Master Class: Diversity and Inclusion Discussion

By Marianne LaPorte, Co-Chair, Marketing Communications

Diversity Panel

On October 29, 2019, at the Robert Half office in San Francisco, nearly 50 women gathered to hear a panel of highly accomplished professionals discuss diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace. This engaging event attracted attendees who were interested in learning more about progress that is being made within organizations focusing on building positions and programs focused on diversity and inclusion. This Master Class event provided a forum to discuss the past, current and future diversity and inclusion efforts within organizations.

The evening started with energized networking, then FWSF President Kathy Wheadon kicked off the event, welcoming the audience. Janeth Medina, Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility at Bank of the West, who also is a FWSF Board member, moderated the panel of four: Nikki Lasley (Diversity Sr. Program Officer and Vice President at Bank of the West), Debbie Heard (Tax Partner at KPMG), Maria Herandez (PhD, Co-Founder of LatinaVIDA), and Orlando Montalvo (Managing Director at BlackRock). All four panelists had different perspectives on the successes and failures of diversity and inclusion efforts in organizations and provided recommendations on the path forward to truly achieve the goals to which we, and our organizations, aspire.

The panelist talked about how diversity and inclusion has evolved over the years. In the 1970s, the journey began on the heels of the Civil Rights movement. The take on it then was, “you can come to our organization, but you can’t thrive here." Fifteen years ago, diversity and inclusion was not seen as a business strategy like it is today. Generally, then the thinking was, “join our organization and be like one of the guys.” Today it is more about D.I.B. – diversity, inclusion and belonging: “Come to our organization and thrive where you belong.”

Different organizations have different approaches to D&I. Some companies have formal programs where employees can develop with the help of Learning and Development departments. Other companies have very small grassroots multicultural networks driven by the members of the company, and those leaders do not get paid for driving the D&I mission forward. One panelist discussed how when the company is led by a woman, then there is much more emphasis on diversity and inclusion.

Mentorship is an opportunity for junior members to connect and learn from more senior leaders. Several panelists spoke about the benefit of having an executive leader as a mentor. It is a powerful connection as it can lead to promotions, introductions, and opportunities to grow. Most young people cannot make these connections on their own; we must help make these introductions.

Best advice:

  • “If you made it in the door, then you did what you needed to do to be successful here.”
  • Learn how to play the game. Hard work alone will not get you the corner office. It is about who knows YOU.”
  • “If it scares you, do it.”
  • “The right things happen in the right way. Stop caring about why.”
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