Bridging the Diversity and Inclusion Gap

Bridging the Diversity and Inclusion Gap

Why are people at some of the best places to work on the diversity matrix still unhappy? Is it possible that Fortune, Black Enterprise, Working Mother and the Human Rights Campaign, have made big mistakes, or are the unhappy people chronic malcontents? The answer is neither, and that diversity in organizations is a dynamic process and there are still gaps in that process. No organization is doing everything, but there are many organizations who are doing well in some things and need more work in other things.

I want to focus on three gaps

  1. Where the diversity process gets stuck.
  2. Diversity dimensions that are becoming prominent.
  3. What’s next after inclusion?

Where the diversity process gets stuck.
The diversity and inclusion process gets stuck in the gap between organizational policies and procedures that support diversity, and the every day work life and behaviors of employees.

I was working with a large Fortune 500 company considered to be one of the diversity leaders. The CEO was championing diversity. He had all the right policies and procedures in place. Senior management was starting to look different and the culture at that level was starting to change. A young African-American man approached me and asked if he could have a minute of my time. He then went on to tell me that he was the only black person in his work group and that he heard several of the other team members telling racist jokes, and they had asked him if he was an affirmative action hire. When he talked to his manager, she said he was just being sensitive and that was the other employees way of “including him. ” He wanted to know what was the benefit to him from the diversity initiative if he was treated this way. In a separate discussion with his manager, she told me that she supported diversity but not people “whining about it”.

In that same organization, during one of the case studies that involved a Native American man, a group of managers decided that they would paint their faces “for realism”. They had a hard time understanding why that would be offensive, but in the room with 25 white managers they also complained that people of color were taking their jobs.

In another company that got high marks on LGBT Inclusion because of their domestic partner benefits, a woman came up to me and said that she didn’t want to be in any case studies that included lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people because she was a lesbian and was afraid that people would suspect. My initial response (even as a diversity consultant) was surprise since the company had all the right LGBT non-discrimination policies in place, and they even had changed the holiday invitation to employee and guest from employee plus husband or wife. She told me that in the part of the country she worked, the other employees hadn’t gotten the news that it was ok to be a lesbian in the organization and that her manager was very uncomfortable with any discussion about LGBT people.

In their survey of 396 employees from a wide variety of companies that were involved in diversity initiatives, Richard Allen, Gail Dawson, Kathleen Wheatley and Charles White found that “Even with all these diversity initiatives being implemented, disparity still exists between practices and the actual achievement of diversity at varying levels of management in the workforce.”

Some people think there is a big gap between what their organization says about diversity and what their organization actually does. In other words their organization doesn’t walk the talk.

Does this sound like part of your organization?
There are three common reasons why organizations “drop the ball” and don’t move forward.

1. “Analysis and data nullification”

When the assessment is completed, and data analyzed, leadership is in denial about the results. Employees lose any trust or hope developed as a result of participating in the assessment. Leadership places blame on employees for having “hidden agenda”.

2. “Short -cut solution’

Leadership listens to the report and decides that hiring a member of one of the underrepresented groups is the answer. Conducts executive search for best and brightest and declares solution found. There is no need and no time for any long-term strategy.

3. “Diversity holding pattern”

Executive leadership holds strategy meeting, which results in “good ideas” or long-term vision, but there is no process of accountability or steps to implement specific actions. Other than discussing the need for more diversity in the organization there is no plan to change employee recruiting and retention methods.

If any of these are true for your organization you need to ask questions like how will the initiative result in culture change or inclusion, when do we begin, how will everyone be involved, what are we doing, who’s accountable and how will we measure success.

Developing a diversity and inclusion initiative is one of the first big steps to creating an inclusive work culture where everyone can do their best work. And it has to be implemented throughout the whole organization which means that diversity and inclusion have to be part of new employee orientation, enough money needs to be allotted for mandatory training and coaching at all levels, and managers at each level have to be accountable for getting the message out to everyone in their work groups.

And while no one is perfect there are also companies that stand out with demonstrated best practices. For example, the Compass Group is very serious about involving employees at every level, and ensuring that they understand how diversity benefits them. Each department creates their own mission and vision statement that relates to the overall mission and vision. They hold their leaders accountable for involving their employees and creating an environment where people feel respected and are happy to come to work. They support employees who want to move up in the organization, and try to hire from within whenever possible.

Organizations find creative ways of involving everyone. One of my clients asked me to give them a report on best practices for communicating company information to all the employees. Previously, people got information from word of mouth. When and if information was passed down, it was either too late, or inaccurate. My client was having a problem with rumors and people feeling left out, (because they were) and rumors and resentments were filling the information void.

I interviewed people at several different companies and asked how they deal with this issue. What they told me is how they use their intranet to market their diversity initiative and keep people informed of successes, changes in the organization, and open positions. One symptom of a stuck diversity initiative is that there is no communication process to keep people aware of job openings and that they see people who look like their managers getting promoted without getting a chance to apply.

Another example of bridging the workplace gap is Pepsico which provides training for every employee in diversity, and additional training for all managers. Steve Reinamund, the former CEO made diversity and inclusion a business imperative and integrated diversity into all programs, systems and processes.

And it’s still a process, and there are still people in the most diversity forward organizations who don’t get the message, have wrong perceptions, like diversity means quotas, all the good jobs are going to the gays, and we have to lower our standards now, and who resist change. And I’ve seen people with these thoughts change after they saw how diversity could benefit them in their work and personal life.

