Consider these three points for determining how you proceed with building your diversity program. Is this truly a priority for the organization, and can you win the executive buy-in?
A recent article in the Financial Times reminded me that the topic of diversity is definitely one of those subjects that demands attention. For starters you, the reader, need to determine the following: What does the topic mean for your organization; To what extent should it be a priority; And are you convinced that dealing with it as an issue will enhance your organization’s performance?
Before addressing each of these, let’s start with a definition. The best I have seen is: “Diversity is real or perceived differences among people that affect their interactions and relationships.” 1 The definition is the easy part. The real challenge is addressing diversity as a context issue.
Before proceeding, you always need to identify the specific elements of diversity that are especially meaningful for your organization. To make my point, let me refer to the FT article mentioned above, which contained an interview with Xerox’s Anne Mulcahy, one of eight women Fortune 500 CEOs. She said that if organizations don’t include diversity as part of their human capital strategy, then they are missing out on 50 percent of the population. That’s it to her, one element—gender. I am sure she has had to face many challenges in her career climb to the executive suite she now occupies, but to see diversity as a one-dimension topic really makes a point—that is, even to the talented Mulcahy, the issue appears much simpler than it is.
Let’s jump to the opposite extreme for another example: Roosevelt Thomas, considered a leading consultancy in the field of diversity. It has worked with leading organizations such as Avon, which also gets high marks when it comes to diversity (it, too, is led by a woman). If you ever visit Roosevelt Thomas’ headquarters in New York City, you will immediately see all over its main reception area its commitment to diversity. The organization celebrates with a panoply of enormous photographic portraits of employees from all over the world—even though its board is still very much comprised of white males. Thomas has been quoted as saying that for diversity to truly become part of Avon’s DNA, it will take 25 to 30 years.
In addressing the first two points mentioned before, you need to determine to what extent the topic of diversity should be an organizational priority. Keep it simple in reaching your conclusion. Do a walk-around audit. What do you see? Are there clusters of clones in each of the departments? What are the elements of sameness and differences (gender, age, socioeconomic status, language, national origin)? Speak with managers in several functions about their perception of the topic. Speak with your executives. Conduct pay, performance, and promotion reviews. Are there any situations that seem to indicate disparate impact to any particular group?
As part of this exercise, conclude by determining what your organization would look like if it really were diverse. Compare that with where you are now. Determine if the gap is wide and important. Finally, determine what action plan is needed to close the gap to an acceptable level.
Now for the third point: does it impact the bottom line? To ensure success, a strong, executive level buy-in is mandatory. Until your senior executives become champions, any initiatives will be still-born.
Finally, what are examples of diversity action plans? You could start with an expensive 25-year plan or you could consider more simple approaches like this. Do you hold events that inhibit participation by groups of employees? (Single parents can’t stay for events at the end of the day due to child-care commitments.) The solution is to find a new time slot. Are there violence or sexual harassment issues? Review the effectiveness of your leadership, coaching, and training programs to ensure that a clear and consistent message of zero tolerance is constantly being communicated throughout the organization. What do recent metrics regarding new hires indicate? What about terminations? Does your orientation program include topics that address any diversity issues? Do you currently have communication training to ensure various levels of employees see the organization’s commitment to diversity?
Bottom line: is there a case for a comprehensive diversity program? If there is, it doesn’t have to cost a lot. Remember, a 1,000-mile journey begins with a single step.
1 Diversity in Organizations by Myrtle Bell; Thomson/Southwestern, Mason, Ohio, 2007.