Karen Jones, vice president of learning and partner solutions, came to NextUp with 25 years of experience, and endless testimonials to her insight and grace. She was a DEI&B (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) expert before ‘diversity’ was a buzzword, and before many companies cared what the world thought about how many women and people of color sat on their boards.
Jones now leads NextUp’s learning and development team, and personally leads dozens of DEI&B workshops every year with companies all over the country and beyond. In this wide-ranging interview, we discuss what Jones has seen in searingly honest conversations inside some of the largest corporations in the world, the work we all still must do to reach equity, and what’s on the horizon in the DEI&B conversation. This article is excerpted from the full interview, which can be read at nextupisnow.org/blog.
Angie Bice:What's in the air right now in DEI&B? What’s bubbling up in the DEI&B education community and the wider conversation about women going back to work?
Karen Jones: It’s how we re-engage women, or what the engagement of women in the workforce is going to look like moving forward. And I have to say, the reality is that we're never going to fully go back to the way we were before COVID-19 hit. It caused people to self-reflect about what would be meaningful to them when it comes to work. It caused people to become intolerant to mistreatment. We must ensure that we do not try to bring people back to into the traditional forms of work, which clearly weren’t serving women. And for women of color, on top of the intolerance for the style of work, there is intolerance to not going back to how we were treated prior to the pandemic.
The workplaces that are going to become more appealing are those that do create a sense of belonging and are values-based.
As we talk about our approach and what we can do for our partner companies, we can help you through leadership development, as well as through understanding more about inclusion and getting those values in place. Building a principle-centered workplace creates high engagement.
Bice:Absolutely. Anything else that just jumps to mind that’s a growing trend?
Jones: I can tell you, the biggest thing from talking to other DEI and our practitioners is what I see as a healthy restlessness and a healthy impatience...So the glacial pace of change must accelerate. We have to have equity and inclusion...We're hearing from employees that it’s time to make equity happen, or that employees have options outside of the corporate sector. They’re more willing than ever to just go start their own company or do something else if they can't be fulfilled inside their organization.
My prediction is that those organizations who don't evolve over time to meet their employees needs and deliver equity will see themselves with less and less employee engagement - and failure, honestly.
Bice:On the heels of the many employee walkouts that have happened over the last couple of years, as well as the Great Resignation, it seems that people are really losing patience with corporate culture and are less tolerant than ever for behavior they feel violates their values. Do you think there's a likelihood that that's going to get more intense?
Jones: I think it's highly probable, and I believe we'll see it crescendo over the course of the next five years. For those people who have been working from home for the last two years and are being summoned back to their workplace for five days in a row, they're counting all their chips and trying to figure out their next move.
We're going to see waves of people departing the workplace. There is no real excuse, for example, for not letting employees work remotely anymore. It was hypothesized prior to COVID that people could work offsite and have agile work schedules, but now it's been proven. Productivity increased; it didn't decrease. So what is the workplace’s excuse for having to bring everybody back? There isn't one.
The old way of just working all the time, living to work, that’s over. Who wants to keel over dead in front of their desk? It's driving innovation to have people work offsite, to crowdsource – and I'm old [Laughs]. But I can't wait to work for Millennials and Gen Z. I feel like you all are leading the way to where we should be. It's creating more opportunity for us and new ideas, and it’s creating a brighter future for everyone.
NOTE: NextUp (formerly known as the Network of Executive Women) is a learning and leadership community working to bring professional women, allies and corporate partners together to champion gender equity and advance all women in their careers. Currently, NextUp represents 14,000 members and 300+ regional and corporate sponsors. Learn more at nextupisnow.org.