The Future of DEI: How to sustain organizational change


On December 2, 2020, we hosted the second and final event in our virtual 2020 Elevating Lives Series with a program entitled “The Future of DEI: How to sustain organizational change.” This summer, we witnessed an unprecedented number of organizations release public statements condemning racism and promising action in support of Black Lives Matter and social justice. We applaud those who have taken a public stance, and as the nation grapples with systemic inequities and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we emphasize the importance of holding ourselves accountable to promises of action and change. That is why we invited leaders in the field to share how they are delivering on promises of racial justice and corporate social responsibility.

Beth Chandler, YW Boston’s President & CEO, opened the event by welcoming the audience and providing context on how YW Boston is helping organizations transform diversity, equity, and inclusion goals into tangible organizational change. The conversation included:

  • Marianne Harrison, John Hancock President & CEO
  • Sara Prince, McKinsey & Company partner

Elevating Lives 2020: Delivering on Promises of Racial Justice is an event series featuring two virtual events focused on creating change, both internally and beyond the workplace. Thank you to all who made our event possible, including our sponsors, speakers, and attendees. We invite our community to learn more by viewing a recording of our event, as well as our top takeaways, below.

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Key Takeaways from The Future of DEI: How to sustain organizational change

The conversation has advanced from Diversity to encompass both Equity and Inclusion.

Sara Prince continued the program by presenting findings from a handful of McKinsey & Company publications and reports, including Diversity Wins, the third report in a McKinsey series investigating the business case for diversity, following Why diversity matters (2015) and Delivering through diversity (2018). Sara explained that Diversity relates to who is represented in the workplace, Equity refers to how we ensure that identity is not predictive of opportunity, and Inclusion encompasses how the workforce experiences the workplace. Understanding these concepts and establishing shared language and frameworks is key to successful dialogues and planning. “Establish a language in the organization about what is inclusive leadership, what is equity, what is diversity, so that people have a starting place for this conversation, and then creating spaces for that,” explained Sara.

The business case remains as compelling as ever.

Sara expanded on the importance of each component of DEI by stating that, “What we see in the data is the importance of each of those [diversity, equity, and inclusion.] What we see in the business case remains as compelling as it was two years ago, and the two years before that, and the two years before that.” The report finds that ethnically diverse companies are 36% more likely to outperform less diverse organizations, while gender diverse companies are 25% more likely to outperform less diverse organizations. What’s more, employees are 47% more likely to stay with their company when they perceive it to be inclusive, a significant finding for organizations grappling with turnover costs.

Measurable actions are a key part of successful DEI plans.

“We get uncomfortable putting numbers on these topics [of DEI], but the companies that are doing well are getting really crisp about setting those goals,” said Sara Prince during the event. Common pitfalls to the successful implementation of DEI initiatives include:

  • Aspiration or case for change is generic or “copy-cat” and not specific to the organization’s needs, context, and environment.
  • No clear goals or arbitrary goals set without analytical rigor or understanding of underlying DEI challenges.
  • Letting “one thousand flowers bloom” with no plan to learn and prune. In other words, attempting to implement all and any DEI initiative.
  • Thinking training is a “cure-all” rather than a part of a broader set of solutions.
  • DEI becomes a “flavor of the month” and is not owned and consistently advanced by a broad set of leaders.

When it comes to leadership, Marianne Harrison had some advice to share with fellow business leaders, “It is really hard as a leader to not have all of the answers. People look up to you and expect you to have all the answers. But I am just transparent. I tell people I am not always sure of what the right thing to say is, I don’t want to say something wrong, but that shouldn’t stop me from talking about issues. People are fearful of saying the wrong thing…[but] if you mess up, just say sorry.”

Resources provided by our panelists


Need help advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace?
Both Marianne Harrison and Sara Prince spoke about why organizations must prioritize internal dialogue in order to build and follow through on data-oriented action plans. YW Boston’s InclusionBoston is designed to guide partner organizations through each step of this DE&I journey, including assessment, dialogue, plan development, follow up, and evaluation. Click here to learn more about our diversity, equity, and inclusion services or to request a consultation.


About YW Boston 

As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Through our DE&I services—InclusionBoston and LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and youth programming, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed. 

During this time, YW Boston is working to provide organizations with digital workshops and resources to help them better understand the challenges faced by their employees. As part of that work, we are helping organizations become socially connected while staying physically distant. For more information, please contact Sheera Bornstein at