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Many of our clients have Diversity & Inclusion firmly on the agenda – but struggle with implementing it successfully. Despite the diversity rhetoric at the highest levels of corporate management, many executives find it difficult to connect Diversity & Inclusion and their company’s strategic priorities. As a result, we are often asked, “How can Diversity and Inclusion create a lasting positive impact on business performance, employee satisfaction and succession planning?”
Three steps to start off on your Diversity and Inclusion journey
1. Start using a contemporary definition of diversity
When dealing with diversity, many executives still use an outdated definition. During World War II, diversity in the workplace was thrust on companies as something necessary to accommodate the growing need for workers. This happened in an environment that was not conducive to assessing the social implications of integrating new workers into the workplace. Subsequently, in the news-war era, diversity became the right thing to do to remedy imbalances in society and in the composition of workforces. Quotas and legislation on acceptable employment practices followed. These provided the veneer for those seeking compliance.
The millennial generation now looks at diversity very differently, as the normal thing to do, driven by the desire to experience different points of view; a mindset that has been substantially reinforced by the Internet and market globalization. This shift brought with it an understanding of inclusion, a necessary component of every diversity initiative. Diversity and Inclusion embedded in everyday workplace practices enable businesses to enjoy the benefits of having different people and points of view contributing to better decisions and results.
When diversity and inclusion is used in a contemporary way, it is integrated and becomes the normal way of conducting business. In our experience, a ‘think-act-feel’ approach is really helpful here. Which brings us to our second point.
2. Do not make the emotional aspects of Diversity and Inclusion your primary focus.
Many organizations build their D&I initiatives around awareness training and intercultural communication workshops. Although these are important, the take-aways from training programs that are separated from daily working life are difficult to keep alive after returning to ‘business as usual’. And the best and worst practices relating to D&I will reveal themselves in the pressure cooker of everyday working life.
We have learned that a THINK-ACT-FEEL approach – instead of the common FEEL-THINK-ACT approach – produces the best and most enduring results.
Reflecting on the relevance of Diversity and Inclusion for your organization as it is today, will point you towards a line of action that is relevant, practical and often urgently needed. Achieving success through such an approach is the best way to secure an intrinsic acceptance of D&I within your organization. It requires an understanding how to link D&I to your business challenges. This brings us to our third point.
3. If you connect Diversity and Inclusion to your most important business challenges, it becomes a differentiator for your company, rather than a nice-to-have.
One of our clients moved into Asian markets and needed to understand Asian consumers and how to manage their Asian organization in this context. The organization had difficulty making this transition and had a hard time finding and integrating Asian executives within their management team.
Managing the diversity of a multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural management team is a challenge in its own right. If the urgency to make this a success stems from immediate market challenges, the willingness to explore new ways of doing things is immediate. For this client, managing diversity had become a business imperative, instead of a nice to have. And their journey in learning to understand and work with their new Asian colleagues had a profound impact on the culture of this company – making it a better company to buy from and a different place to work.
Success was contagious. As the organization embraced additional demographic groups the integration process accelerated and business results were evident.
In conclusion, start today and consider how Diversity and Inclusion can help realize your company’s strategic objectives. Think before you act. And do not be surprised if your enthusiasm becomes contagious. You may be surprised by your own diversity.