Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

Archive for July, 2013

What Happened to Diversity and Inclusion?

Earlier this year, Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, addressed a shareholder’s criticism of its pro-gay stance with an unequivocal commitment to diversity. The incident occurred when a Starbucks shareholder raised the issue of the company’s recent boycott by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). This, the shareholder asserted, had lost the company money and he pressed Starbucks to backtrack.

Schultz responded, “Not every decision is an economic decision. Despite the fact that you recite statistics that are narrow in time, we did provide a 38% shareholder return over the last year. I don’t know how many things you invest in, but I would suspect not many things, companies, products, investments have returned 38% over the last 12 months. The lens in which we are making that decision is through the lens of our people. We employ over 200,000 people in this company, and we want to embrace diversity. Of all kinds.”  The audience broke into applause. Schultz, however, wasn’t finished. “If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38% you got last year, it’s a free country,” he said. “You can sell your shares in Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much.”

There are many CEO’s who support diversity in this same manner—displaying courage, leadership, and strong business acumen. President Obama recently said that the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century demand new thinking and policies to capitalize on America’s potential and end the pattern of worsening inequality from previous decades.

This call to action acknowledges that we must work together to shape the future through innovation, advocacy and equity. While we have made a lot of progress over 50 years, there is still so much to do—AND, outside of the office of diversity, professional organizations and consultants provide the engine power to keep the train moving. Here’s a short list of what we still need:

1.  Education & Training. Because individuals are hired for, or promoted to, diversity positions for a variety of reasons, the field currently has a universe of diversity practitioners with disparate training, education, and capability. The lack of credentials, as well as formal education and training within the field, results in inconsistent outcomes in supplier diversity, diversity training, diversity recruiting, and other functions within the Office of Diversity. With such a smorgasbord of results it makes it difficult to ascertain the true business benefits of diversity and inclusion.  Additionally, hiring managers take a long time to fill open positions after terminations because they are unsure about the education and skills required for success in diversity AND few candidates fit the bill.

Credentialing ensures that individuals possess the basic knowledge of, and skills for, diversity and inclusion. Several organizations offer credentials including the Institute for Diversity Certification, Cornell University, and Diversity Training University International (DTUI). Longer term, hiring managers would have a better idea of what types of candidates would be best suited for the job. Shorter term, there would be better and more consistent results across the board with diversity certification.

2.  More research. There is still so much about diversity, inclusion, and cultural competence that we do not know. Research is the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions. How much could the field of diversity and inclusion advance with some solid research vs. anecdotal evidence? SHRM, DiversityInc., The Winters Group, the Association of Diversity Councils, and Diversity Best Practices are among the many organizations that have been working over the years to obtain more credible data, trends, and information for diversity professionals. But there is still so much more to learn.

3.Better evaluation systems. Even if the senior leadership team does not request an annual evaluation of diversity and inclusion, the folks in the Office of Diversity should still prepare a formal assessment. The Associate Resource Group landed a big contract or grant—document it. We experienced cost savings from turnover reductions—document it. No diversity plan yet and much field office resistance—document it.  A word to the wise is to be careful in how you word your report. Nevertheless, make sure that you propose solutions or make recommendations for making diversity and inclusion work better. Also, outline your plan for the next year. Finally, consider using systems created by Dr. Edward Hubbard or Craig B. Clayton Sr. to demonstrate the return on investment.

We must do more to support diversity, inclusion, equity, and cultural competence. This journey is not a solo flight. There are dozens of great organizations that you can work with, depending on your professional and organizational needs. The main objective is to take a systemic approach to change and invest in partners for our future– or else we may one day ask, “What happened to diversity and inclusion”?

