I was once asked (directed) by a boss of mine not to use the words “race” or “gender” while facilitating diversity and inclusion education for the organization’s employees. The main reasons I was given for this approach were:
1. There are all types of diversity: job title, geographic location, marital status, parental status, we don’t have to focus on the obvious differences.
2. According to Dr. R. Roosevelt Thomas (the late diversity scholar and author of Beyond Race and Gender: Unleashing the Power of Your Total Work Force by Managing Diversity; AMACOM, NY, NY. 1991.), “Employees differ not just on the basis of race, gender, and ethnicity, but also on a variety of other dimensions such as age, functional and educational backgrounds, tenure with the organization, lifestyles, and geographic origins, just to name a few.” Dr. Thomas was absolutely right, but that does not mean that any dimension of diversity should be avoided when trying to create an inclusive environment.
3. If the training focuses on race and gender, it might make our people uncomfortable.
I was also told, in other terms, that we were living in a post-racial society and that there was no reason to dredge-up the past and make people feel guilty about things that they could not control.
Today, as we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and contemplate his legacy and the history of race in our nation, it is impossible for me to understand the claim that we live in a post-racial society when there are so many racially based challenges that we face every single day.
No Pain No Gain
Many people have begun the New Year by trying to live healthier lives. They have started to exercise, possibly after a long period without doing so. If this is the case, underused muscles will be aching in response to the pressure to participate in this healthy activity. If one is out of shape and overdoes it, then it can become too painful to continue and make progress toward better health. (I will confess that as I write these words, more than a few of my neglected muscles are groaning in response to my recent attempts to include all of my interdependent parts in goal oriented exercising.)
To continue with the exercise metaphor, much of the diversity training of a few decades ago was also a bit painful because of neglect, particularly when trainers would overdo it. So, the tendency might be to cringe at the thought of working out when lingering pain from the last effort reminds us how uncomfortable exercise can be. This certainly makes sense. That is why it is wise to begin a regimen of exercising carefully, mindful of old injuries, weaknesses, and risks. While there is going to be some inevitable discomfort, it does not need to be debilitating.
Beyond Trends and Fads
Just as with zumba, and other forms of exercising, fads and trends come and go, but three basic methods remain at the core of a healthy physiological program: reaching a targeted heart rate for your age and condition (cardio or aerobics), stretching, and strength. Similarly, effective methods for reaching sustainable inclusion goals require energy, stretching one’s ability to communicate and connect, and improving an organization’s cultural strength, or interdependence. These may initially cause participants some discomfort, but with time they will grow and expand their capacity to be truly inclusive. Just as anyone beginning an exercise regimen is advised to see their doctor to make sure that they are not causing themselves any harm and if they can afford it, they should hire a professional trainer to guide them. Likewise, it is recommended that your organization reach out to an experienced guide before embarking on an inclusion campaign.
One Step at a Time
Just as we are advised to begin an exercise plan by walking – simply walking before we start running – I recommend that we begin by talking. Conversations that have the goal of creating empathy in spite of diversity can help us to acknowledge our common history and distinct positions. In other words, let’s not be polite; let’s have genuine conversations that result in real relationships. Conversations that are grounded in mutual respect and the understanding that every one of us has a unique perspective – a unique set of experiences – can result in sustainably inclusive relationships. Conversations that are facilitated in a safe environment where respect is the primary requirement can be the first steps that move our homes, our schools, our workplaces, our cities, and our nation in a direction of healing and sustainable or manageable health.
Setting Realistic Goals
Just as exercising and dieting goals need to be realistic and practical, inclusion goals, if they are to be sustainable, must also reflect our current state and condition regarding diversity and inclusion. That requires an honest assessment and a well thought out plan. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not just show up in Selma, Alabama and expect racism or the denial of civil rights to end. He worked with others and developed a well-thought out plan and still met with incredible resistance before he and all of those who fought for our civil rights advanced that goal. That success enables and encourages all of us to continue to walk, to continue to strive to achieve our goals of inclusion, of equity, of humanity.
If you have not begun to advance your goals of inclusion, isn’t today a great time to begin?
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Today NPR posted an interview with Tristan Walker, Founder and CEO of Walker and Company Brands and the non-profit, CODE2040 and J.J. McCorvey, author and Associate Editor for Fast Company, on how Mr. Walker is working to increase diversity, specifically representation of Blacks and Latinos in Silicon Valley and high tech. http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/11/11/363012130/tech-star-wants-to-make-diversity-plug-and-play-for-silicon-valley Mr. Walker has earned kudos for investing in efforts aimed at resolving the demographic gap (based on race and ethnicity), in high tech through his non-profit organization. CODE2040 addresses the issues of effective recruitment, access and networking, and the preparedness of graduates to successfully interview and get hired. Through his substantial influence as a highly visible and powerful CEO in Silicon Valley, Mr. Walker has been able to encourage large high tech companies to both donate to his non-profit and participate in CODE2040’s fellowship program and other initiatives. http://code2040.org/ These efforts should create a noticeable shift in both demographics and the success of people of color working in Silicon Valley if they are sustained.
Is Silicon Valley Ready for Diversity?
