Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

Posts tagged ‘director of diversity’

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

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:

What’s Next for Diversity and Inclusion?

By Leah Smiley

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Twitter hoped to capitalize on its surging revenue growth by adding new measurements, engaging its users, and shuffling its executive team. Herein lies the opportunity for diversity and inclusion. First, we must continue to stay abreast of industry trends and changes in our organizational strategy.  Second, we must become better skilled at helping our organizations to understand complex cultural data about different demographic groups that may include our customers, students, constituents, or potential employees. And third, we have to become more adept at engaging new executive leaders– prior to changes at the helm.

Last week was the Society for Diversity’s inaugural leadership conference themed “Planning for the Future”. While it was an adventure, it was certainly power-packed with great speakers and lots of information.  Over the next year, we want to focus on creating diversity and inclusion systems that support each other. For instance, many of us operate in an independent environment. We may not be connected to others within our organizations; we may not be connected to diversity practitioners in our industries; and we may not be connected to other entities that have diversity efforts (e.g., k-12 schools with colleges, with employers, and with the community).

Not only will this be the theme of next year’s diversity conference in Charlotte, but it will also be the primary focus of our efforts leading up to the October 2015 event.

Looking ahead, there are three things that should concern diversity practitioners:  (1) impending U.S. Presidential elections, where it has become en vogue to pit diverse groups vs. traditional groups against each other during campaigns; (2) political and economic instability in several countries overseas; and (3) the restructuring of many diversity and inclusion offices. These external and internal drivers will ultimately impact our work, our vision for inclusion, as well as our ability to obtain desirable outcomes.

Keep in mind, our work ought to manifest characteristics of traditional business functions, while at the same time, balancing change with reliability in results. While the strategy at different organizations will vary, the expectation for results ought to remain the same. I always tell diversity practitioners that their CEO may not ask for an annual report, but one should be prepared and delivered anyway. Because at some point, your CEO is going to talk to another CEO and find out that you were supposed to prepare an annual report. Then the question will arise, why haven’t you done it? What have you been doing? What impact have you had on the organization? And how do you rate in a cost-benefit analysis– does your cost outweigh your benefit?

Within the field of Diversity and Inclusion, there is a tendency to think that we are exempt from demonstrating measurable, quantitative impact. It’s almost an acknowledgement that we were selected for our positions based on factors other than our experience and abilities. Not only does this subtle ‘acknowledgement’ hurt D&I efforts at our organizations, but it also impedes the field as a whole.

As with Twitter, the future of doing business better is change. What’s next for diversity and inclusion is increased accountability and demonstrated excellence in leveraging these changes. It’s up to diversity and inclusion to seize the opportunities and help our organizations to navigate change from a position of cultural competence, financial strength, and competitive advantage. We also must ensure that we don’t neglect to continuously plan for the future.


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


2014 Diversity Certification Deadline is Quickly Approaching

The last exam window for diversity certification in 2014 will close on August 22nd. Those interested in earning their Certified Diversity Professional (CDP) or Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) credentials this year will need to apply for the November testing window, in which classes will begin in September. This certification is open to anyone in the field of diversity and inclusion, human resources, legal/risk management, marketing, or in an international supervisory position.

Each year the Institute for Diversity Certification (IDC) has four opportunities for those in the field of diversity and inclusion to take classes, pass an exam and complete a project to earn their diversity credentials. These credentials allow them to establish credibility as experts and differentiate themselves from other practitioners. They also indicate achievement and excellence because candidates must pass the online, proctored exam with an 80% or better.

“Those who have earned their credentials can see how they are better able to impact the businesses that they work for,” explains Ed Burns, CDP, Registrar for IDC. “They gain valuable knowledge that they can take back to the workplace and make change happen.”

A certificate is different from certification. With a certificate, individuals usually affirm a certain level of knowledge by taking a class. Certification, on the other hand, is a common practice in many industries where individuals take an exam and obtain credentials to use after their name upon successful completion. Currently, the CDP and CDE programs are unaccredited, however, IDC anticipates receiving its accreditation by the end of this year. Once the accreditation is put in place, the action will be retroactive– meaning that it will be effective for all previous designees as well. While accredited colleges and universities offer diversity and inclusion certificate programs, the way that accreditation works, each program must also be accredited. Therefore, the Institute for Diversity Certification will offer the only accredited diversity and inclusion certification program.  Due to this change, once accreditation occurs, the price of the classes will increase by at least 50 percent.

