CHICAGO — At the annual event and expo for the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) — IFT FIRST — the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) was front and center.

In a panel led on June 11 by Kate Dockins, SVP of membership experience at IFT, DEI leaders from several companies provided their insights on the application of DEI measures to their respective companies.

Panelists for “State of The Profession (Part 2): Unlocking Excellence through Inclusion in a Diverse Team” included Carla Kupe, gender and racial equity program director of YWCA Metropolitan Chicago and managing partner of CZL P.C.; Sherri Dublin, VP of DEI, communications and talent acquisition community of expertise, Ingredion; and Kristen Anderson, vice chair of European Women on Boards and former chief diversity and inclusion officer at Barilla, who joined the panel via Zoom.

When it comes to measuring the impact of implementing DEI into their organizations, Dublin noted that while different organizations introduce DEI in different ways, embedding the topic into the company’s engagement survey opens the door for communication.


“You have to ask, you have to have the conversation, and you’re only going to get better if there is a formal way for your employees to be able to give you that feedback,” she said.

Due to Ingredion being a global organization, its employee engagement survey looks across multiple dimensions region by region. It breaks down this data and provides the tools, guides and programs needed for leadership to understand, measure and evaluate progress. A benchmark taken form a DEI-specific survey ahead of the engagement survey gave Dublin and her team a way to evaluate their efforts.

From Anderson’s experience at Barilla, getting the perspectives from all people in the company is valuable. Providing a safe space can be formed by employee groups, which organically introduce authentic conversation.

“To imbed more inclusion, I think employee groups are important, and in a certain part of the journey, we need to have that safe space,” Anderson said, noting that those spaces can become so safe that people can talk about themselves in a way that can bring authenticity to the workplace.

“It’s hard to hear the truth sometimes, especially when you’re in leadership. But everybody will have to come in with humility and be vulnerable and open if there’s a hope at changing or shifting the internal culture.” — Carla Kupe | gender and racial equity program director | YWCA Metropolitan Chicago


Going beyond the survey into interpersonal communication such as focus groups also helps employees feel heard. For those who may not feel empowered to speak up or to speak with others who may have similar experiences, Kupe shared a tactic she implemented that brought leadership and employees to the same level in what she calls a “brave space.”

“It’s hard to hear the truth sometimes, especially when you’re in leadership,” she said, “but everybody will have to come in with humility and be vulnerable and open if there’s a hope at changing or shifting the internal culture.”

The COVID-19 pandemic also provided employees with the chance to reconsider their work environment and if it was worth returning to. Kupe shared that beyond the technical and fiscal aspects of a job, employees brought into question if they wanted to return to a company culture while also considering things like compensation, treatment and environment.

“There’s actually a study that shows that for people of color, specific for people who are Black or people of Hispanic descent, actually enjoy working virtually and it was better for them,” Dublin said. For that demographic, working from home provided them more productivity and balance rather than facing microaggressions, commutes, office attire and more.


Dublin referenced a Mercer’s 2022 Global Talent Trends report which revealed that companies needed to be “relatable.” In addition to discussions regarding the best interest of employees, hiring practices post-pandemic also need an adjustment as the workforce’s priorities have shifted.

“Talk to the people,” she said. “That’s going to tell you truly what is going on inside an organization.”

Beyond listening, taking the time to invest in the change makes a major difference. In Anderson’s words, it’s all about progress, not perfection.

“You wouldn’t have a big project, a $10 million pasta and not have KPIs, accountability and deliverables. That’s the exact same way it should be with DEI,” Anderson said. “It’s not HR’s job, it’s not a CEO’s job. It’s everyone’s job.”