Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

By Leah Smiley

After 5 1/2 years and more than 400 members, the Society for Diversity is organizing an Executive Council on Diversity and Inclusion. This body of Fortune 1000 senior level leaders will meet quarterly starting in 2015, and provide strategic direction to the Society for Diversity regarding global business trends, demographic projections, benchmarking, best practices and international legislative issues.  The advisory group will be central to the Society for Diversity’s upcoming programs– ensuring relevance to real business concerns and identifying strategic opportunities for global engagement.

The Council will also be instrumental in helping us to reach more senior level leaders. Over the last few years, the Society for Diversity has come to understand that many of the problems in the diversity and inclusion field can be attributed to organizational leadership.  For example, the practice of assigning a woman or minority to the role of Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) without any regard to their qualifications, experience, or credentials. When few results are achieved, the company comes to the conclusion that “diversity doesn’t work”.  Take for instance, the practice of letting D&I executives or diversity councils “figure it out”– a posture the company would never assume with finance, marketing, information technology, or even HR functions.

For these reasons and more, the Society for Diversity has identified three pillars of high performance in diversity and inclusion for CEO’s. These include:

 

1.  Think “usable”

When candidates for the Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) or Certified Diversity Professional (CDP) credential prepare a Candidate Project, the Institute for Diversity Certification advises them to submit a professional work that is usable, or needed, for their job– don’t create a Candidate Project simply for the sake of getting credentials.

Likewise, don’t create an office of diversity simply for the sake of having “diversity”. To avoid this, you’ll need to answer a few questions, such as: How will this position be useful in achieving the organization’s goals? What skills will be useful for a person in this position to get maximum results? How can diversity and inclusion interventions become  integrated with other business operations? How will different perspectives help us to become more innovative? How will our customers perceive diversity at our organization?  Think usable.

2.  Link Social Responsibility to your inclusion efforts

Corporate America’s response to the NFL has been swift and effective– sending a powerful message about bad decisions and unscrupulous behavior in professional sports. The response speaks volumes about the sponsors’ commitment to a growing market segment: women and their children. This demonstration of social responsibility impacts everyone because it makes a clear point: our sponsorship dollars will only support what our organization values.

Leaders must also act with boldness and decisiveness in diversity and inclusion as well.  Diversity and inclusion presents enormous opportunities to capitalize on change. Getting people to respond positively to D&I interventions is not about political correctness; it is about doing what is good for business. You can demonstrate inclusion through social responsibility in your selection of diverse vendors, your contributions to different non-profit organizations, and your support of equal education for all.

3.  Score more points with a solid strategy

Every once in a while, I like to play Scrabble online. This affords me an opportunity to compete against the best players in the world. I figured out how to win consistently. First, I need to seek bonus point opportunities (e.g., using all 7 letters). Then, I can not fall below 10 points per word. And finally, I can’t feel bad about crushing the competition. There’s always the potential that they will stage a last minute come-back and win the game.

In the same manner, we must have a strategy to win in this arena called “diversity and inclusion”. The strategy must be meticulous so that whoever assumes leadership can deploy the same tactics and get consistent results. At the end of the day, your organization’s ability to beat the competition is going to depend on your strategy for engaging diverse talent, your strategy for acquiring diverse consumers, and your strategy for diversifying your investors.

 

Practicing new habits require time to master. However, if you are committed to making diversity and inclusion a priority, and you don’t let past mistakes derail the future, you will find that the benefits of diversity and inclusion far outweigh the costs.

I would love to hear from you. What are some other pillars that you would suggest for CEO’s?

 

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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 http://www.societyfordiversity.org.

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