A true believer in diversity, inclusion

A true believer in diversity, inclusion
© Greg Nash

Joseph Vaughan, executive director of the new Corporate Diversity and Inclusion Forum (CDIF), says the lack of diversity in D.C. lobbying groups can wind up affecting both practice and policy. 

“There’s a void in Washington around consultants or advisers who understand the diversity and inclusion practice as it exists within the firms and how that relates to advocacy on Capitol Hill,” Vaughan, managing director of federal government relations for the Williams Group, told The Hill in a recent interview.

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Experts say talent pipelines from education institutions is key to increasing diversity, and, along those lines, Vaughan took a trip last month to Arkansas, where Rep. French HillJames (French) French HillExclusive: Democrats seek to increase racial diversity of pandemic relief oversight board Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel PPP application deadline should be extended and fixes made to program to keep recovery going MORE (R-Ark.) led a historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) summit with four such institutions in the state.

“What I really saw in that forum were a number of stakeholders in higher education all working to empower HBCUs to position themselves, to develop graduates who are able to enter corporate America and help, I think, improve the economy overall in Arkansas,” Vaughan said.

“I really believe that model is one that can be leveraged across the country,” he added.

CDIF, which launched at the beginning of the year, takes that pipeline plan and works with firms on how to implement it.

“For example, how can your executive leadership team get on college campuses and share their knowledge and expertise?” Vaughan asked. He pushes chief risk officers, and even chief executives, to go meet students face-to-face.

But sharing perspectives and discussions around how to achieve greater diversity is just phase one for CDIF. Vaughan is pushing trade associations to be more intentional when it comes to the diversity and inclusion performance of their members.

“I think ultimately, they are really a key audience that is influential in the business community and the more the trade associations in Washington, D.C., engage, the more their members will benefit from diversity and inclusion in the long run,” he said.

Vaughan also works closely with the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion, which is chaired by Rep. Joyce BeattyJoyce Birdson BeattySanders raised over 0,000 for candidates in Tuesday primaries The Hill's Campaign Report: Progressives raise expectations ahead of big primary night Left eyes huge night in NY, Kentucky primaries MORE (D-Ohio). Last month, the panel held a hearing on a review of the business case for diversity and inclusion.

“Those who embrace it [diversity and inclusion] will be more likely to prosper, and those who ignore it are more likely to fail,” Beatty said at the hearing.

The panel, which has also held a hearing on diversity trends in the financial services industry, was launched by Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersMaxine Waters expresses confidence Biden will pick Black woman as VP Bill from Warren, Gillibrand and Waters would make Fed fight economic racial inequalities Waters rips Trump, GOP over mail-in ballots: 'They'll lie, cheat and steal to stay in power' MORE (D-Calif.) earlier this Congress.

“This subcommittee begins the process of shining light on these trends and begins its work to improve the industry so that our financial system works for everybody,” Waters said in February.

CDIF held a public policy conference in March with Waters, Beatty, subcommittee ranking member Rep. Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Even the Post Office is political now | Primary action tonight | Super PACS at war House Democrats target Midwestern GOP seats Administration is leading the way in empowering women and girls MORE (R-Mo.) and Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezVOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage Bottom line Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads MORE (D-N.J.) to discuss what could lie ahead on the issue.

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Vaughan thinks that legislation on the topic needs to focus on inadequacies in the availability of financial products in key communities.

His role through CDIF is to help financial services companies navigate future laws and regulations.

“What’s really critical is whatever the committee endeavors to introduce, we really want to help the financial services firms understand what is being introduced, what are the goals of the policy, helping the policymakers understand what are the potential impacts of the policy,” he said.

Vaughan pointed to a bill introduced by Rep. Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksDemocrats go big on diversity with new House recruits Chamber of Commerce, banking industry groups call on Senate to pass corporate diversity bill Sherman joins race for House Foreign Affairs gavel MORE (D-N.Y.) in the House and Menendez in the Senate that would require public companies to disclose the gender, race, ethnicity and veteran status of their board directors, nominees and senior executive officers annually.

“That bill, I think rightfully, asks a question where there’s a lack of transparency in the markets, and it’s a transparency bill, it’s not a mandate,” he said. “But it’s important that the business community understand that this is an area of focus for policymakers on Capitol Hill because I think it will help empower them to think strategically about these issues, if they have not in the past, and to build practices that will yield a more ethically inclusive board of directors.”

Working with the most diverse Congress in history, Vaughan notes that it’s a special moment.

“We see corporations now really thinking about diversity and inclusion as a long-term business strategy that will yield economic benefits for their companies,” he said.

Vaughan previously worked as the managing director of government relations for the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) from 2006 to 2018 and, while there, was staff adviser to SIFMA’s diversity and inclusion committee, which is made up of more than 50 chief diversity officers and human resource leaders from a cross-section of SIFMA’s membership.

“SIFMA in many respects was ahead of the market, I would say, in terms of its engagement with diversity and inclusion,” he said.

He said that SIFMA created a diversity survey which saw 14 firms participate in 2011. In 2016, that number jumped to 34 firms.

“While many firms embrace the principles of diversity and inclusion, too few understand the direct correlation it has on the economic success of their businesses as well as their ability to innovate,” he said. “Many stakeholders still see diversity and inclusion performance as a matter of social justice rather than economic success.”

Vaughan said he is known among his friends and colleagues as a “true believer” in what can come out of good diversity and inclusion practices.

“This industry has the capacity to empower consumers all over this country, but without a comprehensive and strategic D&I plan, we will never fully engage those consumers,” he said.