Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

Posts tagged ‘Equity’

What Can Indiana Fix?

By Leah Smiley

indianaFirst, let me preface this conversation by stating unequivocally:  religion, politics, and business (in a capitalistic economy) DO NOT mix well.

Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act has caused such an uproar in the last couple of weeks that it’s hard to believe that nearly two dozen other states have the same law. Apparently in Indiana, the bill’s intent of protecting businesses does not align with its impact of hurting companies that do business in the state of Indiana. Even the Society for Diversity got “the message”. In response to a recent membership promotion advertising a partnership with The Derwin Smiley Show and the Indianapolis 500, one person said:

“I would ask you to revisit this contest considering what is happening in Indy right now. I don’t think it is in the best interest of any person or groups of people who work on diversity matters to be supporting anything in Indiana.”

My staff freaked out! Meanwhile, Indiana’s Governor seems to be unfazed by all of the negative attention the bill is receiving in his state.

Governor Mike Pence recently wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal doubling down on his position. He asserted that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is “Ensuring Religious Freedom in Indiana” because it is a law that was intended to preempt the Affordable Care Act from forcing businesses to act against their religious beliefs in the provision of healthcare or insurance.

Yet, something about this RFRA law seems unnecessary, even exorbitant, in the quest for religious “freedom”. Even in the other states where the law has been successfully enacted, there is the stench of religious intolerance– the same kind that has driven millions of believers away from various monotheistic faiths. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center study, “The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.”

I live in Indiana, and the Society for Diversity is headquartered in Indiana.The Society for Diversity’s position on the law is that no organization in the United States should be allowed to legally discriminate against any person for any reason. After all, if you are going to be in business for the long-term, you must serve more people than your competitors– and you have to serve them better than your competitors. This is the competitive advantage of diversity. Additionally, if we are going to bring “religion” into the conversation, what ever happened to doing what is right?

Currently, business leaders are organizing a statewide effort to fix the law. As this process plays out, I would like to know what would you suggest?


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

How Data Can Change Traditional Approaches to Diversity & Inclusion

data2Lately, I have been fascinated with the ABC-TV hit, “How to Get Away with Murder”. Interestingly enough, I simultaneously read the Twitter comments while watching the show. Afterwards, I check Wikipedia to learn the ratings data (i.e., how many people watched the show) in the prior week.

What does this have to do with diversity and inclusion? Alot. Instead of simply stating that there are not enough television shows featuring diverse individuals, a stronger business case for diversity in television programming would center around Nielsen ratings and Twitter use—which USA Today also reports on a regular basis. One could also make the case based on the quantity and quality of advertisers.

Pertaining to the workplace, I recently read the October 2014 U.S. Department of Labor Unemployment Report, which stated that the unemployment rate for whites declined to 4.8 percent; while blacks were at 10.9 percent; Hispanics, 6.8 percent; and Asians, 5.0 percent. The question is, ‘with all of this so-called diversity and inclusion in the workplace, why is the unemployment rate so high for blacks?

In June 2014, Forbes ran article entitled, “White High School Drop-Outs Are As Likely To Land Jobs As Black College Students” by Susan Adams. The author asserts that there are “numerous theories to explain the employment gap between the races and a list of proposed solutions. Persistent racial discrimination in hiring is one obvious cause. The high incarceration rate among African-Americans is another reason, says the report, citing a 2014 Brookings study showing that there is nearly a 70% chance that an African-American male without a high school diploma will be in prison by his mid-30s; having a criminal record makes it much tougher to find a job.”

The federal government has its own theories. The Bureau of Labor Statistics contends that the unemployment rate for blacks has always been higher than whites. In other words, this is status quo—no need for alarm. Another government report states that blacks simply “look for the right job longer”. Yet the title of Susan Adams’ article is particularly troubling as it implies that even highly educated blacks are likely to be the last to find jobs—especially if folks are more willing to hire a white high school drop-out before they hire a black college student.

