In light of Black History Month, FiveStone wanted to talk to our friend Shane Nelson. Shane is a leader in the diversity field and a trusted voice to companies that are doing the hard work of prioritizing diversity and inclusion.
We recognize that diversity comes in many forms, but our conversation with Shane focused on diversity of race. There is no denying that skin color can disproportionately impact a person professionally when compared to the unseen attributes of education, IQ, personality and the like.
It is with this in mind that FiveStone President, Won Kim, sat down with Shane and asked a few questions.
You are the Inclusion & Diversity Strategy and Engagement Lead for Sanofi, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. And, you consult with a handful of other companies. Tell us your story. How did you get here and become a champion for diversity?
I started at DiversityInc in 2004 as an intern. I was at Rutgers University and met Carolynn Johnson in a Human Resources class. She is currently the CEO of DiversityInc but was a marketing director at the time. I was looking for an internship and one was available at DiversityInc. I did a number of intern-related jobs for a few months and then an opportunity in the benchmarking (consulting) department opened up and I was offered a role.
DiversityInc is well known for its Top 50 Survey Competition. Companies across the nation participate in the survey which measures workforce and management diversity, commitment to inclusion and diversity (I&D) from senior leadership and programs in place to promote I&D. The benchmarking is derived from the Top 50 survey and allows companies to benchmark themselves against best-in-class for I&D.
This was where I found my passion for I&D and became a champion. I saw firsthand how companies struggled to grasp the business case for I&D. I saw how racially diverse people and women were underrepresented in the workforce and didn’t get equitable opportunities to be hired, developed, and promoted. At the time I had two children and I thought about their futures. I wanted to help change the mindset of corporate America so it would be fair for them and other kids when they grew up. I still have that desire and although this is tireless work, it is rewarding work. I get to help make positive change.
What have you seen as a persistent narrative in culture over the last 5 years that has delayed progress in building diverse teams?
Collectively, corporate America has not made as much progress as most hoped. However, there are plenty of companies doing really good work and making significant progress. Companies that have not made significant progress in building diverse teams lacked senior leadership accountability.
A lot of companies promote racial justice and equality. Especially on social. But, in practice, it can be a lot harder to live out those values. I’m thinking of, as an example, a company that makes a few social posts for BLM but then you find out they underpay BIPOC. When it comes to race, what makes it so hard to align what we say and what we do?
It is not hard for companies to align what they say and what they do. They have to be intentional about it and transparent. Being intentional drives transparency, transparency drives accountability, and accountability drives actions.
I saw a lot of examples last summer in which companies were communicating one thing and their racially diverse employees were feeling something else. I saw a lot of communications of support for the Black community but few were transparent on the actions they were going to take.
Questions are sometimes more important than answers. If we want to take diversity seriously, what is one question we should constantly be asking ourselves?
One question I like to pose to leaders is “Are you doing everything you can to be inclusive, to lead inclusively?” All people leaders and managers should be asking themselves this.
Shane Nelson currently serves as an Inclusion & Diversity Strategy and Engagement Lead for Sanofi. In this role, he works with the company’s R&D, Industrial Affairs and Corporate Function units on their I&D efforts. He also partners with Sanofi’s Total Talent team on overall talent acquisition, talent development, I&D engagement, and building and maintaining male allyship efforts across the enterprise.
Shane spent 14 years at DiversityInc, holding numerous positions, including debriefing senior executives on their DiversityInc Top 50 survey results, and offering best practices and recommendations on next steps. Shane oversaw the content strategy for the DiversityInc Top 50 event, the company’s flagship event, and was the editor of DiversityInc’s best practices website, which offered articles, research, videos, and webinars across the full spectrum of I&D management.
Shane holds a BA in Political Science and Government, and an Executive MBA from Rutgers University.