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In a previous blog, I shared why storytelling is the key to developing a compelling case using DEI data. Below is an example of a story prepared for a company’s people managers during a 10-minute spotlight at a leadership meeting.

My name is Ngozi Okeh, and I head up diversity, equity, and inclusion.  My goal is to help us to become a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive company, and as people managers, partnering with you is essential to this goal. You all are critical to the company decisions that impact our employees, and you directly impact the company’s representation, the fairness of our practices, and how employees experience our culture. Our demographic data over the last year shows that we have seen incredible progress in diversity in the company. We want to ensure we continue moving in the right direction together, so I want to share a story to explain how we do that.

A few years ago, I was brought in as a consultant to help an organization unpack recent high turnover in their workforce. For a year, they embarked on a DEI initiative that was recruitment-focused.  In a short period of time, the company hired people from several marginalized groups.  They saw the biggest increase in their representation of people of color, women and nonbinary employees, LGBTQ+ employees, and people with disabilities. They felt pretty good about it, and when they were done with their hiring sprint, they carried on with business as usual, believing that they had checked the diversity box through that recruiting exercise.

Within four months, they began to experience higher-than-normal turnover, largely concentrated within this group of new hires.  After an analysis, I uncovered that employees were leaving because they felt they could not succeed in the workplace. Although the workforce was more diverse, the organization’s structures, policies, and practices were not inclusive. A few examples of what that looked like include:

  • Managers did not understand or accommodate new team members’ religious and workstyle needs.
  • Gendered restrooms and company policies with outdated binary language.
  • Inaccessible restrooms and rampant use of ableist language.
  • Senior leaders were vocal about their political beliefs, making new employees feel unsafe.

Through this unfortunate and expensive experience, that organization learned that DEI is much more than an exercise in talent acquisition. It requires a partnership with every business area to shift all aspects of the workplace to be more equitable and inclusive.  It also requires that managers develop workplace practices, leadership skills, and cultural knowledge necessary to support the success of employees from marginalized groups. If we don’t learn more and do better, current policies, practices, and processes will remain steeped in systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and microaggressions that we are unaware of, and employees won’t stick around.  Our job as managers and company leaders is to support the success of our employees, and I’d like you to lean into our DEI training opportunities as a part of that plan.  

In the last three years, our workforce has seen a 24% increase in women and a 21% increase in employees from underrepresented racial groups. We saw the largest increase in the last three years in both goals last year. This signals that we are making progress in diversity representation, which is awesome! However, for us to sustain this progress as a company and to ensure that we’re allowing all employees the opportunity to thrive and drive innovation here, it’s important that we partner together to also drive equity and inclusion. One way to understand how we can be more equitable and inclusive is to learn more to catch our practices when they are not equitable or inclusive. We have coordinated DEI training and workshops to share knowledge so that we can catch biases in our practices and improve them. I encourage you to sign up for a session on each topic and encourage your team members to sign up. Leading by example demonstrates to your team that this work is valuable and that you are taking steps to grow your cultural competence and develop your inclusive leadership skills so that we can truly be a workplace that represents the global community and is equitable and inclusive to everyone. Right after this meeting, I’ll share the link to sign up for the workshops now and a script you can send to your teams to also sign up. When you get the link, take 10 seconds to sign up and another 10 seconds to share the link with your team. I look forward to seeing you in these sessions!

Here’s how to use storytelling in your DEI work:

  1. Identify your audience and understand what particular themes or words may pique their interest. If your audience is comprised of company leaders, they may be interested in the company’s profitability or team productivity. If your audience is comprised of engineers, they may be interested in innovation.
  2. Consider what you’re asking the audience to do.  You may want to increase the attendance of your company leaders in the DEI workshops so that they are engaged and make decisions that are inclusive. It’s important to identify what actions you would like to see when you use terms like “engagement” and “inclusive leadership”. It’s helpful to eliminate guesswork for your audience and deliver your ask as clearly as possible.
  3. Create the story that demonstrates the importance of what you need or what happens when that element is missing.  This can be a personal story, a story adapted from a book, article or film (give credit where it’s due of course). Share only what is pertinent to understand the story and eliminate unnecessary details.
  4. Put it all together. Craft your story and link it to your ask. Always begin with a brief introduction of who you are and what you do. Practice out loud to refine your delivery and increase your confidence.
  5. Work within your time constraints. If you have a 10-minute spotlight at a company town hall, ensure that you are able to tell the full story, at a relaxed pace and drive it home with the ask from your audience in that time.

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The Editor

Ngozi Okeh is an experienced leader with a history of driving efforts to conceptualize, define, assess and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as strategic business processes. Ngozi is currently the Director of DEI at a leading marketing technology company where she develops and executes enterprise-wide DEI initiatives through rigorous strategic planning efforts, community partnerships, leadership collaboration, strategy evaluation, and careful management of communication and buy-in as well as policies and procedures.  Previously, she worked at an independent mortgage bank, where… View Profile