Monday, February 21, 2011

What about Diversity?

February has been recognized as Black History Month.  This is only one of many acknowledgements and celebrations of diverse groups within the U.S. who have contributed to American history.  A great time to blog about diversity and inclusion (D&I) is during diverse celebrations and recognized events.

Equal Employment

Equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws highlights unlawful employment practices for employers.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is the federal agency responsible for handling discrimination complaints. 

In many ways, diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives complements non-discrimination compliance by creating a workplace culture and environment of making differences work.  Integrating D&I initiatives into organizations can help alleviate discrimination claims filled by employees.

Defining D&I

The business case for diversity is a theory that, in a global marketplace, a company that employs a diverse workforce is better able to understand the marketplace it serves, therefore better equipped to thrive in that marketplace as opposed to an organization with a limited range of employee demographics.  Diversity includes a wide range of differences including, race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, military and veteran status, national origin, sexual orientation and economic status.     

Inclusion is a sense of belonging, feeling respected, valued for who you are and a feeling of being included in processes and decisions.  It is under this premise that the best work is achieved.  The term diversity and inclusion are often used interchangeably, however they are distinctly different.  Inclusion could be considered as requiring a transformation or paradigm shift. 

Diversity and Inclusion

Workplace D&I is about people and focuses on the differences and similarities that people bring into organizations.  It is really about learning from others who are not the same, about dignity and respect for all employees regardless of differences.  D&I highlights the advantage of having diverse perspectives.  It has the potential to increase marketing opportunities, foster creativity, and enhance the organizations’ public image.

Quantifying D&I

Employers have struggled over the years on ways to quantify D&I as a business necessity and have struggled to identify quantitative reasons on why they should embrace it.  Some companies have adopted a wide range of D&I concepts into their organizations.  There are other organizations that simply have not embraced the ideal or prioritized it as a business necessity.  If your company is looking for quantitative reasons on why they should invest in D&I, perhaps the answer is quite simple.  Organizations should ask themselves these questions:

  • What is the demographic make-up of your current customers in percentages?  
  • What is the demographic make-up of your current employees based on the ten standard EEO categories (executive/senior level officials/managers, first/mid-level officials/managers, professionals, technicians, sales workers, administrative support workers, craft workers, operatives, laborers and helpers, service workers)?  Is there diversity in all of the categories above?      
  • What is the demographic make-up of your primary, secondary and tertiary markets in percentages (This information should be included in your strategic plans)?
  • Are there any expected future demographic changes to your markets (This information should be entailed in Census data)?
  • Where are your growth opportunities?  Do they include areas with diverse populations?
  • If one of your strategic goals were to increase market share, would the increase come from diverse groups?

If all of your current customers, relevant markets, and growth opportunities are homogeneous, then D&I may not be worth the investments.  If the opposite is true, and they are heterogeneous, like most organizations, then D&I should be an essential part of your business.  For instance, if a significant percentage of your current customers are from diverse groups and that percentage decided to take their business to your competitor, it could have a significant impact on your bottom line.  If your growth opportunities and relevant markets are within diverse groups, it could have an effect on your ability to expand and increase your market share.  This information should be revealed during the strategic planning process and in your SWOT (strength, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis.

Considering Diversity and Inclusion

Census information reveals that diverse populations in the U.S. is growing and continue to grow at alarming rates.  This new growth will be the pool for you new customers and new employees.  The four generations at work (veterans, baby boomers, generation x, and generation y) and the increase of women and minorities in the workplace will create many opportunities as well as challenges for organizations.  Workplace dynamics could possibly change.  We can see some changes already occurring with more gender based policies and initiatives and military and veteran accommodations.  High performing organizations “get it.”  How can we convince other organizations to “get it” as well?  If your organization is considering implementing a D&I initiative, here are some items to consider:

  • Get buy-in and support from the CEO and senior level executives.  The task will be impossible without commitment and support from top-level officials.  They can also be utilized to carry out positive messages to employees.
  • Create a D&I policy.  The policy should highlight the company’s commitment to D&I.
  • Define diversity and inclusion and how the organization benefits.
  • Set strategic goals.  These should be long-term and provide direction.
  • Select a D&I champion.  Having a motivated point person to lead the initiative, push the agenda, monitor progress, and report outcomes are essential.
  • Create a diverse team concept approach.  Utilizing diverse teams throughout the organization can generate great ideals. 
  • Encourage all employees to openly express their ideals and opinions.  It is not knowing how employees feel that threatens organizations.
  • Promote diversity in leadership positions.  It provides visibility so all can realize the benefits of a diverse workforce.
  • Utilize diversity training as a tool to shape your D&I policy and goals.
  • Customize the employee opinion survey to extract demographic information for diverse groups.
  • Initiate a supplier diversity initiative to identify and attract women, minority and diverse vendors and suppliers.  Dedicate a portion of your expenditures to these groups.
  • Utilize varying techniques to recruit from diverse groups.  Require external search firms to seek diverse candidates in the selection process.
  • Utilize some diverse advertisements and marketing techniques in your regular advertisements and marketing strategies.
  • Utilize the company website to display information about your D&I initiatives.  Make it easily accessible to spotlight your goals and objectives.
  • Utilize short stories from diverse employees about their experiences and the effect of the company’s D&I initiatives to customers.  This can be done by video, web cast, etc.  These stories can be utilized in new employee orientation to orient new employees into the company culture.  They can also be highly effective tools to promote the company’s image externally.
  • Acknowledge and highlight diverse holidays, traditions and celebrations.
  • Ensure that pictures, paintings, reading materials in waiting rooms, etc. are diverse.
  • Consider partnering with diverse organizations and being involved in community activities with similar mission and values.  Community involvement strengthens your external position and highlights your commitment to D&I.
  • Establish a general budget to allow for D&I activities.  The return on your investment will yield both tangible and intangible results.

If your company is apprehensive of including a D&I initiative in your organization, maybe this will encourage them to reconsider.  D&I is not a list of additional task of duties, nor will it deflect from other company initiatives.  D&I is simply a process that is interconnected into cultural norms.  The entire premise of D&I is to enhance the workplace culture for all employees.  A work environment that appreciates and values differences and incorporates it into the culture of the organization is only bound to greatness.  D&I creates a competitive edge that attracts diverse talent, enhances the company’s culture, and catapults the organization into a higher level. 

If your company does not have a D&I initiative, I challenge you to ask your leaders this question.  What about diversity?

~ Joseph Conrod Sr. SPHR    

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