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Al Segars knows how to help businesses succeed. He’s using that knowledge to help companies implement a research-driven approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) that is achieving results.

Al Segars
Al Segars, PNC Distinguished Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship in the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

History and success are the biggest enemies of change, according to business professor Al Segars in the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. He makes this powerful observation in MIT Sloan Management Review about an approach called the Values/Principles Model (VPM) that he co-developed to help companies diversify their workforce to stay competitive.

Segars says VPM is the first to provide a solid plan of action for businesses striving to achieve a more equitable workplace and inclusive work environment. But this straightforward approach took years to finesse, and is backed by research, real-world observations, and rigorous vetting.

“There are no more easy problems to solve in business anymore,” says Segars, who is also the faculty lead of the NC Collaboratory. “The challenges an organization faces are more complex than ever. When I started really looking into this about five years ago, there were a lot of company leaders promising change, but no one was offering a way forward.”

It was at this point that Segars had what you could call a fortuitous introduction to someone who would be the perfect research and business partner. Segars was consulting for Disney Pixar when he met the U.S. Army’s liaison for motion pictures, Anselm Beach.

Anselm Beach
Anselm Beach, Deputy Assistant Secretary (Equity and Inclusion Agency), U.S. Army

The two bonded over the belief that if a clear path to successfully implementing DEI into an organization’s structure existed, leaders would follow it. They began their venture by researching companies they thought were setting an example of how this implementation could be done well.

“We knew what not to do,” Segars says. “You can’t come into a workplace and only point out what’s not working. We call this the exorcism of demons approach, and it only leads to more dissatisfaction. Sometimes leaders don’t want to try to enact change in fear it will only make matters worse.”

After a multiyear study of 17 companies across various business sectors, Segars and Beach saw that positive change was happening by putting everyone on the “solutions side of the equation.” They learned that by targeting the organizational systems that create exclusivity instead of individuals, you can get everyone on the same team with the same goals. Once they had their VPM framework, they workshopped it by introducing the model during presentations to clients. Segars got feedback from Triangle companies like Biogen, Red Hat, and SAS, while Beach did the same with his network of clients. After informative conversations and positive feedback, the two submitted their approach for publication.

The Values/Principles Model (VPM) consists of four core values and seven guiding principles.

The values are representation, participation, application, and appreciation.

The principles are as follows: build a moral case; encourage willful interrogation; develop new mental models; adopt entrepreneurial leadership; ensure accountability; be ambitious; expand the boundary.

It took one and a half years of working with editors at MIT Sloan Management Review to get their ideas published. During this time Segars and Beach decided to start their own business, Diversity Works.

“We’ve had significant interest from a range of companies interested in our services, and it’s provided an interesting challenge for us,” Segars explains. “As a business focused on DEI, how do we grow our services responsibly and make sure we are being inclusive in the process? We’ve decided to be deliberate with the companies we choose to work with and focus on the type of changes we can make – not the size or visibility of the client.”

After a year of consulting, the VPM has become a proven model for DEI success. By creating a program that is definable, measurable, and manageable, Segars and Beach are seeing results they can categorize and record in a new research endeavor. While some of the results are based on metrics and percentages, the most impactful data have been anecdotal; stories from employees who feel more included, and better understand and appreciate their coworkers. And now that businesses are seeing the benefits of VPM, Diversity Works is seeing an increase in consultation requests from across the state, country, and world.

“This is not just a U.S. issue,” Segars says. “We’re currently working with organizations in Europe and Japan. Over time every company sets up unintentional walls that exclude some people. Sometimes that exclusivity is based on race, other times it’s based on religion, class, or your family background. But if businesses want to stay relevant and competitive, they need to hire a diverse workforce to understand our diverse marketplace.”

Albert Segars is the PNC Distinguished Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship in the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. He is the chairperson of the board and faculty lead of the NC Policy Collaboratory and is an active consultant for Apple, Disney, Pixar, The Children’s Television Workshop (Sesame Workshop), The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Red Hat, and IBM.

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