"Are you constantly fighting the battle to show and justify the value that diversity initiatives or other diversity interventions are bringing to your organization?" asked Ed Hubbard, a consultant and thought leader in diversity and inclusion metrics, at the recent SHRM Diversity and Inclusion Conference.

While global research has demonstrated the innovation, financial and engagement benefits of organizations that are diverse and inclusive, leaders and organizations still face the challenge of making that a reality.

Diversity and inclusion strategy starts at the top. Unless the C-suite is working in tandem with people leading diversity and inclusion, D&I will stay stuck as a "program," with a few lunch-and-learns and little business benefit.

The CEO and other people on the executive leadership team usually don't have the skills, experience and holistic diversity mindset that result in increased diversity, inclusion and innovation at all levels. That's why they need people who have diversity and inclusion skills, experience and the mindset to be cultural strategy and implementation leaders.

While speaking about silos at the SHRM conference, Margaret Spence of C. Douglas and Associates told D&I leaders to ask themselves, "How can I create bigger inclusive stretch goals that impact all stakeholders?"

If diversity and inclusion leaders have to constantly justify diversity initiatives, actions and other diversity interventions, they are not able to implement and affect culture change.

During her program, Spence urged attendees to take action, take real leadership and get out of their D&I silos.

In more than 25 years as a diversity and inclusion strategist, I've seen chief diversity officers like Ray Hood Phillips at Denny's and Roslayn Taylor O'Neale at Campbell's who made a difference at the senior level. However, that was not and is not true for all organizations — even if they include diversity and inclusion in their mission statements.

Unfortunately, too many organizations today have taken the power away from diversity leaders and relegated them to lower levels, part-time positions or EEO.

According to Nellie Borrero, quoting a source from HRBP 2017, only 45 percent of people in diversity and inclusion roles feel they are equipped to improve diversity in their organization. That means 55 percent of employees in diversity and inclusion are in positions they don't feel ready for. If they don't feel they can impact their organization, they won't.

One of the first people who helped me when I began my work in the diversity field was the late Santiago Rodriguez, who managed multicultural affairs at Apple. He was doing amazing work that was cutting edge at the time in diversity. Unfortunately, it wasn't sustained after he left.

This is a crucial time for diversity and inclusion to lead collaboration and innovation. In order for that to happen, people in diversity and inclusion positions have to stand up for the change that is necessary if they truly believe in it.

That may mean pushing back on CEOs and other people in leadership. They have to be willing to disagree and be uncomfortable, if they are going to take their organizations to the next level.

While numbers shouldn't be the total focus, numbers count. According to Fortune Magazine, only 6.4 percent of the chief executives of Fortune 500 companies are women, and only two are minorities: one Asian and one Hispanic. Of the four black CEOs, all are men.

Organizations that are serious about diversity — ones that do get the business case on a dollar-and-cents level and have systems in place to sustain inclusion know that just hiring a diversity officer, sitting on a panel or speaking at a conference is not enough. My best clients have been leaders who are willing to work with D&I leaders to transform themselves and their organizations and provide opportunities for everyone to do their best work in different ways.

The most successful D&I leaders now and in the future will be those who are fearless, partner with CEOs and refuse to allow diversity and inclusion to be just a "program" or an add-on.

In her speech at the DealBook conference, Melody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments asked where the corporate Colin Kaepernick is who would be willing to take a knee for diversity.

What would it look like for organizations to be inclusive, and really leverage diversity to develop breakthrough products and services? What would it look like for diversity officers, CEOs and executive leaders to "take a knee" together for diversity and inclusion?

  • Diversity leaders are cultural transformation partners with the CEO.
  • Diversity leaders are members of the executive leadership team and at the very least have immediate access.
  • Diversity leaders have their own budget and the discretion to use it appropriately.
  • Diversity leaders have access to the training, coaching and tools they need to influence people at every level.
  • People in executive leadership are on board, and are willing to listen, be self-reflective and be uncomfortable.
  • Executive leadership not only models inclusive behavior but also publicly acknowledges diversity leaders for their accomplishments.
  • Diversity leaders, executive leaders and other stakeholders consistently discuss, tweak and align strategy together that includes transforming every system and process in hiring, retention and promoting.