Inclusion Score CEO discusses his company’s collaboration with Zurich Resilience Solutions’ new Workplace DEI Service to help organizations fully embrace D&I principles.
James Felton Keith is CEO of Inclusion Score, a diversity and inclusion (D&I) technology company that specializes in D&I service management (DISM). A mechanical engineer and macroeconomist by trade, Keith has championed diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) for over two decades. He has long applied his love for process and systems design to his activism for economic inclusion across borders. His activism and professional work began to merge when he became the founding CEO of the Detroit LGBT Chamber of Commerce. Inclusion Score, Inc., continues that mission.
Keith co-founded Inclusion Score with Effenus Henderson and Karen Prater Jasmine. While consulting with other chamber organizations, Keith met Henderson, who was leading the effort with hundreds of other consultants to create the groundbreaking global D&I framework at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) during the 2010s. The result — officially known as ISO Standard 30415:2021 — was released in May 2021. Keith and Henderson met Jasmine when they collaborated on an effort to offer DISM services while she was Executive Director at the National Organization for Minority Architects.
The breadth of the ISO Standard covers a lot of ground, moving beyond human resources considerations to reflect the need for a wider reach. To that end, Inclusion Score has entered into an exclusive collaboration with Zurich Resilience Solutions and its new Workplace Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Service. The service represents one of the first risk management consulting products in the insurance industry to help customers not only address the growing risk of falling short in DEI initiatives, but also help them reap the estimable benefits that come with embracing DEI.
We talked to Keith about the new urgency for businesses to take action on diversity, equity and inclusion, and why Zurich’s risk management service can help organizations of all sizes adopt ISO’s new D&I standard.
Q: You’ve been invested in diversity and inclusion issues for over two decades, particularly as an economic activist committed to applying an objective methodology to measure success. How did that translate to your work with ISO 30415, as well as the mission behind Inclusion Score?
Keith: I started as an engineer and a business process guy. My personal involvement in activism formalized when I launched multiple LGBT Chambers of Commerce starting in Detroit in 2013. I was fortunate to be asked to participate in a lot of meetings to make suggestions to the ISO team.
ISO’s D&I Standard and the global consensus it represents is the marriage of a new standard with an older process of corporate change management. Everything we’re doing with Inclusion Score, I’d previously done with other companies from a cyber security, accounting, IT, or from a Lean Six Sigma standpoint. At its core, Inclusion Score is incentivizing corporate change management around diversity and inclusion.
Q: One of your mantras is that companies embrace diversity, equity and inclusion as ongoing “change management,” not knee-jerk “crisis management.” In other words, it’s about acting, not reacting.
Keith: Right. Most folks are uncertain about what they’re doing when it comes to diversity and inclusion, and you can see it in the ad hoc nature of DEI practices in various organizations. In my experience, most inclusion initiatives are generally reactions to crises. To quantify that, corporate America spends about $8 billion a year, per research out of MIT, on this sort of crisis management. That figure is from around 2004 and we estimate the number is much greater today. The point is, you have a diversity incident, you invest money to give everyone a warm, fuzzy feeling. But that doesn’t have long-term measurable effects.
Q: But so many companies are ramping up their D&I efforts. What’s the problem?
Keith: Absolutely, they are. Companies are doing a lot of DEI projects — they’re building Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), they’re conducting external relations within the neighborhoods and communities they occupy, they’re trying to improve diversity in hiring practices, they’re changing board seats, they’re encouraging new suppliers. They’re doing all these things and much more. But we look at all of those as just “projects.”
And those projects need to fit into the management process so they don’t fail over the long-term. It’s risky to keep doing business as usual because it takes an improvisational approach to DEI, not a methodical one. Right now, a lot of organizations are relying on what I call “rock star individuals,” employees who may champion these principles in varying ways. That not only leaves serious gaps, but you also risk backtracking when those people leave the organization. The future is not about tying DEI to a rock star role player, it is about tying DEI to our roles and responsibilities and to sustainable policies and processes.
Inclusion Score standardizes the deployment of DEI by making its execution specific to roles and responsibilities, not particular individuals, and embedding DEI in all the layers of a company. It adds a level of pervasive design that supersedes the normal DEI initiatives that have often been limited to human resources or supplier diversity resources.
The unique opportunity for this standard, and Inclusion Score’s work with Zurich Resilience Solutions for its Workplace Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Service, is that it removes the ad hoc nature of diversity initiatives.
Q: Embracing DEI is the right thing to do, but there’s no federal mandate for this, right? But companies that don’t pursue DEI initiatives are facing greater risks.
