Inclusion Before Diversity

With the increase in focus on equality and inclusion, many employers are struggling to ensure that their Diversity programs are meaningful and beneficial to the organization. Attracting and retaining talent in today’s climate is critical. Here are a few tips to focus your attention on areas that will exponentially raise the caliber of your programs as well as the talent base of your employees. I have created Diversity departments at multiple Fortune 100 firms where we built meaning and increased effectiveness in key people programs.

Create programs that are meaningful for all employees by starting with inclusion

By putting a priority on access, the entire organization benefits and the foundation is focused on building bridges and not putting up barriers to teams. Increasing the effectiveness of team members interacting more effectively with one another is a highly desirable outcome. By having inclusion as a requisite, the program ensures that input is not one dimensional and only from executives but instead includes information from the entire organization. One such beneficial component of progressive Diversity programs is in having Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that serve as a development arm as well as an advisory branch of the organization. One group that I started ended up making a business proposal to the sales team that was ultimately and solely responsible for a large, and up to that time, untapped, revenue stream. While this highly profitable client relationship may have been identified, it was accelerated by the ERG that pitched it.  

Focus on Learning and Development

At its core, effective diversity departments typically start with respect and awareness for all employees. By establishing that criteria upfront and starting the conversation openly at the inception, the stage is set for team members to be curious and respectful. Also, every organization benefits by developing competence in team members. More effective team members contribute to a more prevalent outcome to the business. Again, ensuring that there is access for all employees is a plus in providing access to development content as well as to employees from other departments, disciplines, gender, race, veteran status, varied abilities, sexual orientation, etc. builds inclusion.

Diversity factors should be considered for all programs, not simply a department within HR

Be aware of any practices within the company that can create a challenge to being respectful and inclusive including hiring, development, promotion and compensation practices. For example, when you complete a Talent Management Assessment, be critical of the outcome and look to see if there are populations or individuals that are glaringly absent. While a manager may not intentionally miss including someone on their team, having a matrixed input in these types of programs, eliminates or significantly reduces your risk of missing critical individuals. Reward those that catch errors of omission before they negatively impact the organizational outcomes and celebrate that you were successful in creating an environment where speaking up with a different opinion is appreciated.

I’ve seen this play out negatively in critically evaluating the hiring requirements to ensure that they represent highly qualified performers and not a wish list that doesn’t reflect the true performance differentiators of the roles. One client that I worked with had a B.S. degree in a technical discipline; by expanding the boundaries of that job requirement, the candidate pool increased dramatically without compromising the quality of the candidates. A large and diverse candidate pool is a good problem to have! Remember the term “comparable equivalent”, it can be incredibly powerful in this space.

So consider, how effective your Diversity Program is and can you afford for it to not be optimized? A spendy proposition to be sure! For those of you that have doubts on your program or for those that realize the potential of increasing the program effectiveness, complete an audit of your Diversity program to ensure that it is reaching as many people as possible and is as effective as it should be. Apply the same tough criteria as you do for any business initiative. By doing so, you’ll be sure to get more benefit from the outcomes and a much more engaged workforce as a result! Call me if you don’t know where to start, I enjoy getting the conversation going in the right direction. If I can’t help you, I know plenty that can!

Published by Maggie Debner

HR Executive Coach & Consultant

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