Jackson: Diversity, Inclusion a Moral and Business Imperative

By Kathy Gurchiek Oct 13, 2010
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NEW ORLEANS—Economic turbulence, political and demographic shifts and a constantly changing global marketplace have made it challenging in recent years to stay focused on working toward diversity and inclusion in the workplace, but those issues make diversity and inclusion more important than ever, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) President and CEO, Henry G. “Hank” Jackson, CPA, acknowledged at the opening session of the SHRM 2010 Diversity and Inclusion Conference here Oct. 11.

“The workplace of tomorrow is being shaped by globalization, new ways of working, new technologies and demographic shifts,” he said. For the first time in history there are four generations working together, and there will be five generations in another decade, he added. These generations bring “vastly different values, expectations, skills and beliefs to the workplace.”

Never before has it been possible to find, use and connect talent from anyone and anywhere around the world, and a new generation is entering the workplace that uses technologies that outpace those their employers use, he noted.

“And never before,” he added, “has society put so much pressure on organizations to be socially responsible,” including being environmentally aware and addressing the social needs of employees, their families and communities.

Jackson cited U.S. Census Bureau figures that show in 2010 one-third of U.S. residents can trace their descendents to Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands, Middle East or Hispanic countries.

“That means that diversity and inclusion … can’t be ignored,” and these demographics “work in our favor.”

He said SHRM’s Board, senior leadership and staff are committed to the view that diversity and inclusion not only are a moral imperative, but a business imperative for successful organizations, and is a value embraced by the younger generation entering the workplace.

“This emerging generation is more predisposed to a world of diversity and inclusion, and we better be ready to work with them,” he said.

One of the challenges for organizations’ HR departments, noted SHRM’s director of diversity and inclusion initiatives, Shirley Davis, Ph.D., is a lack of clarity on how to articulate the business case and bottom-line impact of diversity efforts to their business leaders.

In fact, SHRM’s 2007 State of Workplace Diversity Management survey report found that 70 percent of organizations have no official definition of diversity, said Davis, who followed Jackson at the opening session.

And while organizations have a general understanding of diversity, often it’s not fully embraced throughout an organization nor can the organization articulate what diversity and inclusion mean in their work culture, she added.

Among the most frequent concerns regarding the diversity field that the study found, she said, are that it’s not well defined or understood; there still is much work to be done, and diversity efforts focus too much on compliance.

There have been some legislative strides, she said, pointing to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, health care reform, and the 2008 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act as a few examples.

Today there is greater awareness of diversity, including in government, the military and higher education, she said.

The United States elected its first black president, Sonia Sotomayor became the first Hispanic woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, Amanda Simpson became the first openly transgender appointee to the U.S. Department of Commerce, and Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi became the first Indian-American named CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Davis reminded the audience.

But while that is great news, she said, “in 2010 we’re still saying we’ve got firsts.” The Federal Communications Commission, for example, named its first chief diversity officer in 2009.

“Our charge as HR and diversity practitioners,” she said, is to:

  • Connect to the new world order faster and make use of social networking. The successful organization needs culturally competent workers who can cross borders and navigate different cultures, countries and companies.
  • Place a greater focus on connecting diversity and inclusion to strategic business outcomes. Most organizations still don’t have a strategic diversity management plan. They focus primarily on compliance programs, have weak metrics and can’t articulate their organization’s top three business objectives.
  • Build bench strength among diversity practitioners. Those moving into chief diversity officer positions lack strong business acumen and global expertise. Additionally, knowledge transfer is inconsistent and the diversity and inclusion field is not recognized as a professional discipline.
  • Help mitigate the ongoing polarization in the world, from how sexual orientation is dealt with in the workplace to recognizing that not all employee populations celebrate Christmas in the workplace.
  • Increase credibility in your organizations by being bold and dealing with tough issues.

“They’re looking to us,” she said, “for calling those things out.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.

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