In the Year 2025

Image courtesy of Flickr/Fady Habib

As workforce demographics continue to shift, the diversity and inclusion function is poised to evolve as well. In today’s era of business, technology, leadership styles, community and the nature of education all appear likely to play a role in diversity’s strategic future in the enterprise.

Yet to understand where diversity andinclusion is headed, it’s first important to get a sense of how it got to where it is today. In this light, data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a significant shift in workplace demographics. Not only is the shift profound since diversity earned its keep as a back-office department nearly 40 years ago, but the function has also grown into more of a strategic driver of business just in the last decade.  

While the overall number of employed persons aged 16 years and older in the U.S. grew about 4.8 percent from January 2004 to January 2014, growth rates were much higher among minorities during that time (Figure 1).

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Figure 1: Growth of Employed Individual Age 16+
Source:U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

This trend is expected to continue. Rhonda Nesmith Crichlow, vice president and head of U.S. diversity and inclusion for Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., said the pending change requires an enhanced focus in cross-cultural competence.

“By 2020, 35 percent of the American population will consist of ethnic minorities, and by 2043, it is predicted that the U.S. will be a plurality nation — with no single majority group, but rather a collective majority that consists of all the groups that are today regarded as minority populations,” Crichlow said. “This means that individuals and organizations alike will need enhanced levels of cross-cultural competence to remain relevant, connected and competitive in this very diverse and dynamic society of the future.”

While the U.S. Department of Labor doesn’t collect information on workers’ sexual orientation and gender identity, other organizations have made attempts to estimate the representation of the LGBT — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender — population in the workforce. The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law estimates that between 2.2 percent and 4 percent of adults aged 18 and older identify as LGBT and, in general, reflect the racial and ethnic characteristics of non-LGBT individuals.

2025 Projections

Karyn Twaronite, global diversity and inclusiveness officer at professional services firm  EY, said the function’s journey thus far can be described as the “three Cs.”

“It started as a compliance issue (rules and representation), then morphed into a matter of character (the right thing to do). Today, it’s about character and values, but also about commerce. There’s a general acceptance that D&I positively impacts top and bottom lines and fuels quality, innovation and competitiveness,” Twaronite said.

“If I had to predict what is next in 2025, I think a clear candidate for the fourth C has emerged — and it’s customization.”

At EY, the focus has moved from whom to how. “A new EY global framework and D&I roadmap includes a ‘D&I culture change continuum’ to articulate the progressive development required for our organizationto build a consistent culture where all differences matter,” she said. “It acknowledges that different teams may start from different places on that continuum and describes practical ways for them to make further progress based on where they’re at today.”

Ronald Copeland, senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer at Kaiser Permanente, acknowledges the progress made thus far. “How we leverage diversity as a strategic asset is the most pronounced evolution. D&I informs the business and enhances the delivery of the mission of the organization as a strategic asset,” he said.

To this end, the continuing evolution of D&I may play out in several ways:

Technology. Technology has already replaced many positions in the workforce — with self-service checkouts in retail and apps to scan checks for bank deposits. “We can’tallow the future workforce, including high school students, lower-skilled, new college graduates and older workers, to believe these entry-level jobs will still be there,” said Candi Castleberry Singleton, chief inclusion and diversity officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

“We need to encourage them to consider other jobs through K-12 pipeline and community initiatives. This keeps us relevant. If we are not paying attention, the lack of access or understanding of how technology is changing and streamlining work processes can have a negative impact on our diverse population.”

Futurist Jim Carroll agrees that the active involvement of diversity executives in education — specifically, in the promotion of STEM education in America’s inner cities — is an important role.

“Consider manufacturing — there really are a lot of new manufacturing jobs, but they do require advanced skill sets and knowledge,” he said. “One robotics manufacturer in Davenport, Iowa, told me that machining has become so complex it’s almost as if operators must be able to do trigonometry in their heads. Efforts toward enhancing STEMeducation goals can go a long, long way to ensure opportunity for all.”

How We Got Here

Anti-discrimination: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces Title VII of the Equal Rights Act of 1964, which marked the start of a national movement to create clear guidelines in support of equal employment opportunities without regard to race, color, religion, national origin or sex.

These laws recognized the growing diversity of the workforce and the issues that had accompanied such growth: discriminatory hiring, promotion and termination processes; retaliatory behavior; social segregation; unfair compensation practices; and other outcomes that called for a comprehensive mandate nationally.

Affirmative action: In creating the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, the federal government sought to ensure that the concepts of affirmative action and equal employment opportunity were contractually required by federal organizations and their sub-contractors. Going beyond the prohibiting of discrimination, these laws reinforced an employment environment that reflected the positive steps needed to begin correcting the deficiencies of past discriminatory practices.

