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Unlocking the Power of DEI: Building Better Programs for Business and People

Diversity and inclusion programs have moved into the mainstream. According to the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co., some $8 billion is spent annually on diversity training in the U.S., and positions dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) have quadrupled in the past five years. Unfortunately, these efforts have not always resulted in measurable improvements in diversity. Why do DEI programs fail to deliver? Why invest in DEI in the first place? And how can we build better programs to work for business and people?

READ: How to Hire with Diversity in Mind

What DEI gets wrong 

Extensive research, including studies by Harvard and McKinsey, reveals that common DEI tactics — like mandatory diversity training, processes prohibiting discrimination, and a one-and-done mentality — don’t deliver lasting change, and can even backfire, resulting in increased inequity. Changing mindsets and behavior is hard.  

… and why it’s right 

So, why invest the time and money in DEI? Dozens of research studies document the benefits to businesses: Diverse companies enjoy 2.5 times higher cash flow per employee, have 19% higher revenues, and have better anticipation/coping/adaptation skills. They are more resilient during downturns and are 45% more likely to gain market share, 70% more likely to capture new markets, and significantly outperform the S&P 500.   

Diversity matters. In a Diversity & Inclusion Workplace Survey published by Glassdoor in 2020, three-quarters of all job seekers said a diverse workplace was important to them, including 72% of women, 89% of Black respondents, 80% of Asians and 70% of Latinos. Importantly, customers increasingly demand a commitment to DEI: 57% of consumers prefer brands that address social inequalities. 

Although compelling, the financial and operational case for diversity is exceeded by the benefits people and communities experience. Inclusive cultures value and embrace difference, giving workers equitable opportunities to thrive. Employees at diverse companies are more engaged and more productive, have better physical and mental health and reduced absenteeism. With a sense of belonging and a voice, employees are empowered to contribute more.

READ: Navigating the New Era of Employee Engagement — Everything You Need to Know

Importantly, DEI builds stronger communities and closes persistent equity gaps. Building diverse workforces through properly implemented DEI programs boosts economic opportunity and prosperity for historically underrepresented groups and cures structural mismatches in the economy that exacerbate talent shortages for employers and reduce opportunity for workers.  

DEI that works: a how-to guide 

Successful DEI initiatives begin with the inclusive practice of learning, measuring and educating: gaining a nuanced understanding of the causes, practices and outcomes of inequity and bias, while understanding the current challenges that affected employees’ experience. To foster listening, successful DEI programs establish equity councils and employee resource groups to build bridges and create community.  

Cultural assessments are critical to establishing baselines for how employees and job candidates experience your workplace. Measure diversity and outcomes in recruiting, hiring, retention, promotions, raises and pay equity. Benchmark against industry and geographic peers to gauge your success. 

Build a more inclusive culture by addressing unconscious or implicit bias, which occurs when individuals make judgments influenced by gender, race, age, or other factors without realizing they have done so. Dozens of bias types have been identified that impact hiring and promotion: For example, identical resumes with white-sounding names receive 50% more callbacks than resumes with Black-sounding names.  

READ: It’s Time to Bridge the ‘Say/Do’ Gap in Diversity and Inclusion

DEI through skills-based hiring 

Businesses can grow their pool of diverse talent through expansive practices in both recruiting and hiring. The first step? Eliminate college-degree requirements and hire for skills. Currently, 86% of Colorado employers say the skilled talent gap threatens their business, but some of this pain is self-inflicted. Recruiters typically use degrees as a quick screening mechanism, disqualifying thousands of capable Coloradans in the process. Consider this: 77% of Colorado’s top jobs post a degree requirement, yet only 30% of Coloradans earn one.  

Instead of relying on college degrees, forward-thinking employers have embraced skills-based hiring, dramatically growing their talent pool and creating a more equitable, inclusive hiring process. According to research from McKinsey & Co., hiring for skills shortens the time to hire, reduces hiring costs, and is five times more predictive of job performance than hiring for education. And it aids retention: Employees without college degrees stay in their roles 34% longer than those with degrees.  

READ: Embracing Neurodiversity in the Workplace — 5 Benefits of Hiring Neurodiverse Talent

DEI-focused promotion and retention 

Most companies overlook their greatest potential asset in creating a more diverse workplace: their own employees. Other inclusive practices, like career-pathing, upskilling, tracking mobility and skill-based promotion practices help drive retention and ultimately build a valuable future talent pipeline of managers and leaders.  

