Diversity has become the new corporate buzzword. Companies pour hundreds of millions of dollars every year into the diversity industry, hoping that diversity trainers and consultants can help them to build and sustain a workforce that reflects the racial and ethnic makeup of the country. But is it working?

Pamela Newkirk, Professor of Journalism, New York University, award-winning journalist, and author of “Diversity, Inc.: The Fight for Racial Equality in the Workplace,” joined GATE’s Sonia Kang to discuss how organizations rely on a profoundly misguided industry with little impact on diversity outcomes.

According to Newkirk, although organizations are investing billions of dollars into diversity initiatives, most barely move the needle when it comes to hiring people of colour, who remain grossly underrepresented in almost every field.

“Whether we’re talking about creative fields like fashion and Hollywood film, or if we’re talking about academia, law or business, people of colour who are close to 40% of the US population are single digits in the fields that are most influential.”

What will it take to move the needle on racial diversity?

Newkirk encouraged organizations to examine their leadership and practices, and to build in accountability in order to disrupt systemic racism. Organizations should be measuring the employee experience with proper metrics that allow them to pinpoint where problems lie and whether progress is being made. By examining the entire employee lifecycle, including hiring, salaries, bonuses, and the allocation of opportunities, organizations will have a better understanding of where to focus their efforts.

Are we at risk of diversity fatigue?

Diversity is not a trend. When we talk about diversity, we need to talk about justice, Newkirk said. People are being denied opportunities and a solution will require years of attention and action.

“This is a moment so pregnant with promise. I don’t think there is a better time in decades to lean in and figure out all of the way that you can contribute to this effort.”

Read more of Pamela Newkirk’s thoughts on the diversity business here on Rotman’s Insights Hub. Below, watch her blow the lid off of the diversity industry and get real about the work you actually need to be doing.

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