MBN USA enjoyed an opportunity to speak one-on-one with Elizabeth A. Campbell, partner and chief diversity officer at Houston-based Andrews Kurth LLP. She shared invaluable insight on such topics as the challenges facing CDOs, the impact of diversity and inclusion and the realities influencing our nation’s evolving demographics.
MBN USA: What year did you join Andrews Kurth and what were you doing prior to joining the firm?
Elizabeth A. Campbell: I joined Andrews Kurth in February 2007. I am a labor and employment attorney and human resources professional by background. My previous roles include serving as vice president of employment relations and corporate diversity officer for ARAMARK in Philadelphia, and vice president of human resources for GlobeGround North America in Great Neck, NY.
MBN: What are your responsibilities as CDO at Andrews Kurth?
EC: My role as the partner and chief diversity officer at Andrews Kurth includes implementing the diversity and inclusion components of our firm’s strategic business plan. I report directly to our managing partner, Bob Jewell, and serve on the following firm committees: diversity, professional development, women’s initiative team, associates and hiring. As a partner in the firm, I am strategically involved in business development, client relations and community development. I speak frequently about diversity and inclusion, leadership, personal branding and employment law.
MBN: What are some of the greatest challenges faced by most CDOs in corporate America?
EC: Perhaps the greatest challenge is getting buy-in from key stakeholders. Most importantly, an effective CDO must have the buy-in and support from the executive leadership within the organization. After that, mid-level managers are the second most important group. Absent support from these two levels, it would be very difficult for a CDO to achieve any degree of tangible success with a diversity and inclusion strategy.
MBN: What are some of the successes that you would attribute to diversity and inclusion initiatives?
EC: From a workforce standpoint, we have certainly seen greater representation of historically underrepresented groups, including at more senior levels within organizations. This advancement is due, in part, to a recognition by executive leadership that the demographic changes in the general population affect current employees, potential employees, customers, vendors and other stakeholders and warrant a corresponding change in the demographics of organizational leadership. Further successes would include a greater and more visible focus on inclusion as part of a broad strategic effort to not only increase workforce diversity, but to include people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives into decision-making and other workplace processes. The desire and ability to build diverse teams flows from having diverse representation, and research shows that these teams are more effective and generate more positive financial performance than less diverse teams. Finally, I am encouraged by the growing number of organizations, including Andrews Kurth, that have adopted inclusive HR policies and practices that go beyond the minimum coverage required by law and extend workplace policies and benefits to members of the LGBT community.
MBN: Diversity and inclusion seem to be popular buzz words these days. What are some of the advantages for companies that embrace the diversity and inclusion strategy? What are some of the drawbacks or disadvantages for companies that don’t include diversity and inclusion in their short and long term strategies?
EC: Diversity and inclusion is a business strategy. The advantage of having a diversity and inclusion component in a business strategy is that the organization will position itself to realize greater business success. Conversely, the failure of a company to recognize the value that diversity and inclusion brings to an organization could prevent that organization from ever achieving its short-term or long-term goals. As the late and great Dr. R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr. would say; “Diversity is neither good nor bad, it is inevitable.”
MBN: How do companies without diversity and inclusion initiatives get started on creating and rolling them out?
EC: You start with a vision and/or a mission. Ideally, a company would examine its existing vision or mission and related strategic objectives and incorporate elements of diversity and inclusion as appropriate. If an organization does not have a clearly articulated vision or mission, for example if the company were newly-formed, the organization should develop a vision and/or mission, and incorporate key elements of diversity and inclusion. An important part of this process will be to involve representative employees and gather relevant information — for example through employee surveys and focus groups. Finally, another key component is communication. A well-developed strategy that is not effectively and broadly communicated to key stakeholders could suffer in the execution, which is often the most challenging phase. I suggest that an organization be realistic in terms of time and scope as it undertakes this process, which should be viewed as a change process — one that may be resisted, if not actively thwarted, by some employees and leaders within the organization.
MBN: In your opinion, what effect will diversity and inclusion have on the U.S. workforce in 2020?
EC: As the demographic shifts continue and historically under-represented groups combine to form the majority of the U.S. population, I see the potential for a lot of tension in the workplace. However, that tension can be harnessed to produce amazing organizational results through the effective implementation of a diversity and inclusion strategy. Inclusive workplace policies and practices will help foster effective teams that will drive organizational success. This success will not be achieved by accident, however. It will take informed and deliberate efforts by forward-thinking leaders, like the diversity and inclusion champions present in many of our top organizations today.
MBN: What advice would you like to share with your fellow diversity and inclusion practitioners?
EC: We need to stay the course and not be discouraged by the voices of some who would say our jobs are of limited duration and value as the demographic changes are reflected in the workplace. CDOs are business leaders who bring a unique set of competencies to contribute to organizational success. I look forward to joining my colleagues as we continue to drive success for future generations