Building a Stronger and Faster Mousetrap


The jury’s decision in the recent George Zimmerman verdict has strained the cultural divide. But it’s possible for diversity and inclusion to bridge the gap in the workplace by thwarting destructive stereotypes, insensitivity and inaction. Here’s how:


1.  Focus on Excellence. Don’t forget, managing diversity and fostering inclusion results in superiority. Start collecting meaningful data and gathering empirical evidence to illustrate why diversity and inclusion works. For example, Ralph Gilles, President of the SRT brand and Senior Vice President of Design at Chrysler, styled the 2005 Chrysler 300. Now distinguished as a luxury automobile, this vehicle has the most automotive awards in history and has led to a financial windfall for Chrysler. Gilles is an active member of Chrysler’s diversity groups.


2.  Develop High Cultural Intelligence. Take the time to think about how you can increase quality interactions among different groups. Sharing common goals and possessing equal status is a key factor in increasing openness and changing preconceived mindsets.  The Harvard Business Review illustrates this concept with an article about Peter, a Los Angeles-based sales manager for Eli Lilly. When Peter was transferred to the company’s Indianapolis headquarters, he experienced many cultural challenges. In L.A., Peter’s confrontational, high-pressure style was the norm and effectively motivated his sales staff. In Indianapolis, his new team disliked his hard charging ways and avoided the challenges he set for them. Mentoring was an effective tool in helping Peter to make sense of unfamiliar contexts and adapt to them.


3.  Train Managers Better. A recent Leadership IQ study found that in 42% of companies surveyed, the employees who do the worst job are the ones who feel the most “engaged.” Meanwhile the middle and high performers feel disconnected from their jobs and are not very motivated to come to work every day. This boils down to a leadership problem. Train bosses how to be clear about performance standards and transparent about what they want their employees to do. High performers should be regularly recognized and rewarded with praise, promotions and raises. Likewise, it’s important to help managers understand that difficult conversations with diverse workers will not necessarily translate into feelings of discrimination or bias, but may actually result in better performance. Provide opportunities for practice so that supervisors can feel more comfortable with creating a level playing field through feedback and high expectations.



By Leah Smiley



Leah Smiley is a leading national speaker and thought leader on the subject of diversity and inclusion. Mrs. Smiley is the President and Founder of the Society for Diversity, the #1 and largest professional association for diversity and inclusion. For more information about Leah Smiley or the Society for Diversity, log onto 

A Generation Divided Over Diversity?


nation divided


By Leah Smiley


Sometimes, I like to read different blogs and news articles that belittle diversity. I want to know what the critics are thinking, saying and doing. On the one hand, it is a little disconcerting to read the horrible things that these enlightened posters believe. But on the other hand, I think it is necessary to understand the different points of view.




One day, I was reading an “American Thinker” blog by Dr. Robert Weissberg. The author asserted that college campuses should not be diverse. He ends his blog with the following final thought:




“Diversity makes us strong is the wrong slogan; it should be ‘if we were strong we would not need diversity.’  ”




I want you to think about those words for a moment. And then I want you to put Mr. Weissberg’s thoughts in the proper context. He is an educator, with more than 50 years of experience. As with Paula Deen, I can only imagine what his views on diversity have cost him; thereby reinforcing his beliefs that diversity undermines academic achievement.




The bottom line is that ‘hurt people, hurt other people.’  There’s no need responding to his messages of hate and bigotry because he’s a wounded animal—fighting against a world that he perceives has done him harm. Nevertheless, there is a whole new generation of racially enlightened people who are ready to listen and are much different than previous generations.




1.            According to conventional wisdom, bigots are all “old people.”  Yet, millennials question the need for Affirmative Action; they question why blacks are still talking about slavery and racism when we all know it doesn’t exist anymore; and they question the logic behind diversity education requirements in their core academic curriculum.




Here’s my thought:  does asking a race-related question, or requesting diversity justification, denote racism?




2.            While they are not being taught racism at home by their fathers and grandfathers any more, both males AND females access “enlightenment” information and connect with other enlightened individuals over the Internet. The problem is that there is a proliferation of misinformation readily available for misuse. Some folks attempt to debate, but to no avail. After all, black people are at fault for being too sensitive and whites who disagree with enlightenment are blasted as “sympathetic liberals”.