Two critical underutilized DEI tools that boost retention and drive equity through all levels of an organization are mentorship and sponsorship programs. Having mentors and sponsors who advocated for them is the single attribute shared by people of color who have progressed furthest in the leadership ranks. Mentoring programs boost the representation of Black, Hispanic and Asian-American managers by 9-24 percentage points. 

DEI at work 

ActivateWork is a Colorado-based nonprofit recruiting, training, placement and coaching firm that I’m proud to have founded. Closing the IT talent gap, we provide rigorous, tuition-free IT training for individuals historically underrepresented in the tech industry. We expand the skilled workforce by providing industry-demanded tech training and credentials, like COMPTIA A+ and Network+, and then connect our graduates, who are 70% BIPOC,  to employers who need and want skilled, diverse technologists that their normal HR practices would overlook. For our 40+ employer partners, such as Trimble, Bank of America and Ping Identity, we are both a skilled talent solution and a DEI partner.  

Through our registered apprenticeships in cybersecurity, software development and DevOps, ActivateWork helps IT employers bridge critical mid-skill shortages while enhancing diversity and generating an ROI. Apprentices learn customized skills and competencies specific to their employer on the job, and experience rapid economic mobility. Through apprenticeship, employers that build versus buy talent earn an average $1.47 return for every $1 invested. 

READ: Want to Set your Business Apart From the Rest? Consider Apprenticeship

The Colorado Inclusive Economy Movement 

The profound benefits of DEI to our BIPOC communities and the businesses that hire them are why I founded Colorado Inclusive Economy (CIE), a CEO-led movement of racial equity, diversity and inclusion. CIE is composed of leaders of business, government, education and nonprofits who want to co-create a Colorado that works for all. Founding members include Jandel Allen-Davis of Craig Hospital, Rob Cohen of IMA Financial, Janice Sinden of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and many other community leaders. Altogether, 140 leaders have engaged on a journey to build multicultural, inclusive workforces through authentic DEI programs and practices. By transforming hiring, recruiting, retention, promotion and pay practices, CIE intends to build the employment, income and wealth of BIPOC individuals across the state. 

When it’s done right — through expansive, inclusive, and additive DEI workforce practices — employers can build diverse workforces that solve talent gaps expand the candidate pool and retain and develop diverse talent — improving individuals, communities and Colorado’s economy. It requires dedicated, measurable commitments to common-sense, skills-based hiring practices, building an inclusive community based on communication and understanding, and a shift to apprenticeships, upskilling and mentorship. ActivateWork and Colorado Inclusive Economy are leading the charge toward a diverse economy that works for all Coloradans. 


Helen Young HayesHelen Young Hayes is the CEO & founder of Denver-based ActivateWork, a nonprofit recruiting, training and coaching firm that connects employers to a diverse pool of exceptional talent . 

KeyBank Makes $450,000 Grant to Support Food Bank of the Rockies’ Culturally Responsive Food Initiative

Food Bank of the Rockies and KeyBank announced a $450,000 grant from KeyBank at a mobile food pantry hosted by Food Bank of the Rockies last week at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

Since its founding in 1978, Food Bank of the Rockies has been a leader in the fight against hunger. The organization serves about half of Colorado and all of Wyoming, providing food and other essentials to over 800 Hunger Relief Partners and through signature programs like their monthly 70-plus mobile pantries.

READ — Rising Food Costs Create Unique Challenges for Hunger-Focused Agencies

The KeyBank grant will aid Food Bank of the Rockies in purchasing fresh and nutritious produce and additional culturally responsive food for partners serving their communities through the Culturally Responsive Food Initiative, which impacts approximately 10,000 households annually in the Metro Denver area. During the next three years, Food Bank of the Rockies plans to scale the program to serve approximately 30,000 households through 10-20 Hunger Relief Partners and their 70 plus mobile pantries.

“The work Food Bank of the Rockies is doing through the Culturally Responsive Food Initiative will change lives in our community by offering nutritious food, and also delivering training to Hunger Relief Partners serving food insecure populations,” said Mike Katz, president of KeyBank’s Colorado market. “KeyBank is proud to help scale this meaningful community program over the next three years.”

In addition to food distribution, the Culturally Responsive Food Initiative offers an Inclusive Capacity Building Program to Hunger Relief Partners, which includes best practices and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training for agency staff members and volunteers, an implementation plan for operational changes and capacity building projects, and completion of a six-month progress report detailing participation with the program.

