German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel once said, “Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.” If this is true, then diversity practitioners ought to take heed of a recent survey of 100 diversity leaders, which found that one of the biggest stumbling blocks of their work is indifference.
“Some of the newer managers are young, and they also could be immigrants who do not understand the historical past of, for example, African-Americans in this country,” said Sandra Buford, director of diversity for the Massachusetts Port Authority and leader of the research. “This lack of understanding could have an impact on commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
Buford’s survey also found that leaders struggle to incorporate inclusion into daily workplace practices, and that minorities and women are still facing glass and even concrete ceilings in the workplace.
Buford touched upon a few key solutions to battle the indolence:
Educate. Buford said education is critical to challenge indifference. “Some of the solutions that we’ve been thinking about really emphasize education and awareness regarding America’s history, and we believe that this should happen, both at work and at home because it’s not happening in the schools the way it should.”
Take a grassroots approach. The relationship between diversity and sustainability is worth emphasizing, as it presents opportunities for organizations to improve communities. Buford said she is optimistic about that burgeoning concept.
“Continue education and awareness as we’re doing, but almost rethink it and refocus it and really take more of a grassroots approach to engaging interest and meaning [especially] for these young managers and immigrants.”
Buford said she would encourage organizations to partner with their local communities. “For example, my organization sits in a community that is 52.3 percent Hispanic, and we’re thinking of trying to find a way to partner with that community to educate business leaders and decision makers on the benefits of having a diverse workforce.”
Move beyond buzzwords. The business case for diversity may be presented well, but Buford said it still needs work. “We’ve been trying to help organizations really understand what the business case is because we use that term really loosely and freely. I believe it’s become really cliche.”
Beyond that, it is important to make diversity a business imperative, to understand what the business is, what is going on in the organization and find opportunities to utilize diversity and inclusion to help realize those goals.
“Let me give you an example: Japan Airlines is getting ready to launch at Massport, so I personally made sure that I understood what the diversity issues might be with that business initiative. I actually took a course on D&I in Japan at which time I was able to sensitize myself.”
Customize. Every organization has an individual business case, so it is important to tailor it to the organization and not think in terms of a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
“You’re going to see some similarities that flow across it, but each business is unique; each organization’s culture is unique, so the business case needs to be built around each individual organization.”
Buford said she also worries about companies tossing diversity to the back burner in a down economy.
“One of the most outstanding concerns for myself as a senior diversity and inclusion professional, as well as my colleagues, is taking steps to sustain diversity and inclusion as a strategic business imperative amid the current trend of economic scaling back, moving to elimination, in response to economic challenges.”