Steve Pemberton is vice president of diversity and inclusion and global chief diversity officer for Walgreens Boots Alliance the first pharmacy-led health and wellbeing enterprise. Pemberton is also author of “A Chance in the World: An Orphan Boy, A Mysterious Past, and How He Found A Place Called Home,” a memoir chronicling his difficult path through foster care and his determined search for his family. Opening CLO Symposium17 with his keynote address “The Advantage of Disadvantage: How to Transform Adversity into Action,” Chief Learning Officer’s associate editorial director, Kellye Whitney, caught up with Pemberton regarding the advancement of organizational diversity and inclusion via email.
Chief Learning Officer: What’s the modern business case for diversity and inclusion? How does this differ from how it’s been approached in the past?
Steve Pemberton: The modern business case for diversity and inclusion is driven far more by changing demographics as companies must now deliver services to a much broader customer base. That is quite different than past iterations of diversity and inclusion that largely focused on corrective action. Another distinctive element is diversity and inclusion as a driver of innovation; different experiences often bring new perspectives on how to solve long-standing challenges.
CLO: Tell us how your story brought you to this conclusion.
Pemberton: My own story of a desperate search for family while wrestling with my biracial identity in the foster care system certainly impacted my thought process. I have come to understand that we are bonded more by our experiences than social stratifications. After a 25-year search, I found my biological families; one black and one white, and I came to understand just how universal pain and suffering really is.
CLO: What will it take for companies to really get, implement and realize the value of diversity and inclusion?
Pemberton: Qualitative arguments are always necessary, but the true value of diversity will be realized as companies see the direct impact diversity has on its bottom line, and I’m not referring to the value of diverse teams. More and more companies have found focusing on emerging demographic groups creates competitive differentiation; if companies fail to serve a diverse customer base, their competition certainly will.
CLO: What can corporate learning professionals do to advance organizational diversity and inclusion strategy?
Pemberton: The most effective strategies learning professionals can adopt is to integrate diversity and inclusion into all facets of learning, not just the standard fare of unconscious bias and cultural competency. We are a deeply divided nation, and I have found that corporations may be our best opportunity to truly understand our differences and find our mutuality.
CLO: Where have you seen it done effectively? Given limited budgets and even more restricted attention, where should efforts be targeted and why?
Pemberton: There is no one single lever for diversity and inclusion. It requires a multiplicity of strategies across all facets of the organization. Having said that, there is an important pivot point and that is embedding inclusive practices into an organization’s DNA. Organizations that have been effective share this approach — as opposed to the side car.
CLO: While at Monster, you coined the phrase “Next Practices” when it comes to effective diversity and inclusion work. What is that and what does that mean for corporate learning leaders? How is it connected to personal and organizational performance?
Pemberton: Next Practices came from my many meetings with customers and realizing that they had become deeply frustrated with their diversity and inclusion practices, in part because the D&I consulting industry had forced upon them a best practices approach that led them to model other companies. The biggest example of this is the diversity ranking of companies. The fact of the matter is that companies are unique institutions. They need to find their own story and their own narrative and not blindly follow that of another organization. That means determining what is “next,” not that which is best. Doing so leverages all aspects of company culture and drives performance.
This interview was published in the Jan/Feb issue of Chief Learning Officer magazine. Steve Pemberton will be opening CLO Symposiuim17 on April 24 at 1:30 p.m. with his talk, “The Advantage of Disadvantage: How to Transform Adversity into Action.