Empty Promises

Todd Sears


Many leaders talk the talk, but don't walk the walk, when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Todd's take on why, and the systemic problems underlying society, is refreshing and informed.


Many leaders talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk, when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Todd’s take on why, and the systemic problems underlying society, is refreshing and informed.


We hear a lot of promises from business leaders today about improving diversity and inclusion at their companies, which is good. I'm glad to hear that we're having that conversation, but numerous studies time and time again show that many companies do a very poor job on that front. What is your advice regarding testing a company's commitment to an idea?

Todd Sears

Well, I think there are several things to think about and I'll just take it outside of LGBT inclusion and broader diversity and inclusion or racial injustice, or any of the sort of equity issues that companies are dealing with. Part of the challenge is that a significant number of those issues, when you drill down into them, are systemic in our society, and it's very unfair in my opinion to expect any company in any industry anywhere in the world to be able to single-handedly change systemic racism or systemic homophobia, or systemic gender bias because so much of that happens outside the four walls of the company. Having said that, I do think companies have an opportunity, and I think an obligation to invest in processes in communities that help shift those systemic challenges, but it is a longer term proposition, so for example, a lot of companies use the reason that pipeline is an issue for not having more LGBT people at the top or people of color, or women, and while that is and can be true, part of the challenge is that when you're looking at whatever that pipeline of diverse talent is, you're looking at it more from where they went to school versus the skills and the actual talents that they bring, for example, and a lot of these companies are not able to sort of shift their focus and their own systemic structural issues that have gotten them into the place that they are now, which is very little representation of minorities, and so if companies sort of think about it as an internal and an external opportunity how are they investing communities, so for example, financial services, if you look at young people of color who want to go into financial services, those few people that actually do had some sort of family connection into financial services or exposed to it in some way in high school or younger, and that's very rare, actually, and the challenge that we have with so many people from the majority communities, white communities going into financial services is that it is exactly the same, except that there are significantly more white people in financial services who have children who were exposed to it in an earlier time, etc., etc. So, the systemic challenge of creating that pipeline at a very early stage is something that a lot of companies are finally starting to invest in, knowing full well that it may be a 10, 15, 20-year payoff, and then on the inside, it really does boil down to makings you're that the structures are open, that the structures actually permit difference, that they seek out difference, that you're not just focusing on people who went to the top six business schools, but you're really focusing on people that have skills and different ideas, and frameworks coming into an organization and that you're valuing that difference and you're supporting that difference, not making it like an outlier, so I think there are lot of different sort of challenges and opportunities that come with this diversity conversation. So, when you mentioned testing companies, I think that might be a simplistic approach because there really are so many other pieces. Obviously, a company has to have the right policies, they have to say the right things, they have to ideally do the right things, but it's more of a longer term play that I think companies have to consider.