Roughly 200 candidates have participated in The Institute for Diversity Certification’s (IDC) unique diversity and inclusion education program since 2011. Current designees include representatives from Wal-Mart, Cisco, Cummins, Eli Lilly & Co., Colgate Palmolive, Sodexo, Commerce Bank, Rolls Royce, Mercedes Benz, Hanes Brands, Belk Inc., University of Miami, University of Alabama, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Indiana State University, Federal Reserve Bank, NASA, US Air Force Academy, Missouri Department of Transportation, Virginia Department of Health, Teach for America, Goodwill Industries, and more.

“The accreditation process has been a long one, but we are glad that it is finally coming to an end,” stated Burns. “It will be nice to have the accreditation for those who will take the course and exam in the future, as well as for those who already have their designation.”

The current cost for the program ranges from $600 to $3,000, depending on the type of credential (CDP or CDE) and the preparation method. Candidates may self-study, take an 8-week online preparation program, or attend a 3-day intensive classroom-based course. There is a 20% discount available for members of The Society for Diversity, and the membership cost is $169. Additionally, companies that send three (3) or more employees for certification will receive a 30% discount.

Two components of the program have proved to be extremely valuable for both candidates and the organization’s for whom they work: (1) the study guide and (2) the Candidate Project.  The CDP and CDE study guides are the most comprehensive diversity and inclusion (D&I) resources available today. Not only do they provide the backdrop for diversity and inclusion work, but the 300+ page books furnish step-by-step instructions for how to successfully achieve better D&I outcomes. The Candidate Project must be a recently developed diversity plan, cultural climate analysis, research or evaluation of current D&I efforts. This usable professional work is peer-reviewed and rated on a pass/fail basis only.

Those interested in registering for the November 2014 testing window can apply online or by fax by visiting The deadline to apply is August 22, 2014 at 5:00 p.m. EST. The next exam window starts in April 2015.

HELP WANTED: Seeking Leaders with the 3C’s

By Leah Smiley


The Associated Press reported that the Board of Directors at American Apparel voted to oust its Founder and CEO, Dov Charney, regarding an investigation into misconduct. What is interesting is that we discuss Dov Charney in the Institute for Diversity Certification’s credentialing program, specifically pertaining to the legal risk that American Apparel faces involving alleged inappropriate sexual conduct in the Executive offices.

While this brilliant Chief Executive is renowned for his unconventional approach and scalable business concept, a search is officially underway for new leadership at American Apparel. In a recent Forbes article, New York Times Best Selling Author Kevin Kruse defines leadership as “a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.” This definition of leadership also applies to Diversity and Inclusion professionals, who are continually seeking to influence the social and cultural climate of the organizations with which we interact.

Nonetheless, in “The Corporate Diversity Charade,” John Fitzgerald Gates, Ph.D., a national diversity expert asserts that “the dirty little secret of corporate America and the practice of diversity is that 25 years after establishing ‘diversity’ offices, most companies have not developed a mature understanding of how diversity can contribute to their bottom lines.” Or, diminish earnings and market share. This is evident when executives, like Dov Charney, have diversity within the ranks, but continue to get hit with harassment, discrimination and retaliation claims. According to Wikipedia, since the mid-2000’s, Dov Charney has been the subject of at least 5 sexual harassment lawsuits that are pending, or have been settled or dismissed.

Dov Charney, however, is not the only misbehaving CEO. Bloomberg Business Week reported that last night John Legere, T-Mobile’s ‘way cool’ CEO, made an ‘unfunny’ comment when he told potential customers that his competitors were, “raping you for every penny you have…” Indeed, we are witnessing a transition from a stale and stodgy C-Suite to corporate environments where shock and awe are the order of the day. Yet, here’s where a skilled Diversity and Inclusion executive is invaluable—because he/she can make the business case in a way that senior leadership trusts and respects.

Here’s what he/she could say in a one-on-one meeting, “Mr. CEO, our employees, customers and investors love our culture because it is so radical, creative and fun. We need to keep that culture– but let’s make sure that we don’t forget about the financial and organizational risks associated with crossing the line. For example, when you said, or did ___________. It could cause some people to think that we don’t value ___________, and you and I know that is not true.”

June 19th marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, and along with civil rights leaders, the business community was a vital component to the passage of this transformational legislation. We have made progress on many fronts, but there is still much work to do.

The word diversity implies that there are many ways in which equity and inclusion professionals could perform this work—but we must master the 3 C’s of leadership: courage, coalitions and competence.

In the workplace, leaders must look to the future and embrace the change that keeps organizations ahead of their competitors. Robert J. Tamasy of CBMC Canada writes, “most high achievers, those that have left indelible marks in their areas of endeavor, have been ones that exhibited uncommon courage – willing to swim against the current, to challenge the status quo, to venture into the unknown with no guarantees of success.” Mr. Tamasy asserts that there are 4 ways to demonstrate courage: in taking a stand, proceeding despite danger, persevering, and acting on convictions.

