April 07, 2021 Voices

How We Lift as We Climb

By Lelia Mooney

I recently heard from a senior legal professional that working on diversity and inclusion is hot—so hot that institutions from across sectors in the United States and globally are rushing with their own policies, definitions, strategies, surveys, assessments, and tactics on how to become more inclusive and equitable. In practice, however, direct experience and discernment have taught me that there is more needed than this possibly temporary fix. In my native country of Argentina, we have an old saying: “las personas pasan y las instituciones quedan.” It means that while people pass by and are temporary, institutions remain.

So, how do we move beyond a trend or something that is hot? What is the type of legacy we are helping create within private and public institutions to make them more inclusive, equitable, and reflective of the different backgrounds and perspectives—all the way to the top—as part of a sustainable long-term strategy? Are we fixing more than we are breaking as we navigate the dysfunctional cracks that we see? In other words, as we climb, how do we lift those with different backgrounds, perspectives, voices, and colors in society so we can make corporate boards, C-suites, senior-level managers, and decision-makers at both the private and public sectors truly representative of our society’s mosaic?

Here, I offer some reflections:

Look for the consequential. Do not act because it is hot or because it is trendy. Trends are temporary, as are people. Be purposeful and intentional. Act because choosing to do so proves an institution’s leadership is committed to building a legacy that is truly connected with all voices in society. A male corporate board member from a Latin American country recently articulated this very well for me: “Gender diversity in corporate boards is good business not because it is a nice thing to do or trendy. We [business leaders] must understand that individuals want to buy products and/or connect with institutions and organizations run at the top and throughout its value chain by people like themselves.” No single organization, public or private, can escape this reality any longer. This is not a trend. It is here to last.

Pursue the transformational. Over the past two decades, my work across cultures, traditions, and legal systems, engaging with different stakeholders in both the public and private sectors, has taught me an invaluable lesson. Context has meaning, and we must understand it in order to exercise transformational leadership. True leadership is about creating opportunity for others to become leaders themselves. Moreover, when this type of leadership is color- or gender-blind, it can have power and impact. Self-aware leaders who try to create opportunities for new, diverse leaders benefit an organization in two ways. First, they integrate expert voices that otherwise wouldn’t be heard. Second, they can model behaviors, which can give meaning to otherwise paper policies. In so doing, such policies can be seen as important across leadership and can be implemented through an organization—baked into the institution’s culture, backbone, internal structures, and external supply chains. This is no time for talk. It is time for transformational action.

Recognize the importance of one’s ecosystem. Organizations are being challenged to think outside the box to deliver products and services. They are being forced to think beyond short-term gains or impacts. Concerned investors and consumers globally, not only in the United States, are demanding integrated business plans that factor in social, environmental, and governance considerations, that understand an enterprise’s added value to society, while also integrating risk analysis, mitigation, and prevention. This requires inward reflection at a deeper level than in the past. Institutions and organizations that have the capacity to understand what voices are material and central to their business planning will be best positioned to pivot, to change, to walk the walk and accomplish sustainable and real change.

In my native country of Argentina, we have another old saying: “el movimiento se demuestra andando.” It means that we show movement by moving and taking action.

Lifting as we climb.


By Lelia Mooney


Lelia Mooney is a renowned international expert on governance and rule of law, business, human rights and sustainability, diversity, and social inclusion and multi-stakeholder engagement. She served as the Rule of Law Officer and Diversity and Inclusion Officer of the American Bar Association’s International Law Section. She is an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and currently serves as the executive director of the Center for the Advancement of the Rule of Law in the Americas.