Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

Archive for February, 2014

Change agent? The elephant in the room? The un-defined but pertinent pianist? What is the role of a diversity practitioner? By Anita Nahal, Ph.D., CDP

Anitas image 1As a diversity practitioner, I am continuously propelled by others, and by my
own inquisitive spirit to discover, and more clearly define, the purpose and role
of a diversity practitioner. The literature available on the topic clearly labels the diversity practitioner as a change agent. But what is a diversity change agent? What does that exactly mean? What is the need to have a diversity officer with related costs? And why, after many companies and organizations invest thousands on training a cadre of change agents, “…does a room full of positive change agents ask the question ‘What can I do?’ ” (Najera).

A diversity professional is like the elephant in the room…no one is quite sure why they are there or what their role is within the organization. Furthermore, they are like the elephant in the room attempting to deftly play a piano that does not have eighty-eight  keys, nor are the keys fixed. Therefore, the keys can increase or decrease at any time! With a much smaller and fluid piano, they are burdened with the lofty title of change agent. Being a change agent, however, is not possible unless the diversity practitioner is capable of visualizing the “bigger picture”, and grasping the “systemic nature” of the role (Griggs & Louw). Valuing and implementing diversity must become “…part of the total woodwork” (Griggs & Louw) of the organization encompassing all aspects, divisions, departments and functions.  And in order to achieve what is called the “inclusion breakthrough” (Miller & Katz), it is essential to build the “…platform for change.”

As the elephant in the room attempting to play a non-88 keys fluid piano, the diversity practitioner endeavors to inculcate a platform for change through different kinds of music; some with tunes, some short, some uneasy, some not yet perfected, some great, and some just about there! Organizations and diversity practitioners might also at times be unsure as to which keys fit them best: the Equal Employment Opportunity Office, Multicultural Affairs, Affirmative Action, or a separate Office of Diversity? And since their role is not very well defined, they might not play music that is enjoyed. Thus the three main questions for diversity practitioners (or the elephants in the room attempting to play a non-88 keys fluid piano) to consider are: the types of music and the length; the department within which to play the music; the criteria to ensure that others appreciate the music; as well as other properties specific to the facility in which the music is playing.

Ever since the 1960s, diversity has become a catch phrase for ensuring compliance with U.S. laws. However, we know that today, in 2014, it’s not as much about having diverse people working in an organization; indeed, depending upon the type, location and demographics served, most organizations already have diverse employees.  And having diverse employees has its own “…social expectation and value” (Kochan & et all).

However, the current need in the diversity world is “what are those companies doing with the diversity among its ranks? Are they utilizing their ideas and suggestions in product development or in a services capacity? Are they utilizing their cultural skills to reach out to larger or different market demographics?” (Nahal). Today it’s about ensuring that diversity practices benefit the organization and all diverse employees therein; the bottom line or the business case for diversity should be the driver. As Hubbard says, “Measuring the results of diversity initiatives will become a key strategic requirement to demonstrate its contribution to organization performance.”

At the level of organizational, individual and inter-personal interactions, diversity practitioners have therefore, to understand, comprehend, suggest, establish, implement, promote, sustain and plan for diversity best practices in the present and future. The piano keys are forever running, liked or not, but it’s the acceptance of their purpose that distinguishes one diversity practitioner from another. And to be a success, the diversity practitioner must be completely familiar with the organization’s mission, goals, purpose, practices, demographics, markets and suppliers.

The eighteen piano keys below enumerate, in my opinion, some of the roles of diversity practitioners; please feel free to add your own keys. Please note that in the keys below, I place event planner as one of my piano keys quite contrary to many who say that a diversity practitioner is not an event planner. Yes, that is not their sole role but it can be one of their tasks and a very valuable one indeed because festivities and food bring diverse people together into a room. Thus, the physical space shared can lead to other ways of positive interpersonal exchanges that benefit everyone. Some also say that their role is not that of a training manager, however, I have included that below as well. I consider diversity training to be an integral part of the diversity practitioner’s role– to learn, one must teach!  Also, some say that HR is not their role; while this is true, diversity’s input and review of recruitment practices, hiring and termination policies might very well assist an organization in avoiding many embarrassing situations and law suits.

Role of the Diversity Practitioner: On an 18-Key PianoAnitas image 2

  • Diversity change agent & setter of the organizational diversity imperative
  • Diversity point person & resource provider
  • Diversity liaison/organizational aligner
  • Facilitator of leadership buy-in
  • Diversity needs & risk assessor
  • Diversity strategy planner
  • Presenter of the diversity business case
  • Overseer of the diversity council(s)/employee resource groups
  • Diversity trainer & programs/events coordinator
  • Reviewer of diversity appointments, professional development, hiring & termination practices
  • Diversity conflict mediator
  • Diversity budget planner
  • Diversity financial manager
  • Diversity advertising, marketing, & product developer
  • Builder of interventions targeting diverse suppliers
  • Diversity succession planner
  • Diversity impact tracker and measurer
  • Diversity evaluator, and initiator of current and future best practices

Therefore, a diversity practitioner is one in many. This does not imply undue interference in other departments or decisions. Instead it implies that if the diversity practitioner sees something discriminatory or unproductive for the organization and its employees, they will bring that to the attention of leadership and department/division heads. It also implies that the diversity practitioner will take the lead to suggest and implement — in partnership with other organizational stakeholders — best practices related to diversity. In turn therefore, becoming a change agent. Thus the elephant in the room can move from being a “costly not sure what to do with them” scenario to “I am very useful to the overall success of the organization and employees” scenario! The undefined but pertinent pianist never stops playing the diversity music! The elephant in the room cannot be ignored as long as it makes its presence felt, and as long as leadership is willing to recognize its intrinsic and true value.


Anita Nahal, Ph.D., CDP is a diversity consultant; former professor and assistant provost for international programs; an author and poet; and founder & chairperson of You will find more information on her at:


Griggs, Lewis  & Louw, Lente-Louise. (1995). Valuing Diversity: New Tools For A New Reality, 25-27.

Hubbard, Edward. (1999). How To Calculate Diversity Return-On-Investment, 3.

Kochan, Thomas  & et all. Diversity in Business Performance: Report of the Diversity Research Network. Retrieved, February, 26, 2014 from: .

Miller, Frederick & Katz, Judith. (2002). The Inclusion Breakthrough: Unleashing The Real Power Of Diversity, 139.

Nahal, Anita. The Business Case For Diversity: The Need, Application and Training (NAT) Triangle.  Retrieved, February 26, 2014 from: .

Najera, Hugo.  Elements of Diversity: How Change Agents, Activists, Advocates, and Other Do-Gooders Seem to Not Get It Right After 40 Years of Trying. Retrieved, February 25, 2014 from: .

Further Reading

* Frans Johansson, The medici effect
* Hubert glover & John Curry, Giraffes Of Technology: The making of the twenty first-century leader
* Janet Smith, 58 little things that have a big impact
* Edward Carr, What is history?
* Deepak Chopra, The seven spiritual laws of success

42% Fail in Overseas Assignments

Wow, this is unbelievable!

Cultural Detective Blog

As many as two in five managers fail in their overseas assignments, according to a survey released by Right Management. A worldwide average of only 58% of international postings were judged to be successful by their organizations, with little variation across regions.

“This has to be one of the most disappointing findings of our survey,” said Bram Lowsky, Group Executive Vice President Americas at Right Management. “Given the investments being made in bringing along a new generation of leaders and their growing need to be able to think and operate globally, for 42% to fail when they’re sent abroad is hard to fathom. It’s also worth noting that the failure rate is more or less a constant whether it’s Asian, European or North American managers.”

The survey also found disparities in the preparation given expatriates before an assignment, said Lowsky.

Expat Prep

“A global average of 25% of organizations provides language training. However…

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“Work” Flow: Connecting Change to the Future

By Leah Smiley, CDE

I read an article on LinkedIn this morning by Jordan Weissmann in The Atlantic entitled, “Indisputable Evidence Shows That Millennials Have it Worse Than Any Generation in 50 Years.” The article asserts that the job market is so horrible that Millennials in the 25-32 age range are “forced” to live at home.

I don’t know if I would necessarily agree that Millennials have it worse…Millennials have higher workplace expectations as a result of being cohorts in the “trophy generation”. This is where they replaced “trophy wives” and were pushed to achieve awesome things in school, sports and social activities. Nevertheless, many lack real world experience and are used to helicopter parents swooping in to save them (hence, life at home as an adult). Therefore, the issue may not necessarily reside with “no available employment”; it may be a whole host of things from choosiness, lack of effort/motivation, and parents who are comfortable with adult kids living at home.

Think about it: something is wrong with the “work” flow. In previous generations, adult children had few choices pertaining to their living arrangements. A famous Burger King commercial from the 1970’s summed it up like this, “Have it your way”—voluntarily leave home when you turn 18 or involuntarily get put out.  Additionally, coming back home was never an option. If you did come “home”, parents would make it so unbearable that you would have to leave. Anything was better than living at home as an adult. This included working two minimum wage jobs until something better came along, or creating a product or service to sell.

The parents of today’s 25-32 year olds, are NOT the old-school Baby Boomer and Silent Generation parents. Employers are also not the companies of old. Organizations paid minimum wage for certain positions in prior years because a worker was not expected to make a “career” out of every job. This was a part of the business model for banks, retail, and food services– to create entry-level jobs that would provide experience for bigger and better opportunities. Yet, in recent years, this model is no longer working, as some folks misaligned this great concept called “retention”. Today, “retention” is not just for star workers in higher level positions; we want everyone to become so comfortable where they are, that they no longer seek opportunities elsewhere. However, now, you’re messing with the business model—because with retention, comes higher pay. If you want these folks to spend 10-15 years at your organization as a food services worker or a cashier—not only do you have to pay more but you are also eliminating opportunities for new talent to enter the workplace and gain the necessary skills to move up and out.

Do you see where this is going? The systemic flow from home to independence/self-sufficiency, and from entry-level work to higher paying jobs is interconnected. It’s not just helicopter parents, it’s also the workplace retention experts who didn’t take the time to connect their efforts to something greater, like the overall business strategy or the future.

So, how do we fix this dilemma?

1.  If you want to retain everyone, you must pay a higher price. For parents, it’s adults living at home. For employers, it’s more money. For customers, it’s higher prices. If that is your choice, understand and accept the trickle-down effect. Everything is connected (e.g., higher cost of living expenses, Millennials living at home, employers being pressured to raise the minimum wage, etc.)

2.  If your objective is to prepare individuals to transition and perform at optimum levels, you must have a cross-training and mentoring program that begins sooner, rather than later. Specifically target lower-level workers so that they can gain valuable experience performing different tasks, as well as work with different people who can challenge them, motivate them, and direct them.

Here’s where that pesky word “diversity” comes into play—lower level workers are much more likely to be diverse. According to 2012 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 75.3 million workers in the United States age 16 and over were paid at hourly rates, representing 59.0 percent of all wage and salary workers. Other characteristics of minimum wage workers include the fact that these earners are more likely to be younger, female, single (including single parents), lacking a college education, and White, Black or Latino.

And again, here is where we also see that diversity efforts alone, do not work.  Your organization needs diversity (it’s a word that cannot be replaced with other terms), but you must also add stuff to it, like inclusion, cultural competence, equity, professional development, and performance management.

3.  If you want to re-direct your retention efforts so that star performers, who have received a considerable corporate investment are retained, you must: (a) understand your organization’s business model; (b) align your diversity retention efforts with pipeline development efforts; and (c) channel employee expectations toward proficiency. You can strategically achieve this by communicating the rewards of being a skilled worker with online employee profiles, Lunch & Learn sessions with recently promoted workers, and inclusive practices (i.e., not excluding white guys).

While I definitely can’t say that Millennials have it better than previous generations, I can affirm that times have changed and not all of the changes that have been made over the years have been for the better. Yet, it’s never too late to correct course and help our organizations—and Millennials—to reach greater heights.


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

Fear of Failure by Rick Ruiz, CDE

What is failure? To many it is a loss, a show of weakness, and a rejection of our persona so the world perceives an underachiever, or perhaps even a flop. Failure in this context can amplify personal insecurities that can be humiliating in our respective social circles. Not succeeding in something opens the door for criticism, mockery and even “I told you so” remarks. Failure is an emotional fear that strikes at our very core.

Are we born with this fear of failure or do we acquire it somewhere along the way in life’s journey by osmosis, lecture or learning as we interact in our daily social circles? Who have we given the right to have a say in our life?Failure

Babies’ fail hundreds of times as they learn how to walk. Intuitively they know that they can walk so they try, and fall down. They get up and try again only to feel the hard floor again. These babies know they have not succeeded but they also don’t let their unsuccessful attempt deter them from trying to stand up and walk again, and again, and again. As parents we look on, watching their progress with delight, even encouraging them to persist until their equilibrium and all of their tiny muscles are synchronized to maintain balance for forward movement on just two feet. Failure is not an option. These babies don’t have any fear in this process either. Why not?

Failure is a man-made concept. It is engrained as a personal evil in our social talk as we mature so we create barriers and self-imposed limitations to prevent any perceived failures. I often heard in my upbringing:

  • You lost
  • You can’t do that
  • That’s a silly idea
  • That was dumb
  • That will never work
  • You’re not that smart

These remarks can be self-fulfilling prophecies with terminal consequences for our dreams should we choose to take them to heart. Unfortunately, many of the people that we look up to convey these thoughts upon impressionable young minds that cannot put them into proper context. In time, these remarks begin to shape our thoughts, our motivation and our tolerance for risk. The world tells us that risk is bad yet, for the few who embrace it responsibly, it can mean the difference between ordinary and achieving the EXTRAordinary.

In our youth, we believe that we can conquer the world. We don’t know what we want to do but we feel as though we are invincible. Someday we will break loose and become somebody special. As time progresses though, our schools mirror back to us a portrait of how smart we are with our grades in comparison to others, our friends tell us what we can or cannot do and our family attempts to steer us clear into the tried & true patterns of their own experience.

Outside of our social circle, the media portrays successful people who appear to have achieved success overnight. With this imagery, we begin to question ourselves, as we don’t seem to have that magic formula for instant success. We yearn for stardom and acceptance yet our rhythm is not polished and our strengths are not yet honed. Others seem to DO what we want to do so much better and no one is laughing at them. We therefore wait for the right moment, the right idea or the right person who can make our dreams come true.

Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will
Karim Seddikiseem

Social acceptance is often a personal goal. Being a maverick in pursuit of our dreams and freedoms is considered risky behavior that limits our popularity. Consequently, we invariably extract self-worth by being ‘normal’ within the social circle, without pushing the bounds. We are afraid of the risk involved should we fall short. Killing time and being cool are temporal rewards that do not threaten anyone. Yet, we will have truly failed if we do not try.

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default.
JK Rowling, Harry Potter Author and Billionaire

Failure is nothing more than a stepping-stone to mark where we are and where we are going. Each stepping stone gives us a new vantage point, a new perspective, a new learning and perhaps even a greater strength than we had before. Succeeding means getting in the arena to DO something. Are we willing to forge a new road, can we wash away the obstacles we encounter along the way and persist to reach our own desired promised land?

We can build-up our own self-worth by committing to our own dreams. We stand tall in at least a circle of one while we hone our strengths. After all, it is a good day when you have invested all of yourself for the pursuit of your goal. We need to answer to ourselves first since we are, after all, our own boss forging the life we want to live. Failure is nothing more than a False Evidence Appearing Real (FEAR). Our success rate will be the inverse of our failure rate. Increasing our failure rate invariably increases our success potential. Einstein failed a math class yet created one of the most recognizable equations in our century, E=mc2; Edison failed ten thousand times to make the light bulb but you and I use his invention every day; Walt Disney went bankrupt several times but his imagination continues to delight families worldwide; Colonel Sanders (in his 60’s) endured more than a thousand NO’s before someone said yes to his chicken recipe which now feeds millions worldwide. Can you consistently push the limits over time to become the next success?

Leave the naysayers behind who subconsciously try to keep you at “their level.” Hold your head up high and be proud of your accomplishments every day so that in the years to come you never look back with regret, whispering to yourself… “I wish I had.” Business and society need progressive leaders who are responsible, thoughtful and persistent risk takers. Don’t let people stand in your way and tell you what you can, or cannot do. You are the one who has the say on what you can, and will, achieve!

I can accept failure. Everyone fails at something. But I cannot accept NOT trying.
Michael Jordan

For more information on failure and how to overcome this self-limiting fear, get my book Wisher, Washer, Wishy-Washy – How To Move From Just Existing to Personal Abundance available on Amazon or at

Enrique ‘Rick’ Ruiz
President, PositivePsyche.Biz Corp

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