Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

Archive for August, 2014

Education Changes Mindsets

By Danniella Banks

As we all know by now, the tech industry is struggling in terms of diversity. The numbers of various companies, such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Twitter, are staggering to say the least. They are more white and male than almost any other industry in the United States, but what are they doing about it?

Many of the companies are blaming the pipeline, stating that they cannot recruit women and other minorities when there aren’t as many women and minorities pursuing these degrees. In order to change the culture, many of the companies are “throwing money” at the problem by donating money to organizations and schools to create programs that will help to bring more women and minorities into the pipeline.

On the other hand, you have Apple. It has reorganized the listing of its executive leadership to highlight those on the executive team and board of directors that are women and minorities, instead of arranging them in order of seniority. In addition, it has created videos and other imagery to highlight the diversity that is present within the company. While these things may make Apple feel warm and fuzzy by showing that it does have some diversity, I believe that there are other things that they could be doing.

From what I can see, at this point, none of the tech companies seem to be doing the right thing. Instead of highlighting diversity and blaming the pipeline, why aren’t they doing anything internally to educate themselves and their employees? If they are, then why aren’t they making it public?

Instead of trying to blame others or make it seem as though there is more diversity than what the numbers show, they need to take the appropriate steps to show the rest of the world that they are committed to diversity, inclusion and cultural competence. They need to be humble enough to say that while they don’t understand how to make diversity a higher priority within the company, they are doing everything in their power to make it a priority by starting at step number one: education.

According to Dr. Milton Bennett, co-founder of the Intercultural Communication Institute, “training changes skills, but education changes mindsets.

The Check Box Mentality: Why the Easy Way is Not Always the Best Way

By Leah Smiley, CDE

The Institute for Diversity Certification gets a lot of phone calls from small businesses around the country who want to get “certified” so that they can acquire contracts with larger companies. Many of these small enterprises are minority-owned, but some are not. Yesterday, I fielded such a call.

The caller inquired about getting certified so that he could check the box and obtain a contract with a large retail store. I immediately knew that he called the wrong place. But I thought to myself “check the box? Oh no, now suppliers are asked to have a check box mentality about diversity.”

“Checking a box” indicates that you don’t have to worry about something any more because the item is complete. Training: check. Recruit 3 women: check. Attend a supplier diversity fair: check. When we check boxes, however, genuine relationships, measurement and evaluation become difficult.

H. James Harrington, author and business leader, once said, “Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement.” Pertaining to this supplier diversity program, what can be evaluated with a single check box? This is why so many small businesses call me– they are confused by the check box.

On yesterday’s call, because the company was non-minority-owned, I advised him to pursue partnerships with diverse suppliers. But how can that be measured with a single “check box?” The application does not assess: how many suppliers are partnering with diverse enterprises? Who utilized assistance from the procurement office, and what type of help was provided? How many jobs will be created from a contract with our company?

Indicating the quantity of diverse suppliers provides context. But in order to demonstrate value, supplier diversity programs must also indicate impact. Measuring impact requires thought and time though. For many organizations, it’s way easier to simply check a box and indicate that this task is complete.



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

Back to School?

By Leah Smiley, CDE


My children went back to school on July 30th.

My youngest daughter and son are polar opposites. She loves school and can’t wait to compete with the other students for the top honors. I have to remind my daughter to tone down her rhetoric, because everyone is not used to a smart, confident and beautiful little black girl proclaiming her greatness like Muhammad Ali. She is very intelligent and talented in art. My son…well, let’s just say that he just recently stopped telling me that Kindergarten’s day is too long, and he hasn’t cried for two mornings straight!

Over the weekend, I saw quite a few families packing up for college. One dad, in particular, stood out. He appeared very excited to take his son to school. This image reminded me that there are many first-generation college students entering school this fall. In 2010, 25% of all American undergraduate students at 4-year colleges and universities came from families in which neither parent had attended a community college or 4-year college. An additional 25% of undergraduate students indicated their parents had some college experience, but no bachelor’s degree (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010).

The New York Times recently ran an article entitled “Who Gets to Graduate?” In it, author Paul Tough asserts, “When you look at the national statistics on college graduation rates, there are two big trends that stand out right away. The first is that there are a whole lot of students who make it to college – who show up on campus and enroll in classes – but never get their degrees. More than 40 percent of American students who start at four-year colleges haven’t earned a degree after six years. If you include community-college students in the tabulation, the dropout rate is more than half, worse than any other country except Hungary.

