Friday, November 15, 2019

Moving the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Needle

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is a hot topic. Despite numerous trainings, programs, and initiatives, organizations continue to struggle to drive significant impact. Research tells us that stand-alone DEI training sessions drive awareness but don’t deliver impact. DEI programs are frequently one-off pilots that aren’t scaled across an organization. Often, I hear leaders say that they want to improve the diversity of their leadership team, but they lack qualified candidates in the pipeline. With so many good intentions, why are so many organizations failing to deliver on diversity? The short answer is that we need to build more inclusive and equitable cultures so that all stakeholders can be authentic, contribute and thrive within their organizations, Creating a culture for diversity requires a Transformational DEI Strategy.

In order to build a Transformational DEI Strategy, it is imperative to identify where your organization is on the DEI Maturity Continuum. Many organizations are in the Compliance Stage with initiatives lead by the Legal Team and HR to meet federal, state, and local compliance and reporting requirement such as EEO, sexual harassment training, and pay equity. Projects and activities in Compliance focus on training, data gathering, reporting, and analysis. It is a good beginning  but initiatives tend to be  siloed and lack strategic alignment so they can quickly wither on the vine.

As an organization moves to the Foundation Stage, the impact begins to impact more broadly. The group of stakeholders expands to include C-suite leadership and dedicated teams such as a DEI group. A key to the change is senior leadership support and focus on goal setting for  identified groups such as female representation and opportunity across the organization. The business case for risk mitigation and opportunity creation begins to be formulated. Metrics to measure progress are introduced. Programs and education on topics such as Unconscious Bias and Social Dominance promote  greater awareness of the prevalence of bias in all of us and the steps to begin to reframe assumptions, decision making, and opportunity identification. Most projects remain siloed or pilots. In terms of culture change, this state represents a significant change in the perception of DEI programs and their value in business strategy from a senior leadership perspective.

As organizations reach the Developing Stage, the stakeholder group expands further to include senior and middle managers. DEI is a strategic priority  and it is reflected in leadership goals and tied to their performance compensation. The talent process is redefined in terms of recruitment, development, and promotion to remove barriers and to promote opportunities. Training is provided to all managers to promote and create a more  inclusive culture. Management focus is on creating a more inclusive environment at all levels of the organization.

At the Integrated Stage, the DEI strategy is fully integrated into business strategy.  It is reflected in organizational culture and evident in in their people, process, and policy. Relationships with external stakeholders including, suppliers, partners, industry groups and communities are also evaluated through a DEI lens. All levels of the organization embrace DEI as the norm and model it in their actions and behaviors. Once reaching this stage, an organization should reflect its community and customers. Employees are ambassadors for the organization promoting its values and making it an employer of choice.

Driving impactful DEI change takes time, talent, and resources. At each stage of the DEI Maturity Continuum, an organization bolsters its culture, processes, and policies to better address DEI challenges. If we can be helpful as your organization embarks on its own DEI journey, please reach out to

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Breaking Through the Diversity Barrier

We have diversity training, “Best of” rankings, legal requirements, and programs galore, but we do not appear to be making progress on the diversity, equity and inclusion front in our organizations. What is keeping us from breaking through the diversity barrier?

This past Sunday, the NY Times Magazine’s Education Issue included an article entitled What College Admissions Offices Really Want, which sheds some light on the complexities of this challenge. The article focuses on the lack of improvement in diversity numbers especially at the most select colleges. Part of the problem is a result of the perverse relationship between diversity goals and tuition funding requirements. Admission officers are tasks with balancing the tipping point between high caliber, socially disadvantaged students and their institutions’ need for tuition dollars to survive.  The issue can be summed up in the following quotation from Jon Boeckenstedt, who spent 17 years in DePaul University enrollment department. “Admissions for us is not a matter of turning down students we’d like to admit. It’s a matter of admitting students we’d like to turn down.” Unfortunately, the current funding requirements of operating higher education institutions allow for only so much support of hard working but economically disadvantaged students. Hence, the diversity numbers have improved only incrementally. It becomes a resource issue.

