Diversity, in its most basic form, refers to different types of people who comprise a group or organization. Their differences may come from variances in ethnicity, race, gender expression, age, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, education or religion.
Having a diverse workforce, however, is not enough to make an organization cohesive. Inclusion is also necessary, and having the right diversity executive to create an environment where differences are valued, respected and supported is important.
More businesses are recognizing the importance of inclusion. An April 2012 Forbes article linked diversity, inclusion and profitability:
“[Organizations] now realize that they must quickly become educated with the requirements to build new relationships for their business that demand cultural intelligence and an approach to win over their most valuable assets: employees, clients and consumers.”
Organizations that place a premium on diversity and inclusion as part of an overall business strategy can improve financial performance and talent retention, increase innovation and group performance, and reflect the markets they serve.
A diverse organization draws from a deep well of wisdom via people of different backgrounds and experiences to better understand and mirror its consumers, employees and other valued stakeholders. A skilled chief diversity officer can help ensure diversity and inclusion are drivers of business success.
The CDO Job Description
If diversity and inclusion is an important component of an organization’s strategic vision, leaders need to find and develop the right professionals to navigate the company through increasingly complex marketplace channels.
This diversity-savvy executive also must be able to establish metrics to determine the success of strategic diversity and inclusion and have the appropriate education, broad business experience, ability to influence decision-making and have a passion for the discipline. The executive has to be dedicated to advancing inclusion as a core value when championing diversity.
For instance, a chief diversity officer would champion diversity and inclusion in even the most basic executive conversations. At first this might generate skepticism, but over time that executive’s persistence may help him or her to influence decision-makers to gather information and communicate decisions differently to reach employees and customers in ways that matter most.
The CDO will effectively open up dialogue to influence decisions that are more representative of the broad range of employees and customers the company serves.
The ideal candidate for a diversity and inclusion executive position typically possesses a master’s degree in business, public administration or social science, along with roughly 10 years of professional experience. While education alone is not the determining factor in a CDO’s success, advanced degrees tend to develop a broader understanding of one’s discipline and carry weight among other executives.
More importantly, the executive should be able to demonstrate a track record of progressive management in diversity, equity, affirmative action, compliance, team building and community outreach.
In addition, the candidate needs to have an advanced knowledge base and skill set such as command of civil rights principles, equal opportunity laws, history, and awareness and understanding of pending legislation. This individual also will need to be an effective and motivated advocate for change.
Other skills for a diversity and inclusion executive include excellent communication and negotiation skills along with strong project management ability. The CDO should know how to develop, manage and objectively evaluate efforts while dealing effectively with conflict and resistance.
The executive also should be able to represent ideas and connect them with other executives’ key issues or initiatives. The CDO role depends heavily on building influential relationships and being a valued partner rather than carrying out duties to enforce compliance.
A diversity and inclusion executive must be able to track organizational performance in diverse talent recruitment and promotion, and present company statistics on race and ethnicity, gender, disability and other considerations that will inform C-suite executives about progress and steps necessary to meet diversity and inclusion goals.
For instance, measuring the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion will require analysis of employee engagement and retention. The CDO would pay attention to retention rates for diverse employees and how those compare with traditional workers.
If workers of color are leaving at much higher rates than their co-workers, the executive has to investigate whether a lack of inclusion or engagement may be the reason.
Engagement issues are not limited to diverse employees. But the diversity and inclusion executive should work closely with human resources and other divisions to determine where engagement efforts are falling short and lend expertise to devise a plan to correct them.
Knowledge, however, cannot be limited to what transpires within the company. It is important for the diversity executive to keep up with trends at other companies as well. Involvement in social media groups, committees for local business groups and national associations, and participation in national events can help.
In these situations professionals have the opportunity to interact with peers who are working to accomplish similar things in their organizations. There they can pick up ideas and learn new approaches and best practices involving potentially sensitive topics.
Gather Support From the Top
Engagement strategies are not limited to employees. Senior leaders have to participate and lend their support through words and actions. Sometimes the former can ruin the latter, however.
All it takes is one ill-advised comment from someone in leadership to derail a program and undo progress. That is why diversity and inclusion principles have to be nurtured, and if necessary formally developed within all levels of management.
