Ashley Kirkwood – a Crain’s 20 In Their 20s honoree in 2018, diversity and inclusion strategist, and founder and principal attorney of Mobile General Counsel in Chicago – says that companies seeking a diverse workforce often tend to recruit employees who look different from one another but act similarly. “Company photos need the look of diversity, but company culture often can’t handle the feel of true diversity,” she says. “Your company culture may be crushing true diversity from the inside out, which is why you should replace corporate culture with corporate community.” Minorities often feel or are told to cover and assimilate to what is considered the norm in a corporate culture, but doing this makes it difficult for them to be authentic at work. Kirkwood says that she “began speaking out about the diversity issues that were evident at the company, and I questioned actions that showed racial bias. Soon after, I lost my job. That experience was a wake-up call for me. I decided I was not going to go back to another large law firm and hide my identity. I knew that by starting my own consulting firm, Mobile General Counsel, I could make true change from the outside in because my salary would not be dependent on the system that I was trying to change.” Now, she helps clients develop their own strategies and programs to create corporate community, including entry interviews, culture audits, diversity immersion experiences and innovative trainings. “To retain top diverse talent for the long haul, your company must do more than recruit diverse talent. It must foster an inclusive corporate community so that diverse professionals don’t need to choose between expressing their identity and climbing the corporate ladder – a choice that ensures diversity statistics will never improve,” says Kirkwood.
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