Beyond the Diversity Statement: DEI as a Strategic Imperative

Updated: Nov 3

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. 

As a leader of a public or private enterprise, these words should resonate deeply with you. 

DEI initiatives are built to foster and ensure fairness among all of the people that your business comes to touch. This starts with you and includes your team; it incorporates your board; all of your current and future employees. It includes your current clientele as well as the people or businesses that you hope to connect with in the future. 

We recently had the opportunity to discuss the DEI imperative with Maya Bordeaux. Maya is a HR executive, lawyer, and DEI strategist who recently founded the HR and DEI Consultancy Lead with Love Consulting LLC. In her tenure, she most recently served as Chief HR and Communications Officer at Tribune Publishing. 

You are a human resources executive, lawyer and DEI consultant.

How do these three disciplines inform your perspective ?


I am able to provide real life examples and experiences as well as practical solutions to my clients and to companies in which I have lead HR and Diversity. I have had extensive legal training and have studied diversity research for many years, so I am able to provide counsel that is fact based and data driven. The unique value that my perspective brings is that I have actually been responsible for leading many DEI efforts within companies, and my expertise has been shaped by my personal experiences as a Black female executive in corporate America and the diversity of my client experiences. The combination of my professional and personal experiences enables me to provide authentic and candid advice and counsel, and rarely do I need the additional review and expense of outside legal counsel.


Why is DEI a business imperative?


DEI has always been important to business as well as impacting the bottom line. However, companies widely vary as to when they finally understand and embrace DEI as a business imperative. 


Before 2020, the hustle and bustle of daily life distracted many of us from the importance of DEI. The pandemic silenced all of that noise, and then George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent social unrest put the global spotlight on race relations in America. 


That spotlight has caused many companies to look internally and profess:

We have not done enough to engage and support our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) employees, we have not acknowledged their unique experiences. We need guidance on how to better engage these employees to ensure that their experiences are accounted for and improved.

For businesses that are ‘waking up’ to the importance of DEI, what is the next step? How does one create a DEI roadmap?


Every organization is different, but the first step is always exploring the cultural competence of the executive leadership team. To move the dial on DEI, you must have alignment, consistency and commitment from the top of the organization.

True commitment begins with education. Leadership needs to develop an agreed upon definition of diversity, equity, and inclusion. And, they need a deep, visceral and clear understanding of why DEI is an imperative for their business. DEI is a business case that must be easy to be articulate. With agreed upon terminology and an understood imperative, we have the groundwork for organizational commitment.

Ten years ago, when a company would say, ‘I want a diverse pool of candidates,’ that likely translated as: ‘I want at least one woman candidate.’

Today, a diverse slate means so much more – diversity of background, experience, gender, age and racial diversity. Even further, some companies are moving away from the term ‘People of Color’ to looking for a candidates with a specific racial and cultural identities.  Organizations are being increasingly intentional about selecting candidates that reflect their employee and customer base. However, DEI is more than a hiring best practice. A robust DEI strategy typically has at least these three areas of focus:

  • Infrastructure

  • Education (or Capability Building)

  • Employee Engagement

Companies are typically very open to these concepts, and have even been confident in the diversity of their organization, but when we analyze the company demographics, we discover very few people of color, particularly in middle and upper management, as well as less advancement and promotions for people of color. This hits at one of the core questions:

Is leadership’s commitment to diversity genuine when there is such poor representation at the board level, in leadership, and even across many individual contributor roles?

What are the greatest challenges to starting and building momentum behind a culture of DEI?


The primary obstacle is leadership alignment. This is followed by limited resources and minimal internal expertise.

Fundamentally, there is also the question of readiness. The world feels ready, we have never seen interest in DEI like we are seeing today. Yet, despite the media spotlight, your company might not be ready.

Here’s what I mean:

Imagine 50% of your organization are resistant to a DEI initiative. They don’t see the need and they don’t understand the language. In a scenario like this, I would not recommend attempting to execute a sophisticated multi-pronged/multi-year strategic plan. Instead, you should focus exclusively on increasing awareness through education: implicit bias, inclusion, etc. As your employees complete educational programs, measure company progress by assessing whether the employees are internalizing the concepts and modeling inclusive behaviors.

