Conversations for Change: Accelerating Racial Equity Progress with Jonah Edelman

Leading social entrepreneur and racial equity expert Jonah Edelman joined NCWIT for a presentation and dialogue about leading national nonprofit Management Leadership for Tomorrow’s groundbreaking, research-aligned, and impactful Black and Hispanic Equity at Work Certification programs, which provide comprehensive measurement, a rigorous roadmap, multi-faceted support, and valuable recognition and have been embraced by 65 major employers and leading institutional investors. Watch the recording and learn how this innovative program came about, how it is being utilized by and impacting a wide range of companies, and key lessons learned to date.

Originally streamed live on Nov. 3, 2022. 



DR. BRAD MCLAIN: Well, hello and welcome everybody to the NCWIT Conversations for Change series. My name is Brad McLain. I am a Senior Social Scientist with NCWIT, and also the Director of Corporate Research. 

NCWIT – if you are new to us and joining these conversations, stands for the National Center for Women & IT – but don’t let the name fool you! It’s not just about women; it’s about inclusive culture construction across the board. It is my pleasure to welcome you to this series, if you are new to it, or whether you’ve been coming to our Conversations for Changes over the past few years during COVID. We always feature speakers with a diverse range of opinions, and hopefully, provocative ideas and worldviews. We have one such exciting presentation for you tonight – or today; whatever time zone you are in. 

I also want to recognize and thank our many NCWIT sponsors and collaborators who are making this event possible. We have over 1,500 organizational members, and many of them are contributing – almost all of them are contributing in ways: intellectually, financially, and as thought leaders – to help make NCWIT the community that it is. Of course, I also want to thank you, the viewing audience, for your attention, your listening ear, and also, your participation as we go through this.

Hopefully, we won’t have technical hiccups – but if we do, we ask for your patience in the Zoom world that we all inhabit these days if we do have any bandwidth or technical issues. I think we will not have them, but during the talk today, I do encourage you to post your thoughts, questions, and comments on the Q&A board as we go. You can use the Zoom icon at the bottom of your screen to access that feature, and we will be monitoring this throughout the talk but also reserving some time at the end for us to give voice to your questions, and comments, and ideas in the last quarter of the hour today.

Okay! If you didn’t know, our Conversations for Change is an extension of our NCWIT Summit. This is an idea that we would periodically host thought leaders in this space in order to proliferate innovation in diversity, equity, inclusion, and inclusive culture construction. So, you will find that we have many differing ideas. Hopefully, they will resonate with you, or provoke you, or both! That’s what drives innovation in this space, and surely, that is what we need. 

So, I would now like to introduce you to our featured speaker, Jonah Edelman. Jonah Edelman is the co-founder of Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) Black and Hispanic Equity at Work Certification, and you are going to learn all about what that is in just a few minutes. For the last 20 years, MLT has supported employers in their journey toward racial equity by providing talent, recruitment, retention, and overall DEI strategy assistance. MLT has convened a uniquely powerful and vibrant community of rising leaders; 8,000 and growing, who are propelling change throughout our institutions, communities and nation. The Equity at Work Program involves organizations in attending to five pillars – conceptual pillars – important for achieving equity at work.  

Jonah is here today to talk about the story behind the development of this program, what they have been able to achieve so far, and what can be learned about these efforts, for all of us, toward racial equity at work. Please join me in the silent applause as we validate and welcome our speaker today, and it is up to you, Jonah, to take us away.

JONAH EDELMAN: Brad, thanks so much. Thank you, everyone, for your time, and to NCWIT for its tremendous leadership in moving our nation and major employers forward, toward being more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. It’s a pleasure to be with you to share the story of how the Racial Equity at Work Certification programs came about, explain how they work, and then, engage in a dialogue with you. 

So, just a little bit about me: I am very, very, very fortunate to be a descending generation — a descendant in a long line of advocates and activists for racial and social justice. That shaped my worldview, to have been the son of a leader in the civil rights movement, and grandson of grandparents who grew up and who lived in the segregated South, and who were champions for uplifting the Black community in rural South Carolina. My whole career has been dedicated to trying to increase equity. 

After George Floyd’s murder, having read many of the statements that were coming out about what companies were committed to doing, I became increasingly uneasy, and then, frustrated. That frustration was distilled when I read Darren Walker’s piece from the New York Times sharing his very similar perspective that there would not be, based on what he had read, any systematic change to address the persistent inequities between Black and white Americans, which proportionally have not changed – at least, in terms of wealth disparities – since the mid-60s. So, there obviously hasn’t been a lot of progress.  

So, I reached out to John Rice, who is the CEO and founded Management Leadership for Tomorrow, which Brad talked about. He’s been a leading racial equity partner for major employers for, now, 20 years, and has a tremendous track record of success in developing talented professionals of color so they can attend top MBA programs. MLT fellows comprise roughly 50% of the people of color at top MBA programs in this country. As Brad mentioned, the alumni base is really extraordinary. It’s actually close to 10,000 now; Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous alums working or employed in America, with about 250 in senior executive roles.  

