No matter what you call your diversity and inclusion committee—an accessibility and equity committee, a diversity council, a diversity/ inclusivity/equity committee, or a workplace inclusion group—there are good reasons for having one.
Having an inclusion committee can help your organization:
- affect culture change by establishing processes and practices that are sustainable and profitable for the long term
- assist senior leaders in understanding the complex nuances associated with diversity and workplace inclusion
- create opportunities for input from a broad range of employees, which can bring you closer to inclusion.
So how do you put a committee together? What works? What doesn’t work? Let’s take a closer look.
Committee Dos and Don’ts
Lack of concrete skills or contributions among members, lack of job descriptions, employees with personal agendas, employees who bring only passion to the table, lack of leadership and financial resources, irregularly scheduled meetings, no clear process for handling conflict, lack of ongoing professional development, and the absence of organizational accountability are among the reasons workplace committees don’t work.
In addition, one of the most popular issues is how to revive a workplace committee that has died. If it died, there is a good chance that one or all of the problems just mentioned above were present. Once former committee members feel that their time is being wasted or that there is bias or preferential treatment, for instance, they don’t want to come back. Take your time and get it right the first time, or risk not having a committee at all.
Workplace committees have value, but only if they are carefully executed, supported, and nurtured. And, to be honest, it can be quite challenging to find good resources to aid you along the way.
Now that we’ve talked about what doesn’t work in terms of workplace inclusion committees, here are some basic must haves to start your committee.
- Leadership approval. This ensures greater chances of buy-in at all levels of the organization. Without senior leader support, any changes you want to bring forward will never come to fruition. In fact, it is advisable that at least one senior manager is on the committee.
Membership recruitment. Avoid just putting out a general call for membership. Your members need skills, the ability to put in the required time to accomplish the work, and the availability to attend all the meetings. Take your membership recruitment seriously by crafting thorough job descriptions and postings. Screen your committee members as you would an employee, and you will get the best group of talented individuals. On top of that, they will feel honored to be part of a group they had to apply to and be screened for.
- Terms of reference. Outline the goal of the committee, how often it will meet, who will make the final decisions, what the structure will be, and so forth.
- Budget. If your boss charges you with putting a committee together but gives you no budget, you have a real challenge on your hands. You need dollars to bring in trainers and other resources.
- Meeting space. Having a dedicated meeting space each time shows that you are serious about the work and will not be scrambling at the last minute to find a room to fit everyone.
- Communication. Be transparent about your communication, and use a variety of methods to reach employees on their terms.
Must-Have Member Skills
Think about how you recruit your board members. Usually you look for people with certain skills that they can bring to the organization and who have a proven record, can get along with others, and ideally represent a range of political and social views.
A workplace inclusion committee must have the same kind of representation. The leader of your committee should be just as strong as the leader of your board. It should be a person who can make things happen and who can work with dissenting views for the betterment of the organization.
Depending on your organization’s structure and funding sources, the skills you require for your workplace inclusion committee members may be a little different. But at the very least, you will need:
Leadership. Someone who will be able to keep the meetings structured and be willing to take in a range of opinions and synthesize them for the good of the organization.
Public relations and communications. Individuals who will act as inclusion champions, keep employees informed, and prepare any promotional materials or written documents about progress, requests for input, and so forth.
Training and public education. Lots of learning can happen at the committee level. And members of the committee should be transferring their knowledge to the wider organization. Individuals with training skills also may be involved in hiring outside consultants and trainers or in arranging a speaker forum.
- Finance. Someone who will be able to manage the financial resources allocated to the committee and look for alternative funding if required (as in the case of nonprofits).