Earlier this week I had a great conversation with a contact of mine who is in a Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) leadership role at one of North America’s largest retailers. Our conversation was brief, but we covered a lot of ground. Some of our talking points included the advances made with the Diverst platform, how Diverst is progressing as a young tech company and how the HR landscape is gradually transforming.
I genuinely appreciate the conversations that I have with the many D&I contacts I’ve made in the past 18 months. These D&I program leaders have provided me with terrific insight into what is working and what needs improvement. Going back to my most recent conversation, my contact mentioned that their organization was going to be merging their D&I and Employee Engagement teams. My first question was: “Is this becoming the norm across companies that have D&I programs?” to which she replied, “No, we are the exception to the rule right now”. I was left scratching my head as to why they were in fact, the exception to the rule.
Intuitively, you would think that D&I and Employee Engagement teams go together like peanut butter and jelly. However, many companies are missing the boat on this tremendous opportunity. They A) do not have an Employee Engagement team or B) simply haven’t connected the dots enough to pull the trigger on such a natural merger. D&I programs are critical because they can create a corporate culture and atmosphere of belonging when executed upon correctly.
Unfortunately, D&I’s chronic shortcomings are when there is little strategy tied to business goals. This results in affinity networks stagnating into “siloed social clubs.” Take the venerable and time-honored“cultural/ethnic food days”– call them what you will. Too many of these insular events engender exclusive behavior and upon closer analysis are the antithesis of inclusion. I say this because besides their value in onboarding, belonging and affinity, without first co-mingling and second integrating these groups into organizational change initiatives, they risk becoming self-centered islands in your organization’s cultural oceans. The net results of this myopic vision can have an adverse effect on the business creating harmful situations whereby ERGs/BRGs/ARGS function as their own reclusive and guarded bubbles while unintentionally excluding key segments of the employee population that are crucial for championing D&I; For example, white males. Beyond the issue of just isolating one community over the other, lies the actual “miss” of this outdated approach. The result is that organizations are not leveraging the value of D&I as a cultural development conduit and a massive driver of innovation.
I believe this misalignment is where D&I programs struggle to find a middle ground, and their greater sense of purpose. How do we properly execute our D&I strategy after hiring significant numbers of diverse talent? How do we strengthen the culture to make D&I part of our corporate DNA? How do you quantify and validate the business impact and measure success in a visible manner? And how do we do this while creating genuine inclusion that doesn’t look or feel contrived? In my opinion, it begins from the top-down. Executive sponsorship must be present, visible and actively behind the initiative; that is the first step to success. However, I honestly believe that if more companies start to combine their D&I and Employee Engagement teams, this will inevitably lead to more positive and measurable outcomes for their overall employee experience.
You must have heard the old adage by now; “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance,” which fundamentally makes a lot of sense; but it still leaves a lot to be desired. How do we make certain that our talent populations remain fascinated, curious and delighted? All signs point to cutting-edge HR and natural departmental mergers as solutions to solving the commonly faced problem that prevents greater D&I success.
Time will tell if this company’s bold new people strategy pays off, but if I were a betting type, I know where I would lay my chips.