WOCA 2022: Executive Leaders’ Allyship of Women of Color

One of the best indicators of an organization’s success around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is leadership accountability for DEI. At our 2022 Women of Color and Their Allies event, Fair360, formerly DiversityInc’s Head of Strategic Partnerships, Anita Ricketts, was joined on stage by leaders who are holding themselves and their contemporaries accountable for the allyship of women of color.

Part of allyship is being open to feedback, so the session began with a question about a time in the panelists allyship journey where feedback helped them become a better ally. Humana’s President of Group, Military and Specialty Businesses, Sue Schick, was the first to answer, recalling a time where she took in several episodes of Humana’s internal podcast titled “This is Us” where people of color share stories about their experience. Schick felt inspired to do more, so she went to the host of the podcast who is also her accountability partner on the economy’s executive diversity council.

“This is a cringeworthy moment, but I went to our next meeting and I was like ‘I can do more, I’m on the council and there’s more that we can do!’” Schick said enthusiastically. “I give him a lot of credit, cause he didn’t call me out and he could have. He calmed me down and he helped me learn. I went away and realized that I’d just shown up all white savior on him. After that I gave him permission to give me real feedback and I realize that I still have a long way to go on my journey.”

The panel also examined how executives who drive diversity initiatives face a challenge that is unique due to the long-term nature of these goals. For example, the advancement of women of color is a goal that will outlast a given executives time at the company, so how do you build and sustain momentum for something that seemingly never ends.

“I think we have to change the word from goal to purpose,” Elcio Barcelos, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at US Bank said. “A purpose implies that it’s a way of life as we go forward and it’s on all of us to serve this purpose for the greater good of the economy, the greater good learning and talent and our society. At corporations, we often think of a purpose and want to try to find that silver bullet, but 99.9% change at scale does not happen with macro events, but with cumulative micro events.”

As we said at the start, accountability is crucial. But how do you instill it in leaders who may not naturally have skin in the game when it comes to diversity? In the end, it comes down to setting a tone with key people in the organization.

“Setting the tone at the top is critical,” Rae Livingston, Chief Equity Officer at Abbvie said. “I would have you look at organizations where the CEO isn’t making it clear where they stand not just on the softer issues around DEI, but the tougher issues around racial equity and inclusion. Our CEO, Rick Gonzalez made it very clear where he stands on these issues and has made it a part of his agenda, it’s always something he’s speaking about it and focused on actions.”

Watch all the sessions from our 2022 Women of Color and Their Allies event here!