I was familiar with MLT from its inception, and I proposed to John we create a LEED, L-E-E-D, equivalent certification for Black equity, at that point, to enable companies to know what good looks like. Because many of us know that there are leaders out there who want to do the right thing, but they don’t necessarily know what that is. At that point, there was a lot of dialogue about that. Then, it provides a framework for developing a rigorous plan. Then, support and recognition.  

So, I am just going to walk you through this as I am telling the story, but essentially what we did was: enlisted Boston Consulting Group. There was an early MLT alum named Justin Dean, who is a managing director at Boston Consulting Group, and he was very enthusiastic about this as well. We set out to develop a, really, first-of-its-kind framework. 

But, we started – to be clear – with a landscape assessment. Both John, and I, and Justin were pretty familiar with the third party landscape and aware that what existed at that point were pledges; in which maybe some of you all have been participating in, in terms of the organizations you’re familiar with. The challenge with those is they are often very narrow, and lack accountability, lack support, and indices, which are relative.

So, you know the main index out there, that some of you may participate in, in diversity enables companies to essentially measure themselves relative to others. That relative measurement doesn’t move the needle upward because there is no absolute standard that employers need to meet. It’s also the case that, in some cases, it’s sort of unclear what the basis is, and it’s all lagging indicators; so, it’s all looking backwards as opposed to assessing for the purpose of progress. 

There’s disclosure pushes, which I think have some value, but our view is that there is more potential for progress through a collaborative, confidential partnership. Then, there are many convening organizations. There is a lot of value in convening, but it needs to be, in many cases, to be productive, or very purposeful. There needs to be expectations, and potentially accountability, around that. 

Anyway, we set out to provide, to create a framework that addressed those gaps – and we did that. It was quite a process to develop the framework. As I said, it has four components. I will take you through each. 

Measurement; so, what we did was: We created a first-of-its-kind approach to aggregate measurement. We developed a scorecard framework that basically assigned points to 18 indicators that we felt were the main levers that employers can pull to increase Black equity. 

And I should say, we have expanded to include Hispanic Equity at Work. It launched in September, but we launched Black Equity at Work first. 

What that does is: enable a company to know, in the aggregate, where you are in the journey. One score, but also, to get a report that helps you understand where you are in detail with respect to those key indicators, where you are further along and where you have more opportunity for progress. 

Then, second (is Roadmap.) This is based on our fundamental view that if organizations apply the same rigor to racial equity as they do the rest of their business, that we would see a lot of progress on racial equity. That needs to become the norm. We want to help that become the norm. So, we help employers develop three-year plans, and we assess those based on rigor and achievability. I will give you a little bit more information about that shortly, but it’s not enough just to have a measurement and a plan. 

There needs to be support. We all know that execution is challenging, and organizations are at different stages and different places in terms of capacity. So, we created a range of supports that are supplemented by many supports that MLT has with respect to recruitment, retention, and advancement. 

Then finally, recognition. Now, recognition per se isn’t necessarily that valuable, but when it’s tied to rigor and real progress, it can be tremendously valuable, both in terms of internal motivation and also external narrative and culture shifting. So, we provide a mark for milestone achievements, starting with plan approval and then continuing on to reaching levels of certification. 

Let me just continue forward, and share the framework. There are five pillars to the framework that we developed. Much of the focus in DEI tends to be representation in workplace culture, and that is very, very appropriate. At the same time, compensation and business practices – in particular, supplier spending as well as use of resources; philanthropic as well as cash reserves – are key levers that companies can pull to increase equity. 

So, you will see we included all five, and we allocated points based on our assessment of the relative importance. There are 110 points total in this framework, and to be certified requires reaching 60. This isn’t meant to be something that’s unattainable. Quite to the contrary, it’s meant to be an on-ramp for companies at any stage of development, and certification is intended to be achievable within three years following plan approval. We are careful to assure that through both the creation of the framework, intentionally, use cases that we did with dozens of companies that we had information about, as well as piloting with more than a dozen employers initially.  

So, let me tell you a little bit more about the scorecard, since that is really sort of the guts of this for you to understand, in terms of the assessment. We created a scorecard framework which was intentionally based on data, first of all – and we consulted a range of organizations where we did not have expertise or certain indicators. For example, we used MIT’s living wage calculator for the living wage definition. We had consulted with the National Employment Law Project with respect to the threshold of the number of hours that employees should need to work to be able to receive certain benefits, and what benefits we should reward. We did, as I said, lots of testing.

Then in terms of the framework itself, very key to us is that we are not requiring companies to do any one particular thing. What we are doing is: We are setting a bar for, again, what good looks like, very good, excellent, outstanding – because there are tiers of certification. Then, we support companies in determining their particular path to reaching the key milestone of certification. Then, we also provide, in most cases – 13 of 18 indicators – points for partial progress; so, it’s not all-or-nothing. That’s really important as well. 

