Understanding the business benefits of DEI initiatives

The IASA opening keynote highlighted the value of evolving diversity, equity & inclusion programs for companies.

Keynoter Wema Hoover shared that everyone sees the world through their own lens based on their experiences and frame of reference. (Photo: P. Harman, PropertyCasualty360.com)

With a backdrop of the Inner Harbor and Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Md., the 94th annual IASA Xchange conference kicked off with an opening keynote focused on the impact of strong diversity, equity and inclusion programs for businesses.

Following a performance by the students of the Baltimore-based Cardinal Shehan Choir, Wema Hoover, an executive coach and culture creator for companies such as Google and Pfizer, discussed how reframing DEI can make a difference for businesses and their future.

She said if companies could close the gender gap by 25%, $5.8 trillion would be added to the global economy. Hoover also shared that according to a study by McKinsey & Co., companies with the greatest ethics and culture diversity opportunities received around 35% in financial returns annually.

When she asked attendees what DEI means to them, the responses ranged from a sense of belonging and harmony to equal opportunity and acceptance. Hoover explained that diversity involves the characteristics and experiences that define us. Equity involves making organizational practices impartial and fair for all, and inclusion means engaging and involving each individual to foster a sense of belonging within an organization. “These factors need to work together to succeed,” she said.

Hoover outlined three actions companies can take to expand their DEI efforts.

  1. Make DEI the object and outcome of all workplace and people-focused initiatives.
  2. Understand and leverage the experience of underserved groups.
  3. Activate inclusion by bringing all voices to the center of the conversation and to lead inclusively.

“DEI is no longer a single program. It is incorporated into the business strategy of companies through programs like ESG and other initiatives,” explained Hoover.

“Everyone has their own lens of seeing the world,” she continued. “It’s based on our frame of reference, unconscious biases and our own experiences that give us a vantage point of the world. How we see situations is based on our values and beliefs and the signals we get from the world we live in. We need to shift what is already hard-wired within us to see and feel what we do not see and feel.”

Hoover says the risk of not doing this is cognitive dissonance. She defines cognitive dissonance as holding onto a belief or judgment so tightly even in the face of conflicting evidence that it prevents the organization from realizing the value and harnessing the experience and insights of the different ways they could grow. Long-term, this could affect a company’s ability to expand.

She believes that companies can effectively integrate new teams to innovate, evolve and drive business opportunities through strong DEI initiatives.

“We only know and see from our own perspectives,” she concluded. “We need inclusion to learn and grow.”