While Mr. Walker and others prepare potential employees to successfully enter and navigate the high tech world, I propose that we need an equally concerted effort to prepare the current leaders of the high tech world to successfully evolve into inclusive leaders. I have seen well-intentioned and deeply resourced efforts to ‘diversify’ an organization’s workforce fail miserably because the focus was on numbers, not relationships. I posit that most of the new job candidates who are fortunate enough to be participants in programs such as CODE2040’s will be quite adept at making the cultural observations that are a necessary element of a successful career. Those of us who have occupied the role of ‘the other’ in society learn at an early age to observe and understand the nuances of the dominant (white, heterosexual, male, Christian), culture as a survival tool. Those in dominant roles rarely pay serious attention to the subtle social cues of the ‘minority’ cultures around them. I have conducted hundreds of interviews with individuals whose intent was never to discriminate, but whose actions (yes, words count as actions), had the impact of discriminating against others. In the incredibly speedy world of high tech, people want a quick fix for problems. My programming friends might be called upon to develop a ‘patch’ to keep things going while a long-term or permanent solution to a problem is developed. The impact of thousands of years of discrimination, which is hardly limited to Silicon Valley or high tech fields, will not be resolved with a patch, however. Solutions need to be implemented that are strategic, practical, and sustainable.
[See my blog post from September 2013 “There is NOT an App for That!” http://www.inclusionstrategy.com/blog/?p=15 ]
What to Do?
While the future leaders of Silicon Valley are still in their first and second year as undergraduates, the leaders of Silicon Valley need to prepare themselves for the cultural changes that they organizations will need to go through when those students graduate and enter the workforce. Highly developed cultural competency will become a survival tool for all leaders, regardless of industry, sector or mission. (Think of butterflies.) The leaders of Silicon Valley may be brilliant in their respective fields, but how many of them have an expertise in diversity and inclusion? Just as a company might outsource specific technical needs, I recommend that experts in this complex field of diversity and inclusion be brought in to help you to increase an organization’s collective cultural competency.
If you are not ready to have real, interdependent, productive relationships with a diverse range of people, isn’t this a great time to prepare?
DESCRIPTION:At the current rate, parity in women’s leadership will be reached in the United States in 2085! Whether it’s politics, finance, entertainment, or the military, few women have a seat at
the decision making table. NYS PowHER’s panel will explore why and how to change the playing field, culture and ourselves.
Benchmarking Women’s Leadership Reportcompares fourteen job sectors. Bottom line, although outperforming men, women still do not have parity in salaries and leadership positions. Some examples:
Academia. Women win more than 55% of the most prestigious awards despite only holding 29% of tenured positions.
Law. Women were 47% of the graduates, yet only 15% of equity partners and 5% of managing partners in 2012.
Business. Women held 51% of professional and managerial positions but only 15% of executive positions and 13% of board of director seats in Fortune 500 companies in 2013.
Politics and government. Women hold 18 percent of seats in the 2013 Congress, cosponsor more bills, and bring in more federal spending to their districts. Similar to other states, the NYS legislature is only 22% female. More
We are a network of individuals and organizations coming together to accelerate economic fairness for New York women. Our backgrounds, jobs, economic status, age, and religions may be different, but we all agree that women deserve and need a level playing field. Some of us are long-time advocates and others new to the conversation, but we find common cause as a community: learning together, sharing information and actions, and generating PowHer to create a new reality for 10 million New York women and their families.
What is our mission?
NYS PowHer is building a broad, diverse, statewide collective effort to improve the economic outlook for New York women by addressing keys obstacles, promoting winning strategies, and educating and activating the public.
How do we get there?To tackle this, we will activate P-O-W-H-E-R:
When I developed the concept of ‘stealth inclusion’ it was (and is) intended to help those in the C-suite who resist diversity efforts and whose approval and support every successful diversity and inclusion effort requires, to participate in educational sessions where they can personally experience transformation. Often, members of the C-suite are white, heterosexual, affluent, educated, and male and so; this methodology particularly pertains to those among their ranks who are uncomfortable around issues of diversity and inclusion. Through interactive exercises designed to facilitate increased self-awareness and empathy, participants’ resistance to the concept of diversity and inclusion is diminished. It is as a result of the transformative process that we are able to create change in the workplace and our society as a whole.
Every successful leader needs excellent communication skills and a highly developed self-awareness. These competencies have elements of diversity and inclusion woven through them. One way that those who resist inclusion have been able to undermine its advancement is by stigmatizing and minimizing diversity and inclusion programs, including the terminology used in those programs. I posit that we need to have diversity and inclusion education as part of all leadership development initiatives, even if that education goes by a different name. Hence, the content for an educational session on effective leadership would necessarily include interactive exercises on the challenges of overcoming barriers to inclusion.
As I am sure you are aware, these are complex subjects and as such need to be handled with sensitivity and care. The ability to successfully facilitate these educational sessions (I do not refer to them as training as we are not training participants in a skill, such as how-to operate a cell phone), is predicated on highly developed competencies in the areas of adult education, E.E.O., and diversity and inclusion.
