel included Jackeline Stewart, Vice President of Brand and Multicultural Communication, Edelman; Kaitlyn Sullins, Diversity & Inclusion Specialist, Nestle USA; and Vandana Das, Diversity & Equity Consultant, International Finance Corporation/World Bank Group. The panel was moderated by Ellen Grealish of Flex Professionals. Flex Professionals and EagleBank were also sponsors of the event.

Held at the MCB offices with principal Kathleen Flaherty welcoming all attendees, the event began with Vandana Das commenting on the responsibility organizations have in fostering inclusive communities. “Organizations have a direct role in social inclusion,” she said. She also spoke about the economic ramifications to employers of exclusion, citing numerous examples of the costs (direct and indirect) faced by organizations that don’t adopt inclusive policies.

Delaying conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion is no longer an option for any organization. Rather, employers need to make commitments beyond training in order to affect real progress in workplace culture.

Jackeline Stewart commented on the importance of organizations being truly invested in the process.  “It’s trendy to have diversity and inclusion initiatives, but are companies really providing the resources people need to make them succeed,” she said.  When asked why so many programs fail,  she cited lack of accountability as the greatest challenge. She recommended that goals be tied to specific performance metrics.  She also suggested changing the order to “Inclusion & Diversity” because “inclusion begets diversity.”

An additional focus of the panel discussion was how women can best advocate for advancement. “Reach out and seek assignments; be deliberate about asking for opportunities,” said Das. She also noted that women tend to focus on experience, not potential, when negotiating for salary, adding that women should broaden their focus and look to the future to gain more of an advantage.

When negotiating, Stewart added, “Do not downplay your skills.  Do not budge.”

Kaitlyn Sullins recommended that women actively seek out mentors as they position themselves for advancement, and also encouraged them to organize internal groups that foster conversations about topics of concern to women. She suggested asking the tough questions of their employers. “We need to get comfortable getting uncomfortable,” she commented.

Event attendees were inspired and energized by the exchange of ideas. Das echoed the sentiment expressed by so many, that there is a lot of work to do, requiring everyone to be engaged and proactive.

“Let’s keep the conversation going. Let’s keep the energy level high,” she said.

To learn more about Matthews, Carter & Boyce’s Women in Business Series and future events, contact info@mcb-cpa.com

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