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The Complexity of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion by Dr. Andrea Hendricks, DEI Thought Leader

a diverse group of coworkers participate in a meeting about a project

Today, as a diversity thought leader, I lead others just as I did when I was a child but now, instead of scripting neighborhood playtime, I am heading up teams and proactive efforts to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is within the workplace, the greater corporate world, and the community at large. When I was a little girl growing up in Texas, we loved to watch Batman. After each show, I would have a script ready for my siblings and neighborhood friends to reenact. We did not have all the fancy toys that children have today; we used whatever we could to have fun. We had tricycles and bikes for the high-tech cars, blankets for capes, and sunglasses as our masks. I always played the character of Cat Woman. This work calls for the grace and bravery of a superhero.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Defined

The topic of DEI is complex, and it has many facets. It’s important for organizations to leverage the multiple identities of employees who devote time and energy driving results within an organization. This allows everyone to see new opportunities with diverse perspectives and to bring new ideas to the table that help grow business that otherwise would not be present.

DEI can mean different things and must be treated differently when developing strategy in the workplace. There is now a sense of urgency in many organizations to launch or fully capitalize on DEI efforts to drive its value equation. Organizations want to ensure that their bottom-line results show and reflect the comprehensiveness and integration of diversity in their overall strategy. Sometimes this comprehensive effort poses challenges of how to get started or to refresh.

Diversity is rich. Diversity is value add. We must learn to leverage, experience, develop and cultivate diversity in organizations in a big new way.

  • Diversity is the representation of various identities and differences.
  • Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.
  • Inclusion is the engagement of all people to ensure they feel they belong, are treated fairly, and can bring their authentic selves (ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives) to work.

What Role Can Companies Play in DEI?

In 2020, the social/civil unrest resulted in acknowledgment of the need for increased demonstrated commitment to DEI. Corporations, for the first time, made significant financial contributions and vocally supported social and racial justice issues. Since June 2021, Fortune 1000 companies gave or pledged an unprecedented $66 billion to racial equity causes. While this is certainly commendable, even exciting, I keep asking: Will this energy and commitment last? Has a window that has long been firmly closed, finally opened, at least a crack, permanently? Or is this short-term bandwagon that companies will jump off as people so easily forget?

This tremendous uptick in corporate social responsibility awareness is an opportunity that we cannot let go to waste. So how can we ensure that this show of support is genuine, and the new resources/investments are directed wisely and equitably to initiatives that can effect real change?

It begins with companies fully empowering their leaders. We can be the vanguard of change from within, and because we live in the real world, in the community as well. Years ago, I proposed that companies could move the needle on DEI while at the same time maintaining— even enhancing—their bottom lines by empowering their leadership to focus internally on three areas: Mattering, Marginality and Belonging. These are more urgent, and in many cases, more actionable, today.

  • Mattering: At the core, we all ask ourselves “Do I matter?” This very personal question has implications in our lives, our workplace, and community. Mattering means how can I ensure that I have visibility, a voice that is heard, and a seat at the table? Once we know that others welcome us and accept our ideas and contributions, it means we matter. That is when change happens.
  • Marginality: Over the course of any given week, even a given day, we all feel marginalized. Now, with companies starting to recognize the challenges baked into every corner of our economy and society, there is finally an opening for marginalized employees to come together and encourage company leadership to address the inequities in their workplaces.
  • Belonging: We cannot be change agents in our companies or communities until we truly belong. Belonging means that we feel secure, supported, and accepted. It means we can bring our authentic selves to work—and as a result our contributions are valued, which in turn helps our coworkers and companies thrive.

Making a Difference By Working Together

I am hopeful that these core values are starting to sink in, as I am beginning to see positive shifts in our organizations. Learning about diversity can be an exciting step in the right direction if individuals and organizations value that journey. It all starts with your personal commitment to making a difference as a leader or organization. The responsibility does not fall on the diversity and HR leaders. Everyone must do their part—leaders, managers, and employees. The primary area is whether our actions— (what we are doing)—are in alignment with our beliefs— (what we value).

We now need to push that window open wide and finish what so many others started. We owe it to our children and their children, and we owe it to ourselves.

We can get there together.

Dr. Andrea Hendricks
DEI Thought Leader

Dr. Andrea Hendricks: Biography

As the Senior Executive Director & Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer, Dr. Andrea Hendricks leads Cerner’s global diversity efforts in over 26 countries and the US. In addition, she is a member of the Human Resources Leadership Team Since 2018, she is making an impact on Cerner’s culture by driving strategy and engagement initiatives that foster organizational learning and enhanced corporate diversity and inclusion vision for Cerner associates, leadership and community collaborative partners.

She works enterprise-wide to seamlessly embed comprehensive diversity engagement strategies and best practices. Hendricks past roles included being the Assistant Vice President & Deputy Director of Diversity and Inclusion at the Federal Reserve Bank and SVP, Diversity and Inclusion at UMB Financial Corporation.

Hendricks graduated from Kansas State University with a Bachelor of Science in Human Development Psychology and Mass Communications and a Master of Science in Student Counseling Psychology and Personnel Services. She earned a Doctorate in Educational Psychology and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri -Columbia. She has a Certificate in Diversity Leadership from SHRM and Yale University.

She is an author of a diversity book titled: The BIG Journey: Bold Inclusion for Greatness. Hendricks currently serves on the National World War I Museum, YMCA, United Way’s board to name a few. She is a member of the National Women Business Collaborative, Greater Kansas City Executive Women’s Leadership Council, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Black Achievers and the Greater Kansas City (MO) Links, Inc.

Dr. Hendricks has received numerous noteworthy recognitions over the years. In 2021, Hendricks received the 10 Most Empowering Women in Business Award by Insights Magazine, Inducted into the Women Who Mean Business in Kansas City and the Top 50 National Multi Cultural Leaders recognition by Diversity Leadership, Inc. In 2020, she received the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce ACE Diversity Award, 2019 Black Health Care Equity Award, Black Achiever’s Society Lifetime Achievement Award and the NAACP of Kansas City community leader award.

In 2012, the Women’s Foundation honored her for her commitment to women’s issues and in 2011 she received a Peak Performance award for her continued commitment to leadership excellence and stellar work in the area of corporate diversity and inclusion from the National Eagle Leadership Institute to name a few.

Andrea D. Hendricks, Ed.D., CDE
Senior Executive Director & Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer
Global DEI, Community, Philanthropy
Cerner Corporation