Affinity groups: As organizations became more aware of their responsibilities for providing a fair and welcoming work culture, employee resource groups increased. “Such groups are especially valuable when they come together not only because they have something in common but because they can deliver business value,” said Candi Castleberry Singleton, chief inclusion and diversity officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

—Donna Parrey

Leadership. Technology enables teams to complete projects across time zones, with different languages and different cultures. Because of this, “we need to prepare our employees for cross-cultural and multi-generational interactions to ensure inclusion,” Singleton said. “Sometimes, technology also means employees are less engaged, with multi-tasking occurring and because employees don’t really know one another well. We need to create initiatives and metrics to ensure engagement still happens.”

Novartis’ Crichlow’s vision of the future of the function includes becoming increasingly aligned with commercial functions. “It would not surprise me to see more chief diversity officers reporting directly to the CEO and members of the D&I function viewed as strategic consultants who provide guidance to functions within the business, support change management efforts, and have an even larger role in shaping culture change within organizations,” she said. “In the emerging model there would be less of a ‘push’ from the D&I function, but more of a ‘pull’ from the business to be thoughtful about unique opportunities to do things differently. In the future, inclusion will really embrace divergent thought and work styles, with a true focus on driving innovation and outcomes.”

Copeland said this narrative must come from the C-suite. “It starts and ends with leadership. It’s about learning and setting the tone for what companies consider relevant. That’s where they invest. We need leaders who are convinced that D&I is an appropriate use of assets.” He sees leaders reaching out to diversity executives saying, “We now see the relevance and what we need is a deployment plan. How do we carry it out to get the results that we see others achieving?”

Marketplace. Supplier diversity is another core concept for diversity and inclusion’s future. “Partnerships with small businesses in the community are important — women- and minority-owned businesses are the economic engine of the community,” Copeland said.

Technology also affects the way organizations interact with their customers, suppliers and other constituents. Specifically, new mobile apps are being rolled out continuously, usually in English. Later generations of apps may be released in other languages or to provide accessibility to individuals with disabilities.

“But customers show up and expect service,” Singleton said. “They don’t know we’re changing our business model with the use of technology and mobile apps. As D&I practitioners working inside the organization, we have a responsibility for developing inclusiveness and preparing the customer for what is coming. There may be limited comfort using technology as a business interface or accessibility issues for those who can’t afford it.

“We will continue to have relevance if we pay attention to what’s happening in the organization and become active partners in business strategy, global employee engagement and workforce planning.”

Measurement. Carroll encourages organizations to shift their focus from the tactical — complex reporting and paperwork — to the strategic. “How can I steer my organization into diversity opportunities that come our way?” he said, adding that the diversity of suppliers and vendors can influence an organization’s offerings of products and services.

Carroll also envisions a future that rewards organizations on the diversity of suppliers, for example. “Just as food products are now rated on the ethics of production, perhaps tomorrow’s products will be judged by the diversity of suppliers,” he said.

At Novartis, Crichlow said the firm’s efforts didn’t happen overnight. “For the better part of a decade, we have focused on expanding and enhancing our efforts to strategically align with, and directly support, our business goals,” Crichlow said, adding that strong senior leadership engagement and accountability are critical to the success of D&I strategies.

She recommends two key goals:

1. “Focus on a few key areas of opportunity that, if addressed properly, will result in sustainable business practices that can transform your organization’s approach to achieving its goals. Trying to address a myriad of issues with limited resources can compromise the ability to change behavior and drive accountability for D&I beyond the D&I function.”

2. “Identify clear goals that are time-bound and the related metrics to measure success. Failure to measure progress, like trying to address too many issues at the same time, precludes an organization from understanding what it is doing well and makes it difficult to create room for new opportunities for engagement.”

Championing D&I

Singleton recognizes that it can be difficult to cross over to the business side and help organizations see it as D&I’s space. But when the voice of diversity comes from a business perspective, it’s more credible. “It boils down to the courage of leadership to say, ‘We want D&I to be more than what it is,’” she said. “We can create that credibility by leveraging other executives and diversity councils to champion D&I and using a diversity practitioner as a consultant in each area of the business.”

Copeland said organizations need to accelerate their journeys and gain a global perspective, even if their footprint is only in the geographic U.S. “At Kaiser Permanente, we take care of members from all cultures and understand and appreciate them as if we were in those other countries providing services,” he said. “Organizations have to move from being ‘champions’ of D&I to a ‘systems’ culture, with policies and practices aligned to the business. It’s an exciting time — at the end of the day, it’s about the impact we have on the individual lives of the people we serve and on those who choose to have careers with us.”

Carroll said there’s comfort and hope in what the next generation brings to the table. “They’ve grown up with social networks and more of a world view than most current executives ever had,” he said. “For them, diversity isn’t a big issue as it was in the 1960s. It’s a given.”