Building a More Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive Workplace

Virtual Town Hall Insights
North America CHRO Community

Cynthia Burks




Steve Pemberton




Denise Reed Lamoreaux

Global Chief Diversity Officer



DeRetta Rhodes

Senior Vice President, Human Resources

Atlanta Braves


September 2020

This year started with promise of a new decade and new opportunities, but the escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic, quickly followed by a worldwide movement to fight racial injustice, has presented new personal and professional challenges for all.

Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in the workplace are inseparable priorities that are now at the forefront of conversations for business leaders, as calls to communicate plans for equity have reached a crescendo. 

While finding the silver lining can be difficult at times, working to become anti-racist has been a galvanizing force. As leaders of people and culture, CHROs are often looked to for guidance in trying times, and this year has demonstrated the true importance of leadership, communication and openness to change.

On September 15th, over 300 HR leaders joined a North America Town Hall discussing diversity, equity and inclusion and the ongoing mission to make their organizations anti-racist. Prior to a panel discussion on the present and future of DE&I, Steve Pemberton, CHRO at Workhuman presented on the state of DE&I in our country and how the workplace has the power to be a healing place.

Cynthia Burks, SVP and CHRO at Genentech, moderated a panel discussion that included Pemberton, Denise Reed Lamoreaux, global chief diversity officer at Atos, and DeRetta Rhodes, senior vice president of human resources for the Atlanta Braves.This conversation provided insight into two central questions: What now and why now?

The Workplace as a Healing Ground

Diversity, equity and inclusion have been constructs for decades, but this year is the first where organizations are being held to account by employees and constituents to make the workplace anti-racist and to fight for social justice.

One way to work towards a more inclusive workplace is to start with recognition.


“There is a short walk from diverse perspectives, to innovation,” said Pemberton.

Diversifying is the first rule of investing, and investing in people through ensuring diverse perspectives are shared and recognized has positive outcomes in talent acquisition, retention, and employee sentiment and performance. When employees are recognized, it pays dividends back to the company.

You can draw a straight line from how invested employees are to the culture of gratitude and how the organization advances efforts in diversity, equity and inclusion.

Addressing bias and racism in the workplace should not wait until a class action lawsuit is filed, and ongoing efforts to eliminate microaggressions and both conscious and unconscious bias must be prioritized and not simply addressed in virtual training.

A “best practice” implies there is an answer and is comparative to others' experience. Instead, Pemberton suggests “next practices” to implement. Starting with recognizing the whole human and creating a more connected workplace. Additionally, leaders across the organization must have ownership and accountability to proactively identify and disrupt microaggressions before they happen.

What now?

People assume that because of their profession, HR leaders know more and have the answers about how to best address DE&I. Organizations need to have a culture where HR has the power to challenge mindsets, and buy-in must come from all levels of leadership to communicate throughout. It is not an either/or, it is a both/and; there is a degree of initiation that needs to come from HR as they are the thread connecting leadership and providing direction. 

HR should be a voice that mentors, encourages and starts the conversation, but also allows others to have a voice. That all starts with listening, and while, by necessity, we are all multi-taskers, it’s important to be in the moment and not think about our next response while engaged in these important conversations.

Transparency is also key, and for employees and constituents to have trust in an organization, tangible goals on DE&I must be communicated. 

What is your organization doing to materially address and affect diversity, equity and inclusion?

Among their efforts, Genentech, an American biotechnology corporation is ensuring they have diversity in their clinical trials which treat life-threatening conditions. Connecting their work to the business and sharing data is helping them create a more comprehensive end-to-end strategy.

Atos, an IT service management company has created “Talking In Circles” sessions that focus on a particular topic, in order to keep people connected and engaged in impactful conversations. These talks have covered things like racism, inclusion and have been effective in engaging the workforce on important topics. 

The Atlanta Braves have evolved their processes and learned from their DE&I counsel that people feel more comfortable expressing concerns in small group sessions, which will be facilitated throughout the organization. This has been eye opening for members of their leadership teams as employee sentiment is now being expressed in more authentic and direct ways.

“We’re getting back to the concept that we need to create space where people can say what they need to say, it’s not just a survey, it’s real conversations that allow them to say what is and is not working,” said one panelist.

Why now?

When discussing what is different or unique about the world currently that can be leveraged to propel dramatic change forward, Pemberton said, “The depth of racism. That’s different.”

“Talk to elders in our families and they would tell you they would never have imagined their grandchildren would have the same battles they did. We’ve always believed, and the elders always said, ‘Work hard, go to school, do the right things and society will embrace you.’ That still doesn’t stop people from profiling people of color,” he continued.

“So, why hope? We are also seeing for the first time, a nation and younger generation that make up our workforces that will not accept this idea that people they know can be subjected to this kind of treatment, and they will make decisions about where they will plant their career flag based on where the workplace stands on these matters. Seeing what it looks like and what it means to be an ally, we need a lot more allies. As an African American, my people and culture have made it clear where we stand, and have been as eloquent as possible, it’s not a question where we stand. It has a lot more to do with where allies stand.”

Acknowledging there is work to be done is the first step, and gone are the days where discussing DE&I in vague conversations will suffice as “progress.” Discussing and communicating the actions that can be taken and a clear roadmap for progress are essential in advancing the mission to become anti-racist.

“HR needs to be the one to start the conversation, but not do all the work; it needs to come from all levels of the organization,” said one panelist. 

The pandemic and its impact both on healthcare and education are also race issues which must be addressed in a way that has not yet been considered. The social contract between employers and employees is being re-negotiated as the workplace has become a social safety net. Employees both need assistance in new ways and also expect action in social justice causes.

Ending on a hopeful note, Pemberton said, “These are the kinds of conversations we should be having. The fact that people joined this session is another reason for hope and optimism.”


by CHROs, for CHROs


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