When Nirupa Netram launched consulting company Lotus Solutions last year, it was in the midst of the pandemic, around the time George Floyd was killed and while the country was experiencing the historic Black Lives Matter protests. Netram, who spent 23 years as an attorney, certified circuit civil mediator and social entrepreneur, wanted to educate businesses on the importance of diversity and why it should be considered across all sectors and levels in a company. “When I talk about diversity, people tend to think race or ethnicity, but it’s so much more. It’s gender, generation, LGBTQIA+, religion,” she says, adding that part of her consulting focuses on awareness training and educating organizations on problems they didn’t realize they had. “Companies may think they have diversity because it’s in the entry-level, but having diversity means it’s on your board and top level.”
There are nearly 45 million immigrants in the U.S., and 28.2 million are in the workforce. Yet 90% of board chairs are Caucasian, and 95% of CEOs are white men. And, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, non-Hispanic whites may drop below half the population by 2044. “That’s going to be an interesting shift,” says Netram. “There will be more of a focus on people’s potential and skills as opposed to boxes they check in terms of education.”
Netram was born in Guyana but grew up in Southwest Florida, and as a woman, member of an ethnic minority and immigrant, she has experienced the challenges of what that means both personally and professionally. When Netram was searching for jobs, she kept asking the same question: What does the company’s leadership look like? And she’s not the only one.
According to ZipRecruiter’s first annual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion survey in 2019, 86% of jobseekers consider workplace diversity an important factor when looking for a job. Nearly 57% of employees want their workplace to do more to increase diversity, and 78% of employees who responded to a Harvard Business Review study admit they work at organizations that lack diversity in leadership positions. “Diversity is only growing within our region, but I’m not seeing it on the boards or in the leadership,” Netram says.
With four going on five generations working together, the workplace is more diverse than ever. Businesses need to look at their makeup and understand individual culture within an organizational culture to consider whether they’re supporting people culturally. This is what has spurred a movement toward diversity task forces and the creation of company roles along the lines of VP or director of diversity.
“What I see happening in Southwest Florida is [that] businesses in the community are committed to figuring out what DEI looks like for the current workforce, as well as for the community as a whole,” says Nicole King-Smith, a Fort Myers-based generational expert and founder of NK Enterprise Consulting LLC, which aids companies in business solutions related to generational diversity. “You can’t approach DEI if you’re not looking at culture. A lot of people are not only looking at organizations as a job that matches a skill set, they also want to be part of an organization that matches their lifestyle.”
As COVID-19 has shifted mindsets and people have reprioritized in terms of what they expect and value in the workplace, King-Smith says the workforce is being challenged—but in a good way.
“People are being really intentional about what their next moves and steps are, and organizational culture is a huge component that is being magnified more than in the past,” she explains. “A lot of times, when people are looking at DEI, they’re doing what is needed to be compliant versus being committed … but now, I’m seeing companies taking a sustainable approach and trying to put action items, initiatives and goals in place, both long- and short-term.”