Journalist and New York University professor Pamela Newkirk has released her latest book “Diversity Inc.: The Failed Promise of a Billion-Dollar Industry.” It explores how diversity initiatives grew out of laws that address economic inequities and how companies failed in their diversity and inclusion efforts despite spending billions of dollars in their highly publicized initiatives.
Newkirk cited several indicators of the growth of the diversity field. It is estimated that corporations were spending around $8 billion in their diversity initiatives in 2003. In 2018, there was a 35% increase in diversity and inclusion job postings online. There was also an increase in the number of degree and certification programs offered on diversity and inclusion leadership. Despite all these, there remains a lack of clear definition of diversity, metrics and outcomes.
The book examines several class-action lawsuits that forced some companies to take steps to improve their workforce diversity. It describes Coca-Cola’s settlement agreement in 2000 which spurred the company to create a diversity task force and monitor its progress. But the threat of lawsuits should not be the only motivator for companies to pursue the path to diversity. Newkirk said change is possible even without lawsuits if the leadership is committed to diversity.
Newkirk noted that the corporate sector has made progress, even more than the entertainment and academic sectors. But much work needs to be done in diversifying their management ranks and boards of directors.
She offered some suggestions to ensure a successful diversity initiatives. She said diversity efforts should be approached as an integral part of a business strategy and given the same priority as other business objectives. The role of the diversity officer should be integrated into the company’s leadership and diversity consultants should be evaluated based on their knowledge, experience and outcomes.
Newkirk also suggested that companies should quantify their practices related to gender and race so that they can easily detect and address patterns of inequality.