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We Always Talk About Diversity and Inclusion; Here’s 7 Ways to Make Those Words Actually Mean Something

The month of April is “Celebrate Diversity Month,” which begs the question for many: What exactly is diversity?

We sometimes hear the word ‘inclusion’ used along with diversity, as in ‘diversity and inclusion.’ Diversity and Inclusion, or DnI, is an issue that makes headlines daily in America and around the globe. So what exactly does DnI mean?

The Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) defines diversity as “the collective mixture of differences and similarities that includes for example, individual and organizational characteristics, values, beliefs, experiences, backgrounds, preferences and behaviors.”

They define inclusion as “the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.”

Hiring a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) is a valiant first step in an organization’s quest to achieve a truly diverse and inclusive environment, but a CDO is just one piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

On March 27th, we had the pleasure of moderating a panel in Richmond, Va., focusing on how organizations can structure themselves to better achieve a more diverse and inclusive environment. The panel was comprised of leaders from various backgrounds: Maria Tedesco, president of Union Bank & Trust; Dr. Rosalyn Hobson Hargraves, an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University; Syd Dorsey, owner of her own management consulting firm; and Carlos Brown, esq. senior vice president and general counsel of Dominion Power.

While the aforementioned definitions of diversity and inclusion are comprehensive, a more colorful definition was discussed on the panel: Diversity is being invited to the party, and inclusion is being asked to serve on the host committee, select the DJ, and even being asked to dance.

Educational institutions and corporations alike benefit from establishing more diverse and inclusive work environments and, by following the tenets of risk management, putting practices in place early can avoid future employee or community-related claims.

As gleaned from the panel discussion, the following are ideas to consider in the design of a diverse and inclusive environment:

1) Have Measurable Outcomes

It is important to assign metrics when implementing policies, but just as important is the ability to measure the right things.

Tracking the number of new hires from low income families is key, but it is equally important to track the retention rates of these new hires. Do they have a higher attrition rate than new hires from other income brackets? What percentage remain at your organization after one year? Two years?

2) Tie Bonuses to DnI
Several companies tie employee bonuses to group attendance at DnI Training sessions.

By doing so, positive peer pressure is placed on groups such that if a certain number of employees within a group (a sales team for example) do not attend required sessions, then the bonus pool of the entire group is adversely affected.

3) Create a Discourse Around Ideas
The events of August 2017 on the campus of the University of Virginia cast a dark shadow across our nation: The video and photos of the physical confrontation over the possible removal of General Robert E. Lee’s statue in a Charlottesville Park will be forever etched in our nation’s conscience.

It is important for educational institutions and organizations to create forums where individuals can express their ideas/opinions on sensitive subjects, and many organizations hire trained facilitators to lead these forums allowing frustrations to be expressed in controlled environments.

4) Include White Males in the Conversation
Even among white males there is diversity (gay, straight, English, Irish, South African, Dutch, American, etc).

White males are part of the diverse fabric of educational institutions and organizations, and it is imperative to include them in DnI initiatives and planning committees to ensure all voices are heard.

5) Implement Strategies to Remove Individuals From Their Comfort Zones
Organizations must not be afraid to do things differently if they wish to achieve different results.

Some firms take the unique approach of hiring summer interns from low socioeconomic backgrounds in order to avoid simply hiring “friends of the firm.” While uncomfortable initially, this creates a new method of recruiting and allows for a firm to grow in different directions.

6) Avoid Being Tone Deaf
Everyone reading this has worked at a company where, on a weekly or daily basis during meetings, their coworkers engage in small talk around the same topic. It could be a hit TV show, their favorite sports team, or politics. It is incumbent upon management to ensure “small talk” exists that does not just involve one constant topic for fear of alienating others in the workplace.

Tone deafness is a topic that frequently arises around religious observances; companies must be careful to avoid scheduling company-wide events during certain religious holidays.

7) For Educational Institutions, Adapt to the Changing Times
If alumni from a university did not have a good experience while pursuing their undergraduate work as it relates to DnI, then fundraising and donor relations may be compromised.

Colleges and universities must adapt to the changing times; as an example, class rosters historically only had a space for “Mr.” or “Ms.” and “male/female”. For the LGBTQ and gender non-binary community, this is a problem. Schools must ensure their forms are reviewed and updated to capture all the possibilities.

Attitude Reflects Leadership
One of the key pillars of enterprise risk management involves active participation by senior management. DnI initiatives must have the full support of management, otherwise the organization will not take DnI seriously. This involves management not only attending DnI training sessions, for example, but also actively participating and providing feedback throughout the discussion.

These are a handful of ideas organizations should consider when designing a more diverse and inclusive environment. It is imperative to remember that organizations must become comfortable with being uncomfortable as they are testing new approaches to DnI implementation.

What makes Americans so unique and different is what unites us, and this ideal appears in the motto suggested by the committee Congress appointed on July 4, 1776. E pluribus unum, out of many…one.

Contributing to this article was James Shewey, the education practice leader for RCM&D. In addition to the education practice, he manages the commercial insurance operations for RCM&D’s Virginia office. Mr. Shewey was named a 2018 Power Broker in the education category by Risk & Insurance®.

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