Diversity Strategy

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People are asking what they can do about race-based hatred and violence. Let’s give them real examples of possible action by sharing our own commitments. Fill in the blank in this sentence:

In response to race-based hatred and violence I will _____________.‪ #‎minetodo‬

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We want anyone who needs ideas about what they can do to be able to search by the hashtag and be inspired with what is possible, what is practical and what they can take on as their own personal practice in this journey to end hate and violence based on race.

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Consider Skills and Experience First

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I was sitting in a meeting. The discussion was about creating a small leadership team to put some structure around a special project and create the policies, procedures and practices to be implemented. The participants that made up the entire project group were already identified and represented five different locations. What needed to be done now was select a lead team.

As the discussion about who should be selected proceeded, I found myself feeling a little irritated. All the conversation kept going back to each of the different locations having a designated representative. My brain was thinking, “But what are the skills and experiences needed to make this work?” “What do we want these leaders to do?” “Who has the experience required to make this happen in the time frame required so this project is completed with high quality and great engagement?”

But the only criteria everyone else was talking about was location.

As the discussion about who should be selected proceeded, I found myself feeling a little irritated. All the conversation kept going back to each of the different locations having a designated representative. My brain was thinking, “But what are the skills and experiences needed to make this work?” “What do we want these leaders to do?” “Who has the experience required to make this happen in the time frame required so this project is completed with high quality and great engagement?”

But the only criteria everyone else was talking about was location.

Why People Think There are Quotas

This is one of the big problems with a representational model. All too often I get called in to work with an organization on up-leveling their inclusion strategy and one of the biggest barriers to change is that in the past everything they did was based on ethnic and gender representation. So even though they want to make a change, the conversation they are accustomed to having just sounds like there is a quota to be sure there is at least one African American person, an employee who is Hispanic, one person who is supposed to represent LBGT employees, at least 3 women, etc.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe 100% in inclusion. I just believe that it is an invitation to disaster to put a demographic category ahead of identifying the specific skills required to do the task at hand.

I also believe that there are times when you can place someone whose skills are not proven but whose potential is high into a given slot. But that means the skill level has been discussed and there is someone they will be working with who is assigned the role of mentoring and supporting and helping to develop the required skills. If there is no conversation about skills then this type of planning just won’t happen.

Relationships Rule

When your organization tends to use the representational model you also set up the unspoken cultural belief that people may not have the skills required and they are in the role they are in because their race, gender, location, sexual orientation, etc must be represented. When this is the norm, people begin to assume that people are in roles they don’t have the skills or experience for.

I can’t even count how many times I’ve been discounted because, without looking at my resume and without having a conversation with me, people in the organization talk to me as if I have no idea what is going on or what I need to do.

My favorite example of this is when I became active in a certain professional organization. I had been earning a 6-figure salary for several years. I had a list of honors and awards that was pretty impressive. But in conversation after conversation it became clear that because I was black the majority of the (white) members assumed I had no experience and believed they needed to tell me very basic information about the profession that I was already successful in. Or they would ask me if one of the 2 existing black members had brought me in because, if not, I would definitely need one of them to be my mentor.

Rather than irritating me, it became pretty funny. Dozens of people felt they were doing me a favor. Many shared they just wanted to help me so that one day, with their guidance, I might be able to rise to a 6-figure salary. They were quick to share that they hadn’t reached that point yet but they were well on their way thanks to what they were learning in this association. It was clear the majority of people were comfortable with me being there as long as I was someone they could help or teach, but not as a peer … and definitely not as someone who had experience they might learn from.

Boards I was invited to join “because we want to have more diversity” were careful to screen to be sure I had the skills needed … but often, once I accepted the appointment, I would realize nothing had been done to ensure existing Board members would share information, encourage participation or do anything that would result in a positive relationship being built. Representation does not automatically lead to relationships that help to get the work done.

Representation is Not Enough

Many times I’ve advised clients that recruiting a black person to their Board of Directors or to their executive team does not necessarily mean they are improving or strengthening their connection to the black community. I’ve seen hundreds of examples where the person selected to “represent” a certain community turns into a disaster.