Even in the Ivy League, where many endowments are sufficiently large to provide greater support to build a more diverse population, there are other factors that impact admissions decisions. The 2020 US News College Rankings were recently released. While those in academia may view the rankings with a level of distain, college bound students and parents view this ranking as a crucial tool in the college decision process. As pointed out in the article, if you rise in the ranking your institution’s application pool improves both in terms of numbers and quality. One of the key components of the ranking is the SAT score which has been shown to favor white males. Often, high SAT scores are used to offset lower grades in the admission process as a proxy for “college readiness.” Research done by Boeckenstedt demonstrates that highly selective institutions admit students with very high SAT scores and consequentially very low number of economically disadvantaged or minority students. If we give up our ranking mania, will this remove this self-fulfilling prophecy and improve diversity percentages. The bottom line is that improving diversity is complex, expensive, and fraught with unintended consequences.

While this story is a reflection of academia, I believe that it has relevance for corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. The fundamental issue remains are we moving the needle in terms of create and supporting a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce. While we have seen a rise in the number Diversity Equity & Inclusion roles along with mandatory training, and minority board representation requirements, the needle hasn’t really moved. According to Women on Boards 2020, women in 2018 represent 21% of Board members for Russell 1000 companies. While this is a slight increase from 2017, it is far below the demographic percentage of women in the US at 51%. Women continue to be significantly underrepresented on IPO boards. While this is just one statistic, it is representative of the baby rather than giant steps that have been made on the DEI journey.

Like in the NY Times article, there are a number of conflicting factors that impact driving improved diversity numbers. First is the issue of training programs. While many organizations provide mandatory training programs, they often lack strategic vision around diversity goals. As a result, the training is a one-off rather than a new model for doing business. In addition, there is a fundamental lack of understanding around bias. People have been programmed to believe that bias is “bad” and that if they are a “good” person they don’t have bias. The reality is that we all have unconscious bias. Understanding our unconscious bias is foundational to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion. Raising awareness and encouraging people to slow down their decision process to question their assumptions drives impact, but committing to these changes is an ongoing process that requires time and money.

What Works Gender Equality by Design by Iris Bohnet is a good resource for both identifying the barriers and for creating solutions. She recommends a tool known as perspective taking.  By walking in your counterpart’s shoes, you begin to get an idea of what it is like to be them. To provide this perspective, I use an online interactive tool in my program that allows you to take the perspective of a young African American women as she experiences micro-aggressions at work and in social settings. In order to make progress, we need to really understand another’s perspective to change behaviors, systems and structures that support certain individuals but not others.

While the numbers demonstrate how challenging this work remains, we can and must change the status quo. Progress requires a significant change in mindset through out organizations. It requires a fundamental change in people, process, and policies. The journey is fraught with competing priorities and unintended consequences. In order to break down the diversity barriers, leadership needs to develop a DEI strategy that is part of leadership’s goals and is supported with time, talent, and resources. 

Our next installment of this blog will focus on what is working in the DEI arena. If you would like to reinvigorate, your DEI program, please contact Kris at

unconscious bias

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Becoming a Sustainable Organization's Global Impact

My book, Becoming a Sustainable Organization, is a primer on embedding sustainability and corporate social responsibility into an organization's culture by leveraging human capital management professionals and project management professionals. While the world of creating and maintaining a regenerative organization is constantly evolving, the tools, techniques, case studies, and best practices outlined in the book provide a strong foundation for those undertaking these challenges.

