The Future of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging

In today's episode, we chat with Jerome Tennille, Manager Social Impact and Volunteerism with Marriott International, and discuss the future of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in the workplace. We explore why there's a major focus on DEI&B today, how to facilitate difficult workplace conversations and best strategies to promote DEI&B throughout your business.

We also look at how to keep DEI&B issues a focus for businesses and not just a "flavour of the month." Finally we look at potential traps and pitfalls business can run into when starting their own DEI&B programs.

This is part 2 of our 3 part discussion with Jerome Tennille on disruptions in the social impact space. 

Watch or listen to Part 1: Why Corporate Social Responsibility is even more important in business today

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Karl Yeh:

So, today we've got two special guests. Our first guest is Jenelle St. Omer, who is our guest host today. She is the Regional Vice President with Benevity, and we also have Jerome Tennille, who is the manager of Social Impact and Volunteerism with Marriott International.

Janelle St. Omer: Thank you, Karl. And we are back with Jerome, so thrilled to have you here once again.

For those of you who don't know Jerome, he is a disruptor in the social impact space. [00:01:00] He's an influencer and just an awesome, awesome person to know.

So, today we're going to tackle DE&I, I feel like DE&I is having such a moment in our space and Jerome, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

What do you think is the future of DE&I in the workplace?

What's the future of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the workplace?

Jerome Tennille:

Well, I think we're seeing it.

And what I mean by that is very similar to how there was an acceleration of CSR practices because of COVID-19, we've seen the accelerated and more [00:01:30] renewed focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, justice, right?

These are all more widely utilized terms now, but we're seeing a greater focus on that because of the string of deaths that we've seen, especially in the Black community, at the hands of law enforcement.

And I think the one organization that ... Or the one instance of that, that I think most people recognize is the death of [00:02:00] George Floyd.

And so, I think what we're seeing now is the future of DEI. And I'm going to use a couple of different examples.

So, last year it was about this time of year, actually that even while companies were doing mass layoffs all across the globe, they were still hiring in many instances, DEI professionals to support the work that they're doing towards their commitments to combat racial injustice. [00:02:30]

And so, that is still persistent.

You can't go onto any job hiring site, LinkedIn, Indeed, and not see a diversity, equity, inclusion belonging position.

So, I think we're seeing the future play out.

And that future is people having a more deeply invested commitment to supporting communities of color and also other minority communities.


Janelle St. Omer:

So, Jerome, DE&I work has [00:03:00] been around in the workplace for a number of years.

I feel like it, in some cases, goes back 20 and 30 years where we really started to have the conversation.

Why do you think that it's having such a moment right now?

Why do you think that that deep commitment is really showing up right now in the workplace?

Why is there a major focus and commitment to DEI&B today?

Jerome Tennille:

I think because the cost of not addressing it is being seen and seen more often and more often now.

If you look back through history, these have [00:03:30] been issues for centuries, for many nations, even prior to our founding and me specifically, I'm in the United States.

So, these issues they've existed for a long time. And they've certainly existed here in America for the last 200 years.

But I think the prevalence of social media, body worn cameras, just being able to have my cellphone on me and take video and audio, it has given people more outlet to see [00:04:00] the things essentially, that you may have not seen in the '80s or the '90s. And so, people are,

I think, they're not able to bury their head in the sand anymore. It's there, it's in your face. And if you don't address it, then you're essentially making your own bed.

Janelle St. Omer:

That's a really good point.

I think that it was easy to look away before and now it's not. And I think technology has changed for so much of how we live our lives generally.

And I think [00:04:30] it's really helped in this area to advance these conversations.

One of the other things that I've observed over the last year in conversations with folks and such is the openness to conversation, to dialogue in the workplace, in a way that it was never had before.

So, companies really tackling very difficult conversations internally, and creating the space for those conversations to be had, however uncomfortable.



How do we facilitate those conversations for companies who are [00:05:00] challenged?

Maybe there's a practitioner who thinks they want to do it.

What advice do you have to someone in how to facilitate those difficult conversations in the workplace?

How to facilitate difficult conversations in the workplace? Where to start?

Jerome Tennille:

So, the first thing I ever share with anybody is like, for these journeys, these journeys are long.

You never have to do it alone, right?

Like most journeys that most companies take, they don't have to do it alone.

And so, what I mean by that is a company that does feel ill-equipped, doesn't feel like they're in [00:05:30] a good position to even start these conversations.

There are many practitioners, consultants, there are many community-based organizations that focus on this every single day, like 24-7.

You can connect with a third party.

They can be a vendor or they can be a community-based organization, and you can have that journey together.

