Diversity in the 21st Century

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sept issueSherry Snipes, director, diversity and inclusion, The American Institute of Architects; Lois Cooper, VP, diversity and inclusion, Adecco USA; Edward W. Bullock, VP, diversity and inclusion, at L’Oreal USA; Jackie Glenn, chief diversity officer, Office of Global Workforce Inclusion, EMC Corp.; and Victoria Martin, chief diversity officer, Chartis, recently came together to discuss diversity with TNJ Executive Editor Rosalind McLymont. Here are their thoughts.
 
Corporate Diversity Today

Bullock: L’Oreal recognizes that in order to be on the top in our industries, we will have to leverage every single mind within the corporation. In order to do that, we must be inclusive. It is the key to being innovative, to being creative. It is what will take us out of the recessionary period, because then we will be able to truly not just respond to the needs of consumers around the world but to anticipate the needs of customers and our work force.

Glenn: Our philosophy at EMC is that we are on a continuous journey in terms of diversity and inclusion. We are a technology company, and in order to stay fresh and competitive we have to be innovative. And in order to have innovation we have to have different minds at the table; make sure we still focus on diversity and inclusion and do what we have to do to stay innovative and cutting edge.

Snipes: What I have seen is that diversity, while still important in many organizations, has really descended on the priority list, where — perhaps publicly — people are talking about it, but where the rubber actually hits the road it’s not high on the priority list. If it doesn’t bring in some kind of revenue, or you haven’t linked it to the business, then it becomes even less of a priority. So the whole business case — profitability, income and revenue — has become completely critical to becoming successful in moving forward.

Martin: We have gone from understanding and embracing differences
to leveraging differences to promote innovation in the business world.
Not only is that a huge step, but we have the return on investment to back that up. Having said that, like all aspects in business, diversity is
also affected by changes in the economy. Whether you call it downsizing,
or restructuring, or re-engineering, this impacts talent and diversity
programs.  

Inclusion and Other Lessons
Martin: We’ve learned that diversity is not defined by race and gender, or who you recruit or promote, but rather by the understanding that we all are diverse and bring a special set of skills and experiences, whether it is to the break room, a client meeting or the boardroom. We also have to learn that a diverse work force drives the success of our talent pipeline, customer service and product innovation.
 
Cooper: Diversity has learned since its inception that it must be integrated in the business and that there must be a return on investment and a positive bottom-line impact. That’s the way to really engage your employees at all levels to see it as what the business needs. Diversity is really who’s in the mix, but inclusion is what you really do with it, how do you leverage it — what is the work environment we are creating; do your policies and practices really allow people to contribute to their fullest potential. With all the changing demographics, we recognize there’s going to be diversity now, but what are you going to do about it in your organization?

Glenn: When you hear “diversity,” a lot of the time it comes with a negative connotation, like, “Here we go again; here comes the woman.” If you really want to move the needle and really light a fire under people so they know that it’s not just about race and gender. There is so much that makes up diversity:  race, gender, religion, sexual orientation — just a myriad of things. Inclusion helps you to take a broader brush of the entire program. So more and more companies are shifting to include “inclusion” either in a title or in everything they do.

Snipes: There is no “be-all and end-all” strategy. We have to be flexible and comprehensive and continually re-invent the wheel. What worked ten years ago doesn’t necessarily work today because there is something going on that is called “diversity fatigue.” People are tired of hearing it. You have to be inclusive from a people standpoint, but also from a business standpoint; from a functional, department standpoint, or however your organization is set up. So from human resources to talent management, to succession planning, to your organizational development department, training and education, your marketing structure and to your finance department, it’s important to ensure that, from a people standpoint, you are working with your internal constituents to put a diversity lens on the work that they’re doing. Externally, it’s from a customer/client standpoint. 

Bullock: What we have done is come up with a formula: diversity plus inclusion equals innovation and success. We feel so strongly about it that we have patented that formula and have sanctions from the U.S. Department of Patents & Trade because we think that formula does work when put in place. What it basically says is that it’s great to have a team that is diverse, but that team must be empowered, must have seats at the table of the decision makers. And for us, the link is purely around not having what we call “blind spots” — areas of untapped or lost opportunity — as we go to market.

Missing Stakeholders; Global Dynamics

Martin: One of the things that we try to promote as a company is that we should all be diversity officers in our respective roles. We do benefit from the CEO commitment, senior management buy-in and sponsorship and employee participation. But I think another key stakeholder that is sometimes lost is middle management because they are really charged with embracing the vision to drive results, while also having to motivate and manage the efforts of others. We focus on four pillars: power, culture, workplace and marketplace because we feel that they reflect the organization’s vision, but they also have relevance to our managers.