Keith: There’s a very real threat of rising lawsuits around not only outright discrimination but also retaliation. At Inclusion Score, we’ve tracked about $5 billion in lawsuits — corporate, governmental and nonprofit — in the U.S. alone. A microcosm of this larger number is the output of federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) litigation data. About 55% of EEOC reports concern retaliation and about 45% are discrimination based on various protected characteristics. That number, growing as it has over the past 10 years and sustaining itself at that high pitch, is creating a new incentive for companies to get this right. There’s also a very real reputational risk for the publicly traded firms that can affect their market capitalization. But even for non-publicly traded firms, failing to incorporate DEI in their organizations can have serious implications.
I don’t think enough of the business world and/or the regular world is aware of the opportunity to systematically tackle litigation risk. We need to be steadfast in our efforts to understand what risk looks like in the 21st century. Zurich recognizes this is a new risk class, that this is a leadership opportunity and a moral opportunity.
Q: The ISO standard, which Zurich uses as the foundation for its DEI service, gives companies a framework to measure themselves against. It has 32 risk domains, which makes it very expansive. Can you discuss the benefits of its breadth?
Keith: The new question executives have to ask their firms is, are we DEI competitive? What Zurich is doing is not only delivering a measurable, scalable solution, but also delivering a level of confidence to users — be they large or small firms — that helps them know what they should be doing next. We’re trying to make sure that the deployment of that comprehensive DEI design is rooted in corporate change management. Zurich’s offering will make sure that companies can gradually get to all 32 risk domains and 171 risk elements across 27 diversity categories in the ISO standard over time.
If we asked 10 people what DEI means, they’d give 10 different answers about human resources. But ISO’s standard has four big risk groups: 1) governance, the stuff executives do; 2) HR, the stuff we do with our employees; 3) product delivery, what we do with our products and services; and 4) supplier diversity, what we do with our tiers of supply chain.
While it is crucial that the CEO be the actual Chief Inclusion Officer, that is not always possible. The ISO standard allows us to build good infrastructure from the ground up, until the top leadership level understands what DEI means, not only from a financial standpoint but also from a legal standpoint, a functional standpoint, and an overall rhetorical standpoint. The standard makes their communications about inclusivity more than words.
Q: One of the starting points of Zurich’s new service uses Inclusion Score’s proprietary assessment tool. Can you talk about that?
Keith: We start with an assessment tool that helps you categorize, quantify and manage all of your DEI efforts, and then you can work with Zurich to scale your capability and invest in the maturity process across all these different capabilities.
It’s ultimately a workflow management tool. We use a method called Inclusion Maturity Model Integration (IMMI). Everywhere your organization is “immature,” to use the formal methodology, in your DEI maturity, the tool will provide recommendations regarding where the opportunities exist. Based on the assessment, firms are more or less mature in different risk domains. The workflow model will tell them what they should be doing next.
Q: So how are Zurich and Inclusion Score working together? How will this collaboration operate?
Keith: Zurich will take the lead for their customers, led by Julia Oltmanns, Director of the Zurich Workplace DEI Service, who is an ISO-30415:2021-Certified D&I Professional from the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business. The Inclusion Score team, led by Karen (Prater Jasmine), our Chief Data Officer, and Effenus (Henderson), will offer support — whether we’re virtual or onsite — helping firms through the assessment, helping them understand what the assessment process provides, and then helping them understand what they should do, post-assessment.
Q: You’re passionate about the power of economic activism to improve the world, and your work in diversity and inclusion is very much rooted in that principle, isn’t it?
Keith: I’m an economic inclusion advocate. I’m a macroeconomist by trade. We hear one thing in the media (about DEI) from a sociopolitical standpoint, but in a pandemic and post-pandemic world, it’s about getting people back to work and getting them involved in the companies that distribute capital, so that more people are part of the normal economy. All people. That’s the behind-the-scenes objective.
I remember when my career started. I was a mechanical engineer for a large auto company. The opportunity for me and my generation 20-plus years ago was IT. I remember seeing that industry transformed into something super-organized over the course of the past 20 years. And it was because of an ISO standard and the process change framework of IT service management (ITSM).
That’s where we are now from a D&I standpoint. The standard does not judge. It simply tells firms where they are. It’s about how much infrastructure you have to truly include people, it’s about the policies and processes you have in place to embed D&I into everything. The result should be that as you advance in your D&I maturity, you could survey your employees and they would say: “I am well-engaged, and I feel that I am a valued part of this organization.” And that’s what we’re trying to incentivize.
When we think about real solutions, they’re less about the rhetoric and more about having a baked-in process to include people, institution by institution, locality by locality. That’s the real opportunity here.