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4 ways Biden can promote corporate diversity without congressional approval

By Lucinda Duncalfe, Founder and CEO

November 16, 2020 | 6 min read

President-elect Joe Biden called Donald Trump “one of the most racist presidents” in modern history. AboveBoard chief exec Lucinda Duncalfe offers four immediate steps a Biden administration should take to undo the damage.


The possibility of a bright new day in corporate diversity dawned with the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. They would not have been elected without the overwhelming support of Black Americans, and Biden has pledged to address inequality and injustice.

This will be a welcome change for corporate leaders who have been striving for years to develop more diverse and inclusive workforces. Driven by extensive research documenting the superior performance of diverse teams and the desire to reflect their customer base, chef executives have activated diversity and inclusion efforts.

This summer, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery thrust race into the center of our collective attention and reinvigorated diversity efforts in board rooms around the country. Corporate leaders deepened their commitments to change. But at the same time, president Trump refused to denounce white supremacist groups, resisted acknowledging the history of systemic racism in the United States, and announced an executive order banning diversity and bias training at companies that do business with the federal government. None of this was good for business.

Now, we have an immediate and pressing opportunity to get our corporate diversity efforts back on track. President-elect Biden’s plans for the first 100 days must include tangible steps to promote equality. Here are four actions that a president Biden can take to immediately combat systemic injustices, promote inclusivity and close the longstanding economic gaps in American society.

1. Appoint the most diverse cabinet in American history

Kamala Harris has already made history as the first Black, first South Asian and first female elected as vice-president. A Biden administration can continue to break down barriers and lead by example by naming the most diverse cabinet in history. This should include appointing people of color, women, LGBTQ+ individuals and other underrepresented groups to the highest offices within our government. He should also strive to bring a similar level of diversity into other areas of the public sector, including the military, federal contractors, and more.

2. Reverse Trump’s executive order banning diversity training

The impact of the Trump administration’s announcement of an executive order banning diversity and bias training at companies that do business with the federal government in September was swift, with organizations and universities immediately suspending diversity training out of fear of losing critical contracts. In October, the NAACP Legal Defense fund and other national civil rights organizations sued president Trump, calling the order “an assault on equality in the workplace.”

By reversing this order immediately, president Biden would give companies the green light to resume these initiatives that have already proven effective. For example, between 1980 and 2010, as gender diversity training became commonplace, women filled more than half of the 4.5 million new management roles.

3. Encourage companies to address biases in the hiring process

The Trump administration has attempted to strip companies of the tools they need to achieve diversity, including by suggesting that diversity goals were tantamount to discrimination.

The Biden administration should reiterate that inclusive hiring goals are legal and should be embraced. While race cannot, and should not, be a determining factor in employment decisions, setting targets and ensuring that a diverse, representative pool of candidates is considered for every position has been law since President Johnson’s 1965 executive order ensuring equal employment opportunity.

We already know that building more inclusive workplaces is not only the right thing to do, it’s good for business too. Diverse organizations perform better, and diversity is key to building an innovative, successful and profitable business. Diverse companies outperform competitors by 35% and inclusive organizations are 1.7 times more innovative and 120% more likely to hit financial goals.

4. Mandate minimum diversity requirements for boards

The Biden Administration can go beyond supporting corporations’ diversity goals by requiring companies to take action. Laws requiring public companies to meet minimum diversity thresholds have already been successful at the state level. California passed a 2018 law requiring publicly-held companies to have at least one woman on their board of directors. Between 2018 and 2020, public boards in California went from 30% all-male to less than 3% all-male and 669 board seats were filled by women.

Europe is also achieving success in diversifying board rooms: female representation on boards increased from 30% in 2017 to 32% in 2018, and 34% in 2019 after France, Germany, Italy and Belgium established similar policies. The EU also launched a five-year gender equality strategy in March, which includes revisiting a 2012 proposal setting mandatory quotas for women on company boards and legislation on salary transparency across the EU, where women earn 16% less than men per hour.

With these steps, a Biden administration can once again provide exemplary national leadership and clear government policies to help America’s business leaders move their diversity goals forward. As we work to bring about the change we all hope to see — both in our own businesses and in society at large — the president’s bully pulpit is more important than ever.

Lucinda Duncalfe is founder and chief executive officer at AboveBoard, an inclusive platform for executive hiring.

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