Managers may have to be taught or coached about how to coach and mentor diverse employees because they may not inherently understand their employees’ and customers’ attitudes.
The CDO’s role is to build awareness when senior leaders fail to consider diverse points of view and to recommend how leaders can gain more inclusive input when needed.
This could mean pointing out cross-functional business synergies where appropriate, recommending that a team think more diversely and inclusively and instructing them on how to crowdsource ideas from others to add diverse perspectives to the conversation.
It’s a tall order. Further, it is not enough for employees and other executives to accept the diversity executive serving in this capacity. There must be organization-wide respect for diversity and inclusion for programs to work.
All senior leaders should actively and consistently encourage inclusive team-building, coaching, problem-solving and conflict resolution — all are activities that can be taught or led by the diversity and inclusion executive.
Cross-functional organization leadership projects could help the diversity executive to build a positive reputation among all managers and employees, and give the individual an opportunity to lead by example.
When diversity and inclusion policies and practices are in place and administered by a thorough, thoughtful leadership, organizations can measure success in employee retention, enhanced creativity, organizational alignment and participation.
A truly diverse and inclusive workforce can provide a wider range of knowledge, wisdom and experience the organization can use to increase employee satisfaction, strategic product development and profitability.
The Diversity Program Mix
Once a leader is in place, the first step to create a diversity and inclusion plan is to communicate the values that are important to the organization. They might include educating the workforce and executives about issues related to diversity, sensitivity and inclusion.
Rather than creating a separate diversity awareness course, training teams should consider how to weave diversity and inclusion conversations into all levels of leadership development programs.
This may include a review of the organization’s values related to diversity and inclusion up to and including action planning on how to apply new skills in ways that demonstrate more diverse and inclusive actions.
Training programs need to be as comprehensive as possible to develop respect for differences and should at least include ethnicity, gender expression, sexual orientation, age, religion, cultural and socioeconomic contexts, and physical and mental challenges.
The following components also should be considered.
Beliefs: Develop programs that create learning opportunities for employees to recognize and respect differences as integral to the company’s culture.
Training: Training is not a one-time event. Make sure learning programs are periodically assessed to see if the principles being taught are being applied in the workplace.
Benefits: Corporate benefit packages should honor a diverse workforce and reflect the organization’s values. Benefits may include day care for working parents, inclusionary health care and appropriate time-off policies that respect cultural and religious observations.
Promotion: Diverse management at all levels illustrates corporate values and provides motivation and positive examples for others. Emphasize that opportunities for promotion exist for every individual who is willing to work for it without bias or favoritism.
Celebrations: Cultural celebrations are opportunities for team building and greater diversity understanding. Cultural celebrations need not be formal; they can be casual, providing for more relaxed interaction and learning.
Facilities: Demonstrate support for groups or individuals who have specific needs. Cafeterias, for instance, should cater to affinity groups. Physical facilities also should provide comfort and ease of use for everyone with a diverse need or ability.
Community: Supporting activities that involve different cultural, racial and ethnic groups within the community demonstrates dedication to diversity and inclusion values, offers employees opportunities to grow and actively participate, and can facilitate branding and potential recruitment strategies.
Trust: Employees need to have a safe environment to ask questions, receive feedback and report problems. Developing an atmosphere for open dialogue — especially when dealing with sensitive issues — builds trust and facilitates understanding.
Leadership: Diversity and inclusion initiatives need to start at the top. When senior executives and management demonstrate an unwavering support for diversity and inclusion, it permeates throughout the organization.
Talent: Consider an active outreach to find and hire diverse employees. For instance, meet with minority groups in their neighborhoods, seek out diverse organizations in colleges and universities, and hold job-fair events in association with community improvement organizations.
Vision: Share the long-term corporate vision that leaders have for diversity and inclusion. Explain how individuals and the organization will benefit from diversity and inclusion practices. Ensure employees know that diversity and inclusion is an important, permanent part of the corporate structure and not just a legal or public relations gesture.
Mahan Tavakoli is the chief diversity officer and regional vice president for Latin American operations with Dale Carnegie and Associates Inc., a training and development firm. Vickie Henson is director of product development with the firm. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.