I have facilitated hundreds of these sessions with consistent success, often as the result of clients asking me to attempt to repair damage rendered by possibly well-intentioned consultants who did not have the requisite competencies, skills and experience. Diversity and inclusion practitioners may each have different approaches to the work that we do and certainly should have different perspective, but we all need to insist that the caliber and standard of our work is impeccable. This is one way that we can overcome some of the resistance to the work that we do. Another is to understand who it is that we critically need to reach if we hope to create sustainable change and how to best do so. It is in this light that I developed the concept of ‘Stealth Inclusion.’
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It has become increasingly clear to me that there is a growing resistance to diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace as incidents of blatant racism, sexism and really all ‘isms’ seem to be on the rise. I cannot definitively assert that there is a direct correlation between these two trends, but I believe that there is. So, I have developed a concept called “Stealth Inclusion.” Stealth Inclusion is a way to create inclusion in organizations by helping executives who may not necessarily acknowledge that they need help, to solve organizational problems. This is particularly necessary where ‘exclusive’ cultures result in negative conditions, such as: employee turnover, disengagement, sabotage, diminished market share, poor or damaged public image, etc.
In Act II, Scene II of “Romeo and Juliet,” Juliet says the following to Romeo, in response to his concerns over their belonging to feuding families:
“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”
So, what if we don’t call diversity and inclusion initiatives by their name, but use other names? What if we call our strategies, strategies for success, instead of inclusion strategies and our assessments, corporate assessments, instead of cultural assessments? What if we use different or diverse words to describe what it is that we do and why it is that we do it?
By Any Means Necessary
In1963 Jean-Paul Sartre wrote the words “by any means necessary” regarding class struggle, in his play Dirty Hands. The phrase was made famous by Malcolm Xa year later and became a metaphor for justifying violence to overcome oppression. (Which I certainly am not advocating!) What I am encouraging is that we find different ways to accomplish our missions. Is your organization behaving in a healthy way? (See my 2007 article, “The Evolution of Inclusion,” where I discuss organizations as organisms (Posted in my blog in January 2014)). Do the members of your organization:
a.) Know what your organizational mission is?
b.) Feel invited to contribute to the success of that mission?
If people are being excluded at your organization because of where or when they were born, how they worship, what they look like, how they identify, or any other distinction, you have a problem that needs a solution – a real, sustainable solution. You do not need buzz words, or pot luck luncheons, or awards programs – you need effective strategies that can help you to cross the complex chasms that separate you from achieving your goals and getting that mission accomplished!
Mission + Strategy = Success
What motivates the people around you? What really gets people excited enough to jump out of bed when it is still dark out and stay at the office past sunset? Being part of a mission matters to you and to everyone else! Being INCLUDED is what excites all of us! Being invited to help, create, innovate, achieve, and win! Not everyone can invite themselves to the party, many people need to be asked, many people come from places where there are different rules and customs about participation.
Excellent leaders learn about those different customs and learn how to invite and organize participation. Even when people have a common mission and are as motivated as the people were who filled Tahrir Square in Cairo in 2011, an effective, sustainable strategy must be implemented in order for success to occur. That requires experienced and competent leadership: leaders who are flexible and open to learning and finding new ways to achieve their goals when old ways fail. So, if we do not call it ‘Diversity Training’, but ‘Effective Communication’ and ‘Successful Leadership, does it really matter? [Note: This does not mean that I am changing the name of the company!] The most effective leaders know what they don’t know and bring in subject matter experts to provide the knowledge and competencies that they lack. Hence, part of a great strategy is having the right team members.
What is your goal? What is your personal mission? I have shared mine with you before: To make manifest the value of all people. Sounds simple, no? Well, it is not simple, it is complicated and takes real knowledge and competency and care and skill and passion and yes, sometimes, it takes Stealth Inclusion!
If you are not overcoming the barriers to inclusion at your organization, isn’t it about time that you do?
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Before beginning a search for a D&I / EEO expert to join or support your organization you should ask the following questions:
What are our D&I / EEO goals?
What resulted from our previous D&I efforts?
Do we think that we need a full time staff person to take on our D&I/EEO Goals or can an outside consultant sufficiently support our needs?
Do we know the difference between D&I and HR?
How do you know when someone is a qualified D&I professional?
Great at self-promotion!
Some people are great at telling you how great they are. As I noted in Part I, some people are happy to ‘fake it ‘til they make it’, so you need to find out how great they are in others ways.
Checking references is a good way to begin. Verifying someone’s track record may seem obvious or simple, but references are rarely checked. Often the recipient thinks, “They gave me the references, so they must be good!” Recently, I checked someone’s references and two of the telephone numbers were disconnected and no one answered the third. Obviously, I did not go with that person.
Ask for examples of how they have personally and specifically:
Increased diversity and inclusion at an organization;
Diminished discriminatory behavior;
Supported the mission and vision of an organization through D&I strategies
Measured the results of their efforts
Individuals who have been doing D&I/EEO work successfully for any period of time should be able to share multiple examples of their successful endeavors. You should also ask them about failures. If someone is hesitant to provide you with examples on the spot, beware.