  • The employee with a Hispanic surname who has no ties to the Latino community and doesn’t speak Spanish.
  • The female manager hired to represent women whose reputation is that she is harder on women who report to her and has 40% turnover of female employees in her departments.
  • The black employee who grew up in a “Huxtable” family, went to private schools and an Ivy League college but is expected to go out and sell or serve the black community in an urban market.
  • The lesbian leader who is well known for saying, “I don’t use labels and so I don’t identify as lesbian or bisexual or heterosexual. I just happen to have a female partner at this stage of my life.” being assigned to serve as the management champion for the LGBT employee group

Get the idea? I’m not suggesting we ignore representation; it’s an important part of the inclusion puzzle. Just don’t allow representation to be your starting point.

Representation is Not Always Required

I’m glad to say I’ve seen some (but not enough) really exemplary examples of someone who was not a “representative” of a given group build such strong relationships cross-culturally that they are applauded and respected in remarkable ways. These are just three of a few dozen examples I’m familiar with:

  • The City Councilman who is white but keeps beating Hispanic challengers election after election because he spends so much time with the people who elected him and has been so responsive to their needs that they trust and admire him.
  • The heterosexual ally the LGBT employees asked to be their executive sponsor because he had spoken out about homophobia and spoken up for benefits equity for LGBT employees on a regular basis over the years.
  • The VP of HR who established what she referred to as “reverse mentoring” relationships where senior leaders were purposefully paired with mid-level employees from different ethnic groups and different functional groups to ensure the leaders were receiving input from employees they might not normally engage with.

What Can I Do?

So, enough about the problem, Tracy! What suggestions do you have for leaders who want to do it differently?

First, focus on the job-related requirements.

  • What skills are needed?
  • What has to happen for the person selected to be considered successful?
  • What kinds of experiences might someone have had before that would give him the experience he needs to do this job?
  • Are there any specific educational requirements?
  • What are skills or traits that must be avoided if the person in this position is to be effective?

Next: Only after you have a base group of people who have the skills and experiences required can you consider how to also demonstrate commitment to diversity and inclusion.

And third: prepare the people throughout the organization or team with information about the criteria used and the confidence you have in whomever has been selected. This helps to break down the assumption that someone is serving primarily because of the location or identity group they represent.

Finally: Give serious consideration to any behavioral expectations you have of the rest of the group. If existing norms and past patterns have not laid the foundation for the current employees to build authentic relationships with people who seem different, then it is important to address this in a proactive way.

Productivity Over Passion

In the example I began with, selecting a leadership team for a project, the big problem is that there are many people with great interest and deep passion who have been selected to serve on the larger team but relatively few who have experience creating (and then managing) a complex program structure that calls for proactive communication, strong program marketing and both participant and program evaluation systems.

Luckily, within the larger group many different people have one or more of the required skills or experience. So in this case it’s critical that the leadership team selected must also be comfortable tapping in to the skill base within the group rather than thinking that because they are the designated leaders they are supposed to do it all themselves.

Selecting the leadership team based on the facility where they work is not likely to generate the best result. But once the group of people who do have the skills is identified, then it makes perfect sense to add a filter based on a desire to have as many different facilities as possible represented.

So … don’t ignore representation. Just clarify, communicate and be guided by the required skills and experience first.

What Could Be?

BlogPosts-achievinginclusion-2014-12-31Let us help you take a strategic approach to creating an inclusive culture

Goodbye 2014 … Welcome 2015!

Tracy Brown, President of Diversity Trends LLC

Tracy Brown, President of Diversity Trends LLC

We retired the blog near the end of 2013 and allowed it to rest for a year. But it is back, better than ever, for 2015. Watch for an inspiring quotation every Monday to kick off your week with purpose. In addition tips and techniques will be shared throughout the month. And visit the website regularly for announcements about available webinars, workshops and teleseminars.

