18 Apr 2023

Leading Organizational Equity: OneTen Community of Practice Summit


by Shona Simkin

Photo courtesy Evgenia Eliseeva.

Nearly a year after announcing an academic partnership with the OneTen Coalition, Harvard Business School hosted a OneTen Community of Practice Summit on March 28, gathering together OneTen founders, executives from partnering organizations, and scholars of diversity and organizational change for a day of learning and in-depth discussions on the work of making a lasting, systemic impact on racial and economic justice.

Founded in 2020 in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, OneTen is a coalition of executives and organizations committed to hiring one million Black individuals over 10 years into jobs with family-sustaining wages and opportunities for advancement.

On a quarterly basis, OneTen hosts Community of Practice virtual forums, bringing together corporate coalition leaders to learn from each other and external experts about how to drive towards equitable and inclusive skills-first cultures. The summit provided the opportunity for attendees to gather in person for the first time.

“We wanted to bring together the people implementing change in their companies and give them direct access to some of the best and most actionable research on how to truly move the needle toward greater opportunity for Black talent,” said Colleen Ammerman, director of the HBS Race, Gender & Equity Initiative, which organized the event. “It’s critical that leaders have moments to learn from each other’s challenges and successes at what is truly a shared journey,” she added.

After a welcome from two of OneTen founders, Ginni Rometty, former chairman and CEO of IBM, and Ken Frazier, newly retired chairman and CEO of Merck, Harvard Kennedy School’s Robert Livingston dove into a presentation on the “deep and diffuse” roots of racism and the challenges and potential roadmaps for leading organizational change. There is no quick fix, said Livingston, and the many steps required start with acknowledging, believing, and identifying the problem at all levels of the company—a process that can be surprisingly thorny and fraught with skeptics.

Photo courtesy Evgenia Eliseeva.

Several CEOs then participated in a panel discussion on the largest obstacles they’ve faced in establishing roles and support systems for Black talent—from stripping away degree requirements for skills-based roles to creating clearly defined roadmaps to promotion.

Up next was Harvard University Professor Raj Chetty, showing how big data can provide insights into improving and strategizing on OneTen’s goals, such as mapping geographic disparities in income and upward mobility rates with census and income tax data to better target locations where organizations can have a greater impact. Three other executives followed with a panel discussion about their measurement metrics for new investments in internal programs that promote greater equity, such as reverse mentorships and transparent, specific job requirements linked to training opportunities.

“Our Community of Practice forums are integral to enabling our member companies to implement sustainable practice change needed to create inclusive, skills-first cultures within their organizations,” said Debbie Dyson, CEO of OneTen. “By providing a brave space for company leaders to discuss their DEI commitments with each other and with industry experts and explore approaches to overcoming challenges, we are advancing our collective commitment to drive change towards an equitable future.”

Providing attendees with a taste of the famed case method—or calling back memories of their business school pasts—Professor Linda Hill then embarked on a discussion of her brand-new, yet-to-be-published case on Delta Airlines and their implementation of OneTen initiatives. With Delta executives and employees on hand to share their challenges and successes, Hill cold-called folks in the crowd to examine the company’s progress. Is the organization committed to structural change? Have they dedicated appropriate resources? Has the cultural mindset changed? Are there areas of vulnerability in leadership? The spirited discussion served as both a teaching and sharing moment as well as a touchstone for conversations later in the day.

Hill remarked, "The Delta story is a true illustration of how company leadership worked tirelessly to embed diversity, equity, and inclusion into their business strategy, ensuring that their commitment was there for the long run. This is what we at Harvard Business School know that OneTen is all about: bringing business leaders together to create and sustain a path forward for Black talent in America."

A lunchtime panel hosted by Debbie Dyson highlighted the lived experiences of three employees hired or promoted through the OneTen initiative—how leadership has supported them, what they seek (and don’t seek) in their leaders and organizations, the importance of providing safe spaces and mentorship opportunities, and how transparency at all levels leads to trust and success.

Three breakout sessions followed: Career Pathing and Reskilling with Professors Joseph Fuller and Boris Groysberg, Culture Change to Support Black Talent with Professor Robin Ely, and a closed CEO session facilitated by OneTen co-founder Ken Chenault, chairman and managing director of General Catalyst. These topic-based conversations allowed executives to share insights, challenges, and successes in smaller groups.

“It was inspiring to be among so many people dedicated to this critical mission—from CEOs to HR and DEI leaders to workers hired via OneTen, as well as incredible faculty colleagues from across Harvard,” Groysberg commented. “Rarely do you see a conference with such a wide range of participants and focused on so many nuanced aspects of advancing racial equity. There was a special energy on campus that day.”

“Working together, we have an enormous opportunity to better understand the many factors that prevent companies from achieving their goals for racial diversity and equity and for the advancement of Black workers in particular,” added Ely. “Cultivating a robust exchange between scholars and practitioners will allow us to collectively generate, test, and apply solutions where prior efforts have struggled or stalled.”

In closing, Chenault emphasized the critical nature of OneTen’s work, and the urgency of the collective responsibility of winning and delivering, together, on the commitment. He was departing the summit, he said, with hope but also anxiety at the very real work ahead over the next seven years. Dyson’s send-off featured a slide of OneTen’s impact to date, and she urged the attendees to capitalize on the day’s elevated sense of excitement.

“Don’t forget the why, continue the work, and make it personal,” concluded Todd Jenkins, senior researcher and project director for OneTen at HBS.

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