But other data suggests that the disparity is different depending on where one lives. For instance, the Midwest sees a much wider gap between black and white unemployment than other regions — especially the West. In some states (Vermont, South Dakota, Utah, etc.), the black population is so small that the comparison doesn’t shed much light. But in states with substantial black populations, there has been only one year in one state in which the unemployment rate for blacks was lower than that for whites: 2007 in Massachusetts. That year, the average unemployment rate for blacks in the state was 4.3 percent. For whites, it was 4.7.

What is interesting about 2007 in Massachusetts is that the crime rate, in large cities like Boston, dropped significantly. Property crime, for example, consistently occurred above the national average in prior years. But starting in 2008, it began to fall so dramatically that now it is consistently below the national average, according to Additionally, the Boston Globe reported that “some 84.7 percent of students who entered Boston high schools in fall 2008 graduated in 2012, an increase of 4.8 percentage points from six years earlier.” Note that the graduation rate was higher than the U.S. Department of Education’s 2012 national average of 80%, an all-time high.

My point is that many people complain about high crime, the lack of education, and more, that plague inner cities in America. Yet, one of the best indicators as to whether things will be different is the monthly unemployment report. If unemployment, for example, is particularly disparate, it will likely be reflected in other areas of society. But instead of saying, “the unemployment rate for blacks is much higher than any other group”, the business case for ensuring equal employment opportunity lies in improving the quality of life, reducing crime, and creating an educational system that works for all individuals, as well as for their future employers. Not surprisingly, much of this data points to the notion of interdependence within the diversity and inclusion space where employers, educators and community leaders, as well as government officials must connect their efforts.

At the end of the day, whether you are in the U.S. or in another country, the proliferation of data should enable you to build a stronger business case—easily comparing data points, providing deeper insights, and establishing connections to business objectives. Hence, moving beyond merely stating how many diverse people work, or don’t work, with an organization, toward utilizing more meaningful data to effect change.

By Leah Smiley


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


A Cautionary Tale: We’ll Let the Voters Decide

By Leah Smiley

A few months ago, I started to write a blog but I did not. I was concerned that my assertions would be viewed as too negative. The topic pertained to exercising caution when embarking on a new diversity and inclusion effort. The blog was driven out of concern for two local government agencies that were creating diversity plans. I warned both organizations of the potential negative impacts, in spite of the positive intentions. Caution was necessary in three areas: (1) choosing a consultant; (2) creating strategic interventions; and (3) handling resistance.

Choosing a Consultant

Here’s the reality. Everyone who says that they are a diversity consultant is NOT. On the surface, diversity and inclusion seems like a relatively easy profession. A person of color or a woman may say, “I AM diversity” therefore, I should be able to do the job well. Wrong. Possessing one, two or three dimensions of diversity will not produce a great diversity practitioner. I hope everyone understands the illogical reasoning here. A person who is the child of a physician, and frequently visits the doctor for his/her own health issues, is not quite qualified to be a medical practitioner. Likewise, a person who has completed 12 years of primary and secondary education is not yet qualified to be a teacher.

Doctors and nurses are certified. Teachers are certified. Lawyers are certified. Accountants and financial planners are certified. Even human resource professionals are certified. Certification is different from a ‘certificate’ program. In a certificate program, individuals affirm that they have acquired a certain level of knowledge, usually by taking a class. Certification, on the other hand, represents a declaration of a particular individual’s professional competence through knowledge and experience. When an individual is certified, credentials are used after the person’s name to indicate mastery of a particular subject.

A certified consultant, or executive, will offer strategic interventions versus simplistic solutions.

Creating Strategic Interventions

An example of a simplistic solution occurs when an organization says that they want to increase representation of a particular group. It’s tempting to say, “OK, let’s place an ad online and hire some people of color.” But this is far too simplistic.

Most of us prefer to keep it simple versus making our work complex. But using the example above, an organization can waste a lot of money in turnover because of a simplistic approach to diversity recruiting. A 2007 Korn/Ferry report, The Corporate Leavers Survey, shows that “unfairness costs U.S. employers $64 billion on an annual basis – a price tag nearly equivalent to the 2006 combined revenues of Google, Goldman Sachs, Starbucks and or the gross domestic product of the 55th wealthiest country in the world. This estimate represents the cost of losing and replacing professionals and managers who leave their employers solely due to failed diversity management. By adding in those for whom unfairness was a major contributor to their decision to leave, the figure is substantially greater. This study also shows how often employees who left jobs due to unfairness later discouraged potential customers and job applicants from working with their former employer.”

