Diversity Best Practices: Built to Last

By Kathy Gurchiek Jun 30, 2009
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​NEW ORLEANS—Diversity and inclusion initiatives are being re-examined, reprioritized, downsized and sometimes dismantled during the current turbulent economy, but diversity and inclusion are more important now than ever, according to Shirley Davis, Ph.D., SHRM’s director of diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Not only are such initiatives the right thing to do from a values viewpoint, it’s also the smart thing to do from a business-case standpoint and will improve the bottom line, she said during a June 29, 2009 SHRM Annual Conference concurrent session “Built to Last: Best Practices in Building a Strategic Diversity Management Plan.”

To be sustainable during a turbulent economy, initiatives must be relevant, fully integrated into the business strategy and able to demonstrate measurable results, she told HR professionals. Do not limit diversity actions to hiring. And commit to being actively inclusive—offering stretch assignments, for example, to get a diverse mix of employees in the company’s leadership pipeline, Davis noted.

Building a diversity strategy that lasts beyond those who implemented it requires finding people in the organization who can help champion the initiatives, including those who report directly to the CEO.

Find advocates “so it can continue” beyond your tenure or a company reorganization. Build an advisory council and include one or two “resisters”; their contribution can help strengthen the strategy and win over others who are resistant.

“We are the architects and designers, but we don’t stay and live in the house,” she said. She emphasized the importance of making the strategy a visible part of an organization, including writing and publishing its definition of diversity—and putting it on its web site.

She pointed to best-practices company Cummins Inc., an Indiana-based manufacturer, which has a powerful definition based on two fundamentals.

“The first is creating a workplace that reflects the diversity of the general population from which we draw our people and to whom we sell our products,” according to Cummins’ definition. “The second is creating an environment that celebrates people’s differences, and in doing so, inspires innovative ideas and solutions.”

It’s also imperative for HR professionals to know the organization’s top three business objectives so that they can link those objectives with HR’s efforts toward diversity and inclusion. Limit those initiatives to three to five items and make sure they not only are measurable, but measure what the CEO cares about, Davis cautioned.

CEO and C-suite engagement is critical, she said, for a diversity effort to have impact and success. That commitment includes:

  • Actively contributing to the vision, mission and strategy of the strategic diversity management plan.
  • Communicating the importance of diversity to all stakeholders.
  • Holding directors, managers and supervisors accountable for moving the diversity plan to all levels of the organization.
  • Removing barriers to successful implementation.
  • Adequately funding the diversity plan.

Also, senior leaders must demonstrate their commitment to diversity by attending workplace diversity activities and events, sponsoring or advocating for employee network groups, dedicating resources to diversity and inclusion, and establishing annual priorities for action.

SHRM members can access, for free, a new downloadable report, Global Diversity and Inclusion: Perceptions, Practices and Attitudes. The findings are based on a 2008 study SHRM commissioned that researched the diversity readiness of 47 countries.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor of HR News.
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