Most people are not going to shift their values. These are simply too ingrained. What we seek to change is behaviors and how people make decisions, so that people are more aware of their biases before they make a decision that can impact the future and livelihood of another.


How do you identify and eradicate implicit bias in the workplace?

Education.

There has to be an awareness of what a bias is in order to recognize it. From there, you can create a system of accountability. Layers of review and auditing processes can be put in place to eradicate bias in business decisions.

What are clear and meaningful metrics that organizations can implement to monitor their current state and progress?


Employee engagement surveys with a DEI component. 

Companies often look at talent acquisition stats, specifically the demographics of hires, but may not look past the point of hire, and don’t focus enough on retention. Leaders typically have very good intentions, so they have a desire to diversify their workforce by bringing in new hires of diverse backgrounds, but then do not put the support systems in place to set them up for success.

When new opportunities arise at the company, BIPOC people aren’t selected because it is human nature that hiring managers have a bias towards people who look and think like them, as well as and have similar backgrounds.

This phenomenon is clearly seen when you compare the stats on hires versus promotions. It demonstrates the dynamic that leads to less diversity in the higher levels of an organization.

Covid-19 forced many companies into a remote work model overnight. How can such companies foster a culture of inclusion when employees are increasingly working from home?


A colleague shared with me that her company is championing the phrase: “We are physically distanced but socially connected.”

The words we use are important. To be ‘socially distanced’ often conjures feelings of isolation and loneliness. In an era where physical separation is a public health imperative, it is hugely important to create a sense of belonging in our communities and in our businesses. 

Every internal communication should reflect connection. There should be an increased focus on personal connections between employees, managers and teams, as well as an understanding that current events will have a deep impact on your company culture.

There is a positive here, too. A distributed workforce opens opportunities for employers to tap into broader markets to build out a talent pipeline. The remote worker model is a significant paradigm shift for most companies. This shift creates an opportunity to enhance racial diversity because companies are able to recruit from a wider geography when there are no boundaries on the location of the candidates.


In the face of current circumstances, how do leaders show up for their employees and foster a fair, equitable and safe environment?

Communication and social connection are critically important. Put a focus on employee wellness and check in on your people to see how they are doing. Psychologists and sociologists report that due to all of the tragic events this year, there is a mental health crisis in America, particularly for Black Americans. Businesses have to focus their resources on the well being of their employees and ensure there are services available to those who may be struggling. There hasn’t been a time in my entire career when employee wellness has been more critical.


“Lead with Love” is a wonderful mantra. How does it influence the way you lead?

My family and friends affectionately call me “The Lady of Love.” I have a genuine love and appreciation for all people, perspectives and points of view. I can connect with and inspire all types of people. At a time when social unrest is at an all time high, overt racism runs rampant, and hatred and division are spewed across the country, in my mind, if we lead our lives with love, if we make our decisions with love, then we are putting the best interests of our people and communities first. Love conquers all.

______________________________________________________________________

Maya A. Bordeaux, JD, MBA 

Maya A. Bordeaux recently founded Lead With Love Consulting LLC, a HR and DEI management consulting firm. Prior to consulting, Maya most recently served as Chief Human Resources & Communications Officer at Tribune Publishing. In that role, Bordeaux had leadership oversight for all people strategies and programs, as well as all internal and external communications. She led a national team who provided HR and Communications services to over 4,500 employees across the company’s eight markets. Bordeaux has extensive human resources knowledge, with expertise in strategic leadership, culture transformation, diversity and inclusion, employee engagement, merger/acquisitions, restructuring, and executive coaching. 

Prior to joining Tribune, Ms. Bordeaux held the position of Senior Vice President, People & Culture for Wilton Brands LLC. Ms. Bordeaux has previously held HR leadership positions with other reputable brands, to include McDonald’s Corporation, NorthShore University Health System and University of Chicago Medical Center. Ms. Bordeaux dedicates a significant amount of her time to public service, serving as a volunteer and has served as Director on several non-profit boards, as well as provides pro bono legal counsel. She is also an accomplished motivational speaker. 

Ms. Bordeaux holds a Juris Doctor degree and Master of Business Administration degree from Loyola University Chicago, and a Bachelor of Applied Sciences degree from San Diego State University.

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