Investors looking at diversity beyond the boardroom
Corporate secretaries and other governance officials are increasingly involved in helping promote diversity on boards – but professionals at the Society for Corporate Governance’s recent conference outlined ways they can also improve inclusion within their own teams.
The professionals – Gina Merritt-Epps, senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary for South Jersey Industries; Jung-Kyu McCann, principal corporate and governance counsel at Apple; and Arden Phillips, corporate secretary and associate general counsel with United States Steel Corporation – presented a series of tips for enhancing diversity in the general counsel and corporate secretary office.
For example, they suggested setting up internship programs, supporting outside diversity and inclusion organizations, creating affinity groups for employees with shared interests, using mentoring and offering on-campus interviews, particularly at historically black colleges and universities.
Other suggestions included:
- Create initiatives at the highest levels of the corporation directed at achieving a clear goal and steps to get there
- Build coalitions with other companies, which may involve hosting job fairs and creating networking opportunities both within the company and around a broader community
- Create a supportive environment by sponsoring periodic ‘brown-bag lunches’ on diversity and inclusion with participation from senior management
- Place an equal focus on retaining as well as recruiting diverse talent.
Phillips pointed to steps such as making sure there is a suitable tone at the top, implementing a policy statement explaining why diversity and inclusion are important to the company, and implementing diversity education. It’s important to dispel the idea that people are being accused of not being fair when they hire employees, he said.
Merritt-Epps also emphasized the importance of having a structure to diversity and inclusion efforts so that people in the company don’t view the initiative as ‘just a gripe session’. Having positive programs, plans and projects such as community service can help avoid this problem, she said.
Outside of their own offices, corporate secretaries can use portals to help educate boards on diversity and inclusion, such as by explaining how many shareholder proposals have been filed regarding gender pay gaps, Merritt-Epps told attendees.