How Can We Create Workplaces and Events Where Diversity Thrives?

Author: Barbara Palmer       

Dorri McWhorter said that fostering diverse and inclusive work environments isn’t a question of why but how.

The business case for diversity is well established at this point, said Dorri McWhorter, CEO of the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago. McWhorter spoke at Convening Leaders 2018 as a thought leader for Ascent, a new initiative launched by PCMA and Convene to inspire and spur inclusion and diversity in the business-events industry. In her talk, “Break Out of the Bubble — Inclusion to Enrich Your Life,” McWhorter said that gender-diverse companies are 15 percent more likely and ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to outperform their peers.

So the question isn’t why we should create diverse and inclusive environments, “which ultimately leads to better results no matter how you measure it,” McWhorter said. “The question is always how, and I think that’s where people are struggling.”

One of the hard truths we have to face, McWhorter said, is that most of us don’t encounter much diversity in our lives outside of work. “But yet we come to our workplaces,” she said, “and we expect people to magically know, or even want to be exposed to greater diversity.” Although it varies by race and ethnicity, the social networks of most Americans are overwhelming made up of people who are the same race and ethnicity as they are, McWhorter said. According to a 2013 Pew Research study, “eight percent of Americans do not have a single friend from another race or culture in their networks.”

How do we approach such a challenge? McWhorter quoted architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller, who said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.”

“I believe that if we’re to solve the challenges around diversity and inclusion, we have to ask a different question,” McWhorter said. “So instead of asking questions around how do we actually include women and people of color, or choose any dimension of diversity …. instead of asking that, we have to ask the question around how do we create workplaces or environments where everyone can thrive and the business thrives? I firmly believe that the quality of the solution that we come up with absolutely depends on the quality of the question.”

McWhorter — along with Joyce Winnecke, executive vice president and general manager for the PCMA Media Group — appealed to the audience for their ideas, questions, and participation in creating new road maps for developing more diverse and inclusive workplaces and events.  

You can connect with Ascent, which was initiated to empower women, people of color, those with disabilities, and those who are LGBTQIA in our industry, at pcma.org/ascent. A longer version of McWhorter’s remarks is available at convn.org/ascent-mcwhorter.

Ascent is supported by Visit Seattle and the PCMA Education Foundation.