The Illusion of Diversity & Inclusion

Shambrekia Wise & Colin Smith, The Diversity Labs


Inclusive Communities. Human Capital. Diverse Initiatives. These are phrases that have become a part of the day-to-day verbiage for some of the world’s leading companies; but after years of talk, we are only at the beginning of much needed systemic action. Through candid discussions with industry experts, my team and I learned that sometimes when D&I specialists are hired on to fulfill these roles, they’re given a title, office and salary only. These individuals are allocated no budget to act on these initiatives, no leverage to pull in those who have the ability to write the check and are more common than not, left out of critical meetings where these conversations could quickly mature into actionable items. How is a difference supposed to occur if companies continue to hire real change makers who have the drive, heart and insight to do great things but are only allowed to thrive in a vacuum? Here are a few takeaways from recent conversations that may help your company achieve your D&I goals without sacrificing current talent:


1.     Communicate the Budget. Most people we have talked to in these newly created roles are excited to have the opportunity to hit the ground running and working; but depending upon how their company follows through on their promises, the employee can easily be discouraged with constant roadblocks and lack of finances to implement this change and ultimately, do their job. This can lead them to look for opportunities elsewhere. Diversity & Inclusion is not a line item for a department, but should be a company-wide strategy. 


2.    C-Suite, Show Up.  For new D&I hires leading an established team or building one from the ground up, there will always be the need to have the support of leadership. To see the change is to be the change and C-Levels cannot be invisible when it comes to D&I. Are D&I initiatives going to be shared company-wide or will only a few comprehend the importance of the mission during a 30-minute lunch break? C-Levels must do better to communicate the importance for “Communities of Inclusion” and show that genuine immersion is instrumental to the company’s success (shout out to eBay and their COIs').


3.    It’s Not a Pipeline Issue. As highlighted in our last write up, “Unseen Talent”, we know diverse human capital is available, but the most effective and impactful methods to recruit these individuals has yet to be discovered and practiced industry-wide. Stepping away from the typical networking scenarios, internal referrals and brief meet-and-greet college fair opportunities would allow for additional creativity and less biased recruitment strategies if done with an open mind. Considering alternative ecosystems to draw up talent would also be essential in diversifying companies who normally rely upon traditional practices to fill positions.      


4.    Track, Measure and Publicize. Accountability, tracking KPIs and producing results based off of new hires, retainment and advancement is key. Furthermore, several companies are now taking the initiative to treat Diversity as a Performance Metric, giving them a competitive advantage. There are a growing number of platforms on the market to ensure your company hits its targeted metrics and continues to strive for excellence.  Lastly, make your progress in D&I known. As of 2017, only 16 of the Fortune 500 companies have been so candid.


If your company has taken that first step to acknowledge the lack of diversity, then that’s great, but what’s your next step? Having a board is not enough. Annual meetings accompanied with unread reports are not enough and please don’t think having that ONE person of color is going to place your company as a trailblazer especially when critical viewpoints and concerns they present aren’t taken seriously. Leadership should examine how priorities concerning the diverse pipeline issue measure up to other issues of importance for the company’s long-term goals. If there are stark disparities, then leadership should make it a priority to change the status quo. If there is only a nod at the table when, and more importantly if this topic is brought up, can it be assumed that your company isn’t really doing anything to end this cycle? One thing is for certain: Putting strategic thought, resources, budget and time into diversity initiatives increases your value to not only your clients but also the communities your company serves. 


The Diversity Labs is committed to helping companies and organizations enhance their diversity, equity & inclusion initiatives.





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