I recently had a mentee – a quite capable, high-potential woman of color – share her work frustrations with me. She shared she felt she no longer belonged at her organization. 

She had served with loyalty and pride for her company for more than two decades, and yet she had become disheartened observing her white male and female peers who started out in similar roles twenty years ago grow into leadership roles while she was left behind. In fact, when she looked at the leadership of the organization, there was no one, male or female, who looked like her. She was so upset by the lack of representation that she eventually concluded she no longer belonged in the organization and consequentially left.

I felt so disappointed by her departure from that organization. As Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer for Humana, I feel it is my duty, as well as the duty of each of us in leadership positions, to find solutions, give encouragement and instill hope in our organization’s talent. This employee felt hopeless at her organization.  She felt she was playing a rigged game; the odds were stacked against her, and there was no way for her to win.

The fact is, in some ways, she is right. When People of Color look up the hierarchy of organizations in America, less than 5% will see an executive that looks like them.  In Victoria Sepand’s thesis “The Black Ceiling”, the author shares that the experience of her mentee is not unique and is very real. In fact, a concrete barrier prevents career advancement due to the headwinds faced within an organization’s policies, practices, and evaluation of their diverse talent.

Humana recently hosted the 5th annual DiversityInc Women of Color and Their Allies conference. Being the host sponsor of this event was important as a public declaration of our commitment to uplifting women and People of Color, and learning how to better support their growth and celebrate their often-unrecognized contributions in corporate America. The fact is, Humana is better due to the full diversity of our associate population.  Highlighting our commitment to women of color publicly speaks clearly to our talent internally and shows that our organization is committed and accountable to our outcomes. A conference attendee shared that she “Felt seen and heard,” and that her experience in corporate America was finally acknowledged. We need more brave conversations and acknowledgment of the struggles People of Color face in the workplace.

"At Humana, we are doing our part by intentionally working to change this by setting a multi-year goal to increase representation among women and people of color in leadership levels of director and above"

So how can a company crack through the ceiling and make sure its diverse talent can see its way through?

First, it is important to acknowledge there is more work to do. The worst thing an organization can do is to be in denial about the reality of their needs and opportunities within the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) space. 

Second, it is also important to know it is not the job of DEI practitioners alone to fix. Systemic policies and practices are everybody’s problem. In order to truly address the root causes, everyone must get involved, especially the organization’s leadership team. The labor market is highly taxed, and there will always be attractive opportunities outside your company for your talent to consider. It is important not to sit on the sidelines and watch it happen but instead to fight for your talent, especially your talent of color. 

Third, the leadership of the organization must set the tone and expectations, both internally as well as externally, for creating and growing your diverse talent pipeline and journey.  The tone from the top must be in alignment with the actions of the organization. The leadership team should know they are responsible for broadening the leadership table by sponsoring talent with exposure opportunities, broad business acumen, and greater visibility to the impact of your diverse talent. 

Lastly, I also believe it is important to demonstrate your company’s intentions for your diverse talent. Don’t just say it; do it. Act like it. Demonstrate it.  Pull through the talent into the upper levels of the organization now. These changes are not easy, or else they would have already been made. Intentional change must be cultivated over time with deliberate and thoughtful action now. This is what my mentee was looking for–a demonstration of hope and action. We owe it to ourselves and to every person of color, straining to find their place at work.

At Humana, we are doing our part by intentionally working to change this by setting a multi-year goal to increase representation among women and people of color in leadership levels of director and above. We have set targets of 50% for women and 30% for POC. We are also focused on increasing equitable retention across our workforce. This year, we created a new retention goal of 0% difference across groups of people in director-level and above positions. By measuring turnover proportionate to representation in our workforce, we are better able to measure if any demographic of people is exiting the company at a higher rate than another. To learn more about Humana’s work to advance inclusion and diversity, I invite you to read Humana’s Impact Report.