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Change, Or Checking The Box? Mass. Companies Are On A Diversity Exec Hiring Spree05:28
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Paul Francisco has been State Street's chief diversity officer since 2017. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Paul Francisco has been State Street's chief diversity officer since 2017. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

En español traducido por El Planeta Media.

Just take a look at LinkedIn, and you'll see plenty of job listings with titles like these: Diversity and Inclusion Manager; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Manager; Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Program Manager; Head of Belonging; Vice President, Inclusion and Diversity; Chief Diversity Officer.

A growing list of local companies — and many across the country — are looking to hire diversity leaders as recent protests over racial injustice have led to calls for organizations to address their own systemic racism. Some companies have recently named chief diversity officers, including Boston-based GE and Alexion Pharmaceuticals.

Many people who do diversity and inclusion work say they’re glad to see these efforts — though it's unfortunate it took the killing of George Floyd and others to get to this moment. Diversity professionals say they often face many challenges, but they hope this moment will lead to real change.

"If you're a Black person in corporate, you're sort of saying, 'What took you so long to awaken to the plight and challenges that we have as Black people — not only in society, but inside our walls?' " said Paul Francisco, the chief diversity officer at State Street. "But there's also a little bit of saying: 'Welcome to the work. Glad to have you as a partner. Glad to have you as an ally. Now, let's get to work.' "

"If you're a Black person in corporate, you're sort of saying, 'What took you so long to awaken to the plight and challenges that we have as Black people -- not only in society, but inside our walls?' "

Paul Francisco, Chief Diversity Officer at State Street

Francisco and his team guide diversity strategies at the Boston-based financial services firm. One area he's paying close attention to is how employees move through the company.

"If we are equitable, that means that women, people of color need to progress at the same rate as their white counterparts because otherwise there is no other explanation other than there is bias in the system. You know, people are hiring people that look like them, etc.," Francisco said.

It's important to keep track of hiring, promotions and why people leave if you want to make systemic change, according to Francisco. For example, in hiring, companies can try to recruit people in different ways and put policies in place to make sure there's a diverse slate of candidates.

State Street has diversity goals and tracks its progress every year. The company has hit some goals, but fallen short on others.

"So there is a lot of pressure, but the pressure is not just for me," Francisco said. "I hope that every single person in our 40,000-person organization feels pressure to do something and feels pressure to make change."

But making change can be tough for chief diversity officers. Research shows they often aren't given the resources, authority or support from senior leaders to make lasting change. And these jobs tend to have high turnover.

That's why Malia Lazu of Berkshire Bank thinks putting people in diversity and inclusion jobs isn't enough. She said those roles tend to box people in.

"So often people are like: 'What are the five things I can do to end racism in my company?' Stop thinking that there are five things you can do to end racism in your company. That's probably the first thing to do," she said with a laugh.

Malia Lazu talks with a visitor at Reevx Labs coworking space in Roxbury. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Malia Lazu talks with a visitor at Reevx Labs coworking space in Roxbury. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Creating a diversity position is one thing companies often look to do, Lazu said, but where companies position people with diversity expertise is really the key to changing culture.

"If businesses are looking for a chief diversity officer to fix their racial woes, I would say my grandmother's good old saying, which is: 'Show me your budget and I'll show you what you care about,' " Lazu said. "And that's really where I hope we see the business shift not just in positions, but in positions with power and budgets."

Positions like hers. Lazu is the regional president for Berkshire Bank and oversees Eastern Massachusetts. She was a longtime community organizer and diversity consultant before she was tapped last year by Richard Marotta, who resigned as CEO last week.

"Diversity and inclusion — the networks, the ideas, the strategies — is the expertise that I brought to the bank. But I don't oversee the HR diversity program. So, like, Malia can help. And Malia can give you ideas, but HR runs HR," said Lazu, who was first hired as chief experience and culture officer before becoming regional president.

"Stop thinking that there are five things you can do to end racism in your company. That's probably the first thing to do."

Malia Lazu, Regional President of Berkshire Bank

Lazu's role includes overseeing everything from the bank's facilities to marketing to corporate social responsibility.

She's particularly focused on entrepreneurs of color. During the pandemic, she worked with the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts and the LGBT Chamber of Commerce to provide emergency lines of credit to small businesses. Earlier this year, she opened Reevx Labs — a free coworking space for startups and nonprofits — in Roxbury's Nubian Square, and has created microloans for entrepreneurs of color.

"You very rarely see chief diversity officers have that kind of power," Lazu said. "I'm building products. So, I'm going to be affecting the bottom line of this bank, and more chief diversity officers should have the ability to do that."

But systemic change goes beyond one person and one position.

If companies want to see significant change, they have to change middle management, according to Tom Kochan, a professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management.

"We're beyond just symbolic actions of hiring someone and creating a department of diversity or a unit, and thinking that will change the organization," said Kochan, who has researched diversity in the workplace.

"We're beyond just symbolic actions of hiring someone and creating a department of diversity or a unit, and thinking that will change the organization."

Tom Kochan, Professor at MIT's Sloan School Of Management

Companies have been thinking that way for last 20 years when it comes to diversity, according to Kochan. What companies need to do is diversify their management ranks, hold all managers accountable for addressing racial inequities, and make sure every part of the business is involved in diversity efforts, Kochan said.

And he thinks more businesses may move in this direction now because of the anti-racism activism that's happening — even within companies. Some companies have also faced legal action over racial inequality. Qualcomm's corporate board was recently sued by a shareholder for its lack of diversity. A similar suit was filed against Oracle, which also faces an employment discrimination lawsuit. And a federal equal opportunity complaint was filed against Facebook for racial discrimination.

"Now the diversity officers can draw on the strength of the grassroots movement to address these issues and use that as additional sources of leverage to get things done," Kochan said. "So, I think there's going to be much, much more pressure for actual results."

Berkshire's Lazu hopes that pressure doesn't go away.

"Becoming visible when you've been invisible also reminds you, you've been invisible," Lazu said. "There's also then a layer of concern of the heartbreak when it stops."

This segment aired on August 17, 2020.

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Zeninjor Enwemeka Twitter Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.

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