Business people working in the office

Business people working in the office.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) has been a hot topic in business for the past several years but gained more attention as social justice issues took center stage across the nation and the world last year. But what does it mean for your business and why should you devote your time and resources to this pursuit? Read on for four good reasons (and more) to get on board.

First, do the right thing. As business leaders, we make decisions and take actions every day. We strive to do the right thing for our people, our companies, and our communities. We should view DE&I through that same basic lens. It is the right thing to do in every respect. The end.

Second, it’s a reality. Demographics of the region are changing rapidly, and you need to focus on DE&I to support your workforce and your customers. The Northern Virginia Regional Commission reports that we have 2.5 million people in this region and ours is one of the fastest growing and most diverse communities in the United States. 

The commission also reports, “Over the past couple of decades, Northern Virginia has experienced a major transformation driven by the growth of racial minorities and the foreign-born populations.” 

Finally, the commission notes that in 2000, Northern Virginia’s minority population was 34.6%, but by 2019, the region was nearly a minority-majority, with a minority population of 49.7%. Our region’s rate of increase among the minority population is much greater than that of the United States and Virginia. The region is now 10 or 11 percentage points higher than Virginia and the United States. 

Third, it’s good for your bottom line.

McKinsey & Co.’s May 2020 report, “Diversity Wins,” demonstrates that “the relationship between diversity on executive teams and the likelihood of financial outperformance has strengthened over time. These findings emerge from our largest data set so far, encompassing 15 countries and more than 1,000 large companies.” McKinsey’s findings show clear evidence of improved performance based on increased gender and ethnic diversity in executive teams.

Fourth, you cannot win the war for talent without it.

Embracing diversity, equity and inclusion best practices is imperative for recruiting and retaining the best talent, particularly now that recruiting is harder than before the pandemic. Many jobs are going unfilled, especially in hospitality. According to a recent S&P Global Market Intelligence article, “economists say this brewing labor crisis threatens the economic recovery as lost sales start to pile up.”

And it gets worse.

In May, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that at the end of March there were 8.1 million open jobs in the U.S., the highest amount since the bureau began tracking such data in December 2000. And in its May jobs report, the National Federation of Independent Business reported that a record 44% of small-business owners had job openings they could not fill in April, up from 24% in April 2020 and up from the average of 22% over the past 48 years.

A new trend is also emerging in which employees, stressed out from the pandemic, are quitting jobs and leaving companies that do not value them as people or who want them to return to the office. According to Prudential Financials’ Pulse Survey of the American Worker, one in four workers is planning to look for opportunities with a new employer once the threat of the pandemic has subsided.

Employers need to work harder to attract and retain the best talent, and embracing a culture of DE&I is now more than nice to have, it is vital.

Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce is leading on DE&I

We are proud to report that the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce embraced this important focus area in 2020 and formed a DE&I board of advisors. Our goal was to recruit top regional leaders who could advise our executive committee and leadership on how to make progress on DE&I in our region. We are grateful that this group of outstanding leaders came together over the past year and produced a set of recommendations, which are being included in the Chamber’s upcoming revised strategic plan. The recommendations focus on these four  areas:

  1. Mentoring, Support and Recognition

  2. Opportunities to Grow Diverse Businesses

  3. Advocacy and Policy Development

  4. DEI Relationships and Representation

While we are proud of the progress we have made in the past year, much more work lies ahead.  We look forward to helping drive progress in the region.

Best Practices: How can your company take action to support DE&I?

Ownership starts at the top. Your CEO must communicate personal support for the efforts to ensure that all leaders embrace it and that all employees see top leadership engaged. Also, this cannot be the sole responsibility of Human Resources.

Benchmark externally. Understand how your company is doing compared to others in your industry and other companies in general.

Benchmark internally. Ask your employees for their feedback. Find out how you are doing and where your areas of opportunity exist and then continue to measure at least annually.

Measure leaders and incorporate specific goals in the performance management process. People naturally do things that are in their goals and that their overall performance will be measured against. This could include their goals for recruitment, promotion and development.

Build and sustain a DE&I council. Make it cross-functional and employee-driven with a focus on business results.

Build and promote an inclusive environment through employee resource groups on a variety of topic areas from women to LGBTQ to African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic/LatinX, Veterans and others.

Establish education and development opportunities across all platforms on DE&I to include webinars, book clubs, speakers and training.

Two Examples of DE&I Best Practices in Action: 

Wells Fargo:

Wells Fargo is demonstrating these best practices with priorities and goals set by its Enterprise Diversity and Inclusion Council, led by CEO and President Charles W. Scharf and composed of leaders across the company. The company has also established diversity and inclusion councils at its business and international regional levels to help implement programs and initiatives. In addition, Team Member Networks are an integral part of Wells Fargo’s commitment to building a diverse and inclusive culture. They are a place for employees to connect, leverage, learn, build their skills and affect business outcomes.Team Member Networks collaborate with key internal partners, including Human Resources, Public Affairs, Marketing and Corporate Communications, to implement diversity and inclusion in every aspect of Wells Fargo’s business. 

Diversity and inclusion leaders across the company help to strategically implement inclusive practices and behaviors. And finally, to create accountability and measure progress, diversity and inclusion metrics are integrated into monthly business review meetings. 

Cox Communications:

At Cox Communications, and through its parent company Cox Enterprises, the firm strives to empower its people, clients, and communities to come together and celebrate each other’s unique abilities and perspectives. Inclusion is an essential part of both Cox’s culture and business strategy.

Cox believes diversity is limitless, embodying all human experiences and truths. Unity, not uniformity, is its aim and that to achieve unity, equality and inclusion is necessary. Cox has formed the Actions Speak task force, a group of nearly three dozen leaders from across its businesses tasked with building a more diverse and inclusive environment internally. The team is looking to improve the diversity of executives, programs to grow businesses owned by people of color, and training roadmaps that will help employees expand their understanding of inclusion and diversity. Building an open, inclusive workplace is a journey, and Cox recognizes that there is still plenty of road ahead. But the company is proud of its progress, including its recent inclusion in Diversity Inc.’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity and among Forbes’ 2021 Best Employers for Diversity.  

“Diversity and inclusion has been at the core of Cox Communications’ mission and values for more than 50 years,” Cox president Pat Esser said. “I’m proud of the work we continue to do to foster diversity with our people, customers, suppliers and in the community.” 

To share your organization's best practices in DE&I, please contact Julie Coons, CEO of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, at

About the Authors

Kathryn Falk is Vice President, Northern Virginia at Cox Communications, and Co-Chair of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Board of Advisors. 

John A. Allen is D.C. Region Bank President at Wells Fargo, and Co-Chair of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Board of Advisors.

Amber Lewis is an intern at Cox Communications and a student at Norfolk State University. 


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