Nearly a year ago, Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway shared the findings of Rutgers’ first-ever universitywide equity audit, In Pursuit of Excellence. “Being inclusive and acting with integrity sound nice, but to deliver on these principles requires constant attention and a determined commitment to improve,” he wrote. “Wherever those high standards aren’t being realized, I am committed to doing better, always better.”
Echoing that sentiment is Brenda Velasquez Wagner RC’91, GSNB’93, chief diversity and inclusion officer at LabCorp, one of the world’s largest clinical lab networks. “To make improvements in any organization, we have to be intentional,” says Wagner. “We always have to be reflecting and thinking about what we’re going to do more of or do differently, moving forward.”
These are Wagner’s five recommendations for alumni looking to take their own diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts to the next level.
Make DEI a core value
Before June 2020, LabCorp did not have a chief diversity and inclusion officer, and the DEI staff reported to an organization within the human resources department. Today, as the company’s first chief DEI officer, Wagner co-reports to the chief HR officer and the company’s CEO. This move demonstrated to all of LabCorp that DEI is a priority and that the company is committed to these inclusive initiatives.
You don’t have to be a CEO to elevate DEI in your own workplace or work life: When setting your performance goals, include at least one involving DEI efforts, and if you’re a manager, ask direct reports to come up with their own.
Take the pledge
LabCorp’s CEO Adam H. Schechter signed the CEO Diversity Pledge from CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion. This is a commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace—and to support other organizations in all sectors as they do the same. (President Jonathan Holloway is another of the nearly 2,000 signatories.) LabCorp’s CEO also re-emphasizes the company’s commitment in ongoing internal communications.
Whatever your job title, read through the pledge’s list of goals, which includes helping create a trusting place for difficult conversations, expanding unconscious bias education, and sharing your best (and worst) practices with others.
Share your why
Wagner kicks off town halls and other regular communications by sharing the “why” behind the advancement of DEI at LabCorp. “Even though we’re in human resources and are immersed in the topic, it’s beneficial to hear each other’s private point of view,” she says.
One way to win over those still reluctant to address issues of inclusivity is to link DEI to the bottom line. Research shows that companies in the top 25 percent of gender and racial diversity outperform their industry peers.
Show your support
Employee resource groups (ERGs) are employee-led groups where co-workers with common backgrounds and interests can connect. Many ERGs are dedicated to the support of typically underrepresented groups. LabCorp, for example, has ERGs supporting employees who are Black, Hispanic/Latin, Asian/Pacific Islander, LGBTQ+, veterans, women, young professionals, and people with disabilities.
You can join a group (or two) that speaks to you, as a member or as an ally. Keep in mind that you don’t have to be in a big company to start an ERG: According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, such groups are powerful for small teams, too.
Commit to the journey
The past few years have created momentum in companies’ attention to DEI, and it’s important for leaders and employees alike to keep it going. One way LabCorp does this is by creating new trainings on topics such as unconscious bias.
If your company doesn’t offer such resources, consider connecting with Rutgers’ Alumni Workplace Engagement office, which can help create custom programming for your organization.
Also continue to boost your own knowledge. You can start by sampling Holloway’s collection of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Resources for a Beloved Community or go full out and enroll in a course or a certificate program such as Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace.
“Diversity and inclusion is something we need to continuously drive and prioritize and consider,” says Wagner. “There are many more layers to still lean into on our journey.”
Meet the moment
One of the earliest ways that Rutgers met the moment in 2020 was through its Alumni Workplace Engagement (AWE) office, which offered a series of webinars featuring professors and alumni who are experts in DEI. Some of these were produced at the behest of AWE partners (including Bristol Meyers Squibb and J.P. Morgan) and tailored to their industry and employees. Others, including A Conversation on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (in which Wagner participated), were made available to all.
In addition to encouraging Rutgers alumni to seek out professional development and training opportunities, the office can help you:
- identify new career paths within an organization
- promote mentorships and networking across all levels and departments
- increase volunteer and service opportunities that support career growth
To learn more about the Alumni Workplace Engagement program, contact its director, John Borgese, at 848-932-7117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is part of a series developed in partnership with Alumni Workplace Engagement and Alumni Career Resources that features prominent Rutgers alumni providing expert knowledge on timely topics.