READ — Crafting Your New CSR Strategy for 2023

Inflation is currently at a 40-year high and is hitting Food Bank of the Rockies’ budget with some staple items costing as much as 70% more than last year. To meet the needs of our neighbors experiencing hunger, we are spending $1.3 million or more on food purchasing every month – more than triple what we were spending pre-COVID,” said Erin Pulling, President & CEO of Food Bank of the Rockies. “We’ve been able to meet the increased demand, thanks to the generosity of companies like KeyBank. Their gift will help fuel our culturally responsive food initiative and allow us to distribute food to our diverse communities while honoring their needs and preferences with respect. We are grateful for KeyBank’s inspired support in answering the challenge of hunger across our communities.”


About Food Bank of the Rockies

Food Bank of the Rockies is the largest hunger-relief organization in the Rocky Mountain region. Since 1978, we’ve put the power of community to work for our neighbors in need. Through partnerships. Through programs. Through people. Through you. Everything we do is fueled by the support of our community and donors, and 96 cents of every dollar goes directly to distribution. With support from our community, we distribute enough food daily for over 178,000 meals. For more information, visit


About KeyCorp

KeyCorp’s roots trace back nearly 200 years to Albany, New York. Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, Key is one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies, with assets of approximately $190.1 billion at September 30, 2022. Key provides deposit, lending, cash management and investment services to individuals and businesses in 15 states under the name KeyBank National Association through a network of approximately 1,000 branches and approximately 1,300 ATMs. Key also provides a broad range of sophisticated corporate and investment banking products, such as merger and acquisition advice, public and private debt and equity, syndications, and derivatives to middle market companies in selected industries throughout the United States under the KeyBanc Capital Markets trade name. For more information, visit KeyBank is Member FDIC.

Crafting Your New CSR Strategy for 2023

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs took a big hit as companies worked to navigate the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. As companies got a handle on their business affairs, 2022 was the year they were able to ramp up their CSR programs back to full speed or at least consider incorporating a CSR strategy. As we look ahead to 2023, here are some key trends that you should keep in mind to either start or build out your CSR programs.

Using Volunteerism to Rebuild Company Culture

One universal consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic that companies in all industries are facing is the cultural shift that comes from returning to the office after working from home for an extended period of time.

READ — 5 Tips for Building a Strong Company Culture in a Hybrid Work Environment

With hybrid schedules becoming more of the norm, many new people are starting their employment during these hybrid or remote times. This is the perfect time to use volunteerism to help build connections among employees, even for those that are more introverted.

There is nothing like mucking a horse pasture or doing some grueling trail maintenance with fellow colleagues to create lasting connections and camaraderie! Increasing your volunteer programming within your CSR strategy will have a huge benefit, not only regarding those you are helping in your community but internally as well.

Connecting your CSR and DEI Programming

As Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programming continues to remain a top priority for organizations, you can use your CSR strategy to elevate your DEI efforts and create opportunities for your colleagues to engage with diverse communities.

Many companies provide training and educational sessions addressing DEI. Why not add a volunteer opportunity to provide colleagues with a personal way to connect with those in the community? For example, in honor of Black History Month, in addition to hosting our traditional cultural initiatives event, we also hosted volunteers and partnered with Communities in Schools to provide story times with elementary school students to share the influence and contributions of individuals of African descent. Aligning your DEI efforts with volunteer opportunities and charitable contributions to organizations focused on serving diverse communities will strengthen both your CSR strategy and DEI efforts.

Emergency and Disaster Relief Strategy

Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, fires, mass shootings, hate crimes, wars and a global pandemic … the world is facing a major increase in the number of natural and man-made disasters. Incorporating an emergency and disaster relief strategy will provide your company with the ability to quickly and meaningfully respond to such incidents, rather than taking a more panicked and responsive approach.

Consider which stage of disaster relief to focus on (i.e., preparedness, relief, reconstruction), which type of support to provide (hosting a campaign/event, investing financially, deploying volunteers, pro bono support), where to give, both geographically and frequency (which is particularly challenging), and your alignment with existing disaster relief organizations.

As you craft your strategy, take a look back at how the pandemic shifted CSR strategy (a “disaster” of its own sort) and take note of lessons learned. This is a good time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t in the event another major crisis comes along and CSR efforts have to evolve.

READ — How Business Leaders Can Embrace a Multigenerational Workforce

As we wrap up 2022, I hope you and your company plan to incorporate a more robust CSR program as businesses are now back to the new normal. For those just starting their CSR journey, B:Civic, a part of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, is a great local resource. As companies must navigate how to rebuild post-pandemic company culture, an intentional CSR program can be an impactful tool.


Jayme RitchieJayme Ritchie is Brownstein’s Community Relations Director.