Organizations need both diversity and inclusion to be successful. That was the sentiment shared Friday by a panel of business and university leaders convened during the 37th Annual Women of Color Task Force Career Conference.

Special guest Cynthia H. Bowman, chief diversity and inclusion officer for Bank of America, highlighted a few of the strategies the financial giant uses to foster inclusive work environments, where all employees feel they are truly welcome, safe and free to be themselves in the workplace.

As an overall strategy, the company wants its workforce to mirror the communities it serves, Bowman said.

“This is not just about the right thing to do,” she said. “The fact is, it’s imperative for our business and for us to be a viable organization.”

university and banking institution are vastly different, the group shared general principles and practices that any organization can strive for to move beyond diversity to inclusion and equity.

An organization’s leadership plays an important role in creating a workplace culture that welcomes all employees, Thomas said.

Thomas praised President Mark Schlissel for his commitment to diversity and his approach to ensuring the university is cultivating an inclusive and equitable campus.

“This president asked to hear every voice,” she said. “He challenged us to make this a grassroots, as much as a top-down, commitment. He has been courageous in the commitment he is leading to make this campus leaders and best in the journey to inclusion.”

Thomas explained that prior to the launch of the university’s five-year Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan, university leaders called for input from the entire campus community to learn what people’s experiences were. They did so with the belief that the best ideas are typically among the people that carry out the university’s mission on the front lines, every single day.

Along with a strong dedication from leadership, the panel noted that in order for an organization to excel, employees must feel valued, respected, accepted and encouraged to fully participate in the organization.

The group discussed how conversations about diversity and inclusion can be awkward and sometimes even painful. But getting through discomfort is a necessary first step toward employees gaining perspective and understanding among one another.

Through a program called Courageous Conversations, Bank of America encourages its employees, clients and community partners to have an open dialogue on important, societal topics as a way to foster deeper learning and understanding Bowman said.

“It’s usually not about right or wrong, but about people sharing their stories,” Bowman said. “The power of telling a story is incredibly impactful. What these conversations are doing I think, is creating empathy and understanding around differences.”

Lastly, the panel stressed the idea that diversity and inclusion cannot be viewed as simply “’checking off boxes.” Successful diversity and inclusion efforts require investment — a proactive commitment of tangible resources to enhance the recruitment, retention and promotion of diverse professionals.

“You can’t have progress without investment,” Das said. “If we are going to make some change, we have to invest.”