A Multidisciplinary Field
Since D&I is multi-disciplinary, practitioners may have bachelor’s degrees in various fields of study, including: Human Resources Management, Business Management, Public Administration, Organizational Development, or as in my case, American Studies, an interdisciplinary degree. Also, graduate degrees such as in Law (Juris Doctor), and a wide range of human relations fields are appropriate. Many practitioners, who have not gone to graduate school, have been grandmothered-in by engaging in ongoing professional development and obtaining certifications at institutions such as, Cornell University. I recommend that you be prepared to examine the skills and competencies that individuals have developed and how they have applied those skills and competencies in the past. Facilitating a 60 minute webinar is not the same as developing and facilitating a 5 day workshop on inclusive leadership. So, a resume or bio with “Training” as a bulleted item does not provide sufficient information. Ask for details.
When Passion Meets Purpose
Passion alone does not qualify anyone to as a D&I practitioner, but being very passionate about it is one of the requisites for success. Ask potential consultants or employees why they are in this field. Did their response excite you about D&I? If not, they most likely will not excite your executive leadership, stakeholders or employees. If they do not excite people about D&I, it is doubtful that they will be able to create or sustain inclusion.
If you do not have someone who you can trust to lead your organization on a successful D&I mission, isn’t it about time that you do?
Please let me know what you think in the comment section below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow us on Twitter for more frequent observations and information.
Recently, there have been a plethora of scandals concerning domestic violence, discrimination, and sexual harassment in the news. Each of these disturbing events seem to elicit responses by self-proclaimed ‘experts’ purporting to know how to solve problems of inequity and discrimination. This has led me to ask the question: If you have a tooth ache, do you tie a string around that tooth and tie the other end to a door knob and slam the door? NO! Do you go to a chiropractor or a cardiologist to have the tooth removed? NO! You go to someone who you are sure is an expert. You go to a licensed dentist. When it comes to EEO or diversity or inclusion (D&I), knowing who is really an expert is not as simple as going to Healthgrades.com and looking up a dentist’s education and licenses before getting that tooth pulled.
D&I/EEO is a multidisciplinary field with a few distinct points of entry such as employment law, human resources, and organizational psychology. The recent trend, however, is that people with degrees and experience in sales, marketing, communication, etc. are jumping on the D&I band wagon as the demand for diversity training increases. This is a perturbing development. In some cases, people are asked to become an organization’s diversity officer based on their being a member of a protected class: they may be people of color or women or members of the LGBT community or be differently-abled. They may be highly competent in the field in which they have spent their careers, but that does not make them experts in the complex field of diversity and inclusion.
My professional experience in Equal Employment Opportunity began in 1988. In addition to my undergraduate and graduate education, I received formal training at Cornell’s School of International Labor Relations and in courses provided by the City of New York’s Department of Personnel in:
conducting investigations of discrimination
compiling and interpreting demographic statistics
preparing affirmative action reports
conflict resolution and mediation
developing strategies to overcome historic perpetuation of discriminatory practices
developing and facilitating adult education in EEO, Sexual Harassment Prevention, D&I, etc.
It took years of on-the-job experience augmented by this training before I was qualified to call myself an expert in my field.
Fake it ‘til You Make It!
Unfortunately, there are individuals who are willing to ‘stretch the truth’ and claim to have the requisite competencies and skills to create D&I strategies, education and initiatives. They may even believe that they have those competencies or that their area of expertise is so similar to D&I that they can ‘fake it ‘til they make it.’ Some of this is due to ‘coaches’ and self-help ‘gurus’ who are telling people that faking it is o-k even admirable, as it will advance their careers. I vehemently disagree!
When Passion Meets Purpose
I have been passionate about creating inclusion for as long as I can remember. As both a woman and person of mixed culture (my father was Puerto Rican and my mother was of Northern European descent), I have personally experienced discrimination and sexual harassment. I have also been defending those unable to defend themselves since the 1960s in the schoolyard of my elementary school in Astoria, NYC. Individuals with a true passion to end discrimination and increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace should get the specific education and experience that will qualify them as experts in this field. Those who do not bother to get their credentials can cause real damage to the employees who are in need of help and organizations that strive to become inclusive. I have been asked to repair some of this damage by more than one of my clients, and it is the most challenging work that I do.
To be continued…
Most people do not know what questions to ask potential consultants or employees for D&I engagements. I will address this in Part II.
Have you been asking what makes a D&I expert an expert? If not, isn’t it a great time to begin doing so?
Please let me know what you think in the comment section below or email me: email@example.com
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Years ago I worked for an employer who would not approve of administering an employee survey because the president was afraid of what the employees would say – especially about discrimination – and did not believe that the organization could commit to responding effectively to employee concerns, criticisms, or recommendations. Do you know what your employees are thinking and saying about you and your organization?
Here is a small sampling of anonymous comments on the internet about employers who allow bullying by supervisors:
“My manager is out of control, employees fear him and no one feels that the company or HR would do anything.”
“HR is not there for the employee, but rather to shelter abusive managers.”
“My supervisor uses intimidation and bullying to try and meet his objectives. I have been subjected to sexism, racism…”
In earlier blog posts I have discussed the importance of asking people about themselves, their cultures and preferences. I also urge employers to conduct surveys. Surveys are amazing tools that employers can use to determine how engaged and included employees feel, when used effectively! Here are some critical questions that need to be asked and honestly addressed before implementing an employee survey:
Are employees assured that their responses are really anonymous?
