Lety Nettles believes she has a formula for building strong, diverse product teams. Soon she\u2019ll get to put her approach to the test.\nNettles, the CIO of innovation and busines products at financial technology firm LPL Financial, is forming \u201cmentoring circles,\u201d in which leaders coach up employees from underrepresented groups in the company\u2019s Austin, Texas-based innovation lab.\n\n[ Find out how your organization may be getting diversity and inclusion wrong \u2014 and how to get it right. | Learn how to define your company culture before it derails your mission. | Get the latest IT staffing, hiring, and leadership advice by signing up for our CIO newsletters. ]\n\n LPL Financial\n\nLety Nettles, CIO of innovation and busines products, LPL Financial\n\n\nNettles is still working out the mechanics, but she expects to start with women, who will apply different techniques and tools when collaborating in their product teams and come back to the mentoring circle to share their stories. This may help mitigate issues that arise when female employees struggle to contribute in product teams. Often, it\u2019s not that the employees can\u2019t do the work but that they feel as though they don\u2019t have a voice on a team in which they feel like an outsider, Nettles says. It\u2019s incumbent on the mentors to unpack causality and help underrepresented employees be seen by the rest of the group.\n\u201cPeople of color and women want to be listened to and be safe,\u201d says Nettles, a Hispanic woman of Mexican heritage, who credits her former boss Karenann Terrell with mentoring her when the two worked in IT leadership roles at Walmart.\nDifferent paths to D&I\nBeing seen and heard are two critical components in the diversity and inclusion (D&I) matrix. Most D&I efforts stumble when leaders hire employees from Black, Hispanic, LGBTQ+ and other underrepresented groups without listening to them and ensuring they feel as though they belong.\nEven in the face of such challenges, CIO remain committed to D&I initiatives. Seventy-two percent of 812 CIOs surveyed say they are prioritizing D&I during the IT hiring process. Moreover, 77% believe innovation increases if D&I is embedded in their tech teams, according to IDG\u2019s 2021 State of the CIO report.\n Lincoln Financial Group\n\nKen Solon, CIO, Lincoln Financial Group\n\n\nAt Lincoln Financial Group, each business-line leader has formed teams to work with the company\u2019s D&I office. Like most large organizations, Lincoln sponsors business resource groups focused on mentoring women and people of color.\nBut civil unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis policeman in 2020 galvanized Lincoln, elevating its racial equity efforts to the board and executive leadership level, CIO Ken Solon tells CIO.com. The company convened town hall meetings, inviting Black executives to discuss their own personal and professional experiences with racial injustice. The conversations were raw and emotional, and at times uncomfortable, says Solon, a white male.\nLed by CEO Dennis Glass and the board, Lincoln in September unveiled a sustained action plan pursuing racial equity in corporate business and talent practices, including leadership compensation and community support. Among the pledges: growing minority representation at the officer level by 50% over the next three years, with a special focus on the Black officer population. \u201cIt\u2019s such a top of mind and critical area of focus,\u201d Solon says, of developing a talent pipeline for leadership positions.\u00a0\nLincoln, which tracks overall representation of underrepresented groups, comprises 60% women and 22% people of color among its 11,000 employees. \u201cWe\u2019re all accountable\u201d to do better, Solon says.\n Northwestern Mutual\n\nNeal Sample, CIO, Northwestern Mutual\n\n\nFinancial services provider Northwestern Mutual pursues several D&I paths, says CIO Neal Sample. Last year, Northwestern launched its Sustained Action for Racial Equity task force, with more than 60 senior leaders focused on cultivating a culture of inclusion and respect and talent among other critical areas.\nNorthwestern also sponsors the Hi, Tech STEM outreach program in which it partners with elementary, middle, and high schools in Milwaukee that serve an average of more than 85% students of color to ensure they get exposed to tech. The company also partnered with GalaxE.Solutions to launch Outsource to Milwaukee, which provides nontraditional pathways into a tech career in underserved communities and is expected to create hundreds of new tech jobs in the city.\n\u201cWe think it\u2019s important; not just the what, but the how and who does it with us,\u201d Sample says.\n Salesforce.com\n\nJo-ann Olsovsky, CIO, Salesforce.com\n\n\nD&I efforts are personal to Jo-ann Olsovsky, who \u201cheard every comment about women in the workforce,\u201d as she climbed the corporate technology ladder en route to becoming Salesforce.com CIO.\n\u201cI challenge my leaders to recruit and hire a diverse slate,\u201d says Olsovsky, whose mother hails from Cuba and whose father is from Jamaica. \u201cIt can\u2019t just be lip service; people have to feel welcome and valued.\u201d\nAnd while Salesforce.com has made progress in D&I \u2014 its percentage of underrepresented minority hiring is up more than 40% through January from a year ago \u2014 it isn\u2019t where Salesforce.com would like it to be, Olsovsky allows.\n\u2018We have more work to do\u2019\nThe ratio of corporate employees from underrepresented groups isn\u2019t where anyone would like it to be. More recently, D&I efforts have come under fire for amounting to \u201cdiversity theater,\u201d in which companies promote D&I initiatives that showcase good intentions, but when one analyzes the outcomes, including comparing statistics for hiring and promoting employees from underrepresented groups to the attrition numbers, corporate inertia is laid bare. In annual reports, HR pledges a fungible platitude along the lines of, \u201cWe still have more work to do.\u201d Or, \u201cIt isn\u2019t where we\u2019d like it to be.\u201d\nOne challenge lies with the backwards approach most organizations take, says Erin Thomas, head of diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DIB) at Upwork, which helps independent professionals find work. Many companies tout diversity data points and bar charts without ensuring that people feel like they belong, Thomas says.\n Upwork\n\nErin Thomas, head of diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DIB), Upwork\n\n\nCompanies often struggle to answer questions such as: Does this person fit with the company without feeling they have to give up meaningful aspects of themselves? Are they being included in critical corporate functions? Do they have a voice, and do they feel comfortable using it, with their managers and peers?\nThomas says that the collective answer to these questions is no, as the ever-revolving door of underrepresented employees tired of shape-shifting or code-switching suggests.\n\u201cThere\u2019s an emotional tax to existing in a body that is not prototypical in business or society,\u201d says Thomas, who has a Ph.D in social psychology. \u201cIt\u2019s not a great look if people aren\u2019t around long enough to reap the benefits of a diverse team.\u201d\nFrom inclusion to innovation\nLPL endeavors to take a holistic approach to D&I efforts, which piqued Nettles\u2019 interest when she was mulling her next opportunity last year. She credits Amy Evins, CIO of advisory flexibility at LPL, with coaxing her to join the company.\n LPL Financial\n\nAmy Evins, CIO of advisory flexibility, LPL Financial\n\n\nEvins also happens to oversee the company\u2019s women-in-tech group to cultivate the next generation of women tech leaders. Evins says she recently opened up the formerly women-only group to men to cultivate allyship. \u201cUnderrepresented groups need to be a part of tech because the more diverse we are at all levels, the better we are as an organization,\u201d Evins says.\nOn that score, if Nettles\u2019 approach to mentoring works as she intends, it will foster diversity of ideas that could lead to stronger innovation and boost LPL\u2019s digital transformation.\n\u201cThe opportunity is to look at new models for mentoring,\u201d says Nettles, who hopes to hire 500 people to staff product teams this year.