September 28, 2022

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Supportive Business Potential

Consultants, Advisors weigh in on DE&I efforts

The Delaware Business Times spoke with consultants and talent acquisition specialists to understand where conversations companies and nonprofits stand on DEI efforts today. Consultants include Chanta Howard-Wilkinson, of Chanta Wilkinson Consulting; Njideka Wiggins, a practicing psychotherapist with N.O.W. & Associates; and Deborah Williams, of Bright Lights Consulting and a leadership member of the Association for Talent Development Greater Philadelphia Chapter. Talent acquisition manager Erika Broadwater serves as the president of the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources.

How has the dialogue around DEI changed?

Chanta Howard-Wilkinson
Chanta Howard-Wilkinson

Chanta Howard-Wilkinson: Prior to 2020, or even during it, you saw a lot of well-crafted statements from organizations that spoke to the heart of the matter, and so many people got behind that. Now we’ve evolved to a place where people are starting to realize we’re moving beyond talking points – and some are ready to take the steps to get where they want to be.

Njideka Wiggins: What I think is similar is that it’s a murky place where people are uncomfortable visiting. If you’re paying attention, there are things that look different for other people, and that has always been static. There’s always been a push behind it, but there’s been a discrepancy about what has been going on versus how much we see.

Erika Broadwater: About 20 years ago, companies were looking for more longevity and degrees, but today it’s more about the skills rather than the degree because there’s five generations in the workforce. Then there’s the diverse slate of candidates, when managers weren’t educated on what that means, and they already had someone in mind.  That becomes unfortunate, because you’ve not given real, true talent, the opportunity to interview before you make a conscious decision.

Deborah Williams: Whenever I’ve attended diversity training sessions, I saw that they wanted to make sure they offered something that addressed diversity, but it wasn’t effective in the long run. When you went back to your office, it became business as usual. 

What are organizations looking for?

Howard-Wilkinson: It varies. Some of my work is training for staff, leadership, especially in the nonprofit space, and that focuses on unconscious bias, what does it mean to be an ally, or how to create an inclusive environment. The demand for consultants has increased significantly, and I believe that’s an indicator that they’re ready to do the work. I’m hopeful because there’s a lot of work to be done.

Wiggins: I work on a word-of-mouth basis, so my line of work is different. We have people now recognizing this is a long-term journey. This is something that’s embedded in the way we do business, and now we must address that. You’re seeing some fatigue come in because they just start to realize that, and it’s a going process you have to invest in. My first conversation with clients whether they’re ready for the marathon, and some people don’t want to have that discussion.

Erika Broadwater

Broadwater: From the NAAAHR perspective, more people are looking for coaches and strategists than ever to reshape the organization, and address and improve recruiting and retention strategies. Some companies are looking to break stigmas to improve, others are looking to wipe the slate clean and look at policies to create better practices. From the talent acquisition side of things, it’s about not backsliding in the old way of business. Have the conversation of “look at your high performers for your succession plan so leadership doesn’t look the same.”

Williams: In my work with the Association of Talent Development, I’ve seen a strong commitment to bring more of a focus on DEI through the events that are offered and by reinforcing that everyone should approach business issues from a broader, more global perspective.

What’s next?

Howard-Wilkinson: Organizations need to make sure these initiatives, once they’re in place, are sustainable and there’s metrics in place to ensure accountability. That’s really going to be the stage to make sure that 5, 10, 15 years down the line that the efforts are still impactful.  Things will continue to evolve – society and the needs of organizations and their employees will evolve with it.

Njideka Wiggins
Njideka Wiggins

Wiggins: I don’t know, but I hope it moves into a space where non-marginalized people of organizations are encouraged to do “the work” of processing and reflecting on what stops them from sitting in their uncomfortable feelings, in a separate, safe space that is theirs alone. This type of intentional support is needed for them to move forward. It’s necessary for them to understand our fatigue and combat their own, when it comes without relying on us – the marginalized groups – to do that work too.  

Broadwater: There’s the four As, I always lean on: Awareness, acknowledgement, accountability – where you start to design a new structure and culture – and action. Action is where this can get broken sometimes, because in my mind, unless you get serious about executing the plan, you just have a plan. Organizations need to start thinking about who’s responsible for that plan and how we will be held accountable for those checkpoints. The problem is when no one wants to own it.  You can do all the prioritizing that you want, but unless someone is actually out there, doing the work, whether it’s a leader or those who report to the leader, it’s the action that really makes the difference.

Deborah Williams

Williams: DEI needs to be a part of what everyone does, not just having an officer to handle it. When it comes to recruiting and hiring people, let’s get real clear about what it means to retain them. Because if you bring them in and do not retain them, that costs money, time, and the loss of talent. There’s also possibilities of implementing one on one mentoring, to help people understand what it means to be successful, especially in this ever-changing world we live in. We at the ATD Greater Philadelphia Chapter launched a mentoring program in 2021 for talent development professionals already in the field, but going forward we can look at the outcomes and expand our efforts to help people working in corporations, especially junior level employees who are just getting started.