Jackson: ‘Make the Business Case for Diversity’

By Roy Maurer Nov 9, 2011
An unprecedented generational mix, the expected onslaught of Baby Boomer retirements, a global skills gap and the challenge of keeping employees engaged are what’s keeping CEOs up at night, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) President and CEO, Henry G. “Hank” Jackson said at the opening session of the SHRM 2011 Diversity and Inclusion Conference and Exposition Oct. 24 in Washington, D.C.

These are all diversity and inclusion issues, he said. And HR is assuming more of the responsibility for these challenges going forward.

“Nearly every major challenge facing organizations today is an HR or diversity and inclusion challenge,” Jackson said, adding that “fortunately or unfortunately, according to SHRM data being released at this conference, a strong majority of organizations say it is HR that’s responsible for diversity and inclusion initiatives.”

Success in talent management is linked directly to success in diversity, he said. You have to be an effective talent manager to be an effective diversity leader. “One enables the other,” he said.

Everyone in HR knows there must be commitment from the very top of an organization for a major initiative to succeed, Jackson said. “So how do you get CEO commitment to diversity?” he asked. By making the business case for it.

Taking from his career in finance, Jackson said that the best thing you can do to maximize returns on your assets is to diversify your investments.

“The same is true for your workforce,” he said, “to get the best return on your investment in people, you must tap into the strengths of a diverse workforce. That’s how I make the business case for diversity and inclusion.”

Diversity can help you avoid certain risks, Jackson noted.

Five generations in the workplace. “For the first time in history, we have four generations in the workforce, and in just a few years, there will be five,” he said. HR will be tasked with accommodating the work behaviors and motivations of that diverse mix. Staffs will range from the Traditionalists who go about their business quietly to the other end of the spectrum, “your teenaged sons and daughters of today.”

They will enter the workforce hyper-connected and hyper-eager to make their mark with their iPhones and iPads, Jackson said. “All these people have different needs, different ways of communicating and different expectations of your organization. The challenge of HR and diversity and inclusion professionals is to align them, to help them collaborate and work toward the goals of your organization.”

Baby Boomer retirement. The first wave of Baby Boomers turns 65 in 2011, and retirements will continue at a rate of 10,000 a day for 18 years, Jackson said.

“You don’t want to suddenly lose that reservoir of experience, maturity and judgment, especially when you need someone to compete globally and someone to help keep the peace among those four or five generations in the workplace.”

Skills gap. A recent Manpower survey found that 52 percent of U.S. employers are having a hard time filling critical positions, up 14 percentage points from 2010. SHRM’s latest Jobs Outlook Survey report stated that 75 percent of respondents said the people they had the most trouble hiring in the third quarter were skilled professionals. Employers say that there are more than 3 million jobs that simply can’t be filled, Jackson said. “Everywhere I go both in the U.S. and internationally, this issue comes up again and again. …You should consider this issue a crisis,” he said.

Employee engagement. Keeping workers engaged is a top priority, Jackson told the audience. He pointed out that Randstad US recently did a study showing that 30 percent of the most engaged employees—“the ones who like working for you”—said they would seriously consider a new job offer in the next six months, and one out of every five said they would accept one if offered.

“But one Manpower expert was quoted as saying the battle to keep your best employees can be won—that the really good people will be less concerned about money if they can do work that is meaningful to them. That’s employee engagement. That’s HR,” he said.

Partnerships, Materials, Resources

At SHRM, “We are developing new partnerships, new materials and new resources to help you address the challenges you face as HR professionals and business leaders,” Jackson said.

Those solutions include:

  • Creating groundbreaking standards for diversity and inclusion. “In partnership with the American National Standards Institute, we are overseeing development of 10 HR standards that include several for D&I [diversity and inclusion]—the first ever,” he said.
  • Building D&I products and services. “We’re working with our partners to craft customized solutions for you. We are literally bringing diversity and inclusion to your doorstep,” he said.
  • Partnering with AARP—the world’s largest association for people 50 and older—to help implement strategies for leveraging the talents of older workers. SHRM has conducted new research with AARP on older workers and is co-sponsoring a free, online Workforce Assessment Tool. The tool gives companies a snapshot of their workforce demographics at different time intervals and makes recommendations on possible strategies.
  • Partnering with the Department of Defense’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve and with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment & Training Service to develop resources to facilitate the hiring of veterans. “And I believe that this is not just a nice thing to do. It is the right thing to do for your business,” Jackson said.
  • Keeping employees engaged by re-imagining the workplace. “We believe that workplace flexibility is the next major business imperative in the global marketplace, the next issue that must move from the tactical level to the strategic,” he said. “Hire a diverse mix of skilled people. Then give them the freedom to do their jobs in the way that works best and is best for both the employer and the employee,” he added.

SHRM partnered with the Families and Work Institute and is launching the Work-Life Focus: 2012 and Beyond conference in Washington, D.C., he said.

“Your organizations look to you for leadership on what’s next in diversity and inclusion,” Jackson told the attendees, “and your commitment to what used to be a nice and noble thing to do is now a business imperative. … You must now ensure that it is integrated into every facet of your organization.”

Adapt the ‘Rooney Rule’ for Business

Robert L. Johnson, founder and chairman of The RLJ Companies, founder and former chairman of Black Entertainment Television, and the first black billionaire in the U.S., told Diversity Conference attendees that he “was absolutely a product of diversity and inclusion.”

Johnson reiterated Jackson’s point that diversity is a business issue. He said that the demographics of the United States will mandate that D&I be a cornerstone of any company’s success because “there’s no way that this country can be globally competitive or an engine of economic opportunity” without involving the fastest growing populations—minorities.

Blacks, Hispanics and other minorities will be the customers buying products and services from your companies, he told the audience. “They will be the employees. If they are not engaged economically, to have an opportunity to generate wealth, you will not be competitive in the global economy.”

Johnson presented two ideas to enhance diversity in the workplace:

*‘Rooney Rule. ’Established in 2003, and named for Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the chairman of the National Football League’s diversity committee, the Rooney Rule requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operations opportunities. “In 2003, there were three minority head coaches; today there are eight. In 2003, there were no minority GMs; today there are five,” Johnson said.

Applied to a business, if there is a vacancy of vice president or above, a company should interview at least two qualified, minority candidates, Johnson said. “Just interview. I didn’t say hire. It’s simply enhanced best practices.” The practice essentially includes people who might not have access to the informal opportunity flow that exists at the senior levels of companies, he said.

“It opens the door in a conscious way,” he added.

*OppsPlace. Johnson’s latest venture is a new online destination that offers what he says is the first and only web-based employment and business site that aggregates minority job candidates and minority businesses in one easy-to-use location.

“I am personally committed to using business solutions to solve social problems such as the high rate of minority unemployment and limited minority business opportunities,” Johnson said. “OppsPlace will help address this problem. OppsPlace will help corporations fulfill their diversity objectives, while meeting the workforce needs and supplier participation goals of their business,” he said.

The site will be a portal allowing minority job seekers and business owners the opportunity to engage with human resources and minority supplier executives in a manner that will enhance the likelihood of employment and vendor relationships, Johnson said.

“Over time our goal will be for OppsPlace to become a robust interactive social network destination for minorities to obtain and exchange information.”

Roy Maurer is a staff writer for SHRM.


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