Perspectives

Authenticity, transformation, and the future of inclusion

A conversation with Christie Smith

​Christie Smith, PhD, managing principal, Deloitte University Center for Inclusion, Deloitte LLP, shares her perspective on the future of inclusion.

Tell us about your background and how that informs your work today:

Growing up in the suburbs of New York in the 1960s and 1970s with feminist parents, the dinner table conversation with them and my seven siblings often centered on social justice, service, faith, prejudice, and action. The constant refrain in my household was: “you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.” We all had an equal voice and were expected to use it, not just in the confines of our home, but within our schools and communities. Over a half century later, I spent a lifetime using my voice, education, and my profession as an engine by which to change the world.

What are some discoveries you made in the new research that you’ve just released?

Last year in The Radical Transformation of Diversity and Inclusion: The Millennial Influence, we explored how millennials define diversity and inclusion differently than other generations. For millennials, inclusion isn’t just about getting people of different creeds in a room. It’s about connecting these individuals, forming teams on which everyone has a say, and capitalizing on a variety of perspectives in order to make a stronger business impact. In this paper, The millennial majority is transforming your culture, we found that the impact of this generation is redefining the way we think about getting work done. We discovered many millennials are prioritizing purpose-driven work. To blend work with purpose, they are seeking technology that can better enable innovation, collaboration, and flexibility. Many organizations aren’t leveraging virtual platforms to encourage the connection and collaboration that this generation is seeking. Our paper is a blueprint for what millennials value and how companies adapt.

We discovered many millennials are redefining the way we think about getting work done by prioritizing purpose-driven work.

What is your perspective on the current state of inclusion?

Many organizations have been spinning their wheels for the last three decades, talking about the “business case” for inclusion, but they have made little progress: over 95 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are white, 4.8 percent are women, two percent Hispanic, 1.8 percent Asian, 0.2 percent Black, and only 1 openly gay CEO1. Many companies still rely on Business or Employee Resource Groups (ERGS/BRGs), which target specific demographic populations. While these have provided safe spaces for many to share their unique challenges and perspectives, in many cases, they have done little to raise these groups up in the organizations in which they reside. To truly continue progress, we should instead look to fundamentally shift our focus to helping leaders engage in inclusion as participants and use robust analytics to combine elements of corporate culture, bias, inclusive leadership habits, institutional courage, and business outcomes to tell a robust story of inclusion.

1 Deloitte. (2014). What if the road to inclusion were really an intersection? http://dupress.com/articles/multidimensional-diversity/

To truly continue progress, we should instead look to fundamentally shift our focus to helping leaders engage in inclusion as participants.

What is the role of authenticity in inclusion?

Many leaders are shifting towards transparency, but we need to take a step further. Authenticity is a journey not predicated solely on an outward self-created in a moment, but rather the collection of life experiences that informs how you show up in the world, as a leader, as a student or as a worker among workers. It does require deep introspection and awareness. If we only focus on the outward, we often lose the context of what is naturally inherent in ourselves. It should be a balance of inward and outward exploration and creating that balance takes time. It’s not an on or off switch with sharing a story, but a series of experiences that is reflected in what has truly formed a leader.

How do you see inclusion evolving in the future?

First, we need to remain dedicated to increasing representation, particularly in leadership. As the conversation continues, inclusion will be an elevated standard for how we view our leaders. I've heard from many millennials that they expect authenticity from their leaders and view inclusion not as a nice-to-have but as a must-have, a fundamental way to do business. If companies don’t position themselves to fundamentally change the conversation about diversity and inclusion as millennials have, they will likely lose talent. It is imperative that we reconsider how to conceptualize identity and prioritize our humanity before the package it comes in.

It is imperative that we reconsider how to conceptualize identity and prioritize our humanity before the package it comes in.

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