EngagementDiversity & InclusionHRD Thought Leaders on D&I in 2020

HRD Thought Leaders on D&I in 2020

Gathering perspectives on one of the most pressing issues faced by leaders this year.

In this special end-of-year series, our panel of renowned HR experts and influencers dissect some of the most pressing issues brought to light by recent events. In this edition, D&I in 2020 goes under the microscope.


2020 has been a revolutionary year for HR. From strategic overhauls to technological transformation, additional visibility plus new demands for support, leaders in every sector have experienced significant change, with progress only set to continue in the time ahead.

That said, not every leader has had an identical experience; regional differences, organizational culture and employee needs are all variable factors, meaning that each leader essentially has a tailored set of challenges and opportunities to respond to.

To that end, learning from peers, picking up actionable tips and discovering first-hand experiences are vital to refining strategies for 2021.

Jill Christensen

Employee engagement expert and best-selling author – @JillSpeaker

When people hear the term ‘Diversity & Inclusion,’ they often think of skin color, but it goes so much further than that. It means embracing varying styles, educations, backgrounds, opinions, feelings, approaches, solutions, and more.

A great place to start? Stop hiring yourself. To successfully build on D&I in 2020, we must fill our workplaces with people who are unlike us first before we can even have the opportunity to listen to alternative thoughts.

Debra Corey

Author, speaker and employee engagement expert – @DebraCoreyRebel

D&I in 2020 has quickly moved to the top of the list of priorities for most companies, reflecting a culture for change in this important area. Companies have come to understand the difference it can make to their business and to their people and are bravely stepping up to the challenge and beginning to address it in ways never before considered.

There is still considerable work to be done, however, starting with changes in mindsets, but with leading companies boldly and publically making promises and commitments, I believe that this area will continue to change. The question and challenge will be the pace of change, which requires a deeper understanding, raised awareness, and more meaningful and lasting movement throughout the diversity, inclusion and belonging journey.

Chuck Heaton

People & culture expert and senior HR consultant

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2020 has seen the biggest focus on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion since the United States civil rights movement of the 1960s. Companies have been challenged with stating their commitment to DE&I and then following those commitments up with an actual strategy. The hottest job opportunity in the HR function currently is DE&I Leader for an organization.

DE&I cover a multitude of areas and companies need to understand where they are, and what concrete steps they can take to improve their conditions. 2021 will see upheaval at companies that do not follow through on their commitments made in summer of 2020.

Jon Ingham

Author and consultant – @JonIngham

With D&I in 2020, many companies realized they had to dramatically raise the priority they have been giving to diversity. Actually, we’ve been seeing for quite some time that the actions most businesses have been taking haven’t been enough to seriously impact broader perspectives on equity for various disadvantaged groups.

I think more organizations are now willing to take more radical approaches to diversity, inclusion and belonging which will really move the needle on organizational make-up, including at the senior level, and also the ability of every employee to be able to contribute in the best way they can. I’d expect this to be a major strategic ambition for organizations that want to succeed through their people in 2021.

Heidi Lynn Kurter

Leadership expert, workplace culture consultant and Forbes senior contributor – @HeidiLynneCo

With the amount of social unrest witnessed recently, companies quickly learned the importance of creating a stronger focus on D&I in 2020. Prior to this year, companies were known for talking about diversity and inclusion but not practicing what they preached. For example, when BLM became a topic after the death of George Floyd, employees turned on their own employers who weren’t cultivating a truly diverse workplace even though they promoted it as a top value.

Employees want transparency from their leaders. Furthermore, BIPOC employees want to have their voices heard. The companies that are having the most success in cultivating a diverse and inclusive workplace are the ones who are actively seeking feedback from their underrepresented employees and using that feedback to improve. In 2021, companies will need to be vulnerable on where they’re lacking and partner with their underrepresented employees to change job description language, website layouts, job posting locations, benefits offered and training opportunities to address biases, to name a few, if they want to attract diverse candidates.

Furthermore, to address the current workplace culture, leadership will need to work hard to create more discussions around what’s happening in the world, address comments and behaviors that are disrespectful, racist, sexist, and so on to underrepresented employees as well as invest in training to get everyone on the same page. Furthermore, HR will need to redefine policies and stand firm on addressing those who disrespect those policies. 2021 will be about catching up to correct everything they’ve let slide before and coming to terms with the fact that they may have to let go their most senior or skilled employee due to their inability to respect their new culture.

Janine Dennis

Chief Innovation Officer, Talent Think Innovations – @MzJanineNicole

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging strategy for 2021 ought to be backed with a curiosity, interest, and focus on impacting social justice. For decades we have treated D&I as a programmatic leg of HR strategy and/or the C-Suite. Now we are concluding a year of health crisis, civil unrest and an unraveling of societal fabrics and frameworks globally.

These shifts require organizations to be dedicated to more than shifting the numbers and creating more inclusive environments. The call to action is to impact diversity and inclusion by advocating and investing in BIPOC communities and initiatives that will create a more equitable society.

I expect to see an increase in spending on training, development, and operational changes that will assist organizations in not only attracting a diverse cadre of people, but dedicated budget for educating non-BIPOC employees as well as reprogramming the work environment so there is a more genuine sense of belonging and understanding for BIPOC people in the workplace.

Terence Mauri

Global disruption thinker, author and speaker – @TerenceMauri

Why is it that only five percent of nations are led by women, there are only three CEOs on the Fortune 500, and less than three percent of CEOs on the FTSE 100 Index are women? It’s impossible to harness innovation and trust if the whole range of perspectives in decision-making, customers and the workforce are ignored in organisations.

The renewed scrutiny on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace has been enough to fill any HR and business leader’s agenda this year. The pandemic has highlighted that the current leadership model is broken, and has provided an opportunity to reset in three ways:

  • Differences
  • Divergent thinking
  • Diversity

Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance. Belonging is dancing like no-one is watching.

The key takeaway: Organizations that are the most trusted in 2021 and beyond will capture the most value when difference, divergent thinking and diversity is not just a set of beliefs, but is prioritised alongside growth and profitability.

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