7 exclusive insights on DE&I from Fortune 500 executives (webinar)

2020 shaped the businesses imperative to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I).

In 2021, leadership rallied support for their sustainable, long-term plans for the future.

Now, 2022 will be the year of action for many large U.S. employers (and we’re so excited).

To help organizations work together and make progress on these initiatives, Guild hosted a discussion featuring four DE&I executives from across the Fortune 500, moderated by Johnny Taylor, Jr., President and CEO of SHRM. Panelists included:

  • Walgreens Boots Alliance – Carlos Cubia, Senior VP and Global Chief Diversity Officer 
  • Tyson Foods – Deb Sinta, VP of Talent, Inclusion, and Culture 
  • Dollar General –Dr. JohnĂ© Battle, VP of Diversity and Inclusion 
  • Chipotle – Marissa Andrada, Chief Diversity, Inclusion, and People Officer 

Read on for a recap of the key insights from the discussion, or listen to the recording and share it with your team.

1. Companies are already diverse. They’re just not diverse at every level of the organization.

When asked why DE&I mattered to organizations and how they were thinking about each element, all panelists started by acknowledging that diversity is simply a fact.

And at large organizations with tens of thousands of employees across the country, a diverse workforce is already a reality. 

Here’s the issue: most of a company’s diversity is represented in its frontline — but it’s not reflected in management and leadership.

It’s clear that companies can’t just hire their way to a more diverse corporate workforce: in order to see more diversity represented at every level of the organization, employers need to create pathways that mobilize frontline workers into strategic corporate roles.

Panelists acknowledged that it’s important to face that fact first to understand how to prioritize efforts. 

2. The focus on equity is the newest—and most important—element of DE&I.

As Dr. Battle of Dollar General said, “Diversity is a fact….But the heart of the matter is equity.” It means taking a look at your systems and policies to ensure they’re structured so that everyone can take advantage of any benefits or programs your company provides.

Deb Sinta from Tysons further elaborated that while diversity and inclusion have been around for a while, equity is the new, and most important, addition to the equation.

When talking about DE&I, she says:

“About six or seven months ago we actually added equity to the very front of [the DE&I] equation. Really equity was an additive piece, but it’s a value add. It provides us with checks and balances to make sure we’re doing the right thing, it gives us a level of rigor in all of our people processes to be able to stop and say, are we really providing equity? Do we have any systemic problems that we need to root out that might be causing unintended consequences or unintended inequity in our system?” 

Without thinking about equity in a company’s policies and processes, any diversity and inclusion initiatives can only go so far. 

3. Equity means developing talent and creating opportunity for all.

All panelists talked about the importance of equitable practices for talent development and upskilling. Carlos Cubia of Walgreens kicked off the discussion by asking:

“Diversity is a fact. Now, what are we doing with our talent? How are we developing them?” 

Part of that is having a variety of education and training options for your workforce, from ESL  courses to credentials and short-form learning to bachelors degrees.

Dr. Battle described equitable skilling this way:

“Equity for us says that if success is a 50,000 foot wall, everybody’s getting a ladder. We also anchor development in three things: we believe that all are capable, that development is a skill set and it can be taught, and most importantly is the belief in differentiated development. Not everybody learns the same.” 

4. You have to be intentional about systems to foster DE&I. 

While diversity and inclusion initiatives have historically been siloed efforts, the increasing focus on DE&I means that business leaders have to take an intentional, systematic approach.

It’s no longer just charitable donations to community organizations or singular training for employees—companies have to think bigger. 

Some panelists touched on adding elements of diversity, equity, or inclusion to their company core values. But they all emphasized action as well. For example, paying upfront for employee education and training helps make education and mobility initiatives more accessible and equitable.

5. Inclusive education is the key to building a diverse corporate workforce. 

In the words of Carlos Cubia:

“Education is the basic foundation for success and upward mobility.”

For Walgreens in particular, education also supports key business objectives, such as training pharmacy technicians to administer vaccines. Promoting internal mobility helps create a nimble workforce that can adapt to shifting market demands.

Marissa Andrada of Chipotle also acknowledged that while most of their employees join as a side hustle, many end up staying because the company prioritizes education.

She noted that 70% of restaurant GMs start from the crew, and that of those who participate in their education benefits program with Guild, 85% are crew members. Program participants are also 3.5x more likely to retain and 7.5 x more likely to be promoted into management. 

Key takeaway? In order to foster a culture of upward mobility toward a more diverse workforce, employer education programs need to be inclusive and accessible for all employees, particularly the frontline.

For a real-world example, check out our case study of how one partner made their education program more inclusive – and realized a higher ROI in the process.

DE&I + ROI Case Study from Guild Education

6. To drive real change, investment in DE&I should start at the top and have full leadership buy-in.

DE&I leaders are becoming more central to organizational leadership at large, but as he described Dollar General’s philosophy, he noted that:

“I have the privilege to sit in the seat of accountability… It’s not I will lead DE&I, it’s we. Leadership shares responsibility, risk, and reward.” 

It’s no surprise that initiatives are more successful when they have full leadership and board buy-in.

Having an initiative start at the CEO-level makes it more likely to succeed as it trickles down to the critical middle management layers. Dr. Battle also commented that the true north star is having DE&I as part of your operating plan. 

7. What your company does to foster DE&I matters to consumers.

Marissa Andrada stated it boldly:

“The DE&I movement is real.”

Employees, consumers, and the public at large are looking to businesses to drive change for DE&I.

The panelists acknowledged the killing of George Floyd as the catalyst for change. Now more than ever, consumers expect companies to invest in new initiatives and rethink processes to further promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.

For Chipotle, their values dictate that:

“Authenticity lives here. Our food is real and so are we.”

As Marissa explained, customers need to know they’re eating real food and they need to know that Chipotle is committed to sustainability and quality in all aspects of their business. It’s a key part of their brand — both employees and guests count on it. 

Deb Sinta also commented that:

“…consumers have a million choices as to what they buy and what they eat and it’s only getting more competitive. So for us being able to have transparency around what we do and how we do it is really critical—being able to include equity, inclusion, and diversity, and to have that as a value proposition.”

For Tyson, that transparency led to an improved rating on the Corporate Equity Index. 

Ready to learn more?

To hear the full conversation, listen to the webinar recording. If you want to learn how Chipotle is fostering diversity and equity for their frontline workforce, read a case study on how they built an equitable education program that creates economic mobility for employees and value for the business.

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