That was in 2007. In 2013, EEOC received 93,727 total charges of retaliation, discrimination and harassment. Should we compare years, in 2007, there were 82,792 EEOC charges. I wish there was data on the total number of diversity professionals and how that number correlates to the increase in EEOC charges. It would be interesting fodder for the people who wish to do away with the field altogether.

Nevertheless, an adequate solution to increasing representation requires a little more introspection. First, why is there a need for diverse representation? Second, what do the demographics and statistics say? What is the current and projected connection between diverse employee representation and customers/clients/students? Are there losses from turnover? Is there a burgeoning market that the organization is missing? And third, is the organization inclusive enough to handle increased representation? Are managers prepared to engage and retain diverse workers? Do employees have skills, such as conflict management, communication, and team building, to handle the complexity that diversity brings? How difficult is it for diverse individuals to get into the succession pipeline and move up the ladder? All of these questions, and more, require answers before even asking “What kind of diversity would benefit the organization most?”

A similar approach is taken when one considers offering “diversity training”, for example. You can’t just hold one diversity training session, and expect genuine change. But again, you learn these things when you get certified.

Handling Resistance

Finally, Diversity and Inclusion professionals must anticipate resistance, as well as plan how to respond to it. The largest city in the State of Vermont, Burlington, is a perfect illustration of this principle. According to 2012 U.S. Census estimates, the metro area had an estimated population of 213,701, approximately one third of Vermont’s total population. Yet while the City is busy finalizing its diversity plan, the voters are planning to dismantle diversity and equity in the schools at the June 3rd election.

In Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, the Supreme Court concluded that it was not up to judges to overturn the 2006 decision by Michigan voters to bar consideration of race when deciding who gets into the state’s universities. According to an article in the Washington Post, the recent Supreme Court decision will cause “Those in states without [affirmative action] bans to be prepared to justify why consideration of race is essential for assembling a diverse class.” This post-secondary decision is bound to trickle-down to creative localities in this “Post Racial America.”

Hence, a skilled diversity practitioner will also be wary about how resistance will manifest. The city of Burlington does not have a superintendent for the next school year. Neither does the school district have a CFO. But one thing is for sure, someone is determined to place diversity and inclusion on the ballot for voters to decide whether it should be a school funded initiative. Because the school district is grappling with a budget shortfall, WPTZ-TV reports that voters will decide whether to “downsize the central office staff, ask teachers to spread out negotiated raises over several years, or gut the diversity and equity department.”

So here’s the challenge. You can’t create a one-dimensional response to inequity. A plan to remediate inequity needs to address the perceptions of as many stakeholders as possible. Otherwise, resistance will result in the loss of thousands of dollars spent defending the need for diversity and inclusion. It will also cause decision makers to exercise caution when allocating much needed resources for intervention efforts—which will ultimately affect diversity and inclusion outcomes.

The moral of the story is that diversity practitioners must obtain the knowledge and skill to effect change. We have to move beyond race and gender, toward purposeful interventions. We must also advance past good intentions, toward meaningful outcomes. Accordingly more diversity and inclusion professionals must get certified.



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

Has 50 Years of EEO Law Gone Too Far?

By Leah Smiley

Over the last few days, there has been a lot of talk about affirmative action and racism. It was ironic because this week, I spoke to a group at Virginia Wesleyan College on the topic of “America & Racism: Has 50 Years of EEO Law Gone Too Far?” Following is a brief summary of my talk.

While there is a chorus of individuals who assert that any discourse about fairness, equity, or diversity amounts to reverse discrimination; there is also a legitimate issue to be addressed here. The choir recognizes that ‘privilege’ is a powerful asset. Each step that we take toward leveling the playing field is an encroachment on the unearned benefits that have characterized racial division for centuries.

