Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

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”?


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