Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

By Leah Smiley, CDE

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that Wal-Mart intends to grow by embracing a smaller store concept. This business strategy reflects changing times and shifting customer preferences. Doug McMillon, Chief Executive of the world’s largest retailer, recently gave Wal-Mart executives a homework assignment:  read “The Everything Store,” by Jeff Bezos, Founder of Inc. “According to the book, Mr. Bezos himself studied Wal-Mart as he built Amazon, internalizing its credo of acting fast and experimenting often.” Mr. McMillon acknowledges that he learned from previous Wal-Mart executives, who were instrumental in leading the organization to dominance.

Since the retirement of many Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) pioneers, organizations have resorted to placing D&I back under the auspices of HR. For many, there was no transfer of knowledge or urgency in designing an Office with an integrated impact on operations. Last month, I even read about a Chief Diversity Officer that was “promoted” to Vice President. Until then, I was wrongly under the impression that a “Chief” anything was a high-level position (e.g., Chief Financial Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Marketing Officer).

Seriously, setting aside my Gen-X sarcasm, what does the future hold for D&I if organizations continue to create “token” positions? Or if people taut the successes of some women or a few people of color and presume that we ‘no longer need diversity and inclusion’? Or if we continue to have practitioners ‘wing it’ because they are afraid to admit that their race, ethnicity or gender does NOT equate to diversity expertise?

I have always said, and still say, that diversity and inclusion is a science. Remember that subject in school that entailed, “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment”? Interestingly enough, Mr. Bezos used that word “experiment” in his tell-all book, “The Everything Store”.

Just as grew by learning from Wal-Mart, this field of D&I also requires practitioners to learn from experts who have significant accomplishments and will empower us to avoid the mistakes of early D&I pioneers. We don’t have to wing it anymore. All of the pioneers did not retire. And there are many who are making a significant impact through D&I. Therefore, it’s time to elevate our endeavors and strive for achievement and excellence.

In an article entitled, “Do We Really Need Diversity Offices”, Dr. John Fitzgerald Gates, national diversity expert, advises Diversity and Inclusion to go beyond workplace satisfaction or risk prevention—HR and legal are already adept in those areas. Organizations really need Diversity and Inclusion leaders who can address strategic business challenges in marketing and multicultural communications, supplier diversity, boardroom diversity, and international affairs.  For example, in “Wal-Mart Looks to Grow by Embracing Smaller Stores” the Wall Street Journal states that, Wal-Mart “has stumbled in country after country in its attempts to expand overseas, even as it remains a dominant retailing force in countries like Mexico and Canada.”  Guess what? This is a common problem for many global organizations, and it represents an opportunity for D&I.

In seizing the opportunity however, we must be highly skilled in competitive intelligence, strategic planning by business unit, big data demographics and projections, as well as business measurement systems. We also need to master the differences between cultures– outside of black/white or male/female. Hence, Diversity and Inclusion must be the glue that turns business goals into reality.

How valuable would this type of learning be to you and your organization?

I encourage you to attend the 2014 Diversity Leadership Retreat, where you can learn all of this and more. Most importantly, you will be encouraged to engage in “Planning for the Future: Linking Diversity, Demographics and Dollars” and contributing to transformative impact. For more information, log onto:


Wall Street Journal
John F Gates

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