Are employees really protected from repercussions by supervisors?
Will the survey results be shared with all employees?
Will employee recommendations be considered or implemented? If so, will employees get credit for those recommendations?
Similar to conducting 360-degree feedback of executives, employee surveys sometimes provide information that employers may not think they are ready to deal with. Frequently this results from not having guidance on how to effectively interpret and respond to the employees comments.
The leadership team of one client was genuinely surprised to learn that the support staff almost unanimously felt that they did not have opportunities for advancement. This particular group of employees was 90% female, 75% minority, and 40% LGBT. The information that was collected through the survey and interviews enabled my client to address this and other issues and to create an employee development plan. We also provided leadership and communication training for the support staff as part of the plan. The result: employee engagement and productivity increased dramatically!
There are many benefits to be gained by conducting employee surveys including determining how effective supervisors are. Many employers focus on results – the ‘by any means necessary’ approach to supervision. This is a risky tactic as the short-term results of a bullying supervisor may be impressive, but what is the long-term impact of a supervisor who may be bullying team members to get them to produce?
Some results of a bullying culture:
I have written about those who find it difficult to speak up and ask questions based on their cultural perspective in earlier blog posts. It is even harder for those individuals to stand up to a supervisor who is a bully. An anonymous employee survey that is administered correctly: off-site, outside of the employer’s computer network, by an independent consultant (I know that this sounds like a sales pitch, but it is not), and includes a sampling of employee interviews, can save employers tremendous risk and exposure. Employees who are empowered to contribute their diverse ideas and perspectives to an organization’s success do so in incredible ways!
Are you conducting all-employee surveys on a regular basis? If not, isn’t this a great time to begin?
Scanning job postings one can find thousands of ads with the statement: “Diverse candidates encouraged to apply.” Employers also include the phrase: “An EOE Employer,” indicating that they do not discriminate in hiring. This certainly has not always been the case. There are many examples of discriminatory want ads to share with you and, although some of them may seem amusing now, they were quite serious when they were published. There are many books and articles on how to avoid legal problems when writing and publishing a want ad, but that is not the purpose of this blog entry.
I have heard variations on the following statement many, many times: “I cannot find any women who qualify for the job!” We can replace women with any other word describing a ‘diverse candidate’, meaning a person of color, a person with disabilities, et al. My response is always the same, “Where did you look?” This may sound flip, but it is an important and valid question to ask recruiters. For the past several years we have all been aware of recession conditions and high unemployment rates. There are many statistics showing that more women (of all races) than men have been earning college degrees in recent years.
There is still a gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields between white males and everyone else, but that creates a great opportunity: organizations can sponsor academic scholarships for diverse students at high school and undergraduate levels and begin their recruitment in the sixth grade. The earlier an employer recruits candidates for employment, the more successful they will be in hiring a more diverse range of employees. Employees who are in obscure jobs are thrilled when they go out and speak at local high schools and middle schools with the response of the children. This helps with employee engagement, recruitment and marketing. The children go home and tell their parents how great the presentation was by employees from the “Acme Company” and the parents get a subliminal ad for that company’s products.
One way to create a viable ‘pipeline’ of diverse candidates in STEM industries is to have strong internship programs. This is a terrific way to find out how competent an employee is and for both the intern and employer to find out if they are a good cultural match. So, why is it so hard to hire ‘diverse candidates’?
Many job descriptions are ineffective. They do not tell the candidates what they need to know about your organization. A job posting needs to provide three sets of information:
1. What are the job duties?
▪ Is the job description up to date?
▪ When is the last time it has been updated and by who?
▪ Are the job listed duties both accurate and relevant?
Potential candidates will often be dissuaded from applying for a position where the job duties do not match their experience.
2. What are the job qualifications?
▪ Does the candidate really need experience in a particular industry to be able to successfully carry out their job duties?
▪ Does the candidate really need a master’s degree in business administration to schedule conferences?
People will not usually apply for jobs if they do not meet the requirements, such as a specific degree or industry experience.
3. What is it like working at your company?
▪ Do you know what the organizational culture is, particularly in the department or location where the selected candidate will be working? Is the workspace open or are there offices or cubicles?
▪ Is it a highly socialized environment or more isolated?
▪ Is the team interactive or independent?
▪ Are work hours flexible?
Savvy candidates will do research on your organization before applying for a job with you and if their information conflicts with what you state in your ad or website, they may not apply.
Philadelphia – During WWII
Some of my clients have told me that they are successful at attracting and recruiting ‘diverse candidates,’ but they are not successful at getting them hired. ‘Diverse candidates’ are getting rejected at the interview phase of the process. Recruitment professionals who have pre-screened and pre-interviewed candidates are often baffled as to why their candidates are not being hired. There seems to be a challenge developing interview questions that focus on the Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications of a particular position and developing interviewers with a high level of cultural competence. Very few interviewers who I have spoken with are aware of Transferable Skills and their value. For example: If someone is great at planning a meal for 20 people, they can probably handle organizing board meetings or employee events. The skills are the same they are just being applied differently based on the specific need. Another great opportunity for employers to increase the diversity at their organizations is to provide transferable skills workshops for their human resource professionals and any employees who are part of their selection and hiring teams.
