Brittany Conner, an HR generalist at Central State Hospital in Louisville, Ky., is in a bit of a quandary.
Her employer, a state-funded inpatient psychiatric hospital for adults that employs about 300 people, is one of the most diverse organizations she has ever worked with. She's proud of that, wants to celebrate the hospital's diversity, and formed a diversity and inclusion (D&I) group when she noticed that the hospital didn't have one.
"I want everyone to understand just how important D&I is within an organization," said Conner, who holds the SHRM-CP credential.
Such committees and councils "are popular vehicles for creating organizational change and help provide focus" to D&I initiatives, according to a 2013 report from Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that promotes the inclusion of women in the workplace. It has offices in the U.S., Australia, Canada, Europe, India and Japan.
Education is top of mind for Conner.
"With all of the controversy happening all over the country, I think that education in D&I is more important than ever," she told SHRM Online in an e-mail. "I want to do my best to educate my colleagues to embrace and celebrate everyone no matter their job, sexual identity or preference, race, gender or disability because in the end, that's what makes us all unique."
But how often should the committee meet? How should it function? Members of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) LinkedIn discussion group weighed in.
Be Clear About the Mission and Measure
Jenniffer A. Brown recommended sharing the employer's D&I efforts with the larger community it serves, as well as including it in its recruitment materials and on the company website.
Brown is the firm administrator for Weiner, Millo, Morgan & Bonanno, a law firm in the New York City area. She chairs the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) international D&I committee, has served as its vice chairman and has chaired the ALA New York City chapter's D&I committee for three years.
"You want recruiters, applicants and clients to know [that] you welcome diversity and support inclusion," she said on LinkedIn,
Once a D&I committee or council is launched, it's important to measure that committee's progress, Catalyst noted in its report.
"Local councils have the ability to track metrics around recruitment and retention, employee satisfaction, mentoring programs, training, career development, communications, and staff diversity," the report said.
Getting buy-in from the C-suite is critical to a D&I committee's success. Company leaders should participate in activities such as attending a D&I program, according to Brown.
"It sends a clear message that this is very important," she said.
The Catalyst report called senior leadership support "vital," noting that without it, "[D&I] councils are unlikely to achieve their goals." If CEO support is not possible, "other senior executives should lead and participate on the team."
Conner, who chairs Central State Hospital's equal employment opportunity (EEO) committee, said she faced some initial resistance to forming the D&I committee.
"I think there was a misconception that D&I and EEO were one [and] the same," she said. She won leaders' buy-in after educating them on the difference. She also addressed apprehensions from a woman on the committee.
"During our first meeting, we experienced a huge moment of education when [the woman] asked if being part of the committee meant that [members] agree with the things we promote. She was referring to me discussing [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] issues."
Conner said she explained why she used the phrase "diversity and inclusion" rather than merely "diversity."
"We may not always have the same views or beliefs, but that's what makes us diverse and that is why we must be inclusive," she recalled telling the committee members. She said she expected them, as committee members, to set an example of inclusivity.
"After I said that, I could actually see her opening her mind and accepting her responsibilities as a D&I committee member."
Publicize the D&I Mission
Brown recommended deciding how—and how frequently—to educate employees on D&I topics. "Create a webpage on your company's website and publicize your vision/mission," she said on LinkedIn. Then, "start posting diversity-related information on the website to highlight the meaning of D&I."
The latter is important because people often think that diversity refers only to visual differences such as skin color and ethnicity, she told SHRM Online.
"People don't know diversity means the variety that exists among us" beyond any differences that may be able to be seen. It can include hidden physical disabilities or autism, Tourette's syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and other forms of neurodiversity. Brown once hosted a movie night and discussion for her ALA chapter that featured "Dislecksia: The Movie."
Conner's committee plans to dedicate a bulletin board to D&I initiatives, highlighting a different topic every month.
But what if employees are located in various locations throughout the U.S. and intranet use is not a strong part of the culture?
Brown suggested using e-mail or a newsletter to highlight D&I successes and including research that underscores the return on investment. D&I also could be included as part of a larger company program. For instance, ALA embeds D&I education into its annual conference, offering certification credit to attendees. Also, consider inviting a well-known speaker to create interest and market the activity.
However, tread carefully when presenting D&I topics, Brown cautioned, because often people are asked to face uncomfortable truths about themselves.
"Sometimes it is by discussing the uncomfortable topics that we come to terms with our own biases," she said in an e-mail. "As HR professionals, we ought to hire the best candidate for the job, but are we really doing that? How many times do we skip a candidate because (s)he had a name you had difficulty pronouncing?"
When presenting D&I topics, she said, "be compassionate, understanding, sensitive to people's feelings" and nonjudgmental.