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Forget the 'business case' for diversity and inclusion

February 6, 2018
Diversity & Inclusion

The house burned in front of them but they wanted the data to prove it. That is the audacity and ridiculousness of making the business case: convincing one of the obvious. If the smoke doesn’t alarm you, the fire certainly should.

“Make the business case” is the retort often heard in Silicon Valley when talks of diversity and inclusion (D&I) comes up. This myopic and dense argument grows tiresome — to have to make the case why D&I is important is infuriating. What is basically being said is, “Convince me why the organization should want to hire women, people of color, etc.”

When you examine the ranks of most tech companies, it is statistically improbable that senior ranks would be devoid of women and people of color, considering the makeup of our country — which has over 326 million people and the ability to attract talent from anywhere in the world. Certainly, from a global pool of 7,405,107,650 (as of July 2017) people, we could find talent that can run and/or ascend into leadership roles. The lack of diversity, then, defies logic, which is especially paradoxical considering that the tech ecosystem prides itself on logic.

It requires the tech industry to take an honest assessment of how we arrived at this non-diverse, non-inclusive environment that somehow does not mirror the society that we all inhabit. This moment is about having a tough conversation, not silencing dissent but actually hearing what others have to say no matter how much we may disagree. Ideas and ideologies cannot be fired or quieted. We are at an inflection point that requires deep organizational introspection on what got us here and what we can collectively do to move forward.

It may sound controversial, but I think it’s time to take a deeper look at inclusion, belonging and support instead of just diversity. The singular approach has not borne much fruit when the emphasis is on diversity alone. It’s more complex than just improving numbers. It needs to be comprehensive, intentional and, for any plan to work, people must stay the course.

Too often, it seems like organizations just throw strategy out the window and spend wildly under the auspices of advancing D&I. It’s time to be strategic, not knee-jerk. We also must understand that there is no magic wand or one-size-fits-all solution. If you are to do what has never been done before, it’s about being tactical — surgical, really — in your organization’s approach to D&I.

I’m often asked what can we do that’s innovative and groundbreaking in the D&I space, but I think that’s the wrong question. Innovation isn’t the problem, it is the collective intention or lack thereof. The No. 1 reason progress is not advanced is because it is not prioritized. It is fundamentally a lack of will and sustained follow-through.

So before grandiose notions are spoken and the new best thing is proffered, organizations need to make some wholesale assessments by using the six R’s:

• Readiness: Before even attempting to start a D&I program, organizations would be best served to determine the developmental capacity of the company to receive instruction and/or engage in D&I earnestly. Determining what the key performance indicators (KPIs) will be, as well as the objectives and key results (OKRs), should be a part of the readiness assessment.

• Reaction: After determining readiness, it is essential to know the level of receptiveness to potential programs and interventions. Organizations need to understand the climate for acceptance and must carefully craft an implementation plan right-sized for the current culture. If you push people too fast when they aren’t primed, you can have an all-out insurrection or unexpected consequences.

• Resolve: There is a significant amount of commitment required to carry out a culture shift, and it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s essential that organizations, leaders and staff stick with the plan and do not indecision to alter the approach. Again, this is hard work and requires steadfastness over the long term.

• Results: After rolling out initiatives, organizations must figure out the efficacy of the programs and initiatives. Are the programs having the impact they hoped? What needs to be changed or discontinued? What needs to be bolstered? The results must dictate the next steps.

• Refine/Repeat: The results help organizations calibrate to the appropriate KPIs and OKRs that make sense for the life cycle of the organization. Constant customization and refinement are especially critical, particularly given the unforeseen ups and downs organizations face.

• Relentlessness: D&I is not instantaneous, nor is it easy. It’s a progression of small, medium and large advancements in totality that incrementally improve culture and understanding.

When organizations approach objectives in a comprehensive manner, the odds for success increase, and while a singular focus may feel like the appropriate path to success, it can lead to a piecemeal strategy that creates inefficiencies and unintended outcomes. As the great Winston S. Churchill is credited to have said, “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”

By Bernard Coleman III

Source: Forbes

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