In the past year what I’ve noticed more than anything else is that most organizations are stuck in an old paradigm for diversity and inclusion. I have no interest in maintaining the status quo – especially when what your organization is calling diversity is simply warmed over affirmative action. So here are my goals for 2015:

  1. I will do consulting work only with organizations that are ready, willing and able to take their inclusion initiatives up a notch. I will guide them in the development or refinement of a customized strategic approach that fits their culture, their industry and their business priorities. This is intensive work and I refuse to take a “cookie cutter” approach. If you are ready to invest in a strategy that aligns with your mission, provides practical methods for execution and instills true meaning into diversity and inclusion then you are one of the few, select organizations I’ll work with this year.
  2. I will provide practical education and support for hundreds of leaders who are serious about being champions for diversity and inclusion by offering live workshops and web-based training. Training sponsored by employers or associations will reflect their specific industry and culture. Training offered directly to the public by Diversity Trends LLC will provide self-guided opportunities for individual customization. Being inclusive requires SKILLS; awareness alone isn’t enough. If you want people in your organization to develop skills, systems and strategies that lead to inclusion I’d love to design and deliver training for you.
  3. I will inspire thousands through keynote speeches at conferences, business meeting and online events. If you are looking for a business speaker who also knows how to energize your group let me know. I am known for helping people shift their focus from rights to respect … and from viewing diversity as a problem to recognizing inclusion creates more opportunities for everyone. If it’s time for your organization to emphasize the business-related imperatives that drive your commitment to inclusion, I am the speaker you need to hire.

Some people think diversity is dead … and inclusion is unimportant. If you are reading this, I know you are not one of those people.

Are you ready to explore “what could be” with me?

Are you ready to take your inclusion strategy to the next level?

Are you ready to lay the foundation for a lasting legacy of inclusion in your organization?

Let me help you take a strategic approach to creating an inclusive culture in 2015!

 

Four Barriers to Effective Diversity Leadership

I am disappointed that so many companies I’ve talked with lately have internal leaders for their diversity and inclusion initiatives who have passion but lack expertise … and have no budget to receive training or coaching. No wonder they are unable to influence the organization to recognize inclusion as a critical strategic element related directly to increased market share, employee retention, innovation, excellent customer service, safety or quality.

Well Liked and Well Rewarded

Businesswoman Walking on a TightropeA large number of people in these key diversity leadership roles were promoted from within. They have a great understanding of the history, culture and values in their organization. Typically they are well liked by senior leaders and they are rewarded for their pleasing personality or their ability to “get along” within the limitations of the existing system.

How likely is it that this person will recognize the changes needed or take the risk to be viewed as pushing for change? Unless they have extraordinary skills, or receive mentoring about change management and strategic positioning of diversity and inclusion they tend to focus on maintaining the status quo instead of leading the organization to a new and expanded state.

Fighting for Change

Businessman YellingOf course, there are some who have been promoted from within because they were viewed as either dissatisfied employees with good ideas … or people so passionate about diversity and inclusion that their ideas needed to be heard. These employees then get locked into the role of agitator and activist and are not provided the skill building they need to be viewed as strategic and productive. The promotion into the diversity leadership role quickly becomes frustrating to them because they believed the organization was ready for a change it was not … and they don’t know how to build alliances and position their arguments in ways that are likely to make the change happen.

Fast Track to Management

Businessman with TeamThere are a group of people in key diversity leadership roles who were perceived by senior leaders to be on the fast track to management and this assignment was viewed as a “developmental” role. It gives the incumbent a promotion into a certain level of management where they can be exposed to leadership process and expectations. However, they often have limited experience in the subject matter and are typically told they don’t really need any expertise because either (a) any one can lead this area or (b) it’s a temporary position they’ll only be in for a couple of years until something else opens up.

The Diversity Expert Who Isn’t

This is another pattern that is troublesome. The organization hires someone who worked in a diversity department in another organization or maybe even someone who was an independent consultant for a few years. This diversity leader knows more about diversity and inclusion than anyone else in the organization and is perceived internally as very smart on this topic. However, their actual knowledge and understanding is very limited to one aspect, or their previous experience was limited to programs that were more affirmative action oriented than inclusion focused.

