03/26/2012 05:21 pm ET Updated May 26, 2012

Getting Past Stuck With Diversity & Inclusion

I fear that leaders of the business world today are like Moses and the Israelites. Wandering the wilderness for 40 years, going around and around the same mountain. It seems that's where we are with D&I -- stuck circling the same mountain for 45 years.

But, just as the Israelites, we have hope. One day God said to them, "You've gone around this mountain long enough. Look up and see your promised land."

We are at that moment. We've gone around this mountain long enough. Let's look up and see our promised land where leaders truly embrace diversity and inclusion as a business imperative. And, let's connect to doing what it takes to get unstuck and make some meaningful progress.

Over the years, I've come to loath the term "journey" as it is applied to D&I -- and I've used it myself. I'm now taking a stand. Let's remove the connection between diversity and inclusion and "journey." People are constantly throwing this phrase around, "On this D&I journey... " or "D&I is not a destination, it is a journey."

Those phrases are simply code for: "We're not making much progress."

I recently heard what I believe is an honest assessment of where the business world stands with diversity and inclusion. Tom Greco, President of Frito Lay, opened the 2012 CPG Retail Diversity Forum (a conference that I design for the Network of Executive Women) with the following comment. He said, "We need to acknowledge that we've made unbelievable progress on advancing D&I, but we have undeniable challenges and unbelievable possibilities that lie ahead."

It's time to change THE CONVERSATION. We have indeed made progress since the inception of Affirmative Action back in the early 1960s -- over 45 years ago. But we are challenged to make a breakthrough. Corporate America simply is not keeping up with today's diverse world. And, despite the business case, leaders are not tackling the challenges with a purpose.

So that leaves us where we are -- stuck. On a journey. Making little-to-no-progress. And with no urgency to arrive at the destination.

Corporate America's leaders today will tell you that D&I is a business imperative for their companies. Unfortunately, a very small percentage of them truly mean it and walk it out. It is irresponsible for a business leader to not address the challenges that they know might render them irrelevant in terms of their ability to meet the consumer needs and provide shareholder value.

If D&I truly were a business imperative, however, then WHY do we see so little actual progress? Like the progress we see, for example, in sales quotas being met? In bonuses being given for meeting set performance standards? And so on?

If D&I truly were a business imperative, we would not tolerate NO progress. No SVP of Sales or CEO, when speaking of sales targets, will accept the reasoning or excuse for having NOT met them as, "It's a journey... we're making directional progress." No way. That is just not the way it works.

I worked in the consumer goods industry for 18 years in Sales and Marketing. We HAD to meet our sales targets -- every single quarter. Period. If we didn't, we'd lose our jobs.

For diversity & inclusion to become the TRUE business imperative that it IS, that "sales target attitude" and no-failure-accepted expectation must be applied. EVERY leader -- every member of the c-suite, every SVP and above, every manager -- must pursue diversity & inclusion with and through accountability, responsibility and intentionality. Until the c-suite exemplifies and requires that demonstrated AUTHENTIC leadership behavior, and it is included IN the professional expectations -- we will not see any progress.

And WHY do we need to see faster progress with D&I? WHY does it matter?

Here's the cold, hard truth: Companies and leaders who "get it" will survive. Those who don't - won't.

And that's not just my opinion. Blame the population growth and research data.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2050 over half of the U.S. population will be Asian, African American and Hispanic. Those groups will hold $520 billion of the buying power in the U.S. in the consumer packaged goods industry alone. That is growth of over 74 percent from their buying power today.

In addition, according to Why She Buys by Bridget Brennan, women now account for 85 percent of all consumer purchases. They make up over 50 percent of the workforce, yet hold only 16.1 percent of Fortune 500 board seats, with women of color making up only 3 percent of those seats. And, according to additional recent research by Catalyst, at the current rate of our "journey," it will take 40 more years for women to achieve equal representation in the leadership positions of the workforce.

Companies today do not have 40 more years to get this figured out.

They will HAVE TO change... or they will die.

Why? Because this is a business imperative that is directly related to consumer buying power. In today's global economy, an organization's leadership MUST mirror the face of the consumer in order to be more profitable -- and in order to survive.

For example, in a recent study entitled, "Women Matter 2010," McKinsey & Company established the link between the presence of women in leadership and better financial results. Women Matter 2010 proves the case that women comprise a vital consumer base, provide a source of high-quality talent in a competitive market, and have a dramatic positive impact on organizational and financial performance.

So... what to do? Get UNSTUCK.

How to Get Unstuck: The Quick Hitlist

1. No more "journey." Recognize that we must stop talking out of both sides of our mouths. No more "journey." Only a vital BUSINESS IMPERATIVE.

2. Get intentional: Make D&I your DNA. Ensure that D&I is part of your company's authentic DNA. Make it a baseline employment expectation. Be clear about the behaviors that you are expecting from your employees.

3. Infuse a high level of discipline. Set employees up for success by creating learning opportunities that support the ability to connect across cultures.

4. Hold ALL employees accountable. Measure representation, measure retention, measure culture, measure leadership behaviors. What gets measured gets attention. And not as a bonus. Set goals for each of these areas and adopt a black and white standard. Either a leader did it or they didn't. The board should set goals for the CEO, and the CEO should cascade these goals down throughout the entire organization.

If we want to continue describing diversity & inclusion as a journey, that is our choice. But if we do, we must be clear -- this is a journey that has an extreme sense of urgency. It is a direct, non-stop flight.

We WILL get unstuck, move beyond this mountain and enjoy our promised land!