BUSINESS
01/23/2016 02:37 pm ET

Why A Top Diversity Adviser Says Quotas Should Be A 'Last Resort'

Beth Brooke-Marciniak, EY's global head of public policy, says diversity takes some serious introspection first.

It's no secret that the corporate world is struggling with diversity. Most businesses spend more time talking about diversity, through mission statements and unconscious bias trainings. Yet the top tier of almost every major company remains overwhelmingly white, straight, cisgendered and male. 

But setting rigid quotas should only be "a sledgehammer of last resort," according to Beth Brooke-Marciniak, the global vice chair of public policy at Ernst & Young, the London-based consulting titan.

"You have to work with the pipeline that you have, so how are they feeding the pipeline?" she told The Huffington Post on Friday at the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland. "If they're bringing in women, if they're bringing in various aspects of diversity, how are they moving them through the pipeline? If they're losing them, what are they trying to do to retain them?"

Part of the problem is that corporate cultures are built around men, who for decades were traditionally expected to work rigid hours while their wives raised their children. Staying late at the office, forgoing familial responsibilities in pursuit of profit, was celebrated. As the business world has become more diverse, Brooke-Marciniak said it's crucial that company's adapt policies to encourage a healthy work-life balance. 

"Do they have a flexible work environment, which is what men and women today need?" she said. "Flexibility is for everyone and everyone needs it and wants it today."

The other problem is that companies aren't completely transparent about the problem. Only recently, tech giants -- most of which publicly tout their for forward-thinking values, yet remain mostly white and male -- have begun releasing data about their workforce and setting annual goals. 

"People care about this, and so they can't have a judgement about something they can't see," Brooke-Marciniak said. "The only way you can see it is if you create some transparency, and then they can start putting pressure and asking questions. It takes a few questions, and people start to feel a little heat, and then things start to change." 

These things take time, she said. 

"I recognize that things take time, you can't snap your fingers and change the numbers overnight," Brooke-Marciniak said. "You have to have individuals in your pipeline." 

Still, there are steps leaders can take to make the work environment more accepting to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex people. Brooke-Marciniak said that casually chatting in the office about the LGBTQI people in your life creates a more accepting work environment and avoids the othering that comes of asking someone directly about their personal life.

"When you're in a setting around the individual, talk to someone else about, 'oh, I went out to dinner with Beth and Michelle,' or 'I talked to Beth and Michelle, can you believe what Beth and Michelle did over the weekend' in a very supportive [way], where you make it clear that you're just fine with it," Brooke-Marciniak said, referring to her wife, Michelle, a former professional basketball player and former point guard in the Women's National Basketball Association. "If they're closeted, they're just observing you in your environment and they're looking for safety and that's just a great way to make it safe." 

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