Diversity & Inclusion

Making a Difference: A Data-Driven Approach to Impacting DEI

We often note the circuitous and fortuitous paths that lead many of the subjects in our series on diversity leaders to their careers. So many start out far from any kind of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work and find their DEI calling after years spent in marketing, sales, or some other corporate function.

LaTanya Flix

LaTanya Flix, Senior Vice President of DEI for the Greater Houston Partnership, is not one of those cases.

Flix has dedicated her entire career to organizational development and serving those in traditionally underrepresented communities.

On a Mission to Make a Difference

“I began my career as the founding director of a small national organization staffed by a team of volunteers and continued to build my skills in change management, organizational development, and strategy with a focus on improving outcomes for underrepresented individuals,” she says. “Since that time, I have had the pleasure to build teams and help senior leaders integrate equity and inclusion within an organization. After spending my entire career in nonprofit executive leadership, I decided to formally launch CauseAdvance, a social change advisory practice. This work led to my current role as an advisor to C-suite and senior leaders and to influence the business community through the Greater Houston Partnership—one of the largest economic development organizations in the nation.”

Flix was hired as the organization’s first SVP of DEI in December 2020 and quickly began working in collaboration with the established Racial Equity Committee. “This was an opportunity to use my background and years of experience in organizational development, change management, racial equity, executive leadership, and social impact,” she explains. “I was honored to have established my own advisory practice, but I decided to pause that work when the opportunity was presented to advance progress in the city I love and call home by working with our region’s business leaders.”

In her current role, Flix leads the One Houston Together initiative to leverage the business community to reduce inequalities and create fundamental change in areas where businesses have the specific capacity to do so, namely in procurement diversity and diverse talent recruitment and advancement. The One Houston Together initiative is a data-driven effort of 100+ businesses, institutions, and nonprofits to advance people of color into management roles, increase racial diversity on corporate boards, and grow spending with minority business enterprises.

Surveying the Local DEI Landscape

Most people who pursue a career in DEI know very well there is a lack of DEI in corporate America. The precise nature of the problem, though, is not always clear in particular industries or locales without doing a little research. Understanding the current landscape is crucial to clearly understanding the present challenges and solutions.

That’s why one of the first things Flix did when joining the Greater Houston Partnership was begin laying the groundwork for an Equity and Inclusion Assessment. “When I joined the Partnership, I completed a landscape scan of DEI efforts of chambers of commerce and economic development organizations to add to initial data prepared by our Research division,” she explains.

Flix was already familiar with the Global DEI Benchmarks used to assess organizations’ progress across multiple dimensions of DEI. The Greater Cleveland Partnership was using those benchmarks in an assessment developed for its members, and Flix was able to collaborate with Cleveland to launch one for their region. “Different than Cleveland, we not only provided participating companies with their own scorecard, we were also able to create industry-specific scores based on aggregate data as well as a regional benchmark and robust dashboard that will help us gauge our progress,” she says.

Mixed Results

The results of the assessment Flix conducted contained promising data on existing DEI efforts, but it also found some areas for improvement, particularly around diverse procurement and diversity at senior levels of organizations.

“We learned what areas Houston companies are actively engaged in with regard to equity and inclusion and that there are also a range of maturity levels and opportunities for improvement,” Flix says. “We found that companies are proactively attempting to advance equity and inclusion but overall falling short when it comes to narrowing racial, ethnic and gender gaps in the talent pipeline.” Results showed that companies were not promoting people of color and women to senior leadership and board positions at the same rate as their white male counterparts.

“We also learned that Houston companies had the least mature practices in purchasing from racially/ethnically diverse-owned businesses,” Flix says. “The survey results were instrumental in honing the focus of One Houston Together into our two workstreams around increasing equity in the corporate talent pipeline and accelerating the growth of underrepresented businesses.”

Engaging Local Leaders to Address Gaps

Of course, identifying areas for improvement is only part of the DEI battle. The other part is enacting change, and that can’t be done single-handedly, even by the most driven and well-meaning organizations. So, Flix and her team sought engagement from the broader business community.

In early 2022, they launched a Supplier Diversity Roundtable and a Talent Roundtable to convene regional C-suite and senior leaders to share best practices and set regional indicators of progress. “We have held multiple convenings emphasizing peer-to-peer learning and highlighting ways to use our assessment as an internal roadmap to advance progress,” she says. “We have also shared the roundtable learnings with our larger membership.”

In June, the project launched the first Houston Buyer Cohort with 12 companies committed to setting time-bound goals to increase spending with Houston-area minority business enterprises (MBEs). “That same month, we released the Minority Business Enterprise Economic Impact Report in collaboration with the Houston Minority Supplier Development Council (HMSDC) to demonstrate the impact of MBEs in the region and the opportunities for continued growth,” Flix adds. “Our focus moving forward is to support members in advancing DEI progress individually and to see collective progress across our 12-country region.”

Not everyone starts off their career with an eye toward DEI, even among current DEI leaders. Flix is an exception in this regard, and she has brought passion and a data-driven approach to improving DEI to her work in Houston that promises to drive real, meaningful, and positive change for businesses and diverse communities alike. 

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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