Cooper: Traditionally, many companies have seen their CEO very engaged in diversity and inclusion, and also the more entry-level colleagues in the organization. The  challenge is getting that middle manager, who’s actually making a lot of those front-line decisions about who’s being hired, who’s being promoted and who’s being advanced in the organization. They are a key organizational stakeholder. Going back to the use of the word “inclusion,” as more of our organizations are going global, the word “inclusion” seems to be more representative of what resonates outside of the U.S., as opposed to just the term “diversity.” 
 
Bullock:  “Inclusion” certainly has more acceptance in an international forum because so often the term “diversity” is foreign to them. We often call them twin sisters: if diversity gets sick, inclusion gets a cold; if inclusion gets sick, diversity is dying someplace. So having the two linked in everything we say and do is important, because even if it’s diversity of foreign territories and diversity of zones that you live in, and districts in Europe, you still have a different mixture at that table. And it may not be along racial lines, but it is a line in terms of whose grandfather owned the land in the western district versus whose grandmother fought in that war. Sometimes it goes back that far. And that level of diversity often prevents an inclusive conversation that can drive the relationship forward.

The frontier of exploration is the midmanagement group. That group is so often left out, although all of us have mandatory training programs. That is the group that is the link that touches the executive action, but also has so much input and empowerment in terms of development of the lower-level ranks within the organization. That middle-management team is certainly where we seem to put more focus in terms of change in our diversity programs and inclusion programs.

Glenn: What we have been focusing on in the past four to five years is our middle management because they are the linkage to make sure that things get distilled throughout the organization. We have really put an effort on middle-level managers to make sure they understand, and even on individual contributors who are so busy they figure they don’t have time, but understand that what they do need to understand as they move into the ranks of managing people is why [diversity and inclusion is] a business imperative and why it is important that everyone understand it.
 
Snipes: Human resources is absolutely critical — not just the head of HR but all levels within the department. They can be an unintentional blocker if they haven’t been properly engaged in the diversity program and diversity dialogue. Often, HR can see diversity as a competitor in terms of the programming that’s being designed and rolled out. Engaging Caucasian women is very important. There is a reluctance to be part of the bigger diversity programming in some instances, particularly when the organization is early in the diversity journey. Really engaging women in the diversity dialogue and the programming is critical, particularly Caucasian women. 
 
Diversity and Sustainability

Bullock: In order for a corporation to truly grow and to become a profit center for its market share and shareholders, it must have a dual track. That dual track must, on one side, be one that has been recognized as responsible in the community, its market place, and its workplace. If it does that successfully, it can be successful economically, can have sustainable growth. The message in diversity and inclusion is continual evolution.

Today, we’re looking for particular marks, particular segments. But as communities grow, that will change. We’re spending more time talking about those with disabilities. As people come back from the war, we’re going to spend even more time talking about individuals with disabilities and their impact on the economy. So in diversity and inclusion there needs to be individual aspects that continue to evolve to ensure that companies don’t feel so comfortable and do not embrace what’s coming in the future.

Glenn: You don’t want people to get to a point where they’re like, “Oh, we have arrived and we’re there, so we don’t have to deal with it.” I would want to believe that we could sustain it and we won’t have to be so focused on making sure these things are in place, and these special programs are set up. But maybe I’m just dreaming.

Cooper:
There would no longer be a role for the chief diversity officer when there’s no longer a role for your chief financial officer, and when the company has made the decision that we have made enough money and we don’t have to focus on this anymore. 

Snipes:
What’s sustainable today will have to evolve in the future. Technology is going to drive how we operate and with the increases and improvements in technology, it has already started to create a host of diversity and inclusion challenges and opportunities. I’m just going to note social networking, the global Internet force, global customer opportunities and globalization of the supply chain. With all of that we’ll have to evolve. The whole complex of issues and challenges that we’re dealing with today is going to be different. Also, with new workers entering the work force, there is an evolution with those groups as well. The millennials have different challenges from Generation X and from the baby boomers, and different mind-sets. Emphatically no, I do not think [diversity is] sustainable. We have to evolve.

Martin:
Rather than creating these peripheral diversity focus programs that mirror others in the company, we’ve got to find ways to incorporate diversity into those long-standing programs, or engage our business partners — maybe like HR or another partner — or maybe blow up the program and start from scratch so that diversity is one of the founding concepts. And the expectation is that over time this becomes less of an exercise and more of just a way of doing business. We can be sustainable without having to be so deliberate.

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