Five Steps to Embed Diversity and Inclusion Into Organizational Culture

When Walgreen Co.’s Steve Pemberton was named the company’s first chief diversity officer in June 2011, he faced a multitude of tasks, among them assessing the ways in which diversity and inclusion could be embedded into the drug store chain’s historic corporate culture.

As a veteran diversity leader, most recently in the same role with, Pemberton was well aware that embedding diversity and inclusion into culture was not a simple process. Each organization has its own values and way of doing things, and Pemberton said it would have been inefficient had he assumed he knew exactly how diversity would fit into the company from the get-go.

“Given the nature of the company specifically and its long historical success,” Pemberton said, “I thought it was really critical to understand the current snapshot” of diversity’s role in Walgreens’ culture.

In other words, assessing its culture — and where diversity would appropriately fit — was going to take some time.

Such is the case with any organization. Embedding diversity and inclusion into a company’s culture is a long and comprehensive process. It requires a tremendous level of communication and collaboration on the part of diversity leaders with other key stakeholders in the business, said Terri Kruzan, the program manager for the Diversity Leadership Academy at the American Institute for Managing Diversity Inc. (AIMD), an Atlanta-based think tank. Kruzan recommends these five steps to embed diversity and inclusion into organizational culture.

Develop the Business Case

Kruzan said the first step diversity leaders should take when working on efforts to embed diversity into culture is to develop the business case. As with anything, she said, embedding diversity into an organization’s culture requires business relevance. “You need to do it in a way that it ties to the business outcomes that the organization already values,” Kruzan said.

In Pemberton’s case, the impending growth in the U.S. Hispanic and Latino population in Walgreens’ vital consumer markets left him with plenty of reason to start transforming the company’s employee resource groups — also known as affinity groups — into a bigger part of its culture.

Doing so would not only address the need to have a valuable internal resource for employees of different demographics or ethnicities, Pemberton said, but it would also serve as a knowledge center for applicable consumer insight information that could be put into action to improve the business.

Educate Business Leaders

Kruzan said the second step is to educate other business leaders and executive team members by defining the organization’s current culture, and to explain where diversity and inclusion fits.

Having the CEO on board from the get-go is a good start, but a variety of key stakeholders within the organization also need to be pulled in. Kruzan said a diversity leader should ask: “Do we have champions?” and advised aligning an operational champion if not. Setting the change of culture without heavy support across other HR functions is a challenge.

Involve Key Players on Change Management Efforts

The third step is to educate key players on change management approaches when assessing areas of culture change and where diversity and inclusion may apply. “When you’re talking about embedding diversity into culture, you may be going against the grain of what are already the [company’s cultural] values,” Kruzan said.

Align With HR

The fourth step is to align diversity culture change efforts with other functional HR leaders — such as organizational development, communications and the rest of HR. Doing so helps avoid what Kruzan calls “turf wars.” The step would also seek to harness other HR resources to help the effort; work out other outstanding operational details; and, lastly, integrate the potential outcome with other ongoing HR change efforts.

“When you come in the diversity door and you are doing culture work,” Kruzan said, “you can steps on people’s toes.”

Create an Implementation Team for Support

The final step for diversity leaders looking to embed diversity and inclusion into organizational culture is to seek support from a “representative team,” preferably from an operational perspective, Kruzan said. This usually comes in the form of a diversity council or culture team.

“You really need to have an implementation team to support any work as you go forward,” Kruzan said. “You need the perspective of operational people. How do we shift the culture to make it more supportive of diversity? Usually that is working with the diversity council.”

Pam Arnold, AIMD’s president, recommends asking, “What are the goals and objectives of the [business] outcomes?” There needs to be an agreement among the stakeholders before a consensus on diversity’s role in culture is reached. Support from allies and organizational resources is a must, she said.

Frank Kalman is an associate editor of Diversity Executive magazine. He can be reached at