Inclusion in the Next Normal

Kira Ciccarelli

Inclusion in the Next Normal

At a crucial turning point for the workplace and the corporate world at large, how can we ensure that the push for diversity, equity and inclusion maintains momentum?

Listen to Episode 56 on Apple Podcasts

Guest: Joyce Cacho, Board Member at Sunrise Banks NA, the World Benchmarking Alliance, and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture

Hosts: Dottie Schindlinger, Executive Director of the Diligent Institute, and Meghan Day, Senior Director of Board Member Experience for Diligent Corporation

In this episode:

  1. An Unforeseen Opportunity: Cacho discusses lessons learned from the pandemic and how we can view conceptualizations of the workplace in a new light.
  2. From Intentions to Accountability: Cacho gives her observations on how companies can take steps to structurally integrate inclusion in company practice.
  3. Integrating Inclusion into Company Culture: Cacho recommends a top-down approach to fully embrace diversity and inclusion in any organization.


What lessons should companies take forward into the “next normal?” How can we meaningfully support and drive inclusion at all levels of an organization? Joyce Cacho, experienced board member at Sunrise Banks NA, the World Benchmarking Alliance, and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, discusses the importance of inclusion in 2021 and beyond.

An Unforeseen Opportunity

Cacho begins her discussion of lessons learned from the pandemic by noting an important distinction: “People talk about ‘returning’ or ‘going back’ to work. The truth is, for people who have kept their jobs throughout last year, they have been working this whole time. In the next normal, we really mean ‘returning to office.’

The concept of returning to the office, which for many Americans is fast approaching after fifteen months, raises many questions as it answers: What does this look like? Does everybody go back? Do employees return part-time, in scheduled cohorts? What about people who moved? What if offices have closed or moved locations?

In making these decisions, Cacho advises a careful look at how your company and employees fared in 2020 in a virtual work environment: “Look at 2021 and the future. Think back to 2020 and take what you learned forward when thinking about future policies.”

“As opposed to going ‘back’ to normal, we have a tremendous opportunity to make a structural break from the past and embed what we have learned into our strategy for the future.”

Joyce Cacho, Board Member at Sunrise Banks NA, the World Benchmarking Alliance, and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture

From Intentions to Accountability

In order to achieve diversity and inclusion goals, one has to create a comprehensive plan and implement accountable action. As Cacho puts it, “We are in the place where the expectations of investors, employees, communities, and corporations at large are to create value internally and also create value for the economy.”

She adds, “What gets counted gets managed. E, S, G, D, E and I cover many assets which are intangible. Before, operations and manufacturing historically had commanded the majority of a company’s value. Now, much of a corporation’s value comes from intangible assets. You need a plan and action around ESG and DEI, and you also need to start creating your own data within the company about your plans and programs around E S and G.”

Compensation is another aspect of structural, tangible accountability around ESG and DEI. Cacho expands on this idea: “Compensation is one of the steps, but it is only one aspect of accountability. You must look at headcount and retention differentials, recruiting locations, and hiring policies.” Cacho believe accountability should extend beyond compliance: “What’s the sense or percent of employee engagement around diversity?”

“The idea of corporations shouldering social responsibility while pursuing profit is a massive pivot. This shift needs to occur at a pace which builds the trust and interest of diverse groups over time instead of betraying them.”

Joyce Cacho, Board Member at Sunrise Banks NA, the World Benchmarking Alliance, and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture

Integrating Inclusion into Company Culture

In Cacho’s experience, the biggest challenge is establishing flow and alignment between the board and management teams on DEI. She details the shift in mindset that needs to occur: “In terms of transforming and embedding a strategic way of looking at governance and culture, we need to look at non-linear learning.” To do so, Cacho recommends transforming your company into a “Teal Organization,” which was characterized by author Frederic Laloux as an organization that advocates for worker self-management and adapts to an organization as it grows.

She provides some examples of how to cultivate this type of culture: “Filling these gaps has to be organic. For example, someone at one of my companies came up with the idea to commit to a regular lunch where everyone watches a video about teal organization and then they discuss over lunch. Take what the employees come up with and put a structure behind it so that managers and above can have nonlinear engagement about give and take, opportunities, and boundaries.”

Cacho reiterates that there is no one right answer when it comes to integrating inclusivity into corporate culture and goals: “There’s a lot of work to be done on pivoting now. In the last year, we lost sight of what new normal would look like. Up until then, the notion of goals was related to tactics: Checklists, compliance, check-the-box activities. Today and in the future, it’s more about strategic thought.”

Also in this episode…

Cacho also touched on supply chain lessons learned from the pandemic: “The long chains we had were passively viewed as cost efficient. When we talk about corporations as accountable actors in the greater economic, social, environmental landscape, you have to look at the opportunities of shorter supply chains and manufacturing closer to the consumer. This is a big change for service and industrials. It means that supply chains will look different in order to deliver to diverse consumers.”

Resources from this episode: