Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence



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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