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Fostering Inclusion: Setting People and Organizations Up for Success

Raquel Tamez serves as the Chief Inclusion and Engagement Officer at Charles River Associates, a publicly traded global consulting firm. In her role – a role that is new to the firm—she focuses on the firm’s DEI efforts, strengthening its culture, and expanding its reach to better serve colleagues, clients, and communities. For her, however, one part of the DEI acronym is especially central to her work.

 

“Since day one—even as I put forth my value proposition during my interview for the role—my focus has been fostering inclusion,” she says. Inclusion means ensuring that every team member feels respected, psychologically safe, valued, and empowered in their work environment. It is not just about the visibility of diversity, but rather about cultivating a holistic workplace culture that supports each individual team member to succeed and thrive.”

 

What Makes an Inclusive Culture?

According to research conducted by the Harvard Business Review, one particular trait stood out as something that separated the most inclusive organizations from the ones that were not: having a learning-oriented culture. The research also found that:

 

  • 14% of organizations rated as very or extremely diverse and inclusive had an organizational culture dominated by a learning mindset.
  • In contrast, among organizations rated as not at all or not very diverse and inclusive, only 8% reported having a learning-centric style.
  • The higher the reported level of diversity and inclusion, the higher the organizational emphasis on learning.

 

Of course, some organizations have had more success than others in fostering inclusion. As Tamez pointed out, economists, for instance, can change the world – but it is not the most diverse field. That is what Tamez and her colleagues at CRA are trying to change. More importantly, they are not just focused on building something that looks nice from the outside; instead, they are focused on ensuring that the internal culture is as supportive and inclusive as possible, from every angle.

 

“No doubt, there is an opportunity for professional services firms to increase diversity in the form of representation and identification, and I see that many – including my firm – are making inroads by innovating in areas like recruiting, retention, professional development, mentorship, and so on. But for me, my primary focus is evolving an inclusive workplace first and foremost and ensuring that team members feel a true sense of belonging,” she says.

 

“We do this in a variety of ways. We take an integrated approach and have a long-term view. Our DEI strategy is in alignment with our ESG framework. One of the four pillars of this framework is Employee Empowerment, and another is Community Advancement. Part of my responsibility as the CIEO is to design and develop programs and initiatives under these two pillars.”

 

Program objectives under these pillars include building a robust, diverse pipeline that will, in turn, help build and support an inclusive work environment and dynamic culture. “We have developed multiple internship programs for students at distinct levels; we partner with organizations like KIPP-MA and Questbridge; as well as Howard University on their American Economic Association Summer Program. We also proudly launched our inaugural All-Access Scholarship Program with $5,000 scholarships being awarded to dozens of students studying STEM, business, and economics.”

 

Inclusion may not be the most “visible” aspect of DEI, but according to Tamez, it might be the most pivotal.

 

“There are organizations that have spent lots of money and time to successfully attract and hire diverse talent but since they have wholly failed to build and ensure an inclusive workplace in the first instance, that diverse and dynamic talent has – and will continue to – walk out the door.”

 

The Benefits of Inclusion

Inclusion is not just a good thing to do—it’s good business. Research from the Wall Street Journal found that companies with a DEI executive leader perform significantly better than those without a formal DEI leader. On a scale of scores from 1 to 100:

 

  • Customer satisfaction: Companies with a DEI leader scored 51.9 vs. 47.7 for those without
  • Employee engagement & development:4 with DEI leader vs. 47.7 without
  • Innovation:0 with DEI leader vs. 46.9 without
  • Social responsibility: 0 with DEI leader vs. 46.1 without
  • Overall effectiveness: 1 with DEI leader vs. 46.4 without.

 

This aligns with other research on the topic, which indicates that inclusive (and learning-oriented) cultures excel across the board. A learning culture tends to focus on openness, creativity, and exploration—the same values central to an inclusive culture. In turn, those same traits are heavily associated with innovation, progress, efficiency, growth, and other positives that all companies hope to achieve.

 

Despite this, many companies still have not invested fully in DEI. The average tenure for a top DEI executive is just around three years—and that high turnover rate often indicates a lack of real support from companies that hire for DEI roles. DEI isn’t a trend; it’s something that requires significant commitment and buy-in, and DEI executives need agency and authority, a team, a robust budget, and the full force of organizational support to enact change.

 

Building an Inclusive Foundation

Simply hiring a DEI leader is not going to resolve all of an organization’s DEI issues and culture challenges. Similarly, a check-the-box approach for diversity in hiring is not going to magically create inclusion where there previously was none. As Tamez explains, it requires real investment and long-term planning to build an inclusive culture today and a diverse pipeline for tomorrow.

 

“There is talent out there; lots of diverse talent. It is a matter of being a bit disruptive and certainly creative and looking where you have not looked before. It’s about being intentional and steadfast,” she says. A more expansive, long-term strategy can help not just in hiring mid- and high-level roles today, but also in building a pipeline starting at the high school level. “It is not realistic for a company to think that they can go to an educational institution for the first time, recruit from an affinity-based student organization and expect those students to immediately connect and choose the company as their employer of choice. There must be skin in the game. Those companies need to show up consistently and in meaningful ways. They need to nurture relationships.”

 

It is that final idea – showing up – that underlies so much of this work. DEI work requires much more than signing a pledge or attending a job fair or even establishing an employee resource group. It requires doing the work, especially the “unglamorous” work – the “behind-the-scenes” work as well as investing the time to connect with diverse groups and communities and thoughtfully evolving and enhancing corporate culture to ensure lasting results.

 

The process toward a truly inclusive work environment is not solely a bottom-up or a top-down endeavor; it is a collaborative mission that calls for concerted efforts at every echelon of an organization. Inclusion is not confined to labels, months, or special events; its impact reverberates from the everyday attitudes and actions of individuals, whether during Hispanic Heritage Month or any other time of the year. The beauty of inclusion lies in its universality and its power to foster innovation by celebrating the unique attributes that each of us brings to the table. So, as we strive to build more equitable classrooms, workplaces, and communities, let us remember that inclusion is not just a goal but an ongoing journey, one that requires participation, engagement, and commitment from everyone to be truly transformative and transcendental.

 

By Ruben Moreno

 

About the Author

After a 25-year career in Corporate Human Resources and HR Executive Search, Ruben Moreno and his two partners co-founded Blue Rock Search based on a simple but ambitious vision of creating a firm that would “Change Lives and Organizations One Relationship at a Time.”  Ruben leads the Blue Rock HR & Diversity Executive Search practice specializing in the identification, assessment, recruitment, and onboarding of Chief HR Officers and Chief Diversity Officers and their respective teams — inclusive of leaders in Talent Acquisition, Total Rewards, HRBP’s, Learning & OD, HR Technology, HR Operations, and HR Analytics. Ruben has helped place hundreds of HR Executives and built deep relationships within the CHRO community across multiple industry verticals. His clients consider him a trusted partner who takes the time to understand their business and add value beyond executive search.

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