The second trend is that whether a student graduates or not seems to depend today almost entirely on just one factor – how much money his or her parents make. To put it in blunt terms: Rich kids graduate; poor and working-class kids don’t.”

Traditional “bridge” programs tend to focus on academic deficits, remedial coursework, and study skills training. However, within recent years, more institutions are developing innovative approaches to address the economic disadvantages.

For example, author Wray Herbert notes in a HuffPost Blog on “What’s a GPA?” that “Nicole Stephens and Mesmin Destin of Northwestern and MarYam Hamedani of Stanford have devised a novel intervention that — instead of playing down social background — encourages disadvantaged college freshmen to explore the ways in which their social backgrounds are shaping their college experience and limiting their opportunity. The idea is that learning about class differences, and why they matter, can empower students with strategies for success.” The intervention uses group dialogue to challenge students in their approach to learning, asking for help, and overcoming setbacks.

Economic status is a dimension of diversity that is often neglected in favor of race alone. But the ability to create effective diversity and inclusion interventions on college campuses may entail broadening the definition of diversity, and expanding its scope among all students. What will it mean to your office? What will it mean for your students? I sense that “back to school” can open up a whole new avenue of opportunity, and achievement, for everyone.


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

Some May Not Change

By Danniella Banks

Imagine a white girl, who lives in an agrarian community with her parents and three siblings. She goes to church every Sunday, and when she isn’t at school during the week, she is spending time on her grandparents’ farm. It isn’t until this girl is five or six that she meets someone of another race. She doesn’t understand why this person looks so different from everyone that she has previously met. However, her confusion does not make her hate or dislike this other person, just because they look different on the surface.

This young girl was me. I grew up in a predominately white community that has nearly 6,000 residents and is 96.45% white, 1.58% African American, 0.2% Native American, 0.85% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 0.13% from other races and 0.73% from two or more races according to the 2000 census. If you look at the entire county, which has over 18,000 residents, it is 97.69% white. Are you shocked?

While many people are focused on the racial and ethnic makeup of urban and suburban United States, some of us wonder why no one seems to care about the lack of diversity in rural America, where a majority of the food you eat is grown and raised. There are actually parts of rural American that are 99-100% white, for example Allendale, MO. Though it’s not nearly as surprising when you see that there are only 53 residents of this town.

I’ve just pointed out that there are many areas that are still predominately white. So what? You probably had already figured as much, but think about the story that I presented in the beginning. I had not met a person from another ethnic or racial background until I was almost in elementary school. I didn’t even go to school with someone from another race until I was in the 7th grade (partially because I went to a private Catholic school from Kindergarten-6th grade). Even when I had classes with those from other races, it was weird and almost awkward for me because I wasn’t sure how to act.

Since then, I would have to say that I have greatly broadened my horizons by attending Marquette University in urban Milwaukee, and my family traveled a lot when I was younger. I was exposed to more cultures, races and ethnicities due to the experiences that I was provided. Yet, this is not the case for many of my community members.

There are many people in rural areas of the US who never leave their hometown, or a certain radius of their hometown, to familiarize themselves with the cultures and experiences of others. These people never have the opportunity to “diversify” themselves because they never leave, and it’s not because they can’t afford it. Most times it’s because they have no desire to leave the comforts of their own home.

When you think about all of this, you have to realize that there are just some people who are never going to change their ways. They will always be stuck in the same place, no matter how hard you try to shift their thinking. Nevertheless, just because we can’t change them, doesn’t mean we can’t educate them. Here’s what we must focus on, pertaining to diversity and inclusion:

  1. Defining diversity as more than race and gender. More people need to take into consideration that religions, sexual orientation, education, generations, and more are all part of what diversity is.
  2. Inclusion can create great things. By including all people, whether it be in the workplace or another setting, we are able to learn more about each other and form a better community.
  3. Ignorance is not bliss. We cannot ignore that there are other cultures and ideals. By learning about them, we can have a better understanding of society.

Choosing Words Wisely

By Danniella Banks

Yesterday I was reminded of a story that came out in January of last year about a waiter who refused to serve a family because of their mean comments towards a child in the restaurant with Down syndrome. The comment was that the boy, who was five, and other special needs children “need to be special somewhere else.” 

