StovallAt IMA’s 2021 Annual Conference & Expo, to be held virtually June 14-16, well-known speaker Janet Stovall will share insights on the important topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). Stovall is a DE&I pragmatist and senior client strategist at The NeuroLeadership Institute. In her work, she helps companies replace subjectivity with science to make DE&I more brain-friendly, more human, and, in her words, “a lot more effective.”

Stovall will lead a Conference keynote session, titled “From Outrage to Outcomes: A SMART Approach to Equity and Inclusion,” on June 14. Here’s a preview of what she’ll discuss:

How has DE&I changed in the U.S. workplace over the past 10 years and more specifically, in the last 12 months?

The 2000s was the era of gender diversity, driven by the feminist movement of the 1970s. Between 1980 and 2010, women in the U.S. actually held the majority—2.6 million—of the 4.5 million management positions created by employers. Ten years ago, the number of women in the workplace—roughly 50%—mirrored their percentage in the overall population.

But thanks to technology, business went global and there was increased need for innovation and knowledge worker talent. Business began to focus on cultural diversity, in the broadest sense. Some diversity professionals argued this broader definition of diversity redirected the focus from race to the extent that it became a less salient issue in DE&I efforts.

Over the past year, however, several highly publicized murders of unarmed Black citizens by law enforcement ignited a worldwide outcry for equity—and Corporate America had to listen.

The COVID-19 pandemic amplified the cry. For underrepresented populations—specifically Black and Brown communities—COVID-19 is illuminating and sometimes widening the cracks that exist in societal systems. While these cracks in the system have long existed, we are just beginning to see their scale and scope. The pandemic has affected all of us, but it hasn’t affected all of us equally, increasing the demand, urgency, and momentum for social justice and economic equity. Consequently, the demand for DE&I in the workplace is now a demand for racial equity.

Can you tell us about your pragmatic diversity business approach?

Pragmatic diversity accepts that the reasons for diversity in business differ from the reasons for diversity in society overall. Diversity in business is not simply the right thing to do, it is not social work. Pragmatic diversity views difference as a competitive asset to be viewed—and leveraged—as such. Pragmatic diversity is the smart thing for a particular business to do. It’s about getting past managing diversity to leveraging difference. For that to happen, each organization must start by asking:

  • What does diversity solve for in our business? (Real problems)
  • What does success look like in our business? (Real numbers)
  • How important is it that we get there for our business? (Real consequences)

What can organizations do to incorporate DE&I into their corporate strategies?

It’s all about alignment. People may or may not agree DE&I is important. But, unless they are actively undermining the company or on the way to being fired, they have accepted and are agreeing to a shared set of goals—the corporate strategy. Tie DE&I to that directly, consistently, and comprehensively, and DE&I will become part of your culture.

What are the best success stories you can tell about DE&I initiatives at organizations?

Real consequences. Edward Jones incentivizes retiring financial advisors to refer their books of business to another advisor who’s a woman or person of color. Goldman Sachs refuses to take any company public unless there’s at least one diverse board candidate, preferably a woman. Carrot…stick. Both work. Enacting real change means assuring real consequences. 

Real problems…and real numbers. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon realized he had a real problem: Not enough Black people in leadership positions. He defined and prioritized the problem using real numbers, then he put real money behind the problem and made people accountable by creating a program—Advancing Black Leaders—to hire and promote more Black senior executives and junior-level employees at JPMorgan Chase. Then, he created another program—Advancing Black Pathways—to bridge the racial wealth divide and ultimately help Black families build wealth. Real problem, real numbers. Actionable inclusion.

For more information and to register for the 2021 Virtual Annual Conference & Expo, please visit