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Inclusive Workforce Development

Strategic Dialogue



  • Moderated by Shelley Zalis, this conversation tackled the topic of inclusive workforce development from a wide range of angles, including system-level change that is needed, the challenges facing private sector corporations, effective models of personal leadership and accountability, and the importance of aligning efforts on diversity and inclusion. 

“When it comes to uncomfortable conversations, whose comfort are we prioritizing? Because if you think of many people living at the margins, living with intersectionality, they’re having these conversations every day […] It’s a matter of us making room at the table,” Dr. Angela Jackson

  • Hiring practices and the development and assessment of skills were a critical component of the conversation. Angela Jackson pointed out that current trends relating to the future of work are disproportionately disadvantaging Black, Latinx, indigenous, and other marginalized populations. Therefore, it is key to examine the systems shaping hiring practices—especially the ways in which skills are assessed—and support the development of upskilling, continuous learning solutions, and other alternatives to the current “credential-based” system. Systemic inequities in the future of work also necessitate ensuring universal social protections and supercharging efforts to expand access to relevant skills of the future, according to Haifa Jamal Al-Lail.
  • The conversation explored the potential of radical new ideas already underway to ensure greater inclusivity in hiring and skills development. Joseph Kenner explained the open hiring model that Greyston Bakery has championed, wherein job applicants need only fill out a one-page sheet with their name, email, and phone number, and when a job becomes available, they automatically get it with no questions asked. While deploying these practices at scale is a challenge for a small business like Greyston, the speakers agreed that the model represents a compelling avenue for inclusivity.

“As leaders, we have to set the example—not just acknowledging our own biases, but inviting feedback,” Joseph Kenner

  • In looking at the challenges that private sector companies face, one difficulty that was cited by Nicole Monson is the need to address inclusivity in both the consumer-facing side of the business and in their employee-facing side. Stephenie Foster  added that many corporations may have one set of standards and practices at their global headquarters, but it may be an entirely different story further down their supply chain or in their many regional offices. With the sheer scope of this effort, Archana Subramanian stated that sometimes the challenge for large companies is simply in balancing all of the many aspects that go into ensuring inclusivity.
  • An important caveat the speakers brought up was that inclusivity requires more than just balanced representation and hiring in the workforce. For one, women and minorities need to have an equitable seat at the table for decision-making and policy-making, as stressed by Foster and Jamal Al-Lail. Moreover, Zalis and Subramanian added that there needs to be a sustained focus on retention and the challenging, but crucial, work that goes into retaining a diverse workforce. To that end, Subramanian stressed that the onus should not lie with Black employees or other traditionally-marginalized populations; it is up to everyone else to get themselves up to speed on the lived experiences of their colleagues, and to act in a way that reflects that understanding. 
  • Key for both inclusive hiring and retention, the speakers coalesced around the ideas of “belonging” and of “action-oriented empathy.” Kathryn Dovey emphasized that one of the best ways to ensure genuine empathy is to gather the stories of people’s diverse lived realities and share those with wider audiences. Moreover, a more empathetic society would ensure people feel more comfortable applying for positions that might otherwise give them pause due to systems of inequity. 

“We don’t always spend enough time on intersectionality. We sometimes fall into the habit of looking at diversity issues as siloed issues,” Kathryn Dovey

  • Taking a global perspective, it is also important to consider the ways that norms differ across other cultures and societies. Speaking to her own experience in Saudi Arabia, Jamal Al-Lail underscored the vital role of pressing for policy reform and intercultural exchange as a foundation for realizing greater inclusivity in the workforce.
  • Beyond the systems, policies, and initiatives that organizations deploy, many important outcomes are shaped by effective leadership, or lack thereof, making it essential to examine what makes for better leaders. For Dovey and Jackson, this means that leaders must make a more genuine effort to hear from those who are living with intersectionality, and embrace their diverse backgrounds. Leaders must also have honest conversations with themselves about the biases they bring to the table, explicitly or implicitly, according to Monson. Speaking from his leadership experience, Kenner added that a crucial corollary to recognizing implicit bias is the need to create a culture where employees feel at ease in providing honest, vocal feedback.
  • Recognizing the importance of empathetic, transparent leadership, Zalis noted that accountability starts at the leadership level. Leaders can be held accountable on these issues in a number of ways, according to the participants. Foster referred to the role consumers and employees can play in asking tough questions to ensure that organizations are authentically matching talk to action. Similarly, Jackson expressed the need to mobilize financial investment towards diversity and inclusion; impact investors like New Profit can put money behind innovators who are creating innovative future of work solutions and leading diverse teams. Finally, the speakers pointed to the basic need for measurements and timelines when it comes to accountability on retention and belonging.

Key takeaways & next steps:

  • Organizations need to re-evaluate the ways in which they assess skills in order to be more inclusive of a wider range of backgrounds, skill sets, and experiences.
  • Leaders need to put as much emphasis on creating an environment that retains diverse, intersectional talent as they do on fostering inclusive hiring practices, and these practices must be measurable and scaled across all aspects of the organization’s work. 
  • Policymakers and organizations should align on the social protections and avenues for skills development that are needed to ensure inclusivity amid future of work trends that reinforce pre-existing inequities.



Session Speakers