November 9, 2014, by: fbgconsulting

Diversity and Inclusion has continued to increase in relevance over the last decade. Certainly the election of Barack Obama as President of the U.S. brought forth more discussions and awareness of diversity. But, so did many other topics such as DOMA and Proposition 8 for the LGBT community, the return of our soldiers from war in the Middle East and the changes in demographics evidenced by the 2010 US census.

Companies establish and sustain diversity and inclusion practices for a wide spectrum of reasons.

Some of the reasons become part of their public image but others not so much.

Within those that are public you may find those who say that they do it because “it’s the right thing to do”; that it’s good for the business since their employee base reflects their clients; or that they really value creating an inclusive environment. Other reasons, not generally as public are approaching this from the perspective of staying out of trouble (from a legal issues); a way to attract candidates and reassuring employees that they care. There is a fine line between essence and appearance, but at the end of the day you may ask…does it really matter? Those that believe it doesn’t matter justify it saying that as long as organizations are doing what they need to do, they’re headed in the right direction. Well, not so…

One thing is clear and that is that for Diversity and Inclusion to really become embedded into the organization Boards and C-Suite, executives must exhibit a sound practice where they walk the talk and talk the walk. This is why there’s an outcry for diversity in the boardroom and in top management. This would allow those who are not “diverse” in nature to experience it from the perspective of people they already have professional respect for. Unless you’ve been sensitized it’s very hard to feel for someone “diverse” the way an LGBT employee who’s not yet open does; or how an immigrant Latino who speaks with an accent does; or a woman who needs to balance being the caregiver for aging parents and a career or from the perspective of someone experiencing a disability.

Generally people are more comfortable with those that are closer to who they are and what they represent-closer to their personal definition of perfection. It’s harder if it’s not. So they have minimal opportunities to brush with diversity. No one – especially at that level – will openly admit they don’t get diversity and inclusion, because it makes them look bad.

In many cases, executives feel that if they designate a CDO (Chief Diversity Officer) with lots of fan fare the job will be done. The idea is to let everyone know how much they care, by putting in place resources to sustain this effort.   Then the noise dies down…and the CDO is left with little possibilities of success and likely limited to events with the bottom part of the organizational structure.

Management may not accept it, but they feel they don’t have time for that. It all feels too soft and they feel uncomfortable.

Here are some points to consider when assessing how committed your organization is with it’s D& I practice

  1. Does your board and C-Suite reflect a diverse group? If not, what (if any) efforts are in place to change that?
  2. Does your organization have a clear simple definition of what being inclusive means? Do people know? Do people feel included? What (if anything) is being done to correct that
  3. How many of your executives show up to diversity events? And do they just show up or truly get involved with the activities?
  4. How does the CDO truly feel about the effectiveness of their role? Or are they a “token employee” selected because although capable they’re also diverse?
  5. Are you (as a diverse employee) engaged and feel your diversity is not holding you back?

In reality if you don’t believe in it you shouldn’t even try. Of course that exposes you negatively, but really doing it for the wrong reasons and just pretending this is important to you will backfire. Some studies indicate as people rise the corporate ladder they have less empathy and become more distant from the rest. They ‘re perspective of engagement, enablement and organizational culture is different to how the employees perceive it. So, as a senior executive, really revisit your moral compass. Find the right reasons to justify having a practice and go for it with passion and commitment. It’s well worth it.