Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

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The Imprint of Diversity and Inclusion’s Impact

By Leah Smiley

This week’s 50th Anniversary Celebration of the March on Washington coincided with our diversity certification prep course on Measuring the Impact of Diversity and Inclusion“. While this topic is definitely a difficult issue, it’s hard not to think about impact when we consider the power of diversity and inclusion.

The impact of the March on Washington was that it led to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And without that legislation, there would be no discussion about women in the C-Suite or even in the boardroom. There would be no recourse for older workers in a technology-driven economy. There would be no protection from harassment for different religious groups. There would be no accommodations for workers with disabilities. And there would be no equal tax treatment for gay marriage.

Impact.  What was initially seen as a predominately African American event actually positively impacted millions of individuals who were NOT African American.

So when we have students, employees, managers, and others who are concerned that only “certain” groups benefit from diversity and inclusion, history refutes that illogical fallacy. Everyone benefits– especially the organizations that master it.

The Big Picture is that when employers leverage differences and demonstrate cultural competence, they are in a better position to take advantage of market trends, demographic shifts and global business opportunities. They are also more likely to be fair, inclusive, and caring about the people with which they work (i.e., students, workers, customers, etc.).

The question is: How have you measured diversity and inclusion’s impact at your organization?

Since there is no official “diversity” leader, the assumption is that we are all individually and equally responsible for making a difference. But the difference that you make must go beyond merely getting a job in the field of diversity, or hiring 1-2 people of color, or even getting buy-in from the leadership team.

Impact has to alter business performance. It must also contribute to professional development, team functioning, and achievement. Additionally, impact should leave an imprint. An imprint occurs when “pressure leaves a firmly fixed mark“.

The starting point for your imprint must entail:

(1) A vision for diversity and inclusion. Don’t get so bogged down with activity that you neglect your vision.

(2) Next, you must execute a simple plan of action. The key here is Keep It Simple. Build your plans around business issues and not events.

(3) And finally, you must evaluate, or measure, your efforts using quantitative and qualitative data. We often report things like attendance figures, what people like about an event, the number of meetings held or business units served, or a new award as impact. While some of this information provides context, none is impact.

Impact can be demonstrated by changes in sales, grants/donations, or tuition through student retention, to name a few. You can also indicate shifts in productivity, the ability to recruit and retain talent, cost savings, or product development. Note that these impacts are linked to financial objectives. This means that you must understand how your organization makes money (even if you are a nonprofit, educational institution or government agency) and you gotta get comfortable with numbers.

When diversity and inclusion is successful, it will impact more than certain groups and the bottom line– you can create more employment opportunities for everyone, contribute to the local tax base for all citizens, and allow individuals to feel great about working for or doing business with your organization.

Let’s go beyond traditional ideas about diversity and inclusion, and make a conscience decision to leave an imprint.


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

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