What Every Presidential Candidate Should be Doing for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

There are more women, persons of color, and young people running for President than ever before. This “historic range of diversity” in the growing list of contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination could not be more timely or important. Within the next twenty months, voters will evaluate candidates on their political ideologies, voting records, character, judgement and positions on issues of importance to them, such as the economy, education, gun control, racial justice, gender equality, reproductive rights, and the environment. As an inclusive leadership strategist, I also expect to see greater scrutiny placed in how well candidates build diversely representative and inclusive campaigns.

I’ve been inside the corporations trying to get workplace diversity and inclusion right, and know how it works. If these candidates want to win and attract a diverse group of voters — remember, women, especially women of color, turned out to vote in big numbers in the midterm elections — they should embody the inclusive leadership practices that help the most progressive companies succeed. And they should hold their own teams and supporters accountable to these behaviors. Some ideas:

1. Start at the top

As a first step, catalog the current state of your platform, outreach strategy, messaging, representation within your partners, employees, and volunteers, and workplace practices. Ask yourself:

  1. Why does diversity, equity and inclusion matter to you?

  2. What does a desirable outcome look like to you?

  3. For whom are you trying to build a better country, and how do you intend to get there?

  4. How do you currently promote an inclusive and respectful culture within your team?

  5. How has your background influenced your identity and the way you engage with people, listen and learn, make decisions, etc.?

  6. What systemic barriers, such as bias at the intersection of race and gender,may impede your progress?

  7. What efforts feel representative of the vast communities you wish to represent and which fall flat, and for what reasons?

Yes, it’s a long list, but no candidate should step forward without asking themselves these tough questions. Once you have clearly defined what diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you and what outcomes you want to attain, build your action plan. Consider what you will prioritize and how you will measure progress, and assign responsibility to yourself and top leadership. While you do so, embrace the uncomfortable conversations about power imbalances and privilege, build your racial and unconscious bias knowledge, and become fluent with these diversity and inclusion terms.

2. Establish and support a diverse team

Construct a team of partners, employees and volunteers boldly representative of an inclusive governance vision and voice. This means courageously seeking folks outside your usual circles that will support you in disrupting bias and abuse everywhere that it shows up. To represent the whole, as opposed to the few, your team should also be equipped to address racism, gender inequity, sexual harassment, LGBTQ discrimination, immigration reform, voter suppression, hate crimes, reproductive rights, gun violence, criminal reform, and other issues inextricably tied to how our country reckons with matters of justice and fairness.

It’s not just a matter of bringing in a few diverse voices to decision-making tables. This also requires for people managers and teams to be capable of thriving in a diverse workplace environment. If candidates and campaign managers make the same organizational mistakes of only hiring, listening to and advancing people they know and feel comfortable with akin to the organizational failures of Fortune 500 companies, they risk alienating not just their current base but their future one as well. There’s a growing body ofempirical evidence supporting the notion that diversity and inclusion in teams drives stronger business results. Equally prevalent are stories of organizations whose performance failures can be tied to a lack of cultivating inclusive capabilities across their employee populations.

3. Pay your team fairly

Talent and genius are proportionally distributed, access and opportunity are not. At a minimum, campaigns should approach recruitment methodically, ensure fair pay practices and build in standards and systems to prevent harassment. In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was lauded for building out a new campaign recruitment playbook consisting of well honed, standardized techniques that delivered a diverse workforce. If you’re not already borrowing from these practices, this is a no brainer.

Another pain point of political campaigns are the unlivable wages that preclude significant and important populations from being part of the political process. More than a month ago we learned of sexual harassment, demeaning treatment and pay disparity claims in Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign that threatened to derail his political aspirations. And recently much attention has been placed on Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “living wage” rules whereby her staff members are paid a minimum of $52,000 a year. Recognizing that many campaign roles traditionally start in volunteer capacities or with very low salaries, every candidate, campaign leader and committee should prioritize fair pay wages practices. At a minimum, equal pay and sexual harassment policies should be built-in from the beginning.

4. Create a culture of accountability

Designing a truly effective diversity, equity and inclusion strategy is no small undertaking. In order to get it right, you need to start by getting your culture right — your organizational mindset, along with your policies and practices. It’s about setting the values and behavioral expectations of the team through structure, intentionality and methodical management, bringing in a rich mix of talent, and ensuring processes and systems are designed to produce fair outcomes for all. It’s also about ensuring that everyone on the team is clear on what is meant by diversity, equity and inclusion, and how they are each held accountable to deliver on expected outcomes. And it’s about taking a practical, problem-solving approach — acting on the data you receive; acknowledging harm and fault when something goes wrong; and making the right remedies.

A key element here is not minimizing responsibility for transgressions. Take a lesson from Starbucks CEO Kevin John compared to embattled Governor Ralph Northam. In April 2018, after two African-American men were arrested while waiting for a friend at a Starbucks, John swiftly acknowledged: “These two gentlemen did not deserve what happened, and we are accountable. I am accountable.” In contrast, Governor Northam’s statements and actions have caused him to lose the public’s trust, perhaps irreparably. Reputation insurance won’t work in an era where victims whose lives have been turned upside down and whose careers and income potential damaged are speaking up and demanding justice.

I firmly believe that the candidate best positioned to unite our politically fraught nation with a common purpose and renewed sense of collective hope will demonstrate a compelling commitment and courage to deliver on the promise of diversity, equity and inclusion. I have high hopes that multicultural women and young people, in particular, will steadily hold elected officials to these standards. If leaders fail to meet the promises of the communities who elect them, to make their lives better, then they fail to meet the requirements of the job. If they fail to engage with and listen to all communities, then they fail to meet acceptable standards of performance as determined by their job descriptions. And because Presidential elections see more young people and minority groups voting, these communities will be watching, very closely, to what presidential candidates say, who they say it to, how they say it, and with whom they say it.