About us

Bryan Stevenson shares four keys to create more diversity, equity, and inclusion

Deloitte Chief DEI Officer Forum

As part of Deloitte’s commitment to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion, widely acclaimed human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson delivered the opening keynote at our inaugural Chief DEI Officer Forum.

As part of Deloitte’s commitment to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion, we invited widely acclaimed human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson to deliver the opening keynote at our inaugural Chief DEI Officer Forum. Stevenson is no stranger to challenging the status quo and fighting for equity and justice. He has dedicated his 37-year career to helping the poor, the incarcerated, and the condemned, as well as working as a passionate advocate for criminal justice reform and civil rights issues. Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), and author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling book Just Mercy, which has been adapted into a feature film.

Stevenson’s talk was powerful and received such an incredible response that we wanted to share the following excerpts from his inspiring comments, and what he presented as the four key things companies and individuals can do in order to create environments that are diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

“I want to talk about what I believe we can do individually and institutionally to increase the justice quotient, to create a new relationship to the suffering and inequality that surrounds us,” said Stevenson. “I don't think any company or corporation can be indifferent to inequality and injustice in the communities where we work and live. You are a citizen of this world, and that means you have obligations and responsibilities. So I think it's necessary to begin to understand what that requires. And in my mind, there are these things that we must do.”


Stevenson went on to say, “It's very easy in this country to isolate yourself from those who struggle, and that isolation can lead to indifference. And sometimes it can even lead to ignorance that creates more injustice. When you're proximate, you hear things you might not otherwise hear. You see things that you don't otherwise see. And what you hear and see informs your capacity to do better.”

Stevenson shared his experience of how getting proximate led to a turning point for him when he was in graduate school trying to decide which career path was right for him. “I took a course that required me to spend a month with a human rights organization, and I went to Georgia to work with this organization providing legal services to people on death row. They sent me down to death row and I met condemned prisoners, and it was proximity to the condemned that changed everything for me. It was there that I learned that in this country we had people literally dying for legal assistance.”

Stevenson—who has won major legal challenges exonerating innocent death row prisoners, eliminating unfair sentencing, for example mandatory life-imprisonment-without-parole sentences for children 17 or younger, and confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill—said he didn’t achieve those successes in his career by just being smart or working hard. He said, “If you ask me how I've done anything that I've done, it's because I got proximate to condemned people and learned about our capacity to hold one another and affirm human rights and human dignity. Proximity is key to our capacity to be change agents.”


“Today we live in a nation where these narratives are still out there, where this presumption of dangerousness and guilt is still out there. And it breaks my heart because you can be the DEI Officer of a major corporation. You can be a CEO or a CIO or a CFO. You can be a doctor. You can be a lawyer. You can be kind, you can be loving—but if you are Black or Brown, you will go places in this country where you have to navigate a presumption of dangerousness and guilt. And I can tell you, because I'm getting older, that when you have to constantly navigate these presumptions, it's exhausting and you get tired. And that is why it becomes so urgent for us to change the narrative.”

Stevenson holds the belief that although it may be hard to do, changing narratives will help create a better, more equal world. “I believe that there is something better waiting for us. I think there's something that feels more like freedom. I think there's something that feels more like equality. There's something that feels more like justice. And I think it's just waiting for us, but to get there, we're going to have to be willing to talk honestly about the legacy of our past, this history. That is the reason why what [CDEIOs] do is so vital,” Stevenson said. “Because many times the essential thing that has to happen is that there has to be a truth-teller in the spaces where we have allowed bias and history and pattern and behavior to go unchallenged when it minimizes and marginalizes people who are different.”


He went on to say, “I've been thinking about how we can make individual decisions that are rooted in hope, rooted in believing things that we haven't seen, and how they can have a legacy and an impact long after we're gone. We have the ability to create hope for other people. That's what we must represent in these spaces.”


Throughout his career, Stevenson has often had to do uncomfortable things, and although he has achieved many hard-fought wins, he has also experienced difficult losses. “I've had glorious moments during my career… but I will also tell you I've had difficult days, painful days, overwhelming days when you represent people who face execution.”

He said, “The truth is that when you get proximate, when you have to change narratives, when you are required to be hopeful, when you do uncomfortable things, it will get to you. There will be times when you feel the weight of it. There will be tears. Sometimes there will be injuries that come with struggle.”

But he also offered a reminder that this important work is part of a larger picture: “When we advocate for the principles of equality and justice in our workspaces, when we do it in our communities, when we do it in the spaces that we occupy, it is not a small role. It is a part of a larger effort; we are part of this larger struggle.”

In closing, Stevenson reiterated just how important it is for companies to stay committed to doing DEI work: “I don't think there's anything more critical, more urgent, more vital in the life of any company or corporation or government than the pursuit of creating environments that are diverse, just, and inclusive. If we get proximate, if we change the narratives, if we stay hopeful, if we do uncomfortable things, we can do it in a way that absolutely transforms our society, our nation, our planet.”

Click the links to learn more about Bryan Stevenson and his organization, Equal Justice Initiative.

Fullwidth SCC. Do not delete! This box/component contains JavaScript that is needed on this page. This message will not be visible when page is activated.

Did you find this useful?