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Often this person has good ideas but they have very limited skills related to moving strategically from idea through implementation. The organization is happy because there are no major problems or conflicts and the diversity leader is happy because they are receiving a steady paycheck. It can feel like a risk to bring in new ideas when everything is going along just fine so they keep doing what they know to do but don’t take any risks. Comfort with what is blocks growth to what could be.

What’s sad about this is that the senior leadership (and sometimes the diversity leader) have no idea what they don’t know. They don’t know what they could be or could have that would contribute to growing their bottom line and improving customer service or employee retention.

The Answer

Gone are the days when an organization hires a consultant and hands over the strategy and implementation of their diversity initiative to that firm. It does still happen occasionally but it’s rare. I actually support companies hiring internal leadership for their diversity and inclusion initiatives because I strongly believe ownership should be within and disbursed throughout the organization.

But the majority of internal diversity leaders I’ve talked to recently are weak on diversity-related knowledge, ill-prepared to develop or lead strategically, are insufficiently funded to make a positive difference in the organization and are afraid to make waves because they know they are not perceived as valuable contributors to the growth and success of the company.

This is what disappoints me.

And the solution is relatively simple and relatively inexpensive. All it takes is a small investment in three things:

      1. Be sure internal leaders of diversity and inclusion initiatives have strong skills in strategic planning, conflict resolution and leadership development. Good communication skills and a pleasing personality are not enough to be successful in this role.
      2. Be sure internally developed strategic plans are reviewed by, or include input from, experienced professionals who not only have broad knowledge about diversity in the workplace but also interact with other companies from your industry and with companies representing other industries. Fresh ideas and unknown opportunities come from this external input.
      3. Be sure the organization invests in the internal diversity leader’s ongoing development and exposure. Going to conferences to build a national network of peers and to learn about the latest trends and changes should be required. Providing internal diversity leaders with a more experienced external coach or mentor is highly recommended. These are not expenses, they are investments in the success of the incumbent who has been charged with providing excellent advice and guidance within your organization.

Tracy Brown, President of Diversity Trends LLCOf course I’d like to be considered to help develop skills and strategy. But whether my company is hired or not, this external guidance, mentoring and training is critically needed.

Internal diversity and inclusion professionals can be a valuable resource for your organization’s strategic plans related to marketing, recruitment, retention, marketing, innovation and expansion. It begins with a healthy mix of subject matter expertise, skills in strategic planning, leadership development and conflict management, plus the ability to partner with leadership in an effective way.

Achieving Inclusion

If your diversity and inclusion strategy is going to be successful you must balance your activities among four key areas.

Achieving Inclusion Model from Diversity Trends LLC

 

  1. Awareness: What do I need to know or understand?
  2. Alignment: Why is this important to my (or my organization’s) success?
  3. Action: What do I need to do (and say)?
  4. Accountability: How (and when) will I measure – and celebrate – progress?

Diversity Adoption Curve

Diversity Adoption CurveWe use the Diversity Adoption Curve developed by Marilyn Loden with many of our clients. The model provides an excellent visual reminder that the percentage of employees in any organization who are likely to “resist” or be against diversity initiatives is actually very small.

It is important to answer the questions the skeptics have. And it is critical you provide the pragmatists practical and easily understandable motivation. But these two groups add up to more than 2/3 of the workforce.

Don’t make the mistake so many organizations do and design your diversity initiative around the 10% who are on either end of the scale. Let Diversity Trends LLC help you find the right focus and the right balance to engage the largest part of your workforce in your diversity and inclusion initiatives.

It’s a Business Strategy

MultiEthnicTeam8If your diversity strategy still revolves around pot luck meals and the music or cultural celebrations of different cultures then you are missing important opportunities to connect diversity and inclusion with your business success.

If you want employees in general, and managers specifically, to pay attention to your organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, then it is imperative that you make a direct link to productivity, market share, customer satisfaction, employee retention, increased revenue or some other business-focused outcome.

At Diversity Trends LLC we specialize in helping your organization identify and use the business strategy that makes diversity and inclusion an essential part of their culture.