Understanding the full scope of diversity programs

diversity programs

Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, I spent more than twelve years as a corporate HR professional. During these years I was a consumer of diversity programs (at Ernst & Young and Goldman Sachs) and I also had the great opportunity to serve as a diversity officer for the Goldman Sachs Dallas office, formerly known as Archon Group. Even after all of these years, when the topic of diversity comes up in conversation, my immediate thought is, “oh, this is a very polarizing topic.” While I won’t go into my hypothesis for why this is the case, it does seem like the topic of diversity is more divisive today than ever. 

As individualswith our own combination of attributes and experienceswe all have our own lens that we observe the world through. This contributes to how we relate to diversity, and thus how we react to the topic. In my experience though, most people relate to one, if not all of the components that now make up the complex world of diversity (which in recent years has expanded to include words like equity, inclusion, belonging, etc.). 

However, the layperson is not familiar with the nuances of how the field of diversity has evolved, not to mention that many companies continue to struggle with implementing effective strategies and programs to educate employees and get buy-in.

This is why we will be dedicating our next series of webinars and blog posts to demystifying the topic and deconstructing it into smaller components. We’ll discuss it with experts and experienced executives that have dedicated their life and careers to diversity.

How  did diversity get to where it is today?

Diversity came out of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, pregnancy, age, and disability for any employer with more than 15 employees. Because of this genesis, diversity programs largely focused on affirmative action style training programs that were a “check-the-box” HR initiative in the early days.

Many people still associate all diversity programs with this focus.  As a result, they have a negative view on diversity programs, and this has contributed to low engagement and staying power. But diversity has evolved to be more than that. Leading organizations have focused on harnessing the power of diverse perspectives, backgrounds, experiences, and thoughts to drive better outcomes.

What about inclusion? 

Over the last decade, the concept of inclusion has emerged as a critical component of diversity programs. Many people confuse these concepts as being one in the same, but they are uniquely different, albeit related.

I am a fan of this summary provided by the Covington recommendations for Uber’s diversity and inclusion problems to help differentiate between the two: “Diversity is generally viewed as focusing on the presence of diverse employees based on religion, race, age, sexual orientation, gender, and culture. Inclusion, on the other hand, focuses not just on the presence of diverse employees, but on the inclusion and engagement of such employees in all aspects of an organization’s operations.”

As you can see, while the two are similar, they are very different. Many people believe that you can not be successful in creating a more diverse organization without effectively driving a more inclusive organization.

How equity and belonging are involved 

In recent years, equity and belonging have entered the diversity conversation, and rightly so. These two additions bring further balance, focus, and clarity into the overarching diversity strategy that companies are implementing. 

Unlike equality—which focuses on providing equal resources regardless of context—equity focuses on the process of just and fair consideration. While equality is treating everyone the same, equity is about achieving the same benefits. This may mean that everyone receives different—though still just and fairtreatment.

More recently, another component, belonging, has picked up steam in the diversity conversation. It goes even further to say that D&I initiatives are not sufficient without a sense of belonging. (Here’s how Airbnb specifically references belonging in their diversity statement.)

The notion that belonging was a critical part of the success of diversity and inclusion gained traction with several diversity and inclusion thought leaders and HR practitioners in the late 2010’s including Pat Wadors, who shared her experience in this Harvard Business Review Article: Diversity Efforts Fall Short Unless Employees Feel That They Belong.

Tying it all together

As you can see, the topic of diversity has evolved dramatically over the last decade, as has the level of business competition and the war for talent.

While this remains a hot topic and many companies are rushing to conduct a diversity survey, our recommendation is that you take some time to understand the landscape of diversity.  You should clearly define what it means for your organization, and identify which components matter most to your company (which will ultimately drive the design of your diversity survey and what factors you measure). 

When you embark on your diversity journey and it will be a marathon not a sprintit will be critical that you have leadership and executive buy-in to whatever it is that you move forward with. This means having clarity and alignment between your business and diversity objectives will be key. You will need to be able to speak to, and understand, all of the latest buzzwords and jargon in this space, which we’ll help you with in the coming posts and webinars.

Need help building an employee engagement or feedback program? Want a third party view on where you should focus. Book a free 30 minute employee engagement consultation to discuss any questions you’re grappling with or to help with your company’s strategy.

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