Here’s my thought: Are black folks too sensitive about race issues? And are white people, who believe in the need for diversity, really defecting against the white race?




3.            This enlightened generation silently complies with diversity and inclusion goals at work—understanding that their jobs are on the line—but outside of work, they tell scathing stories pertaining to inclusion, political correctedness, and “un”fairness. It’s a little sneaky, but it is not the outdated white robe and cone head hood approach.




Here’s my thought: does it matter what these individuals do outside of work?






I’m posing these questions because I am exploring this concept called “diversity of thought”. We say that this is what we are pursuing, but it means that everyone should be allowed to think differently about diversity and inclusion.




The ultimate question is: are we really prepared for diversity of thought?  Furthermore, does this mean that we will become a generation divided over this issue of diversity?





Leah Smiley is a leading national speaker and thought leader on the subject of diversity and inclusion. Mrs. Smiley is the President and Founder of the Society for Diversity, the #1 and largest professional association for diversity and inclusion. For more information about Leah Smiley or the Society for Diversity, log onto 

WHO Does Diversity and Inclusion Serve?



By Leah Smiley

In every organization there is a customer/student/constituent that serves to produce revenue (or income through sales, tuition, grants, taxes, fees, etc.) for your employer. Hence, organizations align their products and services to continuously meet the expectations and needs of their customers. Using this customer-centric model, I challenge you to think about ‘who’ the office of diversity and inclusion serves and how well you are meeting your customer’s needs.


My assertion is that the customer is the foundation of success in the office of Diversity and Inclusion. It’s easy to sit in an office and assume that we know what people need. Or to put together programs that people MUST attend, and then check a box indicating that we were successful. But it becomes a game-changer when we understand what motivates people, what their aspirations are, and how they perceive workplace obstacles such as exclusion, glass ceilings, discrimination, harassment– or even this concept of diversity and inclusion. This level of understanding will help you to develop meaningful interventions, minimize backlash, reduce corporate risks, and foster respect and appreciation for all differences.


Here are some suggestions for serving Diversity and Inclusion’s customers better:


  1. Set the tone. First, participate. HP’s David Packard first coined the phrase “Management By Walking Around” in the 1940s. I implore you to go beyond merely walking around to being visible and active in key meetings, strategic planning sessions, and on other projects. This requires that you make yourself available. Next, set expectations that likewise, employees will participate in diversity and inclusion as a part of their daily work. Give solid and relevant examples of what people can do on a day-to-day basis.
  2. Connect with your customer’s customer.  You can exponentially increase your effectiveness if you understand the motivations and challenges faced by your organization’s consumers. Not only can you identify trends that support diversity interventions, but you can also assist diverse teams who innovatively anticipate the consumer’s changing needs.
  3. Get more actionable insight. There are some customers (or employees) who will give lip-service to your Diversity and Inclusion programs. Instead of attributing the reason to an “ism” (e.g., racism, sexism, ageism, etc.), find out why. Get real-world context and discover new insights by asking your passive customers better questions. For example, instead of asking, “Did you enjoy today’s speaker?” it may be better to inquire, “How did you feel about some of the points that the speaker made? Did anything make you uncomfortable?” Let’s not assume that only certain individuals can be made to feel uncomfortable. Start with the assumption that there are some things about diversity and inclusion that makes everyone in the workplace feel uncomfortable.
  4. Reward to engage. Increased satisfaction with, and better results through, diversity and inclusion requires digging deeper to find great examples of communication, teamwork, customer service, and conflict management. Regularly illustrate accomplishments within your organization through a diversity of people. No one face should monopolize diversity and inclusion within your organization. Everyone should be able to experience diversity’s rewards and benefits.

At the end of the day, addressing the “who” will help you to stay focused on what’s really important.




Leah Smiley is an expert trainer, consultant, author and President of the Society for Diversity. For more information about the Society for Diversity, log onto 


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