How Can Diversity Impact Bottom Line?

As the diversity and inclusion practice leader at the talent management consulting firm APTMetrics, Mary Martinez helps clients see how a focus on diversity and inclusion can increase their company’s bottom line. Martinez is one of the pioneers in the diversity field. She first consulted on the emerging area of diversity in the mid-1980s with the goal of helping companies go beyond diversity requirements required by law. Martinez discusses how diversity and inclusion have evolved over the past two decades and how senior leaders need to take on the role of agents of change when it comes to implementing successful diversity and inclusion.

With more than two decades of experience in talent management, how have approaches to diversity and inclusion in the workplace changed?
While conceptually we have evolved from talking about “diversity” to a focus on “inclusion,” in terms of actual approaches being employed, organizations have been slow to move from simply seeking to augment the level of visible diversity (race/gender) to creating inclusive organizations that leverage all differences both internally and externally in achieving their goals. This is reflected in the limited types of metrics, and means of accountability, still being relied upon by many companies, and the chronic lack of integration of D&I into and across all organization processes.

As a consultant who focuses on diversity and inclusion, what are the big challenges you see companies facing today? What are the best approaches to overcome these challenges?
First, I think companies need to place greater emphasis on engagement of senior leaders as agents of change. My advice here is, don’t let them avoid the tough discussions about the barriers to inclusion in the current culture or the potential value of D&I to support their specific business objectives — don’t do the strategy work for them. This also would help to address another challenge: fuller integration of D&I strategy with business strategy. If business leaders decide on the D&I actions that are most likely to help them achieve their goals, then they own the accountability for seeing them through. Also related to this is the challenge of creating a broader scorecard for D&I, where we bring together the HR and the market metrics to create a complete story around D&I change. Finally, though their expertise is growing, many companies are still challenged by the global rollout of their D&I initiatives. Ways to address this hurdle are being more flexible in terms of how a global D&I strategy can be implemented in different locations, and blending D&I with cross-cultural approaches to increase global competence in working with differences.

How can a company’s emphasis on diversity and inclusion help its bottom line?
Each organization needs to answer this in very specific ways for itself. The organization needs to start with its business objectives and then ask how D&I can help it achieve its goals. For example, how might focus on D&I contribute to higher employee engagement and productivity, greater innovation, reduced costs related to attrition of high-potential employees, increased sales and market share for targeted customer groups or geographies, more effective cross-functional and cross-boundary teams, a more positive corporate image, or greater supplier efficiencies from reliance on new, diverse vendors?

Many organizations get hung up on how to measure D&I, and the solution is to be flexible. When you can’t isolate the impact on final outcomes, measure the process or intermediate contribution, use anecdotal information, or design your own internal research or formula for calculating the benefits.

Are there any emerging trends in diversity and inclusion that we should all be aware of?
Recently, I have observed a resurgence of interest in the “heart” work, or acquiring individual and interpersonal awareness and competencies, associated with D&I change — something many companies took seriously early in the diversity era, but then set aside for a number of years. The most common approach currently being used is a focus on “unconscious bias,” something we used to call “stereotypes and assumptions.” These efforts will only have an impact if we can be more specific in identifying and coaching behaviors that enable self-auditing and alternative actions that actually counteract our reliance on our natural preferences.

Jeffrey Cattel is a former editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. He can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.