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Making Differential Investments in Diversity & Inclusion


Thu Aug 01 2013

Making Differential Investments in Diversity & Inclusion

We know that diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a business imperative, based on changing demographics and globalization trends that are here to stay. The ideal is for D&I to be fully aligned to the business and integrated throughout organizational practices and processes, but it is not always realistic. As the saying goes, “you can’t boil the ocean.”

Given limited resources and often competing priorities within organizations, difficult choices have to be made for all investments, including D&I. There is no cookie-cutter approach that will work for all organizations; each is in a different stage with respect to D&I opportunities and progress. Most decisions involve some level of trade-off —when the focus is in a particular area, it may mean that another is perhaps unintentionally neglected.


Here is a short list of five key areas of focus for D&I investments, along with potential “caution signs” for each.

#1: Establish corporate governance. It is essential to have an overall plan for D&I, both short- and long-term, that has high-level and visible support through a diversity council or other governing body.

Caution: Make sure that the direction and implementation is cascaded down throughout the organization so leaders, middle managers and individual contributors know what good looks like and how they can foster an inclusive environment.

#2: Integrate D&I into people practices. Foster D&I policies that address each stage of the employee lifecycle. Some examples:

  • promote diversity in recruiting and selection

  • build awareness of company policy and practices into the onboarding of new employees

  • incorporate D&I measures in performance management processes

  • build a diverse slate in succession planning

  • include D&I issues in your organizational health/engagement surveys

  • obtain D&I data during exit interviews.

Caution: Address the business rationale and engage the workforce in the value of these people practices to ensure that they do not become “check the box” exercises that do not add value.


**#**3: Promote leader-sponsored employee/business resource groups (ERGs/brgs). These groups promote a sense of belonging for under-represented populations, such as people with disabilities, people of color, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender employees), and so forth. Recent research suggests that participation in such groups is positively correlated with higher engagement and retention.

Caution: Make sure that such groups are open to all employees to join as a member or as an ally. Create a business-focused charter so that the ERG/BRG not only serves to create a welcoming resource for members, it also serves a business function (such as to provide insights for new product development, multi-cultural marketing or to promote new avenues for professional development. Additionally, create a mechanism for best practices sharing across the ERGs and where appropriate, extend their presence to regions outside of the U.S. headquarters.

#4: Increase diverse talent. Based on internal data, there may be a need to focus on increasing the ranks of specific diverse talent, such as women in IT or senior leadership ranks; increased hiring of returning veterans based on the VOW Act (Veterans Opportunity to Work Act), and so on. 

Caution: Emphasize that the focus is on attracting and retaining the best talent, rather than a quota-based approach, which can cause resentment and backfire. Moreover, promote an inclusive climate so that when diverse recruiting efforts are successful, new employees feel respected and able to fully contribute.

#5: Leverage external communications: Publicize your D&I initiatives as part of your overall Employer Value Proposition. It is not necessary to have won every prestigious D&I award, creating a prominent statement on the company website and in the Annual Report about the organization’s commitment and progress over time is important to share with multiple stakeholders like investors, suppliers, customers, and the community.


Caution: The external messaging must be consistent with the internal perceptions of current employees or there is a risk of reducing trust and engagement.

How does your organization determine where to make D&I investments?

For more on diversity and inclusion (D&I), check out the full blog series here.

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