Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

Archive for November, 2013

The “Demographics” Buzz Word

I fear the term “demographics” has become a buzz word in the field of Diversity and Inclusion. It’s a buzz word because it gets you in the door for that nice big contract or great new Diversity Officer position. But very few people in this field actually use this so-called demographic information, or other statistical data, when designing diversity and inclusion interventions.

According to Wikipedia, a buzzword is a word or phrase used to impress, or is fashionable. Last year, Forbes Magazine published an article entitled, “New Studies Show Buzzwords Aren’t the Problem– We Are”. The writer asserts, “Don’t hate the game, hate the player”. Accordingly, I am going to assert that we have to take this word “demographics” seriously in order to be more credible and effective as professionals.

Case in point:  A few years ago, I talked to an organization that had two different diversity practitioners come in and deliver great training sessions. The problem was, nothing changed. The elephant was still in the room drinking up all of the water and eating all of the food. When they spoke with me, our conversation centered around how demographics had shifted. And without a single training session, they got more help in one hour, than they did in 8 hours of learning with two different diversity practitioners. Generally, our discussion addressed:

  1. Demographic changes and its link to the School Corporation’s goals, while taking into account (a) past, present and projected population changes; (b) changes to the family structure; and (c) competitive benchmarking (e.g., how other similarly situated schools are performing)
  2. Challenges for Students related to (a) achievement; (b) harassment/bullying; and (c) exclusion
  3. Classroom Leadership Expectations and Skills pertaining to (a) identifying stereotypes; (b) handling conflict effectively; (c) fostering inclusion; and (d) the personal belief system (e.g., I CAN be GREAT with ALL students)

Of course, I had to do research and connect that research to my discussion. Such research may include first-hand reports of students who experienced bullying in class while the teacher did nothing. Or parents from another country who did not understand a certain process. This is significant when you have a huge immigrant student population. From an administrative perspective, they can understand who they need to have on staff, what the staff needs to do, and why there must be accountability for certain actions.

Now, let’s bring it home– to your place of business, of course. How have your customers changed in the last 20-30 years? Let’s consider a nonprofit or healthcare organization that serves HIV/AIDS patients. In the 1980’s, intravenous drug users and White men who had sex with men were the fastest growing groups of people who contracted HIV/AIDS. Recently the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that while “Blacks represent approximately 12% of the U.S. population, they accounted for an estimated 44% of new HIV infections in 2010”. Yet by 2015, experts estimate that almost half of HIV-positive Americans will be over the age of 50. What a shift– from gay men to blacks to older individuals.

Do you see where I’m going? This information has to be used in order to help our organizations develop a proper perspective about diverse groups in the workplace, as well as foster skills that will be useful in better serving our customers, students or constituents.

Speaking of which, every diversity practitioner should do some kind of research on a weekly basis. Yes, there are many activities to do but not every activity has the same value. Using the example above, conducting and utilizing research would be much more meaningful than a full day of training or some other  activity that has little impact on your organization.


By Leah Smiley, President of the Society for Diversity.  Learn more about this topic when you become a member of the Society for Diversity, or get diversity and inclusion credentials from the Institute for Diversity Certification. Log onto for more information.




Reward without the Risk: Why Some are Disillusioned About Diversity & Inclusion

By Leah Smiley

Over the last couple of weeks, I spoke with two different organizations who were embarking on a diversity journey. In both cases, I alerted the teams about the risks of diversity and inclusion– not from the perspective of forgoing to implement a strategy, but from the vantage point of exercising caution during execution.

You see, everyone gets excited about the benefits, or rewards, that can be reaped from diversity and inclusion. You can satisfy different constituent groups, enter new markets, increase revenues, outperform your competitors, reduce the potential for lawsuits, increase innovation, improve teamwork and synergy, and much more. However, there’s a catch. In the words of Jim Collins, author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, “It is better to first get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats, and then figure out where to drive.”

We are learning that race or gender alone (i.e., because someone is black or a woman) is not a good indicator as to whether this individual will serve as a great Chief Diversity Officer. One needs to lead with knowledge of the organizational culture and goals, as well as understand standard business practices, industry trends, data, laws, and other dimensions of diversity. They must also be skilled at getting people to buy into the business case, and helping managers to adjust their objectives to achieve diverse and inclusive goals. Accordingly, one’s passion for diversity has to go beyond desiring fairness and equity toward getting strategic organizational outcomes.

While I hate to sound like the negative nanny, the reality is that there are a lot of risks involved while implementing diversity and inclusion efforts. For instance, you can have a:

  • Facial policy. This is where it appears that you value diversity because you have a diversity officer, statements and policies about diversity, but underneath the surface, there is no real effort or commitment toward achieving parity and inclusion for all. Your organization is still getting sued for ridiculous stuff, and the blame (for why things aren’t working) is passed around.
  • Disjointed effort. This is where everyone does their own thing. You have a disability unit, Affirmative Action officer, multicultural marketing unit, legal department, supplier diversity officer and more, but nothing is coordinated and turf wars are customary.
  • Slow moving machine. This is where staff or leadership changes result in a set-back for your effort. It can also occur when the planning team takes too long to develop a plan or the plan is so big that no progress is ever made toward accomplishing the goals.

Meanwhile, these efforts are wasting resources:  Time, Treasury and Talent. Additionally, employees and managers are becoming disillusioned about the benefits of diversity and inclusion.

So how do you really get the rewards? First, you need to assess what’s not working and what is working. Second, ask your employees, suppliers and partners for their input. Find out what they hear firsthand from customers/students and competitors. Third, engage leadership in creating new ideas. Present your findings one person at a time. Get their input. Then adjust your new diversity strategy to exploit opportunities. Make sure the goals are easily obtainable. Fourth, communicate the changes in direction to key stakeholders but share successes with all employees. Fifth, assess your progress in 6-months and again, in one year.

It’s OK to say that things aren’t working. The key is not to become immobilized because of this fact; take action– decisive, strategic and immediate action.


By Leah Smiley, President of the Society for Diversity. For more information about the Society for Diversity, the #1 professional association for diversity and inclusion, log onto

Are You Still Arguing Over Multicultural ROI? Get Over It. By Terry Soto

By  Terry Soto, Author of Marketing to Hispanics A Strategic Approach to Assessing and Planning Your Initiative and President and CEO, About Marketing Solutions, Inc.

When it comes to multicultural marketing, many organizations still struggle to answer the question about whether multicultural marketing ROI is justifiable. But, think about it. Isn’t that like asking whether it makes sense to market to only some consumers who buy our products and services because we can’t figure out the value of marketing to all current or potential buyers? Does it really make sense to decide that marketing to a segment of our consumers is a discretionary investment?

If that made any sense at all, one could easily question marketing investment in general. Nearly everybody who works in marketing knows the John Wanamaker quote, “Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” The truth is that tracking marketing spend against ROI has always been like trying to nail air to a wall, and yet we continue to invest millions. So why does multicultural marketing ROI remain such a contentious issue?

I believe the problem stems out of the fact that U.S. marketers haven’t yet evolved from being Middle America marketers to Multicultural America marketers. We are still thinking and behaving as though our country remains demographically unchanged.

We read and hear about the demographic change and its impact, yet we continue to rationalize planning and spending primarily against an outdated marketplace definition. In his white paper after the 2010 census results were released, Peter Franchese, founder of American Demographics magazine said, “marketers need to realize the U.S. has changed forever adding that the concept of the Average American no longer exists and trying to market to them is an irrelevant undertaking.” Did anybody else but me read this?

And if we know this, why aren’t we stepping up our organizational game to learn about and respond to this new marketplace reality? Why do we continue to question the sense in understanding and investing in the marketplace as it currently exists? Why aren’t we taking a comprehensive approach to raising our organizations’ competency and capabilities so we can actually see what truly makes sense for our businesses? Why don’t we see the fool heartedness of remaining mired in debates about ROI justification for multicultural segments simply because we don’t understand these segments in relation to our business goals?

How can our organizations claim to be great global marketers when many of our organizations haven’t a clue about the impact this demographic change is having and will continue to have on their business? How can we say we’re successful multicultural marketers when most within our organizations refuse to acknowledge the impact of these segments on the organization’s business? Why do we continue to relegate responsibility to managers who are hired to “deal” with multicultural segments which the rest of the company doesn’t understand or with which few want to deal.

Some of us would shutter at the honest answers to these questions as many are founded on personal, philosophical, and political ideology, but let’s remember that we’re in this to grow our businesses based on business savvy not personal views or biases.

We are at a pivotal point in our country’s demographic history where multicultural market expertise including a much multiculturally impacted non-Hispanic white consumer is a requirement for every organization’s growth strategy.

Smart organizations simply can’t afford to remain indifferent to America’s demographics or to continue make only tactical efforts to effect sizable growth for their organizations. Status quo multicultural ROI rhetoric is not only irrelevant in today’s America, but it is an increasingly dangerous liability corporate America can no longer afford to carry.


Terry Soto is President and CEO of About Marketing Solutions, Inc., a Burbank, California – based strategy consulting firm specializing in transformative business readiness and strategy consulting for profitable and enduring total market success. She helps her clients dramatically improve overall business performance by optimizing their strategies to succeed in the Hispanic market.

Tag Cloud