And through that journey, you can begin to facilitate or [00:06:00] create the mechanisms that allow for safe spaces to then have the conversation.

I don't think that you want to just have a conversation to have a conversation and you really have to be careful in how these conversations are started for companies that are on the infancy of that spectrum.

They should hire an expert.

I mean, let's not fake it until we make it in this instance. [00:06:30] Hire an expert, you can do that. You don't have to do this alone.

Secondly, I think leadership, they have to be a hundred percent committed to this, and in doing so, they can give permission for others to be a part of this by putting their own neck on the line, having stake in it.

They can start those conversations with other leaders and they can make them a hundred percent transparent, live, recorded for other associates to see.

That'll give junior, and mid-level [00:07:00] associates that permission to say, "You know what? My leaders are not just committed to doing this and having these conversations, but they're having them themselves."

And then eventually, once you get that foundation of conversation started amongst leadership and the real commitment and buy-in, work to figure out how you cascade that down to your mid-level management and every level of associates in a way that maybe you're leaning a little bit harder on your ERGs, your employee readiness groups, or maybe [00:07:30] you are working with associates who might be entry level or mid level.

And you're working with a facilitator to create that safe space for people to have conversation.

A conversation allows disagreement and allow for people to be wrong because that's how you educate people. And so, that's the suggestion that I would take and also understand that this is not going to be like, "Okay, it's 2022. Now we're done."

This has to be regular, consistent, [00:08:00] and it's the long haul baby.

Janelle St. Omer:

I agree with so many of those points, and I think the first one being on engaging your leadership and really having that deep and meaningful commitment and buy-in.

I think that that's so key, and it's actually really interesting if you think of the contrast in CSR, because historically so many company employee-giving or volunteering programs were top down, and we kind of moved away from that model and like let's let the grassroots empower the employees to let that shine.

But I do feel like when we're talking about DE&I, knowing how [00:08:30] difficult it can be and the impact of the work, you have to have that buy-in from the top and be willing to have the conversations, challenging individual biases and organizational biases at that level to really facilitate that meaningful dialogue and the commitment to change.

And that the other thing I think that you said that was really powerful and we saw it at Benevity as well, is engaging those experts to help and facilitate those conversations.

But I think that what's most important about conversations in the workplace is the ripple effect [00:09:00] that they can have.

We've seen it firsthand again, at Benevity with employees who engage in these conversations, then talking about how they went home to have these conversations with their family and friends, and were able to stand in their own power and tackle microaggressions that they've heard, over the years growing up and say, "No, that's not okay," to their loved ones.

So, when you think of the impact that the workplace can have on individuals and those individuals then taking those feelings back into their everyday lives, to me, that's [00:09:30] where real change can actually start to happen as well.

So, when you think about some of the strategies and the tactics overall for organizations, what are some of the ones that you recommend the most to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

Best strategies and tactics to promote DEI&B in the workplace

Jerome Tennille:

Integrate DE&I holistically throughout your business

To approach it holistically, and then also at the individual level, and what I mean by that is, I think too oftentimes, DEI is siloed.

And what I mean is DEI is sometimes considered its own business unit, [00:10:00] but then it's separate or it lives within human resources, but it might be separate from internal communications, might be separate from media relations, might be separate from marketing, might be separate from operations, or manufacturing.

Might be separate from the business unit that manages storefronts versus corporate. And so, in order to do this effectively, you have to integrate DEI and those [00:10:30] practices holistically, through all the different business units.

So for example, as you're creating your marketing campaign around a new product, you're being sensitive in how you're talking about it, how you brand it, how you name it, the image that you use.

But thinking about that from a ... You're applying that DEI lens at the onset or the inception of creativity before [00:11:00] you're even actually making something, right?

But applying it for every type of job and position, right?

So, it's not enough that I work with community-based organizations, I also have to apply that in my daily work, how I'm writing a social post, how I'm writing an internal communicate to associates about a volunteer project, how I'm communicating to that organization when we're planning this project, right?

So, applying those lenses at the individual [00:11:30] level, but then of course that requires that individuals are working on these on themselves, essentially, right?

You're at the individual level. If you're not working to remove your own blind spots and biases and preconceived ideas and perspectives and everything else, then all those blind spots and biases will show up in the product that you create.

Janelle St. Omer:

I agree, and the one key takeaway I have from all of that is the lens, because it's the lens through which we look at every single thing that [00:12:00] we do as a company.

So, I think that when companies are really thinking about where to start,

if you were to take all of the things that you currently do, but just start to apply that DE&I lens to it, how does our mantra, how do our company's pillars and our purpose practices, our hiring practices, our promotion practices, if you were to take that inclusion lens to everything, how would your company look different?