Just to say, so I described that we have 110 points in the framework. In terms of that initial baseline that we do, we have companies that have started at 25, and we have companies that started at 82. That is exactly what we were hoping for, because we want to encourage companies at whatever stage of the continuum to participate. The self interest varies, in terms of the value, but we’ve seen a wide range of adoption.  

Then finally, we were very careful not to require any sensitive documents, because that would certainly decrease participation. It’s really not necessary. Nor do we disclose point scores. We only disclose participation and the achievement of milestones. We felt that was extremely important to try to create that trusting partnership that will lead to progress. 

I am going to give you an example, and I’m going to breeze through this because we don’t need to spend a ton of time on the framework, but I want to show you the scorecard so you can get a sense of the intricacy and the intentionality of it. You’ll see for representation, which is the most substantial pillar, that there are six indicators of the entire 18. We intentionally allocate more points to higher levels in the organization because those levels of the organization create more influence for equity going forward. 

I will just show you the external indicators because those are less commonly engaged. You’ll see that for the business practices pillar, much of the points are allocated related to supplier diversity. We benchmarked many organizations to determine the right level, and you’ll see also, there are partial points available. This is an area where there is tremendous opportunity for growth, and we have seen a lot of progress by our partners. 

Finally, there has been a lot of progress made, and a lot of value added, with respect to encouraging more strategic philanthropy by companies. It isn’t shown here, but the philanthropy framework is such — and you see it in the footnote below there, it’s probably too small of print – that we provide a 10X multiplier to any systemic change-related contributions. We see a lot of companies make more investments in organizations that are working for systemic changes. So, that will drive equity. We have also seen a lot of movement in terms of cash reserves to Black equity- and Hispanic equity-focused financial institutions.  

Now, I might have described the fact that we have certification levels. That’s very intentional. It’s been wonderful to see companies that are starting off at a pretty good level want to strive to being better and better. 

To be clear, we’ll get into the process. You cannot be certified right away; that goes with our theory of action with respect to progress. No matter where a company starts, the whole point is to accelerate progress; to make meaningful, measurable progress. So, the first step is baselining, regardless of whether the company is at 25 or 82. Most of the companies, by the way, are in the high 40s starting off, on average. 

You do a baseline assessment and develop a plan, and the soonest the company can be certified – even if you start over 60 points – is a year into the program. The plans are developed with support from a partner success manager on our team. It’s very high touch, and we believe that’s something that requires support and framework, and we developed a digital platform using philanthropy that guides the assessment and makes it very, very efficient. Then, it guides plan development. 

Then, the support continues through implementation, as I described. So, we do quarterly check-ins with employers, and we provide access to a range of supports that are ongoing, as well as being on call. So, the intent here is that it is not one and done; it’s not superficial, or one person’s job in the company to input large amounts of information to see if you can get on the list or not. It’s really an improvement system with a real level of rigor and support in a long-term orientation, and we price it as such. 

In terms of the plan development process, I want to highlight the root cause analysis, because that really is — consistently – the key to making progress. Oftentimes, plans to improve racial equity don’t include a real, in-depth analysis about the challenges. So, we start with that. 

For every indicator a company says they want to make improvement on, they need to provide a root cause analysis. We have identified the main root causes for every indicator to provide some guidance, but we still need the company to offer evidence as to why they believe they have a particular root cause challenge. Then, we’ve also identified the main activities that align with every root cause.

As such – and we have heard this, and I will show you a case study in just a second, but you know consistently that the conversations that happen in business units and companies, and at leadership levels, are more robust and effective. The activities that then get selected really address the problems that exist, as opposed to being proximate or really misaligned to challenges. This, I would also tell you, has been helpful in helping companies stop doing certain things they had done for years that aren’t actually moving the needle, because they realized the activities, or programs in some cases, don’t actually address the root cause challenges they have. We’ll talk more about that if you have questions, but this has been enormously helpful. 

In terms of plan development process, the main components we ask for are very common sense, but they often are not the components of racial equity plans. That is: root cause, activities aligned with a root cause; targets, you know, are certainly very, very important – but it’s not always the case that there are targets, and specific targets related to Black equity, and then Hispanic equity, as opposed to racial equity as a whole. Then, KPIs: progress monitoring, and who the owner is for a particular indicator. That’s the plan framework. 

I said I would share a case study; this is an example of a very large organization in the financial services industry that embraced the process quite effectively. They have 25 business units. They had the root cause analysis conversation in those business units and came up with activities that were aligned; that would help address root causes and engage their Black professionals quite effectively. It held the business units accountable for progress. As a result, they have seen substantial movement, much more so than in the past, in terms of improved representation – but not just at the bottom; throughout the company. They have also made a tremendous commitment to increasing supplier diversity and done very innovative work. 