This type of story is all too common in today’s society. People make comments about others without realizing or understanding the harm that they can cause to others. In this case, the family with the Down syndrome boy was just trying to enjoy a meal, and he was acting as any five-year-old. 

Understandably, we all make mistakes and say things we shouldn’t, but we need to be more aware of how what we say can affect those around us, whether we realize it or not. By choosing our words wisely we can avoid situations like the one above. The family was most likely more annoyed by the fact that the child was making noises. Instead of stating that his Down syndrome or special need was bothering them, they could have said that his noises were a disruption to their dinner. This would have left everything in a more agreeable situation than what actually happened.

Hindsight 20/20, everything can be avoided, but if we think before we speak we can keep ourselves from being or putting others in awkward positions. The things we say can create problems in our society and workplaces. By being aware of those around us and choosing our words wisely, we can create a more inclusive environment for all.

Diversity Lacking in Entertainment

By Danniella Banks

Recently, the focus of those in the field of diversity and inclusion has been on the tech industry. With Google, Facebook, Twitter and others releasing company demographics, you might have missed the other data that has come out about the diversity of the entertainment industry, mostly TV and film.

USC Anneberg completed a study on the film industry and its inclusion of actors and actresses from various racial and ethnic backgrounds. What they found probably wasn’t all that shocking to anyone who watches American movies. Hispanics and Latinos are the most underrepresented in speaking parts, followed by African Americans. Think of the last movie you saw from the past five years? The chances that it had a lead role portrayed by a Hispanic, Latino or African American is slim to none, and many of them probably didn’t have a character with a speaking role from one of these groups.

One plus side, Broadway has cast its first African American Phantom of the Opera and Cinderella. These castings have excited many in the entertainment industry, but they still have a long way to go.

With the new data that USC Anneberg reported, it will be interesting to see if there will be any changes made in the near future to cast more Hispanics and Latinos in movies as lead characters, or at least characters with a speaking role. Hopefully, if changes are made, it is because the actor or actress truly deserves the job, and not because of their race or ethnicity. No matter what happens, it will definitely be interesting to see the what comes out of this new data.



Expanding the Value of Diversity and Inclusion

By Leah Smiley, CDE


Today the Associated Press (AP) reported that the “Wealth Gap is Slowing U.S. Economic Growth“.  The AP asserts,  “Part of the problem is that educational achievement has stalled in recent decades. More schooling usually translates into higher wages. S&P estimates that the U.S. economy would grow annually by an additional half a percentage point—or $105 billion—over the next five years, if the average the American worker had completed just one more year of school.”

From my perspective, there are two issues going on here: (1) the schools are more diverse than ever before, and too many of us have become complacent with a lower standard of performance within “inner-city” schools. For example, look at the number of school districts around America that are in fiscal distress:

  • The Chicago Tribune reports that 121 school districts are in poor to dire financial shape, with 62% operating in deficit spending
  • According to Michigan Radio, several school districts need emergency funding from the state to make payroll, including Benton Harbor Area Schools– where there are 40-50 students per class, they don’t bus students, and they cut back on building cleaning services
  • Huffpost reports that, “In New York, 13 percent of school districts evaluated recently by the state comptroller’s office were found to be operating with dangerously low or nonexistent fund balances, chronic operating deficits and extremely limited cash on hand. And California saw a record number of school districts in fiscal distress in 2012; currently, eight school districts have negative certifications, meaning that based on current projections, the school districts will not meet their financial obligations for fiscal 2014 or 2015. Another 41 school districts may run out of money by fiscal 2016.”

Not only are some of these districts among the largest in the country, but they are also the most diverse. Keep in mind that by accepting this lower standard for education, it surreptitiously denotes that diversity = lower performance in the workplace.

The second issue is inextricably tied to the first. Because these diverse students will soon approach our workplaces as potential employees, how will it bode for diversity efforts if the people, for whom we are working to ensure equity and fairness, really are on a lower level of performance? It will be hard to make a business case for inclusion.

While the actual law may not have done so well, the notion of “No Child Left Behind” makes a lot of sense. Therefore, as diversity and inclusion practitioners, we must make a strategic effort to connect with other D&I interventions around us. Here is what we must do:

1.) Which K-12 schools, universities, and employers have diversity practitioners? Have you reached out to them to find out what they are doing, or how you can help advance their work? Each year, local universities have diversity conferences. Can you send some employees? Can you provide financial support? Can you speak or secure a speaker from your organization? Can you “adopt” a school and purchase backpacks and school supplies for needy students?

