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PHILADELPHIA—Diversity practitioners have done a miserable job of aligning diversity efforts with the business issues CEOs wrestle with, according to Grace Odums, the independent consultant and author who gave the Oct. 19, 2007, morning keynote address here at the SHRM Workplace Diversity Conference & Exposition. That’s one reason why she promised attendees she would say what needs to be said.
“If I don’t know the strategic direction of my organization, it makes it impossible to add economic value in the area of diversity—or any other change strategy, for that matter,” she said. “Everyone needs to understand the top three strategic objectives of their organization.”
But Odums said diversity and HR practitioners must take this understanding one step further and ensure that their diversity strategic plan is actually aligned with these top strategic objectives. “Diversity is the strategy,” she said. “Strategy equals change, and change requires leadership.”
Worry Like a CEO
According to Odums, CEOs have five top-of-mind issues that they grapple with every day and that keep them up at night: the economy, customers, creating new markets, the right people and planned growth. Diversity and HR practitioners need to understand where the CEO is coming from and be able to communicate the diversity vision in terms the CEO can relate to.
A strategic focus for diversity is important, Odums said, in part because global demographics and the composition of the workforce are changing. At the same time, the United States’ competitive position is slipping compared with other countries’ positions.
That’s why Odums urged the audience to adopt a sense of urgency about their diversity strategies. She also charged attendees to write a summary for their CEOs to demonstrate how their diversity effort is going to:
“If we want to be taken seriously by the C-suite, we must become strategic,” she said. “We’ve got to leave this conference different; we cannot leave the way we came in.”
Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is online writer/editor for SHRM.
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