I talk to a lot of courageous D&I practitioners, and a common complaint is that this type of work is very hard, and you receive little support. But it’s time to change this phenomenon and adapt the true meaning of inclusion, or working with others. This is the only way that Diversity and Inclusion professionals can go beyond the 4 walls in the Office of Diversity toward building programs and structures that are sustainable and successful.

The Free Dictionary by Farlex defines a coalition as “an alliance or union between groups, factions, or parties, for some specific action; the act of making or becoming a single unit.” Could this definition imply that the Office of Diversity, working alone, is outside of the scope and parameters of the organizational fabric? And by forming “coalitions” (especially with critics), the Office of Diversity will be able to perform specific actions better? I’m being facetious, but you get the point.

Finally, our courage and coalitions must be balanced with competence. This may be indicated by putting strategic ideas in writing, linking diversity and inclusion to business objectives, and using data to substantiate one’s interventions and goals. For example, beyond reporting how many people attended a diversity training session, it may be better to measure the outcomes of such learning.

According to the Business Briefing “Learning and Analytics” by Success Factors (an SAP Company), “the inability of companies to establish robust statistics that clearly demonstrate direct links between learning and business improvement” is a major reason why some feel that learning interventions are ineffective. “Without analytics,” it suggests, “you are at risk of driving your learning strategy blind, and never realizing the results you expected to gain. By combining traditional training reporting with business data from other systems…it is possible to quantify the commercial benefits of any learning activity in real time.”


The Society for Diversity understands that unlike the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s, there are thousands of diversity and inclusion leaders. Accordingly, the Society offers a variety support systems such as the 2014 Diversity Leadership Retreat, diversity certification, resources and technical assistance, to members and non-members alike. Our goal is to empower many leaders to become the most knowledgeable, skilled, and practiced diversity experts in the world. And through our goal, we can help others see the value in diversity and experience measurable business impact.

American Apparel isn’t the only company seeking new leadership; the Society for Diversity also wants leaders with the 3 C’s to support us on this journey.

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

THE NEED FOR SUPERHERO’S: From Diversity Officer to Change Agent…and Back!


By Leah Smiley

As we celebrate 50 years of progress in civil rights, I want to explore this concept of “being a Change Agent”.


Some people, like myself, have heard stories, seen videos, and read interesting American history commentaries, but in all reality—we have no idea what it was like to live in America in 1963. When I was a student in school, I was told, “Racism, sexism, ageism, and everything else, is history.  It doesn’t exist anymore.” I believed it for years, until my personal experiences told me otherwise. Therefore, by the time I went to Hampton University, I was fully committed to doing something to change the world. In fact, nearly 20 years ago, I wrote my senior thesis on the topic of equity, access and inclusion to politics and the workplace.


Today, I look back and can’t believe that I was thinking about this stuff back then…Nevertheless, I just made three key points:  (1) There are still a multitude of people in this generation who believe that all of the “–isms” are history; (2) Yet, their personal experiences may present a conflict:  what they were told vs. what they experience; and (3) This generation has a profound desire to lead change—in a good way or bad way.


For example, John and Laura Arnold in Houston, TX intend to give away $4 billion to solve some of the country’s biggest problems through data analysis and science, with an unsentimental focus on results and an aversion to feel-good projects. These Generation Xers want to emphasize areas such as obesity, fairness in the criminal justice system, and pension reform, to name a few. This is change in the good way. It will ultimately impact philanthropy around the world. On the other hand, Edward Snowden broke the law to make the public aware of what he believes is wrong. While some may agree with what he believes in, they may disagree with how this Millennial initiated change.


When we look at the news today—right now—there are numerous stories about racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, and every other type of “-ism”.  From the Cheerios commercial to the last NBA game to the Whole Foods English-Only controversy, -ism’s are dominating the news 50-years into this civil rights movement.  The question is, what are you going to do?


Steve Martin, author of Instant Profits: Making Your Business Pay says, “A change agent is a person who indirectly or directly causes change. For example, a change agent may work within an organization to lead or cause the change in some aspect of how the business is conducted. They may be assigned the role or may assume the role naturally. Some change agents surface as leaders, instigators or examples for change in cultural, social or human behavior.


A change agent may initiate change, assist others in understanding the need for change and what is entailed, recruit support, manage the change process and/or assist in resolving conflict. In some cases the agent of change may be a team on a mission.”


As many organizations struggle with “diversity fatigue” 50 years into this movement, it’s important for us change agents to keep pushing for transparency, fairness and inclusion. Regardless of our title, we all have a responsibility to make a good mark on history.  Don’t ever give up—someone needs a Superhero to the rescue!


Leah Smiley is the President of the Society for Diversity. For more information about the Society for Diversity,  log onto 

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