Tuesday, March 20, 2012
By Robin Adams, Consultant of
Stanton Chase Hong Kong
A crucial ingredient for the management of a successful diversity and inclusion (D&I) program is to understand and approach it from the perspective of “change management”. At Stanton Chase, we understand this dimension of diversity and help our clients apply the ideas of change management effectively within the context of our overall leadership development service.
At a high level, the essentials of change management are the same for diversity as for other changes. Your organization’s Change Management Officer must explain why the new D&I initiative is important and create the desire on the part of everyone to see the change take place. People need to know what their role in the change will be, and that this new way doesn’t sacrifice their future opportunities but instead increases them. When people know what is expected of them through the ongoing communications of a strong new vision, change is more likely to succeed.
Having said the above, D&I programs are different from other types of change, and the resistance they come up against is also different. Let’s look at some of the issues and remedies.
Why Do Employees Resist Diversity Efforts?
There are a variety of reasons why people aren’t quick to jump on the D&I bandwagon, and many of these are very pragmatic. Here’s why people are resistant to D&I:
- If all identity groups aren’t included, members of those who have been left out will feel like the D&I program is more of the same. It merely creates new “privileged” classes of corporate citizens.
- If members of the mainstream identity aren’t welcomed in all D&I programs, they will suddenly feel betrayed by their leaders.
- Included or not, mainstream staff may feel personally blamed for the inequities that have been identified.
- The weaker members of the mainstream group may suddenly feel their chances for advancement are now reduced for the sake of maintaining quotas.
- Successful members of the diversity identity groups don’t want to feel that their success is seen by others as being solely the result of their membership of that identity group.
- No one wants to be labeled a “trouble-maker” and joining a diversity identity group may make staff afraid of this.
- If this is not the first attempt to create a D&I program, people will rightly be reluctant to associate with a previously unsuccessful initiative.
Ideas to help a D&I initiative succeed
To minimize the resistance or prevent it from manifesting, here are some ideas to consider in the development of your D&I initiative. These ideas must be talked about and explored early along in the process of developing the program specifics.
- Make it clear to all that every program component is open to members of all identity groups, even the mainstreamers. If members of the mainstream decide to create their own initiatives, this should be encouraged. The key consideration is that everyone should be welcome to participate in all programs.
- Stress that D&I programs are not about compensating for past inequities. Nor are they about allocating blame. The corporate business culture is simply shifting to a slightly different paradigm. It’s no one’s fault, but those who understand this shift sooner will be super-charging their positions compared to those who refuse to accept that times have changed.
- Any resemblance to an “affirmative action” program (where people are entitled to benefits because they are a member of a discriminated class) is the kiss of death for a D&I program.
- Leadership must emphasize that all future evaluations will be based on merit alone. Over the course of time, conversations that sound like sour grapes will gradually dissipate. People who talk about being victimized by “reverse discrimination” aren’t likely the kind of people who contribute very much to the success of the organization anyway.
- To give staff members the assurance that they will be neither blamed for causing trouble, or that their success is solely attributable to being a member of a diversity group, do two things.
- Find a sponsor in your organization who is clearly not a member of that identity group. This person’s role should be to liaise with top management and to mentor and provide guidance to those in the identity group either individually or as a whole group.
- Secondly, find a distinguished member of that identity group to associate him or herself with the D&I program. Giving the credibility that a senior level, long term staff member’s involvement brings is priceless support.
Finally, when you identify your Chief Diversity Officer, remember that launching a D&I program isn’t the same as launching a new product – it’s a completely different animal. To do it right, don’t too move slowly, but take enough time to do the job well. Giving even the most experienced staffer a set deadline, when he or she knows little about the risky aspects of a new program can be a recipe for disaster.
Before getting off to a false start, examine how your company operates and make sure you’ve garnered the support of those who can make things happen. It’s better to launch a D&I program a bit later than hoped for, but in a way that is sustainable and well supported.
The X Factor – Leadership Support
We all know two things about corporate life: what gets measured gets attention, and when the CEO speaks, people listen.
If your company is just launching your D&I program, the first pitch you need to make is to the CEO. With her or his support and involvement, the program is acknowledged to be important. If the D&I program reports to the HRD and stops there, it will come across as just another attempt to meet corporate compliance requirements.
Diversity entered the workplace environment 20 years ago as a way to figure out and exploit niche markets. But it’s now recognized as “the right thing to do.” Diversity and inclusion programs are well recognized for increasing engagement, motivation, and staff retention. Even members of the mainstream identity group are attracted to companies that run D&I programs. They are an important message that the playing field is level and fair. We all like that!