Inspirational Keynotes and Committed Panels raise the bar at Multicultural Forum on Workplace Diversity, 2012

The Multicultural Forum on Workplace Diversity ( is the largest diversity and inclusion conference in the US, that brings together leaders from a broad array of workplaces and industries, to provide a strong learning experience and a forum for discussion on how to sustain and move forward this dialogue. The commitment and dedication of the thought leaders in this space is aimed at the broad objective, that workplaces of tomorrow will always be better than today, in terms of extending respect and inclusion to all the participants, including employees, consumers, clients, suppliers, vendors and so on. This was the 24th event and attracted participants from 35 states and more than 400 companies.

Every keynote and all the sessions were excellent and provided ample learning opportunities, that led to lasting discussions in the hallways and the expo areas, during networking breaks. I will share a few highlights, including a panel session that I participated in.

Stephen Frost, Head of Diversity and Inclusion for London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG – 2012, in his inspiring keynote, emphasized the sustaining, systemic aspect of the dialogue, to make a lasting difference. At this year’s London Olympics, the committee is looking at weaving in diversity and inclusion in every aspect of the games, from ensuring that a person in a wheelchair gets the same view as others in the similar spot, to the hearing impaired getting the same enjoyment of the games with the help of translation services, to ensuring that certain number of unemployed families get access to the games, to the fact that the community where the games take place is largely left disturbed so they can go about their normal routine. The committee is examining each and every aspect of the diversity and inclusion process. In the end, it is not about the physical legacy like ensuring wheelchair access etc., but in the end, said Frost, it is about creating a social legacy and stamping it with love and respect. Talking to attendees he said, we may never have enough time, but we always have infinite supply of the capacity for leadership to take a stand for what we believe in, and we must do that in order to bring society to a better place. Challenging those who complain that this is hard work, Frost said, “if the mountain was smooth, you couldn’t climb it” and in the challenges are hidden some great opportunities. Quoting the poet, W. H. Auden, he said, “You owe it to all of us to get on with what you’re good at.”

Panels addressing D&I work in the health care sector were particularly interesting to me. A panel moderated by Dr. Alexander Green, Associate Director at The Disparities Solutions Center at Massachusetts General Hospital ( addressed disparities in the quality of care. The panel presented models for taking action to eliminate disparities, through data collection, stratification of quality measures by race and ethnicity, accurate reporting of disparities, and through action steps and interventions to address disparities, including implementing broad, scalable cultural competency training for clinical and non-clinical staff. Dr. Green shared the framework of how the center at Mass General seeks to address disparities by developing new research, and translating those research findings into action steps of developing customized policy solutions for health care providers, insurers, educators and others. The center also provides education and leadership training to the care providers. According to Brenda Battle, Director of the Center for Diversity and Cultural Competence at Barnes-Jewish Hospital ( in St. Louis, the value in confronting the inequalities in health care related to race, ethnicity, age, gender etc. will ultimately result in better health care for all patients. The current inequalities data clearly shows that it is imperative to address these disparities in care. For every six white Americans who have diabetes, there are 10 African Americans with diabetes, and African Americans with diabetes are more likely to develop diabetes related complications and experience greater disability from these complications than white Americans with diabetes. While 40% of Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s patient population is racially/ethnically diverse, in 2006 only 10% of the professional and management staff was racially/ethnically diverse. Today, as a result of BJH’s efforts to improve diversity at professional and management levels, 18% of staff at these levels are racially/ethnically diverse. The Center has stepped up efforts to address all the incongruencies, at multiple levels, starting with training and education, increasing workforce diversity, providing language services, and through community engagement and interactions to promote sustainable equity solutions, including developing a pipeline of healthcare workers through enrichment programs, that expose middle school and high school students to careers in science and healthcare. There is also greater commitment to address disparities in care, on the payer side. Dr. Wayne Rawlins, Aetna’s national medical director for racial and ethnic equality initiative and Michele Toscano, program manager of racial and ethnic equality initiative (, shared Aetna’s commitment to address disparities. There is a clear business case tied to disparities in care. There is a huge economic impact and there are direct medical costs, as a result of disparities in care. Aetna tackled the problem head on, with data collection and using it to drive action steps. Initial program initiatives indicated an immediate impact. For instance, through targeted approach to training non-white patients in better diabetes management, the complications were greatly reduced. Similarly, the data indicated that African American and Hispanic population has greater complications and heavy ER usage, due to Asthma related complications. With targeted intervention, home based assessment, education, action plan, and telephonic nurse follow-up, the ER utilization was greatly reduced. The panel discussion was followed by animated Q&A dialogue with the participants.

A panel moderated by Linda Stokes, President and CEO of PRISM International ( discussed the Implications of D&I for the Global Workforce through the case study of Medtronic’s initiative to integrate Diversity and Inclusion into their locations across India. The panelists, Tonya Hampton, HR Director with Medtronic (, Dr. Kizzy Parks, Assessment and Measurement Consultant, and Dr. Darshana Nadkarni (, Diversity Facilitator, shared about the diversity training initiative that was rolled out in India, in July 2010. Hampton shared about Medtronic’s vision to anchor the diversity and inclusion initiative with the business case. There are over 32 M people with diabetes in India and CHD (coronary heart disease) has risen 4-fold over the past 40 years. India and China represent $5B market for Medtronic, and it is also an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of the patients, since diabetes and CHD are manageable diseases, with timely intervention, said Hampton. She partnered with her colleague, Titus Arnold, in India, to roll out the training initiative. The survey response from the Medtronic India team, during the initial data gathering and assessment period, was amazingly high, said Parks. Based on the responses received, Stokes and Nadkarni designed the training. Nadkarni shared some highlights. The training was anchored in the Medtronic business case and began with providing the attendees with a broad awareness of diversity. The participants got an opportunity to self examine perceptual screens and stereotypes and then expand it to examine cultural differences. As opposed to low context Western and corporate culture, as a country, India represents a high context culture, where the meaning of the communication is often embedded in the context in which the communication occurs, not just in the words. When asked by a US boss that the project needs to be completed by a certain date, an Indian employee might likely not say that it would not be possible but may give a weak answer like “I will do my best”. Nadkarni explored with interactive audience participation, the action steps that can emerge with greater insight into the cultural differences, that can enhance and leverage global partnerships and work relationships. Participants indicated that they walked away with tips and concrete approaches for integrating D&I into their global locations.

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