Panelists included moderator Jacqueline M. Welch, Executive VP and CHRO, New York Times and Chair of our Council on Inclusion and Diversity; Michelle A. O’Hara, Executive VP and CHRO, SAIC, Inc.; Tim Hourigan, Executive VP, HR, Home Depot; and David S. Fortney, Co-Founder Fortney & Scott, LLC.
Increased legal risk: Mr. Fortney provided an overview of the current post-Harvard legal landscape, including the spate of new lawsuits targeting corporate DEI initiatives as well as conflicting letters sent from various state attorneys general, some warning firms of unlawful DEI practices and others supporting the same. Mr. Fortney and other panelists noted that legal challenges are materializing through several different avenues, including lawsuits under Title VII and Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, as well as shareholder suits.
Staying the course: Panelists emphasized the importance of remaining committed to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and in particular, at the management level, given the need for more progress. Despite the potentially increased risk, panelists noted that the current moment provides an opportunity to “double down” and reaffirm commitment to DEI practices, while acknowledging the importance of internal and external reviews to ensure that such practices are fully compliant with the law.
Communication with employees is key: Ms. O’Hara shared the importance of communicating the why of DEI programs to employees to ensure that no group feels ostracized or left behind. Ms. O’Hara noted that SAIC is focusing on a comprehensive communications plan to best articulate to employees why they are undertaking certain DEI practices and initiatives. Mr. Hourigan highlighted that unlike college admissions, employment-based diversity is not a zero-sum game, and that broadening the pipeline for talent does not mean excluding certain groups of people from the workforce over others.
Leadership and mentorship key for continued success in DEI space: Panelists also shared the importance of getting buy-in from leadership for successful DEI outcomes, as well as how focused mentorship and sponsorship can accelerate the growth of underrepresented groups within a company. Ms. Welch noted that the New York Times is focusing more on sponsorship as opposed to merely providing guidance and coaching.