Organizations Aren’t Raising the Bar High Enough

Organizations Aren’t Raising the Bar High Enough: The Need for a Giant Leap in Diversity & Inclusion Efforts

Judith H. Katz & Frederick A. Miller, The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, Inc.

Over the past two decades, many organizations have undertaken some form of diversity initiative. In fact, it is estimated that more than 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies have such efforts underway. However, even with a significant commitment of resources—time, money, people and infrastructure—many organizations are not achieving the results they hoped for and are not experiencing the benefits that a diverse workforce and an inclusive organization and initiative promise.

Some of the efforts already underway include training for diversity awareness, creating a Diversity Council and forming support networks. Some organizations have created internal structures and positions to support efforts for diversity initiatives, while other organizations have stepped up recruitment and expansion of their community outreach. More strategic organizations tie their efforts to their business needs and link some executive compensation to progress and performance in the area of increasing diversity representation.

These organizations recognize the strong business imperative for developing and leveraging a diverse workforce, and creating an inclusive work environment. They may have made great strides from the days when they were a monocultural club, which valued one style, one perspective and one approach. But they have yet to achieve the promise of diversity because they have failed to think big enough about diversity initiatives as a catalyst for total organization change. In order for diversity initiatives to realize their promise they need to be combined with inclusion efforts. The goal needs to be an inclusive organization, with diversity at all levels, in which all people are able to do their best work, contribute fully and feel a sense of belonging. Organizations that are not thinking that big, not striving to move to a new culture and not encouraging their people to attain new skill sets in order to reach that goal, will miss the promise.

Why are their efforts falling short? Usually they are not thinking big enough about the fundamental mindsets and skill sets needed in the organization to truly leverage diversity and create an environment that enables all people to do their best work. To truly transform an organization—and bring it to a level of higher performance—we need to raise the bar on how an organization operates and thinks. Adding a few new policies or ad hoc groups will not do it. Here are some of the key elements—often overlooked by organizations—that are needed to ensure the success of diversity initiatives:

  • A mindset shift. Diversity and inclusion are not just about having a workforce that looks different from what had been a traditional monocultural group. It requires people who think differently about organizational processes and products: valuing different points of view as constructive rather than distracting, understanding the importance of visible leadership and recognizing that when people feel compelled to suppress parts of their identity they can’t bring their full talents and perspectives to the table. A diversity and inclusion mindset reframes all aspects of the organization, turning challenges into opportunities and conflict into positive energy. It also stimulates creativity in everything from product development to customer relations.
  • A skill set imperative. The ability to work effectively in a diverse organization as an individual contributor, team member, manager or leader necessitates a new level of skills and competencies, but few organizations recognize this or explicitly state what the desired skill set looks like. It extends beyond mere technical competency and includes communicating effectively, working with partners, and accepting change, among many other necessary traits. For managers, the abilities to attract, retain, coach, mentor and develop all diverse individuals and diverse teams are crucial—and should not be assumed. Once needed skills are identified, organizations need to provide training and then hold people accountable for exhibiting them. The new skill set must become a fundamental base of competency for hiring, teaming and promoting.
  • A sense of urgency. Too many organizations present diversity competencies as optional behaviors to adopt. Positioning diversity and inclusion mindsets and skill sets as fundamental competencies brings an appropriate sense of urgency to the work. These skills and mindset will help organizations increase market share, improve operational and financial performance and will ultimately benefit all stakeholders. Creating a new culture that welcomes all people and taps into their wide-ranging ideas, experiences and talents is therefore core to the organization. By raising the bar on achieving that culture, we can give diversity and inclusion initiatives the serious push they need to be major organizational change efforts.

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