Even employers who are committed to increasing the diversity and inclusion at their organizations are sometimes stymied as to how to achieve those goals. Sometimes this results in hiring of ‘diverse candidates’ who may not be fully competent for the position. This creates a couple problems: first, the new hires are set up for failure if they are not fully qualified for the position; second, this reinforces the urban myths surrounding affirmative action. So, I urge you to hire only the most highly qualified candidates for every position that you are filling. I also urge you to reassess the jobs that you are seeking to fill, what they entail, and what someone really needs to know in order to do them well.
Employers invest a great deal of money in the recruitment and hiring process. Fees for search firms are in the many thousands of dollars for each position, and the salaries of HR and other staff when prorated for each new hire brings the investment to quite a high sum. So, how sound is your investment? Are you selecting and hiring the best candidate for the job? Is the job being described in the most effective and honest way possible? Have key members of the selection team been developed to be as competent as possible? If you are confident that the answer to these three questions is yes, BRAVO! If not, isn’t it time to reassess your process?
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Most new jobs have a three month ‘honeymoon’ period, although many people begin to feel disenchanted much sooner than that. On-boarding is the experience that a new employee has when they first come ‘on board’ at an organization. There are many studies that have demonstrated how critical on-boarding is. Large organizations invest billions of dollars in the on-boarding process for orientation sessions, training, lunches, dinners, etc. The success of these investments varies wildly and can determine how long an employee will stay with an organization, how productive and engaged they will be while they are there, and why they will leave.
Three Exclusive On-boarding Experiences:
1. A woman from India was recruited for a managerial IT position by a Fortune 50 company located in a rural area of a Southern state in the U.S.. She was a Hindu and a vegetarian. She expressed serious concern about becoming acclimated to her new culture as she had no idea where she might go to worship. The meals provided at the new hire orientation that she attended were inedible as every day only ham and egg on a biscuit was provided for breakfast. It was difficult for her to even find a meatless salad for lunch. She would eat at home early each morning and then not eat again until dinner each evening. Her cultural differences were never considered when she was hired and as a result she resigned within a month of her first day of employment.
This company could have saved a great deal of money, frustration and negative feelings if they had learned about their new employee’s culture during the hiring process and had provided cultural competency and inclusion training to those responsible for the orientation sessions and her on-boarding.
2. During a new hire orientation presentation, a representative of an organization’s Diversity Department pulled up a chair and sat down with his legs spread, one foot straddling his other knee such that the bottom of his shoe was facing the audience of new employees. Then he stood and put one foot on the chair. A few of the participants became visibly uncomfortable and were silent during the Q&A segment of the session. The presenter was at a loss as to the cause for the employees’ shift in engagement.
Even diversity professionals can make cultural gaffs if they are not provided with effective cultural competency education. Showing someone the bottom of your shoe, the lowest and dirtiest part of your body, is considered an insulting message in many Arabic countries. Putting your foot on a chair is considered insulting in some Asian cultures. The presenter thought that he was creating a relaxed atmosphere by using these gestures, but the result had the exact opposite impact. Intent vs. impact is a familiar concept in the field of discrimination that is often overlooked in the ‘softer’ field of diversity, sometimes with serious results.
3. A new manager orientation session included ‘partner’ interviews and introductions. The participants were paired-up and instructed to interview each other, asking 5 key questions, including the name of their favorite sports team. One interviewee told her partner that she was not interested in sports. He asked her where she was from and she replied, “New York City.” When he introduced her as a ‘Yankee Fan’ several other participants booed. She was highly embarrassed and complained to the facilitator at the end of the session who told her that she was overreacting and should not take the booing seriously.
Awareness of regionalism, including the impact of sports rivalries, is an important competency for trainers, especially those trusted to facilitate new hire orientation sessions. A new employee’s relationships are established during their on-boarding and any reinforcement of negative stereotypes can impact their success long afterward by creating barriers in those relationships.
How likely are these valuable new hires to become loyal, long term employees at the organizations described above, based on their on-boarding experiences? People need to be invited or included to really feel that they belong as part of an organization and that invitation must go beyond a job offer. Behaving in an inclusive manner is not necessarily intuitive, as we see with the diversity professional described above. Employees, especially supervisors, managers, and trainers need to be developed to be inclusive leaders with high levels of cultural competency if they are expected to know how to effectively create inclusive on-boarding experiences for new employees.
Why Does This Matter?
As the economy recovers, those who have not felt truly invited to become a part of a successful, innovative team will begin to seek out employers who will make them feel welcomed. Those employers understand that a high level of organizational cultural competency is required if they are to succeed and earn profits. Job seekers, especially ‘millennials’, are doing in-depth research on employers before accepting job offers and those who have negative on-boarding experiences are posting those experiences online. So, after investing a great deal of money in recruitment, hiring and on-boarding high potential employees, are you confident that they are being on-boarded inclusively? If not, isn’t it a good time to make that happen?
“The Evolution of Inclusion” is an article that I wrote in 2008 and is a tutorial on how the field of inclusion has evolved since I entered the world of EEO in 1988. I have gotten enough feedback on my recent blogs to see that this is still a relevant and necessary discussion, so I hope that you find this post interesting and helpful! This blog post violates one of my rules not to exceed 1000 words, but I wanted to include the article in its entirety (just under 2500 words), for the sake of flow.
