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Diversity & Inclusion - Keep It Simple, Stupid!


Author: Mathilde Danziger, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Diversity & inclusion in business is analogous to genetic diversity in biology. It helps business/life cope with unpredictable environmental changes, as well as reducing potentially negative effects of homogeneous thinking/inbreeding. Diversity is the primary ingredient for adaption, critical for overcoming future environmental uncertainty.

The concept of diversity & inclusion has finally gained credibility in the business world as a fundamental predictor for future success. In researching how to develop a diversity and inclusion program, tons of articles and diversity consultancy firms pop up on the web. The sheer volume of content available is like a fire hose of information that bombards your screen! Lots of great information, facts you already knew, new insights, ideas, etc. After hours of sifting through web pages, one is left with a- “I sort of understand what to do…” feeling. You reference back to some of the better articles, tool kits, etc., get overwhelmed and reach the inevitable conclusion- “I may need to hire a consultant!”

The following ideas are what I’ve gleaned from years of scouring diversity & inclusion materials as well as participating at the ground floor of a D&I program for the largest employer in Louisiana. The number one thing to remember is “Keep it simple!” It’s very easy to get caught up in the details and fluff. If it gets too complicated- “strip it down”, my new motto for everything!

1) Identify who the Stakeholders are: Personally, I think this is too obvious to mention, but most articles touch on it, so I felt it shouldn’t be left out. Everyone in the organization is a stakeholder! You must attempt to gain everyone’s buy-in. In the past, it was a challenge to convince the C-Suite that diversity translates to profit. A compelling business case had to be made. Times have changed, most executive leadership teams understand the need for D&I, so persuasion is less of a hurdle today. The buy-in communication strategy for the rest of an organization depends on its demographic make-up.

2) Business opportunities: Gather demographic data about your industry and customers. Are any of those segments underserved? Who makes up your organization, and does it mirror your customers? One example of demographic data: one fifth of the U.S. population is made up of individuals with disabilities, the largest minority group in the United States. A few companies have been quick to adopt change to profit from this relatively untapped market segment. Once your business opportunities have been identified, they should be incorporated into the buy-in communication strategy.

3) Accountability (in my opinion, should be Value instead of accountability): a common theme is accountability, some D&I experts recommend leaders submit bi-annual and quarterly reports. Frankly, I think this is a sure fire way to build animosity towards a D&I program. Instead of accountability, I believe it should be a hard-wired value. Not that metrics aren’t important, data should come into play when assessing the success of your program. “D&I” should be a company value just like “teamwork”, “integrity”, “empowerment”, etc. It should be interwoven into the fabric of your culture, always “top of the mind”, this is what I mean by hard-wired.

4) EMPLOYEE RESOURCE GROUPS/DIVERSITY TASK FORCES: Intentionally capitalized, according to the Harvard Business Review, diversity task forces are the #1 initiative a company can put in place to increase D&I. Employee resource groups (ERG’s) are voluntary, employee-led groups that serve as a resource for members and organizations by fostering a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with organizational mission, values, goals, business practices, and objectives. ERGs are critical to propagating D&I as a value within an organization. They should create their own mission, vision and values. A budget should be assigned to each group to support their initiatives. Please note- a lot of organizations create an overarching governance council that resource groups report to which helps keep leadership connected to the process.

5) MENTORSHIP: Intentionally capitalized according to the Harvard Business Review, mentorship is the #2 initiative a company can put in place to increase D&I. Mentorship can be as simple or as complicated as you make it! It can be loose and unstructured, whereby mentors and mentees may organically choose their partner or a formal approach may include a software application which manages the program. The approach taken very much depends on a company’s size and culture. Side note- if a loose approach is taken, leaders should be provided with a guideline as a spring board to help identify direction.

6) CULTURAL/BIAS/DIVERSITY TRAINING: Intentionally capitalized, according to the Harvard Business Review, training is the least effective D&I initiative. Not that training isn’t important, just something to keep in mind when managing a D&I budget.

7) Assess and tweak: This is where metrics come in. If an organization has affirmative action plans (AAPs) or is required to submit EEO-1 reports, this data is readily available. While AAP data does not always align with lines of business it can still provide a good starting point and provide useful data. You’ll want to compare your company’s demographic make-up from year to year. Other reports to pay attention to are hire, promotion and termination rates. If requested, OutSolve can prepare a custom report showing these comparisons and whether the deltas are moving in a positive direction. Please keep in mind, each organization has different objectives dependent upon their unique situation. For example- some organizations are very diverse with most of their staff diversity being visible on the front line. They’ll need to focus on lifting groups up that are underrepresented at the top. In other words, more energy needs to be spent on inclusion versus diversity. Metrics to pay attention to are promotion rate comparisons- front line to management and termination rate comparisons- mid/senior level of the underrepresented groups. Another scenario is an organization with a lack of diversity across the board. In this instance, the focus should be on both diversity and inclusion, with talent acquisition playing a key role in creating a diverse pipeline. Additional metrics to pay attention to are the ones mentioned above as well as hire rate comparisons considering both race and gender.

At this point you may be thinking, I’ve just read another article and still don’t know what to do! Here’s the abbreviated version:

• Identify your demographic business opportunities, incorporate this into your communication strategy introducing the D&I program. Required for the creation of a D&I program. It must be introduced and the reasoning behind it explained, you can’t just slap it onto your workforce with no explanation! Remember, buy-in is key!

• Start by establishing two to three employee resource groups, provide them with the organization’s mission, vision and values. Request that they create their own mission, vision and values to include an action plan. Provide them with an outline they can build on. Assign a budget. #1 most effective D&I initiative according to the Harvard Business Review. Required, if you were to choose just one D&I initiative to kick off your program, it should be resource groups, they will provide the most bang for your buck!

• Mentorship program- perhaps this can be embedded into the resource groups’ action plans. #2 most effective D&I initiative according to the Harvard Business Review. Not required, but if you were to add a second initiative, it should be this as it’s ranked as the second most effective D&I initiative.

• Cultural competency/bias/diversity training- Keep in mind this is the least effective D&I initiative. Again, this is not to negate the importance of education, just something to consider when managing a D&I budget. Training could possibly be rolled into the resource groups’ action plans. Not required, but would definitely bolster the introduction of a D&I program. A band-aid could be to include some high level information in your communication strategy introducing the program.

• If you have data on internal demographics, provide this information to the employee resource groups. These metrics can help the groups design more targeted initiatives. At the 12-month anniversary of the program, provide the data again. They can assess and tweak their action plans. Required if the data is available, the resource groups in conjunction with HR leadership can assess and tweak the program.

Good luck in starting your company’s Diversity & Inclusion program. You should now have the clarity and confidence to begin a successful program. If you need assistance with diversity metric comparisons, please contact your OutSolve Consultant.

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