Karl Yeh:

So, Jerome, there was one comment you made a little earlier where you're talking about this is the [00:12:30] longterm and you just put it all together, we have to do it in terms of the lens, we have to do it whenever we create a new product, a new campaign, but I've worked in organizations in the past that, exactly how you said, right?

DE&I could be the flavor of the year, flavor of the month.

The focus is on that, and then once it no longer is in the news, or it's no longer ... I guess people deem it as [00:13:00] the key point of the month or the day, then they move on to something else.

Are there any strategies you also see to make sure to keep it in the longterm? in addition to, I guess integrating it entirely into the business.

How do you keep DEI&B as a focus for your business and not just a 'flavour of the month'

Jerome Tennille:

Yeah, and this is not an answer that I think most people want to hear, but I'm not going to share what people want to hear, I'm going to just share what the situation, the actual matter, the situation is, [00:13:30] what is not a popular tactic, but I would certainly encourage is working with a third-party community-based organization, that has its own code of conduct that you have to sign onto.

And that is not a common thing for companies to do.

There are a lot of companies who say, "We will hold ourselves accountable. We're not going to have somebody else do it."

Well, you know what happens in many cases where companies, they claim, and then don't do [00:14:00] .

A third party community-based organization that has its own external code of conduct, that you have to sign onto, it provides the checks and balance.

So, not only is it a community-based partner that might have really good programming, that is working to rid the Earth of these critical issues that we're all working to solve, but in addition to all of that, they're also there to hold you accountable as a company.

And so, you might lose your ability to be a part of this coalition if you fail to meet [00:14:30] their requirements.

And the requirement is oftentimes just operate more responsibly, but if you fail to meet those specific requirements that you signed on to as a company, like that's a big deal.

Like that'd be like a country losing favoritism and being pushed out of the European Union. Or a country being pushed out of NATO involuntarily because they couldn't meet that specific commitment. [00:15:00]

But that's not a tactic that many companies want to take, because there is that external public-facing transparency and accountability by a third party organization.

That is, oh, by the way, an expert in whatever that code of conduct is.

Karl Yeh:

So, sort of like the Paris Agreement, right?

Where different countries sign on, and then if a country can't meet the certain targets, then yeah, the country can't meet it but I think there is a negative connotation, or there's going to [00:15:30] be pressure from other countries, why can't you meet it?

What can we do to help you out?

Jerome Tennille:


And what's even better is most of these third third-party community-based organizations, they will help you meet whatever that is.

Oftentimes like you set the goals that you then commit to, like in partnership, and you say, "Okay, I can do that."

As a company, you just better be realistic about what you sign onto.

Karl Yeh:

[00:16:00] So, one final question here.

So, in addition to making certain topics, especially DE&I, the flavor of the month, what are some of the other traps that businesses find themselves in with diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Other "traps" to look out for when implementing DEI&B

Jerome Tennille:

Trap: Lack of will or inability to implement DEI&B holistically

Well, I think we talked about some of it and it's either the inability, lack of capability or the lack of will that essentially creates a barrier to [00:16:30] implementing that DEI lens more holistically through the company.

I think that, that's a trap that I think most companies find themselves because removing those barriers, it's hard work and it requires money and it also requires reorganizing certain administrative and operative, and an operational parts of the business that may have uniquely made the business successful, [00:17:00] right?

Trap: Not including volunteer engagement as a tool

But then the other thing that I would say is the trap, or a trap, something that somebody can work to avoid is not including volunteer engagement as one of the tools that really, essentially support and empower your employees to becoming more inclusive, becoming more empathetic, becoming more humanized through the volunteer work that they're doing.

And so I think that's a trap that [00:17:30] most companies fall into because they say volunteering over here, DEI work focused on the associates over here, and they don't see the overlap, when I think there is a lot of overlap, where volunteer engagement as an action can actually make your employees more empathetic, more inclusive, which creates a more diverse environment.

Karl Yeh:

So, Jerome, if our audience wants to get in touch with you or read some of your work, where can they reach you?

Jerome Tennille: They can go directly to my personal website, at

Karl Yeh:

So, if you want to listen to our previous conversation about disruptions in the corporate, social responsibility space, you've got to check out this video here, as well as this video for our next conversation on community investment. [00:18:30] Thanks for watching. And we'll catch your next episode.

Question of the day

Where do you see diversity, equity, and inclusion moving towards the future? And how has it impacted your business? 

Connect with Jerome Tennille on Linkedin

Connect with Janelle St. Omer on Linkedin