Diversity and inclusion initiatives are “cool and sexy”—as long as you like money, according to Atlantic Health System’s Chief Diversity Officer Armond Kinsey.
Those in his role are tasked with making people in all departments and at all levels of a company understand what diversity and inclusion does for business.
“Everyone doesn’t always understand their role in diversity and inclusion, but they can always understand what’s the business [they] have in diversity and inclusion,” Kinsey said. “If you tell the senior vice president of human relations ‘I can help you fill that role a week short of what you’re currently doing’ there’s your return on investment. The job is being filled quicker, it’s not pending as long, you don’t have people working overtime. There’s a bottom line that you can equate to diversity and inclusion.”
Kinsey was joined by Archer & Greiner PC Partner and Chief Diversity Officer Lloyd Freeman, Kessler Foundation Senior Vice President Grants and Communications Elaine Katz, and Hackensack Meridian Health Director of Diversity & Inclusion Avonia Richardson-Miller on NJBIZ’s Diversity in the Workplace panel Tuesday morning at the DoubleTree Hotel in Somerset.
Atiya Jaha-Rashidi, director of diversity and inclusion at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, moderated the panel.
Freeman calls diversity a numbers game: making sure you have different people in the room, from different places and with different ideas. Inclusion, though, is the endgame.
“How do we make them feel that they are valued and that they matter to the organization?” Freeman said. “What kind of work are we giving them? Are we promoting them? Are we giving them the lead on the work they’re participating in, are we giving them any client-facing roles? That’s really where you want to get. If [the business side] is what it takes for you to open the door, that’s wonderful — we can make a lot more money, the company looks better. But when we get to inclusion, that’s when we make this a better environment [for everyone].”
Freeman joined Archer in 2004 as a summer associate through the firm’s diversity program and eventually became the first person to come through that program all the way through partnership. He was named the firm’s first chief diversity officer in December.
He took over the summer associate program in 2017, and since then more than 70 percent of those coming through Archer’s summer associate program are people of color, and more than 60 percent of them are women.
“I’m certainly proof that diversity programs do work,” Freeman said.
Unconscious bias training is trending in the work firms are doing to integrate diversity more effectively. With many of those trainings being just a couple of hours, they need to be supplemented with other things, according to Richardson-Miller.
“When you talk about diversity and inclusion, you have to give thought and consideration to privilege because there is a group, white males, that have a great deal of privilege. In order to advance the work of D&I, it’s ‘What’s in it for me?’ and thinking of that from the perspective of the white male,” Richardson-Miller said. “So how do you move your initiative being inclusive of the white males and offering them an opportunity and a safe place to deal with their authentic self and the discomforts that they may have when they may be thinking about ‘what does this mean for me, and am I losing power?’ so I think that’s a barrier that we all have to contend with.”
Richardson-Miller recommended ongoing discussions, executive-level coaching, and opportunities for team members experiencing unconscious bias to express that in a productive and effective way.
An oft-forgotten side of diversity and inclusion, beyond race and gender, is disability, according to Katz.
“It’s important that the workplace recognize that this is an important piece of diversity and inclusion. Mental health is an invisible disability, but it’s the most prominent disability in the U.S.,” Katz said. “It’s not just disability as a person in a wheelchair, or a person with cognitive disabilities. It could be someone with diabetes who needs to take insulin during the day. It could be somebody with cancer who may have to go out for treatment.
“Companies are starting to target these diverse populations and what better way to understand what they need than by having a diverse workforce,” Katz said.