In the beginning
In the beginning there was Affirmative Action. Affirmative Action was all about making amends for past discriminatory practices in the workplace and the academy. Women and people of color, as well as many others who were not white, heterosexual, Christian males, were historically barred from many jobs in the United States both systemically and institutionally. In 1961 President Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925, which created the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity and mandated that projects financed “with federal funds ” take affirmative action” to ensure that hiring and employment practices are free of racial bias. It was not until 1965 when President Johnson signed Executive Order 11246 however, that there were actual enforceable actions that needed to be taken. This Executive Order also strengthened the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which expanded protection via Title VII of the Act, to prohibit discrimination by covered employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The Civil Rights Act also changed the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity into the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, giving it broad legal and administrative powers.
Equal employment opportunity law was the big stick that the government used to assure that employees who were members of “protected classes” (those covered by the Civil Rights Act) were protected once they were hired into positions that were previously not open to them. Affirmative Action includes guidelines for hiring protected class members based on the qualified candidate pool within an employer’s geographic zone (a 30 mile radius). The hiring goals are not quotas and never have been. They are recommendations based on the local population.
Mandatory training was implemented for all covered employers in the area of Sexual Harassment Prevention and for any employer where the EEOC determined that there was a “probable cause” to validate an employee’s claim of discriminatory treatment. This reactionary approach dominated the field of EEO for many years and resulted in a strong backlash by conservative groups and many white men in the workplace. Reverse discrimination claims began being filed as early as 1978 (Regents of the University of California v. Bakke) and have become fairly regular occurrences. There was also a great deal of negative media regarding affirmative action and EEO cases in an attempt to de-fang the law and its enforcement.
One of the greatest barriers to accepting the benefits of inclusion is a fear of numbers. Many myths and misperceptions surround the reporting of EEO data and Affirmative Action reports to the federal government. Employers conduct panic-stricken scrambles every time they are audited by the EEOC; they agonize over their Affirmative Action reports and their poor performance in relation to their hiring goals; and they focus on the very numbers that terrify them instead of the people they represent. This sense of impotence creates resentment and results in an attitude that we will do only what we are required to do in many organizations. They felt trapped by the EEOC requirements and not empowered to do anything about them.
The Diversity Revolution
We then experienced the ‘diversity revolution’ a period I like to refer to as the “Kumbaya Stage.” Celebrating difference became the favorite pastime of many members of organizations. People like me were able to proclaim pride in our heritage, our difference – ourselves as were never able to do previously. But after the diversity pot luck luncheons and diversity fairs, people would head back to their cubicles and remain exclusive. The celebration of difference did not extend to most employees’ personal lives. The human resources departments did not see any relief from their required reports or a great improvement in their statistics. These disappointments coupled with the negative response from employees who felt that they were not different enough to matter resulted in campaigns set out to prove that ‘our differences make us all the same.’ This approach played down race and gender and focused on less volatile differences such as job title, geographic origin (among U.S. born citizens), marital status, parental status, etc. These non-threatening differences could be used benignly, to prove that an organization embraced diversity, without having to really embrace inclusion.
Diversity practitioners across the U.S. were then asked by their CEOs, “What’s the return on our investment for diversity? This resulted in more panicked scrambling as folks set out to prove that creating a diverse organization improved the organization’s bottom line. The problem with this model is that it does not work and that there was no such proof to be provided.
The More Things Change
The more things change, the more they remained the same. A major concern of U.S. employers is poor employee engagement. There are millions of people who make it to work each day, even millions who arrive on time who are still quite disengaged. These workers occupy all job titles and levels, including officers. They are in every sector and industry. They are from several different generations. They are from all over the world. They are straight and gay; male and female; of every race and ethnicity; and they cost employers trillions of dollars every day. Employers spend an inordinate amount of money and energy to recruit top talent. They especially spend on the recruitment of women and people of color. Employers have, in general, become quite successful at recruitment, but remain unsuccessful at retention. A phenomenon has developed in the last decade or so that is referred to as ‘the Revolving Door of Turnover.’ This has become a The 64 billion dollar question.
In January, 2007 The Level Playing Field Institute published The Corporate Leavers Survey: The Cost of Employee Turnover Due Solely to Unfairness in the Workplace. The study found that unfairness in the workplace costs U.S. corporations $64 billion dollars each year – not in law suits – but in turnover of professionals and managers. People of color are three times as likely to be among those who leave as compared to white, heterosexual men and two times as compared to white, heterosexual women.
When the 2000 Census Report was published organizations became aware of a new customer base. People of Color, Gay, Lesbian Transgender and Bisexual people, Women, people born in foreign countries were entering an unprecedented period of prosperity. Smart corporations began marketing diversity. We could turn on any television channel and see flawless models representing organizations that looked beautifully diverse! Benetton led the movement way back in the 1980s with gorgeous young people wearing their trendy clothing. Their motto “The United Colors of Benetton,” became a generational celebration of diversity. Gradually, other organizations caught on and began targeting women and people of color who now had the buying dollars that they sought. One problem remained; the beautiful ads were not of actual employees. This was particularly glaring when looking at the leaders of organizations. According to a UC Davis Study of California Women Business Leaders (October 2007) women hold only 10.4% of the board seats and highest-paid executive officer positions in the top 400 corporations in California. The national average is 15%. Women remain more than 50% (50.9 in 2000) of the population.