I am very pleased to share that globally, many academic researchers have used my work to support their own research on creating a more sustainable and socially responsible organization. Here is an excerpt of some of the research citing my book. Further citations can be found at Google Scholar.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Framework for Creating a Culture of Sustainability

In my book, Becoming a Sustainable Organization-A Project and Portfolio Management Approach, I discuss many tools and techniques for baking sustainability and social responsibility into an organization's cultural foundation. An impactful tools is the Framework for Sustainable Culture Change Management found in Chapter 11, which is entitled Adopting a Culture of Change to Unlock the Benefits of Sustainable Strategy.

One of the most important areas is addressing why an organization's sustainability strategy is important to both internal and external stakeholders. A key starting point is asking, "What does sustainability mean to our customers, employees, and community?" The answers to this question begin the help form a plan for action as well as a list of priorities.

As part of the planning process, it is important to engage with leadership and to create alliances with C-suite influencers. Once the plan has been adopted, drive the change management process using ongoing C-suite engagement, recruiting senior level sustainability champions, identifying key organizational influencers, and empowering teams to select initiatives and implement change. Creating an effective communication plan supports the process including clear messaging around sustainability goals. Aligning performance metrics and incentives with these goals reinforces leadership's commitment. Ensuring that status updates are reporting both failures and achievements gives a more authentic and actionable outcome. Often the most important lessons are learned from failures. Promoting a culture where it is safe to fail creates an environment that supports innovation and change. Sharing results, adopting best practices, and revising plans as needed moves a an organization toward success.  Encouraging feedback from all levels of the organization as well as key external stakeholders promotes engagement and provides meaningful input.

In the following table, I provide a provide a framework to guide this change management process as well as highlight key best practices for success.

( Source: Kohl, Kristina, Becoming a Sustainable Organization, Boca Raton, Taylor & Francis Group, LLC, 2016)

While a plan facilitates the process, it is important to not underestimate the the time, resources, and commitment that will be needed to drive change in people, processes, and policies. Understanding that there will be resistance and anticipating risks by identifying and incorporating them into the planning process helps to ensure success. In the change process, it is also crucial to take an appreciative approach asking what is working and how can a successful project or pilot be scaled effectively across the organization.

Best wishes for your sustainability journey!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Building a Diverse Workforce

Most leadership teams say that diversity is a priority.Yet, many organizations that have rolled out diversity programs have hardly seen the needle move on building a more diverse workforce. My challenge to leaders is to clarify what you mean when you say diversity is a priority. How is your organization demonstrating its commitment to diversity? Does your organization truly value diversity? If the answer is yes, then how are you building an inclusive and equitable environment? Are you considering this a journey or a check the box project? The answers to these questions will help you better frame your own organization's diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

How pervasive is your diversity initiative? Is it focused on low level new hires or do you have significant plans to broaden diversity at the Board & C-suite levels? Underrepresented groups looking to join and stay with organizations need to see that advancement is possible within the organization. They need to see that people like themselves are represented at senior levels within the organization. Mary Barra, CEO of GM, has facilitated building a talent pipeline to deliver a diverse slate of candidates for GM.  GM is one of only two Fortune 500 companies with women in the positions of CEO and CFO, and six of the 13 members of their board of directors are women. "General Motors women are leading the company’s transformation to win in the core automotive business and the future of personal mobility." They are a great example of building a gender diverse workforce to build an agile and resilient organization to address 21 Century challenges.

What does a lack of diversity cost? You may be familiar with the Mommy Tax, where mothers earn less with each child born and conversely fathers are paid more with each child born. But the issues is more pervasive. Data scientists have identified  Vivienne Ming, neuroscientist, author, and entrepreneur, has explored tax on being different and it is a huge cost to individuals, companies, and society. The following is an excerpt from the article providing data on the economic outcome of being Jose versus Joe. "To be equally likely to get a promotion José needs a Masters degree or higher, compared to Joe who has no degree at all. This means that, for similar work, José needs six additional years of education. That’s six years of tuition and six years opportunity cost, specifically: missed earnings as a software engineer. This is the tax on being different, and for José the tax is $500,000 to $1,000,000 over his lifetime." As you can see, the economic impact is staggering.

