Jesse Cortez of HPE (from left) moderated a panel comprising Pinnacle Group's Freddy Vaca, J.C. Penney's Cristina Lopez, and Dell's John Redmond. Danielle Abril

Tech & Startups

Why Championing Corporate Diversity Isn’t Enough

Local business leaders provide a guide to inclusive leadership at Dallas Startup Week.

Leaders at Dell, J.C. Penney, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Pinnacle Group had a clear message for attendees at their panel during Dallas Startup Week: Diversity and inclusion needs to be built into a company’s fabric in order to produce results. And studies show that when they are, companies reap real rewards.

“It’s no longer just a business case,” said Jesse Cortez, global inclusion effectiveness leader at HPE. “Those who can accelerate inclusion can compete in an accelerated fashion.”

John Redmond, senior advisor of diversity sourcing for Dell, says in order to understand what efforts should be made, executives and leaders need to first understand the difference between having a diverse team and having an inclusive team.

“Diversity is being invited to the dance,” he said. “Equity is being asked to dance, and inclusion is making the play list.”

In other words, an inclusive working environment is much more than just checking a box. It’s creating a place where diversity can thrive and play an integral role in how a company operates. Employee resource groups are starting to become a “big deal” because “they’re leading to direct sales” and innovation, he said.

An example he offered the audience: A group of employees were once working on sink sensors to automatically disperse water when they detected hands. The first prototype was seemingly a success. That was until a black man put his hands under the sink, and the water never turned on. It didn’t register his skin color, Redmond said. The group had developed the product solely based on their white skin, which led to unforeseen consequences.

“That’s what happens when you’re not in an inclusive culture,” he said.

Cristina Lopez, J.C. Penney’s director of inclusion and diversity, said that in order to have an inclusive environment, companies need to codify that as a value early in the company’s development. That way no matter where in the company an employee is, the culture is the same, regardless of size and/or location, she said.

“Take some time to think about it,” Lopez said. “It’s not a 30-minute or one-day activity … Taking time to think about those questions and position yourself for growth is critical.”

If you were to ask Redmond, he’d likely say that the excuse that there is a lack of diverse candidates is nothing more than that—an excuse.

“We do not have a challenge hiring people of color and women early in their career, so this is not a pipeline problem,” he said. “So why are they disappearing once they’re in your business? You have to engage your people make sure they’re growing and thriving so they can matriculate … to the top.”

For Dell, the culture is nurtured from the top, with CEO Michael Dell leading the company’s global diversity council himself, said Redmond.

“The challenge is driving that into not just your level two and level three leaders but … into your field managers,” he said. “It’s got to be baked into the fabric of what you do.”

For Pinnacle Group, the culture wasn’t really a choice, given that it was founded and has been led a by female Hispanic entrepreneur Nina Vaca. Being inclusive is just the way things were, he said. Of its 7,000 employees in Dallas, about 68 percent of them are women.

“We were diverse before it was cool to be diverse,” said Freddy Vaca, president of Pinnacle Talent Solutions and the younger brother of Nina Vaca.

But that doesn’t mean Pinnacle Group doesn’t make a conscious effort to remain inclusive. Vaca said the company uses a lot of “cool technology,” that he said is free, by the way, to recruit. The recruiting efforts are a combination of people and technology. And since employers have access to making connections via social media, it’s easier than ever before.

Either way, there’s no right answer to creating an inclusive culture, Vaca said. It just needs to be done.

“Be unique,” he said. “Every company has its own story. Create yours.”

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