Like other countries who have Equity and Diversity legislation, Equal Employment Opportunity law is step in the right direction. But keep in mind that the law is for the lawless, or those who benefit from such actions. For example, if you are not a thief or someone who fences stolen goods, then mandatory minimum sentencing for stealing may not be that high on your list of priorities. Likewise, slavery was abolished in 1865 and while it was a highly divisive issue at that time– today, slavery is not a topic that roils many. But this issue of Equal Opportunity and Diversity is another story.

While I was on campus, a student asked me, “Are colleges going to be able to deny admission for black students”? I said no. Regardless of what the law says, achieving diversity through inclusion of different groups is invaluable for every educational institution. Here’s why: students won’t stay in college for ever. When they leave the campus, and enter the workplace, the lack of skills in this realm called diversity is going to land your high achieving alumni in minimum wage positions.

As more organizations become global, the inability to work with all different types of people, generate great ideas in the midst of conflict, and target diverse new markets, will become a thorn in the student’s side. That is one of the reasons why corporations say that colleges are not preparing students for life in the real world. Even if there are some who say, “America has made it this far with White men”. Reality says that history neglects the contributions that thousands of diverse individuals have made over the years.

If there is ever going to be a time when EEO Law is ruled “unconstitutional”, there must be some things in place first. For one, fairness for all (including LGBT and immigrants) has to be the order of the day. Second, more people must use their privilege as power. Privilege is not bad– what is bad is how you use your privileges.

For instance, the Clippers turned their jerseys inside out to protest their owner’s negative comments. For all of the millions of children that look up to basketball players, that was a very weak demonstration of how to use privilege as power. Think about it, how powerful would it have been if the players stopped the playoff game? Ah, but the risk was too great. Rosa Parks made a sacrifice that still pays benefits today. And Mohammed Ali is known as the Greatest of All Time, even though he was banned from the sport for 5 years when he was in his prime. We all have to make those types of sacrifices for the next generation. Let’s not have faux fairness, but genuine change.

Finally, each person has to be respected for their individual strengths and contributions.  If we are not willing to go above and beyond the call of duty for fairness and inclusion on behalf of others, then 50 years of EEO Law has not gone far enough.

– 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


“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

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 

At what point is “the system” unfair?

From college admissions to “equal pay for equal work”, when does fairness become an issue that must be addressed and changed? Aren’t there recognizable signs that indicate “inequity”? And if so, what are they?

I read an article about Sean “P. Diddy” Combs’ son getting admitted to UCLA on a full football scholarship. Instead of joy that a young, black football star can aspire for greatness with a 3.75 GPA and gain admittance to a Division I school, there were a lot of cynical reader comments. Many said that he should give the scholarship back because his dad is rich, while others said that he shouldn’t have been admitted to UCLA because he was displacing white students with higher GPA’s. My thought was, “it’s OK for the media to lambast the low achievements of black students, particularly males, but when these individuals make significant accomplishments… something has to be wrong.”

On both sides of the debate is this nagging issue of fairness. However, it is not just in college admissions, but in the workplace also where women and moms are regularly stereotyped, passed up for promotions, and paid less. If you are a male and your wife’s salary was the only income, wouldn’t you want her paid equally for her work? Nonetheless, let’s not assume that men are the only people making compensation decisions…

Further, let’s research all of the kids from wealthy families who gained admittance to college or received scholarships based on their family’s connections. Guess what– there’s a lot of them. Not only did they displace a student with a higher GPA but they also didn’t give the scholarship money back.

(I’m being facetious here…) since working women and moms have such a lack of workplace savvy and commitment, let’s also research all of the female entrepreneurs who started businesses and managed a family—ultimately, making hundreds of millions of dollars.

These are just two examples of many. And maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I think the restraints and stereotypes that we impose on others are a little self-serving—especially if we see unfairness, ignore/justify it, and then make others feel guilty for using the same privileges that some people have benefited from for years. This also makes me believe that some of us acknowledge that “the system” is unfair only when it affects our own personal interests.

Here’s the solution: when we see unfairness (in education, criminal justice, housing, the media, our places of work, our campuses, etc.) we need to speak up. We all know what unfairness looks like; let’s not wait until it affects us before we decide to take action. Nevertheless, I caution you at the same time: be fair.

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