2.) Does your organization have employees who are interested in volunteering? How can they support K-12 schools or the community? Eli Lilly has an annual Global Day of Service, where instead of going to the office, workers disperse in the communities and perform needed projects. Since the Global Day of Service launched in 2008, Lilly employees have given 625,000 hours of service to communities around the world. In 2013 alone, more than 20,000 Lilly employees participated (with pay) in nearly 60 countries, from Barbados to Slovenia.

Or perhaps, you can start a mentoring program at a school in a specialized field, such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math). You could also connect with several different nonprofits, and offer multiple options to members of your employee resource groups.

3.) Support bring your child to work days– but add a little more pizzazz. Encourage moms and dads to participate; think about different work-related activities that the children can observe; and try to coordinate some kind of ‘extra credit’ with the schools to encourage more employers to engage parents and young people in the workplace.

Not only do these efforts provide diverse youth with the resources that they may need, but it may also allow them to see different professionals who care. Notwithstanding, from a business perspective, we are building our organization’s visibility, brand and pipeline.

Why wait until someone contacts you? Take the initiative today to reach beyond your traditional functions and make a difference in the lives of ordinary people, as well as positively impact the value of your organization’s D&I efforts.


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:

New Program For Supervisors Focuses On Cultural & Inclusive Excellence

The Institute for Diversity Certification (IDC) recently announced the introduction of the Cultural & Inclusive Excellence Program for Supervisors, which will focus on building strategic leadership skills. This program will be a two-day learning and coaching laboratory for supervisors and managers, and it will be held at the IDC office in Plainfield, Ind. on November 12-13, 2014.


The Cultural & Inclusive Excellence Program for Supervisors will focus on stimulating cultural and inclusive excellence through participation in a blend of leadership development training, 360-degree feedback and one-on-one coaching. Those who attend will have the opportunity to increase their knowledge and build the skills necessary to lead a diverse and global workforce, as well as ensure that they are prepared to deliver world-class service to a wide range of individuals.


“Today, many of our training contracts center around providing separate diversity and inclusion learning experiences for supervisors. Organizations realize that these front-line leaders need a different kind of educational framework and support system,” explained Leah Smiley, President, The Society for Diversity. “After speaking with human resource and diversity experts around the country, we realized that all employers could benefit from this type of interactive training.”


Helping managers to understand the internal and external components of cultural competence and inclusion is a primary goal of the program. For example, changes in customer tastes and preferences, spending patterns and demographic trends could hurt the bottom line. Many of these changes may be attributed to generational trends and can be easily rectified by employing and managing multiple generations in the workplace.


Likewise, there exists a strategic opportunity for organizations to broaden their share of emerging markets. According to a study from the Boston Consulting Group, women in the U.S. reported “controlling” 72.8% of household spending. Meanwhile the 2013 Catalyst Buying report shows that, African-Americans’ buying power has increased from $316.3 billion in 1990 to $946.6 billion in 2010 and is projected to climb to $1.3 trillion in 2017. Latinos’ and Asians’ buying power will also increase to $1.7 trillion and $1.0 trillion by 2017 respectively.


Internationally, as many 42% of managers are said to fail in their overseas assignments, according to a survey on global leadership trends released by Right Management in 2013. This presents an enormous opportunity for managers to understand and embrace different cultures, as it is a central component of their future work.


Much of the curriculum is related to global leadership development. The topics include:


  • The Difference Between Management and Leadership
  • Understanding Global Demographic Changes and Projections
  • Preventing Harassment, Discrimination and Retaliation
  • Building and Leading a Diverse, Multi-Generational Team
  • Developing Multicultural Communication Skills
  • Managing Conflict & Discipline Issues


“This isn’t your average diversity and inclusion training program. It is a model of excellence that presents an opportunity for supervisors to empower themselves and attain business goals,” stated Smiley. “By attending this two-day program, attendees will return to their jobs with new ideas for, and excitement about, fostering an inclusive and equitable workplace culture.”


The deadline to register for the Cultural & Inclusive Excellence Program for Supervisors is Friday, October 3, 2014. Space for this program is limited to 16 participants, so registration will fill up quickly. For more information on this program, as well as how to register, visit

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