Amidst ongoing efforts to encourage diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, the #MeToo movement last year catalyzed a renewed call for businesses to demonstrate cultural awareness as they respond to today’s changing societal norms. When they fail to do so, the brand is held responsible. This morning, leaders in entertainment, education, communications and business consultancy convened in Boston’s Seaport to discuss what organizations are doing to navigate this territory during Solomon McCown & Company’s 27th SM& Presents panel.

Moderated by T.J. Winick, Vice President of Solomon McCown, “Enlightened Leadership During This Cultural Reckoning” featured expert panelists including Ebony Amoroso, Director of Diversity & Inclusion at Endeavor; Roger Brown, President of Berklee College of Music; Ashley McCown, President of Solomon McCown; and Allyson Schiller, Northeast Diversity Leader at PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

According to the Brookings Institute, the United States will become a “majority-minority” nation by the year 2045. As Winick noted to start the discussion, many organizations recognize how future generations will drive our workforce and economic growth and have proactively implemented changes to foster more diverse and inclusive environments – even before the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements came to fruition.

PwC, a century-plus year-old company where the average age of its employees is 27, has been at the forefront of these efforts. “We have embedded our diversity and inclusion strategy into everything we do,” said Schiller. In addition to implementing D&I strategies into all of its services offered to clients, PwC has also rolled out unconscious bias training as part of the company’s process for being eligible for promotion.

Young people are driving much of the movement toward equity and inclusion and harnessing the power of social media to bring their frustrations to the forefront – particularly around issues of sexual misconduct. “This is the kind of change we want to see in the world, and sometimes it’s not easy – it’s painful,” noted Brown, reflecting on Berklee’s challenges during the #MeToo movement last fall. “But this is how you raise people’s consciousness. This is how you get survivors to stand up and say ‘this is terrible what happened to me, and I don’t want it to happen to anyone else.’ If that doesn’t happen, then you can’t have this public reckoning.”

“Every business owner or leader of an institution now has to be transparent,” added McCown. This requires honest communication to build trust with employees, consumers, donors and other key stakeholders – especially during difficult times. “Look at tools for your leadership team, your CEOs, for ways to manage your message and what’s going to be true to your culture.” This could take the form of a livestreamed town hall forum, a podcast, or through social media to consistently demonstrate an organization’s commitment to equity and inclusion, she said.

But in order to truly foster these environments in the workplace and on campus, organizations need to think about how they approach and define diversity. “A person cannot be diverse – a person adds diversity,” said Amoroso. Diversity is so much more than race or ethnicity – “it’s gender, it’s sexual orientation, it’s visible and invisible disabilities, economic status, background, cognitive diversity…When you go into this work with that mindset it’s not hard to change.”

As companies continue to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion strategies, they will also see benefits in their bottom line, Amoroso added. “A company that is gender-balanced outperforms their competitors by 15 percent. A company that has a healthy ethnicity balance outperforms their competitors by 35 percent.”

Confronting these issues and fostering these environments take time, honest conversations, and active engagement with different communities, the panelists all agreed. But these efforts are necessary and worthwhile to contribute toward a better society and economy. “There’s an incremental benefit to what we’re doing, and the worst thing we can do is take our foot off the gas pedal,” said McCown.

Thank you to our panelists for an engaging and insightful conversation, and thanks to all who attended. To see more and to further engage in the conversation on Twitter, check out the hashtag #SMCPR.