The business world isn’t designed for everyone—but it certainly should be.

In my latest episode of Parent. Boss. Leader., a podcast for professionals and working parents, I had the pleasure of speaking with Lexi Hernandez, Executive Director of DE&I Workforce Initiatives at RTX. We had a lively conversation about a variety of topics, including her personal experience as a mom. Her insights on the “design” of traditional workplaces—and how it needs to change to achieve more equitable workplaces—are especially interesting.

Here’s a summary of learnings from our discussion about supporting working parents and diverse professionals. You can listen to the full podcast on Spotify, on Apple Podcasts, or in the video below.

Uncovering Gaps in Parent Support

First, of course, we talked about being working parents! Lexi explained that she and her husband decided that he would be the stay-at-home parent for their children while she continued her career path. It was a decision that pushed against societal gender norms then, and now, frankly.

Lexi explained, “It was the right decision for us, but it was hard for both of us. I carried the emotional weight, while my husband had no support network, no dad’s group.” He was in an environment with systems and processes that were not designed to support him or his experience adequately.

Lexi and her husband worked together to find the support and structures that could help them navigate this arrangement and have found happiness and success in their life. Lexi adamantly stated, “My professional success is due to our partnership.”  

Building an Equitable Workplace

There is a parallel between Lexi and her husband’s experience and the business world. The traditional business model is designed to work best for non-parents, structured to support the “majority” of the workforce, which was traditionally cis, white, and male. As Lexi pointed out, “that business model is outdated!”

The workforce has changed to include significantly more women, and parenting expectations for both men and women have changed as well. The “traditional” business models need to change too. Lexi sees the role of DE&I as helping to expand the model beyond its focus on the majority. Organizational systems and processes should be designed to support everyone. Lexi said, “The fewer outliers in the bell curve, the better. Everyone should find the tools they need to succeed.”

Lexi also pointed out that change needs to happen across the organization to enable success. First, she recommended, “Recognize that diversity is not just demographics. Age, tenure, educational background, and other things are important to consider.”

Diversity leads to better ideas, more innovation, and greater success. Being intentional in creating project and design teams leads to better results. Companies with more diversity in filling management and leadership roles make more money. Diversity of thought and experience makes a difference. I can see one way this plays out in staffing. If your job descriptions or hiring processes are rejecting candidates with an atypical experience, education, or background, you are missing out on great employees. If you are discouraging diverse candidates from applying, you are missing the chance for improved innovation and profits.

We also discussed how it’s not enough to change the framework of your company without also addressing the culture. Yes, providing flexible work arrangements, lactation rooms, or ERGs is important, but, for example, if you take advantage of these systems, does it hurt your career? Do promotions only go to those who come into the office or work sixty hours a week? Is your management or leadership team a homogenous group? Is your office design truly inclusive and meeting the needs of differently abled or neurodiverse staff, or does it simply meet basic standards?

If people aren’t comfortable being themselves, don’t find the tools they need to do their work well and advance in their career, or don’t feel truly welcomed and accepted, you aren’t succeeding. Diversity alone is not enough; you need inclusion, as well. Lexi said, “You need to ensure that everyone feels seen and valued. You need to change systems and create programs in meaningful ways that drive real change.”

Discover More About Supporting Working Parents & Boosting Inclusion

These are just a few of the topics that we discussed. Lexi shared some great insight and advice on letting go of mom guilt, the importance of role models and mentors, and her desire to normalize therapy.

I thought it was important though to highlight this part of our discussion because it shows the true effort needed to provide a workplace that is equitable and works for everyone. It isn’t easy to change the norm, to adjust entrenched systems and expectations, but it is important. At this moment, when there are questions about the purpose and value of DE&I in the workplace, I think it’s helpful to hear from someone working directly on these efforts and to be reminded that diversity is good business, not just the right thing to do.

Please, listen to the full podcast. I think she is amazing, and I think you will too!

Listen to the full podcast featuring Lexi Hernandez, or read more business lessons from our last podcast guests.

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