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Teneo Insights Takeaways – A More Effective Vision for Corporate DE&I Initiatives

November 8, 2021
By Kevin Kajiwara & Lisa R. Davis

Valerie Rainford, CEO of Elloree Talent Strategies and former Managing Director at JPMorgan Chase, where she headed the company’s Advancing Black Leaders Strategy; Jamal Simmons, policy and political analyst and author of The 4 Percent Problem, exploring why Black inclusion in leadership ranks stalls at around 4% in nearly every sector; and Lisa R. Davis, Co-Chair of Teneo’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) Advisory, joined Kevin Kajiwara for a conversation about the current state of play and drivers of success for achieving equity in the workplace.


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Findings from The 4 Percent Problem

In the past 18 months, corporations have announced bold commitments to increase the leadership ranks for people of color, among other initiatives to level the playing field and advance social justice. Despite the rallying cries for more diversity, results have shown that multiple initiatives have proven ineffective. Across the corporate world, in nearly every sector, Black participation in leadership positions sits at around 4%. Currently, African Americans represent 17% of the military, yet there are only two Black commanders out of the 41 most senior officers across all of the branches. That equates to only 4.9% of senior leaders within the military. Additionally, only 3.2% of all Fortune 500 C-suite executives are Black and 4% of publishing executives are Black.

Data Driven Diversity

As companies improve their diversity, Black inclusion still lags behind other underrepresented minorities, closely followed by Latinx. A common problem is that many organizations look at their diversity data in an aggregated fashion, which groups all minorities together and masks the inequity residing in an organization. Disaggregating minority data will help shine a light on the different cohorts that need more representation and will help to inform strategy in order to drive bolder and more concerted actions on diversity and inclusion.

Intentionality in Leadership

Although organizations voice good intentions around closing inequity gaps, many leaders struggle to achieve their DE&I goals. The CEO and the C-suite must exhibit commitment and conviction that reverberates throughout the organization and empowers middle management, in particular, to be the driving force for the changes set out by the CEO. Effective leaders are willing to learn, try something new, be comfortable in the space, push their teams and understand and own the business challenge − not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because they see missed opportunities by not having diverse talent at the table. Senior leaders must dive into their diversity data to understand what’s happening inside their own organizations, particularly their recruiting processes, to make sure Black minorities are given equal opportunities in recruitment, development and promotion.


Increasing diversity can trigger pushback from organizational leaders as they seek to preserve their prototype employee base. This prototypicality threat must be addressed for corporations to break through the 4% threshold and increase Black representation. Broadening the pool of potential candidates by varying recruitment outreach and placing more consistency and challenge in recruitment, selection, development and promotion approaches will attract a more diverse group of talent and will help all employees navigate their way through the organization.

Effective Implementation

CEOs must have the power to champion the organization’s DE&I efforts and take responsibility for progress. Additionally, leaders must openly communicate why DE&I should be a core ingredient of the firm’s business strategy in order to foster employee acceptance and change the narrative about inclusiveness. Embedding DE&I into the business strategy and increasing the number of underrepresented groups will help develop a core purpose and gives the organization and the employee base more opportunities to succeed.

Company Location

A company’s location strategy should play into the diversity and people strategy to ensure minority groups are equally represented across all business locations. This is particularly important in areas with a small population of minority groups. Companies must support a diverse workforce and create an inclusive environment that welcomes each employee across every location to ensure that the progression of underrepresented talent does not stall.

Concluding Remarks

Despite the summer of 2020 sparking a racial reckoning across the world, it is easy to lose momentum and move on when the crisis has receded. However, leaders who understand that DE&I is ultimately a business challenge and a business opportunity will remain invested and embrace the movement. Having a diverse team of leaders and decision makers at the table will give the DE&I cause the longevity it needs to eradicate inequity in the workplace.

The views and opinions in these articles are solely of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Teneo. They are offered to stimulate thought and discussion and not as legal, financial, accounting, tax or other professional advice or counsel.

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