Executive Diversity Councils

Webinar Recap: Executive Diversity Council Best Practices

Moderator: Dana Noweder, Senior Manager of Client Fulfillment at DiversityInc


  • Michael Johnson, Divisional Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion at Abbott (No. 4 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021)
  • R.K. Gopinath, Executive Director of Product Management at Cox Communications (No. 32 in 2021)
  • Subarna Malakar, Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for North America at Sanofi U.S. (No. 27 in 2021)
  • Keith Jones, Chief of Staff, Office of the General Counsel and Chief Diversity Officer at Toyota Motor North America (No. 7 in 2021)

A good executive diversity council can help steer a company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives; a great executive diversity council drives the company’s overall success by connecting D&I activities to broader business-driven and results-oriented strategies.

On Oct. 20, experts from leading companies in DiversityInc’s 2021 Top 50 Companies for Diversity survey examined what works best when building and shaping your executive diversity council and how to best structure and lead the group for greater success in your organization.

Watch the full session below:

Key Webinar Thoughts, Takeaways and Highlights

R.K Gopinath on the structure of Cox’s executive diversity council:

“Cox is a big company, so we have a national diversity and inclusion council that is chaired by our CEO and president, Pat Esser, and our chief people officer, Karen Bennett. The rest of the council consists of about 35 diverse members, ranging from executive vice presidents all the way down to managers and individual contributors. The whole idea with the national council was to make sure we have a good, diverse background across all levels.”

Subarna Malakar on how the Sanofi EDC uses data:

“We believe in data, and we believe that what gets measured gets done, and we want to see progress. We have what we call a diversity operating review, which is done with our U.S. leadership team. In these reviews, our business units and functional leaders present their own diversity data. When I talk about diversity data, it’s really around your representation, your external hires, your promotions, turnovers, and we have been looking at the high-potential pool to see if that is diverse as well.”

Michael Johnson on non-executives playing an important role on the council:

“We have members of the council who may not necessarily be executives but represent an important part of our diversity and inclusion leadership. They provide input and develop programs, oftentimes through our ERGs, that help us reach our placement and representation goals.”

Keith Jones on how the EDC at Toyota decides which initiatives or actions they are going to address:

“For us within our D&I practice, that’s where the rubber meets the road. They’re the folks doing the monitoring of the best practices, looking at benchmarks from surveys like [DiversityInc’s] and other surveys that we participate in. And we scale ourselves to recognize that in our strategy, we have several groups of stakeholders. Our customers, our dealers, our suppliers, our team members and then society at large.”

Gopinath on the openness of EDC meetings:

“When we sit and discuss things, no topic is taboo. Bring anything to the table, anything that is a blind spot somewhere for us. Be able to have that conversation, and then based on that, if there are certain goals or certain actions that we would like to take, we’ll create a strategy. Once we have the intense conversation, think about what the action plans are, and then we start communicating that.” 

Malakar on DEI strategy at Sanofi:

“We have three pillars in terms of our diversity, equity, inclusion strategy. ‘Reflect’ is one of our pillars that really focuses on the workforce. Then we have ‘Unleash,’ which is focused on the workplace. Finally, we have ‘Transform’ in terms of how we transform the medicine so that it focuses on the corporate social responsibility, and then diversity in clinical trials.”

Johnson on wider participation in DEI efforts:

“If I can’t participate, it must not be happening. That was one big thing that we learned through a lot of the listening — not only do employees want to know about it, but they also want more chances to participate. That’s been a big effort for us in diversity and inclusion; how do we increase the communication and the number of opportunities for our employees to participate in helping us achieve these goals?”

Jones on how the EDC has developed over the past 18 months:

“After George Floyd and the other killings of young Black men in 2020, we had our leaders sit with teams to discuss how it impacted them. It made it much more personal. There was a depth of conversation that had to be had after some intense education with our leaders. From top to bottom, they asked, ‘how do we have these conversations?’ ‘What if somebody cries while we’re talking about it? How am I supposed to respond?’ That level of education had to happen for some of our leaders. And it was a good thing because it opened up the mind and the aperture for those conversations.”

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