Obviously, NCWIT has tremendous expertise in this realm, in terms of beginning to deal with more inclusive culture through dialogues. I mentioned supports before. You know we don’t believe it’s possible just to say, “Hey, good luck! We’ll see how it goes. Come back in a year, and tell us how it went.” We believe a higher touch approach makes sense. 

I mentioned we have a partner and success manager, who is a DEI expert on our team, who we assign, along with an associate, to each employer. I mentioned the digital platform, and I alluded to the plan creation guide, which includes the root causes and the activities. 

We’ve put a lot of effort in supplier diversity, because that’s a consistent challenge we heard – and brought on the former VP of supplier diversity from Coca-Cola onto our team, developed a partnership with a firm that has a directory that is provided at no cost. We’ve also created curated supports to help companies make deposits into Black equity- and Hispanic equity- focused financial institutions, and not have to develop that expertise. 

We partnered with Great Places to Work, which did an analysis of millions of survey responses on their trust index survey, to identify the four questions out of 60 for Black Equity at Work and the five questions out of 60 for Hispanic Equity at Work that are most highly correlated to retention, engagement, and promotion, and then provide those questions, as well as benchmark the information, to our partner employers. 

Then, we have a steady stream of best practices. What’s been wonderful to see is that we are learning a lot from the companies that we are partnering with. We’re able to find, now, companies that are really at the forefront and moving the needle. Then, we’re able to share those best practices via webinars, and case studies, and newsletters with years. So, it’s a really wonderful continuous improvement network. 

We have had a tremendous amount of uptake. We’re close to 70 employers, maybe some companies that are represented here on this call. You’ll see tremendous diversity, both in terms of sector, phase of development, geography, and also where they are on the journey to Black and Hispanic equity. What’s been wonderful to see is just the level of consistent commitment, which has to exist upfront, by leadership teams who participate and the progress that’s resulted.  

Then lastly, I just want to share that we’ve gone out of our way to develop a significant work of aligned organizations – including NCWIT – both to inform our frameworks as well as to help with dissemination. We will continue to build out that list of partners.

I will stop there. I am really excited for the dialogue, and appreciate everyone taking the time to learn about this first-of-its-kind program. Thank you.

JOANNE ESCH: Jonah, we are going to. I have Brad up, but I am just going to jump in real quick here because we have a question in the chat that is very germane to the list of companies you just showed, which is: How well are tech companies doing compared to other companies?

JONAH: That’s a great question. Basically, we don’t have a huge amount of tech companies per se. Though you, obviously, from the list could see a lot of the companies we are partnering with have a significant tech component. I would say: Generally well. 

If you go through the framework you will see that companies in different geographies or sectors are advantaged and disadvantaged. You know there is no sort of one-size-fits-all story. Certainly demographically, in Silicon Valley, you know there is less diversity with respect to African American representation. But, you know that companies that are intentional can move the needle. 

I am thinking about one in particular, NerdWallet, which finished their base-lining and plan in two months, developed a very, very strong plan, and has been making significant progress – as an example of a company that is really committed in tech and is moving the needle. 

Workday as well has been a terrific partner. They are plan-approved as well. 

I should say that, of the 65-plus companies, there are, at this point, 27 that are plan-approved. Our first five are certified, and more are coming. So we are seeing some really good progress by the companies in the cohort.

BRAD: Jonah, thank you! Thank you for that quick walk through. I know it was a whole bunch of stuff that needs and can be unpacked for hours and hours, but keeping to our format today, we are shifting gears into a conversation; at first with Joanne, who you just saw, and Catherine. So, if you two want to come on video, that would be great. 

I’d like to introduce you to Catherine Ashcraft, our director of research at NCWIT and someone I work closely with in the Workforce Alliance with corporations and our partners, and Joanne Esch, one of our research associates. Joanne is monitoring the Q&A. So, I encourage everybody listening today to put thoughts, questions, concerns, any meanderings that your mind had during that fire hose of presentation material there. Lots to unpack, and I know there’s lots of questions! 

We are going to launch into some we have, and some things that we’ve discussed with Jonah before that we found particularly interesting. We hope that will give rise to a little bit more thought on your part as well. So please, do get busy on the Q&A, and Joanne will give voice to your questions in just a bit. 

So Jonah, to start off: wonderful program! So detailed and research-based, and I love the network of partnerships that you’ve got. Pretend that I am an organization who is interested in working with you. Can you walk us through how that works? Who do you engage with in an organization, and how does the relationship mature? Then, getting into the work that has to go in behind this organization? Can you describe that process a little?

JONAH: Yeah. It’s a great question, Brad. So, we ask that there be a lead in each organization. That tends to be a VP of Diversity, a Director of Diversity, or a Chief Diversity Officer. They tend to have, in larger companies, someone on the team to help with the data component. In smaller organizations, they don’t – but we’ve really taken steps to minimize the amount of time that it takes to do the baselining. 

