The Five Pillars of Diversity Success in the Workplace

Let’s start with the fact that diversity in the workplace is vital to bottom-line performance and long-term business success. The increasingly diverse nature of our society and our global economy make workplace diversity pivotal to understanding and targeting the domestic and international marketplace. This reality makes the case for viewing and pursuing diversity as a business strategy, and for establishing and managing a diversity program designed for optimum success.​

According to John H. Stern, retired Sony Electronics Executive Vice President of Human Resources for American based business units, and currently a Distinguished Lecturer at the Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina:

“An understanding of diversity is a very important aspect of doing business in our global environment. It used to be that American companies were only concerned about diversity issues in the United States. Now-a-days, we are all in the global economy and diversity issues are compounded by global cultures, religions, races and languages. The best companies use managers of all races and ethnic backgrounds, from all over the world, and invest in having them understand how diversity will move the business forward. They create a competitive advantage by having an all inclusive environment that develops the best approaches that work with domestic but especially global customers.”

It should be noted, however, that a commitment to diversity is not enough. A diversity program is only as good as the model underlying its overall design. In essence, if the design is not well-considered and strategic in orientation, it will fall short on extended business success.

To formulate a winning diversity program, or to enhance an existing one, there must be a conceptual framework that incorporates the necessary elements, one that guides in the development of a strategic design.

Let us, therefore, consider the five pillars of this comprehensive workplace diversity model – what they are, how they fit into the big diversity picture, and what the implications are for effective workplace diversity management.

  1. Assurance from the Top – A genuine commitment to diversity must start with a buy-in from those in the upper echelon. Management must be knowledgeable about what it takes to insure the development of an effective diversity program. Otherwise, the outcome will be window-dressing and resonate as a PR ploy.

  2. A Holistic Approach – A successful diversity program represents a business opportunity for the company and, as such, should integrate workplace diversity with marketplace and supplier diversity initiatives. Supplier diversity is important because it provides greater access to the marketplace and innovations while providing an opportunity for enhanced brand recognition.

  3. Infrastructure Sustainability – Key sustainability measures must be in place to optimize and prolong internal diversity performance. These include:

  • Relevant Goals – Census data for the labor pool and niche market representation should guide hiring and promotion goals. Out-of-the-box recruiting efforts often are necessary to identify and attract a diverse mix of the brightest and best prospects.​

  • Talent Management – Leveraging talent is critical for building loyalty and meeting diversity promotion goals; it should be incorporated into the diversity plan to promote long-term program success. This is accomplished through mentoring as well as talent and leadership development programs, and via the implementation of a fair and equitable succession plan. To promote company-wide loyalty, these opportunities should not be reserved for recently hired personnel.

  • Assessment of Diversity Effectiveness – Diversity effectiveness starts with internal benchmarking to gauge progress along the way. Hiring, promotion and retention metrics should be tracked for business lines and divisions and for management, by category, for accountability purposes. Moreover, it is important to trend spending (e.g., costs for recruiting, marketing, advertising and community involvement) against the return on investment for ongoing metrics of the company’s performance and the program’s financial success.In addition, it is important to keep a finger on the pulse of how employees feel about the company by indexing variables like sense of inclusiveness and engagement. Accordingly, employee research should be conducted with some regularity. For example, satisfaction surveys may be done annually or every two years. The results should be tracked back to individual business areas as a measure of management’s day-to-day commitment to diversity, and as another measure of accountability.

  • Prior to the design of the survey questionnaire, feedback should be elicited from employees qualitatively to insure that the right issues and priorities are being addressed and that the language is appropriate for and relevant to employees across the board. Moreover, post-survey employee conversations are often helpful in understanding the true meaning behind the survey results.​

And don’t forget to check with consumers on how the company and individual brands are viewed versus expectations and how they are performing in the marketplace.

4. ​Employee Optimization – There are two ways to approach this goal. Consideration should be given to making diversity training mandatory, ideally for all employees but especially middle management. Second, guidelines should be set to encourage the formation of Employee Resource Groups, inviting members to participate in crucial diversity areas such as recruiting, marketing, and mentoring, to name a few.

5. Internal Messaging – Relevant and consistent internal messaging reduces the problems that stem from poor communication; it leverages the relationship between effective communication and motivation, helping to promote loyalty.

And who stands to benefit from this handy baseline diversity model? The list of potential beneficiaries is fairly broad.

Within the workplace, consider those in leadership positions who have made a commitment to diversity but could use direction on how to get started. Then there are those who are running diversity programs but with minimal success. In both instances, the model can serve as a basic roadmap providing the guidance needed to achieve the desired end goal.

During the planning stage, for example, consider the benefits of being thoroughly informed about what it takes to establish and effectively manage a diversity program before calling in large and expensive diversity management firms. And, what about the company that has a diversity program in place but continues to do poorly on employee satisfaction surveys and is hemorrhaging on retention rates? The key decision makers of such a company stand to benefit from having a handy framework to guide them through diversity program modifications.

Then there are those responsible for academic and recertification HR program development. Program participants should be exposed to more insight than just an understanding of the difference between Affirmative Action and Diversity. Future and current HR leaders should come away with a clear framework for achieving and sustaining diversity success.

Of course, placement counselors and executive recruiters should be aware of this information. This would put them in a position to have meaningful conversations with prospects about diversity. The payoff would come from having their respective audiences realize that an understanding of diversity can provide guidance in the formulation of informed and relevant questions as they prepare for job interviews, and in gauging the pros and cons of proffered employment opportunities.

If you identify with any of these circumstances and see the benefits of having a simple guide to effective workplace diversity management, consider using these five pillars for diversity success as a handy reference piece.

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