Employers Only
News Column
Story Tools
Delicious Delicious

Diversity Is Not Just a Human Resources Function Anymore

April 15, 2013

Melenie Lankan


Many business organizations today are experiencing "diversity fatigue." This is
due to disappointing results from all of the diversity initiatives and programs
that human resources managers have in place.

At the same time, some businesses are experiencing great success with diversity.
The difference often lies in the basic assumptions about diversity, what it
means and what it can achieve.

The responsibility for managing diversity and inclusiveness in an organization
typically falls within the human resources function. Many organizations today
have human resources professionals at the executive level that hold the title of
chief diversity officer or chief people officer. This person works with HR
managers, function and line managers and executives to create an organizational
vision to increase diversity and create a work climate that leverages diversity
to achieve higher performance. Organizations may also have focused the
responsibility for diversity and inclusion within specific areas inside the
human resources function, such as recruiting or talent management.

The major challenge that diversity specialists have is that they are often
viewed as "the champion" for diversity and they "own" the accountability. While
this may sound like the right way to structure the role, many diversity managers
feel this actually makes it easier for others in the organization to think
"diversity is that persons job or priority, so I don't have to think about it."
This can be problematic because employees and managers may not really understand
the importance of leveraging diversity, nor take the time to develop the skills
needed to contribute to inclusive work environments.

Dr. Martin Davidson at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business
just wrote a book, entitled The End of Diversity as We Know It: Why Diversity
Efforts Fail and How Leveraging Difference Can Succeed. Davidson emphasizes that
many companies have only focused on attracting and retaining diverse employees
and have not critically examined their organizational culture to assess their
capabilities to leverage that diversity for learning, innovation and achieving
superior results.

The organizations acknowledged as best places to work for minorities are those
that have a commitment to diversity from the highest-ranking executives. They
expect that everyone in the organization will be equally committed. The value on
diversity becomes ingrained in the organizational culture.

Last year I examined the companies rated as best places for diversity by
Diversitylnc. There were organizational practices that the majority of these
organizations held in common:

* Clear and consistent emphasis on value of diversity in communication in
vision, mission statement and strategic goals;

* Identification of business drivers for diversity (identifying how diversity
can improve organizational results; examples include: innovation and creativity,
strength of suppliers, market growth, leveraging human capital and customer

* CEO and top management team involvement in diversity-related activities;

* Emphasis on diversity at board level;

* Active diversity councils, advisory boards, and employee resource groups;

* Commitment to increasing supplier diversity;

* Formal and facilitated informal mentoring programs;

* Community and philanthropic outreach for multicultural nonprofits;

* Partnerships with educational institutions for increasing minority student
enrollment, support and development;

* Measures of progress and accountability mechanisms.

From this list, it becomes obvious that it can't just be the diversity
professional's job or human resources manager's responsibility. This level of
commitment requires true partnership and participation across functional areas
in the organization that align their efforts in support of a shared vision and
goals for diversity and inclusion.

At Wake Forest University School of Business, we heard from many employers that
the ability to leverage diversity is a critical leadership skill that can
differentiate managers' ability to achieve results in a diverse and global
business environment. This year, we are piloting an extracurricular certificate
program with our full-time MBA students. The purpose is to offer students
extracurricular learning opportunities that will help them develop the
leadership skills to build inclusive work environments, value diversity and
leverage the unique talents and contributions of every team member.

We want our students to enter organizations and realize that this is part of
their obligation and responsibility as an employee and future leader in that
organization and not just the HR person's job.

- Melenie Lankan is senior associate dean of MBA programs and diversity at Wake
Forest University School of Business.

Source: Copyright Diverse Issues in Higher Education 2013

Top Stories