We also ask that there be at least one executive sponsor, but really, generally two ideally. It’s so important, as probably everyone on this webinar knows, to ensure that the message is sent throughout the company of the seriousness of the company’s commitment to participating. Often, that’s the CHRO. In some cases, it’s the CEO even. In some cases, it’s someone else in the C-suite in addition. 

So, we need, up front, to kick off with the team. Then, at the point where they have the baseline completed, provide a report and do a plan creation kick off where we talk to the team about their path and their timeframe. They have up to six months. Some, as I said, like NerdWallet, did them more quickly. 

Then, on an ongoing basis, what’s interesting is that the diversity function at many companies is nested within HR. That’s not always the case, but it often is the case. What’s been wonderful to see is that this program being more comprehensive is a way for diversity leads to engage other functions that they haven’t historically been connected with as much as they’d like to be; procurement, treasury, CSR. You know? Or, foundations, and so —  it provides a broader span of engagement than is typical, and it’s really distributed. So, it’s unlike programs where it lives within diversity, and it’s one person’s job to fill out the whole thing, and you know they spend half their time filling out a survey which doesn’t actually create improvement. It really is a facilitated process that creates more connectivity and alignment.

BRAD: Yeah. So, it’s a high touch process in close collaboration.

JONAH: It is.

DR. CATHERINE ASHCRAFT: Yeah, and I think that point about it not just living within HR, but the business actually owning it, is super important. We’ve talked about that a lot, and I wonder…

I know you’ve all talked about the importance of this multi-pronged approach. I think one of the things that is unique about this program that you have is that it’s not this piecemeal. Right? It is an in-depth sort of multi-pronged, five-pillar approach.

Just wondering, though; I know from our own work, and you and I have talked about this – it’s that it is sometimes difficult to get leaders to understand that, right? They want it more quick; kind of like, “Give me the five steps that I need to.” I am wondering if you have, what you’ve encountered in that regard, and how you address that or other challenges, or things you have to work with people to bring them along to understand that.

JONAH: We really try to do it up front, and I think we try to strike a balance, Catherine, between the superficial and immediate – which doesn’t really provide any benefit, reap any real dividends – and something that is really, really expensive and really, really long-term. This is a condensed, streamlined, supported but self-guided process. So, the internal will has to be there within a company. So, this isn’t for every company. It’s for every company, regardless of where you are on the journey, so long as there is commitment at the top.

CATHERINE: How do you tease that out? Do you ever have conversations about that? Or…

JONAH: Oh, absolutely. I mean, yeah. I think where there are questions about it, we do that on the front end. So, there are conversations that happen with executives on the front end to assure that they understand. Usually, the concerns relate more to disclosure of what we looked at. No, you won’t because it is strictly confidential, and there isn’t a bias against companies that are early on. In fact, there is even potentially more benefit. 

Then, there are questions related to how much time it will take, and the ROI is extremely high. The time that gets wasted when companies pursue the wrong activities, or they’re mired in inertial discussions, is much higher than a streamlined, effective process that gets to a rigorous plan. So, that’s the point we make. If there is not a willingness to commit any time, then certainly, it won’t work.

But, if there’s an understanding – and certainly, in some cases, hard-learned – that pursuing the wrong direction is wasteful in terms of time and financial resources… Also, oftentimes, there is difficulty getting alignment around what to focus on, and also what trajectory is appropriate; we can help with that. Then, we found, and you can see from the list, a lot of embrace in this process.

CATHERINE: What have you found to be some of the more common “wrong” headed, or approaches, where they are wasting their time and effort?

JONAH: Well, I think just, you know, activity-based or purely program-based as opposed to strategic would be the main header I would give. You know there is a tendency. There is sort of a sort of general phase of development of this, and it’s not… There is no judgment, but I think it tends to be that there is an orientation toward events and activities initially, and maybe a program here or there. You know, one or a few partnerships, but not really an assessment of the overarching challenges with an overarching set of goals, and then, a strategy to reach the goals, which would certainly include strategic activities amidst the programs.


JONAH: So, it’s really more sort of tactical vs. strategic, I would say; in some cases, selecting activities that are reflexive as opposed to based on an analysis of a particular challenge. 

For example, if you haven’t looked at why your professionals’ Black representation is low, you might think, “Well, it’s just because we don’t have a pipeline.” That’s one of the things that we know reflexively happens. There is the assumption that there just isn’t a pipeline when it may be that retention is a fundamental issue. You know you are churning really high-potential Black professionals, and that if you were to put in place programs, and efforts, and also address culture on the part of management as well as potential frameworks, evaluation frameworks that might be unfair, you would then be able to retain and support advancement of your Black professionals, and that would certainly help you move your numbers. So, just giving one example, but there are probably many that you all could add as well.

CATHERINE: Yeah! I was also really curious when you mentioned root cause analysis, and one of the examples was the pipeline, right? Because that’s where people often go as their root cause, and it is so hard to, sometimes, disabuse them of that idea. So, I don’t know if – I think the audience might be really interested, if you’ve found any effective techniques to get them to even think that they need to investigate beyond that root cause; like, not take that as the root cause.

JONAH: Well, I mean: That’s not a solvable root cause. First of all, it’s not accurate, but it’s also not solvable. Actually wanting to improve, to say there’s no pipeline, that is sort of a throw up your hands, but you know the reality is you get into conversations about how they are actually recruiting. Often, it’s the Ivy League recruitment approach of, “You know, they come to us,” as opposed to really being strategic about the skills needed, and then where to find people with skills; that skill set and experience base.

Sometimes, there is an issue with the level of credentials required. There are often unnecessary barriers in terms of degree requirements. For certain roles, that could be removed. So, sometimes it’s about categorization and classification, but oftentimes it’s just sourcing. Where are you sourcing? Who is doing the sourcing? What is the approach to sourcing? Are you actually doing a good job with getting candidates to apply, but then you don’t have throughput? If that’s the case, then there needs to be an analysis of your actual hiring process, the diligence, and then, who is on the hiring committees, and what’s the basis for making decisions? We’re sort of helping to enable companies to assess the chain of causation and make strategic decisions where they can improve.

BRAD: Jonah, I was going to ask you: When you sat back with your team and decided how can we empower change makers in these ways based on this research to make change, what kind of structure can we provide to facilitate the work, to assess it to continue it sustainably… You know, you came on this model, and you have points, and you have scores; you have certificates, and certificates that can be publicly associated with a brand or a company. What other models did you consider? Why did you end up with this one? 

I mean, obviously, we all have great experience – good or bad – with this graded point scoring system from our own education. Some of us are still scarred by it, but you have decided this is an accessible and easy way to do it, or an effective way to do it. So, I was curious how you decided on that, and what other ones may have ended up on the cutting room floor when you were thinking about alternatives?

JONAH: That’s a fantastic question. I will say, at the risk of …  I will try to be concise, but basically, we are combining multiple theories of action here. You know it’s called a certification program, and so the immediate association is the certification. How do I get the certification? What’s the basis of it? But for us, it was a combination of definition first – so, defining the pillars, and then, adding a quantification to the definition, and then, creating a threshold. Those are all important. So, getting the definition right, the quantification and having that be rigorous, and then having the threshold. 

That’s one theory of action, essentially, around encouraging a certain type of behavior. What that does is, on the part of executives who want to win, it changes DEI from being something that often is anywhere from something that is sort of tolerated, is tiring, is often something that people feel icky, not really good, about. It feels like it can’t be attained. There is a sort of defeatist orientation toward it. “We’ll do it, but we’re never going to get there,” to changing it to something that is actually winnable and achievable; definable, clear, not amorphous, not ephemeral. That’s really important.

But, the second aspect of it was the plan development process, Brad. So, if we just had the certification program and said, “Score; go and try to improve. Yes or No?” Okay, but the second aspect of this was to understand that what often holds companies back is the lack of a rigorous plan. 

Now, some of that is intent. Some of that is sort of culture, which is just not applying the right level of rigor. Because culture is such that you wouldn’t start or head into a year with a business unit saying, “We want to just get better,” and “we just want to be more profitable,” or “we’re just going to do a few activities, and hope that that works out.” I mean, no – that would never work, right?  So, there is a culture shift there in terms of rigor, but there is also a clear definition around what constitutes a rigorous plan. So, that is a second bucket, I would say. 

Then, the third one is, finally, support; which is, there is actually a need to help with execution. So, we have sort of combined, you would call it, these three big levers or theories of action into one program. We think about it more as a program than a certification. Sorry if that was too long.

BRAD: No! That was excellent. Similar to so many conversations we’ve had with our own Tech Inclusion Journey platform, and the different ways that we work with partners to develop it.

Of the things that you said is you’ve learned a lot from the companies and partners you’ve worked with about how, effectively, to motivate and mark progress. It’s something that’s enlightening. It’s very different than our approaches, but we are learning a lot right now just by sharing the conversations for change. So, this is fantastic.

JONAH: Yeah. I just think that the truth of the matter is that this is absolutely achievable. Right? I truly believe Black equity is achievable. I truly believe Hispanic equity is achievable. So, I’m not… You know I don’t wake up every day thinking, “This is impossible. We should just do our best.”  

Within a society, I believe it is achievable, but particularly, within an organization. There is, obviously, a ton of historical baggage, and then, current barriers that get in the way. But, those are removable. Those are truly addressable with will.

JOANNE: Jonah, can you say more about how this targets only one racial group at a time, so this one for Black equity, one on deck for Hispanic equity, and we have a question also from the audience about Indigenous people. How and why different approaches for different groups? Or, are they different?

JONAH: Yeah. There’s sort of two questions in one there, which is really good. So, we wanted to focus on the two main underrepresented groups from the outset. We started with Black equity because the disparities are so stark, and also because of the moment following George’s Floyd’s murder. We’d always intended to launch Hispanic Equity at Work once we had developed a solid Black Equity at Work program. Did so! It’s launched. We have close to 20 partners, I would say or would note, already with Hispanic Equity at Work. 

While Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) is inclusive of Indigenous Americans – so MLT has about five percent or so, maybe a little bit less, Indigenous alums; mainly Black and Hispanic, it’s like 60-ish 40-ish with a little bit of Indigenous – the population for the Indigenous population in this country very unfortunately, due to historical atrocities and genocide that we all know about, it doesn’t lend itself in terms of its size and distribution to this certification theory of action because there is just a requirement of a level of population to make this work across the board. So MLT does include Indigenous, but we don’t intend to have an Indigenous certification program. 

Specifically, the reason why we focus on individual groups as opposed to racial equity as a whole is that what we saw, what we knew, is that companies often get numbers by – or they make progress, seeming progress – masking huge disparities that still exist with respect to Black and Hispanic equity. So, we wanted to be specific about that. What you focus on gets done, and what you measure matters. That’s why we chose to have those be separate.

But, the companies that are joining us now are generally doing both programs. Many of the program companies that began with Black Equity at Work have added Hispanic Equity at Work, and we’ve set that up to be concurrent. So, it’s one digital platform and one partner success manager. The plan development process happens at the same time, so it doesn’t feel like two programs. It really feels like two concurrent programs as opposed to programs happening at a different time that are doubling the amount of time and effort.

BRAD: Jonah, to follow up on that: In your mind, back to the theory of change again:  if you were to have a certification program for Indigenous populations and somebody were to come and say, “Hey, we want to make progress in the area,” what would be different about the prescriptive actions, and strategies, and process that you outlined and described for Black and Hispanic populations? How would that change for Indigenous, or any other marginalized group? Are there specific things that only work for Black equity?

JONAH: Yeah. I think it just requires a level of representation across this country that is such that there can be consistent expectations for reaching thresholds. That’s the challenge. Clearly, as I said earlier, and there is a question about tech – you know there are some geographies and there are some industries that have more or less challenges with certain demographics. 

What we try to make clear is that, one, it’s not unique to one company within that industry. Two, that we have done use cases to assure that companies in the industry can absolutely reach certification. But if there is a small population across the board, you couldn’t say to a company, “You know, across the board, generally, that we have to reach a certain percent of Indigenous folks at a board level, or in senior representation, or middle management.”

That’s the challenge when you have a really small population. We have been approached, I will say, by an entity that wants us to do an AAPI certification. We’re in conversation with them about that. We’ve made no determination about that at this point. Obviously, there is discrimination related to the AAPI population. We have seen that, sadly, very starkly. There is over-representation in some respects, but a ceiling, for sure, in companies. There is also discrimination. 

So, you know we are open and engaging in that conversation, but we do want to focus. We do want to make real progress. For us, it’s not a question of merit, it’s really a question of the massive need to move the needle for populations that have really not seen as much progress as they should.

BRAD: Right, but back to this idea of are there special things for the Black and Hispanic communities that wouldn’t apply to other ones? Or culturally, would they be very similar, if you were to choose to focus on another group? Or, if I’m a company, and I’m saying, “You know these are our priorities; could I use your model to make progress in other categories?” Do you view it, as its creator, as only applicable to Black and Hispanic communities?

JONAH: No. No, not at all. It’s a framework that’s generalizable, and so we’ve had companies that are using it outside of the U.S.; in UK, and Brazil, and in Canada. We don’t; that’s not what we support. We don’t profess to have expertise about that, but where there is a similar definition of race – which obviously is, you know, a social construct – we’ve had companies apply this, and they find it very useful. 

Where there is a desire related to gender equity, we point companies to other existing programs that are effective, and for LGBTQ, similarly. So, we are not trying to be all things to all groups, but there is a general applicability to the notion of defining levers that organizations can pull for particular underrepresented groups, and ways to measure progress accordingly. So, your question is a good one. 

I would say that we adapted the Hispanic Equity at Work framework only slightly; that is, we didn’t change the pillars, we didn’t change the indicators, but we added some specific benefits that companies can earn points for providing that are, we think, particularly relevant to the Latino community, related to DACA recipients, and some particular effective workplace practices that we think are specifically relevant; know your rights trainings, as well as encouraging companies to measure intersectionality so that their Afro Latino population doesn’t have to choose between parts of their identities. Those are examples of the adaptations, but the fundamental framework is relevant and valid.

BRAD: Point of housekeeping: We have about seven minutes left before the end. I know we’ve dominated conversation. We will get to the audience questions, and there are a couple of announcements from our NCWT audience members. So, that’s a heads up to all of you making announcements; we are moving to that in a few minutes. Passing it to Catherine, and then Joanne.

CATHERINE: Just to shift gears a little bit here, I think we’ve also talked a lot amongst ourselves about the pros and cons of certification programs. Right? Sort of how to ensure that a company is not just seeking this to boost its branding, or as a kind of publicity endeavor. So, just if you could address that a bit, and talk about how you thought about the pros and cons and decisions to make it a certification, and how it differs from the top awards and those other kinds of things you mentioned.

