Emphasizing Organizational Diversity & Inclusion: How Far is Too Far?
I was recently asked the question, "Where does an organization draw the line on what diversity means, and how far is too far?" I believe that organizational diversity is still an issue of concern, and will continue be until assimilation is no longer the fondest wish of many employers.
Differences need to be identified, considered and constructively addressed in an inclusive work environment. Employers have gotten much better over the past decade at pipelining and promoting diverse populations, assuring pay equity, learning politically correct terminology and developing organizational celebrations and traditions that are more inclusive (holiday parties vs. Christmas parties). Sadly, there has been only limited progress in incorporating the diversity of thought, strategies and solutions that diverse populations bring to work into the corporate culture, processes, programs and approaches.
I recently facilitated a team solution roundtable for mid-level managers where I noticed that traditional managers spent a great deal of time trying to talk the diverse managers out of their ideas and opinions. "You just don't understand" was spoken quickly and often. In the end the workers with slightly different views, opinions and approaches simply gave up and stopped contributing. The value of their ideas simply "did not compute" with workers who think more like the founding fathers of the firm and feel comfortable in the organization because they know how to be right. Several of the diverse managers confided after the session that they were seeking employment elsewhere with an employer who would value their contributions.
What does diversity mean and how far is too far? I would suggest that employers consider the diversity factors of employees who exit the organization to find this answer. Employer's who track the demographics of those who leave both voluntarily and involuntarily will begin to notice trends that may indicate that they have diversity issues to consider and remedy. Who is most frequently terminated from the organization, and why? Are those who exit all of low socio-economic status? Are they persons of color? Do they have disabilities? Is there a language or communication challenge? Are they foreign born? Are they males or females? Is top and developing talent resigning to accept "better offers" elsewhere? Would they have stayed if partner benefits were offered? Did they go to another firm where non-traditional employees are reputed to rise faster in the organization?
With employee retention becoming an issue of greater concern to employers, and given that the current and coming workforce that is burgeoning with diversity, we can expect inclusion to be an issue for decades to come. If employers want to retain and develop the talent that each employee brings to the workplace they need to stay constantly mindful of the "diversity factors" that need to be satisfied to promote peak performance from each employee. I have worked with many organizations whom have not gone far enough in dealing with diversity issues, but to date I have never seen one who went too far.