The Inclusion Evolution
“As individuals we can accomplish only so much. … Collectively, we face no such constraint. We possess incredible capacity to think differently. These differences can provide the seeds of innovation, progress, and understanding.”
The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies, Scott E. Page
Scott Page’s book provides us with scientific proof of the brilliance of multiple perspectives. This is something that I have intuitively known for a long time, but am really grateful for the backing of a mathematician! I do not believe that ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ unless they are bad cooks or bad communicators. There is always the possibility that there is an unethical cook in the kitchen who sneaks in extra salt without letting the others know, but if called upon to create the world’s best broth everyone wants to be invited! By this, I mean that it would be an honor to be on the ‘A List’ of cooks for this project. The cooks would all vie to bring their most creative, their most engaged selves to the process. If they were told that their participation was predicated on their cooperation and in fact interdependence with the other cooks, they would pay attention to that fact and learn how to play well with others or be asked to leave. In other words, every one of us wants to be asked to make a difference, to be told that our presence matters, that our contribution is needed. What an amazing feeling it is to matter. Yet, few employers ever asked their employees to contribute to their innovation. Few employers ask their employees many questions at all for fear of invoking the evil God of EEO! This fear of asking questions results in a phenomenon I call “One third of the tree.” When I look out of the window and see a beautiful tree, let’s say a Willow tree and I decide that the Willow tree is exactly the addition that I need to make my organization truly diverse, I contact my top recruiter to go and get that tree. I do research on the care and feeding of Willow trees. I tell the other members of the organization that our team will be joined by a Willow tree and to be courteous and tolerant and never say offensive things such as “It’s not easy being green.” Then the recruiter goes out and chops down that tree and hauls it inside. We place it in a huge bucket and every day are diligent about adding nutrients and even throw in a few microorganisms to make the tree feel at home. What we do not realize is that we are missing two-thirds of that tree. We never thought to ask the tree to bring its history and cultural perspective to the organization and so it did not. We did not realize how our organization could benefit by knowing the full being. Another way to look at this is: I bring my gender, generation, class, ethnic and racial perspectives with me when invited to the board room table to contribute. These perspectives cannot be simulated by others who read about people like me. They can only be contributed by me. Isn’t that amazingly wonderful?
Organisms thrive because their parts are thriving. When an organism has cancer we cut it out or the organism will die. Yet, many organizations exist with dead and dangerous departments, units and individuals for years without taking any action. The whole is only as healthy as its parts. So, just as we need to get to know the whole individual in order to benefit fully by their contributions, we need to think about organizations as organisms that require inclusive care in order to thrive.
The first step to becoming truly inclusive requires practical steps beginning with the development of a strategic plan that holds everymember of the organization responsible for creating an inclusive environment. This plan needs to be created with the input of the CEO or equivalent and leadership from all areas across the organization or else it will fail. This plan also needs to support the organization’s mission and goals or it will fail. As our world changes at an increasingly rapid pace, this plan needs to be flexible and adaptable or it will fail. These are not very difficult requirements to meet if the planners remember to be inclusive in the process from the very beginning and remember that they are all interdependent for its success.
Step two requires a cultural assessment of the organization: Who are you as an organization? Where have you come from? What has been initiated regarding diversity in the past and what has the response been? What education has been provided and how effective has it been. Great tools to employ at this point are confidential surveys and interviews. If people feel really safe they will tell you the truth about their experiences within an organization. If they do not they will not.
Step three is to develop customized inclusion education for each level of the organization. This education needs to employ adult education theory as no employee enters the training room as a tabula rasa. Everyone brings a wealth of experiences, knowledge, ideas and again, perspective to the process. This needs to be given a great deal of attention and respect. The core of the education should focus on the following: “How do I benefit by being truly inclusive?”
Step four actually is step one through five – constant communication. Tell them what you are going to do, tell them what you are doing and tell them what you have done. This is the only way to assure support for the process and again, without this it will fail. Communication needs to be customized for employees, clients, board members, stock holders, the public and et al.
Step five is the establishment of support mechanisms for without them your inclusion strategy will fail. In addition to regular, ongoing education and communication organizations need ‘Inclusion Ambassadors’ to champion the importance of inclusion. These ambassadors may be members of an organization’s diversity councils or affinity groups and should receive special education on inclusion theory, communication, team building, project management and leadership. The ‘Inclusion Ambassadors’ of an organization might sponsor event, write articles, provide training, develop outreach projects in the community and more. They will become the face of inclusion of your organization and as such should be representative of many titles, locations, and functions as well as being culturally diverse. Another great support mechanism is cross-cultural mentoring. Cross-cultural mentoring may be part of a general mentoring program establish by the organization with specific mentoring on cultural topics or interests. For example, I might be a mentor on Puerto Rican culture and have a mentor on time management. Participants should receive training on mentoring and be clear on the expectations of the program.