Editor’s note: When The Wall Street Journal story What a Drop in Promotions for Black Workers Says About Corporate Diversity Efforts” broke on Tuesday, WRAL TechWire reached out to Triangle diversity, equity and inclusion Donald Thompson of Raleigh-based The Diversity Movement to offer his reaction. Thompson writes a weekly column about management and leadership as well as diversity and other important issues for WRAL TechWire. His columns are published on Wednesdays. Thompson of The Diversity Movement was named an Entrepreneur Of The Year 2023 Southeast Award winner


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – I thought we were doing better. I was wrong. Rather than hang my head, though, I’m going to tell you why I remain hyper-optimistic. 

If you missed the Wall Street Journal article onNov. 28, I’ll sum it up. A McKinsey & Co. study revealed that Black professionals are no longer being elevated to managerial roles at the rates they had been between 2020 and 2022. In other words, the minimal gains made after George Floyd’s murder and the widespread corporate commitment to doing better have evaporated. For Black professionals, particularly those who are ready for their first managerial promotion, it’s as if the last four years never happened. Standard operating procedures have returned to 2019, and that’s not good enough. 

While I’m disappointed at the data, I’m also looking toward a better future where forward-thinking executives are doing better – not just for their organizations, but for the people who work there and the communities they serve.

2023 business word of the year: Resilience (and may be next year’s too!)


There are two overarching macro trends on the horizon. First, in a highly competitive global marketplace, executives must create workplaces that prioritize better business outcomes, whether that means improving recruitment and retention or ensuring that hybrid teams work more collaboratively to find innovative solutions to pressing challenges. 

What we’ve seen in the last several years with our clients at The Diversity Movement is the commitment to diversity-led culture change has created workplaces filled with more efficient, creative, and collaborative teams. Our work aligns with recent studies that have shown that a diverse workforce improves productivity, innovation, employee engagement and decision-making. Greater diversity in the workplace also corresponds to better profitability, revenue, employee retention and brand perception.

Second, a generational wave is on the horizon, and members of these younger cohorts are demanding change when it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. They are prioritizing employee well-being and are willing to walk away from an employer who doesn’t live the values it talks about in mission and diversity statements. Perhaps more importantly, as consumers, they have already demonstrated that they will shun products and services based on DEI principles. 

The generational time clock is ticking, and organizations that don’t change are going to be left behind. From this vantage point, what the McKinsey study shows me is that savvy executives will use this data to supercharge for the future. Doubling-down on DEI will result in a workplace culture that promotes trust and belonging. Those leaders that serve as role models for inclusive behavior will create better, more productive, and more welcoming workplaces – exactly what smart young professionals and consumers demand. 


There are a lot of senior business leaders who saw the Wall Street Journal article and wonder what to do next, particularly if they want to tap into the talent market that other organizations are willingly leaving behind.

If you’re in this camp, here are two steps you can take right away: 

  • Mentorship

If you block access to managerial positions, you derail a person’s earnings potential for years into the future and limit diverse perspectives and voices across the organization. One way to improve outcomes is to create a mentorship program that pairs emerging leaders with the executives who can provide guidance. 

Mentorship is especially important when it comes to fostering a sense of inclusion and belonging. For underrepresented groups, this is particularly important, especially if individuals are the “only” or one of just a few individuals from a particular demographic group. For leaders, the creation of a mentorship program sends a signal about the organization’s values and provides a role model for living an organization’s values. 

  • Talent Pipeline

We often think of talent pipelines as just tapping into college and university recruiting. Based on McKinsey’s study, however, we know that there are countless numbers of talented professionals being denied entry to management. 

By working with industry and professional groups and associations, senior leaders can make diverse recruitment a strategic imperative. Alliances with diversity-focused networks, for example, enable companies to tap into diverse talent pools, while also creating streams into their mentorship programs. The cost of creating these programs will quickly pay an organization back from an operational perspective, but more importantly, it is another way to demonstrate the company’s commitment to DEI. 


The McKinsey study is a stark reminder that progress is not guaranteed. Even hard-won gains can be fragile. Rather than waiver, my optimism intensifies. Why? Because I believe in what our work with hundreds of clients has proven: The imperative for executives to foster environments that prioritize diversity and inclusion is not just a moral call, but a strategic necessity. 

Our experience at The Diversity Movement attests to the fact that a commitment to diversity-led culture change translates into workplaces marked by heightened efficiency, creativity and collaboration. The evidence is clear – diversity is not just a checkbox; it’s a catalyst for better business outcomes. 

Many executives are ignoring the signals plainly in front of them, but they do it at their own peril. Your employees, clients and consumers are watching. If you’re a senior business leader pondering your next step, consider this a call to action rather than a setback. Now is the time to recalibrate our diversity-led strategies and reaffirm our commitment to creating workplaces where DEI is celebrated.

About the Author 

Donald Thompson, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2023 SE Award winner, founded The Diversity Movement to fundamentally transform the modern workplace through diversity-led culture change. TDM was recently acquired by Workplace Options, which brings holistic wellbeing services to more than 79 million people in more than 200 countries and territories across the globe. Recognized by Inc., Fast Company and Forbes, Thompson is author of Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success, hosts the podcast “High Octane Leadership in an Empathetic World” and has published widely on leadership and the executive mindset. As a leadership and executive coach, Thompson has created a culture-centric ethos for winning in the marketplace by balancing empathy and economics. 

Follow him on LinkedIn for updates on news, events and his podcast, or contact him at info@donaldthompson.com for executive coaching, speaking engagements or DEI-related content. To further explore DEI content and issues impacting your work and life, visit TDM Library, a multimedia resource hub that gives leaders a trusted source of DEI content.