The issue relates to our unconscious bias. Harvard offers resources to identify unconscious bias through the implicit bias project. We all have unconscious bias but we can address it through systemic changes. Ideas include making sure that hiring committees and promotion committees have diverse representation. Something as routine as delegating assignments can have a significant impact. Who is receiving the "goldilocks" projects that have great visibility, access to senior management, strong team members. It makes a difference.

Lastly, think about aligning incentives with diversity goals. Include diversity targets as part of performance scorecards for leaders.  Women continue to earn less than men-.8 for every $1-with women of color falling even further behind. The gap isn't anticipated to close until 2059. Part of the difference is related to self selection of careers and jobs, but part of it relates to organization's policies. If you read the GM article referenced above, you know that GM is one of the few organizations that has pay equity across the organization even at the senior level. Mary Barra has made pay equity a priority for leadership and managers.

If you wish to build a diverse workforce to reap the benefits of a variety of perspectives and talents, then it is imperative to create an equitable and inclusive culture. Values, governance structures, and policies all play a significant roll in transforming into an equitable and inclusive organization.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Toolkit for Driving CSR

When I speak to organizational leaders, many are seeking tools to develop a sustainable corporate social responsibility strategy. I find most organizations experience challenges in driving this systemic change.  While the benefits of becoming a socially responsible organization include attracting employees and clients with similar values, improving relationships with communities, suppliers, and governmental agencies, reducing risk, and creating new opportunities. In my experience, leaders struggle with truly embedding social responsibility into their organizations. In order to facilitate this transformation, I am sharing the ISO 26000 resource to provide guidance on your CSR journey.

ISO 26000 is a voluntary set of guidelines to help organizations operate in a socially,
environmentally, and ethically responsible way. Since it is a guideline rather than a standard, it is not certifiable but rather serves as a tool to improve an organizations social responsibility. ISO 26000 builds upon linkages in international standards such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), UN Global Compact, and the UN Declaration of Human Rights to create an actionable set of guidelines.

For an organization to be socially responsible, it means that management considers the impacts of its actions on society and the environment. In addition, it means that a governance structure is created to ensure that this process of contributing to sustainable development is managed in an ethical and transparent manner taking all stakeholders requirements into consideration. For an organization to be socially responsible, they must fully embed these concepts into the culture of the organization so that they become part of their people, process, and policies.

ISO 26000 7 principles to drive socially responsible impact are:
1.     Accountability
2.     Transparency
3.     Ethics
4.     Respect for Stakeholders
5.     Respect for the Rule of Law
6.     Respect for International Norms of Behavior
7.     Respect for Human Rights
These 7 principles establish an underlying framework for socially responsible decision making and foster creating a community to support these standards. As you undertake your social responsibility journey, please remember that this is a continuous improvement process that gets better with practice.

In order to identify key socially responsible issues, we break into 7 core subjects as outlined in Exhibit A. 

Exhibit A: Identification of Social Responsibility Priorities

 The 7 Core Subjects are: organizational governance, human rights, labor rights, environment, fair-operating practices, consumer issues, community involvement & development. Using a Deming cycle approach ( Plan, Do, Check, Act), begin by selecting the most relevant socially responsible issues, identify your organization’s desired position, highlight the current gap between vision and actual, identify models of success, implement best practices, identify areas of weakness and seek root causes, select priorities, create a plan, implement, measure impact, modify as needed and repeat. Of course, stakeholder engagement is a vital part of this prioritization process. Once you have prioritized, consider your sphere of influence such as your partners, suppliers, clients, competitors, etc and consider how you can begin to make an impact beyond your own organization.
For additional details and tools, go to

As I have written in Becoming a Sustainable Organization, creating a corporate social responsibility organization is a journey. While the ride may be bumpy the creation of a world where the SDGs are achieved will mean a better life on planet earth for all. Best wishes for your CSR journey!