JONAH: The key is, as I said earlier – Catherine I am really glad you brought that back up – the substance of the program. You know, just to put out another brass ring that can be grabbed at, there is no point to that. Or, let’s say there would be minimal gain that comes from that. 

Certainly, adding another certification that is based on previous attainment only and doesn’t motivate prospective improvement would be very, very limited in value. So it’s really the combination of the measurement system with thresholds for recognition combined with the prospective orientation toward improvement, and the requirement of rigorous plan and support to execute it that make this impactful.

CATHERINE: All right. Thank you, and I think, Joanne, we have time if here’s one more audience question you want to get in?

JOANNE: Yes. Someone is wondering if the certification program would work for colleges or other learning institutions?

JONAH: Yes, and it could. We don’t yet have a higher ed institution. We have been in conversation with two in some depth. The only stricture would be that it needs to be a private institution. So, this is for private-sector employers only since the legal frameworks in the public sector preclude some of the mechanisms that are key for progress, setting targets and the like.

BRAD: Jonah, can you tell us —  for anybody listening today, and people who would tune in to the recording later – if someone would like to work with you, how best to do that?

JONAH: Yeah. I mean, reaching out to me directly is the way to inquire. Also, we have a website where they can submit an inquiry form, but I am very happy for people to reach out directly and just engage. My colleagues, T.J., Nicolas, and I will be happy to speak with you. It is a specific conversation and dialogue about your situation in the journey, and what your needs are, and how this program could be helpful, should the commitment be there on the part of your leadership.

BRAD: Wonderful. Final question: I think we touched on this with some of our pre-meeting, but are you engaged in any aggregated data collection or research effort to analyze the success? The KPIs from your own models, as they go: Could you just describe those briefly? Or, what you’re hoping to do in the future as you get more partners?

JONAH: Yeah. I’d say two things to that. That’s a great question. 

One is: We’re absolutely very, very actively mining for best practices; number one, and it’s been very fruitful. Then two: insights that come from the cohort; the growing cohort of companies. So we know, for example for the companies that have achieved certification, what the average point gain has been. We know the categories. It has been very cool to see that progress has been made across the board, not just just in one category, for example. 

But also, we’re able to see over time as companies provide information around the great places to work survey questions. We can see the disparities between white and Black employees. We’ll be able to find companies that have really, truly eliminated disparities –  or at least, very much minimized them. Then, we’ll be able to see what those companies are doing and develop case studies. 

So, there’ll be an analytical basis for them assessing practices, as opposed to the conversations that often happen related to work-based practices. There are assumptions about what works and doesn’t, but they are not necessarily data driven. So, we will be able to do that across the board over time with an increasing sample size, and we are really excited for that.

BRAD: Yeah. Well, that’s great. One more question from Joanne. We just can’t resist!

JOANNE: Yes. If you had a magic wand and could craft the ideal project team to work through this planning structure, what types of roles and representation would be optimal?

JONAH: I mean, optimal would be: a very, very empowered chief diversity officer; ideally, who reports to the CEO, but who at least has standing within a company to then facilitate conversations across business units, and also across key organizational functions. Then, you know you’d want to have the CEO’s support, or the COO’s support, and CHRO support. In a company that doesn’t have a CEO, you would really want it to be an executive team. 

What you often see actually, which is neat, is that companies have already assembled diversity task forces or committees that are inclusive of company leaders. So those, in some cases, are already constituted. Where we have seen that, that is really facilitative of the type of streamlined planning with real rigor that we are looking for.

BRAD: Well, thank you, Jonah. I want to thank everybody on the call, the NCWIT staff who help make this possible behind the scenes and even today in our prep call, and all of our sponsors again. 

Then, the announcements I referred to earlier being made by someone on the NCWIT staff, it happens to be me! So, I am going to make this announcement: If you like this conversation and you want to hear more of this, guess what? We are having our first in-person – actually, it’s a hybrid summit so you can come online or in-person – since the COVID era began coming up May 18th through the 19th in Denver, Colorado. Beautiful springtime in Colorado! Save the date; tell your colleagues, tell people you think might be interested, and come and join us online or in person May 18th through the 19th, 2023, in Denver, Colorado. Visit for more information and more details about all the great speakers, and provocative workshops, and things that we’re going to be doing there.

My thanks to Joanne Esch, our research associate, and Catherine Ashcraft, our director of research, as well as our president, Terry Hogan, and our founder, Lucy Sanders – both online today – for helping make all of this possible. Of course, mostly today, Jonah, thank you for your time and attention. We look forward to a growing partnership where we learn from each other on a continual basis in this effort.

JONAH: Thanks so much, Brad, and thank you so much to NCWIT for all that you do.

BRAD: Goodbye everybody! Have a great weekend.

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