As the process of diversity continues, the message is that numbers and representation are not enough, and that there needs to be inclusion not only at all levels but in every dimension of diversity. While there is progress with organizations like American Express, Avon, Sodexho, International House of Pancakes, Denny’s and Dardens there are also huge gaps at the executive level and the board room in visible diversity, particularly race and gender.

I would describe that gap as the one Policies and procedures and actual practice in the organization. In order to bridge that gap not only to employees need to be informed but they need to be engaged the diversity and inclusion process at every level.

My second point about bridging the gaps is that at different times different diversity dimensions become more prominent.
There has been a growing conversation about religion in the workplace, what’s appropriate, time and place to pray or meditate and differences in religious practices. In fact in the past six months I have been from getting calls from organizations for consulting and speaking to help address one or both of these issues.

Organizations have had to address issues like the balance between observance, and proselytizing, and religious requirements regarding dress, with safety and the ability to do certain jobs. Many organizations today put out their own calendars which include all the different religious and cultural holidays. Another way of bridging the gap around religion is allowing people to have a certain amount of Personal Time Off Days. This enables employees to take time off to participate in religious observances without worrying about their job or having to explain themselves. There are also still gaps around making room for all religious beliefs and not coercing employees into participating in prayer circles and bible studies during the work day.

Terry Howard, the diversity director at Texas Instruments holds programs and discussions about religious practices and beliefs since we bring our whole selves to work. Two of their 16 Employee Resource Groups are Muslim and Christian. They don’t shy away from open discussions. One of their lunch and learn programs was “when traditional religion meets sexual orientation”

With the increase of Islamaphobia, and questions about different faiths there has been and will continue to be interfaith dialogues to develop better understanding and enhance people’s abilities to work together and be more productive. Its always amazing to see people change their opinions about others when they have opportunities to interact and dialogue with each other and get to know each other as human beings.

This also applies to the other dimension of diversity that I mentioned which is the generation gap.
It seems like everyone is talking about the generation gaps and how young people and older people can’t communicate with each other. This is the first time that there have been four generations working side by side in the same workplace. We have “traditionalists, born before 1945, baby boomers, born between 1945 and 1960, gen xers born between 1961 and 1977, and gen y or millenials born after 1978. Each generation brings their own values, experiences and perceptions to work resulting in clashes like the meaning of work ethic, promotions based on merit vs. seniority, definition of respect, use of technology, language and even music when callers are put on hold. I was recently working with the City of Eugene, Oregon on cross-generational communication. We began to facilitate dialogues and open discussion of young people talking with older people. We asked participants to share with each other the seminal events and conditions that impacted their outlook and behaviors today. People were surprised to find out what they had in common, like everyone values respect and that how you show respect can be different depending on factors like age, experience and cultural backgrounds.

Generational Communication and Religion in the workplace are just two of the gaps that organizations are working to bridge.

As everyone is aware, there are still big gaps that have to be bridged in order for the workplace to be inclusive like race, ethnicity and gender diversity in the boardroom and the executive suite. Women and people of color in some organizations are still over represented Human Resources or Diversity Departments, and under represented in the financial and business sides.

Which takes me to the third and final area that I’m going to talk about, where are we going and what’s next?

We know that organizations are at different stages of the inclusion continuum, but they all start out with becoming just conscious and aware of diversity. From there they may take different roads, David Thomas and Robin Ely in their article for the Harvard Business Review, “Making Differences Matter; A New Paradigm for Managing Diversity, talk about the three paradigms of diversity, Discrimination and Fairness, Access and Legitimacy, and Learning and effectiveness.

In discrimination and fairness, the emphasis is on respecting cultural differences and programs like mentoring and career development for women and people of color. The rules apply to all people equally, and the assumption that everyone is the same, and differences don’t count. This then means that the unique skills and experiences each person brings are not being leveraged in order to increase individual and organizational success. They give the army as an example.

Access and Legitimacy – where differences are celebrated and accepted. The organization increases its diversity in order to get access and credibility with specific markets, but most of the time people are assigned to niche markets that match their own culture. The problem or gap with this paradigm is that the organization doesn’t look at how all of these differences can benefit the organization as a whole and not increasing business in particular markets. (Give example of African American salesperson wanting to move to Latino area)

Learning and effectiveness- includes parts of the first two paradigms and also understands the benefits of diverse perspectives and integrates diversity into all systems and processes of the organization.

The third paradigm moves from diversity representation into inclusion where all employees are part of the diversity initiative and there is open discussion about differences and their impact on the organization. Employees are able to form Employee Resource Groups based on identity to support each other doing their best work and these groups are used as resources for the whole organization.

Most organizations that are viewed as diversity leaders see the goal as full inclusion. So is inclusion the end of the journey that began with compliance, and moved on to diversity and representation?

I think there is a fourth step in this process which is what I call organizational internalization. This is when we attain unconscious competency. Diversity and Differences are no longer an issue, but they are part of the fabric of our lives. When we have organizational internalization we no longer have to think about how to leverage differences, it’s automatic. When we have org. internalization, diversity, inclusion, and representation are part of us. When we have org. internalization, it means that we transcend our personal, interpersonal and organizational worlds and we begin to create the kind of world in which we want to live. A world where people are not afraid of each other, where we no longer feel we have to defend ourselves against the other, and the synergy of our cultures and identities form a new world.

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