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Creating New Opportunities for People of Color

Issues for HR to consider when striving for inclusion in the workplace.

When government fails to act, it’s not uncommon for business to lead the way. In recent years, for instance, business has developed ethical guidelines regarding the use of personally identifiable information and GPS tracking data. These are prime examples of a recurring theme: Business leads while government follows.

Today, we grapple with issues of social justice and, specifically, how businesses can generate change where others cannot.

A recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) revealed that a significant majority of human resource professionals, regardless of race, believe their organizations should be doing more to create opportunities for people of color. A majority also say their organizations have invested significantly in diversity initiatives.

So why haven’t these investments shown much return? The answer is complicated to say the least. Addressing the problem requires an analysis of three key issues:

Investment in diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. According to 2015 diversity benchmarking research from SHRM, the overwhelming majority of organizations spend their diversity dollars on one thing: sourcing diverse candidates. Unfortunately, the same investment is not made to retain those individuals once hired. In fact, the traditional ratio is about $3 spent on diversity hiring for every $1 spent on inclusion practices designed to retain those individuals. This imbalance foretells a potential failure in the way we have historically viewed diversity practices.

The meaning of inclusion in organizations. HR consultancy Mercer recently explored what motivates behaviors associated with employee turnover and uncovered one universal driver: lack of opportunity. Turnover was exacerbated when opportunities were seemingly limited by systemic issues, such as policies or bias. Today, workers define a sense of belonging as having available opportunities. Organizations operating under old assumptions about diversity are likely to fall woefully short of creating an inclusive workplace when they do not create opportunities for all staff members.

HR Advocating Diversity

The organizational approach to intersectionality. SHRM’s research on employers indicates a dearth of practices for managing intersectionality—overlapping and interdependent systems of different identity characteristics, such as race, gender, age and sexuality. For instance, many organizations have employee resource groups that are largely formed around a single characteristic like race or gender. Unfortunately, this means most employers take a myopic view of identity, thereby creating new inclusion issues for those who view themselves from a “stackable” diversity perspective. Stackable diversity is similar to intersectionality, with one exception: It accounts for the relative importance an individual assigns to the multiple factors that play a role in his or her core identity. Leading organizations assess the effectiveness of their inclusion initiatives by determining the degree to which they foster intersectional perspectives among the workforce.

Eduardo Salas, a distinguished team-effectiveness researcher, is fond of saying organizations measure what they value, implying that perhaps diversity has not been as valued as other factors. I think organizations don’t always know how to operationalize effective strategies in response to measured experiences. Either way, we need change. Consider these issues as you navigate the way your organization fosters inclusion for all. 

Alexander Alonso, SHRM-SCP, is chief knowledge officer for SHRM.


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