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4 Takeaways From Owen Forward’s DEI Corporate Leadership Panel

Feb 4, 2022
Owen Forward hosts wide-ranging discussion on DEI with thought leaders from corporate America and Vanderbilt

By Lacie Blankenship

On January 31, André Churchwell (BE’75), Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer for Vanderbilt University, led the Owen Forward: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Corporate Leaders Panel. Participants included Michele Ivey Frazier (MBA’93), Director of Operations and Leader of DEI of Music City Baseball, Chandra Vasser (MBA’97), Vice President and Chief EDI Officer at Nissan North America, and María del Carmen Triana, Cal Turner Chair in Moral Leadership and Professor of Management at Vanderbilt Business.   

Frazier, Vasser, Triana, and Churchwell discussed their experiences and perspectives on DEI in today’s corporate world. Below are 4 key takeaways from the panel. 

“Diversity” takes many forms.

The “D” in DEI includes race, ethnicity, and gender, but it doesn’t end there. Diversity includes age, sexual orientation, citizenship, socioeconomic status, and so much more. Ability – mental or physical – is frequently forgotten or omitted in discussions on Diversity. As corporate leaders, it is important to understand and recognize Diversity’s varying forms and categories “to make the workforce better and more diverse, to give people opportunity, and to level the playing field,” says Triana. 

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion doesn’t happen overnight. Ongoing conversations and adjustments are integral to fostering DEI in and out of the workplace. A continuous approach to DEI work will help secure meaningful success, which, in a corporate sense, occurs when diversity is embedded throughout an organizational hierarchy and culture, so that all workers can thrive and desire to collaborate. “There are many best practices for DEI, and ensuring that employees truly feel and see the change is the best way to implement sustainable change,” said Vasser.

Potential “fit” is not a direct indicator of future job performance. 

Corporate leaders have a responsibility to take a step back and consider their hiring practices. A common point of evaluation is potential “fit,” and while team chemistry is crucial, there is a misconception that potential fit can determine future job performance. Triana noted that in her teaching, she “discusses data that proves that fit is a good indicator of future job attitude, not job performance.” Evaluating potential fit opens up the potential for implicit biases to take control of the hiring process. Corporate leaders should keep this in mind with their hiring processes and ensure that skill set takes priority above fit.   

Ally is a verb, not just a noun.

We can actively pursue allyship by acknowledging that education is key to success in DEI. Frazier referenced the quotes “you don’t know what you don’t know” and “when you know better, you do better,” as a means to encourage the audience to converse with others, avoid assumptions, check privileges, and open one’s mind to modifying speech and habits out of consideration for others.
Some suggested readings from the panel include: 

You can watch the recording of the panel below or on Vanderbilt Business YouTube

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