Q&A with Fatima Goss Graves - “Embedding Diversity and Inclusion into the Organization”

DEIDiversity & CultureBoard and CEO AdvisoryHuman Resources Officers
Article Icon Interview
Jamie Hechinger
July 06, 2018
4 min read
DEIDiversity & CultureBoard and CEO AdvisoryHuman Resources Officers
How should organizations incorporate diversity and inclusion into business strategy? How can leaders empower your diverse employees?



"Embedding diversity and inclusion into the organization"—Jamie Hechinger interviews Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women's Law Center, on how organizations can embed diversity and inclusion practices. 

“When it comes to developing diverse talent internally, many organizations often miss the mark by focusing only on developing the superstars. If others aren’t supported, even the superstar is less likely to thrive.” 

Fatima Goss Graves, the president and CEO of the National Women's Law Center (NWLC), has spent her career fighting to advance opportunities for women and girls. She has a distinguished track record working across a broad set of issues central to women's lives, including income security, education access, and workplace fairness. Fatima currently serves as an advisor on the American Law Institute Project on Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct on Campus and is widely recognized for her effectiveness in the complex public policy arena at both the state and federal levels in the US. She regularly testifies before Congress and federal agencies and is a frequent speaker at conferences and other public education forums. Under Fatima's leadership, the NWLC has launched and now administers the TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund.    

Jamie Hechinger: How does NWLC incorporate D&I into its strategy? 

Fatima Goss Graves: Our strategic plan named diversity and inclusion as a key priority and intersectionality as a guiding principle for our work. We think of this as both not only ensuring that our work overall includes women of color, members of the LGBTQ community, low-income women and all the ways in which people overlap, but also centering around those communities in our work. Doing this work credibly means establishing long-term, authentic partnerships with organizations serving individual communities. We want to be a place where people know they will find intersectional information and to be an organization leaning into issues that are not necessarily thought of as women's issues, such as the way that black girls experience school discipline. It also means that it is even more important that we show up for the range of fights affecting those most marginalized right now. There will be efforts to divide and conquer communities. We believe that if you come for one of us, you come for all of us.  

Jamie Hechinger: How are you empowering employees to own these messages on behalf of your organization? 

Fatima Goss Graves:  We have recently established a working group at NWLC focused on institutional priorities for the organization, including diversity and inclusion. We separately have a working group led by and focused on millennial staff and another group focused on accessibility. Each of these spaces is a pathway to generate ideas directly from the staff, make recommendations about the types of things they'd like to see happen and participate in their implementation. For example, to attract more diverse talent, we are focusing on reaching a broader audience. Our staff has put together a list of sources beyond the typical job boards that have more diverse jobseekers. This bottom-up approach is a shift for us, and we're still learning how to balance engaging the many people who are eager to do this sort of thing because it's important to them with our formal HR experts, who focus on this as their main job. We have been supported by consultants who are experts in facilitation and who have helped us have courageous conversations and establish a shared baseline knowledge about diversity, inclusion and equality.  

Jamie Hechinger: How do you develop your diverse talent internally? 

Fatima Goss Graves:  In terms of developing diverse talent, our approach has been more informal than our recruiting efforts. But one of the places where many organizations miss the mark is in the focus on developing only the superstars. If others aren't supported, even the superstar is less likely to thrive. 

Jamie Hechinger: Do you have the sense that the diverse employees of your organization feel a sense of belonging? 

Fatima Goss Graves:  We're working on it but are not fully there. We are making a really deliberate effort to bring in diverse talent at all levels, but belonging can't happen overnight. We're working on a number of efforts that aren't bundled with diversity, but are instead about how people feel about working in the organization in general. A negative employee experience can be harder to recover from if you don't feel like you have a community. 

Jamie Hechinger: What has a focus on diversity and inclusion meant to NWLC's business to date? 

Fatima Goss Graves:  Having a more diverse staff has been critical to our ability to connect with our audiences and simply makes our work stronger. Recently we featured a series of really honest pieces on our blog, all drawn from personal experiences. We're learning, in real time, how to handle the personal attacks and demonization that result from engaging on a more intimate level, but the very real upside is that when people feel personally invested in a project or a message, they put that passion into the work. 

Jamie Hechinger: Thank you, Fatima.