You know a concept has become ingrained in the business world when it gets an acronym or shorthand. MVP — minimum viable product. CSR — corporate social responsibility. And now DEI — diversity, equity and inclusion.
Emphasizing diversity is nothing new. Business leaders, especially in corporate America, have embraced the idea that drawing from a wider pool of talent and perspective can make their companies better. The other two components — equity and inclusion — are somewhat newer considerations in boardrooms. Equity, in this case, meaning the distribution of stake, power and opportunity and inclusion, meaning a proper seat at the table.
They have become more common in hiring and workforce development in the last few years, but the urgency of the issue exploded in 2020, particularly around racial justice. Put simply, it’s not just a moral imperative any more. Companies can’t afford to be toxic. Changing can require facing down unvarnished truths and having some uncomfortable conversations.
Uncomfortable conversations are a specialty for Elsa Dimitriadis. Her company Conversation Starters specializes in diversity and facilitation training. They help companies take a hard look out how they do business and whether their practices make room for everyone.
Conversation Starters launched in 2016, inspired by the unrest caused by the police killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. Data from their work with local and national clients shows substantial improvement in workplace perceptions of leadership diversity, belonging and respect. In short — their method works.
Taniecea Mallery heads the Office for Campus Diversity at UL Lafayette, but she began her career in math, getting a PhD in applied and computational mathematics from Princeton. Since returning to Lafayette, Taniecea has spearheaded UL’s strategic inclusion plan and has worked to help the school identify faculty members from underrepresented communities. Her leadership has put UL on the map as one of American higher ed’s DEI frontrunners, helping the school become one of only 19 U.S universities to participate in Aspire, a program for faculty inclusion in science technology engineering and math launched by the National Science Foundation.
For more background to this conversation, check out this conversation about diversity and neighborhoods in Lafayette.
Photos by Jill Lafleur.