Diversity programs, by themselves, aren’t enough for companies today. Instead, companies need diversity AND inclusion (D&I) programs.

This topic was discussed at the Women in Retail Leadership Summit last month during a panel titled, “A Look at Diversity and Inclusion in Retail Companies Today.” The panel discussion, moderated by Denise Kramp, North America fashion and retail sector leader and senior client partner at Korn Ferry, featured executives at companies changing the D&I discussion today. The panel included Jasmine Bellamy, director, diversity and inclusion, Women in Retail Leadership Circle; Bahja Johnson, director, Banana Republic Global Merchandising, Gap Inc.; Christiane Pendarvis, senior vice president, e-commerce, FULLBEAUTY Brands; and Candice Savino, vice president, engineering, Trunk Club.

Kramp opened the discussion by explaining that companies today are very good at attracting diverse talent, “but promoting this talent and keeping them engaged is all about inclusion.” The panelists went on to each share insights into how they’re helping to create inclusive environments at their companies, with their efforts focused on developing a better workplace for everyone.

For example, Pendarvis offered a five-step approach to making your company more inclusive. First, she said, analyze the data to make sure that you actually have a diversity recruitment problem. If indeed you’re recruiting diverse candidates, rely on data again to track your assessment process. “You may find out that you’re recruiting diverse people, but maybe they’re not actually getting hired,” Pendarvis said.

If you are hiring diverse candidates, make sure you have a support network in place to keep these employees engaged.

The next step is succession planning. “Ask yourself this: ‘Are people joining your company but not advancing to the VP or SVP level?’ Are we giving them the best, high-profile assignments we can?’”

Lastly, Pendarvis advised always taking the extra time sometimes necessary to identify and nurture the wealth of diverse talent that already exists within your organization. “If  someone is quiet, what are you doing to make them feel like they’re participating within the organization?” she said. “We have such power; the shadow of a leader is incredible within an organization. We impact people in ways unbeknownst to us.”

Savino offered three ways for companies to approach diversity and inclusion:

  • Strategize recruiting and sourcing. “Gone are the days when you can post and pray that a woman or a diverse candidate will apply for your role,” Savino said. “It takes strategy, and it takes work, and it takes a really close partnership with your recruitment team.”
  • Track your interview process. “Interview processes are fraught with unconscious bias,” noted Savino. “Force yourself to articulate what competencies and skill sets you need for the specific role, and then craft questions that will judge those competencies. You have to get really tight here so that you can weed out as much unconscious bias as possible in the interview process to ensure diverse candidates have a fair shot.”
  • Retain diverse candidates by participating in unconscious bias training. “This has been really powerful because it has a disarming effect,” Savino said. “If you feel like you’re in a more open environment where you can do your best work, you will retain a more diverse staff.”

For Bellamy, being inclusive means being open and understanding of others. “When I think of diversity and inclusion, I think about removing all of the barriers to understanding,” she said. “If we can understand each other, we can see each other as all of humanity. And when we see each other as all of humanity, we can work together and make the communities we live in stronger because we value the assets of every single individual.”

Bellamy added that in her professional career, she was very often “the most senior woman of color in the building.” And that was important to women of color, she said, because it gave them someone to look up to. As a result, Bellamy “takes a every single invitation to coffee … these women are struggling with things they can’t express and they don’t feel empowered because they feel invisible. For me, it’s about figuring out how to give those words of support, how to make them feel comfortable, and let them know we see them.”

Being inclusive is all about being authentic about yourself and what you can offer others, Johnson told the audience. “If I don’t talk about [my] differences, if I don’t bring my other, [I’m] not being authentic to myself or my customers.”

For more information on how to be an inclusive leader, check out this whitepaper from Korn Ferry called (surprisingly enough), “The Inclusive Leader.” The paper focuses on the traits and abilities necessary to become an inclusive leader, as well as the value of inclusive leadership within and across organizations in which teams are open and trusting, able to work inclusively, leverage diversity for greater adaptability, and achieve results.

Melissa Campanelli
Women in Retail Leadership Circle